“Your mum’s coming in for Christmas, I suppose,” Arthur says, setting their drinks on the table and taking a seat. The pub is loud with patrons tired and thirsty from a Saturday of movie-going and present-shopping.
“You know she is,” Merlin says, his eyes apologetic. Why does Arthur have to make it so difficult? It’s going to be bad enough as it is. “Here.” He pushes the money for his drink to Arthur.
“I paid for it,” Arthur says.
“And I want to pay for mine,” Merlin tells him.
“Why do you fight me on this? I have plenty of money; let me pay.”
“I can pay for myself.”
Arthur gives in. “So Freya will be moving her stuff in.” He pockets the money.
Arthur shakes his head, jaw working. He picks up his drink and finishes it in one go.
“We’ve been through this so many times,” Merlin sighs. “I thought you were all right with it. I thought you understood.”
Arthur looks at Merlin sharply. “I’ll never be all right with it, and frankly, it’s getting more difficult to understand.”
Merlin sags back in the chair. He hates hurting Arthur like this.
Gwaine appears with his beer and sits down next to Arthur, who’s turned stony-faced.
“Fancy a game of darts?” Gwaine asks.
“Maybe,” Merlin says, looking at Arthur hopefully. “Arthur?”
Arthur shakes his head, and Gwaine makes a huffing noise.
“Being an arse again?” Gwaine asks Arthur.
Arthur pushes his chair back and stands up. “He’s right,” he says quietly, politely. “I’m sorry, Merlin. I’ll go now.” He turns, leaving Merlin to stare after him, watching him disappear into the crowd.
Gwaine shakes his head, a chunk of longish brown hair falling into his eyes.
“The ponce. All right, Merlin?” he pats Merlin’s hand where it cradles his glass.
“I’m fine.” He wants to go after Arthur, he does. But how will that look? And what possible good would it do? Things are what they are.
Will appears with a pint and pulls up a chair. “What’s going on?”
“Arthur Sunshine Pendragon strikes again,” Gwaine replies, leaning back in his chair.
“You two really don’t know what you’re talking about,” Merlin picks up his drink.
“Oh, but we really do,” Gwaine says. “You let him step all over you. It’s Christmas, and here he is needling you over something. What’s it this time? Your ears? The way you help Freya out when her dad’s in town? Seriously, what’s it to him?”
Merlin just shakes his head.
“Speaking of,” Will leans forward. “I have a bird lined up for you New Year’s Eve. We’ll double.” Merlin inwardly cringes. He plans to spend New Year’s with Arthur, if Arthur’s still speaking to Merlin.
“I don’t think so, Will,” he says.
“What are you, a monk?” Will asks. “Come on, mate!”
“I’ll think about it,” Merlin lies.
“’Atta boy!” Will smiles, and the conversation thankfully turns to other things.
Merlin sits on his bed watching Freya hang her clothes in his closet.
“This ever get old for you?” he asks her. She looks over her shoulder. She’s cute; petite and waif-like in a way that Merlin is sure would be appealing to him if he liked women that way. But he doesn’t like women that way; he figured that out over a year and a half ago when Arthur Pendragon walked into his life and turned it upside down.
“What? The two of us moving in with one another whenever our parents are in town?” she laughs. “No way. Elena’s just at home warming our bed all by herself while I have to sleep with you over Christmas with our folks in the next rooms.”
“At least Elena doesn’t get mad and storm off,” Merlin says, fingering the bedspread.
Freya comes to sit beside Merlin.
“You know why that is. I acknowledge my relationship with Elena to the rest of the world. Just not my dad, who will have a stroke if he finds out I’m a lesbian.”
Merlin stares at his hands.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen between me and Arthur. I wasn’t…gay.” He swallows the lump forming in his throat.
“Hey, don’t say it like it’s a disease, yeah?” Freya ruffles his hair. “You don’t have to slap a label on yourself. You’re in love with Arthur, who just happens to be a man. And Merlin… it’s been over a year. This is the second Christmas Arthur’s spending without you because you won’t admit you’re together. I can’t say I blame him for being miserable.”
