Hello all! This is the first chapter of a new multi-chp fic (my first, yikes). It is a modern uni AU, and is going to be Arthur/Merlin, though for now it's more one-sided/platonic.

I originally posted this on LJ, with awesome(ly cheesy) graphics. but since ffnet is stupid and doesn't support images OR links, I'm just gonna have to describe them, poorly. If you want to take a look at their original glory, come see it at my journal, i_know_its_0ver. this might get harder in future chapters, when there are more images. I'll try to find a way around this, sorry guys.

It's going to be about 4/5 chaps total, and I'll try to update quickly, but we'll see if school cooperates. Reviews and feedback may speed up the process!

Merlin really loved economics class.

Not because he actually liked economics—hated it in fact, even more than he hated Sunday morning hangovers. Which made sense, in a way, since they had a similar effect- both left him confused and with a raging headache.

But economics class was a different story entirely.

Because while Prof. Smith droned on and on about capital and layout and coefficients and other words that were nothing more than gibberish to Merlin, his mind was more agreeably occupied with watching his classmates. Well, one classmate, really. Because even though the lecture hall was full of students, he really only noticed one person: Arthur Pendragon.

Arthur and Merlin were in the same year, but otherwise their lives never really intersected. They ran with different groups of friends (Arthur with the "trust fund kids," all rich, beautiful and spoilt; and Merlin with, well, Gwen), they were in different clubs (Arthur played club football and Merlin was in the gaming club), they were even in different departments (business and English literature).

Even so, Merlin knew who Arthur was. Hell, everyone did, even the graduate students and the faculty. He was a "big name" on campus, one of those people you couldn't help being aware of, even if you didn't really care. He came from a well known family in the world of business, had movie-star looks, and was even smart to boot. And, of course, he had a gorgeous girlfriend, Vivian, who was the envy of half the male student body and whose father was a business partner of the Pendragons. Arthur Pendragon was damn near perfect.

Merlin, on the other hand, was a nobody. He was bright, but didn't really stand out since he hated talking in front of large groups and nearly hyperventilated whenever a teacher called on him. He was average looking at best, he figured, since none of the coed population appeared to pay him any mind (not that he was interested in their opinion, anyway, but none of the boys looked at him twice either, which was far more depressing). He was thoroughly average, and for all intents and purposes, invisible.

In spite of these differences, or probably because of them, Merlin had an almost painfully large crush on Arthur, who seemed to be everything he could never manage to be. It had started out as innocent admiration, a kind of idol worship. He only saw Arthur from across the cafeteria or the quad, encircled by his constant entourage. Merlin would watch that group and imagine what it would be like to be in the center of that circle, to be one of them. Not that he wanted in on their undoubtedly vapid banter about cars and partying and...whatever popular kids talked about. Still, it might be nice to have a group of friends like that.

But somewhere, amongst all that causal watching, his admiration had turned to desire. Merlin had always known he preferred men, it wasn't one of those self-discoveries that occurred during typical uni "experimentation". He had noticed right from the start how attractive Arthur was, with his broad shoulders and strong jaw. He wasn't quite the type Merlin usually went for, a bit too fair, a bit too well built.

But the rational part of his mind didn't seem to care. That same part of his mind also managed to overlook the fact that Arthur was something of an arrogant prick, a typical entitled rich boy. At least, that's what the rumors said. And it was true, sometimes he would appear brusque or dismissive, but Merlin also noted the way he laughed when he was surrounded by his friends, so open and bright. So what if he was a bit of a prat? Merlin was only fantasizing anyway, and in most of his daydreams, Arthur was too occupied to do much talking.

And it was fine, so long as Merlin didn't delude himself into thinking it would ever be anything more than silly dreams. But now, miracle of all miracles, they had a class together. For two hours, three mornings a week, they would be in the same room. It was closer proximity than they had ever shared before, besides that one time when he had stood behind Arthur in the cafeteria line (Merlin had been so flustered he'd forgotten what he was ordering and ended up with tuna salad. Ew.).But now we would be free to stare at his leisure, covertly, of course. (Covert staring was one of Merlin's marginally useful but well developed skills; he was like a ninja in the fine art of discreet ogling.)

