Tonight’s the night. The night in which Arthur will finally put all his fears aside and tell Merlin the way he feels about him.
After six years of friendship, unrequited pining and guilty wanking at nights thinking about him, an accidental drunken kiss, four failed attempts at relationships to try to make his stupid infatuation go away, countless friday nights spent at Merlin’s place and a couple of miserable, unsuccessful love confessions that turned out to be indecipherable mumbling, Arthur feels like he’s ready to face the long hidden truth.
He’s got no assurance that Merlin will say yes, or tell Arthur he likes him back or anything, but it’s becoming unbearable and he can’t take the ‘just friends’ title anymore. Not that he’s not alright with the way their relationship works, Merlin’s his best mate and Arthur doesn’t want that to change for anything in the world, not even due to his stupid feelings, but sometimes it does get a bit hard to bear. Like when they go out clubbing together and Merlin chooses some random guy that’s not him to spend the night snogging silly with and then Arthur has to take Merlin home because he’s too drunk to even remember his own name, or worse, when Arthur’s not the one Merlin leaves with. When Merlin won’t stop hugging him or touching him as if he knows it’s a sweet torture for Arthur, or when he looks at him with that flirty, shy and lopsided smile of his that makes Arthur come undone with craving and heartache.
It all ends tonight because tomorrow everything will change. Tomorrow Merlin will be eighteen and their high school days will be over, so it feels like the right time to come clean and take a chance, because his life is going to change in twenty-four hours, and he might as well get the most out of it. He knows he can either spend the summer of his life if Merlin returns his feelings, and accepts Arthur’s proposition, or the lamest if Merlin gives him a negative. That’s why Arthur hopes for the former, because next year they will be going to different universities and they won’t be seeing each other that much. Not unless there’s a reason for them to do so.
“Is everything ready?” he asks, turning around to take a look at the state of the lounge. He’s spent two hours decorating with their friends’ help after school. It’s probably not going to be a real surprise, because Gwen’s a bit chatty when she’s excited, and Arthur knows she let something on unwittingly about the surprise party he’s planning for Merlin, but Arthur still wants everything to be perfect.
“Gwen, did you bring the cake and the—“
“Arthur,” Morgana cuts him off with a hard stare. “Stop fussing for fuck’s sake. You already asked that. He’ll say yes because we all can see Merlin’s head over heels for you, too, he’s just as much of an idiot as you are for not saying a word after all this time. I swear to god if I have to see you two making goo-goo eyes at each other one more time you’ll regret the day you were born.”
Arthur frowns at Morgana’s words, but he doesn’t get a chance to reply because the doorbell rings and Gwen starts squeaking and everybody starts running towards the door like crazy people, making Arthur all the more edgy.
“I’ll get it,” Morgana says, digging his claws on Arthur’s chest when Arthur makes a go for it. Arthur makes a face at her and then moves to stand beside his friends, waiting for Merlin and hoping everything works alright in the end.
He watches Merlin entering in and kissing Morgana on the cheek. He steps inside the room, and Arthur cringes at the incoordination when some of his friend shout a, ‘happy birthday’, and others ‘surprise’, because he can’t believe he planned everything into detail but forgot to agree with his friends what they should all say.
Merlin doesn’t seem to mind, though, because he’s smiling from ear to ear, looking everywhere around the place, and his eyes are wrinkling and closing into half-moons as they always do when he’s genuinely happy. And then Merlin meets his eyes and gives him that huge, goofy grin that always makes Arthur’s insides melt and his heart race, and Arthur knows then that he can make this ‘hopefully more than friends’ situation work.
He clings at Merlin a bit too tight when Merlin strides towards him across the room and throws his arms over Arthur’s shoulders to give him a hug, and he can’t help but shiver when Merlin laughs delighted in his ear and then whispers a, ‘thanks, you’re the best’, and gives him a fleeting kiss on the neck. Arthur’s too stunned to react, and immediately Merlin lets go to greet the rest of their friends as if he hadn’t just fucking kissed him.
The party goes smoothly, and Arthur can tell Merlin’s having a great time. He’s smiling with each present he’s given, laughing at all the jokes and praising Gwen for the delicious cake she baked and making her blush. But he’s also sending Arthur all these looks throughout the evening that are making Arthur anxious because he can still feel the side of his neck tingle with the feeling of Merlin’s lips on his skin, and Arthur only wishes that the twinkle dancing in Merlin’s eyes is a promise for more later.
When their friends leave a few hours later with too little convincing excuses that Arthur knows are to leave Merlin and him alone, Merlin’s perched on a silly-looking pouf he's he’s dragged near the window, and he’s surrounded by gift wrappers and coloured balloons that Gwaine insisted were totally necessary, because according to him a birthday party without balloons is not a birthday party.
Arthur stops by the doorway and stares at the picture Merlin makes for a moment, barely registering that Merlin’s looking at him as well.
“Are you gonna stand there and watch me for the rest of the evening?”
“Maybe. It’s a pretty nice view,” Arthur replies without thinking. Merlin’s face lights up with a grin and then he snorts as if he believes Arthur’s making fun of him as per usual, and shakes his head, looking away. When he catches two spots of red blotching Merlin’s cheeks, Arthur wonders if Merlin has any idea what he does to him.
