What's Past Is Prologue
The slow creak of the door jolted Merlin awake from his rather confusing dream about peanut butter and he looked to his left to see that it was half an hour earlier than normal. A soft click turned Merlin's attention to the figure gingerly closing the door again with his foot, laden with a tray with what seemed to have every breakfast item he could possibly have thought of.
"You made me breakfast in bed?" Merlin grinned, sitting up.
"What else for the birthday boy?" beamed the man who was now placing the tray carefully on the table.
Merlin smiled and rolled his eyes, "You make it sound like I'm an infant."
"Well you're so much younger than me that I get you confused with one sometimes."
"Then sleeping with me makes you a very sick human being." Merlin snorted, rubbing his eyes, "besides, I may be almost a year younger but I am more than an inch taller."
The blonde sighed and sat back in his place on the bed to kiss Merlin's neck, "twenty-six and you still leave me lost for words."
"Really? I can think of a very obvious three words you could say to me right now." Merlin smirked as he turned his face towards his boyfriend, causing their noses to brush together.
"I love you," murmured Arthur, tilting his head and kissing Merlin softly on the lips.
Merlin huffed a laugh, "not exactly the words I was thinking of but I never get tired of hearing them."
He leaned in for a proper good morning kiss and a smiling Arthur whispered "Happy Birthday, Merlin" against his lips.
A five year old boy sat alone in the sandpit. It was his first day at school and while everyone else played with their friends, he sat quietly and alone, playing with a small purple spade and watching everyone else laugh around him. The boy had unkempt black hair and very pale skin. His face was thin and angular and his eyes were a stormy, intense blue that looked more grown up than they should. He had long, thin arms and legs to match his face and wore scruffy clothes that didn't really fit. His name was Merlin.
Merlin had always been a lonely boy. He lived alone with his mother, who was loving and kind but rich only in heart. He had never known his father; his mother had told him he'd been forced to leave before she'd even known she was expecting Merlin and that is all she would ever say. Merlin didn't mind though, his Uncle Gaius was old and bumbling but had loved and guided Merlin for as long as he could remember and that was all Merlin needed.
Across the playground stood a handsome blonde boy with striking blue eyes and about ten other children desperate to be his friend. Arthur Pendragon was loved by everyone in the class the minute he'd arrived for the first time that day. Everyone had wanted to be his friend. Everyone, that is, except the dark haired boy in the sandpit. And this confused Arthur.
Arthur was, in contrast to Merlin, incredibly rich; his father owning a large law firm in London which Arthur already knew he was to work for when he was older. His mother had died two days after giving birth to him but his older sister Morgana, being ten years older, had always been there to offer motherly attention. His Father's wealth had always bought him the best clothes and toys a boy could hope for and it was for this reason, and perhaps his confident and almost regal presence, that he had children clammering to be in his main circle, even at that early age, and the two boys couldn't have been less alike.
Yet Arthur hadn't wanted any of the children simpering and giggling around him, he had headed straight for the solitary child in the sandpit.
"Why are you on your own?" he demanded and Merlin shrugged as Arthur plonked himself down in the sand opposite him, "Don't you have friends?"
"Really? I have lots. But I don't really like them. Shall we be best friends?"
Merlin's face contorted into a look of thoughtfulness before he shrugged again and said "Okay."
And, as five year olds have the ability to do, they became best friends just like that.
"So tell me, now that I'm twenty-six did you think I would develop the same mammoth appetite you have?" Merlin gestured to the tray which held eight different types of warm pastries, two pancakes, three yoghurts, nine different fruits, four slices of toast, butter, marmalade, jam of two varieties, marmite, peanut butter, three different cereal boxes, milk, five different juices, tea and coffee.
"Actually, I am impressed you got all that up here."
"Well I wasn't sure what exactly you would fancy for a birthday breakfast so I went down to the bakery this morning and bought one of everything and then added the things I bought last night."
Arthur was looking a little nervous in case he had forgotten something, though there was a distinct sense of pride in his eyes. Merlin couldn't blame him. In fact, he was trying very hard not to let the violent butterflies in his stomach manifest themselves into anything embarrassing, like tears. The blonde was working today so they couldn't spend the day together like they normally would, and the fact that his boyfriend had so obviously wanted to make up for that made Merlin feel a surge of extraordinary luckiness.
Or, you know, something less sappy. But whatever, shut up, it was his birthday and it was early.
