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When At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again x 5

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Present Day: New Year’s Eve 2017

Arthur opened his mouth to answer Gwaine’s question, but before he could get a single sound out a deep, hearty chuckle from somewhere not too far away stopped him cold in his tracks.

“Please tell me you didn’t tell him I’d be here, Gwaine.” Arthur downed the bitter mead in one as Gwaine shook his head, and as that familiar, deep vibrato came closer and closer to him.

Arthur squirmed and made a conscious effort to turn towards the bar and away from him, but there was absolutely no hope of avoiding the inevitable confrontation.

It served him right, of course. Whatever was about to go down, Arthur would deserve it.

What a complete plonker he had been and still was. He didn’t even have the nerve to turn his head to see what he heard with his ears and felt in his soul.

“I need to go,” he said into the empty tankard before he looked into Gwaine’s eyes, willing the other to say something—anything—that would make all of this go away.

Gwaine raised his tankard, a sympathetic frown on his face. “You’ll have to find Perce. I’m in no condition to drive, and neither are you. Sorry, mate.” He really did look contrite, which was not at all a normal occurrence with Gwaine. “I’ll just go get another round and find Perce, yeah?” He quickly stood and walked to the less busy side of the bar, leaving Arthur alone and frustrated.

If he wasn’t already frazzled beyond reason, Arthur would have shouted at Gwaine and called him a bloody pillock… or something like that. Gwaine had left Arthur alone to deal with this on purpose, of that Arthur had no doubt. Some friend he was.

Arthur sighed. Gwaine was, in fact, one of the good ones, possibly the best. He was only trying to right a wrong that Arthur had perpetrated. Unfortunately, not even Gwaine would be able to set this to rights.

It looked like the day of reckoning had at long last come for Arthur.

“Arthur?” An almost whisper from much too close.

”Merlin,” Arthur deadpanned, wishing there was something inside the empty tankard, and as he stared into the void, the past five years came back to him. It was as if no time had passed.

But it had.

If only Arthur could go back to how things had been then.

Of course, nothing about that time had been much better than it was now, but at least then Arthur had had a father and a promising future.

Since then he had lost both his father and his future with Merlin.

As Arthur’s eyes glanced in every direction except the one that would necessitate him looking at Merlin, he wished he could disappear. Why was Merlin here? What could he have to say? And why would he want to say anything?

This was most inconvenient. Where had Percival gone off to? He was the designated driver, for fuck’s sake, and Arthur was in need of his bloody services, damn it. Immediately.

“I’m really sorry about your father, Arthur. I had every intention of coming to the funeral, but I had exams all day.” And Merlin did sound sorry. He hadn’t much cared for Arthur’s father, but he had cared very much for his son, so his condolences were true. Arthur had never, nor would he ever, doubt Merlin’s sincerity.

Everything about Merlin was true, wasn’t it? He didn’t put on airs. Perhaps Arthur needed to be more like him.

If more people were like Merlin, the world would be a better place.

Arthur cleared his throat and stared at a group of teenagers who looked happy and content with their lot in life as he tried to think of what to say. What could he possibly say? He’d said quite enough already. But he needed to respond. He owed Merlin that much. Really, he owed more than his life was worth to Merlin.

“Your mum called and told me you wanted to be there,” Arthur said, wishing for Merlin to leave. He couldn’t do this. Hell, he couldn’t even muster the nerve to face him.

“Yeah, I did. She’s the one who convinced me that it wasn’t a good idea; she knew you’d understand. I know she was right, and I know our situation isn’t the best,” Merlin said, his voice changing significantly, “but I still feel like I let you down. I should’ve been there for you.”

Arthur grimaced, but what he really wanted to do was scream about how unfair everything was. This was so fucked up. How was it that Arthur had pushed Merlin away and acted a fool doing so, yet it was Merlin who felt bad about letting Arthur down? It exasperated Arthur to no end, but at least that was familiar territory.

“You didn’t let anyone down, Merlin, but thanks for saying that. As you well know, my father didn’t exactly approve of much that I did, but he did approve of you. I guess it’s a good thing he was too far gone to see the fuck up I became.”

And it was this that finally gave Arthur the courage to turn and face Merlin. He had been the one to tell Merlin to leave him alone, hadn’t he? He had, so perhaps it was his penance to have to face the cruel hand of fate that he had dealt himself.

But it wasn’t Merlin’s familiar face that got Arthur’s attention, although the warm, blue eyes looked as inviting and friendly as ever. It was Will, Merlin’s best friend from Ealdor, who was standing beside Merlin, looking pensive, that had Arthur staring.

Arthur had heard rumours that the two were a couple now.

Seeing them together, however, well, it was devastating, and it was mind-numbing, to say the least. But it was no less than Arthur deserved. Hadn’t he been the one to tell Merlin to be with Will? And hadn’t he pushed Merlin away, telling him he was sorry, but nothing would ever happen between them because Arthur didn’t want to inflict his emotional turmoil on him?

