AN: This is just a little drabble I wrote late at night. Enjoy, and please review!
Arthur enters his apartment, flicking on the lights and tossing his bag to the side. His head is throbbing, and his muscles ache from the day's particularly strenuous training session with his football team. He makes his way to his kitchen, hoping for a beer and some pain killers. Other than the hum of the fridge and his sneakers on the hardwood floor, the flat is silent.
He locates the pills and swallows two, before reaching into the fridge for a beer. As he sips it he toes off his shoes, leaving them in the middle of the floor. He flops onto his couch and closes his eyes, willing the pills to take effect quickly. Today had been stressful, more so than usual. With the final game of the season coming up, he and the team have been pushed harder than ever, meaning longer days and rougher training. That wasn't the bad part - he loved playing football. That was why he had chosen it as his career, after all. But sometimes Arthur wished his teammates were different. Sure, they're great at what they do, but their rude remarks and crude senses of humor make Arthur want to punch them.
Earlier today in the locker rooms, just as Arthur was getting ready to leave, he was stuck in a conversation with Valiant, listening uncomfortably to his teammate's twenty-minute long rant about how gays are "asking for it" when they are attacked just for flaunting their sexuality. Arthur had gone still, trembling with both rage and fear. He couldn't punch Valiant - Arthur is the team captain, after all. There was a time before that when he hadn't hesitated to punch a teammate for a remark much less aggravating than that, and he had ended up in the press for weeks. His coach, who also happens to be his father, had been furious, telling him that if he didn't clean up his reputation, he would be kicked off the team. No, Arthur can't stand up to Valiant, no matter how ignorant the man is. He has to get along with everyone.
Arthur sighs, rubbing his head with one hand. He wonders what Valiant and the rest of his team would think if they knew that their captain was gay. He has a feeling it wouldn't go so well if they did. Valiant has made it perfectly clear about how he feels about queers. Perhaps some of the others might be a bit more accepting, he thinks. Maybe Leon and Gwaine would be tolerant. Lancelot already knows, of course, but Arthur knows that with his heart of gold, Lancelot will take that bit of knowledge to the grave if Arthur told him to.
In his pocket, Arthur's phone chimes with a new text. He pulls it out, hoping it's Merlin, and grins when it is.
I'm downstairs. Can I come up?
He hadn't been expecting to see his secret boyfriend today, but god does he need to. If anyone can lift Arthur's spirits, it's Merlin. All Arthur wants to do is curl up with Merlin and a movie, and maybe end the night with a good shag before falling asleep in his arms. He taps out a reply,
Of course. You're just who I needed to see today, you have no idea.
He gets up off his couch and presses the button beside his door to buzz Merlin into his apartment building. He then sits back down on the couch. He's just thinking about what movies he would like to watch when there's a knock at the door. Arthur wonders why Merlin didn't just let himself in with his own key, but gets up to open the door for him anyways, hoping for a relaxing evening with his boyfriend.
His hope falters when he opens the door and sees Merlin standing there with a stony expression on his face.
"Hey, Arthur," he says.
"Merlin!" Arthur greets, standing aside to let Merlin in. He smiles a little to himself as he shuts the door, looking at the other man. He's somehow still gorgeous in his tattered blue T-shirt and jeans, his dark hair disheveled and messy. He frowns as he takes in his lover's downcast face.
"Merlin, what's the matter?" He asks, worry putting his own problems on hold.
"I have to talk to you," Merlin says, rounding to face Arthur. His expression is pained, but determined.
"About what?" Arthur says. Merlin takes a deep breath.
"I...I just had to tell you that I can't do this anymore," he says solemnly. Arthur blinks.
"Do...this," Merlin says, gesturing his hand between them. "This whole secret relationship thing...I can't do it any more."
Arthur feels his blood go cold. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm tired of sneaking around, Arthur," Merlin explains griimly. "I get that you're afraid to come out to the press, but you won't touch me at all when we're in public. I'm sick of the pretending."