Merlin's academic adviser, Mr. Kilgharrah, had forced him into Economics 101, claiming it would fill a core requirement. Merlin was sure the old man just got his kicks by torturing poor young students, and glowered through another one of his adviser's lectures about what was best for his future and how to develop his talents. Merlin had complained for weeks leading up to the term, hoping that if he grumbled enough the class might magically be canceled, or disappear from his enrollment records. But now, sitting in class on the first day while the teacher called the roll, Merlin decided he might just have to hug that old crank.

Sophomore year was starting off well for Arthur. He had a light class schedule, full of topics that would be a breeze, and nothing too early in the morning (Arthur was like a high-functioning zombie before 10am, or two cups of tea, whichever came first). His schedule left him plenty of time to hang out with his mates and get in some footy practice before they started the season of pick-up games.

And best of all, he was reunited with Vivian. They had spent the majority of their summer break apart, he interning under his father at the family corporation, and she touring Europe with friends. He had missed her more than he had been willing to admit to anyone. But even his practiced stoicism didn't keep Morgana from teasing him mercilessly, calling him a lovesick puppy and all sorts of other mushy crap that he most certainly wasn't. He was just a bit lonely, was all. Arthur had been relieved when the summer finally ended and they could go their separate ways. Not that he didn't love Morgana like a sister, but there was only so much of her teasing he could take. At least now she was safely removed by several hundred miles, off at her own university. It was a lot easier to love her when he could ignore her calls, if he so chose.

But now he and his girlfriend were back together, and it felt like a flood of relief, like he was finally whole again after living the past few months in a constant daze. He threw himself back into his usual pattern of classes and practice and dates with renewed enthusiasm. Arthur felt pretty confident that this was going to be a good year for him.

Merlin spent the entirety of his first few economics classes spaced out, huddled at his desk in the back corner, ignoring the lecture and alternating between doodling in his notebook (there was an epic space battle taking place in the margins, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance) and enjoying his perfectly calculated view of Arthur's profile. Gwen would probably yell at him later for not taking notes, and he knew he would get no sympathy when he went crying to her come midterms. But right now there seemed much more interesting things than market shares and stock prices to think about. Actually, anything might be more interesting.

Arthur was a diligent student, which surprised Merlin at first. For all he seemed like a frivolous pretty boy, he was actually serious about class. He took notes by hand, volunteered answers, asked what Merlin assumed were insightful questions (more insightful than his own silent questions, anyway, which consisted of 'what the hell is going on' and 'why did Prof. Smith think that mustache was a good life choice?').

Merlin had to admit that, in some weird, geeky way, it was hot. Leave it to Arthur to make economics glamorous.

But all of that changed in the third week of the semester. Merlin heard the rumors around campus; news of this magnitude traveled fast, and reached even a nobody like Merlin in a matter of days. Gwen had been the one to inform him, and she had been so sweet and empathetic, even though it didn't involve either of them in the slightest. But Gwen was the kind of person who cried for victims on crime dramas, so it wasn't really surprising.

Arthur and Vivian had broken up.

Rather spectacularly, or so the rumors went. After over a year of what seemed be perfect bliss and infatuation, Vivian announced that she had fallen for someone else.

Gwen proclaimed that the girl was obviously soft in the head if she thought she could find anyone better than Arthur (while she shared Merlin's admiration for Arthur, her feelings were strictly platonic, as she already had her own handsome, dashing boyfriend). Merlin tried not to feel excited, even though he knew (again, in that nagging rational part of his brain) this didn't mean that he would have any sort of chance. He was still invisible, and Arthur was still straight. But at least he was unattached.

At first Arthur couldn't believe it. It felt like something that was happening to someone else, rather than his own life. He watched with a detached kind of horror as his perfectly crafted life seemed to crumble before his eyes.

Vivian had met someone over the summer while vacationing in Italy. It had just been a summer fling, she claimed. Only she had gone and fallen in love.

