Word Count: 3,522
Prompt: "I think accidentally signing up for a sex change trumps getting caught masturbating."
Warnings: AU, language, innuendo, general naughtiness (see prompt)
Summary: An American-university AU (because that is the sort of university I know!) in which things are inevitable indeed.
Author's Note: Happy (not-as-late-as-expected) birthday to the beautiful crazyboutremmy!! ♥ Thank you to the invariably invaluable eltea for beta work and idea assistance! :)
“You win, Merlin.”
Arthur’s sidekick/slave/confidante/inexplicable best friend looked up from the latest Modern novel, glasses sliding down his nose.
Arthur stretched and shifted, savoring his favorite armchair. “Accidentally signing up for a sex change,” he decided, “is significantly worse than getting caught masturbating.”
Merlin colored vividly—but set his mouth in a firm line.
“Not true,” he countered. “It was completely unintentional.”
Arthur put his feet up on Merlin’s art history textbook, garnering the Disapproving Pouty Frown. “What,” he hazarded, “you didn’t hear the question? It’s pretty straightforward—Do you want to undergo surgery to change your gender? Yes? Lovely! Sign here and here and read this waiver carefully—”
“It wasn’t like that,” Merlin protested, looking meaningfully at Arthur’s trespassing sockfeet. “All sorts of people were shoving papers at me, and most of them were environmental petitions, so I just sort of initialed them without really reading them—”
“Which is much more ridiculous than getting caught with one’s hands in one’s pants,” Arthur concluded.
Merlin raised his elfin-pointed chin, which Arthur was willing to bet was most of the problem—Merlin would make an excellent girl.
“My would-be benefactors,” Merlin maintained, “will laugh about my mistake for two weeks before forgetting which stupid kid signed what.” Merlin sat up straighter, and a thrilling triumph lit his eyes. Arthur encountered some difficulty suppressing a delighted shiver. “You, on the other hand,” Merlin was declaring, “are not going to get off so easy.”
…that choice of words had to be deliberate.
“Your father is going to remember that forever.”
Arthur wrinkled his nose. The tragedy of it was that Merlin was probably right.
He’d been surprised his dad hadn’t passed out on the spot, actually.
And surprised that he himself hadn’t flat-out died of embarrassment.
Not that Merlin needed to know that, and not that he needed to know what mental image had plunged a mostly-unwitting Arthur into this wildly awkward mess in the first place.
Merlin considered, eyes glazing just slightly, and idly extended a slender finger to push his glasses back into place.
“Your dad really shouldn’t be allowed to wander around the dorms,” was the verdict.
Arthur sighed and repositioned his heels on Two Centuries of Sculpture.
“He’s the dean of Letters and Science; he’s allowed to do anything. And he’d flay me alive just for asking that he stay out of my personal space.”
“Yes,” Merlin mused, sounding resigned, “I like your skin better where it is.”
Merlin said that kind of shit all the time. It was a throwaway comment, and it shouldn’t have been settling comfortably in Arthur’s long-term memory.
As Arthur liked to say, however, usually within the safety of his personal thoughts, inevitability was a bitch.
Other things were a bitch, too.
Like when the fire alarm went off when you were in the middle of taking a shower.
Dripping wet, seething mad, sopping hair plastered across his forehead, Arthur burst out into the hallway like an avenging tornado, clutching his towel about his waist and scouring the premises for the responsible party.
“Who,” he shouted, “the fuck burned the popcorn this ti—”
Merlin was standing guiltily in the doorway to their room, gingerly holding a very singed bag of popcorn by the top two corners, a bit of popcorn ash smudged across one of his prominent cheekbones.
Arthur was going to kill someone.
The second he had some pants on, that was.
It was frigidly cold in the stairwell as they tromped dutifully down after the other residents of the building, Arthur attempting to burn through the back of Merlin’s skull with his eyes.
“I just pressed the popcorn button!” Merlin was wailing plaintively. “And I was in the middle of the episode, too; things had just gone from bad to drastically worse—”
“At least you’re not naked,” Arthur snarled.
