Title: And One Day You Will Find Me
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: It's easier to hide and pretend nothing can touch you.
Warnings: self-esteem issues, anxiety, a bit of angst
Word Count: 827
Author's Notes: none
Ever since he was a child and was the last one to be found while playing hide and seek, Merlin's known he's good at finding hiding spots. Dark corners practically covered in shadows, secret doors and crawl spaces. Which should explain why he's sitting with his back pressed against a cold brick wall, between a shed and a jungle of exotics plants in the patio of Lance's parents house, and no one has found him yet. His thoughts remain undisturbed.
He exhales a breath he's been holding for too long, shakes from the cold. There are marks on his palms from where his nails dug too hard.
After his second beer he decided he needed air, but if Gwen had been anywhere near the moment he leaned close to Arthur to whisper in his ear he was going to the bathroom she would've glared--as much as she can--and told him he was just being paranoid about the pretty blonde thing who struck up a conversation with Arthur.
And she would've been right, he can't help it, sometimes he can't really understand why Arthur is with him. Why he would even want him out of all the people who practically throw themselves at his feet. When he sees his reflection in the mirror he only sees a skinny guy, nothing special, and he brushes his teeth with his eyes glued to the sink unable to look back up again.
There's a certain kind of anguish struggling to get out from between his ribs, presses in, knocks him out of breath until he's gasping. Until he's breathing in and out into his palms like he's done before.
The what ifs won't leave him alone though. The future looks like a dark tunnel and he can't see. There are many things and thoughts waging war inside his head.
He presses his open palm against his chest, massaging and inhaling to fill his lungs with air. Exhales in a shuddery gust.
It wasn't just Arthur, but the people around, the daunting task of keeping up with everyone else and talk.
The blonde only aggravated the situation.
He's calm down enough to consider going back inside, he reclines against the wall closing his eyes.
Sometimes the echoes of the kids who made fun of him, of his ears, his face, who called him odd are as real as Arthur calling him beautiful and he doesn't know if he should smile or panic, because it doesn't really make sense to him. Doesn't know how to believe every word. How to accept praise and the kind words his friends use to refer to him.
He can't help it. So he hides and can't breath and the noise in his head is loud as marching drums.
But he tries. Breathes in, breathes out. Remembers it's okay to fall apart, there is nothing wrong with feeling, with needing a moment to gather yourself.
Merlin counts seconds, minutes, waiting for the right moment he can go back inside without putting a damper on Gwen and Lance's engagement party And then he can ask Arthur to go back home with him.
He's feeling more calm, he's no longer trying to press every limb against his body to form a cocoon, his fists have relaxed and when he looks up and sees stars he thinks maybe they could walk all the way back home instead of taking the tube.
He hears his name being called followed by footsteps and he smiles, manages to stand up without hitting any pot plants and dusts off his pants. There's dirt clinging to him anyway when he finds Arthur in the middle of the patio, lighted up by fairy lights and his smile when he sees Merlin is toothy and bright. It twists Merlin up inside. But in a good way. Like perhaps he wants to see it for a long time.
"There you are. You left me alone. One of Gwen's aunts actually pinched my cheeks, I think she was flirting with me. Don't ever leave me," Arthur says in a single breath, pouting and pulling Merlin by his arm so they're standing chest to chest.
Merlin laughs, falling into Arthur arms, breathing him in. Dropping his forehead in Arthur's shoulder. Arthur wraps his arms around him, sways them back and forth. "I'm serious. You're not allowed to leave me."
"All right. I won't," Merlin mumbles against his shirt which smells like the soap at Merlin's flat, of coffee and carrot cake and Arthur.
"I'm going to make you swear and promise," Arthur says, drawing circles into Merlin's back with his fingers and Merlin realizes Arthur is doing his thing where he's trying to help. To calm him, without asking questions Merlin doesn't want to answer or stepping over any boundaries. He's just there. He's being Arthur.
"A pinky promise?"
"Obviously. There is nothing more sacred."
Maybe one day he'll run out of places to hide because he doesn't need them anymore.