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In the rain, every city looks the same

Chapter Text

Merlin stares out of the window. The lights of the cars in front of them are mirroring in the raindrops running down the glass, making them shine like little gemstones. Leon activates the windscreen wipers and for a short period of time, Merlin can see clearly how busy the evening rush hour traffic is.
The radio is on and Benjamin Orr is softly singing: - who's gonna drive you home…
Merlin lolls his head and looks at his boyfriend, who’s concentrating on the traffic and doesn't spare him a glance.
Listening to the Lyrics of this old 80’s song he thinks “Not you,” with an unreasonable anger, directed at Leon.
And practically it's not true either, because Leon is driving him home right now. But Merlin means it in the metaphorical way.
He turns his head again, staring into the grayness of the pouring rain. He doesn't even know why he's so angry at Leon. All he knows that he's feeling lost and lonely in this foreign city and Leon is doing nothing to help him getting accustomed to it. Before they moved here, Leon promised to show him the city. All the tourist places, like the television tower, the bits and pieces of the wall and checkpoint Charlie. And of course he would show him his own favorite places, like where you can go down by the river to hang your feet in and the best flea markets to visit on Sunday mornings.
But until now Merlin hasn't seen much of the city. Only what he can catch out of the window of the tram. He has seen the television tower from far, the iconic bubble form sticking into the sky. Actually you can see it from several sides of the city, because it is the highest building in the city. And he has seen the Brandenburger Tor, because it's not that far away from the Humboldt university, where he works. When the weather is nice he sometimes takes little walks in his lunch break, that's how he has seen at least something of his new home.
Merlin understands that Leon is busy, he's catching up with all his friends he hasn't seen in the three years he's been abroad and over the moving process his research has been neglected and he needs to make up leeway, but the same applies for Merlins dissertation too.
Leon offers to take Merlin with him, when he meets his friends, introduce him to them, and in the beginning Merlin was looking forward to it, expecting to make new friends, but soon enough he felt like a millstone around Leon's neck. His friends are alright. They are friendly and welcoming, but Merlin doesn't understand enough German to follow the whole conversation. When they talk to him, they're using English, but after a few minutes the group is back to speaking German again and Merlin feels left out. Otherwise he comes by surprisingly well, just speaking his mother tongue, as Berlin is a city full of tourists. Most people somehow speak it, at least everyone he met and especially people his age are speaking it fluently. In these hipster cafes, that are lining the streets of the quarter where they live, he always gets the coffee he ordered. Although his name on the cup is always written creatively wrong, but that's no difference to London. Merlin is not an usual name.

The car stops and Leon is touching his shoulder lightly. Merlin turns his head to look at him.
Leon smiles softly. “ I thought you were asleep.” He says.
Merlin shakes his head. “No, just thinking.” He unfastens his seatbelt and gets out of the car. The rain has stopped by now, but heavy grey clouds are still covering the sky. Merlin shivers.
Leon lets them into the house, as Merlins key is somewhere on the bottom of his heavy shoulder bag and it always takes him ages to find them.
Even if Merlin doesn't like Berlin yet, he loves their new flat. It's on the third floor of an old building and it has high ceilings and a wonderful parquet floor, in herringbone lines. They have three rooms plus a rather large kitchen and a bathroom. The bathroom is the only slightly unpleasant thing about the flat. It's small, with obsolete mountings. But Merlin has seen worse, has lived with bathrooms in far worse conditions. In London a flat like this would be unaffordable. But even though the prices for rent have mounted in Berlin too, it's still cheaper than in other capitals.
They moved in four weeks ago, but everything still looks improvised. Cartons are building little islands in the more or less empty rooms. Leon is bent over one of these cartons, rummaging through it on the search for a fresh shirt, so he can change quickly before he goes out.
“I thought we would have a quiet night at home, unpack some of these boxes?” Merlin hates how niggling his voice sounds, but he can't help it, he's disappointed.
Leon sighs. “But Lance only has time today, he's one of my best friends Merlin and I haven't seen him for ages.” He's getting annoyed and Merlin has the bad feeling that he's behaving like a limpet. He really doesn't want to be this kind of boyfriend.
“Are you sure you don't want to come? I want to introduce you to each other.” Leon asks with his head tilted, looking so pleading and cute that Merlin nearly changes his mind. But just nearly. He's just not in the mood to meet new people tonight. Normally he isn't this kind of misanthropic, he loves meeting new people, just not today.
“I don't feel so good, I think I might getting a cold.” Merlin answers.
“Do you want me to stay? I can cancel if you want me to.” Leon frowns a bit.
“No.” Merlin says quickly. “You don't have to cancel.” Secretly he hopes that Leon just would do that. He smiles a bit. “Go out and have fun. I'm going to make me some tea and have an early night.”
“Thanks, love.” Leon kisses him on the lips, before slipping in his shoes by the door.
“Do you need anything? Should I bring you something back from the apothecary?” He asks, already halfway through the door. But Merlin shakes his head. And then he stands alone in the hall, staring at the closed door, not really sure what to do with himself.
His stomach is growling as he didn't had anything for lunch, because Gwen hadn't been at work today, and he doesn't like to sit and eat in the canteen on his own. There's nothing in the fridge either, as they originally planed on ordering pizza tonight. He hates eating alone anyway.
So he only makes himself a tea and starts to unpack some of his books.

Chapter Text

Leon comes home, sometime in the early hours of the morning. Merlin only wakes up shortly, when he feels the mattress next to him dip. 
“Hey,” he says sleepily.
“I’m sorry I didn't mean to wake you up.” Leon apologizes, then he kisses him. He smells like beer and cigarettes. 
“It's fine.” He turns around to fit into the little spoon position. And he smiles when Leon pulls him closer to his chest. 
“I missed you tonight.” He whispers into Merlins hair. 
Merlin lets out a noncommittal “hmm” before he falls asleep again. 
When Merlin wakes up again, Leon is quietly snoring next to him. He tries to fall asleep again as well, but he can't. So he gets up and pads into the bathroom. When he walks into the kitchen, he sees a note on the kitchen table. 
“I hope you feel better, if you do, wake me up at 12. I take you out for breakfast and a bit of sightseeing, if you like. We can even have Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I remember you telling me that you liked the film?”
Merlin smiles down at the note. Actually it's the book he likes and Truman Capote is one of his favorite authors, but the film is alright too. He makes himself a coffee and starts working on his dissertation for a bit. 
They don't have Breakfast at Tiffany’s as they both are not too interested in overpriced jewelry, but they have croissants and coffee in a little café down the street. For a change the sun is shining and they can sit outside. 
After that they take the tram to Alexanderplatz. Berlin has underground lines as well as tram traffic on the surface, and Merlin really likes the tram, because it provides a nice glimpse at the city. 
Of course, they have to wait in line for a while, but when they finally are on the viewing platform of the television tower, the view over the city is breathtaking. The whole city lies to their feet and they can see far into the suburbs of Berlin. Leon points out the direction of their quarter.
After that they idly amble through the city. Leon sometimes points out interesting architecture or specialties of Berlin. Merlins eyes are shining and he is all smiles. They walk hand in hand and for the first time Merlin thinks, that moving here maybe wasn't such a big mistake. 
But they say don’t count your chickens before they hatch for a reason. 
On their way home, Leon tells Merlin that he has been offered the opportunity to participate on a research project in Hamburg. Something about mosquitoes that are introduced to Germany through the ships coming from exotic countries. He would be gone for three weeks. If Merlin would be alright on his own? 
The first thing that comes to Merlin’s mind is: ‘This whole day together only was an attempt at leniency.’ But Leon wouldn't be that calculating, would he?
So after the first second of shock, Merlin smiles and nods. “Of course I will be alright.” He assures Leon. Because he wants it to be alright, he's an adult for god’s sake and he has lived on his own before he met Leon. Besides that, he knows what a research project like that means. It's not as if you get an offer like that every day. And it's only three weeks, he will manage. That's how he reasons with himself, while the lingering feeling in his guts tells him otherwise. He can't be on his own right now, he needs Leon. 

That night he picks at his food, not really in the mood to eat and Leon asks him several times if he’s alright.
Merlin smiles at him and says: “Yeah, just tired.”

They go grocery shopping before Leon leaves, so Merlin has something to eat for the first week at least.
Leon leaves Thursday night, and the first Friday night alone, Merlin tries to enjoy. He’s sorting through his records, playing some smooth jazz, sipping a glass of a rather nice wine. He only took his favorite books and records with him, the other stuff, he just couldn’t get rid of, is being shipped for the UK, but it hasn’t arrived yet.
On the weekend, he throws himself into work and gets actually something done. When he stretches his limps out on Saturday evening, he has written ten pages. His stomach growls and he realizes, that he hasn’t eaten the whole day. He makes himself some pasta, but halfway through he loses his appetite and puts them in the fridge for later. But later never comes. Determined to keep his workflow, he starts early on Sunday, not even taking the time to drink a coffee first. He drinks it while reading what he wrote the day prior. He drinks a lot of coffee throughout the day, ignoring his protesting stomach. He has no time to eat.
He works deep into the night, just interrupted by Leon calling him, asking him how he’s doing.
“I’m fine.” He says. “I finished a chapter today.”
He can hear Leon smile on the other side of the line. “That’s great Merlin, I’m proud of you.”
His head is buzzing with all the things he worked on, when he goes to sleep.
The next days are flying by like this. Merlin is working like there is no tomorrow.
Gwen already complains that his ardour is making her feel bad and lazy. But Merlin only laughs and says that he’s on a roll.
“You still need to eat.” Gwen says strictly when he attempts to decline to go to lunch, again.
“Just let me finish that.” Merlin murmurs absentminded, and is startled, when Gwen closes his laptop with vigor.
“No, we are going now!” she orders and her tone doesn’t leave space for any objections.
Grumpily, Merlin mumbles something, but he takes his jacket and follows Gwen out of their cramped office.

“You know, I’m getting a bit worried about you.” Gwen soft voice sounds concerned and Merlin looks up from his plate where he was picking on the food.
“What, why?” he asks his friend, looking into her friendly brown eyes.
“I mean, it’s great that you are making progress with your dissertation and you have worked so much on our project the last week, but I feel like you’re working yourself into the ground.” She states.
“You are looking quite pale, love. How many hours did you sleep last night?” she asks.
Merlin shrugs his shoulders. “Four hours?” he’s not sure himself.
“That’s not enough.” Gwen chides him.
Trouble is, he can’t sleep more, even if he wants to. Sleep only comes easily if he is completely exhausted. Otherwise he lays in bed, wide awake, staring at the ceiling. Without Leon’s warm presence by his side, his thoughts are going round in circles, wearing him out.
Again Merlin shrugs his shoulders, nothing he can do about that. He has tried sleeping pills, but although they help him sleep, they make his brain feel like mush in the morning. He can’t have that.
“And when did you last eat?” Gwen continues her interrogation.
“Last night,” Merlin lies. He knows that she would not approve, that he only eats, when she forces him to have lunch together. He simply has no appetite.
And besides that, he discovered, that the lingering sadness that hangs over him like a cloud seems easier to handle when he feels the hunger gnawing. At least, it’s a feeling he can place and could do something about, if he only wanted to.
Under Gwen suspicious gaze, he starts to pick at his food again.

He establishes a routine for himself. He gets up early enough to have a coffee, but with not enough time to eat anything. Then he leaves the house and goes to work, trying to keep his cheerful façade up in front of Gwen. He can feel her watching him, when she thinks that he’s not looking.
Gwen makes a point of taking him for lunch, making sure that he eats. Because in her opinion he is way too thin. His objection, that it comes natural to him, does no count for her.
Sometimes they go out for a drink after work, but mostly Merlin heads straight home after work.
Leon calls him every evening, telling him about his day and wants to know how Merlin is doing. Merlin always tells him that he’s just fine. Then he works on his dissertation, until his eyes are burning in front of the computer screen.
After that, he lets himself be lulled into sleep on the couch by the background mumbling of british series.

Chapter Text

Merlin sits at the kitchen table, working on a translation of the medieval text, he needs for his dissertation.
Suddenly he hears keys being turned in the lock of the front door. He nearly jumps out of his seat and runs to the door. Inwardly chiding himself for behaving like a dog. But in this moment he couldn't care less, he's just happy that his boyfriend is home. Leon opens the door and smiles brightly when he sees Merlin already standing there. He has gotten a tan and it suits him very well. Merlins heart skips a beat, when he pulls him close and kisses him deeply.
“I missed you.” He says, when he releases Merlin again.
“I missed you too.” Merlin replies, slightly breathless. “You are early?” In fact it's a whole day earlier than he said it would be. Merlins stomach suddenly twists, when he remembers, that he hasn't cleared out the refrigerator. It's still contains most of the things Leon bought before he left.
He had delayed it, because the smell of the rotting salad made him gag every time he opened the door.
He barely registers that Leon is talking again.
“….and I thought I would surprise you.” He just finished a sentence. Merlin smiles halfheartedly to mask his confusion.
“I need a beer and a shower,” Leon decides, while cracking his neck. He walks past Merlin, who stands there, glued to the ground. Too late he realizes that Leon has left for the kitchen in his search of something to drink.
Slowly Merlin follows Leon. Just arriving in the door when Leon pulls the fridge open.
“Whoa, what the fuck? Merlin?” Leon stares at the nearly black, slimy soup that covers the vegetable cooler, where they usually store the beer too. Actually there are two bottles rolling around in it, but they are covered in the juice of rotting vegetables.
Leon shivers with disgust.
“I forgot to eat them.” Merlin says lamely.
“I can see that.” Leon hauls the cooler box out of the fridge and dumps it in the sink.
“I'm sorry.” Merlin apologizes.
“It happens.” Leon shrugs his shoulders. “I just go to buy some new beer.” He says.
Merlin takes some kitchen roll and starts to clean the box out.
Leon is back with a six pack of beer pretty quickly as the next kiosk is just around the corner. He opens two bottles and puts the rest of them in the fridge.
“What did you eat, the last three weeks?” He asks irritated, “most of the stuff we bought together is still there.”
“Mostly I ate with Gwen in the canteen.” Merlin answers, hoping that Leon will let it go.
But Leon frowns. “That would mean you only ate once a day?”
Merlin shrugs his shoulders. “I wasn’t hungry. The heat, you know?”
Leon raises his eyebrows, but doesn't ask further questions.
Merlin is done scrubbing the box and drys it. He threw away the two bottles.
Leon hands him a beer.
“Good to be home.” He says, clinking his bottle with Merlins lightly.
“Want to shower with me?” Merlin blushes a bit at Leon's lewd wink. But he nods eagerly.
Afterwards they go out for burgers. When he's halfway through his, Merlin feels how it fills him up. After three weeks of barely eating one meal a day, this simply is too much and he feels like throwing up.
“I can't eat all that.” He complains. Leon looks at him a little bit confused, but a bit worried too.
“You haven't even eaten half of it.” He says.
“I know, I’m sorry, but I'm full.” Merlin shakes his head.
Then a grin spreads over Leon's face. “Don't worry love, that only means more for myself.”
Merlin slides his plate with the half eaten dish over to Leon.
“Do you want something else?”
But Merlin shakes his head, he really feels sick.

A week has gone by and suddenly Leon doesn't take Merlins half eaten meals with so much humor anymore. His expression becomes more and more worried, when he sees how much less Merlin seems to be able to stomach. He used to be a bottomless pit.
Merlin feels Leon watching him, his gaze lingering on him when he eats and hands exploring his body carefully in the dark of the bedroom, trying to remember if Merlin always felt this bony.
Every time Leon asks, "what's wrong Merlin, why don't you eat?" he always gets the same answers.
"Nothing's wrong, just not hungry." Or "I don't have any appetite."

For the fifth time that week, Leon looks at Merlins half eaten meal, but before Merlin can get up and put the leftovers in the fridge, Leon holds him back by his wrist.
“Merlin…” he begins. But Merlin interrupts him. “I just have no appetite anymore.” He says, avoiding Leon's eyes.
It's not really a lie, he doesn't enjoy food like he used to do, but overall he needs to keep that hole in his stomach, that wavy pain, that helps him stop to think too much.
Leon clicks his tongue disapprovingly. “Maybe we should see a doctor. It's not normal, that you suddenly barely eat anything anymore . There has to be something wrong.”
Merlin nearly snorts at that. Something wrong? Try everything. He shrugs his shoulders and attempts to get up, but Leon holds him back again.
“I don't need to see a doctor. I'm just a bit down lately, it will pass. My mum always said you're just homesick until you make the new place your home. She told me that, when I moved to London and used to call her in the middle of the night. I only need some time to get used to our new home."
Merlin can feel the tears prickle behind his eyes, he tries to blink them away.
“Merlin…” Leon says softly. “Merlin, it's ok to cry.”
He caresses his hand.
But Merlin doesn't want to cry, so he forcefully retreats his hand out of Leon's. "Don't!" He warns him and gets up quickly.
“I'm going for a run,” he announces, coming back into the kitchen with his new jogging shoes in his hand.
Leon raises is eyebrows. "Since when do you run?"
Merlin shrugs his shoulders. "I thought this would be a good compensation to sitting over my books all the time." Merlin explains.
“Don't you think we should talk about this?” Leon asks him, meaning Merlins small breakdown five minutes ago.
Merlin shakes his head. “No. Not now, I need to clear my head first.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Leon offers.
“You don't have to.” Merlin says and his tone indicates that he doesn’t want Leon to come. He sits down to tie his shoes.
“Ok.” Leon sighs, “It will be dark in an hour, don't stay out too long.”
Merlin grins at him. “Yes Daddy.”
“Uh,I didn't know you were into that.” Leon laughs.
Merlin crinkles his nose. “There are a lot of things you don't know about me…” he says mysteriously, before he leaves the kitchen.

Merlin hasn't done anything that could count as sport since school, where he had to, so he's still struggling to set a steady pace that he's comfortable with. He tends to start too fast and then be too tired to finish the round, or he gets a nasty stitch. But today it feels pretty good to run, suck in the fresh air, well as fresh as it can be in the city.
Friendly he replies the nodded greeting of the young blonde man, jogging past him, with a smile.
He has seen him a few times around, and damn does he look good. Athletic, light blue eyes and blonde hair, with an angular face and a boyish smile. Merlin always has to kick himself mentally about drooling over a good looking stranger. After all, he has an attractive boyfriend at home. Well, he figures that looking is allowed.

While Merlin is out, Leon sits down with his laptop and looks for English speaking doctors in Berlin. Two of them have offices near by and he scribbles down their telefon numbers on a yellow post it.

Chapter Text

“No!” Merlin shakes his head so vigorously that his dark hair is flying around.
Leon bites his lip. “Please Merlin.”
“No.” Merlin says again and pushes the little note with the Telephone numbers away from him, as if they were something disgusting.
“They even speak English, I looked it up…” Leon says meekly, knowing that he doesn't stand a chance again Merlin’s stubbornness.
“I don't care.” Merlin says coldly and leaves the room, while Leon stays and runs his hands through his hair over and over again, maybe because he doesn't trust them not to drag Merlin back to the table and force him to call the doctor.

“You are getting thin.” Leon says one evening, looking at Merlins collarbone, that pokes out of the hem of his shirt.
“I’ve always been skinny.” Merlin placates.
“Yes, but not like this.” Leon shakes his head.
Merlin shrugs his shoulders, although he knows that Leon is right. Over a month of eating not even half as much as he used to, has added a new fragility to his body. Sometimes he looks at himself in the mirror and traces the bones, that are becoming more prominent with each passing week, with his fingertips.
He likes the glowing translucency of his skin, stretching delicately over his bones. He looks at himself with fascination, because even though he knows that it is not healthy, he thinks that he just starts to look the way he feels. Thin-skinned, fragile and easily breakable.

For two weeks Leon tries to convince Merlin to see a doctor now, but he refuses every time, while eating less and less. So Leon figures, that he has to think of other ways, to get Merlin checked out.
“I don't have to be at work before 12 tomorrow, I can drive you to work. Then you can sleep in for a bit, maybe we can even have breakfast together?” What should have been a statement, sounds like a hopeful question. Merlin ignores it.
“Sleeping a bit longer would be great.” He smiles at Leon. “Thank you.”
The next morning, Leon doesn't take the usual route to the city center.
“Avoiding traffic.” He says, when Merlin gives him a questioning look.
But then he stops the car in front of an building, that is definitely not the university, and Merlin knows that something is up.
“What are you doing?” He asks. He can feel a strange fear creep up in him, because he has no idea what is going on.
“Don't worry, I told Gwen that you would come in a bit later today.” Leon tries to calm Merlin, but just increases his panic.
“What? Why?” Merlin feels trapped in the tiny car and his heart is beating too fast.
“I arranged you a doctors appointment.” Leon finally reveals and Merlins panic immediately is replaced by anger.
“Fuck you, Leon.” He says quietly, clenching his fist. “You tricked me. Fuck you.”
“I'm so sorry Merlin.” Leon looks terribly guilty. “I just want you to be alright, and you are not. I don't know…maybe you are just physically ill, or you are depressed or something, but we need to know, so we can do something about it.”
Merlin doesn't react, he just stares dead ahead, trying to figure out what to do.
Leon reaches for his hand to take, but Merlin moves it slightly, so he won't touch him. Leon lets his hand drop limply.
“You do know, that depression is a hereditary illness?” Leon asks gently.
At least that stirs a reaction from Merlin.
“You don’t know nothing, so shut up.” Angrily he clenches and unclenches his fists.
Silence fills the small space between them.
“Alright, I’m going in there, but just to stop you from nagging me all the time.” He finally decides. He gets out of the car and slams the door with more force than the old vehicle probably is able to take.
He marches into the surgery, leaving it to Leon to run after him or to stay in the car.
“Merlin Emrys.” He barks at the young receptionist, who looked up at him with a welcoming smile when he came in, that disappeared quickly and now is replaced with fearfully widened eyes.
“Please.” He adds, remembering his manners.
“Your health card, please.” She tells him shyly.
He pulls out his wallet and slides the green plastic card over the desk.
This was one of the things Leon had inculcated him over and over again. Always to carry this card around. In Germany, it’s just as important as your ID.
She tells him to take a seat in the waiting room.
Hesitantly, Leon sits down next to him, and Merlin tries to ignore him. But when Leon offers to hold his hand again, he lets him. Pretending to make Leon feel better about himself, but if he's honest with himself, he's scared.
Because he knows that Leon is right and the way he feels is somehow wrong. He knows that not eating is not healthy at all. But he doesn't want it to be true, to be a thing. He just wants to pretend everything is fine until it passes.
They call him in, and Leon squeezes his hand encouragingly, before he lets go. Merlin doesn't deign to look at him. It's all his fault, he dragged him here, didn't he?
The doctor is a gentle woman in her forties with Indian roots. She speaks English with an slight accent that has an calming effect on Merlin, it reminds him of London, that is filled with people, speaking so many different accents.
She takes notes, while she asks him questions.
When he has finished talking, she nods seriously and her dark curls bounce around her face. Merlin thinks that he likes her, because she reminds him of Gwen.
She tells him, that she thinks he might be depressed, probably developing an eating disorder. But she lets her receptionist take his blood pressure and blood samples to rule other things out. She gives him a appointment for the following week when his test results are back. Normally she would give them over the phone, but she wants to see him again and probably talk about what to do next. At least, that's what she says, smiling lightly at him, trying to spread a calm and trusting atmosphere.
When he stands and walks out of her office, his legs are shaky and everything feels unreal, numb.
“Drive me home.” He demands, when he stands in front of Leon again.
Leon nods without an other word and guides him to the car. He opens the door for him and even fastens his seatbelt, but Merlin doesn't really notice any of it.

At home, Merlin immediately curls up on the sofa, while Leon calls Gwen to let her know that Merlin wouldn't come in that day.
After he ended the call, Leon squats down by the sofa, running his fingers through Merlins dark hair.
“Do you want me to stay here with you?” He asks him.
But Merlin shakes his head. “I don't want you to be even near me right now.” He says and Leon drops his hand, as if he has burned it.
“Merlin…” he says helplessly.
“I know you meant well, Leon, but it doesn't work like that. You betrayed me!”
Leon gets up and looks down at his boyfriend.
“I am really sorry Merlin. As you said, I only meant well.” He leaves the living room and goes into the kitchen.
Merlin turns on the TV and logs into Netflix.
Leon comes back with a teapot and a cup for Merlin, the tea already mixed with milk and sugar, just how he likes it.
“Thanks.” He says, even if he doesn't want to. It is hot outside, but the flat is chilly and he pulls the blanked over himself.
Leon weavers by the door. “I'm have to go now.” He announces. “Do you need anything ?”
“No.”
“Alright then,” Leon still hesitates, but Merlin blatantly ignores him.
“I bring back something to eat for tonight, ok?”
“Sure,” Merlin couldn't care less.
“Merlin, please…” Leon tries again.
“Just leave already, Leon.” He spits, and this time, he means it.

Chapter Text

Merlin knocks at Professor Gaius' office door, his doctor thesis supervisor.
Normally he sees him once or twice a week, to talk about lectures, the research project Gwen and he are working at, and most important, how his dissertation is coming along. But Merlin has been sick the last two weeks. Just a simple cold, but his body is too worn out, to keep him going, with the little nutrition he allows himself, while fighting off a cold at the same time.
So he had to stay in bed. To weak to do anything apart from sleeping. He tried to work with his laptop on his knees, but he just couldn't concentrate and then of course these horrible headaches would intensify, making his eyes water. So he gave up on trying to be productive and just slept as much as he could. He lived from tea, toast and the fruits Leon would cut for him. Merlin savored the way Leon cared for him when he was ill, because all they seemed to do lately was fighting.
They fought about everything; money and cleaning the flat, but mostly they fought about Merlin’s eating habits.

