Title: Natural Occurrences in Order of Need to Live
Wren Hightower, who I may owe my life to at this point
Word Count:
~5000 words
Does Excessive Fluffiness count?
Written for a prompt over at livejournal on at kinkme_merlin and the picture can be found here: http:/www. azuzephre .net_-_The_Art_of_Jeff_Thomas/Pon_and_Zi .html#31 (remember to remove the spaces :D)
Also, this was meant to be two or three pages. I'm not sure how it got to be so long...

Summary: Arthur has a list in his head of Reasons Why He Loves Merlin. There are currently 327 reasons on that list and they include things like, "He looks slightly deranged when he smiles" and "He buys me little plastic knights to go with my collection" and "He once brought home a stray cat and tried to hide it in his room without me finding out".

Reviews are love. Please enjoy!

Natural Occurrences in Order of Need to Live:
[1] loving Merlin
[2] breathing

Arthur loves Merlin.

He knows this. Everyone knows this. He knows everyone knows this.

He knows Merlin doesn't know this.

Merlin is the only one who doesn't know this.

Those are pretty much well established facts that Arthur rehearses in his head everyday on his way to class.

He has a list in his head of Reasons Why He Loves Merlin. There are currently 327 reasons on that list and they include things like, "He looks slightly deranged when he smiles" and "He buys me little plastic knights to go with my collection" and "He once brought home a stray cat and tried to hide it in his room without me finding out".

He also has a list of reasons why he shouldn't ever tell Merlin of the above list. There are nine things on this list. And one more list of why he should tell Merlin about the first list. It only has one reason – "So that I can stop feeling like a bloody coward" – and that reason is not worth risking his friendship over.

Arthur's loved Merlin for as long as he can remember. So long that he actually can't remember how long. He can always remember loving him. It's part of him, been there so long that he can't imagine not loving Merlin.

And it's so easy to love Merlin. Everyone loves him. Because of his deranged smile that could either blind you or lead you to believe that he has some sort of mental affliction. But not both. It'seasy.

Or, at least that's what he tells himself when Merlin bashes his head off the wall (purposefully) and starts whinging about a girl named Freya in his psychology seminar.

"Arthur, she's scared of me," he says, now rubbing at his forehead which has a small red mark where it made contact with the wall.

"Did you grin at her?" Arthur asks, completely serious. "Because you know what that does to people."

Merlin glares at him and then bites his lip, "Maybe? But I was trying to be nice."

Arthur looks at him, remembering how easy it was to love Merlin when he was eight years old and Morgana had tried to steal Merlin's attention away from him when they were building sandcastles at the beach. He proceeded to push her into the water and Merlin pouted in a way that made him apologise, even if he didn't mean it. Which reminds him exactly how nice Merlin is and also how he is ridiculous and loveable and Arthur wants to smish him.

"You're like a puppy," he says instead and refuses to explain that statement.

It wasn't easy when they were fifteen and Merlin had seemed like the thickest person ever when he had asked Arthur's advice on how to get Gwen to go out with him. Arthur's jaw had dropped open and to cover for himself he ended up saying, "She'd never date you," in a way that was meant to be joking but came out a lot more serious than he intended. Watching Merlin's face fall had made his heart constrict. He never wanted to experience it again. (Gwen and Merlin had ended up dating for almost a year and Arthur couldn't even hate Gwen for it because she was brilliant and wonderful - he honestly wanted to just squish her with love sometimes. The break-up was mutual but Merlin was so sad to see her with Lancelot a week later that it made Arthur want to punch him in the face.)

It isn't easy now either to watch Merlin mope around their flat, consuming more chocolate than is humanly healthy. Arthur half wants to point out that Merlin's going to one day die of diabetes (which would be dismissed around a mouthful of sugar) and half wants to yell at him, "I'M RIGHT HERE!"

Because he's pretty sure even Freya knows that Arthur loves Merlin. And they've never met.

But then he finds a plastic knight on his dresser with a purple post-it note stuck to its tiny, little feet. Arthur has to squint to make out what Merlin wrote because his writing is small and cramped.

