AN/ I've always wanted to write a Merlin AU, simply because some of them are so amazing and I love experimenting with a fandom. I've got a half finished rough draft of an AU I started a while ago and still haven't finished, but the urge to finally get something posted was inspired by an ongoing fic called Inevitability by AllyEmrys. I urge everyone to go and read it because the way it is written is simply beautiful.
This fic is quite experimental in terms of style, so if it is absolutely atrocious, please review and tell me.
Disclaimer- Merlin is the property of the BBC and Shine Television.
"They say a few drinks will help you to forget her
But after one too many I know that I'm never
Only they can see where this is going to end
They all think I'm crazy but to me it's perfect sense.
Sometimes love's intoxicating,
You're coming down, your hands are shaking
When you realise there's no one waiting"
Nothing, The Script- Science and Faith
He's so drunk now and the rain is drawing lines down his skin, and he vaguely considers that he's going to be sick as a dog in the morning with the hangover. But Merlin's had one too many, and thoughts are useless now because he's tired of thinking about him and thinking about the them that isn't even a them any longer , and the unnecessary thoughts are doing nothing to help the pain in his chest that even alcohol isn't managing to block out. And his friends have told him to leave this topic back in his empty flat, that Arthur's not worth it, that he doesn't deserve having one more thought about him, but Merlin's a bundle of drunken cares now and he's thrown them all away in a scattered pile on the road, screaming his complaints at the rain and the sky as he trips on the curb and ends up kneeling in a puddle with his trousers soaking in the muddy water. His voice stops shouting , but his heart keeps going; howling and yelling how life is so damn unfair and he didn't realise how unfair it was till now. Strong steady hands are dragging him up, a comforting hold with comforting hands, but he has the urge to push them away, to tell them to leave him alone because he wants to lose himself in the downpour. A nothing kneeling in the gutter with the rain and the night cloaking in, drenching him to the skin.
But he's getting pulled up back onto his feet and he's stumbling down the roads with his two comrades by his side, talking to him in a constant drone that's lost in the pattering feet of the rain. They're staying something about going home, about how he just needs to lie down, that this anger and rage is just the alcohol talking. Yet he doesn't pay any heed to what they're saying, listening instead to the rain and his own anger saturated in drink, and his fevered mumblings get louder until he's shouting Arthur's name with violence in his heart. Screaming at him to get out of his head, begging him to come back, and really there is little difference between the two. He wants them both the same.
Then he stumbles again, tripping over his own feet with his clumsiness and intoxicated steps, but Gwaine catches him with quick reflexes and soft hands. Says "steady" with kindness in his heart, and Merlin wonders why the hell anyone would put up with this. Why they aren't fed up of him being so angry over a man who left him, of looking after their dark-haired companion who so obviously can't function with the change just like he can't function with the alcohol sloshing around with its high concentration in his system. And he's murmuring sorrys like they're going out of fashion, and then tears, sudden and bold, are mixing with the rain and he's asking why, why of all the men he could have fallen in love with did it have to be that prat, why did it have to him, why, why, why. And Gwaine tells him how life's a bitch and sometimes you just get a bad hand but all these words crawling in the broken silence means nothing,nothing at all, and Merlin wants to scream again with the futility of it all, before he realises he wants to throw up the contents of his stomach instead of the shouted words he has planned.
He retches suddenly, someone holding his head steady , a different voice speaking now, he thinks it's Lancelot, who is holding his hair away from his face while he chokes and cries and dry heaves his sorrow into the gutter. And Merlin croaks out that it hurts, that it still hurts, and the murmured reply is that he knows , that he understands. But Merlin can't possibly imagine that someone else can know what this feels like, choking on his misery, and feeling like he's bringing his heart up with the alcohol and the little he's eaten recently.
