In Love With My RadioAuthor: lunchy_munchy Pairing:
Obliviousness. To an unhealthy degree. Summary:
Merlin listens to the radio on his iPod, Arthur stalks Merlin, Morgana lives to create chaos in Arthur's life, and then everyone goes to McDonalds!Note:
Please listen to the embedded mp3s. You might find a nice surprise if you do :)
Sometimes, Merlin Emrys stood out from the crowd.
Not that it was much of a surprise. He did dress sort of oddly when left to his own devices, lots of multi-coloured scarves (they had a small town charm about them, Merlin thought. Freya had said they were hideous abominations to fashion, but surely she was joking). Tragically, he also possessed long, chicken-like limbs, which not only made him look gangly, but also tended to conspire against the rest of him and make him fall over (such behaviour was certainly not endearing, though Gwen, bless her, tried gamely to convince him otherwise).
Recently, Merlin stood out because he would smile from ear to ear for no apparent reason, and everybody knew when a stranger was smiling for no apparent reason it was obviously a sign of lunacy. Particularly observant passers-by (who had far too much time on their hands) might have noted the iconic white cable, the earbuds securely jammed in his (rather big) ears, and concluded that Merlin was not smiling at something he could see (others concocted fantastic stories about his mental afflictions and then tweeted about them).
Merlin was growing oblivious to their judging ways. He simply adjusted his earbuds into a more comfortable position, and continued to smile.
---"Welcome back Drivethru fans! You're here with Penn and Dusty on this scorching hot Wednesday afternoon, bloody awful isn't it Dust?"
"Oh yes, but every day is awful Penn. Why do you think that is?"
"Because you're a giant wet blanket who is only happy when it rains?"
"Because every single day you're doing some other dodgy thing that verges on the fatally stupid. I am looking forward to the day it all ends in tragedy, when I shall finally have this cushy booth all to myself."
"You've no trust in me at all Dusty, and that hurts me! See, right here in the corner of my extremely manly, cold iron heart, covered by my pectorals of steel. Feel that? Don't be shy Dusty, get stuck into it."
"There are so many things wrong with you."
"But before we get to that Drivethru fans, it's time for some sweet, sweet Beyonce and, I dunno, some weird blonde—"
"That's Lady Gaga and Beyonce, Telephone."
The Drivethru on CamelotFM.
Hosted by the charming, posh, somewhat insane Penn and his long-suffering, level-headed foil Dusty, it was one of the most popular radio shows in the nation. Penn and Dusty were off-centre and genuinely likeable, and Merlin personally found the banter between them hilarious, and sometimes surprisingly educational in a 'wow, people like that really exist!' way (well, except realistically speaking they had to be putting it on a bit. They probably weren't really
like that at all, just playing it up or playing roles and therefore slightly manufactured, maybe even scripted! Merlin deftly shoved that reality into a box in the far reaches of his mind, clearly labelled "fun sucking truths, do not open").
It had all come about when Merlin realised that the meagre offerings of his precious iPod nano (serious business 8GB), while being very adequate for short walks around Ealdor, were no match for the city, which ate up much more commute time than Ealdor could ever dream of. After the first half a dozen trips, Merlin very quickly realized that,
1. knowing all the words to Blondie's Call Me
because he'd listened to it at least fifty times was probably not that impressive, and
2. he totally needed some new stuff on his iPod.
Talkback radio podcasts were brilliant that way. Not only did his iPod now provide him with the sultry tones of popular radio DJs whenever he liked (sultriness only being a slight draw. Honest!), but it was something to look forward to every day, not unlike that absolute knowledge he'd had of seeing Will's face every day back when they were in high school (though at the time, seeing Will's face every day wasn't always something to look forward to. He'd had very bad acne). There was a certainty to it that Merlin found very comforting.
He looked forward to when he could clip his green nano onto the back pocket of his jeans and take a walk, push play and listen to some witty repartee and guilty pleasure pop music, even if it was only to and from work (he supposed it would simpler and quicker to take the tube, but he didn't relish the idea of being stuck in an even smaller space than The Shop for any longer than necessary). He very much enjoyed the (somewhat) fresh air and idyllic atmosphere of the after work crowd, ambling to the pub after a long day at work or out walking their dogs (perhaps also to a pub that catered to pet owners), the sounds of Penn's barking laughter and Dusty's exasperation rolling through him in soothing waves.
Taking in the last vestiges of the day's warmth, Merlin adjusted his earbuds and was sure there were worse ways to spend his time.
---"Brace yourselves everyone, Penn is about to thoroughly exasperate all of us sane human beings."
"Dusty! That would consist of only boring people, and Drivethru fans are not boring people! Do not worry Drivethru fans, I shall make sure he does not attempt to muddy your name any further. Before that though, it's time for Walk It Off! It’s six o’clock and it’s time for Walk it Off, events that make me want to throw expensive mobile phones at personal assistants because I am an angry, angry man."
"Not that you've ever done that."
"Yeah, who knows if they were personal assistants or not."
"Okay, onward to today's topic: people who can't take a hint!"
"Producers and censors on stand-by please."
"I was in this coffee shop right, minding my own business and browsing the web on my laptop—"
"Where no doubt you were updating the coughshamelessplugcough Drivethru blog twitter widget thing?"
"Oh, yep, absolutely. First place to go on the web right?"
"Anyway, all of a sudden this uppity tart sits down next to me—"
"Hold on, uppity?"
"It was in her eyes you see, you had to be there. Anyway, not only did she choose to sit next to me, and mind you, it was about 11am, there were plenty of empty booths and seats, but not only does she deliberately sit down right next to me, she shamelessly plasters herself to my side — we're not talking a bit of elbow knocking here alright, it is completely full on contact sports like! Anyway, I am giving her the Eyebrow of Complete Disdain—"
"Throwing out the big guns already! Maybe she thought you were sad and needed a hug, Penn. A very inappropriate, full on contact sports like hug. Or maybe you were blocking the way to the napkins. You are a terrible napkin hog."