Found this and thought of you. ALL HAIL KING ARTHUR!
Now, if only I could find a magician action figure. Do you know how difficult it is to find a proper magician action figure? Then you'll have an Arthur and a Merlin! :D

And he actually wrote the grinning face.

Arthur looks at the tiny sword in the knight's hand and feels himself fall in love with Merlin all over again.

The sad thing is that this happens daily.

"Are you all right?" Lancelot asks him (because Arthur forgave him years ago when he realised that it was better for him that Gwen was in love with Lancelot and not Merlin. This very probably made him a horrible person. Besides, they learned to bond over their mutual love of footie).

"… Yes," Is Arthur's delayed answer.

He's very busy, thank you very much, spying on Freya who is sitting three tables away from them reading a very thick paperback book. She's pretty – long brown hair, big eyes, and Arthur will grudgingly admit that she and Merlin would look good together. He checks it off his mental list.

"You're doing it again, aren't you?" Lancelot asks, deadpan.

"It's not my fault that Merlin dates below his level. Someone has to make sure that …" He trails off when he sees the look Lancelot is giving him. Oh yeah, he remembers. "I didn't mean Gwen," he says weakly. "I meant more like that creepy girl who followed him around last year and then tried to viciously attack him in the rain."

Lancelot raises an eyebrow. "Nimueh?" he asks. "Merlin dated Nimueh?"

"He's too nice, I'm telling you," Arthur says.

They both shudder.

And okay, that's not how it really happened. But she did stalk him for most of the year and, while she was disturbingly pretty, when Merlin came home soaking wet with what looked like a terrifying hickey on the side of his neck, for the sake of his own sanity, Arthur had to tell himself that 'Merlin was viciously attacked'.

Before Lancelot drags him (actually, physically grabs his arms and drags him) out of the coffee shop, he manages to tick two more check-boxes off his list of Things One Must Have to Date Merlin. One – Freya reads thick books (which he's sure is a good thing) and Two – she seems to be generous if the tip she gave the waiter was any indication (that or she can't count, which would have been a definite strike against her).

Merlin doesn't, obviously, know that Arthur has these lists in his head (though he does make fun of Arthur's habit of leaving to-do lists lying all over the flat, only half done). If he did know (which he didn't) he would have protested that he was very capable of choosing who he dates by himself (which he wasn't).

If he was capable he would have never gone and tried to court Morgana during their first year of university. It was like trying to force a bunny to be friends with a ferocious man-eating lioness. It could never have ended well.

When he unlocks his door the first thing that he sees is Merlin drinking milk straight from the carton and his brain splutters, 'No, no, no, no what –what are you doing?' but he manages to keep from saying anything quite like that. "Do you, perhaps, know where the glasses are located, Merlin?" he asks.

Merlin grins and sets the (probably empty) carton on the counter. He's wearing his head phones and listening to his iPod which tells Arthur right there that Merlin has no idea what he just said. He also has a milk moustache and Arthur twitches as he represses the urge to wipe it away with his thumb.

He finds it distressing that a milk moustache can be endearing.

While Merlin went out on dates frequently, Arthur didn't really go out with anyone. He was okay with that because the only person he wanted was Merlin. He reasoned with himself that it was a good thing everyone knew he loved Merlin because it meant they wouldn't bother him about having a girlfriend/boyfriend.

Because, if Arthur was honest with himself, there was no good reason why he wouldn't if he wasn't all ready in love with Merlin.

Well, mostly they don't bother him. Morgana is a special exception.

"You should tell him," she says for the fifth time in ten minutes. That's once every two minutes. Arthur wants to strangle her.

"You sound like a broken record."

Morgana huffs and goes back to making him a cup of tea. "If you don't then he's just going to end up with Freya," she warns, like Arthur doesn't already know this. "And trust me, that relationship will probably last a while."

Arthur mentally draws a line through Morgana approves on his list.

"Are you listening?" she asks, violently setting his tea down in front of him. Tea splashes all over the table and Arthur looks down at it, frowning. He doesn't have a cloth and Morgana seems happy to just leave it there.

