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After the Break-Up...

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After the Break-Up...

They were all sitting around Merlin and Gwen's shared flat. It wasn't nearly as spacious as Arthur's or as immaculate as Morgana's, but it was what the two longtime friends and financially struggling university students could afford. Plus, having Gwaine, Lance and Percy also dwelling in the same building was an added bonus and Leon lived just down the street.

Arthur and Merlin were snuggled together on one end of the sofa. "So how's the world of big business treating you?" Gwaine asked Arthur.

Arthur and Leon were several years older than the rest of them, both already graduated from uni and had been working out in the 'real world' for nearly a year now. Arthur worked for his father's company while Leon worked as an architect.

"Very draining. We've been working like mad getting the New York office open but things should settle down now that it's up and running." He pulled Merlin closer to him and placed a kiss on the unruly dark hair on top of his head.

The two of them have been a couple for just over a year and a half. Morgana introduced them two years ago, shortly after meeting Merlin herself. She had met Gwen in a class they shared and they quickly became friends, which led to her meeting Merlin. Arthur and Merlin spent the first six months after their initial meeting either ignoring or insulting or trying to kill each other. The rest of them just stood back and watched the show, knowing that eventually they would figure things out. Six months later, they finally did and they've been a couple ever since.

Anymore it's rare when all eight of them are able to get together. Usually, several of them are missing because of school, work or some other obligation. As of late, Arthur had been the one absent more often than not because of the long hours he'd been clocking at the office.

He felt like he was neglecting Merlin but Merlin was always understanding. Merlin was quite busy himself, with his classes and working at Gaius's cafe by the university. Whatever free time Arthur had, he spent it with Merlin but it never was enough for Arthur. Now, finally, he'd have much more time to devote to him and both of them were relishing the thought of it.

 

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Arthur never intentionally tried to hide the fact that he was gay from Uther, it just never came up. Thoughout school, he dated girls but he always knew deep down that he was gay. Uther would sometimes ask if there was a special girl in his life but he would deny it since his special someone was Merlin.

It wasn't until after the New York office was finished that Uther started pushing Arthur telling him he was to the point in his life that he needed to find someone to settle down with and think about having children in the near future. Arthur finally got up the nerve to tell his father that he was gay and had already found someone he wanted to eventually settle down with. Uther, of course, wasn't about to accept that. "I will NOT have a gay son!...I will NOT have you embarrass me like this!...I will NOT have you disgrace the Pendragon name!"

Arthur just sat there and listened to Uther until he was done with his rant. Arthur was definitely afraid that his father was going to disinherit him but after he left Uther's office, neither of them mentioned it again and they went on like usual.

 

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A few weeks later, Cendred was standing in Uther's office. "Mr. Pendragon, it would seem your son's relationship with the boy is still going on. He seems to be spending even more time with him now that the New York project is done."

"What do you know about this boy?"

"His name is Merlin Emrys. He comes from a small town called Ealdor, was raised by a single mother, is getting through university by working at a cafe to supplement his scholarships. He's studying to become a teacher and is just finishing up his second year. He's making excellent grades. He is also friends with your daughter." He finished and handed Uther the report he just highlighted along with pictures of Arthur and Merlin holding hands and kissing.

When Arthur told him he was gay, he decided he would do whatever was necessary to end this right now. He would NOT have a gay son.

Then the idea came to him. Send Arthur to New York to get him away from this boy. The boy wouldn't be able to follow since he was still in university. The time and distance apart would most certainly put an end to the situation once and for all. Decision made.

 

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Arthur is called into Uther's office first thing Monday morning. Never a good sign when it's an impromptu meeting. He barely got seated before Uther began. "I need you in the New York office by the start of next month."

"Alright, but why? Has something changed there? I thought we had all the staff in place."

"We do, I just think that, since it's a new office, it would be better if a Pendragon were there on a daily basis to ensure everything runs smoothly."

"How long are you talking about?"

"A year, two at the most." Arthur made an audible gasp which Uther ignored and just went on. "We have an apartment already leased so there should be no reason to delay your departure. I think three weeks should be more than sufficient to get all your loose ends tied up here." Uther said this like it was a given, Arthur would do as he was told...end of story.

"But father, can't someone else go. There are any number of people you could send like Owen or George..."

"Stop right there," Uther interrupted raising his voice. "I want a Pendragon over there. One day this company will be yours. You need to realize now that you will have to make sacrifices along the way. Now I don't want to hear another word about it. You are to be there by the first of the month."

Arthur was numb all over. Three weeks, he had less than three weeks before he was to leave. He knew the color had drained from his face and his stomach felt like it was twisted in knots. What about Merlin? "But father, you don't understand, I can't leave Mer..." he started to voice, when Uther abruptly cut him off.

"Arthur, if you aren't willing to do what's in the best interest of this company then maybe I need to find someone better suited to take over Pendragon Inc. upon my retirement."

So there it was, either do as Uther said or be disinherited. "You're dismissed. I'll have Vivian send your assistant all the information." Arthur stood to leave when Uther added, "don't disappoint me, again, Arthur."

Arthur knew exactly what the 'again' Uther was referring to meant.

When Arthur got back to his own office, he felt sick. What did he do? Did he just agree to go to New York for at least a year? Why couldn't he just stand up to his father? Was he really going to let Uther run his life? He put his head down on his desk for a few minutes before he told his personal assistant, Mithian, to clear his schedule for the rest of the day.

Fifteen minutes later, he left his office and went home. He couldn't even fathom the idea of leaving Merlin but he didn't think he was strong enough to defy his father. He knew Uther would fire him and most likely try to take his flat from him leaving him homeless. He also knew how mean and spiteful Uther could be and feared that his dear old father would even put the word out for no one else to hire him. Then what would he do? Feeling hopeless, he proceeded to get drunk trying to forget how his life has just been turned completely upside down.

 

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Merlin and Arthur had just walked into Arthur's flat after an awkward lunch. Arthur had been acting strangely the last few weeks. He knew he should have told Merlin about his plans to move to New York right away but he just couldn't bring himself to do it. He just wanted to spend as much time with Merlin as possible before he left because he knew that soon he would no longer have Merlin. He knew it was selfish of him but he just couldn't help it.

"Merlin, we need to talk."

"So you're finally going to tell me what's going on?"

Whenever Merlin had questioned him about it, Arthur would say he was just busy and stressed with work, nothing to worry about.

Merlin knew this was a lie because Arthur had finished with the New York project nearly two months ago and had never mentioned the company starting anything new, but he figured Arthur would open up to him when he was ready.

Sadly, Merlin was completely caught off guard by what came next.

"Merlin, we need to break up."

"What? What are you talking about? Why?" Merlin didn't see that one coming, it was like a punch to the gut. True, Arthur had been acting strangely but he never gave Merlin any indication that he wanted to end their relationship.

"I just think it's time to move on. You're still in school and I want to focus on my career. We're in different places in our lives."

"Are you kidding me? Where is this coming from all of a sudden?"

"I'm moving to New York, Merlin, to oversee that office. I'll be there for at least a year and I don't want to be tied down."

"But I don't understand. I love you and I thought you loved me. You want to just throw it all away?"

Arthur didn't say anything, instead he turned away from Merlin not knowing if he could go through with it.

"Is this something you want to do or is Uther making you do it?" Merlin's voice was shaky and Arthur knew if he looked around he was sure to see tears in Merlin's eyes.

"Merlin, just drop it."

"No, I won't! Why are you doing this? Did your father finally find out about us and doesn't approve so he's sending you to New York?" Merlin demanded.

In actuality, that very thought had crossed his own mind but he chose to ignore it. "It's not...I just think it'd be better if we broke up."

"It's Uther, isn't it," he asked again. When Arthur didn't deny it, Merlin had his answer. "So your father's opinion of you is worth more than me?"

"Merlin, please, just stop. It's over, okay."

"Why can't you just stand up to him and tell him you're not going? Am I not worth fighting for?!" Merlin shouted.

Arthur just wanted this whole conversation to be done and over with so he turned to Merlin and said, "you're right, okay! You're not worth it! Now please just leave!" He wished he hadn't turned around because the devastation he saw on Merlin's face broke his heart. It made him sick knowing his words caused that look but it was not enough to keep him from turning away and walking out of the room. He slammed his bedroom door shut a few seconds later.

Merlin stood there frozen for a second before he walked out the door passing a very shocked Morgana. She had been standing in the hall about to knock on Arthur's door when she heard the shouting but couldn't make out what was being said. She reached out and stopped Merlin to ask if he was okay. He looked at her, devastation written all over his face, and he told her to ask her dear brother before rushing down the hall and out of the building.

Seeing Merlin looking like this broke her heart and made her want to go and punch her dear brother in the face so she whipped around and stormed into his flat. Not seeing Arthur, she headed straight back to his bedroom yelling as she went. When she got to his door she didn't even bother knocking, instead she opened it with such force it slammed against the wall leaving a dent. Arthur was sitting at his desk with his back to the door. He didn't even acknowledge her presence. She walked over to him and spun his chair around. "What the hell did you just do?! You are such a fucking ass I can't believe it! What did you say to Merlin to make him so upset?"

When he didn't immediately reply, she just stood there with her arms crossed over her chest, glaring at him. "Well, I'm waiting."

"I told him we're through, okay? There, now you know, so you can leave."

"You did what! Why would you do that?"

"Just leave it Morgana. It's none of your business."

"Like hell it isn't! Merlin is one of my dearest friends. How could you do that to him?"

"You don't understand," he responded quietly.

"Then please enlighten me!"

"I'm moving to New York," he whispered.

"You're what? Why on earth are you doing that!?"

"Father needs me to oversee that office for a year or two so it's better this way. I don't want a long distance relationship."

"Well, did it ever cross your mind to tell Uther no?"

Arthur didn't bother to respond because there was nothing to say. He knew he was a coward but he had made up his mind and he wasn't going to change it. Even if he could, the words had already been said and the damage done.

When Arthur continued to just sit there in silence, Morgana uttered "unbelievable," before she added, "you're a dick!" then turned and stormed out slamming the door shut behind her. She had to find Merlin and make sure he was okay.

 

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Merlin left Arthur's flat in a state of shock and wasn't paying attention to where he was going and walked right out into the street in front of a car that was turning his way. Luckily, the car wasn't going very fast but it still knocked him down. He landed on his butt and scraped up his hands and elbows. The driver and a passerby ran over to him to make sure he was okay. He insisted he was fine and got up, wiped his hands on his jeans and brushed off the seat of his pants.

The driver was just getting back into his car when Morgana came upon the scene and rushed over to him. After checking to make sure he had no serious injuries, she waved down a taxi and insisted he take it home. He willingly crawled into the back of it, feeling bruised and battered both physically and emotionally. "Do you want me to come home with you?" He shook his head. "Alright, I'll call you later, okay?"

"Thanks Morgana," is all he said before the taxi drove away.

Once he was out of sight, she dug her phone out of her handbag and called Gwen.

 

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As soon as Merlin stepped through the door, Gwen rushed over to him and grabbed his wrists. "We need to get these cleaned up," she told him looking at his palms. She carefully pulled up his sleeves to look at his elbows. "They don't look too bad. Come on, move it," and she ushered him down the hall into the bathroom.

Once she had him all doctored up, he thanked her and headed straight to his bedroom. He hadn't said more than a dozen words since he arrived home.

She gave him a few minutes before she went into his room. He was just laying on his side, staring off into space and didn't even notice she was there until she sat on the bed next to him. He looked over at her with red rimmed eyes and told her Arthur had dumped him.

She didn't say anything. Instead she laid down beside him, snuggled up against his back and wrapped her arms around him as he let the tears fall. They stayed that way until Merlin fell asleep about half an hour later. Gwen then stood up, walked around to his side of the bed and got him covered, gave him a kiss on the forehead and closed his door on her way out and he never stirred. She went into the kitchen to call Morgana. She then called Lance and cancelled their plans for that evening. He, of course, was very understanding and told her to call if she or Merlin needed anything.

 

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Once Morgana got home, she called Leon and told him what Arthur had done. Leon knew Morgana probably felt responsible for all this because she was the one that introduced Merlin to her brother. "I'll go talk to him and call you back later."

When he got to Arthur's flat, Leon knocked but when he didn't get any answer he turned the doorknob and it was unlocked so he walked in. Arthur wasn't in the living room or kitchen so he must be in his bedroom so Leon knocked on that door.

"Go away Morgana. I don't want to talk about it anymore."

Leon opened the door and saw Arthur sitting off the side of his bed staring out the window. There were a few empty beer cans scattered around the floor. This was a new addition to the room since Morgana was there.

"Listen Arthur," Leon began. "I need to talk to you. Merlin was in an accident." When Arthur jerked his head around in alarm, Leon quickly added, "he's fine, just a little scraped up, but he's fine."

Before Leon could say anything else, Arthur cut in, "I don't want to hear anymore," which was an obvious lie because Leon saw the alarmed look on his face just a moment ago.

"What? Don't you even want to know what happened?" When Arthur shook his head no, Leon asked why he was trying to pretend like you don't care? "What's going on?"

"Leon, this doesn't concern you. We've been friends for a long time but you need to mind your own business and stay out of this."

He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Damn it Arthur, why are you letting Uther control your life? Stand up for yourself...make your own decisions...tell him you're not moving to New York! Stop being your father's puppet!"

"It's my life and I don't need you telling me how to live it, so if you have anything else to say about it, just leave now because I'm not interested," Arthur said in a stern voice.

Leon glared at him and told him that he was making a huge mistake and one day he would regret it.

Arthur just blew him off and turned back to the window like he was before Leon barged in. Leon walked out slamming the door behind him.

When Leon was outside, he called Morgana. She was shocked that Leon, of all people, wasn't able to get through to him. They'd been friends since they were about ten years old, and he had always been able to talk sense into Arthur.

When Arthur heard his front door slam shut, he flopped down on his bed. What had he done, breaking up with Merlin? And now Merlin was hurt and here he was trying to act like he didn't care when all he really wanted to do was run to Merlin, make sure he was okay and beg for his forgiveness. But he knew he couldn't. He'd be leaving in just a few days so this was for the best, at least he tried to convince himself of that. Somehow, he'd have to forget about Merlin, tell himself that Merlin was no longer his concern and get on with the job at hand. It was going to be hard but it's just one of the sacrifices he had to make.

 

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A few days after the break-up
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No one had been in contact with him since that day. Arthur assumed everyone knew about the break-up and blamed him, rightfully so. Everyone loved and cared and worried about Merlin, hell, he did too, but it made him a little bitter that none of their friends had even called to tell him goodbye or wish him luck. Oh well, he'd be starting over in New York. New city, new life, or at least he hoped. Maybe with so much distance between them, he'd be able to forget about Merlin, as unlikely as that seemed.