Merlin had pleaded with Arthur to not push him away, but for his trouble, hadn’t Arthur told him to fuck off?

In response, Merlin had told Arthur that he loved him and that he wanted to help him, but that he didn’t know how, and that his mother told him he was too young to have to know how to do that.

Hunith had, of course, been right, hadn’t she? Arthur was too far gone for help and, even if he wasn’t, he wasn’t Merlin’s problem, was he?

But Arthur had thought that Merlin would always be there. Yes, he had sent him into Will’s arms, but he’d thought Merlin would come back.

He hadn’t, and that fact hurt Arthur to the very core.

Arthur squeezed his eyes shut as the memories began to wash over him.

New Year’s Eve 2012

The snow blanketed the late evening moon-covered streets of Camelot in soft whites, hues of lilac, and smatterings of baby blues. It was not dissimilar to many a holiday card that one could find in any store that lined the city centre, and such a soothing sight reminded Arthur of his childhood memories of all those January firsts from his childhood.

His father had almost always been gone on Christmas Day due to business, therefore the Pendragons had celebrated on New Year’s Day.

In many ways it seemed just like yesterday that Arthur was running downstairs at first light to see what Father Christmas had brought him and Morgana. He remembered snowball fights on the lawn with his best mate, Leon, and sleigh rides with his half-sister. And most of all he recalled sitting by the fire with his father looking through old photo albums filled with pictures of earlier times when his mother and father had been happily married, expecting their first child.

This had been the only time of year Arthur’s father indulged his son’s need to know his mother, and the young Pendragon had known not to broach the subject at any other time lest his one day be taken from him.

Arthur grinned wistfully, but his smile was tinged with sadness. By morning the satin flakes would be tainted and grimy, his best mate Leon had moved three months previously when his father got a job in the States, Morgana was away at university, and his father was quickly losing his battle with reality—he lived in his own little world, and in it there were only two people: Uther and Ygraine.

Occasionally there was also a little boy named Arthur, but he was the infant that had yet to grow up. When his father spoke of his wife, he was all smiles, but when Arthur came into the narrative all smiles turned to frowns, and there were always tears.

Those were the worst of times, but Arthur knew there were worse to come. It was a thought that more often than not brought on anxiety, and this day was no different.

Arthur closed his eyes and did his best to clear his mind. Gwen and Lancelot were to get engaged in a few hours, and it would be bad form for the future groom’s best mate to not show up.

He took a deep breath. He could do this. His uncle was with his father; Agravaine had come to live with them and it was his responsibility to care for the ailing Uther, not Arthur’s (Agravaine’s words, not his).

Agravaine had told Arthur that his only job was to be an eighteen-year-old, with all that entailed, which was quite enough to be going on with.

Arthur had and did try to have a normal life, but it was difficult to know that he was a stranger to his father, and to know that one day in the not-too-distant future his father would probably not be around any longer.

Deep breaths. Arthur forced himself to breathe in and out slowly. He could do this. He would ring Morgana on his way to the party and she would no doubt make him laugh and forget about his troubles. She always had, and Arthur thanked his lucky stars for her.

As he thought about Morgana, something hit him in the back of the head.

So deep in thought was he that it took a second or two to register that something had indeed happened, that it wasn’t in his mind. Arthur quickly turned around, angry and ready to lash out at the world for all the ills that had befallen him recently, and found the culprits: a boy who could maybe be a few years younger than him, although it was hard to know since he was bundled up in his winter coat and his face was half-hidden, and a little girl whose long dark locks that peeked out from her hat reminded Arthur of the little girl Morgana had once been. The boy was kneeling, speaking to the girl, who was crying loud and had large, ugly tears rolling down her face. It was so very reminiscent of many a scene Arthur had witnessed where Morgana had pushed her father’s patience too far.

The roiling anger left Arthur as quickly as it had come. He opened his mouth to speak but had no idea what to say. He instead cleared his throat, trying to get their attention.

“Erm, sorry,” the bloke said as he stood and turned towards Arthur, looking skittish. “My sister thought you needed to smile and thought a snowball would do the trick,” he said, a small bit of laughter in his voice, but he was looking more and more terrified with each passing second, his gloved hands in his coat pockets, his face pink with cold, his hair hidden beneath a bright red beanie that had a huge brown reindeer on the front with the words HO HO HO, Merry Christmas emblazoned in dark green letters. Arthur suppressed the urge to chuckle.

“Your sister has a good arm. Might want to sign her up for cricket,” Arthur said as he reached his hand around to feel where the snowball had hit. He nearly made a somewhat prattish comment, but when blue eyes looked into his, seemingly begging him to not be upset, Arthur forced out a small laugh. “My uncle assures me I have a very hard head. I think it’ll take more than a snowball to hurt it.” Arthur wondered why it made him feel better when the boy smiled.

“Still, mister, it weren’t polite of her to do that.” The boy rocked back and forth on the balls and heels of his feet. “She’s sorry. Aren’t you, Sefa?” he asked, motioning with his head towards Arthur. “What do you say to the nice man?”