Merlin hears a faint “come in” from the other side of the door and pushes it open.
Professor Gaius sits behind his desk and his eyes are blinking friendly, when he sees Merlins head appear in the room.
“Come in my boy, come in.” He waves Merlin over. But his smile dies on his lips, when he takes in his young protégés gaunt appearance.
He ushers him to sit down and offers him a cup of tea, out of a thermos flask. Merlin takes it gratefully and warms his hands on the mug.
Gaius eyes Merlin intensely. “How are you, my boy?” He asks him.
Merlin nods. “I’m good, I’m good.” He says. “As you know, I’ve been sick for the past two weeks. But it's fine now.”
The professor frowns. “Really? You look…” he trails of, while Merlin stares down at his hands, wrapped around the cup.
His long, slim fingers are looking spindly; his skin is red and dry and itches. He knows that he still looks ill, more than he would like and every move takes more strength than it should. He's tired.
“Not a 100%, but enough to get to work again.” He says firmly.
“Merlin,” Gaius sighs, “you shouldn't come to work if you not a 100% well. It's not a lot to do right now, take a few weeks off, cure your cold completely. I’ve looked at the project and you made really good progress, so I think Guinevere will manage alone for a bit.” Gaius says friendly and Merlin knows that the professor means well, but hearing that they can manage without him, makes him feel dispensable.
Again he shakes his head. “I would rather be at work. Otherwise I get cabin-fever.”
Gaius looks into his pleading eyes and sighs.
“Alright my boy, but only if you promise to go easy on yourself.” Gaius demands.
Merlin nods enthusiastically. “I promise, professor!”
Gaius sighs again, “You know you mother was a brilliant academic, but she tended to overwork herself, and then…”
Suddenly Merlin feels as if there's no air in the small room, he can't breath. He gets up so hastily, that he nearly knocks over his chair, but he catches it, before it hits the floor.
“I have to go now!” He announces and practically runs out of the office.
Only outside of the building he allows himself to slow down and catch his breath. His hands are shaking. He stretches them out and wills them to be still.
It doesn't work, so he buries them in the depths of his trouser pockets. He contemplates to go up again to see Gwen, but maybe she has already gone home and right now, he really doesn’t want to go into the building again.
So he takes the tram home.

The flat is empty, Leon is not home yet. That's no surprise, because Leon is rarely at home nowadays. Merlin gave up on calling him, after the second time Leon called him clingy, and now it doesn't bother him anymore, at least no one is there to force him to eat.
He wanders aimlessly through every room a few times, then he puts on a record and tries to immerse into the music, but it doesn't work, he can't concentrate.
He feels lonely. He never had a lot of friends, given that he always had been a little bit different from other people, but the few friends he had were loyal ones. He especially misses his best friend Will. So he decides to call him. It's only one hour time difference to the U.K., he should be at home.

“Merlin?” Will asks when he picks up the phone.
“Do you know other people in Germany?” Merlin tries to give his voice his usual cheerful tone.
Will laughs. “How are you, mate?”
For a short moment Merlin thinks about telling him how miserable he is, but then he decides against it. He doesn't want to be the friend, who only calls when he's feeling down.
“Oh I'm fine. How are you? How's the family?” He quickly adds when he hears the baby cry in the background.
“We are great. It's a bit exhausting, with two kids and all. I wish you could see how they are growing, it happens so fast.”
“Yeah, I imagine.” Merlin says wistfully, what would he give, just to sit in Wills cosy kitchen now, the children playing on the floor. And after a nice evening with lots of laughter and a few beer, he would just walk down the street and open the door to his mothers house. He closes his eyes.
“Merlin. Merlin?” Will asks into Merlins silence.
“Are you alright?”
Merlin opens his eyes again.
“Yeah,” he clears his throat. “I was just thinking about…you know.”
“Yeah, I know. It's sold…the house, I mean.” Will says quietly.
“I know.”
“How's Berlin?” Will changes the topic.
“It's great. So many things to do, we go out, almost every night.” Well Leon goes out every night… “and it's so cheep you know.”
Will laughs. “Do you speak German already?”
“I'm on it. I’ve been to this language course at Uni, but most of the time I speak English anyway.”
It's true that he took lessons in an attempt to learn German, but he gave up after the second week. He hadn't understood anything and it made him feel stupid. Leon had been angry with him for quitting.
“You will never lear it, when you fight it tooth and nail. I don't get it Merlin, you know this medieval stuff like the back of your hand, but you can't lear at least a bit of German?” He had said.
“That medieval stuff is still English.” Merlin had retorted. “I want you to teach me.”
“You know that I don't have the time to teach you.” Leon had said and the conversation was over.
It isn't that Merlin thinks he's too stupid to learn a new language, but he feels like speaking his mother tongue is the only thing in his identity that is unchangeable. He never thought that language could mean that much to him, but now he feels as if it is the last cord, that ties him to the land he once called home. Maybe that's why he has such great problems to get himself into learning German.

They talk for a while and Merlin tells Will how exciting his new life is and about the great relationship with Leon. Will repeats how Merlin is making him almost jealous with his adventurous life, as Will never has left the village he was born in. Merlin tells his best friend one lie after another, half fearing and half hoping that Will can tell that he's lying, but obviously he can't. They say goodbye to each other when Will’s wife calls him for dinner.
When Merlin puts the phone down, he feels lonelier than ever.

He wakes up in the middle of the night, when Leon shakes his shoulder lightly and calls his name.
“Merlin…”
Unwillingly he opens his eyes and looks at Leon.
“Hmm?”
“You fell asleep on the couch again. Let’s go to bed, shall we?” Leon mutters. Merlin is not sure how drunk he is. He gets up and follows his boyfriend into the bedroom.
Leon sits down on the bed and pulls Merlin closer by his waist.
Merlin tilts his head to kiss him. He tastes like cigarettes and alcohol, but he doesn't care. How long since they last slept with each other?
Leon's hands are resting heavy on Merlins small hips. They begin to undress each other. Leon's movements are uncoordinated and he roughly dugs his fingers into Merlins sensitive flesh. Over the last weeks Merlin has noticed that he bruises more easily, even the smallest bump into something, leaves big, colorful bruises.
“Be careful.” He reminds Leon.
But he doesn't slow down, he doesn't stop and Merlin feels a certain aggressiveness looming in Leon's touch that scares him.
Merlin has to push against Leon's chest with force, to get him to stop and look at Merlin.
“What?” He asks and Merlin can tell that he's annoyed and irritated.
“You were hurting me.” Merlin says plainly.
“Sorry.” Leon apologizes, but Merlin can tell that it hasn't really sunk in.
“Maybe we should do that tomorrow, when you are sober again.” Merlin says coldly and takes a step back.
Leon shrugs his shoulders. “I wouldn't bet on it, I can't bear to look at you when I'm sober.” He says.
Merlin stares at him, his mouth hanging open.
“What?”
“I mean look at you, you are just skin and bones. You are a walking accusation, you are starving yourself to punish me. You blame me for coming here. Let me remind you, that it was your decision.” Leon puts his head in his hands, resigned.
“It's like you want me to save you, Merlin, but I have no idea how. Nothing I tried has worked, and nothing I say even gets to you. You are not even here, it's like I'm talking to a ghost. You always wondered about you mother, but you are…” and that's where Merlin can't stand to hear anymore of the things Leon has to say.
“Stop, please stop…I can't… I can’t…” he doesn't even has the words to express how hard these words are hitting. But the worst thing about them is that they are true. He is waiting for Leon to say or do something that will flip a switch inside his head and everything will be back to normal. But slowly, both of them are realizing that this ain't going to happen and it leaves them utterly helpless.
“I'm sorry Merlin.” Leon says softly and Merlin is not sure for what exactly he's apologizing. Leon grabs the pillow from his side of the bed.
“I'm sleeping on the couch tonight.”
Merlin nods, suddenly standing in the darkness of the bedroom alone, feeling like he just became a ghost.

Chapter Text

After that night, Merlin finally chooses a therapist from the list the doctor gave him. It’s a desperate attempt to fix things again. And for a few weeks there’s actually something in the air, that resembles hope. Leon drives him to his appointment and picks him up afterwards. He understands that Merlin doesn’t want to talk about the session and he does his best to distract him from brooding too much.
But while Merlin tries to tie up the loose ends, that seem to dominate his live by now, it becomes clear, that their relationship has suffered more than Merlin wants to admit. It takes all his strength to at least pretend that everything is normal. He hopes that it will be true someday. He forces himself to clear his plate every night, and he’s proud of himself when he manages, despite the fact that he still takes way smaller helpings than he used to do. Leon tells him, that it is a start and that he’s proud of him. But suddenly Merlin realizes, that the problem never was just the eating, or in his case- not eating.
He feels detached from Leon, where they had been one of these couples that pissed everyone off with their display of affection, this part of their relationship has disappeared. They hardly touch each other now. They move through the flat like earth around sun. They need each other, but they have to keep a distance, otherwise one of them will go up in flames. Merlin can’t decide which one of them it would be.
He gains weight as summer changes into fall and the trees are changing colors. Everyone around him is relived, they all think he’s doing better, fighting his way out of his depression. But he isn’t.
The detatched feeling he has towards Leon, slowly takes over his whole live.
He has taken a liking to Berlin by now, but not the hip and friendly side. He’s enjoying it’s ugliness. The grey postwar buildings, the potholes, the homeless people with their dogs in the streets. That’s him, that’s how he feels. Empty and sad and mistreated. It’s like him and the city a sharing a heartbeat, slow and unwilling, but strong.
He begins to ride the tram aimlessly, from one side of the city to another. He’s watching the people getting in and out of the carriages. People on their way to work, couples, tourists and groups of noisy teenagers. Drunk and sad people; he’s always drawn to them, because he is just like them.
He is staring at people and people are staring back at him, because even if he has gained weight, he still is too skinny and his movements have lost their lissomness.

But today he feels quite alright, it had been a good week, workwise, and Leon and he had actually spent some quality time with each other. It’s Friday and Merlin is looking forward to the weekend, finally having some time to relax and take a break from work. He has promised to cook dinner, that’s why he struggles, carrying a paper bag with groceries up the stairs.
It’s going to be salad and steak tonight. Half a steak for him, even.
He sets the groceries down at the table and turns on the radio. Carly Simon sings you’re so vain and Merlin enthusiastically joins her.
After he had washed his hands, he puts all the things out he needs for preparing dinner, but a quick glance at his watch, tells him that it still is too early to start cooking just yet. So, he decides to clean up the flat a bit.
He’s crouching down to hoover under the bed, when his eye catches something shiny lying there. Afraid it might be something that better doesn’t end up sucked in, he gets flat on his stomach and fishes for the thing.
When he pulls it out and looks at it, he needs a second to realize what it is.
And after he identified it as an empty condom package, he needs some more time to get the pieces together in his puzzled mind.
They don’t use protection anymore, they stopped using it back in England, a year ago. They haven’t bought any condoms in a while and he knows that they don’t own a single one. So, it shouldn’t be there. It can’t be there. Merlin looks at the shiny purple plastic wrapping in his hand and suddenly drops it in disgust. He feels light headed, because there is only one explanation for this tiny, innocent piece of plastic; it means that Leon is cheating on him. Leon, the one he would trust with his live, despite everything.
Merlin’s chest tightens, while the vacuum cleaner is still droning next to him, unaffected by Merlin’s discovery.
But even over the noise, he can hear his own speed up heartbeat.
Like in trance, he pushes himself to stand. He goes into the hall and puts his shoes on. The door falls shut behind him and Merlin realizes that he neither has his keys, nor his wallet. But he starts to walk away anyway.

He doesn’t even notices that he has his phone in his pocked until it rings. It rings and it rings and after a while it rings again.
Merlin stares at Leon’s face, appearing on the display.
Eventually he picks up.
“Yeah?”
“Merlin, where the fuck are you?” comes Leon’s voice over the speakers.
Merlin looks around, he has taken the first tram he saw and he has no idea in which part of the city he actually is. The carriage is rattling, as they are crossing a bridge right now.
“I don’t know.” He answers.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? I’m coming home and the vacuum cleaner is still running and everything for dinner is pulled out, but you are gone. Where are you Merlin?” Leon’s voice is urgent and it pierces the hazy cloud that surrounds Merlin.
“I know you are cheating on me, Leon.” He states simply.
There is silence on the other end for a while. And then a hesitant reply.
“How do you know?”
So it is true and he’s not even denying it.
“Who is it?” Merlin asks. “Is it someone I know?
“Merlin, please…” Leon says meekly.
“Who is it Leon, you are fuckin in our bed?” Merlin has risen his voice. “What’s his name?” and when another thought hits him: “Or is it a girl? A girl with nice, big tits?” All the people around Merlin are staring at him now, but he doesn’t care.
“It’s not a girl.” Leon denies. “Why don’t you come home Merlin? Come home and we talk about it.” He pleads.

Merlin doesn’t want to, but he really has not many options, then to go home, if he doesn’t want to spend the night in a tram. And besides that, he really wants to know what Leon has to say for himself.

He has to ring the doorbell to their apartment and he finds it strange to be let in like a guest.
Leon stands in the hallway, looking nervous and disheveled.
He pulls Merlin in a hug.
“There you are! I was so worried that something has happened to you!”
Merlin makes himself very stiff. “Don’t touch me.” He snaps.
Leon lets go of him and holds his hands up in surrender.
“Sorry.” He says.
“What’s his name?”
“Merlin…” Leon murmurs, looking at the floor.
“I want to know his fucking name, or did you not take the time to ask him?” he mocks.
Leon sighs. “Let’s sit down and talk about it properly.”
Unwillingly Merlin follows Leon in the living room and sits down on the couch, leaving as much space between them as possible.
“His name is George.” Leon says.
Merlin crosses his arms in front of his chest and huffs.
“I really don’t want to do this like that, but now that you found out anyways…” Leon trails off and rubs his hands on his knees, like he always does, when he’s nervous.
“This isn’t working out, Merlin.” Leon tells his hands.
Merlin frowns. “What do you mean?” Is Leon really saying what he thinks he’s saying?
“Us. This relationship. It’s not working out. I wanted to tell you for weeks, but then you were doing better… and I… I didn’t want it to get worse again.”
“So you are telling me this is going on for weeks?” Merlin can’t believe what he’s hearing. Never could he have imagined Leon betraying him like that.
“Merlin, I’m leaving.” Leon tells him unmistakably.
“What, because of some guy you met? Some stranger you fucked?” Merlin is upset; how can a random guy erase four years of a relationship?
“Not because of him. Because it’s the end of our relationship. We are both unhappy Merlin. It was over the day we came here. Maybe even before that. We tried to make it work, but we couldn’t. You are still blaming me for coming to Berlin, and I can’t stand it. Your suffering. It’s dragging me down with you, and call me selfish, but I don’t want this. I’m still young, I want to enjoy life.You are not there for me, you are so far away and I'm only human. I want to be loved and you don't love me anymore. I'm not even sure that you do not hate me.” His voice sounds hoarse and he takes a break to breath in.
“I’m sorry.” He says. And again; “I’m so sorry.”
Merlin can feel the tears running down his face. Angrily he wipes them away.
“I don't hate you!" He says, but he's not sure if it's true, at least not right now. "I was doing better. I tried. I tried for you.” He shouts at Leon, who lowers his head under the accusation.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I really am. But it’s my life too, and that’s not the way I want it to be.”
Panic grips Merlin at the perspective of Leon walking out on him, that he’s alone from now on. The humiliation of being cheated on, almost forgotten. He will forgive everything, if only Leon stays. He says that out loud, but Leon just sadly shakes his head.
Then the practical side of being left hits him.
“When you move out, how am I supposed to pay the rent? I can’t do it on my own!”
“A friend of Lance is searching a flat, I asked him to come here tomorrow.” Leon says and Merlin wonders how long he’s actually planning to sneak out of their shared life.
“you don’t have to take him in, if you don’t like him. I’ll pay my part of the rent until you found someone to share with.”
“How very generous of you.” Merlin states sarcastically. “You’ve been planning this, haven’t you?” his voice is cracking at every second word and he’s not sure if Leon actually can understand him.
But Leon looks down guiltily. “I never wanted you to find out the way you did, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.” He admits.
“Fuck you! What am I supposed to do now?” it’s a honest and desperate question, because Merlin has no idea how he will actual survive this.
“You could go back to England, if you miss it so much.” Leon suggest naively.
“There’s nothing left for me there. No job, no family, no future.” Merlin says resigned.
“You are strong Merlin, you can do this. And I know, that you know that we are not happy with each other anymore. We need to move on, both of us.” Leon says and Merlin wants to punch him for these flat phrases, with whom he puts an end to their relationship.
“Leave me alone!” Merlin demands.
Without any objections, Leon gets up and leaves the room, while Merlin lets his body sink sideways into the couch, sobbing.
When did everything went so fucking wrong?

Chapter Text

The next morning Merlin wakes up to his head feeling twice the size than normal. His eyes are swollen, because he has been crying half of the night, until he fell asleep out of exhaustion.
Now they are sitting around the kitchen table, Leon, himself and a dark haired stranger called Gwain, who comes from Reykjavik and works as a DJ. He’s the one who probably will move in. They all have a cup of tea in front of them, but Merlin can’t drink it, because being near Leon makes him physically sick. He feels like he would throw up right on the table, if he only took one sip.
He wonders what impression he must make on Gwain, sitting there mute and pale, with his eyes so swollen, that he looks like someone has punched him in the face, several times.
But Gwain doesn’t seems to be bothered about the tension in the room. He’s chatting cheerfully, his attention equally divided between Leon and Merlin, even if Merlin hardly answers him.
Leon shows him the flat, while Merlin empties his cup of tea in the sink. He steps in the hall the moment Gwain asks:” and which room would be mine?” Leon shrugs his shoulders and points at the study. “That one, I guess.”
Merlin interrupts them. “You can have the bedroom. I don’t want to sleep in the room, where you had sex with another man.” He spits at Leon, who looks embarrassed, but Merlin doesn’t care.
Gwain instead smiles at him, completely unaffected by the drama playing before his eyes.
“Great, it’s the bigger one.” He says contently.
“Does that mean I can move in?” he asks.
Merlin shrugs his shoulders. He really couldn’t care less. But he needs someone to share the rent with and this guy is at least not disagreeable.
“yeah, sure.” He says, slipping in his shoes, picking up a bag he had packed earlier.
“Where are you going?” Leon frowns at the bag.
“Gwen.” Merlin says shortly. “Call me when you moved out.” He fidgets with his keys. “And take the bed with you. I don’t want it.”
He nods over to Gwain, “See you.”
Gwain shows him his perfect white teeth. “See you, Merlin.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Merlin!” He can hear Leon call after him, but he already is out of the door, slamming it shut.

Three days he stays at Gwen’s, before Leon text him, that he has moved out. Of course, with all what has happened, Merlin is threatening to fall back into his habit of denying food, but Gwen is the last person, who would let that happen, and she and Morgana, her girlfriend, are making sure that Merlin doesn’t has the time to burry himself in his misery. He thinks that he hasn’t been to so many different places since he arrived in Berlin, as in the three days he spends with the two girls. Gwen’s empathetic kindness is heart-balm for him, but actually it is something that Morgana says to him on the second night of his stay, that has a bigger impact on him. It’s long after midnight, when she comes into the kitchen, where Merlin sits on his laptop, trying to work himself so tiered, he will stop thinking about Leon and finally be able to sleep.
She has wrapped her dark red bathrobe tightly around her slender figure, her long black hair hangs in a braid over her left shoulder. Even now, in the middle of the night, she looks like a creature of luxury and pride. Merlin always wonders how she and Gwen are fitting together like they do.
“Can’t sleep?” she asks him.
Merlin shakes his head. “I always have to think about him.”
Morgana fills the kettle with water.
“Did I wake you? I’m sorry.” Merlin apologizes to her, but she waves it away.
“Sometimes I just don’t sleep very well. It has nothing to do with you.” She soothes Merlin.
“Tea?”
Merlin nods.
She places the full mugs on the table. It smells like chamomile and lavender.
She sighs when she sits down next to him.
“I know that you are going through a rough patch right now, but let me tell you something that helped me to get through a break up. Now more than ever.”
She acts as if she’s telling a secret to him, but Merlin only looks at her confused.
“What?”
She sighs again, this time about him being so thick.
“Now more than ever. That’s what I used to say to myself whenever a lover of mine left or disappointed me. It means to always put yourself first. You are the most important person in your life and you should act like that, by treating yourself right. And whenever someone left me, I made a point in treating myself better, aiming to be happier without them.” She explains.
Merlin looks at her skeptically. “I’m really not sure if that applies for everyone, Morgana.” He crinkles his nose.
“It should apply for you Merlin. Do you really want to starve yourself, because Leon left? Is he really worth that much?”
Merlin takes a sip of his tea to calm himself down, he doesn’t want to start a fight with Gwen's girlfriend. Besides that, he thinks that Morgana is no one he wants to fight with anyway. But he only burns his tongue.
“Don’t I have a right to be sad about a break-up? We were together for four years, I thought he might be the one. And besides that, I’m not starving myself! I just have no appetite.”
Morgana only smiles at him, her green eyes are shimmering amused.
“Be sad, be angry, be disappointed, but don’t hurt yourself. Treat yourself better than he did.” Morgana pauses and circles the rim of her cup with her finger. “Gwen talks a lot about you, Merlin, she really cares about you.” She suddenly says, looking directly into his eyes.
“She told me how worried she was, when you suddenly lost your appetite. When you were getting thinner. She started to read all this stuff about eating disorders and how to help you.”
Merlin can feel his chest tighten. “I didn’t know about that.” He says.
“Yeah,” Morgana says absentminded. “But she told me that you were doing better, the last month, she was so relived.”
“What are you trying to do Morgana?” he asks her angrily. “Blackmail me with Gwen’s concern for me?”
“Maybe.” Morgana says calmly sipping her tea. “No, seriously Merlin, what I’m trying to do, is to tell you, that you can’t give up. That you have to fight for yourself. And if you can’t do it for your sake, do it for your friends. Leon is out of the picture, forget him.”
Merlin is still angry about with what kind of arrogance she’s talking about his life.
“As if you know what it means to fight. You are just the spoiled offspring of a filthy rich family.” He snaps at her.
Morgana only snorts. “And being rich means I don’t have problems?” it’s a rhetoric question, so Merlin doesn’t bother to answer.
“I don’t know how much Gwen has told you about me, but if you talk like that it can’t be much.” She stares into her tea.
“My family really is messed up, Merlin. I had a very close relationship to my father and my brother. I grew up, knowing that I was adopted, but it didn’t matter to me, because my father made me feel like I actually was his child. And then, when I was 19, I found out that I was, in fact, his daughter and that he had known it the whole time. Too proud to claim me as his biological daughter, because I was the product of an affair with his wife's best friend. It hurt so much, I felt so betrayed.” She stares into space, lost in memories.
“So, I was searching for ways to hurt him too. I stole money from his company and ran away. I went to Paris and spend the money on fancy clothes, parties and drugs. The gossip magazines would report every scandal I took part in.” She smiles maliciously. “You know, his reputation meant everything to him and I really was trying hard to destroy it.”
Merlin is listening to her story attentively, he almost has forgotten that he’s angry at her.
“It was fun for a while, but soon it turned into something hollow. In the end, cocaine will leave you sad and desperate and waking up next to yet another stranger every morning, makes you feel lonely eventually.” She plays with the tea bag in her cup. Both their teas are cold by now."So you were practically a Parisian It-Girl, in you previous life." Merlin jokes gently. And Morgana smiles a little sad smile. "If you put it nicely, yeah. At least until I ran out of money and then, unsurprisingly, out of friends, too." She says bitterly.
“Then I went back to England and started to work as a waitress. That’s how I meet Gwen. She used to come every day in the café where I worked, to get coffee. Eventually I asked her out, and it turned out to be the best thing that has happened to me... I didn’t see my father again, before he died. I regret that. Very much so. At least I converged with my brother again.” She raises her voice a bit. “So don’t you dare to tell me I don’t know anything about struggling and fighting.” She gets up from her seat and squeezes Merlin’s shoulder.
“We are here for you if you need us.” She promises him. Then she yawns, “I’m going back to bed. You should get some rest as well. I bet Gwen has planned a whole ‘distract Merlin day program’ again.”
Merlin only nods and squeezes her hand back. “Thank you, Morgana.” He means it genuinely.

When he comes back in his flat, not much is different. Leon’s stuff is gone, but that were only a few books, CDs and files. Leon has left most of the furniture, although they had bought it together and so at least half of it would have belonged to him. He only took the blanked his mother had gave him and that Merlin now misses dearly, because he’s always cold. He goes the next day to buy a new one, along with a new mattress.
Leon has left a note on the kitchen table. It wishes Merlin all the best. Merlin scrunches it up and throws it away.

Two days he has to himself, before Gwain moves in. Again, nothing much changes, most of his stuff Gwain keeps in his room. Only the space next to Merlin’s small record collection of rather classical punk and rock music, gets occupied by electronic music and the set-up gets an update, what Merlin rather welcomes.
Thankfully, his new mattress is being delivered the same day and Gwain helps him to navigates it into Merlin’s new room. Leon already has moved all of Merlin’s clothes there, too.
Merlin really begins to like Gwain, who never seems to shut up. But he makes Merlin smile sometimes and he does appreciate that.

They see each other mostly two times a day. When Merlin gets up at 6.30 in the morning, Gwain comes home and goes to sleep, when Merlin gets home from work around 6 in the evening, Gwain gets up and prepares to head out again. Gwain catches on pretty quickly that Merlin is struggling to prepare his own food, so he starts to cook for both of them.
Smiling brightly at Merlin when he tells him that he doesn’t have to do that.
“An egg more or less doesn’t make a great difference, Merlin. I’m cooking anyway. Sit down and eat.”
And Merlin does. Morganas “Now more than ever,” sticks with him. And even if he found it stupid in the beginning, it now has become something like a mantra for him. Of course, he still misses Leon and regrets that their relationship ended this way. And of course, he’s still angry and hurt, but he tries to care for himself. Some days are better than others, somedays hunger is all he can bear to feel.