 

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Arthur had just finishing packing his last bag when there was a knock on his door. When he answerd it, Morgana came in and saw his suitcases.

"So I see you're really going through with it." The disappointment was obvious in her voice.

"If you're here to try to talk me out of going, then you can stop now."

"Oh, I'm not going to, brother dear. You see, the more I thought about it the more I came to the realize this is probably for the best. Don't get me wrong, I'll miss having you around to annoy, but for Merlin, it's for the best."

He just looked at her with a puzzled expression on his face but stayed silent.

"Merlin is hurting right now, well, actually, devastated would be a more accurate word, but he'll get over it eventually. So I think you leaving now is really for the best. This way he gets to see you for the man you really are rather than waste anymore time on you. He deserves someone that will make him their priority and that will treat him the way he deserves to be treated. Honestly, I don't know how anyone would voluntarily let him go but you didn't just let him go, no, you threw him away and all to please father dear. You made your choice, now good luck trying to live with it."

She knew she was being cruel and heartless but she didn't care. She still couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that he willingly let Uther destroy the best thing that had ever happened to him and it made her so angry she wanted to scream and pull her hair out.

By the time she finished, Arthur felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach and before he even knew what to say, she walked over to him and pulled him into a hug. "Give me a call once you've landed."

"Yeah, I will." He was still trying to recover from the shock and sting of her words.

"Please promise me one thing?"

"What is it?"

"Merlin is the best thing that's ever happened to you..."

"Morgana, stop right there."

"Please just hear me out. Having Merlin in your life has made you a better person and I don't want to see that person disappear. Don't go back to the way you were before Merlin, you weren't happy then. Don't go back to pretending you're not gay, even if it is what Uther wants. You are gay, Arthur, and no distance is going to help you outrun that fact. You may think you'll be able to just shove that part of yourself aside, but you won't be able to keep up the charade forever. I just hope when you come to your senses, it won't be too late."

 

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Merlin carried on with classes and work. He put on a brave face for his friends but they all knew how broken up he was but they didn't know how to fix it.

One afternoon about two weeks after Arthur left, Morgana and Merlin were sitting in the library studying when Merlin quietly asked how Arthur was doing in New York.

"I don't really know. We've only talked once since he arrived and it was a rather short conversation. Who needs him anyway, you can do so much better than that selfish prat."

"Thanks Morgana," he replied before looking down at his book pretending to study, trying to hide his tears.

 

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Two months after the break-up
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"Well hello Arthur. Nice to see that you do actually know how to answer your phone. It's been nearly two months. Don't you believe in returning phone calls anymore?"

"Sorry Morgana, I've just been really busy. What's up?"

"I've heard some disturbing news and I thought maybe you could shed some light on it for me."

"What is it?"

"I talked to father yesterday. He told me that you're dating some woman from your office. You sure didn't waste any time, did you? So I see you're still trying to please Uther by pretending to be the perfect straight son he's always wanted."

"It's none of your damn business so if that's all you wanted..."

"No, I also wanted to ask how you're doing but if you're going to be a prat..."

"Sorry Morgana. Yes, I'm dating a woman named Sophia, and yes, she works in the office but no, it's nothing serious. Does that about cover it?"

"Are you happy, Arthur? I don't know how you can be, living a lie just to please Uther. Don't you think you deserve to be happy, like you were with Merlin?"

"I'm sorry Morgana, but I'm not getting into this with you again. Just do me a favor, please don't bring up his name ever again. Now I really have to get back to work. I'll talk to you soon. Goodbye," and the call ended before she could say anymore.

Arthur folded his arms on his desk, closed his eyes and rested his head on his arms. 'Am I happy,' he asked himself. Hell no. He didn't think he could be more miserable if he tried. Why didn't he tell Morgana the truth? He should have told Morgana the truth. Sophia was just his personal assistant who has a massive crush on him and agreed to 'let it slip' to Uther they were dating. He wasn't interested in her in the slightest.

What if word got back to Merlin that he had moved on and was dating someone. He had to stop himself right there. He gave Merlin up so what did it matter if Merlin thought he was dating someone. Maybe that would be for the best. Maybe then Merlin would move on and forget about him and do like Morgana said and find someone he deserved. What if Merlin already had moved on and forgotten about him? He left his office and headed straight home so he could wallow in peace.

 

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Four months after the break-up
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Merlin was working his shift in Gaius's cafe when a guy named Mordred came in and took notice of Merlin. He started coming in every day after that waiting for hours at a time until Merlin showed up for his shift.

Merlin felt very uneasy when Mordred was around. He never took his eyes off Merlin, constantly followed his every move. Gaius noticed and tried to convince Merlin to take the next few weeks off thinking Mordred would stop coming around. Merlin declined. Now that they were on break from classes, this was the perfect time for him to pick up all the hours he could at the cafe so he could put back some money for food and rent to help carry him over for when he had to cut back on his work hours again due to school.

Gwaine, who also worked at the cafe, tried to have a talk with Mordred but whenever he approached, Mordred bolted out the door, which was great, but unfortunately, Merlin and Gwaine didn't work many shifts together because of their conflicting schedules.

Percy even came in a couple of times pretending to be Merlin's boyfriend in the hopes of driving Mordred away. Finally, when none of these attempts worked, Gwen and Morgana went to the police. The officer explained that since Mordred hadn't done anything to Merlin or made any threats against him, there was really nothing they could do. Of course, Morgana didn't accept this and by the time they left, the officer had agreed to send someone over to the cafe to have a talk with Mordred.

An officer showed up the next day and escorted Mordred outside for a chat. After that, they didn't see him again, much to everyone's relief.

 

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A few days later, Merlin was walking to class when he got a call. It was from a number he didn't recognize.

"Merlin Emrys?" the voice asked as soon as he answered.

"Yes, who is this?"

"I'm sorry. My name is Sergeant Kaye. I'm calling about your mother, Hunith?"

"Yes, what's wrong?"

"She has been in a very serious car accident. Can you get here as soon as possible?"

"Is she alive?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

"Yes, but that's all I know right now. It's pretty serious son. Do you have someone who can bring you here?"

"I'll be there as soon as possible," he said in a daze before he hung up.

He then called Gwen. "Gwen, I need your help. My mum has been in an accident and I need to get to her as soon as possible. Can you take me?"

"Oh my God, of course Merlin. Where are you? Do you need me to pick you up or can you make it back here?"

"I'll be there in about fifteen minutes."

Gwen quickly threw together a bag for Merlin and one for herself. She was on the phone with Morgana when Merlin walked in. She told Morgana goodbye and promised to keep her posted with any news. She then grabbed Merlin and pulled him into a hug. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah, let's go."

They got to Ealdor in record time. Merlin was rushed back to his mother's bedside when he got there. They told him they didn't expect her to make it through the night. When he saw her, she looked terrible. Her breathing was very labored and she was so pale.

"Hey Mum. I'm here." He sat down in the chair beside her and took her hand. He didn't know how long he'd sat there before she finally opened her eyes.

When she saw him, she smiled and said in barely a whisper, "my sweet boy. I love you so much."

"I love you too Mum." He was holding back tears because he wanted to be strong for her.

"Merlin, my love, I want you to listen to me." She proceeded to tell him how proud she was of him. He tried to stop her because he could see how she was struggling to talk but she just shook her head and continued. "I want you to finish school and be happy."

"I will Mum, I promise. I love you so much. Thank you for supporting and believing in me." With these words, he broke down but only for a minute because he still had too many things he needed to say to her before it was too late.

About an hour later, with one last "I love you" said by both, she smiled, squeezed his hand and closed her eyes for the final time. He just sat there frozen. He felt like he couldn't breath. He felt so empty and alone. After struggling to hold back his tears, he finally let them fall.

A nurse came in to shut off the machines and told him to stay as long as he needed to. Merlin just continued to sit by her bedside holding her hand until the tears finally stopped flowing. He was exhausted but he finally got up the strength to stand, gave her one final kiss on the cheek and walked away from her for the last time.

When he got back to the waiting room, Morgana, Leon, Lance, Gwaine and Percy were all there with Gwen. After speaking with Gwen earlier, Morgana made arrangements to have a car bring the rest of them to Ealdor. As soon as they saw him, they surrounded him and he knew, he really truly knew, they would always be there for him. They were the only family he had now. As they all got ready to head out of the hospital to go get some much needed sleep, Merlin said very softly, "thank you all. You don't know what this means to me."

 

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"Arthur, it's your sister again. Please, it's important. Call me as soon as you get this message."

Arthur had no intentions of returning Morgana's call. Instead he chose to sit in his apartment and get pissed out of his mind for no other reason than it was a Wednesday. Some life, he thought to himself.

 

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Hunith's funeral was two days later. It was a small service but very tasteful. Afterwards, they all headed back to Merlin's childhood home to start the process of clearing it out. Since his mother never owned the house, just rented it, there wasn't that much to do. With all of them working together it only took a day. Merlin packed away everything sentimental that he wanted to take back to London with him and everything else got donated to charity.

They planned to head back to London in the morning, so they decided to order pizzas so there wouldn't be any dishes to clean up in the morning. While they were eating, Lance brought up Mordred. "Has he been back to the cafe anymore?"

"No, I think being confronted by the police did the trick," Merlin said and smiled at Gwen and Morgana who were giving him the 'I told you so' look.

"Well, just stay on guard, okay, you just never know if or when he may make another appearance," Leon advised.

"That's what Percy here is for. To protect his boyfriend," Gwaine teased as Merlin rolled his eyes and Percy tried to smack him upside the head, but Gwaine quickly dodged Percy's monster sized hands.

They ate the remainder of the pizza just enjoying each others company. Having them here with him had been a lifesaver. "I could never have made it through these last few days, well really, through these last several months, without you guys. Thank you."

"That's what friends are for. You'd do the same for us," Gwaine responded and they all agreed.

On that note, they gave each other hugs before saying their goodnights and heading off to sleep.

 

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Seven months after the break-up
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Everything was finally back to normal. Merlin had settled into a routine consisting of classes, study and work while still making time for his friends. Three short weeks later everything went to hell. It happened one evening when Merlin's shift ended at the coffee shop. Gwaine was there and was scheduled to close up for the night. Merlin asked if he wanted him to stay and help but Gwaine just waved him off and told Merlin to have a nice night.

It was dark outside when Merlin left. He was walking down the street when all of a sudden Mordred appeared out of the shadows. Merlin didn't notice that he had something behind his back. Mordred told him he wanted him back. "What are you talking about? Just go away and leave me alone." Merlin started to walk away, and that's when Mordred attacked him from behind.

He hit him in the side of the head with something large and heavy. Merlin instantly fell to the ground. Once he was on the ground, he felt a shoe make contact with his stomach and then with the other side of his head. After that, everything went black.

Meanwhile, Gwaine was wiping off the bar when he looked down and noticed that Merlin forgot his cell phone. Since he only left a few minutes ago, Gwaine grabbed it and ran out of the cafe hoping to catch up with Merlin before he got too far. As he was looking down the street trying to spot Merlin, he saw what appeared to be someone getting beaten up. He ran over as fast as he could and saw that it was Mordred kicking the hell out of Merlin, who was on the ground motionless and covered in blood. He yelled as he tackled Mordred to the ground. Once he had him down, he punched him square in the face knocking him out cold. He leapt over to Merlin but Merlin looked like he was dead. Gwaine started yelling for help as he bent over Merlin sobbing. A small crowd gathered and someone had obviously called 999 because he heard sirens in the distance.

Within minutes, the ambulance and police were there. There were several men gathered around Mordred making sure he didn't wake up and try to flee. The police got over to him and hauled him up which roused him. He looked down and saw Merlin's unmoving body on the ground being cared for by the paramedics. He just laughed and said, "if I can't have you, no one will." The police jerked him away and pushed him into the back of their car to take him to the station.

"Let's get him onto the stretcher." "Be careful of his neck." "On three. One...two...three...Lift!" "Let's get going!" The medics had to move Gwaine out of the way so they could get to Merlin to work on him. Gwaine reluctantly moved off to the side where he just stood in shock. He was covered in Merlin's blood. He heard what was being said but it wasn't registering in his brain.

More police arrived. A female officer walked over to him, lightly touched him on the arm and asked if he knew the victim. He snapped out of his shock and looked at her for a second before he began to frantically search for Merlin. The officer, she told him her name was Elena, asked him again if he knew the victim. He told her Merlin was his best friend and like a brother to him. He again started looking around for Merlin. Elena told him they'd taken him to the hospital and to follow her. She lead him to her patrol car where she instructed him to get in as she turned on her lights and siren and headed to the hospital.

On the short ride there, Gwaine told her what he witnessed before he was able to reach Mordred and stop his assault on Merlin. Then he broke down. "He has to be okay. He just has to," he repeated over and over while sobbing. Once they arrived at the hospital, they were told that Merlin had been rushed into surgery. At least that meant he was alive, at least for now.

Elena asked Gwaine who she needed to contact. He told her Gwen and Morgana. He found Merlin's phone still in his pocket and handed it to her, "their numbers will be in here." She asked if there was any family members she needed to call. He shook his head and told her it was just Merlin since his Mother had died recently so Gwen and Morgana were his emergency contacts. They'd get ahold of everyone else. Elena stepped away to make the necessary calls. Once she'd finished, she came back and sat with Gwaine until his friends arrived.

Morgana and Leon were the first to arrive. Morgana rushed in and went straight up to the desk demanding to know how Merlin was. The nurse at first refused to release any information to her until she explained that she was Merlin's emergency contact. She then informed her that he was still in surgery and would probably be for the next several hours at least. Morgana grabbed hold of Leon, who just cradled her in his arms, as she sobbed loudly and just kept saying, "no, no, no." Leon couldn't keep the tears from escaping his own eyes.

Gwen arrived next with Lance and Percy. Gwen was already crying loudly as she entered with the guys on either side of her supporting her. She walked over to the others and just collapsed into a chair beside Morgana and the two girls clung to each other. By this time, Gwaine was inconsolable. He just kept walking around the waiting area looking for something to kick or punch.

Every twenty minutes or so, one of them would go up to the nurses desk to ask how Merlin was doing. The nurse patiently repeated that he was still in surgery and the doctor would be out to talk to them as soon as the surgery was over.

Two hours later, Gwaine was sitting off by himself just staring out the window. They all knew what a soft heart he had when it came to Merlin. He and Merlin teased and joked around with each other but they all knew that Gwaine would kill for Merlin. If Gwaine wouldn't have been so worried about Merlin, he probably would have killed Mordred by now.

Gwen went over and sat down by Gwaine. She then put her hand on his knee. He looked over at her with tears in his eyes that matched her own. She reached over and embraced him. They sat like that, crying on each others shoulders, for what seemed like hours when, all of a sudden, a doctor came into the waiting area asking to speak to Merlin's friends. They all went rushing over to him. He led them into a room, off to the side, so they could have some privacy.