The small girl whispered something indiscernible as she wrapped her arms around the boy’s waist and buried her head into his side, still sniffling.

Not wishing to prolong the girl’s suffering, or his own discomfort a second longer, Arthur shook his head. “Really, it’s okay. No need to get upset with her. My sister has done far worse, I assure you, and I am still here.”

Green eyes looked up at him through dark eyelashes, and Arthur was again struck with memories of Morgana.

“Sorry,” she said in a meek voice. She looked up at the boy as if asking for his approval. When he gave her a nod, she grinned.

Arthur nodded and grinned in return. “I should go.” But as odd as it was, he didn’t want to leave; he had the weirdest feeling, as if something was pulling him towards the other boy. It was odd and more than a bit disconcerting. Arthur knew nothing about this boy but found himself wanting to know everything about him.

It was probably his anxiety. It had to be.

“Yeah, okay. Maybe I’ll see you around. My mum, dad, sister and me just moved here a few days ago,” the boy said, looking about as uncomfortable as Arthur felt.

“Yeah, I’m sure we will,” Arthur said as he started walking away. “I’m Arthur,” he called out, not sure why.

“I’m Merlin,” the other said.

Later that night, at Gwaine and Gwen’s engagement party, Arthur drained the amber liquid in one and headed for the balcony. He needed some fresh air, and he desperately wanted to be alone.

Gwen and Lancelot were across the room, shoving their tongues down the other’s throat and it was making Arthur nauseous. He was over the moon with happiness for them—they deserved to be happy and to be planning a huge wedding—but it was difficult when he felt so very alone.

And as if the newly engaged couple wasn’t enough to deal with, Percy and Gwaine were glued to each other on the dance floor.

And to just add one more bit of insult to his already injured ego, Elena was doing her best to get Elyan to take her back to his for the night, which wouldn’t have been a problem had she not come with Arthur.

Arthur let out a mirthless laugh and was tempted to yell across the room that he didn’t mind, that he was quite accustomed to being left behind.

Of course, he wouldn’t.

Perhaps he should. He would have had it been two years earlier, when he had actually cared about anything and thought he deserved whatever he wanted.

It was amazing what a couple of years could do to a person.

“Arthur?”

Arthur stopped at the doors to the balcony when his name was called. Whoever had called him had a familiar voice, but Arthur couldn’t place it and, at the moment, he didn’t much want to. He needed to be alone.

He could pretend he didn’t hear them, yeah? He could do that. His father had always told him he had selective hearing, so perhaps that would work.

“Arthur?” that voice called out again, this time with worry.

Nothing else for it, Arthur turned around, ready to tell whomever it was that he wasn’t in the mood to talk, that he needed to be left alone, but the words on the tip of his tongue left him and were replaced with a feeling of overwhelming peace. It was strange. Arthur didn’t understand it, but he didn’t want to question it too closely. For the first time that day he felt steady and able to take a step without going backwards.

He swallowed. It was the boy from earlier in the evening, the one whose sister had tried to make him smile by hitting him in the back of the head with a snowball. But now Merlin looked very different. In the place of a huge coat and overly large beanie, he was in a form-fitting pair of black trousers and a melon-coloured button-up shirt that brought out the beautiful blue of his eyes.

“Merlin, was it?” he asked, hoping Merlin couldn’t sense his nervousness.

“Yeah, that’s my name,” Merlin said, smirking, his sharp cheekbones popping out, doing things to Arthur.

Rather than speaking, Arthur motioned towards the balcony and was heartened when Merlin followed him. He still wished to be alone; he wasn’t one for conversation, but this Merlin person seemed to comfort him, so maybe Arthur needed to let him in. Hadn’t his uncle told him he needed to let others in?

Stepping onto the balcony, Arthur walked to the edge and looked over to admire the Christmas lights that dotted the landscape before he turned around and leant against the wall and took in the lovely form of Merlin as he walked outside and closed the doors behind him. There were sharp angles, creamy, white skin, dark tufts of hair, a splash of dark chest hair peeking out through his shirt, and the most welcoming, warm eyes that Arthur remembered ever seeing. He could easily get lost in them, and he found himself wondering what it would be like to kiss those full lips, but a cough broke through his treacherous mind and Arthur thought there was no way that Merlin didn’t know what he had been thinking.

“My mum and Gwen’s father went to school together,” Merlin said, a bit of a blush on his face as he made his way over to where Arthur stood and looked with awe at his surroundings. “This is beautiful. When Gwen found out I was moving here, she invited me to come tonight. My first night in Camelot and I find myself in a swanky hotel ballroom.”

Arthur chuckled. “Only Gwen and Lance would plan their engagement like this. I wonder if it was a surprise to anyone?” He shook his head.

“Probably not. From what my mum says, Lance wanted to propose last Christmas.”

