Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin is grieving when Arthur comes in his life.
Warnings: Unnecessary fluff
Word Count: ~1000
Prompt: nepenthe for camelot_drabble
Author's Notes: All my thanks to neuroticnick, shadowofrazia, adsullatta, and the team at merlin_writers chatroom for their help w/ this fic. Utterly unbetaed.
This is a prequel to UNCERTAINTY
Arthur was Merlin's anchor.
Before Arthur even knew who Merlin was, Arthur had become Merlin's saviour.
After Merlin had returned to work in the bookshop, a week after his father's funeral, nothing seemed right. Nothing made him happy. Merlin had only known his dad for a few months before the man was tragically taken away from him again. This time by a heart attack and forever.
Many had suggested that Merlin should have taken a longer time off away from work. He should've properly grieved. But what would that have done? He wasn't about to sit around the flat and think more and more, be sadder than before, or cry.
He had no tears left. Still, the joy hadn't returned.
No one else in Merlin's life was as sad as he was. His mother had moved on years before. Remarried. She was sad, but she wasn't broken.
On his second day back, Merlin offered to do stocking rather than work at the till. He wasn't sure if he could handle small talk with the customers.
That's when Merlin spotted him.
Tall and muscular, with shaggy blond hair, the man looked just as lost as Merlin felt. He was roaming around the aisles looking at the books but not really looking at them. Merlin couldn't help but stare. Who was he? What was he doing at the bookshop if he wasn't really interested?
It had been ten minutes of staring until Merlin had realised that he'd stopped stocking, stopped doing anything but glaring. He'd stopped thinking about his father or the meaning of life or of anything sad.
The blond, no, the demi-god blond had become his one and only focus.
Merlin dropped the book that he'd been holding and started to follow the man. After a few minutes of careful shadowing, Merlin lost him. He sighed and shook his head. What was wrong with him?
He turned to go back to where he'd abandoned his shelving and bumped right into the man he'd spent the last few minutes tracking (because stalking just sounded so bad).
"Oh, sorry!" the man said, as Merlin's face had just fit so well in the crook of his neck and his lips brushed against the man's skin.
Fuck. Did that just happen?
Embarrassed, Merlin took a few steps back and breathed a sigh of relief as the man himself was too, blushing.
"I'm so sorry, I just—I didn't see you there," Merlin said, running a hand through his hair. Trying not to remember the feel of the demi-god's skin against his lips.
The man bit his lower lip and Merlin thought that that might have been the most adorable and the most stimulating thing he'd ever seen; his stomach tightened and his heart stuttered.
Honestly, what is wrong with me?
"I'm Merlin," Merlin said, offering his hand to the other man, when neither one of them said anything for a while. "I work here. Can I help you find anything?"
"Oh," the man hesitated for a moment. "I was just...erm...I mean...uh... No, thanks. I was just browsing."
Merlin raised an eyebrow. Now, he was really interested. "The adult section is in the basement," Merlin whispered. Was the man looking for porn?
A smug sort of chuckle from the other man made Merlin grin; the demi-god wasn't embarrassed, rather amused. "I wish I was looking for that," he said. "I was actually looking for the self-help section. Grief and all that. Actually, never mind. I just—I just came in here to take my mind off things and I think I'll just—"
"Death in the family?" Merlin asked; perhaps he could relate.
"No." A long sigh followed the negation. "Breakup, actually."
"You?" Merlin raised an eyebrow again.
"What if I said yes?"
"I would say that's nearly impossible."
"You? You're... Erm... You're having a hard time bouncing back?"
"Listen, Merlin. You don't know me, so don't—"
"Right. Sorry!" Merlin jumped in before his customer offered to make a complaint to the manager. The last thing he needed was more time off. "This way, please."
He turned on his heels and hoped that the post-breakup-depressed-body builder was following. He was.
"Here we are," Merlin offered when they reached the end of the shop. "Here are some books on relationships, break-ups. Believe it or not, they're rather brilliant here and open-minded with books on straight and gay relationships." He smiled at the customer but didn't wait for a response. "Also this magazine is my favourite," Merlin said, pointing at a copy of Relevant, "It has personality quizzes you can take that talks about what sort of person you should be dating or if you should just be single for now, and sorts."
The man nodded, looking a bit overwhelmed.
"So I'll just go back to work then, and if you need anything else you can—"
"Arthur," the man said.
"My name's Arthur. I realised that you introduced yourself and I didn't tell you—"
"Oh, right. I sort of liked the name I gave you in my head but Arthur will work." Merlin smiled and glanced over the books to take another one out for his customer. "This one—"
"What name did you give me?" Arthur asked, folding his arms as though he was readying himself for—something.
Merlin took a deep breath in. "Post-breakup-depressed-body builder...prat." He shrugged as if he hadn't done anything wrong.
"You're rather strange, do you know that?"
Merlin nodded in the affirmative. "Very well, actually," he said. "If there's nothing else, I'll just go then."
Arthur nodded. Merlin turned to walk away and had a sneaky suspicion that Arthur was watching him all the way down the aisle until he was no longer in his view. Merlin smiled to himself and returned to the stocking.
That's how Merlin had met Arthur. Arthur who had become his anchor. His nepenthe.
Since that day, Arthur came to visit Merlin almost on a daily basis. It would seem as though Merlin was also the answer to Arthur’s suffering.