"I'm going to start by saying Merlin is lucky to be alive. After the beating he took, most people wouldn't have even made it to the hospital."

With these words, the friends all looked at Gwaine with so much gratitude in their eyes.

The doctor continued, "he has some swelling in the brain that has us most concerned. We'll be keeping him in the intensive care unit so we can closely monitor him. The next 48 hours are going to be the most critical. We have him in a medically induced coma to give his brain some time to heal and for the swelling to go down. We won't know if there is going to be any brain damage until he regains consciousness. I'm afraid to say his eardrums have been severely damaged but we won't know to what extent this will affect his hearing until he wakes. He has some cracked and broken ribs, a broken nose and is covered in bruises and lacerations. We'll be moving him to the ICU shortly. Once we have him settled in, you'll be able to see him for a short time. Let me warn you though, you may not recognize him with all the swelling and bruising. I'm sorry I can't give you anything more definitive. Like I said, we're just going to have to wait until he wakes up. Now any questions I can answer for you?"

They were all in shock after hearing the doctors report. They just sat there numb. Finally, the doctor got up to leave and told them that he'd be back if anything changed but, in the meantime, if they thought of any questions, to let the nurses know and they'd try to contact him.

Gwaine was the first to speak after the doctor left. He slammed his fists down on the table and yelled, "it's not fair! Merlin doesn't deserve any of this! It's just not fair! If I'd gotten there sooner...it's just not fair, it's just not fair." His words got quieter and quieter until they finally stopped as he completely broke down. They all tried to comfort him through their own tears and sorrow.

"If it wasn't for you, Merlin wouldn't be alive right now," Lance said, trying to reassure Gwaine.

Finally, two hours later, a nurse came over and told them that they had Merlin all settled into the intensive care unit and that he was in critical but stable condition. She explained that they could see him but, "only two of you are allowed back to see him at a time and only for ten minutes."

Gwen and Morgana were the first to go back. At the first sight of him, Morgana let out a gasp before breaking out in tears. Gwen instantly started sobbing and rushed over to him and grabbed his hand. She sat in the chair beside him and, with her other hand, she rubbed his arm where it wasn't bruised. She couldn't even see his hair because his head was wrapped in gauze. She inhaled deeply and forced herself to stop crying because she wanted to be strong for Merlin.

Morgana finally composed herself enough to walk to the other side of the bed where she held his other hand. Gwen and her looked across the bed at each other in utter disbelief. They talked to him for a few minutes before the nurse came in and told them it'd been ten minutes. Each girl bent over and gave him a gentle kiss on his cheek before walking out.

Leon and Percy were the next pair to go back. Ten minutes later, they reappeared in the waiting room looking worse than they had before they went back.

Lance and Gwaine finally headed back. They braced themselves for what must be a horrible sight, judging by their friends reactions. Lance immediately walked up to Merlin and started talking to him while Gwaine stayed off to the side. He was fighting hard not to throw up at the sight in front of him. A few minutes later he was able to stand by Merlin's bedside. Lance left knowing Gwaine would want some time alone with Merlin.

"I'm so sorry Merlin. If only I'd been quicker...if only I'd told you to stay and help me close the shop when you offered. You have to get better. You're the best friend I've ever had and I need you." Tears were streaming down his face by this time. He sat down on the chair next to the bed and just held onto Merlin's hand like his life depended on it.

The nurse let him stay an extra five minutes before she ushered him out.

By this time, it was six o'clock in the morning. They'd been told that they wouldn't be able to see Merlin again until noon so they should go home and try to get some rest. Reluctantly, they all left but not before triple checking that the hospital had Gwen and Morgana's phone numbers. The nurses promised they'd let them know if there were any changes in his condition. Leon went home with Morgana while Gwaine, Percy and Lance headed back to Gwen and Merlin's flat which was closer to the hospital.

By noon, they were all back sitting in the waiting room.

The doctor came out to give them an update on Merlin's progress. "The swelling is going down in his brain and it's looking less likely that there'll be any permanent brain damage according to the scans, but we won't know for sure until he wakes up."

 

----------

 

"Arthur, so help me God, if you don't return my call, I swear I'm done with you."

Arthur hit the delete button, not even listening to his crazy sister's message, while he was sitting in a bar getting wasted. He had no friends here. Everyone around the office knew him as the privileged arsehole son of the company's owner and he made no attempts to change that perception. He just didn't care. He was alive but he surely wasn't living. All he wanted was Merlin. Merlin was all he thought about. 'What's he doing right now...is he happy...has he found someone else?' These thoughts played over and over in Arthur's head.

Work hadn't helped, being in a new city hadn't helped, even the few one-offs he'd had with tall, thin, dark haired blokes hadn't helped him forget Merlin. They only made him feel guilty, like he was being unfaithful to him. The only relief he got was from alcohol and that was only temporary.

Finally, the bar tender cut him off and called a taxi to drive him home.

 

----------

 

Merlin made a rapid recovery, if one could say that about someone who'd been unconscious for three days. The swelling had gone down in his brain and there was no sign of any permanent damage. The swelling in his face had also started going down and the bruising had started to fade by the time he woke up.

When he opened his eyes for the first time, he freaked out trying to figure out where he was. It was so bright and so quiet. Once he saw all the white walls and monitors, it clicked in his mind...the attack. He was in the hospital. He noticed a nurse rushing out of the room and quickly returned with a man dressed in white lab coat. This must be the doctor.

"Hello Merlin. It's nice to see you awake. How are you feeling?"

Merlin just looked at him for a few seconds. "What's going on? I can't hear you. Why can't I hear you?" He was starting to panic. On instinct, he reached up to his ears but couldn't get to them because they and most of his head were covered up in bandages or something.

The nurse took a small notebook out of her pocket and handed it, along with a pen, to the doctor, who quickly took it and told her to see if Merlin's friends were here, and if so, to send them back.

The doctor then put his hand on Merlin's shoulder to try to calm him. He wrote, "Hi Merlin. I'm Dr. Mercer. Do you know where you are?"

Merlin nodded his head, "the hospital."

"Very good. Now do you know why you're here?" Dr. Mercer wrote.

"Mordred hit me with something. I don't remember much after that. Why can't I hear anything?" He reached up and felt whatever was wrapped around his head again. "Can you take this off me? I can't hear anything with this over my ears."

It was at this time that Gwen, Morgana and Gwaine came rushing into his room. He looked at them and gave them a small smile. They all looked exhausted but returned his smile with bigger ones of their own. Gwen and Morgana rushed to his side and took turns giving him a kiss on the cheek before stepping back to allow Gwaine to walk over to him. His eyes started to water, he shook his head and just smiled at him. "Welcome back mate. We've missed you."

"Sorry, I can't hear with my head wrapped up like this."

The three friends looked over at the doctor. He wrote, "I need you to be patient while we remove the dressing from your head. Then we can have a look at your ears."

Merlin nodded his head and looked over at his friends and saw the worried looks on their faces. He wondered if there was something they weren't telling him.

Once his head was unwrapped, the doctor looked in his ears with some type of medical instrument and then snapped his fingers right next to each ear. Merlin didn't respond. He then looked over at Merlin's friends and gave a barely noticeable shake of his head.

Gwen suddenly put her head down and covered her face with her hands to try to hide her tears. Morgana just looked grim and Gwaine closed his eyes and just shook his head as his head fell forward.

"What is it? Why can't I hear? What aren't you telling me?" He was starting to get frantic by this point.

Dr. Mercer started writing, "I'm sorry Merlin. Your eardrums were severely damaged by the blows you took to the head."

He showed Merlin the note before he took the paper back and continued. "There was nothing we could do."

Again, he showed it to Merlin. "I'm sorry but you're hearing loss is permanent."

"Deaf...I'm deaf?" With these words he looked at his friends, hoping the doctor was wrong but the looks on their faces was the confirmation he didn't want. Gwen rushed over to him, bent over and gave him a gentle hug.

After Gwen released him, Merlin put the heels of his hands to his eyes and asked if he could be alone for a while. Once he'd removed his hands, they all nodded yes, including the doctor and nurse. All stepped out of the room except Gwaine, who walked over and gave Merlin a small smile, wrote, "it'll be okay," on the notebook the doctor had been using, and then gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze before he turned and walked out.

 

----------

 

Merlin's injuries slowly started healing. He'd been moved out of the intensive care unit and was in a regular room. The nurses had him up and walking around several times throughout the day. He also started working with a sign language specialist, provided by the hospital, several hours a day. She gave him plenty of material he could practice with when she wasn't with him.

Merlin insisted that his friends go and try to get caught up on their classes. He knew they all missed about a week because of him. They still came to the hospital to visit whenever they weren't in class or working. Rather than writing notes on paper, they'd discovered instant messaging to be faster and easier.

 

----------

 

Three long weeks later, Merlin was finally released from the hospital. He'd already learned to sign the alphabet and lots of common words and phrases. It was a good start but he knew he had a long way to go.

Gwaine picked him up at the hospital and took him home to Merlin's flat. After he got him settled, he just looked so sadly at Merlin. Merlin reached out his hand to Gwaine and told him he was okay because he knew Gwaine was still upset and worried about him.

"I'm so sorry Merlin. If I'd gotten to you faster none of this would have happened. Please forgive me." This was all written on a piece of paper that Gwaine pulled out of his pocket.

Merlin just looked at the paper. He couldn't believe what he'd read. "Gwaine, stop being stupid. If it wasn't for you, I'd be dead. You saved my life and I'll never be able to repay you for that."

He looked over at Merlin, just shook his head, smiled and reached over and pulled him into a hug whispering, "you already have Merlin, you already have."

 

----------

 

Since his release from the hospital, Merlin continued working with his sign language specialist and, according to her, he was learning it faster than anyone she'd ever worked with.

Morgana hired a tutor to teach herself, along with Gwen, Lance, Leon, Gwaine and Percy how to sign. They met with the tutor three times a week. When Merlin found out, he was overwhelmed, to say the least. Whenever he tried to thank them, they just told him they were so grateful to still have him with them, it was the least they could do.

 

----------

 

A new term was going to be starting soon and Merlin wanted to get back to classes since he was now behind a term. He realized he couldn't teach in a regular classroom anymore so he went to talk to a counselor at the university to see what he had to do to become a teacher for deaf children. After his meeting, which was quite lengthy because first, the counselor had to communicate with him by writing everything down, and secondly, they had to get his new classes scheduled before the start of the term, he was exhausted but extremely content knowing he would still be able to do what he had always wanted to do and that was teach.

 

----------

 

When Merlin's mother died, she had a small life insurance policy that went to him. Even though it wasn't much, he had been hoping to save it. Since he had to drop out last term because of everything that had happened, he was eager to catch up. The insurance money would be enough to pay for his rent and food for the remainder of his schooling so he used it for that instead. With this burden removed from his shoulders, he was able to throw himself into his studies.

 

----------
One year after the break-up
----------

 

Merlin and Gwaine were scheduled to testify against Mordred today. They arrived at the courthouse with Gwen and Morgana, who insisted they come along for moral and emotional support. Merlin looked nervous but determined as he walked into the courthouse while Gwaine just looked ill. They all knew how deeply the events of that night affected Gwaine. Since that night, he hadn't spoken another word about it with them. They all knew the thought of reliving it made him nauseous.

Merlin testified first. He was given a monitor where the prosecutor and defense attorney typed questions for him to read which he then answered. He tried to avoid looking around the courtroom too much because he was afraid of how he'd react when he saw Mordred for the first time since that night. He did make eye contact with Gwen and Morgana and that helped get him through the whole ordeal.

Next, it was Gwaine's turn. He made sure Merlin, Gwen and Morgana weren't in the courtroom to hear his testimony. Once he was done, they all left the courthouse for lunch and once they returned, the judge informed them that Mordred had changed his plea from innocent to guilty. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the attack on Merlin.

They all let out a sigh of relief as they headed home. They were all emotionally exhausted from the stress of the trial and were ready to crash now that it was all over with. Finally, they could close this chapter of their lives and move on once and for all.

 

----------

 

Arthur was still trying to forget Merlin. He couldn't call Morgana or Leon or anyone else after all this time. They probably hated him and would be more than happy to rub it into his face how badly he'd screwed up. He was afraid they would tell him Merlin was with some great guy and was happier than he'd ever been. He couldn't forget him and he couldn't accept it so he worked and drank.

 

----------
Fifteen months after the break-up
----------

 

"I'm sure glad that test is over," Merlin said in addition to signing to Gwen, when he walked into their flat. He had become extremely good at sign language in the relatively short time he has had to learn it.

She signed back, "we should try to get everyone together to celebrate." She was slower and not as confident with her signs but he loved her for it.

He nodded his head in agreement and smiled, "okay, let's text everyone to see when they're all available."

 

----------

 

Arthur just couldn't get over Merlin. To try to remedy the situation, he now was drinking everyday and his work was really starting to be affected by it. Some days he came into the office with a hangover looking like he came straight from the bar. Other days he didn't come in at all. Those days were starting to become the norm rather than a rarity.

 

----------
Eighteen months after the break-up
----------

 

Everyone was gathered at Morgana's flat for dinner. They were sitting around in the living room having a glass of wine, laughing and enjoying each other's company before they ate.

 

----------

 

Arthur was sitting in his New York apartment nursing a hangover and glaring at Uther who was sitting across from him.

"What the hell has gotten into you?" Uther glared back.

"I don't know what the big deal is. So I had a little too much to drink last night, no harm done."

"No harm done my arse! Your work has fallen and I'm getting reports you don't come in most days because of your drinking. I didn't send you here to party."

"Party? Are you kidding me? No! You sent me here to get me away from Merlin! So you could pretend that I'm not gay, but guess what, I am gay, father, and I don't give a shit if you accept it or not! I love him and I threw it all away for you and this damn company! You can go to hell and take your company with you!"

"Arthur, you need to stop right now," Uther said firmly.

"Don't you see? Don't you care? I feel like I'm dying a slow death without him." Arthur put his head in his hands trying to hide his tears in front of his father.

Uther just sat there watching his son fall apart. Finally, after what felt like hours, he took a deep breath before he began. "Arthur, I don't accept that you're gay, but, I guess I'll have to learn to live with it."

Arthur looked up at him, "what?"

"I said I guess I'll have to learn to live with it."

"But I don't understand?"

"Son, I'd rather you be gay and alive than straight and dead. Now we need to get you back to London where you belong."

Three days later, father and son arrived back in London.

 

----------

 

Within days of being back in London, Arthur checked himself into a clinic. He was completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, and thought being there would be therapeutic for him.

He thought about Merlin but didn't want to try to contact him until he'd gotten his shit together. Just being in the same city as him again, somehow made the waiting easier.