Arthur glances back up at her at her. "No," he says honestly and Morgana shakes her head. "Look, it doesn't matter. If he's happy with Freya, then he's happy with Freya. That's all I want, really."

Morgana looks at him like she's about to say something that will be incredibly sappy and may damage his pride. He likes to keep the sap locked inside his head where it can't escape when possible, so he clears his throat and changes the subject. "What do you think Gwen wants for her birthday?" he asks because no one knows Gwen better than Morgana.

"How should I know?" she snaps and Arthur stares at her, thinking that maybe he isn't the only one who has problems. So he shuts up and drinks his tea, letting Morgana prattle on about her psych course that focuses on dreaming.

When he gets home Merlin's passed out on the couch, his biology textbook squishing his nose where it lies open on his face. Arthur shoves his feet over, sits down, and takes the book away, wincing a little at the drool.

Merlin is wearing his earphones. Arthur could tell him. He could tell him right now that he loves him and Merlin would never hear. He opens his mouth but doesn't say anything. Instead he tugs on one of Merlin's ears and Merlin flails awake, limbs everywhere, until they manage to both bump foreheads painfully and end up in a tangled heap on the floor.

"Ow," Merlin says, apparently content to stay on top of Arthur, and despite his growing headache Arthur really kind of wishes he wouldn't.

"How do you have such a hard head?" Arthur asks, gently pushing Merlin away.

"Mum says it's because I'm clumsy. I have to have something to compensate." Merlin sits up. One side of his hair is all tufted up and for just a second Arthur allows himself to wonder if Merlin's sex hair looks similar before he clamps the lid shut on those thoughts.

"I can believe that," Arthur responds dryly, smirking slightly. Merlin once walked straight into the side of a building because he hadn't been paying attention – too busy talking on his cell phone instead of using his eyes to watch what was in front of him. Arthur had laughed hysterically on the other end of the call. "Remember the time you fell down the stairs at Lance's and Gwen's anniversary?"

Merlin frowns, trying to fight a grin (number 102 on Arthur's list of Reasons Why He Loves Merlin: he's willing to make fun of himself on occasion). "That's not fair," Merlin says, the frown losing out in favour of the grin. Merlin's face only seems to know how to frown for so long. "You know I can't hold my alcohol. It was your fault anyway – Gwen entrusted me to you, you know."

Arthur laughs, "Not my fault your balance dissipates when you have one drink. You only had one drink!"

Merlin sticks his tongue out. "It was a strong drink," he maintains sulkily.

It isn't uncommon for Arthur to walk into the kitchen and find a crumpled up piece of notebook paper taped to the cupboard or the breadbox that reads, Hi! Look under the sofa cushions! When Arthur looks under the cushions, he'll find another note telling him to go look in the mirror/under the sink/behind the TV – one time it was under Arthur's mattress. When he finally finds the last note, it says something along the lines of Awe, look, you made it to the end! Hope this cheered you up!. How Merlin knew in the first place he was in a bit of a mood was beyond Arthur because he thought he was rather subtle.

He keeps all of the little notes in his day planner, which is usually in the front pocket of his backpack and hopes Merlin never, ever finds them. But he can't bring himself to throw them away.

There are a lot of things in his day planner that he hopes Merlin never, ever finds. Sometimes he thinks about getting a lock for it but then it would feel too much like the diaries Morgana had when she was younger with the Disney princesses on them and the little keys she wore around her neck.

He has a picture of a couple years ago that reminds him of when they were seven. It was at a costume party and he'd convinced Merlin to go as a magician with the whole ensemble – the hat and robes and wand. When they were seven, Hunith had made Merlin's costume herself but the hat was too big – red with giant feathers coming out of it – and it would have slipped right over Merlin's eyes if it hadn't been for Merlin's ears (number 4 on Arthur's list of Reasons Why He Loves Merlin: Merlin's ears). The wizard's hat in the picture – blue with shiny stars this time – looked about the same with Merlin's sticky-out ears holding it up.