"I am no such thing you dirty liar! Look here, I am not over-reacting—"
"—When she first sat down I thought 'gee, that's a bit close isn't it?' and the next thing you know WHAM, lady bits all up in my business! Honestly, if I was any less classy I would have 'accidentally' spilt my coffee all over her too-revealing-for-11am front."
"Right, so what? You told her to bugger off?"
"Too right I did! I said "do you bloody mind!" and she said, keep in mind I've never seen her before in my life right, she said, "Yeah mate, you're totally fit, can I add you on facebook? And I have to check my email, d'ya mind?" And I just thought 'What is wrong with you?!' I mean she had me cornered, between her and a wall and I swear by the end of it I was fending myself off with my laptop screaming "No you can't touch my macbook, I'm definitely not friending you, you’re a creepy pervert, back off and let me out of the booth!"
"You did not Penn, you're having me on!"
"Dust, I swear to you, I finally had to climb over the table to get out of there. And this mad girl, she was still trailing after me! Asking after my number and if I had a girlfriend—"
"Getting handsy was she?"
"Honestly, I might be tragically handsome, but that was absolutely ridiculous! Finally lost her on the tube, and if you're out there listening you crazy harlot, right, that is not the way to go about making friends and influencing people!"
"So she followed you from the coffee shop to the station?"
"From the coffee shop to the underground! That really is a fair bit to follow someone you've only spoken to for less two minutes — but the point is, she couldn’t take the bloody hint. Or chose not to, whatever. Girls, as a bloke, I absolutely appreciate your 2010 attitude of making the first move, but frankly, you are taking it a bit too far."
"And so you chose to run away from her. Of course. Very manly, that."
"I got away from her in an extremely calm and sedate manner thank you very much, and then I had to come back to the station and stare at your disturbing chin fluff, so its not exactly a win is it?"
"If that that's what you need to tell yourself to get through the night."
"Ignore him Drivethru fans. Call us if you've been in a situation when someone hasn't taken the bloody hint. More on this after the Ian Carey Project—"
"With Get Shaky on the Drivethru at CamelotFM."
The first thing Merlin noticed and was absolutely unsettled by was the sheer volume of people who resided in Albion. They streamed in and out of the tube and filled up sidewalks and took up all the nice benches in the park at lunchtime. In Ealdor, everybody knew everybody. Or at least, if you didn't know somebody, you were certain to know somebody that they knew, and all was right with the world and a home visit with biscuits would be forthcoming. You never had any secrets in a small town, which was a bit annoying (Merlin's homosexuality being case in point. His mam had thrown a party.
Merlin was so very thankful no one had jumped out of the cake. He had given Gauis an extra long hug for it). But, you weren't, he supposed, invisible? Like the way you could feel surrounded by the crowds in the city. Even at uni, it was highly unlikely for Merlin to see the same person twice, and he was trying, he really was, but it was hard to break into social groups that had already been formed since school (unless he wanted to destroy his liver by going to pub 'orientations', but he had to work in the evenings so that was pretty much out the window too).
Moving from a small town, like Ealdor, to the big city was actually quite the upheaval, a much bigger deal than Merlin had convinced himself it would be. (In the end Gauis helped to convince both he and his mam what a brilliant idea it was. Something about leaving the nest, or spreading his wings, or other horrid bird analogies that everyone seemed to think he would appreciate. Ha. Bloody. Ha).
Initially, he was so busy he didn't have time to breathe: moving all his stuff, being awkward around his roommate, finding a job, discovering most of what he had packed was kind of non essential, getting set up for his course, fretting about what was acceptable roommate behaviour anyway, finding out when trash day was, hooking up the laptop to the TV, etc. etc.. But when that was all done, he found himself thinking, ...Now what?
Should he knuckle down and start studying? Get a job? Go out and explore the big city? Where? With who? Most importantly, could he avoid looking like a tourist while doing so? Everything had been a little different and slightly strange, and compared with Ealdor there was a lot more of everything, everywhere.
Merlin knew that without something to anchor him to Albion, he might always feel lost, might want to give up and go back to his mam and his old bedroom and be a country boy forever and ever. Then he slapped his face with both of his hands, hard, and got over himself. He started reading the city papers, got into the habit of work, uni, his share of housework (he was slowly warming to his flatmate, but found Lancelot to be a bit flighty and intimidatingly attractive, so mostly he would stutter and embarrass himself before retreating back to his room), set about familiarising himself with the immediate area (meaning he took a lot of long walks, hoped he didn't get lost when it got too dark and wouldn't have to ring up Lancelot and stutter and embarrass himself over the phone as well). Before he knew it, he was sending emails to his mam to tell her that he was fine, Lancelot was fine (and it was kind of weird that she was enquiring after him in the first place), that everything was fine, Mam,
and meant it. He really was
doing just fine.
It might have sounded silly, but he really felt he owed Penn and Dusty. They knew the place, and the people, and they slowed down to explain things and give directions and said stupid things so everyone else could have a laugh. It was exactly that, having just that very small thing, that gave Merlin the confidence to believe he did have something in common with everyone his age in Albion, instead of being the struggling, clueless country bumpkin who was out of his depth (that he actually was).
...Plus Penn sounded kind of fit (Dusty was alright too, but he was a bit more like what Merlin imagined a big brother would be like, and no matter what city folk thought country people did for fun he did not approve of incestuous relations. Ew).
"It's Penn and Dusty here with you on your way home and we're talking people who can't take a hint. Hello Vivian?"
