A/N This is a very different style for me. I hope you guys enjoy! Thanks for my lovely betas as well!
When they were sixteen Arthur kissed him at a sleepover Uther claimed he was too old to have and Merlin smiled secretly, pulling a blanket over them both before he kissed him back.
"I don't want to tell anyone," Arthur said quietly the next morning, silently begging Merlin to understand.
Merlin only shrugged and nodded, smiling that secret smile and pulling Arthur in for another kiss.
"Just don't make me your experiment," Merlin whispered the night Arthur slid his hands up Merlin's shirt and pinched his nipple.
"Never," Arthur replied, kissing Merlin's neck. "You matter too much."
Merlin tried not to fall in love with Arthur, tried not to ache when Arthur joked with his friends about the girls he thought were fit and wouldn't mind shagging. He knew in his head that it wouldn't last, that Arthur would go off to Oxbridge, get a job in the family business, eventually find a girl his father approved of and pretend like Merlin had never been anything but a friend.
If Arthur even considered Merlin a friend.
Merlin's heart ached with doubt.
"Don't be stupid," Arthur snapped when they were seventeen and he was pushing Merlin back against the wall, fumbling with his belt. "Of course I care about you."
"Why don't you ever…Arthur," Merlin moaned, arching up into Arthur's hand and biting his lip when Arthur hissed for him to be quiet.
Arthur scraped his teeth against Merlin's neck, nipping at the sensitive skin under Merlin's jaw and making him forget the serious conversation he so desperately wanted to have. Merlin lost himself in Arthur, Arthur's name on his lips as he came hot and sticky in Arthur's hand.
"Merlin," Arthur whispered, pressing a heated kiss to Merlin's mouth as he guided Merlin's hand to his own leaking cock.
Merlin fell to his knees and swallowed Arthur to keep from whispering the words he so desperately wanted to say.
Love you, love you, love you.
"Fuck, Merlin," Arthur moaned as he came, not bothering to be gentle as he thrust into Merlin's mouth. "God, you're good at that."
Merlin stumbled back up to his feet to press a kiss to Arthur's mouth, pretending it didn't hurt when Arthur pushed him away and muttered something about not wanting to taste himself on Merlin's lips.
When they were eighteen Arthur left for Cambridge and Merlin for Warwick, a fleeting hug and stolen kiss their only goodbye. No promises were made but Merlin couldn't help but hope and he shook his head when a good looking boy called Gwaine asked him home.
"You've got someone, then?" Gwaine asked, an understanding look on his face as he pushed a pint towards Merlin.
Merlin thought about his answer, wanting so badly to say yes but knowing it was a lie. Something inside him shrivelled up and he looked away, not wanting Gwaine to see the pain the question caused. He thought about Arthur all the time, missed him in a way he was sure Arthur didn't reciprocate. Arthur could have anyone, his good looks and wealth, not to mention his easy smile, intelligence and upbeat sense of humour, ensured that he'd make a good match.
Merlin's mind knew that Arthur would never be fully his.
Merlin's heart wanted so badly for that not to be true.
"Cheer up, mate," Gwaine said, guessing at the reason for Merlin's maudlin mood even if he didn't know the whole story. "Have a drink and we'll have fun tonight. I promise to be a gentleman."
Merlin laughed when Gwaine winked at him and punched him on the shoulder, glad for the company and the promise of a new friend.
Merlin took Gwaine home with him for Christmas and shook his head no when his mother asked if they were dating and if he and Arthur had fought.
Arthur knocked on the door two days later, grinning ruefully at Merlin and pulling him into a hug when Merlin said he'd missed him.
"I understand now," Gwaine told Merlin later that evening when Arthur had gone home.
Gwaine had noticed the quick kiss Merlin had pressed to Arthur's neck during their hug goodbye and Merlin blushed at the memory of Gwaine distracting his mother while he sucked Arthur off in the bedroom.
"I hope he's worth it," Gwaine said seriously.
Merlin only smiled and told Gwaine he was a good friend but that he didn't need to worry. Everything would be fine. Arthur was still his friend, Merlin wouldn't lose him.
Merlin hoped it wasn't a lie.