It’s the third day, that Merlin has to force himself to at least eat some toast and drink some tea with milk and sugar. Gwain has been booked to Dj at some festival in France, he won’t be home for another week. Gwen is in London, browsing through the British Library for some books they need for their research project. Every night, she emails him the copies she’d made during the day and Merlin has a hard time to catch up on all the reading he has to do.
He knows that he uses the work as an excuse not to eat, but knowing and doing something about it are two different things. It actually scares him, that he’s so inadequate of taking care of himself properly, even if he wants to. He really is grateful for his friends support and he comes to believe that without them he would be at a much darker place than he is right now.
He decides to go for a run to clear his head and afterwards he might call Morgana, see if she’s up to ordering some take out and watch a movie. It’s Sunday evening after all.
As soon as he starts running, he feels that something is off today. He’s getting dizzy and little light spots are appearing in front of his eyes. He slows down a bit. He wants to get at least half of his usual round done. It’s strange that he’s sweating, but at the same time he feels quite cold. But he will warm up, he just needs to go a bit faster.
And then Merlin feels how his legs are getting weak and he tries to stumble over to a bench to sit down, but his legs are giving in before he reaches the bench. He falls forward, hitting his head on the wooden edge of the bench.
For seconds everything goes black, but he still is conscious, because he can feel hands on him and someone is asking, “Können Sie mich hören? Hallo?”
He pries his eyes open and gets the blurred image of a blond man crouching next to him. It’s the blond man.
“I don’t speak German,” he mutters, before he slips into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

The moment he wakes up, Merlin is overwhelmed by nausea. A nurse helps him to sit up and holds out a bowl of stainless steel for him to vomit into it. After that the wave of nausea subsides a bit. He leans back and looks at the nurse with watering eyes.
“Thank you.” He murmurs embarrassed.
She smiles at him, while exchanging the dirty bowl for a fresh one.
“It’s not your fault. You have a craniocerebral injury.” Her English is quite good, but with a strong German accent. “That’s a bit worse than a concussion. It’s normal to feel sick.” She holds a plastic cup with a straw out for him to drink. The water tastes nearly sweet in his dehydrated mouth.
“Can you tell me your name?” she asks.
“Merlin Emrys.” He says and is glad to remember his name. You always hear about people losing their memory after a hit on the head, and he’s relived that he seems to remember everything up to the accident.
The nurse takes notes on a clipboard.
“Do you remember what happened Mr. Emrys?”
Merlin nods, what only provokes an attack of dizziness. He immediately stills his head.
“Try not to move you head too much.” The nurse says a little bit too late.
“Obviously.” Merlin groans.
“I was out for a run in the park. But then I got dizzy and I tried to sit down on the bench, but instead I hit my head on it.”
“Just like Mr. Pendragon told us.” she nods.
“Who is Mr. Pendragon?” Merlin asks confused, suddenly afraid that he is suffering from amnesia after all.
“He called the ambulance that brought you here.” She tells him. “Tall and blond, blue eyes?” she describes him, not very distinctive as a million of people share these characteristics, but Merlin knows who she means.
“He called an Ambulance?” he asks her.
She nods. “Do you have any idea why you collapsed?” she goes on.
Merlin looks at his hands. Contemplating if it makes any sense to try and hide his problems form the doctors.
“I didn’t eat much before.” He finally answers.
She raises her eyebrows almost unnoticeably. “Oh, and was there a particular reason why you didn’t eat, did you feel sick?”
Merlin sighs, he really doesn’t want to say it. “I’m struggling with eating properly for six months now. I’m seeing a therapist.” he quickly adds, no need for the hospital to meddle in this business as well. It’s bad enough that he landed here in the first place, he hates hospitals.
“Okay, I’ll run your dates through the computer. And I’ll give the information to your doctors.” She smiles curtly at him.
Later his doctor tells him, that he has to stay at least two days in the hospital, so they can make sure he hasn’t incurred any brain damage.
Merlin tries to protest, but his doctor won’t have any of it. The worst thing is, that he hasn’t got anything on him. He even left his phone at home, only taking his keys with him. He needs someone to get some things for him. He knows that Gwen will be worried when he doesn’t reply her text or emails in the next 24 hours. He would call Morgana, but he doesn’t know her number.
It really pisses him off, but when they finally give him access to a phone, he calls Leon and asks him to come.
"Are you alright?" his ex asks concerned and he tells him not to worry. Leon promises to be there first thing in the morning.
When the nurse announces a visitor, Merlin expects it to be Leon. But it isn’t. It’s the blond, the one that has passed him by in the park so often, the one he vaguely remembers, kneeling next to him. Of course, now he doesn’t wear a track suit, but Jeans and a light blue button down instead, that brings out the blue of his eyes.
“Hey,” he says seriously, his eyes wandering over Merlin, fixating on the bandage around Merlin’s head.
“How are you?” he has a slight northern English accent, what surprises Merlin, he thought he was German.
“Where you from?” he blurts out rudely.
The man frowns, looking puzzled about the question.
“Your accent.” Merlin explains.
Now the man smiles, when he understands what Merlin means.
“Oh, I was born in Manchester and spend my teenage years in a boarding school there.” He grimaces to indicate that it had been horrible.
“You?” he asks.
“I was born in Cornwall.” Merlin says quietly.
“Right,” the man says, obviously not sure what to say next. Suddenly he takes a large step into Merlin’s direction and hands him a package with butterscotch biscuits. Merlin stares at them as if they are coming from another planet. "Thanks." he says slowly.
“I’m Arthur Pandragon.” The man says, holding out his hand. The name Pendragon rings a distant bell in Merlin’s memories, but he’s too distracted by the faint smile that plays on the stranger’s lips.
“Merlin Emrys.” Merlin says in return, slipping his slim hand into the man’s big one. It’s warm and dry and he has to force himself to let go again.
“Merlin?” the man grins. “You too had parents who were into the Arthurian legend?” he asks.
Merlin groans. “Tell me about it! My mother was a literature professor.” He rolls his eyes. “Can you imagine how hard it was at school for me? I mean look at me, strange looking guy with a strange name.” he complains. He briefly wonders that it is so easy to talk to this stranger.
“I don’t think you look strange. Just a bit battered at the moment.” Arthur says and smiles.
Merlin blushes in return.
“Well, uhm, thank you for helping me. Calling and ambulance, I mean.”
“Don’t mention it.” Arthur says, suddenly looking rather concerned and frowning at Merlin.
“Are you going to be alright?”
“Yes, sure.” Merlin smiles up at him. “I got a CCI, that’s a bit worse than a simple concussion, so they want to keep me here for two more days to see that I’m not brain damaged. I have to do a MRT this afternoon.”
“Are you scared?” Arthur asks, catching on on Merlin’s uncomfortable expression.
“There’s nothing I should be scared about.” Merlin raises his chin.
“I had to do it once too, I get these horrible migraines sometimes, so they wanted to rule a tumor out. I was quite scared in the beginning, but then it was alright.” Arthur tells him.
Merlin thinks that Arthur looks the type who’s not scared of anything.
He just opens his mouth to ask Arthur how it felt to lie in that tube, the door flys open and Leon rushes into the room.
Ignoring Arthur, he walks past him and plants himself in front of Merlin’s bed.
Unsettled by Leon’s aggressive composure, Merlin blinks up at him.
“Hi,” he says, hating that his voice suddenly sounds quivering.
“So you finally succeeded in landing yourself in the hospital, have you?” Leon snaps at him.
“Leon…” Merlin says, not sure what he actually can say to shake this accusation.
“What are you doing Merlin? Is this one perfidious plan to win me back?” Leon shouts down at him and Merlin has no idea what has got into him.
“Why on earth would I want you back, you arsehole?” Merlin shouts back, forgetting that there someone else in the room as well. “So you can cheat on me some more? I called you, because I thought we were still friends, apparently, we’re not. I only needed someone to get me some things, but now I see it was a mistake to call you. Fuck off Leon.” Hot, angry tears a welling up behind his eyes and he can’t hold them back.
“I think you better leave now, mate.” Merlin can hear Arthurs calm voice coming from behind Leon.
Leon whirls around and glares at Arthur. “And who the fuck are you?” he spits.
“I’m a friend of Merlin.” Arthur says calmly.
Leon turns around to Merlin again. “You don’t waste any time, do you?” he asks maliciously.
Merlin can’t believe the unfairness of Leon’s words. “I wasn’t me that cheated.” He reminds him. “I want you to leave now.” He tries to sound confident, but his voice breaks at the end.
Suddenly Leon’s expression changes and he looks as if he’s about to cry.
“I’m sorry Merlin. I’m just worried about you.” He tries to take Merlin’s hand, but guessing his intention, Merlin crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“You know what Leon, I really should thank you.” Merlin says.
Leon looks at him confused.
“I really should thank you,” Merlin repeats, “for making that break up so much easier for me. I don’t want to see you ever again.”
Leon gasps, “You don’t mean that.”
Merlin glares at him. “Yes, I do, so get out!”
Arthur puts his hand on Leon’s shoulder. “Come on.” He says.
Without another outbreak, Leon lets himself be guided out of the room.
Arthur is back after a few seconds.
“Should I even ask?” he looks at Merlin and Merlin shakes his head.
For a while nobody says anything.
The Arthur speaks up again. “You mentioned that you needed some things, can I get them for you?”
Merlin hesitates, it doesn’t feel right to give a stranger access to his flat. But on the other hand, Arthur doesn’t look like a thief, whatever a thief might look like. So he hands him the keys.
“Don’t you have to be somewhere?” he asks, but Arthur shakes his head and smiles, “It’s my free day.” he says and Merlin wonders if he’s lying. The faint blush on his cheeks seems to indicate it.
“Alright, the thing that I need most is my phone. It should be on the kitchen table. And some clothes would be nice. My wallet should be in the bowl by the door.”
Arthur nods to everything.
“You don’t have to do that.” Merlin says, concerned to take advantage of this friendly stranger, but Arthur shakes his head and smiles a smile that makes Merlin’s heart beat a little bit faster.
“I offered, didn’t I?” he winks and takes the key and the paper, where Merlin has written down his address.
“See you later!” Arthur says cheerfully and Merlin mutters a weak “yeah, later.” in response.
While inwardly he’s scolding his stupid heart for acting up.

Chapter Text

Arthur must have come back, while Merlin was wheeled away to take pictures of his brain, because when he comes back, there is a bag sitting on his bed. The bag is Gwains, but the clothes in it are his own, as well as his phone and his wallet. Arthur even packed his charger. Next to the bag, there is a note, the handwriting is neat, done with a pen. Who still uses pens nowadays?

Tentatively Merlin picks it up. ‘Hey Merlin, I hope I packed the right stuff. They told me that you were taking some test and they didn’t know how long it would take. But if you like, you can text me. I would like to hear how you are.” After that there’s a phone number written down. And under that, without any greeting, his name. Merlin stares at it. “Arthur.” He says, before smiling to himself and folding the note carefully, to put it in his wallet. Then he changes into sweatpants and a hoody. It shouldn’t be so fucking cold in a hospital.

As he predicted he has some texts from Gwen and two missed calls. He texts her back and excuses his lack of response with a dead phone and a lost charger. He feels bad about lying to her, but she only would be unnecessarily worried.    

Merlin is a little bit nervous, when he turns the key in the lock, half expecting it to be robbed empty. But of course, everything is just the way he had left it. He doubts that Arthur would have left him his number, if he had been stealing from him.  Quite the contrary, there’s another package with biscuits sitting on the kitchen table. Merlin grins at that, he fetches the other one out of his bag and puts it next to it, then he makes himself a tea and opens the biscuits. He sits down, feet tucked under and nibbles at it. How long since he ate these?

His mother used to loved them, she had the habit to dip them in her tea before eating. Merlin always teased her about behaving like a toothless old lady. She used to pull her lips over her teeth and say indignant: “Don’t make fun of your old mother, my son.” And then they would both giggle and laugh.

Merlin throws the half-eaten biscuit in the bin.

He pulls out his phone to text Arthur.

-What is it with you and these biscuits? Thank you by the way.

-I like them Arthur texts back immediately. You’re welcome :)

-So, did they find out what caused you to collapse?

Merlin thinks for a while what to write without lying

-low blood sugar he types.

-no wonder, thin as you are.

Merlin puts the phone down on the table. He’s angry at Arthur for writing it, but even angrier at himself for feeling pleased. What the fuck is wrong with him? Why does being told that he's too thin suddenly feels like a compliment? He picks the phone up again

-just compared to you he writes

- are you saying I’m fat, you cheeky git?

Merlin smiles at that.

-no I’m not saying that. I think you are well fit. He sends it and then blushes, maybe he shouldn’t have written that. He sees that Arthur is typing.

-And I think you are cute is the reply.

Merlin crinkles his nose. Cute? Well, he guesses that it is better than being called bony or anorexic, like Leon did a few times. It’s only slowly, on occasions like that, that Merlin realizes how bad their relationship had become.

He’s pulled out of his thoughts by another text from Arthur.

-Want to meet for a coffee sometimes?

Merlin doesn’t reply to that one. The thought of going out with someone new scares him.

Arthur doesn’t text again either.

 Merlin is glad, when Gwain finally is home again. He fills the flat with music, laughter and most of all, girls.

Right now, Merlin is greeted by the smell of pancakes and coffee when he walks into the kitchen. Gwain’s kitchen skills are fairly alright, but nothing compared to this.

A girl is standing by the stove flipping pancakes and drinking from a cup of coffee.

“Good morning.” He says and she startles so badly, that she drops her mug.

It doesn’t break, thanks to the floor being wooden, but the coffee spills everywhere.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry for scaring you!” Merlin apologizes while the girl is apologizing for making a mess.

Merlin helps her to mop up the coffee, before he introduces himself.

“I’m Merlin, Gwains flat mate. Guess he forgot to mention me?”

She nods. “I’m Freya.”

“Nice to meet you.”

They both are glaring at Gwain, who walks in the kitchen, in his usual high spirits.

“Great, you two have meet already.” He says.

“I nearly gave this poor woman a heart attack, because you didn’t tell her that I would be here.”

Gwain kisses Freya’s temple. “I’m sorry babe.”

Merlin fills himself a mug with coffee to take it back to his room. Gwain calls him back.

“I didn’t see you grab something to eat, Merlin.” He gives him a stern look. “Come on sit down with us.”

Merlin hesitates. “I don’t want to disturb you.” He says.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Gwain puts a hand on Merlin’s shoulder to push him down to sit, placing a plate with two pancakes in front of him.

“I don’t want you to end up in hospital again.” He says so quietly that Freya can’t hear them. Gwain is the only one Merlin told about the incident.

Merlin nods and picks up his cutlery.

“We are going into town later, I can drop you off at the English shop if you want?” Gwain offers.

“I can walk, it’s just around the corner.”

“I’m driving anyway.”

“Alright, thank you.”

Two hours later Merlin gets out of Gwains estate car and walks into the Broken English Shop, where they sell products from the British Empire. He wants to pick up Gwen’s favorite tea; chamomile & Honey, for her Birthday- welcome home-party the next day. A tall man is blocking the passage between the shelves. Merlin needs to look at him twice, but he’s quite sure that it is Arthur. He is holding two packages of biscuits in his hands, contemplating which kind he should get.

“You are really obsessed with these biscuits, aren’t you?” Merlin says from behind, making Arthur jump a little.

“Oh, it’s you.” He says, a smile forming on his lips.

“They are for my sister’s girlfriend. But I don’t know which kind she would prefer.” He holds them out to show them to Merlin. It’s the obligatory butterscotch and the ones with ginger.

Merlin tilts his head. “Not everybody likes ginger.” He says.

Arthur hums in agreement. “But I like the ones with ginger.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to get her some flowers?” Merlin asks amused.

“God no, then I would have to bring flowers for my sister too and she’s very discerning about them. I think Gwen will benefit more from these cookies, as Morgana surely won’t touch them, because of evil raffinated sugar.” He rolls his eyes. Merlin stares at him.

“What?” Arthur frowns.

“You are Morgana’s brother. Arthur Pendragon- Morgana Pendragon, of course.” Merlin finally makes the link.

“You know my sister?”

“I work with Gwen at Uni.”

Arthur grins. “What a small world it is, eh?”

“Yeah. I’m here to buy tea for Gwen.”

“So I’m guessing, I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Merlin can feel his face heating up and he’s sure that his ears a glowing red by now, they always give his emotions away, no matter if he’s nervous, excited, embarrassed or lying.

He nods, suddenly feeling shy under Arthurs searching gaze.

“I’m sorry for not texting you back, I would like to go for a coffee with you sometimes, but…” He says, looking away.

Arthur touches his shoulder to make him look at him again.

“It’s alright Merlin. The invitation still stands, take your time.” He doesn’t smile when he says that and Merlin is a little bit irritated by his sudden seriousness.

Arthur puts the second box back on the shelf.

“See you tomorrow, Merlin.” He says, before he strolls over to the counter to pay. By the door, he turns around again and waves over, smiling again. Merlin stares after him, and keeps staring long after he’s gone.

It takes him a while before he shakes himself out of his reverie. He quickly chooses the herbal tea for Gwen, and white tea with a nice artwork of a Chinese dragon on the package for Morgana. Then he picks out a too expensive teacup too, fine bone china with pale yellow English roses on it. He knows that Gwen loves them.

The next day, he needs an unreasonable long time to pick out his clothes for the party and then with taking a shower and shaving more carefully than usual, he’s almost too late. He steals a bit from Gwain’s aftershave, but he’s sure that he won’t mind. Before leaving, he takes one last look in the mirror. If his clothes weren’t a little bit too big on him, he thinks that he would look quite dashing. Oh well, nothing he can do about it now…     

 

  

        

 

       

Chapter Text

It’s the quiet clapping of a closet door, what wakes Merlin. He blinks into the soft morning light of an autumn day. Arthur stands there, with a towel wrapped around his waist, hair dark from wetness, obviously coming straight from the shower. He has his back turned to Merlin, who is glad about that, because he’s desperately trying to remember what happened last night. He drank a lot, that much is sure. But this is not his bed and certainly not his flat. Did he really go home with Arthur? Has he slept with him?
He remembers leaving Gwen’s party as one of the last guests. He even remembers leaving with Arthur, but after that, everything is blurry.
And now he woke up here, with Arthur practically naked in front of him. His heart is in his throat. He never has been the type for one night stands. He’s had two and they both were horrible. He needs trust, cuddles and affection in order to feel comfortable getting intimate.
Arthur turns around and sees that Merlin is awake.
“Good morning.” He says, “How are you feeling?”
For having obviously drunk enough to have a blackout, Merlin feels barely hungover. Vaguely he remembers being sick on their way home.
“How much did I drink?” he asks horrified.
Arthur chuckles. “Not that much, but apparently, you are a real lightweight.”
Merlin nods to that, he always has been.
Finally, Arthur seems to notice, that he’s only wearing a towel around his waist.
“Sorry,” he apologizes, “I just needed to get some clothes. If you want, you can take a shower. The bathroom is the last door on the end of the hall.” He explains, heading for the door, fresh clothes pressed to his chest.
“Arthur?” Merlin asks, just before he leaves the room.
Arthur turns around and looks at him, and maybe the question is written all over Merlin’s face, because Arthur says: “Don’t worry Merlin, nothing happened. I just brought you here, because it was closer than your flat and you said your flat mate would be out. I didn’t want you to be on your own.”
Merlin nods relived. “Thank you.”
“I’m going to make breakfast.” Is all Arthur says.
When he’s gone, Merlin looks around him. The bed he’s lying in, is a huge four poster bed, made from heavy wood with beautiful carvings. Surely, it’s some valuable antique piece of furniture. The rest of the room is kept rather minimalistic. The whole opposite wall is one sleek, cream-colored closet. There are no pictures, no photography, not even books.
Merlin’s clothes are sitting on a Barcelona chair, neatly folded. Of course, Merlin thinks, only the designer stuff has a chance to stand up to Arthurs expectations. Suddenly he feels small and intimidated by this perfect interior design. He himself is rather messy, even more so, since Gwain moved in, who is equally uninterested in keeping the flat tidy.
He’s wearing pyjamapants that are obviously belonging to Arthur, given on how much too wide they are on him. They only don’t slide of his hips, because they are tied to his waist, the ribbon burled a few times.
Untying them in the bathroom, he asks himself if Arthur has seen him in his underwear. Thinking about it, he runs his fingers over his sharp hipbones, he doubts that he has, though. Because Arthur entirely is the kind of man, who would turn around, respecting others privacy.
He feels better after he has brushed his teeth with the disposable toothbrush Arthur has laid out for him, the kind you sometimes get on planes, at overnight flights. Showering does the rest to help him shake the sluggishness of a short, boozed night.
Dressed in his clothes from the night before, he follows the sound of Arthur rattling with pans.
Stepping into the kitchen, he’s greeted by the smell of fresh coffee and scrambled eggs. Suddenly his stomach leaps, and it’s not because of the smell of food, but because the smile on Arthurs face, when he turns around and sees Merlin standing there, cuts too deep. It’s hopeful and bright and it scares Merlin endlessly. Whatever Arthur is expecting from him, Merlin is sure that he can’t give it to him. He has nothing to give, not anymore.
“I have to go!” he announces.
“Oh?” Arthurs smile stays in place, even if it’s not as bright as before. “You surely have time for a coffee?” he says, handing Merlin an already filled mug. “Milk and sugar, right?”
Merlin nods and takes a sip.
“Come on, sit down with me.” Arthur tries to coax him over to the table.
“You don’t have to eat, I understand.” He says softly, making it clear to Merlin that he’s in the picture about his eating difficulties. He sets the mug down with a thud.
“I really have to go now, thank you for your hospitality.” he says brusquely, fleeing the kitchen.
“Merlin…” Arthur follows him in the hall, watching him putting on his shoes.
“I’m sorry if I said something wrong.” He looks a little bit hurt, what makes Merlin wanting to get out faster.
“You didn’t… I’m sorry. I really have to go.” He repeats, getting tangled with the arms of his jacked. Arthur takes a step in his direction, wanting to help him, but Merlin finally succeeds in putting it on correctly.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, leaving Arthur standing there, with a helpless expression on his face.

Outside the house, on the last step of the stoop, there sits a small boy, maybe eight or nine years old. With a stick, he draws figures on the sandy ground. He’s dressed in a thin, long sleeved sweater, that Merlin finds completely insufficient for the current weather, it’s sunny yes, but he can already see his breath hanging in the air before him.
“Aren’t you freezing?” he asks the boy, who stares up at him with wide, bright blue eyes. “Cold?” Merlin rubs his hands up and down his arms, making the gesture for feeling cold. The boy continues to stare at him, as if he had never seen anyone act stupider. Then slowly, he shakes his head.
Merlin shrugs his shoulders and turns around to leave. He can feel the boys gaze following him until he reaches the street.

At home, he draws the curtains and crawls into his bed. Trying to get some more sleep, trying to shut out the memory of Arthurs disappointment. He feels guilty for making him feel that way, but he also feels incredibly guilty for the effect Arthur presence has on him. There is a longing to be taken care of, to be touched by him. The way his heart beats faster in his chest, when he smiles at him.
But he can’t give into this longing, even if Arthur sends him all the right signals, that he wants it too.
Merlin has to protect himself, has to protect himself from getting hurt again. It is easier not to get involved with a person at all, then to lose them again.
And surely Arthur would leave after a while, maybe after the first time of having sex, maybe after a week or maybe even a month, but he will leave. Everybody leaves in the end.

It’s already afternoon, when Gwain knocks on his door and without waiting for an answer, comes in.
“What’s the matter with you? I haven’t seen you all day.” He says, sitting down next to Merlin.
He hasn’t bothered with buying a new bedframe, just putting the mattress down in one corner of the small room.
“Leave me alone.” Merlin mumbles into his pillow. “I have a headache.”
Gwain chuckles, “Hangover?”
“Yes,…no, I don’t know.” He just wants Gwain to get out of his room.
“Did you drink enough water?” Gwain asks.
“Fuck off.” Merlin tells him and Gwain really gets up and walks away, leaving Merlin feeling once again guilty.
“I didn’t mean it like that.” He calls after Gwain, who reappears just seconds later with a water bottle, that he puts down next to him.
“Yes, you did, and I let this pass for once, because you are in a bad shape. If you tell me to fuck off again, you can look for a new flat mate, got it?”
Merlin sits up and nods. “I’m sorry!” he says sheepishly.
“Drink the water!” Gwain tells him.

A few hours later, Gwain knocks again, Merlin has been drifting in and out of sleep, causing him to feel groggy.
“Come on Merlin, get up. You haven’t eaten all day.” Merlin turns away from the silhouette in the doorframe.
“I’m not hungry.” he says.
“Not negotiable.” Gwain states, waiting for Merlin to get up. But Merlin doesn’t move.
So Gwain comes over to sit by his side again.
“What’s wrong Merlin? Did something happen last night? You weren’t home when I came back, so you stayed with someone?” He tries to figure out, why Merlin is behaving like this.
“I stayed with Morganas brother, Arthur.” Merlin says, facing away from Gwain.
“And with him something happened? Did he hurt you? Did he do anything you didn’t want him to do?”
Merlin pushes himself to sit upright and looks at him.
“No, Gwain, god no.” He says horrified. “He didn’t do anything. He was so sweet and caring. I think he really likes me.” Merlin sounds miserable.
“Then what’s the problem?” Gwain asks confused.
“I’m the problem. My messed-up head’s the problem.” It breaks out of Merlin.
“Alright listen, mate. You’ve been through a rough break up recently. It’s okay to feel a bit messed up. It will pass and you will be able to move on. If he’s a decent bloke, he’ll wait for you to feel better.”
Merlin nods to that and doesn’t say out loud, that he believes to be the one responsible for ruining his relationship with Leon in the first place.