"So you're actually the opposite of Penn?"
"Yeah see, there was this guy I liked, pretty fit, and we'd met a couple of times — I'd gotten some pretty good vibes from him you know, thought maybe this could get interesting — so I did the normal things, laughed at his jokes even though were really lame, touched him a lot — and that sort of thing. From that you'd think a girl'd be interested wouldn't you?"
"Well, Dusty here has not had any attention from females, ever—"
"That's blatantly untrue!"
"—Ever, but yes, I'd definitely be thinking that you were into me, were that the case. I take it that's not how the story goes?"
"Yeah, exactly! I was doing everything I could right, up to the point where my friends were telling me to leave it alone, that he obviously wasn't into me, which is completely ridiculous because hellooooo, have you seen me? But by then my pride was taking a massive hit, and I was invested in the whole thing right? Anyways, for a couple of weeks I was constantly flirting, texting, stocking up on popsicles and bananas, buying all these silly low cut tops and backless things, until finally I got his flatmate to let me into his room and I waited for him on his bed—"
"On his bed?!"
"Fully on his bed! I won't tell you what I was wearing, but anyway, he'd gotten in, seen me and..."
"And then, he was like, "What are you doing here?" "
"Just how thick is this guy?! I'm completely fed up and I tell him, "What— what else do you need me to do, write you a bloody invitation?"
"Vivian, you did not!"
"I'm just going to wait for Penn to stop laughing—"
"—Okay I'm done, I'm done."
"—But you know, maybe he was gay or something?"
"Nah, we went out for a bit after that, thank god but still, pfft, waste of my time."
"Good on you for getting something out of that ordeal."
"God, didn't he think you were stalking him or what! Showing up in his room like that."
"In my experience, well except that one time obviously, guys tend to appreciate quite a lot."
"Well thank you for sharing that with us Vivian."
"No problem, love your work guys."
"We’ll be right back after Cascada gets people off the dancefloor."
"You mean, 'evacuate the dancefloor'."
"That's what I said Dusty. I'm worried about this hearing problem of yours."
"Right, because I'm obviously the one with health problems."
"Hey, what are you implying! I'm fighting fit!"
Merlin flopped onto his comfy bed, rolling around in it just a little, taking out his earbuds. He'd been on his feet a bit at the shop, stayed back to help Freya and Gwen close up before heading home and his lovely, lovely bed felt heavenly. His stomach chose to growl then, and Merlin groaned, trying to decide between grabbing dinner when he'd just gotten back in, or taking a nap.
There was a nice curry shop next to the park (they did a ripping chicken tikka masala, his favourite), and next door to that was a coffee shop that did a great breakfast tea (grab a muffin as well, only £3!). It was nice, finally knowing where things were. He'd been able to show Will around a bit when he'd been up last weekend: the shops he liked to browse through that Ealdor didn't have, mourning over all the books and DVDs he'd love to own but couldn't afford (Will pretended not to know him when Merlin sat down in the sci-fi section), the games shop he visited for the lolly sticks the staff grudgingly gave out to customers who solved the puzzle on the door (he told Will they'd been getting harder ever since he started coming, but Will just said, very loudly, that the shop girls have obviously cottoned on to how much of a life he doesn't have. The shop girls just stared at them both, and didn't refute Will's claims).
He tried to show Will the library he usually went to when he wasn't doing three hours of lab work at uni, but Will wasn't at all interested and demanded to be introduced to 'those totally hot chicks he worked for'. Merlin refused, and Will declared him no fun, dragged him back to his and Lancelot's flat and forced some tequila down his throat. After two shots, he was happily dialing Gwen to meet him and Will down and the pub. His memory failed him at this point, but at least he woke up in his flat the next morning. After Will went home, he showed up at work very apologetically, but Freya only made fun of him for about a week anyway, so that was fine.
Freya owned The Shop, and she lived with Gwen. Their flat was a very scary place. He usually went to hang out with Gwen and Freya at The Shop when he was putting off doing maths (which was all the time), and tinkered with all the electronics in the tea room (the girls just wanted to teach him how to make coffees. They quickly set up rules about what he could and could not touch after he took the machine apart and put it back together again with flashing lights and booming audio tracks). When he was actually working instead of hanging out, he folded clothes, smiled a lot and operated the till. Freya insisted that he 'look pretty' at all times on the premises, and treated him like her own living, breathing mannequin whenever she liked (Gwen didn't do a thing to dissuade her. Merlin suspected she and Freya had a time share going on with the Mannequin aspects of his job).
The shop only ever played loud poppy music that somehow enticed customers to buy clothes (or maybe it drowned out the sound of their rationality so that everyone who worked there could convince them to buy clothes). The point is, the music was trashy, sort of crap and horrendously catchy, and if Gwen and Freya ever claimed to have footage of him dancing (or some approximation thereof), they (and the CCTV footage) were lying. Clearly.
He lifted himself onto his elbows with difficulty, dragging his laptop from his bedside table onto the pillow next to his head. He decided he was too knackered to eat. All he wanted to do was listen to the rest of the podcast and fall asleep.
"You're back with Penn and Dusty, and what do you think Dust, nay or yay to a girl who just turns up in your bed?"
"I dunno, but—"
"What am I asking you for? It's never going to happen to you."
"That’s true -- all the weird things do tend to happen to you."
"And that's not fair at all is it? Why do they just happen to me?"
"I could recite a list for you if you like. Your sister prepared one just last week."
"Hey, we made a pact not to mention her between the witching hour of 6 and 7, remember?"
"Well, then I have nothing to add to this discussion."
"You never do. And if anything of interest did happen to you, we'd never hear amusing tales spun from them, would we Drivethru fans? Anyway, the point that I was trying to make—"
"This was actually leading somewhere?"
