Last chapter, folks. Thanks for reading and for comments. x
Arthur watched from the side-lines as almost everyone he knew visited New York and Merlin. Of course Elena went first, as Merlin's best friend the world would have imploded had she not gone. Then Morgana went to New York on business and took Merlin out to dinner whilst there. Lance and Gwen went for a long weekend at the start of June and left Drew with Arthur because Morgana was at another conference, and Alice and Gaius treated themselves to a trip out and Merlin showed them both the sights. Even Leon and Percy hooked up with Merlin whilst taking their first holiday together, and Leon had admitted that they had chosen New York for that very reason.
Three weeks after Gwen and Lance's trip, Gwen left Morgana for him and for a while the whole world tilted in its axis. They had been together for years! Gwen had never as much as looked at anyone else during that time as far as Arthur knew, let alone a man and Lance – he had once told Arthur he was bi, but honestly, Arthur had forgotten due to never seeing Lance with any women.
Gwen came to stay with Arthur because Lance's place was too small for Drew. "What happened?" Arthur asked. "I mean, what really happened?"
Pain flickered over Gwen's serene features and she replied, "Morgana cheated on me once, a few years ago. Do you remember Nimueh?"
"So Lance is revenge?" This should have been a surprise to Arthur, but Nimueh – well, her unsettling presence in their lives a few years ago had been a period in their lives he was glad was over. She had obviously had a deeper impact that Arthur had realised.
"No!" Drew started to squirm in Gwen's arms so she set him down and watched him toddle over to his toy box that Arthur kept in the corner for him. "I just, I don't know, Arthur, I thought I had forgiven her but it ate away at me – and lately I've spent more time with Lance and-" She looked at Arthur, her face shining with love.
Arthur knelt before her and hugged her to him. "You can stay here as long as you like," he offered, his mind slipping to Morgana and how she might be feeling right now, making a mental note to call her later. "Just promise me one thing?"
She nodded into his shoulder. "Drew stays a Pendragon. No child of mine is taking on the name DuLac!"
"How long are they staying for?" Cenred huffed, joining Arthur at the table and snatching a piece of toast off his plate. He was freshly showered and only wearing a tiny towel that just about covered his modesty. Arthur looked him over and went back to his newspaper. Instead of feeling turned on at the sight of this tanned, toned and frankly gorgeous bloke he now called his boyfriend, he merely felt irritated.
"If you are referring to my son and his mother, then they are staying as long as they want to," he replied, re-reading the same line in the paper for the third time, something about increased tuition fees which immediately made him think of Merlin and he internally berated himself.
"Oooh, touchy!" Cenred helped himself to coffee and raised one leg; his foot flat against the seat of the chair, letting Arthur see his half hard cock.
Arthur closed the paper, fighting with himself to get the image of Merlin out of his head. He had hoped that, given the time that had passed, he would be over this stupid obsession. "Come here," he growled at Cenred, who obligingly arranged himself elbows down on the table in front of Arthur. Arthur palmed his cheeks and parted them.
As he fucked Cenred into the table, he chased away all thoughts of Merlin, and if he saw his face when he came, then that was nothing but habit.
Gwen was buzzing with excitement when Arthur came home, hopping from one foot to the other as she talked to Lance, who leant back against the kitchen counter nursing a cup of tea and a devoted expression.
"What's going on?" Arthur asked, reaching down to pick up his son who had immediately toddled over for his attention. He kissed the little boy on his forehead and looked expectantly at Gwen.
She glanced nervously at Lance and said, "Merlin's coming home next month. We're just planning the welcome home party."
Arthur didn't know how he was supposed to react. "Oh."
It had been seven months. He often wondered how Merlin might have changed, how life in a place like New York might have made its stamp upon him. Like always, when his thoughts turned to Merlin, Arthur made sure to replace then with something else.
"We've found a place," Lance announced, and Arthur wondered how that could take second place in the excitement stakes to Merlin. "We move in next month. Your home will be your own again."
"Middle Street," Lance said, naming a road a few streets away. "It's smaller than this place, but two bedrooms and a garden."