“Chicken breast and salad alright?” Gwain asks, lending Merlin a helping hand to get up.
Merlin nods, at least it’s not pasta again.

After eating they go outside to sit on the balcony. Merlin has the blanked wrapped tightly around him, his feet tugged under to keep himself warm, while Gwain has his legs outstretched, his feet resting on the balustrade, inhaling the smoke of a joint with pleasure. It soon will be too cold to sit like that, Merlin thinks, then he extends his hand.
“Give us some.” He tells Gwain, who passes him the spliff.
Merlin sucks at it with closed eyes, passing it back to Gwain again. They pass it back and forth and Merlin can feel how his heart rate speeds up and his muscles relax after a while.

He blames it on being totally stoned, that he picks up the phone and writes to Arthur, apologizing for his behavior and asking if he could make it up with a coffee.

Chapter Text

Merlin already is in the cafe, waiting for Arthur. He has chosen a table by the window, looking at the traces the rain left on the glass. Arthur comes in, still in his business outfit, shaking the water from his black umbrella, before folding it together.
“Hey,” he says, while slipping out of his coat, placing it next to him on the sofa. He rubs his hands together to warm them.
“I hate weather like this, it reminds me of England.” He sits down.
Merlin looks at him and smiles. A little, sad smile.
“I actually like the rain, it reminds me of England too.” He takes a sip out of his cup, to mask that the corner of his mouth is twitching a little, as if he’s about to cry.
Arthur nods, he’s serious today, reserved.
“The time I spend in England weren’t exactly my happiest years. All boy’s boarding school? That’s like a pool of piranhas, especially when you have to hide your sexuality.”
There’s a bitter expression around his mouth and a sadness in his eyes, that strikes a chord in Merlin’s empathetic soul.
“I never could hide it, everyone seemed to know, even before me. When I came out to my Mum, she only glanced at me and said, ‘I know, darling’ and then she turned back to her book.” Merlin laughs a little, even if this used to be a sad memory. But since she’s gone, all memories of her are getting glossed over with some strange kind of nostalgia.
A waitress comes to take Arthurs orders, a coffee and a sandwich; - “because I haven’t had the time to eat since breakfast.”
Arthur has taken over his father’s company after his death; they are trading some kind of software, and to be honest, Merlin didn’t really get it, when Arthur explained it to him.
“I never came out to my father,” Arthur says, after devouring half of his sandwich.
“Why not?” Merlin asks, scrunching his nose. “Would he have been disapproving?”
“Surely.” Arthur shrugs his shoulders, “but I always wanted to tell him anyways, but then there was this thing with Morgana running away. It hit him hard, harder than she’ll ever know. He died of a broken heart. So I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t want it to be a big deal, but to him, it would have been.
I traveled around a bit, every semester break, doing voluntary work for several aid projects. I meet Percy in India. I took a holiday semester, so I could stay. We were together for nearly a year. But then, Morgana went away and my father got sick, so I had to come back, care for him, finish uni. Percy wanted to stay, so we parted in good terms.”
Merlin hums and wonders, if Arthur is talking about his ex, so Merlin would talk about his ex and Arthur could see, how damaged the good is, Leon has left. He won’t talk about Leon, not today anyway.
“Only one of Significance, then?” he asks Arthur, who nods.
“Only one long term relationship, yes. Morgana always says, that I’m in fear of commitment. But then again, I never told her about Percy.” Hi fidgets with the silver ring, he wears around his thumb.
“Did he give it to you?” Merlin asks and Arthur looks slightly clueless, until Merlin elaborates:
“The ring, the ring you are always playing with.
Arthur glances down at his large hands and strokes the ring lovingly with his other thumb.
“No, it belonged to my mother, or rather to my grandfather.”
Merlin has kept nothing of his mother except a few photographs, stored with lots of other stuff in the attic of Will’s house.

“Do you want to go somewhere else?” Arthur finally asks, when they both have stared out of the window for quite some time and it’s clear that Merlin won’t say much more.
“Where do you want to go?” Merlin tilts his head and Arthur pulls the corners of his lips down, what gives him a pouting expression.
“No need to be so suspicious Merlin. I’m not talking about my bedroom… we can be friends, if that’s what you want, just friends.”
Merlin looks away, embarrassed, then he nods.
“Alright, friends.” He says, “Where do you want to go?”
“Have you been to the botanic garden yet? It’s one of the biggest in Germany. The palm houses are amazing. They were built in 1907. It’s a gorgeous example for the glass and steel architecture of the 20. Century.”
Merlin smiles at Arthur’s overly didactic remarks. “Well, go on, show me then.”

They ask for the bill and Arthur insists on paying for both of them.
“I did invite you for coffee, didn’t I?” he says nonchalant, when Merlin protests.
“Yeah, but this was meant to be an apology.”
“Alright, I pay this one, you pay for the next one, sound good?” Arthur suggests and merlin nods. Trust Arthur to be perfectly reasonable.

Merlin pulls the hood of his parka up, to protect as much as possible from the rain. Arthur opens his umbrella, before stepping out of the café, holding it over Merlin too, as they walk side by side.
“I parked over there.” Arthur points at the black mid-range car, on the other side of the road. He opens the door for him and Merlin claps his shoes together to get rid of the water and dirt, before getting into the car properly. It still smells new.
There’s nothing lying around, just like Arthur’s flat, it’s plain of personal stuff, not even a CD or cassette. Merlin is starting to wonder, if he’s going out with a possible serial killer.
“You are not going to kill me and stuff me behind some pineapple plant, are you?” Merlin asks without thinking.
Arthur, who just got behind the starring wheel, looks at Merlin with a big frown.
“What?”
“There’s nothing personal, not in your flat, not in your car. Isn’t that a sign that you might be a psychopath?” Merlin keeps talking, mostly out of embarrassment.
Arthur starts grinning and pulls his wallet out of his coat pocket. He flips it open and shows Merlin a photography.
It shows a younger Morgana and Arthur, still in their teenage years, standing next to a man with a stern face. Wrinkles are etched into his features, as if worrying is what he does all day. But he is smiling, while his hands are resting proudly on his children's shoulders. Next to the picture there is another one. It’s an old passport photography of a young woman, with long blond hair and soft blue eyes and she has that rascal smile, Arthur wears sometimes too.
“That’s your mother,” Merlin states, tracing the contours of her beautiful face carefully.
“Yes, Ingrid.” Arthur nods. “She died, giving birth to me.”
“I’m sorry,” Merlin says, handing the wallet back to Arthur.
Arthur shrugs his shoulders. “I never knew her.”
“Doesn't mean that you can't miss her.” Merlin stares into the grey dullness of the streets.
“Do these family photos prove, that I’m not a serial killer?” He asks, startling Merlin out of his thoughts.
Merlin flashes a smile at him. “Actually they don't, serial killers have families too, you know?”
Arthur snorts to that. “And you are watching to many crime series.” He turns the key to start the engine.
“You know, my flat is just the place where I sleep, my car is just a car. There's no such thing as," he holds his fingers up to indicate quotation marks, "my home is my castle to me.” Arthur explains the lack of personal clutter to Merlin.

Arthur hasn't promised too much. The big palm house is beautiful and some plants in it are more than 150 years old. The rain is drumming on the glass roof, a constant, rhythmic noise. The grayness outside gives the greenhouse a slightly gloomy atmosphere. There's something mysterious in the softness of the dark moss, covering the beds right and left to the paths they are walking on.
They are nearly alone there, on this rainy Thursday afternoon so it is very quiet and calm. Merlin keeps tripping over his own feet, because he has his eyes everywhere, except where he is walking.
There a small, hidden bridges and stepping stones to cross a little pond and Merlin squeals when he spots turtles, protruding their red striped heads out of the water, resting still like statues.
Arthur smiles mildly at Merlins excitement.

It's warm and humid, a heavy scent of wet earth lingers in the air. Merlins hair is getting frizzy, he really needs a haircut as soon as possible. His face is heating up as well, a faint blush adorning his cheeks.
In awe he stares at the overflowing orchids, that are hanging down from a tree, building a natural arch. He turns around and his eyes are sparkling.
“Look Arthur, aren't they beau…” that's all he can say, before he can feel Arthur's lips on his mouth. Not really soft, but warm, so warm.
“Maybe we can't be friends.” Arthur murmurs, before he shifts and plants a kiss on Merlins neck, right under one of his protruding ears, Merlin used to be so self conscious about.
Merlin puts his hand on Arthur's shoulder, undecided if he wants to pull him closer, or to push him away. He suddenly feels dizzy, not sure if that's because of the kiss, or because the humid air puts a strain on his circulation.
He closes his eyes and maybe would have fallen backwards, if Arthur wouldn't have grabbed him around his waist.
He suddenly looks horrified. “Oh my god, I'm so sorry Merlin! I didn't mean to. I didn't think. You just looked so happy and I couldn't help myself…” he only stops apologizing, when he sees how pale Merlin is.
“Merlin?”
“I just need some air.” Merlin chokes out and Arthur pushes against the door ahead of them, leading into a cooler climate zone.
Merlin takes several deep breaths, before he looks at Arthur and starts to grin.

Chapter Text

Merlin and Arthur have been dating for nearly a month now. Seven dates, including the first one. Arthur hasn’t tried to kiss Merlin again. He only touches him sometimes. Like accidental touches, on his hand or elbow maybe, just a few seconds. At first Merlin had jerked his hand back, whenever he felt Arthurs warm skin brush against his, but by now he doesn’t do it anymore, instead he wishes the touches would last longer, where more than just these quick impressions of warmth and comfort.

Tonight, they are meeting Gwen and Morgana, for dinner at Arthurs place. Merlin hasn’t been here since he woke up in Arthurs bed, the morning after Gwen’s party. He sits at the kitchen table, nursing his glass of wine, while he watches Arthur copping vegetables. He offered to help, but Arthur had declined with a smile and the explanatory statement, that he didn’t fancy any accidents, including Merlin’s clumsiness and kitchen knives, happening that evening.
So Merlin is doing the talking. He talks about random things, but mostly about his work at the University. Arthur listens, sometimes asking a question, sometimes humming in agreement or to express his interest.
“Can you get the door, please?” Arthur asks, when it rings, holding up his wet hands to indicate that he can’t right now.
Merlin puts down his glass and goes to let Morgana and Gwen in.
They both kiss him on both cheeks, each one of them smelling of a different perfume and the cold, crisp October air. They both kick of their shoes and all three of them walk into the kitchen.
Arthur has dried his hands by now and hugs his sister and Gwen, before he fills wine glasses for them and himself, refilling Merlin’s glass as well.
They all sit down at the long, wooden kitchen table and the kitchen is filled with voices, laughter and the music from the playlist, Merlin has put on earlier. And when Gwen looks at him, they share are moment of silent content.

“I should make the salad.” Arthur says, while he gets up, the delicious smell of the Lasagna already filling the kitchen.
“Look at that,” Morgana remarks, leaning back on her chair, “My little brother getting all domestic.” She scoffs. “Gone are the days, where you traveled the world.”
Her words are like glass shards, stuck in Merlin’s veins. He suddenly feels as if all life has drained from him. He almost forgot that Arthur is a vagrant person, a seeker for adventure, without a place to call home. Someone who will be gone, when getting bored. Someone who will leave, sooner than later. His heart is beating too fast.
“Never thought I would see you cooking. What's next, a puppy and a cottage in the country?” Morgana goes on.
Arthur only laughs good measured to that. “Oh? And what about you party girl? Aren’t you already making wedding plans?” he teases back.
Morgana smiles and pecks Gwen’s cheek, “Maybe.” She says.
Merlin knows, that she doesn’t mean any harm by saying things like that, it’s just banter between siblings, but it hurts. It hurts so much, that he has to put his glass down and disappear from the kitchen. He has to get it together, he tells himself, locking the bathroom door, sitting down on the closed toilet lid, taking some shaky breaths.
He doesn’t want it to hurt like that. Maybe it would be better to walk out and never see Arthur again? They’re not even together, but the thought of losing him, makes the room around him spin, makes him want to break things, strikes the desire to run away and hide.

Arthur is standing in front of the door, when Merlin opens it, just about to knock.
“There you are. We were wondering where you had slipped off to.” He says, his searching gaze on Merlin’s face.
“Just to the loo.” He answers, trying to make his way past Arthurs broad shoulders, but Arthur holds him back.
“Are you alright? You look a bit pale.”
Merlin hates to hear to concern in his voice. Because it's making it harder to leave.
Merlin nods and smiles. “Sure!”
Arthur tilts his head, but let go of Merlin’s shoulder. “Come on, dinners ready.” He turns around and Merlin follows him.

“Actually, Morgana, I have to go to London next week. See, the days of travelling are not over, although in this case I really wish they were.” Arthur picks up the conversation again.
Merlin nearly chokes on the piece of Lasagna he has in his mouth.
“You’re going to London? Why, How long?”
“I hope it will only be a week.” Arthur says between two bites. “Fucking Brexit. We have to see if it is possible to move the London office to Ireland. If not, we probably have to give up the office entirely. That would mean that at least 30 people would lose their job.” Arthur says, frowning.
After that they are knee deep in discussing politics. Merlin participates as much as he can, but his mind is elsewhere.
When they clear the table, Arthur raises his eyebrows, when he sees that Merlin’s plate is a battle field of shredded Lasagna, not even half of it eaten. But he says nothing, only covering it with cling film and putting it in the fridge.

It’s nearly midnight when Gwen and Morgana decide they have to go home, slightly drunk and giggling from all the wine they had, they put on their coats, while Arthur calls them a taxi. Merlin loops his scarf around his neck, ready to leave with the girls.
“Merlin, if you wait ten minutes, until I turned on the dishwasher, I’ll drive you.” Arthur says, when he comes to say goodbye to the girls.
“I can walk, it’s only 15 minutes from here.” Merlin protests.
“But it’s cold and dark and I would feel better if you would let me drive you.” Arthur insists.
Merlin shrugs his shoulders and hangs his coat back on the coat rack.

Arthur retreats into the kitchen again and Merlin follows him, ready to help clean up a bit.
They work silently for a while, Merlin running the dishes under a bit of water, before passing them on to Arthur, who put them in the dishwasher.
“Merlin?” Arthur asks suddenly, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, why shouldn’t I be?” Merlin asks back, but even he can hear that his tone is far from leveled and he sounds snappy.
Since he heard that Arthur would be gone at least for a week, his mind is running in circles. One scenario after another playing in his fantasy, on how Arthur would leave him. One stupider than the next. They aren't even together, so why is he so damn upset about it? It is perfectly normal for Arthur to leave on business trips. Merlin is trying hard to bottle his panic.
Maybe Arthur wouldn’t even come back, maybe he would meet someone in London, who is less complicated, not playing as hard to get as he is, someone not so frigid. Someone good-looking and sexy and normal, someone to have fun with.
He is startled out of his thoughts, by Arthurs hand on his back.
“Talk to me.” Arthur demands. But talking, admitting to his various states of self-loathing and unreasonable panic to be left, is the last thing Merlin wants to do. Instead he turns around and kisses Arthur desperately, pressing his body on Arthur, slipping his left leg between Arthurs legs, pressing his tight against Arthurs groin.
“I have a better idea, love. Fuck me. I bent over the kitchen table and you fuck me. Would you like that?” He whispers next to Arthur ear.
Arthur draws his head back, to be able to look into Merlin’s eyes. His own eyes are dark and suddenly unreadable.
Arthur pushes him forward, right into direction of the kitchen table. But to his surprise Arthur doesn’t press him down to bent over the kitchen table, but to sit down in a chair.
“And now we talk,” he sits down next to him and Merlin gets the impression, that he’s slightly angry. Merlin looks down at his hands, refusing to meet Arthur’s gaze.
“What the hell was that all about?”
Merlin doesn’t answer, he’s sulking like a child.
“You nearly fainted when I kissed you, weeks ago and now you want me to fuck you in my kitchen. That doesn’t add up.” Arthur says harshly.
“I told you it was the heat,” Merlin says, still a bit embarrassed about it.
“Sure.” Arthur says, “But you have to explain to me what just happened. Because I don’t understand. Why would you say you want to have sex, if you are not even ready to be kissed or touched by me?”
“But I wanted to.” Merlin lies.
“No, you didn’t, you looked terrified when you thought I would actually go for it.” Arthur shakes his head.
“I don’t want you to forget me.” Merlin admits quietly.
Arthur frowns. “Why should I forget you? Merlin, this doesn’t make sense.”
“I mean when you are away, I don’t want you to forget about me.” Merlin tries to explain.
“I be only be gone for a week, darling, and besides that, how could I ever forget you?” Arthur says much softer.
“I just…” merlin begins, but doesn’t know how to continue his sentence without sounding like a jealous boyfriend.
“What if you meet someone, someone better, someone who will kiss you and sleep with you.” Merlin knows that it sounds ridiculous, so he shuts his mouth.
Arthur shakes his head again, smiling slightly. “You seem to think that I’m just in it for the sex. That’s not true Merlin, as much as I want to touch you, kiss you and so on, I just like to talk to you. You are funny and witty, you make all the people around you feel good. You try to be friendly and cheerful, even if you don’t really feel like it. And I think your work is very interesting. There’s nobody like you Merlin, and I don’t need to have sex with you, to remember you and be head over heels for you.”
Merlin blushes at the praise. “I’m sorry Arthur. I’m sorry, I didn’t used to be like this. My psychiatrist says, it’s fear of loss, it’s just, you didn’t tell me before that you would travel to London, and when you said it tonight, I panicked.” He’s sure he will drive Arthur away, admitting his weakness, who wants to burden themselves with a total nutcase? But Arthur only hums to that.
“I should have told you sooner,” he apologizes, “I’m sorry.”
They don’t speak for a while, but Merlin tentatively reaches out and places his hand on top of Arthurs.

Five days later, Merlin accompanies Arthur to the airport. “Don’t go to public places.” He says, letting go of Arthurs hand.
Arthur smiles at him. “I’m not going to die and I’m back in ten days at the latest.” He promises.
He puts down his travel bag and loops his arm around Merlin waist.
“And I need you to look after yourself properly, okay?” he says seriously.
Merlin nods. “Gwen and Gwain are looking out for me as well, don’t worry.” He reassures Arthur.
“Can I give you a goodbye kiss?”
Merlin nods and steps a little bit closer. Again, he feels Arthurs warm lips on his and this time he kisses back, opening his mouth slightly. People are probably staring at them, but they both don’t care, kissing each other for the first time.

Chapter Text

Merlin curses when another car cuts in just centimeters in front of him. He really regrets that he offered to drive Arthur's car to the Airport to pick him up. It was ages ago that he last drove his mothers old jeep, because most of the time, in city's like London or Berlin, he doesn't need a car. In fact, right now he thinks it's madness to drive one and he just hopes he’ll make it to the airport alive and without wrecking Arthur's car. The traffic is horrible, now at seven am, just slightly before morning rush hour and on top of that he has to drive on the fucking wrong side of the road, well, for him it's the wrong side.

He’s so glad, that he, and the car, are still in one piece, when he finally finds a parking spot and cuts the engine.
He doesn't even has time to take a deep breath, before he spots Arthur coming out of the building.
Arthur looks like a model, his bags casually flung over his shoulders, coat open and without any tie, but he looks that way, only until the moment he spots his car and starts to wave his arm like mad. Merlin starts to grin, because now Arthur doesn't look intimidating cool anymore, but like an excited little boy.
Merlin gets out of the car, opening the trunk for Arthur's luggage.
Before he can turn around again, he feels Arthur's arm wrap around his waist from behind and he is being pressed against Arthur's chest.
“I missed you,” Arthur mumbles, while pressing little kisses to Merlins neck.
Merlin laughs at this impetuous greeting, he turns in Arthur's arms and wraps his arms around his neck.
“I missed you too.” He says. Arthur lets go of him and puts his bags into the trunk. Merlin holds the car keys out for Arthur to take.
“You drive!” He tells him.
Arthur nods and takes the keys out of Merlins hand. They get into the car and Arthur adjusts the mirrors again, before he pulls out of the parking space.

“How was you week?” Arthur asks, though he doesn't need to, as he called Merlin every evening, wanting to hear about his day in all detail.
“It was good.” Merlin tells him anyway, and as Arthur stuck in a meeting the day before, he actually has news to tell him.
“I talked to my professor yesterday, and he's very pleased with the progress I made with my dissertation. He only wants me to work on the last paragraph of the chapter a bit.” He says proudly.
“And what's wrong with the paragraph?” Arthur asks curiously.
“Nothing, he just mentioned a book I should look at, I didn't knew about.”
“But you don't have to go to Uni today, do you?” Arthur asks, changing lanes.
“No,” Merlin shakes his head, “I took the day off.”
“Great!” Arthur smiles at him. “Any idea what you want to do?”
“What about having breakfast first?” Merlin asks. “I got up at 6 to pick you up, I wasn't hungry then, but I am now.”
Arthur nods enthusiastically to the suggestion. “Do you want to go out or eat at home?”
“At home? I would like to take a nap on your couch, if you don't mind? I’ve only slept three hours last night.”
“Sure, I’m tiered as well.” Arthur agrees. “But we need to shop for groceries, I'm afraid I have nothing eatable in the fridge anymore.”
Merlin nods to that, leaning back in his seat an closes his eyes.

He nearly is asleep, when Arthur stops the car in front of the little run-down supermarket not far away from his flat. Merlin knows that Arthur hates it here, he said as much and of course he also prefers the bigger and cleaner shopping malls, but it's cheap and close, so he doesn't mind too much.
Arthur gets a shopping trolley and follows Merlin inside.
With Merlins inability to feed himself properly, has come a complete disinterest in buying food whatsoever, that drives Gwain mad, every time they go shopping together. But Arthur soon gives up on asking him what he would like after he only gets a noncommittal shoulder shrug. Thankfully he doesn't comment on it, instead he simply fills the cart with the things he likes. Merlin is trailing behind.

Arthur is contemplating which kind of cereal he should get, while Merlin is standing around, getting this detached feeling that often overcomes him, when he does things that used to be so normal for him, but aren't anymore. Absentminded he watches the small boy in the big hoodie standing in front of the shelf with the sweets. He wonders if he shouldn't be at school right now.
Then the boy glances around furtively and Merlin recognizes him as the child who sat on the steps the day he fled from Arthur's flat, a few moths ago. Merlin is about to shift his attention back to Arthur again, who seems to have finally decided which brand to pick, when he sees a package of sweets disappear in one swift motion under the boy's hoodie.

“Everything alright?” Arthur asks gently when he appears at Merlins side.
Merlin jerks his chin into direction of the boy, who still stands in front of the shelf.
“Doesn't he live in your neighborhood?” He questions Arthur who squints in a way, that makes Merlin think, that Arthur might will be needing glasses sooner or later.
“Yeah, that's Mo. He lives upstairs from me.”
“I think he just nicked some chocolate or something.” Merlin says, commuting between amusement and indignation
“What?” Arthur frowns. “Are you sure?”
Merlin nods.
Arthur takes a step closer to the boy and puts his hand on his small shoulder. From the place Merlin keeps standing, he can see the boy startle badly.
He tries to run, but Arthur only tightens his grip a bit and he can't get away.
Arthur turns the child around, while he's quietly talking to him. Merlin is too far away to hear them, but he wouldn't understand much anyway.
Arthur squats down, to be on eye level with Mo. He lets go of his shoulder and now holds him by his wrists. Merlin can see the boy shaking his head, an expression of truculence plastered to his face with effort. Beneath that, the fear is evident. Arthur holds out his hand and, very reluctant, the boy places the crinkly plastic package of his loot in it.
Arthur straightens up again and puts the package back, then he picks up the boy's backpack, still keeping his hand gently placed on his neck, to keep him from running. He guides him over to Merlin.
“Alright, everything’s sorted. We are going to pay for our stuff and then we will drop this young man off at school, where he belongs to.” He says, giving Mo a strict sideways glance, while the boy is staring at Merlin accusingly, as if the whole situation is his fault.
Merlin nods and pushes the trolley over to the cash register, putting the things on the checkout belt. Arthur helps him, finally letting go of Mo's nape. He doesn't makes the impression that he's going to run anymore.
They pack their things in two paper bags and leave the shop, Mo trailing behind them. Arthur unlocks the car and holds the back door open for the child to crawl in.
“Anschnallen.” He says, watching Mo put on the seatbelt, before handing him his backpack he had been carrying over his shoulder.
Merlin and Arthur both get in too, Arthur asking Mo where to go.
It’s only a short ride, before the small school with a colorful playground comes in sight.
Mo leans against Arthur's seat.
“Du sagst der Mama aber nichts, versprochen?” (You won't tell my Mom, promised?) He whispers meekly.
Arthur shakes his head. “Deal ist deal. Lass dich aber nicht nochmal erwischen.( We made a deal, but don't get caught again.) he warns the child, who nods seriously.
Arthur reaches into his pocked and pulls out a 10 euro note.
“Kauf dir was zu essen.” ( buy yourself something to eat.) he says friendly, giving the money to Mo, who stares at it unbelieving.
“Danke, Arthur.”(Thanks, Arthur.) he says, giving Arthur a quick, awkward hug from behind, before opening the door and hopping out of the car.
They watch him walk away until he disappears into the building. Then Arthur starts the car, turning into the direction where they came from.
“So you won't tell his Mum?” Merlin asks curiously, piecing the things together he understood.
Arthur shakes his head. “No, I promised him.”
“But don't you think his mother should know what her son is up to? So she can do something about it?” Merlin questions Arthur's decision.
Arthur sighs. “To be honest, if I think she could actually do something about it, I would tell her. But I doubt that. I mean Elena is nice and she's a good mother, but she works far too much to give him the attention he needs. Not to mention her boyfriend, he's a total arsehole. If he knew about that, I'm sure it would only make things worse. That kid needs kindness and support much more than scolding. I think getting caught pretty much scared him and I hope this will prevent further incidents.” Arthur explains his actions. “The most important thing is that he stays in school, he's a smart boy, you know. I've helped him with his homework sometimes.” He says thoughtfully.
“And you are too kind hearted.” Merlin says with a smile.
“Am I? People around me usually tell me that I’m arrogant and uncaring.” Arthur frowns.
“Then they don't know you.” Merlin says softly.

