Fandom: Merlin (Merlin/Arthur)
Rating: R now but will end up NC-17
Word count: 3,438 so far
Summary: Modern AU. Arthur works in publishing and is ashamed to tell anyone he's secretly editing erotica, and being bullied by one of his authors - the arrogant 'Lake Anders'. He's also just taken in a new roommate, the adorable Merlin Emrys, who is definitely Not His Type. Or is he?
Arthur really could have done without having to share his house with a new flatmate. Normally he lived with Morgana, his stepsister, but she'd decided to fuck off to India for six months. Conveniently, a friend of a friend of hers needed somewhere to stay for six months and voila, here was Arthur, forced to live with a stranger. Arthur hadn't had to live with a stranger since boarding-school. He'd hated it then and he was convinced he was going to hate it now. Probably for different reasons, unless the new flatmate also had a penchant for beating him up and farting without embarrassment, but still.
'Why didn't you just say no?' Leon asked, nursing a pint. His tone was reasonable. Leon's tone was always reasonable.
'Have you ever tried to say 'no' to Morgana before?' Arthur asked.
'The question wasn't rhetorical, Leon. Have you?' Arthur persisted.
'Um,' Leon paused for a gulp of beer. 'No. I haven't. I don't think I'd dare.'
'There you go then,' Arthur snapped, moodily tearing a beer-mat into tiny little pieces. 'And it wasn't as if she asked, either. She just said 'I'm going to India for six months, a friend of Gwen's needs somewhere to stay, I'm subletting my room.' And I just stood there and nodded, like a dick.'
'A friend of Gwen's?' Leon winced.
'Yeah, yeah, exactly,' the shredding of the beer-mat became ever more vicious. 'I've been avoiding Gwen ever since it all happened and now her bezzie mate's moving in with me and she'll blatantly want to hang out all the time.'
'She won't,' Leon said. There it was, that reasonable, logical tone again. 'She's not cruel. She'll keep her distance.'
Arthur had been going out with Gwen for a year when she dumped him. For someone else. And not just anyone else, but practically the nicest guy who ever lived - goodlooking (he modelled in his spare time), talented, and also incredibly honest. He'd actually called Arthur to apologise when he got with Gwen, which had been the most stilted phonecall of Arthur's entire life. Gwen hadn't actually cheated on Arthur, to be fair, she'd just told him things weren't working, and then three months later she'd moved in with Lance, an old Uni mate of Arthur's.
That didn't stop Arthur from telling everyone who would listen what a 'scarlet woman' she was. When drunk he had even used the expression 'brazen hussy', which was when Leon told him to pull himself together and stop using turns of phrase that were more at home in the pages of women's magazines from the 19th century.
'Yeah, but it's yet another thing on my plate, and everything has been going tits up for a while now.' He tore open his bag of Scampi crisps with aggression, so that they scattered over the table. 'For fuck's sake!' He brought his fist down on one of them til it crumbled then looked with disgust at the orange mess it made as it mixed with his beer.
Leon covered his hand with his own, and looked at him. Really hard. 'One, those things stink to high heaven and I really don't want to go home smelling like I've rolled in batter, and two, you're being melodramatic. Things aren't that bad.'
'I've still got my health I suppose,' Arthur muttered. 'And my looks,' he added.
Leon snorted. 'And your arrogance.'
Arthur's lips quirked unwillingly. 'You've got to admit though, being dumped and a new roommate on top of the work situation is a shitter.'
'The work situation is not that bad,' Leon said mildly. 'You've been promoted.'
'Yeah, to cover someone's maternity leave on the erotica list.'
Leon laughed and then tried to cover it with a cough, before giving in to it and throwing his head back.
'Thanks for your support, mate.'
'I can't help it, Arthur, it's pretty funny. And it's not forever - you're covering her list for six months and when she's back you can start commissioning your own books, can't you?'
'Yes,' he admitted.
'So it's just six months of quivering nipples and throbbing members and what-have-you and you're away.'
Arthur narrowed his eyes, 'It's not just the 'quivering nipples' and 'throbbing members' that are the problem. It's also the fact that one of my authors is a real arsehole. Some guy called 'Lake Anders', yeah 'cause that's a believable name, is basically bullying me over email.'
'You have male authors? Who write erotica? Well, who'd have thunk,' Leon shook his head.
Arthur flushed. 'He's my only male author actually. He writes, um, gay erotica.'