“You’re not naked,” Merlin protested, glancing over one bony shoulder. “You’ve got a towel on.”
“I’m naked underneath the towel,” Arthur hissed back.
Merlin thought it over. “I suppose…”
“What do you mean, you ‘suppose’?” Arthur howled. “I am naked in public, and it’s all because of you!”
They had just exited the lobby and entered the large crush of students standing by until the fire department gave them permission to leave.
An entire dorm made for a lot of people going silent and staring.
Arthur suddenly sympathized with the mass-murdering lunatic types who went on bloody rampages and killed large numbers of innocent onlookers.
But he was going to start with Merlin.
The second he had some fucking pants on.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, the second he had some fucking pants on, Merlin disappeared.
By the time Arthur had a shirt on, however, Merlin had (probably unwisely) returned—bearing Arthur’s shower things, all neatly and aesthetically arranged in his plastic shower caddy.
“I’m sorry,” Merlin offered tentatively. “I didn’t expect the popcorn to do that.” He cleared his throat uncertainly. “Again.”
It was extremely frustrating to discover the near-impossibility of maintaining a desire to slaughter someone when he was giving you a highly-perfected pair of puppy eyes.
Arthur snatched the shower caddy from Merlin’s grip, glowering intently, and went back to toweling at his hair.
“You,” he announced, “have lost your popcorn privileges.” He raised an imperious eyebrow. “Indefinitely.”
Merlin smiled and pushed his glasses into place. He still had a spot of black smeared on his cheek.
Without thinking, Arthur reached out and rubbed it off with his thumb.
Merlin’s skin was warm—warmer as a bit of blood rushed into it—and his cheekbones were like knives.
Arthur wasn’t sure what to make of this.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to think about it.
Merlin smiled again, sheepishly, and cleared his throat.
“So,” he said.
“What the hell were you trying to watch, anyway?” Arthur asked.
“‘Chuck,’” Merlin answered.
Show about a hapless geek saving the world as we know it?
Arthur was shocked to imagine that Merlin would appreciate such a thing.
The last of Arthur’s homework could wait; he flopped down on Merlin’s bed expectantly.
“Well?” he prompted.
Merlin collected his laptop and curled up at the other end of the bed, avoiding Arthur’s feet.
Arthur wriggled his toes. “Why don’t you tell me in advance next time,” he suggested, “and we’ll spare a defenseless bag of popcorn?”
Turning up the computer volume and scooting back to settle against the wall, Merlin muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “Such a martyr.”
Arthur poked Merlin’s leg with his toe. “You’re going to need my protection,” he noted. “Everyone in this building will be pissed off at you for at least two days.”
Merlin tapped play. “I think that’s the least of my problems,” he mumbled.
Arthur got distracted by the show before he could give that statement too much thought.
Predictably, inevitability reared its ugly head again.
Their room phone rang, and Arthur pushed the latest polisci article away in order to heave himself out of his Comfy Chair and grab the receiver out of the cradle.
“Mr. Emrys?” The voice was cheery and female.
“He’s not in right now,” Arthur drawled. “Can I help you?”
“I’m just calling to follow up on his pledge to help the Tree Lovers’ League in our quest to end environmental destruction and become one with our wonderful world.”
Arthur put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone so that she wouldn’t hear him snort laughing.
“I’m sorry,” he managed after the moment of hysterics had passed. “Something in my throat. Shall I give him your number so that he can call you back?”
Before Arthur had even sat down to reprise the ideal Comfy Chair position, the phone rang again.
Cursing under his breath, he crossed the room and picked up.
“Is this Mr. Emrys?”
Damn. Bored-sounding guy.
“Nope,” Arthur replied. “What can I do for you?”
Three hours later, when Merlin returned from his marathon stretch of classes slotted one after the other, Arthur had an entire sheet of notepaper full of phone numbers and organization titles.
He shoved the list in Merlin’s face—a paint-splattered face, as a result of the extraordinarily messy practical art class in which its owner was enrolled.