He's grinning in the picture, doing some fake magic with his wand. Arthur knows he still has the magic set Arthur got him for Christmas when they were twelve hidden under his bed. It's been there since Merlin figured out that magic didn't really impress girls. (It impressed Arthur though.)

He keeps the pictures together at the back of the day planner.

He's staring at the breadbox where there's a note taped, written in sparkly gel pen (Arthur thinks Merlin probably accidentally stole this from Gwen, who likes those types of things) and seriously contemplating stabbing himself with the fork in his other hand. All he wanted was a piece of toast.

But he follows the instructions because he has an inability to deny Merlin anything (even, apparently, when he's not there) and finds himself sitting on the floor in front of Merlin's backpack, holding the last little note and staring at the glittery writing. In his other hand is Freya's phone number. There's a little less than three hearts on it in the same gel pen. He guesses it wasn't Gwen's.

That's it, he decides firmly because Arthur Pendragon always makes firm decisions, he's going to tell Merlin because Merlin was very clearly too thick to realise on his own and, while Freya passed his checklist with flying colours, it's obvious she isn't right for Merlin. There was only one person who is and that's him.

And besides, if it turns out that Merlin definitely doesn't return his feelings, he can always blame it on Morgana.

He had wanted to time it all out carefully but in the end, like most things, it doesn't go to plan.

He's so terribly nervous that he has twenty new things to add to his list of Reasons Why He Shouldn't Tell Merlin About The List Of Reasons Why He Loves Merlin. It's not like he thinks he's going to ruin his friendship because Merlin wouldn't care about that – he'd likely feel really bad for Arthur and damn, now he has twenty-one new things to add.

Merlin's at his laptop with his tongue between his teeth, doing something for his chemistry class that's basically lost on Arthur, and Arthur fiddles with his perfectly normal blue pen. Merlin still insists on writing with the sparkly one.

He tries to concentrate on his text, highlighting the sentences that stand out and trying not to get highlighter all over his fingers. It takes the tip of his pen breaking off and ink exploding all over his work to make him realise how hard he's pressing on the paper. Right.

"I'm in love with you," he blurts out of nowhere without even looking up from his text. He wants to kill himself instantly. His face is turning red - he can feel it. "I mean, like … you know," he says helplessly.

He ploughs on only because he has to, squeezing his eyes shut. "You're kind of, like, amazing and you leave me notes – I keep all of them – and you gave me a wizard action figure to go with my Arthur one so that we could have a Merlin and an Arthur and you once rescued a kitten from an alley and brought it home and hid it in your wardrobe because you couldn't bare to see it hurt and you use sparkly gel pens. Your smile is – and your eyes and you don't laugh at me when I'm in a bad mood like Morgana and Lance and you can do magic. You are magic –" Arthur cannot believe he just said that.

"And I've loved you forever but I never told you." He swallows, "I know you like girls but you've never actually told me whether you like guys too so…"

After a few seconds of silence in which Arthur thinks - oh, my God, he already knew and was trying to make it not be awkward, he forces himself to look up.

He sees Merlin sitting at his laptop, with his tongue between his teeth, working on something for Chemistry, like Arthur hadn't just laid his heart bare for Merlin to stomp over. He's wearing his earphones and humming slightly to the music – how Arthur didn't realise that, he doesn't know.

He knows his mouth is hanging open because that did not just happen. Like Merlin can sense Arthur's gaping at him, he looks up and smiles and it blinds Arthur momentarily before he can manage to shut his mouth. Merlin pulls one of the ear buds out. "You know," he says, grabbing his bio text and staring at it suspiciously, "I think I must have spilled water on it because the page I was working on is all wrinkly."

There's silence and Arthur blinks. "You drooled on it," he says like he didn't just confess a secret he'd been keeping for basically his whole life.

Merlin frowns, fighting a smile again, and flushes slightly. "I'm such a loser," he laughs.

Arthur has to get up and leave the room.

Everything goes back to normal. Or as normal as it had always been at least.

There's that week two weeks later where Arthur basically survives on peanut butter sandwiches and coffee because he has a final that he feels completely unprepared for, and when Merlin manages to look up from where his nose is practically glued to his textbook, he force-feeds Arthur what he calls "real food" (aka take-away Chinese food).

