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"All I've Ever Wanted is You"

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Aithusa's Place

 

“Can you believe that it's Christmas time again? It feels like we just celebrated it yesterday.” Gwen stated eagerly.

 

“I know, I'm smelling the spiced egg nog already and I'm ready for the Christmas dinner.” Lance squeezed her hand in agreement.

 

“We just had Thanksgiving Dinner a few days ago.” Arthur chided.

 

“There's always time and room for more food.” Percival cut in while drinking his beer and making a grab for some chips.

 

Gwaine looked at the mugs around their table at the pub and called that he was getting the next round.

 

“How are we going to do presents this year guys?” Freya asked.

 

“I was thinking that we could do a secret Santa where we could exchange gifts.” Mithian said excitedly. “We're doing it at the hospital and I thought that it would be a good idea to do with us if we all agreed.”

 

Morgana looked thoughtful, “It would be a first for us and easier to shop for everyone.”

 

“I never thought you would look for the easy way out for shopping sis.” Arthur smiled.

 

“Oh hush, I wasn't thinking of me but of the rest of you lazy arses who don't like to shop or have time to. It might just work Mithian.” Morgana smiled back at Arthur before nodding in Mithian's direction.

 

“Well, who's missing? We need everyone present to call it for a vote.” Gwen asked.

 

Gwaine arrived at that moment passing out the drinks. “Merlin is the only one missing. He's probably out on another date.”

 

“Who's he dating this time?” Leon asked, looking to Arthur.

 

“Hell if I know.” Arthur responded.

 

“You live with him.” Elyan commented. “How could you not know?”

 

“He changes blokes like he changes his underwear, I have no idea who he's dating or who's coming or going out of our flat unless Merlin introduces us. And even then it's makes no sense to remember their names.” Arthur commented dryly, almost bitterly, and turned to his drink trying not to notice the eyes of those who were turned on him.

 

“Well, speak of the devil...” Vivian said, while nodding her head and looking towards the doorway.

 

Everyone watched a disheveled Merlin walk in and towards their table. Normal bright eyes dimmed and shoulders slumped as he seated himself beside Arthur.

 

“What happened?” Elena asked. “You look like your puppy died.”

 

“He doesn't have a puppy Elena.” Mithian commented while taking a drink of her beer.

 

“It's a figure of speech.” Elena responded. “But seriously, what happened lovely?”

 

“Henry and I broke up.” Merlin responded and placed his head on the table.

 

“Henry. I thought you dated him a while back. What happened to Matthew?” Morgana asked.

 

“Matthew is old news. I've been dating Henry for the past few weeks.” Merlin responded sourly. Gwaine gave Merlin his drink before going to the bar to get some more. “Thanks Gwaine.” Merlin said gratefully before continuing. “Henry didn't think I was taking our relationship seriously.”

 

“Well how could you. You just started dating.” Morgana responded.

 

“Not helping Morgana.” Merlin snapped.

 

“Merlin, you can't deny that you've been through a lot of relationships this year -” Gwen stated.

 

“And the year before last -” Elyan added.

 

“And the years before that -” Freya added.

 

“And that you haven't been satisfied with any of them -” Lance added.

 

“Not for long-term -” Elena added.

 

“And that this has been happening for years -” Leon added.

 

“And no one has measured up -” Mithian added.

 

“And it's always at Christmas time when you think about it and go into this funk.” Vivian finished.

“Is it so much that I want to find the one and to be happy?” Merlin asked.

 

“Maybe if you weren't so blind you would have found Mr. Right already.” Morgana muttered and Arthur's eyes widened in horror at her.

 

“What was that?” Merlin asked looking straight at Morgana.

 

Gwaine interjected. “She said maybe if you pay close attention you may find that he is closer to your reach than you think.” Gwaine went in for the save while looking at his wife. Morgana only shrugged in response. She meant what she said. Gwaine knew this and could only roll his eyes.

 

“I do pay attention. There is no one within my reach that is the one for me.” Merlin responded sharply.

 

And Arthur just wanted to die at that moment. He wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole because his heart broke a little bit more. He didn't know that it could be broken anymore. He jumped up out of his seat. “Excuse me, I have to go to the loo.” And he was gone in two seconds flat. Leon, Gwaine, Lance, and Morgana were all in the process of standing at the same time to follow him but it was Gwaine that did the honors instead.

 

“What's the matter with Arthur? Is he sick?” Merlin asked concerned. He missed the looks that he received when he asked that question.

 

“He's fine. I think he ate something that disagreed with him. Gwaine's checking on him now.” Morgana responded.

 

“I just want to find the one for me. The one to spend my holidays with. To sit beside the fire, to drink egg nog, and to watch the holiday movies on the telly. I want to find my other half. I'm tired of always dating and coming back empty.” Merlin whined while drinking his drink in one go. Elyan gave him his and went to the bar for another one adding that he would get the next round.

 

“Merlin, have you ever considered that you are looking at the wrong people?” Gwen asked carefully. “You never thought about anyone that you already know?”

 

Merlin ran a hand through his hair and rubbed his chin in thought. “Well...” And everyone leaned towards the table to hear. “There's Bradley at work.” And everyone sat back in their seats. “He's been trying to ask me out at the hospital for months now. You've seen him, right Mithian?”

 

“Yes, Mithian sighed heavily, I've seen him. But is there anyone else who is... oh, I don't know, gay and available that you might know?” And everyone at the table nodded in agreement to Mithian's question like she gave the right question for an answer on Jeopardy.

 

Merlin looked like he was in thought before responding, “No, with a shake of his head, not that I know of.” And Morgana wanted to drop her head on the table. It was only her dignity as a Pendragon that stopped her.

 

 ***

 

Arthur was looking at his reflection in the bathroom mirror wondering what has become of his life. He doesn't know how it got this bad. How he let it get this bad. He's been in love with his best friend for the past seven years but has never told him. Hell, if Arthur was honest with himself he loved Merlin even before that. Every time he's thought about it Merlin was in a relationship with some other bloke that was most certainly - not him. He doesn't know why he offered his flat out to Merlin for them to be flat mates. Because nothing is worse than hearing Merlin have sex with someone else. Or watching him fresh out of the shower with his hair tousled and his towel draped around his narrow hips just waiting to slide down. Nothing is worse than watching the water slide down Merlin's body and wishing that he could lick every drop of it from Merlin's skin. Well something is worse. Listening to Merlin having sex with some other man that is most certainly – not him. Merlin is extremely loud in the sack. He'd think about asking Merlin to move out if he wasn't so afraid of losing his friendship with him. It was all that Arthur had left. But now he couldn't help but wonder if separation would help help the big hole that lodged in his heart. Because that was exactly what it felt like, a big hole.

 

“Is everything alright mate?” Gwaine asked from behind Arthur. Arthur was too numb to be startled but was shocked that he didn't notice Gwaine entering the loo. Who knows how long he was standing there.

 

“No.” Was Arthur's only response. Arthur couldn't lie to Gwaine. They were friends for as long as Arthur could remember along with Leon and Lance. Merlin and Will came around next, then Gwen, Elyan, and Elena. The rest of the gang came during their first year of uni and the group has been as close as any family could be. No, there was little that Gwaine did not know and Gwaine was with him when he had a drunken meltdown the first time and spilled his guts talking about unrequited love and Merlin. Come to mention it, so was the rest of the gang. Merlin was the only one missing that night. He was on a date.

 

“You know, there's a way to put yourself out of this misery.” Gwaine stated gently.

 

“What kill myself? Can't say I haven't thought of that one.” Arthur responded quietly.

 

“That's nothing to joke about.” Gwaine responded while watching Arthur carefully.

 

“Who said I was joking?”

 

“Do I need to get your sister?” Gwaine asked. He wasn't afraid to call in reinforcements if he felt he was up against a battle that he couldn't win. Pride had no place in that.

 

“For what. There's nothing any of you can do. You don't have to worry Gwaine. I said I thought of it. I didn't say that I tried anything or that I would. Because I won't.” Arthur said looking at Gwaine in the mirror giving eye contact along with the honesty of his words.

 

“See that you don't.” Gwaine responded seriously. Arthur was the closest thing to a brother for Gwaine, and then he married Morgana and they became family anyway. It was a win win where Gwaine was concerned and he told Arthur so the moment he and Morgana exchanged their vows and he kissed his bride. “But Arthur, you could tell him.”

 

“Why would I do that, you heard him. There's no one he knows that's the one for him. He knows me. That tells me that he doesn't want me. That he doesn't think of me in that way. Why would I tell him for him to laugh in my face or to tell me that he doesn't love me back. I've had enough embarrassing moments to add that to the list.” Arthur was nearly shouting before he got to the end of his tirade. He ran a hand through his hair and tugged before going to the sink and putting some water on his face. He dried his hands and face on a towel before turning back to Gwaine. “He doesn't want me.” Arthur finished before heading out of the loo. He did not go back to the table, instead he grabbed his jacket off the hook and left into the night.

 

Gwaine walked back to the table but Morgana was already getting up. “What happened?” She asked urgently.

 

“He needed to clear his head.” Gwaine responded in answer to Morgana's question but Gwaine's wounded expression under his tough one told Morgana all that she needed to know.

 

“Do you need me to go and check on him?” Merlin asked. “I can make sure that he's alright.”

 

“No, Merlin, you should enjoy yourself. I'll take care of my brother. You need to find out what we talked about regarding gift exchanging this year.” Morgana answered smoothly before giving Gwaine a kiss, telling him that she would see him at home, and waving good-bye to the rest of the gang. She was gone in a flash, nothing but the sound of four inch heels in her wake. Gwaine's eyes followed her until she went out the door.

 

“You look at her the same way that you did when you first got together.” Vivian commented with a smile.

 

“Can you blame me. It took me years to wear her down and now that I have her I am going to relish every moment of it.” Gwaine said with a wink. The women awed at the table.

 

“But you had all of those other women before her.” Vivian commented again.

 

“Those other women were child's play when it comes to Morgana. I knew that and I knew that the minute she would have me would be the minute that I would settle down and I was right. Never looked back since.” Gwaine responded while taking a swig of his drink.” The women awed again.

 

“Better watch out Lance,” Leon stated, “You may have some competition on who shows the most affection.”

 

“No competition. There's no competing on how much you love the one your with.” Lance responded quickly before giving Gwen a kiss on her forehead.

 

“Get a room.” Elyan said disgustingly.

 

“We've already got one, yours.” Gwen said in retaliation.

 

“And the rest of you lot are one to talk. Percy and Freya, Leon and Elena, Elyan and Vivian, and if Will and Sophia were here they would be just as bad.” Lance stated with in a 'you know that I'm right' matter-of-fact tone.

 

“Yeah, I need to get a move on it too if I want to have a children before I reach the age of thirty.” Mithian stated. “Half of you are already ahead of me.

 

Gwen and Lance have two children. Geraint was four and Galahad two. Gwaine and Morgana had their daughter Autumn who just celebrated her third birthday. Will and Sophia's daughter Aries, the oldest of the lot of children, was six. Percy and Freya had Lucan one year ago, and Vivian was six months pregnant with Elyan's child. Mithian was more than right.

 

“Has anyone noticed that something has been off with Arthur lately?” Merlin asked. Vivian, Freya, Gwen, and Mithian rolled their eyes discreetly.

 

“No more off than normal.” Was Leon's response.

 

“Still, I'm worried about him.” Merlin responded.

 

“You could always ask him, Merlin.” Lance commented.

 

“Don't you think I have? I asked and he keeps telling me that he's fine or that he's busy at work, but I know something is off.” Merlin responded.

 

“Well, maybe you should think about what could be getting Arthur down.” Gwaine added slyly while drinking down his beer. If it weren't for Arthur making them all swear to secrecy Gwaine would have been the first to tell Merlin. Gwaine could only curse himself for agreeing. “I'm going for some whiskey. Anyone else wants some?” Five hands went up. “I guessed as much.” Gwaine muttered to himself before going back to the bar.

 

 ***

 

Arthur wasn't in his flat for five minutes before he heard knocking at his door.

 

“Arthur, Arthur open the door.” Morgana called out while she continued her knocking.

 

Arthur figured if he stayed completely still there was still a chance that Morgana would think that he wasn't home.

 

“Arthur, I can hear you breathing in there. Open this door now or I will be forced to use my key!” Morgana called out, this time more loudly.

 

And damn. Because Arthur always forgot that he gave Morgana a key for emergencies. He sighed and walked over to the door.

 

“Morgana, do come in why don't you.” Arthur stated and with a flair for the dramatic did a hand sweeping gesture to welcome her in like royalty. Morgana paid him no mind and walked in.

 

“Arthur what are you doing?” Morgana asked quietly while taking off her jacket, scarf, and gloves.

 

“I thought it was clear.” Arthur responded knowing where this was going and attempting to avoid it. “I just got home and I'm getting ready to-”

 

“That's not what I meant and you know it.” Morgana snapped. “Why are continuing to do this to yourself? And for how long are you planning to. Why don't you just ask Merlin to move out?”

 

Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed heavily. “You know why I haven't-”

 

“That was while Merlin was in med school. He is a full fledged doctor now and can afford to live in his own flat. Why do you keep torturing yourself?”

 

“I don't want him to go and be left with nothing, alright.” Arthur shouted in response while running a hand through his hair. “What if he moves out and finds someone else?”

 

“Someone else?” Morgana was at a loss. “Someone else would require that Merlin was yours to begin with Arthur.” She raised her hands in the air as a plea before continuing. “Now hear me out. You know what I mean and you know that I am not trying to hurt you but you know this already Arthur. Either you need to tell Merlin how you feel or you need to let him go but you can't keep doing this to yourself, it's not healthy, and don't even think that I haven't notice that you've lost weight.”

 

Arthur closed his eyes tight. He turned away with his back to Morgana clinching the back of his sofa hard. He knew that she was right but was trying very hard not to admit these truths to himself. He'd been hiding those truths from himself for far too long.

 

Morgana sighed, walked closer to Arthur and wrapped her arms around him from behind. Arthur felt warmth in the gesture and raised his hands to meet those circled around him. “Just promise me that you will think about it, yeah? Maybe even use some time over the holidays to get away. Hell, father's even worried about you. I'm sure that he would give you some time off to get away.” Morgana chuckled. “Just promise me that you will think about it?”

 

Arthur felt a single tear falling from his cheek and the same time that he responded, “I promise.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Morgana,” Gwaine yelled from the bedroom. “Could you get the door? I'm getting dressed.”

 

“I've got it,” Morgana yelled back from the kitchen while making her way down the hall and to the door. “Hold your horses, I'm coming.” She yelled at the front door while Autumn trailed behind her with her blanket and teddy bear in her hand.

 

Morgana yanked the door open to find Arthur standing there shifting from foot to foot. Autumn ran ahead of her, dropping her teddy bear, and making a leap with blind faith that Arthur would catch her. “Uncle Arthur!”

 

Arthur caught her mid-jump and pulled him into his arms.

 

“Hello beautiful!” Arthur responded while giving Autumn a kiss, swinging her around and holding her tightly. “How's my girl?”

 

“I'm doing fine.” Autumn said with a smile just as big and bright as Morgana's. “We're about to decorate the Christmas tree-”

 

“Oh no. Daddy and I are about to decorate the Christmas tree.” Morgana cut in while looking at her raven haired little girl. “You were going to put the angel on the tree in the morning because it's bed time.”

 

“But mommy, it's uncle Arthur.” Like that meant everything in the world. “Can't I stay awake a little while longer, pleeeaase?” Autumn said while making a sad and pleading face both at the time like only Autumn could. Autumn was a cross between Gwaine and Morgana through and through. She had Morgana's eyes, nose, and smile, Gwaine's complexion, and a combination of their hair with Morgana's length. She was gorgeous with Gwaine's charms and Morgana's sass. And there was no one who could resist her when she started the pleading, not even Morgana.

 

Morgana sighed.

 

“Fine, you can stay up to decorate the tree. But just to decorate the tree!”

 

“Can uncle Arthur help me put the angel on top of the tree?”

 

Gwaine walked out of his bedroom at the same time to respond, “Sure thing sweetheart.”

 

“And can uncle Arthur read me my bedtime story and tuck me in?”

 

“Anything for you beautiful.” Arthur responded while running a hand through Autumn's hair.

 

“Yay!” Autumn responded with a big bright smile.

 

“You're creating a monster little brother.” Morgana chided.

 

“Can't an uncle come and visit?” Arthur questions with a smile.

 

“That depends on if that's the reason for the visit.” Gwaine responds with a raised brow.

 

“Later,” was Arthur's response.

 

“She misses you you know.” Morgana said to Arthur.

 

“I miss her too.” Arthur responded while walking over to the Christmas tree with Autumn.

 

“Then maybe you should come by more often.” Gwaine comments.

 

 

Morgana came out of the kitchen with hot chocolates for all while Gwaine, Arthur, and Autumn started on the Christmas tree. Traditionally, being raised in the home of Pendragon, Christmas trees were huge, with gold or silver trimming with white lights. It looked sterile in comparison to what they were doing now. Having a three year old and Gwaine has changed Morgana's way of doing things, a lot. They stand now with a six foot tree decorated with red garland, multi-colored ornaments, figurines that Autumn made herself, and multi-colored lights. And as Autumn requested, Arthur helped her put the angel on the tree top. By the time they were finished Autumn was beginning to fall asleep in Arthur's lap while he was drinking his hot chocolate.

 

“Now I think it's time for all little girls to say night night.” Morgana said.

 

“My bedtime story!” Autumn said, awake instantly. “Uncle Arthur, would you please read to me?”

 

“Sure thing beautiful.”

 

“Can we play horsey on the way to my room?”

 

“Sure thing, hop on.” Arthur lowered himself enough for Autumn to climb on his back and she yelled “Ride em cowboy,” As they went to her bedroom.

 

 ***

 

Arthur finished reading the Berenstein Bears to Autumn and tucked her in for the night.

 

“Kisses uncle Arthur.” Autumn reminded Arthur before he leaned down and gave her four kisses. One on each brow, her nose, and her lips.

 

“Good night beautiful.”

 

“Good night uncle Arthur. I love you.”

 

“Love you too beautiful.” Arthur responded with a tender smile as he tousled Autumn's hair.

 

Autumn raised up on her elbows. “Uncle Arthur, will you be coming by again soon. I've missed you.”

 

“It's only been a few weeks.”

 

Autumn huffed, arms folded at her chest, “It's been a few weeks too long. We haven't had a proper tea in ages.” Autumn said, referring to her play tea party that Arthur would have attended if he had arrived during the day.

 

“Then I will be back soon, yeah?”

 

“Pinky swear?” Autumn said while bringing her pinky to have Arthur swear.

 

“Pinky swear it is.” Arthur responded by joining his pinky with hers. “Now sleep.”

 

“Goodnight.”

 

“Goodnight beautiful.”

 

Arthur got up and turned to see Morgana waiting for him by the door with a fond smile on her face.

 

“You know, you are going to make a wonderful father someday.” She said while putting her arm around Arthur shoulders and resting her head there while they walked backed to the living room.

 

“Did you know that Mithian volunteered to be a surrogate for me?” Arthur asked.

 

“Shut it. I did not know that.” Morgana said in shock. “Really?”

 

“Sure did, it was a few months back at Gwen and Lance's anniversary party. We were both drowning out our sorrows at the bottom of a whiskey bottle and when I talked about children she volunteered her services. She said if I did it before she found her Mr. Right that she would be more than happy to do it.”

 

“Well, what do you think about that?”

 

“I thought it was a good idea. But I wanted to have someone in my life first.” Arthur shrugged before continuing, “I don't want to be a single father.”

 

Morgana nodded, understanding. “Well, either way I think you would be wonderful, and you have the support of everyone if you decided to do it. With or without a life partner.”

 

“Hear hear,” Gwaine said from the hallway, apparently listening to their conversation.

 

“So...,” Gwaine started, hot chocolates removed and wine glasses in it's place passing it out in the living room, “what brought you by Princess?”

 

Arthur knew Gwaine would not forget. He sighed. “Didn't want to stay at home.”

 

“So you just left at this time of evening?” Morgana questioned. It really was getting late.

 

Arthur knew he could keep it up but Gwaine and Morgana was a fierce force when tag teaming. “Fine, Merlin had company and I didn't want to stay for the show.”

 

“So you just left?” Morgana questioned again.

 

“Merlin introduced us. Dylan something or another.” Arthur said bitterly.

 

“And what excuse did you give Merlin for cutting out?” Gwaine asked.

 

“I told him that I promised to stop over here for dinner.” Arthur responded while avoiding eye contact.

 

“And he fell for that? At this time of night?” Morgana questioned.

 

“I don't think he was paying much attention to the time. He was too busy paying attention to Dylan.” Arthur responded while drinking his wine in one go and going to the bar to pour himself a refill. “I just want to hang here for a while and then I'll go home. Hopefully they'll be asleep by the time I get there.”

 

They spent the rest of the night watching movies and drinking wine. Gwaine even made popcorn. They watched Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Thor. By the time they finished it was too late for anyone to be going anywhere.

 

“Why don't you take the guest room for the night, Arthur?” Morgana said as a question. “You still have some pajamas here from the last time and we have a spare toothbrush for you and supplies stored as well in the guest bathroom.”

 

Arthur knows Morgana said this as a question but he also knows that Morgana has no intention of allowing him to go home in the middle of the night. He acquiesces, gives hugs to Gwaine and Morgana and makes his way to the guest bedroom.

 

“Do you think he's going to be alright?” Gwaine asked while watching his friend walk down the corridor.

 

Morgana watching as well responds, “I don't know, but I'm worried about him. He can't take much more of this. Everyone thinks he's so strong as for the most part he is. Father says he's doing an excellent job at work, he still spends time with all of us, but I know for a fact that he isolates himself when he goes home. He's headed for a breakdown if he doesn't find a way to deal with his feelings for Merlin. Especially if Merlin keeps bringing these blokes home to throw in his face.” Morgana said with a frown.

 

“Hey, you know Merlin isn't doing it on purpose.”

 

“That's besides the point. The point is he is doing it.”

 

“He doesn't know -”

 

“And how could he not know!” Morgana screeched while turning her full glare on her husband. “How could he not see when Arthur does everything for him since oh I don't know, forever. Arthur makes him breakfast every morning when their home. He cooks him dinner when their home. He even does the man's laundry. Hell, he's even Merlin's emergency contact for crying out loud! He's more of a husband to Merlin than any of the blokes Merlin's gone out with and the only thing they aren't doing is the horizontal rumble!”

 

“The horizontal rumble? Really?” Gwaine laughs. “Where in the hell did you get that one from?”

 

“Gwen.” Morgana grins before frowning again. “But that's besides the point. The point is something has to give and give soon or I'm going to be forced to intervene whether Arthur likes it or not.”

 

“Let's hope that doesn't happen.” Gwaine says. Morgana knows that Gwaine doesn't want to intervene but she is tired, this has been going on for far too long.

 

“If Merlin wasn't so self-absorbed he would have seen this by now.”

 

“It's not as easy as you say it is Morgs and you know it. Arthur has pretty much made everything about Merlin from the moment that they met when he saved Merlin from getting a knuckle sandwich from the hands of Valiant. It's always been about Merlin to Arthur. We were never jealous of course because it's always been different and we could see the reason why but apparently for Merlin doesn't. Arthur's drunken confession at the bar last year was not a surprise at all as it was a confirmation.”

 

Morgana shook her head. “But it's so clear. Even if Arthur hasn't come right out to say it it is clear for everyone to see just as you said it. His eyes light up when Merlin's walks in a room. He gravitates to Merlin automatically like metal to a magnet and Merlin's been Arthur's plus one to any event for years now. Even if Arthur has a hard time expressing his feelings he clearly doesn't have a hard time displaying them. And for Merlin to miss it...” Morgana shook her head again before drinking almost a quarter of her wine.

 

“Merlin's probably missing it because he only sees Arthur as a friend.” Gwaine raises a brow automatically to Morgana's glare. “Now here me out. He may have never considered Arthur as a prospect. The men that Merlin chooses don't happen to be anywhere near Arthur's caliber, and Arthur is his best mate. Sometimes when you around someone so much you tend to miss the obvious. Even if he notices everything else.” Gwaine replied while running a hand through his hair.

 

Morgana sighed. “Well, maybe getting away would do wonders for Arthur, I've been trying to convince Arthur to take some time off. Just to get away. I'm hoping if he does maybe he could find someone else, someone who could take his mind off of Merlin. Or at least give him a good shag to make him forget for a while.”

 

“We are talking about seven years of pining. Seven years of being in love with his best friend. Do you really think a fling is going to do it here?”

 

“I don't know.” Morgana says while running her hands through her hair and pacing. “But I'm grasping at straws here. At least the time away could do him some good. And how would Arthur know that there isn't anyone else out there if he doesn't try to actually get out there. It's like he's been saving himself for Merlin.”

 

“He is saving himself for Merlin.” Gwaine said as if it was stating the obvious before continuing. “The trip might just do him some good but...” Gwaine trailed off while rubbing his low shaved beard.

 

It was Morgana's turn to raise a brow. “And just what are you thinking?”

 

“I'm thinking maybe we could help push this along somehow without getting too involved.”

 

“And how do you propose that.” Morgana said while bringing her arms around Gwaine's neck. She loved it when he began to plot.

 

“It's delicate, and I can't promise anything, but why don't we take this back to the bedroom and discuss it in more detail.” Gwaine finishes while picking Morgana up bridal style.

 

“It's always about sex with you isn't it?” Morgana laughs.

 

“Don't pretend you don't like it.” Gwaine responds while carrying Morgana into their bedroom.

 

Their talk gets postponed until the morning.

Chapter Text

Arthur woke up the next morning to see a pair of greenish-gray eyes staring back at him.

 

“Hey you.” Arthur said with a smile.

 

“Good morning, uncle Arthur.” Autumn said with a smile. “I didn't know that you were spending the night. Are you going to come with us to drop me off this morning at Auntie Gwen's?”

 

“No sweetie he isn't,” Morgana said from the doorway. “But we're going to drop uncle Arthur off at home before we go so you'll have a little while longer.”

 

“Yay! Can I see uncle Merlin too?”

 

Arthur pinched Autumn's cheek before responding, “If he's still at home you can see him too okay.”

 

“Yay!”

 

“Yay! Seems to be her favorite word.” Morgana said with a grin.

 

“Breakfast is ready!” Gwaine yelled from the kitchen.

 

It didn't take long before everyone was showered and changed and sitting across the kitchen table.

 

“Do you want us to wait too once we get there Arthur? It's not a bother, I can give you a lift to the office.” Morgana asked while digging in to the pancakes Gwaine made. Gwaine made awesome pancakes.

 

“No, that's alright, I can drive.” Arthur responded while drinking his coffee.

 

“It's no bother. I can drop you back off this evening too.”

 

“You just want to keep an eye on me.”

 

Morgana didn't respond, it was the truth.

 

“Uncle Arthur, are you coming to our Christmas play at the church? We're doing baby Jesus and I am going to be one of the three wise men.” Autumn asked.

 

“I wouldn't miss it beautiful.”

 

They finish their breakfast quickly before everyone gives hugs and kisses and start out for the day.

 

 ***

 

Arthur arrives home to see Merlin pacing back and forth in the living room.

 

“Finally,” Merlin says worriedly, “did you check your phone? I called you at least five times last night wondering where you were.”

 

“I told you that I was going to Gwaine and Morgana's before I left.” Arthur responded easily.

 

“Yes, but you didn't say that you would be spending the night. Anything could have happened to you.” Merlin responded back looking Arthur over to make sure that nothing happened to him. As if something could have happened to and from on the journey or in between.

 

“Weren't you with Dylan?” Arthur couldn't keep the bitterness out of his tone to save his life.

 

Merlin raised a brow before ignoring Arthur's tone and responding, “he didn't stay the night.”

 

Arthur didn't get to respond before Morgana came behind him with Autumn. All it took was one look at Merlin before Autumn was running across the floor.

 

“Uncle Merlin!”

 

Merlin immediately dropped to his knees to pull Autumn into a hug. “Hey ya precious! You are looking more and more gorgeous everyday.”

 

“I missed you uncle Merlin.”

 

“I know, I've missed you too. Uncle Merlin's been busy at work but I'll make it up to you, okay?”

 

“Will you make me a doll house for Christmas?” She was well aware of Merlin's hobby in carpentry work.

 

Merlin looked up to Arthur and Morgana - just in case they purchased one already, Morgana nodded the okay, before responding, “I will definitely build you a dollhouse for Christmas.”

 

“And will you go to my Christmas play?” Autumn was like a miniature Morgana when she wanted something.

 

Merlin could only laugh.

 

“Yes, I'll be right there with your uncle Arthur, okay luv?”

 

“Yay! It will be the best Christmas ever!”

 

Morgana laughed. “Well, now that you've gotten to see Uncle Merlin say good-bye Autumn before you manage to squeeze anything else out of him. It's time to get to Auntie Gwen's.”

 

Autumn gave Merlin another big hug and a sloppy kiss on the cheek. “Good-bye uncle Merlin.”

 

“Good-bye precious.”

 

Autumn ran back to Arthur to repeat the process of getting her hugs and kisses before Morgana scooped her up saying bye and telling Arthur that she would see him at work.

 

Merlin looked at Arthur for a moment but his face didn't read any emotions. “She's so intelligent for her age, and she's getting so big.”

 

“I know, but what do you expect, she's got Gwaine, but she's still a Pendragon. Morgana teaches her the same way that father taught us. We were always grades ahead with tutors because anything less was unacceptable. Fortunately for her she still get's to have all of the fun while she's at it too. But I agree, she is getting big, before you know it she'll be thinking about boys.” Arthur finished with a wince.

 

“Oh god, I can't imagine what it will be like for her when she does with you and Gwaine around.”

 

“Not just us, the whole lot.” Arthur chuckled.

 

Merlin chuckled too before his expression turned serious. He sighed for a moment before looking at Arthur with intent. “How are you doing?”

 

Arthur averted Merlin's eyes for a moment before answering, “I'm fine.”

 

“Are you really?”

 

“Why wouldn't I be?”

 

“I don't know. Something is off and I just can't place it. Something has been off for a while.”

 

“I told you that I've been busy at work.” Arthur said while walking into the kitchen to get some coffee. He knew Merlin made some already, Merlin was unable to function without his four cups in the morning. Merlin followed behind him.

 

“I know you've been busy, you've always been busy, but you've never been this distant before, at least... at least, not with me anyways.” Merlin countered.

 

Arthur took a deep breath before turning back to face Merlin. “I've just had a lot on mind lately.”

 

“You'd tell me if it was important right?” Merlin asked almost pleadingly. “You know that I'm here for you right?”

 

Arthur nodded but dropped the eye contact.

 

Merlin sighed loudly. Arthur knew that Merlin was at a loss but this time Arthur couldn't help him put the pieces together. Merlin continued, “hey, what are you doing tonight?”

 

Arthur looked back at Merlin and with a shrug responded, “I don't have any plans that I know of.”

 

“Well you do now. I know you wanted to see that new Thor movie, we're going tonight, just you and me.” Merlin said with a smile.

 

“Don't you have a date?” The question fell out of Arthur's mouth so quickly he didn't have a chance to filter it. Arthur's almost thought that he was developing Merlin's foot-in-mouth syndrome.

 

Merlin was taken aback by the question. “No, I don't have a date.”

 

“You don't have to work.” Arthur was on a roll.

 

“No, I switched shifts with Mithian. I wanted to tell you last night but you never came back home.”

 

Arthur nodded while putting his coffee together with cream and sugar.

 

“Is that a yes?” Merlin pressed.

 

“It's a date. Well, not a date date, but... you know what I mean.” Arthur stumbled.

 

“I know what you mean.” Merlin repeated, almost at a loss, sensing the tension and not understanding where it was coming from. Or what to do about it. “Do you need a lift to work?”

 

“No, I think I'll drive myself today.” Arthur said while taking his coffee and making his way to his room. He turned to look at Merlin. “I'll see you tonight.”

 

Merlin looked hopeful. “Okay, see you tonight, I'm going to head out now.”

 

“Okay.” Arthur responded back while going into his room and closing the door and leaning on the other side of it. “It's hurting more and more every day.” Arthur whispered to himself.

 

Merlin looked at Arthur's room door at the end of the corridor for a long time before heading out.

 

 ***

 

*Beginning of Thor spoilers *

 

 

“I can't believe it ended like that!” Merlin said like all was wrong with the world.

 

Arthur laughed. “They had to save something for the next part.”

 

“But what happened to Thor's father? It was bad enough that his mother died but his father too!”

 

“We don't know if he died. Loki could be holding him prisoner somewhere.”

 

“But still.” Merlin said, clearly upset like the characters were actually real. It was adorable. “Well at least Thor was able to bring Jane to Asgard for a while and they got a chance to get closer.”

 

 “There's that.” Arthur responded with a heavy sigh as they walked away from the movie theater.

 

*End of Thor spoilers *

 

***

 

“Hey, you want to grab some pizza?” Merlin asked.

 

“Pizza sounds great, I'm starved.”

 

“Good, you look like you've lost some weight and I'm supposed to be the only skinny one between the two of us.” Merlin replied, it was clear in his tone that he was worried.

 

“Har di har har. I've just been busy.”

 

“Too busy to eat?” Merlin pressed.

 

“Are you going to lecture me about eating or are we going to get some pizza?” Arthur asked, turning towards Merlin, suddenly serious.

 

Merlin groaned because he knew he wasn't going to get an answer out of Arthur at this rate. “Fine, pizza it is.”

 

They went to Avalon's pizza at the corner by their flat and shared a large meat lovers with a few beers. Well, Merlin ate his half of the pizza while Arthur picked at a few slices of his. This did not go unnoticed by Merlin. He decided not to press the matter. At least, not yet. Merlin tried for conversation instead. He talked about work, helping build a wooden crib for Vivian and Elyan's first child, and he spoke about his mum's plan to visit for a few days. “She said she wanted to see us before she went on her cruise for the holidays. Can you believe she even roped uncle Gaius into going?!” Merlin also informed Arthur that Dylan would not be making anymore guest appearances. “We were completely incompatible. I won't share my horror story with you because you don't deserve it, you would be traumatized for life! Needless to say I sent him packing before 10pm, without even a phone number for his troubles. That's what I get for trying to pick someone up at the hospital cafeteria.” Arthur had no response to that, because apparently Merlin considered anyone as a potential someone but him. It was not a comforting thought.

 

When they got back to the flat Arthur was going to make it to his room but was stopped by Merlin grabbing him by the elbow in the corridor. “Arthur, I'm worried about you.” Merlin said roughly, almost hoarse, and his voice was thick – his Irish side coming through, but there was no mistaking the sincerity in it. And his wet eyes only confirmed Arthur's assumption.

 

Just the same. It was not the kind of declaration from Merlin that Arthur wanted to hear.

 

Arthur's shoulders slumped but raised back automatically. He still had some pride left. “There's nothing to worry about. I've just got some things that I need to sort through is all. Nothing to fret about.”

 

“That's easier said than done.”

 

They've never kept secrets from each other. Except for this one. Arthur's feelings. But dammit, how could Merlin not know?! Arthur sighed inwardly and his stomach felt like it was in knots but Arthur continued to speak anyway.

 

“It's alright Merlin. I just need some time to get my head around things but it's going to be okay.”

 

Merlin looked at Arthur before leaning in and giving him a full body tight hug. Arthur stood completely still for a moment before his limbs and body automatically reacted. It's not the first time Merlin's hugged Arthur or vice versa, but everything has been heightened lately, like they are about to come to some sort of crossroad. Arthur's only afraid that the crossroad won't include him when they're finished. He sucks in a breath and then inhales, smelling Merlin's scent while nosing his neck discreetly and relishing in the moment. It's over too quickly when Merlin pulls away. Arthur feels empty and it hurts. “I love you man, I love you like the brother and you know this.” That hurts even more and it guts Arthur to the core, but he listens anyway. Merlin has no idea how his words are effecting Arthur. “I just want you to be happy. You know that right?”

 

Arthur closes his eyes before opening them only to see Merlin looking back at him. Like he's trying to see into Arthur's soul. It makes Arthur feel like he's being examined naked but it doesn't seem like Merlin got an answer out of his examination. He looks like he's been left wanting. Merlin's groan of frustration only confirmed that for Arthur. Merlin's worry is evident but Arthur has no way to comfort him, especially when he is trying to find a way to comfort himself. “I know.” Was all Arthur could say in response.

 

“Good.” Merlin replied with a small smile.

 

“I'm just gonna...” Arthur points to the direction of his bedroom. “I'm just gonna turn in for the night. It's been a long day.”

 

Merlin looks disappointed but nods anyway. “I understand, he really doesn't, get some rest Arthur.”

 

“Goodnight Merlin.”

 

“Goodnight.”

 

Arthur found himself pressed against his bedroom door for the second time that day. He could still smell Merlin's woodsy cinnamon with a hint of vanilla scent from his cologne. He could still smell Merlin. Arthur thought about the night that they had and just how right it felt. Well... how right it could have felt if they were together. He thought about how it would feel to wake up every morning to find Merlin pressed against him and how it would feel every night crawling into bed with him. Arthur tried not to think further, too late, his body already started betraying him. Only the thought of seeing his old nanny Grunhilda naked willed it away. Arthur's chest burned by the sensation of his overwhelming feelings. The only thing that makes it worse is that this has been going on for so long that Arthur doesn't know how to address it any longer. He's tried, by the gods he's tried, but his tongue seems to swell when he does and his breathing starts to become irregular, and then his heart starts beating triple time like it's about to burst. And that's just for starters! Because Arthur can't help but think of all the ways that Merlin will tell him no. It becomes a mess and Arthur ends up feeling like an idiot wishing that the ground would swallow him whole, again. “If only it could be easier,” Arthur mutters to himself.

 

Arthur get's ready for bed wondering if there is a light to see at the end of the tunnel any longer.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Dammit!”

 

Was the first thing Arthur heard that woke him up out of his sleep the next morning.

 

“Fuck! Oww!” Was next.

 

Fortunately, Arthur was clothed in a t-shirt and jogging pants because if there was a fire he wouldn't have to worry about running amok nude. He made his way into the kitchen because that's where the continued ranting of curses was coming from only to find Merlin running his hand over water.

 

“Merlin, what happened?” Arthur asked worriedly.

 

“I burned myself.” Merlin cried out while running his hand in the water.

 

“Ahh, why?” Was Arthur's only response. Merlin did not do kitchens. Not unless he used the microwave, the coffee maker, the toaster, the refrigerator, used prepackaged meals or the microwave for frozen foods. And this was for good reason. Merlin's clumsiness was another.

 

“I was trying to make an omelet and then toaster went off and my sleeve got caught on the pan and then there was the flame...” Merlin trailed off to Arthur's raised brow.

 

“Are you hurt?”

 

“I think I got to the water on time but the flame caught to some of my shirt, and then it got to my wrist, and then the top part of my hand.” Merlin answered in frustration.

 

Arthur could have laughed because only Merlin could have burned himself that way but decided against it because he hadn't seen the burn for himself yet. Although, the thought 'idiot' did come to mind. Arthur went to the sink. “Let me see it.”

 

“I'm a doctor Arthur, I think I can treat my own burns.” Merlin spoke incredulously.

 

“Ahah, let me see.” Arthur said stubbornly and Merlin sighed turning the water off. Arthur gently raised Merlin shirt sleeve, took a dried towel and wiped Merlin's lower arm and hand before taking a look at the burn. “It's starting to redden and blister already, there also looks like there's some minor swelling.”

 

“No shit Sherlock.” Was Merlin's reply but he looked at Arthur fondly.

 

“Don't be a smart ass. Let me grab the first aid kit.”

 

Five minutes later Arthur had Merlin's burns covered with a few sterile gauze bandages and he was passing Merlin some paracetamol for the pain with a glass of water.

 

“I could have done that for myself.” Merlin said with a huff before continuing, “but thank you.”

 

“Your welcome. And now, can you tell me what were you doing in the kitchen in the first place?”

 

“I was trying to make you breakfast.”

 

“Merlin, you couldn't cook to save your life. In fact, if you were the last person on earth and there were no other means of eating that didn't require cooking I am quite certain that you would starve to death.”

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Merlin mumbled.

 

Arthur continued as if Merlin hadn't said a word, “so it begs to ask again, why were you cooking?”

 

“You do things for me all the time Arthur, I just wanted to do something back for you.”

 

“And you thought making me breakfast would even the score.”

 

Merlin pressed his lips in a fine line, like he had something to say but was struggling not to say it.”

 

Arthur could play that game. “What else?”

 

“There's something wrong with you Arthur -”

 

“Not this again -”

 

“Here me out. There's something wrong and you're not telling me.”

 

“And you think the breakfast is the -”

 

“No, but something is wrong and I have been trying to ask you -”

 

“And I told you that I had a lot on my mind -”

 

“And since when did you start keeping things from me -”

 

“A lot longer than you seem to think -” Arthur whispered to himself before he could filter it.

 

“What was that?” Merlin asked, clearly upset, and apparent that he caught some of what Arthur said even though he whispered it.

 

“Nothing.” Arthur said while attempting to clean up.

 

“Really?” Merlin glared at Arthur accusingly.

 

“I didn't,” Arthur paused and ran a hand through his hair and then covered his face for a moment before continuing, “I didn't mean it like that.”

 

“And just how did you mean it?” Merlin asked standing in Arthur's personal space. “When did we start keeping secrets from each other.” And after a pause. “Are you mad at me?”

 

Arthur shook his head before answering, “No...no... I am not mad at you.”

 

“Then what seems to be the problem?”

 

And Arthur found himself taking a few steps back and shouting, “I told you that I have a lot on my mind right now. What makes you think that it always has to be about you?” And Arthur knew that was a lie because it was always about Merlin but he was starting to feel boxed in.

 

“I never thought it was always about me.” Merlin responded, eyes wide, expression - hurt. And Arthur closed his eyes for a moment because it always seemed to hurt him more seeing Merlin hurt and he couldn't help but blame himself. It didn't make Arthur change what he said though because on some level he felt like he wanted to hurt Merlin too.

 

“Really?” Arthur said, this time he raised a brow, and his jaw tightened automatically.

 

“What do you mean really, I never thought it was always about me.”

 

Arthur's filter was still off and before he could stop himself he found himself saying, “you want to know what it means, huh? It means that you're so wrapped up in your own life that you don't have a clue about what is going on with anyone else.”

 

Merlin's eyes were like saucers, totally taking aback by Arthur's reaction but he managed to respond. “That's not true Arthur and you know it.”

 

“It's true, it's damn true, see -- proof in point, you completely missed out on what's been going on here.”

 

“Arthur,” Merlin sighed and used his fingers of both hands to rub his temples before continuing, “I don't know what you are talking about. You said that I've missed out on things, but when? When I was working round the clock doing rounds, was this further back while I was an intern with no time to spare and barely managing to eat or sleep?”

 

“You have time for all of your boyfriends and you're one night stands.” Arthur commented snidely. Walking back and forth now before making it out of the kitchen and into the living room with Merlin trailing quickly behind him.

 

Merlin tilted his head and sighed in frustration before continuing, “And just look where that's gotten me, absolutely no where. Half of those relationships didn't work out because I couldn't find the time to focus on it. I've told you this before.” Merlin paused, groaned and continued, “so when was it? Was it further back than that when I was doubling my school and workload to finish early so I didn't have to spend forever in training and school before living my dream? When exactly did I miss what seems to be so very important here? Because from where I'm standing it sounds like you blame me. I just... I just don't understand.”

 

“If you wanted to know you would have seen it! Everything is always right there for you to see.” Arthur yelled, but he couldn't maintain for much longer and he knew it. His chest muscles were already starting to tighten.

 

“I don't know what you're talking about. What time? What did I miss? I know I that I've been busy -”

 

“I see you just about every day.”

 

“And when you do I'm half here and half somewhere else because my mind is all over the place from school and work then and work now. You know this Arthur.”

 

“It's no excuse!” Arthur cried out visibly starting to shake. Arthur knows that he is emotionally unstable at the moment and he knows that all of the blame should not fall on Merlin but his anger is palpable, at the surface, and Merlin's pushing, unbidden – it's coming out if Arthur doesn't bring himself under control.

 

Merlin took the silence as an opportunity to continue. “I'm not trying to make an excuse, I'm trying to see what's wrong with my best mate. I'm trying to find out what's so important to get you like this and to make you distance yourself from me. You've always told me everything -”

 

“And yet you still missed it!” Arthur said with venom in his tone while taking deep breaths and trying to count back from one hundred in his head in an attempt to calm down.

 

“Then why don't you just tell me what I've missed. I've been asking!” Merlin shouted back.

 

Arthur shook his head again before replying, “right, I have to go to work.”

 

“No Arthur, I want to know what you meant by that?”

 

Arthur didn't stay to give an answer. He couldn't, not without telling his own worse kept secret.

 

Arthur stormed off to his room shaking while hearing Merlin yell his name several times along the way. Merlin even tried banging on the door but to no avail, Arthur didn't answer it. It was too close for comfort for Arthur so he hid in his room for what could have been hours but was probably an hour with his door locked while he waited, heart pounding, hands shaking, and head spinning before he finally heard Merlin leaving the flat. Arthur knew that Merlin would not let it go until he got some answers so he did the only thing that he could think of doing at the time. He grabbed an overnight bag, packed some essentials, and left. Never-mind the fact that he was leaving his own flat.

 

 ***

 

8:00pm

 

“What the hell do you mean by saying he just left?!” Morgana screeched on the phone.

 

“I mean he said he was going to work today and he never came back.” Merlin responded back evasively.

 

“And what happened in between?” Morgana questioned, tone terse.