"The point, is that for once, I want to be the weird thing that happens to other people."
"Don't have to work hard for that one."
"No no no, I'm going to take a page out of Vivian's book and really work at it!"
"I don't think you should commit to anything on live radio where you could, I don't know, be held accountable for it or anything. Besides, you never even went through with that bonkers plan you had to tail the guy from that bar last week."
"Ah yes, the revenge plan."
"Wasn't it an apology plan since you were being a right tosser?"
"Such minor details are unnecessary in the grand scheme of things Dust. Right, Drivethru fans, I‘ve decided. Log onto our blog twitter widget thing and follow my progress where I devise a foolproof plan to nail this guy—"
"I can't believe that I just got the thumbs up from our producers endorsing this madness."
"—and I'll learn all his secrets and expose him to the whole world!"
"Wonderful, truly. And if he's a listener he's already on top of your dastardly ways."
"Dusty, who do you think I am? I will never be caught! I am a panther in the wild! A cheetah on the Savannah! A—"
"—Alright, you like big cats, we get it."
"—Stay tuned, Drivethru fans, Operation 'learn about the weaknesses of that guy from that bar last week and use his weaknesses against him' will go live... right now!"
"Have you really just whipped out your iPhone and done that when you haven't properly thought through what a shite title you've given this operation?"
"...Drivethru fans, I will keep you updated!"
"Yes, do let us follow your progress into criminal activity, we shall be oh so happy."
"Well, no need to go on about it like a blubbering girl Dusty, honestly you're quite embarrassing sometimes."
"Right, so here's an anthem for blubbering girls everywhere, I'm Not Your Toy by La Roux."
"You're going to get us in trouble with the feminists again."
"Be quiet and listen to song please Penn."
Chuckling, Merlin added the Drivethru blog twitter widget thing to his RSS feed before pushing the lid down, watching the light blink, hypnotised, until it petered out, leaving him in total darkness (plus the red blinking lights of the numbers of his alarm clock that is).
The thing was, he supposed, was that... he was a little lonely. Gwen and Freya are lovely, but they already had all this shared history between them that was hard to penetrate (and they had a tendency to be incredibly vague one moment, and terrifyingly focused on pattern making the next). Lancelot was nice enough and um, attractive, and if he'd stop putting his foot in his mouth all the time, maybe he wouldn't feel awkward hanging around him for more than five minutes. They already knew who they were and where they were going. The space for Merlin in their lives were still largely undefined, and Merlin was still trying to see how his battered, rusted cog fit in with all the other sleeker, modern cogs. It was a complicated and difficult process.
Penn's soothing voice and Dusty's deep resonance feel like non judgmental old friends in a busy, indefatigable un-Merlin-esque city.
It'd be nice if he were their friends somehow, Merlin thought, hugging his pillow tightly to his chest and curling his body around it, falling into sleep.
Needless to say, Merlin quickly left the computer labs and called his mum ("Yes I got them Mam, they're delicious. No, I don't know if Lance likes them, because I told you we're not like th— I certainly don't think he'd want to eat it off of my— Oh look, my lecture's starting, love you Mam, bye!") and then guiltily checked in with his Uncle ("About time Merlin, your Mam was inconsolable!").
Even more guiltily, he tapped out a quick (unapologetic) text to Will and by the time he'd got a response, it was actually time for his Maths lecture (joy).
Merlin rushed off to work afterwards, looking wistfully at the goods in the thrifty ("take me home Merlin! You could take me apart and add wheels and lights and things!") before running into Gwen on her way out and greeting Freya on his way in. He had just settled behind the register, about to check his updated RSS feeds when Freya made a beeline for the counter and hurriedly motioned him out of it.
"There's a suspicious character hanging about outside!" she fervently hissed.
Merlin blinked. "...What?"
"Someone's loitering outside," Freya repackaged, fearfully shredding a tissue. "They've been at it for a while now — could you go and run them off or something?"
Merlin very much doubted that anybody was going to be frightened of a skinny, pasty English boy whose ribs were showing (he could probably rig up the toaster to shoot toast missiles if he really needed to), but he put on a brave face and walked out to the front of the shop anyway.
Other than a few school kids idling in the square and some rustling in the park area (must be stray animals, poor things), there wasn't a soul to be seen. He scratched his head and went back to report his findings.
"Um, were you talking about the school kids on the benches outside?" Merlin asked, helping Freya fold some turtlenecks (2 for £20!). She always worked a little bit harder when she felt nervous.
She looked up at him as if he were a wee bit daft. "No, not them. There was someone out there... Maybe I'm just seeing things." She started suddenly, dropping a half folded blue top that fluttered dejectedly to the floor. "Oh my god, maybe they were dealing drugs! In front of my shop! And then they sold out so they're not there anymore!"
Merlin moved on to the rack of long sleeved shrugs and started to sort them by size (comes in black and white!) "Do you want me to call the police?"
Freya shook herself out, and huffed. "No, it wouldn't do any good. They're probably paying off the police," she muttered, turning to Merlin— except he wasn't there anymore, gone off to the storeroom when he thought she would go on her 'Drug pushers! Argh!' tirade and wouldn't notice him missing for a bit. Feeling slightly foolish for basically talking to herself, she shook out a lovely blue military jacket and hung it back up in the men's section. And then paused.
"Merlin?" Freya called excitedly.
"Yeah?" His black mop popped out of the storeroom.
"Come here so I can put this amazing jacket on you! Ooooooh, and wear those skinny jeans that just came in! The ones that've been distressed."
"Coming." Merlin rolled his eyes and put down his armful of clothes.
"The really tight ones Merlin, no funny business! And grab my phone, I'll need to send photos to Gwen."
