4 YEARS AGO.
It was exactly this date, four years ago, that Merlin Emrys stumbled into Arthur Pendragon. It wasn’t completely unwarranted; they were at a party, and both had had enough alcohol to be, at the very least, tipsy.
The party was his friend Gwen’s, and he had only gone because sitting on his arse by himself and watching telly in his flat was a sad way to celebrate the New Year. Also, Gwen had free beer. That wasn’t something a man passed up on.
It was at three minutes to midnight that Merlin had bumped into a blond haired man, intoxicated and swinging a beer bottle by its neck. “Sorry, mate,” he’d mumbled, and frowned at his empty bottle. “M’beer’s gone. Could I have yours?”
He’d let out hearty laugh that filled him warmly like another beer could never have and suddenly Merlin had been glad to miss out on more alcohol, as long as he could hear the stranger’s laugh again.
“Think you’ve had enough of that,” he’d said wryly, taking the empty beer from him and dropping it in the trash.
His eyes, startling blue and dancing with mirth, were enough to sober Merlin up a bit. After a period of staring that lasted too long to be platonic, sense returned to him and stuck out a hand. “Merlin,” he’d said.
“Arthur.” They shook.
“One minute ‘til countdown, everyone!” Gwen had climbed onto a tabletop to announce this. “Get your partners ready.” She had her arms already around Lance’s neck, obviously well-prepared.
The party guests had rushed into a frenzy trying to find a significant other and Arthur had begun to turn around with a lazy wave when Merlin caught his arm.
“I’m open,” he’d said.
Arthur had hesitated.
And Arthur had.
When three two one had come around it didn’t matter because they had already started on two. And it didn’t matter that they had known absolutely nothing about each other, that they’d been total strangers because it was officially January first of the new year; but then again that didn’t matter either because they were too busy devouring each other like it was the end of the world. A nibble of his sweet, intoxicating soft skin. Pants of near desperation like they weren’t in public and the occasional clink of the teeth almost drove him over right there, and Merlin realized it’d been too long since he’d been with anyone; though quickly approaching his second year of celibacy, perhaps.
“Midnight’s over, boys!” someone yelled, and they broke apart. He’d grinned good-naturedly at the laughing crowd, but the swollen red lips and the flushed look on Arthur’s face made it hard for him to do anything else.
The next morning Merlin had woken up with a raging hangover and a serious need to piss. He’d sat up, ready to make a trip to the loo, when the sleeping man in his bed nearly made him wet himself on the spot. Looking closer, he saw that it was the blond from last night, Arthur. Like the king.
King indeed, he’d thought grimly, thinking of the kiss, remembering his lips and then...nothing.
Suddenly panicked, he’d reached under the covers only to find that his pants were still on and his privates intact, and breathed a sigh of relief he hadn’t known he’d been holding.
“You two didn’t do anything, if that’s what you were wondering,” said a voice and Merlin almost pissed himself for the second time in a minute. With effort, his vision focused on a dark skinned woman in a bathrobe with her arms crossed.
“Gwen? What are you doing in my house?”
“This is my house, Merlin.”
“Oh. So it is.” And it had been. He’d pressed a hand to his throbbing temples. “Ow.”
“Hangover?” She’d sounded only the tiniest bit sympathetic.
She’d sighed. “I’ll make coffee.” Her slippers made no noise as she shuffled off into the kitchen.
“Best. Friend. Ever.”
“Damn right I am,” Gwen had grumbled, but it was more fond than anything else.
“What did I do last night?”
She had then, very slowly, explained that after kissing Arthur he had proceeded to get shitfaced drunk, somehow thought it was a good idea to dance naked on the table. After several struggling attempts to remove all his clothes, he’d eventually passed out and hit his head on the table. Merlin had figured this was the cause of the mind-numbing headache that currently accompanied his hangover. Lance had helped him into the guest room. Arthur ended up in the same bed only as a result of being deemed not fit to drive.
When Arthur had finally woken up, Merlin had been sitting next to the bed calmly watching the telly and drinking his coffee.
“Morning,” he’d said.
“Mmphf,” was the answer he got. Then after another moment, groaning, Arthur had sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Even at half-past noon, having just woken up and in the wrinkled clothes of the night before, Arthur looked absolutely godlike.
“How hungover are you?”
“Enough.” He’d spotted Merlin’s cup. “Can I have a sip of that?”
He grimaced. “Sorry, mate,” he’d said, and flashes of last night flitted briefly across his mind. “Empty.” He turned the cup upside down to prove just how empty it was.
“Should have saved me some.”
“I was more hungover than you were.” He’d stood up suddenly and grabbed his coat. “I’ll make it up to you, though. Let me take you out for coffee.” He’d stayed unwaveringly strong under Arthur’s searching gaze.
“You’re really not kidding, are you?” he’d finally said. “Ah, fuck it. Not like I’ve anything better to do."
And that was how Merlin asked Arthur out on their first date.
2 ¼ YEARS AGO.
Nine months into their relationship, they exchanged ‘I love you’s.
