Gwen, dear soul that she is, is the first person to call after the news report finishes.
Arthur is still staring numbly at the television, which ten minutes before was showing one of Sophia’s interminable celebrity gossip shows while they both got ready for work, but he scrabbles around for his phone when it starts playing her ringtone. “Do you think it’s true?” Gwen asks immediately, sounding shaken.
He’d thought for one minute that it was a joke in very poor taste by the entertainment network, but then he’d flipped between channels, and everywhere was playing the same breaking news story. “How are you and Morgana? Do you need me to come over? I ... imagine I won’t be going to work today.” His father will. His father will think it’s nonsense, and even if he doesn’t he’ll want to go down with his ship.
“Arthur Pendragon not going to work? The world must be ending.” She manages a dry tone, but Morgana sounds worried in the background. “She wants to talk to you.”
Arthur clutches the phone while Sophia sobs into hers, probably speaking to her father. “Arthur?” says Morgana a moment later, and she sounds like she does after one of her horrid nightmares, and when he inhales to tell her uselessly that everything will be okay, she starts sobbing. “Arthur, Arthur, I’m so sorry, I saw it coming but I thought it was a real dream for once ...”
Normally, he teases her about her dreams, even though he knows they come true more often than not, but he can’t bring himself to do it today. Not when there’s an asteroid on trajectory to hit the Earth around 5 PM Greenwich Mean Time. “No one’s blaming you, Morgana. I was just asking Gwen if you two want me to come over.”
When she speaks again, it’s obvious that she’s managed to get herself under control. “No use all three of us spending the day in tears, which we would if you came. Check on Uther ... spend time with Sophia, I suppose. Don’t worry about us.”
“If you’re sure.”
Morgana’s swallow is audible down the line. “I love you, little brother.”
It’s been years since she’s called him that, and now Arthur’s the one having to swallow around the lump in his throat. “I love you too, Morgs. Give Gwen a kiss from me, would you?”
She laughs, and it sounds a little hysterical. “Last day of the world, and you’re still trying to come on to my girlfriend--you’ll never change, will you?” He can’t answer that. “Goodbye, Arthur.”
“Goodbye.” He hangs up before they can draw it out any longer and turns around to find Sophia glaring at him with reddened eyes. “How’s your father?”
“I’m going to see him. It’s been nice, Arthur, but I can’t spend the rest of my life with you.”
“The rest of--Sophia, in case you hadn’t noticed, the rest of our lives is going to be about ten hours! Do you think you’ll find your soulmate in that little time?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s still the rest of our lives, and doesn’t that make you look at things differently? I don’t think I could have married you even if we weren’t going to die today, so I’m not going to stay around and wait for the world to end with you. I’m sorry, but I just--can’t.” Sophia presses a cool kiss to his cheek and grabs her car keys off the table before walking out of the flat they’ve been sharing for ten months.
“Sophia!” he cries uselessly, but he doesn’t go after her--who is he to dictate how she spends her last day alive?
But if Morgana and Gwen don’t want him there, and Sophia doesn’t want him at all, what the hell is he supposed to do?
It takes almost an hour (nine hours to live) for him to get up the motivation for him to leave his flat, but he can’t just stare blankly at the telly all day. The streets are full of people--sobbing, panicking, gossiping--and Arthur is the only one in sight who’s walking alone. The woman who runs the kebab stand down the way is sitting next to the homeless man who sometimes walks along their street. His neighbors are sitting on a park bench, holding hands and staring at the sky.
Arthur refuses to meet anyone’s eyes and calls his father. “You’re late,” Uther says in greeting.
“I won’t be coming in today.” There’s a short silence. “Call it a vacation day if you like, father, or a sick day, but I’m not coming.”
“You don’t honestly believe this sensationalism, do you?”
Arthur looks up at the sky, and knows there’s no way to see the asteroid yet, but he still feels like there’s a shadow across the sun. “Call Morgana, would you? She wants to speak to you.”
“I’ll call her at my lunch break.”
And that’s his father all over. He’ll deny it until it’s impossible to deny, or perhaps until the Queen makes a statement. And when he finally does believe it ... “I love you, dad.”
Uther sighs. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Arthur.” He hangs up.
Arthur doesn’t know who to call next, or where to go. Lance is out of the country, Leon will be with his parents, and he’s alone on the last day of the world. So he wanders through the streets, hands in his pockets, watching everything fall apart around him, as people sob or run like that will make a difference or fall into strangers’ arms. Eventually he stops to lean against a gate and try to figure out what he wants to do next.
“I’m sort of proud of humanity,” someone says from nearby.
Arthur turns and raises his eyebrows at the man who’s come up next to him. He’s a few years younger than Arthur, tall and scruffy and painfully thin with large ears that have gone red with the morning’s chill. Arthur almost tells him to put a damn hat on before realizing how little frostbite matters right now. “Why do you say that?”
The other man gestures in front of them. “You watch movies or read books about the end of the world, and in every single one, there are riots, like the end of the world is an excuse to be an arse. But look around here--everyone’s just connecting, with strangers even.” He pauses. “That sounds like a pickup line, doesn’t it? Really, you just looked lonely. What are you doing alone today of all days?”
It’s a personal question, but Arthur’s ready to pour out his whole life story to anyone who asks right now, because who would they tell? There won’t be any tabloids printing the story tomorrow. “My girlfriend decided she couldn’t face spending the rest of her life with me. My stepsister and her girlfriend don’t want me over, probably so they can have end-of-the-world sex. My father doesn’t believe it’s happening. Why are you on your own?”