He looked forlornly at the monitor before grabbing the Motorola and submitting to cruel torture that he would probably pay for, quite literally (clothes shopping — yuck).
After work, Merlin made a quick stop at HMV to fondle the new releases for a while. Then he crossed the street and got a lollipop from the disgruntled games shop girl right before closing, unwrapping it victoriously as he idled home through the park. He replayed a DriveThru podcast as he walked, and picked up some milk and eggs (he was craving omelets for some reason) at the convenience store before going up the three flights of stairs to the flat.
It was Lancelot's turn to sort dinner (read: get takeaway), and Merlin managed to not be awkward for the duration of half a pack of pork dumplings, which was fortunately long enough to find out Lancelot was from a small town, like him! Lancelot wasn't a slick city cat after all! Merlin beamed at him excitedly. "Wow! So why did you move?"
"Well I work here now, for MerciaFM. I was at CamelotFM, but there were some complications and I was let go." Lancelot munched through a scoop of fried rice while Merlin's face fell in dismay.
"That's terrible! I'm sorry Lance."
Lancelot laughed. "No it's fine, really. It all worked out in the end and I'm getting just as much out of this job as I would've at Camelot anyway. I mean, Mercia's not as popular, but the show's great."
"Does it have a podcast?" Merlin enquired, dipping a piece of fish in soy sauce (with a fork; Lancelot had learned that Merlin didn't do well with food in general, and it was best not to tempt fate.)
Unfortunately, MerciaFM wasn't big on podcasting. Fortunately Lancelot wasn't hosting or anything, so Merlin wasn't missing the chance to be a supportive roommate and stuff. Before he knew it, the early evening had passed into the late night, and he had to excuse himself or risk academic humiliation at the hands of his Foundations tutor.
Of course what really happened was he gave the tute work a ten minute look over before spending two hours on facebook doing stupid quizzes about how awesome he was (answer: AAAAARRGH awesome).
Now by nature, Merlin was a very nice boy who didn't harbour any malice for anybody (except sometimes for Will, because Will always made him do stupid things that he regretted. He would never apologise for posting incriminating photos on Facebook). He also knew that he really should be going to bed instead of clicking links (think about TV Tropes Merlin, think where that abyss led you!), but he also knew that just because he shouldn't do it, didn't mean he wasn't going to.
He clicked with glee.
While he was on there, Merlin downloaded the latest podcast and charged up his nano. He decided to click C. on the poll, and was gratified to find 42.1% of listeners were just as juvenile as he was. Chuckling, he went to brush his teeth. He had hardly ever gone to a bar since he'd moved in — once with the girls, and once with Will and the girls that he had no memory of (there were many, many inexplicable photos though, so drunk!Merlin possibly has aspirations to become a pap for the rags). Merlin tried to imagine Penn walking into the shop, angrily buying a shirt and squinting at him suspiciously before retreating back to his lair (driving his swanky beamer with a rear spoiler, scowling and shoulders hunched back all the way home to his diamond encrusted bat cave, newly bought shirt discarded on the flashy leather seats... If he was going to be daydream, may as well go all the way with it).
'Well, whatever', Merlin thought, curling up under the covers. 'What are the chances of me bumping into Penn anyway?'
Lancelot Dullac was the sort of guy who simply could not be ruffled (in the sense that nothing fazed him, not that he didn't wear lace. In fact, he owned at least three frilly poet shirts, only one of which was purchased under the excuse of extreme intoxication). For example, in the unlikely scenario where his house caught on fire, incinerating all his belongings, burning him horrifically and perhaps rendering him almost unconscious along the way, it was likely his first response would be to get a coffee (traumatising whoever was behind the counter forever) and then to politely call emergency services at the nearest payphone (followed by his insurance agency, because he had been a boy scout and well, these things do happen).
His unshakeable calm was the envy of all and sundry, as were his dashing good looks, fantastic hair and way with the ladies. In short, Lancelot was one fine male specimen, akin to the heros of bodice-ripper novels who were inclined to rip bodices off of ladies of good breeding and peerage (though he was far too polite to do anything of the sort, much to the dismay of all the ladies in possession of ready-to-rip bodices).
As a testament of all of his (many) redeeming qualities, when his pop tart shot out of the toaster to splatter quite gloriously on the ceiling (instead of jumping onto his waiting plate as per usual), all Lancelot did was locate the mop and neatly scrape off said splatter into the trash. He made his way to Merlin's room and leaned on the door frame, knocking lightly.
Said roommate was very diligently wiring his alarm clock to detect movement and retreat in the opposite direction in response (the theory was that he would have to physically get up and catch it to turn it off, rather than waving his arm about for the snooze and then going back to sleep. He was definitely not making up excuses not to do his Foundations readings). He paused his iTunes without looking away from the clock's (not very) gory insides.
"Are you aware that the toaster is splattering pop tarts on the ceiling?"
Merlin stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, before he shot up out of his computer chair. "I knew I forgot something!"
Lancelot sedately followed Merlin back into the kitchen as the lanky boy continued to flail.
"I'm so sorry Lance. I was recording the rate at which the toast would shoot out when I got home last night, but then Strictly Come Dancing started and I plum forgot."
Lancelot didn't even hesitate at the old fashioned phrasing (honestly, that's how hard it he was to put him off). He simply asked, "Any particular reason why?"
Merlin put in a piece of bread and then pointed the toast end out the window. A minute later the toast shot out, free and airborne like a bird made out of grain and wholemeal, before landing on the roof of the apartment complex across the street (there was more toast last night, but the birds had gotten to them).
Lancelot let out a whistle. "That's quite impressive."
Merlin grinned, holding his toaster out proudly in front of him, rubbing the shiny metal. "I call it the Toast Launcher."
"That's great Merlin... So what do you do when you actually want to eat the toast?"