A lick of the tongue. A smooth set of lips. A scrape of teeth and –
“Oh, fuck, fuck, Arthur, y-your mouth…!”
And Merlin had exploded into a million blissful pieces into said mouth.
Hours later, still panting, Arthur had dropped onto the bed next to him and he’d instinctively curled up into his comforting embrace. His face had been hot, and his insides had felt all warm and fuzzy.
“Wow,” Arthur said finally. “That’s the first time I’ve tried that; definitely not the last time. Next time, though, save that thing you do with your tongue until the end. You know I can't last very long after that.”
Merlin had laughed. “You prat, I love you,” he said without thinking. Immediately, he felt Arthur’s entire body tense up and his breathing hitched at the sudden confession, fearing he’d made a mistake in letting his tongue loose.
“Arthur?” he’d said hesitantly, raising his head up to look at his face. “Arthur.” He clutched his arm with a sinking feeling. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he murmured, his lips at Merlin’s temple and his fingers stroking through his hair. Merlin’s heart stuttered.
“You don’t have to say anyth – ”
“Shut up, idiot. I love you, too.”
18 MONTHS AGO.
Eighteen months ago, Arthur came out to his friends.
Of course, everyone already knew, but no one had the heart to tell him; no one except Morgana.
“Dick,” she’d practically yelled, when he’d made the announcement at their weekly meetings at The Dragon Pub. “We’ve known that for years!”
Merlin hid a snicker behind a pint of beer.
Arthur had only blinked. “What?”
“Could you be any more obviously gay?”
“Morgana!” Gwen hissed from the other side of the table. “You were supposed to act surprised!”
“You all knew?” Arthur had sounded outraged.
“You did snog the life out of Merlin last New Year’s,” Gwen reminded him.
“And none of you confronted me about it?”
“A man comes out on his own terms,” said Lance, raising his beer.
“Cheers to that!” The whole table drank.
Merlin pulled him down to his seat, and he sat with a thump. “Sit down before you make a bigger fool of yourself,” he’d said to a distraught Arthur.
“This has been a pointless meeting, then,” he’d said.
“I don’t know about pointless; I got alcohol out of it.”
“But I expected, I don’t know, a bigger reaction from you guys.”
“Oh, god, are you whining?” So Merlin had leaned over and grabbed his face and pressed it to his own until Arthur’s pouting lips melted away so that he didn’t even hear Gwaine whistling in the background. When Merlin pulled back, he grinned and patted his partner’s cheek dotingly.
“You see?” he’d said. “Now we can do that in public.”
“So. Fucking. Obvious,” said Morgana.
5 MONTHS AGO.
Five months ago, their world began to crack, hairline fractures appearing in the flawless surface of everything they’d built together. Five months ago, Arthur came out to his father. The beginning of the end.
Merlin had been there with him, by his side as moral support and proof. When Arthur had first explained it like that Merlin had been beyond offended, but after he’d explained that Uther likely wouldn’t believe him, he had to admit that coming along wouldn’t hurt.
Arthur had explained that his father was a cruel man, power hungry, and would almost certainly react badly.
“Whatever I’ve told you about my father, he’s five times worse,” Arthur had said.
He’d checked with Morgana, on the hunch that Arthur was exaggerating, only to find this time, he wasn’t.
“He only said five times worse?” Morgana questioned. “Liar. Uther Pendragon is at least ten times worse than they say. Look, Merlin,” she’d then said, sighing. “Uther has always had such high expectations for his only son, and being gay is certainly not one of those. You can bet that Arthur isn’t lying when he says that it’s not going to be pretty. And, as annoying as he is, I care for him more than my own father and if you ask me, I still think he shouldn’t tell him.” She’d shrugged. “What the old man doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
He’d relayed the message to Arthur, who brushed off her advice. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” he’d said. “My father’s never had the same expectations for her as he does for me. She’s only my half-sister; she’s only had to deal with him for half her life. I’ve had to deal with him since the day I was born. Let’s go.”
Uther did not take the news well.
At first, he hadn’t said anything, just sat calmly at his desk with his fingers steepled and a concentrated look on his face. He looked almost kingly; Merlin could see where Arthur had gotten his features. He was beginning to think that Morgana and Arthur had been weaving tales about their father when he exploded.
Merlin could have wet his trousers.
“You’re what?” Uther stood up suddenly and slammed his palms on the table. “What did you just say to me?”
Merlin had wanted to hide, and so had Arthur, by the looks of it, but he stood stiffly.
“You expect me to believe,” he’d seethed, “that my only son is gay?”
Uther had begun to chuckle, a laugh bordering on hysteria that made chills run down Merlin’s spine. “You’re a fucking faggot?”
Arthur had flinched at his words, but Merlin was unfazed. He’d heard them all before.
“Not a faggot,” he’d said slowly. “I’m gay.”
“YOU ARE NOT GAY,” Uther roared. “If this is some elaborate scheme to get back at me for something I’ve done, I’ll have your head, boy.”
“My sexual orientation is not a fucking joke, Father,” retorted Arthur angrily.