Normally he would have asked for the one thing Arthur hadn't brought with him on the tray, just to watch Arthur's face fall before laughing and reassuring him he was joking. And maybe it was because he was older and more mature or maybe it was because of the overwhelming love coursing through his veins at the thought of Arthur caring that much but for once Merlin just kissed Arthur firmly on the lips and whispered a quiet, "thank you."
Arthur's sixth birthday saw the boy excitedly running downstairs at seven o' clock in the morning to stick up the banners he had drawn the day before. They were mostly coloured scribbles with his name written every now and then with a '9' next to it (numbers had never been Arthur's strong point in primary school) but to him they were works of art. Morgana had baked him a cake the night before and sorted out some party bags and nibbles for dinner so that Arthur could have a party.
Uther had invited the children of all the upper class men he knew from work and made sure all the wealthy boys and girls from school were coming. When Arthur had said Merlin's name Uther had been a little displeased but saw no reason to ban the boy. Even he didn't mind who his son was friends with at six; that friendship would never last anyway.
When everyone was there they played most of their games in the garden. Uther watched from the window as Arthur seemed indifferent to the rich sons and daughters of his friends and purposefully missed the scruffy, thin boy when he was it; looked under his blindfold to catch him when they played blind man's bluff and save him the seat next to his for dinner and pass the parcel.
When Arthur came into the house to use the bathroom, Morgana joined Uther by the window to watch the others in the garden.
"Who's the dark haired boy? The one with the girly cheekbones?"
"Oh, that's Merlin. He is, without a doubt, the loveliest boy I have ever met. Honestly,sweetestlittle boy. He and Arthur seem quite inseparable. It's adorable."
"Hhmm...isn't he the one from the council estate near the school? He obviously doesn't have two pennies to rub together."
"Oh, Father, so what? They're boys, leave them be."
She rolled her eyes but stopped as she looked wide eyed out of the window. The other boys, lead by Toby Valiant – the son of Uther's best man, had started jeering and laughing at Merlin, who seemed to have no one on his own side. Uther was sure he heard the words 'everyone hates you' before Merlin had shouted something back. Toby hit Merlin hard in the eye and Morgana gasped and turned to hurry outside, but she was beaten to it.
Arthur was sprinting out the door as fast as his young legs could carry him and before either of them could do anything he had thumped Toby back and thrown his arms around a crying Merlin, shouting at everyone to go home.
"So come on then," said Arthur as he drew the tray closer with a flourish and poured Merlin a coffee, "What are you going to do with yourself until I get out of the office?"
Merlin sipped his coffee and gave a grunt of approval before putting it down and reaching for a croissant.
"Well, I might go into the hospital anyway this morning to say hi to Gwen and the others. I know Gwen's been on a thirty hour shift now they're short on nurses and Will asked if I could pop over for him to give me birthday wishes and offer him some company, what with Sigan working today."
"Company? Is that all he asked you for? Company and birthday wishes?You'll be getting more than that if he gets his way,"Arthur grumbled as he buttered some toast but added quickly at the glare from Merlin, "Oh, come on! He's always hated me!"
"Yeah, because you're a prat!" answered Merlin, hotly.
"Because you're gorgeous and he'd be mad not to be jealous."
Merlin, who had been glaring at Arthur, smiled despite himself and hit him lightly on the arm as he bit into his toast triumphantly. The dark haired man mumbled a late retort about Arthur being the mad one before tucking into his croissant, barely taking one bite before the phone rang shrilly, making Arthur jump about five feet in the air (in a manly way, of course).
Merlin's mother, Hunith, was thrilled the day that Merlin came home after his first day at school raving about a friend he'd made. He had always been a lonely child and this Arthur seemed like a lovely boy from what her son said. And he said a lot about Arthur. Every day he would come home, beaming about something Arthur had said or done or a game they had played and so when Merlin asked if Arthur could come with them on their annual trip to the fireworks at the park for Guy Fawkes night, she was more than happy to agree.
Arthur came round sometime in the afternoon and the boys played in Merlin's small room for a couple of hours. Hunith had been a little ashamed to let Arthur see their house after all she had heard from Merlin about his huge house and rich family. But of course, as a six year old child, Arthur wouldn't have cared a bit if his best friend had lived in a stable.
They had a McDonald's for dinner, something which Arthur had never had before and enjoyed immensely, then made their way to the park. At one point Arthur turned to Hunith with confusion and asked,
"Why don't you have lots of money?"
