The click of a cigarette lighter brings the interior of the car to life.
The flame is not a very large one but it still manages to illuminate the two of them quite adequately in the cramped backseat.
Arthur always suspected that Merlin would be beautiful bathed in firelight, even if it were firelight on a small scale: the light atop a lone birthday cupcake.
Luckily, tonight he got to test that theory.
"Are you okay?" Merlin asks, the question barely more than a whisper as he gently places the now glowing cupcake on the rear dashboard. When Arthur doesn't answer immediately he adds: "it's red velvet. Your favorite."
Arthur takes a deep breath; he shudders.
"Arthur. Are you okay?"
Arthur considers this. He considers it even though he never in all of his life thought he would find himself in this situation. Despite it all, he smiles as he wipes the last of his tears away. He smiles, even though he no longer has a father, even though his car is filled with the few of his possessions that were precious to him. He smiles because he knows now that he does not need his father's approval in anything anymore.
Staring into the flame he smiles because he is free.
"I can't believe he chose today of all days to do this to you." Merlin shakes his head, the anger still simmering deep within him.
Merlin shakes his head. "He's always treated you horribly. And yet I still can't believe he did this to you on your birthday. How can he be so cruel? How can a father treat his only son that way? He's stripped you of everything-"
"How can you loving me be reason enough for him to disown you?" he whispers. "How can you say it doesn't matter?"
Arthur silences Merlin with a fingertip to his lush lips. "It doesn't matter because I love you. He tried to take everything dear to me but he failed." He cards one hand through Merlin's thick hair and pulls Merlin close, the reflection of the flame dancing along Merlin's already pronounced cheekbones.
"I have you. You are all I need. You're all I want, Merlin. There is nothing else in this world that matters to me the way you matter."
Merlin's heart pounds in his chest as it swells with affection for the man he loves more than life itself. "Are you trying to get into my pants? Because, really, I'm yours, you don't have to work so hard, although I do appreciate the effort."
For the first time that day, Arthur laughs; it's a genuine laugh born of joy.
"Happy birthday, Arthur," Merlin smiles, lacing their fingers together atop Arthur's knee.
On that night, Arthur found a kind of absolution in a minuscule flame atop a homemade red velvet cupcake on his twenty-first birthday.
He never looked back.