Arthur turned back around and focused on the stars that were only somewhat visible due to all the lights. There were an infinite number of them and the thought made him feel rather small. He wondered what he must look like from outer space.

“When I told Gwen about what Sefa did this afternoon, she knew it was you I’d met. She told me about your father; I hope you don’t mind. I’m sorry,” said Merlin, now much closer. Probably close enough for Arthur to lean over and kiss him. But that wouldn’t happen. Arthur nearly laughed at how ludicrous his insane thoughts were. He didn’t want to scare Merlin away.

Arthur turned back towards Merlin and with only a second’s thought began spilling his heart about his father’s rapidly declining health and memory. He didn’t mean to share any of it; he cringed as he spoke, but Merlin listened attentively and never once looked disinterested. He never once tried to interject, and at one point he reached out a hand and took hold of Arthur’s.

His story shared, Arthur felt completely wiped out; it was a feeling reminiscent to those long, drawn out debates he and his father would have on an almost daily basis before his health had taken a turn. But, the difference was that Arthur thought Merlin had truly listened and would be invested in what he’d just been told.

He and Merlin continued to stare at each other. Arthur very nearly asked why when Merlin stepped up to him.

Arthur almost laughed and stepped back; this wasn’t happening to him. But his better judgment won out and he remained quiet and still, well, except for his heart, which was beating so loudly he wondered if Merlin could hear it. Arthur had never wanted anything as much as he wanted the kiss that he thought Merlin was about to give him. He knew it wouldn’t happen because, really, who met someone and kissed them hours later? Perhaps that kind of thing happened in the movies or in a romance novel, but not in real life. But the mere thought, well, it was almost overwhelming.

“Arthur?” asked Gwen as she opened the doors and stepped onto the balcony.

New Year’s Eve 2013

Arthur stood in his bedroom, clothes spread out on his bed. He had no idea what to wear. He loathed weddings; he was only going because it was Lance and Gwen’s. Morgana had planned to be home to help him get ready, but a blizzard in Oslo had cancelled her flight.

He sighed. He wanted so very badly to call and say he was ill, and that wasn’t a lie. He was recovering from a bad cold and he really had no business being out and about this night. But he would never disappoint his friends, especially since he was the best man.

He would go and he would grin and act as if everything was alright. It wasn’t, but that mattered not one bit. He would do this.

Even if that meant seeing Merlin again.

Especially if that meant seeing Merlin again.

Merlin.

Arthur closed his eyes.

A few days after that almost kiss a year earlier, Merlin’s father had been killed and the Emrys family had moved back to Ealdor, leaving Arthur reeling at the sudden loss of the one person who seemed to understand him.

Arthur had often thought about asking Gwen for Merlin’s number, but he never plucked up the courage. That night had been one of those magical moments that had almost happened because everything had come together at the right time, but it was a year on now and things had changed. No matter that Arthur’s feelings for Merlin had grown over the past 365 days, he knew that it was likely Merlin was now with someone else. Why wouldn’t he be? He was gorgeous.

The thought of possibly seeing him at the wedding both thrilled and frightened Arthur.

How was it that the boy had gotten to him so completely only after a few hours of knowing each other?

Arthur took off his clothes and padded into the bathroom, hoping that a shower would make him feel better and that it would calm his nerves.

Two hours later he handed Lance the ring and watched as the soon-to-be groom carefully placed it on Gwen’s ring finger, hands shaking and tears in the corners of his eyes. Gwen beamed at him before turning to do the same to Arthur, who himself was having trouble keeping his emotions in check.

He grinned at Gwen, thinking that she made a beautiful bride, and that he had made the right decision when he ended things with her two years earlier.

Lance was her soulmate and deserved to have Gwen be his. It was how it was meant to be.

Arthur had loved her—had even considered proposing—but then his father had got sick and Arthur’s world had shrunk in less than a day. Gwen had stood by him and helped with his father, but Arthur had become distant and had pulled away from her and all his friends.

Where his entire life had revolved around having fun and being a typical kid-of-a-wealthy-father teenager before his father got sick, it had soon morphed into one of anxiety and depression, and he had lost Gwen—well, he had told her to be with Lance, and when she said no, he’d told her it was up to her but that he didn’t want her back.

It had been a lie, but he’d known that Lance could give Gwen what she needed, so he had done the right thing. It had nearly killed Arthur to let her go, but he had and, at this moment, he couldn’t be more happy for her.

The reception was a grand affair and Arthur smiled and made small talk. He gave the obligatory update on his father, lying through his teeth, telling others his father was alright, when in fact he was growing more and more distant. But no one else needed to know that, did they?

Lance and Gwen knew the truth, of course, as did Gwaine and Percival, and Arthur had talked to Leon the other day and finally told him how bad things were. They had all been completely wonderful about it and had helped, each in their own way, but there was an emptiness within Arthur that he knew could only be filled by him talking to Merlin.

Which was mental.