Arthur kissed Merlin in the shadows at his father's New Year's Eve party and when he told Merlin he'd miss him when they went back to uni, Merlin kissed him harder, hoping it said more than the words he refused to voice aloud.
Love you, love you, love you.
Arthur rang Merlin on his nineteenth birthday and asked if he could visit him at Warwick. It made something inside Merlin unfurl and he let himself begin to hope.
When Arthur arrived for the weekend, Merlin pulled him in for a kiss, groaning when Arthur's hands slid down to cup his arse and rock their hips together.
"Missed you," Merlin whispered as Arthur pushed him onto the tiny bed in his student flat and roughly stripped him of his trousers, sucking bruises into Merlin's neck.
"Come on," Arthur groaned as he thrust inside, hitting that spot and making Merlin gasp with pleasure.
Merlin bit Arthur's neck as he came, refusing to let those words spill out of his lips. He'd never say them first; he'd never give Arthur an excuse to run away with his heart.
"You're good at that," he said instead, chuckling at Arthur's offended grunt and question of "only good?".
Arthur kissed Merlin deeply on Sunday before he left to catch his train and when Merlin hugged him at the station, Arthur looked at him searchingly, his eyes oddly hopeful. "Will you miss me?"
Merlin laughed because of course he'd miss Arthur, he always missed Arthur. Why would Arthur even ask? It was Merlin who should be asking that question, Merlin who needed to guard his heart before Arthur broke it.
"Not at all," he teased, frowning when Arthur's hopeful expression slipped and turned into a tense mask that made Merlin's heart skip a beat.
"Right," Arthur said quietly, looking away quickly but not before Merlin glimpsed the pain in his eyes.
Merlin wanted to cry that he'd only been joking, that Arthur meant the world to him, but Arthur was already walking away, yelling over his shoulder that he'd see Merlin in the summer.
Gwaine asked Merlin what was wrong several times but Merlin didn't know how to give his words a voice anymore and only shook his head.
"I'm worried about you, mate," Gwaine said a few weeks later when he found Merlin toying with his mobile, wavering over sending Arthur a text.
I miss you.
Merlin erased the message and pushed Gwaine away with a laugh, telling him he had nothing to worry about. Merlin thought he was the only one who needed to worry and he worried that Arthur was slipping away.
He looked back at his mobile, considering the text he hadn't sent and deciding against it once again. Arthur had messaged him a few times, asking if everything was all right, and Merlin always told him yes, told him about going to the LGBT soc, told him about going out with Gwaine and getting pissed. Arthur had told him to be careful and Merlin had snapped that Arthur wasn't his mother and that he could do as he pleased with whomever he pleased.
Arthur hadn't asked again but he did ring and tell Merlin he couldn't do this anymore.
Merlin didn't understand and Arthur had only sighed and said he'd see him in the summer. That Merlin was still his best friend.
Merlin didn't feel the pleasure he expected when Arthur said he was his friend.
Morgana was the one who told Merlin that Arthur had a girlfriend and while Merlin always knew it would happen, knew Arthur would never be his, he couldn't help the tightening sensation he felt in his chest as he forgot how to breathe.
"He's with her in London for the summer," Morgana said, watching Merlin coolly as she surveyed his reaction.
"What's her name?" Merlin finally choked out, wishing that the tears would fall so that the pressure behind his eyes would ease.
"Vivian," Morgana answered, looking at Merlin angrily when the tears finally started to leak from his eyes.
"What's she like?" Merlin asked, wanting desperately to be included in Arthur's life even though it seemed Arthur had pushed him out.
"She's a bitch," Morgana snapped, glaring at Merlin. "What did you do to him?"
Merlin stared at her, tears making his blue eyes even bluer. "Nothing."
Morgana's lips twisted, making her face into something ugly before she sighed and looked at Merlin forlornly. She shook her head and turned away, telling Merlin she'd see him around, that he needed to talk sense into her brother. That he was probably the only person who could.
Merlin tried not to feel too hopeful at her words but he sent Arthur a text that night, asking him to come back from London so that they could talk.
Arthur never replied.
Arthur came back the day before Merlin had to leave for Warwick and he only found out because Morgana texted him to come round and collect something he'd forgotten.