'Oh,' Leon's eyes widened. 'Brokeback Mountain style?'
'No. More like 'Debbie does Dallas' style. Only, Debbie is Danny. It's filth, Leon,' he leaned across the table to make his point, 'f-i-l-t-h. I mean, I'd consider myself an open-minded kind of guy, but some of this stuff. Well. Let's just say I'll never look at a policeman's truncheon the same way again.'
'Ooh matron, is that a double entendre?' Leon asked suggestively.
'No,' Arthur said glumly, 'I'm not using it as a euphemism for a policeman's 'throbbing member'. I'm referring to the literal truncheon of a policeman. They're like a foot long.'
Leon laughed, swigged his pint, 'And he's bullying you?'
'Yeah, disagrees with all of my editorial notes, hates the new jacket, has accused me of 'rampant homophobia' at least fifty times which is not true.'
'Not any more at least,' Leon shrugged. 'Not since college when you lost your mind over that rugby coach, what was his name again?'
'Gwaine,' Arthur muttered. 'And I didn't 'lose my mind', I just realised that sexuality is more fluid than I had first suspected.'
Leon coughed, and Arthur was pretty sure he coughed to cover the words, 'lost your mind' but couldn't be sure. He popped a couple of scampi snacks into his mouth and carried on his story, spraying Lance with fishy crumbs. 'My Dad told me if I left law behind and went into publishing I'd never make a success of myself - that it was a joke career for 'limp-wristed liberal twats' and I'd bring shame on the family name. And, what if he's right?' Arthur noticed how small his voice sounded and despised himself for it. 'It's been two years now and all I'm doing is working with old ladies on bodice-rippers. I now know 37 different words for 'vagina', Leon, what have I become?'
'You knew 30 words for vagina before you joined publishing, Pendragon, and you didn't have an excuse then, apart from being a massive slag.'
Arthur smiled half-heartedly, slurped his beer.
'Your Dad's a dick, Arthur, he was gutted when you left Pendragon & Associates and he took it out on you in the worst possible way. And he was always going to be weird about publishing. It's what your Mum did, and I guess it stirs up memories. Which wasn't helped by you deciding you were going to use your Mum's surname at work.'
'Yeah, well, I thought it'd be a nice gesture. I didn't realise being 'Arthur Stuart' would drive him so mental. Maybe I shouldn't have done it, but I wanted that distance.' He frowned, 'And this isn't like me either, this self-doubt,' Arthur said, 'I've never had a crisis of confidence before.' He'd always been so sure of himself: graduated from Cambridge with a first in Law, taken on at his father's firm, a string of very beautiful, very polished girlfriends. And now here he was - single, being bullied by someone who wrote porn for a living, having to share his house with a stranger. Added to which he hadn't got laid for three months. 'This isn't like me.'
'Look mate, give it a chance. It's only been two weeks. See how you get on with the new roommate, hang in there at work and if things go well in six months you'll have a job you love, be living on your own, and you might even have had sex again,' he added, smugly.
'How did you know?' Arthur snapped.
'You always look a bit puffy around the jowls when you're not getting any.'
Arthur's hand automatically went to his cheeks before he forcefully pulled it away and used it to flick Leon on the nose. 'Arsehole.' He huffed. 'But you're right. Anyway,' he checked his watch, 'the newbie arrives about now so I'd better go. I want to time it right so I don't have to help her with her unpacking, but I can offer her a glass of wine to unwind.' He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
'And you say I'm the arsehole?' Leon asked, wounded. He shook his head, 'Off you go then, I'll see you on Saturday for the footie.'
'Yeah, see you, and thanks,' he clasped Leon's shoulder. 'You're a good mate.'
It took exactly thirty-seven minutes door-to-door between their favourite pub and Arthur's flat. It was a nice flat, only a few minutes walk from West Hampstead tube (not Kilburn, how dare you), and he was hopeful that with the added money coming in he could get Morgana to move out soon. But for now? Well, publishing paid nowhere near as well as law had, and he needed all the help he could get with the mortgage.
A lot had changed in the past two years - new job, promotion, dumped, barely talking to his dad. And most of it wasn't good. It was hard when you were someone like Arthur who'd been brought up to believe he was somehow special, to realise that actually you were just like everyone else. You had to slog, and put in the hours, and not everything was handed to you on a plate. He'd changed a lot in the last two years too. Making other people tea had humbled him. He'd hated it at first, been sulky and truculent, and slept with the work experience girls. But that got him nowhere other than hated by the other editorial assistants, and bollockings from his boss. So he'd knuckled down, and realised he enjoyed the work, and he was good at it, and painstakingly slowly he'd done better.