 

----------

 

A month later, Arthur was back to work at Pendragon Inc. Things were tense between Uther and himself but as long as they discussed only business and left their personal affairs out of the conversation, it was bearable.

Arthur hadn't gotten up the nerve to contact any of his friends yet. Morgana, of course, knew he was back but they hadn't really spoken to each other.

He wanted Merlin back more than anything else in the world. He didn't know if Merlin was with anyone or if he'd even speak to him, but he'd made up his mind, he was willing to do whatever it took to get him back because Merlin was worth it. He'd even started seeing a therapist to help him work through his issues.

 

----------
Twenty-one months after the break-up
----------

 

Merlin, Gwen, Morgana, Lance, Leon, Percy and Gwaine were sitting around a table enjoying their first round of drinks. They were in the pub celebrating Morgana, Gwen, and Lance's graduation and the fact that they'd all landed jobs in London. Merlin, Gwaine and Percy would be graduating next term.

After the second round, they'd all moved out onto the dance floor where they were dancing and laughing and having a great time. No one noticed Arthur sitting at the end of the bar drinking a Coke, shrouded in the darkness.

When he spotted Merlin out on the dance floor, it nearly took his breath away. He'd been back for nearly three months and this was the first time he'd seen Merlin. He was beautiful. He was just as long and lean as Arthur remembered but his hair had grown out some so that it curled around his ears which only served to draw more attention to his gorgeous cheekbones. He looked so happy out there moving his arms and jumping around with the biggest smile on his face. He'd never been the best dancer but he appeared to have lost some of his rhythm. Maybe he'd had too much to drink. It didn't matter because Arthur was completely mesmerized by him.

Arthur was considering going out on the dance floor to Merlin when Gwaine grabbed Merlin by the wrist and they, along with Morgana, left the dance floor. The three of them sat down at their table and he noticed Morgana and Gwaine moving there hands about as if they were doing sign language. He noticed Merlin doing it too, which puzzled him. This stopped him from getting up, he was content just watching.

Soon the others joined them. Arthur watched as everyone signed as they spoke. He was getting more confused. He noticed how Merlin seemed to concentrate on everybody's hands more than the others did. Arthur just continued to watch them, getting more perplexed by the minute, until they all got up and left together.

 

----------

 

Later that night, Arthur was banging on Morgana's door. "What the hell is going on," he yelled at her as soon as she opened the door.

"Well, hello to you too, Arthur. It's so nice to see you, it's been quite a while," she said in a sickeningly sweet voice. She stepped aside to let him in.

"Never mind that, what the hell is going on," he demanded again.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"With Merlin. What the hell is going on? I'm serious Morgana. Please just tell me," he pleaded.

She walked over to the sofa and sat down. Arthur followed and sat in the armchair closest to her.

"Don't you remember, dear brother, whenever I called you, you wouldn't answer and you never returned my messages. Does that ring a bell to you? I guess maybe if you would have, you would know by now what's going on with Merlin," she said with anger obvious in her voice.

"I know and I'm sorry Morgana, but please tell me what's going on."

"Where do you want me to begin? Merlin's been through hell since you left."

"Start with why you were all using, well, I guess it was sign language."

"Merlin is now deaf," she stated matter-of-factly.

"What? No, he can't be. But he was dancing?"

"He can feel the vibrations when the music is up really loud."

"Oh my God, you're serious? How?" He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and put his head in his hands. "Tell me, please," he said, not looking up.

"He was badly beaten and nearly died. He would have died if Gwaine hadn't stopped it."

He jerked his head up and had a murderous look in his eyes. "By who? I'm going to kill them!"

"Calm down if you want me to tell you," she instructed.

"Please, just get on with it." He was beyond angry and panicked by this point.

"Well, this guy, Mordred, became obsessed with Merlin and when Merlin didn't want anything to do with him, he got weird. He would just sit in the cafe watching him for hours. He finally went away after the police talked to him but then, about four months later, he showed up and almost beat Merlin to death."

"Why wasn't anyone with Merlin? If you guys knew this psycho was out there..."

He didn't get to finish his sentence because now it was Morgana's turn to yell. "No one saw it coming, you arse! We assumed, since Merlin hadn't seen him in almost four months, that he'd finally gotten bored and moved on!"

She took a deep breath trying to calm herself, "trust me Arthur, we all felt guilty over it. Do you really think we would have let him walk by himself if we thought he was in any kind of danger?" Her anger was beginning to bubble over. "And where do you get off trying to blame us?! Where were you?! Hiding out in New York after you broke his heart! If you wouldn't have dumped him in the first place, maybe none of this would have happened, you fucking idiot!" she screamed.

Arthur paled and all his fight left him. "You're right, it is my fault."

She took a moment to calm down before she continued on. "I'm sorry Arthur, I didn't mean it. Merlin wouldn't let us blame ourselves and he sure wouldn't want you to blame yourself either."

Arthur looked at her with tears in his eyes. "What did he do to him?"

"I don't know all the graphic details, only what Gwaine shared with us on the night it happened. When he testified at Mordred's trial, he had Gwen and me make sure Merlin stayed out of the courtroom because he was worried about how Merlin would react. I also think he didn't want Merlin to know how badly it affected him.

What Gwaine told us that night was Merlin and him were working a late shift. Gwaine had to close up so Merlin left. He noticed Merlin's phone laying on the counter and ran out to try to catch up with him. He said he saw Merlin on the ground and Mordred kicking him." She stopped, trying to maintain her composure. It was still so upsetting to her when she thought about the fact that they almost lost Merlin that night.

"By the time he got to them, Gwaine said Merlin wasn't moving. He was covered in blood and looked dead."

Before she could say another word, Arthur was up and running down the hall to the bathroom where he proceeded to throw up. She walked in to find him sitting on the floor, leaning over and crying uncontrollably.

She sat quietly beside him and rubbed his back. Once he was able to pull himself back together, she motioned for him to follow her back out to the living room where it was more comfortable.

Once they were seated on the couch, Arthur asked her to go on.

"They rushed Merlin into surgery as soon as they got him to the emergency room. He was in surgery for hours and in critical condition. They didn't know if he'd make it. If you'd have seen him. It was terrible," she barely got the words out before she broke down from reliving the memory.

This time it was Arthur that was trying to comfort her while barely holding it together himself.

Morgana was finally able to continue. "He was cut up and bruised, had a broken nose and ribs, his face was so swollen, you could barely recognize him and they had his head all wrapped up. The doctor said he had swelling in his brain but didn't know if he'd have any permanent brain damage but they were pretty sure he would have some hearing loss. He finally woke up three days later, deaf. He was in the hospital for three weeks. All things considered, he handled the whole thing amazingly well."

"I'm so sorry Morgana, I am so sorry. None of this was ever supposed to happen. It's my fault, it's all my fault."

She put her hand on his knee and looked at him sadly. "Is there more? Please tell me there's not more," he practically begged.

"I'm sorry Arthur, Hunith died."

"Oh my God, Hunith is dead?" He threw his head against the back of the couch and covered his face with his hands. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Yes, she was in a car accident. Merlin made it to the hospital in time to talk to her before she died."

He just shook his head at this point with his hands moving from his eyes to his hair where he was pulling on it. How had Merlin survived all of this? He should have been there comforting him, holding him, supporting him, loving him.

Her mood lifted as she told him how hard Merlin had worked to catch up with his classes. "He's going to teach deaf children and he's so excited about it. He's going to be a great teacher," she finished with obvious pride in her voice. "We are finally starting to see the old Merlin again. It has taken him almost two years to get to this place."

Arthur just sat there unbelieving. "Oh God, what did I do? How can I ever fix this?" He said it more to himself but Morgana heard him.

"You can't. What's done is done. Merlin has accepted it and moved on with his life. Now forgive me for asking, but why the concern for Merlin all of a sudden? What do you want from him?" She knew she was being a bitch but she didn't care.

"I don't know what you want me to say Morgana. I love him. I want him back."

"Stop right there," she yelled. "You don't have any right to say that, not after what you did to him."

"I know I don't but it's the truth, I never stopped loving him." He then added, "you don't understand."

"Then try to explain it to me, because you're right, I don't understand how you could walk away and break his heart like you did," her voice raised once again.

"I was scared. Father basically told me I'd be disowned if I didn't go to New York and oversee the office. I knew that wasn't the reason he wanted me there. He really wanted me there so I'd be away from Merlin. And I went because I was a coward and it cost me the one thing that meant more to me than anything else in the world." He had to stop at this point to try to stop the tears from falling and to regain his composure.

"You're right, you were."

"I've learned my lesson. Morgana, you have to believe me, I never stopped loving Merlin. I thought of him every single day. I stopped answering your calls because I was scared to death you'd tell me he had fallen in love with someone else." With these words, the tears came streaming down his face once again.

"Oh Arthur..."

"I want him back Morgana. I need him back in my life. I quit living when I lost him, even though it was my own fault. I swear to you, I will never hurt him like that again." He paused before he asked the dreaded question, "is he with anyone?"

"No. Merlin hasn't dated anyone by his choice. Trust me, there are more than enough guys that would love to date Merlin but he just politely turns them down. Honestly, I think he's just afraid of getting hurt again. So you better not do anything to hurt him Arthur."

"I swear I won't."

As he was standing up to leave he said, "how come you all can sign? Did Merlin teach you?"

"I hired a tutor for all of us shortly after it happened. Obviously, we're not even close to him in ability but after a year, we're pretty good. It was so sweet, the first time we were able to sign to him, he was so overwhelmed. You should have seen it, the seven of us crying and laughing like a bunch of little girls." She had a big smile on her face from the memory of it.

"I wish I would have," Arthur said so quietly, Morgana barely heard him.

"Sometimes we still have to spell out a word here and there but for the most part we're all pretty proficient but Gwaine is by far the best. He's like a mother hen. Always worrying about Merlin. When we go out to clubs, Gwaine worries about Merlin being self conscious about dancing, so he'll slip away and ask the DJ to play music with a heavy beat so Merlin can feel it. It's so cute. He doesn't think we know he does it, but we do." She laughed just thinking about it.

"Oh." He should have been thankful Gwaine had been watching out for Merlin, but he wasn't, he was jealous, because he wanted that job. He should be the one doing all these things for Merlin, not Gwaine.

Arthur gave her a hug and kiss and thanked her for everything. He told her he'd call her soon and then turned and walked out the door.

 

----------

 

When Arthur got back to his flat, he threw himself on the sofa and just stared at the ceiling letting everything Morgana told him sink in. When he thought about Merlin laying almost dead on the ground, he felt sick again.

He made his way to his bed and just laid there. He stayed awake most of the night thinking about Merlin. His heart swelled with pride knowing Merlin had persevered through everything. Then it hit him, Merlin had make it through all these adversities without him. What if he didn't want or need him anymore?

"How could I have been so stupid. I will make it up to you Merlin, I promise," he vowed. Now he had to somehow convince Merlin to give him another chance. He knew that was a tall order, but he'd do whatever it took. If Merlin would only give him the chance, he'd make sure he never regretted it. He'd love and cherish him every single minute of every single day for the rest of his life.

Finally, in the early hours of the morning, he came up with a plan to get Merlin back, then he drifted off into a restless sleep.

When he woke up a few short hours later, the first thing he did was call Morgana.

 

----------
Twenty-eight months after the break-up
----------

 

Merlin, Gwaine and Percy all graduated and started their new jobs. Merlin was hired as a teacher at the School for the Deaf and he absolutely loved it. The children and staff all welcomed him with open arms and, in no time at all, they fell in love with his personality, caring heart and willingness to do whatever it took to help his students. The parents absolutely adored him too.

 

----------

 

Arthur did his job at Pendragon Inc. during the day but by six o'clock every evening, he was sitting with his sign language tutor. After seven months, he had gotten pretty good. He was hoping that when he finally got the courage to face Merlin, he'd see the effort Arthur had put into learning sign and maybe that would make Merlin more likely to forgive him, at least he hoped so. He had Morgana to thank for giving him the number for the tutor she'd used.

He secretly watched Merlin from afar every chance he got and tried to get Morgana to keep him up to date with what was going on in Merlin's life. She was reluctant at first, but once she saw how much time and effort Arthur had put into learning sign language, how truly remorseful he was and how sincere he seemed in his quest to get Merlin back, she agreed.

 

----------

 

Arthur finally decided he was ready to face Merlin so he asked Morgana to take Merlin out to a casual restaurant so he could accidentally, on purpose, bump into them. Morgana was quite hesitant. She didn't think it was the way Arthur should go about speaking with Merlin for the first time, but when Arthur practically begged, she finally relented.

 

----------

 

Morgana and Merlin were sitting in a booth at a pizza parlor enjoying their meal and having a conversation in sign when Arthur walked over to their booth. Merlin froze when he saw him. Arthur smiled at Merlin and gave a small wave hi. Morgana tried to act surprised but Merlin wasn't buying it. He looked at Morgana with narrowed eyes and shook his head before he made a quick escape from the restaurant with Arthur chasing after him. When Arthur caught up to him, he grabbed his arm causing Merlin to jerk around startled, he didn't know Arthur had followed him out. He just looked at Arthur, shook his head, pulled his arm free and walked away. Well, Arthur thought, that could have gone better.

Once Merlin got back to his flat, he sat down on the couch and tried not to cry. When Morgana had told him months ago that Arthur was back in London, he thought that maybe Arthur would try to get in touch with him. When he didn't, it hurt but he got over it. Now Merlin was just confused about seeing Arthur after all this time. It brought up all kinds of feelings that he thought he had already pushed away.

 

----------

 

Merlin didn't talk to Morgana for a week after that and when she finally got him to forgive her, she promised she wouldn't try to set him up like that again.

Morgana told Arthur he was on his own because Merlin's friendship and happiness meant more to her than anything. She also warned him for the umpteenth time, "if you hurt him, I swear I will never forgive you." He promised her he wouldn't hurt Merlin again.

 

----------

 

Arthur secretly spied on Merlin to try to learn his schedule and routine. He knew he was acting like a stalker but he didn't have any other options. He made a plan to run into Merlin again, but this time at the market on Saturday.

Saturday morning Arthur was sitting across the street from the market. He knew Merlin usually came here somewhere between ten and noon. He didn't have to wait long before he saw Merlin enter. He quickly crossed the street and walked inside himself. He pretended to be shopping when he bumped into Merlin. After seeing the initial shocked look on Merlin's face turn to anger, he begged, in sign language, for him to please just give him a few minutes of his time. Merlin didn't respond, instead he turned and walked out without buying anything.

Arthur took the setback hard but wasn't about to give up.

It wasn't until Merlin was almost home and the anger had dissipated that he realized Arthur had spoken to him using sign language. 'Why would Arthur know how to sign? Did he learn it for me?' he wondered before he quickly stopped this train of thought. He refused to let his mind go there. 'Remember, he dumped you, he didn't think you were worth it.'