"Merlin," Arthur said when he opened the door, surprise and confusion evident in his features and maybe even a little bit of hurt.
"I missed you," Merlin blurted, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt to keep himself from throwing his arms around Arthur. He didn't know the protocol anymore, didn't know how to interact with Arthur now that he had a girlfriend.
"Yeah?" Arthur asked blandly, crossing his arms almost protectively though Merlin had no idea why Arthur needed protection from him.
"Of course," Merlin said, trying to conceal the hurt behind an easy smile. It was the same smile he always gave Gwaine when Gwaine looked at him with concern and he knew it worked.
Arthur sighed and stepped outside, shutting the door behind him. "What do you want?"
Merlin's smile faltered and he took a step back to gain perspective, feeling as though he'd been slapped.
"You," he whispered, brows knitting together. "Our friendship."
Arthur laughed darkly, shaking his head. "You can't do this, it's not fair."
"You left, Arthur," Merlin said, forcing his voice to be strong and hoping Arthur couldn't hear all the painful things he left unsaid.
"No, you stopped caring," Arthur bit out furiously. "I told you when we were sixteen that you weren't an experiment. For three fucking years, you were mine."
"What are you–" Merlin began but Arthur cut him off with, "You mattered, Merlin."
"You're with Vivian," Merlin said quietly, wanting so badly for Arthur's words to mean something more than he knew they did.
Love you, love you, love you.
Arthur shook his head, the fight going out of him. "I broke up with her."
"Sorry," Merlin lied, wishing he were a better friend.
Arthur snorted. "Don't be." He sighed and looked a Merlin for a long moment before turning and opening the door. "C'mon, I need to pack and you can help."
Merlin smiled and followed Arthur inside, hoping they could pick up from where they left off.
"We're not doing this again," Arthur said, gently pulling back when Merlin tried to kiss him.
Merlin looked away, the same pressure building behind his eyes as when he found out Arthur had a girlfriend.
"Look at me," Arthur said, tilting Merlin's face towards him with one cool finger.
Merlin swallowed thickly as he looked into Arthur's too blue eyes and tried not to lean forward to press a kiss to Arthur's lips. He wanted so badly to kiss away the sad smile Arthur was wearing and replace it with the fond and slightly exasperated one Merlin was used to seeing when Arthur glanced his way.
"Not again," Arthur said quietly. "Not yet. We need time." He rubbed his thumb across Merlin's cheekbone before drawing his hand away with a sigh. "Get to packing; I didn't invite you in to look all sad and pathetic."
Merlin threw Arthur's favourite football shirt at him and laughed until his sides ached when Arthur tripped and fell in surprise.
"Go on, ask her," Gwaine said, pushing Merlin towards the blonde girl who kept smiling at them. "You said Arthur wanted you to start dating and she's fit."
"I'm not interested in girls," Merlin muttered, trying hard not to think about the painful conversation with Arthur over winter holidays where he had urged Merlin to go out with a few people and have fun.
"I'll ask her then." He smiled at the girl and she blushed, looking away coyly. "There're a few blokes here that I wouldn't turn away," Gwaine said, turning Merlin so that he could see a brown haired man who looked to be about their age.
"Fine," Merlin muttered and shook Gwaine off so that he could approach the stranger.
Merlin dated Julian for four months and then realised Julian was stealing from him and told him to sod off. He rang Arthur to relay the news and Arthur sounded oddly pleased but no less angry than Merlin had expected him to be.
"You deserve someone who loves you and who you love back," Arthur told him and Merlin felt his heart break in a way he'd promised he'd never allow because he'd found half of that, he'd found someone he loved, the person just didn't love him back.
"Merlin?" Arthur sounded concerned. "You didn't love him, did you?"
"No," Merlin breathed, swallowing the other words that were rising in his throat and emitting a muffled sob instead.
"Good," Arthur whispered and his voice was so quiet Merlin was sure it was just his imagination and asked Arthur how his current boyfriend was doing.
Merlin never referred to Arthur's boyfriend by his name and Arthur never seemed to notice. He simply replied that his boyfriend was fine and started asking Merlin for stories of his and Gwaine's exploits and if he wanted to come to Cambridge for the weekend.
