Merlin sits on the marble steps at the school entrance and breathes out.
The cigarette shakes slightly between his trembling fingers and he hates himself for it—for letting his emotions overpower him this much. He hates that he’s so crystal transparent that other people can see through him and he hates Arthur for doing this to him when they had it all.
The bell rings, signalling the end to the last class of the day, and Merlin hurries to finish his fag before people begin coming out the door.
He sucks the last of it and then drops the cigarette to the floor, crushing it under his foot and killing the last sparkles of orange. Then, he throws the strap of his backpack over his shoulder, stands up and moves away from the door, trying to scurry off before anyone can see him. He skipped the last hour of class, but couldn’t go home an hour early or his mum would have known.
He just couldn’t do it.
As the stairs where Merlin had been start to fill with people, he bumps into someone and his cigarette lighter, which he was fiddling with a moment ago, falls to the floor. The guy mumbles an apology and disappears. Merlin crouches down to grab the lighter when a pair of worn-out trainers stop right in front of his line of vision.
He swallows, his throat closing up and his heart hammering hard against his chest.
He’s ditched class to avoid seeing Arthur and now here he is. It’s like Merlin can’t fucking escape from him. When he’s not present in Merlin’s mind, he’s in the same room, making the air choke Merlin and his skin sweat. And his magic to break free.
When he pushes to his feet, he tries to school his features and averts looking at Arthur’s eyes, but Arthur takes a step closer, his hand gripping the strap of his backpack tightly, and Arthur’s friends—Merlin’s friends, their friends—or at least old friends—stand behind him, watching with caution.
“Where have you been?” Arthur asks. “You weren’t in class.”
Merlin’s magic bubbles inside his veins. He wants to cry out in frustration when it tries to reach out to Arthur, calling to him, missing him. This is the first conversation they’ve had since it all ended nine days ago.
“Are you okay?” Arthur asks and Merlin’s eyes sting. He pulls away when Arthur attempts to touch his arm. He doesn’t have any right anymore.
“Don’t. I’m fine,” he lies. He can’t stand it anymore. “Don’t come near me again, please.”
Arthur sucks in a breath, Merlin hears, and then, before his magic can protest again or Arthur can say a word, Merlin turns his back on him like Arthur did, and then stalks off.
His mum’s words echo inside his head, reminding him how naïve he was for hoping when he’s the one pushing Arthur away all the time.
He just needs a call. But his mobile never rings, not after a day, a week or a month.
She’s there when Merlin’s falling apart. His mum and Will. Always Will, but not Arthur.
Merlin’s cross with him for not being as broken and lost as he feels.
“God, look at what the fucker did to you,” Will says, shaking his head, hands curled into fists as he paces up and down Merlin’s room. Merlin can see how close he is to punching the wall or kicking the desk, his face red with anger. “You’re a mess, you’re hurting.”
“I’m fine, Will, it’s over now. I’m over it.”
“You’re fucking not, mate. Why’d you have to get hung up on him?” Will asks. “He’s such a bastard, like his father.”
The bulb of the bedside lamp clicks and shatters and Will glances at him for the first time. “Sorry, mate,” he says, softer, realising he’s making Merlin uncomfortable.
He’s furious with Arthur, but he can’t stand hearing Will comparing Arthur to his father, not even when he’s proven to be like Uther, after all. Because he still loves Arthur.
Merlin smiles up at him, though. A small, sad smile despite everything and Will shakes his head, plops down on the bed beside Merlin and pulls him into an embrace. It’s rare when they do this, but Merlin is grateful for the gesture nonetheless.
He loves his friend fiercely. Loves Will because he’s always tuned to Merlin’s moods. Happy when Merlin’s happy or upset when he senses Merlin is. He gets mad when Merlin doesn’t allow himself to be, both at silly and not so silly matters, and then jokes and comforts him, knowing when he has to stop bitching about and when Merlin needs his space or silence.
Or when he needs this.
Because Will’s always been there and Merlin knows he’s never going to fail him or leave him like other people do.