Merlin started to reply, but then took a moment to think about it as he flipped the toaster over and over in his hands. He looked down at it in dismay. "...Erm, there might be a few adjustments to make."
Lancelot clapped him on the shoulder and ate a piece of bread. "Good man."
---"You're listening to the Drivethru with Penn and Dusty on CamelotFM, it's a dreary Thursday evening at ten past six, and I don't know about you listeners, but I am cautiously excited to hear what Penn's been up to before the show— Penn?"
"Today has been a feat of unimaginable stealth and cunning Drivethru fans!"
"I understand that you've um, recorded yourself while... on your weird mission?"
"Welcome to the future Dusty. Have you met my friend, the iPhone? I call him Pooh Bear."
"Because he has a lot of honeys?"
"I can't believe that just came out of your mouth. Onto the clip!"
beep beep beep
"Alright Drivethru fans, Penn here— I've prepared myself for a day of extreme investigating...baggy t-shirt, cap, sunnies, power bars and some rubber bands and bobby pins as back up! Bar Guy won't know what hit him!"
"Just outside the shop, and I can't see him there, so he's probably not in yet—"
"To set the scene for you Drivethru fans, I'm leaning very casually on the wall looking into the Bar Guy's place of employment, and it's in one of those plazas sort of structured like an open courtyard with some cafes and things, some shrubbery and benches and a water feature in the centre, standard shopping fare really. Anyway, at the moment there's just me and a crowd of school kids who've just gotten out for the day, so I'm well camouflaged—"
"There only seems to be shop girls in there at the moment, and they might be on to me...occasionally one of them looks in my direction. I dunno, maybe she's taken with my sunglasses? They're pretty flash after all. Kind of purple-y."
"Right, well one of the girls has just left, and she didn't look my way at all so I'm fairly certain that I'm in the clear...oh sh—"
"Ok, so that was me, leaping behind the water feature as Bar Guy ran into the shop—"
"That's funny. He seems to be taller than I remember. Must've been the beer goggles—"
"Just spent his first ten minutes on shift checking his emails or something, obviously a slacker—"
"He doesn't seem very nicely dressed for someone working in a shop. I mean, if you've got these electric blue eyes you should wear something to enhance them shouldn't you? That's a bit of a waste really. But I think the main problem here is that he looks as though he's finger combed his hair, and I don't mean in a 'oh this look actually took me thirty artfully tossed minutes with a jar of hair wax' I mean in a 'I've fallen asleep on a hard surface, rolled my head on it, woken up and raced to work without bothering to check if I looked deranged' sort of way—"
"Is that —guyliner? Is he a pirate?"
"Drivethru fans, what you're hearing is me, with my hair tangled in a bush. I'm whispering because Bar Guy has just come out of the shop and taken a little look around—"
"So, he's spotted the school kids and gone back inside... I think I'm pretty safe. Unfortunately I'm pretty sure the school kids also saw me dive into the bush like a crazy homeless person—"
beep beep beep
"So that was... neither very informative nor very stealthy."
"Please Dusty, I could probably have been in MI6 if I hadn't wanted to do talkback radio."
"And what did you do after hiding in the bushes? Give up and go home?"
"No, I moved into a cafe across the street, and now I have a fantastic vantage point with the added bonus of coffee. Also, should it rain I won't need to hide under an open newspaper like I had previously planned."
"Or you could buy an umbrella."
"You buy an umbrella, pansy."
"Thrilling comeback. I'm astounded by your wit, truly. We've got Percy on the line, hello Percy how are you?"
"I'm good Dusty, just wanted to ask Penn a quick question yeah?"
"Go ahead Percy."
"Mm, yeah, just wanted to say that I think you're really funny and confident Penn—"
"Why thank you."
"—So I don't really get why you don't just ask the guy out, you know, instead of following him around and mucking about in bushes?"
"What?! No, that's certainly not what is going on here! I am researching my revenge Percy, not— not— I don't LIKE Bar Guy!"
"Um, well you know, he doth protest too much and thin line between love and hate and whatever, anyway just thought I'd put that out there yeah? We support you, Penn."
"Thanks Percy! We'll leave Penn's splutterings and be back right after the break. You're on the way home with Penn and Dusty at CamelotFM."
Merlin hated delivery day. Somehow, it always ended with him stuck under a mountain of pointy-edged boxes (or a mountain of clothes that were unpacked from the boxes). He thought Freya would stop making him unload everything after all the times she had walked in on the clothes hanging him on the rack instead of the other way around, but instead she seemed to get oddly excited and take a lot of pictures (Gwen had this reaction too, though she at least helped him stock the garments properly afterwards. Freya simply laughed in his face. Merlin couldn't really get mad at her, she did own the place after all).
"Merlin, where are you? Can you come out here for a minute?" Freya called from the break room.
Wiping the dust off his hands, he carefully retreated from the storeroom and closed the door with great respect (at this point, anything was worth trying to stop getting ridiculous amounts of cardboard box paper cuts).
Freya and Gwen were seated in the tea room, talking to an intimidating, beautiful woman whose pale complexion and dark hair matched his own colouring (though unlike him, she was dignified and graceful and ridiculously good looking. Honestly, Zoolander-style really ridiculously good looking). They seemed friendly with each other, so Merlin tried his best not to be embarrassing or like, stumble on thin air.
So of course he walked right into a low hanging light fixture.
He waved off Gwen's concern, feeling foolish until Freya took pity on him from her perch on the table. "Merlin, this is Morgana." She gestured with her tea cup, liquid sloshing the sides and spilling onto the floor. Everyone stared at the brown splatter, before collectively ignoring the spill and moving on (except Gwen, who put a bit of newspaper on the floor so they wouldn't slip on it). "Morgana, you remember Merlin."