“Just how much shit did you sign?” Arthur demanded.
Merlin took the paper and looked it over, pursing his lips pensively.
“A great deal, apparently,” was the verdict. He set his backpack and portfolio down and kicked off his sneakers, revealing red-and-blue-striped socks. “They all called today?”
Arthur said nothing, the better to wait until Merlin turned and interpreted his dour expression.
“How very odd,” Merlin decided faintly.
“If I castrate you now,” Arthur remarked, “will that make your prospective sex change easier?”
“Would you like me to tell Morgana about your little mishap?” Merlin shot back. “I’m sure she’d appreciate a little more ammunition. Or maybe I should tell your father how many times I’ve caught you in the act. Honestly, Arthur, when are you going to learn to lock the door?”
Arthur simply scowled, but Merlin stared him down.
He huffed and dropped into the Comfy Chair.
“Would you give them your cell number next time, at least?” he muttered.
Merlin smiled sweetly. “You mean the cell phone whose ringtone you changed to ‘I’m Too Sexy’ the other day while I was out?” he asked innocently.
“You are the single most passive-aggressive bastard I have ever had the misfortune of meeting,” he realized.
Merlin winked. “I’m also too sexy for your party.”
Arthur wasn’t sure why all the water in the world was against him.
The fateful shower would have been enough, but the day after he had… tactically retreated under Merlin’s onslaught, the clouds opened and flooded forth just as each of his classes concluded, resulting in a series of progressively wetter trips across the campus.
Inevitably, he was soaked through and squelching in his shoes by the time he forged his way back to the dorms.
Merlin was stretched out on the bed, perfectly dry and sickeningly cozy, when Arthur slammed the door behind him.
“What the hell did you do?” Arthur snapped, petulantly he knew. “Run between the drops?”
“It just seemed like an umbrella day this morning,” Merlin responded, snuggling deeper in his comforter.
Vituperating quietly, Arthur stormed—har, har—to his dresser and started peeling off layers of saturated fabric. “I fucking hate the rain,” he decided.
“I love it,” Merlin countered dreamily. “It seems so normal, but if you really think about what’s happening… it’s kind of beautiful.”
Arthur glanced at his mentally-unstable roommate over one damp shoulder. In the dim, shifting silver light, with long-fingered, ink-stained, elegant hands splayed across the cover of Mrs. Dalloway, with hair disheveled, toes curled, and shining eyes downcast…
The rain had nothing on Merlin Emrys.
Arthur shucked off his wet jeans, belt buckle jingling merrily as it bounced on the floor.
“You’re crazy,” he declared.
“Most artists are,” Merlin replied.
Couldn’t argue with that logic.
Arthur was gazing morosely at his printer, willing the ink to replenish itself, and watching Merlin proofread his paper when the rain stopped. Merlin was tapping a pen against his bottom lip—entirely needlessly, since he was reading the damn thing on Arthur’s computer in the first place.
Unexpectedly, Merlin grinned.
Arthur didn’t remember putting any humor in there. Discovering quickly that attempts at cleverness tended only to be reprimanded, he’d given up on injecting them into academia.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
Merlin smiled, gesturing towards the screen with his unnecessary pen.
“I don’t think ‘as evidenced in Machiavelli’s kickass treatise’ is exactly what you wanted.”
Arthur introduced his forehead to his desktop.
“I was going to substitute a word in,” he noted.
As if it wasn’t hopeless anyway.
Merlin set the laptop down a safe distance from Arthur’s face. “Good plan. Other than that, though, it looks all right.”
Arthur rested chin on folded arms and watched Merlin wander to the window, where the boy stood staring out at the courtyard below, nose to a wire screen dappled with droplets. Smiling, the absent smile reserved for inward amusement overflowing, Merlin breathed deeply, savoring the scent of a world washed clean.
“Do you think I should be here?” Arthur asked quietly.
Merlin turned to look at him, bewildered and slightly alarmed. “What?”
