Title: Second Hand Emotion: Merlin
Character/s: Merlin, Will, Arthur mentioned
Summary: Merlin obviously thought they weren’t going to talk about it. “We’re talking about this,” Will informed him.
Warnings: Depression, poor communication, mentions of kink
Word Count: 772
Prompt: #248: We need to talk
Author's Notes: Part 1 of 2. Wanted to get both out this week, but life got in the way.
“So how does it work,” Will asked one night—morning—after Merlin slipped in looking worn out and despondent, “this bullshit thing between you and him?”
“Leave off,” Merlin told him without pausing on the way to his room. There was no bite to it, though; he sounded exhausted, and Will didn’t want to think about what had made his voice so hoarse.
Two days passed, during which Merlin hadn’t left or unlocked his room. When he finally emerged, Will only caught a glimpse of him on the way to the bathroom. The shower ran for a very long time, which Will couldn’t fault, given how long Merlin had been stewing—but they didn’t have that much hot water. Several minutes after the water shut off, Merlin appeared in the living room fully dressed and smiling. If Will didn’t know any better, he wouldn’t have even been able to see the bags under Merlin’s barely-red-rimmed-anymore eyes.
Merlin obviously thought they weren’t going to talk about it.
“We’re talking about this,” Will informed him.
Merlin’s smile dropped for a fraction of a second before returning, tighter and determined. “Nothing to talk about. I’m fine.”
“Bullshit you’re fine. If I go into your room right now, tell me I won’t find fucking bottles full of piss because you couldn’t drag yourself out of bed.”
Smile gone for good, Merlin looked away.
“Really, Merls, I’m just trying to understand what the hell it is you think you’re doing. He’s destroying you and you’re just... Getting it from a movie star isn’t worth the way he treats you.”
“It’s not like that. I don’t care he’s a movie star. And he doesn’t—he treats me well.”
“You come back miserable and covered in bruises!”
“Oh, that’s...” Merlin flushed bright red and suddenly Will knew what was coming. He desperately didn’t want to hear when Merlin said, “Just rough sex. It’s good. I like it,” he added, his voice a challenge despite the color in his cheeks.
Being a good, concerned friend, Will did not crawl into his own bed for two days to escape the mental images of exactly what his best friend since childhood, really more like a brother, was doing with award-winning heartthrob Arthur Pendragon. It wasn’t even taxing to his imagination: Arthur’s latest film had a lot of wildly athletic sex scenes, and replacing the female lead with Merlin was distressingly easy.
“Great,” he said instead of giving up in the face of his deep need to cringe away from those thoughts. “Good for you. And the rest of it?”
“It’s nothing to do with him.”
Will stared him down. He could’ve pointed out that Merlin’s appalling lack of being able to care for himself only surfaced after nights with Arthur, and that it had never happened at all before his best friend managed to catch the star’s eye waiting tables. Will had been happy enough for Merlin that time, despite thinking Arthur was an overrated actor. But then it kept happening, Merlin sneaking around to hook up with the famous closet case and feeling worse about himself each time, and Will was done with it.
He didn’t point that out, though; he didn’t need to. Merlin could never lie to him for long.
“Okay, it’s about him. But not his fault.”
“I don’t see how it could be anything but. Merls, I’ve seen you doing casual before. And if this... kinky stuff we never need to talk about again is what you’re into, then I assume that’s happened before, too. But you’ve never been like this, and I’m worried about you! Something about this is killing you, and if you’re not putting up with it for the fame, then—”
Everything crashed into place at once, leaving Will reeling for long enough that Merlin looked up and must have read his understanding on his face. Merlin turned away again, long past his pretense of cheer.
“Let it go, Will. Please.”
That was never going to happen. Not when Merlin fell into deeper and longer depressions with each of Arthur’s brief passes through town, every time he disappeared to satisfy Arthur’s sexual needs then get kicked out. Merlin was an idiot, and he’d gone and done the dumbest thing imaginable for a man in his situation—love should never enter into a habit of meaningless sex with one of England’s most eligible, flighty, and publically straight bachelors—but he was Will’s idiot. And Will wasn’t going to let him get hurt more than he had been.
But he couldn’t get that point across to Merlin, who was already so close to the breaking point.