Hunith smiled at the blonde boy, "I just wasn't born into a rich family, love."
"Oh. Well I was. Later I will ask my father if he can give you some of our money because we have lots. Then we can all have lots."
Hunith laughed, "I don't think it works that way, I'm afraid."
Arthur frowned at this before nodding his head at her as if she were stupid, "Yes it does. Father's always saying that it's good to share."
And with that, he smiled smugly at the thought of solving all their problems and started nattering to Merlin again about what kind of super powers they would like.
The fireworks were brilliant. Merlin had always loved them, loved watching the millions of colours bursting into the sky like magic, loved hearing the exciting bangs and whistles and cracks of fire, loved watching the shapes and patterns in the sky. He laughed excitedly as one firework changed colour and turned to Arthur to see if he thought it was cool as well.
But Arthur was standing slightly hunched and shaking a little, with tears in his eyes. He jumped as another firework went off and Merlin frowned.
"Arthur, why are you sad?"
"I'm not sad," said Arthur, lifting his chin and squaring his shoulders, but his voice was small.
A loud scream came from the air as a massive explosion shot gold sparks overhead. Arthur let out a little yelp and, sniffing now, shuffled closer to Merlin and whispered,
"Merlin? Can I hold your hand? I'm scared."
Hunith smiled as she watched her son and his best friend clasp hands tightly and watch the fireworks. She felt her heart swell at the sight of Arthur starting to laugh and gasp at the beautiful display and laughed as he enthusiastically recounted his favourite shapes on the way home, jumping up and down with excitement and asking to come with them next year too. It wasn't until they reached Arthur's house and Uther ushered him in with a polite nod to Hunith that the boys finally dropped hands.
"Merlin! Happy Birthday, love! Do you feel older?"
"Thanks, Mum, not really. How did you know I was even awake this early? For all you know, you just woke me up from a birthday lie in!"
Hunith chuckled, "I spoke to Arthur yesterday. He told me all about what he has in store for you today."
Merlin's eyebrows shot up.
"What he has in store?" He enquired curiously, turning to look questioningly at Arthur who tried (and failed) to look innocent.
"Oh don't worry; it isn't anything over the top or showy. He was just telling me what your present was. He there?"
"Yeah. Yeah, he's here," smiled Merlin as Arthur shifted to sit behind him and wrap his arms around his waist.
She chuckled, "Hello Arthur, love. Did he like the breakfast?"
"He did. I even think I saw a tear in his eye!"
Merlin scoffed, "You did not!" and both his mother and boyfriend laughed fondly, even as Merlin pouted and reminded them they had to be nice to him today. Arthur kissed his cheek and nuzzled his hair in apology and soon enough Merlin was sighing,
"Fine. Arthur's forgiven."
"Oh well that isn't fair! I bet all he did was bat his eyes at you a bit then pout. If I did that you would laugh yourself silly and then remain in a sulk."
Merlin laughed and continued to discuss with his mother his plans for the day while Arthur gave him a last squeeze before taking an apple off the tray.
On Merlin's sixth birthday, Morgana said she would take them to the park. After being woken in the early hours of the morning by a rather over-excited Arthur, she allowed herself to be dragged to the shops beforehand to help him buy a card with a badge, a muffin and a '6' candle. Arthur insisted on presenting the cake himself and when Merlin opened his door, Arthur had sang 'Happy Birthday' so loudly that the neighbours came out of their houses to see whose birthday it was and joined in, all the while thinking Merlin was a very small nine year old (Arthur had put the candle upside down on the muffin but Merlin really didn't mind).
They played on the swings the most. Merlin said they were his favourite because he felt like he was flying and they played a great game where they were dragons who saved the world. They ran from the see-saw to the slide to the swings to the roundabout over and over again until they were out of breath and laughing manically; partly because they were having so much fun but mostly, of course, because their latest adventure had involved taking laughing potion (which was actually apple juice which Morgana made them drink).
When they were too tired to run around they returned to the swings, each trying to swing higher than the other. Soon enough they were the only ones left and Morgana was sitting on the bench a way off, talking on the phone. They were swinging gently now and Arthur had been thinking.
"Merlin, why don't boys marry boys?"
"Obviously because boys don't wear dresses. You can only get married if there's a dress."
"Oh. Well I'm going to marry you anyway."