He had his keys in the door when it was opened from the other side, he jerked suddenly, reared back. 'Who are you?'
There was a messy-haired man standing in the doorway, well, he said 'man', he looked more like a teenager, in scruffy jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. 'Gangly,' was the word which sprang to mind.
'I'm, erm, Merlin, you must be Arthur?' he held out his hand, realised it was covered in bike oil and grimacing, wiped it on his ripped jeans.
Arthur took it gingerly, 'Yes, I'm Arthur Pendragon, and who exactly are you?'
Merlin looked at him like he was simple, 'Merlin, Merlin Emrys?'
'Are you helping your girlfriend move in?' Arthur asked.
'Girlfriend? Um, no? I don't have one. Gay,' he added, then blushed furiously. 'Not out that long. I keep blurting it out to random people. Sorry.' Even the tips of his ears went red.
'Then what are you doing in my house?' he couldn't help being slightly amused by the boy, whoever he was.
'I'm your new roommate.'
'No, my new roommate's a girl,' Arthur said.
'Um, nope, definitely not a girl,' Merlin said. He did a twirl and a 'ta-da' with added jazz hands. 'All male, 100%, I promise.'
Arthur closed his eyes, rubbed the bridge of his nose and pushed past Merlin into the hall. 'She definitely told me it was a girl moving in. Someone called Elena?'
'Elena? Nah, she lives in Bulgaria at the moment. She's an underwear model,' he added helpfully. 'Takes her all over the world.'
'So instead of living with an underwear model I'm living with...' he gestured at Merlin's scruffy appearance.
'-thanks, I got that much.'
'I'm a writer, 27, non-smoker, drinker but never an annoying drunk. I like cooking, nice wine, and long walks in the park.' He smiled and Arthur couldn't help it: he smiled back. There was something endearing about the boy's face.
'You're no way 27 though,' he said to him. '17 I'd believe...'
'I am!' Merlin put his hands on his hips. 'I can show you my I.D. if you don't believe me.'
'Sore-spot is it?'
'Yes, very,' Merlin said.
'Bloody Morgana,' Arthur said, climbing over several boxes into the lounge. 'She told me it was a girl, a friend of a friend, and she'd be away a lot.'
'I'm a friend of a friend,' Merlin said, 'I know Gwen a bit - we go to the same book club - and she mentioned this to me. How do you know her anyway?'
'I'm her ex-boyfriend,' he said, shortly.
'Oh shit, shit, I'm sorry. Oh god, I never knew your name, I'm such a fucking idiot,' he smacked himself in the forehead.
'Bloody hell,' Arthur reared back, 'you don't have to start self-harming in front of me as an apology. It's fine, you didn't know. And now you do.'
'Look, we've got off on the wrong foot and I'm sorry. Can we start again?' he rubbed his hair the gesture curiously childlike and rather adorable. Arthur blinked, where had that come from? 'Before physically running into you I was actually going out to buy some wine as a thank you for letting me stay here, red or white?'
'Oh, er, red, thanks. And sorry for not being very welcoming. And for accusing you of being a teenager. And having a go at you for not being a girl.'
'It's alright,' he shrugged. 'Guess it was a shock.' He smiled and his cheeks showed dimples.
Arthur watched him as he left. How the hems of his jeans dragged on the ground and he had to pull them up his skinny hips. He smiled, despite himself. Maybe they'd get on.
'Now that's where you're wrong,' Merlin told him, putting down his glass of wine to gesticulate more furiously. 'Boarding school breeds adults who suffer from intimacy problems, and who have difficulty relating to the opposite sex.'
Arthur snorted, inhaling the last gulp of wine, 'So I'm a commitment-phobe who secretly hates women?'
'No,' Merlin coloured, 'I didn't say that.'
'I think you'll find you did, actually.'
'No, I...' he broke off, looking puzzled. 'How did we get on to this topic again?'
Arthur paused, looking around at the room. They'd started off in the lounge, before Merlin had drunkenly decided to 'make a start' on unpacking and now here they were, surrounded by Merlin's clothes (uniformly ripped jeans, trainers and T-shirts), debating everything from gay adoption to the modelling industry. 'I'm not entirely sure, I think it was related to... oh god, those Enid Blyton books about boarding school, Malory Towers?'