Arthur knew he should be outraged, maybe even find the guy and challenge him to some kind of dramatic fight to the death (okay, maybe not to the death). But mostly he just felt numb.

He knew how this must look to everyone else: he was the poor, pathetic, heartbroken sod who had been dumped for another man. A man who didn't have his wealth, or famous name, or maybe even his looks, but had somehow won over the woman he loved. And had done it in a matter of weeks, no less, destroying a relationship that had lasted over a year, a relationship that he thought was solid as stone.

Vivian had always been crazy about him. It had been mutual. They couldn't keep their hands off each other, even after being together for so long. Vivian understood his situation, the pressure he was under from his father. She had always been so supportive.

And now she didn't love him anymore.

Arthur spent the first couple days in a blessedly numb alcoholic stupor. Leon, bless his heart, was a true friend, but he had never been good at dealing with emotions. His response to Arthur's heartache (and all emotional dilemmas, really) was to get them both good and plastered until they couldn't even remember Vivian's name. It had worked for the first night or two. He drank till he passed out, woke up, drank some more, and forgot.

But then Monday morning had dawned, cold and harsh, and he was pulled back to the reality that was his life. A life where he was a pathetic, brokenhearted loser. And now he had a massive hangover to add to his problems, and still had classes to attend. If anything, he felt worse than ever.

Other people weren't helping matters. Word spread fast around campus, as he knew it would. But that didn't prepare him for the reality of the whispers and pointing and barely-concealed stares. People loved juicy gossip like this, especially when it was painful or embarrassing. He was sure that his pain was bringing amusement to others, maybe even satisfaction. Those fuckers.

Some were not content to simply observe his drama from afar, but were instead determined to use the situation to their advantage. Arthur hadn't even been broken up for 24 hours when he started receiving calls and texts from girls he barely knew, offering to "comfort" him. God, they weren't even subtle about it. What was wrong with girls these days?

But it was really the last thing on Earth Arthur wanted right then. He didn't need anyone else expecting anything from him or using him or trying to get on his good side. He felt like he wanted to crawl under a rock and disappear, and maybe reemerge when he felt human again. Which was actually more of an 'if' than a 'when.'

And since no one seemed to understand that, he wished they would all just leave him the hell alone.

Merlin's selfish joy was short lived. Arthur showed up to class on Monday looking like he had barely slept, maybe hadn't even bathed. There were dark bags under his red-rimmed eyes, his clothes were rumpled, and his hair, usually so artfully tousled, was sticking up the way Merlin's did when he fell asleep at his desk and woke up late for class. Arthur sat silently through the lecture, looking for once like he was paying about as much attention as Merlin. It looked like he had spent the weekend in an alcoholic haze and still hadn't quite come out the other side yet.

Merlin found himself feeling miserable just watching him. Obviously he was taking this hard. Merlin felt guilty for his little moment of elation at Arthur's expense. He hadn't been in many relationships, never mind any serious ones. But he had still moped like a baby for a week when Will broke it off with him, even though they had only dated for barely a month and parted on amicable terms. He couldn't imagine how Arthur felt, losing someone he had been so close to.

Whenever Merlin was heartbroken, he had Gwen there to spoil him and cheer him up, and he only now realized how lucky he was to have a true friend like that. Sure, sometimes they got drunk and drowned their misery, but Gwen would also do little things to cheer him up. Like cook his favorite dinner, or rent a whole bunch of romantic movies and pretend not to notice when he sobbed his way through half of them.

What Arthur needed, Merlin thought, was a small gesture to cheer him up, something without agenda or motive. He didn't know Arthur well enough to offer him any kind of comfort, but surely he could do something. Just a little something to make him smile, to make it just a tiny bit easier.

Merlin put his plan into action the very next class. He ran it by Gwen first, just to make sure that it wasn't weird, because sometimes what he found normal and what other people found normal were vastly different (apparently average people did not consider an all-night LAN session to be a 'date,' for example. That had been awkward.). Gwen assured him it was sweet, and told him he was doing a very noble thing. Merlin didn't know about noble, but he knew his heart was in the right place, at least.