 

----------

 

The following Wednesday, Arthur made sure his work calendar was clear so he could leave early. He knew where Merlin taught, thanks to Morgana, so he made his way over to the school where he decided to sit on a bench and wait for him to appear at the end of his day. Merlin was walking down the steps leading out of the school when he stopped dead in his tracks after he spotted Arthur.

Arthur stood, looked at Merlin and, for an instant, their eyes meet. Sadly, all to soon, Merlin looked away and started walking down the street. When he realized Arthur was beside him, he stopped, turned to him and said, "what? What is it that you want Arthur?"

Arthur signed asking Merlin to please come and have a coffee with him because he'd really love to talk to him. Merlin didn't want to because he was afraid what it'd do to him. Just seeing Arthur was hard enough, but sitting in Arthur's company talking was something entirely different. He didn't know if he could do it but, then he decided, if it was the only way to get Arthur to leave him alone, he'd do it. They agreed to meet the next evening at 6:00 for coffee.

Arthur went home with a smile on his face whereas Merlin walked home looking dejected and feeling confused. He texted Gwen when he got back to his flat to see what she thought. She texted back "maybe you should talk to him to get some closure." Unfortunately, when he went to bed that night, he still didn't know if he was going to show up tomorrow to see Arthur or not.

 

----------

 

Arthur was a nervous excited wreck the following day. He made sure he knew the signs for all the things he wanted to say to Merlin.

Merlin was sick to his stomach. Half of him dreaded the idea of actually having a conversation with Arthur after all this time but, the other half of him was curious to see what he had to say.

 

----------

 

When their designated meeting time finally arrived, Arthur was sitting in the coffee shop waiting. He actually arrived ten minutes early in case Merlin showed up a few minutes early. He sat there and waited, 6:00...6:10...6:15...6:20...6:30...7:00. Arthur just wanted to go home, crawl into bed and feel sorry for himself but he couldn't bring himself to leave in the off chance that Merlin did show up. He decided he'd wait here until the coffee shop closed before he gave up on Merlin.

 

----------

 

Merlin sat in his flat debating whether he should go meet Arthur. His stomach was tied in knots. Finally, he decided that he'd show up late to see if Arthur was still waiting for him. He knew he was being childish but couldn't bring himself to care. It was ridiculous to think Arthur would still be there waiting when he was almost an hour and a half late so, when he walked into the coffee shop, he was shocked to see Arthur still there looking all defeated but waiting for him anyway.

When Arthur finally spotted him, his eyes lit up, he jumped up with the biggest smile on his face and waved to Merlin. Merlin let out a small puff of air and shook his head in disbelief before he walked over to Arthur with a slight frown. Before he had a chance to sit down, Arthur signed to ask him what he'd like to drink. Merlin told him and Arthur hurried off to order it so he could get back to Merlin as soon as possible.

When he returned, he noticed Merlin was looking down at his hands with a sad expression on his face. Merlin looked up when Arthur set the coffee in front of him. Arthur smiled at him and waved hi. Merlin returned the greeting and signed and said, "thank you for the coffee."

Before Arthur had a chance to say anything, Merlin caught him off-guard by asking, "what do you want Arthur?"

Arthur saw the sadness in Merlin's eyes and heard it in his voice. He took a deep breathe before he signed the words, "Merlin, I made the worst mistake of my life when I left you and a day hasn't gone by that I haven't regretted it. I was stupid, selfish and a coward and I want you to know how sorry I am."

Merlin looked at him but didn't say anything so he continued signing. "I've thought of you every single day. You were, well you still are, the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. Merlin, I will never forgive myself for what I did to you. I'd do anything to be able to turn back the hands of time but since I can't, if you'll give me the chance, I'd like to try to make it up to you." He wanted to add, "every day for the rest of my life," but thought maybe that would be pushing it.

Merlin shook his head. "There's nothing to make up for. It's over and done with. It's fine. You made it quite clear that I wasn't worth fighting for. I'm over it."

This broke Arthur's heart. "Please, please just give me a chance to get to know you again. I want you in my life even if it has to be just as friends. Can we maybe start over?" He held his hands still as he waited for Merlin's response.

It was like a switch was suddenly flipped in Merlin's brain because all of a sudden he was angry. "How do I know you aren't just trying to clear your conscious. I don't need your pity Arthur." He went to get up so he could leave but Arthur grabbed his hand and gently squeezed it. When Merlin looked at him, he could see that Arthur's eyes were rimmed in red and looked like tears were ready to fall at any second. Merlin took a deep breathe and reluctantly sat back down.

Arthur moved his hands once more. "Merlin, it's not pity. I've been miserable without you. I just really want to be part of your life again. I don't care how significant or insignificant of a part that is. Well, I do care, but I'll take what I can get. Please?"

Merlin looked down for a minute. Arthur was sweating and bouncing his leg nervously. Finally, Merlin looked up and said, "maybe we can try being friends."

Arthur's heart soared as a smile broke out across his face. At last, he was going to have Merlin back in his life after all this time. Merlin's lips barely curved up but Arthur saw it and it gave him hope.

They sat there in silence for a few more minutes before Merlin brought up Arthur's ability to sign. Arthur showed off that ability some more when he answered, "when I found out you couldn't hear, I hired a tutor, well, she's the same tutor Morgana used, but anyway, I hired her to teach me and I've been working on it everyday since."

Arthur caught a little grin cross Merlin's face before it disappeared.

He asked Merlin if he'd like to go get something to eat. Merlin shook his head and said he had papers to grade. Arthur signed, "okay, can I meet you for lunch tomorrow or sometime next week, well, I guess that is if you're allowed to have lunch away from your students."

This caused Merlin to laugh. "Its not a prison you know. I get forty five minutes for lunch while my students are in art class." Arthur's cheeks were tinted red in embarrassment. "I can't do lunch tomorrow or Monday, have staff meetings, but, I guess next Tuesday would be okay. I eat at 11:45 so if that's too early..."

Arthur quickly shook his head. "No, no, 11:45 is great. I'll meet you on the bench outside the school, if that's okay?" he asked with his hands.

Merlin nodded and got up to leave. Arthur got up with him and they walked out together. As soon as they were outside, Merlin thanked him for the coffee again before he turned and walked away. Arthur stood there watching him like a love sick puppy until he was out of sight. He felt lighter than he had in years.

 

----------

 

When Merlin got home, he took off his trainers, grabbed the pile of papers he needed to grade from his desk and sat on the sofa with his feet propped against the coffee table all ready to work. Unfortunately, it was all for nothing. He looked at the first paper in front of him but couldn't concentrate on it. His mind kept drifting back to Arthur and he realized, maybe he never got over him after all. Merlin knew it was going to be a long night.

Meanwhile, when Arthur got home, he bounced around his flat with the biggest smile on his face. He called Morgana and told her about his evening. She warned him to go slow with Merlin and, once again, informed him that if he hurt Merlin, she would never forgive him. He had absolutely no intention of ever hurting him again.

 

----------

 

The next day drug by slower than any other day of Arthur's life. By Friday evening he was hopeless. How could he possibly make it through the weekend and then Monday? He prayed for the next three days to fly by.

 

----------

 

Finally, it was 11:00 on Tuesday. Arthur walked out of his office smiling from ear to ear and told his assistant he won't be back until around 1:00. Before he headed over to the school to meet Merlin, he drove ten minutes out of the way to get curry from Merlin's favorite restaurant. He suddenly frowned when he considered the possibility that maybe Merlin had a new favorite place to get curry. He forced the thought out of his head, he wasn't going to let it bring him down, because he was going to see Merlin shortly which caused his smile to return.

At 11:49, Merlin walked out of the building and saw Arthur waiting for him before he even started down the steps.

After Merlin greeted him rather shyly, he lead him to a picnic table in the courtyard. They barely got seated before several kids came over to talk to Merlin. Arthur watched the interaction and could see by the looks on all their faces how much the students adored Merlin and how much he adored them.

Once they left, Merlin looked over at Arthur and saw the smile on his face, "what?"

"Nothing, it's just...you seem so happy when you were talking with them," Arthur signed.

"What can I say, I love my job." He looked down and finally noticed the name of the restaurant printed on the bag their curry came in. "You remembered?" He gave Arthur a puzzled look.

"Of course, now lets eat before it gets cold," and the smile on Merlin's face made the trip to the restaurant most definitely worth it. They spent the remainder of Merlin's lunch time, which was only about twenty minutes by then, talking about Merlin's job and students. All to soon, it was time for Merlin to get back to his classroom.

When they stood, Arthur hesitated for a second before asking Merlin when he could see him again. He was afraid of coming across as desperate, but, truth be told, he was desperate. It felt like he could only breath properly when he was with Merlin. When he wasn't with him, it was like he was suffocating.

Merlin said everyone was going to be at the pub Friday around 7:00 and he should come. Arthur signed, "it's a date," before he could stop himself. "Oh shit, I'm sorry, I wasn't...I didn't mean..."

Merlin cut him off. "I know Arthur. I have to get back. See you Friday."

Arthur nodded and gave him a smile and watched Merlin climb the steps. When he reached the top step, he looked back only to catch Arthur staring at him with a smile on his face. He shook his head and smiled back before he disappeared inside. Arthur's heart leapt when he saw that smile and felt like he was walking on air for the rest of the day. Friday, he was going to see Merlin again Friday.

 

----------

 

The next few days were uneventful. He and Uther had come to an understanding that they wouldn't talk about Arthur's personal life at all. Arthur supposed it was so Uther could pretend that he didn't have a gay son.

Arthur tried to throw himself into work hoping it would make Friday arrive faster. It didn't and he feared he wouldn't survive until then, but somehow he made it.

By Friday afternoon, Arthur was a nervous wreck once again. This was going to the first time he had seen everyone together. He had run into Gwen and Lance while out shopping, Percy while walking down the street and Gwaine, who ignored him completely, but over the last six months only Leon had really made any attempt to rebuild their friendship. He understood how protective they all were of Merlin and he tried to not allow it to upset him.

 

----------

 

Friday evening finally arrived. As soon as he entered the pub, he saw Leon waving and yelling for him. He walked over and Leon slid closer to Morgana to make room for him. Once he was seated, everyone, besides Leon, Morgana and Merlin, looked at him skeptically. They were all there for Merlin through everything and most of them, especially Gwaine, but also to a lesser extent Gwen, weren't so eager to forgive him and let him slide back into their group.

After some small talk, with them all using sign so Merlin wasn't left out of any of the conversation, Arthur looked at Merlin, who was seated directly across from him, and gave him a shy smile which Merlin returned. Gwen, who was sitting right beside Merlin, noticed the exchange and tried to watch them as inconspicuously as possible.

When it seemed the atmosphere had finally started thawing out around him, he relaxed and asked Merlin how the rest of his week had gone. They continued with their small talk until Gwaine bumped shoulders with Merlin to get his attention and asked him if he wanted to go dance with the rest of them. He nodded and they all got up and headed to the dance floor, everyone except Arthur and Gwen, who stayed behind.

The two of them sat in silence watching the dance floor, neither saying anything until it got almost unbearably uncomfortable and awkward. Finally, when Gwen couldn't stand it anymore, she blurted out, "what do you want from him?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Please, I'm not stupid. You know exactly what I mean. So just tell me, what do you want from Merlin? Why are you here Arthur?"

"Gwen, I know you probably don't trust me."

"You can stop right there. There's no probably about it. I definitely don't trust you. I saw what you did to Merlin. I lived with him, remember, so I got to see firsthand, every single day for months, the pain he went through because of you, so forgive me if I don't trust you."

"I'm sorry Gwen, if I could take everything back and change it I would."

"You know what Arthur, here's the problem. You can't. You dumped him and moved to New York. Just try to imagine how that would make you feel. You broke him and then ran away and we were left watching him struggle trying to pick up the pieces and somehow put himself back together."

Sadly for Arthur, she was just getting started.

"We, meaning all of us here with Merlin tonight, minus you, we all love Merlin and would never intentionally cause him to suffer. We saw how destroyed he was when you left him, we witnessed the devastation he went through when Hunith died, we watched him as he barely clung to life, we watched him have to come to terms with never hearing another sound again, we sat in the courtroom with him while he testified against Mordred, we have watched him struggle with his classes, we have watched him struggle every single day with things the rest of us take for granted, we have watched him accept the hand he's been dealt and we have watched him embrace life again. He never asked why, never felt sorry for himself, never got bitter. He is the best person I could ever hope to know. He's finally happy and I'll be damned if I let you take his happiness away again."

Once she was finished with her rant, she saw the look of absolute horror written all over his now very pale face. He looked like he was about to be sick.

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry Arthur." This time her words were spoken softly, not in the harsh tone of before. "Listen, I had no right to go off on you like that. I'm sorry, but you have to understand, I can't bare to see Merlin hurt again so if you are just leading him on..."

"I'm not Gwen, I promise," he said in a shaky voice. "I know you don't trust me and won't believe me, but I love him. I never stopped loving him and I'd rather die than hurt him again. You want to know what I want from him? I want the chance to be a part of his life again. I want him to forgive me Gwen, I want him to see how much I love him and care about him. I want him to trust me, I want him to take me back, I want him to love me again and I want to spend the rest of my life showing him how much I love him." He put his head down to hide the tears that were threatening to fall.

Gwen reached out and rubbed his arm. "Arthur, look at me please."

When he did, she told him, "okay, I believe you. I saw how he looked at you earlier and it scared me. Please, please, I beg you, please take care of him and if you truly love him and he truly loves you then don't let him go this time." She finished with tears in her own eyes.

He reached out and pulled her into a hug, "I promise. If he'll let me, I'm going to hold on to him forever."

They got themselves pulled together before everyone returned to the table and the rest of the night was drama-free and uneventful. Arthur, unfortunately, didn't get much of a chance to talk one-on-one with Merlin, which was what he so desperately wanted.

When they were all ready to call it a night, he finally got Merlin by himself and handed him his phone. He asked Merlin, in sign, if he could have his number. Merlin smiled as he took his phone and programmed his number it in. Arthur wasn't sure Merlin would have given it to him so willingly if he wouldn't have had a few beers in him but wasn't going to question it.

Since Percy and Gwaine lived in the same direction as Merlin, they grabbed ahold of him and headed off without another word. Arthur stood watching after them for a few minutes while Leon and Morgana along with Gwen and Lance just watched him. Leon walked over to him, patted him on the shoulder and told him to hang in there and be patient. He turned to look directly at Leon and the others and told them he'd wait as long as it took because Merlin was worth waiting for, and then headed off down the street towards his own flat. The rest of them just looked at each other and smiled.