'Yes,' Merlin looked smug, 'and all I'm saying is that if you found any of those girls all grown-up, say Darrell, you'd find them unhappily married carrying on secret lesbian affairs with other W.I. members.'
Arthur laughed, properly, for the first time in ages.
Merlin stopped folding clothes and looked at him, smiling proudly. 'I like making you laugh.'
'Yeah well I like laughing, I haven't been doing enough of it lately,' Arthur reached for the wine bottle and saw that it was empty. 'Bollocks.'
'I got a second bottle too,' Merlin handed it over.
'Bloody hell, you're already a much better roommate than Morgana is.' He rummaged around til he found the corkscrew. 'She only drinks sparkling mineral water with a lemon slice at the moment. And if I'm hungover she deliberately does the Ministry of Sound workout video at full-volume in the lounge.'
Merlin snorted, 'She sounds like a character.'
'Yeah, she is that,' Arthur topped himself up. 'Sometimes too much of one. I love her, but I'm glad to be having a break from her. Do you know what I mean?'
'Yeah,' Merlin said, sitting down on the clothes-covered bed. 'It's why I'm here. I've been living with my boyfriend and his three house-mates for the past two months and it's just all got a bit much. I care about him, but I need some space for a bit, I've had it up to here with him practicing his guitar at all hours and eating toast in bed.'
'How long have you been together?' Arthur felt a bit sad that Merlin had a boyfriend. Not because he was interested in him - Arthur's type in women was tits and hips and in men it was broad shoulders and biceps - but because he didn't want another couple's happiness rubbed in his face. And maybe that made him a bad person, but he didn't really care.
'About six months. He cheated on me a while ago and we broke up, then he asked me to move in and... I did,' he said simply, busying himself in putting away a load of boxer shorts.
'That's fucking wank, mate, who did he cheat on you with?' Arthur took his tie off, unbuttoned his shirt a bit, slumping back in the piles of clothes.
'Ugh, he's such a cliche. He's an 'actor',' he did an exaggerated drawl and air quotation marks, 'and he works at this shit bar, and he shagged one of the guys he worked with. Who is totally lush, if I'm honest, and has amazing biceps and could probably do bicep-curls using me and not break a sweat.' He paused, blinked, 'Which is an oddly arousing image if I'm honest. But yeah, I caught them at it, I stormed out, I cried for weeks, he begged me back, I went back. And now I've moved out. We're still together but... I don't know, it's just felt different since then. Every time we sleep together I bet he's thinking how... scrawny I am. That I look like I'm seventeen,' he shot a baleful look at Arthur from beneath his lashes.
'I'm sorry,' Arthur winced. 'I didn't know. And if he begged you back it's because it's you he wants - not some beefcake.'
'Maybe,' he huffed. 'Or maybe he knows I'm a safer bet to fund his band than a bar-tender.'
'What kind of writing do you do?' Arthur asked, trying to change the subject.
Merlin flushed, looked away, 'Um, I ghost-write actually, for specialist presses.'
'Oh, like technical writing? Educational stuff?'
'Yeah, yeah,' he said vaguely.
'And that pays well?' Arthur couldn't imagine they got huge advances.
'No, but if you do enough of it it does, and I do occasional celebrity non-fiction books too which make me £20k to £70k a pop.'
Arthur whistled, 'Good if you can get it. I used to work in law but quit to go into publishing and it's not well-paid at all.'
'Publishing? What a coincidence, where do you work?'
'Oh, just a fiction publisher, nothing educational, you wouldn't have heard of it,' he lied furiously. 'Look, let me leave you to it, mate. It's been good to chat. I'm glad - and believe me I'm surprised to be saying this - that you're not a Bulgarian bikini model.'
Merlin laughed, 'Cheers, Arthur. Thanks for putting me up here, it's really kind of you.'
'Don't mention it.' He squeezed his arm, enjoyed the way Merlin's dimples appeared again. 'Night.'
Arthur fell asleep easily that night, for the first time in ages he wasn't tormented by a litany of his failures, by fears of how 'Lake Anders' would flay him over email in the morning, or by thoughts of Gwen. He just thought about Merlin's smile. 'His boyfriend's an idiot,' he thought. 'Who'd cheat on a nice guy like him.' And he fell asleep to dream of romance covers where the blushing virgin being embraced was him, and the bulky pirate was Merlin.