Arthur needed to get over Merlin—who had not been at the wedding and had not made everything for Arthur okay—and come to terms with the fact that he needed to go talk to someone before he completely lost it.

“Arthur?”

Damn, bugger, fuck, bloody hell. Arthur looked down at the innocuous pineapple punch and wished he’d gone for the champagne. “Merlin,” he said as he turned around, bracing himself for what he was about to be faced with, and the reality was far worse than the memory. Merlin was the same. It was as if no time had passed since a year earlier. Arthur was just as besotted this day as he had been that night a year ago.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. My car broke down so I just got here. You were the first person I saw,” Merlin said, and it was obvious he was out of breath.

Arthur tried to smile but it didn’t even come close. How in the hell was he supposed to get through this night? He had already considered leaving as soon as the bride and groom cut the cake, but Gwen had pleaded with him to stay until they left. Arthur hadn’t understood. Now he did. He grimaced as he swallowed the remainder of the punch.

“You’re probably upset with me, yeah?” Merlin asked hesitantly as he raised his own cup of punch to his lips, but he didn’t drink; he was waiting for Arthur’s response.

“Why ever would I be upset with you?” Arthur asked, trying but failing to find a reason. If anything, Merlin should be upset with him. When his friends had gone to pay their respects to Merlin and his mother, Arthur had chosen not to go. It had been for purely selfish reasons.

“Because I left the party last year without finding you again. I don’t really know why, but I just think I was afraid. Things got a bit heated and then, well, you were pulled away and I thought it was probably best that I left.” Merlin looked like he was going to be ill; his face was losing what little colour it had.

Without a word Arthur grabbed Merlin by the arm and pulled him over to an empty table and helped him into one of the chairs. Then he sat down himself and thought it was a good thing. He wasn’t feeling any better than Merlin looked.

“Yeah, it was probably best that you did leave. Not that I didn’t want you to stay—I did—but I’m a mess, Merlin. My life is a wreck and I’d hate to bring you into that. It just wouldn’t be fair. My father takes up most of my time these days. Besides, you aren’t here anymore, which I’m really sorry about. That was horrible what happened to your dad. Please know that I am so sorry for your loss. I know there’s nothing I can say that will excuse me not coming to the funeral.” Arthur shrugged his shoulders. He was way out of his depth here and felt himself drowning.

Merlin moved his chair over so his legs touched Arthur’s, took Arthur’s hands in his, and gave him a sad grin as he shook his head. He opened his mouth to speak, and it was at that moment the music started. Before Arthur could protest, Merlin pulled him out on the dance floor and that is where they spent the next two hours, alternating between having the time of their lives letting loose to the latest hits and holding each other close as the slower songs lulled them into a not at all false sense of comfort and security.

Merlin put his mouth next to Arthur’s ear during one of those slow songs. “I want to be alone with you.”

Arthur nodded. “Come with me,” he said, and they made their way through the throngs of people until they stood in front of Lance and Gwen. Arthur left Merlin and Gwen together and took Lance aside to explain that he was going to leave because if he didn’t, he would always regret it. With what was happening to his father, he never wanted to regret not doing anything.

Lance, of course, understood. He put his hand in his pocket, retrieved something, and handed it to Arthur.

“You will always be welcomed at Gwen’s and mine, Arthur. My wife adores you, and she was completely devastated the other day when we went to see your father. If there’s anything we can do…”

Arthur cleared his throat; he hated it when others went on like this. He knew they meant well, but it figuratively killed him. “Yeah, thanks.” He opened his hand to reveal a key. He frowned as he looked up at Lance, who was grinning.

“Elena didn’t know Gwen and I had already booked a room so she got us one as well. Please use it. I insist.” Lance grimaced at the frown Arthur gave him. He sighed then clasped Arthur’s shoulder and gave him a slight shake. “You can’t go on like this, Arthur. I know your life is shite right now, but please let Merlin in and let him help you.”

Arthur didn’t trust himself to say anything. He slung an arm around Lance and nodded, trying really hard not to let his emotions get the best of him.

Seconds later Arthur walked over to Merlin, kissed Gwen on the cheek, congratulated her, then grabbed Merlin’s hand and motioned that they were leaving. Merlin asked where they were going, but Arthur merely grinned and told Merlin it was a surprise.

Merlin could only wait so long, so when they entered the lift and started their ascent, Merlin asked again, and he looked so adorable that Arthur decided to put him out of his misery, but before he could, his mobile rang.

As he answered it Arthur physically deflated. All of his mates were at the wedding. The call could only be from one person. “Hello?”

“Arthur, I am very sorry to interrupt you at the reception, but your father asked to see you, and I remember you telling me that if he ever asked for you, I was to contact you straight away.”

Arthur nodded as he looked sadly at Merlin. “Yeah, Uncle, I did. You were right to do so. I’m leaving now and will be there as soon as I can.”

And just like that Arthur’s grasp of happiness, even if only for the night, slipped through his hands a second time.

