Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, brief mentions of Morgana, Percival, Elena, Gwaine, Lancelot, Gwen, etc.
Summary: With graduation looming in the distance, Merlin had experienced a lot of these moments lately. He'd been spending as much time with his friends as possible, almost every night in fact, but it never felt like it was enough.
Warnings: Mentions of alcohol.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: #159 - Song Prompt #4
Author's Notes: University AU.
Merlin glanced around the bar, spotting Percival, Elena, and Gwaine having a drinking contest, Morgana dancing by herself though there was a crowd of people circling her who wished to be her partner, Gwen and Lancelot slow dancing despite the fast tempo of the song, lost in their own world. Merlin quickly turned his attention back to his drink, a lump beginning to form in his throat.
With graduation looming in the distance, Merlin had experienced a lot of these moments lately. He'd been spending as much time with his friends as possible, almost every night in fact, but it never felt like it was enough. Everyone would be going their separate ways soon. Leon had an internship in the States, Elena had something lined up in Ireland, Gwaine mentioned travelling but Merlin wasn't sure how serious he was. Gwen and Lancelot both managed to secure jobs in Brighton, but as far as the rest of them, they were spread all over. Merlin didn't feel like he was ready for it, for their little ragtag group of friends that had become almost like family to split up. It seemed like only yesterday they were in their first year, ready to take on the world. Merlin didn't feel ready to take on anything, now. University had become sort of a safe haven for him. He'd had friends in secondary school and Will and Freya were lovely but the school’s curriculum hadn't been challenging in the slightest and he often found himself getting in trouble as a result of boredom. University had changed that. The courses he was taking were intellectually stimulating and actually interested him. He even almost looked forward to assignments sometimes.
Finding the group had been a huge help too, even if it didn't start out particularly well. He'd been rushing to his eight am when he'd slammed into someone, causing them to spill their coffee all over themselves. Merlin had started to apologise but the guy started shouting at Merlin even though it was a complete accident. The guy, who Merlin later learned was Arthur, spoke in such a condescending, pretentious tone that Merlin couldn't bite his tongue and immediately started retorting. Arthur was taken aback at that, as if no one had ever talked back at him before. Merlin shouted until he was red in the face and when he was finally finished, Arthur looked amused. A loud laugh came from his left and Merlin turned to find a gorgeous woman with long black hair laughing at the pair of them. She introduced herself as Morgana, Arthur's sister, and congratulated Merlin on being able to shut Arthur up, a feat no one but Morgana herself had accomplished. She took him under her wing, introduced him to Gwen with whom came Lancelot and with Lancelot came Leon, Percival, Gwaine, Elena and so on.
Arthur was a part of the group as well, but he and Merlin struck up a tentative friendship after that first meeting. It was a friendship filled with a lot of arguing and it teetered on the edge of love and hate quite often but still a friendship nonetheless. In fact, Merlin would consider Arthur his best friend, really, and he suspected Arthur felt the same. While he was anxious about being separated from all of his friends, it was being away from Arthur that worried him the most. Merlin could hardly think of a time when he and Arthur weren't at each others sides these past few years. It didn't help that Merlin had been harbouring some not so platonic feelings for almost the entire duration of their friendship either. There were some occasions, like when Arthur started just a second too long that Merlin thought that maybe...but no, he was deluding himself. Besides, Arthur was always flitting from one relationship to the next (Sophia, Vivian, Mordred, Sophia again). Merlin never had a chance. Even if he did, he had too much self respect to allow himself to be just another fling in Arthur's ever perpetuating cycle of them, already knowing Arthur's ways.
Merlin sighed, leaning his head against the booth and closing his eyes. He felt someone sit down beside him but didn't bother to look. No one felt important enough to open his eyes for right then.
"You're awfully quiet tonight, Merlin," Arthur said, causing Merlin's eyes to snap open.
"Sorry," Merlin muttered into his glass as he took another sip of his drink.
"What? No scathing retort?" Arthur bumped his shoulder into Merlin's. Merlin shrugged.
Arthur frowned, silent for a moment, before he scooted until their thighs were pressed up against each other. "Alright," he said, quietly, "What's wrong? I haven't seen you this upset since that one episode of Doctor Who."
Merlin sighed. "I'm just tired, Arthur. That's all. Go back out there," Merlin nodded his head to the dance floor. "I'm fine. I don't need you to look after me."
Arthur scoffed, as if he'd ever look after Merlin, as if the two of them hadn't been secretly doing that for the other since about the day they met. Merlin only drank some more in reply.
"Right, well, come on then," Arthur said, sliding out of the booth and standing up.
Merlin looked up at him warily. "What?"
Arthur looked like at Merlin like he was an idiot, which really didn't differ all that much from how he normally looked at Merlin.
"You said you were tired."
"Arthur," Merlin retorted, but Arthur didn't let him finish, instead taking a hold of Merlin's arm and helping him up. Arthur's hand wrapped firmly around Merlin's shoulder, holding him close to Arthur's side.
"C’mon," Arthur said, "Let's get you home."
Merlin felt the lump in his throat reappear at the word, because while it was home for now, it wouldn't be for very much longer. He let Arthur lead him out, clinging to him like a lifeline, not ready to let go, unsure if he ever would be.