Arthur thinks Merlin's noticed the perpetual cloud of doom that hangs over Arthur's head (and yes, he knows he's being completely overdramatic, but it's easier to laugh at himself than not to) because he leaves him some more scavenger hunts that Arthur does not do and notes that Arthur does not keep and Arthur finds coffee in the morning, waiting on the counter with a sticky-note attached to it baring an obscenely large smiley face.

The morning of his exam he drinks the coffee at the sink (and it is way too strong because Merlin is apparently incapable of making coffee) and thinks maybe he should let Morgana set him up on a date with someone else. The thought is odd, since she'd been offering since secondary school and he hadn't ever actually considered accepting.

It's not like he's never dated before but he's never had anything that's lasted longer than a week and nothing concerning sex that's lasted beyond a night. He's never had a real relationship beyond friendship and he doesn't know if he wants too.

He entertains the idea anyway because obviously he has to get over Merlin. Well, not get overhim because he's pretty sure that's impossible, but at least find a way to work around it. He'd like to not be pining for the rest of his life.

The fact that he can admit to himself that he's pining makes him sigh.

So he makes a list on the back of the sticky note:

Things to-do:
1. Write Exam
2. Call Morgana
3. Get Gwen a Birthday Present

And then for good measure, he writes himself a reminder on the bottom:

Dear Self,
Get on with your life and tell Merlin to ask Freya out because you know you can't.
Love, Arthur

He looks at it in satisfaction for a moment and then considers scratching the note to himself out.

The problem, though, comes when he looks up at the clock and chokes on his last sip of coffee. If he doesn't run he's going to be very, very late and then he'll fail his exam. Hastily, he slaps the sticky on the front of his day planner, scrambles for his backpack, and basically sprints out the door.

Arthur concludes when he gets home that his life is apparently like a soap opera. Those ones Morgana watches all the time with Gwen. They sit there all huddled and laugh as the poor male characters get amnesia or suddenly have an evil twin or die a long cancerous death and somehow come back to life two months later.

Or leave some important document that no one was supposed to see, ever, out in the open for anyone to see and then have the most important person who you were hiding the document from in the first place stumble across it and think, 'Oh, this looks like good reading material...'

Arthur doesn't manage not to hyperventilate as he watches Merlin look up from his day planner and smile at him. "I wondered why this was so thick. You've always been a bit of a pack-rat, haven't you?"

Arthur wants to snatch the planner away from him because it's his and he doesn't want Merlin to see it; even if Merlin had heard him he wouldn't want Merlin to see it. It is stupid and ridiculously sentimental. The trouble with that is that his feet seem to be super glued to the ground.

He manages to say, "Er..." which he finds completely inadequate to express the phenomenal amount of panic he's feeling at the moment. Also: how is it that he got so many words out accidentally when Merlin wasn't listening, but now that he is his mind is coming up blank? It's really not fair.

Merlin holds up the sticky with the happy face on it and smiles a smile Arthur's never seen before. That scares him. "What's this?" Merlin asks innocently.

Which isn't fair either because how can Merlin be both sneaky and innocent at the same time?

"That's a sticky note," Arthur answers, finally managing to move forward and pull the planner out of Merlin's hands. Merlin grips harder and Arthur tugs and it goes flying, crumpled notebook paper, a rainbow of sticky notes, and a bunch of photos showering down around them.

"Thank-you," Arthur says dryly (because has no idea how to handle this situation) and kneels down to attempt to gather it all up again. Merlin sits cross-legged in front of him and grins so broadly that Arthur is torn between hitting him and hiding in his room, curling up under the covers, and never, ever coming out again because he doesn't understand.

"So, I should ask Freya out," Merlin confirms, still grinning and Arthur cannot believe that this is happening to him again. That cannot seriously be what Merlin took from that note.

He looks at Merlin. Merlin's smile has dimmed to something softer now and Arthur still doesn't recognise it. He knows the expression on his face is probably ridiculous but Merlin's not laughing.

