Merlin forces himself to watch the video again. A blond man in a red t-shirt kissing another man. A slight, dark-haired man, who is not Merlin. Around them, people are whooping and screaming. Laughing. The blond man disentangles from the embrace and laughs, too. His teeth are wonky and his mouth is too large. He shouldn't be beautiful, but he is.
It's two weeks since their last fight. And now this. Kissing someone else and putting it up on facebook. Merlin turns off his laptop and buries himself in his bed. The sheets feel like a shroud.
The knocking on his door brings him back to life. Two days have passed. Two days of lying in his bed, skipping lectures and only emerging to drink a little or go to the bathroom.
"Merlin." His voice is gentle, and Merlin feels his eyes brim with tears at the kindness. "No-one has seen or heard from you in days. Are you all right?"
"He kissed a boy," Merlin says, and his throat aches with it. "I saw the video."
"Arthur." Lancelot closes the door behind him.
"You broke up with him, Merlin. I'm not saying it excuses his behaviour, but it means you should try to move on."
Merlin wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his pyjamas.
Lance squeezes his shoulder. "I'll make you some hot chocolate, and we'll talk. Yes?"
Before Merlin can answer, Lance is leading him to the couch. Merlin has hardly been outside his room in days. Will is away for a week, and the flat feels to large for a single person.
It takes several cups of hot chocolate before they get to the crux of the matter.
"I've never kissed anyone but him, Lance. And he's kissed hundreds of people. He's rubbing it into my face. How easy it is for him to pull someone. How little I mattered to him, just a convenient fuck. Easier than finding someone new each night." Merlin's voice breaks, and he curls into himself, leaning his forehead against his bony knees.
Lance puts an arm around him. "That's simply not true," he says. "I know Arthur, Merlin. And that's just not true. You should have heard him-- But no, it's not for me to say. I'll talk to him."
And despite Merlin's protests, he must have done.
When Merlin finally comes out from his hibernation, two days later, and goes to his lecture, someone slumps down at his side. Merlin half expects it to be Gilli, but as he looks up, it's not. It's Arthur.
"What are you doing here?" he whispers, even though he knows he should be ignoring the prat. "You don't even take this course."
Arthur shrugs. He's so handsome it should be illegal - black button-down shirt, hair artfully tousled. His ugly-beautiful mouth. Made for kissing. His nose, too big, but perfect for slotting into Merlin's cheek as their mouths meet.
"I heard this particular lecture would be really useful." There is a neat little pad of good-quality paper in front of him.
"You told me anthropology was complete idiocy, clodpole. And this course is on the anthropology of religion and ritual. You think religion is a waste of time."
The lecturer starts speaking, and Merlin takes notes. Tries to. It's difficult when all he can think of is the man at his side. He notices that Arthur is scribbling, too. He has no idea what the lecturer is talking about, but he doubts it is of use for Arthur, who is doing a PhD in physics.
A nudge at his side brings him back from his dark thoughts. Arthur rips a page from his pad and pushes the page over to Merlin.
Arthur's handwriting is prim. Elegant. It's all he can see at first. Then he reads.
I'm sorry I upset you so. Lance told me of the video, and I want you to know it's old. Since before we got together. Gwaine posted it as a joke. I know: It wasn't very funny. I've since removed it. Look, I'm not very good at writing love letters. Can't you just talk to me instead? We could go and have a coffee after the lecture.
Merlin ponders. He feels tears gathering in his eyes again. He doesn't notice he's crying until a drop falls on the page and blurs the word love.
He feels Arthur's hand on his arm, but shakes it away. He adds his own words underneath Arthur's on the paper.
Why are you such a prat? Why do you have to make my life a misery?
He pushes it over to Arthur, who reads it and writes something else below.
I don't want you to be sad. I hate myself for making you cry. I wasn't the one who ended things between us.
Merlin sniffs. He writes: I hate you. I hate you for making me cry. I hate myself for allowing you to make me cry.
Arthur adds: I love you. I love you for making me laugh. I love you for having taught me to love myself a little.
The handwriting has lost all its grace. The words have been scribbled with such force the page is almost pierced. When Merlin looks at him Arthur isn't smiling. Instead there is something like challenge in his eyes. The way he looks when he thinks he has exposed himself too much.
Merlin opens his mouth, but no words come out. Around them, the lecture continues. No-one notices anything, but to Merlin, time has stopped. Until Arthur lets his gaze fall and takes the page again. He bites on his stupid ballpoint pen before writing.
I'm sorry. What do you want me to say? That I love you? I've told you already, idiot. You're everything to me. Please forgive me, and give me another chance.
Merlin smiles, can't help himself.
You could write me poetry.
A sonnet to your beautiful ears? Or shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Merlin writes: You would totally write a sonnet to my ears if you were the least poetic, you prat. You love my ears.
Arthur shakes his head and writes: You would write sonnets to my beautiful thighs, don't think I haven't heard you talking to Gwen. And my nose. You told Lance my nose was divine.
Merlin resists the temptation to touch the nose in question. He shivers as he remembers the feeling of it against more private parts of his anatomy.
He writes the words he has always been afraid to quote, in case Arthur thinks he's completely barmy.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes.
It's all true.
Arthur's eyes widen as he reads. He folds the paper neatly and puts it into his trouser pocket before he leans forward and presses his lips to Merlin's lips. And, oh God, his nose finds it's natural place in the hollow of Merlin's cheek, and nothing hurts any more.
They are thrown out from the lecture, but Merlin doesn't care. He walks home in the rain with Arthur's arm around his shoulder.
"No-one has actually quoted poetry to me before." Arthur says, as they lie in post-orgasmic bliss in Merlin's bed. There is something oddly timid in his voice.
Merlin hugs him closer. "I would've done it more often if I'd known this would be the result."
Arthur laughs. Outside the window, it has stopped raining.
Note: the quote is from Pablo Neruda's sonnet XI.