“I raised a faggot,” Uther had said disbelievingly, speaking more to himself than anyone. “My son is a fucking faggot. Where did I go wrong?”
“Father.” Arthur had said it forcefully albeit politely, but Merlin could see an animal inside him, straining to get out. His knuckles were clenched white by his sides. “I didn’t come down here to discuss the question of my sexuality. I just came to tell you that Merlin and I are happy together and I thought it was time you knew.”
Merlin had admired his resolve, staying calm while his father shouted obscenities in his face.
Uther had finally seemed to notice a presence in the room other than themselves. “Is this your little boyfriend?” he’d sneered, spitting the word with distaste. “Is he the reason you came? Did this queer put you up to this?”
“No.” Arthur had put a protective hand in front of him. “Merlin had nothing to do with any of ‘this’. This isn’t a damn phase, Father.”
Like the declaration had just sunk in for the first time, Uther’s eyes flared and his wrist lashed out, forming a fist and catching him across the face. Arthur stumbled backwards and Merlin caught him before he hit the ground, startled. He had tried to take a look, just to make sure he was okay, but Arthur had shaken him off wordlessly, turning back to face his father sullenly with a swollen, split lip.
The older man had stood, quietly shaking out his hand and inspecting the bruises quickly forming on his knuckles. He hadn’t been at all fazed, simply tired. “I want you to leave my office and never come back,” he’d said calmly. “I want you to sever all ties with this family, as you are no longer a part of it.”
“Father – ”
“The flat is to be vacated by next week. You are no longer my successor to the company, you have been relieved of your position as CEO. As much as it pains me to think of the peril I’m placing my company in, I am turning your position on the board over to Morgana.”
“Father!” Merlin saw him swallow a sizable lump in his throat. “You know Morgana has zero interest in anything having to do with the company. She has no idea how to run a business. You’re going to disown the only one of the two children you have who are willing to wait on your beck and call?”
There had been a pause in which Arthur had barely breathed, thinking he might have broached the unseen line and talked back to his father for the first time in his life.
“I have only one child, and her name is Morgana.”
Arthur drew back as if he had been slapped again.
“Catrina, please escort these two queers out of the building.” Uther had buzzed his secretary and she came bustling through the door with a falsely bright smile. Merlin waved her away, leading his partner out with a hand on the small of his back.
“Alright, alright, we’re leaving,” he’d snapped at her. What a troll, he’d thought. Before exiting the office, Merlin had turned back briefly to Uther.
“Sir,” he began, “I’ve only just met you, but I know that even though it was you who has disowned Arthur, I don’t think he’s ever been better off in his life. Men like Arthur don’t need men like you for fathers, if I could even call you that. You have the audacity to call yourself his father? Or Morgana’s? You sit there, in your expensive leather seat and sipping brandy that costs more than my flat, rolling in the money you keep around you to mask your insecurities, your guilt, your cowardice.”
“How dare you?” But Merlin had already left.
Once they’d left the building, both men finally thought to stop and exhale. Merlin had made it clear that Arthur was welcome to move in with him and had suggested stopping by his flat to clean out all his belongings for next week, maybe bring them over to Merlin’s place. He’d refused, saying that he couldn’t deal with that just then and could they please just go to bed.
Arriving home on the fourth floor of his building, Merlin had made sure that Arthur’s face hadn’t been too badly bruised, icing it for just over ten minutes before leading him into the bed. He hadn’t even objected, just lay down on the bed and closed his eyes.
Merlin had known how badly he must’ve been feeling and watched his lover’s chest rise and fall as he breathed, and something clenched inside him and he turned to go, shutting off the light as he went.
He’d paused in the darkened doorway, hesitated.
And Merlin had.
4 DAYS AGO.
“You did what?” Merlin had been furious.
“I picked up the phone,” Arthur had said firmly, crouched by his open suitcase. It was rushed packing, but packing nonetheless. He’d placed another well-folded shirt on top of another, smoothing his hands over it before Merlin reached down and tore it out, flinging it on the bed.
“You spoke to your father,” he had said angrily. “Are you forgetting that he never wanted to see you again? That he insulted you, punched you, kicked you out of his life?”
“No, Merlin, I haven’t forgotten. But thanks for bringing that up.” He grabbed the shirt off the sheets roughly and gave him a purposely forced smile before refolding it and placing it back into his case, but Merlin only threw it back out.
“Let me get this straight.” Merlin steepled his fingers in front of his mouth as a force of habit. “Uther disowned you. You moved out of your flat, as per his request. You had to look for a new job, as per his request. He’s severed everything he has in connection to you, and the first time he calls with another bloody request, your reaction is to drop everything and do it?”
“It’s not that simple, alright?” Arthur had shouted back. “You don’t understand. He’s just cut a deal with this American; he’s offering to let us open the company in the states and he’d be a fool to let an opportunity like this pass by. He can’t afford to leave Camelot right now.”
Merlin had paused. “How long?” he’d said quietly. “How long are you staying?”
Arthur’s throat worked hard. “Indefinitely,” he’d replied, just as quietly. “But don’t worry,” he’d added, “he made it very clear that I was his last option.”