The second Merlin hung up he turned to Arthur, "What are you up to?"
Arthur feigned a hurt expression, "Why must you always assume I'm up to something?"
"Because you always are." He rolled his eyes, "I tell you every year I don't want a big party or a fuss made over my birthday and I always tell you not to spend too much on me."
"I know! And I haven't this year!"
Merlin raised his eyebrows.
"I haven't! I know you don't like it when I make a fuss or buy you the best presents money can buy because of some misplaced sense of unworthiness you have, but this year there is no big party and nothing too expensive."
"Too expensive? Arthur!"
"Well I wasn't going to buy you something boring or cheap like a scarf of anything. You deserve more than that. Don't worry though, it isn't something most people can't afford."
"What, like that ridiculously expensive Kindle Fire you bought me last year?"
"Did you or did you not love that? And do you or do you not carry that with you everywhere?"
Merlin, admitting defeat, started on a bagel while secretly elated that Arthur seemed to care so much.
The primary years flew by for Merlin and Arthur, being best friends the way only young children can be – unconditionally and devotedly. They argued and bickered and once in year four they didn't speak for a week, but they were otherwise inseparable.
In year five Merlin decided he fancied Anna North, who he sat next to in maths, and during a thrilling class game of truth and dare one playtime, found out she fancied him too. They were dared to kiss so they did and for a week decided they were 'going out'. The fact that they never talked nor saw each other outside of school nor even had any kind of contact except that kiss during truth or dare soon meant the excitement of having a girlfriend wore off for Merlin. It also didn't help that she had called Arthur a prat. Only he was allowed to call him that, after all.
In year six Arthur got the lead in the school play. Merlin went to watch it every night and clapped extra loud when it was Arthur's turn to bow. They went to have pizza afterwards as a well done and they ended up having a food fight and getting told to leave. They thought this was hilarious.
One afternoon, in the summer after they left primary school, an eleven year old Arthur arrived, red eyed but stiff lipped at Merlin's door.
"Hey Merl, what you doing?"
"Nothing much. Mum made some lemonade, wanna come in?"
"Nah, I gotta be back home in a minute," Arthur sighed and looked at his feet. "Just came over to ask if you wanna stay over at the weekend. Apparently this is the last weekend I'll actually be home."
"What d'you mean?"
"You know the school I'm going to next year? Knightston? Well,apparently myFatherthought it would be okay not to tell me until just now that it was a boarding school. So I came over to tell you because this sucks."
Despite the feeling of dread spreading through Merlin, he kept his face neutral until Arthur had to go back home. Then he shut himself in his room and cried.
When the tray was considerably less full (mostly down to Arthur) and the blonde was dressed for work, the two sat at their small, wooden, kitchen table as Merlin read out the day's headlines from the newspaper and Arthur fidgeted around trying to find a pen to jot down anything that may help him in any cases.
"So, you going to the hospital this morning?"
"Yeah. Reckon I'll have lunch with Gwaine over in Kensington. He asked me over to see his new bar this afternoon anyway. Why?"
"Just… do you think you could get to the park by five?"
"The park? Why? You'll be off by five?"
"You'll see. I'll make sure I am whether I'm done or not."
"But surely Uther – "
"My father can stick his disapproval somewhere the rest of us don't have to hear about it."
Merlin rolled his eyes and looked at the clock.
"You'd better go if you're going to catch that train and I need to get dressed if I want to catch Gwen before she finally gets off."
Arthur glanced at his watch and sighed. He grunted in agreement before faffing around some more trying to find his keys, then his phone, then his wallet. When he'd finally pulled on his coat and shoes he leant down to frame Merlin's face with his hands and kissed him gently. He drew back a little, smiled his goodbye, placed a small kiss on his nose, winked and was gone; leaving Merlin to grin giddily – just like every morning.
They started off writing to each other once a week. Their letters were long and rambling and held very little intellectual conversation, but they were as all twelve year old letters would be, about everything and nothing but exciting and important because it was contact all the same.
Then Arthur got Merlin a mobile phone for his birthday so they could text. The texting brought an end to the letters and saw shorter more sporadic messages. Sometimes they would go for a week or two without contact and then suddenly have hours worth of text conversation. Soon enough the text conversations became rarer and rarer until they only ever texted unless something really interesting or important happened.
