Title: Whispers of a Thousand Words
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur,
Summary: The one place he couldn't speak is the one place he could be heard.
Warnings: Vague mention of hinted past child abuse
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Oh hello muse, you do still exist then? Now to just remember to sign up each week and get myself back in the game. This is linked to Drawing Lines, as apparently 5 years later this has re-emerged.
The screen blurred in front of his tired eyes. Merlin pressed his palms against them, blocking out the bright lights and unnatural hush. The essay wasn’t going to finish itself, but the reason he’d chosen art was because words weren’t his forte. He wanted to draw, not provided a detailed history on an artist long dead.
Lowering his hands, he glanced at the entrance. Sitting in front of it wasn’t the best plan: he had to resist the urge to bolt for freedom every time he looked up. But this time, leaving wasn’t on his mind; instead, he watched as someone walked in.
Merlin smiled but Arthur didn’t see him. Ever since their night together (Merlin was still convincing Will it had been nothing but drawing), Arthur had always smiled when they saw each other. He lived off campus and their classes were rarely on the same days, let alone similar times. But they’d had coffee, they’d had another drawing session, and they’d gotten to know each other a little better.
Merlin had long since figured out Arthur was a man with a story. He hid it behind charming smiles and easy charisma, but the look in his eye, his arrangements with the staff, meant Merlin knew more was going on.
This time, however, Arthur wasn’t even pretending to be okay. He was slipping his phone into his pocket as he entered into the library. Stepping to one side, he paused, visibly taking a deep breath and pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezed shut, before lowering his hand and rolling his neck.
By the time Merlin had saved his work, moved from the computer, remembered to log off, doubled back and finally was free to approach, Arthur had vanished.
Eyes narrowed, Merlin looked around, trying to work out which floor Arthur would have gone to. He could have come to work; meet friends; research – and computers, meeting rooms and bookshelves were spread over four floors.
Deciding to take his own books back first, Merlin hurried to the art section, dumping the tomes on the returns trolley and resisting the distraction of searching for more interesting titles. He had enough work to do without being side tracked by new projects. As he turned to leave though, a figure caught his eye and Merlin kicked himself for being so stupid.
Everything he had learnt about Arthur revealed he took refuge in his art the same way Merlin did. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to find him hiding in that section of the library.
Arthur was sitting on the floor, back against the wall. Cross-legged, his bag next to him, he didn’t notice Merlin, staring with unseeing eyes at the books rising far above his head. He was distant, distracted, and Merlin didn’t want to disturb him. But Arthur also looked lost, a far cry from the mask he usually hid behind, and Merlin couldn’t leave him there.
“Hey,” he murmured. He grabbed a book, making it seem casual, like he just happened to have come across Arthur (which, he thought, was kind of true), and offered a smile when Arthur’s gaze focused on him. “What’s up?”
“Merlin.” Arthur forced a grin, “what are you doing here?”
“A book,” Merlin said, gesturing with the one in his hand. “It’s a library: I came for a… yeah.”
He trailed off, embarrassed, but there was more warmth in Arthur’s smile this time. Merlin stuck the volume back in the shelf, crossing to Arthur and sitting down next to him.
“You know you shouldn’t talk in a library.”
“No one can hear us.” Neither of their voices had risen above a murmur, acutely aware that not only were there other students working, but the librarian was a fierce mistress over her domain and neither wanted to be on her bad side.
But there was something peaceful about the hush, something comforting that Merlin couldn’t put his finger on. Arthur couldn’t laugh away his concern while they had to stay quiet.
The one place they shouldn’t talk might be the one chance Arthur had of truly speaking.
“What’s wrong?” Merlin repeated, his voice gentle. “You don’t look okay.”
Arthur shook his head, running a hand through his hair. For a moment, Merlin didn’t think he’d answer, but then the older boy spoke.
“Another row with my father,” he muttered.
“You don’t talk about your dad much,” Merlin said, “bad relationship?”
“You might say that.” The guarded look was back in Arthur’s gaze, and it told Merlin more than words could. Bad relationship was an understatement: Arthur’s arrangements with the staff, the way the janitor had looked out for him… abusive might be a better term, and it appeared coming to university wasn’t solving anything.
“He hasn’t forgiven me for choosing art,” Arthur continued, “or my own course in life.”
Merlin nodded. His relationship with his mother was close: he couldn’t imagine being at odds with her. But Arthur swallowed, looking at the books again before back at Merlin, and the mask was slotting into place.
“But I’m used to it.” Arthur climbed to his feet, looking down with a raised eyebrow. “Planning on sitting around here all day?”
Merlin accepted Arthur wasn’t ready to discuss anything more – they barely knew each other, after all. But he stumbled as he tried to climb to his feet, clutching onto a bookshelf for balance even as Arthur grabbed his arm.
“How’s your dragon?” Arthur asked, and Merlin felt the excitement fizz through him when he thought about his project. He started speaking – gushing – but Arthur chuckled, pressing a finger to Merlin’s lips and startling him into silence.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, shouldering his bag. “After all, you really shouldn’t speak in a library.”
“Don’t you have better things to do than-,” Merlin broke off, flushing.
“Hanging around with a first year?” Arthur winked. “Probably. You coming?”
The charming smile. The easy charisma. It was all back. Saying no wasn’t an option.