 

“I went to work.” Merlin answered, his voice getting smaller.

 

Morgana was at the point where she was going to say some things that she knew she would regret later so she took a deep breath before asking, “Merlin, what happened before you went to work?”

 

There was a long silence.

 

Morgana knew that Merlin was afraid of her but she also knew that this could be used to her advantage now. “Merlin?”

 

“We got into a fight.” Merlin responded regretfully.

 

“What's going on?” Gwaine asked in the background.

 

Morgana tried to shoo him away. It didn't work. She sighed and shook her head before holding the mouthpiece of her phone with her hand and responding, “Arthur's missing. Call the lot and see if anyone's heard from him.”

 

Gwaine nodded in concern before grabbing his phone to make some calls.

 

“Didn't you see him at work?” Merlin asked.

 

Morgana shook her head again, she didn't know why. It wasn't as though Merlin could see her. She continued. “No, he called in sick. Dammit! I knew I shouldn't have fallen for that one.” She replied, but was also reprimanding herself. She continued. “Merlin, what did you two fight about?”

 

Another silence and a loud strangled moan was heard before she got a response. “Morgana, I really don't know.”

 

“What did Arthur say?”

 

Merlin sighed loudly before responding, but his voice was thick. “It's not what Arthur said is more like what he didn't say...”

 

“What do you mean by that?” Morgana almost rolled her eyes, it was like pulling teeth from Merlin when you needed information from him. Well...information that he didn't want to share.

 

“I mean he started yelling at me and started accusing me of things without actually accusing me of anything. He kept telling me that I should know.” Merlin voice started sounding hoarse half-way through, he paused and continued, “I don't know what I am supposed to know and he wouldn't tell me. It could have been about the time I dented his brand new Aston Martin Vanquish or throw up on his Italian loafers when I was drunk for all I know but he just refused to tell me.” Merlin rambled, tried to cover a sob, and continued. “I was only trying to find out what was wrong. He seems...he seems like he is going through something and he used to share everything with me. I know sometimes I have to push for the answers like the time when he had that big fight with you father a year or so back but he's never reacted like this with me before...” Merlin groaned before continuing, “he's been losing weight, he's getting moody, Morgana, he was shaking so much...” Merlin trailed off and Morgana's closed her eyes.

 

Then she sighed. She had a feeling something like this was going to happen soon.

 

Morgana ran a hand through her hair as she paced her living room floor in one direction while she watched Gwaine pacing in the other direction while talking on his phone. He shook his head to tell he hadn't heard anything yet before continuing to pace before placing another call. Morgana groaned before speaking to Merlin. “Do you have any idea where he could have gone?”

 

“No, I thought he would have come by to see you. Autumn always has a way of cheering him up when he's down. And when he's not at home he's normally with the you guys in some capacity at the pub, the pool hall, or the bowling alley. He rarely goes to any of those places by himself...”

 

That's what she thought too. Bloody hell!

 

She looked at Gwaine again and he looked back at her sadly shaking his head. “I'm getting dressed to go look for him. Lance, Percy, and Elyan are going to look for him too.” Morgana nodded.

 

“Merlin?” No response. “Merlin?!” Morgana yelled in the phone.

 

“Yes?” Merlin responded back, he sounded like he was in tears.

 

“No one has seen him. Gwaine, Lance, Percy, and Elyan are going to go out looking for him. You call the hospitals and the police okay?” No response. “Merlin!”

 

“Okay.”

 

“You call me back, whether you've heard anything or not, okay?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Morgana hung up without saying good-bye and went to her room while Gwaine was getting dressed. He had already buttoned his jeans and was putting on a sweater by the time she got to the room.

 

“Are you going to call your dad?” Gwaine asked.

 

“As a last resort.” Morgana responded while pacing their bedroom floor.

 

“You don't think he would have gone there?” Gwaine asked while putting on his trainers.

 

“Not unless he wants father to take charge of him and that would be the last thing that he would want.”

 

Gwaine nodded. “Are you going to be alright?”

 

“I will be as soon as I find him. You go. I'll call the office to see if he stopped in and then I'll call the hotels.”

 

“You don't think he'll go back to his flat?”

 

Morgana shook her head, “not yet, they got into a fight, he's not going to want to face Merlin just yet.”

 

Gwaine nodded again and was going to open his mouth to say something else but decided against it. He pulled Morgana into a hug and gave her a passionate kiss. “It's going to be okay, you'll see.”

 

Morgana looked defeated, but she nodded back before telling Gwaine to call her if he heard anything.

 

“You too.” Was his response before saying. “Call me anyway.” And Gwaine was off.

 

 

Chapter Text

Gwaine, Lance, Percival, Leon, and Elyan scoured the city but were unsuccessful in their search in finding Arthur. They realized then if Arthur didn't wish to be found, he wouldn't be. But that didn't stop them from trying. They searched, they called friends, and searched some more. They even had Morgana call Uther without prompting the reason for the call. The results were the same, Arthur was no where to be found.

 

Morgana paced her living room floor until she thought she would put a hole in it before she stopped and decided on putting the kettle on for tea. When the doorbell ranged she ran to the door in hopes that she would find Arthur on the other side of it coming to her to see Autumn, or to visit just to make things better like he normally would – only to be left with disappointment when she saw Mithian on the other side of it in her scrubs and sneakers, hair tied up in a neat bun.

 

“Oh it's you.” Morgana said with a sigh.

 

“I'll try to take no offense to that.” Mithian said with a smile as Morgana stepped aside to allow Mithian entrance.

 

Morgana sighed. “I'm sorry, I was hoping -”

 

“I know, Merlin called the hospital to evasively ask if there was anyone that was admitted in emergency and I got it out of him. I came over as soon as I made sure that he was okay.”

 

Morgana nodded before asking, “is he?”

 

Mithian shook her head. “No, he's blaming himself and he sounds like he's falling apart. I've never heard him sound so distraught, that's why I checked on him first. I made him some tea and I slipped him a mild sedative for sleeping like I take after I've lost a patient. And then I called Will.”

 

Morgana thought that was wise. “What did Will say?”

 

“He said he knew the shit would hit the fan eventually, but that he would go and check in on Merlin to make sure that he was alright before making his way over to yours.”

 

“What was Merlin doing before you left?”

 

“Resting, but it's a near hit or miss. He's too worried to really go to sleep, even with the sedative. You know how stubborn Merlin can be, and he wants to be awake if Arthur decides to go back to the flat tonight.”

 

“I don't think he will.” Morgana felt confident in that.

 

“Considering what Merlin told me I would say that I would have to agree. But it doesn't mean that he won't try to call Arthur on his phone anyway or that he won't fight sleep in hopes that Arthur will return to the flat. And the last part isn't very difficult for Merlin. We're doctors, we're use to making it through our shifts even while tired or with a lack of sleep. If he doesn't want to sleep, he's not going to.”

 

“If only he was worried like this months ago, maybe this wouldn't have happened now.”

 

“Maybe... maybe not. You have to remember that Arthur didn't wish for Merlin to know what the rest of us did. And if that is the case he probably did a good job in hiding it from Merlin.”

 

“No, that's the thing, he didn't. He royally sucked at it. Arthur was besotted for quite some time now, we knew this.” Morgana said while she continued to pace the living room floor. “Half of us figured it out before Arthur confirmed it, while the other half of us thought it was cute. And on top of that none of us spent as much time with Arthur as Merlin did so out of all of us - if anyone should have noticed something - it should have been Merlin.”

 

“I'm not saying that Merlin isn't an idiot, or that he shouldn't have picked up on the signs of depression as a doctor or the signs of the weight loss but about Arthur, being in love with him? I just don't know.” Mithian responded as honestly and as carefully as she could.

 

Morgana shook her head. “I don't want to argue, I just want to find him and I feel paralyzed right now because I can't be out there helping in the search.” Morgana said tiredly.

 

“Would you like me to stay with Autumn while you go out and help?” Mithian offered.

 

Morgana shook her head again. “I would like to go, but Gwen just called before you got here and she's on her way over with Elena, Soph, and Freya.”

 

“What are they doing with the kids?” Mithian asked.

 

“Viv's. She's had some swelling in her legs and feet this week so the doctor prescribed a week of bed rest. Given the fact that she and Elyan had a miscarriage the first time they tried for children the doctor didn't want to take any chances, even though she's six months along. Galahad is sleeping so Gwen's bringing him with her here, but they're gonna drop off Aries, Geraint, and Lucan over to Viv's. You know that Aries and Geraint are old enough that they can pretty much take care of themselves, and Viv wanted practice taking care of a baby so Lucan being there is like a treat for her.”

 

Mithian nodded before asking, “would you like anything? Some coffee or tea perhaps?”

 

“I set the kettle on for some tea before you came, but we should also brew a pot of coffee as well for the rest of the lot. It's the middle of the night, I'm sure they're all pretty tired by now.” Morgana responded in a detached tone.

 

“Will do. Why don't you go sit down on the coach and I'll go bring you some tea.” Mithian prompted, like she was taking charge of a patient.

 

The phone ranged at the same time.

 

Morgana lunged for it on the coffee table and after checking the caller id she ran a hand through her hair and answered the phone. “Gwaine, have you found him?”

 

“No such luck.” Gwaine responded. It sounded like he was in his car. “I've been trying to retrace Arthur's normal route and haunts but I haven't seen, or heard anything yet. We even called estranged friends and after getting yelled at for calling so late we were told that they haven't seen Arthur in months.”

 

Morgana expected as much. “What about the rest of the lot?”

 

“No go either. We went to the parks, some of the local pubs, walked streets, but nothing. Did Merlin hear anything when he phoned the hospitals?”

 

“No, not a word, but that's a good thing.”

 

“True, what about the police stations?”

 

“They haven't seen or heard anything and were so gracious enough to remind me that it takes 48 hours to declare someone as missing and that if there is no foul play that Arthur would come back when he was ready to be found.” Morgana sucked in a breath in suppressed anger in having to think about that conversation before continuing. “I wanted to reach through the phone to hurt somebody, but I didn't want to risk public awareness by explaining the severity behind the situation, and with that there was little else I could do.” Morgana shook her head, reminding herself that she did the right thing. “And besides that, Arthur would never forgive me if I did something like that without his say so.” Morgana added out loud and for herself.

 

Gwaine pulled at his low-shaved beard taking one hand off of the steering wheel before asking, “What about the hotels? Did he check into any of them?”

 

Morgana shook her head again, as if Gwaine could see her before remembering that he couldn't and responding, “no, I checked all of the hotels he would deem suitable for himself and no one has checked in by his name.”

 

“He could have used another name.” Gwaine pointed out.

 

“He could have, but that means we're really screwed in finding him aren't we?”

 

Gwaine sighed before answering, “no, we don't know that and we're not giving up. The boys and I are going to meet at the diner down the street from where I'm at now closer to Pendragon. We're going to break up into groups to start checking alleyways since none of us should be walking the street alone at this time of night. Call me if you've heard anything?”

 

“Same for you.” Morgana answered with a frown.

 

“It's going to be alright, okay?”

 

“I know.” She didn't.

 

“Love you.”

 

“Love you too.”

 

**

 

Knock, knock, knock!

 

No answer.

 

“Merls, it's Will, I know you're in there, open up.”

 

No answer.

 

Knock, knock, knock, knock!!

 

“Merls, open up this door right now, I've been waiting out here for the past five minutes and it's late and I'm cold.” Will whined.

 

No answer.

 

Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock!!!

 

No answer.

 

“Dammit Merlin! Open the door!”

 

It took Will another five minutes of frustration to remember that Arthur kept a spare key taped under the door mat, another two minutes to rip the reinforced tape it was stuck to – don't ask, and another minute to open the door before coming inside. He did not like what he found in his wake.

 

The flat was completely dark, but that wasn't what alarmed Will the most. What alarmed him was the dark figure sitting in the farthest corner of the living room by the bookshelf sitting with his knees to his chin, arms wrapped around his legs, and weeping like somebody died. And maybe to Merlin, somebody did, because Arthur means everything to him and Will knows that. But the severity of the situation itself... Will hasn't seen Merlin cry since they were fourteen and had to move from Ealdor to London in order for Hunith to take over Gaius' Apothecary business after Gaius' heart attack. Will of course, without having a dad, and having a drunk – absentee - for a mother tagged along for the ride with Hunith's full consent and his mother's relinquishing of parental rights. Fortunately for Will, there was enough monies and scholarships around to allow for him to go to the same fancy smansy school with Merlin that brought them into the lives of the likes of the Pendragons to begin with. Merlin's crying was still a cause for alarm.

 

And just like when they were fourteen, Will did the same thing that he was going to do now, and that was sit down on the floor beside Merlin, wrap his arms around his shoulders, and allow the tears to flow.

 

Flashback.

 

We can't move there Will, it's going to be horrible.” Merlin said while the tears flowed easily down his pale cheeks.

 

Why would you say that Merls, this is a great opportunity. I'm not all excited about that posh school Hunith's got us into but Gaius said he had a good friend, Uther's the name, and he said that it was the best school in the area for us. But this is our chance Merls, to get out of this place and to start over.” Will tried to encourage.

 

Easy for you to say, you were always the popular one. Look at me. I look like I have an ugly-duckling syndrome. Do you see these flying saucers for ears.” Merlin pointed at his antennas that he called ears. “And to top it off, I have big lips, like agirl, big eyes, and I'm pasty, and if that isn't enough, I'm gay. I'll never fit in to a place like that.”

 

First of all, I don't ever want to hear you talk about yourself like that again. Secondly, you will fit in. Thirdly, you are just as good as any of those posh gits that we're going to meet there. Forthly -”

 

That's not even a word.”

 

Quiet, it's my word. Forthly, no one is going to think better of you if you don't think better of yourself. And fithly -”

 

Really?”

 

Shut it. Fifthly, you'll have me. Best friends for life remember?”

 

Until some fancy smancy girl comes along.” Merlin mumbled.

 

Who's to say there won't be some fancy smancy posh git that will come around and take you away from me Merls?”

 

I highly doubt it, who would want me?”

 

Oi!” Merlin responded as Will hit him in the back of his head.

 

What did I tell you about that? You're just as good as anyone else. Give yourself some credit Merls, geez.”

 

End of Flashback

 

 

Merlin startled as Will drew him near and after a second's pause he slumped against Will's side – head on his shoulder, and allowed the floodgates to open.

 

**

 

Even with the tea, Morgana could not settle down. She ended up pacing the living room floor again. Mithian sighed but watched on, at a lost of what to do. Gwen, Freya, Elena, and Sophia arrived fifteen minutes prior and were each in their own states of worry.

 

“You said that Will went over to Merlin's?” Gwen asked Sophia.

 

“Yes, he went over shortly after Mithian called. He's worried about him.”

 

“Maybe if Merlin was worried about Arthur a little bit sooner -” Freya said but was cut off by Sophia before finishing her sentence.

 

“What's done is done. Now we have to find a way to salvage this mess. I highly doubt that Merlin intentionally allowed any of this to happen.”

 

“No one said that it was intentional.” Freya said sharply. “But even though we were all sworn to secrecy we tried to give Merlin as many clues as possible and either he missed it or didn't want to see it. And out of the lot of us, Merlin has spent the most time with Arthur, and he's a doctor, if anyone could have caught some of this it should have been Merlin.”

 

“That's not always true.” Elena said thoughtfully. “Sometimes it's those that are closest to us that we miss the warning signs for. You hear about it all the time. Suicidal teenagers, rape victims, depressed family members, trauma patients, and those being treated in domestic abuse situations. It happens all of the time. I volunteer at the crisis shelter so I know this as fact. There are a lot of family and friends who blame themselves for missing it even though they were always there, but the fact of the matter is -- unless you are there 24/7, if the person doesn't want you to know, there's a good chance that you won't. Not until it spirals out of control for the individual where they are no longer in control of their problems to hide it from others themselves.”

 

“But we knew.” Mithian countered.

 

“Correction, some of us knew.” Elena countered back. “Some of us did not know until Arthur's drunken confession. Only those who knew Arthur's besotted looks and how attentive he was to Merlin figured it out early on. But he was always drawn to Merlin so he didn't have to act much different there did he? One may have just thought Arthur was paying more attention to Merlin is all.”

 

Gwen was about to open her mouth.

 

“Now I'm not saying that Merlin isn't an idiot.” Elena said quickly. “But I am saying that maybe we should think about what's really important now and that's finding a way to salvage this situation between the two of them, because there's always going to be blame and doubt to shuffle about.” Elena finished.

 

**

 

Morgana couldn't listen to the girl's discussion any longer without saying some things that would have definitely been out of anger. She grabbed her phone and went to sit in her rocking chair on her front porch. She knew that she couldn't blame Merlin for what transpired between him and Arthur today, or for Arthur running away, but she didn't know if she could forgive him for being so oblivious and wrapped up into his own life that he didn't notice anything going on in the life of his best friend. Arthur knew just about everything that happened in Merlin's life. From day one when Merlin moved from Ealdor, Arthur took a liking to him. “There's just something about him, Morgana.” Would be Arthur's favorite saying. He loved Merlin like a brother, until he discovered -admitted - his preference for men over women and became to love Merlin as the love of his life. That acceptance of that knowledge was not easy for Arthur. He denied it to himself for a long time. He would look at Merlin like he was endearing but like he was a puzzle, because he couldn't understand why. He would always seem to find himself touching Merlin, or hugging him and tugging him close, but couldn't find it in himself to call it odd. Not at any time that Morgana, Leon, Lance, or Gwaine would call him on it. Hell, even their father picked up on it after the many times Merlin stayed over, but never said anything in hopes that is was just a passing fancy. Too bad for Uther, it wasn't.

 

Arthur made Merlin come to every footie match, every school game and would make Merlin sit front and center, “Stay right there. Your my good luck charm,” as Arthur would call him. When it was time to go to uni, Arthur immediately purchased a flat and moved Merlin in with him. He knew Merlin couldn't afford housing and schooling and wanted to help in anyway that he could. Well...that was partly true. The other part was that he always wanted to keep Merlin close. They all knew it. Of course he told Merlin the former, giving him the excuse of: “You can't even cook for yourself, someone has to take care of you, you're already skin and bones!” He would take Merlin as his plus one to school dances and events, he would also take Merlin to company affairs at Pendragon. And through it all, Arthur didn't recognize his own feelings. Well at least, he didn't recognize just how far those feelings extended. It wasn't until their third year of uni that Arthur recognized the full extent of his feelings for Merlin - for what they really were - and Morgana knew the exact moment that he did. And because she was Morgana she made sure that Lance, Leon, Gwaine, Elena, and Gwen knew it too. For witnesses sake. It was karaoke night at Aithusa's and Merlin got up there and sung 'At Last'. No one even knew that he could sing! But during that song Merlin was nervous and Arthur was always calming to him so he focused his sights on Arthur for the entire song. Morgana saw the awareness in Arthur's eyes change from dense denial, to a brief horror, to sadness, to conflicted, and finally to a full acceptance. She watched his expression change from the proud best friend to being fond, soft, and something else in between. And on that night, the pining officially began. And because it was just Arthur's luck, Merlin was dating Cenred at the time. What could make it worse? As of their sophomore year at uni – one year after Arthur realized his feelings for what they were - Merlin suddenly noticed his good looks and became a lover boy, and from that point on was almost never single. And with that new found popularity, Merlin was never single for any longer than for a few months at a time. 

 

Morgana always thought it would have been different if Arthur realized his feelings for what they were sooner.

 

Morgana was rocking back and forth in thought as her phone went off. She shrieked as she saw Arthur's name and picture showing on her caller id. “Arthur! Where are you?”

 

“No, not Arthur. Hey Morgana, this is Gary at Aithusa's. I've got someone over here that belongs to you.”

 

“Arthur?”

 

“Yep. He's been here all day, taking up residence at the end of my bar drowning his sorrows shot after shot in my good whiskey. He's been yammering on about some unrequited love mumble jumble and about him ruining everything. He's starting to scare my customer's away. Good thing their my regulars. But listen, if he didn't look so distraught I would have cut him off hours ago. It's only for the fact that I know he's good for paying along with the fact that I have no intention of giving him his car keys to drive that I haven't.” Gary paused before continuing, “look could you send someone over to pick him up? I offered to call Merlin but he pretty much had a conniption fit and he wouldn't calm down until I told him that I would call you instead.”

 

That was to be expected. Morgana nodded to herself before speaking. “You did the right thing. I'll send Gwaine.”

 

“Great, and Morgana?” Greg called, his tone changed to something more cautious.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Go easy on him, yeah? He looks like his world has just fallen apart.”

 

“I will. Thanks.”

 

Morgana hung up the phone without even saying good-bye, again. She took a brief moment to consider that she really needed to work on that before dismissing it and running back into the house. She must have startled some people by her quickness because Elena jumped and promptly slipped off the side of the couch onto the floor. And Gwen had to do a double take not to spill her tea. Not even the thought of Gwen spilling tea on her white carpet alarmed Morgana in her relief. “We've found him!”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It took twenty minutes for Merlin to stop shaking and crying and another ten minutes before Will could finally get him to talk. After Merlin settled in on the coach with a hot cup of tea.

 

“He hates me, Will.”

 

“Who hates you?”

 

“Arthur, he hates me.”

 

“Arthur could never hate you, it's not in his DNA to hate you.” Will replied while ruffling Merlin's hair.

 

Merlin shook his head. “No, you didn't see him. The way he looked at me, like... like I betrayed him or something. He's never looked at me like that before. I've never done anything to deserve it.” Merlin paused before continuing, “at least I never thought that I've done anything to deserve it.”

 

“Did he tell you why he was angry?”

 

“No,” Merlin shook his head again. “No, I even pressed to find out why. It's always worked before when he's kept something from me but this time he just started accusing me of things. He ended up locking himself in his room.” Merlin sniffed.

 

“What did he say, Merlin?” Will pushed.

 

“He just kept saying that I should know, that he shouldn't have to tell me.” Merlin mumbled. “Tell me what?” Asking himself but asking aloud.

 

Will closed his eyes. He loves Merlin but when it comes to Arthur he totally misses the boat on his feelings. Maybe Arthur kept him close for so long that Merlin just thought that how they interacted with each other was normal, but, - nevertheless - somebody should have said something by now. Or Merlin should have noticed. How could he not? Arthur's done everything but tattoo the word mine on Merl's arse. Will hesitated too long and didn't realize that Merlin was staring at him. Damn, now's the time he chooses to be observant!

 

Merlin swallowed and clenched his jaw before saying, not asking, “you know.” Merls knew Will the longest and if there was one person he could read - when Will let his guard down - was him. And Will was tired.

 

Will, on reflex shook his head but Merlin wasn't buying it and said it again. “You know.”

 

“Merlin, I don't know what you're-”

 

“Does everyone else know?”

 

Will didn't respond.

 

Merlin didn't say anything, but his face paled, and two seconds later he started pacing the floor before shouting, “why didn't anyone tell me?!”

 

Will spoke, softer this time. “We couldn't.”

 

“That's bullshit!”

 

“No, it's not, we couldn't.”

 

“Will, how long have we been friends now?” Merlin questioned, he knew the answer.

 

“Since we were three.”

 

“And how old are we now?” Merlin was really rubbing it in.

 

“Twenty-seven, but Merls -”

 

“No, don't but Merl's me Will! Everyone knew like this has been some joke. And no one's bothered to tell me about it. It's obviously serious because Arthur through in my face. And in the meantime he's blaming me because I'm obviously supposed to know. Fuck!” Merlin pulled on his hair in despair.

 

“We couldn't tell you -”

 

“Couldn't or wouldn't?”

 

“Couldn't. Merlin, despite how you may think about this this is bigger than just about you.”

 

“That's the second time today someone has accused me of thinking it's all about me. I didn't like it then and I'm liking it even less now.” Merlin said defensively.

 

“Who said it first?” Will asked.

 

Merlin ran a hand through his hair before answering, trying to calm down. Somehow he knew this was all his fault. “Arthur.”

 

“Don't you think that's saying something?” Will responded, sometimes the only way to get to Merlin was by being blunt. Arthur candy-coated things for far too long. Will was never that way.

 

Will was going to say more before his phone ranged, he checked his caller id and excused himself from Merlin before answering, “Soph, did they find him?”

 

“Hey, yeah, they found him. Apparently he decided to get nostalgic and went to Aithusa's to get drunk as a skunk. We never thought to check there because there were so many memories for him, you know? We thought it would be the last place that Arthur would want to go to right now. Besides, you know it's across town by uni, and we only really go there as a group and on special occasions. Gwaine's on his way to pick him up now though.”

 

Will nodded and sighed, he knew Sophia wasn't finished so he gave it five seconds more before attempting to speak, he was right, she continued three seconds later.

 

“How's Merlin?” Sophia asked.

 

“He's not good?”

 

“Are you going to tell him?” Sophia asked bluntly.

 

“No, probably, I don't know. But I have to say if this were me I would probably want to know.” Will said softly, almost in a whisper.

 

“It's not you're secret to tell.” Sophia reminded.

 

“And that's the only thing that stops me every time.” Will groaned in frustration. “It's not fair. It's tearing two good people apart and it's one sided, we don't even know how he feels about this.”

 

“You mean Merlin.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Everything will figure itself out eventually.” Sophia attempted for reassurance.

 

“We said that to each other a year and a half ago after Arthur's drunken confession. It hasn't worked out yet.” Will paused before continuing, “look, I've got to go before Merls loses it. I shouldn't be too much longer but if worse comes to worse, do you mind if I bring Merls to stay in the guest room for the night?”

 

“No, that's fine. He probably doesn't need to be alone anyway and Aries would love to see her uncle.” Sophia responded.

 

“Your the best.” Will smiled.

 

“I know, take care of Merlin.”

 

“Love ya.”

 

“Love you too.”

 

Will ended the call only to turn around and find Merlin standing behind him and staring.

 

“You alright mate?” Will asked, not knowing how long Merlin was standing there for, and not knowing what was heard. Sometimes it was best to act normally around Merlin and he would let it go.

 

He was wrong.

 

“What was that about Arthur's drunken confession?”

 

“Merls -”

 

“Never mind,” Merlin sucked in a breath. “I knew you wouldn't tell me anyway. Just...just go, Will. There's nothing you can do for me if you can't tell me the truth, and apparently, no one wants to tell me anything. But at least tell me that that call was to tell you that they found Arthur?”

 

Will nodded, “it was.”

 

“And is he alright?”

 

“No, he's not alright, but he's back at Morgana's for the night.” Will knew he was about to go out on a limb but he found that he had to ask. “Merls, I'm going to ask you something and I need you to be completely honest with me, yeah?”

 

“Why would I lie, Will?”

 

“Not lie, per se, maybe buried it, suppressed, ignored it, not addressed, something like that.”

 

Merlin raised a brow.

 

Will continued. “I want you to think about it and to answer me honestly, okay?”

 

Merlin nodded.

 

“How do you feel about Arthur?”

 

Merlin's brows scrunched together automatically before responding. “Will, you've asked me this question before and I've told you, he's my best mate -”

 

“That's always been you're answer, yes, but it not exactly the answer to the question itself is it? I asked you how do you feel about Arthur?”

 

“I love him. He's my best mate.” Merlin responded truthfully.

 

“Is that all that you feel for him?” Will asked.

 

“I'm not getting what you're saying Will. Arthur and I have been friends for thirteen years, he's my closest friend aside from you, and I love him. What are you trying to get at?” Merlin asked, expression guarded.

 

“I'm asking you do you have feelings for Arthur?” Will yelled.

 

Merlin's eyes went wide and his mouth opened and closed like a fish, he was in a brief state of shock. It took him a minute to answer. But when he did, he answered carefully. “Why would I have feelings for Arthur? He's my best friend, I love him and would do just about anything for him.” Merlin paused. “Will, what's going on?”

 

Will couldn't say, and what frustrated matters is Merlin sounded like he wanted it said. Like he couldn't - wouldn't – respond unless it was clear. Will ran a hand through his hair and looked at Merlin closely before responding. “Let me ask you another question.” It was going to be a long night.

 

**

 

“How did we let it get this far?” Lance said. Everyone was present at Gwaine and Morgana's with equal looks of guilt, sadness, and sympathy for their friend.

 

Morgana responded quickly, “we? We didn't let it get this far. Many of us have been spending time with Arthur and trying to convince him to deal with his feelings for Merlin. Leon is his PA at work so he watches him like a hawk and has control of his schedule. Gwaine and I are always trying to get him to stay over. The first guestroom down the hall is even decorated and set up for him! Then we've got Lance and Gwen always trying to take Arthur out or to bring him over to play with the kids, because we all know that Arthur loves kids.” Everyone nodded. “Do we all really drink that much to have so many pub nights, or do you think we have that time set to get Arthur outside of his flat?” The last question was rhetorical. They all knew the pub nights was meant to get Arthur outside of his flat, well, everyone with the exception of Merlin. Morgana sighed. “It's not that we let it get this far. We've done everything that we could actually do with the exception of three things. And that's lock him up in a room - force feed him - and make snap out of it, tell Merlin, or the one thing that would make Arthur hate us all for life and that's tell our father.

 

Morgana got up and started pacing the floor again before going on her rant.

 

“So let's evaluate those reasons in order of importance shall we? If we were to manage to tie him up - force feed him - and force some happiness in him we would run the chance of getting arrested for kidnapping. I say this because despite the fact that everyone thinks that I'm the evil one between the two of us, and Arthur's the sweet and adorable one, it doesn't change the fact that Arthur can be downright vindictive when he wants to be. Especially when he feels cornered. Now I'm not saying that I'm afraid, I'm just saying that we all know that he can also be stubborn, and if he doesn't want to address the problem itself it's not going to be addressed.

 

Morgana ticked off the first suggestion on her finger as failed.

 

We could tell our father. Out of everyone he is the only person with the power to have Arthur committed or force the issue of him getting help by saying that he will be committed if he doesn't. But father also goes overboard and will start taking charge of Arthur's life, his privacy, and his decisions. And yet, none of this solves the problem if Arthur doesn't want the help. It only puts his inheritance at risk and makes for some really messy articles in the tabloids if any of this get's out. So far none of this has affected Arthur's work, and that's how come father's been in the dark. And Arthur, with Leon's help as PA unbeknownst to him, has continued to do an excellent job at work. Arthur has been very careful in making sure that Uther stays in the dark, which means he still has his since of control and if we told father, he would hate us for life because we would basically be signing him up for either rehab or prison at the Pendragon manor. Any independence of Arthur's would cease to exist until father deemed Arthur healed again. And living in that manor, well let's say, after living in the manor myself, could be a life sentence for Arthur.

 

Morgana ticked off a third finger.

 

“That leaves Merlin.” Percival said.

 

“Yes, Merlin, the one that is the source and root of all things Arthur. The one who, out of all of us-including my father, actually has the most influence over Arthur. The one who, if Arthur was pining over anyone else, could have made Arthur see reason since he does listen to him and allows Merlin to guide him in his decisions. The one person who Arthur spends most of his time with. The one person who sees everything that happens in Arthur's life but the one thing that we need for him to see which is Arthur's love for him and what it's doing to him.”

 

“I know we promised but why can't we tell Merlin? It's been so long, they could have been together by now.” Mithian asked. Being the last in joining the group she didn't see Arthur and Merlin throughout their childhood or at uni. She joined the gang when she met Merlin in medical school and they became quick friends and later study partners. Her first impression of Merlin and Arthur then was that they were a couple. They finished each others' sentences and they did everything in consideration of what the other wanted without ever having to ask. It shocked her the day she found out that they weren't a couple, when Merlin bought met his boyfriend at the front of their building after class. Mithian still remembered that one, she thought Merlin was cheating on Arthur until he set the record straight. But through it all, it was easy to see Arthur's feelings and sense Merlin's adoration and awe for his friend. She used to hint at a future relationship with Arthur to Merlin because they seemed to fit together so well, but Merlin would only remind her that they were best mates. When she finally mentioned it to the gang they immediately told her that Arthur didn't want his own feelings for Merlin made known and – somehow - by the end of the evening, she was sworn to secrecy. She never understood why it was so important to be kept a secret and always wondered what Merlin's reaction would be if he actually knew the truth. Like now.

 

“Arthur doesn't want Merlin to find out that way.” Lance said immediately.

 

“But why not?” Mithian pressed.

 

Leon answered. “He wants Merlin to discover his feelings on his own. To want Arthur on his own, without the pressure of Arthur's feelings getting in the way. He doesn't want Merlin to accept him and try simply because their best friends, which is a good possibility, considering the fact that Merlin has always done everything Arthur's asked him to do. He's always trusted Arthur wholly, what's one more thing? Arthur wouldn't be able to know that it was for real.” Leon whispered along like he knew what Lance was saying word for word, he probably did. Arthur's been repeating for a while now.

 

Morgana nodded in agreement with Lance before speaking herself, “Arthur's also afraid that Merlin will actually reject him if he did say anything and that he would ruin their friendship. We're talking almost a decade and a half of friendship here, he's too afraid to risk it, even for his own personal feelings. He felt his own feelings as insignificant in comparison.” Morgana shook her head before continuing. “He sees all of the relationships that's Merlin's been in, and each time he sees another one he sees his missed opportunities. He sees that because - in his mind - Merlin is choosing someone else instead of him. In his mind, he thinks that Merlin has already chosen someone else instead of him because here's Arthur, standing before him single,” Morgana started ticking off her fingers again, “bi-sexual- may as well say gay, richer than dirt, available, fit, excellent boyfriend material, gorgeous, and of course available. His words not mine,” Morgana says before continuing. “ He doesn't want him to decide now that he likes him because of his feelings and he doesn't know how to tell him without Merlin giving in for the wrong reasons because if he really wanted him he would have chosen before being forced into a decision. And so far none of those decisions have included him.”

 

“So where does late leave us?” Elena asked.

 

“Screwed.” Freya answered.

 

“No, there has to be something that we can do and by we I mean Morgana.” Gwen said looking at Morgana like she had all of the answers.

 

If she only she knew the truth. Morgana thought to herself before responding to the floor. “I'm going to force him to take a trip. I'll have to think of a way to convince father to get him to take the time off to go away while making him think it's his idea. But I think it could work. And after the events of the evening I think I have enough ammunition now to force Arthur into seeing the therapist I've had lined up for him, without him taking offense in my doing so.”

 

“And you really think Arthur would actually go on this trip?” Mithian asked.

 

“Right now, yes. Last week, no. This is the perfect time for Arthur to get away, and hopefully, make some decisions about what he wants to do.”

 

“What about Merlin?” Sophia asked.

 

“What about Merlin? This, right now, isn't really about Merlin -” Freya answered.

 

“Except that it is -” Sophia countered.

 

“Not now it isn't. Right now it's about Arthur getting better. You don't know everything that Gwaine and I know, how far this has gotten that is, but it's better for all concerned for Arthur to take some time away. And while away, hopefully, he'll find someone to help him get over this seven year old itch.” Morgana interjected.

 

“It's not going to happen overnight.” Elena stated, reminding everyone that this wasn't a quick fix situation.

 

“No, it won't, but at least Arthur will be able to see the possibilities of it. Of having someone in his life who genuinely cares for him -” Morgana replied.

 

“Merlin does genuinely care for him -” Sophia countered.

 

“Someone who loves him -” Freya countered back.

 

“That's Merlin too.” Sophia countered again.

 

“Someone who loves him in the way that Arthur deserves to be loved.”

 

No one commented there.

 

“Merlin's going to want to see him.” Lance said carefully.

 

“That's up to Arthur, but I will not encourage it. It's not like Merlin's going to suddenly come around now and magically say the three words that Arthur's been waiting to hear for all of these years. And anything else is going to be too painful. No, I'm not getting involved.” Morgana shook her head. “Not unless he he wants me to.” Morgana was going to say more until the doorbell ranged. She stopped what she was going to say and headed to the door to answer it.

 

“Will,” Morgana pulled him in for a hug.

 

“Hey, how's he doing?” Will asked.

 

“He's alright. We changed him, gave him medicine, made him drink lots of water, and put a barf bag beside the bed. He's set up for the night.” Morgana responded with a smile before standing aside to let Will in.

 

“That was like a flashback of our uni days.” Will said with a chuckle.

 

“I know.”

 

“How's he doing mentally?”

 

“He's a little broken up. I think it's to the point where he has to address some things and he's fighting it because he doesn't want to.”

 

“Sounding like a therapist.”

 

“Hey,” Morgana said while knocking Will in the shoulder, “that actually came from a therapist.”

 

“Should of known it wasn't you.” Will laughed. He loved riling the Pendragon siblings up.

 

“Oi!”

 

“So...,” Will said as he walked into the living room, leaning over to give Sophia a kiss, nodding to everyone else, “what's going on in here?”

 

“We were talking about whether or not Merlin is going to finally lift his head out of the sand to see what's going on around him.” Freya replied.

 

Will nodded before saying, “I'm not going to say that Merls is in the right here, but I am going to say that it shouldn't be so much about who's right and who's wrong. I don't think anything that happened between them was intentional.”

 

“It doesn't matter whether or not it was intentional though, it matters that it happened at all, and for so long.” Freya said to Will.

 

Will sighed before continuing to speak. “Look, I'm exhausted, and I'm not here to fight. But I want to share a little story with you guys that may even help to shed some light on this situation if you'd allow me?” Will asked, looking at Morgana, they were the pranksters and the speak their mind people for the longest in the group, and he was closest with her outside of Merls, Lance, and Arthur. He knew she wouldn't argue with him, besides, she looked just as exhausted he did. Morgana nodded to allow it. Will continued. “When we first moved from Ealdor and Arthur took us in with you lot the first thing all those pretty rich brats began to mumble was we were Pendragon's charity cases. It didn't bother me any. I could give a crap about what those pricks would say because those words were just words and they were probably jealous. But it did hurt Merls. Mainly because he was closer to Arthur to begin with. And since I wasn't the only one to see that, he became a target.

 

“We never heard anything about that. If we did we would have put a stop to it.” Lance said immediately.

 

“It was never done in front of you and Merls didn't want you to think of him like that. Like he was a wimp or that he needed your help.” Will responded, apologetically, because it was kept from them.

 

“How long did that go on?” Gwaine asked.

 

“Oh, so you think it doesn't happen anymore now that we're adults? That children that were bullies don't grow into adults, that are bullies?” Will asked innocently.

 

Everyone had the expression that said exactly that.

 

“Well I hate to burst your worldview but bullying only becomes more sophisticated as we grow older but bullying, it still - fucking - is. But back to my story. Throughout school Merlin would be called Arthur's charity case. Merls would be told that the only reason why Arthur even befriended him was because it looked good, as a Pendragon, to donate to worthy causes. And since Merls and I were scholarship students his reputation was the only reason why Arthur took the time out to be with us.”

 

“That's not true.” Morgana nearly shouted. “We all loved Merlin and you, even though you were rude all of the time, until we finally broke you in. But still, that was not the reason why -”

 

“Morgana, it's okay. We know. Merls and I both know and understand. But it didn't completely change our perception of the rich. We just thought of you lot as the exception to the rules is all." Will scratched his jaw before continuing. "But Merls was teased constantly, always getting jabbed in the hallway -”

 

“When did this happened? We were always with him.” Gwaine said frustrated with himself that they missed it.

 

“You couldn't have been there all the time and Merls is very good at hiding his emotions when he wants too. It took me almost six months to figure it out – after - Merls told me they stopped it to figure out that they hadn't. And that's only because I walked in his room on him while he was changing and saw a big bruise on his shoulder from where he was shoved into a locker. The git swore me to secrecy. These damn secrets,” Will muttered before continuing, “but Arthur. Arthur took about three months more than me, but when he did find out he was livid. But that was more because of how he found out.” Will laughed then. “He walked up on those spoiled brats and made it very clear that he would ruin anyone that laid a hand on Merls. Not only ruin them in school, but that he would have Uther ruin them professionally too. Their future and their families. Whether he had what it took to make that happen didn't matter. The people stopped, well - for a while at least.”

 

“How come no one's told us about this before?” Gwen asked.

 

“Because Merls didn't want anyone to know and Arthur would do just about anything for him.”

 

No one could say anything. It was true.

 

“You hinted that some of this is also going on now. What did you mean?” Mithian asked.

 

“Exactly what I said.” Will responded turning to Mithian. “Do you really think those rich gits want to see Merls as Arthur's plus one at all of those Pendragon company functions?”

 

“Now wait a bloody minute, nobody -” Morgana jumped in, almost offended.

 

“Morgana, I think we just established that we don't see everything.” Will interrupted sharply.

 

“What happened?” Leon prompted.

 

“Nothing physical. Just all of the leers from those snobs and the comments that Merls is just Pendragon's rent boy. They basically think of Merls as a kept man and that when Arthur tires of him he will turn him loose.” He raised his hands up, placating. “We know this isn't true. But you can't stop what people say in the dark corners or in the restrooms or even on the balconies. Arthur is one of the most eligible bachelors in London, hell in England. I'm not gay, but I can appreciate beauty enough to know that he's gorgeous and he's got the personality to go along with it. Not to mention he's got a good heart, and deep pockets to boot.

 

“If only Merlin could see that.” Elena said with a sigh.

 

“I know right.” Will joked, but rubbed his forehead tiredly before continuing. “But not only that, he's also the heir to all things Pendragon. Meaning, they want him and they see Merls as the figure standing in the way of all that. So of course their going to try to say whatever they have to say to get Merls to think he's insignificant. To get him to walk away. Despite the fact that they were just two best mates hanging out. As Arthur would say. It didn't matter because everyone with eyes could see how Arthur looked at Merls. Everyone but Merls himself. It may have been confirmed by Arthur's drunken confession, but you would have to be blind to miss it.”

 

“Which goes back to our original point.” Freya said stiffly.

 

“No it doesn't, not really. Look. When you spend most of your life shielding yourself from people's looks of disdain, their condescending tones, their oops - sorry - I didn't see you there, the verbal abuse, the taunting, and the physical abuse of our youth you tend to close yourself off emotionally to protect yourself. Thus making the verbal abuse and the leering received taking little affect over Merls now. And, and this is just me here. Somehow I think it blocked Merlin from seeing Arthur in any other capacity aside from friendship.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean that it does still have an effect. Merls to some extinct does feel like he will never be on par with the rest of you lot. He does feel like a charity case at times like he did at first when Arthur took him in to live with him. Despite how Arthur tries to make him feel otherwise. Those words always manage to come back. And on some level, Merlin doesn't feel like he fits in your circle.”

 

“Has he told you this?” Elyan asked.

 

“Only when I pry it out of him. Never volunteered. And I have to piece the lot of it together. Do you know why Merls wanted to become a doctor?”

 

No one responded.

 

Will knew that. He sighed before continuing. “Even though he loves the profession and everything about what he does he chose that profession because it would give him enough respect in Arthur's society circle. He chose it in hopes that people would see him as someone that could be worthy of Arthur's friendship. It helped a little bit, but there were still those old money people that looked down on Merls because they had their daughters and sons lines up for Arthur already. As if Merls stood in their way.”

 

“They actually did.” Morgana laughed. “That's another reason Arthur would take Merlin. If everyone thought he had someone steady they wouldn't be flaunting their daughters in his face, and once they found out his preference, their sons and daughters.”

 

There were a few chuckles around the room. It didn't take away from the tension though.

 

“Did Arthur know about this?” Elena asked.

 

“Oh, he knew some of it. Arthur rarely misses a beat when it comes to Merls. Sometimes he's more on point than me – and I've known Merls nine years longer - but I miss things, especially after Aries came along. He nips it in the butt when he sees it though, but the damage of it has been done a long time ago and Arthur isn't able to see that because Merls has done such a good job covering it up from him.”

 

“This still doesn't answer the question of how Merlin could have missed Arthur's feelings for him.” Gwen pressed.

 

“If he's shut himself off from picking up all of that around him, hardening his skin and heart so to speak, then what makes you think he's good at picking up on feelings? Think about it, how many men has Merls been with now. Enough to supply a city. At least five of them should have had a connection with him. I think he sucks because he's hasn't been open to those relationships even though he said he was trying.”

 

“Poor Merlin.” Elena said while chewing her bottom lip.

 

“No, not poor Merlin. That's exactly why he never told anyone what was going on with him. Why Arthur had to catch things for himself instead of Merlin telling him. He never wanted your pity. That's not why I said any of this. I just thought you needed to know the truth before you are got on you're judgmental high horses!” Will almost yelled before composing himself. “Look, it's been a long night and I'm exhausted. I just came to pick up Soph and to check up on Arthur. We need to get Aries before it's too late, and we need to get Merls settled in because he needs some rest.”

 

“He's outside?” Elyan asked.

 

“Yes.” Will answered.

 

“Why didn't he come in?” Lance asked.

 

“Oh, I don't know. Maybe he get's the impression that you didn't want him here.” Will answered back sharply.

 

“That's not true.” Elena responded.

 

“It's not. Then have any of you - with the exception of Mithian and myself - gone by to check on how Merls? I know you were conducting the search but not all of you were. You're sincerity of showing you care is sincerely lacking.”

 

“Now wait a minute, Will.” Percival jumped in.

 

Will raised his hand. “Look, I'm not trying to argue. It's just an observation. Merls does feel like he's been kept in the dark by everyone that he cares about. But he doesn't blame you for not showing up. Arthur comes first to him in this regard. He only wanted to make sure that he was alright. He didn't want to come in because he didn't think he would be welcomed.”

 

“That's not true.” Gwen said.

 

“And if Arthur was awake, would it still not be true?” Will countered.

 

“That's not fair, Will.” Morgana responded.