“Arthur, that’s not the point.”
“Look, I want to go to America, Merlin. Have you ever considered that maybe I want to start up the company outside England?”
“Don’t lie to me.” Merlin’s voice had risen. “You and I both know Uther’s the only reason why you’re moving. Why should you be crawling back to Uther when all he’s ever done for you is put you down for being honest? For fuck’s sake, Arthur, he disowned you! And now, almost half a year later and out of the blue, he’s come to you asking you to move to bloody America with a two day’s notice?”
“You’re not getting it,” he’d just repeated with his teeth gritted.
“I’m not getting it? No, I think what you don’t understand is that you have to stop bending over backwards to comply to that man’s every whim! Don’t you realise how much happier you were without him in your life?”
“You don’t understand!” Arthur had roared, pushing himself up to his feet so that they were face to face. “You could never understand, your father left you.”
Merlin’s body had stiffened and his expression had stilled. He’d turned around and swung a jacket off the back of the door with his face set hard. “I’ll be at the tavern,” he said coldly. “Leave your key at the door.”
3 MINUTES AGO.
Three minutes ago, Merlin watched the love of his life board a train to Germany. Yet another thing he had neglected to mention; in addition to moving his son to America, Uther had made sure that Arthur would stop by a few of his colleagues’ offices around Europe, to smooth over anything that Uther had messed up. Once again, he was playing the diplomat, his Arthur.
Merlin still hadn’t forgiven him, nor Arthur, Merlin, but he knew that if he hadn’t come to say goodbye he’d have hated himself forever.
Dragging his suitcase up the train’s steps, he’d settled on the rack near his seat before coming down to face Merlin awkwardly.
“Merlin,” he’d acknowledged.
Silence had ensued.
Arthur spoke first, with a rare display of humility. “Look, Merlin,” he’d begun. “I know we ended things rockily, and I know it’s been difficult, but I want you to know that this isn’t the way I’d have hoped things would play out. That this isn’t the way I wanted this to happen, and I’m really, truly sorry. But I have to do this.”
Merlin had been looking down, unable to meet his gaze. “I’m sorry, too,” he’d said, “but I’m sorry that I wasn’t a big enough influence on you. You’re still the bravest man I know, the kindest, the noblest. But when it comes to pleasing Uther, you can’t see straight or tell left from right. It must be a Pendragon thing, because you and your father only ever see what you want to see, and block everything else out. I was just lucky that you saw me.”
Arthur hadn’t said anything, but really, what did one say to something like that?
“Merlin, look at me.”
He had, slowly.
“Even if I’m leaving, it doesn’t mean I don’t still love you.”
Merlin hadn’t responded right away. His heart was pushed into overdrive and his mind screamed at him to open his damn mouth and tell him that yes, yes, he still loved him and wouldn’t he take the suitcase off the train and come back to the flat with him?
It was what he should have done, so, of course, he hadn’t.
“The train will be leaving soon,” he’d said stupidly, and he saw Arthur’s throat working furiously before he cast his head down, but before he did, Merlin could have sworn his eyes had been shining. But Arthur Pendragon did not cry.
“Message received,” he’d said wryly, but he’d sounded strangled. A pause in the conversation.
“Goodbye, Merlin.” Arthur reached over and kissed the corner of his mouth lightly, lips lingering like unspoken words between them. “See you in the next lifetime.”
Arthur boards the train, heading towards his assigned seat. An elderly woman comes down the aisle, and he stands to the side chivalrously, letting her pass with a friendly smile. Merlin feels a pang as he sees this through the tinted windows, reminded of all the times Arthur’s done that for him. Merlin used to joke that he was being spoiled rotten, and Arthur would retort that he always treated a lady kindly, which usually turned into a childish scuffle. These wrestling matches ended neither child-friendly nor merely scuffles.
Merlin misses these already, hot lips on his neck and skin searing beneath Arthur’s rough hands, pushing him to the edge and wringing every last drop from his sweat-soaked body.
He loves Arthur. He loves it, everything Arthur does to him.
How he laughs, such a loud, arrogant laugh, hiding the kindest man on the planet. His veneer doesn’t fool Merlin, not for a second.
“You dollop-head,” a younger Merlin had said, in response to Arthur’s surprise birthday picnic in the woods, two years ago. “What on earth is all this?”
“Lunch,” an equally young Arthur had said, grinning crazily. “Don’t you like it? I made it myself.”
Merlin had given him a look.
“Alright, so maybe Gwen helped.”
“That’s what I thought. And I thought I told you there were to be no birthday celebrations.”
“Come on, Merlin, you know better than anyone that I never listen to a word you say, and neither you, I. Now go on, blow out the cupcake.”
After he’d whooped with laughter at Arthur’s poor excuse for a cupcake, Merlin had blown out the single candle and they’d cut it in half to share.
This had been his first birthday he’d had in years; he hadn’t told anyone when it was so therefore it was never celebrated. Arthur must have gone through a lot to dig up the date. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his birthday, he just didn’t like his birthday. Especially the parties. Pointless, dull, and endlessly mind-numbing.