This time two years ago and Arthur would've been cringing at that description. So suburban, so boring – yet he lived in this kind of suburbia himself. He'd liked having Gwen and Drew around. He'd miss them when they'd gone and he just had himself again for company. He could ask Cenred to move in-?
He found the thought of Cenred living in his house permanently utterly abhorrent.
He didn't want to think about what that meant.
Arthur had met Cenred through work. He was the CEO of a partner company, and Arthur had fucked him in the lift after they had worked late together over a mutual business deal. Arthur liked that they were equals and that Cenred liked to bottom.
Arthur hadn't bottomed for anyone other than Merlin since his teens.
He'd wanted to try this – to prove everyone wrong – to stop fucking around and prove that he wasn't hung up on Merlin after the damned intervention and his stint in that bloody hippy place in Herefordshire. Cenred was his first boyfriend since his teens as well. Merlin didn't count. Arthur had never let Merlin refer to him as his boyfriend.
There were lots of things Arthur had never done with regards to Merlin. Places he should have taken him. Things he should have said. He should never have let him walk out of his life that was for sure.
When a consolation visit to Morgana – one that found her in good spirits because she'd known Gwen was going to leave her thanks to one of her dreams, and had already mentally prepared for it (and was now seeing Merlin's exchange buddy, Freya!) - resulted in the news that Gwaine and Merlin had split up, Arthur immediately broke things off with Cenred. As the spurned man gathered up the belongings he had accrued at Arthur's house and stormed out, Arthur felt nothing but relief. If he hadn't already known it before, hearing this news about Merlin only confirmed it. He'd been wasting his time with Cenred, playing at being something he could only really see himself doing with someone else.
Arthur was on a flight to New York by the end of the week, having only fought with himself for three days over the wisdom of this move and having to wait a further two for a last minute gift for Merlin to be crafted; it had been Lance's casual observation that the split had happened four months ago – and had Arthur really not known? - That had made Arthur kick himself into action. Four months was more than enough time for Merlin to find someone else, and that couldn't be allowed to happen. Merlin belonged to him, and he was going to make sure Merlin knew that.
Arthur had been to New York numerous times before, but only ever for business. He'd stayed in whichever expensive hotel his PA had booked for him and taken limos to meetings and cabs to a nightclub or two. He'd never been to Greenwich Village, and all he knew about the place was that it was supposedly where 'Friends' had been set and it had a square with an archway in the middle that was like a mini Arc de Triomphe.
Luckily the cab driver knew where Arthur meant when he gave Merlin's address, and as Arthur was deposited on the sidewalk outside a corner apartment block, he actually thought it reminded him of 'Friends'. Apparently it was an old hotel converted into student digs sometime back in the eighties.
Merlin lived at number 18. Arthur paced the sidewalk outside, feeling nerves like he had never known before, breathing the humid air of summer in the city and feeling uncomfortable at the sweat that was trickling down his back beneath his shirt. Finally, after about twenty minutes, he gave in and walked over the road to a small air conditioned coffee shop and bought an iced latte and settled himself in the window seat, his eye on the lobby of the apartments, his mind whirring over what he was going to say to Merlin. It had been months. What if Merlin really didn't care anymore? He had always been the one wanting more from Arthur than Arthur had felt that he could give. What if the situations had reversed?
God, he'd just jumped on that plane without any real thought. He'd slept most of the way over as it was a night flight. Now here he was, and Merlin was somewhere within the vicinity and Arthur was too fucking scared to go and find him, to claim him as he wanted to.
As he watched the lobby, his eye was drawn to two figures that had stopped just outside the coffee shop door, both deep in conversation; Merlin. Arthur's heart skipped and his nerves stepped up a notch. Merlin was smiling and laughing with another man - a taller man with a spiky white blond haircut, a man who was looking at Merlin like he wanted to eat him.
Arthur felt his hope slither out of him and pool pathetically at his feet. What if he was already too late?