 

“I'm not trying to judge Morgana. But I'm also not taking sides. They need to figure things out for themselves and I will be there to help them both any way that I can. I only told you lot those things about Merls to help you see that you don't see everything when you look at him. That maybe there are reasons why he's so oblivious.” Will shook his head, he really didn't want to argue. “Look, I'll stop by tomorrow to check on Arthur.” He said while pulling Morgana into a hug and kissing her on the cheek. “Tell him that I'm thinking of him.” Morgana nodded in response.

 

It didn't take long for him and Sophia to say there good-byes and they were gone.

 

“What do we do now?” Gwen asked.

 

Morgana shook her head and used her fingers to rub her temples before responded. “I can't think that far. The only thing I can see is Arthur's trip and the therapist. It will do him no good to deal with all of this pressure if we can't work on the other things first. It's been going on for far too long.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After the last person left for the night, Morgana closed the door and rested her head upon it closing her eyes. She felt arms going around her waist and a chin resting on her shoulders. She opened her eyes with a smile.

 

“Hey.” She said.

 

“Hey back at you.” Gwaine replied, giving her a kiss on her neck. “Are you going to be alright?”

 

“I don't know, ask me when this is all over.” Was her only response.

 

They heard feet shuffling, and turned to face the direction it was coming from only to see Arthur standing there, looking like the dead.

 

Morgana's first expression was of worry before she composed herself. Arthur didn't need that from her right now. “How are you feeling?”

 

Arthur shook his head. “Like crap. Like somebody hit me over the head with a sledgehammer. Like I just lost my best friend, and the only person that I'll ever love. Take your pick.”

 

“You don't know that -”

 

“I heard you all out here.”

 

Morgana tensed but otherwise showed no emotion before saying, “how long were you awake?” She asked hesitantly.

 

Arthur looked around the room and walked over to the sofa, sat down, and responded. “I never went to sleep.” He just pretended to in order to avoid the awkward discussions and questions about how he made a fool of himself. For seven years!

 

“How much did you hear?” Was Gwaine's question.

 

“Everything.” Was Arthur's only response. He paused, before continuing. “I heard Will, I heard what he said -”

 

“Arthur, you can't blame yourself for -” Morgana tried to say.

 

Arthur raised a hand for silence before speaking again. “I don't. How can I blame myself for that. Whenever I saw it I addressed it. I never gave Merlin the impression that he was less and I always tried to make him feel like he was more. If he ever compared me to those pricks than he never really knew me at all. Not like...not like I thought I knew him.”

 

“Damn right!” Gwaine said while Arthur continued.

 

“But it doesn't change the fact that the damage was done. At least, that's what Will said. The damage was done.” Arthur finished.

 

“That was Will's assessment though, you know how he always sees things differently.” Morgana replied.

 

“Will may see things differently, but it always comes from somewhere. He never makes things up, and he never lies. He may have been speaking from what he's seen, and apparently he's seen enough to make an assessment.” Arthur said in response, sighed, and continued, “and it's not like I blame Merlin for keeping it from me when I've been keeping my own secrets all of this time.”

 

Gwaine and Morgana nodded, it was true. Arthur wasn't finished.

 

“And what sucks about it is the fact that we can't go back to see how any of this would have changed if we were both honest with each other to begin with.”

 

“Your situations aren't the same Arthur.” Morgana stated firmly.

 

“No, no it's not, and I had my reasons, but it still doesn't change the fact that I never gave him a chance to make a decision based on me telling him how I felt. That I wanted him on some level to be the one to tell me first, because I was too chicken to step up and say it all myself -”

 

“That's not completely true Arthur, and you know it.” Morgana admonished. Gwaine went for the brandy.

 

“It's partially true, you can admit that.” Arthur snapped, pinching the bridge of his nose. “The blame in this is not all his to take.”

 

“Where's all of this coming from now?” Gwaine asked, passing tumblers of brandy out to the two siblings.

 

“I listened to all of you argue and realized that this is going to have to come to an end. And since the bickering originated because of me, it's going to have to end because of me. I didn't even know you felt so anti-Merlin in this.” Arthur commented.

 

“We don't.” Gwaine said quickly. “We love Merlin. We just wanted him to figure things out, to get his head out of his arse. Yes, it was frustrating seeing him miss the major craters of clues that we would drop along his way, and it's frustrating watching you fall apart piece by piece, but we do love him. We just don't like to see you like this, and it makes our defensive side kick in on overdrive. If it were in reverse, we would have felt the same towards you.”

 

“Except you would have had me to kick your arse for being so oblivious.” Morgana said with a grin.

 

“I don't think I will ever have to worry about stepping out of line for long with you sis.” Arthur said sincerely.

 

Morgana smiled back before responding. “Are you serious about getting the help now?”

 

Arthur nodded and ran a hand over his face before responding, “apparently I have a serious problem, and it's gotten out of my control. Merlin's attempt at cooking me breakfast said a lot on that front.” Arthur shook his head before looking at his stunned sister and brother-in-law, and gave them the “yeah, don't ask" expression. He sighed and continued. “Even if Merlin ever decided to want me I would be no use to him like this, or to myself, let alone anyone else. Listening to you guys argue over me also reminded me that it's more than just about me. It's funny, I accused Merlin of the same thing, and now I see it in myself. And on top of that, as you mentioned in your discussion, I can't risk father finding out.”

 

“Are you going to talk to Merlin?” Morgana asked.

 

Arthur rubbed his eyes with his hands before answering. “I don't think I have much of a choice in the matter.”

 

“Everyone has choices.” Gwaine responded.

 

Arthur shook his head. “No, I have to talk to him, to tell him. This has been eating at me for too long to let it go, and it's obvious that Merlin doesn't feel the same way -”

 

“You can't know that for sure without actually telling him how you feel, Arthur.” Morgana advised.

 

“Then what? What do you expect him to do. Feel bad that I've wasted all of my time pining after him? You expect him to pity me and give me a pity shag? To all of a sudden say that he has feelings for me too? What do you expect, huh? Because it didn't sound like he felt anything for me when we spoke aside from friendship. It sounded like he was upset because I wouldn't tell him what was wrong with me. And I can't blame him for that.” Arthur sighed and drew in a deep breath before continuing. “I can't blame him for not wanting me back, for not loving me back. That's his choice, and if he thinks that all of those other blokes are better for him then that's his choice too.”

 

“Then he's a fool.” Morgana replied in agitation.

 

Arthur looked up in surprise and defense in equal measure. “Morgana -”

 

“No, Arthur, if he can't see how he'd have it with you. And how you treated him, as if he were the most gorgeous thing in the world. If he can't see how precious you are, how special, than he is an oblivious fool, because you are all that he's been spending years looking for, and he can't even see what's standing right in front of him.”

 

Arthur smiled then. “You're just saying that because I'm your little brother.”

 

Morgana shook her head. “No, I'm saying that because I've watched you you're whole life, and I see the man you were then and the man you are now, and Merlin would be a fool to let you go.”

 

“He doesn't even want me.”

 

“Then fight for him.” Gwaine said, surprising himself but said again. “Fight for him.”

 

Arthur shook his head again. “I'm going to tell him, but I'm not going to fight for him. It's going to have to be his choice. I don't want him to choose me now because he feels obligated to do so. Because he feels like he has to make up for something because he missed everything that was going on around him.”

 

Morgana nodded at that. It sounded like her brother still had some pride left. “Well what are you going to do.”

 

“Apparently you already know.” Arthur responded raising a brow at his sister.

 

Morgana had the good grace to look guilty. “Oh, you heard that part eh?”

 

Arthur shook his head at his scheming sister before answering. “Yes, I heard that, but for once, and you better write this down on your calendar, I agree with you.”

 

**

 

“Soph!” Will yelled from across the house, by Merlin's door, “did you see my blue shirt?”

 

Sophia, probably calling from the other side of the house, considering her octave range, replied, “in the dryer!”

 

“Thanks!”

 

Merlin knew that he had a good ten minutes to think before anyone barged in. If Will was searching for clothes, that meant there was still time. Merlin laid on the bed, turned to his side, nearest to the wall, and thought about his and Will's conversation from the previous evening.

 

Let me ask you another question.” Will asked, tone careful.

 

What is it Will?” Merlin responded.

 

Why do you think Arthur hasn't dated in years?”

 

Merlin scratched his head before answering. “I've asked him that over the years, but he always said that he was not a casual dater. That when he does date it was going to be for keeps, and it was going to be with the one.”

 

And what did you think about that?” Will asked, continuing his caution. “Please God, let him get it.”

Will prayed silently.

 

I thought it was admirable, but that's Arthur. He wouldn't want to waste his time on a fling.” Merlin replied.

 

But you would?” Will threw out there.

 

Merlin took a few seconds more than normal before speaking. “I'm not Arthur.” Was Merlin's only response. Now we might just be getting somewhere, Will thought.

 

No, no you're not. But what if Arthur found someone that he could be serious about? How would you feel about that?”

 

Merlin took another sip of his tea, sat it down on the coffee table, sat back in his seat, and scratched the back of his neck before answering. “I guess I would have to be happy for him then, wouldn't I?”

 

But how would you feel personally, Merls?”

 

Will, I honestly don't know. What are you on about?” Merlin said in agitation.

 

I want to know how you would feel if Arthur brought a date home, that he liked, introduced him to you, and allowed that bloke to take Arthur back to his room to shag his brains out?” Will responded, in exasperation.

 

I really try not to entertain the thought of Arthur getting shagged Will -”

 

Will shakes his head and cuts Merlin off. “Answer the question, Merls. How would you feel if you were in your room while you heard Arthur getting his brains shagged out by someone he actually liked?”

 

I don't know because it's never happened before. Any date that Arthur's had when we were younger was never an overnight guest that he was serious about.”

 

This is so fucking frustrating.” Will said finally, more to himself, but continued. “Merls, do you see that you've never answered a direct question in regards to how you feel about Arthur?”

 

I did -”

 

No, you bull-shitted around it. I've been asking you about you're feelings for Arthur this entire time, and it's never processed in your mind. Uther always did say you had a mental affliction.” Will said while pacing the floor.

 

Now hey -”

 

I mean, really? I ask you direct questions and you don't want to address it. You miss everything of importance that happens around you, and you refuse to be confrontational. Unless you've known the person for a long time.” Will didn't stop pushing because sometimes a thrown of balance Merlin was easier to get information out of. An angry Merlin would be even better. And if he could just continue pushing, Merlin wouldn't have time to think up his well calculated answers.

 

Will, I don't know what you're talking about.”

 

Merls, have you ever thought about Arthur in any other way aside from being a friend?”

 

A brother -”

 

Aside from that?”

 

Will could see the shutters closing in on Merls. He could see that this was a subject that Merls didn't want to touch, and he could see that he only had a short window of opportunity before he would be left without a real answer at all, again.

 

Could you see Arthur as boyfriend material?” Will asked.

 

Merlin swallowed before getting frustrated and speaking, “Of course he's good boyfriend material, Will. He's all of the combinations rolled into one of a good boyfriend. What does that have to do with me, and the questions you're asking me?”

 

Will sighed. Sometimes Merls really did make him tired, he wondered if it was done intentionally -it wasn't, but he also smiled because he finally found an opening. Why didn't he consider this line of questioning before? But then he thought about wife, little girl, job, Merls' work, his always being with Arthur – if he wasn't on dates - and realized there was no time to. Will ignored Merlin's second question and responded to the first. “If Arthur's good boyfriend material, how come you've never considered him as a prospect for you?”

 

Merlin shot up from the coach, grabbed his cup, and headed off into the kitchen saying, “what the fuck Will! He's my best friend.”

 

Best friends date all of the time, Merls.” Will pointed out.

 

Not if they want to stay best friends.” Was Merlin's only response as he slammed the kettle back on the stove again to bring it to a boil.

 

Closer, Will thought before speaking again. “And what if Arthur wanted to change that?”

 

Merlin had his palms resting against the counter leaning into it. His head was bowed, but he answered. “Arthur wouldn't want to change that. We've been friends forever.”

 

Will did a very good impersonation of Gaius, unbeknownst to himself behind Merlin's back before continuing. “Are you fucking kidding me? Do you really not see? Do you not even see your worth to Arthur at all, or how - or why - he could possibly want to change your status between you?!” Will should have known not to come round while he was tired. He knew he was just going to spill the beans somehow. And Soph was going to kill him. He may not be having sex again until Aries goes off to uni, twelve years from now. Damn! Merls better make this worth it in the end.

 

Will, Arthur and I have always been friends.” Merlin breathed in deeply before continuing, “He's never told me that he wanted anything different and why would he? He has his pick of just about any male or woman mind, and in case you have forgotten, Arthur, is bi. And the question that stands out most importantly here is why would he want me with so many other options available?”

 

Will decided to answer the first question now, and to address the last one later. Number one seemed to be going in his favor. for now, and those other questions seemed to be Merl's way to circumvent his way around the Will's specific questions, and Will, was losing patience. Merl's definitely chose the wrong profession. He should have been a special agent. He could bull crap his way out of anything, and leave you walking out not knowing what was said, but one thing would be for certain, you'd never get the answer you were looking for. Well, Arthur always seemed to manage - and despite it all so did Will, and their friends - with the exception of the answer to this question. Will shook his head before continuing.“If he did tell you would you have even noticed Merls?”

 

Despite what people say Will I am not an idiot!”

 

And oh did Merls walk right into that one. Will didn't take the plunge though, but continued. “If a bloke gave you flowers would you notice, if he brought you chocolates, or made you a candlelight dinner would you notice the romantic intent?”Will knew the answer, but he was getting somewhere with this.

 

Of course I would notice!”

 

Would you notice it if Arthur did those things for you?”

 

Merlin froze, and Will wanted to sing hallelujah. But he continued to press. “Did you ever stop to notice why Arthur would serve you breakfast in bed after a hard night at work serving you you're favorites on a breakfast tray? Do you not notice the small vase that he places on it with a single rose? Sometimes red and sometimes blue?”

 

Merlin nodded, but otherwise remained silent. Will continued.

 

Do you know that those rose colors mean?”

 

Merlin shook his head.

 

A single red rose means 'I love you,' and the meaning behind a single rose means utmost devotion. Sometimes, depending on his moods, I would notice when I'd pop by over the years that he would purchased blue roses too for you. Do you know what that means?”

 

Merlin shook his head.

 

The blue rose means 'the unattainable, the impossible.'” Arthur was the one who actually taught Will the meaning behind the rose colors. Will makes it a point to buy Soph pink roses once a month. They signify perfect happiness and gratitude.

 

Merlin closed his eyes tight, and Will watched his skin color go completely pale. He was in shock, but Will couldn't stop.

 

There's other little things that he does for you too.” Will said quietly. “He takes your car for maintenance and makes sure that everything is running smoothly, he makes sure that you're fed, he does your laundry, and comes by your work sometimes to take you out or to bring you leftovers.” Will sucked in a breath before asking, “do you really think he does that for everyone else?” Will asks in a soft tone.

 

Merlin eyes have gone soft now, and Will is able to tell that Merls is chewing the inside of his cheek, but at least he's processing the information. “He does help out everyone else, Will. Even down to the babysitting. I don't know how he does it with work and everything else, but he does it.” Merlin shook his head and tugged at his hair before asking, “what are you trying to tell Will. That you think Arthur is in love with me?”

 

That's probably as close to the answer from Merls as Will is going to get, and Will mentally gave himself a pat on the back. But he couldn't let the moment go without going just a little but further. “That's not the important question here. Will had given away enough information. The important question would be what would you do if he was?”

 

I don't..” Merlin swallowed. “I don't know.”

 

How could you not know?” Will pressed.

 

Because I never entertained that Arthur would have seen me like that, Will. We've been friends forever and I've accepted that. He's my very best friend with the exception of you. And he was straight for a long time after we met, or so I thought. I never entertained that he would see me that way, and being gay from the jump when we met made me push any idea - of more - away as deep, and as far as the eye could see. I loved him too much as a friend, and I never revisited the thought. Arthur's always done all sorts of sweet things for me, even before he was bi, why would I start to think it meant anything different now?”

 

Oh I don't know, maybe because things have been different for years now. Also, Arthur may have always done sweet things for you, but things have definitely looked different over the years. Gestures, more grander and all that lot. And Arthur hasn't been the same Arthur in over a year and a half. Sure, he's been going through things for the past several years, but things have been hitting much harder ever since then.” Will rubbed his forehead and sat at the island table in the kitchen before continuing. “Did something happen a year and a half a go?”

 

To Arthur, no, Arthur's been fine.” Merlin responded in a knowing tone. Merlin always prided himself in knowing everything that was going on with Arthur, until now.

 

What about to you? Anything significant happened?” Will raised a brow.

 

Merlin scratched his chin and then played with the end of his t-shirt nervously before answering, “I got a marriage proposal.”

 

How come you didn't tell me about it?” Will asked, eyes wide, turning his full gaze on Merlin.

 

Merlin swallowed, hard, before continuing. “He wasn't the one, it wasn't a big deal.”

 

A marriage proposal is a big deal whether you say yes or no. Tell me about it.”

 

He was another doctor who transferred from the states to perform a delicate heart surgery for a friend. He stayed for three months while he walked his friend through the early stages of their recovery. We got together a lot.” Merlin said with a smile.

 

Go on.” Will pressed, knowing just what 'got together a lot,' meant.

 

He fell in love with me, or so he said he had, and at the end of the three months he asked me to move to the states with him, to marry him.”

 

And what did you say?”

 

I told him that I couldn't. I couldn't leave my work, my friends, my family, all of you, and Arthur...” Merlin shook his head. “I liked Robert, a lot, but I didn't love him. At least not enough for that, no.” Merlin shook his head again.

 

A thought came to mind then. “Did Arthur know?”

 

Merlin paused. “I didn't tell him immediately, I was going to, but he confronted me before I got a chance to say anything, before Robert was heading back to the states. He overheard the proposal somehow - we were at the flat at the time he gave it - and wanted to know what my decision would be.”

 

And what did you say?”

 

I said...I said that I didn't love Robert enough to make that kind of commitment.”

 

So you admitted to being in love with him?”

 

Will, I just finished telling you that I liked Robert a lot, but that I didn't love him -”

 

That's not what you told Arthur -”

 

It's what I meant.” Merlin yelled. “Arthur knows me well enough by now to read between the lines.” Merlin rubbed his temples. Merlin had no right to rub his temples “My head is starting to hurt.”

 

His and Will's both

 

Will led Merlin back into Merlin's room and instructed him to pack an overnight pack.

 

Why?”

 

Because you're staying the night with me, Soph, and Aries.”

 

But what if -”

 

Arthur's staying the night at Morgana's.”

 

But we still have to go get Soph -”

 

Yeah, we do, do you want to -”

 

I can't see anyone right now, Will, and based on everything you just said it sounds like they may not want to see me either -”

 

They're your friends -”

 

Mine and Arthur's. He needs their support right now -”

 

And you don't?”

 

Merlin looked at Will tiredly and sat on his bed. “Everything's not about me Will. If I wasn't sure that Arthur wouldn't want to see me right now I would be the first one there.” Merlin replied, and rubbed his face with his hands before continuing. “I guess if you bury your head in the sand for long enough from the things that happens around you - I guess eventually - it really happens.”

 

What is that supposed to mean?

 

Merlin laid back on his bed before answering. “It means I'm a horrible friend if I've missed everything that you've hinted at.”

 

Your not a horrible -”

 

Yes, I've kept such a tight hold on my emotions and keeping things at bay around me that I managed to completely lose sight of the important things, the obvious things.”

 

That's not true -”

 

Merlin sat up on his elbows and raised a brow.

 

Will rephrased. “It's not entirely true. For the most part you know everything going on around you. You are an excellent doctor, you're always there for everyone, and you're the best of friends.”

 

But...” Merlin prompted.

 

Why don't you tell me.” Will prompted back.

 

Merlin laid back down. “But I entirely missed the boat on genuine feelings and on reading between the lines for hidden meanings. And apparently, I've been so wrapped up in my own quest for Mr. Right that I neglected to see my best friend falling apart right before my very eyes.” Merlin grabbed a pillow and covered his face before speaking again. It came out muffled. “Kill me now! How could I have missed everything?”

 

Will had no idea, but the burying your head in the sand rung some past alarms. He'd have to think that one over on the drive to Morgana's. He replied instead, “Come on, get you're shit together. We have to hurry before Soph tears me a new one.”

 

Merlin removed the pillow. “But what am I going to do?”

 

Tonight? Nothing. Arthur's out cold. You're coming to mine, there's nothing you can do, but think about how you're going to dig yourself out of this mess.”

 

And then?”

 

And then, I think you need to sort out you're own feelings for once.” Will said finally.

 

 

One things for certain, Merlin thought as he rose out of the bed in Will and Sophia's guestroom, he wouldn't be able to focus on much of anything without speaking with Arthur first.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Soph!” Will yelled, “I can't find Aries' shoes to match with her red and black dress.”

 

Sophia rolled her eyes from where she stood in the kitchen making breakfast. “Did you try looking in the front closet? She may have put them there instead of in her bedroom.” Sophia replied back, not so much in a yell, but her irritable tone was clear.

 

Thirty seconds later. “Thanks!” Will yelled.

 

Sophia didn't reply. They go through this every morning, and she knew that her husband wasn't finished yet.

 

Ten seconds later.

 

“Soph!” Will yelled again. “Where did you put Aries' hair brush?”

 

Merlin was walking into the kitchen at the same time Sophia was about to roll her eyes again, but she stopped to give him a smile before yelling back to Will. “Try looking in her bathroom!” Sophia and Merlin looked at each other for a moment before bursting out into laughter.

 

“Do you really go through this every morning?” Merlin asked in astonishment, holding his stomach.

 

Sophia nodded while trying to calm back down from the laughing. “Every morning without fail.” After a few more giggles. “You see, I cook the breakfast while Will get's Aries ready for school. That's our routine but in all actuality,” Sophia leans in close to Merlin as if to share some important secret. “I'm the one who gets them both ready. It's really a day in the life of a wife you see, we just make our men think their contributing.” Sophia concluded with a smirk.

 

Merlin didn't know what to say to that. He tried for. “And does it work?”

 

Sophia raised her right hand for silence, and left it raised. She lowered one finger at a time as if ticking off seconds, when she got to the zero. “Soph!” Will yelled again, from Aries' room this time. “Aries' hair is getting tangled in the brush, and she refuses to let me brush it anymore claiming that it will be knotted beyond repair, and that you will be forced to cut it.”

 

Sophia turned her full gaze on to Merlin with the expression of, “See what I mean?” written all over her face. Merlin had to concede to her point.

 

Sophia didn't respond to Will right away. She only muttered looking at the floor, “And this is why I made English-Muffin Egg Pizzas for breakfast.” And then, in response to Will, “coming.”

 

“Do you need me to do anything?” Merlin asked, in an attempt to be helpful.

 

Sophia looked alarmed. “Yes, don't touch anything that can burn my kitchen down.” And then, after a brief moment of consideration, and seeing Merlin crestfallen expression, “why don't you finish toasting the English-Muffins. Two for you, two for Will, and one each for myself and Aries. Everything else is finished. I timed it to Will's ramblings.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “You two know each other so well.” His tone, wistful.

 

Sophia squeezed Merlin's shoulder as she began to make her journey to Aries' room, but she paused to reply. “That's what happens after 6+ years of marriage.” And then she hesitated. “Not much different from what you have with Arthur, and you've known him longer.” She didn't stay for a reply. And Merlin was glad for the reprieve.

 

**

 

It only took a few minutes to get everything sorted once Sophia got involved, and one more minute before everyone made their way to the kitchen.

 

“Uncle Merlin.” Aries said with a bright smile. “I didn't know that you were here.”

 

Merlin smiled back just as brightly before picking the six year old up, and giving her a big hug. “That's because you were asleep last night when we picked you up from Auntie Viv's, Pumpkin.” Merlin replied. Aries was adorable. She looked like Sophia spit her out, and she had all of Sophia's proper personality, with all of the attitude of Will. It was a volatile combination, but what else would you expect from Will and Sophia?

 

Aries put a serious expression on her face - like a big girl - for a moment, before leaning in and whispering in Merlin's ear. “Are you and Uncle Arthur having a fight?”

 

Merlin sucked in a breath for a moment before asking, “what makes you think that?”

 

Aries leaned in a little closer after glancing to see Sophia and Will putting the pizzas together before answering, “we overheard Auntie Viv on the phone last night. She said that Uncle Arthur left because he didn't want to see you, and that you messed up really bad.” Hazel brown eyes stared at Merlin's at the moment - ocean blues, while waiting for a response.

 

Merlin swallowed, looked back to see that Will and Sophia were still occupied, and paying them no mind, and responded, “sometimes, Aries. Sometimes adults have a difference of opinion, or we end up not saying things that are very important for the other to hear, do you understand what I mean?”

 

Aries didn't seem to buy the explanation.

 

Aries nodded her head in understanding before looking even more serious, and folding her arms to her chest, even while being held by Merlin. “I understand.” She paused. “I understand you messed up. That must be why you spent a night over here.” And that's Sophia perceptiveness, along with the Will side - of call it like you see it - all rolled into one.

 

And what could Merlin say to that?

 

Aries continued, “you promise to make it right?”

 

Merlin smiled, when did she grow up so much? “I promise I will try. I can't promise for Uncle Arthur though. We all have our own choices to make.” Merlin shrugged while setting Aries back on the floor.

 

“But Uncle Arthur does anything you say, mommy says so all the time.” Aries protested.

 

We adults really need to screen what we say around the children, Merlin thought. He shook his head before responding, honestly. “Uncle Arthur is upset with me, Aries. When he's upset, the normal way he reacts to me is no longer on the table.” Merlin knelt down to Aries' height. “Can you understand that?”

 

“I understand, but make it right before Christmas okay, Uncle Merlin?” Aries asked in a pleading tone.

 

Merlin tried for a smile again, it turned out to be a grimace, but still managed a reply of, “okay.”

 

**

 

Breakfast was served and on the table, along with coffee for the adults, and orange juice for Aries. The English-Muffin Egg Pizzas were made with sliced grilled tomatoes, sliced hard boiled eggs, and shredded mozzarella cheese.

 

As they sat around the kitchen table it was Sophia who broached the conversation first. “So Merlin,” she asked while taking a sip of her coffee, “what are you going to do today?”

 

Merlin finished chewing his pizza before answering, “I guess I'm going to have to see if Arthur will speak to me.”

 

“You know that he will.” Will responded easily.

 

“I know that he will, but I don't know if Morgana will let him.” Merlin replied just as easily.

 

“She'll do what Arthur allows.” Sophia replied.

 

Merlin shrugged. “Maybe, I also called my mum before I came out here. I told her that I was going to stop by. That I wanted to see a friendly face.”

 

“And we're not friendly faces?” Sophia asked with a smile.

 

Merlin laughed. “Yes, you are, but sometimes - in times like this - you need to speak with your mum.” Merlin finished, taking a hand and rubbing at his forehead. “She'll be able to help me with what I need to say, she always knows the right thing to say.”

 

“The only right thing to say right now is the truth,” Will replied. “Did you think about your feelings for Arthur like I asked you to?” Will asked.

 

Merlin nodded.

 

“And?” Sophia prompted.

 

Merlin looked at them all, even Aries was waiting for a response.

 

“And, I need to speak with Arthur before I can say anything about it.” Merlin said honestly.

 

“Fair enough,” Sophia responded. While Will said, “As long as you do.”

 

**

 

Arthur woke up shaky, dizzy, nauseated, and with the room slightly spinning. If he suffered from vertigo he'd be worried right now. He waited the dizziness out by keeping a fixed point on a tiny crack in the ceiling. It took about five minutes before everything calmed down, and went back into focus. He then turned to look at the clock, saw it was noon, and promptly cursed himself. Father would be worried, was Arthur's thought. Arthur, despite how he's been on the inside, has been to work at 9:00 sharp every morning, five days a week, without missing a meeting, and has done his work to his father's satisfaction, even while being torn up on the inside. It maybe evident that he works through lunch, but Arthur could hide behind a busy schedule with that. But anything else...He's a Pendragon, and if Uther sensed weakness he would jump on it. Arthur couldn't afford that. And he definitely couldn't afford Uther finding out the reason why he's been slightly dying inside. Just thinking about it made Arthur's chest hurt, and he didn't even focus on thinking about what to do with Merlin yet. Arthur groaned, pulled back his blanket, and got out of the bed. He would have to call Leon to let him know that he was running late - to make something up - and to tell his father not to worry. He had to hold the door frame of the room before moving, even his muscles ached. When he finally made it to the kitchen the first thing he saw was a hand shoving a glass of water and two paracetamols in his face. Taking it from Morgana, Arthur could only say thanks.

 

“Anytime.” Was her reply, before she started the coffee pot.

 

“Work?” Arthur said while swallowing his pills.

 

“Called father and told him that we were working from home today. I also got Leon to forward anything important for you to your email.”

 

“Thanks,” Arthur said again, before he took his seat at the kitchen table, and placed his elbows on it to rest his head in his hands. Sensing the silence Arthur asked, “what else?”

 

Morgana took a seat across from Arthur before replying, “I told father how overworked you've been, and brought to his attention that you haven't taken a vacation this year -”

 

Arthur raised his head quickly, and did that hurt, eyes widened he shrieked, “you did what?!”

 

“Relax,” Morgana said while reaching other the table to grab Arthur's hands in hers. His was already starting to shake in panic, she squeezed them firmly in hers before continuing, “I planted it in his head like it was his idea.” Morgana squeezed his hand again before adding, “it's the oldest trick in the book.”

 

Arthur looked sideways at Morgana before replying, “really?”

 

She nodded aggressively and added, “I learned it from you, and then I tweaked to suit me so that I could use it on you too.” Morgana replied with no shame.

 

Arthur shook his head, and looked at her incredulously before replying, “why does that not surprise me?”

 

Morgana let go of Arthur's hands after one more firm squeeze to put four slices of bread in the toaster, and to prepare two cups of coffee. She replied while doing so, “Oh hush it, you're missing the point here dear brother.”

 

Arthur folded his arms across his chest, and raised a brow - fortunately that did not hurt - before asking, “and what is the point dear sister?”

 

Morgana raised a defiant brow right back at Arthur before answering, “the point is that our father is giving you a week and a half off for vacation.”

 

That shocked Arthur. “He is?”

 

Morgana nodded before turning around after the toast popped from the toaster. “He is. He even said you could take more time if you needed. That you did such an excellent job with the merger between Bayard and Odin that you deserved the time off. He would have probably gone out and bought you a new car if I continued.” Morgana said with a chuckle, as she buttered the toast before making her way over to putting cream and sugar in their coffee. She was too quiet.

 

Arthur prompted. “And...”

 

Morgana turned back to him with a smirk that only said, “you know me all too well, dear brother,” before responding, “and I've booked you at a resort, you're plane leaves the day after tomorrow.”

 

Arthur unfolded his arms and sat back in his chair, he ran a hand through his hair, and then looked at the kitchen table. Finally he looked back up at Morgana before asking, “when did you do all of this?”

 

“While you were sleeping of course. And I even spoke with my therapist friend. Her name's Nimueh Lake, we met at one of our Pendragon functions some years back, and have been friends ever since.” Morgana said while placing four slices of toast in front of Arthur along with a cup of coffee, she sat across from him with her cup of coffee, and took a sip, before continuing. “She said she knew our mother. She has to be at least fifty, but doesn't look a day over twenty-five. There must be some magical cream out there that I haven't come across.” Morgana said wistfully before adding, “you'll like her, even Morgause does.”

 

Arthur rolled his eyes internally. “Well, if Morgause likes her than I'm definitely going to love her.” Arthur said sarcastically while biting hard into his toast.”

 

Morgana pointed a finger and raised a brow, “shut it you. It doesn't matter what our cousin thinks, you're opinion is just as important to me too, and you know it. But anyway, Nimueh recommended the resort spot because there is also a therapist on sight, and a chef that makes the food to help build back some of the nutrients that are lost where eating disorders are concerned -”

 

Arthur raised a hand. “Are you sending me to some sort of sanitarium?”

 

“Gods no, Arthur. Why would I do that to you, so that you could return the favor to me one day? I would never do that. Unless you wanted me to...” Morgana trailed off. Arthur shook his head.

 

“Where is this place?” Was his next question while taking a sip of his coffee.

 

“I can't tell you.” Morgana responded firmly, while looking away briefly, and then taking another sip of her coffee.

 

Arthur looked at her in exasperation, moved his plate away, and leaned forward to ask, “I'm sorry what?”

 

“I said that I can't tell you.” Morgana replied, using her scrunchy on her wrist to tie her hair into a messy bun.

 

Arthur jaw tightened automatically, and he turned his face sideways once more to look at his sister being asking, “can't or won't?”

 

“Won't.” Morgana responded just as stubbornly.

 

“And why not?”

 

“I don't want to risk Merlin finding out, and going to you there. You'll find out on the plane.”

 

“Why the hell would he go there?”

 

Morgana ran a hand over her forehead, and then over her right brow before responding, “I don't know, but I have this feeling, and you really need to go Arthur. You need the time alone.”

 

“And what does that have to do with you not telling me?” Arthur asked, jaw still clenched.

 

Morgana gave Arthur an expression that clearly said, “really?” before answering. “You've never denied Merlin anything, if he asked, you would be the first one to tell him.”

 

Arthur's gritted his teeth to the point of pain, but didn't respond to that assessment, hence – conceding the point. Arthur shook his head, he really was pathetic. He dismissed the thought before speaking, very clearly, “fine, but if I go there and find the place is not right for me I reserve the option to leave without any pressure to stay, is that clear?”

 

Morgana smiled, she knew she had him there, because she knew the place was perfect for him. Her only words in response, “crystal.”

 

Arthur nodded before asking, “now what about Autumn's play?”

 

Morgana raised a brow before taking a sip of her coffee, clearly not following, “what about it?”

 

“Am I going to miss it?”

 

She shook her head. “No, you'll be back in plenty of time. It's all set up, and I promise you you'll love it.” Morgana grinned and added, “I expect a very nice Christmas present as a token of thanks.”

 

“If it turns out to be as you say it is I'll be happy to oblige.” Arthur said before taking another sip of his coffee. He moved his plate back in front him to eat more of his toast, and ran a hand over both brows, a thought coming across his mind. “You know that I'll have to speak to Merlin before I go right?”

 

“And that's exactly why I booked your flight, the reservation, and arranged for your time off all while you were sleeping. It was the only way to be sure that you wouldn't be able to change your mind, after speaking to Merlin.” Morgana replied, completely unrepentant by her own plotting. She knew Arthur wouldn't go back on his word, but it didn't mean that Merlin wouldn't try to convince him to stay.

 

Arthur was left speechless by Morgana's response, and clear evidence of her scheming behind his back. He could only shake his head in response, finish his breakfast, and pray that she wasn't sending him to a looney bend. But then he remembered something about returning the favor, and smiled to himself, knowing exactly what he would do to her if she did.

 

**

 

“Merlin, my boy,” Gaius said with a big smile when he answered the door, and found Merlin standing there. “Your mother said that you were coming by. It's been a while. Come on inside.”

 

“Thanks Uncle Gaius. It has been a while. I know I've been busy with work, but that's no excuse. I should definitely come by more often.” Merlin said, preoccupied, but remorseful.

 

“Oh hush, you're a big time doctor now,” Hunith said as she met them in the living room. “I'm just happy to see you,” Hunith's expression then promptly turned to worry at looking at Merlin. She gasped and asked, “look at you, you're practically skin and bones.” Hunith admonished while giving Merlin a tight hug before asking, “has Arthur been feeding you lately?”

 

Merlin paled and sucked in a breath, something Hunith and Gaius caught immediately, before responding, “You always say that, and of course he does. I happen to have a fast metabolism remember? And while we're on the subject, I can take perfect care of myself too you know?” Merlin said, straightening his shoulders. He did have his pride.

 

“Sure you can my boy,” Hunith replied with a placating tone, she petted Merlin on the head as she continued, “why don't you take a seat on the sofa.” She was steering Merlin into the direction of the sofa while still speaking. Hunith then turned her head slightly, and shot a worried glance at Gaius as she said, “I'll put the kettle on for some and tea and bring out the biscuits.” She was already walking away before she finished.

 

Gaius went to take a seat beside Merlin. He rested a hand of his shoulder before asking, “Merlin, is there something wrong?”

 

“Wrong, what makes you think something is wrong? Can't I just come for a visit?”

 

“Always, you know that, but you seem like your out of sorts somehow.”

 

“I'm fine. Well not totally, but I think I'd rather wait to say anything until both you and mum are present. At least then I won't have to repeat myself.” Merlin said in response while sitting back, and dropping Gaius' hand from his shoulder. He ran a hand through his hair, and then started playing with a wayward string that was coming apart from his t-shirt. Gaius raised a brow at the nervous ticks. He didn't mention it.

 

“So, how's work?” Gaius asked, he knew that was always a safe subject, unless Merlin lost a patient.

 

“It's good. I'm taking a few days off though, got some things to sort out.” Merlin nodded, and Gaius' brow shot to his hair line.

 

He didn't say anything yet though, wait for Hunith, he thought. But continued in his line of questioning. “Still liking the work in the emergency department?” Merlin's tension was clear so Gaius decided to tread lightly.

 

Merlin did smile at that. “Of course, I love the rush of it. The getting in, solving the problems, and working on the fly. I don't think I'm in a hurry to leave it yet, but when I do I'll probably set my sights on the neurosurgery department.”

 

“You'll be perfect in whatever you do, my boy.” Hunith said as she carried the tray of tea and biscuits back in, setting it down on the coffee table. She glanced at Gaius again and he shook his head slightly as in saying, “got nothing,” before she passed out the tea cups, and placed their biscuits on saucers to pass out.

 

It was quiet while they ate their biscuits and drunk their tea, the tension was palpable, and they knew that Merlin wouldn't share unless he felt backed up to a wall. And since he liked to hide away from his own thoughts, it didn't happen very often.

 

Hunith and Gaius watched in turn as Merlin went through the motions of shifting in his seat, of playing with that wayward string on his t-shirt, and as he tapped his doc martins into the carpet. It took ten minutes of silence, watching nervous ticks, and waiting before Merlin finally spoke. “Arthur and I got into a fight.”

 

Hunith was the first one to move to sit on the arm of the sofa while pulling Merlin into her for a hug. “I'm sure it's going to be alright, my boy. What did you two fight over anyway, did you forget to clean up? Or did you say something wrong?”

 

Merlin leaned away from his mum to ask, “what makes you think it was my fault?”

 

Hunith gave Merlin a look that clearly said “really? Arthur's an angel,” before replying, “because it's Arthur.”

 

Merlin shook his head before getting up and starting to pace the living room floor. Hunith slid from the arm of the chair, and sat in Merlin's previous seat. She and Gaius watched on as Merlin continued. “Could it not be something that he did? Arthur's all so perfect that he never makes a mistake?”

 

Hunith and Gaius looked at each other before Gaius said in a soft tone, “of course not. Arthur's human just like anyone else, but...” Gaius trailed off.

 

“But...” Merlin was getting tired of these but's.

 

Hunith continued, “but, Arthur would rather cut his right arm off before hurting you. So an argument that would leave you like this, one could only assume...” She trailed off.

 

“Would be my fault.” Merlin muttered, finishing Hunith's sentence.

 

“Not necessarily,” Gaius responded, before adding, “but the fact that you in this state, and the fact that you are here -”

 

“Not telling us what is wrong -” Hunith added.

 

“Makes us draw our own conclusions.” Gaius finished.

 

Merlin nodded, he couldn't argue with that. Instead he said, “Will told me something last night.”

 

“I thought you said that it was you and Arthur that got into the argument, chipmunk?” Hunith asked.

 

“Mum, I'm twenty-seven!”

 

“Never too old to be my chipmunk dear, now back to the story, you're avoiding the topic. Was it Will or was it Arthur that you had the argument with?” Hunith pressed.

 

“It was sort of both.” Merlin said while using his right hand to rub his left arm as he paused in his pacing for a moment. “Arthur is angry at me.”

 

“So you said,” was Gaius' response.

 

“He wouldn't tell me why.” Merlin continued.

 

“Did you try to ask?” Hunith asked while taking a bite of her biscuit.

 

Merlin nodded before he went back to his pacing, “I did, but he refused to tell me.” Merlin paused. “He kept saying that I should know, and that if I wasn't so wrapped up in my own life I would have.”

 

Hunith and Gaius said nothing to that.

 

It was Hunith that asked next, even though she had a feeling that she knew the answer. “And what did Will talk to you about?”

 

Merlin stopped his pacing to sit in the armchair by the fireplace. He used the palms of his hands to scrub at his eyes for a moment before answering, “he told me some things that he considered obvious that I apparently missed.”

 

Gaius leaned forward in his seat before asking, “what things?”

 

Merlin sighed, “He pointed out things that Arthur does for me on the day-to-day basis, and things that he does for me in general, and pointed it out that it should have been obvious of the intentions behind it.”

 

“And what intentions was Will trying to get you to see?” Hunith asked pensively.

 

“He didn't say it right out, but he led me to believe that Arthur was in love with me.” Merlin finished, finally looking up at Hunith and Gaius, he didn't like what he saw. Two minutes later, after Merlin's breathing got under control. “You knew.” It wasn't a question.

 

“The real question you should be asking is why didn't you know?” Hunith asked.

 

“And while you're at it why everyone else could figure it out, but you.” Gaius added.

 

“Oh my god! Does everyone know?” Merlin said as he got up again to pace.

 

“I think there are monks in Tibet, who pray daily, that are aware of Arthur's secret. It was the best non-secret secret in history. Which comes back to my original question, how could you not know?” Hunith asked instead.

 

“Because he never told me!” Merlin replied with a shriek.

 

“He didn't exactly tell us either Merlin,” Gaius said with a raised brow. “Though we had it confirmed...”

 

“And he's been dropping clues at you for years, Merlin. Big, massive clues. He's done everything short of getting down on one knee and proposing. Which would only be insane, because he wouldn't know what you would say as an answer.” Hunith said firmly, but carefully. Merlin pulled at his hair with both hands. “Be careful with your hair chipmunk, you'll want it when you're older.” Merlin glared at her and Hunith eyed him in disapproval until he looked apologetic before continuing, “have you tried speaking with Arthur since the fight?”

 

Merlin shook his head, plopping back in the arm chair, “no, he was missing for part of the evening, and by the way he was with me yesterday I got the impression that he didn't want to speak with me.”

 

“Merlin, he may have been upset, but he wouldn't turn you away, surely. You just have to talk with him, and you have to be honest with him. Whether you return any of those feelings for him or not.” Gaius said warmly.

 

“I'm thrown by this,” Merlin said honestly. “I didn't expect, I didn't know, and I don't know how I missed it.” Merlin shook his head. “If you listen to Will apparently I missed all of the signs, no wonder Arthur is so angry at me.” Merlin finished covering his face with his hands.

 

“I can't see Arthur as angry with you.” Hunith said knowingly. “I can only see him as being hurt and not knowing what to do.

 

“But why didn't he tell me?” Merlin rubbed his temples with his hands. “Why didn't he just tell me?”

 

“And what would you have done if he did Merlin? If you missed such major clues he would have probably had to give you a wedding ring to make it plainer. He's already done everything but say the words.” Gaius said sarcastically, Merlin glared. Gaius sighed before continuing, “Merlin have you ever considered that something might be wrong, being so oblivious when it comes to emotions and feelings that is?”

 

“Not this again Gaius,” Merlin was quick to argue. “I do not have a mental affliction, despite what Uther Pendragon likes to say!”

 

“No one said that you did chipmunk, but some of the things you've dealt with since you were younger, some of the things you deal with now.” Hunith shook her head. “I know you like to dismiss it when Gaius and I mention it to you, I know you want to be like everyone else, but there's nothing wrong with getting a little help when it's exactly what you -”

 

Merlin shot up again from his seat, “I do not have a problem.”

 

Gaius rose from his seat too this time to speak. “But think about it Merlin. You've missed important things for years with all of the hidden clues. You've missed that your best friend is in love with you. You've always closed yourself off emotionally, and while your eyes are open you close them to the happenings around you if it hurts, or you fail to understand it. You've managed to have your friends, and you are open with them, but your inner self, you keep closed off from them as well -”

 

Merlin swallowed -hard, before interjecting, “Gaius, we've had this discussion before -”

 

“Hear him out Merlin.” Hunith said firmly.

 

Gaius continued as if uninterrupted. “And by keeping yourself closed off you become unable to recognize genuine feelings being sent your way. You only see the outer appearances, but nothing that's deep down, for the most part. Now, we have had this discussion before, and you've always said no to the evaluation. If you were a minor at the time we could have done it anyway, but clear evidence of it doesn't normally show until your twenties, and coincidentally, that's when you started to show it more clearly.” Gaius sighed. “I've met a few people who have it, they can have a normal, happy life without feeling the way that you do or not noticing that their missing something. It's called an Avoidant Personality Disorder, as I've told you before. What's the harm in getting it checked?”

 

“The harm is I don't have a problem?”

 

“Then prove it?” Hunith said sharply, voice raising. “You keep telling us it's not a problem, but you keep on going through life like this. We looked at the symptoms for the disorder, and you match with it. We told you before but you never seem to hear it. It's only because you're at a loss for Arthur now that you are open at all right now. We kept on asking you to take the evaluation over the years, and you've kept telling us no. And now you're telling us that you're about to lose the best thing that's ever happened to you because you've been too wrapped up to see it. Well I don't believe it.” Hunith said while standing up. “You've managed to date, and date freely, don't think I don't know.” Hunith said while raising a brow. “You're attentive with all of your friends' children, and you keep up with your friends. Mithian says that you are an excellent doctor, and that she loves working with you.” Hunith is ticking off on her fingers now. “The only thing that's wrong with you is that you've closed yourself off from your feelings, your emotions, you've blocked it to the point that it feels like pulling teeth to get a straight answer out of you. And as you blocked it from yourself, you also blocked yourself from receiving anything in return. Which means that you haven't truly addressed the questions yourself, or that you would like the answers to remain buried.” Hunith shook her head. “Now I'm putting my foot down Merlin Ambrosius Emrys. You will take that evaluation, and you will take it no later than tomorrow, today even, if that's at all possible, do I make myself clear?”