Merlin never wanted to go to Cambridge.
Merlin spent his summer at Warwick working extra shifts at the bookstore job he'd gotten after Easter and taking summer courses. He was so busy he didn't have time to miss Gwaine or his other uni friends but there was still a sharp ache whenever he thought of Arthur. If Gwaine claimed that Merlin stayed in Coventry to avoid meeting Arthur's boyfriend of six months, Merlin turned a deaf ear and changed the subject.
When Merlin got a text from Arthur asking if he could come to Coventry, Merlin didn't have to think about the answer.
Arthur arrived the next day with a duffle in hand, telling Merlin he'd been dumped and then laughing at the outrage on Merlin's face.
"Hard to believe, I know," Arthur said, pushing past Merlin and into the flat.
"Maybe not," Merlin retorted, raising an eyebrow at Arthur's cocky tone before shoving him towards Gwaine's unoccupied room. "You're kind of a prat."
Arthur laughed and tossed his duffle aside before wrapping his arms around Merlin and squeezing him tightly. "Missed you," Arthur whispered and Merlin felt himself melt.
On the second day of Arthur's visit Merlin fell asleep on the couch with his head on Arthur's shoulder. When Arthur woke him and told him to go to bed, he pulled Arthur in next to him and pressed a sleepy kiss to Arthur's mouth.
"I know it's mean," Merlin mumbled, kissing Arthur with alarming tenderness, "but I'm not sorry he dumped you."
Arthur chuckled low and warm and pulled Merlin in close, kissing back a little more fiercely but just as sweetly. "No, I suppose you're not."
Merlin smiled and buried his face into Arthur's chest, straining to hear his heartbeat and hoping it was beating in rhythm with his own.
Arthur stayed for a week and spent every night except for the first in Merlin's bed.
"Visit me at Cambridge," Arthur urged on the way to the train station, kissing Merlin once on the mouth where anyone could see and taking his hand.
"I don't think so," Merlin replied, shaking his head. He knew he could never go to Cambridge and visit Arthur, could never fit into that world Arthur had built for himself. The world that didn't include Merlin.
He ignored the part of his brain that said that this was Arthur trying to include him, trying to let him into that world. It was too much to hope for and hope had always hurt him in the past. It had been over a year since Vivian but that pain was still raw.
"You can always come here."
Arthur nodded once, a sad look on his face and he dropped Merlin's hand. "Watch my bag while I get my ticket."
Merlin agreed, wondering what had just happened to make Arthur go from relaxed and happy to closed off and reserved.
They stood stiffly and unspeaking at the platform waiting for Arthur's train to arrive. Merlin wanted so badly to reach out and touch Arthur, to pull him into an embrace and whisper the words he'd always wanted to say but knew had to remain unspoken.
Love you, love you, love you.
When the train rolled into the station Arthur turned to Merlin and settled him with a very serious look before pulling him into a tight hug. "You idiot," he muttered, releasing Merlin and holding him out as though he were laundry Arthur wasn't quite sure was clean.
"Will you miss me?" Arthur asked, the same serious look in his eyes and Merlin felt a sense of déjà vu. He didn't want to make the same mistake as last time and so rather than tease, he just nodded yes and offered what he hoped was a cheeky smile.
Arthur laughed and squeezed Merlin's shoulder. "All right, fine. I'll see you at break." He sighed and sadness flickered momentarily in his eyes before being swiftly covered by what Merlin hoped was genuine happiness. "If you change your mind about Cambridge, I'll buy your ticket."
Merlin snorted and pushed Arthur towards his train. "I don't need your charity."
Arthur rolled his eyes and snatched up his duffle, not seeming to notice that Merlin was trying to pull him in for a hug and a proper kiss goodbye. "See you."
"Well, go visit him, then!" Gwaine said, clearly amused by Merlin's pining.
"No," Merlin replied. "He doesn't feel that way about me."
Gwaine shook his head and sighed, telling Merlin they were going to go out and get good and pissed and that Merlin was going to pull or take the train to Cambridge to visit Arthur.
Merlin went home with a man with blond hair and brown eyes and pretended not to see the knowing look on Gwaine's face when he stumbled into the flat the following afternoon.