 

----------

 

Arthur waited until Saturday afternoon before texting Merlin. They made plans to meet up for coffee on Sunday. It wasn't soon enough for Arthur, because he'd be with Merlin right now if it was up to him, but he realized this wasn't about him. It was about Merlin.

 

----------

 

Sunday he met Merlin in the coffee shop. This time Merlin was only five minutes late. They had a nice time just catching up but eventually they had to leave. Once outside, Arthur wasn't ready to let Merlin go yet so he asked if he could walk him home so they could keep talking.

"Even in the best of times I've been known to be a little clumsy so if you throw in me trying to watch your hands while I'm walking, well, lets just say we'd probably be spending the evening at the hospital."

Arthur laughed at this which caused Merlin to laugh, and boy, had Arthur missed that sound. "So how about lunch tomorrow, are you free?"

"Sorry, Monday staff meeting."

"Does Tuesday work for you?"

"Sure," and Merlin grinned before adding, "if I'm good the warden will let me out for forty-five minutes."

Arthur shook his head before laughing and gave Merlin a playful shove. Merlin smiled and signed, "it was nice today. Thanks. See you Tuesday," and once Arthur nodded confirmation, Merlin turned and walked away without seeing the dopey smile that had spread across Arthur's face once again.

On his way home, Merlin thought he was done for. On his way home, Arthur knew he done for, for life.

 

----------

 

Tuesday was pretty much a repeat of their lunch the previous week except Arthur brought what he hoped was still Merlin's favorite Chinese, which it was. They were starting to get more comfortable with each other and Arthur was thrilled. The more he got reacquainted with Merlin, the more he fell in love with him, if that was even possible. Saying goodbye was getting harder and harder for him.

Arthur kept making plans to spend as much time with Merlin as he was willing to give him. Finally, one day while they were sharing lunch, Merlin looked over at Arthur, "why are you doing this?" he signed.

"Doing what?"

"This. Coming over to have lunch with me all the time or going out to coffee together. We're friends again Arthur, so you don't need to keep doing this."

Arthur just looked at him shocked. Did Merlin really not know? He had always been somewhat oblivious but wow, he couldn't believe Merlin didn't see it. He looked him in the eyes for a few seconds before he began signing, "Merlin, I'm doing this to show you I've changed and because I don't want to be just your friend. I want to be so much more, but, if you don't want more, then I'll savor every minute we have together as friends. But if there is the slightest chance that maybe we can be more, then I'll take it."

Merlin just looked at him for a few seconds, then smiled and nodded his head.

Arthur was hopeful, "does that mean we can be more."

Merlin just grinned and signed, "we'll see how it goes."

 

----------

 

A few weeks later, all the friends were together for dinner at a nice restaurant. Eventually everyone left and it was just Arthur and Merlin. Arthur moved so he was sitting directly in front of Merlin and signed, "I am so in love with you. I never stopped loving you and I'm going to make you love me once again."

Merlin just looked at him with a big grin on his face and said, "good luck with that."

Arthur let out a small laugh and signed, "do you think I'll need it?"

Merlin just smiled a little bigger and shrugged his shoulders as he added, "you never know."

Arthur took this as a very positive sign and looked Merlin directly in the eyes with all the sincerity he could convey. "I do love you, you know."

Merlin smiled, nodded and said, "I think I may be starting to."

Arthur fought every impulse he had to keep himself from moving over to Merlin and pulling him into his arms and giving him a passionate kiss but he knew he still had more work to do to get Merlin's trust back. He would take it slow for Merlin.

 

----------
Thirty-two months after the break-up
----------

 

Arthur decided it was about time he took Merlin out on a real date. They had been spending time together for the last three months but up until now, they had either had lunch at Merlin's school or met up at the cafe or coffee shop or, the few times they had gone to a real restaurant, it had always been as a group.

Thursday, during lunch with Merlin, Arthur was acting nervous and jittery. "What's up with you today?"

Arthur looked at Merlin. He didn't know why he was so nervous because he was pretty sure Merlin would say yes but he didn't know what he'd do if Merlin said no. Finally, he pulled the trigger and just asked Merlin if he'd go out with him on a real date? There, he'd done it.

"Yeah, okay."

"How about dinner tonight, if you're free."

"Sure. Where do you want to meet?"

"No, I don't want to meet somewhere, I want to pick you up at your door, if that's okay."

"Wow, you're quite the gentleman aren't you? That's fine. What time?"

"Why yes Merlin, I am quite the gentleman. Does 7:00 work for you?"

"Sure."

Merlin's lunch was almost over by this time so as they stood, Arthur signed, "see you at 7:00," with a big smile on his face. Merlin nodded while returning Arthur's smile and walked inside.

 

----------

 

"Guess what I'm doing tonight Morgana," Arthur said into his phone.

"Well, let's see, maybe watching a football game while lounging around your flat eating either take-out or frozen, that is, if you aren't meeting Merlin at the cafe."

"No, I'm actually taking Merlin out on a proper date."

"Well it's about time. I, for one, am sick and tired of watching you pine over him," she laughed

Over the last several months, after watching how Arthur treated Merlin with such care, Morgana, Leon and Percy gave him their blessing. Gwen and Lance were a little slower coming around to the idea, but Gwaine, well, it took lots of convincing to get him on board with the possibility of them getting back together, but he was now finally okay with it.

 

----------

 

A few minutes before 7:00, Arthur pushed a button by Merlin's door. It caused a light to flash in Merlin's flat alerting him that someone was at the door. Merlin answered with a smile and hi.

Arthur couldn't take his eyes off him. He looked gorgeous, like always. He was wearing a pair of dark wash jeans that were snug in all the right places. He had on a blue long sleeve crew that fit him perfectly. His hair was still damp and curled around his ears and at the back.

"Do I look okay or should I put on something nicer?"

"You look great!" Arthur signed which caused Merlin to blush.

"Thanks. You look nice too."

"Thanks. Are you ready?"

"Yep, let me just grab my keys and phone," and a few seconds later he was locking his door and they were walking out to Arthur's car.

They had a wonderful dinner together and as they were leaving the restaurant, Merlin felt Arthur's hand on the small of his back. Once outside Arthur kept it there until they got to his car. He proceeded to open the door for Merlin, who just grinned at him.

Arthur didn't want the night to end but he knew Merlin had things to get ready for his parent-teacher conferences he had in the morning. He drove him home and walked him to his door. "I had a wonderful time tonight. I'd love to go out with you on Saturday, if you don't already have plans."

"Nope, I'm free."

"Great, it's a date. I'll text you," and he leaned in and gave Merlin a chaste kiss. It took all his willpower to stop himself from pushing Merlin against the door and kissing him senseless.

Merlin just chuckled and said, "goodnight Arthur. Thanks for dinner. See you Saturday," as he unlocked the door and disappeared inside.

 

----------

 

Arthur felt like a teenager again. He replayed the evening over and over in his head as he laid in bed and couldn't help but smile.

 

----------

 

Arthur showed up at Merlin's at noon on Saturday. Merlin opened the door and asked Arthur if he'd like to come in.

"Sure, I'd love to."

It was the first time Arthur had been inside Merlin's flat. He led the way into the living room/kitchen combo. It was actually quite roomy, nothing like the flat he shared with Gwen back at uni. Merlin liked the open concept floor plan because, when he had friends over, he could still see them when he was in the kitchen.

"Would you like some tea?"

"Yeah, that'd be great," Arthur signed.

Merlin told Arthur to sit down and make himself at home. A few minutes later, he sat two cups of tea down on the coffee table.

Once Merlin sat down, Arthur signed, "I like your flat. It's nice and homey."

"Thanks."

Arthur turned his body and put his knee up on the couch so he could look at Merlin properly. Merlin put his tea down and looked at Arthur with concern. He didn't know why Arthur had gotten so serious all of a sudden.

"I'm so sorry Merlin."

Merlin gave him a puzzled look. Was Arthur dumping him again?

"I wish I'd been there for you these last several years. I didn't know about Hunith. Morgana called to tell me but I never listened to any of her messages, I just deleted them. You have to know I would've flown back if I'd known. I loved your Mom. She was such a good woman and always made me feel welcome."

Merlin was wiping his eyes. He still missed his mother so much. Arthur reached over and pulled him into his arms.

After a few minutes, Merlin sat back and Arthur continued signing. "I'm so sorry I wasn't there to protect you. You almost died...I should have been there...I'm so sorry." He stopped and dropped his head fighting against the tears that wanted to fall. Merlin pulled him into a hug this time. Arthur instinctually put his arms around Merlin and held on for dear life. He never wanted to let him go. Once he was wrapped safely in Merlin's arms, the tears broke free. As Arthur was crying on Merlin's shoulder, Merlin moved one hand up and started rubbing his hair trying to comfort him.

Once Arthur finally got his emotions under control, Merlin let go of him so Arthur reluctantly did the same. Merlin moved back a little so he could read Arthur's hands better.

"Merlin, please forgive me. If I wouldn't have broken up with you none of this would have happened to you. You'd still be able to hear and..."

"Stop right there. None of what happened to me is your fault, unless you hired Mordred to attack me," he added, trying to lighten the mood, but failing miserably. "You aren't to blame for any of that." He paused then added, "the only thing I can blame you for is breaking my heart and leaving me." He put his head down once he finished saying those words.

Arthur reached over and put his hand under Merlin's chin and gently raised his head so he could see him properly. He dropped his hand and signed, "I am so sorry I put you through that. I promise I will never leave you again."

Merlin barely smiled and nodded his head slightly. Arthur didn't think Merlin believed him. 'I guess I'll just have to prove it to him then,' he said to himself.

"How about we get out of here and go have some fun."

"That sounds good," Merlin signed and said back to him.

Arthur stood and offered Merlin his hand to pull him up off the couch. Merlin took it and for a few seconds they just stayed like that, hands held together, just staring into each other's eyes, before Merlin stood and let his hand go. They took turns going to the bathroom to splash water on their face before heading out to hopefully have a carefree afternoon.

 

----------

 

The following Friday, Merlin couldn't go out with Arthur because his students were putting on an art show for their parents. Arthur asked if he could stop by and Merlin told him he could if he wanted, but it wasn't necessary because he'd probably be tied up most of the evening with the kids and their parents. So they made plans to go out on Saturday afternoon instead.

Arthur walked into the School for the Deaf around 8:00 on Friday night. He never told Merlin he was coming. What he saw when he walked in put the biggest smile on his face and made his heart overflow with pride.

Here Merlin was, surrounded by his students, music up really loud, and they were all signing the words to "You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings" for their parents. There wasn't a dry eye in the room, including Arthur. Once they finished, the parents all waved there hands in applause for the kids, who were all smiles.

Finally, the kids made their way to their parents. Within moments, Merlin was pulled into an embrace by a mother who was still crying. Once she released him, she signed something to him but from where Arthur was standing, he couldn't see what it was. It must have been something very complementary because Merlin was obviously embarrassed, the very adorable shade of pink that colored his cheeks and ears a clear giveaway. Merlin smiled at her and nodded his head. She embraced him once more then her husband shook his hand and patted him on the back. They moved away only to be replaced by the next set of parents.

Arthur watched this for quite some time before Merlin caught sight of him in the back of the room. He gave Arthur a shy smile. Arthur smiled back and signed, "I'm so proud of you. You're amazing. Text me when you get home." Merlin smiled and nodded before he was pulled into another hug. Arthur shook his head and laughed as he made his way home.

 

----------

 

After lunch in a cozy little Italian restaurant, Merlin and Arthur were walking down the street. When they got to a crossing, Arthur reached over and took Merlin's hand. Merlin stared at there joined hands for a minute before he grinned and entwined their fingers.

Arthur suggested they take a walk to the park and get ice cream to which Merlin agreed. Arthur walked away from the ice cream stand with his mint chocolate cone and Merlin's chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cone. Merlin's face lit up when Arthur handed it to him. "I haven't had one of these in ages," and he instantly started licking the ice cream.

Arthur just grinned as he rolled his eyes and shook his head. They walked farther down the path until they found a bench to sit on that was overlooking the river. They ate their ice cream while sneaking glances at each other.

Once they finished, Arthur noticed Merlin had a little bit of ice cream on the corner of his mouth. He reached up to wipe it away with his thumb, but stopped himself at the last second. Merlin let out a laugh, "I don't bite."

Arthur reached over and wiped it off of him. He brought his thumb back over to his own mouth and licked it off. He then looked back at Merlin, "can I kiss you?"

Merlin playfully looked down for a minute like he was thinking about it, but then looked up with a big grin and nodded his head. Arthur moved closer to him and brought his hands up to Merlin's face. He gently ran his thumbs over Merlin's cheekbones as he stared into his beautiful blue eyes. Arthur saw trust there. He knew Merlin was trusting him not to hurt him again and Arthur refused to ever break that trust.

Slowly, he inched his face closer to Merlin's until their lips barely touched. He pulled back just a few inches and when he saw that Merlin wasn't moving away, he brought his lips to Merlin's once more. He felt whole, like the piece that was broken had finally been fixed and he would do whatever was necessary to keep it from ever breaking again.

They sat there kissing for what seemed like hours, but was probably only minutes, before Merlin finally pulled away. He wanted to stop this before it went any farther right now. When Arthur looked at him, Merlin smiled, "we're taking it slow, remember?"

"I know, sorry. If you only knew how long I've dreamt about being able to kiss you like that again," he signed as he took a deep breath to calm down.

They got up and made their way back to Merlin's flat holding hands the entire way. As they walked along in silence, Arthur occasionally brought their joined hands up to his lips to give Merlin's hand a kiss.

Once they were back to Merlin's, they both thought it'd be best it they called it a day. Arthur held his face between his hands once more and gave him a sweet kiss. He didn't want to start something he knew he couldn't finish. He told Merlin he'd text him later and watched Merlin walk inside and close the door.

It was getting harder and harder to keep saying goodbye. He just wanted to pull Merlin into his arms and keep him there forever.

 

----------

 

Morgana texted them both on Monday about Leon's birthday on Friday. They decided they'd all meet at the Avalon Club at 8:00. Arthur asked Merlin to go with him which he, of course, agreed to. He picked him up right after school so they could shop for a gift for Leon. After striking out everywhere they went, they finally decided on a nice bottle of wine which would be from both of them.

They still had some time before they needed to be at the club so they went back to Merlin's flat so he could shower and change clothes. As soon as they got inside, he told Arthur to make himself comfortable. "If you're hungry, help yourself to whatever's in the refrigerator," he signed before he turned and walked straight to the bathroom.

Within minutes, Arthur heard the water in the shower turn on. To try to keep his mind off the fact that Merlin was naked in the next room, he put in a Doctor Who DVD. He turned the subtitles on and started watching. Fifteen minutes later, the water turned off. Less than ten minutes after that, Merlin was standing, fully dressed, in front of Arthur.