Before class, Merlin went to the campus convenience store and grabbed an energy drink and a candy bar. They were the same brand Arthur often brought to class with him to keep awake when economics proved less stimulating than caffeine. Merlin felt a bit like a creepy stalker for knowing this, but it wasn't like he knew what brand of underwear Arthur wore or anything. This was totally innocuous knowledge, and he just happened to be…observant.

He arrived at the classroom half an hour early, before the other students started filing in. There were no assigned seats, but after the first few classes everyone basically stayed in the same spot by unspoken agreement. Merlin had memorized which desk Arthur sat at, three rows ahead and two to the right of his own.

Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, he slipped the drink and candy bar out of his bag and placed them on the desk. Then he pulled a folded note from his pocket.

He had spent hours the night before agonizing over what to write. He didn't want to sound creepy or overly personal, just cheerful and friendly. He had probably crumpled up a dozen possibilities before settling on something upbeat but vague and forbidding himself from thinking about it any further. He used the notepad that Gwen had given him last Christmas, the one he pretended was embarrassing and girly, but secretly found adorable. He hoped Arthur might agree.

Merlin took a deep breath, putting the note down and walking away before he could change his mind. He left the classroom and waited outside till the rest of the students started filing in, slipping to the back as casually as he could, pointedly not looking at Arthur's desk in case he might spontaneously combust (which Gwen assured him was just an urban legend, but Merlin still wasn't convinced. It seemed like the kind of thing that could happen to him, knowing his luck.).

Arthur was running late, as he always seemed to be lately. He showed up just before the professor called for attention to start the roll. He was in a daze, yet again, still reeling from the bottle of whiskey Leon had coaxed him into sharing the night before. That had been an disastrously bad idea, and he vaguely remembered sobbing into Leon's shoulder and possibly trying to spoon him. But at the time he hadn't been able to think of a good reason not to get shitfaced, and he knew he could count on Leon to never talk about what may-or-may-not-have transpired, ever. They would both take it to their graves.

Arthur slipped quickly into his seat, trying not to call attention to himself. He was so preoccupied that he didn't notice the items sitting on his desk until he went to put his bag down. At first he was confused. He turned to the guy sitting next to him and whispered as quietly as he could, asking if someone was sitting in this seat, or had left their stuff there. It was odd, since Arthur always sat here. But maybe another student had claimed it first today. He was late, after all. The boy just shrugged, clearly not interested.

Arthur pushed the items to the side, figuring whoever left them might come back. But then he noticed the folded slip of paper sitting between the can and the candy bar (his favorites, he abruptly noticed). He was suddenly very curious. His favorite snack, and a folded note. If someone had left the items by accident they wouldn't leave a note, would they? That seemed to indicate that it had been left purposely. But for him? Well, it was his seat.

Arthur debated for a moment. If it was someone else's stuff, then he didn't want to go snooping. But if it was meant for him…

Eventually curiosity won out over manners, as it usually did. Arthur unfolded the paper and examined it.

The slip of paper was small, with a smiling purple squid printed at the top, the word "hello" squirted in drippy ink. Below this header was written "Cheer up, mate," in messy but compact print. Underneath was a little sketch of a what looked like a whale with a long tusk. A little scribbled note informed him that it was a narwhal.

For a moment all he could do was stare. It was…weird, definitely (a narwhal? what the fuck?) but also…strangely cute. He felt an unbidden smile tugging at his lips. It took him a minute to notice that he was doing it. He hadn't smiled in over a week, not since that day. But the more he looked at the stupid doodle, the more he couldn't help himself. He felt a chuckle rising in his chest but managed to cover it with a choked-off cough.

It was weird, but Arthur did feel somehow…better. Not that a silly note and a little gift instantly mended an epically broken heart, but it counted for something. It was sweet, and considerate, something no one else had bothered to do for him. Arthur felt obscenely grateful for such a little thing.