“I mean,” Arthur began, “you’re brilliant, and you just—you belong here, you deserve this. You go to every damn class even when you’re practically puking, and you slave away in the dining commons to pay your tuition.”
“It’s not that bad,” Merlin cut in uncertainly. “Mr. G lets me get away with practically anything…”
“I know,” Arthur persisted, “but just—haven’t you ever thought that maybe my getting accepted here had more to do with the little detail that my father is one of its most powerful administrative officials and less to do with my actually being qualified?”
Merlin tilted his head. “No,” he answered. Before Arthur could protest, he held up a hand and went on. “You’re smarter than you think you are,” he said. “You’re doing well here, and in a competitive program.”
“Well-ish,” Arthur corrected in a mutter.
Merlin shrugged. “Even beyond that—his highly-unnerving habit of prowling the hallways of the dormitory aside, your dad is fair. He wouldn’t pull strings to let you in if you hadn’t earned it.”
Arthur shoved at Merlin’s much-abused copy of Two Centuries of Sculpture. One of these days, he and that book were going to get into a proper smackdown, and then that fucker would know what was up.
“Maybe,” he mumbled.
Merlin raised his eyebrows. “Come on,” he persisted. “If you hadn’t been good enough to get in, he just would have become the dean at the school you did get into.”
Arthur wrinkled his nose at the very thought.
“It’s not as much about the school,” Merlin finished, “as it is about you.”
How was it that Merlin made unadulterated schmaltz look so good?
Arthur blew out a breath and raked one slow-responding hand through his disheveled hair. Two in the morning, the blurry numbers of his digital clock proclaimed; he was barely conscious enough to read at this hour, and he had class at nine.
And yet here he was, staring down this truly interminable article on whatever-it-was.
No, this was not going well at all.
He didn’t know how Merlin did it—went to all those classes, learned all that stuff, painted and sketched and shaded, went and served ungrateful students halfway-decent food, came back, did his reading, and tolerated Arthur’s bullshit all the while. His only indulgences seemed to be ‘Chuck,’ once weekly, occasionally a YouTube binge, and the rambling, endless campus walks he would take, striking out with huge headphones clapped over those dauntless ears.
That was the way of things. Merlin was super-human.
There was something slightly ethereal about him—something literally charming. Something off-kilter just-so; something profoundly right.
Arthur glanced over. Merlin had settled into sleep well over an hour ago and was currently lying on his side, one arm flung over the edge of the bed. Arthur was vaguely stunned that he’d never sliced a pillow to ribbons with those damn incredible cheekbones.
His hands, too—artist’s hands, smooth, slender, pale, but poised around a paintbrush, matchless with a pencil, knuckles spotted with wayward ink.
Arthur had always found it amusing that Merlin was a graceful artist, armed with a canvas and a tool that would leave his mark behind—and was a Grade-A klutz the rest of the time.
Super-human. Sublime. And still, despite it, somehow so small, and breakable, and real.
Arthur hauled himself out of his desk chair, hesitated, moved, hesitated, and looked down at the softly-breathing saint sprawled out below him, careless, free in dreamland, Peter Pan, a puppy.
A dark little puppy with lashes fluttering, with the faintest hint of a devious smile.
Arthur reached out and touched his hair—stroked it, once, twice, gently, as if a littler gesture could be rescinded.
Before he could even withdraw his hand, Merlin opened his eyes.
“Mmn?” Merlin slurred, blinking hazy blue eyes.
“Um,” Arthur said sagely, his hovering hand making a swift tactical retreat.
Merlin scrubbed blearily at his eyes. “What d’you need?”
Arthur was briefly mystified by the fact that his mouth was running off without his brain’s permission, and then he remembered that it was two in the morning, and he’d written a six-page paper just hours before.
“Merlin—do you—like girls?” his mouth wanted to know.
It was unfortunate that his hand was too busy tactically retreating to be recruited for slapping himself across the face.
“I like plenty of girls,” Merlin mumbled, pushing himself up on his elbows. “Or is that a sexuality question?”