They made other friends. Merlin found himself to be actually quite popular with his charming smile and friendly nature. He made fast friends with Will, who was as opinionated and tactless as Merlin was considerate and Gwen, a shy girl who had a tendency to put her foot in her mouth. Soon enough they saw each other only briefly during the holidays when Arthur came home and by the time they had caught up with everything that had happened, promised to keep in touch and remembered just why they were best friends in the first place; it was time for Arthur to leave again and every time it was as painful as the last.
Merlin walked past the hospital's front desk a little apprehensively in fear of them roping him in for another shift but thankfully made it past without drawing attention to himself. He waved at Freya as he past who wished him a happy birthday and blew him a mocking kiss. He grinned and pretended to catch it and she called after him, "Better not show that to lover boy!"
He turned the corner, still chuckling and saw Gwen leaving the nurses' station looking exhausted.
She turned round and her tired face brightened as she hugged him tightly when he reached her.
"Oh happy birthday, Merlin!"
"Thanks, Gwen. Good shift?"
"Like hell it was but how're you? Missing Arthur yet? You have been apart for about an hour now."
Merlin pulled a face at her and she giggled,
"I can still function if he isn't here you know. Sometimes, we even act like adults."
"Oh well I'd love to see that some time. Anyway come on, what did he get you?"
Merlin sighed. All of his friends waited excitedly for special occasions, if only to see what fancy and expensive present Arthur got for Merlin. Though they were always things Merlin loved and used, he always felt inadequate when he couldn't match up to that expense for Arthur's presents. He shrugged.
"I don't know. He's giving it to me when he gets off work. He did make me breakfast in bed though. And I mean everything you could ever want for breakfast."
"And what percentage of it did he eat?"
The two friends laughed heartily for a while before speculating about what the present would be. Finally Gwen, who was nearly asleep on her feet, bid him farewell and signed out. Just before she left she pressed a small package into Merlin's hands
"Sorry it isn't much. We can't all be brilliantly rich like Mr Perfect."
Merlin waited until she had left to open it, as per her request, and smiled as he removed the wrapping and saw the small photo frame with Gwen and himself beaming at the camera, holding identical acceptance letters into St John's hospital.
When Arthur was sixteen he got a call from Morgana. She had only just got back from her year in America and was calling to give him all the news of home.
"Oh and Arthur, guess who I saw yesterday?"
"Ha ha," she deadpanned, "No, you moron, Merlin!"
Arthur's breath hitched but he didn't know why.
"Merlin? How is he?"
"Never thought I'd say it but, Arthur, he'sgorgeous! Seriously he must be over six feet tall and has cheekbones to die for! He has seriously grown into himself since I last saw him, I tell you, if I were ten years younger..."
"OhMorgana, I really don't need to hear what you'd do, thank you. And surprisingly I don't care what he looks like, how is he?"
"Well, we didn't have a chance to talk but from what I hear he has a girlfriend now. Freya Milton, pretty girl. They are apparently almost inseparable."
Arthur felt his stomach twist painfully and a sharp stabbing in his chest made him clench his fist tightly. He put it down to the dinner he had just eaten and ignored it.
"Well...good for him, I guess."
Unbeknownst to him, Morgana smiled sadly.
"Oh, baby, I'm sorry."
Arthur frowned confusedly, "What? Why?"
Morgana sighed and rolled her eyes.
"You really are thick, Arthur. I'll talk soon."
And she hung up. Arthur was confused for the rest of the day.
The doctors' lounge was normally quite empty, what with there being too many patients needing care for many doctors to be off at any one time, but when Merlin walked into the small sitting area, he was surprised to see about ten people in there.
"Emrys!" sneered Sigan as he strode forward and clapped him on the back, a little too hard. Merlin tried not to grimace, both at the harsh slap on the back and the company but he was soon saved.
"Merlin!" came Will's voice from the other side of the room and he hurried forward to hug him, grinning. "Happy birthday, mate!"
The rest of the lounge started a rousing chorus of happy birthday, as conducted by Will, who seemed to have produced a thermometer out of nowhere to use as a baton. When the song finished, Merlin took a bow and after some more pats on the back the room fell back into the quiet hum of conversation as everyone else carried on their daily business.
"Come on then," sighed Will, "What did Pratdragon get you this year?"
"Shut up, Will. I mean it. I don't know yet."
Will snorted, "He hasn't given it to you yet? Bet he just forgot the lazy, rich bugger."