Chapter Text

By now Merlin is a frequent visitor at Arthur's. Arthur's place is much more private than Merlins flat, where Gwain and Freya bill and coo the whole time and are generally unresponsive to the world around them. Merlin doesn't really mind, he's happy for his friend and he likes Freya very much. Yet Gwain always complains about Merlins absence and doesn't stop asking about Arthur, until Merlin arranges a little before Christmas celebration for all of his friends.
They are all there, Gwen and Morgana, Gwain with Freya, Arthur and Gwens Brother Elyan, who was invited to spend Christmas with his sister. Everyone is having a great time and after a bit of suspicions peering at each other Gwain and Arthur hit it off with a passionate discussion about which football clubs they prefer.
Merlin leans back and watches his friends with a feeling of warm contentment. It's only strange that he misses Leon a bit, not as a lover, but as the friend he used to be. He thinks that he would have fit right in with that little group. But he knows, that he shouldn't be dwelling on these past relationships, he's trying to let go of the people that are no longer in his life. So he tries to concentrate on the feeling of being blessed with such wonderful friends. Maybe he's a little bit drunk already. ‘I'm definitely drunk!’ He thinks, when he starts to marvel about Arthur's hair, that shines so bright when he turns his head and laughs, that it looks like he has an halo. The rest of the evening, he sticks to water.

Sometimes he spends the night at Arthur's flat. And sometimes they share Arthur's huge bed too, but they only cuddle. He still feels not ready for the intimacy of the sexual act. And besides that, he's a bit concerned that Arthur will find his body as repelling as Leon did, during the last months of their relationship. He's not as thin as he used to be, but his hip bones are still jutting, splitting his body into a landscape of mountains and valleys, his arms are the widest on his elbows and his collarbones are two sharp lines with fist- sized hollow notches above them, right between the bone and the shoulder.
On good days, he's convinced that everything will be back to normal soon, that's when he eats enough to not even feel hungry in between his meals, he thinks that his body will react on it soon and will gain his substance back, he doesn't worry about getting fat, he never was, even when at times he merely lived on sweets and fast-food.
On not so good days, he doesn't like to see his reflection in the mirror, then he dresses without looking at himself, because his changed appearance scares him, it makes him wonder if he will be feeling any different ever again. On days like that, he sometimes leaves it to Arthur to fix his hair, prevent it from looking like he just rolled out of bed. Probably he looks his best on days like that.
And then there are the really bad days, the days where he can’t eat, when the sharpness of his body, to him, seems to be the only appropriate wrapping for his hurting mind. The bruises that are blooming on his pale skin, he needs them to be there, he needs to see the pain he's feeling, he needs the hunger to translate that diffuse depression into something physical, something he can feel and understand.

But it's been a while since he had a really bad day. Good days are usually starting slow, random conversations with Arthur or Gwain and Freya, who kind of has become their third flatmate, and Merlin is contemplating if he should ask her to pay rent as well, but he actually doesn't care. Last month she gave him money for water and electricity and Merlin figures that that is a fair deal, as she doesn't have a room for herself.
Good days are coffee and breakfast and light conversations. They are lunch breaks with Gwen and not too much thinking throughout the day, they are dinners with Arthur and nights were he sleeps through.

Today is such a good day. It's Friday and he has the whole weekend with Arthur in front of him. They both promised each other, not to bring any work home with them again. Merlin told Arthur a few days ago, that he might be ready to try and go a bit further than just cuddling and making out and it's like a promise between them. Surprisingly, Merlin doesn't feel pressured, more like giddy and nervous. It resembles the feeling of losing his virginity.
So this is the weekend were they are going to try and take the next step in their relationship.

He's in such a good mood, that not even the dirty look, Mo gives him, when he passes them by at the letterboxes, can bring him down. The child seems to have an aversion against him. Somehow he appears to be jealous of his relationship with Arthur. Every time they see each other around the house, Mo stares at him and his blue eyes sparkle with distaste. Merlin is pretty sure that the flat tyre his bike suddenly had, was caused by the boy too. He doesn't tell Arthur about that, the child is not his problem after all and he thinks, that Mo will grow bored of whatever childish grudge he holds against him, eventually.

He met Elena, Mo’s mother, when she knocked at Arthur's door a couple of weeks ago, asking for his help, because the damn washing Machine was acting up again. Merlin had followed them upstairs out of pure curiosity, not because he actually thought he could be any help to Arthur.
Elena was nice and chatty, her smile came easy and she made Merlin laugh. By the time, Arthur found the culprit of the disturbance, one of Mo’s Spider-Man socks blocking the filter, she has told Merlin her life story and burned the meal she was preparing for her son.
He also has seen her boyfriend Cedric, who Arthur dislikes with a passion, stumbling up the stairs, muttering drunkenly. And he has heard them fight. The whole bloody house can hear them yell at each other every other night.

He waves at Elena when he passes them by, ignoring Mo and the baneful way he glances up at him. He talks to Elena for a bit, before he says his goodbyes and takes two steps at once.
Arthur is already home and waits for him, casually leaning against the doorframe, a smile is lighting up his features, when he sees Merlins coming up the stairs.

The tension between them is something in between awkward and thrilling. They both drink a little bit more wine than usual and Merlin can see, that even Arthur is nervous; he’s fiddling with his ring the whole time.

They just cleared the table, when they hear doors slam in the flat above them. That's usually how it starts. Arthur rolls his eyes at the ceiling.
“If they go on like the last time, someone will call the police again.” He says, putting the last plate into the dishwasher.
Merlin takes a sip from his wine and shrugs his shoulders. “Why are they even together when they fight like that, all the time.”
“I don't know, really. Elena could have it so much better, I don't know why she stays with that guy.” Arthur spits and shakes his head, before he takes his glass and walks into the living room, Merlin following after him.
Arthur turns the music a little bit louder, to drown out the muffled, angry voices coming from above.
“Shouldn't we go upstairs and check, if everything is alright?” Merlin asks doubtfully, but Arthur shakes his head again.
“There adults Merlin, and besides that, I’m fucking tired of interfering with their petty fights all the time. Come here, darling.” He pats the spot on the sofa next to him. “This night is about us.” He says.
Merlin sits down next to him, snuggling into his side, tilting his head up to be kissed. Arthur's lips are feeling so familiar now, and Merlin feels safe and protected, when Arthur holds the back of his head in his big hands, combing through his hair with long fingers. He relishes the warmth of Arthur's hands, warming him too, because he's always feeling cold.
Arthur cautiously slips his hands under Merlins thick woolen jumper, the wheat colored Irish Aran sweater, that belongs to Arthur and is at least three times to big on Merlin, but he loves it anyway, because it pushes the chills out of his body.
Suddenly they hear a loud thud from upstairs like something big has crashed to the floor. Arthur's hands are stilling for a moment, resting on Merlins stomach. Both of them are looking up, a little bit irritated. But it has gone silent above them, finally. And then someone is running down the stairs and slams the front door shut. They don't move for a moment, but after the loud bang from the door downstairs, everything stays quiet. So Arthur moves his hands again and Merlin reaches up to unbutton Arthur's shirt.
He’s hasn't even undone half of the buttons, when someone knocks at the door of the flat. Not very loud, but persistent. They look at each other, and Arthur draws his hands back from under Merlin’s sweater and shrugs his shoulders. He gets up, buttoning his shirt again, as he walks to the door. Merlin hesitates for a second, before he follows him.
Opening the door, Arthur reveals Mo standing there, tears streaming down his face and he's hardly able to breath between the sobs that are shaking his small body. He extends his hand to Arthur, a pleading gesture to follow him upstairs. But Arthur holds him back, asking what has happened. Merlin can't understand any of it, it's way to incoherent and shaky. Even Arthur seems to have a hard time to figure out what the panicked child is trying to tell him. But after a minute he nods and pushes Mo slightly forceful into the flat and in Merlins direction.
Merlin instinctively catches the stumbling child, throws his arms around the boy and holds him tight. Mo doesn't resist, limply he leans against Merlin.
“What happened?” He asks Arthur, who already is turning around to sprint up the stairs.
“Don't know,” he says over his shoulder. "Something with Elena. Watch him, please.” He's gone before Merlin can nod to agree.
Mo wants to run after Arthur, but Merlin won't let him and tightens his grip as Mo begins to fight him. He's sure that he's hurting the little one, but the boy doesn't seem to notice.
And suddenly he stops fighting and sinks to the floor, his legs apparently giving up underneath him..
“Mama.” He cries, “Mama,” over and over again. Merlin doesn't really know what to do, so he picks him up, even if he's already too big and too heavy, to be carried around.
Mo loops his thin arms around Merlins neck and wraps his legs around his waist, holding on to him so tight it hurts, but Merlin lets him, rubbing his back, whispering nonsense to him, he's sure the boy doesn't understand at all. Mo seems to have forgotten his dislike for Merlin as he clings to him desperately.
Arthur isn't back after ten minutes and Merlin seriously begins to worry. He's contemplating if he should go upstairs when Arthur comes down again.
He only needs to look at the hard expression on his face to know that something serious has happened.
“What happened?” He asks again, speaking over Mo’s head, who has been apathetic for the last minutes, but now turns his head in Arthur's direction.
“Seems like he hit her in the face, that bloody arsehole. Her lip is bleeding and apparently she was unconscious for a few minutes. I think she hit her head on the table.” Arthur explains.
Merlin stares at him. “Did you call an ambulance? He asks him.
Arthur shakes his head. “She won't let me. But I'm driving her to the hospital now.” He says, fishing for his car keys.
He turns to Merlin again, who still has Mo in his arms, stroking his back.
“Deiner Mama geht's bald wieder gut, Kumpel. Ich fahre mit ihr ins Krankenhaus, ok? Du bleibst hier bei Merlin bis wir wieder da sind, ja?” (You Mum is going to be alright again, buddy. I'm driving her to the hospital now. And you stay here with Merlin until we are back again, alright?”) He speaks slow and soft and Mo nods through his tears, drinking in every word.
And then he's gone again, the door closed firmly behind him. Merlin can hear his footsteps on the stairs and Mo is starting to cry anew.
Shushing him gently, Merlin carries him into the living room, settling down on the couch, the child in his lap. He wraps a blanked around Mo and himself too, hoping it will help to stop the shivering of the small body in his arms, although he knows that it doesn't have anything to do with the temperature. Quietly he starts to sing, a song that his mother used to sing to him, when he came to her, frightened by nightmares or when storms turned the sea, just underneath their little cottage, into a roaring beast. It's a song in kernowek, the old Cornish language and it lulls the exhausted child to sleep within minutes.

Chapter Text

When Arthur comes back, he carries the sleeping child upstairs, so Mo would wake up in his own bed.
Merlin anxiously is waiting for Arthur, to finally give him some answers on what had happened earlier.
Arthur looks tired when he sinks down at the couch next to Merlin at last. He’s exhausted and Merlin goes to fetch him some tea.
What comes after is a heated discussion, that Merlin will always remember as their first fight.
“Merlin, you can’t help people, that don’t want your help.” Arthur says, sounding terribly tired of the argument, that was going on for the better part of the last hour by now.
“But what about Mo?” Merlin asks, throwing his hands up angrily. “A child shouldn’t live like that. He shouldn’t have to witness his mother being beaten. And god knows what he has done to them before."
Arthur nods to that, basically coinciding with every point Merlin made so far.
“You are right Merlin, of course you are absolutely right. He shouldn’t have to see this, but of what avail is it, if we call the police? She made it very clear, that she has no intention to report him, so the police can’t do anything. In the worst case, they’ll take Mo away from her. What good would that do?” Arthur rubs his hand over his face, a gesture of resignation. He too wants to call the police, he too wants to see this scum being arrested, locked away for good. But he also has to respect Elena’s wishes. Besides from knowing, that it doesn’t make any sense to inform the police, if Elena is unwilling to tell them what happened.
Merlin stands in the middle of the room, opening and closing his mouth. There are so many things he wants to say, but he knows it is useless and he knows that it’s not Arthur’s fault either, that this is happening.
“Maybe we should go to bed.” He says instead, wishing to close his eyes to the cruelty of life.

In Germany Christmas is celebrated the 24th of December and Merlin and Arthur are spending the evening with Morgana, Gwen and Elyan. Gwain and Freya are gone to Reykjavik, to spend the holidays with Gwains parents and friends. The days between Christmas and new year are quiet ones. Neither Merlin nor Arthur have to go to work.
They spend all this time together, because Arthur has asked him to and Merlin really doesn't want to be alone at his own flat. Especially not this time of year.

Cedric hasn’t shown his ugly mug around the house lately and Mo seems to have forgotten all his dislike for Merlin. Whenever the adults let him, he follows him around like a puppy.

It’s two days before the New Year and Arthur and Merlin are currently waiting for the tram to take them home after a night out with the Girls to say goodbye to Elyan, who will leave for Australia in the morning.
Merlin really can’t wait to get home, it’s way to cold for his liking and there’s a terrible draught on the train platform, that makes him tremble like a leaf in the wind.
He already has his scarf covering half his face, but it doesn’t help much.
“Why is it so fucking cold?” He accusingly asks Arthur, who’s cheeks and nose are just as red as Merlin’s. Indulgently Arthur smiles at his boyfriend.
“Maybe because it is winter?” He asks, purposefully leaving the fact unmentioned that Merlin probably is freezing all the time, simply because he's too thin. Merlin opts for rolling his eyes to Arthur’s cheeky remark, instead of sticking out his tongue, because he doesn’t want to uncover his face from his scarf.
“Come here.” Arthur says softly, opening his coat, offering to warm Merlin with his body heat.
“It’s so cold, because Berlin and the land around is so flat. The wind just sweeps over it.” He explains, while wrapping his arms and the ends of his coat around Merlin.
It’s toasty warm and Merlin’s shivering subsidies a bit.
“You really live up to your name.” Merlin murmurs into Arthur’s shoulder.
“Hm?”
“Arthur – the hero, my knight in shining armor.”
Merlin can feel Arthur’s laughter vibrate through his body.
“You know, if I was wearing armor, I wouldn’t be able to warm you.”
“Well, then you are my knight in a cuddly cashmere coat.” Merlin says with a smile when the Tram comes rattling in.
On the way home, Merlin sneaks his right hand into Arthur’s left coat pocked, to keep it warm.
They start kissing, before Arthur even has the chance to open the door properly.
Stumbling inside, hastily they slip out of the coats, dropping their scarfs and gloves to the floor.
“Are you sure?” Arthur asks in between kisses and Merlin nods, allowing Arthur to pull off his jumper.
He shivers when the air suddenly hits his exposed skin.
Since Merlin is practically living with him, Arthur has turned up the heating of every room in the entire flat, because Merlin is getting cold easily.
That leads to Arthur mostly wearing T-shirts inside and to Merlin having a little bit of a bad conscious, because of the heating bill and his ecological footprint. But Arthur tells him not to worry about the costs and his use of public transport is certainly making up for having the flat a bit warmer than 22 degrees.

Arthur kisses him again and Merlin shivers, he doesn’t really know, if it is because of the cold, or because of the touch.
“We should go to bed, it will be warmer there.”
Merlin agrees wholeheartedly.
They brush their teeth side by side and Merlin thinks that nothing will happen anyway, because they are both tired.

But when they lie in bed, facing each other in the rooms half darkness, Arthur kisses him softly, and Merlin forgets his tiredness, he doesn’t even feels cold anymore. Quite the opposite.
Arthur is touching him carefully, as if he’s made out of glass, as if he’s something precious.
Sweet nothings are whispered to him and it’s the first time since all of this started, mainly the sadness, that he feels at ease with himself. Not just okay, but really good.
He stops thinking about what Arthur might be thinking about him and just lets the feelings wash over him.
It’s liberating to feel so normal again. Enjoying sex for what it should be, a source of pleasure and affection.

The winter sun is shining into the bedroom, when Merlin wakes up, giving Arthur’s hair a pale glow.
Merlin sits on the edge of the bed, pulling on his wool socks, to go and make coffee, if he’s quiet enough he even could surprise Arthur with breakfast in bed.

But Arthur already is awake.
“You look like a freezing baby bird.” Arthur sleepily comments.
Merlin knows he means his jutting shoulder blades, looking like rudimentary wing roots.
He huffs. “That doesn’t sound as endearing as you might think, Arthur.”
“Do you know that the Merlin is the smallest but fastest falcon in middle Europe?” Arthur asks and Merlin shakes his head, like always wondering about Arthur’s knowledge of random things.
Arthur smiles at him, lifting the covers, to lure Merlin back in.
“Come here, Birdy, we don’t have anything to do today, nowhere we need to be.”
With a deep sigh Merlin gives in and crawls back into Arthur’s warm embrace.

Chapter Text

The new year comes with bad news. Well, not really bad news, only to Merlin they are bad. Gwain and Freya have decided to move in together and as happy as Merlin pretends to be in front of them, he’s everything but happy with this situation. It means he has to look for a new roommate or a new flat himself. He doesn’t want to do that. He doesn’t want a new flat mate, nobody could ever be as kind, funny and caring as Gwain.

When he complains about it to Arthur, Arthur’s lips curl into a smile, that widens with every word Merlin is saying. Merlin stops talking mid sentence.
“Why are you smiling?” He asks annoyed. “This isn’t funny!”
Arthur slowly shakes his head. “Merlin, this is perfect timing.” He says.
Merlin stares at him. “What are you talking about?”
“You are really a bit addled, aren’t you, love? This is the perfect opportunity for you to move in with me.”
His smile falters a bit, when he looks at Merlin’s startled expression.
“Only if you want to, of course.” He hastily backtracks.
But Merlin has recovered from his shock by now and wraps his arms tightly around Arthur, positively glowing with joy.
“Of course I want to, you idiot!”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Don’t call me names, Merlin.”
Merlin grins to that.

It’s a cold and rainy day in February, when Merlin puts the last carton with his books into Arthur’s car.
Arthur has cleared out his cupboards and made space for Merlin’s things, not without much complaining, but Merlin doesn’t takes that too seriously, because he catches Arthur grinning whenever he thinks that Merlin isn’t looking.

Living together of course has its difficulties, like Arthur likes it neat and Merlin is just beyond messy or that Merlin hates the fact that Arthur by all means is not a morning person, while he himself is the most energetic just after 7 am.
But these are the little things that make this relationship feel real.
Merlin has feared, that he would feel like an intruder in Arthur’s well organized home, but this fear is soon lulled, as Arthur lets him do as he pleases and he asks if Merlin wants to change anything in order to make the flat feel more like his own. But Merlin doesn’t need anything other than his books and his records and maybe his favorite photo of Will and him, to feel settled.

In the following weeks and months Merlin learns a lot about Arthur. Like the fact that he’s a bit of a security freak, getting paranoid with locking everything when he leaves the house. Merlin has to watch him locking the door every time they go out, to reassure him he has locked it, sometimes he turns around to check again, when he's already outside. He can’t drink red wine, because he’s getting migraines from it. Sometimes, he gets a migraine after a rough work day and then he just wants to lie down in the dark bedroom and sleep. The only thing he eats when he’s sick is packed mushroom soup. He goes running when he’s stressed.

Merlin just loves him even more, when he learns about these little quirks.
He also isn’t always patient and friendly as Merlin thought he was and he often he scolds him for being rough and irritated with his coworkers over the phone.
Usually after Merlin’s reprimand, Arthur calls them back and apologizes. When he puts the phone down he kisses Merlin’s temple.
“You’re making me a better man.”
“Uhu.” Is all Merlin says to that.

They celebrate Mo’s 9th birthday on the first day of spring. Arthur and him and the elderly Lady from downstairs are the only guests. Elena expresses her worries over Mo’s lack of friends in his own age, but Merlin thinks that he seems pretty happy when they sit together on the carpet, playing with Mo’s birthday presents, talking in their mumbo jumbo of German and English, that only they can understand.
“You must have something like an telepathic connection.” Arthur jokes when he joins them on the floor.
Actually Merlin learns quite a lot of German from Mo, as he’s better in explaining words to him, as any adult Merlin has met so far. Mo also has a solid basic vocabulary in English, because he started to learn English in first grade. So they understand each other fairly well.

It is already after 8pm when Merlin stands in front of the house, like always searching for his keys.
Gwen and he had been working overtime, putting the final touches to their project, that was scheduled to go into print by August. There was still a lot to do.
He tiredly rubs over his eyes, they are sore and dry from staring on a computer screen all day.
Finally, he has managed to fish his key out of the depths of his bag and unlocks the front door.

Mo sits on the first step, curled up into himself. Usually this is his spot where he comes to, if he's upset about something. That much Merlin knows by now. Sure enough his eyes shine glassy with unshed tears.
“Hey Mo. Something wrong?” Merlin asks, sitting down next to the child.
Mo shrugs his shoulders. They sit in silence for a bit, until Merlin is sure, that Mo won’t talk to him out of his own accord. Merlin takes a glance at his watch.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed soon? Don’t you have school tomorrow?”
Mo nods his head, but doesn’t say anything.
Merlin sighs and gets up, holding out his hand for Mo to take.
“Come on. Let’s go upstairs.”
Mo looks up to him, bright blue eyes wide and pleading.
“Mama is angry at me.”
Merlin can hardly hear him, as he tells him that with his hand in his mouth, biting down on it.
Merlin pulls Mo’s hand away.
“Why’s she angry?” He asks gently.
Mo shrugs his shoulders again.
“Ok, what about that? I come upstairs with you and we talk to her? I’m sure she’s not angry anymore.”
Mo looks at him doubtfully, but gets up and climbs up the stairs in front of Merlin.
The moment, Elena opens the door, Merlin can tell that she’s drunk. She leans against the doorframe heavily, to keep herself from swaying.
“Hey Merlin, what’s up?” She tries a smile, but it Moore looks like a grimace.
“Hi Elena. Mo was sitting on the stairs and I thought….” He trails off when he realizes that she isn’t listening to him at all, instead her unfocused gaze has landed on her son.
Faster than Merlin can react, she grabs Mo on his left shoulder and hauls him closer, starting to rant.
Merlin not even understands half of it, but it’s something along the lines of Mo being an insolent little brat and and that she’s sick of it.
It breaks Merlin’s heart, to see the little boy standing there stiffly, trying to fight back the tears.
“Elena…” he tries to interrupt her rage, but she won’t acknowledge Merlin’s presence, until he steps in front of Mo to shield him from his mothers wrath.
“Elena, let’s go inside, yeah?” He ushers her.
Suddenly deflated, she runs her fingers through her blonde hair and turns around to go back into the flat.
Merlin follows her into the kitchen, leaving it to Mo to close the door behind them.
She’s at the brink of tears, when she turns around to him.
“I’m so sorry Merlin.” She mumbles. “I’m so sorry, I’m a mess.” Now she really starts crying, sinking down on a kitchen chair.
Merlin sits down next to her, inconspicuous moving the bottle of vodka out of her reach.
“Elena, what’s going on?” He asks, giving Mo a sign to leave them alone. The boy disappears from the kitchen quickly, but Merlin doubts that he is going far, more likely he stays next to the open door, eavesdropping.
“I don’t know what to do, Merlin.” Elena still is crying, speaking through hiccups.
“Look at this,” she pulls a handful of papers closer for Merlin to see, but he can’t really make sense of them.
“What are these?” He asks her.
“Reminder notices. I can’t pay the rent anymore. The landlord gave me notice, that we have to move out. I can’t do it all on my own. Since Cedric is gone, I have to pay everything by myself." Her crying has died down by now. "But Elena," Merlin is quite a bit upset that she's talking like that, "he hit you!" “Yeah, and payed half of the rent!" She says stubbornly, while Merlin shakes his head. "And Mo," she continues, "he’s only making trouble. His grades are bad and his teachers are calling all the time to complain about his behavior.” She gets up and paces through the kitchen.
“Sometimes I really hate being a mother, you know? There’s no time for me. I can’t sort this stuff out, because I have to deal with him. I love him, of course I do, but he can be a handful. And I’m so fucking tiered.” She sits down again and lets her head sink down on her arms, resting on the tabletop.
Merlin doesn’t quite know what to do.
“Alright look,” he begins. “Would it help if we would look after him for a few days?”
She looks up at Merlin.
“Really? You would do that? That would be great!” Again she runs her finger nervously through her hair. “God, you must think that I’m a horrible mother.” She already is welling up again.
Merlin awkwardly pats her back.
“No, it’s alright, don’t worry . My Mum was a single mother too. I know it can be hard sometimes.” He says gently.
Elena wipes her tears away and reluctantly smiles at Merlin.
“You’re a star Merlin. Thank you!”
She goes to tell Mo to pack a few of his things and his schoolbooks, because he will spend a few days with Merlin and Arthur.

While Mo is getting excited about the sleepover downstairs, it crosses Merlin’s mind, that he hasn’t even ask Arthur on his opinion on playing the babysitter for a few days. But Merlin is sure, that when has explained the situation, Arthur will agree with his desicion, to give Elena a bit time to sort things out.
He takes Mo’s schoolbag, while Mo takes the bag with his clothes.
“Did you pack your toothbrush?” Merlin asks and Mo nods, showing it to him.
By the door, Elena hugs her son tightly to her chest and apologizes for being so angry and yelling at him earlier. When she asks for forgiveness, Mo grants it to her without hesitation.
Merlin always wondered about this unconditional love children have for their parents.