They still had twenty minutes to waste before they needed to leave, so Merlin sat on the sofa beside Arthur and they watched the rest of Doctor Who, which caused them to leave late.

 

----------

 

When they arrived, they spotted Morgana, Leon, Gwen, Lance, Percy and his new girlfriend Freya, already sitting around a table off to the side, so they made their way through the crowd over to them. They wished Leon a happy birthday as they sat down and gave him their gift.

Gwaine came over a few minutes later with a girl he introduced as Elena. Everyone but Merlin and Arthur seemed to recognize her. Gwaine told them Elena was the police officer who took him to the hospital the night Merlin was attacked, which explained why Arthur and Merlin didn't recognize her. Everyone moved their chairs over to make room at the table for them and within minutes, they were all laughing and having a great time.

Arthur got up to get everyone a round of drinks and Gwaine went along to help him carry them. Once they were at the bar and waiting for the drinks, Gwaine leaned over toward Arthur so he'd be sure to hear him. "Arthur, if you hurt him, I swear I'll punch your crooked teeth down your throat."

"I won't Gwaine."

"You don't know how lucky you are. Most people wouldn't have given you another chance, but Merlin always sees the best in people, always gives them the benefit of the doubt, even when they don't deserve it. You treated him like shit and broke his heart. So help me if you do it again..."

"Gwaine, I love him more than anything. I lost him once, I'm not about to do anything that would cause me to lose him again."

The bartender set their drinks in front of them which effectively put an end to their conversation. They carried the drinks over and set them on the table. Gwaine told everyone he'd be back in a few minutes and disappeared into the crowd.

A few minutes after Gwaine returned, he signed and said, "lets go dance," to the table at large. Everyone got up to head to the dance floor but as Merlin started to stand, he noticed Arthur wasn't getting up. "Aren't you coming?"

"No, I'd rather watch."

Merlin began to sit back down but Arthur shook his head and signed, "you go dance and have fun. I'm fine."

Merlin rolled his eyes but went over to the others and they all started dancing and laughing and having a good time, just like that first time Arthur saw Merlin when he returned from New York. He could tell Gwaine obviously went to talk with the DJ by the songs they were now playing.

As he watched Merlin and his other friends, well mostly Merlin, he noticed a tall, dark haired and very good looking man approach Merlin. He apparently asked Merlin to dance because Merlin shook his head and said, what Arthur thinks was probably, "sorry," and then looked over in Arthur's direction. The man smiled and nodded back before walking away looking dejected.

Arthur took this as his cue to move out to the dance floor with Merlin. A short time later, a slow song started playing. Most of the people were using that as a reason to take a break from dancing. As Merlin made a move to leave the dance floor, Arthur turned him back towards himself, dropped his hands and signed, "dance with me?"

"I can't feel the music."

"Trust me, okay?" Merlin nodded while smiling and Arthur put his hands around Merlin's waist and pulled him close. It felt so right, having Merlin in his arms, pressed up against him. Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur's shoulders and they just stared into each others eyes and smiled. Finally, Arthur started moving to the music with Merlin moving along with him. Arthur closed his eyes and pressed his cheek against Merlin's, trying to convince himself this was real and not just one of his dreams.

Meanwhile, all their friends were watching them with knowing smiles on their faces but Merlin and Arthur were in their own world, oblivious to everyone around them.

 

----------

 

This seemed to be a turning point in Merlin and Arthur's relationship. Arthur had lunch with Merlin several times a week and they spent most evenings together, usually at Merlin's flat. They both liked its openness.

On nights when Merlin had to grade papers or prepare tests or do some other teacher related work, he'd tell Arthur he didn't have to come over because he'd be too busy to spend much time with him but Arthur always came over anyway. He'd either watch tv or do work on his laptop. He was happy just knowing Merlin was in the same room as him and that he could reach out and touch him.

 

----------
Thirty-six months after the break-up,
Four months after starting over
----------

 

Saturday night, Arthur and Merlin went to Arthur's flat after a romantic dinner out. They took off their shoes and got settled on the sofa to watch a movie, with Merlin leaning against Arthur and Arthur's arm around his shoulders.

After awhile, Arthur got up to get them drinks. While he was gone, Merlin decided to stretch out and he took up the entire sofa. Arthur came back, set their drinks down on the side table and tried to move Merlin. "I'm comfortable. You can sit at the other end and rub my feet."

Instead of taking Merlin's suggestion, Arthur sat down on the edge of the sofa by Merlin's waist and started tickling him. Merlin tried squirming away but Arthur kept it up. He attempted to grab Arthur's hands to still them but Arthur twisted his wrists quickly and had Merlin's hands pinned above his head on the arm of the sofa. Once they both stopped laughing and Merlin stopped squirming, Arthur bent over and gave him a passionate kiss. He released Merlin's hands, stopped and looked at him. He didn't see any hesitation from Merlin so he laid down on the sofa beside him as they continued to kiss. Arthur was rubbing his cheekbone and Merlin had brought his hands up to run his fingers through Arthur's hair.

After a while, they were both breathing heavily and Arthur couldn't stop himself from pushing his groin against Merlin. Merlin pushed back causing them both to groan. When they separated for air, Arthur looked into Merlin's eyes and saw desire along with love and trust in them. Arthur signed, "I love you Merlin. If you want to stop..."

Merlin shook his head so Arthur quickly met his lips for another deep, passionate kiss.

Arthur slid off the sofa, stood and reached down and helped Merlin up. When Merlin was standing, Arthur pulled him into a hug that was anything but innocent and their mouths met again. Arthur started walking backwards towards the bedroom never breaking contact with his lips.

Once in the bedroom, Arthur moved his hands to Merlin's chest so he could unbutton his shirt while Merlin's hands were pulling at the back of Arthur's shirt trying to get it unstuffed so he could run his hands over Arthur's bare back. Once he successfully had Merlin's shirt unbuttoned, he ran his hands over Merlin's exposed chest and up to his shoulders where he pushed the shirt down his arms and off.

Merlin was still working on Arthur's shirt, so Arthur grabbed it by the hem, pulled it over his head and let it fall to the ground not far from where Merlin's shirt landed.

Next was their jeans. They were both reaching for the others belt when Arthur caught Merlin's hands and stilled them. Merlin looked at him confused before Arthur signed, "let me."

With that he scrambled out of his remaining clothes and turned his attention to Merlin. He grabbed Merlin by the belt and pulled him in for another deep kiss before his fingers made their way to the buckle. Once is was undone, he made quick work of the button and zipper. He then took a step back so he could maneuver Merlin's jeans and boxer briefs down his legs. He knelt down in front of Merlin to help him get the jeans and boxers the rest of the way off. He then grabbed him by the hips and gently stroked the soft skin there. Before taking Merlin into his mouth, he looked up for permission which Merlin granted with a nod. Arthur leaned forward and slowly engulfed his length. Merlin's hands instinctively went to Arthur's hair while letting out a groan. Arthur's hands moved around to cup his ass. After a few minutes he stopped, not wanting this to end yet.

Arthur stood up and backed Merlin up to the bed and when the back of his legs touched the mattress, Arthur gently lowered Merlin down onto his back. Once he was on his back, Merlin moved over into the middle of the bed with his head on the pillows. Arthur crawled onto the bed, drank in the wonder that was Merlin naked before he slowly lowered himself on top of Merlin.

They were touching skin on skin from head to toe. Their lips met for another heated kiss.

Since this was their first time together after too many years, they both knew they wouldn't last very long. Arthur prepared Merlin with such gentleness it was like he was afraid Merlin was made of glass and would break.

When he finally got the condom on and slid into Merlin, it was like heaven. Oh, how he had missed this, they fit together so perfectly. He didn't know how he had been able to survive without this. He started off slowly, just rocking into Merlin, but it quickly became frantic. He grabbed Merlin's cock and started stroking in rhythm to his thrusts.

They both came at the same time calling out the others name. Arthur thought hearing Merlin call out his name was the most beautiful sound in the world. They just laid there and held onto each other tightly while trying to catch their breathe.

 

----------

 

Finally, Merlin got out of bed and went into the bathroom to get a wash cloth to clean them both up. When he returned a minute later it was to see Arthur had rolled onto his side with his head turned into the pillow. At first, Merlin thought maybe Arthur had fallen asleep already but then he noticed Arthur's shoulders shaking. Merlin climbed on the bed and gently touched his arm. "What's wrong?"

Slowly Arthur rolled over and Merlin saw his tears. He bent over Arthur and pulled him into a tight hug trying to comfort him from whatever was upsetting him. His compassion made Arthur sob even harder. Finally, Merlin pulled away and wiped his thumb over Arthur's cheeks to remove the tears from his beautiful face.

Arthur fought to regain his composure as quickly as possible because Merlin was worried about him. He sat up and moved Merlin so he was leaning against the headboard. He then moved over in front of him, grabbed his hands and brought them up to his lips for a kiss. He then turned so Merlin could clearly see him as he signed in the faint light streaming in from the bathroom.

"I love you so much and I know I don't deserve you Merlin. You could do so much better than me. I'm afraid you'll open your eyes and see that for yourself and leave me like I left you." He put his head down trying to hide his tears.

Merlin grabbed Arthur's face with his hands and slowly brought it up so he was looking directly at Merlin. "Arthur, I don't want anyone else, only you. It's always been and always will be only you."

Arthur leaned over and gave Merlin a kiss, trying to pour all the love he had for him into it. When they finally broke apart, Arthur asked Merlin to stay with him tonight.

"I should go home."

"Why? Please just stay. We can take a shower then go back to bed."

Merlin finally agreed to stay and Arthur gave him a kiss before crawling off the bed, pulling him into a hug and then leading him into the bathroom to share a shower which led to another round of sex, but this time it was Merlin pushing into Arthur who was pushed up against the tile. After they finished with their shower, they helped dry each other off.

They walked back into the bedroom and Arthur opened a drawer and pulled out a clean t-shirt, a pair of boxer briefs and a pair of sleep pants for Merlin. Merlin expected all the clothes to be too big on him but, instead, he was shocked to see that everything fit him like it came from his own wardrobe. He looked questioningly at Arthur who gave him a shy grin, almost like he was embarrassed. He told Merlin, "maybe I went out and bought a few things that would fit you to keep here in case you ever needed them."

Merlin's heart filled with affection for Arthur and without giving it any thought he spoke the words, "I love you." To Merlin it wasn't a big deal because he knew he had fallen back in love with Arthur weeks ago so when it slipped out he didn't think much of it. That was until he saw Arthur's face.

Arthur stood there frozen for a second, like he was afraid that maybe he hadn't heard Merlin correctly, but when he saw the smile on Merlin's face, he realized that Merlin had actually just told him that he loved him. He knew he looked dopey but he really didn't care because Merlin loved him again. With that he grabbed Merlin's face between his hands and looked him straight in the eyes and said "I love you so much."

He then proceeded to kiss the living daylights out of him. Arthur felt happier than he thought he had ever felt in his whole life.

After that they crawled into bed and snuggled together until Merlin fell asleep. Before Arthur joined him in slumber, he made a promise out loud to Merlin, even though he would never hear it. He promised that he would love him til the day he died and make him feel loved and valued every day for the rest of his life.

He then pulled Merlin impossibly closer and drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face and the love of his life in his arms.

 

----------

 

Arthur woke the next morning to an empty bed. At first, he panicked, thinking maybe Merlin had second thoughts about being with him, but then he heard noise coming from the kitchen so he knew Merlin hadn't left. He got up and walked down the hall and into the kitchen. He came up behind Merlin and wrapped his arms around his waist. The sudden touch caught Merlin off guard and he accidentally knocked the frying pan off the stove, causing the hot grease in it to splatter down the front of him. He yelled out in pain and Arthur quickly released him before pulling him away from the stove so he could look at his stomach and legs. He rushed Merlin into the bathroom, stepped into the shower and pulled Merlin in with him, both still in t-shirts and sleep pants, before he turned on the water

Merlin kept insisting he was okay but Arthur wasn't taking any chances. Finally, he turned the water off, stripped Merlin out of his soaked clothes so he could look at the burns. They didn't look nearly as bad as Arthur feared they might. There were red marks and a little blistering but nothing serious enough to warrant a trip to hospital.

Arthur got out of his own wet clothes and dried them both off before having Merlin lay down on his bed. He got some lotion out of the medicine cabinet to rub on the burns to try to soothe them.

The whole time this was going on, Merlin tried to get Arthur to stop babying him but Arthur couldn't help it. He hurt Merlin and he felt absolutely horrible. He just kept repeating, "I'm sorry" over and over.

Once the lotion was all rubbed in, he dug into his drawer and pulled out another set of clothes for Merlin in his size. He just laughed, "how many sets of clothes do you have in there for me?"

Arthur has the good sense to look embarrassed as he signed, "maybe two, three at the most."

Merlin laughed and after they were dressed, he gave Arthur a hug and kiss. "Thank you, for taking care of me."

Since breakfast was ruined, Arthur took Merlin down to the cafe on the corner where they grabbed a muffin and coffee. They talked for awhile before Merlin told Arthur he should go home. Arthur didn't want this weekend to ever end but since Merlin had stuff he needed to get done for tomorrow, he took him home.

They were standing just inside the door of Merlin's flat, when Arthur pulled him in close and kissed him until Merlin gently pushed on his chest. Merlin knew if he didn't stop this now, he'd never get his work done for tomorrow. Arthur kissed him once more and told him he loved him.

"I love you too."

Arthur then pulled him in for a final kiss before he turned and left. He dreaded going back to his flat because he knew it was going to feel so empty and depressing without Merlin there with him.

 

----------
Thirty-nine months after the break-up
Seven months after starting over
----------

 

Arthur asked Merlin if he'd go with him to look at flats on Saturday. Arthur had been talking about wanting to move so Merlin agreed to go with him.

They met the realtor at the first flat she was going to be showing them. It was okay but nothing special. They looked at one after another and Arthur asked for Merlin's opinion on each flat they saw, "do you like how the kitchen and living room are set up?...do you like the size of the bedrooms?...how about the master bathroom?...do you think it's large enough?...do you like the building it's in?..."

Finally Merlin stopped him. "Arthur, it doesn't really matter what I think of the place. You're the one that's going to be living here."

Arthur turned toward Merlin and raised his hands to sign. "Merlin, it does matter what you think about it because I want this to be our place, not mine. Will you move in with me?"

Merlin looked at him with wide eyes, "are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious. I love you Merlin, and I can't stand being away from you."

"Arthur, this is a big step."

"Not really, we already spend most of our nights together. We'll just be changing it from staying at your flat or staying at my flat to staying at our flat. So, what do you say? Move in with me?" he signed looking so hopeful.

"Yes," he said causing Arthur to smile from ear to ear. Arthur pulled him into his arms and gave him a long kiss.