He waits till he's finished and then he staggers away again, wondering how many nights he's going to do this to himself, destroy himself from the inside just so he's got control over his own suffering in the way that Arthur doesn't. And he's back on his drunken ramblings now, telling them that he's going to take a short cut, that he's going to go to the house that the two of them shared and throw stones at the window or pound his fist on the door and get Arthur to open up so he can have it out with him, and although it's nearly three in the morning, he hurts so much now that he doesn't care and it makes perfect sense to his mumbling rambling mind. He'll go down to Arthur's house, the flat he lived in half the week till recently, and punch him or yell at him or snog him, he hasn't quite decided, but right now he's so desperate that any of the above will do, just so Arthur has listen to him, and if Merlin's there in all his pathetic drunken glory he'll have to listen, and if he tries to shut the door, Merlin'll just block it with his foot, and he hasn't really thought past that point but does it really matter?
Merlin's telling them his plan but they're pulling him along , telling him it's for the best that he just goes home, that he just calms down and forgets about the heartbreak. And he's crying and struggling and Jesus ,when was he such a mess as now, and why the hell does that idiot deserve his tears because all he's ever done is push him around and away and direct his eyes at whatever piece of skirt that walks by. Merlin always felt second best at every moment of those careless looks, but then there were those days when it felt like forever and it was all breakfast in bed and gentle smiles and passion that was un-rushed and lazy that made him feel magical in every bone in his body. As though he could stop time or set things alight with merely a touch and everything was cast in a golden glow like sunlight that encompassed everything, except now that glow is gone, extinguished when they had their last fight. It wasn't about anything really, but it was when he thinks about it, and what hurts more is when he remembers that it was his damn fault.
One lie, one little cover-up, not telling Arthur about one little tryst with someone before even the man came on the scene. One month of whirlwind passion with Will, a man Merlin hasn't even seen in nearly two years, who swept him up with roses and weekends of impulsiveness when they just bought a train ticket with the possibility of ending up anywhere, of adventure. And then it just ended. Parting on good enough terms, but they never kept in touch. But no, apparently it matters because Merlin didn't tell him, even though Arthur flirts and passes around smouldering looks to beautiful women like glasses of champagne. And the truth was unearthed by way of ancient text messages from long ago, that Arthur found while borrowing Merlin's phone, because the man was so forgetful that it was endearing. Never remembered anything, not his phone nor car keys if Merlin wasn't there to chase after him with a laugh and a kiss before he went to work. So damn forgetful that he forgot that texts can be old, that they aren't meant any more, forgot that his boyfriend was so damn in love with him that he would never do something like that, or maybe Merlin didn't tell him often enough , or told him so many times that he stopped noticing. And the subsequent argument was a catalyst for a miserable night of shouting at each other from across the room, moving close into each others faces or keeping a restrained distance. The outcome was the same whatever Merlin did. And thoughts of Arthur are so bold and clear ,akin to a car slamming into him if he just took one tumbling step off the curb and into the road, and would it matter if it did because no-one would miss him and that pain, the aching hurting breaking in his chest would stop, and it would just be nothing but peace and the glaring headlights - the lights of some sort of heaven- and the screech of tires like a monotone of his failing heartbeat . And then the silence.
The steady grip is still there, leading him and holding him as he drags and scuffs his feet along the pavement, afraid of going home to his lonely rented home that's got nothing personal in it, the faded wallpaper the choice of the previous owners and damp setting up camp on the ceiling in the kitchen, boxes of things he hasn't unpacked from moving out standing vigil around his bed- the sofa he brought from a Saturday market which smells of dog hair with creaky springs. He doesn't want to spend the night alone, because he's afraid of what he'll do, try and call Arthur's mobile again even though he knows he wont pick up, or whether in his bleary head, he'll decide that taking a paracetamol for the headache will be a good idea, except he wont remember how many he's taken or how many he's supposed to or whether it's a bad idea to have alcohol and painkillers at the same thing. And what if that happens and nobody is there to see him do it, or to stop him and he'll just be a note in some coroners diary and no-one will notice . And he'll just fade away into nothing.
But he trips in over his porch step, and Gwaine unlocks the door for him with a key he can't remember handing over, and gives a quiet apology to the landlady as she asks why they're back so late treading mud on her welcome mat. Merlin wonders whether it's a sign of how pathetic and weak he is that all his knight in shining armour has to say is Arthur's name and she nods, understanding.