The man looks at him for a long moment before he answers. “My family doesn’t live close enough for me to spend the day with them, and I’m relatively new to town, so I don’t have many friends here yet. I just started graduate work in September.” He grimaces.
“What field?” Arthur asks, as if it matters.
He almost laughs. “Astrophysics, actually.” He sticks a hand out, and Arthur shakes it. “Merlin.”
Arthur does laugh. “Of course you are. I’m Arthur.” Merlin’s smile is warm and only a little forced, but he looks worn and sad and almost guilty, like today is just the last and worst of a series of disasters, and Arthur blurts his next words out before he can think too much about them. “Since we’re both on our own, how would you like to spend the rest of your life with me?”
Merlin stares at him for a long moment before curling his fingers around Arthur’s wrist. “Come with me.”
Merlin tows Arthur down streets to a shabby building and into it. They stop in a messy flat that’s presumably his, stuffed with books, walls covered in star maps and glow-in-the-dark constellations, and Merlin grabs a pile of pillows and blankets before taking his wrist again and leading him to the roof.
It’s far from the tallest building in London, but they can see the sky, and they’re above the panicking crowd, almost enough for the sounds to be drowned out, and Arthur feels somewhat better, knowing that this way he’ll at least be able to see his fate coming. Without speaking, they make a nest out of the blankets and pillows before sitting down in it and staring warily at each other. “So,” says Merlin at last, “why me?”
“We were both alone at the end of the world.” He leans forward and catches Merlin’s hand between both of his. It’s cold, of course, and he tugs Merlin down and pulls a blanket over both of them. “Does it really matter so much?”
They both know it matters, but Arthur doesn’t know the answer, really. Doesn’t know why Merlin’s hand held between his is more comfort than Morgana’s words of love, doesn’t know why he wants to kiss his way up Merlin’s neck when he hasn’t taken a man home with him since uni. “As long as you want to be here, I suppose not,” whispers Merlin, long after Arthur’s forgotten his question.
“I want to be here.” He scoots forward until his nose brushes Merlin’s, and then he tilts his head and Merlin captures his lips, slow, easy, just a slide and a shared breath and both of their eyes wide open. Merlin’s are blue, and they seem ringed with gold in certain lights, and he smiles when he pulls away.
“I feel like I should be able to do something,” he admits, rolling onto his back, and Arthur misses the heat of his breath. “I--I tried everything I know how to do, but I’m just ... I’m not good enough.”
Arthur takes one hand off Merlin’s and caresses his cheek; he flinches. “You can’t blame yourself for an asteroid, Merlin. Don’t be an idiot.”
“I’m not blaming myself for the asteroid. I’m blaming myself for not being able to fix it.”
“This isn’t Armageddon. What could you do?”
Merlin’s eyes look gold in the sunlight, and his breath hitches. “Not enough, apparently.”
They spend the next several hours alternating between talking and kissing. At one point, Merlin goes downstairs and makes them beans and toast before bringing it back to the roof, along with tea. “We’re British. If the world is ending, it will damn well end with a good cup of Earl Grey,” says Merlin when Arthur raises his eyebrows.
Arthur finds himself talking about his life, a hundred little things he hasn’t told anyone about before, either because he hasn’t had to or he hasn’t thought to. Merlin talks just as much, but he seems to hold more back, too, and when he calls his mother he walks across the roof to stare off the edge, unnervingly still until his shoulders start shaking, and when he hangs up Arthur leads him back to their nest and pulls him down and holds him until he stops crying and whispering apologies into Arthur’s shirt.
Mid-afternoon, the kissing gets desperate and moves past slow exploration into a frantic tangle of tongues. They half-undress under the blankets and rut together, Merlin gasping half-formed words into Arthur’s cheek and Arthur’s hands clenched so hard on Merlin’s hips that he leaves marks even through his jeans. Afterwards, they roll onto their backs and pant, and Arthur wishes the asteroid was going to hit at night so they could watch the sunset and then die staring at the stars.
Soon after, people start screaming down on the street, and Merlin points unerringly towards an unassuming corner of the sky, where there’s something getting bigger. “There. That’s it.” He squeezes his eyes shut. “It’s so fucking big.”
Arthur kisses his forehead because it gives him an excuse to look away. “I know, darling. I know.”
There isn’t much left to say, so they hold hands under the blankets and try not to watch the shape getting bigger in the sky. It’s supposed to crash in the Atlantic somewhere, and Arthur’s not quite morbid enough to wonder whether the impact will kill them, or the tidal wave, or one of a hundred other things that could come of it.
Merlin turns to him around 4:30 and tries a smile that doesn’t come close to working. “Are you glad you spent the rest of your life with me?”
“I am.” He doesn’t bother joking or lying, just lifts Merlin’s hand from under the blankets and presses a kiss to his palm. “I think I wouldn’t have minded if the rest of our lives went on for quite some time, actually.” Merlin hisses in his breath, and Arthur winces. “That was cruel, wasn’t it?”
“So this wouldn’t have been just for today?”
“If I’d just wanted one last shag, today would have looked very different.” Merlin’s staring at him like he’s looking for something, and Arthur closes his eyes against the scrutiny. “It wouldn’t have been just today, Merlin. If that asteroid disappeared right now, I would take you out for dinner, and put your number in my phone, and probably call you way too soon, and ... Merlin?”
Merlin’s crying, and his eyes are blazing gold. “Fuck this,” he says, “no way the world is ending now.”
He pulls Arthur forward to kiss him, and they’re still kissing half an hour later when the world doesn’t end.
The scientists will agree that it was the most statistically improbable near miss that could be calculated. Arthur and Merlin will know it’s something else entirely.