Chapter Text

Already it was one week into August, Gwen’s and his work had been send of to print. Luckily they had been able to already score another project, before the other one even was finished. It meant work for another year at least. The celebration had been boisterously to say the least and Merlin and Arthur were both nursing an hangover for the better part of the day.

“Who’s texting you all day?” Arthur asks, when Merlin’s phone makes that little pling sound again.
Merlin grins and shifts a bit, to give Arthur some space to sit at their little balcony as well.
“Why? Are you jealous?” He teases Arthur who hums to that.
“It certainly isn’t a virtue of mine. Yes, I'm a jealous man."
“A fault confessed is half redressed.”
“Wow, thanks for your wisdom, Merlin.” Arthur rolls his eyes.
“You’re welcome, love.” Merlin answers sweetly, moving in to kiss Arthur, but gets interrupted by his phone again.
Arthur huffs, when he’s abandoned in favor of Merlin’s phone.
“It’s Will.” Merlin explains, “he sent me some pictures, his kids and my mothers’ house. Look!” He shoves the phone under Arthur’s nose, showing him the picture of a little stone cottage, that are typical for south England.
“And look,” Merlin excited swipes on to the next picture, “that’s the beach underneath the cliffs,” he shows him a photo of a deserted beach, the water nearly a Caribbean turquoise, waving around some dangerous looking rocks.
The next picture is of a man, smiling brightly, while holding his little daughter in his arms, his older son by the hand.
“And that’s Will with Sofia and Gilly.”
“Do you miss them?” Arthur asks softly.
Merlin nods. “Sure I miss them.”
He just recently had contacted Will again, finally telling him the whole truth about what had happened between him and Leon and all about Arthur.
“But mostly I miss the sea, you know. Growing up by the sea, it feels weird, being so far from it.”

“I’ve got an surprise for you,” Arthur says the next day and his eyes sparkle when Merlin looks at him.
“Oh, and what is it?”
“If I tell you it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, would it?”
He kisses Merlin’s nape, ignoring his boyfriends' pouting.
“Just make sure you’re home by five on Friday and have packed a bag for the weekend.”
“So we’re going away for the weekend?”
“Yes.”
“Where do we go?” Merlin wants to know, but Arthur only shakes his head and smiles.

Arthur packs enough food an drinks into the car, Merlin is convinced it would be sufficient for a week away. So he’s prepared for a quite long drive.
It’s already twilight, when Arthur nudges his shoulder, making Merlin wake with a jump.
“Sorry,” Arthur apologizes, adverting his eyes quickly on the road again, “I didn’t mean to scare you, but we’re nearly there.”
Merlin sits up straighter in his seat and discreetly wipes away the drool from his chin, he didn’t even remembers falling asleep.
Finally he is woken up enough to take a look around and realizes that they are driving over a bridge, underneath them there’s just water. On the far end of the bridge he can see land. An island.

Merlin pushes the little button, that opens the window. He takes a deep breath, letting the stiff breeze mess up his hair. It smells of salt and seaweed. Oh, how much he missed that smell.
Arthur looks over to him and smiles at Merlin’s excitement.
“You said you missed the sea. It’s the Baltic Sea and this in front of us is Rügen. Germany’s biggest island. We have a house for the weekend near to Kap Arkona, the northernmost part of the island, above the chalk cliffs. It’s still an hour to drive.”
Merlin nods, he keeps staring out of the window, even if it’s getting to dark to see anything.

Over an hour later Arthur stops the car in front of their Holliday home and Merlin can’t wait to get out of the car, to look at it properly.
It’s a little brick house with an narrow, thatched roof, red shutters and a heavy red door. A blush colored rambler rose entwines above the door. It’s nearly like the coast cottages in Cornwall and Merlin is immediately captivated by it.
Arthur retreats the key from somewhere and opens the door for Merlin to get in.
All rooms of the house are on ground floor level, stepping right into the living room, that has a large fireplace on the wall opposite to the door. To the left there’s a small kitchen with an ancient looking stove and some cupboards, but not much more. Right from the living room, a long small hall leads to a small bedroom and a bathroom at the end of the hall. The furniture is sparse, but functional and the bedroom window goes out to the sea.

Because it is already so dark, they don’t go down to the water, but they walk through the village, Arthur showing Merlin where they will buy bread in the morning.
After Merlin has won a fight with the gas stove, they have tea and the rest of the food, Arthur packed for them.

Lying in bed, Merlin listens to the familiar singsong of the wind and waves. Arthur is quietly breathing next to him and Merlin can’t explain, why there are suddenly tears on his face, running down sideways into his pillow, he closes his eyes and hopes for sleep to come.

Of course he’s awake long before Arthur is. So he decides to go and fetch some bread and some other supplies for breakfast.
The village is nice and tidy and all people Merlin crosses paths with on his way to the bakery greet him nicely.
Merlin’s proud of himself, when he places his order completely in German.
They have their breakfast on the patio, before they get ready for a walk.
From their little house, there’s a direct path down to the sea. Merlin convinces Arthur to go barefoot and out of exuberance they race each other down to the waterline.
The water is still cold, even for late summer, but they go for a swim anyway. Afterwards, they let themselves dry by the sun.

It’s already late afternoon, when they walk along the beach to the impressive, white glistening cliffs that form a sharp silhouette of the land against sky and sea.
The ascent is a demanding one, over steps, roughly carved into stone, they climb from the beach up to the top of the cliffs.
The sight afterwards is spectacular. They stay and watch the sun sink down, painting the sky in orange and pink.

And suddenly Merlin is overwhelmed by grief. He used to sit with his mother, on the bench in front of their cottage, perfectly placed for watching the sundown. They used to sit and watch, listening to the steady rhythm of the waves, they used to sit until darkness surrounded them. Merlin always felt closes to her in these quiet, peaceful moments.
“What’s wrong?” Arthur’s voice suddenly brings him back. And it’s one year later, it’s Germany and Merlin tries to wipe away his tears, but to no avail, they just keep coming.
He can’t talk for a while and Arthur pats his back and holds his hand, even if his facial expression clearly shows that he’s confused and at a loss on what to do.

Finally, Merlin takes a shuddering breath.
“My Mum and I used to watch the sun set over the sea.” He says.
Arthur stays silent, knowing that this is not all Merlin wants to say. He waits, holding Merlin’s hand tightly in his.
“She drowned herself in the sea. Last year.”
“I thought you said she was sick?” Arthur asks quietly, not wanting to sound if he’s accusing Merlin to be a liar.
“She was. For years. She was bipolar.” Merlin stares at his hands, there are just like his mothers, strong, with long, slender fingers.
"The first time I remember her having an episode, was when I was seven. She had been euphoric for a whole week. Working without sleeping, only stopping to make me something to eat, when I was begging for food. She said that we would go to Scotland, because there was a book she needed. We would leave the minute I was home from school. But she wasn’t there, when I came home and I cried for nearly two hours, because I thought sh had gone without me. I don’t know when she came home, because when I woke up, she was there.”
He pauses, remembering the panic from that night, the first traumatic experience that leads to his fear of being left.
“But after that, it got worse. She wouldn’t get out of bed. She just lay there, in the dark, staring at the ceiling. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t leave her side for three days. Trying to make food for us both, but she wouldn’t eat, would hardly drink some water.”
He stops talking again, lost in hurtful memories.
Arthur rubs his thumb over his hand, but he also says nothing. There’s nothing he could say, all he can do is listen.
“After the third day, the mother of my friend Will came to see what was the matter, because I hadn’t been at school, didn’t open the door when Will came knocking. She called an ambulance. They took my mother to an hospital and she was transferred into the psychiatric ward, where she was treated. I lived with Will and his family for the six weeks she was away.”
“And then?” Arthur asks to encourage Merlin to go on, once he has fallen silent again.
It’s already getting dark around them and they are the only ones around by now. Merlin begins to shiver, when the night becomes more chilly. Arthur drabs his towel around Merlin’s shoulders.
“It was a constant up and down. She was leveled when she took her meds, but she didn’t like to take them, she always complained that they made her slow in the head and she couldn’t think properly and this was bad, because her thinking put the bread on our table.”
Merlin takes a deep breath. It’s quiet around them, only the chirring of the crickets, the mumbling of the waves down by the shore and Arthur’s steady breathing next to him can be heard.
“But even medicated, her mood would change from one minute to the next. Over periods she would drink heavily and it was dangerous to be near her.”
“Did she hit you?”
“Sometimes. Only when she was drunk.” It sounds defensive and Merlin feels a little bit angry about the shame that still overcomes him admitting it.
“It wasn’t your fault.” Arthur says, and Merlin nods into the dark.
“I know.” He says, he knows it wasn’t his fault, of course he knows, but he still feels the opposite.
As a child, everything about his mothers illness was so confusing and he always thought, that he was the reason for her anger and sadness. Even if she was holding him, reassuring him, that he was the most precious thing in her life and her bad moods were due to her illness.
When he was a teenager, he mostly was angry at her, secretly thinking, that she just needed to get a grip, then everything would be fine. He knew it was not her fault, but he just wanted to have a Mother who would take care of him, not the other way round.
It really had been hard to be the responsible all the time, when sometimes he just wanted to be the moody one, sulk in his room for hours, to hate everything around him with a passion, but he never could do that, because she was reacting very sensitive to his moods and so he always had to be cheerful, with a bright smile, always calm and understanding. He became a master in hiding his true feelings.
The distance he put between them, when he went away to Uni, had been a relief for him. Sometimes he had a bit of a bad concise, for leaving her, for feeling this way, but he finally felt like he could breath, as if he was his own person, not only her son and not her caretaker.
He always visited her once a month, calling her daily and when he met Leon, he told him everything. And after nearly a year of being together he took him to meet her.
She had liked Leon and she seemed to be more stable than she had been for years. So when Will called him to tell him that they found his mothers body on the beach, he refused to believe it. It had to be an accident. But it wasn't.

“She died in April. She left a note, explaining how tired she was, that she couldn’t bear the constant up and down anymore and that she decided to go while she was happy. Her latest book was well received and she wrote that she needn’t to worry about me anymore, because I had found happiness too. So she felt free to go.” Merlin balls his free hand into a fist, still torn apart with feelings of guilt and feelings of anger because of her selfishness. He can’t even grief for her, without this poisonous syncrisis of love and rage.

He’s crying again. Arthur doesn’t even makes an attempt to say anything that is supposed to comfort him, he knows that there’s nothing he can say. He only offers, quite literally, his shoulder to cry on.
They sit until Merlin’s tears subside, until there are no tears left, only a dull, hollow pain in his chest.
“Lets go back.” Arthur says, his voice a low and soft whisper, when he helps Merlin to get up.
The way down to their house is a rugged one. They only have the moonlight and the flashlight from Arthur’s smartphone, to guide them and Merlin is so exhausted, that he stumbles more than he walks.
They go to bed immediately and Merlin quickly falls asleep, Arthur’s arms wrapped around him even tighter than usual.

Chapter Text

Merlin rather feels than hears Arthur coming into the room. His hearing is somehow affected and he hears everything as through water. Maybe it comes from lying in bed all day, from sleeping so much, it makes him tired.
He feels the mattress dip under Arthur weight, as he sits down next to him.
His fingers are cold on Merlin’s overheated skin and it feels good to be touched, even if over sensitivity sends shivers down his spine.
“How do you feel?” Arthur asks and Merlin has to force himself to focus, so he won’t miss what Arthur is saying.
“Tired.”
He was tired since they were back from their weekend trip two weeks ago. He kept telling himself and Arthur, that it had been too much sun and the sea air that was tiring. But not even Arthur believed him.
This was this empty kind of tiredness, that stuck deep within his bones, the kind that wouldn’t go away with a good nights sleep. Not that he was getting one. Insomnia was his companion on most nights.
Arthur nods, he knew that this would be the answer to the question, it is the answer to almost everything he asks Merlin.
“Maybe,” he starts, but pauses, because most likely, Merlin doesn’t want to hear it, “Maybe we should think about medication. Anti depressants maybe?”
Merlin pushes himself up to lean against the headboard. His arms are crossed over his chest and his blue eyes are shooting daggers at a very insecure looking Arthur.
“There’s no we, Arthur. It would only be me, do you even know, what side effects they have? Do you really want me to be a fucking zombie? Maybe I would be getting fat, impotent, suicidal. They can provoke cardiac arrhythmia. Would that be worth it?” He angrily glares at Arthur, who sits on the edge of the bed, a picture of misery.
“I just want you to be okay.” He says sheepishly and Merlin nearly feels bad for blowing up on him. He just means well and he has been so patient with him over the last two weeks, but he feels to much anger, not really because of Arthur’s suggestion, but at himself, at the world, just everything and everyone, to get a grip and apologize to him.
“I think if you have a problem with me being a bit down, you shouldn’t be here!” His voice is dripping with venom and he really hates himself for the satisfaction he gets from hurting the man he loves.
Arthur shakes his head slowly, eyes dark with pain. “You know that’s not true Merlin! I just thought it might help.”
Reluctantly Merlin stretched his hand out, to touch Arthur’s hand.
“I’m sorry, love. It’s just…I don’t know, I’m really just not very well at the moment, but it will pass. I promise.”
“Just tell me what to do, to make it better.” Arthur pleads, wrapping his whole hand around Merlin’s wrist.
Merlin slides down in his former lying Position and closes his eyes.
“There’s nothing you can do. I just need to rest, would you mind to leave me alone?” He asks.
“Merlin…” Arthur tries again.
“No, please Arthur, just let me sleep for a while.” He said turning his back to Arthur.
“Well, I’ll go for a run then.” Arthur’s voice has an uncertain tone about it, but Merlin choses to ignore it. He has already enough to do with himself, that he has not the strength to consider Arthur’s feelings in all that mess.
“You do that.” Is all he says.

“Merlin, you need to eat!” Arthur sits across from him and frowns, watching his boyfriend pick on his food. Again.
“I’m not hungry, I’m tired, I want to go to bed.” Merlin knows he sounds like a grouchy child, but he couldn’t care less.
Suddenly Arthur’s fist hits the tabletop next to Merlin’s plate. Merlin jumps in surprise, being startled by Arthur’s outbreak of anger.
“For fucks sake Merlin, you slept the whole day today and you haven’t been eating properly for the last two weeks. I’m sick of you treating me, as if I’m an annoyance to you. I do have a right to be worried!” He hisses, obvious trying hard to keep his calm. “I get that you don’t want to be medicated, and as long as you are overcome it without them, that’s fine. But I won’t watch you starve yourself. You won’t be getting better by sleeping all day and refusing to eat!”
“You don’t understand anything, you have no idea how I am feeling!” Merlin says angrily, because how does Arthur dare to criticize him when he can’t possibly understand how much it sometimes hurts just to wake up in the morning?
“Then explain it to me.” Arthur says calmly, watching Merlin fidget around.
“I can’t. You wouldn’t understand.” Merlin shakes his head, looking everywhere, but at Arthur.
“Maybe I won’t. But at least you could try, please?”
Merlin slowly nods. That only would be fair.
“I…” he starts, but it won’t come out, it’s as if the words are too cumbrous to get them over his tongue, he feels as if he would choke upon them. “It…” he tries again, but he can’t say it and shakes his head.
“I can’t Arthur, I don’t know how.”
Arthur gets up from his chair opposite to Merlin and walks up behind him, he bends down to wrap his arms around Merlin’s torso and places his chin on His head, carefully rubbing over his dark, messy hair.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me. But at least talk to someone. Please go to your therapy session this week, okay? I’ll drive you.” He says letting go of Merlin again.
“It’s Thursday afternoon, you’ll have to work.” Merlin answers absentmindedly, wondering if Alice, his therapist, will say something about the last two canceled sessions.
Arthur shrugs his shoulders. “I’ll take some time off. We can go somewhere afterwards if you want to. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” He asks hopefully and Merlin forces himself to smile and nod, because he will do it for Arthur, he will pretend to be happy, if that stops Arthur from worrying.

So he gives him a small smile, when he walks out of Alice’s office, halting in front of the chair were Arthur sat and waited for him, waiting for Arthur to collect his stuff and get up.
“How was it?” He asks, slipping his files back into his briefcase.
“Fine.” Merlin says with a shoulder shrug, “We talked about, you know my Mum and stuff…you were right, it really helps to talk.” He turns away, so that Arthur won’t see the blush spreading out on his face and will know that he’s lying.
He can feel Arthur hand on his shoulder, sees the relief in his eyes when he places a kiss on his cheek.
“I’m glad,” he says.

It’s easy to lie to Arthur. All it takes is smiling brightly, talking nonsense and always having something to eat next to him, taking a bite whenever Arthur is looking, throwing it in the trash when he looks away. Arthur never wonders about Merlin’s sudden willingness to put out the trash.
It only takes a week, until Arthur seems to believe that Merlin is feeling better. Merlin relaxes a bit, when he feels not so watched by Arthur anymore.
And well, he’s better, he really is, but not as much as Arthur might think. He goes to work and he eats, when someone is watching him, but he retreats to bed, whenever he’s alone in the flat, while when Arthur comes home he pretends to have worked on his thesis and his food disappears into napkins and trash cans when he’s sure that nobody is watching.
So when Arthur asks him, after two weeks of pretending from Merlin’s side, if he will be alright on his own for a few days, he nods.
“Of course I will.” He says with a smile. He knows that Arthur has business trips to do, but has delayed them, not wanting to leave him on his own.

“Are you sure, you’ll be alright?” Arthur asks, standing next to his suitcase, frowning. “I can stay if you want me to? I’ll just send someone else.”
But Merlin knows there’s no one else that Arthur could send to represent the company. And really, he wants Arthur to go, he needs some time for himself, where he can give into his misery without having to fill in a role.
“Yes I’m sure. I’m fine! Just make sure you come back in one piece.” He leans forward to kiss Arthur.
But Arthur obviously can’t concentrate on the kiss, as he still is worried.
“If you need anything you know you can always call Morgana and Gwen.”
Merlin nods. “Yes, yes I know. Stop worrying, I’m an adult, you know?” He teases softly, but it does nothing to get rid on the frown on Arthur’s face.
“Promise me you’ll remember to eat. I bought things that you just need to reheat.”
“I know. I’ll eat, I promise.” He tries for another kiss, this time with more success.
And finally, Merlin closes the door behind Arthur, shooting him one last smile to ease his concern.
When he's sure, that Arthur is gone, he heads straight back to bed.

Chapter Text

Merlin rubs his temples, while dragging himself up the stairs to the flat. He’s sporting a headache and overall, he just feels like shit. Gwen had been onto him the whole day, watching him eat like a fucking hawk, asking him more than once if he was feeling alright and if he was losing weight again. He really had to bite his tongue, not to yell at her.
Surely, she was in close contact to Arthur and he would have to be very convincing on the phone tonight, so that Arthur wouldn’t just drop everything to come back home and feed him. He really appreciated that his friends cared that much for him, but sometimes he wished they didn’t and he would be left to his own devices. It would be so much easier. Well, maybe this was exactly what his mother had been thinking, when she… He shakes his head and closes his eyes briefly, just one step away from the top of the stairs. When he opens then again, he looks straight into a very serious face, with intense blue eyes staring at him.
“Mo?” he asks, honestly surprised, “What are you doing here?” Elena and Mo had moved out over a month ago, but it had gone by hardly noticed by him. He couldn’t really remember that Mo had come by to say his goodbyes, even if Arthur told him so.
“Merlin?” Mo asks back, not moving from his sitting position on their doormat. He has his knees pulled to his chest, his arms wrapped around him.
His little face is ghostly pale, shimmering in the sparse light of the hallway. He just looks as lost as Merlin feels.
Then Mo gets up and holds out a letter to Merlin, who finally takes the last steps and reluctantly plugs it from his fingers.
Arthur & Merlin is written upon it in a scrawly handwriting, and he already suspects what might be the content of the writing, when he sees a battered travel bag sitting next to Mo.
And sure, it is the request to let Mo stay at their place for a bit, uncertain how long, just for a few weeks. There is no explanation why, whatsoever and Merlin looks down at Mo.
“Where’s she gone to?” He asks, but all he gets is a noncommittal shoulder shrug and blank eyes that stare at him. Merlin sighs and unlocks the door, picking up the boy’s bags.
“Well, come in then.” He says and Mo, mute as ever, follows him inside.
“Do you have a number I can call your mother on?” He asks and Mo pulls out an old mobile phone and gives it to him, ‘Mama’ already selected to call.
Merlin hits the call button and walks away into the bedroom, while he waits for someone to pick up. That leaves Mo standing in the hallway with hanging arms by his side and a confused expression on his face, but he doesn’t need to hear what Merlin has to say to Elena. He just closes the door behind him, when she picks up the phone.
“Hey Schatz, alles klar?” her voice sounds tinny and very far away.
“Elena, it’s me, Merlin!” he says.
“Oh,” he voice changes into a more serious tone. “Hi Merlin, I’m so sorry, to drop this on you, without checking first, but his came up so suddenly and I just had to get away for a bit, you know?”
Merlin hardly can grasp this; did she really drop her son off at their doorstep, without asking them, without checking if they would even be there, to go on vacation? He nearly growls at that.
“Where the fuck are you Elena?” he says angrily.
“I’m at Mallorca. Please don’t be mad, Merlin, a friend of mine invited me and I really couldn’t say no. But Mo has school and he wouldn’t stay with Mark at the flat, so I thought I would ask you to look after him for a bit.”
“Who is Mark?” Merlin asks confused, to slow to understand everything she’s telling him.
“Oh,” she lets out a little nervous laugh that makes Merlin grit his teeth, “He’s my new boyfriend. But Mo doesn’t like him.”
If he was a similar arsehole than the last one, Merlin could understand that. Still.
“Elena, you can’t just drop him of here like that, without asking, without checking that we were there at least. What would have happened, if we were on holidays or something? I can’t even fucking care for myself right now, how am I supposed to care for a child?” he yells into the phone. A long silence follows, then a shouldering breath. Great, now she was crying.
“I’m sorry Merlin. You are right, I’m a horrible mother, I didn’t think. I just… it was so hard the last few months, and I’ve been drinking too much and when I was offered to go to Mallorca, I thought it would be so good to be away from it all.” She sobs into the phone and Merlin sinks down on the bed and pinches his eyes.
“Alright, calm down Elena, I’ll figure something out. Arthurs not here at the moment, but it will work, somehow. He’ll be in school from 8 to 4, won’t he?” he so fucking tired right now.
“yes, yes,” she says much more upbeat then just seconds ago and he briefly wonders if her sobbing was just an act, to get him where she wanted him to be. “Don’t worry Merlin, he’s really independent, he doesn’t need much, just give him a key and something to eat, he’ll be fine.”
Merlin huffs to that, thinking that with a mother like that, it’s no wonder he’s so independent, maybe he wouldn’t be still alive if he weren’t.
“Alright, just let us know when you’ll be back.” He says and if she was about to say something, he doesn’t hear it anymore, ending the call.

When he comes out of the room again, Mo still is in the hallway, sitting on his bag. He hasn’t even taken off his jacked, looking at Merlin, as if he’s expecting to be told to pack his things and go.

“You’ll be staying for a while. Let’s get your things into the study.” He says, even though his tiredness makes him usually short-tempered and snappy, he tries to sound welcoming and soft. It can’t be easy for the boy to be parked at someone’s doorstep, like a disposable toy or something.
But setting up the bed in their study, that serves as the guestroom too, drains him out of all the energy he has squeezed out of him so far.
“Mo, I’ll go to lie down for a bit, I have a headache. You know the ropes around here, just do whatever you like.” He waits for the boy to confirm with a nod, before he retreats into his bedroom again, a slightly guilty feeling prickling in the back of his mind, from leaving Mo alone, but he can’t be there for him, he just doesn’t have the strength. He wonders if that does make him any better than Elena. Probably not.

A few hours later, after drifting in and out of sleep, he’s finally woken up by a shy knock on his door. Mo’s small frame slips in and Merlin has to blink, to make him out, as the bright light coming from the hall hurts his eyes.
Mo carefully balances a cup in his hands, inching closer to Merlin, to meekly hand him the cup of tea.
“I make tea for my Mama, when she’s sick.” Mo says simply and Merlin has to swallow around a lump in his throat.
“Thank you,” he says hoarsely, taking the cup from the boy.
They don’t say anything for a while, Merlin just too drowsy to think of something and Mo obviously to awkward to open his mouth, staring at Merlin absentmindly sipping his tea.

“Merlin, I’m hungry.” he says at last, startling Merlin out of his thoughts, that went god knows where.
“Just take something from the fridge.” Merlin says, wanting to punch himself for the flatness in his voice. He hopes for the feeling of hunger himself, to shake him out of this daze, but it’s hardly that pinching anymore.
“There’s nothing.” Mo pipes up.
And of course, there is nothing, because Merlin dumped everything in the nearest food sharing box on his way to work, just the other day. Hell would break loose if Arthur comes back and sees that nothing is missing from the fridge. But Merlin always feels bad for throwing good food into the bin or letting it rot. There are people out there, who are starving, starving involuntarily and the least he could do was to give them access to the food he wouldn’t eat.

But the guilt he suddenly feels for forcing the poor child to go hungry as well, shakes him out of his lethargy.
“When did you last eat something?” he asks, pushing the covers away and swinging his legs out of bed.
“Yesterday.”
“What? No breakfast, no lunch?” he asks, thinking he just sounds like Arthur.
Mo shakes his head. “Mama got up too late, there was no time.”
What didn’t explain the lack of lunch. “And lunch, don’t you have lunch at school?”
Mo looks away and blushes. “She forgot to give me the money for it.”
Merlin knows it is a lie, because otherwise the boy wouldn’t need to stare holes into the carpet, but he decides not to push the subject. He would need to have a word with Elena. She should be lucky he wouldn’t call child protection services.
“Well then, how does pizza sound?” He smiles when he sees Mo’s eyes light up.