Lancelot's there by his elbow to help him up the stairs, and all the while he's trying not to throw up or think about anything other than how many stairs there are even though he's lost count. Someone switches on the light of his living room as they carry him to the sofa, one arm round each of their shoulders and help him off with his shoes, and he's too tired to feel useless now as they help him under the blanket that serves as a duvet for the moment, tucking him in like he's five years old and afraid of the monsters. Someone , he thinks it's Lancelot, flicks off the main light to leave him with a night light to chase away the darkness, and he says in a scratchy voice from heaving and crying and screaming to please not leave him here alone. And Gwaine smiles down at him and pushes some hair off his face like he would do a younger brother, and tells him of course, tells that's what friends are for.
And Merlin manages a faint motion that vaguely resembles a smile, quick and darting and gone in a fleeting moment, in response as he drifts into an uneasy sleep.
He opens his eyes and regrets even awaking to the world. There's a rhythm behind his eyes, the clattering and clanging of pans behind his vision and he groans like the dead and tries to bury his head further into the indent in the pillow. There's sounds around him but honestly he couldn't care less , not sure if he wants to bury himself back in the blanket around him and pretend the world outside doesn't exist , pretend that there might be someone there to smile at him when he wakes up despite the fact he knows he'll be waking up alone like he has been every morning , or whether he wants to drag himself out of bed , all gawky limbs and tripping over the frayed carpet edges to try and hunt down some paracetamol or ibuprofen or something to clear the hangover that's building in his head. He's had these nights before, but it was better in the time before as everything else was; when gentle hands would pass him a glass of water and place two magic tablets of painkillers in his palm with a smile and an admonishment on his lips. Arthur saying that he was an idiot for drinking so much with a laugh as Merlin tries to throws a pillow at him or just gives him the famed glare-of-death as he downs the proffered pills and tries to keep a straight face, tries not to give into the blue puppy dogs eyes he's getting and then at some point a crack appears, some weaknesses that is exploited mercilessly and he ends up pinned to the bed by the body over him, giggling from the fingers trailing over his ribs because he's always been so damn ticklish and Arthur knows this by the way he's torturing him ,and he won't let Merlin up , their bodies pressing together so close that the morning inevitably turns into a long but not enjoyable space of time in which they can just kiss and hold . And even though Arthur's never been big on that sort of thing, he always seems to be ok with it around Merlin, and when it begins into the more serious territory that Arthur is more interested in, the kisses probing deeper, the touches becoming more intimate, Merlin doesn't hold back because he's really not going to complain when Arthur is touching him like that and making him glow again.
Thinking about Arthur isn't doing any good, and Merlin wants to be drunk again for a moment, lose himself in the hangover so he doesn't have to think about things like that; things that slice, things that cut and hurt like he's reducing into something that isn't him any more, a fake pastiche of Merlin who looks like him ,with dark hair and lanky features but who doesn't have anything that made him what he was, no quick smile and no spirit in his eyes. He has lost all those things, and he cannot remember at what point he realised they were missing.
The voices in the corridor have quietened and he assumes that unless the burglars are quite civilised- the end of London he's living in isn't the best, but at the short notice it was the only place he could find- Gwaine and Lancelot are still here. He decides not to move for the moment, doesn't want to, doesn't see the need to because he has nothing but the hangover and the silence and the empty void awaiting him when he wakes up, so why can't he have his fairytale for a moment, his bubble of contentedness with no context or reminders that he can hide himself away in. Yanking the blanket back over his head with lazy hands that protest with goosebumps as they access the cold air outside, he tries to lose his memories and concept of time in his dozy half sleep.
Yet it's disturbed by someone speaking outside the door, and his hangover's building and he feels kind of nauseous now that he thinks about it and , and he wants to groan again but just keeps perfectly still , a part of him wanting to hear what's going on as the voices outside get louder, permeating through the thin walls so that he can hear them.
"Let me in" , the first voice says , determined like he's desperate and Merlin cringes at who is speaking, because why the hell did it have to be him, today of all todays that he could have dragged his sorry ass back into Merlin's life , and why can't he just go away so Merlin can be lost in the nothingness again and not have to think about real things, bold and bright reality in the world outside . Reality hurts , reality lies and cheats and steals things from him and he just doesn't want to know any more.