Arthur was beginning to hate New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve 2014

Arthur sat in the hospital room in almost complete darkness as he scrolled through the messages on his mobile. Gwaine was sending him texts from the party he was at, the party that Arthur had planned to be at, but Agravaine had caught cold and was going to be out of commission for the next week or so and Arthur hadn’t wanted to trust anyone else with his father, especially when Uther had been admitted to hospital three days earlier.

 

Gwaine: OMGOMGOMG Percival just asked me to marry him! OMG! I’m dying here, Arthur! You should be here to party with us!

Arthur: Congrats, mate. That’s the best news. Tell Percival it’s about damn time.

 

A knock on the door brought Arthur back to the present and he looked at the time; it was time for his father’s meds. He told whomever it was to come in, and he turned on the light with the remote control.

A zillion questions and answers later, the nurse left a bewildered Arthur to his own thoughts, which were many. How in Hades did his uncle manage all of this by himself? Arthur found himself having a new appreciation for Agravaine, who, really, had no reason to take care of Uther, his former brother-in-law, yet he did because of Arthur. Arthur would have to do something special for his uncle when he got well.

Arthur put away the notebook that had all his father’s notes within and removed his shirt and stretched out his arms as he settled down on the couch for the night. He could only hope his father slept for a few hours without any interruptions by nurses who needed to take temperatures, blood pressure readings, or give more meds.

His mobile beeped. Arthur reached over and saw that it was Gwaine again.

Shouldn’t he and Percival be doing things to each other about now? Arthur let out a small laugh but promptly put his hand over his mouth, hoping his father didn’t wake.

He opened the text and his heart sped up. It wasn’t Gwaine. It was Merlin.

 

Gwaine: Hi Arthur. It’s Merlin. Not sure where Gwaine is, but it’s a good guess that wherever he is he’s balls deep in Percival. Gwen told me about your dad. So sorry. I wish there was something I could do. You okay?

Arthur: Hey, Merlin. At least someone’s getting some, right? Yeah, my father had a bad case of pneumonia. The doctor says he’s doing better but with his immune system suppressed anything could set him back. Thanks for the offer. Short of you coming over here and keeping me company, send some good thoughts for my father, yeah? I’ll be fine.

Gwaine: It’s okay if I come to hospital? I wanted to come straight away but then I thought they mightn’t let me in.

Arthur: Yeah, they’ll let you in. I’ll leave word at the nurses’ station for them to let you in when you get here. It’s the twelfth floor: number 1265. But it’s late and I’m sure you have better things to do than coming to spend New Year’s Eve in hospital keeping me company.

Gwaine: As if I’d want to be anywhere else, you clotpole. See you in a few.

 

Arthur’s smile couldn’t get any bigger if he wanted it to. Just getting those texts had made his day and night, but to know that Merlin was coming to see him made him giddy, much like he had been as a small boy on New Year’s Day.

Spending New Year’s Eve in hospital was not at all what Arthur wanted to be doing, and he knew that nothing would be happening between him and Merlin this night, but that was more than fine with him. All he needed was Merlin.

New Year’s Eve 2015

Arthur looked into the mirror and straightened his tie as Morgana smoothed out his suit.

“You look positively regal, brother dear,” she said, a wicked grin on her face. “Merlin won’t be able to keep his hands off you tonight. Remember that I will be out with some friends, so the hotel room is all yours and Merlin’s.” More waggling of the eyebrows followed.

Arthur blushed but didn’t say anything. Let Morgana think what she wanted to. Arthur had no plans for anything more than talking to happen. Not that he didn’t want more to happen, but Merlin was getting over a bad case of bronchitis that didn’t seem to want to leave. This was unfortunate, but as there was nothing to do to change it, they were going out to dinner, and if Merlin was feeling up to it they were going to the fireworks display at the old castle grounds.

Arthur had planned this trip to Ealdor over a month earlier with the hope of beginning a proper relationship with Merlin. He’d known for a while that it was time they tried to take things to the next level, but even as he made his plans he’d vowed to himself to not rush this. Merlin was too precious to him; Arthur couldn’t afford to mess this up. So perhaps it was a good thing that Merlin had strict instructions to not do anything strenuous.

Arthur would have to take this slow with Merlin.

The irony that he and Merlin had been taking things slow since 2012 did not escape him.

It wasn’t their fault that they had the worst timing in the history of the world.

Thirty minutes later Arthur and Merlin entered the posh restaurant that his father’s former partner now owned. They were taken back to a small table away from everyone else.

Arthur motioned for the maître d’ to allow him to hold Merlin’s chair for him. It was an important gesture; his father had instilled manners in his son from the time he was cooing, and there was no way in hell he was going to let anyone else do what he should do.

“Thank you, Arthur,” Merlin said coyly, a small smile on his face as he sat down and got comfortable. He looked up at Arthur through his eyelashes and let out a small laugh. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but my mum told me I better not screw this up because you are about as good as they come.”

