Author's Note: This is for you, Treacle. I've missed your encouragement and general silliness - it's a part of what makes me feel so welcome around here. Hope you aren't disappointed. This is me tentatively dipping my toes in the water, preparing to dive back in. :3
Arthur came out on his twenty-fifth birthday.
One might say this event caused a bit of an uproar in the Pendragon household, if one were being polite.
But Arthur was not in the mood for polite. It was a catastrophe, complete with screaming, an indignant Morgana (whether in defence of her half-brother or not, he couldn't tell—she was rather unintelligible at that decibel) and a purple-faced Uther, three weeping serving girls and one overexcited valet. Gregory was busy sweeping up the smashed bottle of £300 scotch in the library. Vivian had stormed out with a final screech five minutes ago, but not before dumping the contents of the punch bowl over Arthur's head.
So, Armani button-down stained strawberry pink and heart feeling more than a little fragile, Arthur made his way through the crowd of guests—not his, Uther's, 100 of them, all influential and now shocked into silence—to the doors to the patio. He turned his face into the sun and counted breaths with the slow clip of his leather shoes on slate.
He didn't have to think very hard to get where he was going. There was really only one person in the world he wanted to see—whom he could trust, made clear as of ten minutes ago, now—anyway.
Before he knew it, Arthur was standing wearily in front of a quaint little house in a row of identical ones. This one, though, was special.
He could see Merlin pacing through one of the front windows, gesticulating excitedly as he chatted with someone on his mobile. Arthur wished he had added Merlin's address to the invitation list—he could have used the support, even if he hadn't gone through with it. Uther would have given his best friend one distasteful glance and then continued as if Merlin didn't exist. And Merlin? Merlin would have rolled his eyes, winked at Arthur, and asked loudly for a Guinness. Instead, Uther was pretending Arthur didn't exist while Gaius dealt with the scandalised guests a mile down the road.
Arthur trudged up the slightly worn, green stairs of the Emrys household and knocked on the door. His mobile buzzed with yet another voicemail, but he ignored it, instead reaching into his pocket and turning the device off.
Merlin opened the door after peering at him through the warped glass.
His surprised smile morphed into a frown immediately, brow furrowing with worry. "Gwen, actually, I've got to go. I'll call you tomorrow, yeah?" Merlin barely listened to the answer as he took in Arthur's bedraggled appearance.
Arthur smiled wanly as Merlin waved him in.
"Nothing life threatening. It's okay. I'll call you. Ta," he said into the receiver and snapped the phone shut. "Mate. What happened?"
Arthur shrugged, looking away when he felt his eyes burn.
Merlin's arms wrapped around him, squeezing tightly, long fingers splayed over his shoulders. Arthur focused on his breathing and tried not to think of anything else.
"You're pink," Merlin observed after a moment. "Why are you pink? You know what, go back and get in the shower. I'll get you a change of clothes. And shit, I need to wrap your present! Ack!" He scurried away into the tiny sunroom, and Arthur looked after him for a moment.
Merlin popped his head around the doorjamb. "Do I need to drag you?"
Arthur smirked lightly, shuffling down the hall and entering the bathroom. He knew where everything was. He'd spent enough time remodelling the place with Merlin three years ago to know all the quirks and charms of Hunith and Merlin's old house. He stepped into the hot spray without looking in the mirror, tossing his ruined outfit in the wastebasket—mobile pinging off the side of the bin and sliding under a cabinet—and tucking his shoes between a scented candle and an extra hand towel on the shelf above the toilet.
The shower stung, beating his shoulders raw with heat as he stood beneath the showerhead. He closed his eyes against the pain in his chest and gathered some shampoo in his hands. Merlin's 2-in-1 was cheap, smelled like flowers.
Merlin loved flowers. He was a bit of a girl about it, actually. Hunith's garden was filled with them—would be now, with daffodils and other cheerful plants, even though she was now unable to care for them regularly. Merlin kept it up for her, keeping her as comfortable as possible, as she was forced into early retirement because of her Alzheimer's.
He wondered briefly what his father was doing now. Was he still sitting in his study? Was a wrathful Morgana chasing him around the house, screaming obscenities at his back? Was he nursing a brandy while paging through the well-loved wedding album that he kept on his dresser?
He was certainly wondering where he'd gone wrong, to have raised a sexually deviant (he'd never admit that Arthur was actually gay, for God's sake) son. This was why it had come out in the way that it did. Uther was pressuring him, for what had seemed at that moment to be the trillionth time, to ask Vivian to move in with him after their five-month anniversary. To think about his future, about the family business, about wives, and children, and forever.
Merlin had never needed to come out. He was seven when he told his mother he wanted to marry Prince Philip from that one Disney movie. Arthur had always teased him about his love of gingers, but never about his sexuality, too used to it to care when he was younger, and when he was old proud and admiring (and a bit jealous)of Merlin's strength and stability. Hunith was such a wonderful woman—she'd hugged Merlin that afternoon when he was seven and asked him if she was invited to the wedding, without a trace of worry or reprimand.
Arthur wondered, with an ache in his stomach, whether Igraine would have loved him unconditionally. He liked to imagine, and had done since he first met Merlin's mum, that Igraine would be just as wonderful as Hunith Emrys.