"What are you doing here?" Lancelot sounds surprised, but another voice cuts in lower, deeper; Gwaine.
"Crawling back because he finally realised what he's missing" Gwaine ,the champion of Merlin's cause, who had to tell him a million times every drunken night that Arthur wasn't worth it, that Merlin could get someone so much better for him, Gwaine who stood by Merlin every time Arthur didn't, the stoic friend that Merlin imagines that he doesn't deserve.
"Look, I know I've been an idiot -"
"Too bloody right" Gwaine interjects again and his tone is all bottled up anger and restrain, something Merlin really only hears when a fight starts up at the bar because some jerk's had too much to drink and has decided to hit on Gwen- a work friend of Merlin's who would never even look at another man if Lancelot was in the room- or has decided to start on Merlin because he looks a bit too weedy to defend himself and a bit too well dressed and surrounded by female company in Gwen and Morgana to be straight. And obviously that's a problem somehow for certain people until Gwaine steps in and gets involved , because Merlin and Gwaine have been friends for a long time now, long before Arthur or Lancelot and he generally only waits out of courtesy for the bruiser to say something out of line before he takes that as a green go light and throws the first punch . Merlin really can't remember how many bars they've been thrown out because Gwaine the valiant knight had to defend the honour of one of his friends.
"Just let me see him" Arthur's voice is quiet, resolute, and Merlin is imagining that he's got part way through the door enough to jam his foot in to stop it closing, because when Arthur wants something, he usually gets it through persuasion or serious argument. He isn't going to be going home with a no, even if he'll be camping outside of the door until Merlin or Lancelot lets him in. And Merlin's' resolve isn't up to much these days.
"Not after what you've put him through"
"I know I did wrong, but I want to make it right again"
"What, and I'll get to pick up the pieces again after you've decided that you've tired of him?" Gwaine the angry, Gwaine just as resolute and stubborn as Arthur is and in the suddenly not so safe area of his sofa, Merlin hopes that this isn't going to come to a bar room brawl acted out in his front entrance , mostly because he doesn't want to see either of them getting bruises over him, but also because the landlady will kick him out if that happens, no matter how much she smiles at him in the morning when he goes out to the corner shop on errands for her . She's really strict on the whole disorderly behaviour thing, and if there's a chance that her quiet dark-haired tenant is going to bring more of his fights back home, then he might have to find another place to stay. "You left him. Over some stupid little thing that you blew into some sort of conspiracy against you." The anger is a seething one now, deep breathing following up his sentences like he's trying to keep control "I've seen what you did to him with your callous words,and I will not allow it to happen again."
"Please Gwaine. You know I didn't mean that to happen"
"All I know," replies the cold voice , a frozen-over volcano that threatens to become active again "is that I had to be there when he stayed up crying over you, when he went out and tried to drink himself under to try and forget you, every time he told himself it was his fault. And I didn't mind doing that, because he's my friend, and he's done the same for me over the years, but if you think I can allow you to do that all over again when he has the chance of moving on from you -"
"I love him" Short sharp words that stab Merlin before caressing him and he can't breathe or doesn't want to because then this might not be real and he needs it to be , wants it to be. "I don't know if you can understand that but I've been such a prat, such a stupid idiot and I didn't realise how much he meant he meant to me till I slammed the door in his face and told him that I didn't care. And I know what I did, and I know that there's no chance in hell that he'll take me back. But if there is the slightest chance, even the slightest, I want to try because I'm not a quitter and to be honest , he's worth fighting for. I can't explain what it's like to you so that you'll understand, but he makes me feel complete , and if I have to fight my way past you to go see him, so be it" The challenge in his voice is loud and there and solid and even Merlin in the next room can envisage the man by the door. The ex-soldier who's so used to war, who is now tackling a different affront with the same methods of stand and fight, to defend what he deems important . And the idea of the violence in his tone mixed in with love and affection and loyalty and all those things you read about in fairytale and children's stories that gets destroyed in the real world with screaming tabloid headlines about betrayal and lies and divorce and greed makes Merlin's head spin , and the nausea introduce itself again.