"Look, if you're going to just stand here and insult him then I'm going to leave." He raised his eyebrows in question until Will scowled slightly and mumbled an apology. Merlin sighed. "Look, I don't know why you hate him as much as you do but it's my birthday. Can you just go today without being snarky?"
Will looked slightly crestfallen and ashamed of himself and nodded reluctantly.
"Okay, I'll be nice. Only for you, mind." He smiled and handed him a lumpy package that had been lying on the sofa. "Don't get too excited about it but I know you're always cold. Probably because you have no fat on you!"
Merlin unwrapped a navy woolly jumper and laughed. It had a golden 'M' on the front which was a little wonky and Merlin could just imagine Will sitting at home with his boring grandmother, swearing to high heaven every time he made a mistake.
"You knitted? You actually knitted?!"
Will shrugged, "yeah. Well I couldn't contend with the loaded boyfriend so I thought I'd do something more personal. You don't have to wear it or anything, it was just a thought…"
But Merlin had already taken off his coat and put the jumper on over his T-shirt.
"I think it's brilliant."
Will's ears went very pink.
A couple of weeks after that particular phone call, Morgana saw Merlin walking through the park, hand in hand with a pretty girl with long, dark hair. She beamed at him as he waved energetically at her across the green and made his way over. When he reached her she pulled him into a hug which he returned happily. He turned to the girl with him,
"Freya, this is Morgana. I've known her since I was five. Morgana this is my girlfriend, Freya."
Freya raised her hand in greeting but looked a little suspicious. Morgana laughed a little.
"I know what you're thinking but I'm ten years older than the both of you and Merlin and I only know each other through my brother, Arthur. He and Merlin were best friends."
"Still are," said Merlin and Morgana smiled to herself.
"So, how is he? And you and Uther?"
"We're all fine, thanks. Father is his usual grumpy self."
"How was America?"
"Fantastic actually. Met a guy about a month into my stay and we've been together ever since."
"Oh wow, really? I'd like to meet him sometime. And Arthur?"
"Good, I think. Has a girlfriend, finally. Sophie Sidhe. Foreign I think."
"Oh," Merlin's smile fell a little, "that's weird. He always said he'd only ever really fall for a Brit."
Morgana laughed, "Fall? Merlin, I give it a week. I think Arthur gave his heart long ago and just won't admit it."
With that she waved a goodbye and left without another word. Freya bombarded Merlin with questions about who Arthur was and what Morgana meant. But Merlin stood still, brows furrowed and heart, for some reason, hammering.
Arthur banged his head against his desk after he finally finished a very long phone call with a very boring client. He looked at the clock again and groaned.
"Oh come on, Pendragon, you're not still watching the damn clock are you? You know it won't make it go any faster."
"Yeah, Arthur, what's got you in such a hurry anyway?"
At that moment Morgana swept into the room. It caused Arthur to wonder, yet again, whether she had the miraculous power to smell an opportunity to annoy Arthur from a mile off.
"Oh don't you all know? It's Arthur's boyfriend's birthday today and he's longing to get home to his loving arms."
"Oh it's Merlin's birthday?" smiled Leon who, ever since Arthur brought Merlin to the office Christmas party three years ago, had become totally enamoured with the dark haired man. What made it annoying was that he seemed to think of him more as a puppy than an actual human being.
"That's why you want to get home so badly today? God, you're such a girl, Pendragon!" laughed Percy in a teasing way that caused Arthur to roll his eyes and chuckle.
Morgana leant down behind Arthur and threw her arms around his neck and mock glared at Percy. "Aw, leave poor Artie alone…he's all sad without his Merlin to huggle"
Arthur snorted as the rest of the office 'aw'ed at him, and Mordred only narrowly dodged the pen Arthur laughingly threw at his head after he'd made loud kissy faces in his direction.
It didn't last long. Soon enough the office fell silent and Arthur turned to see why. Uther Pendragon, head of Pendragon Inc., was standing at the doorway looking murderously at Arthur. It was common knowledge to everyone who worked there that Uther hated his son's relationship with Merlin. Whether it was primarily because he was poor or because he was a man was not entirely clear but it was certain that neither were redeeming features in Uther's eyes. He glared around the room at the workers who had hurriedly gone back to work and sneered at Arthur as Morgana straightened up and swept out of the room again.
"I suggest you get back to work."
Arthur figured it out long before Merlin. When they saw each other that summer he realised just how deep he was the moment he saw his friend's face again. Morgana had been right, he was exactly the same only so different. His wide smile almost took Arthur's breath away.