Merlin has to endure going to class and seeing him daily, but he handles it okay. Or that’s what he tells himself. Because it’s easier to pretend.
He tries to forget four years of friendship and ten months of pure happiness and all the things they did together. But most of all, Merlin tries to erase from his head their last conversation, Uther’s shouts and hands shoving him out of his house and Arthur’s life for good.
He remembers everything, which hurts. All the lazy afternoons at Arthur’s, eating pizza and playing video games. Hacking around in his bed, necking and getting each other off, kissing for hours and studying together when necessary, reluctantly. He remembers his caresses and his fond insults, making out in his car or stealing his father’s drinks and getting pissed in Arthur’s room. Or their failed attempts at cooking in the morning when Uther was out on a business trip.
But what he can’t get out of his head is the memory of Arthur telling him how it felt so good with him, how he could feel Merlin’s magic whenever they were together and how it had never felt so incredible with anyone else before, how he never wanted to be apart from Merlin, how his magic was as special as Merlin himself and he loved him for it.
Merlin is drunk and past caring. And so is Arthur, as far as Merlin can tell just by looking at him.
He doesn’t know how he’s ended up here, he just wanted to party and forget about the drama for a while. Gwaine’s birthday seemed like the best option because Gwaine’s always got alcohol and music, a big house you can get lost in it if you want to escape and the hottest friends to make out with.
But somehow Merlin’s plans have gone to shit.
He’s tried the door handle, but it’s locked from the outside. He feels sick, dizzy and angry, because he knows this has been their friends’ idea and they can’t force Merlin to talk to Arthur. They can’t decide when it’s time to fix things or make tracks. They can’t decide when it’s time for them to stop hurting or to stop hurting each other. They can’t decide for them.
“Say something,” Arthur breaks the silence after a few minutes and his voice sounds small, a bit slurred and loud inside the quiet room.
“I hate you,” Merlin replies brokenly. And the pounding music from downstairs sounds like a tentative tendril of noise that Merlin tries to focus on, so he won’t lose his temper, wishing he could magic himself away.
Arthur is silent for a moment, but then he sighs. “You don’t really mean that.”
Merlin doesn’t reply, because deep down he doesn’t really hate Arthur, not when he had the time of his life with him. Maybe he’s just angry and frustrated, or maybe he’s getting tired of fighting with himself.
“You never truly loved me, did you?” He lets his back hit the wall and slips down to the floor in defeat. There’s no getting out of here and since they are locked in the room for an indeterminate amount of time, he might as well say all the things he never got a chance to get off his chest after he and Arthur ended. “You just—had fun with me cos we were friends. You told me how much you wanted me, but—but you used me all along. . . Of course it was fucking easy for you to let go.”
“How can you say that? God, you have no idea. You don’t know shit, Merlin.”
“Yeah,” he snorts. Maybe he’s being a bit unfair. He can’t help it. A small part of him wants to hurt Arthur like Arthur hurt him. “Because you never told me. I can do magic, but I can’t read minds.”
Arthur tenses beside him. “Don’t bring that up.”
Merlin wants to laugh, but he only slumps a little bit lower on the wall, his eyelids falling closed. “Why? You gonna dump me again cos of it? We’re not together anymore, Arthur.”
“Stop it, Merlin. You’re not like this.”
Merlin snorts again. “You made me like this. You did this.”
Arthur stands up and Merlin feels relieved knowing Arthur is going to leave him alone. His head is pounding, his eyes are filling with unshed tears and his hands feel cold and shaky. But Arthur doesn’t leave. Of course he doesn’t, because he can’t. The door is closed.
Surprisingly, Merlin finds he is coming closer, sitting in front of him, kneeling between Merlin’s open legs and forcing Merlin to look at him with a hand on his chin.
Merlin clenches his jaw at the touch and he wants to turns his head to the side and look away, grab Arthur’s wrist and tug his hand off him, but he doesn’t dare because his magic flares up at the touch.
“Look at me,” Arthur says. Merlin doesn’t. He doesn’t want to. “Merlin, look at me.” Arthur shakes him and Merlin places his hands on Arthur’s arms to stop him.