Merlin flops down on his back, thinking.
“Freya, why can’t I bring myself to admit it? Gwaine, Will, Gwen and all the rest…they think Arthur and I are just mates. And they misconstrue every argument we have, thinking Arthur’s just being a dick to me. Arthur lets them think it, too.”
“What’s he supposed to do?” Freya asks softly. “Out you to the world against your will?”
She gets up and finishes unpacking, placing her diaphragm on the bedside table. “There. Nice touch, right?”
“Why do you even have that thing?” Merlin wrinkles his nose.
“For precisely this reason. All for show for dear old Dad.” Freya smiles. “I’ll make us some lunch.”
Merlin picks up his mobile and texts Arthur.
I love you. I’m sorry.
Merlin and Arthur sip hot Starbucks after the prerequisite argument over who will pay—Merlin winning as usual, because Arthur's rich and Merlin likes to pay his own way--as they sit on the park bench watching pigeons eat someone’s lunch remains. The pale blue of Arthur’s scarf complements his eyes, making them more beautiful than any sky Merlin’s ever witnessed—even on the brightest days of summer. Merlin can’t stop looking at them.
“What are you thinking?” Arthur asks, tilting his head and regarding Merlin.
Merlin went to Arthur’s flat the night before and they made love all night. Merlin can still feel it in his limbs, a sore yet relaxed feeling that’s going to have to last him the next two weeks. He has to pick his mother up at the airport in an hour.
Merlin sighs. “I’m wishing I could spend all day and all night with you. Every day and every night… Infinity.”
Arthur’s smile warms Merlin’s heart.
“I want to kiss you,” Arthur says softly, staring at Merlin’s lips, and Merlin’s heart speeds up. Not only because he wants Arthur to kiss him, too, very much; but because they’re out in public, and someone they know might see it.
“I know, I know,” Arthur says, looking away. “I’m sorry I brought it up. I don’t want to fight.”
They get up and walk, throwing their cups in a receptacle and letting their arms brush together. Merlin grasps Arthur’s hand for a brief moment, wondering what it would be like to walk hand-in-hand with him, gazing in shop windows. Maybe lay his head on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Merlin,” Arthur says, stopping so suddenly, Merlin almost trips.
“What is it?” Merlin asks.
Arthur bites his lip. “My father…he’s been trying to fix me up with Vivian Wattley…a daughter of an old friend. I’ve been resisting, but he announced she’ll be at our house for Christmas.”
Merlin’s momentarily struck dumb by the searing hot jealousy that pours over him. He wants to demand that Arthur stay away from her, but he knows he can’t do that.
It begins to snow, large flakes falling and sticking to his eyelashes, and Merlin pulls the collar of his coat up.
“Oh,” he says weakly.
“He brought it up yesterday, and I…I’ve been trying to find a way to tell you this all night.” Arthur sighs, and fear suddenly tightens Merlin’s insides, making him panic. What if Arthur is breaking up with him? He’s tired of this subterfuge…tired of being with a man. He wants to try things with this Vivian woman. Merlin’s pounding heart drowns out whatever it is that Arthur’s saying.
“Merlin?” Arthur touches Merlin’s cheek with his gloved hand and Merlin returns to earth. “Did you hear me? I told him. I told my father I’m gay.”
Merlin blinks. “What? You …told your father." He can't believe Arthur really did it. Then something else occurs to him. "You didn’t tell him…”
“About us? No, of course not.” Arthur looks at Merlin steadily. “I was simply tired of him trying to put me with Vivian.” Arthur puffs out a humourless laugh. “Problem is, once he got over the initial shock, he began listing the eligible sons of his friends.”
That doesn’t sound any better to Merlin; in fact, it sounds worse.
They resume walking, and Merlin’s eyes sting. He knows he doesn’t have the right to do or say anything about this. He knows he’s the worse kind of jerk. He knows one day he might actually lose Arthur if he doesn't change things... He knows, he knows, he knows.