Maybe, he remembered thinking, if every birthday was like this, I wouldn’t mind so much.
But Arthur has a great destiny to fulfil, and he’s just not part of it.
Arthur had almost married someone else before. Elena had been perfectly nice, but it had been a set up, an arranged marriage orchestrated by Uther.
Merlin had been at the reception, struggling to maintain calm. It had been a rare occasion for him, to feel so strongly about this one man, and in that moment his hate for Uther almost drove him over the brink. His first time catching a real glimpse of the man and he’d nearly been overwhelmed with rage. He remembers the thought of imagining himself in a suit, standing in Elena’s place. His marriage to Arthur, not her.
He nearly stood at the preacher’s binding words, daring to object to the marriage that no one approved of, daring to proclaim his love for the groom. But Arthur never would have forgiven him if he had.
Luckily for him, Arthur had stood up on both their behalves, and put a stop to the ceremony. He’d told Merlin later that his father had thrown a fit, but he couldn’t do anything about it. Elena’s father, upon learning that his daughter had no desire to marry, had agreed that it was best the marriage didn’t go forth as planned.
“Pendragon Industries and Changeling Incorporated will still be business partners, don’t you worry, Uther,” Elena’s father had said merrily, pounding the older Pendragon’s back heartily. “I thought we could play matchmaker for our children, but if they want to make their own decisions and meet people on their own, who are we to say no, eh? All we want is what’s best for the children.” He’d looked fondly at Elena and Uther had had no choice but to smile and agree.
Merlin had pushed him up roughly against the wall the minute they’d gotten home, kissing all over his mouth, wanting and taking. “I thought I was going to lose you,” he’d said breathlessly between kisses on his cheeks, on his jaw, on his neck. “I thought I’d lost you for good.”
“You’ll never lose me, Merlin. I’m yours, only yours, forever.”
His heart aches for past events and broken promises as he watches Arthur settle into the train out of his life.
Gaius caught them together in the backroom of the bakery only half-clothed.
“Merlin!” The old man had been horrified. “Not on the flour! Customers buy bread made of that!”
They’d scrambled up and quickly tugged their shirts on, red-faced and embarrassed. “Sorry, Gaius,” Merlin had mumbled. “Won’t happen again.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your boyfriend?” Gaius had seemed very impatient for someone in his situation. He gave them both the Eye, not angry, but slightly disapproving.
“I’m Arthur,” his partner had said with a hand out, manners spurring back in place after the initial shock. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Gaius had stared at the outstretched hand reproachfully. “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind,” he said and Arthur quickly stowed the hand away, blushing again. “But it’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance as well, Arthur.”
When the men didn’t move, Gaius had flapped his hands at them. “Well? Go on, boys, shoo. Out of my food. Out, out, out.”
Freya smirked from the register as they were thrown out with the door slamming shut behind them. “Gay sex in the backroom of a bakery?” she’d said. “That’s hot.”
Arthur turned redder still, and Merlin rolled his eyes. “I keep telling you to tone it down around new people, Frey,” he’d chided her. “Arthur, this is Freya. She’s vulgar and blunt.”
“No, I’m not,” she had protested. “I’m honest and straightforward.” She gave him a once-over. “For example, I think you are good enough to eat. But I suppose Mer’s already doing that.” She’d sighed dramatically.
“Freya,” Merlin had said with warning in his voice.
“Oh, don’t fret, I know he’s gay,” she’d answered, annoyed. “Unless he’s changed his mind…?” She glanced hopefully at the blond, who shook his head. “Ah, well. Can’t blame a girl for trying.”
And Arthur had managed a smile.
Later, Freya had wished Merlin luck with his relationship. “He’s absolutely wonderful,” she’d said. “He’s the one, I think.”
He’d been astounded. “How do you mean?” he’d asked. “You’ve only just met Arthur.”
“But Merlin,” said Freya, “you’re positively glowing.”
For his twenty-fourth birthday, Merlin had scrounged up enough money to take Arthur to a real live jousting tournament. He had whined the entire car ride there, to which Merlin had had to kiss him silent numerous times. Which wasn’t so unpleasant.
It had all been worth it to see Arthur’s face light up like the sun upon reaching their destination, grinning and giving a hearty laughing.
“Jousting!” he’d said delightedly, slapping his thigh. “You’ve brought me jousting!”
“Not quite jousting,” Merlin had said, leading him towards the stands with a hand on his back. “A tournament. But I hear they let you try it yourself after the spectacle.”
So they’d watched, and the stands had roared when a knight fell, with Arthur amidst them, and Merlin felt like laughing every time his partner couldn’t resist shouting, cheering in the Pendragon way. He loved seeing Arthur so full of passion; something he couldn’t show in his line of work as the boring CEO of a boring family business.
And true to their pamphlets, they did let the spectators try on the equipment, hold a lance, sit astride the horses. Arthur did so, hardly containing his spurt of childish glee.
“You’re a natural,” said a blonde woman admiringly. She had been wearing a full suit of armor and stroking the horse’s mane as she gazed at Arthur speculatively.
