Title: Breathing Space
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Gwen/Lancelot
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Gwen, Lancelot, Gwaine, Freya, Uther
Summary: Arthur needed to get away from his father.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Have I mentioned I've missed this..?
Arthur stormed out of the cabin, slamming the door behind him. His father would have an angry retort ready for him about shutting doors when Arthur returned. But right now, Arthur had no intention of going back.
This was supposed to be a family holiday. A chance for his dad to take some time off work and for them to spend time together. But Morgana had made firm friends on their first day and hadn’t been seen since. His father had brought his laptop with him and spent more time answering emails than spending the time with his son.
Angrily dashing at his eyes, Arthur strode into the forest. He didn’t care where he was going, as long as it was away from his father. He should have known that all the man would do was criticise and tell Arthur that his grades weren’t good enough, his sporting achievements not recognised by the right people and his extra-curricular activities not adding anything to his future. All in all, that Arthur himself wasn’t good enough.
It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before. But Arthur hoped a cabin in the wood would mellow the man and they would be able to talk. Arthur was seventeen now: he was a man. He wanted to be able to have an adult conversation with his father.
Snorting humourlessly, Arthur moved further away. It only took a few steps before the trees swallowed him, blocking the cabin from his view. Arthur stopped, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, trying to calm his raging emotions.
As he repeated the action, he became aware of a smell. Before he realised it, he was moving again, drawn by the smell of a campfire. As he drew closer, Arthur stopped suddenly: he could hear voices. He cursed, trying to backtrack, but he had emerged in a small clearing and there were several faces turned towards him.
“Sorry,” Arthur muttered, “wrong turning.”
“Don’t worry,” a boy said. He looked around Arthur’s age, with jet black hair and blue eyes that sparkled in the light of the flames crackling next to him. “It’s not like there are signposts around here.”
Arthur smiled tightly, the anxious knot in his chest loosening as he realised this group weren’t mad at him for interrupting. Not everyone has every second of their day controlled with the smallest interruptions being catastrophic, even if it was a son wanting to spend time with his father.
He turned to go.
“Wait.” The boy got to his feet, taking a step towards Arthur. “You alright, mate?”
Arthur shrugged and nodded at the same time. He wasn’t in the mood to pretend, but he also wasn’t about to divulge the latest argument to a complete stranger.
“You can stay if you want,” the boy said. “We’ve got loads of stuff and even Gwaine can’t eat it all.”
“I can try!” Another boy retorted, a wide grin spreading over his face.
Arthur had the refusal on the tip of his tongue. But then he looked again at the group. There were five of them, two girls and three boys. One of the lads had his arm around a pretty girl with dark curls and an innocent expression.
Morgana had made friends, and it had given her an escape from their father. Maybe Arthur could do the same? He hadn’t spoken to anyone he wasn’t related to since they arrived three days ago.
“Okay.” His voice sounded far away to his own ears, as if another Arthur had stepped into his body, one who wasn’t terrified of what everyone would think of him. The boy beamed.
“Gwaine, Lance, Gwen and Freya.” He said, nodding to each person. “And I’m Merlin.”
“Nice to meet you, Arthur.”
“Stop being so formal,” Gwaine complained, “and give the guy a marshmallow.”
Merlin beckoned Arthur over. Arthur sat cross-legged next to Merlin, who did indeed hand Arthur a marshmallow on a stick. Grinning at the simplicity of it, Arthur followed their lead and toasted it over the fire.
The group started chatting again. They didn’t exclude Arthur, but kept their topic on neutral ground so he could join in whenever he wanted. There was no pressure though.
More than once, Arthur realised Merlin was watching him out of the corner of his eye. There was an understanding expression on his face, as he if could guess what had driven Arthur out into the forest on his own.
But, also more than once, Arthur realised he was returning the fugitive glances. Merlin was cute. As Merlin shifted and stretched, the firelight dancing of a strip of skin as his shirt rose, Arthur changed his mind. Merlin was hot.
Arthur had only just met him; he didn’t say anything and certainly didn’t reveal what he was thinking. But he admired the view and dutifully toasted more marshmallows every time the bag was passed around.
Eventually, Gwen couldn’t stop yawning and Lance said they were leaving. The group broke up, but Arthur was reluctant to move. Merlin also remained sitting.
“Thanks,” Arthur said, when Gwaine had finally ambled off. Merlin looked at him, one eyebrow raised.
“Letting me stay,” Arthur said. As he said it, he realised it was the truth. He was thankful, absurdly grateful, to Merlin and his friends. For the first time, not just on this holiday, but in a long time, he had had a good time. He had also stopped thinking about trying to please his father for a few hours. Also a first.
Merlin shrugged. “It’s fine. Besides, you’re cute.”
Arthur felt his blush rise like an inferno. Merlin chuckled.
“I knew I had read you right,” he said softly. Merlin lay down, turning on his side and propping himself up on one elbow, staring at Arthur. “I saw you looking.”
With his cheeks on fire, Arthur held his ground. He shrugged. “So?”
“So,” Merlin said. “We’re meeting by the river tomorrow. Want to come?”
Arthur didn’t think twice.