It was the day after, and Merlin was in Spanish. Will sat in the back with Freya, and while his two best friends were busy giggling and blushing – Freya did that a good deal more than Will, though, considering she was, well, the girl – Merlin sat next to a guy called Dylan. They had never really talked much, though Dylan had, the very same morning, expressed genuine happiness on Merlin's behalf, since he had finally escaped Arthur's slavery. And that had been the end to their in-between-classes small talk. Merlin had never been a people person, and Dylan seemed rather afraid of talking too much to Merlin. People were still scared because of Arthur, he guessed. It would take some time before anyone – himself included – could manage not to think of him as Arthur's possession.
The teacher was babbling something about a project they were supposed to be doing, and something about putting them in pairs.
"Emrys, you'll be with Pendragon," he said in his rather monotonous voice. "Williams, you'll be with Farro, Tucker, you'll…"
Merlin stopped listening. Will and Freya shot him a concerned glance from where they sat in the back of the classroom, mouthing something about complaining about his pairing. Merlin couldn't help but agree with them. He should complain. Now that he'd finally gotten away from Arthur, he should just accept being thrown into a project with him. But some tiny part of him didn't want to complain. That tiny part of him that was governed by his heart, and that wouldn't listen to common sense.
But how bad could it be, really? He knew Arthur. To some degree, at least. The blonde would probably just leave him to do the project on his own. Then Merlin could turn it in with both of their names on the paper, and they wouldn't really have to talk at all. The closest he would have to be to Arthur was across the classroom.
The students all abandoned their seats to team up with their partners, and start discussing the project. Merlin saw Will through the corner of his eye, starting to make his way over through what suddenly seemed like a sea of students, but Arthur beat him to it.
"I'm not going to let you do it all on your own," was all the blonde said. He stared at the white plaster wall, refusing to look Merlin in the eye. "I'm going to do my part."
Merlin blinked, startled. What the hell was Arthur playing at? "It's all right," he said, a slightly bitter tone to his voice, though he tried to avoid it. "I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself. It'll be easy."
The blonde shook his head in reply. "No. You've done too much of my work for me already. You're not doing that anymore."
Merlin could only stare at the taller male, shocked.
"The others are too noisy, let's go to the library to work," Arthur continued. He then proceeded to make his way to the door, not checking to see if Merlin was following. Turning his head to look at Will, he saw an expression on the other's face that looked almost desperate.
I'm sorry, Merlin mouthed with a slight, insecure shrug, before turning to follow Arthur, who was on his way out the door.
"Is there something going on between Freya and that friend of yours?" Arthur asked once they were both safely out in the hallway. Merlin couldn't help but raise his eyebrows. First Arthur insisted on doing his schoolwork for himself, and now he was small talking. Merlin was temped to ask if he was feeling ill, because this was as unlike Arthur as it could possibly get.
"I think so," he said instead, not wanting to offend the blonde. "I hope so. They would make a good couple."
Arthur crinkled his nose. "I always thought you and Freya were going out."
If Merlin had had something to drink, he would have spit it out. Instead, his head only spun to stare at Arthur. "No!" he exclaimed. Then, calming his voice, he repeated, "No. We're just friends, always have been. She's… not my type, anyway."
There was something strange about the tone in Arthur's voice. Somehow relieved and disappointed at the same time. Merlin couldn't possibly understand what Arthur could have to be either relieved or disappointed about, though.
The assignment was easy enough. They had to write a paper on an important point in Spanish history – in Spanish, of course. Merlin really could have done it himself, but since Arthur insisted on working, for once in his life, they sat there, across the table from each other, working in silence. Arthur still didn't look at Merlin. He hadn't, ever since they stopped talking. Not when he thought Merlin could see, at least – Merlin still didn't know what to make of the poorly disguised glances from the day before.
Every once in a while, Arthur would glare at the wall behind Merlin, looking like he really wanted to say something, but didn't know what.
"How is the guitar playing going?" Merlin asked when Arthur did this for what must be the twentieth time, just to give the blonde something to talk about.
Arthur shrugged, his expression growing less frustrated. "It's going alright, I guess," he mumbled. "It's just something to do. To keep me from getting bored." The right corner of his mouth twitched slightly, in something that might (by Arthur's standards, at least) resemble a smile. "I tend to get bored a lot."
"So it would seem." Merlin kept his eyes on the textbooks, and he assumed Arthur was doing the same. "And the boxing?"
"Also something to do when I'm bored."
"Is there nothing that you're passionate about? You know, that you actually enjoy doing?"
Arthur hesitated before answering. Longer than he should have, Merlin thought. When he finally dared to look at the blonde, he appeared to be lost in thought. "Not really," he finally replied, an oddly sad tone in his voice.
Turning his eyes away from Arthur, Merlin glanced at the clock. "The lesson's almost over," he noted out loud. "We should probably head back to the classroom soon. You know, to collect our bags and all."
Arthur just nodded, and they gathered together their things in silence, before returning to the classroom.
"I do like music, though," Arthur said quietly as he stood with his hand on the door handle. "I like listening to it. I like the melodies." He hesitated, still just standing there, not opening the door. "The lyrics just always seemed empty and pointless to me."
Merlin wasn't really sure what to say, so he just mumbled, "Oh, okay." Arthur seemed to be satisfied with the answer, because he snapped out of his near-paralyzed state and opened the door.
Arthur looked as if he wanted to continue, say something more, but as the door opened, he closed his mouth, and resumed his bored expression. Merlin didn't really think much about it. Anything Arthur said at this point couldn't really mean much. It didn't matter. He'd gotten rid of the guy. Finally. And Arthur seemed to be doing just fine without Merlin, too.
The day went by in a blur, really. Merlin was just doing his work, paying attention in classes, and hanging out with his two best friends. And it felt great. It was just so easy, to not have to worry about Arthur, or having double the amount of homework, or his mother finding out he was being bullied again. It was great.
At the end of the day, he was standing by his locker, fetching some books. Will was waiting further down the hall, with Freya, by her locker, as Arthur showed up next to Merlin. He opened his locker, stuffed a couple of books inside, and then just stood there for a while, seemingly not knowing what to do.
"What's your type, then?" he finally asked, and Merlin could only raise his eyebrows at him.
Arthur stared intently into his locker, as if there was something extremely interesting inside it. "You said Freya's not your type. What is?"
"Oh. Well, you know... Nothing in particular. Just not her." His mind was completely blown, and all he could do was to stand there and stare at Arthur, hoping that his jaw wouldn't drop. He must look completely helpless as he stood there, eyes wide open.
Arthur still didn't look at him, though. He just stood there, still staring into his locker. Until he closed it, slowly, calmly, and was about to start walking down the hallway. He stopped for a second, looking at Merlin through the corner of his eye, mumbling, "Sorry."
"What for?" Merlin asked, but Arthur simply shook his head and continued to walk, not looking back. Not even once. Merlin stood and looked after him for a few moments, before he remembered that Will and Freya were waiting for him, and he hastily closed his locker and returned to his friends.
The long awaited 12th chapter. I swear, there is not a person in the world who is worse at updating than me. I've had this all written down and saved on my laptop for months, I just.. forgot about it. I'm so sorry!
Either way, chapter thirteen is in the making, and will be up as soon as I have finished (and remembered) it!