He folded the note carefully and placed it in his pocket. For some reason he felt like it was important not to lose it, that it would be a useful reminder of something good amid these totally shite days. A little talisman against the depths of despair. Or something.

After that, class was easier to deal with. He could almost pay attention again, managing to scribble down a few notes and not look like a brain-dead zombie. The energy drink definitely helped on that front.

The end of class approached and it suddenly struck Arthur that he had no way of saying thank you to his anonymous benefactor. And for some reason it felt extremely important to let his secret friend know that he appreciated the gesture. It was common courtesy, at least, and Arthur had been raised to be a gentleman (or more like a prince, Leon claimed). But there were over 30 students in the room, and it could be any one of them. Actually, there was no guarantee they were even in this course at all.

He decided to use their own tactic and hope it would work. Arthur pulled out a scrap of paper from his notebook and scribbled a short note, pausing to consider before adding another line. He wasn't sure how exactly to convey his gratitude, he had never been good at that type of thing. But he was reasonably sure it would get the message across.

When class was over he gathered his things and dropped the note on his desk, hoping against hope that it would find its way to the right person.

Merlin almost couldn't bear to watch Arthur read the note. He didn't think he could take it if Arthur scoffed, or crumpled it up. Not that he had anything personal riding on this, since Arthur would never know it was him. But still, this felt like a crucial moment, with the power to crush his poor, pathetic ego forever (that in itself was probably pathetic, but he tried not to think about it).

But then Arthur had smiled. Not one of his full, glorious smiles that could light up the whole damn campus. It was more of a slight quirk of his lips, accompanied by a quick shuddering of his shoulders, like he was suppressing a laugh.

Oh God. Merlin was in heaven. He must have died, probably from forgetting to breathe, because he was definitely in heaven.

Arthur had just smiled, almost laughed, at something he had done. Well, he didn't know Merlin had done it, but that didn't matter, did it? He made Arthur smile. He felt like he had climbed Everest or cured cancer. What was next? End world hunger? No problem. He'd tackle that after lunch.

And then Arthur refolded the note and slipped it in his back pocket, with that little smirk still on his lips, and Merlin tried not to think too much about the arse hidden beneath that pocket, while congratulating himself on being something of a genius. He couldn't wait to recount every detail to Gwen.

Merlin couldn't possibly pay attention to a word of the lecture that day. He spent the entire class watching Arthur intently. Arthur was slightly more alert now than he had been in class for the past week. He didn't participate like he had before, but he was taking notes again, at least, and looked engaged in the lecture. Merlin couldn't help but feel like it had just a tiny bit to do with him. The thought filled him with warm feelings he couldn't quite name. He wondered if Gwen felt like this whenever she cheered people up, because if so he might just get addicted to being nice.

At the end of the class Merlin was forced to stop staring so he could collect his things. When he glanced back up, Arthur was already gone. But on his desk was a small folded piece of paper.

For a brief moment Merlin's heart sank down into his shoes. He had seen Arthur put the note in his pocket, so what was it doing back on the desk now? Had Arthur decided not to keep it after all?

Merlin tried to be discreet as he walked by the desk on his way out of the classroom. No one else seemed to even notice the paper. He paused by Arthur's seat and realized that it wasn't his note after all; the paper was a little bigger and was lined. Curiosity propelled his hand forward before he could stop himself, and he grabbed the note, unfolding it with slightly trembling hands.

In large, neat handwriting it read:"Thanks...I think."

Merlin stared at it with unseeing eyes for several seconds before he processed the message. Thanks. Arthur. Had said thanks. To him. Holy fuck.

Merlin was fairly sure that if he didn't sit down soon, his traitorous knees were going to collapse under him, because suddenly his head was spinning and it was hard to breathe. Thanks. He didn't think any word had ever sounded better.

Of courses it was tempered slightly by the amended "I think." Leave it to Arthur to manage to be condescending while saying thank you. Still, that made it feel all the more genuine. It made Merlin happier than any eloquent words could.

