Arthur pays for his purchase. A ridiculously high price for a bottle of vodka. But he’s Pendragon. He can afford getting shitfaced with the good stuff.
It’s not like he’s doing it regularly. But when one gets an invitation to his best friend’s wedding with a note to bring his significant other and there has been no significant other for, well, years... And when one works from dawn till dusk, never quite sure whether his father is proud of him or disappointed in him... When he’s almost thirty and feels empty and lost...
He needs something to make it go away. At least for a few short hours.
He makes his way through the crowd and he almost doesn’t notice familiar slender figure standing in the middle of the hallway, his arms around much smaller woman.
He stops abruptly and stares. He remembers all the times he paused here and talked to Merlin. How he made fun of him standing there in his free hugs T-shirt but in fact admired how uninhibited he was, so open and giving.
Merlin teased him every time, spreading his arms in invitation, and Arthur always backed away, pretending he wasn’t at all interested, but in truth he simply never knew how to deal with casual physical contact.
Today is different.
The woman is pulling away from Merlin, smiling and thanking him, when Arthur approaches them. Arthur puts his bag on the ground and takes her place. He sees the flash of recognition in Merlin’s eyes, but doesn’t wait for him to say anything, and wraps his arms around Merlin, pressing as close to him as he can.
Merlin is tense against him for a moment, probably shocked, but then he relaxes and puts his arms around Arthur. Something clicks into place right then and Arthur lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He closes his eyes and presses his face into the crook of Merlin’s neck.
“Arthur?” Merlin whispers, so many questions hidden in that single word.
Arthur tightens his hold on Merlin, concentrating on all the sensations – heat of Merlin’s body, his smell, the light stubble on his jaw.
“It’s okay,” Merlin whispers into his ear, his hand trailing up and down Arthur’s back.
Quiet sob escapes him because he knows this won’t last forever, that he’ll be back in his cold empty flat soon, hugging a pillow to his chest like every other night.
“Arthur?” Merlin asks again and Arthur knows his time is up.
He pulls away, his eyes trained on the sign on Merlin’s T-shirt, unable to meet his eyes.
“I’m fine,” he says, even though he’s well aware the tear tracks on his face must be clearly visible.
“You’re shaking,” Merlin says.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur says and he has no idea what is it he’s apologizing for.
“See you,” he says, grabs his bag and starts towards the exit without even a glance at Merlin’s face.
He makes it out in record speed and takes a moment to breathe in the fresh evening air.
“Arthur, wait!” Merlin calls after him, his hand landing on Arthur’s shoulder only moments later.
“It was a moment of weakness. It won’t happen again,” Arthur says.
“I am not your boss or other crazy person who would think this wrong,” Merlin says. “You needed it,” he adds, looking Arthur in the eyes. “You probably need more than that.”
Arthur turns away, shaking his head.
“I could walk with you part of the way, or invite you for a coffee or a drink,” Merlin says and Arthur laughs shakily, thinking of the bottle in his bag.
“I just don’t think you should be alone,” Merlin adds.
Arthur looks at him then, at a man he barely knows but feels more comfortable with than with anyone in the office, a man who doesn’t even know who Arthur is because he never told him his last name.
“I live just a few blocks away,” Arthur says.
Merlin’s smile feels like sunshine on a rainy day.