"Very well," Morgana smirked, raising an impeccably (french) manicured hand.
"Oh, um." Merlin hastily rubbed his hand on his jeans, which sort of took some glitter off of it, but still came away still looking as though an animal made entirely out of glitter had exploded on his palm (Michael Jackson's glove was making a comeback, glitter fun for the whole family!). Unsurprisingly, Morgana possessed a crushing handshake (though Merlin most certainly did not wince. Much). "Sorry, I don't really... remember how we met?"
She gave Gwen a sly glance, causing her to simultaneously giggle and look contritely in Merlin's direction. Behind Morgana, Freya leant her head back and mimed taking a swig of something and wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve. Then pretended to be sick in the sink. It took Merlin about three seconds to realise what she was on about.
"Oh god." He covered his face with his scarf (green and black checkers), wishing for giant robots to squish him with their giant robot feet. "Will."
"Will," Gwen agreed sympathetically.
He looked imploringly at Freya. "Can I go back to the scary room with the clothes now please?" (The girls laughed at him, but he was being serious.)
"We came up to Morgana afterwards and apologized," Freya chimed in unhelpfully, giving him the thumbs up.
"What was I doing?" Merlin asked, not really sure if he wanted to know.
"Being a good friend. And a hilarious drunk," Morgana said. "Anyhow, I was in the Starbucks with my brother," she gestured carelessly to where the winking mermaid motif stared back at them, directly opposite of the shop. "And just had to come over to introduce myself to you properly."
"Oh! Well, he's more than welcome to come sit with us," Gwen politely invited, dunking a HobNob into her tea (no sugar).
"He had to run." Morgana's lipstick red lips curled in a somewhat predatory smile around her tea (Earl Gray, dash of honey). "Very unfortunate."
"That is too bad," Freya said, going for a refill (espresso, double shot. In hindsight, she probably shouldn't have access to that sort of caffeine). "Maybe next time."
As he joined the three now seated at the break room table, they were serenaded by tinny casino music and flashing lights announcing that the espresso machine was done, 'so come on down and get your coffee champ! You're a winner!'
Morgana looked gleefully in his direction as he slumped in his chair, trying to disappear underneath (difficult, as his legs were stupidly long and hit the underside of the table before any sort of cover could be provided).
"Yeah," Freya drawled out, pulling out the plug to stop the cheering (or 'wailing' if you listened to Freya. Which was a bit unfair really, considering the type of music she blared out in The Shop). "Could you fix that sometime soon, do you think?"
Merlin pouted, crossing his arms petulantly. They were the ones who wanted him to get to know the coffee machine in the first place.
Stopping mid lick, Merlin patted his newly acquired Optimus Prime (comes with a happy meal! Collect all 4!) through the canvas of his bag and tugged on his black and white checkered scarf. With the hand not occupied by the lolly (orange cream), he tucked his phone into his back pocket. Merlin liked Transformers, as well as lollipops. He even worked in a shop and wore scarves and converses and there was that one time he fell asleep on the train and the other commuters mistook him for a homeless person (awkward).
He sighed and idly resumed his sucking, twirling the stick with his hand and making the hard lolly rattle behind the top row of his teeth. It was one thing to have self indulgent daydreams about being the person people wrote in about to the 'ThunderStruck' column in the Camelot Times, because everyone did that and it was completely normal. He'd have to be three types of vain and pretty delusional to declare himself Bar Guy candidate #451 on the DriveThru website (which was hilarious, because it's like Spartacus the movie on that livejournal community that — um, that he has no idea about at all).
Besides, by the very definition of 'Bar Guy', he needed to have yelled at Penn in a bar and thrown a drink in his face and called him names his mam would not approve of. Seeing as Merlin was sure he would remember such a thing happening, which he did not
, logic dictated the probability of him actually being Bar Guy was, oh, pretty much slim to none? He shook his head free of foolish thoughts (others milling in the park thought him suffering from an attack of invisible bees) and marched resolutely to the park's exit. What were the odds of that happening, honestly?
And what was Penn wearing again? Sunglasses and a trench?
Very discreetly Merlin looked around him (he managed to stumble at one point, also very discreetly) but spotted nobody wearing sunglasses (it was the evening) or trench coats (it was an evening where people gave the cold a one fingered salute).
What he did spot, surprisingly, was Morgana striding very purposefully towards him from the direction of the public loos.
"Hullo again, finally got away from the girls did you?"
As far as Merlin's greetings went, he thought that one was quite well constructed. Therefore, he almost lost his lollipop to the dirty unforgiving earth when she replied with, "Lovely to see you again Merlin. You like cock, correct?"
"Um, is that the sort of thing you normally ask somebody you've just met?" He could feel the flush creep up from his shirt collar (but it was successfully covered by his scarf; not that it did anything to hide the dead giveaway that was his ears).
Morgana simply took that as an admission of guilt and nodded to herself, arms crossed over her chest. "I thought as much. You haven't looked at my breasts once
Which wasn't fair at all, because once they were mentioned, Merlin was compelled to look. Morgana moved her arms downward as if to help him along (which he was inclined to be polite about, and thank her for being so accommodating, but it seemed a bit greasy and yuck so he restrained himself).
"Um, they're lovely?" Merlin offered squeakily, on the spot and more awkward than usual (which was saying quite a lot).
"You don't think it's a bit too much?" Morgana asked, now also looking down at her low cut top and fiddling with the bust line. A couple walked past, and Merlin was vaguely aware of at least one of them staring at Merlin and Morgana staring at the Morgana's cleavage, as there was a sound of a slap followed by something about sleeping on the couch. Merlin, for the most part, judged them to be scary and possibly scheming to eat him once his back was turned.