“It’s getting late; you’d better go pick up your mum,” Arthur says, fiddling with Merlin’s scarf so that it protects more of Merlin’s neck from the bitter wind.
A shop door opens and suddenly Merlin and Arthur are accosted by Gwaine and Elyan. Arthur immediately drops his hands to his sides.
“I thought it was you two,” Gwaine says pounding each of them on the back by turn.
“Buggers, more snow?” Elyan says, looking into the sky.
Why the bloody hell do they have to show up? Merlin is suddenly consumed with dread at parting from Arthur. It’s going to be two weeks before he can be with him again, unless he can sneak away somehow. Merlin’s emotions are running amok, and all he wants to do is go back to Arthur’s flat and crawl into bed with him. Hide from the world. Coward.
Gwaine relays the difficulties of shopping with Elyan, who can’t keep his mind on anything for longer than two seconds.
“Not so!” Elyan objects. “Gwaine just wants to linger over everything! He can’t make a decision to save his life.”
“Arthur,” Merlin interrupts. “You said you’d drive me to the airport to get Mum.”
It’s a dirty trick, but at this moment Merlin will do anything to be with Arthur a bit longer. Arthur stares at Merlin, his eyes saying everything he can’t. I’m not going to go stand with you as just a friend in front of your mum.
“Sorry, I can’t,” Arthur says, gaze hardening.
“Arthur,” Merlin tries not to get upset. He can’t let this be the last moment he gets with Arthur for two weeks. “Please.”
Arthur pulls his eyes from Merlin’s and he shakes his head.
“God, you’re such a dick, Pendragon,” Gwaine scoffs, disgusted. “I’ll drive you, Merlin.”
“No, no. I’ll take a cab.” Merlin abruptly walks away, Gwaine’s curses ringing in his ears.
“Oh, Merlin, why haven’t you let Freya put a female touch to the place?” Hunith asks her son when they reach the flat an hour later.
“She likes it as it is,” Merlin tells her, placing her suitcase in the guest bedroom.
“Merlin?” Freya calls from the small family room. She appears a moment later, her father in tow. He’s a large man whose size makes his daughter look even smaller.
Merlin shakes Mr. Davies’ hand.
“Nice to see you again, sir.”
“I thought you would have made an honest woman out of my daughter by now,” Mr.Davies says. He looks at Freya. “This is what happens when you give the milk for free.”
“Oh, Daddy!” Freya shakes her head. “Hello, Ms. Emrys.”
She hugs Hunith.
“Hello, Freya, m’dear. And hello, Earnest. So nice to see you again.”
Earnest kisses Hunith’s cheek.
“We need to talk some sense into these kids,” Earnest says. “I’d like some grandchildren before I’m too old to enjoy them.”
“Merlin, will you help me in the kitchen, please?” Freya grabs Merlin’s hand and drags him that way.
“Oh my God, my father won’t let up!” Freya moans when they get the swinging doors shut. “This is going to be a nightmare. If I don’t get over to see Lanie soon, I’m going to go crazy. She keeps texting me pictures of herself in her little red teddy. Look.” She holds up her mobile for Merlin to see.
“Um…TMI, Frey,” Merlin pushes her hand away and sags against the counter. “This isn’t going to work for much longer if they keep talking about grandchildren.”
“I know,” Freya moans. She glances at Merlin. “What’s wrong? Ever since you got home, you’ve had this look on your face like someone kicked your cat.”
“Arthur came out to his father, who is now actively trying to find him a man.”
“Oh, shit,” Freya mutters, stirring the stew.
“I know. And how is it he’s all brave and tells his dad, and everything’s peachy; but I know if I tell my mum, she’ll disown me?”
Hunith enters the kitchen. “Tell your mum what?” She asks, smiling. “Oh, Freya, that smells wonderful!”
“Thanks,” Freya smiles.
“Freya’s cooking is great,” Merlin agrees, and launches into a story about something he heard on the news, effectively making his mother forget what she heard.
That night he and Freya climb into bed together.
“Should we shake the bed? Knock it against the wall and make them think we’re doing it?” Freya asks with a giggle.