“Almost princely,” Merlin supplied, with a wicked glint.
“Thank you,” Arthur had replied, and swung himself off the saddle. “I’m Arthur; that’s Merlin. You might be…?”
“Morgause.” She’d smiled at him, and taken the lance from his grip. “I run this show.”
Arthur had gaped until Merlin elbowed him into a response. “But you’re a – ”
“Woman, yes, believe me, I’ve noticed,” said Morgause. “I wasn’t kidding earlier, though. You really are a natural. Now, if we could just knock those sexist tendencies from that handsome head of yours – ” she knocked lightly on his forehead for emphasis, “we could make a knight out of you, yet.”
The side of Morgause’s mouth turned up a bit, and she left them to deal with the other visitors, clamouring for help with their armour.
“A knight,” Merlin had murmured as they watched her walk away. “There’s a new fantasy.”
Arthur had kissed him, then, with a hungry gleam. When they came up for air, he was blushing furiously, looking around to see who was watching them. No one spared them half a glance.
“It looked so normal, Arthur,” Merlin had said. “You, in armour. I felt like I’d seen you like that before, looking all princely and royal. Almost like déjà vu.”
“I felt like I’ve done that before.”
“I think you were born into the wrong century, Arthur Pendragon,” said Merlin quietly. “You would have been a knight, with your damned chivalry. If you were born in more medieval times, you could have gotten on so well with the Knights of the Round Table.”
“I’ve no doubt that I was born in the right century, Merlin, so that I could get on so well with you.”
Hunith adored Arthur. Loved him to pieces. Merlin had often grumbled about favouritism from his own mother, which earned him light slaps upside the head. “Don’t be rude,” she’d scold, “Arthur’s here.”
“Yeah, Merlin,” Arthur would echo. “Arthur’s here.”
To which Merlin would stick out his tongue and his mother would grab his ear. “Don’t be rude,” she’d say again, and Arthur would smirk.
“You’d think she liked you more than me,” Merlin had once complained. “Her own son!”
“No surprise there,” Arthur said. “People always seem to like me more.”
“She’s halfway to adopting you,” he retorted, and Arthur had blanched.
“Oh, god, no,” he’d said. “That would be terrible.”
“What? Why? She’s a fantastic mother,” Merlin had protested.
“Oh, I don't doubt it. But if you were my brother, I couldn’t do all the things I want to do to you.” His teeth glinted wickedly as he moved closer, being discreetly obvious. His fingers crawled over Merlin’s wrist, up his arm, down his chest and pausing at his open shirt buttons.
“Oh,” Merlin had said a little too breathlessly.
“Now let’s stop talking about your mother, shall we? I can think of other things my mouth would rather be doing right now.” And then they stopped using words altogether.
Merlin watches Arthur now through the tinted windows, talking to the woman next to him.
The day Arthur had shown Merlin his mother’s grave, Merlin had been ecstatic. Not because his mother was dead, of course, but because Arthur had trusted him enough to bring him here. It had only been about eleven months into their relationship and he was glad that Arthur was willing to open this part of himself up to him.
The Sorceress’ Cemetery was a dreary place, as all graveyards are, but it hadn’t had many tombstones. Arthur had told him it was because it was more expensive to bury a loved one here.
“My father would never skimp for change on my mother,” he’d said, tracing the letters of her name on the cold marble. “He would have moved the world for her. I bet he tried a few times, too.”
“That doesn’t sound like the Uther I’ve heard so much about.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Arthur agrees sadly, sitting back on his feet. “He is different when he speaks of Mother. I wish I could have known her; she must have been magical to make my father so docile.”
“I’m sure she was wonderful.”
“Do you think she can see me now?” he asks. “What if I’m not what she expected me to be?”
Hesitating, he runs his tongue over his upper teeth. “Sometimes I wish,” Arthur begins, “that maybe, I hadn’t been born.”
Before Merlin can protest, outraged at the very notion, he continues, “Mother wouldn’t have died, and God knows that she was a far better person than I ever will be, and I didn’t even have to know her to take this for the truth.”
“Don’t you ever think that your birth was a mistake,” says Merlin fiercely, “I don’t know where Ygraine is now, but she is your mother, and she would never want you to think like this. She would never regret having you. Ever.”
Arthur watches Merlin as he talks heatedly, defending his mother and his very existence, arms gesturing wildly and long fingers moving in synchronisation with his words that flow from his beautiful mouth.
He kisses him silent, but there is no heat of desire in it. It’s the press of lips against his, just enough to let Merlin know that he’s gotten the message and thank you with everything in the world for it. The barest touch of flesh is gentle and fragile, almost breakable, like if Merlin ever pulled away, Arthur would shatter into a million pieces.
Merlin is shattering now.
“Stop laughing, I can see you,” Merlin had grumbled, snatching the card box from Arthur’s grasp.
“I’m not laughing.” A snort.
“Yes, you are. Prat.” He’d bent down on his knees to pick up the spilled cards, putting them one by one into the deck.
“Don’t be like that,” protested Arthur. “I think it’s cute!”