At eighteen they started the same university – Arthur had stood up to his father and demanded he make his own way through university so he could join Uther's work on his own merits. Of course, the fact Merlin couldn't afford a posh university had more to do with it than anything.
The day that Arthur appeared at Merlin's door with his acceptance letter to the same place was the day the past seven years seemed to fade into insignificance. Merlin had laughed loudly and pulled his friend into a hug – which Arthur had been reluctant to pull away from.
Once more they were the inseparable best friends they had been as children, only with less time to pretend to be superheroes. Will, who was studying medicine like Merlin, despised Arthur from the start – a feeling that was returned whole heartedly and most people could see exactly why. Most people excluding Merlin, of course. He spent weeks trying to get them to act civilly around each other before conceding that keeping them as far away as possible from each other was both safer and more pleasant for everyone.
Neither Merlin nor Arthur kept girlfriends for long; Merlin because they quickly grew tired of having Arthur everywhere they went (glaring daggers at them when Merlin wasn't looking) and Arthur because he knew perfectly well who his heart really belonged to.
Gwaine was beckoning him over to a small table near the bar. He already had a couple of portions of chips on the table and a pint each. They clapped hands over the table as Merlin sat down opposite him.
"This is a nice place, Gwaine! The decoration isn't even the clashing disaster I imagined it was going to be!"
"Ah, the gay man likes the interior design. I must be doing well."
Merlin snorted as he grabbed a handful of chips.
"Hey, don't eat too many, I bet Arthur'll take you out for some ridiculously expensive seven course meal or something. Best save some room."
"Nah, after last year he won't be doing that again."
Gwaine snorted and leant forward eagerly,
"So come on then. What – "
"I don't know," said Merlin irritably, "he hasn't given me my gift yet so I'm sorry but you can all just wait until tomorrow's dinner to find out."
Gwaine grinned, "So everyone else has been just as interested to see what it'll be this year? Well you can't deny, mate, he gets you some cracking presents."
"Yeah, I get it. They're expensive and flashy and way out of my league."
"No," said Gwaine with a roll of the eyes, "I mean every single one shows just how much he must know and love you."
At Merlin's blush, his friend snorted again and threw an envelope at him across the table.
"Happy Birthday, Merlin. You big girl."
A group of nineteen year olds sat around a table in the student bar, laughing and drinking. It was early November and they were out to celebrate Lance being the newest member of the university's athletics team. He had been going to tryouts for weeks.
During a lull in the conversation, a mousy haired boy with large shoulders leant over to Merlin and asked loudly,
"So, Emrys, you coming to the fireworks at my place tomorrow night? You can come too Pendragon."
Merlin chuckled at Arthur, who was a little taken aback at being asked somewhereafterMerlin. He shook his head, still grinning.
"'Fraid not, Racksley, I've gone to the ones at the park ever since I can remember."
But Arthur was staring wide eyed at Merlin. "You still went every year?"
There were confused looks around the table and even some smirks from the more perceptive ones as Arthur looked touched by this seemingly unremarkable statement from Merlin. After a minute or two, Racksley coughed and the two looked away from each other. He raised a questioning brow at Arthur, who struggled for a minute to remember what had been asked. Then he smiled.
"Sorry, Owen. I'm going to the park."
"I've only got one more letter to write and I can do that at home tomorrow!"
"No, Arthur and there's an end to it. You will stay here until your work is finished just like everyone else. You already have tomorrow off as it is."
"And I will finish off my work then!"
"Father, I need-"
"Don't you dare try and tell me that you need to be home to see your...to see him just because it is his birthday.I employ you to work to my times, not to choose when to come and go just because of some phase you're going through that makes you think you are in love with some nobody you met who, apparently, you can't be without for more than a couple of hours. Now you will go back to work and you can leave when that letter is done and on my desk."
Father and son stood at opposite ends of Uther Pendragon's office; one with a sneer of disgust and the other almost crimson with rage. Outside, the three people from Arthur's office and Morgana stood listening to the conversation, silently cheering for the younger of the two.
Arthur took a breath and spoke through gritted teeth.