The creak of the door and it must be opening wider because the hinges are screaming and the floorboards whine as some new welcome stranger walks upon them, and words are trailing out through the poorly plastered walls and under the closed door to bleed into Merlin's ears, forcing him to hear, even though he's not sure yet if this is what he wants.
"Let him in" A softer voice- Lancelot. Lancelot the kind, Lancelot the peacemaker, who is friend to all, who sounds like he is putting his hand on Gwaine's shoulder, telling him to back down. And Gwaine does because Lancelot wouldn't say it if he didn't mean it and the two are close to know that Lancelot must believe this will come to good if he's allowing Arthur in.
"He's in there" Gwaine barks with no preamble, growling his words out like a territorial animal. He's backed down but his hackles are still raised, challenging Arthur the same way the beta challenges an alpha in the pack for dominance. "But if I hear one whisper that you're doing more damage in there , I will not hesitate to kick you out. That understood?"
"Crystal" Arthur replies, and then a sound of a smile injected into his words, humour where there shouldn't be. "It's good he's got you, Gwaine. I think he's deserves someone like you more than me"
"You know full well that it's not me he wants, it's you...And besides, I'm his friend. I don't want anything else. So hurry up and get in there, princeling. I want the old Merlin back as much as you do" The growling is back, but jarringly a nickname, one that Merlin used to use for Arthur when his prattishness reached new levels; becoming a codeword for him, a little inside joke that Arthur probably understood referred to him.
And then the door knob is twisting open, Merlin all wound up too tight like a watch with his cogs straining against the unavoidable snap, the hinges moaning akin to the doors in slasher movies, where the idiot victim spends too much time staring and screaming to save themselves from the grisly death that's ahead, except Merlin never watches them because he was always too much of a coward .Anyway, the surrounding are missing the dramatic music in the background that signals the impending doom, the deep oboe or the quivering viola and Merlin's thoughts are going around so fast as though he's drunk again ,so that he can't think, his thoughts swirling like multicoloured lollipops that you buy at fairgrounds or spinning tops or Catherine wheels and he feels as though he has vertigo from merely the motion of sitting up to stare wide eyed at the opening door, the sick feeling starting its revolution again.
Finally the pivoting of the door is complete and in walks a familiar stranger, the man who might kill him or cure him while he's here, who looks more tired than he did when Merlin last saw him . He's had his haircut and Merlin's not sure about the new shorter length but it suits him in a laddish sort of way, blond hair dipping down to fringe over his forehead. He hasn't brushed it this morning, and indeed his whole attire is as though he has just pulled on what he's found on the bedroom floor, jeans lacking the usual belt accompaniment and his t-shirt buttoned up in the rushed way that insures that the wrong buttons are pushed through the wrong holes so that one side of cloth is unevenly long compared to the other. Arthur, strangely, doesn't look like he cares. With his poorly buttoned crumpled shirt that probably hasn't been washed or even ironed because Merlin was always the one who kept track of things like that and his laces untied on his trainers, with the back of his right shoe pushed down by his heel in a haphazard thrown together way, like Arthur's just thrown on his clothes hoping they'll fit before he goes out the house, but similarly uncaring even if they don't. Which is strange, because his whole appearance takes on an apathy in his dress sense that jars with the impassioned nature of his features.
Even now, his body curling up in some sort of semblance of trying to protect himself , Merlin can't help think of how beautiful Arthur looks. Even the Arthur in his head, the Arthur of his drunken rambles and half formed turbulent dreams, is formed of smoke and ashes compared to the man before him, and he finds himself feeling so small next to Arthur, tucked into a straggly blanket on a second hand sofa wearing last nights clothes and sinking of beer and sweat and a downhill misery that seems to have taken on its own bitter scent. Even with his clothes crumpled and his appearance uncared for, with a five o'clock shadow growing its first hint on his chin, Arthur looks beautiful. A handsome prince that Merlin falls for all over again, the most recent of a million sightings drawing his eyes even though he doesn't want to look so his heart wont break again. But his heart is already broken so surely it can't be cracked open again, yet his hands are trembling from the hangover and from seeing the man standing in his living room with his wide eyes focusing on him with a vivid intensity that frightens him and attracts him as colour fades from Merlin's face, unhealed scars breaking over again.
