Title: I Almost Saw the Light
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Mordred. Other characters are mentioned.
Summary: Arthur and Merlin meet while homeless.
Warnings: Mentions of drug abuse and sex work; past minor character death; ambiguous ending
Word Count: 1334 (sorry, again)
Author's Notes: Modern AU. This fic is significantly angstier than anything I've written before.
I love you, but—
No one wants to read a letter that starts that way. But there are many things I need to tell you. By the time you've read this, I'll have left London.
I wish I could be the man you deserve, but I'm not. I never will be. The feel of your body next to mine, the touch of your hand, the press of your lips to the back of my neck as you held me close on my grubby mattress—I'll cherish those moments for the rest of my life. Having you in my life, even for a short time, was more than I would ever have dared to hope for.
But you're not like me, and I'm not like the others you've met here. I lived in the squat because I had nowhere else to go. It wasn't a political statement for me, like it is for Morgause and Mordred, nor did I need to rebel against my family, like you did. I never knew my father, but I loved my mother. When she died, I had nothing.
So I worked, if you can call it that. I'm a rather skilled pickpocket, did you know that? It's how I've fed us both, and it's also how I've saved the money to leave today. Do you remember when we met, and I pulled a fresh tulip from behind your ear? I remember the amazement on your face, and the desire in your eyes. I had simply stolen the tulip from the display at the corner shop and concealed it in my sleeve. None of my tricks were ever anything more than sleight-of-hand.
But I never stole anything from you. You told me once that I'd stolen your heart, but I assure you, that was never my intention.
From the beginning I knew you were only slumming it with us. I could tell by your shoes. It didn't take long for your clothes to grow as shabby as mine, that's true, but your shoes were expensive. Even now, months later, they're not falling apart.
I've ripped apart every leather wallet I ever palmed to repair my own shoes, and I've stolen so much glue from craft supply shops that anyone who caught me would no doubt believe I was sniffing it recreationally. I've never cared for drugs, though, any more than you do. It's too easy, on the streets, to lose yourself to them, and before you know it, you have a need even more pressing than hunger or thirst.
I'll find a new place to sleep in my next city, and I'm sure you'll find someone new to curl around at night. Perhaps you'll find someone who can buy you new clothes, who can help you get your life moving in the direction from which it never should have strayed. I could never fit into your world any more than you belonged in mine.
I'll always carry my memories of you: your bright hair, shiny even through the grime; your brilliant blue eyes, gazing at me always with patience and understanding. I'll never forget the days you let me hold you as you cried, your broad shoulders shaking. It moved me deeply, to see such a strong and proud man so diminished.
I want to be the one to build you back up, but I can't, don't you see? I would only hold you back. Someday, some relative of yours will leave you a sizeable inheritance, and you can start your life anew, with someone worth so much more than I am.
I only hope you can remember me without bitterness, because you'll always be the only constellation in my night sky: a noble warrior, shining in the darkness.
With all of my love,
I don't know if you'll get this letter. Mordred told me that you had a brother in Ealdor, and I've addressed it to him. I hope that your brother will know how to find you.
I felt we knew a lot about each other, but it seems there's more to tell. After my father kicked me out, I had nowhere to go, either. Yes, my shoes were expensive, but they're the only remnant of my former life.
I disagree with your estimation of yourself, but I did know you were a pickpocket. Many times, I saw you distracting tourists in order to grab their valuables. I don't mind. It says nothing about your character, apart from demonstrating your resourcefulness.
I slept on a park bench for my first week, until you found me. The bright red tulip you seemed to conjure—and yes, you did conjure it, despite your explanation that your magic is only ordinary—was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, until I looked into your eyes. I was enamoured at their loveliness, at the crinkles in the corners. You were smiling at me, I was shocked to realise. I mattered to you, even though I was only a smelly stranger.
It had been far longer than that week of homelessness since anyone had looked at me that way. My father wanted things for me that I couldn't give him. He expected me to work 80-hour weeks, and he insisted that I marry the daughter of his business rival. When I explained to him that I could never marry anyone I didn't love, he fired me.
I'm bi, not gay, as you know, but the thought of being shackled to someone my father had chosen for me was more than I could bear. Since he paid the rent on my flat, I had little choice but to leave. You may call my actions rebellious if you wish, but it's more important to me than I can fully explain to live as my own man.
I considered prostitution, and I suppose I have the physique for porn, but sex with strangers in any capacity repulses me. I wanted to find someone I loved, someone who loved me, and build a life with him or her, and I thought I had.
Every night, you took me to hide in the alleys behind the bakeries, waiting for them to toss out their day-old pastries. Those treats were more delicious to me than the finest cakes served at my father's soirées. Your face lit up with delight as you bit into an apple turnover or a raspberry rugelach, and you grinned broadly as you shared your favourites with me. I fell more deeply in love with you every time I witnessed your pleasure, and I absolutely melted at your generosity.
Please, Merlin, come back to me. Whatever burdens we have, we can carry them together. I'm still living in the squat, and Mordred has taken to crawling into the bed you and I once shared. I don't at all enjoy being close to him; I think of him only as a younger brother, although I know he'd like us to become lovers.
What are your dreams, Merlin? I have dreams of my own, of helping homeless youth from falling into drugs and prostitution against their will. Until then, I can work at a menial job so that I can afford to share a flat with you. A skilled street magician can make a good bit of money, at least during the warmer months; if you prefer to continue pickpocketing, that would be fine with me, too. If you have a creative hobby you'd rather pursue, such as painting or writing, we can make that work. We can take care of each other. I'd do anything for that opportunity. I simply can't sleep without you next to me.
I hope this letter reaches you. If our relationship really has come to an end, I'll survive. I just know that life has much more to offer both of us than the empty existence you described. And I know we can face anything, together. Please reply to me, if you can.
With love and hope,