 

Merlin swallowed, at a loss, but what could he actually say, he ended up saying, “yes mum.”

 

“Good.” Hunith said while going up to Merlin and pulling him down to her for a hug. “I'm sorry to push, but I don't want you going through life missing out on some of the most important things. I know you've blocked some of the things that go on around you for a reason, I've heard things. But I don't want you to close yourself off from what's important, especially something as important as love. Whether it's with Arthur or not. You've obviously missed some very important things, who knows what else you could have missed. You kept on saying everything was fine, but I can see now that I should have stepped in sooner.”

 

Merlin shook his head, “it's not your fault, mum?”

 

“Oh, I know that.” Hunith replied easily. “Gaius and I tried to get you to take the evaluation several times over the years, but I mean,” Hunith bit her bottom lip before continuing, “I should have fought you harder on it.” Hunith concluded while holding Merlin's tighter in their hug.

 

Merlin nodded, and tears were building up in his eyes. “What do I do now?”

 

Gaius came to them for their impromptu group hug before replying, “You have two things to do. One, get the evaluation. Not that it's going to solve your problems because some of your problems have nothing to do with that. But it will help you to understand why you've been missing so much, and if you do have the disorder you can get help.”

 

“And the next thing you need to do is talk to Arthur, or maybe make that the first thing. Unless you can get an evaluation done today?” Hunith said while stepping back from the hugs and touching Merlin's cheek. “You can't take to long in talking with him Merlin. Communication has been your main problem, and if you let this stay as is...”

 

Merlin nodded, she didn't have to finish. He would lose Arthur, whether it be losing his friendship or the potential for anything more, it wouldn't matter, he would love him. And losing Arthur in any form would tear Merlin's world apart forever.

Chapter Text

30 minutes ago

 

Okay, I just got off the phone with Morgana, and she said that she just finished dropping Arthur off to get situated and to pack?”

 

Where's he going?”Merlin asked, cursing himself, he needed to speak with Arthur.

 

Will shrugged, “I don't know. She was vague about it. She just said that Arthur wanted some time alone, and that he needed time to pack. His flight leaves tomorrow morning, I think.”

 

Why so soon?”Merlin questioned.

 

Will shrugged again. “I don't know.”

 

Helpful Will.”

 

That's all I've got.” Will said, with another shrug. “For all I know she booked it so soon to make sure that he didn't change his mind. Morgana's always been sneaky like that.” Merlin couldn't help but agree silently.

 

Hunith and Gaius listened to their exchange before Hunith pulled Merlin to her, placing both of her hands on his shoulders. “Merlin, when you speak with Arthur you need to tell him everything. Not parts, you need to be completely honestly with him. Remember what the doctor said.” Hunith said urgently.

 

Merlin ran a hand through his hair before responding, “mum, he didn't say - completely - that I had -”

 

He said enough Merlin.” Hunith cut Merlin off with a frown before continuing. “It may not have been what Gaius and I suspected it was, but we weren't very far off the mark. And some of your problems can be problematic over time, especially if you never faced up to any of it. You need to be honest with Arthur. And make sure that you follow up with Dr. Monmouth's schedule. He said that therapy would be the best way to confront your issues.” Hunith finished.

 

Yes, mum.”

 

And don't think I won't know if you don't.” Hunith said sternly, as she moved her hands from Merlin's shoulders to walk to the car to sit down.

 

Yes, mum.” Merlin replied on automatic. Hunith noticed.

 

And don't yes, mum me Merlin Emrys.”

 

Yes...” Merlin trailed off, and Gaius laughed.

 

She's just worried about you, my boy.” Gaius said as he pulled Merlin into a hug.

 

Merlin sighed. “She needn't worry about me.”

 

Than prove to her that she doesn't need to.” Gaius said with a raised brow.

 

Merlin nodded. “Thanks Gaius.”

 

No problem,” Gaius replied, as he leaned closer. “And she will check in so make sure that you adhere to your appointments with Dr. Monmouth. She's always felt responsible for listening to you the first time when you said you were okay, and that you didn't need to see a therapist.”

 

But I didn't -”

 

I think she just established and got confirmation that you did.” Gaius frowned. “As they said, doctor's are the worst patients. Just do us both a favor and follow through. We just want to see you happy. That's the most important thing here. That and you cleaning up your messes.”

 

Everything always ends up being my fault.” Merlin said wistfully.

 

Not everything. And we would be the first to defend you. However in this case, I think you know what you need to do.” Gaius finished, looking at Merlin knowingly.

 

Merlin nodded again.

 

Take care my boy.” Gaius said, as he hugged Merlin one more time before getting into the car.

 

Hunith stepped back out one more time. “Come here, chipmunk.” She said before pulling him down for a hug. “I know you think I've been hard on you, but you would have never addressed any of those things if it weren't for me, Gaius, and Will being present. I just worry about you.”

 

I know mum.”

 

Now go fix things with Arthur. I know how much he means to you.” Hunith said, as she ruffled Merlin's hair before she slid into the driver's side of the car.

 

Merlin swallowed and nodded.

 

Will came up behind him. “Come on, Merls. We don't know how much longer Arthur's going to stay at the flat. He's practically given control away to the White Queen. That means she can come back on her broom at any time.”

 

And that's all Merlin needed. He smiled one more time to Hunith and Gaius waving them good-bye, as they pulled off, and followed behind Will to face up to his fears.

 

 

**

 

Will dropped him off in the driveway asking if Merlin needed support. He didn't come for Arthur because he already made plans to drop by Morgana's later with Sophia. Apparently everyone made plans with everyone, but Merlin. No one called to check on him with the exception of Will, Sophia, Mithian, and Lance. It was clear where everyone's bread was buttered.

 

It took a good five minutes of Merlin standing at his and Arthur's front door to their flat before he attempted to open the door. He'd done his pacing already, spending all day with Hunith, Gaius, and Will while speaking with Dr. Monmouth. If it wasn't for Will checking in with Morgana, Merlin would have never known that Arthur was at home packing. And why was he packing? Where was he going? Will said not even Sophia knew where Arthur was headed. One thing was for certain. It didn't show any promise for Merlin if Arthur was leaving now.

 

Merlin finally got the nerve to open the door. And on close inspection, everything was left as it was from the night before. Merlin cleared his throat. “Arthur?”

 

There was a long pause before any answer was given. “In here.” Arthur said gruffly. Merlin could almost hear Arthur's sigh that followed after.

 

It was like walking the green mile as he journeyed to Arthur's bedroom.

 

Arthur was wearing an over-sized dark grey sweatsuit, with a pair of his gym sneakers. He remembered when that sweatsuit fitted snugly on Arthur. God, how did he miss it? Merlin sucked in a breath, and answered his own silent question. Maybe because he made it a point not to look at Arthur's body that closely a long time ago. It was only a month ago that he went to check on Arthur one night to see if he was awake, the covers and sheets were kicked off from Arthur's body, and he was sleeping without a shirt that he noticed the weight loss. Apparently, it was going on much longer than Merlin thought. It's clear now. And somehow. Merlin missed it. Arthur's suitcase was laid open, it was obvious that Arthur was doing exactly what was rumored. He was packing, he was going away. Merlin swallowed.

 

Arthur didn't look up. He walked over to his wardrobe to pull t-shirts out of it to put into his suitcase.

 

Merlin swallowed again, audibly. “Aah...hi.”

 

Arthur raised a brow, a face closed off, and completely without emotion turned to Merlin. “Hello.” Arthur said calmly as he started putting his t-shirts into the suitcase. Arthur's back looked rigid underneath his sweatshirt, like he was preparing for battle. Merlin never really attempted to go into a real battle with Arthur, never had a real reason to before, it didn't bode well.

 

“Arthur?” Merlin's voice cracked. The only thing Merlin had on his mind right now was to not mess this conversation up, and he could already see that he was off to a rotten start.

 

“Arthur, we need to talk.” Merlin tried again.

 

Arthur dropped the last of his t-shirts into his suitcase before taking a seat beside it on his bed, waving a hand to Merlin as in giving permission. Arthur's throat felt too closed, too tight to be the first one to really break the silence.

 

Merlin could only look at Arthur for a moment, before looking at the floor, then his suitcase, and finally back to Arthur's face. “I've just spent a better part of the day at the doctors with mum and Gaius.”

 

That startled Arthur. “Is Hunith alright?” He asked face slightly open in concern.

 

“Yes,” Merlin answered easily, eyes intense while focused on Arthur.

 

“Is it Gaius?” Was Arthur's second question, equal concern.

 

Merlin swallowed again, “No.”

 

Arthur's expression became worried when he asked, “Is it you, are you alright? Did something happen?”

 

Merlin shook his head. “Is not what you think.”

 

Arthur closed off again before asking, “Then what is it?”

 

Merlin ran a hand through his hair before tugging at the bottom of his t-shirt. He shifted foot to foot before saying, “I went to my mum's this morning. I told her about our fight.”

 

“Did you tell her why?” Arthur gasped out.

 

“She didn't need to know why, but I told her, and apparently it's my fault.” Merlin's jaw clenched automatically at that. He wasn't mad at Arthur. Not by any means. But to know that he did something wrong, that he was responsible for the state of his and Arthur's relationship, has torn Merlin up more than he would have allowed himself to think about. It was something he didn't have control over.

 

Arthur expression looked like he could see through Merlin, and Merlin felt like Arthur could see more of him than he actually wanted to let on. Merlin swallowed again, hard.

 

“Why did you have to go to the doctor.” Arthur asked. In his attempt to try to steer the conversation to safer topics. Little did he know, there weren't any safer topics.

 

Merlin's started chewing the inside of his cheek, as he stood in front of Arthur like a child waiting for approval. “In order for you to understand it is important that you understand what transpired prior to

that.”

 

Arthur's blues met Merlin's as they measured each other up. Arthur sensed that whatever it was that Merlin was going to tell him was definitely important. He acquiescence, before giving Merlin a nod to go ahead.

 

This was the hard part. “Last night, while everyone was looking for you, Will came to see me.”

 

And just that, Arthur knew that Merlin knew the truth by the look of sympathy in his eyes. That was exactly why he didn't want him to know. Arthur's chest immediately tightened by the thought, and his eyes visibly closed off to Merlin.

 

Merlin noticed the change. “Arthur, please, hear me out. Don't close yourself off from me like yesterday. I need for you to hear everything that I have to say, and then you can cast your judgments afterwards, okay?” Please don't find me guilty, Merlin pleaded to whomever would listen.

 

Arthur eyes never truly opened back up to Merlin, but he nodded again to allow Merlin to speak. But his shoulders were stiff, and so was the muscles in his neck.

 

“When Will found me yesterday, I was devastated,” Merlin said, as he looked down at his shoes.

“I thought you hated me.” He looked up in time to see Arthur opening his mouth, and raised a hand. “I know you don't, but it felt like it anyway. I thought that I lost you, and I didn't know why.” Merlin rubbed his neck with his right hand for a moment before dropping it, and continuing. “He told...he told me some things. He didn't tell me whatever secret you were keeping from me, but... he told me enough. He painted a pretty vivid picture about roses, breakfast in bed, and you shagging some other bloke.” Arthur choked on his saliva at that. Merlin continued. “And a bunch of other stuff, by the time he finished painted the picture I understood what he meant.”

 

Arthur was trying to calm himself back down internally, heart beating faster. “He shouldn't have told you that.” He choked out.

 

“Don't you think I should have known?” Merlin couldn't help but snap.

 

“And what would have happened if you did?” Arthur snapped back in response. He could feel the palms of his hands starting to sweat.

 

“I can't really answer that now can I,” Merlin said defensively. “I wasn't really given the chance. And apparently, I am the last to know.” Merlin finished, walking himself back to the wall, turning his back to it, and sliding down onto the floor, to get in his normal safe position of tugging his legs up to his chin, and wrapping his arms around it.

 

It was always an adorable position for Arthur to look at, he had to dismiss the thought now.

 

They were both breathing hard.

 

Arthur sucked in a breath, before saying, “I didn't want you to choose me out of pity. You seemed to be quite fine dating everyone in the entire Metropolitan area. If you wanted me I would have thought that you would have noticed me.”

 

Merlin deserved some of that, but it still stung. Merlin eyes started to water as he started, “why would you think that -”

 

“Merlin,” Arthur cut him off shaking his head, “the evidence was there. After every date, after every shag, after every encounter you would come back at a square one, and then find someone else. You never took the time to look at poor available Arthur.” And that broke Arthur's heart to say.

 

“I didn't want to lose our friendship.”

 

“Did you ever think of me that way?” He looked like he was trembling. And something broke inside of Merlin as he watched on.

 

He swallowed, before nodding, and bringing up his right and hand, holding up three fingers. “Three times. Three times I entertained the notion of having you. I take that back.” Merlin shook his head and held up four fingers. “The first time was when you saved me from Valiant, like my own person knight in shining armor with blond hair or blue eyes. You don't know how much I loved looking at you.”

 

“Love(d),” Arthur muttered before Merlin jumped back in saying, “let me finish.”

 

Merlin ran his left hand through his hair, still holding his right hand up, and knocked his head on the wall to feel the pain as he was leaned against. Once he gained his bearings again, he continued. “The second time was when we were fifteen, and you threw me a surprise birthday party. My mum had already finished saying that we couldn't afford anything special that year, just a cake, some movies, but she wouldn't be able to afford any gifts.” Merlin shook his head, tugging at his t-shirt, and stared off at the memory before turning back to Arthur, with a smile. I don't know how you found out.”

 

“Will.” Was Arthur's only reply.

 

Merlin nodded, almost to himself, before saying, “it would be Will.” Merlin turned his full gaze back on Arthur before continuing, “You even got your dad involved. He let you use the pool and the staff, you invited all of our friends, my mum, Gaius, everyone. You got that huge cake, and everyone brought presents. And...” Merlin paused.

 

“And...” Arthur prompted.

 

Merlin's eyes watered some more as he focused on Arthur. “The way you looked at me. You looked at me like I was the most precious thing in the world. You always looked at me that way, but I felt so...special then.” Merlin shook his head, and used his left arm to wipe at his eyes. “I think I loved you then, but you were straight, and your friendship meant everything to me. I would have never, ever, done anything to ruin that.” Merlin rose up to walk to the nearest window opposite Arthur's bed. Arthur's head followed to keep Merlin within sight. “I couldn't risk it, Arthur. I just couldn't. So I closed it off.” Merlin turned around, and leaned himself up on the window ledge. “I've been good at burying my emotions. That's why my mum -”

 

“Tell me the rest.” Arthur said, cutting Merlin off. He felt like he waited his whole life to hear this from Merlin, and he didn't want Merlin to avoid the topic now. Not when he was finally open to talk. He could almost count the times in one hand that Merlin has actually been this open to talk about his inner most thoughts. It was a rarity.

 

Merlin nodded, he must have sensed what Arthur wanted. He continued. “Seventeen. We were going to the prom together. I never knew why you would want to take me -”

 

“We did everything together -” Arthur cut in, only to be cut back off by Merlin's, “not everything.” Things got a little more tensed.

 

Merlin continued, taking a little pleasure of seeing Arthur's skin flush, unbeknownst to himself, Merlin was sure. “You treated me like we were on a real date, and I almost treated you like we were too. If it weren't for the rant in the back of my mind saying that we weren't, and that you would never want me in that way. We had so much so much fun. And we danced, we played pranks on the others, we even went to the amusement park that was open. And then the after party...” Merlin had a big smile as he was trailed off. And Arthur could only find himself meeting it because he remembered that night. It was special to him too. Even if he wasn't bi-sexual then, it always seemed like he was Merlin-sexual. Even if he never thought of it then.

 

“And the last time?” Arthur asked, getting serious again.

 

Merlin nodded to himself again before lifting himself off of the window, and sitting beside Arthur on the bed. And that was just not fair Arthur thought as he swallowed. It wasn't fair because Merlin was placing himself before him, and Arthur never had permission to touch. And if life didn't shit bricks enough Merlin leaned into Arthur's side before shifting back, still sitting close enough for Arthur to feel Merlin's body heat. What was his life? Arthur thought.

 

Merlin turned his head to look at Arthur, his eyes were more open than Arthur has seen it in a long time. “We were nineteen. I brought you back home from Aithusa's, you could barely stand. You probably don't remember.” Merlin said while playing with the bottom of his t-shirt again. “I had to walk you, stumble you – you're so much bigger than I – into your room,” Merlin kept going so Arthur wouldn't cut him off saying that he wasn't fat like he normally would. And now, Merlin swallowed, that wasn't even a question anymore, nothing even to joke about. “We had to pause at your door because you almost slid out of my grasp, you were drunk, but very pliable. You looked me in my eyes, and told me that I was gorgeous. You looked at me, and told me that like you meant it. Like I was actually gorgeous to you.”

 

Merlin heard Arthur's whisper of, “you are,” but kept going. “My heart melted in that moment again. I wanted to kiss you, but I couldn't take advantage. I didn't know what you would do the next morning if I had.” Merlin said softly. “So I led you to your bed, I got you undressed, and you were in nothing else but your boxers. I looked at you.” Merlin swallowed. “You were... so beautiful. And everything that I ever wanted. And the look you gave me back, it looked like desire, that you wanted me too.” Merlin ran a hand through his hair. “I wanted to so badly, but you were my best friend.” Merlin turned to Arthur, shifting in the bed to face Arthur completely. Arthur was thrown to have Merlin's full attention set on him like that. “You have to understand Arthur, you mean everything to me. If I would have done something wrong. If you would have thought less of me. If you had sent me away. I don't know what I would have done.”

 

And Arthur didn't know what to say to that. It was a good thing Merlin didn't expect him to, he continued. “I tucked you in, and ran a hand through your hair to put it back in place as best as I could, and I told you good-night. I gave myself to the next morning to see if anything you said held relevance in the daylight. You never said a thing.” Merlin finished, tapping Arthur's left arm with his forefinger. “I wanked to the thought of fucking you - or you fucking me - for a week until I got my body back under control, and forced myself never to revisit the thought again. I closed it off, locked it up, and threw away the key for fear that I would do something to mess up our friendship.” Merlin finished in a whisper.

 

Arthur's jaw clenched at that, and he ran a hand through his hair with his right hand in his own frustration. He didn't want to move his left arm, Merlin was still tapping it with his forefinger.

 

Arthur had to ask. “And what about when I came out?” Though he feared the answer.

 

“After you came out, it was too buried deep for me to do anything.” Merlin said honestly. “And you never said that you were interested, in me that is. And I was too scared then to try.” Merlin shook his head, “if you didn't think about me that way, if you would have rejected me.” Merlin shook his head again, “I put it out of my mind.”

 

Arthur didn't say anything, he was about to get up to resume packing, but Merlin grabbed his left arm to keep him seated. “There's more.” Merlin choked out.

 

“More of why you didn't want me?” Arthur snapped, hurt clear in his expression.

 

“I never said I didn't want you, Arthur. I said I didn't want to lose you.” Merlin said with a frown. “You need to know the full story. And I have to tell you while I have my nerve. Not to mention my mum will kill me if she finds out that I didn't.”

 

Arthur had the expression of, “why me?” written all over his face before asking, “what does your mum have to do with this?”

 

Arthur.” Was all Merlin could say, voice thick, full of emotion, his Irish accent shining through, and Arthur knew that he was done for, because he could never deny Merlin anything when he called his name like, and he was sure that on some deeper level, Merlin knew this as well.

 

“Fine. Was else do you need to say?” Arthur asked, trying to keep his emotions out of his tone, he was sure that he failed. He knew he sounded hoarse.

 

“After I told my mum and Gaius what happened between us. My mum wanted to believe that I had an acute personality disorder.” Arthur raised a brow that clearly said, “really?” And Merlin nodded. When they were in sync, they needed little words. Merlin continued. “They said that I showed the classic symptoms of this because of the way that I shut myself off from everything, because of the way I've always been so oblivious. As everyone claimed that I was over the years.” Merlin started biting his inner cheek again before adding, “they thought it would explain why I missed so many important things over the years. Apparently they knew your feelings too. But they weren't only referring to that. They meant dealing with things on a personal level, along with me not dealing with the things that would hurt me, or has hurt me as well.” Merlin said, in a stressed tone. It was clear that it was a subject that Merlin didn't want to touch.

 

“I've heard of that disorder.” Arthur said thoughtfully. “I always assumed that that disorder was based on being brought up in an abusive background or by being emotionally abused during childhood?”

 

Merlin raised a brow. A little surprised.

 

It made Arthur defensive. “Hey, I read things.” Arthur said in a haughty tone. It was cute, and it made Merlin want to laugh, but he continued anyway.

 

“Fair enough.” Merlin said, still holding Arthur's left arm. “Actually, that is one of the main reasons, coupled with a few others that a doctor may check for in diagnosing APD in a patient.” Merlin said in agreement.

 

“And yet your mother -” Arthur prompted, only to have Merlin add to his thought.

 

“And Gaius -”

 

“Assumed you'd have it?” Arthur finished the sentence in a question.

 

Merlin nodded again. He was having a good time chewing his inner cheek in between sentences, but continued. “They didn't know for certain, they just always thought that there were reasons for me being so oblivious, or not wanting to confront things unconsciously, choosing to block it off instead. And some people have always called me self-absorbed, because they thought I only focused on myself because - in their opinion - I didn't pay attention to what was going on in the lives of others unless it was pinpointed out for me. And sometimes they felt I was too wrapped up in what was going on with myself too see it, to confront it. While others would think differently of course, because every subject didn't affect me, and I didn't have to share everything now, do I? It's easy to see it that way considering the fact that it's only noticeable if it centers around an event or incident that's hurt me before, the feelings of it, or something that I've buried in my mind to avoid thinking of. It doesn't cover every aspect of my life. I've overcome a good bit of it actually, but some of it is still there. And subconsciously, I've continued to avoid it.” Merlin paused, but sucked it up and continued, trying to explain. “Sometimes it would look like I was too wrapped up in myself to address it, to recognize it. When in reality, it was my way to ignore it, and to block it out.” Merlin scratched his hair. “I'm probably saying too much, but as a doctor I'm trying to break things down in my own mind to understand it everything. And some of it probably sounds clinical or detached, But I'm getting where I need to be in this, I promise.” Merlin said with a small grin, while Arthur expression was serious as he listened on. “If it was something I knew how to do without real thought or effort, it didn't affect me at. And sometimes things still occur to remind me, but I deal with it, and suppress the unwanted feelings of it afterward.” Merlin was rambling now, but he knew that he had to get it all out while he was able to. “You used to just call me an idiot when I missed things or didn't address something that you wanted me to get. The lot use to tease me, because I never really picked up on certain things from them unless it was obvious, and I've never had a successful long-term relationship.”

 

“Yes, you have -” Arthur interjected.

 

Merlin shook his head. “No, technically I didn't. Not really. Those relationships ended when there was conflict, or if I felt it was something out of my control. Out of comfort level. I made excuses, but it's true.” Merlin ran his left hand through his hair. “I didn't have to think about it until I was forced to, but now I see it. It ended when things got out of my control, or went outside of my carefully placed boundaries. Instead of fighting it out, I would walk away with some stupid reason as an excuse. Instead of trying, I feared the rejection. Some of my boyfriends even termed me emotionally deficient, or emotionally unavailable because they thought I didn't feel passionate enough about our relationship. But of course I was fun in the sack,” Merlin said with no shame, forgtting who he was talking to at the moment, and I still knew how to have fun, hang out, and all that good stuff. And I did I stay in some relationships longer, but when it was time to break down my feelings, if it made me feel anything like the feelings I blocked out... That's where I would lack, and apparently, I would miss the hints of that too. I've been told that before actually. Though on some level, even though I made the attempts at those relationships, I don't think I gave in because something wasn't right. Something was always missing from it.” Merlin said while looking at Arthur.

 

“What about Robert?”

 

Merlin shook his head, understanding now the importance of what his relationship with Robert meant to Arthur. Now that he allowed himself to see it. “I never loved him. I liked him – a lot, we had a lot of fun together, but...he took it more seriously than I did, and when he mentioned moving to the states, and getting married... Well, I couldn't leave everyone behind, and I couldn't marry someone that I didn't love. And I couldn't take moving away again. The unsaid, "it would end in disaster, and the,“moving to London was enough.”  Didn't go unmissed by Arthur.

 

Merlin lifted his legs up on the bed to fold beneath him, before continuing.

 

“But I have to explain why my mum and Gaius felt the way that they did. I have to say it before I lose the nerve.” Merlin used his the hand not holding Arthur's arm to run through his hair. “They seemed to think that the bullying and the verbal abuse throughout the years caused some of this.”

 

“I overheard Will,” Arthur nodded in remembrance. “He mentioned it to the lot because he felt like they were judging you.”

 

“He wouldn't have said it at all unless they were.” Merlin said, a little snappish before he could stop himself. He shook his head. “It doesn't matter. I think it's time for all of the secrets to get out there, yeah?”

 

Arthur nodded - hesitantly, not sure where Merlin was going with this.

 

Merlin took a deep breath before continuing. “Being criticized the way that I was, often times in front of others was humiliating for me.” Merlin sucked in a breath before continuing again. “The things that was said, about me never fitting in, never being good enough, never measuring up, and basically being a charity case did do some damage.”

 

“Now Merlin, I've never -”

 

“Here me out, Arthur” Merlin said while tightening his grip on Arthur's arm. It was going to leave fingerprint marks. “Hear me out, because no one's ever really heard me all of this before. They've overheard, got pieces of it from me, or observed it, until today when I had to face up to a lot of things because I knew I didn't have APD. But my mum forced me to see the doctor anyway because - well obviously - even if I don't have all of the symptoms of that, I definitely do have something. I need you to know everything.” Merlin said using his unoccupied hand to press into his chest. “So this is me, laying my cards on the table, and I need for you to listen before I lose my nerve, and bury it, never to recognize it again unless I feel threatened.”

 

“And you're feeling threatened now?” Arthur asked, knowingly.

 

Merlin's eyes were intense as he met Arthur's. “What do you think?”

 

Arthur swallowed, but responded with a wave of a gesture with his unoccupied hand that basically gave Merlin the okay to proceed.

 

“The verbal slurs of not being good enough cut deeper than they should have because it wasn't something that I hadn't heard before. I heard it in Ealdor for one.” Merlin swallowed before continuing in a soft tone. “I was always a withdrawn kid, a peculiar one, and a very quiet one. Will's never been quiet so we were able to offset the other. But it didn't stop the teasing, or the name calling.” Merlin said in disdain, before continuing. “The worse of this comes from something far deeper. Deep enough that my mum was going to come over here to explain it to you herself, because she knows that it's something that's never been mentioned. It was enough for my mum and Gaius to call Will to come with us to see the doctor, each giving their piece of what they've seen and observed over the years. Because... apparently, doctors make the worse patients, and Dr. Monmouth wanted all of the facts before he formed his opinion.”

 

Arthur had a feeling he wasn't going to like where this was leading. It alarmed him. At a loss for words, he listened on.

 

Merlin squeezed Arthur's arm one more time, whispering, “it's an Emrys family best kept secret,” before letting go.

 

Merlin walked back to Arthur's window to stare out into nothingness.

 

He continued before Arthur could say anything. “You know that I've always told you that my father was not in my life right?”

 

“Yes.” Arthur croaked in response.

 

“Well that's not... entirely true. He was in my life until I was eight years old.” Merlin said, as bit his bottom lip before licking it. He was standing at a side profile, Arthur followed the movement. Before dismissing the coming thought that was sure to come, and catching Merlin as he continued. “But he was verbally and physically abusive to me.” Every muscle in Arthur's body felt like it tightened in that moment. Merlin, unaware of Arthur's inner turmoil continued. “He was a carpenter you see. That's how I have that gift too,” Merlin said with a sad smile. “And that's also probably why I'm so good with my hands.” Arthur tried not to focus on that, he was still too tense, and he was afraid of where this conversation was leading, he listened on. “He used to carve and design small wooden toys: dolls, houses, cars, trains - that sort of thing. He battled Parkinson's disease long before I was born, but he became depressed by having it because he wasn't able to continue his career any longer. His hands...He started... drinking too much, and with that, he became short-tempered. He was also...” Merlin sentences became choppy as he continued. It was obvious that just talking about it was going to take a lot out of him. The rest came out rather quickly. “I was always a very clumsy child back then. If it was there, somehow it became an accident with my name on it. I had no fair share of grace until I grew older. I was always considered awkward, I didn't talk much, and I was one of those annoying kids that always asked why -- about everything. Well, that's what my father said. That I was annoying. Why did he have to have a son like me? Why did he have to have a son at all? Why did I have big ears? And big puppy dog eyes? Why did I trip over my own two feet, or leave a mess around the house constantly? And why did I cry or whine all of the time. I got hit for everything that I did wrong – in hopes it would smack the sense that I lacked into me, and was constantly told that I was useless. Of course, there were bruises,” Merlin ranted on unaware of Arthur's stunned expression. “My complexion isn't able to hide things like that, but the bruises were never anywhere that could be seen. And I was able to dress myself by the time I started getting them.”

 

“Where was your mum?” Arthur asked in a raspy tone.

 

“She worked. She had to work double time because my dad was unable to. She was also trying to pay his medical bills. Treatment could be expensive, especially for medications. And that was with her insurance. Her being an Herbalist, all into that alternative medicine crap, actually kept her pretty busy.” Merlin said with pride before continuing. “I didn't want to be a burden to her too by saying anything. And on some level, I didn't want her to feel like my dad did towards me. And when I started to withdraw my dad passed it off for wearing me out, and for my being exhausted. She was concerned, but why would she suspect? She found out when she came home early from work one evening. I was eight at the time. I think my dad was too wrapped up in being angry at me for accidentally tripping, and bumping hard into his bookshelf, causing the contents - along with his prized carved dragon that was placed on top of it - to fall and break into smithereens to notice how loud he was yelling. He hit me in the back of the head that time, the force was so hard that I fell, hitting my temple into the corner of the coffee table.” Arthur's eyes squeezed shut while listening. Merlin waved his concern off with a hand. “It could have been worse, apparently I have a hard head. I wasn't out cold but the pain was horrendous, and my vision darkened temporarily. Ended up with a light concussion for that, but that's irrelevant now. My mum heard the yelling and the insults, and saw enough step in and tell my father to leave until she called him back.” Merlin shook his head as if shaking off the memory. “That night, before I went to sleep, my mum forced everything out of me.” Merlin shook his head again and sighed before saying, “I didn't know at the time, but night was the last time I would see my father." Merlin said with tears. “I assume he got his things when I went back to school. And I heard nothing of him again until he died a few years later in a car accident. He was drinking. Took another person out with him in a head on collision.” Merlin turned to Arthur wiping his eyes. “To this day I never knew what I did to him to make him hate me so much. Only his words of not being good enough stand out.”

 

Arthur swallowed, opened his mouth, but Merlin wasn't finished.

 

“Over the years, my mum started seeing certain patterns in me. Especially when I started getting bullied during my school years. The same patterns of withdrawing, of emotional detachment, and in blocking my feelings as they began to manifest. The never thinking that I was good enough, or that I would fit in always stood out. And then we moved to London. I never wanted to move to London. I didn't want to start over, and to go through the same thing again. I knew that I would, and I did.” Merlin ran both hands through his hair before continuing, “My first experience was with Valiant. And what was the first thing that he called me without even knowing? A bloody poof! Automatically telling me that I didn't fit in. But then you came along,” Merlin said with a smile. “My knight in shining armor, and you always made me feel like I did. You and the lot, and Will. You loved me for me, and I valued that friendship more than the finest and most precious of golds. And your friendship Arthur.” Merlin swallowed deeply, “your friendship meant the world to me. I would do anything that you asked, I would go anywhere that you told me to, and I would sit anywhere you would sit me.” Merlin said with a laugh. Arthur didn't know what to say, but he continued to listen. It was the most open Merlin had been with him in all their years together. “If you wanted me at your house, I was there. If you wanted me to move in with you - even though I knew you were trying to help me financially - I moved in.” Merlin said with a raised brow. And Arthur had the good grace to look sheepish. Merlin continued. “Because you asked me to. If you wanted me to clear my calendar, that was exactly what I did. I would never have done anything to lose, or abuse our friendship because I loved you too much. Because you've always made me feel special. It would have never come to mind. At least, I thought that I wouldn't have.” Merlin finished with a wince.

 

“What does this have to do with everything else that you said?” Arthur had to ask. He had to know how this was relevant to their situation now.

 

“It has to do with it because it makes up everything that I am, and I why I do some of the things that I do.” Merlin said with intensity. “I may have proven my mum and Gaius wrong because I don't have APD, but I do have problems, Arthur. I have blocked some major things, and the build of everything from then to now has not allowed me to...” Merlin trailed off, only to say, “but that's not the point. The point is that there is one thing that the doctor considered from all of this, and it would explain how I never completely realized it myself, because it's something that I've done unconsciously. Due my own personal phobias as a result of everything that's happened.”

 

Arthur waited.

 

“It's not severe enough to be diagnosed with it, not yet, but it is enough to make them want me to attend therapy. To make me want to address the things that I have locked up over the years.” Merlin paused before continuing. “It's a fear of confrontation, of acceptance, and rejection to sum it up.” Merlin scratched his head. “And I have the evidence of a good bit that they pointed out. My confidence came from you. And everything that surrounds you, and our friends. I started growing on my own though in it, and continued on from there. You always made see more, want more, want to be more, and to prove the others wrong. But my other problems were still there, Arthur - hidden deep - and un-addressed. It made it easier for me to block the things that I was afraid to address too, afraid to confront. If I knew I could succeed at it, I did it with everything that I had. I can't think of any other explanation for me to have totally missed the signs that my best friend was in love with him for several years. The only thing I can think of is that I closed it off as an option so deeply that even as the signs were there I couldn't recognize it for what they were. And if I attempted, and was wrong...” Merlin trailed off again before saying, “I couldn't lose you.”

 

Arthur raised a hand to speak, but Merlin waved him off. “Oh, I still think I'm a horrible friend.” Merlin said with a frown, and disdain for himself. “What kind of friend misses all of this. Though I have to say that you did a really good job in hiding any depression from me, and apparently I did a good job in accepting that everything was fine and not reading between the lines. Being snappish is normal for you,” Merlin said like he was trying to figure it out even now. “Depression is something else. And the weight loss... there's absolutely no excuse for me in missing those things. Even my being as busy at work, and in my own life as I have been, it's no excuse. And there's nothing that I can do to make that better. All I can do is spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you.” Merlin said it like a vow. His expression intense, as if cementing his words into his own heart as a promise.

 

It was almost too much for Arthur. But his heart felt a little flutter.

 

He had to ask more, while this window was still open. While Merlin was still open.

 

“But all of the other men?” Arthur had to ask.

 

“I wanted to fall in love Arthur. I wanted to be happy. I've tried over and over again, and I can make attempts. I did say when I am sure that it's a sure thing. Which is why the majority of my relationships were results of one night stands, or someone directly asking me out. I've flirted, of course. But if I thought that the goal was something so unattainable, if I thought I would ruin it if I tried, I wouldn't make it an attempt. For fear that I would lose it all together.” Merlin turned his full gaze on Arthur now, and I felt a shiver run down his spine. “To me, you are the height of everything that I could want. That's why I've probably seen you as unattainable in my own mind to try. That's also probably why I never succeeded for long in my relationships. Unconsciously, in my mind, they would never measure up.” Merlin shook his head. “Not held against you. But I never focused on it, after I buried it. And it never came to mind until I was forced to see it. When I thought I was going to lose you.”

 

And that part is what Arthur feared most. He didn't want Merlin to choose him that way. He wanted him to make up his mind without feeling forced to, and without feeling bad for his own choices. Arthur asked another question.

 

“You've always been so confident? So knowing of what you want.”

 

“I am confident. I told you that. You brought that out of me when I moved here. And I am confident on the things that you've seen me attempt to do. And as I continue to do well at things, my confidence continues to grow. But there are things that I've never attempted to do for fear that I wouldn't measure up to the expectations. It doesn't make me less confident, it makes me for lack of a better, weak. Because I've allowed it for so long.” Merlin said with a grimace. “It's something that I have to overcome, and something that I have to face. And I honestly, there's nothing a doctor can say to make me feel any less horrible than what I actually feel on my own. Not if my own fears and actions have hurt you.”

 

“And you liked me when I was still straight?” Like Arthur needed to hear it again. Merlin picked up on it and nodded.

 

“The question is how could I not, Arthur?” Merlin shook his head. “Your beautiful. You're sweet, charming, and perfect in every way to me. You will not only make the best of boyfriends Arthur, but you'll make the best of husbands. You are the ultimate prize. I never would have thought that you would have seen me in that way, you were always sweet to me, and since I blocked everything – I never saw the difference when the changes came, at least, not until Will vividly pointed it out.” Merlin shook his head again. “You always did things for me, even when you were straight. You may have been showing your feelings, but I had already set you in such a place of the untouchable for fear of losing what we had that I failed to notice. And because you apparently swore everyone to secrecy, including my own family, no one bothered to tell me!” Arthur could feel guilty for that, but he didn't, he had his reasons. But he can admit now that he should have told Merlin himself. Merlin was unaware of Arthur's inner thoughts as he continued, “and to top it off, I'm not really open to the obvious - in my personal life - it seems unless I start to feel threatened by the loss. You've never been that angry with me before to walk away from me. We've always been able to talk things out.” But then again, they never really argued, or had something to settle like this before.

 

Arthur opened his mouth.

 

“Except for our feelings it seems.” Merlin added, clearly sensing Arthur's thoughts.

 

Arthur conceded in that with a nod. “Yes, except that.”

 

“I would like to talk about it now.” Merlin tried to sound hopeful.

 

“I need time.” Arthur said immediately in a whisper. “I spent the last seven years, in love with you -”

 

“Seven years,” Merlin exclaimed.

 

“While you managed,” Arthur went on as if uninterrupted tugging his hair in all directions with his hands, as he shot up from his place on the bed to return to getting things from his wardrobe and closet, talking as he went. “While you managed quite well not to think of me in that way.” Arthur closed his eyes and licked his bottom lip, and this time Merlin allowed the moment to appreciate it before catching Arthur's words as he finished with, “I don't know what to think.”

 

Merlin sucked in a breath before standing in front of Arthur's suitcase, it was attempt to stop Arthur's movement from packing. Merlin knew it, and so did Arthur. “What do we do now?”

 

“I don't know, but I have to go.” Arthur said as he pulled the suitcase from where it was behind Merlin on the bed, sliding it to the other side of the bed.

 

“Why? Why do you have to go?” Merlin asked urgently.

 

“Because I'm a mess Merlin!” Arthur shrieked, as he tugged at his hair again with his hands.

 

“No, you're not.” Merlin said in another attempt.

 

“Yes, I am.” Arthur shook his head, tears beginning to fill his eyes, voice hoarse. “You only see the best in me, and I love you for that, but at the same time I resent you for that because you can't see that I've been dying inside.”

 

“Yes -”

 

Arthur raised a hand, tears falling now. “You couldn't see.” Arthur choked out, shaking his head. “Do you know what I've been going through? Did you even notice that I've been missing meals for months? Yes, I eat, but not enough!” Arthur said going back and forth, gathering more things to pack. “Did you know that I've been slipping into a depression? That I even contemplated suicide to take myself away from the pain of never having the one thing that I wanted in the world?” Merlin's face paled completely. Arthur's voice was rising in his anxiety. “I am a mess.” Arthur said again. “It's unhealthy, and I need to sort it out. And by the sounds of everything that you're telling me, so do you.” Arthur finished, while throwing the rest of his things into his suitcase, not concerned any longer on how neatly it was packed.

 

Merlin's legs had already given out in the middle of Arthur's words. He was sitting back on Arthur's bed, heart breaking, and at a loss of what to do or say. He had to try. “I can take anyone else's rejection, anything that anyone has to say. I can put it aside, bury it, and move on, but I can't take yours.” Merlin said, tears running down his eyes. If a heart could break twice, Merlin would have felt it, for sure.

 

Arthur was still packing, but paused enough to see the tears running down Merlin's pale cheeks. Arthur shook his head to himself because he wasn't strong enough to fight that. He resented himself to cause it, but he had to be strong now. He had to stand his ground. Even if he were to accept Merlin – now - it wouldn't have made a difference if it were for the wrong reasons. No, Arthur said to himself, he had to do this. Arthur's tears never stopped flowing as he continued to grab his things. He could only say, “figure it out Merlin.”

 

“Do you want me to move out?” Merlin asked, heart tight in fear of the answer.

 

Arthur did pause with that question, attempting to wipe his eyes, it didn't help, the tears were a floodgate now. “No, this place is as much yours as it is mine.”

 

“Do you want me to stay away, or keep away from our friends for a little while. Or keep Mithian, Will, and Sophia?” Merlin was at a loss, he never felt so close to Arthur, and yet so far away. He realized his questions sounded like what one would discuss in a divorce proceeding when they questioned how to divide the property, and to divvy up the children for holidays, summers, and weekends. If only he could have seen this before! Merlin screamed to himself.

 

“No, everyone is as much your friends as they are mine.” Arthur said while packing the last of his things, and closing his suitcase. Arthur grabbed his suitcase, and made his way to the door, and leaned against the doorframe. He would drive himself. He couldn't wait for Morgana. He closed his eyes while resting there, using one hand to wipe the remaining tears that were threatening to fall. Merlin wasn't much different from where he was on the bed. And if only things were different.

 

And then Merlin said the words that stopped Arthur's heart.

 

“I would have said yes.” Merlin blurted out. It was a last ditch effort, and Merlin understood it for what it was. Even still, he meant it, and he had to try.

 

Arthur froze at the door.

 

Merlin continued, and Arthur was sure that he was aware of what he was doing this time. “If you had asked, I would have said yes. If I had known, I would have said yes.” Merlin said slowly and meant every word, Arthur was sure of it, but it was a few months too late for everything to be instantly okay between them at the moment. For Arthur to be instantly okay. Arthur said the words that he thought would never come out of his mouth to Merlin. At least, not like this.

 

“That's almost funny hearing you say it now, it's all I've ever wanted to hear” Arthur said, with all sincerity and equal intensity, eyes piercing, but his expression started closing off before Merlin's very eyes. And in that moment, Merlin knew that it was over. Merlin waited to hear the remaining words that he knew he would always pinpoint with the time that he destroyed everything of importance. “Considering the fact that all I've ever wanted is you.” And just like that, Arthur left. And Merlin felt his world fall apart.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Doorbell

 

“Coming.” Morgana yelled out from Autumn's bedroom. She had just finished making Autumn's bed, and was putting her toys back in place when the doorbell ranged.

 

Doorbell

 

“I said coming, be right there.” Morgana said with a huff as she made it down the corridor, through the living room, into the anteroom, and to the front door.

 

The doorbell ranged one more time, and was just about to be ranged once more as Morgana opened the door with Morgana saying, “what the hell.”

 

Morgana was about to get angry before her anger immediately vanished as she saw who was standing there. With his clothing disheveled, hair in all directions, eyes red-rimmed, skin - pale as a ghost, and a suitcase and carryall in hand.

 

“Arthur, what the bloody hell happened to you? I just you left you not three hours ago looking just fine and decent, and now you come back to me looking like the bloody dead.”

 

Arthur couldn't face her. Couldn't look at her. In fact, at the moment, he just felt numb.

 

Morgana expression turned into concern, she shook his shoulders. “Arthur, what's wrong?”

 

Somehow that shook Arthur out of his stupor. Arthur shook his head for a good five seconds before he croaked, “Morgana, I think... I think I made a mistake.”

 

 

**

 

“What did Will do?” Morgana asked while making Arthur a turkey, ham, and cheese sandwich in the kitchen. She was in the process of adding the mayo to the sliced breads. Morgana couldn't help it. Whenever she saw Arthur she tended to force him to eat. It was a natural reaction, and as a result of seeing Arthur slowly fall apart over the years. It brought out her protective side. As it stood, as she as she brought Arthur inside, she made him shower and change. She needed him fresh and clear minded. Morgana did this before she got Arthur to tell her anything, to ensure that he would tell her everything.

 

Arthur answered from his seated position at the kitchen table, bent forward, and forehead pressed onto the kitchen table. “He told Merlin about my feelings for him.”

 

That was not expected, Morgana thought, and she felt cold run through her veins. But by Arthur's demeanor upon arrival she was certain there was more. “He told your secret?”

 

“Merlin said -”

 

Morgana's lips thinned. “Merlin was there?” Ham, turkey, cheese, tomato slices, and lettuce being slapped on the bread as she asked.

 

Arthur nodded into the table. “Yes, he wanted to stop me before I left.” Arthur took a deep breath. “He wanted to make sure that I knew everything there was to know.”

 

Bread being slapped on top of the completed sandwiches, and cups for tea being slapped on the counter, Morgana fumed that this was the reason why Will called her earlier. To find out Arthur's plans, and to get Merlin alone with him. “And what did he say,” Morgana gritted out.

 

Arthur sat up then. His eyes were red-rimmed still from all of the apparent crying he'd done. “He told me that he loved me.” There was no denying the little blush on Arthur's cheeks, or that the little corner of Arthur's left side of his mouth lifted up slightly. And considering the sadness in the rest of Arthur's expression, and the tenseness in his shoulders, Morgana knew that Arthur was unaware of this too. 