When he finally meets Arthur’s eyes he feels like crying for the first time since they broke up.
“I never lied. I didn’t not tell you those things. I never hid anything from you. I was always honest, and yeah, I loved you and I acted like an idiot letting you go.”
Merlin knows Arthur’s telling the truth, he feels it deep down in his bones. He could always feel it when they were together; how open Arthur was with him. It’s just that it’s been much easier to deny it and push Arthur away after the break-up, because otherwise it’d have been much worse to get over it.
He feels himself sobering, and it might be because Arthur always calms him, or because looking into his blue eyes is soothing. But even though Merlin’s body trembles a little, he feels lighter with Arthur’s hands touching him. His magic is not wrestling against him anymore and that’s relaxing.
“If you had loved me—“ Merlin swallows as soon as he says the words, but he forces himself to continue, to go on and say it all, because he deserves to stop being haunted by memories and dreams can never have again. And Arthur has to hear it all. “If you had ever fucking loved me, you should have fought for me and not let your father dictate whether you could or couldn’t see me again. You—let him throw me out of your house with hardly blinking an eyelid, Arthur.” He stares into Arthur’s eyes for a moment. “Do you have any idea how that made me feel? You did nothing to stop him, didn’t even ask me how I was later. Didn’t fucking ring. You just allowed your father to break us apart because of my magic.”
“I was scared he would hurt you,” Arthur tells him, his hands slipping down from Merlin’s face to cup his neck, bringing their faces closer. “I’m sorry. That’s all I thought about. You didn’t see him after you left. He was so, so angry that a sorcerer had been walking on the same floor as him and breathing the same air, staying in his house. He went wild. I had to stay away from you, even if it was maddening. I was so afraid.”
Merlin wants to resist when Arthur’s thumbs start to caress his jaw and when Arthur’s voice starts to go soft in a way that Merlin knows is unusual and means helplessness, regret, anger, sadness, resignation, but his heart still beats furiously at the warmth of Arthur’s proximity, and he still wants Arthur so bad it pains him. He believes him, because he knows how far Arthur would go to protect him.
“He was watching me all the time, making sure you had banished from my life. He was angry I had been your friend for so long after knowing I was aware you had magic. He didn’t understand how I could stand being around you knowing your magic could kill me, like it killed my mother. But he never understood that you’d never hurt me. He was wrong and he wouldn’t see sense.”
Merlin sighs and hangs his head down, feeling overwhelmed.
“I want to be with you,” Arthur murmurs, touching their foreheads together. “It’s been hell without you these past months. Sometimes it still feels like the sheets of my bed smell of you and that’s killing me, Merlin.”
Merlin clutches the fabric of Arthur’s jacket between his fingers to hold himself together, feeling like he physically needs to be closer to Arthur. He’s missed him so much. “But nothing has changed, Arthur. Your father still doesn’t want me to be with you. That’s never going to change because I can’t change the way I am.”
“I would never want you to change the way you are. Just—fuck my father,” Arthur says, eyebrows knitted together, as if it were that simple. “He liked you before. Before he knew. We can make him see. He can’t be that heartless.”
“Arthur. . .” Merlin sighs and closes his eyes. He’s not so sure they can convince Uther. “I want that, but—“
“We’ll figure it out. I’m not giving you up,” Arthur cuts him off. “Can we—can we try again? Merlin, I want to try it again, please. I can’t stand this anymore.”
Merlin feels like the most reasonable thing to say is no. No, because they have no assurance this will work out. Because Uther hasn’t changed his mind and because it’s going to be difficult and rough to get through. But he can’t say no. Arthur’s words, the unusual pleading tone of his voice or is it the light of his eyes that make it impossible? And because Merlin’s mind, heart and magic, and his entire body, scream yes and please and I need you and right now.
So he nods and then closes the small distance between their lips. He breathes a ‘yeah’ against those lips he’s missed so much. When Arthur’s body goes slack in his arms, letting his guard down as he clings at Merlin and kisses him back with all his might, Merlin knows that it may not be easy, but they will be okay.
Because they’ve got each other and that’s all that matters.