“God, Freya, no!” Merlin chuckles, snuggling down under the covers.
“What’s on the agenda for tomorrow?” Freya reaches over and turns out the light. “Dad wants me to take him shopping in the morning, but I’m hoping when he takes his afternoon nap I can slip out to meet Elena.”
“Mum’s determined to eventually visit every museum in London, so tomorrow it’s the National Gallery.” Merlin stares at the ceiling. “She told me a few minutes ago what a cute couple we make. Freya, I feel like such an arse lying to her like this.”
“What would happen if you told her the truth?” Freya asks. “Do you really think she’d disown you?”
Merlin’s been asking himself that for over a year. “I don’t know. I’m pretty sure she disapproves of homosexuality. It’s always seemed so to me, although it hasn’t really been a topic in our house. I’m afraid, Frey. We’ve always been all the other has, you know."
“So if she suddenly told you she prefers to sleep with women, would that make you never want to speak with her again?” Freya asks.
“Of course not!”
Merlin sighs. It’s just not that simple. What if his mother's disappointed in him? What if it drives a wedge between them?
Two days later, when Merlin gets a text from Arthur that he’ll be at Gwen and Lance’s party Christmas Eve with a date because he can’t get out of it-- thanks to his father, Merlin feels sick to his stomach.
It won’t mean anything to me.
Merlin knows this, but still. And, of course, Merlin will be there with Freya, so who is he to protest? And their parents will be present. And Arthur’s father and step mother will be there, too, along with Arthur’s sister, who pretty much hates Merlin because she knows their situation; Arthur’s never been able to keep a secret from Morgana for long.
Merlin hears second-hand from Mordred that Arthur’s date is some ponce named Valiant who drives a Maserati. Mordred says he’s the son of some diplomat.
“Can you believe that?” Merlin asks Freya after a particularly long and trying meal with their respective parent, Freya’s dad needling them to get married already and Merlin’s mom hinting at future grandchildren until Merlin feels his head will explode.
Freya lies diagonally across Merlin’s bed, and Merlin suddenly has a vision of the last time he and Arthur were in it. Arthur curled Merlin up, Merlin’s knees over Arthur’s forearms, and fucked him until Merlin came on his own face. Afterward, they lay in each other’s arms, kissing languidly, and Merlin never felt so cherished.
“Merlin, I can’t do this anymore,” Freya whispers, and Merlin has to ask her to repeat it.
“You’re not kidding, are you?” he asks, swallowing hard.
She shakes her head slowly. “I’m wasting my life. My life with Elena. And here you are pretending to be with me and lying to your mother.”
“My mother doesn’t want to hear that I’m in a relationship with a man, believe me,” Merlin assures her.
“Still, it’s unfair to let her think you’re close to giving her grandchildren,” Freya tells him.
“What about your dad’s health?” Merlin asks.
“I’ll put it as gently as possible, but I have to do this.”
It doesn’t go well.
“What about those books you read where the father is always more gracious than the girl ever thought he would be? What about that?” Freya asks a little hysterically.
They’re in hospital, the waiting area almost as crowded as Macys had been earlier when Merlin and his mother had received Freya’s frantic call in the middle of the women's underwear aisle. Hunith is in the cafeteria getting coffee, and Merlin feels a bit out of his depth as Freya sobs on his shoulder.
“Those are only stories,” he says weakly. “Real life is never that good.” He pats her gently on the back. Over her shoulder he spots Arthur leading Elena through the automatic doors, the green and yellow of an ambulance a flash of bright colour behind them.
“Here’s Elena,” Merlin announces as they get close, gratefully passing Freya over to her.
“Christ, this was unexpected,” Arthur says to Merlin after Freya collapses, sobbing, into Elena’s arms. “What made her decide to come out to him?”
“It was all becoming too much. They wanted us to get married,” Merlin answers.
“Not enough to make you crack, though,” Arthur says a little cuttingly.
“Arthur," Merlin's too tired to fight.
Arthur shakes his head. “How is he?”