"Are you seeing anyone?" Merlin asked Arthur when he rang him on video Skype for his birthday.
"I thought I was," Arthur said and he sounded a little bit broken. Merlin wanted to find whoever was hurting him and tell them to stop being such a wanker. Arthur deserved better than that.
"You're not anymore?" Merlin pressed, worried at Arthur's tone and the slump of his shoulders. He'd never heard him sound like that before and he wished he could reach through the computer screen and touch him.
"Not if you're having to ask," Arthur sighed and changed the subject, telling Merlin about a girl in one of his modules that he was now considering asking for coffee.
Merlin told him to do it and tried to keep his own voice from breaking as he wondered when, if ever, Arthur was going to choose him.
Merlin met Gwen at the Pendragon's annual New Year's Eve party and couldn't help but like her. Even Morgana, who had been sending Merlin disapproving, meaningful glances ever since Vivian, was charmed by Gwen.
"I think he'll marry her," Morgana said smugly and Merlin thought her eyes glinted triumphantly when he looked away to hide his jealousy and hurt.
"They're only twenty-one and it's only been two months," Gwaine said when Merlin found him a few minutes later. He'd jumped at the chance to avoid going to his sister's and Merlin was grateful to have Gwaine around as an excuse to avoid Arthur and Gwen.
"Doesn't matter," Merlin said with a shrug, pretending not to watch as Arthur kept his hand firmly on Gwen's waist. "Arthur always gets what he wants. He just takes it. If he wants to marry Gwen, he will."
"Jesus," Gwaine swore, staring at Merlin. "I'm beginning to think you really are the idiot Arthur says you are."
"I never should have introduced you two," Merlin grumbled, making Gwaine laugh.
"I'm on your side, mate," Gwaine said, throwing an arm casually around Merlin's shoulders and steering him towards the open bar. "Even if you are an idiot."
Cambridge's degree ceremony was before Warwick's and Merlin apologised to Arthur for not being there.
"It's fine," Arthur replied, his voice muffled by the sounds of people celebrating around him. "I didn't expect you to. You never came when—sorry, mate, I've got to go, Gwen's dad and brother just found us."
"Have fun," Merlin said, trying to keep his voice light. "Congratulations."
"Thanks," Arthur said and he sounded genuinely happy. "I'll still come for yours, yeah?"
"Yeah," Merlin said and he couldn't contain the grin that spread across his face at the thought of seeing Arthur. "See you."
Merlin hated that his excitement at seeing Arthur died when he saw that Gwen had come as well.
"Congratulations, Merlin," Gwen said, beaming at him and giving him a hug. "We're so happy for you."
Merlin didn't miss the 'we' in that statement and his gaze flicked to Arthur who seemed to be more pleased with Gwen than with Merlin. Merlin sighed and gave Gwen a quick kiss on the cheek, thanking her for coming and turning to introduce her to his mum and Gwaine and a few of his other friends that Arthur already knew.
"We're going to get a flat together," Arthur said and Merlin did his best to look pleased when he told Arthur he was happy for him. Arthur frowned at Merlin's obvious lack of enthusiasm. "You like her, yeah? I thought you got on."
"She's lovely," Merlin said honestly, meaning it. He liked Gwen a lot, he just wished she was Arthur's friend rather than his girlfriend and he tried not to think about those feelings too often. It made Gwaine laugh or give him pitying looks depending on the day and Merlin was tired of those looks.
"Well, it'll be great," Arthur said decisively, ending that conversation. "Have you found a flat yet?"
"Yeah," Merlin said, grinning. "I found another medical student looking for a flatmate and Gwaine's finally decided to move to London so the three of us are going to share."
Arthur grinned. "I expect a dinner invitation."
"Guess I'd better learn to cook," Merlin said and Arthur laughed, pulling Merlin in close and rubbing his knuckles across Merlin's head while calling him an idiot.
Merlin settled into life in London and his graduate studies in medicine at Kings College much more easily than he had expected. Lance, his and Gwaine's new flatmate, was an incredibly friendly and kind-hearted bloke that even Arthur was unable to mock.