“Um,” Arthur repeated, sager even than before.
“In that case,” Merlin responded, “I don’t. Are you still stuck on that sex change thing?”
“Of course not,” Arthur managed to scoff. “Though I do think you should cross-dress for a day and see how many guys try to ask you out.”
“Arthur,” Merlin said.
“Yeah?” Arthur said.
“Could you get me my glasses?”
Merlin liked to look at things, liked to see them. He was an artist. Sight was the source of his power.
Arthur found them on the dresser and passed them over. Merlin unfolded them, donned them, and blinked at him properly.
“What do you want?” he asked.
Arthur sank down onto the bed, barely noticing his instinctive avoidance of Merlin’s feet, and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes until spots of white winked on his eyelids.
“I don’t know.” Not anymore.
Merlin shifted. “Well, who do you like?”
Arthur’s throat was dry, and his tongue was thick, and thinking had become very difficult.
More evidence for his Dad-Based Admission conspiracy theory.
“You,” he said.
The silence swelled between them like a soap bubble, opalescent and improbably vast; shining, fragile, sweet.
Merlin touched it delicately, and it broke.
“Arthur,” he said again. “Come here.”
Arthur looked at Merlin where the boy half-sat, half-lay, face lit faintly blue by the glow of Arthur’s laptop screen.
It was slightly horrifying to think that he couldn’t deny Merlin anything.
Or at least not anything that actually mattered.
He went. Merlin had asked him to.
White hands took his wrist, pulled, then his elbows; he gave in and perched unsteadily nearby, Merlin’s warm sheets bunching against his thigh, Merlin’s warm hands pulling him a little closer, close enough to slide both arms around his neck.
“You can do a lot better,” Merlin remarked.
Arthur smirked. “I don’t think so.”
“Girls try to jump you right and left—sometimes diagonally.”
“It’s not as enjoyable as you’d think. And not nearly as enjoyable as I make it sound.”
“What about Morgana?”
“She’s practically my sister. In addition, I have reason to believe she’s plotting to kill me.”
“You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you?”
“Well, of course.”
Merlin shifted, one of those knife’s-edge cheekbones grazing Arthur’s chest, the glasses jarred a little out of place.
“Then you ought to have known I was going to react this way, right?”
Arthur smiled absently. “It’s two in the morning,” he noted. “I don’t know shit.”
“I don’t know shit all the time,” Merlin replied.
“I should have my English minor revoked for that,” he said.
Arthur raised a hand (which was not shaking at all, not even remotely) and set his thumb under Merlin’s chin. He leaned down and closed the distance and kissed him, warmly, and gently, and with everything he had.
His head was spinning when he drew back, but it was two in the morning.
“You can minor in Arthur Pendragon,” he suggested.
Merlin grinned, curled his fingers in Arthur’s hair, and pulled him in again, tossing caution to the winds and bidding it a fond adieu.
Arthur’s head had long since taken a first-class flight to Zanzibar by the time they parted next.
“But what would your father say?” Merlin inquired.
Arthur was banking on never finding out.
He cleverly concealed himself behind his coffee cup when he stopped by his father’s office two days later. No one would find him here.
“How are your classes?” Uther Pendragon asked idly.
“Fine,” Arthur told the coffee.
“How are things working out with that Emrys boy?”
Only the sharpest of self-preservation instincts prevented Arthur from spitting coffee in his father’s face.
He choked, swallowed with difficulty, and coughed for a full ten seconds, pounding himself on the chest.
Uther raised an eyebrow. “You’re still rooming with him, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Arthur gasped out. “Yes, yes; it’s just fine. It’s excellent. It’s fantastic.” It gets very hot in there, however; maybe you should see if the university’s financial plan will support air-conditioning units.
“What I walked in on last week,” he began, uneasily, looking pointedly at a stack of papers, “gives me some cause for concer—”
“It won’t happen again,” Arthur promised brightly.
Uther glanced up abruptly.
Arthur flashed his most innocent smile.