Chapter Text

The next two days go by smoothly, better than Merlin had expected. In the morning, he drives Mo to school, glad that Arthur left his car, because with moving out, Mo had been forced to change schools as well.
Of course, Mo could just take the tram, but Merlin insist to drive him, feeling a lot better, when he watches the boy disappear into the building. This way, he’s at least sure that Mo is where he’s supposed to be and not bunking off somewhere.
Because he starts to work a little bit earlier, in return he is able to leave earlier to pick up Mo from school.
At home, Mo starts on his homework, while Merlin either helps him, - maths really is not Mo’s strongest subject and it never has been Merlin’s, but as this is only basic arithmetics, Merlin can manage to explain it to Mo, or he works a bit on his thesis, sitting next to the boy at their large kitchen table. He finally makes some progress again.

It’s good for him to be occupied by another human being. Not like Arthur wasn’t another human being, but Arthur could handle himself perfectly well, he’s a stable adult, he doesn’t need Merlin to take care of him. Mo on the other hand, is a completely different story.
It’s not hard to see, that he’s a lonely child. One of these sad children, that were forced to bear more responsibility than they should have at their young age, without anyone to guide and comfort them.
The air of seriousness that surrounds him, keeps the other kids from approaching him and Mo just is too insecure to go up to them by himself. Merlin knows, that he spends most of the day alone. He sees the distance he keeps to the crowd of pupils when he walks into the school in the mornings and how he always sits all by himself, when Merlin picks him up in the afternoon.
Merlin is just glad, that he doesn’t seem to get bullied by his classmates. Still, it tugs at Merlin heartstrings to see the child being ignored by almost everyone. It is a shame really, how such an intelligent and sensitive boy is cast aside, because nobody bothers to even talk to him.
Merlin enjoys his conversations with Mo, he finds his precocious way of talking so very endearing. Once he had lost his reluctance to talk at all around Merlin once again, he hardly stopped talking, as if he needed to get it all heard by someone who was actually listening to him.

But that Mo is observant, used to pay close attention to the mood of the adults around him, turns out to be a problem for Merlin, who feels himself watched carefully all the time. And he knows that Mo has caught on his eating habits, as his gaze lingers on Merlin’s only half eaten meals, but he does not think that the child understands what's going on with him, although he asks more than one time if he is feeling sick.

Saturday is the third day Mo is with Merlin, but the first time that they spent the whole day together.
Merlin takes Mo to the natural history museum, because he knows that Mo likes dinosaurs, and the Berlin museum has the highest mounted skeleton of a brachiosaurus and a tyrannosaurus called ‘Tristan Otto’ too.
Of course the most interesting part of the museum is the ‘wet collection’, over 13.000 species of fish, conserved in Alcohol, shimmering in various amber tones. The chamber where they are kept, is several degrees colder than the rest of the museum and the quietness adds to the eerie atmosphere.
Merlin has to drag Mo out after nearly an hour spent looking at the unnatural pale flesh and starring eyes of the animals, swimming in their glass jars for eternity. Mo already has goosebumps all over his skinny arms and Merlin feels chilled to the bone. They warm up while watching the simulation of the sun system, comfortably spread out on the round, soft bench with headrests, so looking up doesn’t put a strain on your neck.

When they’re finally through with everything, it’s already afternoon and Mo is complaining about being hungry.
Merlin immediately feels guilty, he hadn’t even thought of getting something to eat. Breakfast is not the problem, Mo is contempt with spooning his cereal in the morning, while Merlin leans on the counter, sipping his coffee. In the evenings Merlin forces himself to cook something for both of them, even if he only just picks on his meals, he still doesn’t feel like eating.
But that’s no reason to let a child starve alongside him. So he suggest McDonalds, what is received with enthusiasm from Mo’s side.
Merlin only takes some coke, hoping that these ridiculous amounts of sugar will keep his spirits up, as he feels a little bit weak after the whole day spent in the museum. Not eating is less straining if you don’t have to keep up with a 9 year old boy.
That’s why he falls asleep on the couch next to Mo when they are playing on Arthur’s Xbox, Merlin always spectacularly loosing every game.
He notices how the controller slip from his hands, but he can’t do anything against it, his eyelids are way too heavy to held open anymore.

When he wakes up, the flat is quiet, the Tv dark and the controllers stashed away neatly, he panics a bit, when Mo is nowhere to be seen. Still trying to shake the sleepiness, he pats over to the guest room, relief washing over him, when he spots Mo lying on his bed, reading.
“Are you hungry?” Merlin asks and Mo turns from from his stomach to his back to sit up before nodding.
“Alright, I’ll make us something.” Merlin strides into the kitchen, followed by Mo, who always is in the kitchen, when Merlin’s there too. He’s always eager to help with the preparations and Merlin even has aloud him to kneel on one of the kitchen chairs, pulled closely to the worktop next to the stove, so he can stir the pots.

Merlin decides to make Shepherds pie, his favourite dish as a child. It’s the perfect comfort food and fall is just around the corner anyway.
Mo seems to like it as well, as he’s already occupied with his second helping, while Merlin still is pushing around the food on his plate. He knows he should eat, he didn’t eat for the whole day and he can feel that his body is reacting badly on this lack of nutrition. But he still doesn’t feel like it. The less he’s eating, the less he feels like starting again. His stomach is tied up in knots. But otherwise he feels so much better now, the hunger and Mo are both effective distractions from this dark place of guilt and despair, from the hole his mother tore into his life by leaving the way she did.
But he’s going to finish what’s on his plate before him, so at least he was eating something. Arthur would be pleased.
They finish dinner, Merlin significantly slower than Mo.
Mo chooses a chocolate bar for dessert and while Merlin starts to clear the table, he unwraps it.
Merlin has to stop mid movement, when Mo positions himself in front of Merlin, holding out the the sweet to him.
Merlin’s eyebrows shoot up in confusion and he doesn’t know quite what to do, even though the gesture is clear: Mo wants him to have his chocolate bar.
“Chocolate makes happy.” Mo states simply, still holding it up for Merlin to take. “It works in Harry Potter.” He says that with so much earnestness, that it feels to Merlin as if his heart is melting, just like the chocolate between Mo’s fingers.
Gingerly he takes the sweet from Mo’s hands and bites into it. He hasn’t had chocolate in such a long time. Not since before he left England anyways.
He remembers that Leon used to make them hot chocolate on grey, rainy winter days in London and he remembers that they would sit at their rickety kitchen table, hands around their mugs, talking about everything and nothing. This are quite literally bittersweet memories and he smiles cautiously, while the chocolate melts in his mouth, the taste entirely too sweet. But that little smile seems to be enough for Mo, who nods content.
The next week passes by quickly and Arthur is back before the weekend. Arthur had been all but pleased with the way Elena had dropped Mo on Merlin, worried that taking care of the boy would be too much for Merlin to handle.
But now that they are sitting on their couch, Mo asleep between them, Arthur reaches out to stroke Merlin’s cheek.
“I’m glad to have you back Merlin, I missed you so much.” He says quietly, before he picks up Mo to carry him to bed.

Merlin feels as if something important is missing, the days after Elena finally, after three weeks, has picked up her son. He misses Mo’s way of cheering him up, he misses his childish fantasies and stories and his simple perspective of things. He misses his questions and he misses finding answers to them. He misses feeling the trust and love Mo has for him.
But he fights not to slip away again. Of course he can’t control the way he feels, but he has control of the decision he makes, like starting to tell Arthur the truth, because he needs it to stop, he needs to stop the hunger, masking all the things he doesn’t want to feel. But he needs it to stop, in order to move on. He’s not going to neglect everyone or everything around him and he’s thankful that Mo has served him as an reminder, that yet, he has a life to live for.

Chapter Text

The knock on the door wasn’t unexpected, as he was having his weekly office hours for his students to come and ask him about exams and papers. So he closed his notebook and looked to the door expectantly, after he had given his permission to enter. The unexpected thing was, that the young man, who was standing in the door wasn’t one of Merlin’s students, but Mo. He probably wouldn’t even have recognized him, by how much he had changed since the last time he had seen him, but his eyes, they were still the same.
“Hey Merlin.” Mo greats with a light smile and strolls into the room, taking the seat in front of Merlin’s desk uninvited. Merlin has to remind himself to close his mouth.
“Hello Mo. What a nice surprise. How are you?” Merlin’s not quite sure on how to react. He’s torn between absolute delight of seeing Mo again and worry about the reasons he might have, to come to his office. The last time they had seen each other, had been Mo’s eleventh birthday. Right afterwards Elena had been forced to move again and not long after that, they had lost contact.
“I’m fine.” Mo says curtly and there’s no doubt, that he doesn’t mean it. He spits it out like an insult and of course there’s the fact, that he just looks awful. His face, that’s just has lost his childish roundness and has not yet gained the sharpness, that is promised in his facial features, looks pale and overtired. His dark, slightly curly hair is a greasy mess and his dark clothes are dirty and full of holes, but that also could be a fashion choice, Merlin thinks.
Silence fills the room, while Merlin examines the unexpected guest, who lounges in the chair before him, fiddling with the strings of his hoody. His hands are so ceaselessly moving, its making Merlin nervous.
“Well, Mo” he speaks up again, “don’t get me wrong, it’s really great to see you, but I can’t help to think that you are here for a reason?” he asks carefully.
Mo shrugs his shoulders and grabs Merlin’s tacker from his desk, playing with it and Merlin has to hold himself back, not to pluck the thing out of his hands. Mo’s not a child anymore, he will know that he could hurt himself with it, if he isn’t careful.
“Did you know, that I really hated you, when you came along?” Mo says, sounding absent minded and Merlin starts to wonder if he’s on drugs or something, for the way he seems not to be fully there.
“Why?” he humors Mo with asking, although he has a pretty good idea about his reasons.
Mo tosses the tacker down on the table again and instead picks up a pencil, that he lets dance over his knuckles, like some people do with coins.
“I always hoped that my Mum would get together with Arthur, you know? He was my hero when I was a kid. I wanted him to be her boyfriend, to be something like a father to me. He was the only guy that I thought to be decent at that time and I couldn’t understand, why they wouldn’t want to be together. I mean, my Mum was so pretty and they seemed to get along just fine. But when I asked her, she would laugh and tell me that they weren’t interested in each other and that I was too young to understand this sort of thing. And then you came along and I understood just fine. I really hated you.” He repeats, looking Merlin directly in his eye, before adverting his gaze to a spot left from Merlin’s head again and Merlin thinks that his presence in Arthurs life isn’t quite forgiven, although it wouldn’t make a difference if it was him or someone else, and Mo knows that.
“I know.” He says softly. “I always knew, that you felt this way.” He’s sorry, but he won’t apologize for it. He has nothing to apologize for. He is who he is and Arthur is too.
A smile ghost over Mo’s lips, just a short up tucking of the corners of his mouth.
“Yeah, I hated you. I remember that very clearly. But then, this one night, you were so good to me. I felt save with you. You don’t live in the apartment anymore.” He changes the subject abruptly, as if woken up from a reverie, it almost sounds accusing.
Merlin shakes his head. “We moved three years ago. We live closer to the university now.” He explains, he has the feeling that he has to go slow, he senses that Mo is very unsure about coming here, and he’s fairly certain, that he wants to ask for his help, whatever that will be, but if he pushes too hard, he will probably leave and he won’t see him ever again.
“I remembered that you worked at the University, so I looked for you on their website.” Mo says.
So, if he has been looking for them, coming to their old flat and doing some research on him, it has to be serious. Merlin leans forward. “Do you need any help Mo?” he finally asks, impatient to get to the point already.
Mo gaze merely grazes Merlin’s face, before he looks down on his hands again, keeping his mouth shut and drawn into a thin line.
“Mo? Are you in any kind of trouble?” Merlin tries again.
Mo nervously licks his lips, before nodding. “My Mum kicked me out a while ago. I need a place to stay.” He admits quietly.
Merlin leans back into his chair. Of course it would be something like that.
“Why did she kick you out?” he wants to know.
Anger is roaming through Mo’s emotions for a moment, Merlin can see how he clenches his fist, his forcefully relaxed composure stiffening for a moment, his jaw clenching.
“She’s a bitch. That’s why.” He says calmly.
“Mo!” Merlin scolds, shocked by this aggressive expression.
Mo crosses his arms in front of his chest. “But it’s true. All she does is sit around and drink and yell at me. When she’s not fucking around with her boyfriend, that is.” He says, and his tone is distant, as if it doesn’t have anything to do with him.
“She’s back together with Cedric, you know. Two years now, that this lazy motherfucker has moved in with us. Two years, that they drink together and he beats her up, whenever he feels like it. I thought he would knock some sense into her sooner or later, but she just takes it. I tried to stop it, I couldn’t. She won’t listen and I no longer consider this my problem.” His voice is cold and resigned, as if there is no turning back from this situation. That’s just how it is and Merlin has not the heart to ask more questions, he can tell that Mo doesn’t like to talk about it.
“How long since she kicked you out?” he asks. He is determined to fix this, he would talk to Elena, offer her a helping hand, he would do anything to help Mo.
Mo’s gaze flickers to his backpack and then to the door, as if he’s thinking about leaving.
“Couple of weeks?” he’s not sure himself. “I stayed with a friend for so long, but his mother wasn’t too pleased with me being there, so I decided to try and make up with my Mum, but when I came home last night, she was so wasted, that I couldn’t even talk to her. So I left again, it makes no sense to talk to her, when she’s like that.”
“Where did you sleep, last night?"
When Mo looks away, embarrassed. “I slept in the park.” He says quietly. Merlin nods to that, he thought as much.
“Are you hungry?” he asks, slipping effortless back into the role of Mo’s caretaker, the boy sure as hell needs him to be just that. Despite his attitude, he’s still just a child. Getting up from his chair when the teenager nods eagerly.
“Alright, come one, we’ll go to the mensa.” He will just schedule another office hour tomorrow or later this week. He doesn't have to wait for Gwen, to go for lunch, as she's courrently at home, advanced in pregnancy, waiting for Morgana's and her child to be born.

While Mo wolfs down his food, Merlin asks more questions about his life so far, getting petulant answers, peppered with lots of swearing. Merlin has to keep himself from cringing all the time, but he has to accept, that Mo isn’t the sweet little boy anymore, but rather a disillusioned, angry teenager.
“Aren’t you going to eat that?” Mo looks down at Merlin’s plate, not even touched, when his own is already empty.
“Don’t tell me you’re still doing this.” The boy shakes his head.
“Doing what?” Merlin asks confused.
“Your not eating thing.” While Mo says it in a bored tone, Merlin’s heart rate speeds up. This still is a touchy subject to him, but he’s fine. He’s been fine, he has been fine for two years now. He shakes his head.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he says. Taking a bite, while Mo watches him.
“You’re certainly just as skinny.” He laughs, “you’re looking like a fucking junkie, you know that?” he says and Merlin painfully is reminded of the change that has taken place, Mo used to be such a nice boy.
“Charming,” he mutters under his breath. Mo looks a bit remorseful.
“Sorry Merlin, I didn’t mean it like that.” He quickly apologizes.
Merlin nods.
“I need a cigarette.” Mo murmurs and pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. “I’ll be right back.” Before Merlin can offer any objections about him smoking at such a young age, Mo has disappeared outside.
Merlin watches him, as he nervously walks up and down a bit, desperately inhaling the smoke. Merlin doesn’t feel hungry anymore.

“So can I stay with you and Arthur? Just for a few days, I promise!” Mo asks when he comes back, the smell of smoke clinging to him. “You are still with Arthur, right?” he asks, suddenly concerned. Merlin smiles a bit, when he tells him that he’s indeed still with Arthur.
“And you can stay as long as you want to, as you need to." He knows that Arthur will agree with him.

Chapter Text

Merlin might has overrated Arthurs willingness to house a grumpy, rude teenager without asking questions.
While Mo takes a shower, Merlin prepares the bed guestroom for Mo. The room is smaller than the one in the other flat, but the bathroom and the living room are bigger and he can walk to Uni, if he wants to, mostly he takes the bike. Arthur comes in and drops their spare key in Merlin’s hand.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asks, frowning a bit. “For all that we know, he could nick all our stuff and disappear.”
Merlin takes a deep breath. “That’s Mo you are talking about. You know him since he was three.”
“Yeah, but people change. And to be honest, he has changed quite a lot.”
“He’s having a hard time, Arthur. I thought you’d be more supportive of someone who needs our help.” Merlin sighed.
“I just have the feeling, that he hasn’t told us the full story.”
Merlin shrugs his shoulders, maybe he hadn’t, but he could understand that. Who wants to talk about things like that?

The next day, Mo and Merlin are leaving the house at the same time together.
Mo is wearing his threadbare Jeans, but instead of his own holey T- Shirt, Merlin has given him one of his widest Shirts, showing the logo of his alma mata. He hands Mo the key and says goodbye, getting on his bike. He waves, before he pedals and disappears around the corner.

When Merlin comes home, he expects Mo to be there, as he told him that school would be finish at 4 pm. But now it’s after 6 and nobody is home. He goes to see, if Mo’s things are still there and they are, shattered about the small room, after just one night. Merlin wants to call Mo, just to ask where he is. But then of course he doesn’t have his number and does he really have the right, he’s not a parent and not a guardian in any other way.
Arthur comes home at 7 and Merlin tries to hide how worried he is, because that will only fuel Arthurs skepticism against Mo, and Merlin really just wants to know that he’s alright and has a safe place to stay. But Arthur knows him too well, after all these years, there’s not much Merlin is able to hide anymore. He tells him not to worry and he massages Merlin’s tensed muscles, before deciding not to wait for Mo to show up before starting on dinner.
It’s just a few minutes after eight and they are halfway through their meal, when they hear the key being turned in the lock.
“Hey!” Mo greets them, throwing his backpack down.
“Where have you been?” Arthur asks.
Mo seems to be taken aback at his strict tone. “With a friend. Why?” normally nobody cares when he comes and goes.
Merlin, who had been silence until now, speaks up. “You didn’t tell us you would be gone so long. We were worried.”
Mo looks to the floor. “I’m sorry.” He says, “I didn’t realize…”
Merlin nods his head. “It’s ok. Just let us know next time. Come sit down.”
Mo goes to wash his hands in the kitchen sink, before he gets himself a plate and sits down. They eat in silence for a while.

They are in the process of clearing the dinner table, when Arthur says:
“Mo, can you please write down your and your mother’s phone number? I’m going to call her later and let her know, that you are staying here.” He says. They don’t switch to German anymore, because it is easier just to talk in English with each other, even though after over six years of living in Berlin, Merlin has learned the language fairly well. But of course they are talking among themselves still in Merlin’s mother tongue.
But Mo sets the plate he was about to carry over to the dishwasher back on the table, with a rather loud thud and crosses his arms in front of his chest. Apparently, a characteristic gesture for him.
“No.” he answers to Arthurs request, shaking his head.
Arthurs eyebrows shoot up in surprise, he isn’t used to someone that isn’t Merlin, talking back at him.
“Why not? I honestly don’t see where the problem is. What did you do, that you don’t want us to find out?” Arthur pushes and Mo becomes white as a sheet.
“It’s none of your business.” He snaps and tries to leave the kitchen, but Arthur holds him back by his wrists.
“So, there’s something, isn’t there?” Merlin takes a step into their direction, ready to break them apart, when Mo starts to sob. Arthur immediately goes soft, pulling the teenager close to him, wrapping him in his arms, holding him until Mo calms down again.
“Ich halt das alles nicht mehr aus. I’m so sick of it.” He mumbles.
“Just tell us what’s really going on and we will try to help you.”
Mo shakes his head as if to say, that they can’t help him at all, silent tears still running down his face, getting absorbed by Merlin’s grey Shirt. And then, he slowly lifts the shirt on the left side up, high over his stomach, over his chest. Merlin gasps by the sight of the dark, fist sized bruises that are littering his torso.
“Oh God, who did that?” Merlin breathes, but he already knows.
“Who do you think?” Mo says lamely, “I’m sick of being his punching bag. I don’t want to go back.”
“You don’t have to.” Arthur says calmly. “But we do have to talk to your mother. I highly doubt that it is legal for us to just take you in like that and if she thinks you are missing…” he explains.
“I don't think that she cares enough to go to the police. I’m not sure if she even noticed that I’m gone.” Mo laughs bitterly.
But in the end, Mo writes the number down for Arthur.

“There’s more.” Arthur says when he and Merlin are finally in bed together.
“What do you mean?” Merlin asks confused, putting a pillow behind his back, to sit comfortably.
“Yeah, well Mo just told us one side of the story, of course. Elena told me that he’s skipping school regularly, he comes and goes as he pleases and he’s been in trouble with the police more than once.”
“What for?”
“Dealing, apparently.”
“Fuck!” Merlin rubs his temples. “He’s only 15.”
“Well, we have to keep an eye on him.” Arthur sighs and Merlin nods. He falls asleep a long time after Arthur has extinguished the lights.

The next few days are less of a fight than they expected. Mo nods to the rules they map out for him and for nearly two weeks he follows them. Most of the time he’s in the kitchen, when Merlin gets home, already started on his homework. His grades a horrible, but Merlin figures, that with their help, he will get them up in time.
But when Merlin comes home on the tenth day, instead of being in the kitchen doing homework, Mo lunges on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Merlin is pretty sure, that he’s totally stoned, if the redness of his eyes and his sloppy smile are anything to go by. Needless to say, that Mo won’t admit it, when Merlin asks, telling him he’s just tired and needs to sleep.
But from there on, things are only going down.

Chapter Text

Arthur and Mo are in a constant fight with each other, no matter what, they find a way to yell at each other. It starts with the things Mo leaves lying about and ends with his petulant behavior. Of course, Mo provokes him, and Merlin finds it a tiny bit amusing, how Arthur falls for it every time. But slowly, the constant bickering is grating on Merlin’s nerves, and he wishes for nothing more than a bit peace and quiet.
Mo’s a lot more agreeable, if it’s only him and Merlin. They get along most of the time and it’s only when they are alone, that he let’s his guard down and sometimes talks about Elena and her drinking problem. He seems so much younger then.

It’s Friday evening, when Mo doesn’t come home again. He doesn’t pick up the phone and Arthur and Merlin are equally nervous. Even though they won't admit it to each other. But they both stay up, Merlin with a book on his knees and his feet on Arthur’s lap, while Arthur watches a movie. But they both are not very concentrated on neither the book nor the movie, instead they strain their ears to hear the key being turned in the lock.

It’s already after 3 O’clock in the morning, when they hear the keys scratch over the lock in a futile attempt to get them into it. Arthur nudges Merlin’s feet from his lap and goes to open the door.
Mo nearly falls into the flat, when the door opens so suddenly and deprives him of a stable surface to lean on. He’s obviously very drunk.
“Hi Arthur,” he grins up at him, while he tries to maintain his balance, slipping out of his shoes.
“You are drunk!” Arthur accuses him. “And you didn’t tell us that you wouldn’t come home after school, let alone you would be out so late. Besides that, you are not supposed to drink…” He goes on rambling, while Mo just stares at him with glassy eyes, standing in the middle of the hall, swaying a bit. He smiles when he sees Merlin.
“Hey Merlin,” he says happily.
Merlin ignores him, instead he turns to talk to Arthur. “There’s no point in yelling at him now, Arthur. Look at him, he can hardly stand. We should get him to bed and we’ll talk about it in the morning.”
“You're probably right.” Arthur agrees and goes to put his arm around the boy’s waist, to support him, while walking. That’s when Mo starts dry heaving, indicating that he’s about to throw up. Arthur curses under his breath, when he hauls him to the bathroom, reaching it just in time for Mo to vomit into the sink.
“At least that will tone his hangover down.” Merlin halfheartedly jokes while Arthur tries not to gag himself.
“Well, he deserves a massive hangover.” Arthur says somewhat pouty and Merlin snorts to that.
“Let’s get him cleaned up and into bed, shall we?”
They make Mo wash his face and brush his teeth, the boy is so out of it, that he follows their orders willingly. They put him to bed, a bucked filled with a bit of water besides his nightstand.

The next morning, Mo still has a hangover, despite getting most of the alcohol out of his system. He picks a his breakfast without any appetite and avoids looking at Arthur or Merlin.
Sheepishly he nods to all they have to say. The whole talk about the dangers of drinking too much and staying out late when nobody knows where he is. They tell him, that they can’t protect him from getting taken away if he’s caught doing drugs and underage drinking, they can’t protect him, because they aren’t his guardians and his mother is just on the verge of being declared unfit to care for him. He’s still underage.
He promises them it won’t happen again.

For a while everything seems to be alright, Mo and Arthur aren’t fighting as much anymore and he even gets back a couple of test with actually decent grades. Merlin thinks that things are finally looking up and he’s oddly content, that Mo doesn’t show any sign of wanting to leave again. But then, Arthur comes home, storming into the kitchen, asking Mo if he thinks that they were stupid and wouldn’t find out, that he was skipping school again.
“Elena called.” He explains, when Merlin asks him later.
Merlin can’t help, but to feel disappointed. He thought they were going somewhere and he begins to ask himself if there is any point in letting Mo stay. Maybe they can’t help him, maybe they would have to look into other solutions. Arthur tells him, that he’s thinking about the boarding school he went to. Of course, they would have to take care of the financial aspect of sending him there. Merlin forgoes reminding him just how much he hated that school. Maybe it would be for the best.
They decide to give him one more chance.