"I guess they're— they provide the right amount of modest...ness and... allure-ification?" he managed weakly. He suspected that he may have sounded a bit like a mouse towards the end there (if mice talked about breasts that was, in their mice language. What was the mouse equivalent of sleeping on the couch anyway?) Also, he suspected it wasn't even a real sentence with real words, though he hoped Morgana wouldn't notice. He urgently felt the need to sit down and take apart his Optimus Prime. He could give Optimus some cool roller skates (that was a lie. Roller skates were not cool, not even robot roller skates).
"That's very sweet of you Merlin. Come sit with me." She stalked over to a bench and folded herself into a seating position, legs crossing and one hand in her lap, tapping the space next to her pointedly with the nail of her index finger, making reverberating tinny sounds on the cheap plastic.
"Okay." Merlin readily complied, grateful to be seated after just being outed in a public park frequented by chavs and drug dealers and possibly chav drug dealers with knives. Yes. Very good. He only just managed to curb the urge to take out his Transformer (he sat on his hands).
Then, without so much as a by-your-leave, Morgana unleashed a torrent of questions not unlike an interrogation (and just like in the cop shows, he had no idea if he was incriminating himself just by humoring the scary lady). Some of the following questions were asked (and badly answered):
1. Do you like blonds?
2. What if they're really rude and stupid?
3. Seen any rude and stupid blonds lately?
4. How tall might someone have to be to date you?
5. Would you consider making Gwen and Freya your personal stylists?
6. Would you say that football takes up a good chunk of your time?
7. What team do you barrack for?
8. Wait, what team?
10. Well, at least you don't have a criminal record, right?
11. Are you more impressed by defined abdominals or by tight glutes?
12. How attractive do you find strong jaw lines?
13. Would you be inclined to like stupid blonds if they had a strong jaw line and a lot of money?
14. A lot of money, as in 'the potential to buy you small islands' sort of money.
"That's not a question!" Merlin was finally able to declare, triumphant but bewildered. "Why are you asking me all this anyway?"
"But would it matter?" Morgana pressed, digging her manicured nails into his jeans. "Would it, Merlin!"
Merlin just wanted to make it stop. It was like being stuck on the phone with a telemarketer, but there was no option of pretending his house was on fire and hanging up.
"I-I guess? I don't know if that would be important or not Morgana, I've never dated someone obscenely rich before!" He neglected to say that he'd never really dated anyone before, but frankly, that was really sad and he'd rather claim debilitating sickness and run away than admit to it. However, Morgana's (heavily lined) stare nailed his arse to the bench. He may or may not have eep-ed.
"Come on Merlin, it's not that hard. If this alright-ish looking blond bloke wanted to buy you a lot of pretty shiny things, would you be averse to that?"
"You do know I'm not a girl right?!" Merlin squawked. But Morgana was glaring at him still which was horrible and terrifying and he was beginning to panic. The throes of his turmoil sounded, oddly, like the theme to Mission Impossible. He hadn't known that his inner flailing had such cool theme music. Of course then he realized that the music was actually playing outside of his head, and he leapt at the chance to distract Morgana from making him answer awkward questions with the power of her glare (she looked the type to be very good about taking calls. Actually, she looked the type to be very good at everything, ever). "Are you going to answer that?" Merlin asked.
Morgana gave him a look that said 'stop stalling', before pulling her phone out of her pocket. "It's not mine."
Whilst their 'conversation' had been taking place, most people had fled the park for the comforts of their own well heated homes (the weather had seen their one fingered salutes, and raised them a chilly, south-easterly wind from Antarctica). Therefore, if it was neither Merlin's phone that was ringing, nor Morgana's...
Merlin cocked his head to the side. There was mystery afoot! "Where's it coming from?"
Without waiting for a response, Merlin got off the bench and set off to investigate. The phone had probably been dropped by somebody going through the park on their way home. Morgana very helpfully called out, "Check behind the bushes!" from where she still sat on the bench. She seemed to be fiddling with her phone.
"Yeah," Merlin replied absently, looking about on the ground as he circled the bench. "They've probably just realised they've lost it... Maybe calling and hoping someone will pick up."
"Oh yes," Morgana agreed. There was a sound of silky fabric sliding, as Morgana crossed her legs the other way. Thankfully for his sanity, Morgana did not look inclined to help look for the wayward device, instead smirking at something past his shoulders as Merlin came to a stop in front of her. "That is probably exactly what has happened."
He looked around, moving away from the bench. There weren't many places to investigate: a bin, a lamp illuminating the public toilets next to another bench a bit further out, and beyond that the trees and shrubbery where the wildlife of the park resided. The ringtone had already stopped, but Merlin was fairly certain that it must have come from behind the loos (which wasn't at all dodgy, Merlin thought wryly). A couple of stray cats yowled from behind it, and darted out into the trees. Not looking forward to answering a phone that stray cats had probably put into their mouths and chewed on, he rounded the corner.
There were a few cigarette butts, a couple of beer cans and, rather alarmingly, a pair of kids' binoculars. There was, alas, no phone. Hmm, Merlin thought. The strays have either taken the phone with them, or eaten it.
As if proving his more probable hypothesis correct, the ringtone started playing again, this time from the trees and shrubbery. Merlin headed towards the greenery slowly, body curled in slightly to appear less threatening (unlikely though it was that any part of Merlin would inspire fear).
"Here kitty kitty kitty," Merlin sang out (there was no reasoning behind that really, it was just the thing to do. No groundbreaking research proved stray cats were more likely to respond if being sung to). No cats emerged from the brush, although there were other creatures that did check to see if he was some sort of singing predator (what were ducks doing in the trees anyway?) The closer he came to the trees, the more excited the animals seemed to get.
There is an awful lot of rustling going on back there, he thought. He crept up quietly, intent on making as little noise as possible.