“I’d rather you come closer,” Merlin tells him, and Arthur doesn’t know how he manages to sound both cheeky and sheepish, but he does, and it makes Arthur's heart beat a little faster.
Arthur drops himself down on the pouf next to Merlin’s and takes a breath; it’s now or never.
“You never game me my birthday present,” Merlin says first, turning to look at him. Their knees brush together and Arthur gets briefly distracted because he can feel the spot where they are touching growing hot with the presence and pressure of Merlin’s leg pressed against his own.
“I have to tell you something first,” he replies.
“Me too,” Merlin tells him and shifts in the pouf so he’s facing Arthur. Arthur looks at him for a moment and thinks that maybe neither of them needs to speak after all if what he can see in Merlin’s eyes is what he’s always been waiting for.
“I—“ Merlin starts, and then he seems to lose the thread of what he was going to say as he stares at Arthur. But soon he blinks away, licks his lips quickly. “I talked to Freya after class and she—she said something to me that I didn’t. . . I mean, summer starts tomorrow and she, um, made me realise something about you and I,” he continues and Arthur feels like he’s missing something out because there’s no way to fathom Merlin when he’s babbling stupidly and making no sense whatsoever.
Something must have shown on his face, because Merlin takes a huge intake of breath, picks up the end of a ribbon from the gift wrapper and twisting it between his fingers, nervously, he opens his mouth to say something. But Arthur doesn’t let him speak.
“I want you,” he blurts instead, because he’s feeling brave, and because he had already planned to let Merlin know. Maybe not with those words exactly, but his mind is blank and everything he had prepared to say is suddenly gone, so these words are as good as any to make Merlin shut up and direct the conversation towards where Arthur wants to take it.
Merlin’s mouth stays open for a moment and his eyes go slightly wide, but then he closes his mouth with a snap and bites his lips, even when the corners are lifting up in a smile.
The bundle of nerves inside Arthur’s stomach disappear with that tiny gesture.
“I mean, I’ve wanted you for ages but—“ Merlin’s eyebrows shoot up and disappear under his fringe. “—but I don’t only want you because I’m horny. I’m—I’m in love with you, Merlin, so I don’t want this to be a one-off. I want more than that, that’s why I talked to your mum for approval and I brought this,” he finishes, his throat closed up and his hands sweating as he opens the small drawer of the coffee table and offers Merlin two planet tickets.
Merlin blinks down at them, his face a bit red around the cheeks and the brigde of his nose. “Rome? Arthur, what—“
“You know my summer residence is there, right? Well, I thought—I managed to convince Morgana to stay here for two weeks and my father won’t be really staying, he’ll only visit once a week, because he’s always out on business trips, so we—have the house for ourselves.” He presses his lips together, waiting for a response.
It’s not like it’s the first time Merlin’s going to come with him to spend a week in the Pendragon’s mansion, as Merlin calls it, He’s been there a couple of summers back, but this time it feels different. They are both old enough to be going by themselves, to stay alone, and hopefully, not as friends.
“I don’t know what to say, I think I stopped listening after the moment you said you’re in love with me.” Merlin looks up at him and his eyes are so very blue Arthur feels dizzy. “Do you mean it?”
“What do you think?” he answers, feeling so on edge he thinks he might burst. “Why would I lie about this? I’ve never said that before to anyone. I’m serious.”
Merlin stays silent for a moment, then takes a breath. “God, my belly feels funny,” he says sounding excited and panicky, standing up. He flops down on the same pouf as Arthur’s, which is too small for the two of them.
When they are entirely pressed together and one of Merlin’s legs is on top of Arthur’s, Merlin glances back down at the tickets and a smile slowly blooms on his face until it’s so big Arthur thinks Merlin’s face may break in two. “Okay, so, when are we leaving?”
Arthur, that had been holding his breath until now, lets it all out in a rush. “As friends?” he asks tentatively, because Merlin hasn’t said anything yet about this other part.
Merlin looks up at him from under his lashes. “No, not as friends.” He licks his lips again and flicks his eyes to Arthur’s mouth. “I really want to kiss you now,” he says. “But I want you to know that I feel the same way. That’s what I was trying to say.”
“Thank god I spoke first, then,” Arthur says, smirking, but feeling his heart swell with affection and happiness. “You’re shit at this.”
“I am not, you just cut me off.” Merlin shoves him and the pouf dips to the side and sends Arthur to the floor with a thump. Arthur grabs the end of Merlin’s shit and tugs hard until Merlin falls on top of him in a mess of limbs, laughing loudly.
“Yes, because you’re a babbling idiot,” Arthur says, placing a hand on the small of Merlin’s back, for the first time allowing himself to actually feel Merlin, savouring the weight of his body atop of Arthur’s, his warmth and the way Merlin’s body fits comfortably against his, as Arthur had always imagined it would.
“Well, you just told this babbling idiot here—“ he says, pointing to himself, looking ridiculous and happy sitting on Arthur’s lap. Arthur doesn’t want him to be anywhere else. “—that you’re in love with him, so—“
“Merlin, shut up. Didn’t you say something about kissing?”
Merlin grins at him. “I don’t know why I put up with you,” he murmurs, sliding his fingers through Arthur’s hair and cupping the back of Arthur’s head. He leans down, and closes the distance between their mouths, finally, and Arthur can only open up his mouth wide to let Merlin’s tongue in and then let himself go.