Merlin re-folded the note, placed it carefully in the front pocket of his jeans and left the classroom, trying not to skip down the hallway. He knew he was smiling like a madman, but for once he didn't really care if anyone was looking at him weird. What did it matter what anyone else thought? Princely, stuck up Arthur Pendragon had thanked him. Today was indeed a day for the history books. This most definitely called for celebratory ice cream.

Leon returned to his and Arthur's shared dorm room after dinner that night, a contraband bottle of vodka hidden beneath his jacket. Arthur took one look and groaned. There was no way he could get shitfaced again tonight. And not just because he was afraid of embarrassing himself and injuring what was left of his manly pride once again.

He had barely eaten proper food in days, and if he kept subsisting solely on alcohol and crisps, he was pretty sure he was going to die a very premature death. And while a few days ago that thought may have sounded comforting, he was less inclined to purposely sabotage himself now that his head was slightly clearer.

Leon seemed to understand Arthur's wordless groan (how did he always do that?), and actually seemed a bit relieved himself. He flopped down on his bed, running a hand through his hair and examined his friend casually. That gaze was much more penetrating than it appeared, and Arthur knew he was being carefully appraised.

"Feeling better today?" Leon asked, trying to sound like he wasn't keeping close tabs on Arthur's health and sanity.

Arthur gave him the strongest grin he could muster, which was still a pathetic imitation of a real smile, but was certainly a step up from drunken sobbing.

"Yeah," Arthur replied, leaning back in his desk chair and abandoning his half-finished homework. "Today was…not so terrible."

Leon looked relieved. Only then did Arthur realize how much he had probably put his friend through over the past week, having to look after him and keep him from doing anything reckless (like calling Vivian every 5 minutes to leave her drunken hateful voicemails), all while listening to his constant grousing. Leon might not be good with the whole talking thing, but the man deserved a medal for being there when it counted. Arthur would have to think of a suitably lavish gesture of gratitude.

Leon continued to examine him, assessing him with sharp eyes. Apparently he was waiting for further elaboration of this sudden change in Arthur's mood.

Arthur sighed and decided he may as well tell Leon the whole story. He would probably find it amusing, what with his strange, dry sense of humor. He pulled the note from his pocket and handed it over without a word.

Leon arched a curious eyebrow, but accepted the proffered note silently and unfolded the paper, looking it over. Just as Arthur had expected, he let out a sharp bark of laughter before shifting his gaze back to Arthur, eyes full of unspoken questions but dancing with amusement.

"Someone left it on my desk today," Arthur explained, taking the paper and placing it carefully back in his pocket.

Leon smiled in his cryptic way that usually meant he knew something Arthur didn't, or realized something Arthur probably should have. Arthur generally hated that look, since it never seemed to bode well for him.

"You don't know who?" Leon asked, smile still curving his lips.

"I have no idea," Arthur sighed, knowing his grin was mirroring Leon's own. It was twice now that the note had made him grin today. It was unprecedented.

Arthur felt a twinge of suspicion at Leon's know-it-all look. "It wasn't you or the guys, was it?" he asked. Because for some reason that made it seem less special and made him feel a twinge of disappointment. It also meant the guys would tease him mercilessly for taking it to heart.

"Really, Arthur? Do you think I would draw a…what the hell was that?"

"A narwhal," Arthur replied matter-of-factly, and Leon only grinned wider.

"Yeah, definitely not me, mate. But it seems someone's looking out for you. That's cool." And Arthur had to agree, it was…cool.

"Well," Leon continued, now that they both seemed to be in a pretty good mood, "guess this means we don't have to get drunk tonight? Thank God, because my liver is about to jump ship and abandon me, mate. What do you say to a pizza and some mindless action movies instead?"

Hmmm, greasy food and lots of gore. The perfect balm for a weary soul. His best friend really did know him too well.

Arthur readily agreed, and they headed out together. He patted his pocket once just to make sure the note was still safely tucked inside.

Today definitely felt like a step forward, if only a small one, out of his bottomless whirlpool of self-pity. At the very least he would not have a hangover tomorrow, and that in itself seemed like the promise of good things to come.

