Title: Softly Stranded
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Will
Summary: Arthur was leaving town. Will had other ideas.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Nothing like leaving it until the last minute!
Merlin glanced at Arthur out of the corner of his eye, then focused on driving. Rolling down the window, he let one arm dangle out. He was comfortable driving these roads but wished the atmosphere in the car was as easy. Once, Arthur had been his best friend and partner in everything, even in love. Now, the tension between them made Merlin swallow nervously.
But he had agreed to be the one to take Arthur to the airport a long time ago, and now it was coming around to it, no one else was available to do the run. Arthur was getting out, leaving town for good and Merlin couldn’t blame him. It hadn’t been a good year.
Glancing at him again, Merlin sighed. With the sun coming through the window, gold glinting off the strands of Arthur’s hair, he looked gorgeous. But there were lines around his eyes that Merlin hadn’t noticed before and he knew it was due to the breakup. It made Merlin want to reach out and brush the backs of his fingers over Arthur’s cheek, but it wasn’t his place anymore.
“Thanks for this,” Arthur said stiffly. “You can’t have wanted to do it.”
“I said I would do it,” Merlin responded, “so here I am, doing it.”
He glanced away, tears stinging his eyes. They had been so easy together before this. The next mile was passed in silence, then the engine gave a small whine and the car shuddered. Merlin sensed Arthur looking over, but was glad he didn’t make a flippant comment about Merlin’s driving skills. The car did it again, and this time, the engine spluttered and died. The car just stopped with no more warning than that. Merlin swore loudly.
“What is it?” There was the familiar bite of impatience in Arthur’s voice and Merlin scowled. He undid his seat belt and got out of the car, telling Arthur to stay there. Lifting the bonnet, he took one look and had no idea what was wrong. Despite their numerous attempts to get the car started, the engine refused to do anything other than sit there.
Eventually, Merlin got out his phone.
“Let me guess, you’ve murdered him and need me to help you hide the body? “
“What have you done to my car, Will?” As soon as he heard his friend’s voice, Merlin just knew that Will was somehow responsible. He swore he heard the smirk in the man’s voice.
“Nothing. It clearly thought you two idiots needed to talk.” Will was trying not to laugh.
“You don’t even like Arthur!” Merlin protested. All he got was the dialling tone and he turned his phone off with a scowl.
“Let me guess. Will?”
Merlin spun to see Arthur standing directly behind him. He wondered how much of the conversation he had heard and could guess by the look of Arthur’s face it had been most of it. He sighed, running a hand through his already messy hair.
“You won’t miss your flight; even Will wouldn’t go that far. He knew we were leaving with plenty of time to spare.”
Merlin was glad Arthur didn’t offer to take a look. They both knew he was useless when it came to hands on mechanics and Merlin had no intention of having his car blow up because of it. He closed the bonnet and perched on the car. After a moment hesitation, Arthur followed suit.
“So,” he eventually said. “How have you been?”
“Fine,” Merlin said defensively. Arthur flinched and Merlin once again took in the lines around his eyes. Arthur clearly hadn’t been faring any better than him and if this was the last time he was going to see the man for however long, he didn’t see what he had to lose. “I’ve missed you though. “
Arthur nodded. “Me too.”
To Merlin’s utter surprise, conversation flowed more easily after that, as if both of them had let down their defences and knew they could be honest with each other. If that was one thing they still had going for them, it was they had never lied to each other, regardless of how painful the truth was.
By the time another car could be heard in the distance, Merlin felt as if he had lost the weight he had been carrying around for the last year. Looking at the smile on Arthur’s face and how his shoulders had dropped, Arthur felt the same. Merlin once again ran his fingers through his hair.
“Maybe Will was right,” he admitted, hopping down from the car. “Maybe we did need to talk.”
Whatever Arthur had been about to say was lost as they both recognised the vehicle heading towards them. Arthur also climbed off the car and they both met Will with a stony silence. As the man sheepishly twisted a few things under the bonnet, Merlin caught Arthur’s eye. Warmth exploded through him when Arthur grinned. It was the same carefree smile that little up his entire being, and the one only Merlin witnessed.
“You’re set,” Will muttered, not meeting either of their eyes.
“I would say thanks, but as it is your fault in the first place...” Merlin kept his voice cool and Will scurried back to his car, chastised. He pulled away, but the second his car disappeared around the first bend, both Merlin and Arthur burst out laughing.
“The look on his face,” Merlin spluttered. Then his breath caught as Arthur tentatively took his hand.
“I don’t have to go,” he said quietly, looking at the ground. Merlin stared at him, and this time, hope began to blossom.
“You would really stay?”
“Do I have a reason to?” Arthur’s voice was soft and hopefully, but he still didn’t meet Merlin’s eye. Taking hold of his chin, Merlin tilted his head up.
“I’m game if you are,” he whispered. Arthur smiled shyly and Merlin closed the gap between them, kissing him softly.
The car never reached the airport.