The man looked up and caught Arthur staring then, eyes widening as he licked his lips and raked his eyes over Arthur in interest. Arthur scowled and the man frowned; and then Merlin was turning, his shocked eyes clashing with Arthur's. Arthur tried to smile but he couldn't, his mouth wouldn't move and he was frozen in the scowl he had shown the other man.
Before Arthur could react, Merlin was there, in through the door and across the room, sitting in the chair opposite him. "What are you doing here?"
Instead of saying the simple truth, that he had come to find Merlin, he found himself saying, "Is he your new boyfriend?"
"You haven't seen me in months and that's the first thing you say to me?" Merlin's cheeks flushed red in anger. "You're unbelievable!"
"You're here on business I suppose and you thought you'd pop by and spy on me, is that it? I won't for one minute believe that your being in the cafe opposite my apartment is anything other than deliberate!"
Arthur was thrown by Merlin's anger.
"Merlin - who's this?"
Arthur's scowl returned.
"Just someone I used to know," Merlin said, getting up and casting a disgusted glance at Arthur. "You've had a wasted journey. Come on, Ed, let's go back to yours."
With that, he was gone as soon as he had arrived. Only 'Ed' turned back to look at Arthur as they departed. Merlin carried on straight over the road and in to the lobby of the building. This meant Ed lived there too.
What the hell had just happened? Could Arthur have made more of a mess?
Merlin made sure he stayed at Ed's for as long as possible without seeming like he was after more than a couple of beers and a double bill of Charmed. When Ed started to yawn, Merlin escaped to his own room, one floor down, promising to see Ed the following evening for more of the same.
Merlin stepped into his bedroom, leant back against the door with a groan, suddenly unable to block out the fact that Arthur had been here and that he had walked away from him in a fit of pique. What had he been thinking? Arthur was still all he thought about, and seeing him there like that had thrown him. It had felt like he was seeing things, that this was fantasy Arthur come to claim him.
Of course, fantasy Arthur would have said something caveman-like about not being able to live without Merlin, and not asked him if Ed was his boyfriend! Merlin hadn't been with anyone since that guy in the club when Elena was visiting.
Abruptly he realised he wasn't alone in the room.
Arthur was sitting on his bed.
"What do you want?" Merlin said wearily, something curling inside of him. His first question should really have been 'how did you get in?' but it seemed that he was as inept as Arthur in the first question department.
Arthur stood up and walked over to where Merlin was still leaning against the door, standing up and standing toe to toe with him. "I missed you."
I missed you too. "Arthur, I'm exhausted," he said, toeing off his trainers and kicking them to one side. "What do you really want?" Arthur didn't do anything to be 'nice', there was always an ulterior motive.
"This," Arthur said, his eyes on Merlin's as he dropped to his knees at Merlin's feet. Merlin knew he should protest as Arthur unzipped him and pulled out his already half hard cock, but he…couldn't.
As he exploded in Arthur's mouth and swayed on his feet from the combination of tiredness and pleasure, Arthur caught him. Merlin summoned all his strength and pushed Arthur away. "Leave me alone," he said, curling up in a ball on his bed with his back to his tormentor. "That was very nice, thank you, but I've moved on." God, he was such a liar. All this time away from this man and still he was everything. There was a painful silence; Merlin could hear Arthur breathing. Eventually there was a soft click and Arthur left.
All this time and Merlin was back exactly where he had started! Only this time some leather clad wanker named Cenred was the one waiting at home for Arthur, not Merlin.
When Merlin found the energy to move, he found a business card on the bed, Arthur's name on the front, his messy scrawl on the back reading, Mandarin Oriental, room 315.
Merlin dropped the card onto his desk and flung himself onto his bed, trying not to think about how spectacular it had been to have Arthur's lips and tongue on him like that, and how no one else had ever gotten close.
If Arthur thought Merlin was going to follow him half way across the city, he had another thing coming.
Merlin almost didn't get out of the elevator. It was only when the only other occupant of the damned thing, someone who was going to a higher floor, pointedly coughed that Merlin took his finger off the door open button and said, "Um, sorry!" and had to run before the doors closed on him.
