Title: Live Through This (And You Won't Look Back)
Rating: Light R
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave / You were what I wanted, I gave what I gave / I'm not sorry I met you, I'm not sorry it's over, I'm not sorry there's nothing to save
Word Count: 886
Author's Notes: Title, summary, and general idea comes from the song "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" by Stars. In case you haven't guessed, this is not a happy fic. :c
“Is that everything?”
No, Merlin wants to shout, wants to scream, wants to rage to the very heavens themselves. No, that’s not everything. We were supposed to be each other’s everything.
But as much as he wants it to be true, he knows it’s not. Not anymore. Now they’ve just become B-grade actors, stumbling through the same, tired lines as they wait for the last curtain to drop.
Instead he nods wordlessly, choosing that moment to make sure the car’s trunk is latched properly. Even though Arthur has already made sure it’s all shut and closed up tight.
“I guess this is it then,” Arthur says, running tanned fingers through his golden hair before pushing his hand forward. In turn, Merlin stares at the offered limb, like it’s a wild animal that will bite him if he gets too close.
It’s been four years since they’ve met. Four turbulent yet wonderful years, overflowing with a sea of emotions and memories.
Four years of them playing football in the park, even though Merlin is absolute rubbish at it -- a fact Arthur constantly reminds him of, even as he lets Merlin win. Four years of cuddling on the couch to watch one of their favorite movies together, quoting the lines along with the characters and throwing popcorn into each other’s awaiting mouths. Four years of Arthur bringing the weight of the world home in his shoulders and Merlin quietly massaging it away without needing to be asked first. Four years of Merlin moaning and writhing as Arthur slides into him late at night, murmuring dirty and beautiful words against flushed, sweat-slicked skin.
Four years of laughter, tears, and love, and it’s all been reduced to a single handshake.
“…Damn it, Arthur,” Merlin says, his voice already low and scratchy from earlier crying he swears he’s not going to repeat now. He bats the hand away and wraps his arms around Arthur’s neck, not willing to let things end on such an impersonal note.
At first, Arthur stiffens: he was never one for physical contact when Merlin met him, and apparently he’s starting to revert to his old ways. A part of Merlin is secretly pleased by this, by the knowledge that Merlin has been the only one Arthur has completely opened up to.
But another part - the selfless part that tends to get his feelings trampled for the sake of others - hopes that some day, that will no longer be the case. Because despite everything, all Merlin wants is for Arthur to be happy. Truly and sincerely happy.
And if that means taking Merlin out of the picture, then so be it.
Finally, Arthur’s arms hesitantly form some semblance of an embrace, and it’s the first victory in their relationship Merlin has felt in weeks.
“For what it’s worth,” Arthur says, the clipped, tight tone he’s been using all this time threatening to crack under his own words, “I am sorry. For everything.”
Merlin closes his eyes, breathes in deeply, and dreams. Dreams of a world where this is simply a heartfelt farewell than a tear-stained goodbye.
“I’m not,” Merlin says.
He’s sorry about all the tense silences, the childish name-calling, the shouting matches. He’s sorry for his poorly worded ultimatums about Arthur caring more for his job and trying to please his father than he could ever for Merlin, so “why bother trying anymore?!” He’s sorry about how it all fell apart so badly afterwards that they could barely be in the same room together now.
But when it comes to the relationship as a whole, Merlin can’t find a single regret inside himself. “I would do it all over again. In a heartbeat.”
A weak chuckle rumbles through Arthur’s chest, and God -- if there’s one thing Merlin wishes he could’ve packed up in a cardboard box as they sifted and separated through their former flat, it would be Arthur’s laugh.
“Yeah,” Arthur says, “Yeah, I think I would too.”
Before Merlin can even suggest they do exactly that, Arthur pulls away. He’s always been the one to move away first, and this is no exception. He then places a hand on Merlin’s shoulder and squeezes it, more emotion in the simple action than what’s displayed on his face. “Take care of yourself, Emrys.”
It’s not fair; Arthur’s use of his last name just reminds Merlin of how they met, their teasing and banter in university that bloomed into something more. Something that has started to wilt and crumble to dust before its time. “…Yeah,” Merlin croaks, somehow managing to swallow the pain and bitterness deep within, “You too.”
The urge to hug once more is stifling, but Merlin fights it off as he climbs into the driver’s seat, his knuckles turning white as he grips the steering wheel. This is his last chance to do something, anything, to rewrite their story’s ending to include the words, “And they lived happily ever after.”
But instead, he puts the key in the ignition, and extinguishes any remaining linger of hope with one shaky exhale of breath.
Merlin doesn’t look back when he finally drives away, doesn’t dare sneak a glance in the rearview mirror to watch the forlorn figure he leaves behind transform into just another blip on the horizon.
He doesn’t need to.