Arthur and Gwen had a tiny but comfortable one bedroom flat near Gwen's magazine job, and not too far from the three bedroom shared by Merlin, Gwaine and Lance. Arthur once grumbled to Merlin and Gwaine about how he had to switch Tube lines in order to get to his own office but stopped after Gwaine started calling him Princess.
Lance and Gwen seemed to hit it off immediately and Merlin soon found Gwen as frequent a visitor as Arthur and while it hurt him to see Gwen and know she got to have a piece of Arthur that Merlin had always wanted, he found that he really liked spending time with her and looked forward to her visits.
Merlin quickly fell into a routine that involved his studies, friends, and even potential boyfriends though they rarely stayed around long enough for Merlin to bother buying condoms let alone take to their weekly dinners at Arthur and Gwen's. Despite still feeling pangs of jealousy and want when he was around Arthur and Gwen, Merlin learned to push them away and focus on the fact that his best friend, the man he cared for more than anyone, was blindingly happy with his girlfriend.
At least, that's what he told himself when Arthur showed Merlin the ring he was going to use to propose with and Merlin couldn't find the words to tell Arthur what he thought.
Arthur watched him carefully and flipped the box shut when Merlin was unable to say anything other than a surprised "Oh!"
"You think it's a bad idea," Arthur said flatly, crossing his arms in that protective way that made Merlin remember when they were nineteen and trying to figure out if they were still friends.
Merlin couldn't find the words to deny what Arthur said and instead mumbled, "Well, it's a bit quick."
"It's been over a year," Arthur replied with a shrug, expression unreadable.
"I guess," Merlin said weakly, staring at the pocket of Arthur's coat where the engagement ring had disappeared.
"I'm asking her, Merlin," Arthur said seriously, eyes hardening in a way that reminded him uncannily of Morgana.
Merlin only nodded, unable to say anything else as Arthur walked away, his back rigid.
Arthur asked Leon, a friend from Cambridge that Merlin had met only twice, to be his best man.
Merlin felt Arthur slipping away as he and Gwen started working on wedding preparations.
Gwaine tried to cheer Merlin up and managed to drag both Merlin and Lance away from their textbooks long enough to go down to the pub for a pint of lager.
"All right, Lance?" Merlin asked, noticing for the first time the dark circles under Lance's eyes and the unhappy set of his jaw.
"Yeah," Lance said quietly, staring into his pint before flashing Merlin a tired smile.
"Girl trouble," Gwaine supplied knowingly, waggling his eyebrows and making Lance shake his head.
"Not a girl I can have," Lance answered, half-smiling at Merlin in an almost conspiratory manner.
"It's always worth a try," Merlin said, wanting to brighten Lance's mood. He always thought of Lance as a rather happy person, it was disconcerting seeing him so down. Had his own morose and selfish thoughts made him into such a bad friend?
"Could say the same to you," Gwaine grumbled, earning a glare and a nasty kick under the table from Merlin.
"How's Arthur?" Merlin found himself asking when he and Gwaine came home to see Gwen eating dinner with Lance on their couch. He tried not to stare at her engagement ring when she waved her hand as if to say Arthur was fine and Merlin shouldn't worry.
"You should ring him," Gwaine said, not missing the guilty looks Lance and Gwen exchanged while Merlin was too busy looking at anything other than Gwen's occupied ring finger.
"Maybe this weekend," Merlin muttered, shaking Gwaine off and going into his bedroom to collapse on his bed, not bothering to remove his scrubs.
"I'm moving out," Lance said at the end of term and Merlin was shocked to see Gwen come out of Lance's bedroom dragging a suitcase. While Gwen had become a regular visitor, Merlin hadn't known…Oh. His eyes travelled to her empty ring finger and he gasped.
Gwen seemed to realise the exact moment Merlin figured out what was going on and she pulled him into a hug whispering, "You need to ring him, he needs you".
Merlin nodded mutely and watched the two of them leave.
Gwaine found Merlin an hour later sitting on the couch clutching his mobile, finger hovering over the button that would dial Arthur's number.
Gwaine pressed the button for him.
Arthur slammed the door in Merlin's face when he finally decided to go over after a week of Arthur refusing to pick up or respond to his texts.