"But..." Arthur stammers "I'm taking my time. You said you wouldn't push me."
"I know I said that, but it's been four years since we've been together and you haven't told anyone."
"That's not true," Arthur says, "I told Morgana, and Lance."
"That's only two people, and you told them years ago. Nothing's changed since then. You haven't even told your father!"
"You know I can't tell him yet," Arthur retorts, "Can you imagine how he would react if he knew? He's extremely homophobic, and he's too scared of the press. If he knew I was gay he would disown me."
"I don't think he would. But what about your teammates?" Merlin says, "They're nice guys, mostly. They won't hate you, they're your friends."
"Valiant isn't my friend. He would hate me."
"The rest of the team would have your back. He's big, but he's just one person."
Arthur can feel a lump rising in his throat and tears spring into his eyes. "I can't tell them, not yet. Please, Merlin." He steps forward and reaches out a hand to touch Merlin's arm. Arthur takes the fact that Merlin doesn't push him away as a sign of encouragement, so he moves closer and puts his other hand on Merlin's waist, moving his head in. He brushes their lips together, and for a moment Merlin gives in, letting Arthur kiss him desperately. But the moment passes, and he pulls away, putting his hands on Arthur's chest and pushing him slightly, keeping him at bay. He keeps his eyes closed.
"I can't, Arthur," Merlin says, his voice trembling. "I want us to be a couple, a real one, in public instead of only behind closed doors. I want to be able to hold your hand as we walk down the street, and to kiss you when we go out on dates. I want..." he opens his eyes to look Arthur in the eye, "I want to be able to tell you I love you and not care who hears."
"We can do all that," Arthur pleads, "Someday, I promise we can."
"But when, Arthur?" Merlin asks with exasperation. "I'm getting tired of hiding, and after four years, I'm losing faith that you'll ever come out."
"Merlin please," Arthur says, his voice trembling, "Someday. I just need time."
"You've had plenty of time," Merlin says grimly, "But time is running out."
Merlin looks at him sadly. "You think I want to do this?" he says, "You know I love you too. It's hurting me as much as it's hurting you. But I can't keep going on like this."
"So you're going to find some other boyfriend, then?" Arthur challenges.
"I don't know," Merlin replies. "Maybe I'll find someone I don't have to hide with."
Arthur looks into Merlin's eyes, and he can see just how much pain this is causing him. Tears are streaming down his cheeks, but his jaw is set. "Please," Arthur whispers, because there's nothing else he can think of to say.
Merlin stares into the others' eyes for a moment, and he looks on the verge of changing his mind. His head inclines fractionally, as if to bring his lips to where Arthur's are only inches away, but he stops himself. He blinks and looks to the ground, pushing past Arthur and towards the door.
"Wait!" Arthur cries. His hand close around Merlin's wrist. Merlin freezes and turns.
"Can you come out?" He demands. "If I stay, will you at least tell your team, and your father about us?"
Arthur falters as he imagines confronting his team members. He imagines Valiant's cruel sneer, and his father's furious face, shouting at him for polluting the Pendragon reputation. He imagines the tabloid headlines, ridiculing and mocking him. His career would be in ruins, everything he has worked for. He loves Merlin, but he doesn't know if he is ready to face all that yet.
Arthur hesitates, and that's all the answer Merlin needs. "Goodbye, Arthur," He says almost coldly. He wrenches his arm from Arthur's grasp and walks towards the door, shoulders hunched and head down. He pauses when he opens the door to draw something from his pocket. He looks at it for a moment in his hand, before throwing it aside. Arthur feels his heart break as Merlin's key to Arthur's apartment clatters to the ground.
He wants to stop him, to tell him that yes, he will come out. He will tell the world of their love and give up his teammate's respect, his father's support, his reputation in the press, his career as a footballer, everything, if it means Merlin will stay with him. He wants to shout after him and tell him he loves him and please, don't leave me. But he's frozen in place, his eyes wide and swimming with tears, and he can only watch as the man he loves closes the door without looking back.