 

Morgana set the kettle down that she was just in the process of using to pour the water into the tea cups, and turned to face Arthur. She used her scrunchy again to pull her hair back into a messy bun. It was a nervous tick of her's at home. A way to deal with things. To play with her hair. Pinning it up, pulling it down, and constantly running her hands through it. Well, that and brandy, sex, playing with Autumn, picking on Arthur, and chocolate. And Morgana had the feeling that she needed a clear head at the moment, which eliminated the brandy. The chocolates were – too far - located in her bedroom. Autumn was at Gwen's. Morgana, in fear of pushing Arthur too far off the edge, stopped picking on Arthur years ago. Not that she didn't have her fun every once in a while. And Gwaine, Gwaine was off to play golf with Lance. Which meant no sex. At work, she could just bark some orders at people, make them feel little - inadequate, and all was well. At home, well... she had to compromise, which left her with her messy bun, and brandy depending on what Arthur had to say. Turning her full gaze on Arthur, Morgana asked,“if Merlin told you that he loved you then why do you look like you just lost your best friend?”

 

Arthur's eyes looked distant, like he was still replaying the moment that transpired, like he could visualize it, and with precision. He shook his head before responding. “Because that's not everything that he told me.” Arthur muttered out, before putting his elbows on the kitchen table, and pressing his hands to his face.

 

Brandy might be necessary after all Morgana thought. But her actions led her to grab the kettle, to pour the water in their tea cups, and to prepare the tea with sugar and light cream – just the way that they liked it. She placed the sandwiches on the table, went back for the tea cups, set it down before them and took a seat beside Arthur for moral support. She then used her hands to grab Arthur's from his face to set it on the table away from the food and tea, and placed them in hers. With a squeeze, she said, “tell me everything that happened.”

 

And Arthur did. He didn't cry – he wasn't sure he had anymore tears left to cry – but tell her everything, Arthur did.

 

**

 

“So you're telling me that Merlin was abused physically and verbally by his father until he was eight years old, and as a result of not dealing with it by getting help, and the constant bullying he has a condition that makes him fear acceptance, confrontation, and rejection.” Morgana asked while she was pouring her and Arthur a glass of brandy. Yes, she went for the brandy.

 

Arthur nodded to her in response from his place on the sofa, feet propped on the coffee table. Morgana joined him, she couldn't even admonish Arthur for propping his feet, she only followed suit. No one else was home at the time. “And the things said behind his back and to his face that Will mentioned the other night would have more than likely added to that.” Arthur said in reflection. Cursing himself for not noticing that Merlin was going through this. Arthur knew not to blame himself, it wasn't his fault, and Merlin was very good about suppressing his feelings – his emotions. Arthur knows this first hand. It doesn't make him feel any better to know that Merlin's been suffering inside though. But that's only part of Arthur's worries.

 

Morgana could only agree. “And you're not sure whether Merlin is telling you the truth about his feelings, or if he told you he loved you out of his fear for losing you.” It wasn't a question. Morgana was sure of it.

 

And that just about summed up Arthur's fears in an abridged version. Arthur nodded again, while taking his hand and rubbing it over his eyes. “I think, no, I know that he loves me. I felt it. But how can I be sure that he's truly in love with me?”

 

Morgana took her left arm, and pulled Arthur's body towards hers in a half hug – like they did when they were kids - before answering, “no one ever knows if someone is truly in love with them, Arthur. Love is about taking chances, taking risks, and hoping for the best. That's the beautiful part about it. It's like... it's like being on a precipice. Your hearts pumping, your palms sweating, and there is uncertainty of where you will end up or when you should jump, but the reward. The knowing that you took the chance to, that you took that step, even when it hurts... it's worth everything else. There's no greater feeling than stepping out, and there's no greater reward than to reap it's benefits. It's a chance that only you can decide to take. And you've taken that chance by ackowledging the love, but you haven't taken the leap by accepting it, and receiving it back in return.”

 

“I didn't know -”

 

“You were afraid.” Morgana said knowingly while ruffling Arthur's blond hair. “In some ways you were just as afraid as Merlin. You were afraid to take that chance, of being rejected – for whatever the reason, so you waited for him. And in your wait you continued to fall harder. Merlin took the easy route, he stored his hopes and dreams in his mind, only dealing with the things he had control over, for fear the outcome or reaction would be out of his control, or something he couldn't handle. He took the easier path. He's facing it. While you took the path less traveled. Perhaps your paths can meet somewhere in between.”

 

Arthur turned to her, still held in her embrace. Morgana was soppy when she was in full on big sister mode. “Is that what you did with Gwaine?”

 

Morgana nodded. “Oh yeah. You've met him.” Morgana said with a grin. “You've seen all the women he's been with before me. He's one of your best friends. Even if I was better than them in my own mind who's to say that one woman would have been good enough for him? Despite what he said he felt for me.” Morgana smiled to Arthur, and used her thumb to wipe a smudge of mustard left on the corner of his mouth from his sandwich before continuing, “It was a chance that I took because I believed in him. And I've never had reason to regret taking the risk, and on top of that, I have confirmation of that love that I get to look at everyday over at Gwen's right now.” Morgana turned her head to set her gaze fully on Arthur again, “but you will never know if you never take the chance.”

 

Arthur looked at her, "You never really said any of this before."

 

"The situation was different before. You had your reasons, and Merlin never showed romantic interest for your outwardly. He did however, show you everything else, as a best friend. It meant that there could be a later possibility, but no one could have guessed." Morgana said while pulling away for a second to get a sip of her brandy. "Not to mention the fact that you did everything that would have screamed to the normal person your affections, and so did we without telling your secret. And it's not like I never attempted to encourage you to tell him several times over the years, or anyone else for that matter. You just had your reasons, and very good ones I might add." Morgana used the palm of her hand not holding her brandy glass to rub at her forehead, in thought. "And no one would have guessed that Merlin had underlying reasons as well because he hid it so well, from everyone, including himself on some level it seems. Especially if it took the thought of losing you to wake him up from it." Morgana said as she dropped her hand from her forehead, and placed her glass back on the coffee table before moving back to Arthur, and pulling him back in a half hug. "Otherwise, I probably would have told Merlin myself, because it pained me to watch you as you were." Morgana concluded honestly.

 

Arthur sucked in a deep breath, and used his left hand to run through his hair before continuing, “I should go back to him.”

 

Morgana immediately shook her head. “No Arthur, no you shouldn't.”

 

Arthur's eyes widened, “but you just said-”

 

“I know what I just said Arthur, and I meant it, but you need to get away -”

 

“Morgana -”

 

“No, listen Arthur. You've been pining for Merlin for years now. Merlin has just told you that he loves you, out of the blue. You need to go away to think about what that means to you now. Merlin has just given you the reasons behind his actions, but you still need to process how those reasons have affected you. Merlin didn't see what all of those actions did to you. I did. I watched how you fell apart bit by bit, and I worked to keep you together. Along with your friends. I watched when you came over here because you couldn't stay in your own flat because Merlin dragged another wayward bloke home. I listened while you tried to muzzle your cries in the guestroom thinking no one else could hear. I watched you attempt to eat when it disgusted you to do so, but forced yourself to do it for everyone else's sake, and not your own. I watched you become depressed, and disheartened every time Merlin would introduce another bloke as his boyfriend, or said he wasn't coming home. I watched you as she said to me that you could handle everything, until you couldn't handle it anymore. And now I'm telling you that you need this Arthur!” Morgana ended in a shriek.

 

Arthur's jaw clenched, and his eyes tightened, but he couldn't say anything as Morgana continued.

 

“You need this,” Morgana said softly. “Merlin is not going anywhere. If he feels the same, as he says he does, if you feel the same, then it will still be the case when you get back. But this trip, this is for you. For once. No Merlin, no work, no not eating, this is for you. To give you the time to reflect, to speak with someone, to process everything Merlin has told you, to confront your own fears and doubts, and to truly make a decision.”

 

“And what if he doesn't want me when I get back?” Arthur asked in a whisper.

 

Morgana leaned in and kissed Arthur's temple. “Then it wasn't meant to be in the first place.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Saturday morning

 

They are aware that I am not required to stay if this place does not meet my expectations, is that right?” Arthur confirmed, for the forth time, at the airport.

 

Morgana rolled her eyes, “yes, Arthur. As agreed. You are not confined there. If it doesn't meet your expectations than you are free to return. But don't go there with that attitude, because if you do you're not going to like it. As it stands though,” Morgana said cheerily, like it was the best idea she could have thought of, “I think you'll love it.”

 

Arthur wasn't sure whether or not to believe her. But he knew she wouldn't steer him wrong. At least, not with this. And what would he have done without her over the last several years. Arthur didn't want to think about that.

 

Morgana wasn't finished. “And make sure that you call me everyday to check in.”

 

Arthur's lips turned in a frown.“What for, for you to see that I'm eating, exercising, and interacting?” Arthur asked incredulously.

 

Morgana smiled, “yes little brother, exactly that.” Not even jumping to the bait of starting an argument.

 

Do you need a report card too? Or do you need urine samples, and a drug test too.” Arthur asked snidely.

 

Morgana rolled her eyes again, and scratched her right brow with her right hand before responding. “Shut it you. This isn't for my benefit that you're going away but for yours.”

 

Arthur didn't respond, he already knew that. He'd apologize later. But he couldn't help but roll his eyes too as a come back. There was one more thing... Arthur took a deep breath, paused, and attempted to get it out. “Morgana, while I'm gone...”

 

It didn't need to be said. “We'll look after him.” Was her reply. Even though she didn't know what she was going to say to Merlin at the moment. There may have been reasons for his actions or lack of there of, but it still didn't change what happened. As much as she sympathized with his situation, it didn't change the fact that those seven years still did happen. And it doesn't change the fact that Arthur is going to have to go away now to deal with things that came about out of his feelings for Merlin either. Nor that he will more than likely have to continue therapy, see a nutritionist, or both once he returns. She shook her head internally, she'll deal with that later.“Remember, this trip is about you. To process everything and to decide what's right for you. Don't focus on anything or anyone else back here. Just enjoy yourself.”

 

Arthur nodded, “I will.”

 

Morgana pulled Arthur in for a hug, and they said their good-byes. Arthur's plane took flight thirty minutes later.

 

 

**

 

Friday night, the day before Arthur left.

 

9:00pm

 

Text messages

 

Will_ Friday_12/06/2013_ @8:00pm: Merls, just checking in on you. Mithian said she stopped by, but there was no answer. Call me as soon as you read this!

 

Will_ Friday_12/06/2013_ @8:30pm: Merls, it's me again. Still waiting for your call. Call ASAP!

 

Mithian_ Friday _ 12/06/2013 @8:45pm: Merlin, call me as soon as you get this. I've been worried about you.

 

Will_ Friday _ 12/06/2013 @9:00pm: MERLS! What the fuck! I am about to leave Morgana's now. If you don't call me back I am coming over there!

 

Lancelot_ Friday_12/06/2013 @9:15pm: Hey Merlin, just checking up. Give me a call when you get this.

 

Voicemail messages

 

Will _ Friday _ 12/06/2013 _ @7:45pm: “Hey Merls, it's me, Will. I just wanted to check on you to see how you're holding up after your meeting with Arthur. I'm about to go over to Morgana's for his 'sending off' party so I'm assuming it didn't go as planned.” Merlin could hear Will's sigh. “Just... just give me a call as soon as you get this okay? Okay...bye.” BEEP end of message.

 

Gwen _Friday _ 12/06/2013 _ @8:28pm: “Merlin, hi, it's Gwen. I didn't know if you were coming tonight or not, but I wanted to let you know that I've been thinking of you, and I wanted to make sure that you were okay.” And Merlin could hear that the phone was not pressed the way it should be to Gwen's face for the call to sound more audible. He could just picture Gwen holding the phone on her shoulders while wringing her hands. “Give me a call when you get this, or whenever the time is convenient. Talk to you soon.” BEEP end of message.

 

Gwaine _ Friday _ 12/06/2013_ @8:45pm: “Hey, this is Gwaine. Just calling to check up on you. Arthur explained what happened. If you need someone to talk to I'll always have an ear to hear. Just give me a call or text to confirm for me that you're right, kay.” Gwaine swallowed something. Merlin could only assume it was brandy or whiskey. “Call me anyway. Arthur would kill us if something happened to you while he was away-” BEEP end of message.

 

Will _ Friday _ 12/06/2013 _ @8:50pm: “Merlin, I swear, if you don't fucking pick up your phone and call me back -” BEEP end of message. And that was a very pissed off sounding Will, Merlin thought.

 

Mithian _ Friday _ 12/06/2013 _ @9:10pm: “Merlin, this is Mithian. I'm getting worried, and your scaring me a little because you haven't called me back.” Merlin could detect the frustration in Mithian's voice. “I can't imagine what your going through right now, but you need your friends. Call me back when you get this, and by the way, Will's already commissioned me to take Soph and Aries home. He's on his way to yours now. I'd advise you to be ready.” BEEP end of message.

 

9:30pm

 

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK!

 

“Merlin, open up you great numpty!” Will yelled through the door.

 

He was very surprised to see Merlin open the door, apparently showered, changed, and semi-put together. There was no mistaken from Merlin's flushed face, poofy eyes, and the redness in the rims of it of what Merlin's being doing all evening though.

 

Merlin didn't comment immediately. He opened opened the door wider to allow Will's entrance in. Then he ran a hand through his hair before taking a seat on the sofa, pulling a glass that looked like water, but appeared to be vodka to his mouth.

 

Will adjusted his tone before taking a seat beside his friend. “Did you get my text messages?”

 

Merlin nodded, taking another sip of his vodka.

 

“My voice messages?” Will asked, frustration showing in his voice and expression.

 

Merlin nodded again, before taking another sip of his vodka. Will snatched the glass.

 

Merlin attempted it to reach for it, but at Will's look of anger, Merlin, reluctantly, allowed it. It didn't matter Will thought. Merlin wasn't going to drink this problem away to avoid it. Will drew in a breath before asking, “what happened?”

 

Merlin raised both hands to rub his temples with his fingers, and leaned his head back to the back of the sofa before answering, “he left.”

 

Will rolled his eyes. “I know that he left. I just left his going away party. My question is what happened between the two of you?”

 

Merlin swallowed as his gaze went to looking at the ceiling. Merlin responded, tone distant. “Nothing happened. I told him I loved him, and he left anyway.”

 

Will's jaw clinched automatically at that, but he wasn't going to jump to conclusions. Both of his friends needed him. But it's MERLS! Was in the back of Will's mind. “Did you tell him why you acted the way that you did?” Will asked softly, hesitantly.

 

Merlin, still gazing at the ceiling nodded. “I told him everything.”

 

Will didn't quite know what to say to that. But considering the fact that Will was practically an eye witness to seeing Arthur fall apart he could understand why Arthur would leave anyway. It was a messed up situation. “What did Arthur say?” Will asked gently.

 

Merlin sat up, made to lean as if to get his glass of vodka again, but after remembering Will's expression thought better of it. He sat back on the sofa again, and ran both hands through his hair, ruffling it with his fingers before answering. “He said that his life was a mess. That he's been depressed, not eating appropriately, and that he was confused.”

 

Will leaned forward to the coffee table, took Merlin's glass of vodka, and took a sip of it himself. Not even taking in Merlin's slightly amused expression. He placed the glass back down after a grimace, and said. “It sounds like he was honest with you.” Will said.

 

“It sounds like he doesn't want to be with me anymore. He told me to figure it out.” Merlin said, as he covered his eyes with his hands. Exhaustion has taken it's toll over the past few days.

 

Will shook his head. “Merls, there is so much of Arthur that you've seemed to miss over the years that it fathoms me. Considering the fact that you lived with him, and are his closest friend I can't truly understand how you missed it.”

 

Merlin was going to open his mouth, but Will continued. “I know you have a condition. And that explains a lot of this. But as certain things stood still in your mind – unaddressed and ignored – other things continued to progress for everyone else. And Arthur... Arthur is one of those progressions. Just because things are going fast forward for you now doesn't mean that Arthur's going to remain on pause for you to catch up. He too, has some things to figure out.”

And that only made sense in the land of Will, Merlin thought. But... he did catch the meaning of some of it.

 

Merlin pulled his legs up in the coach to pull his knees to his chin, and to wrap his arms around them. “He could have told me about his feelings too Will.”

 

Will raked his right hand over his right brow, trying to find the words. “Yes, he could have told you. But it didn't change the fact that you didn't notice everything else, and Arthur needs the time to think about what that means to him, of what you mean to him after hearing everything that you told him, including your love confession.” Will replied shifting in his seat to better face his friend. “And speaking as someone who has seen Arthur going through his changes... I can see why he needs the time.”

 

Merlin used his hands and fingers to rake through his hair again, and groaned before saying, “he told me, Will. He told me that he was depressed, that he wasn't eating as much, and that he contemplated suicide before.”

 

Will eyes widened like a deer in front of a car headlight. He had no idea that it went far. No one mentioned any thoughts of suicide before. He swallowed. “If you know all of that than surely you should understand -” Was all Will could say.

 

Merlin shook his head, still not getting the bigger picture, “we could have worked through it all together -”

 

Will became agitated. “How Merls? How could you have? You're still dealing with your problems and you have no idea of everything you're going to face in therapy. Arthur staying with you now would have been like staying with the source of his pain. And he's probably still unsure of what everything means to you -”

 

Merlin's jaw clinched, and he gritted out. “I told him that I loved him -”

 

“Yes, after seven years of him waiting for you to do so. Do you not see how reluctant he could be in accepting that now, after being told out of the blue before he chose to leave?”

 

Merlin got off of the couch and started to pace. “I didn't ask for this problem Will. It wasn't like I had a choice in the matter.” Merlin said while shaking his head.

 

Sometimes Will didn't understand what went on in Merlin's head of his. “And neither did Arthur.”

 

Merlin slid down to closest wall between the telly and the window before responding. “You should have seen his face when he left Will. Like he turned off a switch, and decided that it was over.” Merlin shook his head. “What if he comes back and decides I'm not even worth it for him anymore?”

 

Will got up and slid down the same wall to sit beside Merlin. “First off, you're more than worth it. But it's a decision Arthur has to make on his own. He's hurt. There's a certain level of trust that is broken here too because he probably has to judge whether or not your words are sincere-”

 

“I wouldn't lie -” Merlin interjected, only to be cut back off by Will.

 

“No, maybe not, but you are just starting to address truths. Maybe you are seeing things as they are for the wrong reasons. You need to figure out what Arthur means to you.”

 

Merlin shot up from the wall to resume his pacing, hands up running both of his hands and fingers through his hair, before letting both hands rest again each hip. “I'm in love with him Will.”

 

Will got up, and sat back down on the sofa. “So you said. But you need to decide if you are saying this now, feeling this now, for fear of losing Arthur, or if it's because your feelings for him are real. Arthur's been a major point of your life from age fourteen up until now. You do have your own lives in between, and your both successful at it for the most part, but somehow you still manage to circumvent around each other's orbit.” Will paused before using his fingers from both hands to rub his temples. When did he become Dr. Phil? Will thought. And then a second thought. If he were he'd be fired!Will continued. “It's easy for you to want to believe it now. You know that Arthur's in love with you. Now you have to see for yourself that the feelings you are feeling back are real, Merls. Because it's not just your life you're missing with here, but Arthur's too.

 

Merlin grabbed his glass that was still on the coffee table, and took a large gulp of vodka. He grimaced before responding, eyes intense. “I've never felt so sure of anything else in my life.”

 

Will nodded before replying, “Then give yourself the time to confirm it. And use this time to get yourself together. You've got a long road ahead of you, and a lot of over things to face. I still can't believe you never told me about your father hitting you. You told me about the yelling, but you never said anything else.” Will said, getting angry just by mentioning it.

 

Merlin chewed the inside of his cheek before responding. “I didn't want to talk about it. To be reminded it. If I could bury it then it was easier to cope. I think I poured out everything I had to into Arthur today.” Merlin said while stepping into the hallway, and grabbing a tote bag. “It was sort of purifying on some level. That, and the meeting this morning too.

 

Will raised a brow at Merlin's tote bag. “Planning to go somewhere.”

 

Merlin grinned at him. “I know for a fact that you didn't come over here this late to leave me here. Or that you would allow me to stay. I got ready, and packed an overnight bag after I read your last text message.” Merlin said while picking up his glass from the coffee table, heading towards the kitchen.

 

“You know me too well, Merls.” Will called out, but he was right. He had no intentions of leaving Merls to his own devices right now.”

 

As if sensing Will's thoughts Merlin added, “but I do need to be back tomorrow. I have Autumn's doll house to finish for her Christmas present, and I have to decorate the flat. Christmas is Arthur's favorite time of year, and even if he's away right now he'll be back to celebrate it.”

 

Will had no idea if Arthur would come home to celebrate it, if he would decide to stay away longer, or if he would come back and accept Merlin without a second thought once he returned. There were too many factors in question to say that one would know for sure. But he kept that thought to himself. Will nodded as Merlin turned off the lights, and they headed for the door. Will pressed a firm hand to Merlin's right shoulder before squeezing it, and saying, “It's going to be alright, Merlin.” Either way it would be, Will thought.

 

Somehow Merlin wasn't very reassured. But he faked a smile anyway, nodding, before replying, “yeah.”

 

**

 

In Route

 

“What if he comes back and decides that he doesn't want to be with me?” Merlin asked while looking out the passenger side window, watching the snow flurries hit the ground becoming nothing.

 

Will kept his eyes on the road, but tilted his head slightly to respond. “Well, if you tried this three years ago I would have said a declaration of love would have worked. But now...

 

Merlin raised a brow, and turned his head at a angle to see Will's eyes. “But now...” Maybe there was some hope.

 

And if Will could have been more blunt. “Now, I think you're screwed.”

 

That was not what Merlin needed to hear, and it felt like he lost his breathing capabilities for a moment before he remembered how to breath. “Thanks Will, I wouldn't have guessed.” Was Merlin's dry response.

 

Will held up his right hand quickly, before placing it back on the steering wheel before responding. “No, I mean. I think you're going to have to work at it if you want him Merls. I think your going to have to woo him. Let him know that you want him for him, and not out of keeping his friendship, and not out of pity.” Will finished thinking back to some of the reasons why Arthur never wanted Merlin to know in the first place.

 

Merlin shook his head. “That's if he even wants me around when he get's back.”

 

Will turned his head slightly more while still keeping his eyes on the road, but turned for a split second to eye Merlin. “Your forgetting one thing, Merls. You already know that Arthur loves you. That part is done. He needs to know that you love him, and for the right reasons. If you can't prove that to him then there's no reason for him to stay.”

 

Merlin couldn't help but feel a little angry at Will's last sentence. And in retort, “who's side are you on?”

 

Will shrugged, “I've known you since we were three, and Arthur since we were fourteen. We're twenty seven now.” Will shrugged again. “I'd say, I'm on both of your sides. And you can't question that since you're the one that's trying to get out of this mess that you - consciously or unconsciously - created.”

 

It hurt to hear. And it was even worse to admit it, but Will had a point. Merlin started biting his thumb nail. “I've never had to woo anyone a day in my life.”

 

“Well then,” Will said as he turned down the street to his and Soph's. They had another five minutes left to drive. “You're going to have to decide if Arthur's worth it to you to make the effort. Maybe it's time to evaluate those feelings again. Just to decide whether or not he is.”

 

That's not even a question, Merlin thought.

 

Will understood Merlin's silence for what is was, and responded, “then there's your answer. You're going to have to woo him.”

 

Merlin used his right hand to scratch his chin. “And how do you suppose I do that?”

 

Will shrugged hard, brown eyes turned big. “Fuck if I know. Soph and I hooked up as a result of a one night stand remember. If I hadn't knocked her up we'd probably would have never gotten together. Til this day I still blame you.” Will said taking his left hand off the steering wheel to run a hand through his hair. “If you didn't make nice with the golden boy Pendragon in the first place I would have never gotten into that crowd. Which means that I would have never hooked up with Soph because I would have never gone to Morgana's Valentine's Day party that year.

 

How many times has Merlin heard that story over the years? Too many. And he always responded the same. “And you wouldn't trade any of that for the world.” It wasn't a question.

 

And so did Will. “Not even if there was an option to go back in time.” Will said without missing a beat before continuing. But that's beside the point. The point is the fact that Arthur may not come back wanting to give in. That it may not be easy for you at all. That Arthur may not even want to try. You are going to have to decide if this is really what you want. Because if you are unsure, if this is some fly by night fling like you've had with all of those other blokes -

 

Merlin was almost offended. “It's not!”

 

Will continued as if uninterrupted. “Then you need to leave Arthur alone, and allow him the time to get over you, and to find someone else who is worthy of him.”

 

Merlin shook his head. “In that case there's always going to be more people who are more worthy of him than I am.”

 

Will looked at Merlin, really looked at him. “That's the problem isn't it. It was easier to put aside your feelings, or any thought of Arthur in that way because you never thought you would be equal to him back then. And then you blocked it, and buried it before you ever addressed it.” Will was quite aware that he probably sounded like he was talking nonsense, but he was trying to get somewhere. “You never saw your own self-worth, atleast, not back then. And since you close things off, you left that door closed too. Going back to what all those smansy pancy rich gits said all over again. That you would never fit in, or that you were Pendragon's charity case, that he'd be done with you soon to move on to someone better. Somewhere down the line you believed some of it – before - you closed it off. That's why you completely missed the boat where Arthur's signs were concerned, and that's why you go through men like most babies get their nappies changed.” Will knows he's probably guessing, grasping at straws for reasons, but he had a strong feeling that he was getting somewhere. But that also means that Merls' feelings for Arthur could actually be genuine. Just not pursued... until now. Will thought to himself.

 

Merlin was unaware of Will thoughts, and did not know how to address anything in the beginning of Will's speech. But he did catch the last sentence. “I am not a slut Will.

 

Will pulled up his and Soph's house, placed the car in park, and stared at his best friend. “I wouldn't call you a slut, but Merls, if you were a woman, you'd be considered a slut. Which means...” Will said as he slid out of the driver's seat to lock the door. Merlin following suit, both standing on opposite sides of the car looking at each other. “There's no excuse for you.”

 

As Will made it around to meet Merlin as they walked up the stairs, Merlin asked. “And this is what you call a pep me up call?

 

Will shook his head, placed a firm hand on Merlin's shoulder to steer him towards the doorway, and answered, “no Merls, this is what I call a wake up call.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Pub Kilgharrah's. Four days after Arthur left.

 

The entire gang: Morgana, Gwaine, Leon, Elena, Elyan, Vivian, Lance, Gwen, Will, Sophia, Freya, Percival, Merlin, and Mithian were present. Everyone with the exception of Arthur who was away. It was a tense group. Everyone was aware that Merlin now knew of Arthur's feelings for him, and everyone was aware that he knew why Arthur left, which allowed them not to skate around topics any longer. Everyone was also aware of Merlin's situation now too, and atleast had an understanding of what was going on, altough, it wasn't mentioned. By the tension Merlin was able to pick up he was completely aware of this, and also completely aware that they were waiting for Merlin to say something about it too. And while Merlin was aware of this he didn't mention it, because he didn't want the attention focused on him.

 

So much for that.

 

Lance broached the real discussion first after they received their meals, just to break the ice, and out of concern. “How's Arthur doing?” Lance asked, and Merlin immediately tensed.

 

Morgana took a right hand to slide her hair from hanging over her shoulders and responded, “He's been doing fine. He's been calling me to check in everyday as I asked, and he seems happier than he's been in a while.” She paused. “He's also decided that he's going to take the two weeks.” Merlin's felt his stomach go into knots as he listened on. “He actually considered staying longer but he's promised Autumn that he would be back for her Christmas play, and he didn't want to disappoint her.” Morgana finished while taking a sip of her brandy.

 

“So he's alright, good.” Leon said with a nod, and a smile. It was something everyone was worried about. They'd all felt at fault for how far Arthur had fallen. Even though they all in their own way attempted to help Arthur over the years. Doing everything short of bringing Uther's involvement into play. Everyone was aware that Uther would have been the last resort, but they were also aware just how much Arthur would hate them later if they did involve him. It was like a catch 22, and not a win win on any count.

 

Morgana nodded, “better than good actually. He went there thinking I was sending him to some sanitarium,” Morgana said with a chuckle before she continued. “But it's not really like that. It's more of a resort of sorts, designed to make everyone as comfortable as possible while at the same time designed to provide treatment to those with similar situations, like Arthur's. There's a beach, yoga sessions, recreation sites, games, fencing,” Morgana waved a hand. “All of the things Arthur likes to do, with the exception of the yoga sessions. But I thought meditation would do him some good. There's also staff on site, a nutritionist, and a therapist there to work with the patients in a one-on-one capacity.” Morgana ended with a smile.

 

Vivian smiled, while drinking her apple juice. “That's good, I'm happy for him. I didn't know if he was going to feel alone there, or even more depressed.”

 

Morgana grabbed a chip and continued. “My main concern was that he got away – he needed it, my secondary concern was to find a place that I knew he would enjoy while getting him the help that he needed at the same time.”

 

Merlin's jaw clinched, but he said nothing. He took a large gulp of his ale instead. He knew why he was upset, it felt like on some level that this was being done as some cruel form of punishment for him. He knew good and well how ludicrous it sounded, even to himself, but in the back of his mind he couldn't help but think Morgana sent Arthur away to get him away from him.

 

“But is he alone there, has been been utilizing everything available?” Freya asked, with concern, as she took a bite of her burger.

 

Morgana shook her head while taking a napkin to dab at her lips. “Yes, he's been utilizing the time. The therapist stated. She also stated that Arthur's been participating in their sessions just as much as he's been utilizing the grounds.” Morgana took another sip of her brandy, and hesitated before saying, “Arthur mentioned that he made some friends there too. He's become particularly friendly with some bloke named Mordred. Something about them being there for similar reasons. But he's found the recreational time there fun because he's had people to share it with.”

 

Everyone nodded, happy to see that Arthur may indeed be progressing. Merlin wanted to feel the same, but at the thought of Arthur making other friends his hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Like he was about to lose him when he just found him.

 

Merlin couldn't help but blurt out, “That's why you sent him there, didn't you?”

 

Morgana raised a brow, putting her brandy back on the table. “Pardon me?”

 

Will called Merlin's name, and although Merlin was dimly aware that he did, he ignored it. “You sent him there to get over me, didn't you?”

 

Morgana gave Merlin a look that could have cut glass, but her voice didn't reflect it when she said. “Merlin, Arthur doesn't even know how not to want you, considering he's wanted you for this entire time.” It was true, and part of the problem, Morgana thought to herself. Though Merlin may not see it that way.

 

“But he left.” Merlin said stubbornly. Like Arthur's leaving was in direct reflection of him. And Merlin knew his emotions were running on overdrive, but he couldn't stop his own thoughts, or rather voicing them. And apparently, neither could Morgana.

 

Morgana took another sip of her brandy then, she had a feeling she was about to need it. “And if you knew what he went through you would understand why he needed some time.”

 

And maybe Merlin didn't understand. “But Arthur told me what he went through.”

 

Morgana gave Merlin a look of fondness and idiot at the same time. But on the inside, she was reigning in her thoughts about the matter. “Sweetheart, I know my little brother, and I know him enough to know that he wouldn't have wanted to hurt you. And that means he wouldn't have told you everything.”

 

Everyone watched on waiting to see if an intervention was needed, but wanting to hear what Merlin had to say about all of this.

 

Merlin shook his head, apparently still not grasping it. “He said that he loved me for seven years, that he was depressed, and that contemplated suicide.” Merlin responded, and in a whisper said. “I can't believe that I didn't know.”

 

Morgana couldn't either, but that was beside the point. Her smile was beginning to wear thin. “And as I suspected, my dear sweet brother of mine did not tell you everything, deciding to spare your feelings by giving you a simple recap instead.”

 

“But-”

 

“Merlin, he didn't!" Morgana's voiced raised a few levels getting a few onlookers from the other tables. She tried to tone it back down at Gwaine's nudging. “Either he didn't want to hurt you or you threw him for a loop in what you told him first. And I know that you did the latter because he wasn't expecting you, but knowing my brother – and actually seeing what he's been going through all of these years. Actually having one of my guestrooms basically titled as 'Arthur's room' – I'm going to have to go with the former.”

 

Merlin shook his head. Fish and chips forgotten as he spoke. “But you sent him away, he could have gotten help here -”

 

“I sent him there because he needed help, and he needed to get outside of the influences around him to gain his own perspective. Not everything is about you, Merlin.” Morgana sneered.

 

Everyone was silent.

 

Merlin ran a hand through his hair in frustration, and spoke lower, almost like he was speaking to himself when he said. “Why does everyone keep saying that, I don't think everything is -” But Morgana caught it, and ran with it.

 

Morgana looked at Merlin, eyes cutting, before responding. “Then maybe you should stop to consider why multiple people seem to think that you do. Because my brother is doing something for him, for once, he's finally making decisions for him. And you can't help but wonder how it applies to you?

 

Merlin at least had the good grace to look guilty after that, but his mind was a mess from all of the things that he's been facing for the past few days, he missed Arthur terribly, and frankly -- he's been at a loss. He tried to speak. “I -”

 

But Morgana had had enough. She shook her head, wiped her mouth with her napkin, grabbed her purse, and looked at Gwaine. “I can't stay any longer, maybe this wasn't a good idea right now. I'm going home.” She leaned over to give Gwaine a brief kiss on the lips that Gwaine returned fully. “I'll catch a cab.” She added before he could ask. She said her good-byes and walked to the exit, while the ladies promptly followed behind her to make sure that she was alright. They knew that Morgana struggled with Arthur over the years, and knew that it was starting to take it's toll. Only the men: Will, Lance, Percy, Leon, Elyan, and Gwaine remained. Left with the knowledge that they would have to stop by Morgana's on their way home to pick up their perspective wives.

 

Gwaine shuddered before looking at Merlin. And after taking in Merlin's crestfallen expression with sympathy, he spoke, “Sorry, I'm sure she didn't mean it like that. She's been... a little emotional lately.” Gwaine finished. Though in reality he was pretty damn sure that his wife meant every word that she said. She didn't mince words – well, unless it was with Arthur - when she got angry, and Merlin has been a focal point for her for quite some time. Considering how Merlin's actions have affected Arthur's over the years.

 

Merlin tensed and then relaxed. And as if knowing somehow Merlin responded, “And it all seems to be centered around me.”

 

Gwaine raised a brow. “Is that what you really think?” Gwaine shook his head. “Well maybe...” Gwaine paused to finish the ¾ of his remaining brandy in one gulp. “Maybe you should put yourself in Arthur's shoes for once, and then stop to think of why she may feel the way that she does.” Gwaine placed a few notes on the table. “I've got to go. I'm going to want sex some time in this century, and if I don't follow soon it may not happen.” He looked at Merlin, lowered his right hand to take a firm hold of Merlin's right shoulder, and gripped it firmly before saying, “think about what I said. We're here for you. You know that, but take yourself out of the equation for a moment, and just think about it, yeah?” Merlin felt like a chastised child for a moment but could only nod. Gwaine nodded back before giving the othera a two fingered salute, and leaving.

 

Merlin banged his head on the table. “How could I miss this?” Merlin asked the table that his head was pounding against.

 

“We've been asking ourselves that same question for the past seven years.” Lance responded, while taking a huge gulp of his beer.

 

“I am such a horrible friend.” Merlin said to the table.

 

“No, Merls, no you aren't.” Will tried lamely, only to get clipped in the head by Elyan. Merlin needed to process the facts of this situation, and not to have everything candy-coated. That was the problem. They'd all been skating around these topics for years out of concern of feelings.

 

Elyan was about to open his mouth, and Will on reflex covered it with his hand and in that same second. Elyan bit at it. “Oi” Will yelled out yelling, “you wanker!” It's not that Will was trying to cover for Merls, it was more like he knew more of what Merls had gone through, what he is going through as he's been the one who's had to pick up the pieces, and given the fact that he knew more he also knew to tread carefully, knowing that there were more factors at play here.

 

But Merlin for some reason felt like he needed the punishment after seeing half of his friends leave. He looked up and saw Will, and saw how red Elyan's face looked – even with his darker tones, and basically gave him an open ticket that he had probably been waiting for. “It's okay Will. I deserve it, you can let me have it Elyan.”

 

Elyan looked at Will, and most have saw something in his expression to make him change his thought processes because Elyan said instead. “You really have no idea of the damage you've done. I understand that there are extinuating circumstances that have happened in between, but it doesn't change the fact that the damage has – indeed – been done. And then you have nerve to be angry at Morgana for wanted to do what's right by her brother. Merlin,” Elyan shook his head to stop himself from saying anything more. His voice was already tensed and full of emotion, “you really need to think about what you want, because if it is only about you, and it's not about what's best for Arthur too – right now...” Elyan clinched his jaw, shook his head, and downed his shot of scotch glass of scotch in one go.

 

Merlin raked his hands and fingers through his head. It was becoming too intense for him. “What am I going to do now?” Merlin whispered.

 

And Leon shook his head, because that was still a question that centered around Merlin. But he couldn't help but ask, “do you love him?” That was a loaded question that everyone wanted to know the answer to. Despite what they'd heard.

 

“Of course I love him Leon, he's my best friend.” Merlin brows raised, and responded defensively.

 

“Not the same thing mate.” Percy countered while taking a chip, and shoving it in his mouth.

 

Leon continued as if the last comments weren't spoken, voice tensed. “Because if you don't love him, really love him, than don't mess with his head.” Leon shook his head before continuing. “Arthur deserves more than that, and if you can't give him that... if you can't, then you need to let him go.”

 

It didn't register completely at the pub, but alone - in the flat - it became like a real wake-up call for Merlin. And that night, he tried to look at things from a different perspective. From Arthur's perspective, and... it wasn't pretty.

 

 

**

 

Ten days after Arthur left, six days since the pub incident.

 

It's been decided. Merlin thought in his head as he – mentally - marked the days on the calendar. Arthur was going to stay away for two weeks. And apparently he was sticking to it because it's been ten days since he's left. And somehow, Merlin thought his fate would be decided once those two weeks were over. Once Arthur returned to tell him exactly what his fate would be. It wasn't a comforting thought. Because after looking at things from Arthur's perspective he didn't see why Arthur would choose him. It didn't stop Merlin from losing hope though, but in the back of his mind he knew he needed to prepare for the worse. Merlin's has checked the landline phone, his mobile, and his email daily, but there hasn't been any word for him from Arthur.

 

Merlin is aware that Arthur still contacts Morgana daily, and has even sent shot outs to the others by text, and email. He's also aware that Arthur's been updating his facebook account. Which Merlin has tried to look onto only to find pictures of Arthur's new friends, and of his resort spot. The location, Merlin has to admit, - though he doesn't know exactly where the location was – looked ... relaxing. Arthur posted pictures of the ocean front, the recreational centers, and of some of his friends. He posted pictures of himself as well, and Merlin had to admit that Arthur looked... happier. Now that he's had some time to reflect on how Arthur looked before he left. Merlin focused on one picture of Arthur in particular. He was nicely tanned – the bit of sun did him good, skin golden, his blue eyes were shining, and his smile was bright - like he just had a good laugh. What Merlin found of most importance, was the fact that Arthur looked...at peace in the photo. There were also pictures of Mordred, Kay, and Bohrs on the site. Merlin only wondered to himself if they would remain in contact once Arthur left.

 

It's been six days now since the pub incident, and Morgana had finally called Merlin to tell him that she would be stopping by. Merlin has heard from some of their other friends. He's received a few calls from Leon, Lance, Percival, Gwen, and of course he's heard from Mithian, Will, and Sophia. No ones taking sides completely, but it's obvious that their main concern is for Arthur. Which seemed to be expected under the circumstances. Considering Merlin is fighting past issues while Arthur is fighting present ones.

 

Merlin's been keeping up his therapy visits with Dr. Monmouth. In fact, Merlin's been so enthusiastic about it now that he's made it a point of focus, and has taken medical leave from work for a month to focus on his daily sessions. Fortunately, for him, Dr. Monmouth made himself available. Much to the glee of Hunith and Gaius. On a more difficult note for Merlin, it took three sessions with Dr. Monmouth for the Dr. and Merlin to realize that Hunith was a big source of Merlin's center of fear too. And like he feared the rejection of his father, he also feared Hunith's acceptance. That she was disappointed in him, that he caused their father to leave, that she didn't notice all that was happening to him. And on some level... that she'd allowed it. That it was because of him that they had to struggle. It made for two very tensed sessions because on the forth, and fifth session, Merlin and Hunith were both present, and Merlin was able to confront her with the things that plagued his mind for all of this time. Even though he never voiced it. He didn't realize the things that were buried deeply until he released it. There was some shouting, there was some crying, and there was plenty of apologizing, but above all, there was progress. Because as he accepted and understood that the root of his fear of rejection spun from his father, and the root of his fear of acceptance spun from his mother. He also understood that some of the things that happened in between only added to each of those fears. Merlin never thought to think of it that way at all, but Dr. Monmouth's questions were pinpointed and precise. It didn't hurt that he knew just about everything from Hunith, Gaius, and Will from their combined-compiled stories, and the fact that Merlin only had to fill in the blanks, and then expound on what it meant to him. That expounding part has been the hardest, but the most... necessary.

 

Dr. Monmouth, one who's considered to be the best Dr. in the country, and considered to be world renowned in his own right, was able to see some of the things Merlin kept hidden inside in only a short time. It's not to say he's cured, not by a long shot, but the sessions are allowing him to see things differently. To address things that he's kept a close lock on for all this time. And it's not soothing, not at first. Some of the subjects hit like a catharsis, and the feeling is painful leaving him hollow and numb. While other's are soothing, but with a lingering ache. It's draining, and Merlin is aware he's pushing himself to allow for daily intensive psychotherapy sessions, but Merlin has a goal in mind, and it's something he can't afford to falter on, not when the cost is so great. And yes, Merlin is aware that choosing Arthur as his focus or a goal for improving may not be the healthiest option for him, but if Arthur has sacrificed so much for him, how could he not sacrifice something of himself for Arthur in return? He was told by Dr. Monmouth to decide what he wanted to accomplish in all this, and to use it as a center to help him focus on the prize, to achieve his goals. What it meant on the grand scheme? That he chose Arthur? Well...Merlin would definitely have to consider that later.

 

As it stands, Dr. Monmouth stated that recovering from fears is based on confronting it, being able to admit it's causes, and being able to accept it -- allowing yourself to move on from it. He told Merlin once he could accomplish this, then there wouldn't be a need for intensive psychotherapy, and that their meetings could then go to weekly or monthly, instead of daily. The meetings would work to continue the lines of communication. This will also prevent Merlin from blocking things away in his own mind. Especially if he continued to confront it.

 

Merlin has been learning some things about himself too, and why he's acted the way that he has, or has been accused of acting:

 

  1. That his having a hard time admitting his faults, or admitting wrongs, and receiving constructive criticism at times comes from underlying problem with rejection. And that part goes back to not being good enough, not measuring up. The bullying became a focus on those sessions, and the hurtful things that was said to or about Merlin over the years that he stored away in the back of his mind. That part of the rejection went back to his father, and the hurtful things that was said too that reminded Merlin that he was different, and upon evaluation, found wanting. It helped to know there was a focal point to it now though, and with that Merlin was able to begin to discuss how those things affected him, and how it altered a certain path of his life. And most importantly, how he was going to allow himself to be affected by it now. To not allow himself to be a slave to it any longer. And to Merlin, this part was going to be the hardest to come to terms with. To say that he would be over it completely.

     

  2. That his tendency to reject others was to prevent himself from being the one who was rejected first. It helped him to understand that... in his own way, he rejected Arthur before completely accepting him - because he was afraid - on some level to be rejected first.

     

  3. He learned that in seeking his mum's approval it was a sure sign that he was basing his identity upon what his mum may think of him. It brought back some memories. The abuse became something that wasn't discussed in the Emrys home after Merlin said that he was fine a few times. In some way, Merlin thinks that was the way that both he and his mum coped. They discussed why Merlin did the things that he did, sometimes in chastisement or reproof, but never discussed the abuse, or his father after that dreadful night. Merlin didn't want to bring the subject up either, because he knew how much it hurt his mother. He remembered hearing her cries when she thought he was sleeping. And he always thought on some level that he drove his father away. That he wasn't good enough for his father to want him. That if he could have only been less clumsy, less nosy, or less of a burden. If only he didn't slip and fall into the book case, or if he'd been a better son, that... maybe... his father would have liked him more. Maybe he wouldn't have left. Maybe, he could have still been alive. And somewhere down deep, Merlin didn't want his mother to feel the same way that his father did. So he strived for her approval, and acceptance instead. Which ignited the start of his fear for approval without Merlin even realizing it.

     

  4. He also realized that on some level it was his fear of confrontation, the fear of not wanting to know what is thought of him that prevented him from telling Arthur his feelings before too. When he knew it for what it was, and dismissed it back then. Because on some level he didn't want to be told that they weren't compatible, that Arthur didn't want him. Because he knew that Arthur meant something, and something more. And he didn't want to lose what they already had. So he chose not to take the risk, and blocked everything else out. In Merlin's other romantic relationships, he didn't need to be concerned about that. Not at that level because those other men weren't a factor. Merlin meant what he said to Arthur when they talked about his past relationships. He never let anyone else in as much as he'd let Arthur in already. Even if he never let Arthur in completely. He sees that now.

     

 

**

 

Merlin was working on the Autumn's dollhouse by the time Morgana arrived. Building, fixing, and repairing things - using his hands - has always been something relaxing for Merlin. Something he felt good about doing. It was another reason why he became a doctor. To use his hands to provide healing to others. To help people. It was about seeing a problem, and working to resolve it. Like he made a difference in the grand scheme of things. Whether it be intubating a patient to open their airway, giving or assisting in emergency surgeries, diagnosing a problem someone else may have missed, or giving stitches to a child. It was something in knowing that he did it himself, and that he was helping people. It made Merlin feel equal then. Like he'd finally found his place, like he belonged, and the best part about it -- he was good at it.