“We don’t know yet.”
Hunith returns with the coffee, and Merlin takes the tray from her.
“Mum, you remember my mate, Arthur?” Merlin tries hard not to put any emphasis on the words my mate. “And this is Freya’s partner, Elena.”
“Hello, nice to meet you,” Hunith shakes Elena’s hand after greeting Arthur with a nod and a smile. After expressing her hurt that Merlin lied to her about Freya, she dropped the subject, telling Merlin they’ll talk about it later in private. Merlin can tell she's angry, and he can't blame her.
When everyone’s seated and an awkward silence falls over the group, Hunith asks Arthur about his job.
“And what about a girlfriend? A nice looking man like you must have a special woman in his life.”
“Actually,” Arthur looks her in the eye while Merlin inwardly steels himself, “I’m gay.”
“Oh.” Hunith gives a nervous laugh. “Seems to be a lot of that going on around here.” Her cheeks colour. Merlin concentrates on the various families gathered in groups around them, waiting for news on their loved ones.
“Must be in the water,” Arthur smiles.
“I hope not,” Hunith laughs. “or I’ll never be a grandmother.” She pats Merlin’s knee. Merlin wonders if this is supposed to be his opening to tell his mother the truth.
Well, actually, Mum…I am gay.
He avoids Arthur’s gaze, which he feels settle heavily upon him.
“You know,” Arthur says, “there’s always adoption.”
Hunith looks stunned. “Well, of course.”
Merlin widens his eyes at Arthur over his mother’s shoulder.
Thankfully, an older man wearing a lab coat chooses that moment to approach, and Freya catapults out of her seat. Merlin’s ears buzz with what Arthur just said. Adoption. Has Arthur been thinking about things like marriage and adoption? The notion quickens Merlin’s pulse as he finds the idea of being married to Arthur and raising a child together suprisingly pleasing. He glances at his mother.
“That’s a relief,” Hunith says, sitting back down next to her son. At Merlin’s questioning look, she adds, “Earnest is going to be fine. Freya’s gone back to see him.”
Elena plops down in a chair on the other side of Merlin’s mother, her face falling now that she doesn’t have to be strong for her girlfriend.
“I can’t believe she did this for me!” She bursts into tears.
“Well, of course she did…she loves you!” Hunith pats Elena on the shoulder.
“Sorry, but I have to be going,” Arthur stands, his face rigid. “Merlin, perhaps you can take Elena home.”
Merlin nods dumbly, getting to his feet as he watches Arthur leave.
“That was abrupt,” Hunith says. “And a little rude.”
“That’s just Arthur,” Elena sniffles, pulling a tissue out of her pocket and wiping her eyes.
“But he brought you here,” Hunith says.
“I don’t mind taking her home,” Merlin says, knowing full well why Arthur left; having it thrown in his face what Freya did out of love but Merlin isn’t willing to do was a little too much for him.
“That’s beside the point!” Hunith scowls into her coffee.
Merlin sighs, imagining sitting Hunith down and telling her that he and Arthur are in a relationship. He might imagine she’d handle it well, like she’s doing with Freya, but Freya isn’t her daughter. Freya’s father collapsed when he heard the news, just as Freya always feared. And it wouldn’t be a matter of only telling Hunith—Merlin would have to tell all their friends. Merlin’s guts clench just thinking about it. It’s taken him a year just to adjust to the thought of himself with a man; he doesn’t know if he can handle other people’s perceptions of him. Not yet, anyway, although lately he's felt as though maybe someday...maybe soon.
When Freya appears again, she tells them that the hospital is keeping her father overnight just to monitor him.
Merlin drops his mother off at his flat and then takes Freya and Elena to their place for the night. They’ve agreed that Mr. Davies isn’t ready to stay there with the two of them and it would be better to keep arrangements as they are. Merlin then drives to Arthur’s.
Arthur has changed into track pants and a long-sleeved T and is barefoot. He holds a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
“What are you doing here?” he asks dully, leaving the door open and retreating back inside his flat.
