Title: Homeward Bound
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Hunith, Will
Summary: The boys head home.
Warnings: Vague mention of hinted past child abuse
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: More in the university AU.
“I swear it fitted in,” Merlin grumbled. Will was sitting on his suitcase as Merlin attempted to zip it up. It was overflowing, all his clothes thrown in haphazardly.
“That’s because your mam packed it,” Will said. His own duffel bag was on his bed, as much of a mess as Merlin’s.
Merlin couldn’t deny it – and didn’t try. They both fell back, panting, when the zip finally closed and Merlin brushed a hand through his hair, glancing at the door, then at the silent phone on his desk.
“You offered,” Will said. He climbed off the bed, stretching. “What more could you do?”
“Persuade him to accept?”
His invitation had been spontaneous but also sincere. At least Arthur hadn’t turned him down straight away: he’d pretended to think about it if nothing else. Merlin didn’t blame him; they still barely knew each other. But he hated the idea of Arthur remaining on campus while everyone else went home, focused on his studies to avoid facing his father.
“He’s a big boy, Merlin,” Will said, nudging him, “stop moping.”
“I’m not moping.”
“Oh, you are, mate. You’ve got it bad.”
“We’re just friends,” Merlin protested. His denial would’ve been more plausible if he couldn’t feel a blush working up his neck. Will chuckled, and Merlin threw the pillow at him, hoping to distract his friend.
He wished he could deny it, even just to himself. But Will was right. He had no idea when he’d started feeling something a little more for Arthur. It’s not like he’d say anything: he was a first-year, bumbling his way through uni, while Arthur was in his final year, everyone wrapped around his little finger and in control of it all. They were friends, and Merlin wasn’t going to jeopardise that. Arthur needed friends.
“What time’s your mam getting here?” Will asked.
Merlin checked his watch. “After lunch if traffic allows.”
“I’m off in five. I’m just going to see Sophia and then I’m hitting the road. So, see you after the break?”
Merlin nodded, distracted, even as Will picked up his bag and left. The room felt smaller without him, and Merlin flopped back on his bed, despondent. He’d been looking forward to the break – seeing his friends, getting back in his studio – until Arthur had turned him down.
But Will was right. He couldn’t stay here, moping. Grabbing his keys and tugging on his shoes, Merlin left. It was a bright morning and walking around campus cleared his head. Avalon University was beautiful, with a stunning lake at its centre, and Merlin let his muse take in the view, hoping he’d be able to keep hold of the inspiration during the long drive home.
He just had time to grab some food and get back to his rooms before his mother would arrive. Finishing his sandwich even as he walked down his hallway, Merlin stopped. Someone was sitting on the floor outside of his door, a bag next to them. Merlin tried to shake off the flash of de-ja-vu of their first meeting as he pulled out his key.
“Thank god,” Arthur sounded relieved as he scrambled to his feet. “I thought I’d missed you, that you’d already gone.”
“You knew I was leaving today,” Merlin said. They’d said goodbye the day before. “Why would it matter?”
“I-,” Arthur flushed. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Am I too late?”
Merlin stared at him. Arthur had turned him down because he said he didn’t want to impose, or get in the way. Now he was changing his mind? Last minute when Merlin’s mother was already on the way. But saying yes would have been petty: Merlin still wanted him to come.
“I didn’t think you were coming.”
“Neither did I.”
Merlin saw that Arthur was clutching his phone tightly and there was a slightly wild look in his eyes. He sighed, unlocking the door and gesturing for Arthur to come in. Arthur hesitated on the threshold.
“I wanted to come,” he murmured, “I just didn’t want to be in the way.”
“And now?” Merlin had a feeling Arthur was using the invitation as a way of escaping. But he didn’t mind: that was why he had offered in the first place.
“I don’t want to be on my own.” His words were quiet; soft and vulnerable. Merlin rolled his eyes.
“It’s very hard to turn you down, you know.”
“I know,” Arthur grinned. He stepped in, looking around before perching on Will’s bed. “I do it to myself occasionally, just to keep things interesting.”
“Prat,” Merlin laughed, also sitting. As soon as he did, his phone rang. Grinning, he gave his mother directions to his room. Arthur looked pale, but Merlin had no idea what to say to him.
His mother didn’t leave them sitting in silence for long. A soft knock at the door made Merlin spring up, and he was in his mum’s arms before he finished opening the door. She drew back, cupping his cheek.
“I’ve missed you.”
“Hi,” he said, blushing. He stepped aside, letting her see there was someone else in the room. She gave him a quizzical glance.
“Mum, this is Arthur,” he said, “okay if he comes to stay?”
She gave him a sideways look. Merlin had told her about Arthur – even admitting to what he had guessed about his past and his relationship with his father. He’d also told her that Arthur had turned down the invite.
But she didn’t blink.
“Arthur,” she said, her tone warm as she stretched out a hand. “I’m delighted to meet you.”
“I don’t wish to impose on you-,”
“Nonsense. Someone needs to keep Merlin out of trouble.”
“Hey,” Merlin mock-protested, but she raised her eyebrows.
“After last year’s drama?”
“What happened?” Arthur asked, smiling. Merlin shook his head.
“It’s a long journey,” his mum said with a smile, “I guarantee you’ll know all about it when we get back. Come on, boys. Let’s go home.”