 

Building things for others gives Merlin a similar feeling too. Because it was a reward in itself to see the smiling faces of the people he presented his gifts to. He remembered Arthur's face, his fond expression, when he built him a wardrobe for his room. Morgana's, when he built her a jewelry box. Gwaine's, when he built him an entertainment center for the living room of his and Morgana's home that they are reside in now. His mum and Gaius when he made them new headboards for their beds, and built new cabinets for their kitchen. He even remembered Freya and Percy's expression when he built them a crib for Lucan. The happiness, the admiration on some level, was it's own reward. But the pride of accomplish, always meant a great deal to Merlin.

 

**

 

Merlin and Morgana sat in the living room, facing each other while drinking the tea Merlin prepared, and eating the biscuits that Merlin bought from the store. Once again, the air around he and Morgana was a tense one.

 

Morgana hesitated. “I wanted to say... I wanted to say that I may have been...well, Gwaine said that I may have been a little harsh with you when we last spoke. Morgana paused while taking a sip of tea. “I wanted to apologize for that.” They both knew that she didn't mean it. That Gwaine put her up to it. But Merlin said what he was thinking.

 

“I think we both know that you meant every word that you said, Morgana.” Merlin said, setting his cup of tea on the coffee table, and shifting himself a little more in his seat to Morgana so their gazes could meet head on.

 

Morgana decided to cut to the chase to. “Let's just say that I don't believe you. I don't know if I can trust that your newly found feelings for my brother are real. And I can't trust that you will not hurt him.”

 

Merlin flinched, took his right hand and tugged at his hair, before saying, “I would never -”

 

“Intentionally,” Morgana scuffed, “no, intentionally you would never hurt him. But it isn't about what you will intentionally do now is it? Unintenionally you've been hurting my brother for years. Somehow you've managed to miss it, but I wasn't so fortunate. I watched everyday as my brother fell apart. I fought everyday to pull him back together. I have a guest room at my flat that is basically titled 'Arthur's room,' because it's his second residence, with clothes, toiletrees, and all there just for him. And you want to know why Merlin?” It must have been a rhetorical questions because Morgana continued. “Because of the nights he couldn't stay at his own flat because he couldn't bare to hear you screwing some other bloke or looking at them with stars in your eyes that he only wished was directed at him!”

 

Merlin winced. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times like a fish before he settled for saying, “I didn't know.”

 

Morgana nodded, and smiled, like Merlin's finally gotten it. “And that's my point Merlin, you didn't know. And look at the damage it's caused. Now I have no idea what Arthur's plans are yet for when he was returns. I know he's doing some soul searching but I will tell you this now. If you hurt my brother again like that, Merlin - intentionally or unintentionally - whether he decides to move forward or not then so help me you will feel more raft, and I will make sure that you are consciously aware of it to notice. Do I make myself clear?”

 

Merlin opened up his mouth again, bit his bottom lip, distraught. “I would never hurt -”

 

Morgana raised a hand. Eyes sharp, and like the big protective sister she was. “Save it Merlin. Let your actions begin to dictate your words, and maybe then I'll believe you're intentions are sincere.”

 

And just like that, Morgana got up from her seat on the couch, took her bag, and left. It was her second abrupt exit from Merlin's presence in less than a week. Merlin raised his legs bending his knees to fit under his chin, and wrapped his arms around it, before he started to rock back and forth, trying to figure out what he could do to make it all right. But the only thing that he could think of always led him to Arthur. All paths led back to him. Which would have been fine if Merlin knew what to expect. But this time, after everything, after putting himself in Arthur's shoes, after his psychotherapy sessions, after listening to the lot, to Morgana, Merlin found his chances of Arthur feeling the same for him once he returned - or his chances of Arthur wanting to be with him - were becoming... less and less. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Thirteen days since Arthur's been away – one day before his return

 

 

The first thing that Merlin noticed aside from hearing his own voice at the end of his scream was the time. It was 2:00am. Like it's been every day since the eleventh day that Arthur left. And it's now it's the morning of day twelve. Merlin's been keeping track of the calendar, and in his mind, the days are labeled for each day that Arthur's been away, and set for the day he returns. Every night, since the eleventh day Merlin's been waking up early from nightmares. Vivid nightmares, and on some level it's frankly terrifying because Merlin feels like he's actually present for it. After the first night, Merlin's spoke to Dr. Monmouth about it only to be advised that it was natural, and actually a breakthrough in the treatment process, because it meant that some of the things Merlin buried in his mind was starting to come to the surface. It sounded right, the nightmares were closely related to what their session of the day focused on. But it was hardly something that Merlin wanted to live through twice in one day. He let it go though, if it would work - if it helped - he was willing to do it. He had to keep his eyes focused on the goal. As long as he can actually make it to the goal, Merlin was sure that he would make it even if he had to suffer through this. The problem was... he didn't know if what he chose as his goal would be available any longer. And that was even more frightening than the nightmares.

 

 

Merlin used his hands and fingers to wipe the tears from his face that came unbidden while sleeping, again. He sat up in his bed, rubbed his eyes with his palms, and then pulled himself up to rest against his headboard to glare at the clock on the wall wishing he could blow it up. Thinking about the torture, - the dreams - Merlin doubted, “I don't know if I want it all back.” And on further evaluation, “What if I can't handle it?” Despite Merlin's doubts he didn't want to stop. Not if there was a chance to be better in the end.

 

But the good Dr. Monmouth did make sense. Because as each session focused on something in particular that Merlin suppressed, and the nightmare brought it to the surface to force Merlin to deal with it. If he wasn't doing daily sessions it may not have been so bad, but as it stands, Merlin felt like his heart, mind, and body was going on overload. Processing too many intense things - too many things that never wanted to address - at once. But as hard as it was, Merlin didn't want to cut back. He wasn't dying, and he wasn't passing out. He was just drained, stressed, tired, and a little overwhelmed. It would be different, going through all of this again, if he didn't feel so alone. But even if someone was there... what could they say? And it didn't matter, because there was no one coming anyway. Except for Will or Mithian. Merlin could not find himself to be angry with that. Hurt... maybe. But not angry. He understood they were protective of Arthur. He thought he was too. But apparently they had more information than he did. Merlin shook his head. He fucked up, it makes no difference now. And for all he knows Arthur could be hating him now. And when he comes back... who's to say he'd want anything to do with Merlin at all? Merlin slid back down into the bed, and pulled his sheet over his head. He didn't know what he would do if that happened. And he couldn't think that far to focus on it because his head was still throbbing.

 

**

 

 

Eleven days since Arthur's been away – three days before his return.

 

The first nightmare.

 

The focus on Merlin's psychotherapy for day eleven was based on Merlin's father. Dr. Monmouth made Merlin talk about his feelings during the abuse, and how it affected him, and most importantly, how it's affecting him now. They discussed patterns, how far the pattern continued, and the things that were more difficult for him to confront. And that night, the night of day eleven, Merlin dreamt of his father.

 

 

** Flashback **

 

Four year old Merlin was just coming home from playing outside with Will, and tracked dirt on the floor. It was raining outside, and the ground was wet, showing the tracks coming off of Merlin little dirty sneakers from the front door, the tiled flooring in the anteroom, the wood flooring in the living room, and to the ceramic tile flooring in the kitchen. Young Merlin only made it that far before he a strong hand gripped around his little arm, the force of the shake was enough to make Merlin feel like his shoulder was going to come out of the socket -- in the midst of the shaking, he looked to see his father eyes, blazing with anger, skin beet red. And his father was close enough to him for Merlin to smell alcohol. It was a bad sign.

 

You worthless piece of shit! What did I tell you about tracking the floor?!”

 

Merlin's eyes were wide, like a deer caught in a headlight, his heart was beating, he was literally shaking inside, and quite aware that one false mouth, one smart retort, and the wrong answer would result in another beating. “I... I -”

 

Spit it out boy, what are you stupid?! What did I tell you about tracking the floor?!”

 

Merlin's mouth opened, and closed a few times, until Balinor squeezed his arm with such a force that Merlin knew that there would be bruises. He sucked in the cry of pain that was radiating through him to come out. If he cried now, if he screamed, it would be worse. His father would call him weak. Big boys don't cry. They don't show their emotions. He sucked in his breath instead, and clinched his jaw tightly, to block the feeling of the pain before stuttering, “I.. I'm sorry -”

 

You're always sorry,” heavy hit on the arm, Merlin's eyes watered.

 

you can't ever get anything right,” heavy hit on the butt, two traitorous tears fell from Merlin's left eye.

 

I'll show you what sorry means,” heavy hit on the thigh. Merlin buckled from the pain on his leg.

 

If I have to tell you one more time to about tracking the floor I'll make sure that you'll be unable to sit properly for a week! Now clean up your mess, and get out of my sight!” Heavy slap upside the back of Merlin's head. Merlin saw dark spots, he used the pain to suppress the feelings of it. And a heavy push to the door of the kitchen came next to propel Merlin on the floor. Merlin felt his knee scrape hard against the ceramic tile. It burned, and he knew there would be blood. He was only thankful it wasn't his head that it the floor. Through it all, Merlin remained silent. He father already thought he was horrible, he never wanted a son, Merlin had to prove that he would be good. That he would change. Merlin mentally hit himself for failing to remember to take off his shoes at the door. He was just excited from playing with Will. And he hadn't had dinner yet. He knew his mum left him a BLT, it was his favorite. And now because he was stupid enough not to remember, such a simple thing like taking off his shoes at the door, he's made his father angry with him, and he's going to miss dinner.

 

Balinor sneered at Merlin, still laying side ways on the floor, now that Merlin stirred he felt his hip too. He knew there would be a bruise, it also felt hot. The sneer didn't always bode well for young Merlin, and he wasn't sure why he was still looking at him like that. He didn't have to wait long. “What are you retarded?! “Get up, clean this mess,” Balinor strode over to corner of the kitchen in what seemed like two steps, grabbed the mop, walked over to the sink in another two steps, wet the mop, drained it, and threw it at Merlin, it hit the floor. Barely missing his head. “Clean it up, and get out of my sight.” Merlin didn't have to be told twice. He was in enough pain as is. He ran out of the room, scrubbed the floors as hard as his little hands could do with the mop, went through each room to retrace his steps – couldn't have his da find anything wrong. “He wouldn't disappoint him,” Merlin said to himself. His father must have went to his room for a moment because Merlin didn't see him on his way back to the kitchen. He sighed in relief. Young Merlin then ran to the other side of the kitchen, placed the mop right where it belonged. Ran to the direction of the counter top directly across from where he placed the mop on to the right of the kitchen, and searched his BLT. Fortunately it was still there - as promised - by the refrigerator. He grabbed it - he had a bottle of water in his book-bag – and ran to his room. Young Merlin made sure that his lights were out. Faking sleeping was his best option. Merlin hadn't seen television for weeks at home, only went he went to Will's, or if his mum was off. He grabbed his flashlight, and pulled his sheets over him completely. The flashlight would give him light. Then he forgot his water. He had to slip out of the bed one last time to grab it from the corner slot reserved for drinks on his bag. Once he grabbed it, he jumped back in the bed, covered himself from head to toe with his sheet, and after shaking for several minutes he went to eating his BLT, and drinking his water. Merlin didn't leave his room for the rest of the night. He didn't even risk cutting on a light to check his bruises until the morning. It wasn't like he didn't know he had stark red fingerprint bruises on his arm, a palm print on the same right arm, a palm print with fingers on his bottom, and another palm print with fingers on his right thigh. It wasn't like he didn't know that he bruised his left hip, and knee from the fall. But little Merlin still had some self-preservation in him, he'd rather suck up the pain, put it out of his mind, and deal with it later. He would rather not go back out there and risk the chance of facing his father again. Who knows what would happen? Little Merlin shook his head, it was wouldn't do for him to go out there again, and come back worse. The wounds will deal with itself. And that was young Merlin's last thought on the matter as he stopped shaking and began to eat his BLT. He ate his sandwich, neatly, wouldn't do for his mum to find crumbs in his bed – again. He drunk a few gulps of water. Just enough to quinch his thirst, and not enough to make him have to go to the bathroom. He laid down, head on his pillow, and pulled his knees to his chin, mindful to lay on the right side instead of the left, wincing from the pain as he moved. He wrapped his arms around his knees, he felt safe when he did that. And then he went to sleep.

 

** End of Flashback**

 

Merlin felt every moment of that nightmare. From how he felt when he left Will for the night, to how he felt the moment the chill went up his spine at the touch from his father, to how he felt like the worse son ever during the yelling - so many emotions there - to the pain he felt from the hits, from falling on the floor, and to how he felt a brief moment of content that his mother left him his sandwich. He remembered the security of his room. His shelter under his sheets, and the moment he began to suppress the feelings from his mind to get some sleep. It was like he was reliving it all over again.

 

As a child, he knew it was his fault. Everything was. And he blamed himself for it. If only he could have listened. If only he was the child his father wanted him to be. If only he wasn't so stupid, he must have been stupid, his father called him stupid, surely his own father would know? If only he could do better, maybe his father would love him. (And in future years, maybe he wouldn't have left). Maybe he wouldn't have hit him so much. It was those lingering thoughts that would always be in the back of Merlin's mind while being around his father. But seeing it now, reliving it, feeling the pain of it. Merlin could only recognize it for what it was -- abuse. He knew on some level that he was being abused then too, but if he could suck it up - and be a good boy - maybe his father would have come around. And now, no one would ever know. And once again, Merlin was left with those lingering thoughts. But this time, he was tasked to process it to see what he learned from it. There were many moments during Merlin's thought processing that he would have preferred not to deal with that, but he did. And he couldn't go back to sleep, choosing to stare at ocean blue colored walls, and white baseboards. Arthur chose that color two years ago, Merlin remembered with a small chuckle. Something about how he thought it would be a perfect color because it matched with Merlin's eyes. And Merlin had to stop mid-chuckle because, really, could that not be more obvious? Merlin shook his own head in answer to himself, and thought “he really was a right idiot.” There would be more signs as the days went on.

 

**

 

Twelve days since Arthur's been away – two days before his return

 

The second nightmare.

 

The focus in psychotherapy that day centered on the bullying. Merlin was forced to discuss the bullying, of the things he kept quiet about, how he felt about it, and how it affects him now. Except for this time, they started to discuss the patterns of how it affected his life, and the lives of the people around him over the years. By using the patterns that fall into place from the fear of rejection. They discussed how Merlin's life has been affected by closing himself off. By blocking things that may have been traumatic to him, or in a close relation to the feelings he experienced that sparked from the traumatic experience(s) itself. Merlin discovered he was living, but he was missing a lot.

 

Merlin dreamed of his third year of primary school that night. His first full year of being tormented by bullies. Sure we was teased before, called names, and shoved here or there, but he wasn't never tormented at school like that before until he turned six. Merlin wasn't sure which night could be more worse because at the end of that nightmare Merlin sat straight up, shaking, finding the sheets – wet. Merlin got up with such a force his head was throbbing, and only after downing a half bottle of vodka was he able to calm himself down enough to go back to sleep. And what made this night worse? The nightmare wouldn't stop. It was vivid, like Merlin was actually there, and it seemed to be set on automatic replay.

 

** Flashback **

 

Young Merlin was on his way home from primary school for ages four to eleven. It was ten minute walk from his small school of less than fifty students, and for some reason little Merlin was unable to make it home without being called names, hit, or meant to fear for his life without Will walking him home. And unfortunately for little Merlin. Will was home sick that day.

 

It took five of those ten minutes of Merlin walking home to sense that he was being followed. He tensed, and began to walk faster. He would run, but he was afraid he would trip on a crack on the cement and fall. Thus succumbing to more bruises, and the reckless beating that would surely follow. Merlin's heart started beating faster, and his palms started sweating just from the thought of it. It took two more of those ten minutes before he heard running, three minutes – just three minutes more Merlin thought, but not in time before a hand grabbed his book-bag, yanking it back with full force causing Merlin to fall on his right side, on the concrete. Young Merlin's jacket, and pants showed damage from the fall on the concrete. It was his school uniform. There was blood that started to show through his khaki pants, and he felt it through his white shirt, and blue uniform jacket. “Shit!” Merlin thought. Mum's gonna kill me. It was the third uniform destroyed in less than three months. They were worse when Will missed school. Because they would attempt to trap him on the way home. Peter, Sam, and Rex. Peter was the ringleader. And from the moment Merlin was four, and started primary school, Peter hated Merlin. If Will was in school - because fortunately for Merlin, Will was a lot bigger, and could actually fight - they would wait to catch Merlin in the hallways to slam his head or shoulder against the locker, one day he found himself locked in a locker. If he was caught in the loo, he was either given a wedgy, or he found his head in a urinal, or in the toilet with Peter and his friends holding him down, and flushing the toilet. If Will caught it, he got in their faces immediately, if he could get a few punches in, well... then Will was going to do it. One time, he broke Peter's nose during one of those punches, and Will got suspended for three days. Peter only hated little Merlin more for that. And those three days were pure hell.

 

You thought you could get away from us didn't you?” Peter sneered. Black hair falling into his brown eyes as he stared down at Merlin on the ground. A sound kick to Merlin's belly sounded off shortly after the question. Merlin didn't cry, not unless he couldn't control it. He didn't want to be anymore of a wimp than he was for getting beaten up in the first place. And he was warned, if he told anybody it was them, then they would kill him. And at the age of six, looking into the eyes of an eleven year old, he couldn't doubt that it wasn't possible. Merlin tried to cover his stomach with his arm only for another kick to sound off full force on his wrist. Merlin cried out, much to the glee of Peter who was waiting for it.

 

You thought you could run away... from me? You little snout nose, wing eared retard. Another kicked in the arm. Tears were flowing now, and Merlin tried to rock, and hold himself with both arms while protecting his right wrist as much as possible.

 

You think just because you have Will protecting you that you're untouchable?” Kick in the head. Merlin almost preferred that. He may sees stars, but his head was hard. It didn't stop him from crying out again though, the pain from different places all at once was too much to bare.

 

Peter yanked Merlin up from the ground grabbing his right arm, uncaring of the damage done to his wrist, and stripped off Merlin's bookbag, shoving him into one of the neighbor's wooden fences. Merlin felt the sharp pain to the back of head, and to his back. He placed his hands like he wasn't some bully, on Merlin's shoulders to keep it steady, and looked to Sam and Rex, “what do you say boys? Should we have more fun with him?” Peter's eyes never left Merlin's. Ready for Sam and Rex to say it was cool. Merlin's face was covered with tears and snout, his pants leg bloodied, and though Peter hit Merlin in the head, the end of his shoe caught Merlin in the forehead, and it was in the beginning stages of forming a bump. Merlin was still favoring his wrist by holding his right wrist in his left hand. Merlin didn't have pride at the moment. He looked at Sam and Rex, eyes pleading. Rex green eye's remained cold. Sam's gray eyes softened with compassion.

 

Nah man,” Sam said after a few moments, “I think the lad has had enough for the day.”

 

Peter grinned, before pushing Merlin further into the fence. Pain still throbbing at the back of Merlin's head, and the mid-section of his back. “Consider yourself lucky kid.” And he leaned in closer to whisper in Merlin's ear, “remember what I said, your dead, dead if you tell anyone it was us.” Merlin winced, tears flowing, and nodded. He had no way of knowing if Peter was telling the truth, and if wouldn't go through with it.

 

With one more good shove. Peter, and Rex started to walk away. Sam looked back once, before following suit. And Merlin slid down the fence, wincing all the way before struggling to pull his legs up (groaning from the pain in his right hip and knee), and pulling his knees to his chin. He's right wrist ached something awful preventing Merlin to bend it, and his stomach throbbed in pain, but he rested his right wrist on top of his right knee, while putting it on top of his left hand to cradle it. Merlin knew that he needed to move, but his heart was racing, his head was pounding, and it took him a good full minute to realize that he wasn't breathing. After sucking in a huge gulp of air, Merlin repeated to himself, “Have to calm down.” And after a few more breaths, “Have to go home.” Young Merlin repeated this, and repeated it until he was able to suck it up the pain, and move. He tried not think about the threats, or the painful words. It wasn't like Peter didn't say it often enough.

 

Merlin did try to fight them in the past, but he was just too small. So much smaller than Will. And if he did try to fight them back Peter and his friends would only make it three times worse. Will even got Merlin to go to the principle. The principle said that they needed witnesses. That the three boys said that they didn't touch Merlin, and that it was their word against his. When Will defended Merlin breaking Peter's nose, getting suspended. Peter, Sam, and Rex all stated that Will was the one that attacked. And even though Merlin told the truth, it was still three boys against two. And no other witnesses. Will kept nagging the principle until he decided to have a talk with the boys. And that was when the threats for Merlin's life started. And from there... Merlin learned to keep quiet. Whether Peter would act on his threats or not. And he tried to cover his bruises as much as he could. It wouldn't do for Will or his mum to find out. He was afraid of what his father would say. If Will did catch on, if there were visible bruises, Merlin would claim that he didn't see who did it. Peter, Sam, and Rex were eleven. They would be going to secondary school soon. And away from Merlin. All he had to do is ride it out, and he would be free of them soon. It's something young Merlin thought about everyday.

 

Merlin grunted as he pushed himself up from the fence. It may have hurt his back, but he needed to test standing first. He winced, and groaned at the pain shooting from his right hip, and knee. He used his left hand to feel the back of his head to find that – yes – indeed, there was a nice mid-sized bump to the back of it. It felt wet. “Fuck!” Merlin exclaimed when he removed his left hand only to find blood on his fingers. He wiped the blood on his pants,and then tried to bend his wrist again. The pain was too sharp to bend it. “Shit!” And Merlin had to curse himself, because he was cursing too much. Being around Will enough could do that. It took Merlin another ten minutes to make it the three minute distance home. The pain was too great, it was stabbing in places while throbbing in others. And his head was still pounding. Merlin did manage to remember to take his shoes off when he walked through the door. Unfortunately his mum was at work, and his was sitting in his favorite black leather recliner, feet propped up flicking through the stations as Merlin walked in the living attempting very slowly to make it to his room. “If I could make it to my room, If I could make it to my room, If I could make it to my room.” Merlin kept repeating in his head over and over again only to be stopped just as he was about to make it to the hallway that was two doors down to the left where his room resided.

 

Why are you limping like that?” Balinor questioned. Looking at Merlin with disdain.

 

Merlin sucked in a breath, and tried to maintain himself to show no emotions. “Can't show weakness,” Merlin had to remind himself. And then he turned around. Balinor took one look at Merlin's appearance. The bloody pants, the torn jacket, the red bump on Merlin's forehead. Merlin reined in his pain like a horse was pulled by it's harness. Repeating in his head, “Can't show weakness.”

 

Merlin swallowed, before saying clearly,“I fell out of the tree house.”

 

Balinor narrowed his eyes at Merlin, as if testing his sincerity, before thinking less of it, “You can go,” Balinor said, going back to flicking his channels.“And your mum's working late tonight. Get your own dinner!” Little Merlin was already in his room by the time Balinor finished his last sentence.

 

Merlin didn't leave his room until the next morning. He cried himself to sleep from the pain.

 

Merlin's mum was off to work early the next morning. Apparently Merlin missed her before he woke up. He showered, got dressed in his second of four school uniforms. Now that another one was destroyed, again. Merlin found himself lying about what happened as he explained his stiff walking, some wincing from turning the wrong way, or the still throbbing headache. He told Will that he fell out of their tree house. Maintaining the story said to his father. Which was entirely possible considering how clumsy Merlin really was. Will accepted Merlin's story, but forced him to go to the school nurse after he noticed Merlin favoring his right wrist, and finding it swollen. He repeated the same story to the nurse word for word, just as he told Will. He couldn't afford to get his lies mixed up. The nurse had Merlin attempt to move his wrist to the right, to the left, and forward and backward. And then she did some feeling around his wrist herself. She didn't detect anything broken. Nurse Sefa was kind enough to wrap it for him, and sent him on his way. And Will didn't let Merlin out of his sight for the rest of the day. He always felt guilty when he missed school. Like he wouldn't be there to help. But as Merlin started to hide the beatings from Peter, Rex, and Sam, Will started to think Merlin was doing better. When Merlin had a bruise(s), he would feigned accidents. If it were too obvious, he claimed he didn't see the person(s) responsible for doing it. His mum wasn't home enough to detect anything. She would lecture him about his destroyed school uniforms. And Merlin would claim more accidents. It was only for a few months more, and Peter, Rex, and Sam would go to secondary school. Merlin repeated that other and over again, and that was how he made it through the last two months of school before summer. Merlin just didn't realize at that age. There's always another bully in one way, shape, or form.

 

** End of Flashback **

 

**

Thirteen days since Arthur's been away – one day before his return

 

The psychotherapy sessions have been productive for Merlin. He's beginning to see how he's been affected by the traumatic experiences that's made him captive in his own mind. His friends haven't contacted him, well... with the exception of Will and Mithian. And after thirteen days, there still hasn't been any word from Arthur. And Merlin has checked. He's continued to check his phone, email, and the land-line for messages. No messages were found. He even tried Will, to see if Arthur had asked about him, and to see how he was doing when Will stopped by for a visit after Merlin returned from his latest psychotherapy session. Will's expression was sad when he shook his head to tell Merlin that Arthur hadn't asked about him. He did smile to tell him about Arthur's progress. “Morgana said that he's doing great. That he put on six pounds while he was away, and that he's been having a lot of fun. She also said that the therapist, and the nutritionist for very pleased with how Arthur went through the treatment over the last few weeks. How receptive he was too. It sounds like he's on the brink of making a full recovery.” Merlin only wishes he can do the same. Will continued unbeknownst to Merlin's zoning out before him. Will said softly “She's only worried about what it'll be like when he's back when back at home again,” It was the unsaid, back home – with you – that Merlin caught. “she doesn't want him to relaspse again.” Will said while ruffling Merlin's hair. It was a playful gesture. But the sentiment of care was still there. It just didn't help the feeling that his heart was being torned somehow. Merlin stayed strong for Will, he didn't need him to worry about him anymore than he already did. Trying to pretend to be his.... father. Merlin's eyes watered at the thought, but took a deep breath to rein it in, along with that thought. He would process it later, like he had to, only... not in front of Will.

 

Merlin swallowed from where they were seated on the couch in the living room before saying, voice tight, “that's good, good for him.” And more sincerely, “I'm happy to hear it.” Merlin feigned a migraine ten minutes later in order to be alone. Will gave him a worried look, but at Merlin request, he left Merlin alone to get the much needed rest that he claimed was needed. Merlin raised his legs to the couch, and pulled his knees to his chin, and wrapped his arms around them. He needed to feel safe and secure right now.

 

Merlin fell asleep that night on the couch. Still wrapped in his safe position with his knees up to his chin, and his arms wrapped around them. He only managed to lay his head on a pillow, and to use a throw rug. In his psychotherapy visit, Merlin was asked to talk about his move from Ealdor to London. And they still had to talk about the bullying because Dr. Monmouth felt like it was more there that needed to be explored. And there was, given the fact that Merlin was hiding it and blocking it out for so many years. It shouldn't have been a surprise that Merlin would have his next nightmare about... Valiant.

 

 

** Flashback **

 

Merlin was late for class. It was his first day at Camelot High, and he was getting lost all day, despite the orientation. Merlin wore his dark blue jeans, a red t-shirt, and his blue hoodie. He couldn't find any of his scarves since the move. He suspected his mum had something to do with that. He was rushing down the crowded hall, everyone having the same purpose of getting to class. Merlin wasn't completely looking where he was going, and when one girl with red hair bumped hard into him, Merlin ended up walking into a boy that was attempting to pass him.

 

Sorry,” Merlin said immediately, and attempted to walk off only to be held by the arm.

 

Do I know you?” The boy said like he was the boy who ruled the school. The arrogant prick.

Merlin shook his head, “no, no... I'm new here,” Merlin said while beginning to bite his bottom lip.

 

And where are you from?” The boy said, still not letting go of Merlin's arm. Merlin tried to tug his arm free, but the boy only gripped it tighter. Merlin's jaw clinched, and his heart started beating faster. All he could think about was it's happening again. The boy sneered, and tugged Merlin closer. “I asked you a question, boy, where are you from?”

 

Merlin stuttered. “I'm from Ealdor, now would you please let me pass?” Merlin asked nicely before he found his chest pressed against the locker with his right arm that the boy gripped bent awkwardly, pressed into his back and keeping him in place. The pain was sharp.

 

The boy whispered in his ear. “I'll let you go when I want to let you go, you bloody faggot.” Valiant said in disgust, before saying, “Now -”

 

Valiant,” a voice called from somewhere behind them interrupting whatever – Valiant - was about to be say next. All Merlin heard was faggot. And the thoughts kept coming from there. “I'll never be able to escape,” Merlin thought. “There was nowhere to escape to.” And those last two that never went away, but stored itself in the recesses of his mind, “I will always be different, I'll never fit in.” Will was wrong. Merlin couldn't see the boy, his face was pressed tightly against the locker, and the wrong move from either him or 'Valiant' would have surely done damage to his arm.

 

Valiant sighed, voice terse, he responded, “Pendragon.”

 

Pendragon, Merlin didn't know if that was the boy's first name or last.

 

But there was sharp intake of breath before he heard the words that surprised him. “Let him go.”

 

Valiant didn't let up. “What do you want from him? He's a bloody poof, Arthur. Not worth your time, why don't you run along -”

 

Valiant didn't get a chance to finish that sentence before there was some scuffling behind them. Merlin wasn't able to see Arthur grab Valiant's neck and shoulders tightly, he was too shaken to see Arthur slamming Valiant to the wall, he did hear his words though.

 

I said, leave his alone.” Arthur said, jaw tight, and tone full of venom.

 

Merlin was getting the feeling back into his arm, and managed to turn around to see the blond still gripping Valiant by the neck.

 

He's not worth your time, Arthur. What d'ya got a thing for poofs now?” Valiant said with disdain while grinning wickedly. Merlin's heart was racing fast, his palms were sweating, and he was breathing heavily. He watched on. He thought about running away - his legs were frozen in place - but he heard Arthur's response.

 

No Valiant, I'm not into bloody 'poofs' as you say, but what I am into is humanity. Stay away from from him.”

 

Valiant's eyes turned cold, Merlin could see that from his profile. “Or what?”

 

Arthur tightened his hold on Valiant's neck before letting go, “you don't want to find out.”

 

A few seconds later.

 

Arthur, everything alright?” Another guy walked up to them with dark brown hair, brown eyes looking on accessing the situation pretty quick.

 

Arthur backed away, tapping Valiant's right shoulder once, and allowing him to move before responding. “Yes, Gwaine, everything is alright, isn't Valiant?” Voice still sharp.

 

The look in Valiant's eyes screamed bloody murder. All veins in his neck visible from the anger that radiated through him before he gritted, “everything fine.”

 

Arthur smiled, before responded one more time, tone sharp, “good, see you at footie practice this afternoon.”

 

Valiant's eyes shot daggers at Arthur, then at Gwaine, and lastly Merlin's. And Merlin felt like he was being put on notice. His body felt that way, because his heart felt like it stopped and restarted again, and his breathing was starting to get heavy again. Overwhelmed by the tension, he looked away.

 

He didn't see Arthur following Valiant's line of sight, but he did hear Arthur repeat his words, and with a tone equally as threatening as the daggers shot at him from Valiant. “I mean it Valiant, stay away from him.”

 

Merlin didn't hear a response. He heard more conversation, and it was getting closer to him.

 

You sure everything's alright?” Gwaine asked.

 

Arthur nodded, “everything's fine. Valiant's just up to his old tricks again, like he does every year. Looking for someone to pick on.”

 

Gwaine nodded. Merlin looked up again to see the one who saved him. And his heart stopped again because not only did he see soft the shiny blond hair, but beautiful piercing blue eyes, and golden tanned skin. The boy was bloody gorgeous. His presence radiated power, and for a moment, Merlin felt like they were the only two left in the hallway, when after close inspection of Merlin glancing around, he remembered they weren't. In fact, there were two other blokes that walked up. He almost missed Arthur speaking again.

 

Are you alright?” Arthur said with a grin, like he knew that Merlin just sized him up, and maybe he did.

 

Merlin nodded, but found himself saying, “I'm fine, thank you.”

 

And I might have a name to go with your face?” Arthur asked, smile getting brighter. And Merlin could only think that he was the most beautiful boy that he ever saw. Until he reminded himself that the boy did not go for bloody 'poofs,” as he told Valiant.

 

Merlin was visibly shaken, Arthur raised a brow while waiting. “I'm Merlin, Merlin Emrys.”

 

Arthur smiled again, like he already sized Merlin up, before he spoke, “I'm Arthur, Arthur Pendragon. Are you headed for class?”

 

Merlin could breath again, that was a safe topic. He nodded again, and licked his bottom lip before responding. “Yes, to Professor... Alvar's class?” Merlin croaked it out as a question. He was still processing the fact that his knight in shining armor was still talking to him.

 

Arthur ran a hand through his soft looking blond hair before saying, “well. You're in luck. That's where we're headed too.”

 

It didn't take long before introductions were made for Gwaine, Leon, and Lance. And they were off to class. Merlin didn't know it then, but his life was changed forever starting that day.

 

Several nights later, before Merlin went to bed, he took the time to reflect on that day. Arthur stayed with him for the rest of that first day. He even introduced him to the rest of their friends at lunch, and they treated Merlin – and by extension Will, like family. Arthur invited Will to join the footie team. Merlin didn't do sports. But Arthur made sure that Merlin sat front and center claiming Merlin could be his good luck charm. Maybe Arthur did see something in Merlin, but Merlin couldn't figure it out. He was even more surprised when Arthur volunteered to drop him and Will off after school, and volunteered to pick them up in the morning since neither of them had a car. Arthur claimed he didn't live far away, but it surprised Merlin, even Will. Though Will seemed to hit it off with everyone pretty quick. Even with his smart mouth that he couldn't always rein in fast enough. Merlin thought that Arthur was just protecting him from Valiant. Thinking Valiant was going to bully him again before the day was through, or was waiting for the next day. But the same thing happened the next day, the day after that, and the day after that. And it kept happening. For the first time since the move, Merlin felt like he was going to be alright. And even though Valiant said those words - told Arthur he was a poof - Arthur never treated him like he was different. Arthur, always treated Merlin like he belonged.

 

** End of Flashback **

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Morgana made it on time to pick up Arthur from the airport. She almost cried, if she would do that- in public, with what she saw. Her brother, her brother, actually looked like he was in a good place. He was always good at faking it to extent, but given the fact that she'd seen him at his worse, she was able to see the difference. And he did look good. His golden skin tanned, his eyes much brighter, he seemed, at peace with himself as he walked up to her with a bright smile. That smile, and seeing him happy again made her feel good about her decision in sending him off for the help to begin with. She smiled, “Hey you.”

 

Arthur pulled her into a full hug, and squeezed her tightly for a moment. And Morgana relished that she could feel the difference in the weight gain. And then he pulled back, leaned in, and gave her a kiss on the forehead before responding, “Hey you, too. Been waiting long?”

 

She shook her head as they walked to the baggage section. “No, bout a half hour.”

 

“Morgana -”

 

“I didn't want to be late.” Morgana explained. And Arthur knew, she got antsy when she was nervous. And she was probably nervous about seeing him. Morgana continued. “So...,” Morgana walking beside Arthur, tilted her head sideways to see his face. “How are you doing?”

 

She got to the point. Arthur licked his bottom lips before responding. “I'm doing fine Morgana.”

 

Morgana raised a brow.

 

Arthur almost did the same, but thought better of it. He clinched his jaw. “Really, I'm doing fine. I had a lot of fun. The therapy was actually good for me because it allowed me to talk things out in my head. And you were right.” Arthur winced in internally, that was hard to say. “I needed the time away to put myself out of the equation to think about things.” Still walking, they were almost to the baggage claims. “They did evaluate me for other things too. I got the impression that that request came from you.” Arthur raised a brow. Grabbing his bags, now that they'd located it.

 

Morgana had the good grace to look guilty. “I was just worried. I know that you've been in love with Merlin for quite some time. And I've seen what you've dealt with, what you've been through. I wanted to make sure that it didn't turn into something else. Or that it wasn't anything else. And let's face it,” Morgana's guilt gone, smirk in place, “it's not like it wasn't the perfect chance to get it checked.” Meaning, if Morgana could get away with it, to achieve her purposes... she would.

 

While Morgana's decision was based on how Hunith managed to miss all of the signs for Merlin's cry for help years ago. And when she suspected, she went by Merlin's word instead of taking him by those wing ears of his, and getting him checked like a mother should. And being a mother, Morgana couldn't help but be angry at Hunith too for not taking the initiative sooner, for going by a child's words instead of making the right choice all those years ago. When a parent doubts, they get it checked. That's something she admired about their father, despite his methods of what he considered 'fixing it.' And being a big sister - and a mother - Morgana could not regret her decision in making sure that she dotted her i's and crossed her t's. She would have never forgiven herself if something happened to Arthur because she listened to him say something, while she doubted. What if he was in denial? If only Hunith made that choice sooner, things could have been different now.

 

Arthur unaware of Morgana's inner thoughts, shook his head, and sighed. “They didn't find anything else. I have been diagnosed with depression, that comes with some anxiety, and it explains the weight loss. Being in love isn't classified as a personality disorder. And as for obsessive love... there's actually phases to define obsessive love. It determines if you are either at a stage, or proned to it if you fit in those stages. I didn't fit the bill. I never stalked him, I never had an obsessive desire to possess him, I was never violent or angry, never did obsessive things like watch his every move. I didn't even keep up with everyone that he dated, nor did I hate anyone that he dated. There was only two things that was on the list twenty four signs - split into four stages - that held any relevance to me, and that was having overwhelming signs of depression, that I had for a year and a half." Arthur paused. "I may have felt hurt at times, like anyone else could feel hurt, but the depression didn't set in until a year and a half ago. The second thing were the thoughts of suicide. One I decided against all on my own, and one I got help for.” Arthur raised his right hand and rubbed his right brow with his fingers, “though I did go through therapy just for having the thoughts of it too.” Arthur looked at her -- again. Morgana had the good grace to look sheepish. Arthur was unforgiving. “The diagnosis is depression. And suffering from unrequited love for the length of time that I had it, the feelings that surrounded it, is still a form of the depression. But my feelings itself, the love that I feel... is real. And that was their final word. And Nimueh agreed because she pulled everything from the sessions, and the notes that were sent to her from the therapist on sight, making it a first and a second opinion.” Arthur said with the unsaid message to his sister of, “I told you so.”  And raised his left brow. Morgana was unperturbed.

 

Arthur didn't bother, but felt he needed to reiterate. “Again, after careful evaluation, I did not fit the bill for that. And it's not as unnatural as may you think, considering many people love others who's love has never been returned. They even provided case studies, and scenarios to prove it.” Arthur sighed, “now I admit, the depression did get out of hand – at the end, but I always had a lifeline to hold on to. That's why I never decided to give up on myself by entertaining the thoughts for very long of suicide. I've always had everyones support. And I've always known my own self-worth. It was just... at my lowest points that I thought of it, though it didn't make it right. But when I thought about what I did have... it far out-weighed the things that I didn't have. If that makes sense?” Morgana thought that the therapy did some good listening to Arthur's introspection of his choices. Arthur didn't wait for a response. Arthur finished and as an afterthought, “And as I learned before I left.. my feelings were not so unrequited after all. Though I didn't focus on it as much while I was away, or during my recovery. I needed to take the time for myself to process things, and to figure it out in my own head.” They started making their journey for the SUV.

 

Morgana listened intently. “It may not bring about a personality disorder, but it could be just as toxic.”

 

“Anything can be toxic Morgana. I should have said something! I stewed on it, and waited for Merlin to see the signs. And Merlin -- didn't see it. The fact of the matter is, I can't go back in time to rewind.” Arthur shaking his head as they finally made it outside of the airport, stated before continuing. “I can't change anything, all I can do is move on from it, and see how it applies to me now.” Arthur finished.

 

They made it to Morgana's Jade Green 2014 Lexus LX 570 SUV.

 

Morgana still had that look of concern on her face before asking, “what are going to do?” The unsaid, about Merlin left out there.

 

Arthur placed his luggage in the trunk, slammed it shut, and looked her dead in the eye before saying, “I haven't completely decided yet.”

 

Morgana and Arthur slid into their seats, putting on their safety belts, she turned to him. “What do you mean by that?”

 

Arthur shrugged, took his left hand and fingers to run it through his hair before replying, “I mean it as I said it, I haven't decided yet. I know that I need time. I know that I have to see how I am back here. In the center of it all. There's somethings I need to do for me first, before I can decide for anyone else. It doesn't change the fact that I still love him.” Arthur rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand, before continuing. “It just means that I can't let my love for him be something that I need to worry about right now. If that makes sense?”

 

Morgana nodded, as she turned the ignition, shifted from park to drive, and drove off. She clarified. “Are you waiting for Merlin to make the first move, or waiting for something like that to change your mind?

 

Arthur turned to look at Morgana before raising his brow, “You mean am I going to jump into his bed, at the first sign that he loves me?”

 

“Don't be a tart!” Morgana said snidely, focused on the road, turning slightly to eye her brother. “But on second thought -”

 

“Morgana!” Arthur shouted, exasperated. “If I was going to do that, I would have stayed here in the first place instead of going away -- when it was a given. And there would have been nothing you could have done to stop me.” Morgana knew that on some level. Arthur swiped the bottom of his lips with his top teeth for a moment, and closed his eyes and opened it again before he continued. “There's some things I need to understand about Merlin before I can think about making that step with him. I know that he loves me. That's not a question.” Arthur used his right hand to run against his side of the dashboard. “But I need to know if his feelings are based on the right things.”

 

Morgana nodded, taking her right hand off of the steering wheel for a moment to rub her right brow, then running her right arm over her left, before placing it back on the steering wheel. “You still want to make sure that he loves you for you, and not out of pity, obligation, or friendship?”

 

“It's not a guarantee, Morgana.” Arthur turned to look at her, blue eyes intensed. “It's not a guarantee, and I'm not going to wait while the choices are being made. Not like I did, in any case. But at the same time, I am going to be fair, and I can't turn my back on him completely. Merlin would have never done that to me. And even in his illness, he was always there, just not in every way that I wanted him to be.” Arthur ended in a whisper.

 

“But...”

 

Arthur sucked in a breath, and sighed deeply. They knew each other too well. And more than likely, the harpy probably knew too. “But... in the meantime, I think that Merlin and I need some distance to make those decisions without being in close courters.”

 

“And....”

 

Arthur shifted in his seat despite his seatbelt to get a full glimpse of his sister's profile, “you knew!”

 

Morgana giggled. Eyes started shining from holding it in and managed a slight turn to look at Arthur before focusing back on the road. “Who do you think Miranda called to find you something up to your expectations without you being present to choose for yourself?”

 

Arthur's eyes widened for a moment, and he scrubbed his chin with his fingers from his right hand. “I told her to find me a two bedroom furnished flat that I could lease, instead of own. How did that constitute to her calling you?” Arthur asked incredulously.

 

Morgana's tone turned haughty, and she straightened her shoulders, “you forgot your last name darling little brother. She wasn't going to get anything short of the best for you.” Morgana eyed him from the corner of her eyes, “and besides. You never know. It maybe something that you decide to keep.”

 

Arthur gritted his teeth, and straightened his shoulders too. The close quarters of a vehicle never boded well for the Pendragon's. There was never a means to escape when necessary. “I didn't say -”

 

Morgana interrupted. “It's a beautiful flat, big windows, plenty of natural light, three bedrooms,” Arthur opened his mouth but she continued. “A swimming pool, a huge kitchen, a rec room, a den, a spacious living room, a big dining room -”

 

“What the hell Morgana!” Arthur shrieked.

 

Morgana went on as uninterrupted. “Big ceilings, a built in jacuzzi -”

 

Arthur inhaled a deep breath before exhaling. “Morgana?” He said in frustration.

 

“Arthur?” Morgana responded innocently. Like she didn't just sign him up with the intentions of him never moving back home. And with the allure of giving him all the added comforts... and more of home.

 

Arthur sighed, and pressed the bridge of his nose before responding. “Morgana, I just said that I haven't made up my mind.”

 

Morgana clinched her jaw, and her smile turned into a frown. “Fine.” She said crisply, like the overbearing harpy big sister that she was. “But utilize this time Arthur, and utilize it well. The flat is set for a rent to own. If you decide to move then Miranda said that the previous owners were fine with it. It is gorgeous, Arthur.” Morgana finished excitably. And after a pause, she turned to him with a smile, as she finally reached her neighborhood. “There is... one more thing.”

 

Arthur closed his eyes. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know. He gave in. “What is it?”

 

And this is where Arthur felt chills run down his spine. Because the evil smirk that was coming from his sister couldn't be signs of anything good, for him.

 

It was not.

 

“Your flat is two flats down from mine.”

 

Arthur's chest tightened by the thought of it. “Fuck!” He said, while turning away and looking out the passenger side window.

 

Morgana's evil smirk dropped, slightly. “It's not a horrible thing, Arthur.”

 

“Not horrible,” Arthur turned to his sister with a look of agitation. “Not horrible. You basically arranged to keep me close to babysit me! And then you arranged this huge package of a flat to entice me to want to stay, then you changed my directions for leasing and turned it into a rent to own, and if that's not enough you placed me two flats down from you! Where's the privacy in that? And what the hell happened to Henderson's?! I thought they lived two flats down from you?”

