Title: Late Fees
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, George, Uther
Summary: Arthur's weekend doesn't go to plan.
Word Count: 928
Author's Notes: University AU, one-shot.
Arthur dropped the heavy texts on the library counter. Professor Kilgharrah's lecture had just given him the inspiration he'd been missing, and the library closed in half an hour. If he didn't get started on his paper tonight, there was no way he'd have it done by Tuesday morning.
The train to Arthur's father's house was leaving in two hours. Uther was expecting him for the long weekend; if Arthur begged off again, his father was likely to come barrelling up to the university himself to demand an explanation. Yes, there was an excellent reason why Arthur didn't want to be introduced to yet another daughter of one of his father's friends, but he wasn't ready to explain himself. Not yet, not when this thing with Merlin was still as fragile as a stumbling foal.
"That will be £3.50," said the library assistant, whose name tag read "George."
Arthur's stomach plummeted. Damn it, the late fee! On days when he had classes, Arthur only tucked his student ID, which also functioned as his library card and meal card, into his pocket.
Arthur cleared his throat. "I'm afraid I don't have any cash with me," he said. "Is there any way I can leave you my ID card as collateral until Tuesday? I'm in a rush, need to catch a train home."
"Sorry, sir," said George, smiling smugly and not looking very sorry at all. "If you don't have the money to pay your late fees, I can't allow you to check out any more books."
"I assure you I have the money, just not on me," Arthur argued. He was starting to panic, but he wouldn't let it show in his voice.
"I'm certain that you do, but our policies are the same for all our students," George said. "Even library workers like me, or....children of MPs." He sniffed at Arthur.
Oh, it's like that, is it, Arthur thought bitterly. If I were just some random bloke, he'd let it slide. But no, it's yet another citizen my father has disappointed somehow.
Arthur sighed heavily. "All right," he said. He glanced at the queue behind him; the people waiting looked just as unfriendly as George, and Arthur wasn't going to beg a random person for a fiver, anyway. "Listen, can you set these aside and not re-shelve them? I'll be back first thing in the morning."
"I'm afraid it's against our policy to place books on hold when students are in debt to us," George said, with something very much like glee in his tone.
"Now, you listen," he started, raising his voice. George blinked at him, unimpressed. The complete lack of reaction took away all of Arthur's momentum. George was, after all, just doing his job. Arthur shook his head and walked away.
Outside the library, he headed for his dorm and phoned Merlin.
"Arthur? Hey! Are you at the train station? I wasn't expecting to hear from you tonight," Merlin said.
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, no, I'm not going," he said. "What are you up to, feel like coming over to watch a film?"
"Hmm," Merlin said. "That depends."
The nature of their acquaintance had only changed from friends to lovers a month ago, and Arthur really didn't have the words to explain that he wasn't feeling too playful at the moment. "On what, Merlin?"
"You've got awful taste in films," Merlin said. "I mean, the latest Transformers movie was just dreadful, like objectively, the plot elements were—"
"Oh, God. Why am I in love with a film student? Of all the things, honestly, no, you can't study literature, or, or, economics, or bloody medicine, you have to be one of those insufferable snobs who is too good for a bit of mindless fun."
Merlin didn't answer, and Arthur stopped walking and pulled the mobile away from his face to check that the call hadn't dropped.
"Merlin?" Arthur said. "I was only joking. You can choose the film. Bring over one of those pretentious art flicks, I don't care. I liked the last one."
"You're in love with me?" Merlin asked.
"Oh. Right, I did say that, didn't I," Arthur mumbled. His face was hot.
When things had started happening—when Arthur had finally given in to the desire to kiss Merlin—it had been so nice that Arthur hadn't wanted to press for a definition of their relationship. Maybe Merlin enjoyed lots of people's affection and wasn't looking for a boyfriend. Arthur didn't want to risk losing him by appearing clingy.
"Did you mean it?" Merlin asked.
"Yes," Arthur said. No point in denying it; it had been true from the beginning.
"That's great news, because I love you too," Merlin said. "I was going to tell you, but I didn't want to scare you off, or anything."
"Oh, I'm glad. I'm glad to hear it," Arthur said, overwhelmed with relief.
"All right, I'll be over. We can talk about why you aren't going to your father's this weekend, and whether you want to be called my boyfriend or not, and whether you're okay with having a snob for a boyfriend, and lots of other things," Merlin said.
Arthur chuckled. "See you in a moment, then."
Arthur had to phone his father soon and let him know he wasn't coming; in the morning, he would have to face another library employee. But right now, safe in the knowledge of Merlin's love, none of that mattered much at all. When Arthur unlocked his door, it was with a smile and a light heart.