And nobody says anything for an long hurtful second. Gwaine and Lancelot are sentinels outside, listening in but not interfering and Arthur is merely standing in the doorway like it's a threshold he cannot bear to cross, taking in everything, inhaling in every texture and every sight; the faded wallpaper and the carpet with holes at the edges showing bare floorboard, the stench of alcohol and the man sitting up on the sofa, trying to hold in the broken pieces of his heart in the blanket he's hid himself in. Then, one word, spoken with a resonance of ages, a word that has been voiced so many times but which has never lost its meaning. As though it holds all secrets, the key to any door.
There is a look that goes with that word. It has no shades akin to pity or embarrassment, and it is portrayed in the posture of a man that Merlin feels as though he has known for ages, not just in his lifetime, like every eon they play the same game and Merlin always losing.
Maybe not this time because this time Arthur's broken the rules by coming back, pushing back open the door as it was closing behind him. This time is going to be different, he is telling the universe, this time there are no losers in this game. No attention paid to Arthur's heritage, of a father who wants him to one day fill his shoes as the manager of a corporation, a company man who would then have no time for love or freedom. A father who expects him to marry for position- some wealthy heiress who owns land or some financial holding-, a stepsister by the name of Morgana who invites him to grand extravagant parties and flings him into conversation with the latest women that comes along. Sometimes there is success in this method, and Arthur would be lying if he didn't admit that these women draw him to them like moths in the lamplight with their attractions and cultured tinkling laughter that speaks of an Oxbridge refined education and a family born into money. But once he has been ensnared, he finds that there is nothing that draws him any more, that leaves him wanting the light again, and he is left with an emptiness as he again listens to his father preaching about a marriage and an heir. And every time there is somebody that is considered suitable, Arthur finds that suitable for his family, and suitable for him are two different things.
And then there is Merlin. Merlin who embodies everything that Uther Pendragon would not want for his son; a man who is as comfortable with small talk and social gatherings as he is with a dentist giving him a root canal, who came to the city an orphan with not a penny to his name but a folio of manuscripts half finished and unpublished. Merlin who works two jobs , one as a cleaner at a lower market hotel that belongs to a chain that specialises in one-night self services, the other as a waiter in a coffee house in Soho, the rest of the week spent doing odd jobs and sitting in front of a computer screen. Merlin the writer, Uther had voiced the word scornfully when Arthur had first told him about the youth, who sculpted far flung tales of wizardry and magic, tapping out a poetic rhythm on the keyboard of his second hand laptop that he'd bought from a friend with a busted air fan that groaned out a bass note to the music of the words. Merlin who will account to nothing in his father's eyes, and who was the subject of much grief and many arguments. Merlin who is unrefined and common and unsuitable, who smiles like the whole world is full of so much joy, when they both know first hand that it isn't. Who laughs even if nothing is funny at all.
But it is Merlin who Arthur finds himself pulled back to every time, this light so bright and pure and golden , after every argument with his father, after every long day when the pressure of his position is just too much. Merlin whose high cheekbones and porcelain skin possess a refinement all of their own, who is the opposite of Arthur in every way, placing little value on money or recognition or power when Arthur is all about the showmanship. Who could spend a whole day staring at the sky with his mind a million miles away in the swing of a sword in battle, wrapped in the creation of buildings and places that only exist in his mind, imagining what it would be like to be able to fly, a being of a magical form who could form a world around him with the whisper of a word. And this time is no different, Arthur being pulled back by a thread unseen, a gossamer twine that glows amber gilt to Arthur's silver lifeline, the two plaiting together tightly without them even noticing.
Except this time , it is different. Because this time Arthur will not leave, will never leave. And the expression that goes with the look he fixes up Merlin is a hue intermingled with longing and distress, and the overriding colour of guilt. Guilt for leaving, for messing things up, for being such a prat and not noticing because Arthur always thought that he was right all the time until he met Merlin.
The Merlin he imagines within his own mind , the smiling laughing man with his head trapped in a land a thousand years ago , a land being written into reality with every letter typed on a word document, a unfinished masterpiece, is not the Merlin he sees before him. The thin figure, unshaven and unkempt in a manner so unlike the man he knows. Fragile, with darting frightened eyes like a bird with a broken wing, holding himself together as though he is missing a part of himself and can no longer function. Who appears as though he has eaten little and drank too much to compensate, who can barely bring himself to look at Arthur.