"First of all, Father, his name is Merlin as you bloody well know. Second, this so called 'phase' has been going on for almost ten years if that's what being in love with him is. Third, you call him a nobody again and related or not; my boss or not; I will not forgive you for it and last,"
He took a step closer to Uther and lifted his chin in defiance,
"He is the man I love and you have done everything in your power over the years to give us as little time together as possible. But today is his day and I will not stay here another second. Now even if leaving here right now would get me fired, I would go ahead and do it but as it is,"
He pulled out a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and slammed it onto the desk,
"This here is my contract and it states quite clearly I can leave whenever I damn well please as long as I get the work done which was assigned to me by my case leader. Now, this case has been completely my own and run by me, as you said in the meeting two days ago and therefore I, as the leader for this case, say my work for the day is done. Good day, sir."
And with that Arthur strode from the room, laughed at the awed and jubilant expressions on the 'passers-by' outside, winked at Morgana who had flashed him a thumbs up, swung on his coat and marched out of the building to catch the 4:30 train to the park, leaving behind a speechless Uther.
They hadn't stood in that park together to watch the display in eight years. As primary school boys they had stood clasping hands every year to stop the young Arthur being too scared, but at nineteen they just stood quietly side by side, smiling up at the night sky littered with glistening colours and shapes.
"Merlin?" Arthur whispered.
"You think it would matter terribly if I held your hand?"
Merlin chuckled and looked his friend in the eyes.
Arthur grinned but then nodded with exaggerated wide eyes. Merlin laughed and turned away with a roll of the eyes to look back at the fireworks but he tangled his fingers with Arthur's all the same. Arthur was incredibly grateful to the fireworks for capturing Merlin's attention so that he didn't notice the violent blush spreading across his cheeks.
After five minutes or so, Merlin said in a poor attempt at nonchalance,
"You know we look like a couple? Standing here like this?"
"Would that really be a bad thing?" Arthur asked quietly.
Merlin's head snapped to the side to stare at Arthur. He had turned his body fully to be facing Merlin and was looking very much like he regretted what he'd just said but was now determined for an answer. Merlin swallowed and just like that everything made sense: why Arthur always looked at him the way he did; why he had never liked any of his girlfriends and why his touches always lingered. And just as suddenly everything that Merlin felt slotted into place too: whyhenever liked any of his girlfriends; why his heart always hammered when Arthur smiled at anyone else and why it leapt when he smiled at him.
Arthur was looking increasingly miserable as Merlin's wide eyed silence continued. Finally he smiled and squeezed the blonde's hand.
"No. No it wouldn't."
Arthur sighed slightly in relief and dropped eye contact but Merlin continued,
"Actually, I think it would be bloody fantastic."
Arthur had never smiled so wide or felt so giddy.
Morgana, who had been standing a couple of yards away with her boyfriend, smiled gleefully as she watched her brother finally lean forward and kiss the man he'd been pining after for years and laughed as she picked up the phone.
"Father?" She grinned as Arthur's hands tangled themselves in Merlin's hair and Merlin pulled him closer by the waist, "You owe me a lot of money!"
It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon by the time five o' clock came around and Merlin sat on the park swings they used to play on when they were young. He grinned as Arthur came strolling into sight, still wearing his coat even though it was really rather warm. He leant over to kiss the blonde softly as he sat on the swing next to him and for a while they talked lightly about their days (Arthur taking great pride in the fact he stood up to his father the way he did). The conversation soon lapsed into a comfortable silence and Merlin looked expectantly at Arthur as he wrung his hands nervously. Finally he looked at his boyfriend of almost seven years, his hands shaking slightly, and asked,
"You remember when we were here twenty years ago?"
"For my sixth? Yeah. I remember."
For a while Arthur was quiet again but eventually he exhaled slowly and cleared his throat. Merlin looked at him quizzically.
"Merlin, why don't boys marry boys?" he asked quietly, smiling slightly. Merlin laughed and answered in a high voice,
"Obviously because boys don't wear dresses. You can only get married if there's a dress."
Arthur smiled softly but didn't laugh. Instead he pulled out a small black box from his coat pocket and knelt in front of Merlin, eyes full of two decades worth of memories. Merlin's breath hitched.
"Well –" Arthur's voice cracked and he coughed, "Well...I'm going to marry you anyway."
His voice was soft, barely audible, but Merlin would have known what he'd said nonetheless. Many times had his mind replayed the conversation they'd had as naive six year old boys. He stared at the hopeful man kneeling in front of him – holding out a simple silver band to him and begging with his eyes for him to say those two syllables he'd once said twenty years ago.