Arthur's room was to the left. Merlin took a deep breath – he'd made it this far – so much for his vow that there was no way he was going to do this! He'd merely been lying to himself, something he'd become all too adept at since meeting Arthur.
Five, four, three, two, one. Merlin raised an unsteady hand and knocked. One, two, three, four – the door swung open and Arthur was revealed on the other side. Merlin's heart clenched at the sight of him – his hair was a mess, his eyes sore and red rimmed and he was still dressed in pyjama bottoms. When he saw Merlin at the door, he narrowed his eyes, as though he didn't recognise him at all.
"Are you going to leave me standing out here, or do I get an invite inside?"
"Right, yes – come in." Arthur stood back and allowed Merlin to pass.
Merlin found himself in a plush hotel room that his own meagre student digs would fit into tenfold. There was a discarded room service tray in the floor inside the door and a few of Arthur's clothes scattered over the arm of the sofa. The bed was unmade.
Merlin walked to the window and looked down to the street below; anything to avoid looking at Arthur for a few moments whilst he worked out what to say about why he was there.
When Arthur didn't speak either, Merlin turned to find him leaning against the wall next to the bed, watching Merlin.
"I wasn't sure you'd be here," Merlin finally said. "I half expected you to be in some business meeting or at a conference."
"I'm not here on business," Arthur said, his eyes intent on Merlin.
"Oh. Then why-?"
"I'm here for you."
"You know," Merlin began, his throat tight, "it's customary to let someone know when you're coming to visit them, and not lurk in cafés near where they live."
Arthur pushed himself away from the wall and moved closer to Merlin. "I didn't plan it," he said. "I came to get you back."
What did Arthur mean, 'get him back'? "I don't understand."
The hope on Arthur's face crumpled. "I told you I missed you. You have no idea. I want you to come back home - to me."
"Come back and pick up where we left off?" Even after everything Merlin was tempted. Yet he knew he would have to say no, he needed more. He couldn't go back to the fucked up relationship they had shared. "No, I can't."
Arthur took a step closer. "No, you misunderstand me. My fault, I'm not being clear." Another step and he was in Merlin's personal space. "I want you and only you. I want to give it a try."
Arthur hadn't felt this sick with nerves since – well, probably never - he'd always been arrogantly confident. Nothing had ever matter as much as this. Not the decision to have a baby with Gwen, not the night Drew was born, not the day he finally stood up to his father. Merlin mattered.
Merlin's expression was confused. "I thought you had a boyfriend." And there it was; the pain flitted across his face so quickly most people would have missed it. Arthur hadn't considered that Merlin would have heard about Cenred, which was foolish really seeing as all of his friends seemed to love Merlin more than him these days!
"I don't even know what I was thinking – trying to prove to everyone that I could maybe? After that damned hippy thing they made me go to it dawned on me that I don't have to be like my father if I choose not to – just because he can't keep it in his pants doesn't mean I have to be the same - and I don't have to be the bloody clichéd fuck up whose friends force an intervention on." He paused and searched Merlin's face for a reaction. "I broke it off with Cenred when I heard about you and Gwaine splitting up – which was only this week. If I had known about that before I'd have been here sooner."
Merlin looked doubtful. "I broke up with Gwaine months ago."
"Yes, and I only just found out."
God, this wasn't how he'd planned on doing this, dressed in his pyjamas with morning breath and not having woken up with Merlin in his arms. What he wouldn't give to have woken up sooner and had a shower and cleaned his teeth!
"You came as soon as you found out?"
"You want me to come back and – what – move in with you again?"
"If that's what you want."
"No more screwing other people – just each other?"
"Just each other." The thought of just being with one person no longer terrified Arthur if that person was going to be Merlin; what scared him more was the Merlin might say no.
"How long until you get bored of that?"
"I plan on never getting bored of that." Arthur brushed a stray dark curl behind Merlin's ear. He felt the blood rush to his head and he swayed into Merlin, who held out a staying hand.
When Merlin didn't respond, Arthur said, "I've been such a fucking fool. I couldn't see what was right in front of me from the start. I had to lose you to realise what I was throwing away. I never thought I could be with just one person, but not seeing you – it's been hell."