"You're never going to, are you?" Merlin asks and Arthur still doesn't understand. "Morgana said - but I guess not."

"What -" Arthur starts.

And then Merlin kisses him, leans forward and presses his lips to Arthur's, takes Arthur's bottom lip between his. Arthur's too shocked to respond. He doesn't even get to close his eyes. Merlin pulls back after a few seconds and smiles lopsidedly, saying, "You know, usually this is a two-player event." Then he kisses him again.

Arthur's brain is telling him to respond but his mouth seems to have cut all contact with that area and he still doesn't manage to react in time to keep Merlin from pulling away. He's frowning now. "No, seriously," he says, "If you don't kiss me back, I'm going to stop because this is just getting awkward."

There's a pause before Arthur jerks forward and fits his mouth over Merlin's. Merlin's lips are slightly chapped but he totally doesn't care at all because then Merlin's moving closer, one hand at the nape of Arthur's neck, threading his fingers through Arthur's hair. He has to break away to breathe.

Merlin's grinning again, looking so happy that Arthur tries to kiss him again but misses and gets the corner of his mouth instead. Merlin laughs, "Please, please say that we're going to go into your bedroom and have sex now."

Arthur shudders but manages to keep himself under control. "But - Freya and ... how come I was supposed to be the one who said something?" That's really not what he wanted to say but it worked anyway.

Merlin makes a noise of disbelief (and honestly, Arthur thinks he's pretty entitled to this curiosity) and tugs Arthur up with him. "Because," he says, "I am about as subtle as a hurricane and wasn't sure whether... you know. Morgana said you did but then you never said anything, ever, and I wasn't going to, like, wait forever."

"But -" Arthur says and he is this close to asking about Gwen but that was years ago and maybe Merlin hasn't felt this way forever like Arthur has and Arthur decides that it doesn't matter. Instead he says, "I did tell you, you know."

Merlin looks confused, like he's trying to remember a time when Arthur said those words. "... Are you sure?" he asks.

"Last month. We were studying and I... said that I -" he makes a funny, small choking sound that he's immediately embarrassed by but he's not used to saying it out loud - "love you. But then I looked up and you had your headphones in."

"Oh," Merlin says and bites his lip, "was that when you told me I drooled on my page? Because that wasn't very nice."

Arthur rolls his eyes and runs his thumb over Merlin's bottom lip where he was biting at it. Merlin licks it in a way that is completely un-sexy and makes a face at him.

But then Merlin's hauling Arthur toward his bedroom (why Merlin's bedroom, Arthur doesn't know because Arthur has the bigger bed) and Arthur decides it really, really doesn't matter anymore.

Arthur feels sticky and it's vaguely uncomfortable but then Merlin moves and rests his chin on his chest and Arthur decides he's pretty okay with that right now.

"So, you keep everything," Merlin says.

Arthur rolls his eyes, "Just everything important."

Merlin smiles playfully, "And you carry it around everywhere with you."

"Oh, says the person who carted around a stuffed bear named Beary for half his childhood," Arthur retorts without any heat. They've had this conversation before.

Merlin fakes his astonishment that Arthur would bring that up. "I was five! You're not allowed to hold that against me."

"Merlin, I had to move it out of the way so I could lie down."

Merlin pouts and Arthur pets him (because now that he's allowed to touch, he can't stop).

Arthur now has 789 things on his list of Reasons Why He Loves Merlin but he won't say what they include because they're just for him (and he takes his secrets very seriously).

They fall asleep like that, tangled together, in the middle of the day and Arthur only awakes when he hears his phone go off beside his ear. The first thing he thinks is, I didn't have my phone there. The second is, Merlin's not here.

It's a text from Merlin. He's very confused.

Had to go to my exam :(
Look under the bed!

Under the bed is his day planner and there is a series of post-it note tabs sticking out along the side, fixed to the next fresh page in green, pink, blue, orange, red, and yellow in that order. They read:

Just so you know,

I love you too.

And you better keep these notes.

xxxxo, Merlin

(ps. Gwen and Lance said

they found a stray puppy... ó.ò)

And he actually wrote the face.