 

Morgana grinned again as she drove two flats down from her's, and pulled in. “Well...since you asked nicely. Margaret and Wallace has been wanting to relocate to the states for quite some time now, but they never could afford to do so. They had the money for somethings, but not enough to buy a home or get set up -”

 

Arthur raised his left hand to use his fingers to rub at the skin between his two brows, and asked tightly “Morgana, are you telling me that you paid them off?”

 

Morgana didn't even have the decency to look guilty. “Arthur,” She tsked, “be grateful I didn't choose one flat down from me. I've gave you your privacy, and I chose the best flat, with the most to choose from. And... I may have had the jacuzzi installed -”

 

“I knew it!” Arthur shouted pointing his right forefinger at his sister.

 

“Really?” Morgana said raising her right brow. “We have all of this money. Why can I not do something for my brother. It really wasn't as much as you think, and I'm fulfilling a dream -”

 

Arthur eyes looked at her in question, he twitched his lips to the left and then the right. “There is a such thing as limits, Morgana.”

 

Morgana huffed, while they sat parked in front of Arthur's new flat. Other cars parked in the vicinity. She turned off the ignition, and raised a brow, “you're wrong to talk.”

 

Arthur unbuckled his seat belt, and then foldest his arms in front of his chest, pouting – like a child. “You're starting to turn into father!”

 

Morgana sat back in her seat before turning her head more in Arthur's direction. “And maybe if I'd done that sooner we wouldn't have been in this situation now would we?”

 

Arthur's pout of frustration on his face left him immediately turning contrite. He reached over the console to pull her in to a one armed hug – as best as he could in a SUV. “It's not your fault. You did everything that you could of done. Anything that I allowed you to do. You've been there for me, 100% giving me a shoulder to cry on, food on the ready, free alcohol,” Morgana chuckle while Arthur continued “a place to stay, and on top of that. You still respected my wishes. Except for when you got Leon to shadow me.”

 

Morgana waved her right hand in the air dismissively. “Leon was just doing his job. And he's one of your best friends. How could you not expect him to keep a close watch on you." She sighed. “If you really feel like you don't want to live at the Henderson's -” Morgana winced.

 

Arthur raised his left brow, and tilted his head to Morgana, evaluating. “What is it you're not telling me?”

 

Morgana pouted and said lowly, very lowly, almost as a whisper. “The flat is actually yours.” And Arthur thought he heard. He hoped he was wrong.

 

Arthur pushed away from Morgana, scratched the back of his right ear and the surrounding skin there with his right had, and shook his head before asking again? “I'm sorry, what was that?”

 

Morgana cheeks flushed. But her tone was regular. “I said, the flat is actually yours.”

 

Arthur's expression looked like he was about to explode. His tone did come across as harsh as result. “How could you make a decision like that without consulting with me first?! I have my own flat?! I've been living their just fine for years, Morgana.” Arthur's chest tightened, and he sucked in a breath before continuing, “I told you that I haven't made a decision yet, and I haven't even spoken to Merlin since I've been away. How do you think he's going to feel if he finds out that I bought another flat, Morgana? Will's said -”

 

Morgana turned to look Arthur more in the eyes, using her right hand and fingers to rub her forehead, she interrupted. “Will, when did you talk to Will?”

 

Arthur pressed the bridge of his nose again with his right thumb and forefinger before sighing. “I called him yesterday. I needed to know what I was walking back into, and you made it seem like everything was peaches and cream on our daily calls.”

 

Morgana wasn't following. “Everything is fine, Arthur.”

 

Arthur shook his head. “No, no it's not. Do you know that Merlin's doing daily intensive psychotherapy sessions?”

 

Still not following, Morgana nodded, “yes.”

 

Arthur nodded, jaw clinched. “Did you know that he's taken a month off of work?”

 

Morgana nodded again - knowing Arthur was getting somewhere before replying, “yes.”

 

Arthur nodded. And this time his tone was sharp, and a little icy. “Did you know that with the exception of his psychotherapy visits that Merlin hasn't gone anywhere for the past two weeks. That Will's picked up the groceries. That he and Mithian are the only ones who have checked on him,” Morgana would have said that she was there, but then she would have to say what transpired. She remained silent, especially when Arthur got like this. Arthur voice was raising, “after I asked you specifically to look after him. And you promised me that you would, and to think about nothing else but myself while I was away. Did you know that no one else has even bothered to contact him since the night before I left. And that his last experience with the lot apparently is of you telling him off in the pub in front of our friends. Which I know you know that.” Arthur sucked in a breath.

 

 “Arthur,” Morgana tried, looking slightly guilty. Arthur raised a right hand to stop her. 

 

Arthur's face was stricken, he groaned, and sighed deeply, his tone changed to something softer. “Look, I know you're looking out for me, and I love you for that. I'm not upset that you told him off. Frankly, it was probably something that he needed to hear, but after everything that I told you about what he's been through...” Arthur shook his head before continuing, voice tight. “You know that my having support was what kept me from not completely falling off the deep end. The reason why I always had some balance, is because I always had the support from my friends and my family. Obviously, Merlin did not. At least, not from everyone. And after everything, do you really think that Merlin deserves to be completely ostracized by all of his friends?”

 

Morgana sucked in a breath. “Arthur I didn't -”

 

Arthur shook his head, “Morgana, despite what you may think, people do listen to you, and they follow your lead. You may not have told them to not contact Merlin, but your actions dictate it. And they follow you, choosing a side. And it's not like you didn't know my intentions of moving out if Miranda contacted you. You must have known that Nimueh added that as a suggestion by the transcripts that she kept track of during my sessions while I was away. That I was already thinking about it before she made it as a suggestion during my sessions. So now, on top of him feeling the cold shoulder, he's going to find out that I'm moving.” Arthur pressed the bridge of his nose again with his right thumb and forefinger shaking his head before saying, “how do you think he's going to feel about that?”

 

Morgana's expression turned stubborn. “My first priority is to you Arthur -”

 

Arthur gritted his teeth, “and he's your friend! I looked up his condition last night, and compared it to some of the things he will have to face in his treatments... He's going to have relive practically everything he's blocked, all of the nasties, do you really think that he deserves anything less than our support right now?”

 

Morgana sighed, and used her scrunchy on her right wrist to pull her hair up into a messy bun. She didn't say anything, because she knew that Arthur wasn't finished.

 

He wasn't.

 

“I want him healthy again, Morgana. Really healthy, and not how he's been living. How we thought he's been living, when he really wasn't living. Because if he never addressed everything that he's experienced... he wasn't. And that explains so much.” Arthur said more quietly. His eyes watered, slightly. “No matter what happens between us he's still my best friend, and has been for the past thirteen years. He deserves to get better, and he deserves support. Like we would do for any of our friends. He didn't ask for anything that's happened to him anymore than I asked to fall in love with him. His prick of a father started a cycle that never got corrected by his mother who didn't get him the help that he needed when she was supposed to.” Arthur shook his head, jaw clinched. “Now I love Hunith, but that did Merlin a disservice. And he's in a bad place right now, this,” Arthur waved his right hand into a line, “taking sides is irrelevant.” Arthur used his left hand and fingers to rub his forehead. “If you want to help me. Help us both. Then I won't have to worry, or think about him not getting the help that he needs and I,” Arthur swallowed. “I can finish taking care of myself.”

 

Morgana nodded, expression thoughtful, and a little sorrowful. “I really wanted to do this for you. Especially since you made the step of deciding to get your own place. I thought it would be nice to have you nearby, and Autumn always complains about not seeing you enough -”

 

Arthur chuckled, the grinned, “she's sees me all of the time.”

 

Morgana smiled taking her right hand and placing it in Arthur's left, fingers intertwining, “she's says it's not enough. And I did consider talking to the Williamson's about moving (one flat down), but I thought you wanted your privacy,” Arthur hid a soft smile. “And maybe I did do an Uther, but you have to admit that oftentimes he's right. I just want you to be happy.” Arthur squeezed their fingers once. “And no, Merlin wasn't on my mind long enough in the past few weeks. I was focused on getting the flat together, paying some people off, telling Merlin off, arranging a housewarming party for you -”

 

“Morgana! -”

 

She went on uninterrupted, fingers no longer together with Arthur's, now counting off on her fingers all that she had done, “working, checking on your progress, worrying about my brother, and finding out that I'm pregnant.” Morgana ended in amazement.

 

Arthur faced beamed, smile going from ear to ear. “Really?”

 

Morgana smiled brightly too, “really, two months along.”

 

Arthur pulled Morgana again into another half hug. “Congratulations sis. I'm going to be an uncle.” Arthur said the last part in a song.

 

Morgana pushed Arthur back, and then slapped his shoulder with her right hand. “You already are an uncle.”

 

Arthur laughed before saying, “yes, but now I'll have two. I can't wait!” He really did love children.

 

“And that was another reason why I chose two flats down instead of something across town.” Morgana replied fondly. Arthur nodded. Though not beyond happiness to not know that Morgana threw that one out there as something to close the deal with him staying, and not moving back with Merlin. It wouldn't surprise him if she didn't have the flat idea set to begin with during all of her discussions with Nimueh. “She might have gotten pregnant on purpose!” Was Arthur's last thought, and then he knew he was reading too much into his sister's intentions. But Arthur, wasn't a fool. There were definitely plots, covert intentions, and schemes involved in order to pull something like this off. Arthur was slipping if he missed it.

 

Morgana sighed again, and swallowed as though she was swallowing a lemon. “And... I'll talk to a few of the lot. It'll only take a few to thaw the ice. I admit, I'm still angry at Merlin, but it's more because my protectiveness over you, and watching what you've gone through. That part not going to be easy, and I won't promise, but I will try.” Morgana tilted her head to look Arthur in the eye. Arthur didn't show anything different in his expression but he spoke softly.

 

“It's not entirely his fault Morgana. There's plenty of blame to go round in this. But it was my choice not to tell him. It's not his fault that he didn't figure it out. And I still unresolved feelings on how I feel about him not being there for me when things got rough – like a friend would, but it wasn't like I posted it on my forehead. And it's not like I noticed anything odd happening to him.” Arthur shook his head. “I am having a hard time dealing with somethings about that, well, forgiving him. Even though he deserves to be forgiven. It's just going to take time. And it's something that's between Merlin and I do deal with.”

 

Morgana raised her right brow, “and if you forgive him?”

 

“Then I'll forgive him,” Arthur's expression turned to the unasked, “isn't it obvious?” Morgana's expression screamed, 'idiot!'

 

“You know what I mean, Arthur. If you forgive him then what next?”

 

“How can I answer that? Love is not something you can cut off and on like a light switch. If people could, half of the world would have because love is an emotion that can be painful, and on some cases overwhelming.” Arthur shook his head. “I'm not going to be waiting on the sidelines anymore if that's what your asking. But I can't tell you what I'll do if – when - Merlin's get's better, and his feelings are genuine, like I felt they were for me... I can't give you an answer to that. That's the whole purpose of needing more time. Hence,” Arthur said pointing to his new flat. “the move. I know some of it sounds crazy, like you've waited for someone who doesn't want you. But that wasn't even the case. He did. It's just.... not all black and white.” Arthur sighed. “But it's in my heart, something I feel in my gut, like there is a connection between us. That part has always been there. That's why we've always been so close. The love... the love is a continuance of just how far that connection goes. It's like.... it's like he completes me somehow. And now to find out that the reason why we didn't move to that continuance together was a result of circumstances beyond his control....” Arthur used his right hand to run a hand through his hair, and closed his eyes. He opened them to looks straight and Morgana. She watched on, hurt, for his hurt. Arthur spoke again, voice hoarse.“He never left me Morgana. He gave everything that he could, it just wasn't enough. Because he wasn't capable of it at the time to see the things that he would have seen otherwise. And I can't totally blame him for not seeing my feelings when I didn't actually tell him myself either.” Arthur's expression turned thoughtful. “But he used to be more observant when we were younger. He was more in-tuned to the happenings around him. It was a process of him turning it off. I don't know what happened in between. Something made it worse.”

 

Morgana nodded, agreeing as she thought back. The changes were so gradual it would have been difficult to notice unless you were monitoring it closely. But some of it was there. Morgana just thought it was changes in his behavior, as one changes to adulthood and their personalities become to define who they are. She stopped, she was going to get a headache thinking on it further. She'd think about it later, with Gwaine. And mint chocolate chip ice-cream, now that she had a reason not to think about her weight. “that still doesn't say what you will do if he tells you right now that he wants to be with you?” Morgana pinpointed.

 

Arthur looked down to the carpet by Morgana's feet before looking back into her eyes. “I will help him with what I can to get him better. I will support him, and be there for him when he needs me – like any friend would. If there is anything else... it will be based on a natural progression of things.” Arthur used his right hand to run his hand and fingers through his hair before adding. “But there will be no natural progression - aside from friendship - until I know that he is in a stable place to commit to it. And not until we've dealt with our issues. Anything else... ” Arthur pressed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger of his right hand, and straightened his shoulders before continuing, “anything else, would be asking for trouble.” Arthur finished, eyes fixed, jaw clinched, mouth firm – sure in his decision.

 

Just like their father when he made up his mind on something. Morgana thought.

 

That answer satisfied Morgana. She smiled, and Arthur rolled his eyes.

 

“That doesn't excuse you for bribing the Henderson's, sending them off to the states, purchasing me a flat with all of the trimmings - two flats down to keep me on watch – without my consent, and breaking your promise by abandoning my best friend!” Arthur finished incredulously.

 

Morgana used both hands to rub her belly. “But Arthur, your nephew.”

 

Arthur looked at her in disbelief. “You don't even know if it is a boy, you harpy!”

 

Morgana rubbed her belly again, and started talking to it. “I'm sorry my sweet boy, your uncle didn't mean to call mommy a harpy.”

 

Arthur looked at her, exasperated. “Like hell I didn't!”

 

Morgana raised her right hand forefinger and middle finger to her lips. “Arthur,” she chastised. “Language!”

 

Arthur expression clearly stated, “and this is my life.” Before stating, “I can't believe this!”

 

“You know you love me little brother.” Morgana said with a grin.

 

Arthur shook his head. “Not if you keep this up I won't.” Arthur finished with a smile. Slightly alarmed at the lengths she would go.

 

“Yes you will.” Morgana finished, unperturbed, hitting Arthur's shoulder again with her right hand. “And no matter, if you do ever decide to take Merlin on, I'm pretty sure that you would rather stay in a flat that didn't have the memories of Merlin's past dalliances in it.”

 

Arthur never thought about moving, but he would have to admit that. And if it didn't work out, and Arthur found someone else, the three bedroom flat would be enough room for when he planned to have a child, whether through adoption or by Mithian being a surrogate mother as planned. But still, the thought of Merlin's past lovers....Arthur didn't want to think about that. “You've got a point,” Arthur responded.

 

Morgana smiled internally thinking, “I won!” If she could have done a dance without letting Arthur on to her glee, she would have. And as a second thought, “Arthur must have been slipping not to notice everything that was in the works. But he does look more relaxed. More like before. And he's thinking about himself, and about what's best for him.” Morgana couldn't think anything bad about that. Not that she was going to apologize to Merlin for her threat. She meant every word of it. She turned to Arthur and smiled, “So dear little brother, are you ready to check out your new flat?”

 

Arthur smiled back at her, she still looked like she was plotting something. Arthur thought that it was high time to start paying more attention to what his big sister was playing at a little more. She could be sending him to Timbuktu next for all that he knew, if he didn't keep an eye out. And there was no doubt in Arthur's mind that Morgause and Nimueh was in on this too, it was too... carefully managed. Arthur's smile became brighter, he would just have to be a step ahead. “After you, sis.” Morgana may be the Queen in the relationship, but when Arthur was on his game... he was the King! Arthur's thoughts finished, as they slid out of the SUV to make their grand entrance to his new flat to meet their friends. He needed to prepare for everything that was coming next, even Merlin.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

When Arthur walked into his – 'mini-mansion' - new flat, he took a look between his friends in one sweep, and the first thing he noticed was the fact that one of them... was missing. He gave hugs to Gwaine, Autumn, Leon, Lance, Elyan, Percival, Will, Gwen, Elena, Freya, Vivian, Mithian, and Sophia, before being given the grand tour of his own place – that everyone else knew their way around so well. The place he never chose on his own. Nor that he would have chosen own his own, if he had any say in it. The place was completely furnished, as requested, when he spoke with Miranda originally. And Morgana's hand was all over it, because it was tastefully furnished, more to his own liking – with the exception of some minor details, as promised. He found that everyone chipped in where work was concerned. Whether it be Percival and Leon carrying the furniture, Lance and Leon, installing the deep brown hard wood floors in the living and dining rooms, or Gwaine and Will supplying the liquor cabinet, and purchasing enough groceries to keep Arthur fed for two months. The girls chipped in too. Gwen, Elena Mithian, and Sophia painted the walls in each room. Each room different from cranberry wine, mustard, to white, and to Arthur's personal favorite – ocean blue. Freya and Vivian purchased paintings to hang on the walls. And apparently, Morgana even decided to buy Arthur a whole new wardrobe. To add to the whole wardrobe that he already had at home. He suspected she was trying to delay the inevitable.

 

They were all sitting in the huge living room. Seated in the oatmeal and basil colored furniture with matching pillows, with enough room to seat them all. While Arthur sat alone in his love seat. Because everyone was present, and accounted for -- except for one. And it was uncanny, how the lot chose they're seats, because even with one missing – no one else sat by Arthur. It was like a claim that was placed long ago. That the seat at Arthur's side would - always and forever be - reserved for one person. And that person seemed to be beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether it be unconsciously by their friends, or consciously by Athur – Merlin. And Arthur's heart felt crazy things at the thought. Because, for the first time, Arthur's side was left bare because Merlin wasn't there.

 

Arthur would be lying to himself if he said that he hadn't missed Merlin while he was away. He did manage to make the three hours of therapy a day. Two hours with the psychiatrist, and one hour with the nutrionist. He would then spend two hours for recreation. Which... after three hours of therapy, he needed – desperately. Arthur, would then go through an hour and a half of a sport of his choosing. Arthur chose fencing. He always chose fencing. He'd taken fencing lessons since childhood, and was in competitions from secondary school, throughout uni. He stopped afterwards to work for the family business, Pendragon Electronics. One of the top electronics companies in the world. And it stayed at the top because they kept up with the newest, and best technology available, with the best of the best in the marketplace. Competing, would have taken too much time away from work. And... given the fact that Arthur had only just started – and, that it would interfere with his training under his father, it was – mutually - decided that it had to be done.

 

There was so much to learn from the innovative marketing techniques, to the inventions, the marketing aspect of the company, the online division, the software products, mobile phones, computers, electronics, and etc. The company itself started with their grandfather Bruther Pendragon sixty years ago, and just as Arthur was trained by his father, so was Uther trained by his. (Morgana's interest in joining the company sparked about the same time Arthur began his training). Arthur was fortunate enough - at the age of ten - to have a firm relationship with his grandfather before he died from pancreatic cancer. And he loved visiting Pendragon Electronics to see all of the new gadgets being tested, and going through production. To see the fast pace of the business. And sometimes, if he was really good... he could play with the new computer games that hadn't made it to the market yet. It was his grandfather that would bribe him like that, until his father caught on, and used similar bribes too. At the age of twelve, those tricks didn't work on Morgana though. They had to promise her that she could play with the newest electonic gadgets instead. He remembered his grandfather would sit him on his lap and say, “one day son...” And Bruthur would ruffle Arthur's blond hair. “One day all of this,” He would wave his hand around as to represent everything, “will be yours.” And that was always first and foremost, Arthur's goal. To get to that point. No one was aware of Arthur's thoughts as they talked about their week, their children, work, getting together to meet up, and the new recipes they'd tried.

 

“So...,” Vivian started, breaking through Arthur's inner muse – he'd been reflecting a lot lately. Startled slightly, Arthur turned to Vivian, where she sat – feet propped - in the recliner. Vivian was appraising him - sizing him up – and checking for signs of improvement. Arthur was able to see the – exact - moment Vivian deemed him as safe and approved as her eyes sparkled, mentally deciding that Arthur was - not - released from the mental ward too early. Her smile turned bright and wide. “Arthur, you're looking good, I've been worried about you, we've missed you while you were away. Did they treat you nicely there?” Vivian asked, tone going from cheerful, and ending in protective, like she was going to wobble herself down to the 'resort,' and kick ass - taking names later - if they didn't (and no doubt she could), while taking a sip of her apple juice. She ingested so much apple juice since she became pregnant, that Arthur thought she would have turned into an apple by now. Arthur would always rebuke himself later when he thought things like that about her. This was Vivian and Elyan's second try for a baby. The first one, ending in a miscarriage at five months along. Vivian always says – when explaining her constant need to drink apple juice, “you know what they say, Arthur. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but I like juice instead.” Arthur admonished himself again, for thinking negatively about her.

 

Arthur smiled brightly, tone confident, Arthur responded, “ Thanks Viv. And yes, they did treat me nicely there. We had a schedule, but a lot of personal time too - in order - to recoup after therapy, and a little recreational time as well.”

 

Vivian listened on intently before saying, “I'm happy to hear that.” Nodding to herself as satified with his response.

 

Arthur smiled, and then asked softly. “How about you? Is everything well?”

 

Vivian placed her left hand on her belly automatically, her apple juice was still in her right. Arthur thought about what Morgana said before, after Vivian's miscarriage a little over a year ago. “It's just sad the way that some people who don't want children have them so easily, while the people who really do want children can't. Where's the fairness in that?” Arthur's questioned what was fair from what wasn't for quite some time now. He still doesn't have the correct answer. And somehow, Arthur thought he never would. Vivian responded, smile more gentle, tone soft, “I'm doing just fine Arthur, thanks for asking. You'll be an uncle again before you know it with this little tiger.” She said patting her belly. She kept the hope. And with her being over six months pregnant now, she had every reason to believe everything would be fine.

 

And Arthur, well... Arthur was the uncle to all of his friend's kids along with his own niece. Arthur's heart-warmed for Vivian. Voice tight, Arthur responded, “Looking forward to it Viv.”

 

Vivian beamed at Arthur.

 

Lance smiled brightly, as everyone listened in quietly. “Morgana said you met a few new friends up there. I saw it on your facebook too. Am I going to be replaced?” Lance's smile turned into a smirk as he raised his left brow.

 

Arthur gave Lance a look of disbelief. And replied, howbeit, tongue-in-cheek. “Really? After all these years, and you're now concerned about being replaced?”

 

Lance spreaded both of his arms out, to make a line, chest as his center. “Just staking my claim is all.”

 

Gwaine grinned, and spoke up loudly. “That's right Princess, there's no escaping us.” And he was followed up by the others and their, “here heres!”

 

Arthur shook his head, small grin. He felt... tensed. And a bit overwhelmed, but he was playing along. He knew that he was being evaluated, and it was abundantly clear that his best friend was missing as the seat beside him was empty. Yet, no one broached the subject.

 

“Tell us about your new friends, Arthur.” Leon requested, tone gentle, grin small. Leon was like Morgana, where she spent the time with him at his weakest points, or when she saw him at work. Leon was his PA, and saw him all day. Any cracks in Arthur's foundation at work, was discovered by Leon to clean up before it became noticeable. Leon, must have discovered a crack now.

 

Arthur smiled at Leon warmly. “You'll all be meeting them soon enough. Mordred's been nice, we bonded there pretty quickly. He actually lives about thirty minutes away from here, and works in the financial services field.”

 

“Is he still in now?” Gwen asked, expresion serene, with a smile. Arthur was beginning to wonder if everyone would start acting normal around him again, and soon. He was only away for two weeks! Sure... he had a break down, sure... he suffered from depression, but... he needs some normalcy too.

 

Arthur raised his right hand, used his right thumb and forefinger to pinch the bridge of his nose, and responded. “Not yet,” like they were talking about a prison term that was still being continued. Arthur shook his head, before responding “He arranged to stay there for a month, he'll be out in two more weeks. We decided to get up then. Everyone agreeing to keep in touch for support.”

 

Gwen nodded. “That's good, Arthur,” she said sincerely. “Your facebook page had a few more people too. Bors and... Kay?”

 

Arthur nodded, smile getting a little brighter thinking about the friends he made while he was away. “Yeah, Bors will be out a week after Mordred, and Kay, a week after that. So we've got three meets already planned.”

 

“Are we invited to these... meet ups?” Morgana asked, with a raised brow. Like she was gong to be closely screening anyone who could possibly have an affect on Arthur - from now until kingdom come.

 

Arthur shook his head, she meant well. He couldn't knock her for that. “Not the first meet ups, no. That's when we'll meet up, and talk about things that may not be something I want to share with my sister.” Arthur said making his tone firm by the end of his sentence, as to say, and that's final. Morgana nodded. She didn't push, not if he was sure of himself.

 

“Well, I for one can't wait to meet them,” Elena said with a big smile. Tone normal, but bright. And not like she was trying to act like a nurse giving a five year old stitches. Arthur loved her for that, for treating him normally.

 

Will was silent, but he smiled. It was obvious that Will and Sophia missed him. Even Mithian, who was trying but failing to keep a smile did. The problem was there was an elephant in the room - the void - from their missing friend. And it was... stifling.

 

Arthur, had had an enough.

 

“So...,” Arthur said, breaking the ice, and made a big deal of looking around from where he was seated in his love seat, to turn his head from one side to the next – eyes searching – before turning his head to the seat beside him that was empty, and then raising both of his brows. “Where is everyone?” Like he suddenly noticed someone was missing.

 

Arthur saw a few neutral faces in Gwen, Lance, Gwaine, Leon, and Elena. A few mutinous faces in Will, Sophia, and Mithian. And a few guilty faces in Percy, Vivian, Elyan, and Freya. Like discussions had been had, and it hadn't been pretty. Morgana's face was impassive, but she was a Pendragon, and like her... Arthur knew how to keep up pretenses. She showed nothing. And he expected nothing less from his harpy sister.

 

It was Mithian that answered the question. Her face expression matched her tone of worry, as she chewed and bit her bottom lip, and responded. “Merlin didn't pick up when I called about an hour and a half ago.” Worry now evident in her eyes too.

 

There was something he still wasn't being told. It seemed. And not even by Will, by the look of worry in Mithian's features, and her tone that matched. Arthur swallowed.

 

Arthur's blue eyes turned stony, before he looked over his friends again. And then his eyes landed on Will's. Arthur's voice somehow matched his eyes. He clinched his jaw. He wasn't mad at Will. But he felt like he was missing something, and that it wasn't told to him deliberately.

 

Will answered one of Arthur's unasked questions, solemnly. “I went over this afternoon, after he finished his psychotherapy session for the day. But he wasn't.. feeling well.” Will shook his head, and used his right hand and fingers to scratch from his right cheek to the back of his neck before continuing, “he didn't say whether he was coming or not when I asked.” Will's tone, turning just as worried as Mithian's when he finished.

 

Arthur nodded. But he couldn't stay seated any longer. He kept his expression neutral. No doubt their probably thinking that Arthur's love sick, and wanting to be with Merlin right now. But Arthur's thoughts were not mirroring theirs, atleast -- not entirely. Arthur's thoughts was about being worried about his friend. Arthur turned to his sister, who was eying him the entire time, and taking in his expressions - his demeanor - and more than likely his tone. He clinched his jaw again, gritted his teeth, and gave her the expression of, “fix it,” before he said. “Alright.” In response to Will. And then he faked a smile, for the others. “I'm headed to my new kitchen to get a beer, anybody up for one?” Arthur was well aware that they were waiting on him to explode. To show some form of weakness for his illness. He couldn't give them that. The group did manage to keep their faces neutral, but it was - oh so - obvious. Percy, Elyan, Leon, and Lance said they'd take a beer before Arthur went into the kitchen, quickly, swing door swinging behind him.

 **

He rested his hands against the black countertop, and tightened his grip. Arthur's shoulders were bowed, and so was his head allowing his blond hair to fall to his face, as he focused on breathing to relax.

 

As always, he didn't have to wait very long before someone followed him after he'd leave to have a moment to himself, because the swing door opened and swung shut again.

 

“Alright mate?” Gwaine asked. It was always Gwaine that would check on him first if he walked away. Merlin knew to give him space, even without being able to read Arthur's feelings for him.

 

Arthur closed his eyes, and removed his hands from the countertop to stretch them out – now that they were stiff. He then used his right hand to pull his blond hair from his face before turning around, and opening his eyes again – back against the countertop - and responding. Voice tense. “Gwaine did you know about this?” That could fall under so many questions. Gwaine answered the one he was comfortable with.

 

But he did have the decency to look guilty. “The flat, you don't like it?”

 

That was still a sour subject, but Arthur could go along with it though, as he prepared his thoughts for what he really needed to put into words. “How could you not have warned me, Gwaine? I've spoken to you several times while I was away,” Arthur said incredulously, eyes showing his feelings of being betrayed.

 

Gwaine grimaced, sounding a little apologetic. “What can I say mate? She's got me by the balls, she's my wife, and now she's carrying the fruit of my loins, again.” Like that was a blanket excuse for everything.

 

Arthur rolled his eyes. But not before he said, “Ew!” Arthur scrunched up his face, in disgust. “I told you before, never to talk to me about anything to do with sex and my sister!

 

Gwaine's eyes twinkled – at least he got some rise out of Arthur, and then he used his right hand and fingers to run his hand through his hair. Then he looked at Arthur with a straight face, and leaned in shaking his head. “You didn't want to be here mate. She was just worried about you, and she was trying to find a way to take her mind off of things. Especially after the talk you both had the day before you left. She was beside herself with worry.” And then Gwaine leaned back, stared Arthur in the eyes, and gave his signature grin again. “Be happy that she didn't install another floor in our flat to move you in, or decided to move you to the flat 'one flat' down. Those were her original intentions.” Gwaine tone turned soft, “If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have had the two flats down. You should be thanking me instead of lecturing me!”

 

Arthur found he was blinking his eyes repeatedly before he stopped, and sucked in a breath, expression turning astonished. “She did what!” Arthur shrieked.

 

Gwaine flipped his hair to the left. “You heard me. She wanted to install another floor to the requirements that you requested with Miranda. And then, when I talked her out of that. She wanted to bribe the Millers next door.” Gwaine shook his head surprised by his own wife's methods before continuing, “Morgause even volunteered to move you in to her neighborhood to the flat by hers -”

 

“Oh hell!” It couldn't have gotten any worse if his demon cousin was truly getting involved. It was just in theory before! Arthur's jaw clinched, and his chest burned, voice tight, “like I want to live by Harpy number two!” And raised his right hand in the air with his forefinger and middle finger pointed up, while he spoke reining in his anger.

 

Gwaine nodded with a half grin, surprised - and not so surprised - that they were on the same page on that one. They've been friends long enough. And Gwaine wouldn't have left Arthur hanging out to dry like that anyway. He may have to go without sex for a while, but.... Gwaine used his right forefinger to graze his bottom lip, and raised his left brow, but nodded at Arthur in agreement. “That's what I said! Well... not the harpy part -”

 

Arthur huffed, eyes wide. “Focus Gwaine!”

 

Gwaine raised a brow with a look that clearly said, “be lucky I'm telling you anything about this at all, Princess!”

 

Arthur shook his head, and huffed again in aggravation. “You owe me?” Like Arthur gave Gwaine the world.

 

Gwaine folded his arms against his chest, and shifted his stance from left to right, and raised the right brow to say, “for what?”

 

Arthur sucked in a breath. “I introduced you to my sister.”

 

Gwaine looked thoughtful before he unfolded his arms, and took his left hand to scratch his left side of his beard, before responding, “Princess, we were seven.”

 

Arthur gritted his teeth. “Doesn't matter.” She's married to him life, which means the debt is for life too!

 

Gwaine exhaled, before he rubbed the fingers of his right hand through his hair. He sighed – deeply. Like he knew this would get him into trouble too. It's the only time Arthur ever mentions this 'debt' for introducing his sister. And the last time he did - because Gwaine had had the hots for his sister at the time – he took the blame for crashing Arthur's Porsche. When they were sixteen! Arthur was teaching Merlin how to drive, and Arthur was not as good an instructor as he claimed he'd be. And since Uther thought Merlin had a mental affliction... they'd thought it best to not tell him the truth. And that raises alarms now. Merlin was freaking out, doubled over, and having difficulty breathing. He kept mumbling. Arthur was freaked out because Merlin was freaking out. It took Arthur thirty minutes to get Merlin to calm down - having him count backwards from one hundred repeatedly - and having him sit and raise his knees to his chin, and pulling his arms around himself. But no one got hurt. Just the car... when it fell in a ditch. Arthur asked Gwaine to cover for him, to say that Arthur was teaching him to drive instead. It was going well for Gwaine, and Uther was totally unaware of Gwaine's having his license already. It wasn't until later that evening, when Uther contacted Gwaine's parents to tell them - about the accident - that his parents forced him to tell the truth, at least to them that is. They loved Arthur, there weren't many people who didn't. And because of this, along with protecting Merlin, Gwaine's parents allowed them to keep that secret from Uther. But for Gwaine's attempt to lie in the first place, and to lie to them, Gwaine was grounded for a month. Arthur only called in those payments when he wanted something big. Gwaine groaned, and sighed again, before shaking his head, “what do you want?” Gwaine choked out.

 

Arthur gave his best charming smile, and kept his eyes bright. Gwaine wouldn't deny him. He didn't call in payment very often. “I need to get out of here.”

 

Gwaine winced, as he must have read Arthur's thoughts, then frowned. “Arthur, do you know how much your being watched right now?”

 

“No Gwaine, I have no idea how much I'm being watched.” Arthur said sarcastically before he snarled, raising both of his hands to use his fingers to run through his hair. “Of course I know, Gwaine! Do you think I'm an idiot?!” Arthur shook his head, and eyed Gwaine incredulously. Arthur raised his right hand in a stop motion when Gwaine was about to open his mouth. “Don't answer that.” Arthur shook his head again, before continuing, “I need to get out of here for a while. I need to check on Merlin, and I need some time for myself.”

 

Gwaine looked at Arthur, concerned. “I thought your therapist said -”

 

Arthur sucked in a breath. “She didn't say that I needed to stay away from him. She thought space would be necessary, instead of living together. Something I already thought about doing, before she made it as a suggestion.”

 

Gwaine shook his head, almost sorrowful, “I don't like it Arthur, she's gonna -”

 

Arthur shook his head. “There's nothing to worry about Gwaine. I won't stay long. Just make something up. Say that I got overwhelmed. It's been a long day. I'm just getting back into the swing of things. I went for a run, -”

 

Gwaine - bending his elbows - held both hands in the air to stop Arthur from going any further, and Arthur prayed to any God that was up there for assistance.

 

Gwaine sized Arthur up really quick by looking him up and down, and raised his left brow. Then he took his right hand and rested on Arthur's right shoulder - firmly, leaning in he said in a serious tone, “you can go there. But come right back. Don't stay too long. If she demands to know the truth. I can't lie to her, she's my wife. But I'll try to keep her off your trail for as long as I can.” Gwaine's grip on Arthur's shoulder became even firmer. “She's not going to be like this for long. But you both need to talk, or you may be dealing with this for the remainder of her pregnancy. You know she get's emotional when she's pregnant, and she's always worried about you. Although, she was always protective of you – before... everything, she's even more protective of you now.” Gwaine released Arthur's shoulder, stepped back, and gave him a wink, tilted up the corner of the left side of his mouth and turning it into a half grin. “Sort it out, yeah?”

 

Arthur swallowed. And nodded, before saying sincerely, “yeah.”

 

Gwaine eyed Arthur, eyes tight and firm, like he needed a better confirmation than, “yeah,” from Arthur.

 

Arthur signed, but nodded. “Yeah, I'll talk to her,” he nodded again, “but not tonight.” He didn't know if he could handle two major confrontations in one night. He didn't know what was going to happen after two weeks without seeing Merlin.

 

Gwaine must have read Arthur's thoughts, because he frowned.

 

Arthur swallowed before saying, in confirmation -- again. “I will. I'll see you later.”

 

Gwaine nodded before Arthur tapped Gwaine's shoulder with his right hand, and turned to leave through the back door of the kitchen. He couldn't risk going through the front.

 

Gwaine must have known that too, because he nodded as Arthur turned to leave. Even with Gwaine covering for him, Arthur was sure that it wouldn't take long for the lot, and Morgana, to figure out where he went. Arthur would be long gone before they did.

 

**

 

Merlin - while in the dark - took another huge gulp from his glass of vodka that he placed on the coffee table. Bottle opened right beside it. He set it down with his right hand, before he laid back down on the couch in the living room. It was his third glass. He pulled his legs up, and pulled his knees to his chin, and wrapped his arms around it, but not before covering himself with his blanket from head to toe. It was another rough day. And... another evening of migraines. His head was pounding. His temples throbbing, with sharp blinding pain behind his eyes. He kept it shut. If - when - he sat up for a drink. He knew exactly where it was now if he needed to reach for it.

 

It was the fifteenth day of psychotherapy. The day that Arthur arrived, as he mentally marked it on his calendar. Not seeing Arthur earlier, when Will announced that he arrived in London hours ago told Merlin everything that he needed to know. And that was that Arthur wouldn't want to be around him anymore. Merlin ruined it. He ruined their friendship, and destroyed anything else that could have happened between them. Because Merlin... was an idiot! Arthur loved him for seven years, and he – completely - missed the signs. Even if, Arthur didn't tell him. Merlin should have noticed - something. Should have seen something. Arthur was depressed for a year and a half, without Merlin even detecting a problem before it was almost too late...idiot! Morgana told him how Arthur felt about the men Merlin brought over to the flat. There would never be anything that Merlin could possibly say - or do - to make this right. Sorry, just doesn't cover it. Nothing, could make this right, because Merlin screwed it all up, like he always does.

 

Merlin groaned as another blinding pain passed sharply behind his eyes. Psychotherapy was draining today. It hurt to relive the nightmares at night, and to have to talk about something closely related to it the next day. To talk about how he dealt with it. And how those things are affecting his life now. Merlin had a thought, “what life?!” His mum hasn't spoken to him in a week, after he confronted her in two of his most gruesome therapy sessions. Apparently... she was distraught, and stricken with guilt, and Gaius has been seeing to her. Merlin knew, that saying anything would be a bad idea. He didn't want her to blame herself. It's his fault he's so fucked up! Why should anyone else have to suffer with him too? He still hasn't spoken to any of his friends, aside from Will and Mithian, and Sophia. Can't leave Sophia out. She checks on him by phone when Will is busy at work. But she's been busy too these past few weeks on some project that Morgana has set up with everyone. Well... not everyone. Merlin couldn't blame her though. He wouldn't want to be with himself either if he didn't have to be. Merlin groaned again as the throbbing in his temples started getting worse. He sucked in a cry. Unfortunately, thanks to psychotherapy, he can't hide from himself anymore. All of the things that he's been blocking out over the years, all of the walls that he's so critically and strategically placed has crumbled down like a house of cards. He couldn't escape it now if he tried. It took too many years to put it in place to be able to set it back in order now.

 

Dr. Monmouth had Merlin talk about the feelings he felt as a result of the abuse, and of the bullying. Those moments when rejection, and in some forms acceptance, were at it's height. He wanted Merlin to recall those feelings to have them brought to the surface, which should also help him to process things easier when - not if - he would have his next nightmare, which would always be.... the same evening. Merlin chewed at the inside of his cheek, before biting his bottom lip. Trying to think, and trying to process. Maybe he's too weak to process it? Maybe that's why he suppressed everything in the first place. His father always called him weak, a retard, stupid! Other people deal with disorders everyday, and they don't lock themselves into the recesses of their own minds. Why does Merlin have to be any different? Why does Merlin always have to be different? Merlin rocked back and forth under the blankets in his safe position. Tears started falling from his eyes. And Merlin clinched his jaw. He's not supposed to cry. He scrubbed the tears from his eyes with both hands, it didn't stop more from coming.

 

Merlin told Dr. Monmouth that he felt desperate, ashamed, alone, humiliated, lonely, dazed, confused, angry, helpless, confused, and nervous over several sessions. In his older years, when he continued to hear things behind his back that he was nothing, not worth the time, not good enough, a scholarship kid. The taunts, that he was only to be used and discarded, he's temporary, that he doesn't fit with us. He's from the wrong family. Had the wrong breeding. The wrong posture. Not good enough to stand beside.... Merlin remembered those feelings of embarrassment, of humiliation, of feeling ashamed, and of feeling some anger. He closed all of those feelings off too, because the bullying from his older years was due to his closeness with Arthur. And Merlin never wanted Arthur to know. If he found out, he found out. Merlin would deny it to the cows came home, and he would close other any feelings surrounding it. It protected him from the thoughts, to prevent him from thinking other thoughts, other thoughts that he would keep – blocked and buried. It made him feel safe.

 

Dr. Monmouth and Merlin talked about other feelings that came out as a result of the bullying. Merlin stated that he had problems sleeping, and eating. That he had a hard time focusing, or paying attention. That there were times when he was a child that he never wanted to leave his room. And as an adult, sometimes he didn't want to leave his flat, because he wanted to feel safe. But when he moved in with Arthur... he felt safe, protected, and wanted. Like every time he's been around Arthur. Always, his knight in shining armor. Until he pushed Arthur away.

 

He talked about his headaches, and stomachaches he experienced back then. And his trouble trusting people. Trusting that their intentions were real. All things that he later pushed into the recesses of his mind - to protect himself - because it all was too close to those feelings that he felt before. And if he didn't understand what it meant.... it was locked away too. Better safe than sorry. It's not locked away anymore. And though there are some feelings Merlin would welcome to have, there were many more... that he would surely love to do without. Unfortunately for him, when he chose to unlock it, he chose to unlock all of the good, and all of the bad. With no prejudice, or differentiation in between.

 

The processing of the thoughts, and seeing how it's affected his life seemed even harder than talking about it in psychotherapy. It was draining to talk about it, and he was left feeling numb, and raw. But to process it all later, made him feel loss, regret, emptiness, fear, pain, guilt, helplessness, and the feeling of being ashamed. But in the middle of that he felt every bit of information he felt at the time that he blocked it out in the past. Only to close his eyes to sleep to relive it all over again.

 

Merlin was in the middle of processing more thoughts when he heard footsteps coming to the direction of his flat door. Merlin didn't check his phone, but he could only assume it was Will. He was worried when he came by earlier. Merlin tried to assure him that he was doing fine. That he should go home, and take care of Soph and Aries, and not worry about him, but somehow the thought never registered in Will's mind because he found the need to come by to bother Merlin almost everyday. And if it wasn't him then it was Mithian. It was like they were taking shifts! And Will happened to be so kind enough to inform Mithian of where Arthur hid the spare flat key stuck under the door mat. Some sodden friend, he is! Merlin thought. But Merlin knew he locked the door. He even checked it twice. So if someone was coming, it was probably going to be Will. Merlin was dressed for the night, wearing an old white t-shirt, and his black and red plaid pajama bottoms. Merlin tried to wipe his face with his hands under the blanket. He didn't want anyone to worry about him. They had their own lives, they need to live it, and to leave him alone. It took another thirty seconds before key entered the lock, and the door opened.

 

**

 

When Arthur walked into his flat it was completely dark. No lights were on, in any of the rooms from where he was standing. But it didn't mean that Merlin wasn't there. Will told him that Merlin hasn't left the flat since he started psychotherapy, which he's been in for the past two weeks. Though it started before that time when he was evaluated. It was the intensive psychotherapy that Merlin's had for two weeks now. Arthur cut on the light to allow himself to see, eyes, getting temporarily blinded by the sudden change.

 

Then he walked further into the flat, and into the living room, and called out, “Merlin?”

 

Merlin's heart stopped and started back feeling like it was in his throat, he swallowed. He started rubbing his eyes hard to make sure that no tears were left, bit his bottom lip, and called back. Throat hoarse from disuse, “Arthur?”

 

Arthur's heart skipped a beat when he heard Merlin's voice, as he called his name from the sofa, and walked in the direction to find a third of a bottle of vodka, and a glass of half full of vodka on the coffee table. Arthur's heart clinched. He knows Merlin. Knows he drinks for fun, but not alone. Not unless somethings... off with him. Arthur sucked in a breath and walked around the couch to see Merlin, head to toe covered under a blanket.

 

“Merlin.” Arthur repeated softly, worriedly. He was about to pull the blanket off Merlin himself until Merlin rolled onto his back, and apparently unfolded his legs, and stretched out for a good ten seconds before he pulled the blanket down, and appeared blinded by the light. It broke Arthur's heart to see what he saw. Merlin's face looked so pale, swollen, he looked like he was crying – uncontrollably. His lips looked bitten, raw. His eyes red-rimmed. And his hair was all over the place, but that part could be constituted as normal. He looked pained. His eyes had a lost expression in them, that shouldn't take residence in the folds of Merlin's ocean blue eyes. Arthur loved that color. He never looked at it the same way again, after the first time he saw it. He loved it when he was straight.

 

Arthur's mouth lost his filter, and he said the first thing that came to mind, “you look like shit!”

 

Now that was good to hear. It's not like he hadn't heard that before, Merlin thought. And then he looked at Arthur. In his tight dark blue jeans that fit snugly around his hips and thighs, and his button down black shirt, and Merlin, now that he knows what to look for after failing to see it before... knows that Arthur has picked up some more weight. His face, nice and tanned like on his Facebook, those red lips, those blue eyes that all of a sudden Merlin seems so captive by, staring back at him intensively.... he must know that I'm checking him out?! Merlin groaned, and closed his eyes for a moment, wanting to put the blankets over his head again, but seeing Arthur's presence, he knew it was futile. He opened his eyes, and went for a smile, it turned to a grimace. Arthur winced. Merlin replied, voice still hoarse, “you look gorgeous, but thanks for that.”