Merlin was a lot like Hunith, except less irrationally protective, and he was terrible with an oven. But he was affectionate like Hunith. He hugged often, liked to cuddle, to dance and sing terribly, to kiss; he loved to make people happy. There had been a time, before university, that Arthur had pushed him away because of it. It hadn't been until this year that Arthur had sat down and thought about the 'why.'
There was a quiet knock on the door, which snapped Arthur out of his musings. He peeked around the shower curtain to see Merlin's hand shove a well-worn blue tee and grey sweats through the cracked door.
"I'll only be a moment," Arthur called out.
"Take your time, but if the boiler conks out, you're fixing it!" Merlin joked, his finger wagging twice before he shut the door completely.
Arthur smiled and rinsed himself off once more, before turning the shower off and swiping an unused towel from the rack.
He put of the soft, worn materials of Merlin's baggy clothes, which fit him quite nicely in contrast. The tee smelled like Merlin. Arthur leaned against the sink for a moment, taking everything in.
Merlin was on the couch, hastily taping poorly wrapped, shiny Christmas paper around a beat up box when Arthur came back to the living room. The telly was on mute, but Arthur knew Merlin had been indulging in another crap Bollywood film on his day off. On screen, a lovely Indian girl currently swivelled her hips in front of a line of other similarly dressed women. They were all smiling widely.
"Hey," Arthur muttered. His voice was gravelly and a little choked with emotion, and if Merlin noticed he didn't show it.
"Come sit," Merlin said, leaning his chin on the back of the couch as he turned and faced Arthur behind him.
Arthur did so. He tugged at the bottom of the tee as he tucked his feet under him, feeling vulnerable in only the thin layers of cotton.
"Would you like your present first or would you like to tell me why you're here instead of at your cocktail party?" he intoned the last few words with a silly posh accent, voice tinged bitter and mocking.
"Yeah. I'll…" Arthur reached for the present. "I don't know if I can—yeah. Not yet."
Merlin bit his lip, clearly concerned. "You walked here?"
Arthur nodded, pushing his fingers under the fold of the festive paper and ripping the tape down the middle. The box was wide, but not very deep—from a department store—and was light as a feather.
He opened the box and pulled out a scarf, ruby red with two charcoal grey stripes near the ends. It was warm and so soft. The fuzzy yarn caught on Arthur's dry fingers.
"I knitted it myself. You know how I took up knitting last year. 'Course you do; you were always laughing at my knitting needles. I had to make eight stupid scarves before it came out right." Merlin smiled sheepishly. "That's why you're getting a scarf in April."
Arthur leaned back against the arm of the couch and buried his nose in it.
"You like it?" Merlin smiled, pleased.
Arthur nodded slowly, and then wrapped it around his neck. "Yeah. Thanks, mate."
Merlin squeezed Arthur's ankle, the smile slipping. Arthur could tell he was itching to know what was wrong. What had made Arthur Pendragon, usually so confident and charismatic, go silent, shaken and hurt? He waited, though. He was always incredibly patient.
"I told them I'm gay," Arthur rasped.
"Y-you told them…?" Merlin stuttered, and then fell silent. Arthur looked down at his knees, fighting back the burning tears. They didn't spill over until Merlin pulled him forward, surrounding him in an awkward, tangled embrace.
Merlin cooed and shushed into Arthur's temple, fingers passing over his hair and putting it on end. Arthur squeezed Merlin's ribcage tightly, feeling like an idiot, exposed, in so many ways but grateful for Merlin's immediate acceptance.
"Did you—well, did you figure this out standing over the hors d'oeuvres or what?"
"No," Arthur huffed around a surprised laugh. "Father was telling me off about how incredibly married I should be to Vivian within the year. At twenty-five."
"And, just like that, you told him you were gay?" Merlin asked.
"Well, it was a lot more exclamatory and public, but yes, essentially."
Merlin kissed Arthur's forehead. "Arthur," he murmured after a moment of silence. It was neither a question nor a statement—just his name, meant to comfort.
"M'sorry I didn't tell you first." Arthur traced the stylized lettering on Merlin's t-shirt.
Merlin pulled him closer, if that was possible. "This isn't about me."
"Merlin, with me, everything's about you."
Merlin kissed his cheek this time, before leaning back and adjusting the scarf more neatly around Arthur's neck and wiping under Arthur's wet eyes with his thumb.
Arthur looked up at Merlin, face heating. "Yeah."
Merlin peered at Arthur for a long moment, and then beamed sweetly, his eyes crinkling in a smile he saved for rare occasions. For Arthur. "You look good in my scarf," he said finally.
"Thanks," Arthur murmured.
Merlin rearranged them on the couch, Merlin slouching against the cushions and Arthur's legs lying in Merlin's lap, before he took the remote and un-muted the telly. Arthur grumbled at the noise before settling in and watching another bittersweet ending to a Bollywood film.
And if he fell asleep, exhausted, during the credits, holding on tight to Merlin's hand, no one was complaining, or telling him he couldn't, least of all Merlin.
Now, Arthur could put life aside for a moment. He'd answer the eighty voicemails later, Merlin a steady presence at his side.