“You are unfocused.” Merlin says, when he tries to explain how a linear equation works, for the third time. He can tell that Mo isn’t listening, at all.
“What’s wrong Mo? Are you getting sick or something?” He worriedly eyes the boy in front of him. Mo is white as a sheet, but a film of sweat is covering his forehead. From time to time, he tugs at his clothes as if they are suffocating him.
“I don’t feel so good,” is the only warning Merlin gets, before Mo bolts out of his seat, to retch into the kitchen sink. Nothing comes up other than bile and water and Merlin wonders if Mo hadn’t eaten anything today. They rarely have breakfast together as they all leave the house at different times in the morning. But Mo isn’t someone to skip meals, is he? Merlin’s mind instantly goes to dark places.
“Did you eat anything today?” he asks and Mo shakes his head.
“I didn’t feel good.” He says meekly.
“And you went to school anyhow? Why didn’t you tell us?”
Mo shrugs his shoulders. “I didn’t want you to be mad at me.”
“Well, being sick is something different, then skipping school. Let’s get you into bed, alright?”
Mo nods, stumbles to his bedroom, while Merlin brings the thermometer and a dampened washcloth. The thermometer shows, that he hasn’t got any fever, but still he’s sweating, complaining that he feels hot.
The tugging at his clothes is getting more desperate and he is sweating more. And suddenly Merlin understands.
“Mo, did you take anything? Drugs or something?” Because this looks a lot like an overdose.
Mo nods his head, not really able to form a coherent sentence.
“What did you take?” He really wants to shake him, but that would probably scare him into a panic attack.
Slowly, as if he’s pushing his limps through water, Mo reaches under his pillow and pulls out the pills he was hiding there. Merlin quickly looks the package over. It’s a mix of paracetamol and codeine, and five pills are missing.
He holds them up in front of Mo’s face. “Did you take these?”
Mo nods, not really willing to speak right now.
Merlin knows that the dosage is not quite enough to cause real damage and it probably would be all right if he would just let him sleep it off, but he won’t risk that. He makes Mo get up and walk around, while he calls Arthur.

The doctors in the AE agrees with them. Even if it wasn’t enough to be really dangerous, he gives Mo some charcoal tablets, to work against the intoxication. They are even allowed to take him home again.
Mo is banned to sleep it off on the couch, while Merlin and Arthur search his stuff for other substances. They find some cough syrup and little plastic bags, filled with all sorts of pills, some of them prescription drugs, some obviously illegal drugs.
“So, that means, he isn’t only using, but dealing as well, doesn’t it?” Merlin asks anxiously, when he looks down at the array of pills and cash.
“That’s what it looks like.” Arthur agrees, “We should have searched his stuff when he moved in!”
“yeah,” Merlin says, and he can’t really decide what shocks him more, that Mo seems to deal with drugs, or that he randomly overdoses on painkillers. He really feels like crying right now.

They turn, when they hear a gasp by the door.
“What are you doing? You have no right to do that.” The boy spits angrily, taking a step to the bed, to put his gear away again. But Arthur holds him back, forcing him to sit down on the chair by the desk.
"Oh, we have every right to do that." Arthur states, "You are under our roof and we gave you rules to follow and these rules included No Drugs, if I remember right!"
“You are going to answer us some questions, young man.” Merlin says angrily, even his patience has it’s limit.
“So you are selling this stuff?” He asks, gesturing to the drugs neatly lined up on the bed.
“Just stepping in for a friend.” He says nonchalantly.
“How about you stop lying for once and tell us the truth?” Merlin snaps.
“It is the truth. I’m just stepping in for a mate who got suspended for two weeks.”
“You are selling this shit at your school? To kids your age?” Merlin doesn’t want to sound judging, but he does. Taking drugs is one thing, selling them to teenagers, another.
Mo only shrugs his shoulders.
Merlin takes several deep breaths, while Arthur sits down on the bed and lets Merlin handle it for once.
“Alright, how often do you get high and what do you take?” Now it is like Merlin is working through a checklist, probably trained in getting information like this the calmest way possible.
Mo is squirming under Merlin scrutinizing gaze. “Don’t know.” He says looking away.
“Mo!” Merlin warns lowly. And Mo seems to crack under the pressure, as he’s trying to hold back tears.
“I don’t know. Ok? I don’t care what it is, as long as it is good.”
“How often?” Merlin doesn’t give up.
Angrily, Mo throws his hands up in the air. “How the fuck should I know. Whenever I have something, alright?”
“Na wunderbar, das ganze Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo Klischee.” Arthur murmurs.*
Mo glares at him. “Fick dich Arthur, du hast doch keine Ahnung!”
Merlin looks confused from one to another.
“It’s a book.” Arthur explains. “I tell you about it later.”
“Anyway,” Merlin turns to Mo again. “We need this to stop. No more using and no more dealing! We are going to get rid of these.” He gestures to the drugs behind him.
“But I need to sell these.” Mo says weakly. “I need to give them the money.”
“How much do you own them?” Arthur asks.
“250 euro.”
“We’ll give you the money and you’ll pay them. And you are going to promise us, that you’ll stay out of this kind of business from now on, alright?” Merlin asks, somewhat hopefully.
“I promise.” Mo agrees tearfully.
“Alright, come here.” Merlin opens his arms for a hug and Mo flings his arms around him and cries into his shoulder. They flush the drugs down the toilet.

Dinner that night is a tensed affair and neither of them is eating much, even Arthur seems to have lost his appetite and he doesn’t say anything to Merlin’s untouched meal.

Chapter Text

Mo barely leaves his room in the next couple of days. He doesn’t speak and Merlin doesn’t eat.
It merely scraps his consciousness, that he’s not eating, he’s not even hungry. Arthur sometimes puts the cutlery back into his hand, when he lays them down on a not only half cleared plate. Other than that, Arthur seems stressed out and frustrated too, because the first thing he does when he comes home, is to go on an hour long run.

“I don’t think he should stay here.” He says when they are alone at night. “He’s stressing you out.” He turns his back to Merlin, while he slips out of his clothes and hangs them neatly over a chair. “Just remember last time.” He says quietly.

Oh well, last time...
Merlin shivers when he thinks about it. Last time was two years ago by now.
He just had published another book, it had been well received and he had been more and more asked to have guest talks at other universities, he had been made head of a research group and of course there were his lecture, seminars and his students he had to take care of. His students liked to talk to him, because his concern for them always was going beyond papers and grades, and more then once he handed them a tissue and recommended them the counselling center on campus. His students really loved him. And he was so proud about that fact.

But then he had been out of his routine for a week, visiting several Unis and library's in U.K. and finally he collapsed on the train back home.
He hadn’t eaten for four days. He couldn’t, he had too much to do, and well, not eating oddly enough gave him more energy, a sharper alert to his surroundings. He kept himself going with Energy Drinks on his empty stomach, making him feel almost high, the sugar and caffeine pumping through his system, keeping the exhaustion at bay.

Arthur had barely said anything, when he picked him up at the hospital in Frankfurt, driving them home in silence. But he had been crying, that much Merlin could see and he had escaped into sleep, so he would no longer have to look at his face.
Back in Berlin, there had been something like an intervention, all of his friends had begged him to admit that he was sick and needed help.
And that’s how he had landed himself in a clinic. Just to rest for a bit, because he still couldn’t admit, that he was treated for an eating disorder. He wasn’t one of these skeletons that saw themselves still as fat. He knew he was thin and he wasn’t horribly afraid of gaining weight.
But the first group therapy session finally put him into perspective.
He was just like them, all of them. Maybe he wasn’t afraid of gaining weight, but he was terrified of loosing control. Loosing the control he held over his emotions, the control he had over the pain. Maybe he could relate more to the people with scars and burns and bruises all over their body’s, he could understand so well what they meant when they were talking about matching the outside to the inside.
Maybe he was able to count every bone that threatened to break through his skin, like other patients could count their scars or overdoses, but also he could count the days he had been going without any food. Maybe he didn’t cared about the calories he consumed, but he cared about the absence of the hollowness that swallowed all his nervousness and all the unwelcome thoughts.
Every single one of them was hoping to be saved by something, someone.
Merlin too, used to give into this wishful thinking, but by now, he already knew that it was an idle hope. There was no savior.
Nobody could save them from themselves. No parent, no friends, no lover. Of course these people could make it better sometimes, could provide reassurance and distraction, but they couldn’t save them.
All these people could be, were reasons to go on. Were reasons to try and get better. Arthur was the reason for Merlin to finally admit that he was indeed ill and needed help.
Only the people he loved and was loved by were paradoxically the reason to get better for himself.

In the end he stayed longer than he had planed previously. Four weeks instead of two. And he gave in to try out medication for his depression. He took the pills for a year, reducing the dosage slowly, under the supervision of his therapist.
Now the remaining pills are in the back of the drawer of his bedside table, and he prays that he’ll never has to take them again.

 

“It’s not his fault, Arthur. We can’t just abandon him, because I can’t handle myself.” Merlin says sadly.
“He’s not our responsibility, but your health certainly is.” Arthur still doesn’t look at him. Merlin knows that he feels vulnerable when talking about these things. They have been trough enough therapy sessions together, that Merlin knows how much it scares him to talk about it. For Arthur, it’s like conjuring a monster.
“My health is my responsibility, Arthur, and I don’t think I would feel better if we just kick him out of our live again. I want him to be here, I want him to be alright, I want him to be happy and I think we are one of his last chances to be all that and more. Just give us all a bit more time Arthur, please? These things don’t change overnight…” Merlin pleads and Arthur, finally slipping into bed next to him, kisses his temple.
“Fine. But please don’t retreat to old habits, Merlin. I worry about you.” His blue eyes are dark and serious when he says that, Merlin slings his arms around him in an awkward side hug.
“I know you do, darling. I know you do.”

The great blowup comes about a week later, when Arthur makes Mo empty all his pockets, something they had been doing constantly since they found out about the drugs.
Merlin can hear them argue in Mo’s room, talking in German to each other, but he can understand perfectly well what they are saying.
He hears Mo asking if he should get naked, so Arthur can have a look there too. He says it in a tone that is suggesting something very different, makes it sound as if they are taking advantage of him, and he suddenly feels sick to his stomach.
He knows that Mo is trying to provoke them, to make them feel bad about the restrictions they’ve put up. But this is a step too far.
He can hear Arthur take a hissing breath and he’s about to intervene, before Arthur looses his temper completely.
He stops short however, when he hears his name drop.
Arthur is telling Mo very clearly that he’s just still there, because Merlin wants him to be. But if he’s not careful, he won’t stay much longer, because worrying about him makes Merlin sick and Mo either gets his shit together or if he can’t, he should have the decency to just leave, before he makes things worse.
That’s when Merlin finally steps in.

“Arthur! You are talking rubbish, what got into you?” He says angrily, staring at his boyfriend, who looks very much caught in the act.
Mo on the other hand, is crying. Big silent tears running down his cheeks.
“Am I making you sick?” He asks Merlin and his lower lip is quivering pitifully.
Merlin kneels down and takes his face into his hands.
“Listen to me, you are not making me sick. That’s just nonsense, you hear me.” He says softly.
“But it’s true.” He sniffs, “You didn’t eat at breakfast and Arthur was angry yesterday because you wouldn’t finish your dinner. It’s because of me!” Merlin recognises Self loathing when he comes across it.
He shoots Arthur a venomous glance, while he tries to calm Mo down.

“What the hell were you thinking Arthur. You can’t tell him stuff like that. He's not much more than a child. You can’t guilt trip into behaving, that’s just cruel!” Merlin hisses, when Mo finally has stopped crying and asked to be alone.
“I’m not guilt tripping him, I’m telling him the truth.” Arthur defends himself. “And as much as I love this boy, I love you more Merlin. You will always come first. And I’m not feeling guilty about that.”
“What a nice way of showing your love!” Merlin mocks angrily.
The fight goes on for hours. Until they decide to get a break in favour of getting dinner ready.

It’s only when Merlin goes to fetch Mo for dinner they notice that he’s gone, and with him all his stuff.
“Arthur, what have you done?” He asks, staring down on the perfectly made bed and the note Mo has left behind, telling them his thanks and not to look for him.
“What have you done?”

Chapter Text

Arthur is consumed by guilt, and even if Merlin’s still mad at him for burdening Mo with Merlin’s petty problems, it really breaks his heart to see him suffer like that. It’s already four weeks since Mo went missing and Arthur is out every night, looking for him. Showing his photo to all kinds of different people. Nobody has seen him. They went to all places that are open during nighttime; like the Train station, every homeless shelter, every squat house they know of. Nothing. The police hasn't got any lead where Mo might be. He might not even be in Berlin anymore.
Elena is incredibly unfazed about her son’s disappearance, saying that he’s good in taking care of himself. But that might also be the alcohol talking. Merlin hasn’t met her sober once, since he has forced her to go through possible friends Mo could be staying with.
Merlin stays at home as much as he can, just in case Mo might show up.
But he doesn’t.

It’s really hard to teach his students about courtly love, when all he can think about is where Mo might be and what he’s doing. He has to force himself to concentrate on the task at hand.
So he downright jumps, when his phone goes off. Normally he would have it at silence, but since Mo is missing, it’s always on. He doesn’t want to miss if the police calls or something. But when he looks at it, it’s not the police, but Mo’s caller ID illuminating the screen. He must have turned the phone on again. He doesn’t want to think about other possibilities.
He apologizes to his students, mumbling something about an family emergency and practically running out of the lecture hall to take the call.
He hears breathing on the other end of the line.
“Mo?” he asks tentatively. “Mo? Is that you?”
“Merlin.” Mo says, releasing a shaky breath. His voice sounds tiny.
Merlin tries to keep the panic at bay, “Mo, where are you? Tell me and I will get you. Just tell me where you are.”
“I’m sorry Merlin,” Mo blabs on, presumably unhearing of what Merlin is saying, “I really didn’t want to make you ill. I’m just like my Mum, just thinking about myself. I really love you Merlin, you were always there for me and helped me. I’m just calling, because I saw you the other night. I saw you and you were with some kind of dragon, I think? It was huge. You seemed to be really happy and I was feeling good too. There were so many colors and you sang to me. Like you did when I was a child.” He tells Merlin, his voice laced with tears.
“What did you take Mo, LSD?” It's the only drug he can think of that would produce hallucinations like that.
“Maybe, I don’t know, a lot of stuff really. I just want to see you again, and the dragon. It was beautiful.” "Are you on something right now?" Merlin asks concerned "I took a pill, but it doesn't feel right. I'm so sad. I want to die. What am I going to do? " He cries into the phone, hard to understand. "There is no point in anything." Merlin is trying to breath evenly and not to get swallowed by fear.
“It's just the drug, that makes you feel like that. It will pass, ok?" He tries to calm him down. "If you tell me where you are Mo, you can see me for real. I don’t have a dragon, though. But if you tell me where you are, I come and get you. I’ll bring you home. Arthur’s very sorry, that he said all these awful things to you. He’s out looking for you since you disappeared. When you come home, we’ll all be so happy. We can move into a bigger apartment, you’ll have your own room and maybe we can have a dog or a cat. Would you like that?” Merlin knows, that he’s talking nonsense, unimportant stuff, but he’s trying to create a picture Mo will find more desirable than the hallucinations produced by the drugs. If he can find him, everything will be alright.
“But I make you sad and you don’t eat, and Arthur will hate me.” Mo sobs into the phone.
“Listen to me Mo.” Merlin says with forced calmness. Some of his students have decided not to wait for his return any longer and are leaving the lecture hall one by one. Merlin is hardly aware of the confused looks they give him.
“Listen to me. Do you remember when you stayed with me when your mother went away? Do you remember?” he stresses.
“Yes.” Mo breathes.
“And do you remember that I was sick the first few days?” he goes on.
“Uhmm…” that doesn’t sound very reassuring, but Merlin goes on.
“I wouldn’t eat. Do you remember that?” He asks.
“I don’t know.” Mo whimpers, without a doubt wracking his drugged-up brain to remember.
“Shh, it’s ok Mo. It’s okay if you don’t remember. Just let me tell you, that I was feeling a lot worse at that time. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t even want to live anymore. But then you came along. And because I couldn’t just leave you on your own I got out of bed, I made you food, we were doing things together. And you know what you did?” He waits a few seconds in case Mo remembers, but he probably doesn’t or he’s already too far gone. “You gave me chocolate to eat. You said it would help against the sadness. And you were right. I wanted to live again. Not because of the chocolate, of course, but because of you, Mo. Just tell me where you are and I come and get you. You helped me, I’ll help you and I promise we'll be fine.” He pleads, holding his breath in the end, waiting for an answer.
He finally exhales snakingly, when Mo tells him the address to a secret squad house.
“Don’t call the police.” he says and Merlin promises he won’t do such thing. He really wants to stay at the phone with Mo until he gets there, but he has to call Arthur, he needs him to pick him up as fast as possible.

They don't care that they are damn bloody rude, when they force their way into the house. There only two people there anyways and one is too stoned to really grasps what's going on.
The other one is a pregnant woman, who introduces herself as Sofia and showed them the way to the room Mo's friend, who has brought him here, usually uses.
They find Mo there, sitting on the mattress of the awfully cramped room, staring at the ceiling. He looks at them, with wide eyes, his pupils are pitch black holes and his face is ghostly white. Cold sweat is covering his body and his jaw is clenched so hard, that Merlin is afraid he might break it. Desperate scratching has left bloody marks on his throats and the part of his chest that isn't covered by the t-shirt.
Merlin softly speaks to him, trying to release the death grip Mo's right hand has around his left wrist and forces him gently to uncurl himself. But that only leads to Mo shaking violently.
"It's okay Mo, you will feel better soon." Arthur promises. "Can you stand?"
Mo nods and takes Arthur's hand to support himself. His tears have already dried and now he only stares into space. But Merlin is relieved that he's still responsive and hasn't done any real damage to himself.
Arthur carefully puts his arms around the boy's waist.
"What should we do?" Arthur asks, in a strange whisper, not daring to speak louder, so he wouldn't scare Mo.
"Well, we have to get him out of here and home as soon as possible." Merlin whispers back.
"Don't you think we should get him to a hospital?" Arthur asks skeptically. "Depends on how clear he is." Merlin turns to Mo.
"Do you know who we are?" He asks softly and Mo nods.
"Can you say it?" Merlin pushes a bit. "Merlin and Arthur." Mo rasps out and Merlin smiles encouraging.
"And can you tell me who you are?"
Mo gives Merlin a look, that clearly shows how stupid he thinks that question is, but he answers anyway.
"My name is Mo Godwinski, I was born 20th March 2002. My favorite color is dark blue and I really wanna go home now."
Merlin shrugs his shoulders, slightly impressed and looks to Arthur.
"See, he's going to be fine. He just needs water and sleep."
"Ready to go home, darling?" Arthur asks.
Mo nods weakly and lets himself be more or less carried to the car.

It's already late afternoon and Merlin sits in a chair next to the bed, where Mo sleeps peacefully. Over a month of living on the streets has left him looking gaunt and small. But apart from being a bit malnourished and exhausted, his periodic drug abuse hasn't left any greater problems behind.
Merlin can hear the faint rushing of the rain outside, while he sits there with with his legs crossed, a book in his lap and a cup of tea next to him. The bedroom is the calmest room in the flat, spacious, kept in natural colors. It's soothing. The only thing that can be heard is Mo's steady breathing and the drumming of the raindrops against the window. Merlin sits and sips at his tea, waiting for Arthur to come home or Mo to wake up. He has slept a lot these last three days and sometimes he wakes up disoriented and scared, so Merlin needs to calm him down and tell him that he's home and safe. Home, Merlin thinks. Home is right here, right now and Arthur and Mo are his family. Berlin is his home now, maybe more than London ever was. But he still loves the rain...

Chapter Text

Merlin smiles into his tea when he hears the ungraceful thud of Mo’s backpack landing on the floorboards in the hall. As far as he knows Mo, the backpack is placed more or less right in the middle of the hall and with a particular certainty, Arthur will fall over it later.
Isy, with full name Isolde, their golden retriever, who was sleeping peacefully in her corner of the kitchen, jumps up hastily to run and greet her favorite person in the world.
Merlin can hear Mo talking to the dog, while without a doubt, cuddling her thoughtfully, what always takes a while, so he gets up and refills the kettle.
Mo strolls into the kitchen, an overjoyed dog in tow, just when the water starts to boil.
“Tea Merlin? Are you serious? It’s 30 degrees outside.” He pulls his shirt away from his torso and fans with it.
“Doesn’t matter for an Englishman. I’m always up for tea. Do you want some too?” Merlin grins and holds out a fresh cup.
“Well, go on then. But please let us go down to the water, it’s just too hot in here.” Mo complains while looking around.
“Where is Arthur?” he asks curiously.
“Oh, he’s in the gym.”
“At least he’s not crazy enough to be outside for a run, that would just be like him.”
Merlin hums in agreement and puts the mugs with tea and milk on a tray, but he lets Mo carry it through the garden, down to the waist-high stone wall, that marks the end of their property. There is a mossy stair, that leads down to one of the quieter canals of the river Spree. It’s one of the best treats this plot has to offer. They even have a small rubber boat, in which they sometimes spend lazy summer days paddling up and down the river. It’s shadowy and cool down here and Merlin loves the rich green all around them.
Merlin had been in love with the house the first moment he saw it, but Arthur only had been fully convinced to invest in it, when he had seen the garden and the enchanted passage down to the river.
He had said it looked like a place where fairies would live. Merlin never knew that Arthur had a penchant for things like that.
The two-story house itself is white, with sea green shutters and a small but long garden. The kitchen leads out to a terrace and the Livingroom and because there are large floor- to- celling windows the rooms are flooded with sunlight almost all around the clock. Upstairs is the bedroom and Mo’s room and a bathroom they share. It isn’t a very big house, but it is enough for the three of them and Mo won’t stay forever. In fact, he is going to leave in two weeks, to travel around for a year.

“How did things go with your Mum?” Merlin asks, taking a sip from his tea.
Mo reaches behind him and pulls Tristan, the big grey cat, Isoldes partner in crime, into his lap.
He shrugs his shoulders, stroking the cat, until he’s purring contently.
“I don’t know, it’s a up and down really. I don’t think she felt so good today. She barely talked to me.”
His eyes are downcast to the cat on his lap, but Merlin knows that they are shining wet. He knows every single expression on Mo’s face by know.
It’s a little over three years since Mo has come to live with them and since then, so much had happened.
All the little stuff, like eating pizza, while binge-watching series on Netflix together, lazy weekends and hours upon hours of studying, walks with the dog, fights and yelling, apologies and serious midnight talks on their round kitchen table. (Mo had insisted upon a round table, because “What are the odds of a guy named Merlin and Arthur meeting, of course we do need a round table!”)
And there had been the big stuff too, like the first Girlfriend and the first heartbreak, the first time driving Arthurs car with the newly acquired driver’s license, the nervousness before the first exam of the Abitur and the pride and happiness when he finally got the results.

So, Merlin knows when Mo is sad, feeling helpless, facing his mother’s addiction. He tentatively had renewed the relationship to her after she had checked herself into a rehab center. But staying sober never lasts long for her.
“It’s three months now, I really should congratulate her, but I just keep thinking how long it will last this time. And I won’t even going to know, because I’m away. Maybe I should stay?” He looks to Merlin for answers, it’s always been Merlin he seeks out, if he has to get something off his chest. Of course, he loves Arthur just as much as he loves Merlin, but for advice, Merlin is usually his go to person.
Merlin shakes his head. “You do no such thing, you’ve planed it all out and you deserve to go, to do something for yourself. Seeing the world is such a wonderful thing. Your mother is an adult, it’s not your duty to care for her.” He says strictly. Mo isn’t going to make the same mistakes as he did when he was young, if he can do anything to help it.
“Yeah, I know it’s just….” He hesitates and shifts a bit uncomfortably, what leads to Tristan sinking his claws into his trousers warningly, “Does it ever go away?” He looks straight at Merlin now.
“I mean…”
“I know what you mean.” Merlin says quietly. His first impulse is to say that, yes it goes away. The worry, the guilt, the sadness and the despair. But that wouldn’t be true, not exactly a lie, but not the truth either. There are still moments for him, that are too much to handle, memories of his mother sometimes leave him paralyzed. He still ‘forgets to eat’ when things are getting hectic and there are still days he would like to spend in bed. But they are few and they are safe, because they pass and they don’t pass in solitude anymore. Arthur always gives him the space to figure out things for himself, but Merlin knows he’s there, trusting him to tell him what he needs. Merlin has gotten so much better in talking by now.
“It will never disappear, not really, but I have learned to life with it.” He says simply, but judging from Mo’s searching gaze he wasn’t only asking about his mother.
“You asked for me as well, didn’t you?” He asks.
Mo nods, his blue eyes still on Merlins’ face.
“I’m fine, don’t worry about me. I’ve got Arthur and these two scapegraces here.” He points to Tristan and then back to where Isolde sleeps in the sun. “We’ll be fine. God, Mo you were such a blessing to us and it’s not like we won’t see each other again.” He’s nearly strangled by Mo’s strong arms wrapping him into a tight hug.

It’s six O’ clock in the morning, when Arthur puts Mo’s bag in the trunk of the car, not without much mumbling about it lying about again.
“Sometimes I think you are secretly planning to kill me, I swear!” he says.
Mo only gives him a cheeky grin, before he gets into the car, where Merlin already is waiting. The flight to London Heathrow is boarding at eight O’clock. Mo will start his year abroad at the small-town Merlin grew up, he’ll help Will with the farm for a few weeks, before moving on to wherever he wants to go.

They both hug him tightly, before Mo disappears through the security checkup and they only can see him wave at them one more time, before he’s beckon to move forward and is gone.

Merlin feels his chest tighten a bit, but that’s normal, isn’t it? To feel a bit lost, when children leave to explore the world on their own.
Arthur wraps his arms around him from behind, resting his cheek next to Merlins.
“Don’t be sad birdy, he’ll come back.” He says, pulling away to kiss Merlin’s temple.
“I know. I just…” He takes a breath in and smiles. “What do we do with our time now, that we don’t have to entertain a teenager anymore?”
Arthur grins mischievously, “You know, we have the whole house to ourselves now. Don’t you think we’ll come up with something to do?
Merlin laughs when he takes Arthur’s hand on their way back to the car.
“Drive me home.” He demands and Arthur smiles at him and nods. "Of course, love." He says.