Merlin had given him a deadpanned look. “No, you don’t,” he said. “You think magic is silly, pointless, and unentertaining. You told me so once yourself.”
“Well, that was before I knew you liked it.” Arthur had gotten down on all fours to help him, handing him the other half of the cards.
Merlin rolled his eyes, and accepted the deck, closing the card box and stowing it away into a navy blue bag. It was dusty from years of being untouched, and he hadn’t believed his eyes at first when he saw that Arthur had dug it up from beyond the grave.
“It’s an old hobby, alright?” he’d explained. “I used to do magic a lot as a child to pass the time. I didn’t have many friends. Except for Will,” he added as an afterthought.
Arthur remembered meeting the infamous Will for the first time. He’d been blond, buff, attractive, and nearly as tall as Arthur. Not that he’d thought about him at all in that way; he had Merlin, and what more could he want? But he’d been kind, and Arthur was grateful that he had been there for Merlin.
“How do these magic game things work, exactly?” He had fingered a pair of silver hoops, interlocked with each other.
“They’re not games,” Merlin had answered, snatching the hoops. “They’re illusions. It’s really not that interesting; you wouldn’t know anything about it.”
“Mhm.” Arthur had walked around the table then, sat down in the chair and thrown his feet up. He waved a hand at Merlin, like a king to his jester. “Enlighten me, then.”
“You heard me, Merlin,” said Arthur impatiently. “Enlighten me.”
“You promise not to laugh,” Merlin said cautiously.
“Swear it on my life.” He drew an X over his chest for emphasis. He fiddled with a string of colourful cloths, and threw it at Merlin. “How’s this trick supposed to go?” he’d asked to start him off.
Merlin had caught it warily, turned it around in his hands. “Oh, this one’s a classic,” he’d said, and a slow smile had begun to spread across his face. “The ol’ endless tissue up your sleeve. Hold on, ah, I’ll just get this ready, er, in a minute, wait.” He’d turned around awkwardly, fiddling with it, and when he turned around, he threw his arms open with a flourish.
“Fancy a handkerchief, Arthur?” he’d said dramatically. “I think I’ve got one around here somewh – aha!” Merlin pulled out a single swatch of cloth from his pocket. “Here you are! But wait – !”
And with an overdramatic expression, Merlin stretched that square of cloth, and it turned into two, and two turned into three, and three turned into four until he just pulled and pulled and pulled until all the colourful cloth lay in a pile at his feet. He grinned with childish glee, and for a moment, Arthur could see him as a boy, playing the exact same tricks.
“Wait, wait, let me show you how this one works,” he’d said, and hastily put away the cloth. He snatched the silver rings and dangled them in front of Arthur’s nose. “Try pulling them apart,” he said.
Arthur tried; they held fast under his grip.
“You have to use the magic breath,” Merlin reminded him, and took them back in his hands. Gently, he blew on the hoops and rubbed them with his fingertips and presented them back to Arthur. Counting slowly, on three Merlin yanked the rings apart and they separated.
“No, no, please, save your applause.” He bowed, and raised the rings, and curtseyed.
As Merlin sorted through the rest of his props, demonstrating each one’s uses, Arthur watched him contentedly, enjoying the look of Merlin’s lithe fingers running through the illusions like they were so fragile. When he talked about them, when he performed, his eyes had lit up like stars, bright and shiny as he chattered on animatedly about them. His hands had flown, movements even crazier than usual as he showed off his oldest childhood memories to Arthur.
He must have looked bored, because during Merlin’s coin trick, he had stopped talking all of a sudden, and his hands dropped. His eyes lost their shine and he’d furrowed his brow. He’d coughed awkwardly and scratched his head, retreating into his shell again.
“Sorry,” he’d apologised. “I got carried away again. Sorry.”
“What?” said Arthur. “No, no! Don’t be sorry, never be sorry. That was incredible.”
“I know you’re just saying it, Arthur,” Merlin had said disbelievingly. “It’s fine.”
“But I truly did love it – ”
“Lying is really not becoming of you.”
“I thought it was fantastic, though – ”
“I’m not a child, don’t patronise me, Arthur Pendragon, I – ”
He’d jumped, startled. Arthur had already gotten up and come around the desk, taking one of Merlin’s hands in his own.
“I’m not lying,” he’d said, and kissed his thumb. “I think you’re amazing,” he’d said, and kissed his knuckles. “I love to watch you when you’re all excited about something, the way you are about these illusions of yours. Your eyes glow, almost like real magic, and it’s surreal. I love your excitement, Merlin; it’s refreshing and new and beautiful.”
Throughout Arthur’s entire speech, he had pulled Merlin closer with his other hand, snaking around his waist and drawing him nearer to his body. Now, he’d pressed his lips to Merlin’s nose.
“Do more magic,” he’d murmured. “If it makes you this happy, I’m even happier.”
These days seem long past. Merlin is certainly not happy now; far from it. He’s fucking miserable, nearly dead inside, and he wonders if Arthur’s doing any better.
He’s probably so focused on the task ahead of him that he’s hardly noticed his absence, Merlin thinks wryly. With a one track mind like Arthur’s, it’s likely the case.