Arthur started to frown, but he quickly quelled the urge as he sat down. No pressure there. He smirked. “I should probably respond to that by saying thank you and that your mother has impeccable taste, but it is more likely that your mother is confusing me with my father,” Arthur said, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “He was quite the charmer in his day, and he did date one of your mother’s year-mates, yeah?”

“Yeah, he did, but I don’t think she was wrong,” Merlin said seriously. “She knows more than anyone what a hellish life both you and I have had these past few years, and she wants this to work. I think she also wants to claim you as one of her own, which I should remind you that I am her son. Not you.” But the words were said with a huge grin on his face. “I know you are the golden one and everyone fawns all over you, but you’ll have to share the spotlight in my house.” More laughter.

That was one of those comments Arthur would have taken umbrage with a few years earlier, but now it didn’t bother him in the least. He had grown up, even if the reason had been his father’s declining faculties. It seemed that there was something good to come out of this hell, after all. It wasn’t much consolation, but what would be?

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Arthur said, smiling and trying to look innocent and coy. “So, tell me about Sefa. When I talked to Will the other day he said she got into a spot of trouble. She hasn’t been throwing snowballs at helpless boys again, has she?”

New Year’s Eve 2016

Arthur knocked on the door and entered, carrying the vase of flowers over to Merlin, who looked pale and tiny in the hospital bed. “Merlin, Merlin, Merlin, what am I going to do with you?” he said as he leant over and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re burning up,” he added, frowning as he set the vase on the bedside table.

“Had you been here half an hour earlier you’d know that the doctor is quite pleased that my temperature has gone down as it has. When Mum brought me to A&E I was hallucinating,” Merlin said, then coughed several times. “Sorry, when I get excited, I cough.”

“I should probably leave then, yeah?” Arthur said, not wanting to leave, but he didn’t want to make things worse for Merlin.

“Oh, no you shouldn’t. I have waited all day to see you and I’m not ready to let you go yet,” was Merlin’s matter-of-fact reply.

Arthur wasn‘t sure his staying was the best thing, but Merlin looked sad, and he pouted so prettily. Who was Arthur to say no to that face? He nodded as he sat down beside the bed and ran his fingers through Merlin’s damp fringe. “When I heard you were in hospital, I was quite worried. What do they think it is?”

Merlin shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. I think Mum has talked to them. She probably knows, but she won’t tell me. But I feel better and the fever is breaking, so I don’t think it’s serious.”

They spent the next hour talking about Sefa, Merlin’s mother, Arthur's father, Morgana, and Gwen and Lance, who were expecting their first child in a few months, and all the while Arthur marveled at his and Merlin’s odd relationship.

Almost from the beginning there had been a spark between them. Arthur couldn’t imagine his life without Merlin, but in all the years they’d known each other they’d not so much as kissed, and no, kissing on the cheek did not count.

Maybe this wasn’t the biggest of issues, but being that they had been together on New Year’s Eve four times, that was saying something. And here they were, another New Year’s Eve spent together without hope of a kiss.

It was maddening, but Arthur knew that if it was meant to be between them, it would happen, and all the New Year’s Eves in the world couldn’t keep them from that.

Merlin was snoring when the clock struck twelve, his hand in Arthur’s, warm, but not nearly as warm as it had been when Arthur had come in a few hours earlier.

“Arthur dear?” Hunith called out quietly as she entered the room.

“He fell asleep a few minutes ago. I think his fever has gone down some more,” he said, relieved, and he could see the same on Merlin’s mother’s face.

Hunith sat down on the sofa and patted the seat next to her.

Arthur stood, his hand still intertwined with Merlin’s, and leant over to place a light kiss on Merlin’s forehead. “Sleep well, my sweet prince,” he said before removing his hand from Merlin’s.

He joined Hunith on the sofa and could see the worry in her eyes. “How is he? He thinks you might be hiding something from him. Are you?” Arthur asked, knowing he was stepping way out of bounds here and that it was none of his business, but the thing was that he wanted Merlin to be his business.

“He was quite sick when I brought him in and had a hard time breathing, but with medication and rest he is doing better. The doctors said it was a cold that turned bad and settled in his throat. This evening he’s been doing so much better, and I have no doubt that is because you’re here, Arthur, but they warned me that he might regress somewhat for the next few days. But they assure me he will get better with the proper rest and meds.”

Arthur took in a deep breath as he watched the rise and fall of Merlin’s chest. “I wish I could stay longer. I don’t want to leave.”

He turned back towards Merlin’s mother. “I love your son, Hunith,” he said, not quite sure why he had told her when he hadn’t even shared the news with Merlin yet, but it seemed the right thing to do.

“I know, Arthur. It is written all over your face when you look at my son, and I couldn’t be happier for you or him. Life has been difficult for us since my husband passed away, and I have so worried about Merlin. I always will, I suppose, but I can rest much easier knowing he has you. And, please tell him what you told me. My son isn’t the only one who deserves to be happy. You do, too, Arthur.”