Merlin wanted to scream at Arthur to stop being such a prat but he settled for pounding on the door to Arthur's flat after wheedling his way in the building with the help of a very friendly elderly woman.
"Go home, Merlin," Arthur said tiredly, opening the door and looking at Merlin with such complete emotional and physical exhaustion that Merlin couldn't help but push his way into Arthur's flat and kiss him up against the wall. "No," Arthur murmured, pushing Merlin away so gently that it made Merlin want to cry.
"Arthur," Merlin said, eyes shining with tears from more emotions than Merlin thought he could name. "I'm so sorry." He cupped Arthur's cheek in his hand and pressed a chaste kiss to Arthur's mouth. "I'm sorry."
"No. Not now." Arthur sighed and closed his eyes, leaning back against the wall and turning his head so that Merlin couldn't press another kiss to his mouth. "Not yet."
Merlin started spending more time with Arthur on the weekends than he had in months. He felt outrageously guilty for not recognising what was going on and for not trying to apologise to Arthur for his original anger at the proposal.
"I knew you were jealous," Arthur said quietly when Merlin apologised yet again for being such an idiot.
Merlin flinched and scooted farther away from Arthur on the couch, not seeing Arthur's raised eyebrow or bemused expression.
"Are you embarrassed?" Arthur asked, muting the television and cocking his head to the side to scrutinise Merlin further.
"Maybe," Merlin admitted, looking at Arthur self-consciously. He flushed when Arthur laughed and quickly scowled, hitting Arthur on the leg. "You prat!" He sighed. "Did you care at all that…"
"Of course," Arthur said fiercely, not bothering to let Merlin finish that sentence and embarrass them both. "Merlin, how many times do I have to tell you, you idiot? You matter."
Merlin didn't know how to respond, those words had long since left his mouth but he allowed the tendrils of hope to start growing again at Arthur's words, his eyes shining when Arthur cast that fond, exasperated expression his way.
Love you, love you, love you.
"Sorry, mate, I already promised it to someone," Gwaine said when Merlin mentioned letting Arthur take Lance's vacated room.
"Right," Merlin said, pretending he didn't care but wishing Gwaine had said something to him.
"I thought you'd be moving out too," Gwaine commented, frowning at Merlin's disappointed expression.
"What? Why?" Merlin asked, confused.
"Well, Arthur, really," Gwaine replied, shrugging. "I figured that with as much time as you spend over there it was only a matter of time."
"No!" Merlin protested loudly, shaking his head. "No, it's not like that."
"Calm down," Gwaine said, chuckling at Merlin's fierce denial. "I get it."
Four months after Gwen left and one day before Arthur's twenty-third birthday, Merlin found himself missing Arthur's company as soon as he left Arthur's flat to go back to the one he now shared with Gwaine and Percy. He almost turned around and knocked on Arthur's door to ask if he could spend the night but he hadn't spent the night with Arthur since before Gwen. He didn't know if it was a good idea so he walked to the Tube station and headed home, trying not to think about the Arthur shaped hole in his heart.
As soon as he reached the flat he dug his mobile out of his pocket and typed a quick text to Arthur.
I miss you.
He didn't expect a response but when his phone buzzed just two minutes later with, Then you should come back.
Merlin turned on his heel and retraced his steps, chiding himself for his foolishness in both leaving and returning and being unable to decide which was the worst idea.
Arthur greeted Merlin at the door with a knowing smirk on his face and stepped aside to let Merlin in.
Merlin reached for Arthur when he realised that Arthur wasn't going to make the first move, wasn't ever going to be the first one to say it. Merlin pressed his mouth against Arthur's in a kiss that was meant to be innocent but quickly turned into something much more heated and full of want.
"Arthur," Merlin whispered, pulling away to catch his breath, one hand fisted in Arthur's red jumper while the other rests against Arthur's cheek. "I-I," he stuttered, unable to shape the words he's always kept himself from saying.
"Shh," Arthur told him, resting his hands on Merlin's waist and pulling him flush. "I know, I know."
Merlin smiled and felt the pressure of happy tears prickle behind his eyes and he kissed Arthur deeply, pouring as many of his emotions as possible into that one kiss and hoping that one day they would be spoken aloud.