Once his train gets going, Arthur will have a new life without him but it hurts to think about it. It won’t be long before he replaces Merlin with someone new, someone better.
How can he be discarded so easily when Arthur is the center of his world?
Morgana had thrown a fit once she found out what Arthur had done. It had almost been worse than Merlin’s, because Morgana had no boundaries.
“You fucking imbecile!” she’d shrieked, and slapped him twice. “What did you do to Merlin?”
“I had no other choice, Morgs,” he’d replied, as calmly as he could, resisting the urge to rub his stinging cheek. “I did what had to be done.”
“By licking the soles of Uther’s shoes and breaking Merlin’s heart?”
“I’m not licking anything, and Merlin understands that I have to do this.”
“He most certainly does not! Gwen just texted me, and the poor boy is currently drinking himself to death at the tavern because of you, you stone-cold bastard – ”
“Please stop screaming. I can’t hear a thing you’re saying.”
“Drop the act,” she’d commanded in a lower tone. “Drop it right now. Nothing you’re saying is fooling me, and you’re certainly not fooling yourself so you stop that right now.”
Morgana had been shaking with rage, close to tears. Her fists had been balled up and her hair was unkempt, and with a grunt of frustration, she shoved Arthur hard. He’d stumbled backwards and hit the wall, a small glass bowl tumbling to the ground with a smash. “You don’t even look upset,” she’d shouted. “You don’t care about him, the man that you love. When did you become so heartless?”
“Hey!” he’d roared with a sudden rush of anger. “Lay off me, alright? You think I don’t know how Merlin is feeling? You think I don’t know how badly I’ve fucked up? You’re my sister, Morgana! I’m supposed to be able to come to you when I need your help, and all you do is scream my problems at me, like I’m not aware of them! So please, when my actual sister comes back, tell her I need her now.”
Morgana had inhaled deeply, and when she next spoke, her voice was calmer. “I am your sister,” she’d said, “and it’s because I’m your sister that I’m screaming at you. As much as it seems like I care more about Merlin than I do my own brother, I care about him because he made you happy. He makes you happy.”
Arthur was silent. “What’s your point?” he’d asked tightly.
“You’re making the wrong decision, and I’m telling you this because I love you. And he does, too! It’s not too late,” Morgana had pleaded. “Call Uther. Tell him he’s an arsehole, and you’re not going anywhere. Then take these stupid bags and carry them home. Carry them home to Merlin.”
“I’m sorry, Morgana.” His words came out as barely a whisper. “I can’t.”
And he’d picked up his passport, with his train ticket tucked neatly inside. He started for the door.
“I see you when you’re not with him!” Morgana shouted from behind him. “You’re dull, you’re grey; it’s like you’re not even there!”
Arthur tried to ignore her, but the barbs clung to his heart and tore at his soul, scratching at his insides like a parasite.
“With Merlin, it’s like you’re an entirely different person,” she’d continued. “Without him, Arthur Pendragon, you are nothing!”
Through the matte train windows, as he sits down, he can see a blur of a red scarf and a blue shirt, a messy mop of dark, unruly hair. He can’t see them right now, but he knows there is a pair of piercing blue eyes staring right back at him.
And Arthur hates that Morgana is right. She is so right, and his heart begins breaking entirely for the first time since he’s let himself feel anything and his lungs constrict and he can’t breathe and he is very glad that he is already sitting otherwise he would have collapsed right there. With a hand to his chest, he inhales huge gulps of air, having just realised what he’s doing. And he wants to get off the train, so desperately, fingers scrabbling at his armrests, but his father’s voice speaks into his ear.
“You are my son by blood, so I know you will do the right thing for the company,” the voice says, “I know you would never defy me with the intent of hurting me. Your mother would be so disappointed in you.”
Arthur can see the lady across the aisle looking at him with the beginnings of concern and tries to calm himself, turning away. He controls his breathing, hitched as it is, and forces back the building tears but it still blurs his vision and he clears it with a swipe of his sleeve.
Merlin’s hunched, defeated form nearly kills him. He’s never felt something so fiercely painful; not when he’d broken his leg on the field during his high school football days, not when he’d placed his entire palm on the stove, not when he’d had his wisdom teeth removed without anaesthetic. It’s like a dagger to the chest, a searing, grinding pain, like the wielder of the knife is twisting it deep between his ribcage, down to the bone with the intent to prolong his suffering.
The train’s engine purrs to life with a dull roar that matches the one building in his head, and they begin moving.
Arthur’s shaky hand is pressed against the cool glass, and the burning inside him becomes steadily more agonising as the distance between them grows wider, and Arthur is forced to swallow his bile as all of the events of their past four years flashes through his head. He tells himself that it’s going to be alright, that it’s just another breakup, that he’ll look back on this and see that he did the right thing, but somewhere inside him he knows, all he needs is for Merlin to take him into his arms and squeeze him so tightly that it blocks out the sound of his own heart breaking.
Merlin watches the train leave the station.
HAPPY NEW YEAR.