Finally, Arthur let him go and signed, "lets go see the next flat because we have a home to find."

Merlin noticed that all the flats were much closer to the School for the Deaf than they were to Pendragon Inc. Arthur must have told the realtor to find them something in this area.

As soon as they walked into the twelfth flat of the day, Arthur knew instantly they'd found it. It had a nice living room that opened to a beautiful modern kitchen. It had two bedrooms and two baths, a wonderful view and most importantly, it was only six blocks from Merlin's work.

Arthur looked over at Merlin to see his reaction. He seemed to love it too. "What do you think of this one?"

"It's beautiful."

"So, is this our place?"

"Yeah, it's great."

They held each other close while sharing a passionate kiss. Arthur thought to himself, 'I'm home at last.'

 

----------
Forty-one months after the break-up
Nine months after starting over
----------

 

It had been close to two months since finding their flat before Arthur and Merlin moved in. Arthur wanted to make some changes to it first. He added door signals that lit up when someone rang the door bell, he had the smoke detectors changed so they'd flash as well as send out vibrations. He also put in some motion sensor lights so Merlin would be able to tell if someone was coming up behind him.

 

----------

 

It had been an exhausting day spent moving furniture and boxes with Morgana, Leon, Gwen, Lance, Percy, Freya, Gwaine and Elena. When the last box had been moved in, they all sat around on the floor eating pizza. Before their friends left, Arthur and Merlin thanked them all profusely for their help and promised to have them all over for dinner as soon as they got settled.

They were finally alone, just the two of them in their new flat, and even though they were surrounded by boxes, they couldn't have been happier. They spent that first night on the sofa, Arthur on his back with half of Merlin's body resting on top of him. He wrapped his arms around Merlin holding him securely in place while entangling their legs. Merlin had his head on Arthur's chest and Arthur had his nose buried in Merlin's hair.

They looked absolutely adorable snuggled together on the sofa, which is why Morgana took their picture after she entered their new flat the following morning. She knocked but the two of them were apparently so tired they didn't hear the bell or see the flashing lights. She went over to offer them her help unpacking but instead she just slipped out the door before sending the picture to all their friends.

 

----------
Forty-four months since the break-up
One year after starting over
----------

 

It was Arthur and Merlin's one year anniversary. Merlin said it was their anniversary because they had their first date, or as they often said, their second first date, exactly one year ago.

Arthur, on the other hand, considered their anniversary to be the day he walked over to Merlin in the pizza parlor while he was sitting with Morgana. "Arthur, that doesn't count because I stormed out of there without speaking to you. You and Morgana both pissed me off so why would you want to say that's are anniversary? Are you trying to piss me off again, because if you are, it's working. If you don't want to count our first date as our anniversary, how about the first day we had coffee together or lunch together or maybe when we first kissed? Something a little more pleasant."

Arthur broke out in laughter. He thought it was so adorable how easy it was to rile Merlin up over this. If the truth be told, Arthur did consider today to be their real anniversary too but he wasn't going to tell Merlin that.

When Arthur got home from work, Merlin was in the kitchen making something that smelled delicious. His hair was wet so he must have gotten out of the shower just minutes before Arthur arrived. If only he had gotten home sooner, he could have joined him. Oh well, maybe later.

Arthur walked into the living room to activate the motion sensor lights so Merlin could see that he was home.

Merlin turned around and smiled as soon as he saw him, "happy anniversary."

Arthur walked into the kitchen and put his arms around Merlin's waist and pulled him close for a kiss. When he released him he signed, "but it's not our anniversary."

Merlin rolled his eyes and shook his head before turning back around to the stove. Arthur hugged him close from behind and started nibbling on his ear, then kissing his neck. Merlin tried to tell Arthur he was going to ruin their dinner if he didn't stop, but Arthur didn't care. He had other things on his mind, and eating wasn't one of them.

He turned Merlin around in his arms for a proper kiss while he shut off the stove. He then lifted him up onto the counter and moved between Merlin's legs. His hands were running up and down Merlin's arms while Merlin's hands were in Arthur's hair pulling his lips impossibly closer. Arthur moved his hands down Merlin's back, over his hips and under his thighs. He pulled him off the counter, hands now under his arse holding him up. Merlin wrapped his legs around Arthur's waist as Arthur carried him out of the kitchen and down the hall into their bedroom while never breaking their kiss.

He finally let Merlin down. They took turns undressing each other until they were naked and breathing heavily. They scrambled up onto the bed and got to work on those other things that were on Arthur's mind.

 

----------

 

"Merlin, lets go out to dinner." The dinner Merlin had started was ruined but they both thought it was a small sacrifice to make and well worth it.

They went out for a lovely dinner and then took a walk after since it was such a nice evening. They walked towards the park in silence holding hands. Arthur reached down and felt in his pocket for the twentieth time. He had had this all planned out for weeks, now, he just had to wait for the right moment.

They walked along the path that led to the river. Arthur felt like he couldn't take it any longer. He'd been dreaming of this moment for so long that he was now a nervous ball of energy.

Once they were under a light, Arthur turned so he was facing Merlin before he got down on one knee. He looked up into Merlin's eyes and signed, "Merlin, you are my life and I love you with all my heart. Will you marry me and make me the happiest man alive?"

He then took the box that held the ring out of his pocket and opened it. His hands shook while he waited. He didn't have to wait long before Merlin nodded his head and said, "yes, yes I'll marry you." He took the ring and slipped it onto Merlin's finger before he stood up and embraced him like he had no intention of ever letting him go.

They went home to celebrate in the privacy of their own home and their own bedroom.

 

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The next day, they gathered all their friends together to announce their engagement. Everyone was so excited and thrilled for them.

Gwaine pulled Arthur to the side. "You did good. Now hold on to him tightly because you won't get a third chance. I hope you know how lucky you are because Merlin's special, he's one of a kind."

"I do know how special he is Gwaine and trust me, I will never let him go again." They then rejoined the others in their celebration.

 

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"We don't care Morgana, just keep it small and simple."

Merlin and Arthur were letting Morgana plan their wedding since she loved this kind of thing and neither of him had even the slightest idea of where to begin. The only thing they insisted on was that it was to be small. They only wanted their friends with them to celebrate their day, no business associates or long lost relatives. Morgana asked Arthur if he wanted her to invite Uther. "Go ahead but I really don't expect him to come."

 

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Forty-seven months after the break-up
Fifteen months after starting over
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"So how're you feeling? Are you ready to make a run for it?" Gwaine teased Merlin while they were getting ready. Merlin was wearing a dark grey tux and Gwaine had on a black tux.

 

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"I can't believe it's really happening! I feel like I've waited three lifetimes for this day to finally arrive," Arthur said to Leon as they were putting on their ties.

 

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Arthur and Merlin were standing in front of their friends exchanging vows.

Leon and Gwaine stood up with them as the best men. Lance was standing beside the minister signing his spoken words. When it was time for the rings, Gwaine handed Arthur's ring to Merlin and Leon handed Merlin's ring to Arthur. Finally, Arthur heard and Merlin saw, "I now pronounce you to be married. You may kiss your husband." Arthur pulled Merlin into his arms for a long passionate kiss while everyone cheered.

No one noticed the older man standing in the back watching the ceremony.

 

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Morgana had arranged for their reception to be in a fancy restaurant she had rented out. They had the tables arranged to make it feel very intimate which was exactly what the grooms wanted. There was an open bar and a dance floor.

Everyone was already seated when Arthur and Merlin entered. Their guests all waved their hands and cheered when they saw them. Both their smiles lit up the room. They looked so happy and so in love.

Again, no one noticed the same older man who sat at a table hidden in the shadows.

 

----------

 

Gwaine and Leon took turns giving their best man speeches. Gwaine's had everyone laughing while Leon's was much more serious.

 

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After everyone finished eating, the band started playing. Most of their guests were dancing and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time.

Merlin and Arthur were sitting at their table, with their eyes locked on each other and matching smiles on their faces before Arthur pulled him in close and kissed him deeply.

 

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Arthur stood up and walked over to the stage when the band had just finished a song. He turned around and looked directly at his husband as he began signing and speaking.

"Merlin, you have made me the happiest man alive. You are absolutely incredible and amazing, I still can't believe you ever agreed to marry me.

I know I don't deserve you. You are such a better man than I could ever hope to be, but I will spend every day trying to be a man worthy of your love.

You are so special and just having you in my life is a gift, but having you as my husband is...well, it's almost overwhelming. I can't believe it's real. All my dreams have now come true and I will do everything in my power to make all your dreams come true too. Merlin, I love you with all my heart. Thank you for giving me a second chance, thank you for trusting me, thank you for believing in me, but mostly importantly, thank you for loving me."

By the time Arthur was finished, Merlin was standing in front of him. They both had tears streaming down his cheeks along with most of their guests. Arthur hopped down off the stage and Merlin grabbed his face and they just stared into each others eyes, "I love you," they said to each other before Merlin pulled him into his arms and kissed him lovingly.

Once they broke the kiss, they put their foreheads together and continued looking into each others eyes while still holding on to each other. The music started playing again. The band was playing the first song he and Merlin ever danced to.

Arthur took Merlin's hand and lead him onto the dance floor for their first dance together as a married couple. "They're playing our song," Arthur signed before he wrapped his arms around Merlin's waist. Merlin rested his arms around Arthur's shoulders as they moved to the music, Arthur leading. Their friends all smiled and joined them on the dance floor.

 

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The happy couple made their way over to the bar to get a glass of champaign. When they turned around, there stood Uther directly in front of them.

The first thing Uther did was grab Arthur and pull him in for a hug. "I am so proud of you Arthur. You followed your heart. I can see how happy you are and how much you love each other."

Uther let Arthur go and then turned to Merlin. He just looked at him for a minute, during which time, Arthur moved over and put his arm around his husband's waist protectively. Finally, Uther let a smile spread across his face and raised his hands to sign, "welcome to the family, son," and then pulled him in for a hug.

Arthur and Merlin were both dumbstruck but Merlin finally snapped out of it once Uther released his hold on him. "Thank you sir. It's nice to finally meet you."

Uther tried to sign back something but Merlin looked confused so Arthur raised his hands and interpreted for him. "It's nice to finally meet you too and please, call me Uther."

Merlin smiled and nodded.

All of a sudden, it struck them both that Uther was signing, even though he wasn't very good at it.

Arthur signed as he spoke to his father, just like he always did so Merlin didn't get left out of conversations. "Father, what are you doing here and when did you learn to sign?"

"I'm here to watch my only son get married. When you told me Merlin was the love of your life, I may have had him checked out. When I discovered that he was deaf, and, knowing how you felt about him, I thought that maybe I should try to learn sign language, but sadly, it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I know some of the basics but after all these months, you'd think I would know more." He looked over at Merlin now, "I'm sorry Merlin, and I will keep trying, but we may have to resort to written messages when Arthur isn't around to help," Arthur interpreted for him.

Arthur and Merlin were both in shock at the realization that Uther did all this so he could be a part of their lives.

 

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Merlin and Arthur were worn out, it had been a long day. They thanked everyone for coming and sharing in their special day before they headed off to the hotel where Morgana reserved a suite for them.

They opened the door to their room to find lit candles everywhere. There was champagne chilling in the ice-bucket and chocolate covered strawberries on the side table, all courtesy of Morgana. It was a wonderful way to start the first night of their lives together as a married couple.

 

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Three years after getting married
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Merlin and Arthur were trying to sleep when all of a sudden there was a scratching sound moving across the wood floor. Fortunately, Arthur heard it in time to brace himself before their dog jumped into bed with them. Unfortunately, Merlin couldn't hear anything so he was caught unprepared for the dog leaping into their bed.

Soon Sam and Jessie came into their room and crawled up onto the bed with them. Samuel and Jessica were their children they adopted just over a year ago at the ages of three and four. Jessica was deaf but she had been helped greatly with new hearing aids and was starting to vocalize words. Even though Sam was younger, he always watched out for his sister.

Merlin and Arthur didn't need an alarm clock on the weekends because their kids were their alarm.

Today, they were going to the park for a picnic with Grampa, Aunt Morgana, Uncle Leon and Bailey, their two year old daughter. Gwen and Lance would be there if Gwen wasn't throwing up from morning sickness. Percy and Freya were a yes and Gwaine texted Merlin telling him that he, Elena and their twin boys would be there, but knowing Gwaine, it was hard to say when that would be.

"How soon til we go Daddy?" signed Jessie.

"Ask your Papa," Merlin signed back to her.

Jessie looked at Arthur, "how soon til we go Papa?"

"We can go as soon as we are all up, have eaten breakfast and gotten dressed so you better get moving," he signed and spoke to her.

Both kids scrambled off the bed and ran down the hall to the kitchen to get breakfast.

Arthur rolled onto his side and leaned over to give Merlin a kiss. "Good morning sunshine," he signed before he grinned and bent down to kiss Merlin's nose. He then laid back down and wrapped Merlin up in his arms.

"Shouldn't we get up?"

Arthur shook his head and snuggled in closer to his husband.

"Daddy, Papa, we're hungry!" Sam yelled from the kitchen.

"Coming," Arthur yelled back, gave Merlin one more kiss then yanked the covers off him laughing.

Merlin just rolled his eyes and shook his head trying to suppress a grin.

'Why do I love this man again,' Merlin jokingly thought to himself while Arthur thought to himself, 'God, I love this man'.

 

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They went to the park for their picnic and Arthur and Merlin surprised Jessie and Sam by stopping at an ice cream stand on the way home. 'Life couldn't get any better than this' they both thought to themselves.

 

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Ten years after getting married
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Arthur had made a vow to himself long ago that if there was ever a way for Merlin to get his hearing back, he would do it. Always sitting in the back of his mind were those words: You're not worth it! Those last words Merlin ever heard him speak to him. Merlin had never once brought it up and Arthur hoped that he had long since forgotten them but it was still with Arthur after all this time.

Arthur was always looking into new innovations dealing with hearing loss for both Merlin and Jessie. He finally saw something that looked very promising for Merlin and went to see the doctor researching it. He told him about Merlin's condition. The doctor sounded optimistic that he could help Merlin but said he really needed to examine him before he could say for sure.

Arthur was so excited he could hardly wait to get home. He sat Merlin down to tell him all about what he'd learned. Merlin didn't look nearly as excited as Arthur thought he would. When Arthur asked him why, he explained that that was a different life, a life where he had and then lost Arthur and he didn't want to ever go back to a time when it reminded him of that.

Arthur again just looked at the man in front of him and couldn't believe he was his. He held Merlin so tightly he was afraid he might break him but he never wanted to let go of this gift from God.

With that settled, Arthur was finally able to let go of the guilt caused by those harsh words he had spoken to his love all those years ago. They both knew how far they've come, they've left the past in the past and were just focusing on their future together.

 

The end.