"Soooooo, tell me, tell me, tell me!" Gwen gushed in that high pitched voice reserved for cute animals and dishing over Merlin's (sadly non-existent) love life.

Gwen and Merlin were cozied up in her dorm room since her roommate (the lovely but shy Freya) was out for the evening, and they could gab and squeal (well, only Gwen squealed, honest) to their hearts' content.

Merlin tried to look terribly put-upon, but couldn't suppress a wide grin, which sent Gwen into further fits of wordless shrieks.

"Everything went according to plan. I put the stuff on his desk before class, and no one else noticed. For a minute I almost thought he wasn't coming, and I was ready to have a very manly panic attack," (Gwen gave him her best 'yeah, sure' look at that) "when finally he showed up. And then I very nearly had a panic attack anyway."

Gwen laughed and ruffled his hair affectionately. Sometimes Merlin was sure she treated him like a dog, petting him and feeding him and spoiling him. Not that he minded terribly.

"And what did he do?" she prodded impatiently.

Merlin grinned again at the memory. "He opened the note, and then…he smiled. Smiled! Well, kind of smiled. It was more like a smirky kinda grin." Which he then tried to imitate for her, only on Merlin it looked ridiculous and a bit deranged. But it launched Gwen into another fit of laughter.

"I sure hope he didn't smile like that, dear," she teased, and then patted Merlin's hair again playfully when he pretended to pout at her abuse.

"Well, I'd say it went well then," she concluded, looking pleased and a bit breathless.

But then Merlin shot her his best mischievous grin, and Gwen raised her eyebrows, silently prompting him to give up whatever details he was withholding. She was like a mother when she used that look, there was no way he could resist her commands.

"That's not the best part. Well, it was a really good part, brilliant in fact, but then…" he paused for dramatic effect and Gwen elbowed him in the ribs. Merlin loved to keep her in suspense, because he knew she hated it.

"…He left me a note in return," he concluded, and watched with satisfaction as Gwen's face morphed into a look of excited surprise.

"He what?" she was practically shouting, shaking his arm so energetically he was afraid it might snap off. "Show me, show me!" she demanded insistently, bouncing up and down in her seat.

Merlin pulled the note from his pocket and unfolded it (for probably the 50th time that day, not that she needed to know that) and handed it over, watching her with an expectant smile.

Gwen took a glance at the note and erupted into sputtering laughter. "Oh, that is Arthur all right," she managed to choke out between gasps. Gwen's boyfriend Lance was footy mates with Arthur, so she occasionally went out with the group, though she hadn't spoken directly to Arthur more than a handful of times. It still made Merlin extremely jealous and he had more than once tried to convince Lance to dump Gwen and date him instead (jokingly of course. Well, at least half-jokingly. Lance was a rather attractive bloke in his own right).

She took a few deep breaths to calm herself and handed the note back to Merlin, who returned it to the snug safety of his pocket. Gwen was smiling at him in that sweet motherly way and Merlin knew she was feeling sappy and sentimental.

"You did a very sweet thing," Gwen told him, a hand patting him softly on the knee. Merlin slung and arm around her shoulder and pulled her into an affectionate hug.

"It seems you're rubbing off on me after all," he teased, though he honestly meant it. Hanging around Gwen seemed to have that affect on people, her sweetness seeping out and infecting everyone around her.

"I think this calls for ice cream?" she asked, knowing full well what the answer would be. Merlin jumped up like an excited puppy (dammit, maybe he was a dog after all).

"You read my mind like always. Shall we go grab Lance?" Gwen agreed, and they set off for their favorite shop.

Today felt like a step forward, in an odd way. Not that it really brought him any closer to Arthur, who still had no idea know who he was. But Merlin felt the satisfaction of a deed well done, and well rewarded.

He thought back to that small smile, remembering how it had made something thrum contentedly deep inside of him. Maybe this was something he was meant to do, to cheer Arthur up. Plans started to swirl in his head. If he could manage it again…well. Such thoughts were better left until after ice cream.