"I don't know what to say."
"Say you'll give me a chance."
The silence stretched between them like a visible force until Merlin finally said, "Okay." His lashes dropped to fan his cheek before the blue eyes fixed intently on Arthur and his mouth curved in a heart stopping smile.
Arthur exhaled heavily and pulled Merlin into his arms. "I was hoping you'd say that," he said into Merlin's neck, knocked sideways by the relief and happiness that a simple 'okay' could engender in him. He thought of the ring, burning a hole in his jacket pocket and said, "Wait right there."
Arthur released him from his embrace and for a moment Merlin panicked. He hadn't dared admit to himself how much he'd longed for Arthur until that moment. What if he'd changed his mind? What if this was all some huge cosmic joke at his expense? He should never have listened to Morgana when she'd told him she'd seen it in a dream – seen Arthur and Merlin reunite – because what if it was that hug that she'd seen which was then promptly followed by nothing?
He watched as Arthur picked up his jacket off the chair and rummaged in the inside pocket. From there he produced a small velvet blue pouch, which he held out for Merlin. Merlin took it, loosened the ties and tipped the contents onto his hand.
It was a silver ring. Merlin gasped, because for Arthur to hand over a ring showed that he was serious, that he really would give up his lifestyle and try to make it work with Merlin.
Upon close inspection, Merlin could see that the ring very subtly depicted a head of a dragon, mouth open as though to breathe fire, but instead of fire he was firing out stars. "The stars are your magic," Arthur said quietly. The dragon was obviously Arthur. "Look inside."
Merlin lifted the ring to the light. Inscribed on the inside were three words. 'Arthur loves Merlin.'
"It's true, Merlin. Here-" he gently took the ring out of Merlin's hand and said, "May I?" He nodded towards Merlin's ring finger.
"Yes," Merlin whispered.
Arthur slid the ring into place. "It can mean whatever you want it to, Merlin. You're only nineteen; it doesn't have to mean marriage. It means whatever you want it to. It means I'm serious about this."
"No," Merlin said, watching Arthur closely and seeing him pale slightly – something that he might once have found satisfying but how he just wanted to make it better. "I want to. I don't know why people get so hung up on age! I want to marry you – but it doesn't have to be next week, Arthur, it can be in ten years. This is enough for now." It was more than enough. Merlin knew what Arthur was sacrificing to do this, it wasn't a commitment to be taken lightly and he had to show Arthur that he understood that.
He placed both hands on Arthur's shoulder and kissed him, pulling back before Arthur could take control.
Merlin took a deep breath and said, "Watch-" He closed his right hand over his left and shut his eyes to concentrate. He'd only been officially studying magic and what he was capable of for a year, but already he'd learnt so much. He felt his fingers tingle as the magic pooled from his fingertips. Somewhere outside the bubble he'd created around himself with his magic he heard Arthur's breathing, and he fed that into his thought pattern, channelling his magic with intent.
After what was probably only seconds, he was done. He held out his hand to Arthur. In the middle of his palm sat an identical ring to the one he now wore on his finger.
"Take it," Merlin invited, and Arthur did, staring down at the ring in wonder, his eyes wide.
"I've learnt a lot since we last met, and we can talk about that later," Merlin said. "Look inside."
Arthur held up the ring as Merlin had done with his only minutes earlier. "Merlin loves Arthur," Arthur read, his voice thick with emotion. Merlin took the ring out of his surprised fingers and slid it on Arthur's ring finger.
Merlin stepped closer, curled a hand around the back of Arthur's neck and kissed him, feeling Arthur melt into him before he stepped back. "So – I've got to be in New York for another couple of weeks yet. Can you stay?"
"Just you try and stop me," Arthur laughed, undoing the belt on his robe and pushing it off his shoulders. "I thought today we could take the ferry to Liberty Island and be proper tourists. Care to join me in the shower before we go?" He held his arms out, sending Merlin reeling back to that first night in Arthur's flat.
Merlin grinned and gestured towards the bathroom door. "Just you try and stop me."