And nothing is stopping Arthur from crossing the room with determined steps, kneeling by the sofa, with his knees padded by thin carpet. Merlin shrinks back, eyes unsure, expression torn between joyful and wary. And the shade of guilt is all encompassing now, tinting every facet of Arthur, moving his own hand to cover Merlin's, clasping it to his breast in the possession that takes over him. He wants to make this right, wants to make this better, but Merlin looks so broken, no smile present now and if Gwaine is to be believed, the possibility is strong that there has been no smiles nor laughter since that night of Arthur shouting in anger and Merlin shouting right back , the room blackening with the venom in both voices.
"Merlin" he repeats the word gently this time, hand reaching up to cup his face, stroking the line of his cheekbone with a thumb that moves as though handling an object that will crumble if he pushes down too hard.
It is that word that does it for Merlin. Hearing the tone of affection and love in a whirlwind of sorrow and sadness, a thousand apologises flung together with the promise of a thousand kisses bound with the offer of a lifetime of holding on tightly and never letting go, a salty tear corrupted by sleepless nights and a blinding violent love rolls down his cheek.
"I'm sorry Merlin," Arthur whispers in a choked restrained voice, heartbroken by the too-thin man who is beginning to tremble slightly before him "god, I'm just so so sorry..."
And he wraps his arms around Merlin roughly as the dark-haired man leans in forward, needing the touch he's been missing so long, forgiving everything in a moment of thought, the blonde murmuring sorrys to the quiet, their hug a union of two bodies that feels so natural, Merlin fitting against him like they were cast from the same ethereal mould, the head and tails of a perfectly formed coin. And Arthur promises himself in his head and promises Merlin aloud that this'll never happen again, repeating everything he said to Gwaine in the hallway to the man the words were meant for, and he's not a word-smith but what he lacks in talent he makes up for in originality and emotion. His words tangled in the semantics of self reproach and iron-cast promises, every one of which drawn right from his heart in a god-given truth.
Then Merlin presses his forehead against Arthur's, his fingers slotting into place against the other man's palm, and he smiles. A motion not marred by the hangover building behind his eyes and the latent drowsiness of drink, because of course true love can't fix everything, but it's fixing this, patching up his broken heart with careful stitches of delicacy and care. There is a cough outside, of muttering and the floorboards making their usual sound as two men move away from the door, one of the persons concerned moving with a little persuasion that is heard only in mutterings, yet there is a general consensus that this is now a private moment that they should no longer be privy to. That they are there if needed, but only if.
"Arthur" Acceptance trapped in the amber of a smile. Merlin gazes over his features with a bright intensity like he is scrutinising every detail, if there is anything he's missed or overlooked, blue eyes startling and enticing at the same time, and if Arthur ever felt complete, it's now, in the arms of a man in a run down flat with the whole world left outside the threshold of this room. A man who is everything his father does not want, but everything Arthur needs, who kisses him now with an electricity that tastes of exotic promises and comforting familiar affection that will never grow old, a love that has been eons in the making and only blossoming now despite everything.
And they have every day after this, Merlin thinks with an unbounded joy, a fiery happiness tingling in his fingertips like magic. Every day to relearn every inch of each other while basking in the safety against the world outside, revealing in a completeness that is so thrilling and beautiful and perfectly formed. And with that thought in mind, he pulls Arthur in another soft kiss, smoothing over the jagged edges of the past few weeks, both of them speaking volumes on the subject of the future without saying anything aloud.
They have the rest of their lives together, and it starts right now with a tight embrace from two reunited souls with healing wounds passing unmentioned into a past that is forgotten now. And Merlin finds he cannot stop smiling, Arthur catching his enthusiasm as he smiles softly back. The rest of their lives. Starting today and carrying on until the end of everything.
But right now there is just peace. The future- filled with unseen bumps and dips that they will face with hands entwined and their faces the winds of misfortune that will try to separate them- can surely wait for a few moments.
Right now they've just got each other. All they really need.