“Don’t be like that,” Merlin says, closing the door and shedding his coat. “I’ve missed you so much, Arthur.”
Arthur gives him a hurt look over his shoulder that stabs at Merlin’s heart.
"I don't know how much longer I can do this, Merlin."
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm..." Merlin doesn't know how to finish the sentence.
After a moment, Arthur offers a spoonful of Chocolate Therapy to Merlin, who slips it into his mouth, smiling around the spoon. Casting it aside, he kisses Arthur a little desperately, cold chocolate mingling on their tongues.
“Are you really going to Gwen’s party with that Valiant tosser?” Merlin asks when they separate.
“I have to,” Arthur says, placing the ice cream on the bar that separates the living area from the kitchen. “My father won’t understand why I refuse. Unless you want me to tell him about you…”
Merlin bites his lip, shaking his head.
“He won’t broadcast it, Merlin,” Arthur says, a little exasperated.
“No, but he’ll hate me just like Morgana does.”
“She doesn’t hate you. She’s only defending me.”
“Same difference,” Merlin sighs.
Arthur plays with Merlin’s fingers. “I just keep thinking about how great it would be to go to the party with you,” he says.
“It’s not like I don’t think about it,” Merlin tells him. “I just…I don’t know.” He leans in and kisses Arthur again, sliding his lips back and forth a couple of times before sucking on Arthur’s bottom lip. “I need to get home to my Mum soon. Let’s not fight, yeah?” He soon becomes lost in their kisses and the feel of Arthur’s body pressed against his.
“You won’t let him kiss you, will you?” Merlin asks.
“That might be difficult,” Arthur says a little breathlessly.
“Not like this, though,” Merlin tries.
“No, never like this.”
The night of the party, Merlin finds himself more stressed than he’s ever been in his life. Freya’s father flatly refuses to go to his daughter’s for the evening, and Freya is forced to come there. She brings Elena to him, just as stubbornly refusing to back down on the issue now that she’s brought it all in the open.
So Merlin and his mother find themselves dressing for Gwen’s party in an atmosphere riddled with tension, although Elena puts up a good front, playing Christmas songs and making heavily spiked eggnog in the kitchen while Mr. Davies shouts from his room that he isn’t coming out and they might as well leave.
Hunith is still unhappy with Merlin for lying to him, and she brings it up again on the taxi ride to Gwen’s, even though Merlin's had several lectures on the subject already.
“I just don’t understand why you couldn’t have let me in on it,” she says, fiddling with her gloves. “I mean, it isn’t as though I’ve needled you about not having a girlfriend. Much. Not enough for you to go to these elaborate lengths.”
Merlin considers blaming it all on Freya—saying that she asked Merlin to lie to his mum, too; but that would be unfair. He sighs.
“Mum, I’ve said I was sorry. I did feel a bit pressured to be in a relationship so you’d be pleased." He takes a breath, thinking about Arthur. "I...Mum, it's just..." He looks up at her, heart beating fast. Hunith's face is open and hopeful, and all at once, Merlin loses his nerve. "Can we just forget about it now?”
Hunith gives him a searching look and finally smiles. “All right. We’ll start fresh. No more lying, though, yeah?” She pats his knee.
Merlin nods, a lump in his throat. For just a moment there, he thought he would tell her. It seems that every moment of every day he comes closer to doing it. He wonders if once the secret is out to his mother it will be easier for him to admit it to everyone else. Fear of letting Hunith down, letting Arthur down, fills Merlin's soul until tears threaten and he struggles to reign them in.
They pull up to Gwen’s small house. and Merlin pays the cabbie while valiantly trying to calm himself.
Gwen and Lance have been married for several years, having been sweethearts all through their childhood. At the taxi's arrival, the front door immediately opens and their four-year-old son, Davey, runs out, exuberantly greeting Hunith. When Davey spots Merlin, who, having dropped the brightly wrapped ball he brought for the child, has chased it to where it’s rolled to the other side of the street, he darts between parked cars to meet him.