Present Day: New Year’s Eve 2017

“Close your mouth, lover boy,” slurred Gwaine as he walked up to Arthur and handed him another beer. “Yes, Merlin’s with Will, or don’t you remember that you practically pushed them together?” He practically shouted this last bit, not seeming to care that Merlin could hear every word he said.

Arthur didn't know what to do or say, and he certainly hadn’t expected such a response from Gwaine. But he guessed he’d had it coming. Everyone had been walking on eggshells around him for months, not speaking Merlin’s name because of his request they not do so, but that hadn’t been fair. They were all Merlin’s friends as well. Arthur nodded, knowing what Gwaine said was true.

“Serves you right to see him with someone else, Arthur, but him being here is why Gwen tried to dissuade you from coming tonight. She knew after the week you’ve had that seeing Merlin with Will was the last thing you needed. I told her you deserved to see him and Will together. Percival didn’t take too kindly to my harshness. He told me just for that I wasn’t getting any tonight. Some friend you are.” Gwaine followed that diatribe with a hiccup.

Shrugging, Arthur downed the bitter tasting beer and thought about saying something hurtful, but he instead set his tankard down, glanced over at Merlin and Will, and then stood and walked away. It was, after all, what he did best, wasn’t it?

He walked outside, went around to the back of the building, and slid down the wall, closing his eyes and giving in to the grief he felt for the loss of his father, the loss of Merlin.

Loss in general.

He’d royally buggered up. The one person, other than Morgana, who had been there for him through it all, he’d pushed away, and now he’d never get him back. It was what he deserved, but it hurt, and after burying his father, Arthur desperately needed Merlin. He needed him as he needed air. That fact scared the hell out of Arthur, but there it was.

His father had fought for seven years but his body had finally given up and had stopped working. Arthur’d known for years that it was coming, but that hadn’t made it any easier to face, and it hadn’t prepared him how to deal with being without a mother or a father.

At least he still had Morgana. She had been Arthur’s rock through it all and had told Arthur they would get through this. Arthur hoped she was right.

“Hey, Arthur.”

Arthur lifted his head and slowly opened his eyes. There were too many tears to see who it was, but he would know that voice anywhere.

“Merlin?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” Merlin said as he sat down beside Arthur and leant against the wall. “Just so you know, Will and I are no longer together. When he saw you walk out here and saw my reaction, he said enough was enough. He said you were a complete plonker and that you didn’t deserve me, but he was tired of me moping around. He also didn’t think it was good that you were out here alone, so he told me I needed to come talk to you. So here I am, Arthur. If you tell me to leave, I will and I’ll never come back, but please don’t ask me to do that. The last time you did that was hard enough.”

“Stay, please,” were Arthur’s only words before he settled his head on Merlin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I was such an idiot to ever let you go. I just didn’t think you needed the bother of me. I’ve been such a head case this year.”

“So you thought you’d make a decision for me, did you? Arthur, that is the most inane thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth. You know me better than anyone other than my mother. You know how I feel about you. I shouldn’t have come back tonight; I should have stayed away. It would have served you right after what you did to me, but lucky for you I knew the hell you were going through and I understood that you weren’t able to think clearly. So I came back. But Arthur Pendragon, if you ever do anything like that to me again, I’ll leave and you’ll never see me again. I will never go through a hurt like that again. Do you understand me?”

“Happy New Year!” came from the revelers inside.

Instead of answering with words Arthur turned to Merlin and decided that five years was a long enough wait for a first kiss.

There were trails of tears down either side of Merlin’s face and Arthur knew he had his own, but he didn’t care. He guessed he wasn’t the first person to ever share a first kiss with someone who was crying. Hadn’t Cho been crying over Cedric when Harry kissed her in the Room of Requirement?

Merlin was looking at him with so much trust and all the love that Arthur could ever hope for. It was overwhelming and almost sent him into a panic attack, but no, not this time. This time he was going to be okay because he had Merlin by his side. He briefly closed his eyes, gathered his wits about him, and opened his eyes.

“May I kiss you, Merlin?” he asked. He’d already made one bad decision for the both of them on his own. He would not do that again. When Merlin nodded, Arthur’s lips found Merlin’s. It was magic.

It wasn’t overly long, but the kiss they shared was perfect, and when Arthur pulled back he couldn’t be sorry that it had taken them five years to share their first kiss.

Merlin giggled. Actually giggled. Arthur was not exactly amused. In fact, he was quite perturbed, but after his abysmal behaviour that had almost lost him Merlin not so many months earlier, he thought better of jumping to conclusions. But he guessed from Merlin’s expression that his face gave him away. He sighed.

“It’s okay, Arthur. I’m laughing because when I was growing up my mother’s favourite number was six. She said it was lucky.” Merlin leaned in and kissed Arthur again, and when he pulled back, he let out a satisfied moan. “I guess she was right. Happy New Year.” It wasn’t likely his grin could get any bigger.

“Happy New Year, Merlin,” Arthur replied before going in for another kiss.