Merlin hears Gwen’s urgent call one second before the headlights of an on-coming car sweep around the corner, heading their way fast. Heart in his throat, Merlin immediately calculates he has a matter of seconds to run in front of the car and push Davey out of the way before the little boy is hit.
Gwen’s scream echoes in Merlin’s ears, along with Hunith yelling his name and the screech of tires on ice as Merlin makes a literal dive forward, headlights blinding him, bits of his life flashing before his eyes—much of it time spent with Arthur.
The pavement is cold, wet, and hard. Somehow Merlin managed not to land on top of the child, but rather on his hip, which hurts like a mother-fucker. Lance is there first, then Gwen and Hunith, then a crowd of others along with the hysterical driver, and Merlin shakes all over but only feels the pain of scrapes and bruises on his right side where he landed. Now that he knows Davey is safe, all he can think is Arthur, Arthur, Arthur.
Davey is crying, but by the time Merlin’s helped into the house, the wails are more for the gift than what just happened to him. Merlin isn’t fairing as well, however. Shock has set in, and he’s shaking and close to tears. There are so many people pushing in on him, all his friends, but not the one person Merlin most wants and needs.
Someone takes his wet coat and pushes a glass of brandy into his hand. He’s led to the couch and gently nudged down into the cushions.
“Oh, Merlin,” Gwen keeps sobbing, clutching at Davey, who now holds the ball in his hands and is grinning, frightening incident already forgotten.
“Mate, that was amazing!” Will beams in Merlin's face.
“Merlin, are you all right?” Lance asks quietly, taking a seat beside him. Hunith hovers nearby, hands clasped in worry.
Merlin frantically searches the crowd of concerned faces.
Gwaine pushes his way in, taking Merlin’s hands. “You’re ice cold. Merlin, it’s okay…”
Then Merlin spots him. Arthur, standing over by the doorway, face pale and eyes clouded with horror, Morgana grasping his arm as though to hold him steady. Their eyes lock, and Merlin can see what it’s taking Arthur to keep his distance.
“Arthur,” Merlin croaks, reaching out, and it’s as though a spring in Arthur is released, moving him quickly forward. Gwaine has to take a step back as Merlin falls into Arthur’s arms, clutching at him, hiding his face in Arthur’s neck. He breathes Arthur in, the familiar scent of him liberating the sob that’s been choking him ever since he hit the pavement.
“Shh, it’s all right, Merlin, I’m here. My brave Merlin,” Arthur holds him tightly, and Lance moves to allow Arthur room on the sofa.
Merlin clings to Arthur, never wanting to let him go, his body giving in to sudden bursts of trembling like aftershocks of an earthquake.
“There, now, you’re all right. Davey’s fine,” Arthur says, smoothing Merlin’s hair and murmuring in his ear. Merlin can feel Arthur trying to hold back, uncertain, and he tightens his hold, needing Arthur all around him.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Merlin sobs.
“You did perfectly,” Arthur says. “But God, Merlin, you scared the life out of me. If I had lost you…”
Merlin wraps his arms around Arthur’s neck, squeezing the words out of him. “Never. Never, Arthur. I love you.”
Arthur trembles himself, then, and kisses the tears from Merlin's cheeks. When Merlin comes to the slow realization that the entire room has quieted except for the bouncing of Davey’s ball on the hard wood floor, he stiffens.
“I think you’ve outed us, love,” Arthur whispers into Merlin’s hair.
Merlin uncurls himself from Arthur’s embrace and shyly peers about.
“I guess I owe you all an explanation.” His eyes land on his mother, whose mouth is parted in shock.
“Especially you, Mum.” Merlin takes Arthur’s hand, squeezing it, and swallows his tears. “Arthur and I have been a couple for over a year now, and I’ve insisted upon keeping it a secret.”
Gwaine looks positively shell-shocked. It would be comical if Merlin didn’t feel like such a heel.
“I’ve been afraid to tell everyone that I’m in a relationship with a man. I love Arthur—he means the world to me.” He finds himself shaking again, and Arthur wraps an arm around him, pulling him close and pressing a kiss into his hair. Merlin closes his eyes.
“After what you just did for my son, I don’t care if you’re dating a troll,” Lance says. “You’ll always be aces in my book.”
“That goes double for me,” Gwen says, hugging a squirming Davey.
“We love you no matter what, of course,” Sefa chimes in. “And we love Arthur, too, so this is double the love. I think you make an adorable couple.”
Merlin smiles tremulously and looks to his mother, who shakes her head.
“Merlin, I just don’t understand all the lying.” Her eyes are sad.
“I was afraid of losing you, Mum.”
“I’m you mother.” Hunith looks exasperated.
“She has a point,” Gwen says, pulling Davey into her arms again and stilling the obnoxious bouncing of the ball.
“Hey, this is a party, isn’t it?” Will suddenly asks. “Can we have a little music and food? What does a man have to do to get some of that turkey?”
There’s laughter, and someone turns on the music. Food and drinks begin to circulate, and soon people stop staring at Merlin and Arthur. Arthur lifts Merlin’s chin and kisses him softly.
“I’m so proud of you.”
Merlin smiles and shakes his head. "I like to think I was getting close to doing it anyway," he says wistfully. "I wish I had. That's what you deserve." He squeezes Arthur's hand.
“Hey, mate,” Gwaine says to Arthur, looking uncomfortable. “I think I owe you an apology.”
“No,” Arthur replies. “I really can be quite the git. I’m sure I deserved most of your accusations for one thing or another.” Arthur smiles, and Gwaine gives him a playful shove.
A shadow falls over them and Merlin looks up to see Uther and his wife Catrina. A rather snobbish-looking young man stands off to the side, disdain and impatience written all over his face.
“Arthur, this is yet another surprise you have sprung upon me,” Uther says.
“Yes, Father,” Arthur grins. He looks to the other man. “I’m sorry, Valiant, but as you can see…I’m taken.”
Valiant snorts and walks away.
“I must say, you acted quickly and bravely out there,” Uther tells Merlin before walking away to snag some punch from the table. Merlin looks to Arthur, who makes an exaggeratedly impressed face.
Morgana appears and sits down on the couch beside Merlin.
“That was spectacular, what you did,” she tells him.
“You would have done the same. I couldn’t let that car hit Davey,” Merlin says.
“Yes, that. But I meant telling everyone just now. I know it was difficult for you. Thank you for giving your relationship with my brother the respect it deserves.”
Merlin studies her face. “You’re welcome. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long.”
“Now bugger off, Morgana,” Arthur tells her, not unkindly. “I want to publicly snog my boyfriend.”
Morgana grins and looks at Gwaine. “Fancy a dance?”
Merlin kisses Arthur and then rests his head on his chest, feeling safer and more at peace than he ever has in his life. Arthur kisses Merlin’s knuckles, which are scraped.
"I'm sorry it took this to bring me to my senses, Arthur. I may have been brave out there with Davey, but I've been a right coward otherwise."
Arthur rubs Merlin's arm. "It's all right. I know it hasn't been easy for you. I'm just glad everyone knows now." He tilts Merin's chin and kisses him gently, meaningfully.
“Your trousers are ripped,” Arthur tells Merlin a moment later as they settle down again.
Merlin looks down at the ruined knees of his grey dress slacks. “That they are.”
“I’ll buy you new ones.”
“You’ll do no such thing.”
“Perhaps Santa will leave some under the tree.”
Merlin rolls his eyes.
“You can’t turn away Santa’s gifts, Merlin.”
“I can if he’s a prat with a fat wallet.”
Arthur pouts. “I just want to take care of you.” Merlin recognizes the underlying hurt in Arthur’s words and looks up at him.
“All right. One pair of trousers. But that’s it.”
“Do you think your mum will accept me?”
Merlin looks to where Hunith stands talking with Gwen. “I think so. It might take some time, but she has a big heart. Keep talking about adoption, and I suspect she’ll come around faster.”
Arthur laughs, hugging Merlin to him. They stay on the couch, letting the party go on around them, feeling at home in their own private world.