 

Arthur's heart skipped two beats then, but he tightened his chest, and admonished himself. That's not happening. Don't even think about it! This is about us getting better. Nothing else is on the Richter scale right now. His reaction to Merlin, after rolling his eyes, “you know what I mean. What's the matter with you?!”

 

Merlin bit at his bottom lip again. It's going to bleed soon, he knew it. And he took his right hand to use his fingers to rub across his right brow, and sucked in a breath before responding, “Migraine.”

 

Arthur used his left hand to run his fingers through his hair, and licked his lips. He shifted from foot to foot, and he looked around for a moment before asking, “did you take something for it?”

 

Merlin nodded, looking at Arthur unsure, because Arthur wouldn't come home this late in the evening. He would have stayed the night at Morgana's. But if he's here now... Merlin shook his head to clear his mind, before answering the question. Voice still hoarse. Vodka made your throat feel like the Sahara Dessert, but it was numbing, and that was always a relief. If only, it allowed him to sleep through the night. “Yeah, it's just,” Merlin grimaced from where he remained lying down, stretched out with the blankets to his chest on the couch. Hands folded before him. “It just that it's not working.”

 

Arthur's eyes looked worried, he clinched his jaw. It's been so long since they've been in the same room together, and the last thing Arthur remembers is walking out. It was the right thing to do. But it doesn't make the tension between them any less now. The unsaid questions out there, and the fear for the answers too. The feeling of the unknown. It wasn't a feeling Arthur wanted to feel accustomed to. He dealt with it enough, with his depression. With his waiting for Merlin to see, hoping for Merlin to see, and not knowing what he would do when he did. Feelings that shake you to the core, because it's not a feeling that you can control. And control, control keeps you grounded. Arthur's love for Merlin makes him feel like he's flying. It's a high, heart always pumping hard, and it's a good feeling, but just like all things that go up, it must come back down. And when he felt those feelings were never going to be returned, that's exactly how he felt. Like he was falling, without a parachute, and was at a complete loss of what to do, or how to survive, and then the feeling of hopelessness, when you feel that there's no way to survive. Arthur felt like that several times in the past year and a half. No wonder Morgana is so overprotective, Arthur thought. But he's gotta be strong now. If he puts feelings last, friendship first, it should be alright. If he focuses on taking himself out of the equation, when it gets too rough, he will have a safety net. When he goes home, to his new captivity. He will be away from the environment because he still lives alone. Though Arthur has no doubt that the entire lot has keys to his new flat in case Morgana needs them to check on him. With the exception of Merlin, of course. And he has no doubt that she – herself - has made several copies. Arthur groaned internally, he knew he shouldn't have contacted Miranda. But she's been the Realtor for the Pendragon's for years. Who knew she was have betrayed him like this! Arthur cleared his mind. He had to focus. Arthur pushed the vodka, and the glass on the other end of the rectangular shaped cherry wood coffee table, and sat down on it to face Merlin. He raised his right brow, tone lightly amused mixed with concern. “How much have you been drinking?”

 

Merlin shrugged, and licked his bottom lip, before nibbling on it again, blue eyes meeting blue, Merlin shrugged again, “just that glass.” Merlin lied.

 

Arthur wasn't sure that he believed that. Even though Merlin looked into his eyes, his face flushed a little at the same time, and his fingers twitched. Now that Merlin's emotions are more out of control he couldn't lie as easily as he did before. Arthur processed that bit of information thinking, “good to know.” Arthur's mobile buzzed in his jeans pocket. It startled Arthur. Especially since he knows for a fact that if he's got a call now, it means that Morgana's on to him. He ignored for now. He didn't think she'd come to drag him back. Unless she sent Percy, Lance, and Leon. He dismissed the thought... for now. He'll talk to her. But he'll have to do it right, because he doesn't want to push her away. They're way too close for that. Arthur raised his left brow, titled his head – to Merlin – and smirked, “really?”

 

Merlin did flush this time. That meant he lied. Arthur smiled, he was going to like this. In a teasing tone, “Are you drunk, Merlin?”

 

That he wasn't... well... maybe a little. Merlin mused before responding, “No.”

 

Arthur titled his head more to the side, to get better eye contact with Merlin – to read him, the closer the contact also allowed Arthur to get a good look at Merlin's face, and the dark circles beneath his pale skin, “you look like you haven't slept in a week.”

 

Merlin sucked in a breath, before taking his hands, and covering his face for a moment. Just a second, he thought, before removing it. “I sleep,” Merlin protested. Nose flaring. “I just... I just wake up.”

 

Arthur's chest tightened by that, and the way Merlin looked lost for a moment, before he attempted to cover it up. Arthur's phone buzzed again. It didn't startle him as much this time. He ignored it, but he wouldn't turn it off. He needs to keep track of how many times it rings. He knew his sisters limits, and it seems she has him on suicide watch. Arthur's voice softened, and he leaned forward to Merlin. He didn't touch, but leaned close enough to keep distance, and to see Merlin more intently to evaluate his words with his responses. “Why are you waking up?”

 

Merlin's eyes watered for a second, before he internally reined it back in. He shook his head, looking somewhere above Arthur to the wall. “It's just the thoughts is all.”

 

Arthur's felt his muscles in his stomach tighten, he could sense there was more. He clinched his jaw, took his right hand and fingers to run it to his hair. Made sure that is eyes showed nothing - but welcome and openness - before asking, “what thoughts?” He learned some of that from therapy. And a lifetime in the business world of learning how to read pain, while showing less yourself. Arthur was always successful at doing that, until he met Merlin. He was always open for him. He was open for his friends too, but to an extent. But Merlin had an open door that Arthur never seemed to learn how to shut. That was the main reason why he wasn't able to move on as everyone else states is so easy to do. Love doesn't work like that. Not if you're really in love.

 

Arthur's expression remained open, and welcome, any other emotion he was feeling right now was not visible. He could do that. It was a gift. And he's stronger at the moment, so the cracks of his feelings won't burst through the surface. Not if he doesn't allow it, and as long as he remains in control. Merlin looked like he was attempted to read Arthur's thoughts. He was never really good at it before. But now that he's heightened with emotions perhaps.... Arthur will have to keep himself in check.

 

Merlin shrugged again to himself, attempt failed for reading Arthur thoughts. Before he replied, hoarseness of his voice never completely going away, “thoughts from past experiences.”

 

Arthur didn't quite understand. He turned thoughtful, but kept the expression of welcome, and openness. “these thoughts, they're in your head?”

 

Merlin looked in the ceiling, licked his top and bottom lip, Arthur followed the motion but dismissed it, then Merlin raised his hands to place them over his face, “nightmares.”

 

Arthur raised a brow. It never failed, it was still a feeling of pulling teeth when you tried to get Merlin to talk about anything attached to something painful, or something deeply emotional. He only opened up to Arthur the last time when Arthur was going to leave, and not before. But Merlin surprised him as he swallowed-hard, hands still covering his face, and continued. “There nightmares based on my traumatic episodes.”

 

“What?!” Arthur shrieked the 'what' sounding out into 'whaaat,' and the shriek stopping half way through. He couldn't freak Merlin out when he finally opened up. “Merlin,” Arthur croaked, hurt, breaking through his control he had in place. Only Merlin had that open door, Arthur thought. That's why he never understood how Merlin missed it. He could never close it off long from him, even if he tried. “Are you saying, your dreaming every traumatic episode?” Arthur was quite aware that he had to relive everything in therapy. But it was completely different thing to do it in your dreams. Where you thought you were safe, in the solace of your own mind.

 

Merlin still didn't remove his hands from his face. Arthur knows, Merlin's body language – from what Merlin allowed himself to show, but after reading up on Merlin's condition, looking for the signs and symptoms, along with the causes, and treatments. Arthur can see the signs a little more for what they are. Merlin was trying to protect himself... from Arthur. Merlin was ashamed to tell him about this. He was also nervous. Nervous Arthur wouldn't understand, like Arthur would reject him for it, but protecting himself... from Arthur? Feeling ashamed... in front Arthur. Those are things Merlin has never done before. But now that Arthur sees more, he recognizes it was probably things Merlin's blocked away before too. Things he never allowed Arthur to see. Arthur got up from the coffee table, eyes intent - focused, he didn't do this often. He and Merlin are as close as two could be - as friends – but even they had their limits. Merlin, because he reined in all emotions like this around Arthur, Arthur sees this... now. And Arthur, because he didn't want to step over a line until Merlin was ready. They were, and would always be friends first before anything else. Arthur sat beside Merlin where he laid on the couch, to face him. Merlin immediately stiffened. Arthur caught it. Arthur's eyes were glossy, his jaw clinched, because he was testing his own limits now. And he needs to be careful too. He kept the openness in his expression, the welcome. Arthur's phone buzzed again, Arthur did startle just a little. Third call, Arthur thought. If she's still calling after the fifth call, Arthur would call her back then.

 

“Aren't you going to answer that?” Merlin mumbled from under his hands.

 

Arthur used his right hand and fingers to rub the back of his neck, and closed and then opened his eyes, before clinching his jaw, “not yet.”

 

Arthur leaned in closer, taking both hands to pull Merlin's hands from his face. Merlin's eyes were closed, he started shaking his head, “Arthur -” Like he couldn't bare for Arthur to see him like this.

 

Arthur kept a firm grip on Merlin's hands until he laid both at Merlin's sides. “Merlin?” Merlin still didn't open his eyes. Skin flushed like it sometimes when he felt embarrassed. “Merlin, look at me.” Arthur continued, tone softer, “you've got nothing to hide from me.” Merlin shook his head again, before licking lips, and opening his eyes, water settling in them. Arthur continued. “If we're going to get through this then we need to be open and honest with each other. There's no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed of anything that you need to tell me. These are your feelings, good or bad, you need to tell me. If we're going to get through this you have to to talk to me, you have to tell me what's going on. Isn't that part of processing things? Maybe your nightmares are so vivid because you haven't been letting it out.”

 

Merlin looked at him, astonished, before saying, “That's what psychotherapy is for.” If it wasn't, then what the hell was he doing torturing himself for everyday?!

 

Arthur seemed to be able to read his thoughts, because he answered the unasked question. “Will said you were talking about your experiences, the source of it - reliving them by talking about it. You talk about your feelings or something. But if you have all of those memories coming at you at once you can't possibly be covering them all. And you blocked those experiences that you talked about, maybe... maybe you have to face what you couldn't face before in order to truly move on from it.” Arthur licked his lips. Merlin followed the movement, and swallowed. Arthur noticed. “You blocked it for a reason, you never dealt with it. The nightmares are given to you in increments to help you heal from it. Even though it seems... painful.” Arthur removed his right hand from the firm grip he had in Merlin's left before taking it, and running his hands through his hair. He returned his right hand back to Merlin's left, and held it firmly there again, before continuing, “the human mind can only process but so much at once. Can you tell me, some of what you're experiencing?” Arthur took both of Merlin's hands, and placed them in his hands, and squeezed them firmly.

 

Merlin followed the movement, looked at their joint hands, and swallowed. Tone still hoarse, he continued. “It's about some of my most traumatic experiences, or something closely related it. It reminds me of what I felt during that time. Like... I'm still there.” Merlin turned his head, to look up into the ceiling and sighed. Arthur waited, he was a Pendragon, he could wait out just about anything for something that he wanted. “I can't sleep, not... for long. I keep seeing. Keep feeling it. Sometimes the nightmares repeat itself too. And now,” Merlin eyes watered some more, a few wayward tears fell from his left eye. Arthur eyes, never leaving Merlin's removed his right hand for a moment from Merlin's to catch it with his thumb, before rubbing it into his jeans, and returning his hand back into Merlin's. Merlin's heart swelled. “I used to suffer from headaches all of the time, during, those times in the past. I think... before I started blocking things out. And now... it seems like I'm getting some of those feelings back too along with the memories.” Merlin's tone was full of pain, his eyes watered, but he looked like he was a mile away thinking about what he was saying. Like he needed to take himself out of the equation to actually say it.

 

Arthur's eyes watered too, he swallowed, and squeezed Merlin's hands in his more firmly. “Have you spoken to Dr. Monmouth about this?” Arthur somehow knew that he didn't.

 

He was right.

 

Merlin swallowed, and shook his head. “I told him about the nightmares, but not about the pain, or the headaches I've gotten back now.”

 

Arthur's phone buzzed again, Arthur's hip moved slightly on reflex, but he didn't grab his phone to answer it.”

 

Merlin's eyes were still watered, but that didn't stop him from raising his brow. “Arthur, if you need to answer the phone, answer the phone.”

 

Arthur closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again to look at Merlin, blue meeting blue, “I'll answer it soon.”

 

Merlin inhaled and then exhaled, still looking at Arthur, like he was attempting to read him. “If you have somewhere else to be?”

 

Arthur shook his head, but averted his eyes from Merlin for a moment. Merlin noticed. “I don't... have anywhere else to be.”

 

Merlin licked his lips, Arthur caught it, and Merlin noticed. Merlin looked up to the ceiling for a moment before looking back at Arthur. Tone, solemn. “I have a feeling you didn't come here to ask me about my condition. And since I didn't hear any bags come in with you..., am I to assume I'm right?”

 

Oh hell! And Arthur froze – even his hands in Merlin's, and sucked in a breath. Of all the things that Merlin decides to be perceptive about he chooses this?! Fuck! Arthur inhaled slowly, and closed off his expression to stolid.

 

Merlin was amused by all of the expressions that went across Arthur's face in that brief moment before he turned it off. He could feel Arthur's hands still in his. On one note, he was happy to be able to read Arthur like that, on another, after reading it – he was pretty sure he wasn't going to like what Arthur had to say.

 

Arthur tone was stoic, to match is expression, as he responded. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

 

And Merlin huffed, “I think you know exactly, what I'm talking about Arthur.”

 

Arthur's phone buzzed again. Fifth call. Arthur swallowed, before trying to evade the topic, “I have to take this.”

 

Merlin looked hurt, “Arthur?!”

 

Arthur removed his right hand from Merlin's again to take his thumb and forefinger to press the bridge of his nose, and responded, tone anguished, “not now, Merlin. Why don't... why don't you take a shower, and we'll talk afterward.

 

Merlin wasn't buying it, and his tone turned firm, while he gritted his teeth, eyes stubborn, “and why don't you tell me what's going on? Your the one who told me that we needed to be completely honest with each other if this is going to work, it goes both ways, Arthur.”

 

Arthur removed his left hand from Merlin's too, and stood up, going back to sitting on the coffee table. Merlin felt the loss, that extra feeling of security that only Arthur can bring. Arthur sucked in a breath, tone wavering, “I... I have to move for... a while.”

 

Merlin felt cold all of a sudden, but it wasn't from the temperature. He shivered internally anyway. Merlin eyes began to water again, a few traitorous tears falling from both eyes, he used his left sleeve to wipe them, before asking, his tone solemn, “for a while?”

 

Arthur swallowed but nodded, tone stricken, “yes.”

 

Merlin nodded too, eyes still watered – he couldn't help it, he licked his lips. “And for a while, does that mean indefinitely?”

 

Arthur's eyes faced Merlin's head on, they were averted from his to somewhere over Merlin's head before now. “That depends.”

 

“On what,” Merlin croaked.

 

“On what happens next,” Arthur replied honestly. His eyes watering too.

 

“You don't want to be with me? You don't have to avoid telling me that Arthur. I'd rather here it now then be frustrated while waiting for an answer.” Merlin said softly, before looking up to the ceiling again, wishing he could cover his face with his hands again, but knowing Arthur would take it away.

 

Arthur sucked in a breath, tone hoarse, as he followed Merlin's movements, and read his body language. “I didn't say that.”

 

Merlin looked at him again, sizing him up, tone knowing, “you don't have to, Arthur. It's written all over your face.”

 

Arthur took his right hand and covered his face for a moment before sighing, it turned into a groan, “I need... time Merlin, and you don't know what you want.”

 

Merlin sat up from where he laid on the coach all of this time, putting his feet on the floor, leaning back to rest his head against the back of the sofa, and stared at Arthur head on. “I've told you what I want -”

 

Arthur raised his right hand for silence. His shook his head, his eyes started watering more, he clinched his jaw. When he spoke, his tone was hoarse and pained. “You told me. After seven years, after you've now unlocked those parts of your emotions that you love me. While all of the time in between you've been involved with anyone else in, but me. How do you know for sure once you've finished processing everything that you will even want me?”

 

Stunned, and paled, Merlin responded, tone equally hoarse and pained, “I know, what's in my heart Arthur.”

 

And that set Arthur off, chest visibly shaking. “And that maybe true. But the fact of the matter is that you haven't even been single for a month.” Merlin winced, but Arthur continued. “How do you even know that you're ready for a relationship? You have all of this going on right now, do you really think adding a relationship is in your favor right too?” Arthur shook his head, eyes blazing. “And what about me, Merlin? I'm suffering from depression, I'm still in therapy, trying to get better. Is it fair to ask me to just throw everything in to.... to try now, when you haven't even finished dealing with everything that you need to? How do you think I'd feel if I put everything out there just for you to drop me like the many blokes before me?” Merlin didn't have a proper defense, not for any of that. He just knew what was in his heart. And he knew that he wouldn't leave Arthur, that he couldn't leave Arthur. Arthur voice was rising, he stood up from where he was seated at the coffee table, and started pacing back and forth from behind the coffee table. “I'll tell you how, it would destroy me, if you did that to me right now, Merlin.” Arthur shook his hand. Merlin's tears started falling without anything to stop it. He bit his bottom lip, before licking it with his tongue. “It will destroy me. I can't even think about taking that step right now.” Arthur ended with a whisper.

Merlin raised his head again to look into the ceiling while his tears fell some more. He pulled his legs up to to place his chin on his knees, and wrapped his arms around his knees. This... is his fault. He did this. Arthur never worried about this before he came along. He was confident, vibrant, joyful, a force of nature, and full of life. And Merlin came a long, took Arthur's heart, and stomped on it. And now... Merlin shook his head, and licked his top and bottom lip, before saying in a soft tone, “okay.”

 

Arthur stopped pacing to turn to Merlin, he took his left hand, and rubbed it across from right to left underneath his eyes, and the bridge of his nose. And looked at Merlin incredulously. “What?”

 

Merlin just continued to look into the ceiling, tone full of emotion. “I said okay. I never wanted to hurt you, Arthur. And my having a disorder - which is still me by extension, my actions – has hurt you anyway. Whether I knew or not, the damage is done.” Merlin swallowed. “I'm not going to push you into something that you don't want to do.” He sucked in a breath, “but I am sorry for hurting you, because it's the last thing that I would ever want to do in this world.” Merlin finished looking at Arthur head on, tears still falling, crestfallen, but completely sincere.

 

It broke Arthur's heart, again. Tears were falling down Arthur's face too now, he took a deep breath, “I didn't come here for that... I came here to be with you. I'm moving. But I'll still be here for you. To support you, Merlin. I want you to be healthy.”

 

Merlin nodded, slowly. And then he clinched his jaw, tone becoming more firm. “You don't have to. I don't need anyone to take care of me -”

 

“Merlin!” Arthur was angry, his eyes fired up, nostrils flaring, he was trying. What did Merlin expect him to do?! “I'm trying to help here, does it have to be all or nothing?”

 

Merlin's raised his head back into the ceiling to eye it, and pulled his limbs back into his safe position before he started rocking back and forth slowly. “I don't want you here if you don't want to be here, Arthur. I don't need you to feel that you have to be. And I don't want to stand in your way. Like you said,” Merlin's tone got firmer as he went on, “you've been in love with me for seven years, and it would destroy you if you were hurt. I can't be responsible for that. I'm already responsible for that. I don't think I'd want to know what it would feel like to hurt you like that again.” Merlin shook his head, and lowered it back to look at Arthur, tears still flowing freely. Merlin cried so many tears over the past few weeks. He swallowed, tone hoarse. “But I know that I'm in love with you, and once I'm done with all of this psychotherapy shit, I know that I'll still be in love with you. But I don't think I can have you in my life like that, and not be able to have you,” Merlin raised his hand, when Arthur opened his mouth to speak to stop him. Merlin's voice was hoarse, his face full of emotion, cheeks red. “You loved me for seven years, but I never knew that Arthur. You still love me. And now I know it, and on top of that, I love you too. I don't think I can handle not be able to have you while your well within my reach to do so. I don't know if I can do that at all. And I don't know how you did it, while feeling it. Especially since I've closed off all of my painful feelings starting at an early age until now. It would break my heart to not be able to have you.” Merlin finished shaking his head, and then covering his face with both hands.

 

Arthur found himself looking at the ceiling too. He swallowed-hard, tears falling freely, and his chest stung. He used his right hand to use his thumb and forefinger to press the bridge of his nose, heart beating fast, he responded. Voice grieved. “I can't... I can't promise you that right now, Merlin. There's still... so many things that we haven't discussed. Things that we have to deal with, before we can even think about anything else. And even though you say you love me... I still don't know if it's for the right reasons.” Merlin moved his knees from his chin, unwrapping his arms first to lower his legs to the floor to get up. Arthur's voice raised higher, “And on top of that, I'm not making any decisions until we're healthier enough to truly be able to make it.” Arthur's facial expression went from stricken to intense. “I want you to be healthy, and if you claim you love me, and still mean it once you are, then... we can revisit this conversation. But not before then.” Arthur never thought he'd ever say that. Never thought he'd ever turn Merlin away, and now, his done it twice in less than three weeks! If someone told him he would have done that seven years ago he would have laughed in their face, and even made a wager against it. And look how the tide changes now.

 

Merlin was still looking at Arthur, Arthur brings about intense emotions in him. It was the one emotion that broke through his walls when Arthur left. And those intense emotions still remain. Merlin knows in his heart that those feelings are not going to change. Even now, with all of his emotions running through him like a electric current, he's well aware that once everything calms down that his love for Arthur will be the one feeling that will remain beyond a shadow of the doubt. Merlin sucked in a breath, took his right hand, to run his fingers through his hair, and licked his lips before confirming. “And when,” because Merlin wasn't going to say 'if,' “I'm healthy again, and I tell you, because I know that my feelings aren't going to change,” Arthur's heart skipped a beat, those blue eyes showing nothing but love in them despite how he's trying to cover it. “well you give us a try?”

 

Arthur has waited it feels like his whole life to hear those words from Merlin when it's only been seven years. Arthur used his right hand to rub over his mouth, before he closed his eyes and then opened them. “If your healthy, if you still love me, and if you are ready for a relationship, we'll talk.” Arthur groaned, and used his left hand and ran it through his hair. “But there's something else you should know.”

 

Merlin did get up then, and covered his face with both of his hands while shaking his head, and mumbled from underneath his hands. “Is it anything worse than what you've just told me?” Merlin had to ask. Voice the woe is me tone.

 

Arthur used both of his hands to wipe his face and cheeks from for any remaining tears that may have fallen before saying. “My therapist advises that I have to get out there, meet people. Do things outside my normal. Like with my friends that I met while I was away.”

 

Merlin held firm, without moving, hands still covering his face. He couldn't help the flare of jealousy that went through him. He's still getting in control of everything, and with everything flooding back, his emotions are heightened. But on a good note, the pressure from his migraine subsided a while ago. Once everything calmed down inside, Merlin lowered his hands from his face, and sat back down on the chair leaning back, he gave his best grin to Arthur. Even though it hurt his face, and said innocently, “sounds... reasonable.”

 

Arthur... was not following, because Merlin's whole demeanor changed before his very eyes, and he didn't know what he was thinking, or by the looks of it --planning. Arthur shook his head, and licked his lips. Merlin followed the movement easily. And just continued to look at Arthur, blue meeting blue. “Do you know what that means, Merlin?” Arthur asked, because he didn't think he did.

 

Merlin knows exactly what that means. Merlin used his hands and ran it through his hair, causing it to stick up all sorts of ways - like it does when he's just woken up in the morning, and then he used his hands, and ran it over his face before looking Arthur dead in the eyes while keeping his best grin – with all the dimples. And it didn't matter to Arthur, even with Merlin looking like shit, he still looked hot. Merlin seemed quite aware it too. Damn! Arthur swallowed-hard, while waiting on Merlin to speak. He didn't have to wait much longer. And Merlin's tone was confident. “I know exactly what you mean, Arthur.” And Merlin got up from the couch, and Arthur started to feel a little... uncomfortable. “You mean you're going to have to meet new people because your therapist thinks it can't be healthy if you continue to love someone who doesn't love you back.” Merlin walked slowly as he went over to the other side of the coffee table where Arthur was standing in his 'once' secure location. “You mean, that if you get out there you'll get to meet new people - other than me. And even if you don't feel the same for those.. new people after you do meet them, it will still give you a healthy dose of being outside of your old environment, while giving you time away from me.” Merlin made it to Arthur, but Arthur was backing away too as Merlin advanced, walking – slowly - backwards until he ran out room, backing into the white wall with no place to go. He flushed, and he swallowed-hard.

 

Merlin made it in front of Arthur, and placed both of his hands on either side of Arthur's face to rest on the wall, and leaned in chest to chest. Arthur froze, and sucked in a breath. Merlin's breath smelled like vodka. But it didn't matter to Arthur. His heart was beating so fast he was certain that Merlin could hear it. And given the grin that just turn to Merlin's smirk, he did. Merlin's tone became seductive as he continued. "You mean, they may even want you to date over people.” Arthur felt heat flowing through him at Merlin's close vicinity, and it was all going south. Merlin slowy moved his face in closer to the side of Arthur's, “I understand exactly what you mean,” Merlin leaned in closer his lips grazed Arthur's ear, and the heat from his breath – the touch – did things to Arthur. Merlin whispered. “It's fine, if that's what you need. I want you to. Because once I'm healthy, and once your done, I want no more room from either of us left for doubts.” And Merlin used his right thumb to graze Arthur's bottom lip back and forth. Arthur closed his eyes, and had to hold back a moan. He felt a chill run down his spine. And when he opened his eyes, they were dazed. And Merlin... had to do very little to affect him. As it stood, Arthur lips leaned into Merlin's right thumb as Merlin continued to graze it. Their eyes intense. “I want to know that your sure too.” And since Merlin wasn't done, now that he removed his finger. He moved his face to Arthur's, looked him the eyes to allow him to see the emotions coming from him that he never could show him before, and Arthur looked like he would have dropped to his knees if Merlin asked him to, but Merlin wasn't going to, because Arthur... was right.

 

Merlin eyes left Arthur's flicking to Arthur's red lips, before deciding to save the best for last. He moved slowly - very slowly - and leaned in to give soft velvety kisses to the top of Arthur's forehead, the top of Arthur's right brow, and the top of his left. He then used the tip of his nose to tease the tip of Arthur's. It was so... intimate, and Arthur shivered. Their breaths continued to dance around each other as the warmth from it flared into the two creating something much... deeper, and much bigger in the pits of their stomachs. If there was ever a question of chemistry between the two, there would be no mistake about it now. Arthur's hands never left his sides, he didn't think he could move them if he wanted to. But Arthur's heart did skip a beat. And with each kiss planted...  it felt like it was stopping and restarting Arthur's heart. And Merlin didn't like much different if the rapid rise and fall of his chest, and his flushed skin were any indication. As they continued to stand only a breath apart. The tension was electric between them. Merlin lightly nudged Arthur's nose with his own. Both of them breathing heavily. And then Merlin licked his lips, and looked at Arthur's lips one more time before leaning in to graze Arthur's lips softly with his tongue, before giving a light blow over it. Arthur moaned, his knees almost gave out from the shock of the kiss, his heart - hammering, and if there were any doubt of him being hard before... Arthur swallowed. What the hell was Merlin doing to him?!

 

Merlin backed away slowly, he was reading all of Arthur's expressions - it seemed, now that he can see it, it seems he's trying his best not to miss it. When Merlin spoke, he was hoarse, “To give you something to remember me by while you meet your prospects.” Like Arthur could have ever forgotten Merlin. Now he has other things he won't be able to forget too! Arthur, was still frozen on the wall while Merlin was walking backwards, almost tripping on the coffee table, but steadying himself before saying - grin in place - tone sure, “but just so you know, in case you didn't get the message. The ball's in your court Pendragon. I won't kiss you again. Not unless you want me to.” Merlin's licked his lips, and Arthur longed for more, even his eyes flared with desire, but he would stand firm. Merlin continued, eyes twinkling, tone challenging, “And this time, no more excuses, no more signs, no ones to blame. When it's time, you're going to have to tell me so. And when you do, then I'll know it's what you want. And in the meantime...” Merlin said more seriously, tone more determined, eyes firm. “I will do whatever it takes to get better, and I'll let you be my support, and help if you feel you need to be.” And what could Arthur say to that?

 

Arthur's phone buzzed again. Arthur was still frozen on the wall. His face was flushed, his eyes - still -full of desire, his heart was pumping - rapidly, and if it couldn't be worse – his cock was painfully hard in his tight blue jeans. While Merlin was across the room looking at him with an expression of amusement. Merlin had to ask, with a smile. Surprised he had a smile after so many days without one. “Aren't you going to answer that?”

 

Arthur shook his head to wake himself out of his daze, to calm himself down – it wasn't going to be easy, and then he nodded it. “Why don't you take a shower or something. I'll take this outside on the patio.” Arthur requested, voice hoarse. It was Merlin and Arthur code for: I need a moment alone. And Arthur felt like he really did. He was still recuperating from Merlin's advancements. He'd never experienced Merlin's advancements before, and Arthur wondered how he would have felt if Merlin decided to do anything more. Arthur shivered at the thought.

 

Merlin nodded. Eyes still shining, he gave a soft smile. “I'll just take a shower.” A cold shower, Merlin thought, since he was painfully aware of a problem that needed to be addressed. It was another reason why he backed away from Arthur when he did.

 

Arthur nodded, eyes still showing longing, but he wasn't going to succumb to it. They had a solid plan. “Have you eaten?”

 

Merlin looked sheepish.

 

Arthur shook his head giving Merlin a fond smile, “idiot. I'll take this, and when I come back we'll see what's here for dinner or order take out. I haven't eaten dinner yet either. Sounds like a plan?”

 

Merlin smiled again, eyes watered – it kept doing that, but it was a happy feeling that caused it. “Sounds like a plan. I'll just... go... take a shower.” Merlin smiled to him one more time backing away, and Arthur smiled back, eyes still longing. He licked his lips. Merlin followed the movement, before he licked his too, both tasting each other. They both blushed. And then Merlin turned away, and walked down the hallway to his room.

 

And Arthur, after he regained some composure. Arthur sucked in a breath because now... he knew he was about to be told other from every which way from Sunday. Arthur sighed, sucked in a breath, and began his journey to outside patio.

 

**

 

“Arthur,” Morgana said before Arthur could even say a gratuity, “where the hell are you?!”

 

That raised the hairs on the back of Arthur's neck. His eyes tightened, and he gritted his teeth. “I think you know exactly where I am Morgana otherwise you wouldn't be calling.”

 

“Now you listen to me dear sweet brother of mine. If you start doing this, if you start going off in the middle of your recovery, and you refuse to listen. I will tell father!”

 

Arthur stilled. And his heart felt like it did too, he felt cold, in his bones. Arthur croaked, “Morgana, you're already acting like him in these situations.” His response didn't take away his fear though.

 

“And you're acting like a spoiled brat! I'm doing everything to help you, Arthur. You! Not me! All of the things I've done is to help you. I have a daughter - your niece - in her bed sleeping. And you accused me of overdoing it. You know just as well as I do that I haven't even hit the tip of the iceberg of overdoing it if father actually found out what's really been going on with you! After what I have done to help. And you would have been so lucky to have seen ever seen Merlin!” Arthur heart started to beat heavily, his palms started to sweat. He moved his mobile from his right to left ear, and then left back to right as he wiped them on his jean pants legs. “At least I didn't lock you up? I looked for the best resort out there that had everything needed while catering to your needs. Yes, I overstepped, by purchasing a flat outside of your guidelines, but I purchased you a gorgeous flat, and you're complaining that it's too far away from Merlin when it's right beside your own family that you choose to see, I might add, when you fall in your pits of despair with Merlin anyway. I made it easier for you, and of course I would want to keep up on your progress Arthur.

 

Of course I'd want you to keep some distance from the person who you have an unrequited love for. Love is one of the strongest emotions Arthur, right up their with hate. Why would I want you to torture yourself with someone who doesn't love you back?! And even if those feelings are somewhat requited now, he can't even give you what you need right now because he's got a lot of shit that he has to deal with on his own, and without you wanting to believe it or not Arthur, so do you. Arthur started counting backwards from one hundred to try to calm down, he was breathing heavily now, skin flushed. “So before you call me overbearing or overprotective consider why I'm doing that because it wasn't, but so long ago you considered killing yourself. And more than once dear brother. It wasn't but so long ago you fell apart right at my feet. I refuse to let you go through that again. Not if I can help it. I never forbade you to see Merlin, nor would I, I know how close you two are. But I wanted you to keep some healthy distance. I know for a fact that was told for you to do too. And going there, your first night back, when you're probably still feeling everything from the transition of being away, it wasn't the best option for you right now. And you know that I don't want to tell father, but if you can't meet me half way here, if you can't take care of yourself, and finish your treatment properly, if I see signs again of those worse stages of your depression. I'll be forced to tell him about it this time, Arthur.”

 

There is a reason Arthur didn't want to go to his father about this, or have him find out. And both he and Morgana know it. And it was even more deeper than the reasons Arthur presented over the years, but hinted very closely at it. Their father was born with a twin, his sister's name was Margaret, and she was beautiful. Morgana actually got her looks more from her. She'd suffered from depression, and had uni-polar depression for years. But she was always a cool Aunt. She'd come to visit every month or so, and showered them both with presents every time, and she'd called at least weekly. But then the calls began to come in less frequent over time, until they stopped altogether. Arthur and Morgana were both worried about their Aunt, and asked their father to check up on her, stating that they were worried. They were aware of her illness. But she managed well with it. Their father, who was a little more concerned himself assured them that he would check up on their Aunt, and told them not to worry. That he would 'fix it.' The situation with Aunt Margaret - as they all found out - was a lot worse than they thought. Their father took two weeks off from work, and arranged for Gaius to look after them. The Pendragon mansion had enough staff to cover their physical needs, they had they're own money, and Morgana - at the age of fourteen - was old enough to be left in charge, under the supervision of Gaius, who would check in periodically.

 

When their father returned a week and a half later, he returned without their Aunt Margaret, and without a real explanation aside from, I sent her away to get help. That meant nothing to him and Morgana. Morgana started to becoming more covert - to see if she could learn anything - and by extension, so did Arthur. When Gaius came over one evening - a few weeks later - they both knew that this would be the opportune time to learn something, because Gaius, was their father's confidant. Morgana focused on hearing everything while lightly focusing on any movement towards the door of their father's study, where they sat on the floor at the other side of it. Glasses propped on the door to listen through intently. And while Morgana was tasked to hear every word, and lightly focus on movement. Arthur was tasked to heavily focus on movement, and lightly focus on hearing every word. They would compare notes in detail later, but they couldn't afford to get caught.

 

** Flashback**

 

Gaius, your should have seen her. She... she was so beautiful before, but now...” Uther shook his head, head bowed from his side of the desk. Gaius watching from his seat on the other side. “She quit her job at the museum. I managed to talk her boss, and a few workers, and they said that she started declining rapidly over these fast few months. That it wasn't like this before.” Uther shook his head, and clinched his jaw, eyes glossed, as he took a sip of his scotch.

 

Gaius leaned in some from his chair, hands still resting on the armrest raised his left brow slightly, “what do you mean by before?”

 

Uther sat up in his chair, head resting on the head rest, and shook his head before looking at Gaius. “Apparently she's been having bouts of this for a little over a year now or so now. She lived with for a while, as you know, but it's been manifesting more over the last year. Unexplained absences, leaving early, coming in late, arriving drunk, having public disturbances.” Uther shook his head again, raising his right hand from his armrest of his chair to run over his face. “Apparently they'd find her crying uncontrollably, her attitude would change from worry, to anxious, to being angry frequently, she stopped hanging out with her friends. She looked... drained...and... hollow – like I saw her. And she claimed that she was suffering a lot from aches and pains, they informed me.”

 

Gaius deadpan expression softened. “Did you talk to her?”

 

Uther nodded, and move forward to place his elbows on his desk to rest his head in his hands. “I did. She barely understood me, barely recognized me. She just kept mumbling that she wanted it to be over, that it had to be easier than living.”

 

Gaius' eyes watered too. He loved Margaret, she moved to the other side of London, to Bristol, to strike it out on her own from the family business. At least... that's what she said at the time. Gaius was beginning to think she may have been having some of those stronger symptoms then. He still suggested, “Can't you bring her back here, at least for a while?”

 

I can't bring her into my home like that, Gaius. I have no means to watch over here, and I can't turn my home into a psych ward with my two very impressionable children across the mansion. Not to mention, what if she acts that way in front of the children? Talking about wanting it to end. What if she gets angry at them, has a panic attack, or starts breaking down and crying uncontrollably in front of them, and heaven forbid, what if she followed through with her thoughts, and they found her here Gaius?” Uther downed the last half of his scotch in his glass in one go, before refilling the glass with the bottle that sat beside it to the rim. He shook his head, after he grimaced, from the burning sensation of the scotch. “You talked about it yourself before Gaius, when your nephew was physically and verbally abused all of those years ago. You said that your sister got that bastard out of that house, got Merlin out of that environment.”

 

** End of Flashback **

 

Arthur processed the memory, and though he was only tasked to listen lightly, something came across now that didn't come across before, because he was too distraught about his Aunt. Arthur's chest tightened, and his jaw clinched.

 

“You knew!” Arthur choked out. Morgana was tasked to listen heavily to that discussion, and Morgana missed nothing, and remembered everything. Just like their father. And if Arthur was tasked to listen heavily, he would have done the same. He wasn't. They were supposed to compare everything later. That part of the discussion was not mentioned. Only remembering now brought it back.

 

“Knew what Arthur?” Morgana sounded frustrated.

 

“You knew about Merlin?!” Arthur said accusingly. Eyes intense, nostrils flared.

 

“Arthur, I'm not following?” Morgana sounded tired.

 

“You knew, about Merlin's father abusing him before now. And so did father.”

 

Silence.

 

Morgana sighed, and responded apologetically, but unperturbed, “It wasn't my secret to tell Arthur.”

 

Arthur groaned, raised his left hand, and ran his hand and fingers through his hair, tugging it sharply to bring him back to focus. “But... all this time, I've been trying to figure out why he never recognized -”

 

Morgana's tone turned angry. She was not taking the blame for that. “How was I supposed to know that he turned off his emotions to feel pain Arthur?! How was I supposed to know that his mother didn't get him help?! All we heard was that his father abused him, and that his mother kicked his father out of the house. Merlin never looked like he was recovering from abuse, and he definitely wasn't afraid of you! There were no signs to show me that it was something I should mention. And if he never mentioned it himself, who's to say he wouldn't feel hurt, betrayed, humiliated, or even ashamed that others knew. He obviously didn't want you to see that side of him, Arthur. He's only been showing you his best side, with whatever he has to offer.”

 

Arthur sucked in a breath, eyes watering slightly, gritting his teeth, “he needs my help Morgana.”

 

“And you need help too, Arthur!” Morgana shrieked in agitation.

 

“Morgana -” Arthur tried again, trying to stay calm, his tone soft, but firm.

 

“Don't Morgana me, Arthur! If you thought about that moment, you had to be thinking about Aunt Margaret. And you know exactly what happened to her!” Morgana said sharply.

 

And Arthur did.

 

** Flashback **

 

So what are you going to do?” Gaius asked, with a frown, worry evident on his face as he looked at his old friend raising his right hand seeing him rub it across his forehead.

 

Uther shook his head. His expression turned from distraught to hardened, right before Gaius' very eyes. Gaius felt a chill run down his spine.

 

I fixed it. I did what I had to do. I went to the doctor, they evaluated her, and declared her mentally incapable to take care of her own well being. According to the courts, no one can have a loved one involuntarily committed unless they are a threat to themselves or someone else. She didn't want to go, but she's was falling apart in front of my very eyes.”

 

Gaius used his left hand, and ran his hand and fingers through his hair, he swallowed, eyes turning glossy. And asked, expression grim, voice terse, “Uther, what did you do?”

 

Uther downed a half of his glass of scotch in one go, used the fingers of his right hand to run against his right brow, and then turned back to Gaius, expression hardening again. Gaius did not like that expression. “I fixed it. I went to the courts, and had her guardianship was turned over to me, with proof from the doctor that she was mentally incapable of making her own decisions, and that she claimed that she wanted to end her life repeatedly. I then institutionalized her.” Uther said, as he finished the rest of his half of the glass of scotch in the glass in one go, eyes turning colder - firm, he nodded to Gaius, and repeated. “I fixed it.”

 

No one knew the statistics apparently. But the statistics suggest that middle-aged individuals who are institutionalized involuntarily are more likely to commit suicide. Aunt Margaret killed herself six months later.

 

** End of Flashback **

 

It's the reason why Arthur would submit himself to just about anything Morgana was asking for right now. Anything to prevent his father from finding out, and feeling like he needed to make the hard choice, the 'fix it' choice. And Arthur is all to familiar with the laws regarding it, he researched it himself after that discussion between Uther and Gaius. (And the laws haven't changed since). It couldn't have been right to commit Aunt Margaret without her permission, Arthur thought. He thought their father must have done something else. As it turned out... he was well within his right. And more importantly, he could - and probably would - do the same thing to Arthur. Even now, if he were to find out. He would only be outside of his grounds once Arthur is deemed fully recovered, and set for normal follow up. As of now, he's not. He didn't want what happened to Aunt Margaret to happen to him. And he didn't think he would have been to survive being locked up, and alone either. But he couldn't submit to abandoning Merlin in his time of need either. There has to be something in between.

 

Arthur swallowed, closed his eyes, and licked his lips before saying softly, “I'm not her Morgana.”

 

Morgana's tone softened too, she must have been thinking about what happened with their Aunt too. “I know that, Arthur. And you don't have the same condition. But she did have uni-polar depression, and you do have depression as a result of an unrequited love. Your depression may not have lasted seven years, but you have been in love for seven years. Now you see why I wanted everything checked once you left?” She didn't wait for an answer, she didn't need to. “You know that it's a condition that can be hereditary. But that's besides the point. Depression is very serious, and your just playing with fire now, and asking to be burned. And depression just doesn't go away because you think you can manage, and you decide to try harder to do so. It takes time Arthur. And I saw you this evening. You still need time.” Morgana sighed. “I know what you did, to keep up pretenses in front of father. You looked up all of the signs of depression, and made sure that you never showed any of it in front of him. Newsflash darling little brother, I can see it! I spend the most time with you, apart from Merlin who can't see it because he turned his emotions off to feel that kind of pain. You might think that I'm being overbearing Arthur, and maybe in some ways I am, but I don't think that you're taking this as seriously as you may think.” Morgana sounded pained, “how do you think I'd feel if I lost you?”

 

Arthur felt guilty, because she's right about every word that she said, but... still. Arthur took his left hand and fingers and rubbed them over both of his eyes to wipe the wayward tears that fell, he swallowed, “how do you think I'd feel if I lost him, Morgana?” Arthur asked instead. If anything would break him, it would be to see Merlin fall apart, because he wasn't there to help him.

 

Morgana swallowed, and her voice softened, and hardened as her point starting to come across next. “Fair enough. But if you're going to be spending time with Merlin then this is what I need for you to do in return,” she paused, thinking Arthur was going to interrupt, he didn't. “You will have daily one hour therapy sessions with Nimueh five days a week.” She paused again, no interruption. “You will come home every night for supper, and you will come to check in with me.” No interruption. “Father already said that you could have more time off because we're at a slow point, and I'm there as well. Take the next month off to keep your head clear, and to stay out from father's radar right now. You'll still need to go visit at the mansion at least once a week to keep up pretenses. But from what I understand, Merlin is an emotional roller-coaster right now, it's going to show in you no matter how much you try to hide it. And you have to promise to eat, three times a day -- and snacks, maintain exercise, and to spend time with the lot, and people outside of Merlin, as prescribed. Your friends will be getting out soon. You can start out with them. Deal?” They always talked as though they were finalizing a business deal, when they were bargaining something that affected the other at this magnitude. They'd been doing it since they were kids.

 

Arthur closed his eyes, and swallowed, before opening them back up again. It was a lot, but nothing unbearable. It just gave Arthur a sense of structure like he had when he was away. And it was... fair. A checks and balances of a sort. Arthur didn't have a reason to disagree. And it still blocked it from their father finding out about him, and deciding to 'fix it.'

 

“I'll do it, under one condition,” Arthur took his left thumb and forefinger to press it to the bridge of his nose, before using that same hand with fingers to run through his hair, right hand still holding the phone. Voice hoarse. “I want to take Merlin away from here, for a about a week, maybe... two. Arthur paused, and took a deep breath before getting to the hard part. “The psychotherapy sessions seem to be draining him, and he's having vivid nightmares of the abuse. I want to take him to the family lake house that we have in Wales, just to take him out of the environment. To get him out of the flat, to help him process some of the things that are still coming-”

 

Morgana sounded alarmed, “Arthur -”

 

Arthur tried to continue, as if uninterrupted, “We can go after Christmas. And this way we still won't miss Autumn's Christmas play, or the normal holiday fluff. And while away, I'll have the daily one hour phone conferences with Nimueh during that time. We can use the laptop and make it a video conference if necessary. I'll even contact you daily through Skype as well. But he needs this Morgana.” Arthur finished, before saying, voice strained, “We need this.”

 

Silence.

 

Morgana's tone sounded neutral, as if she was considering it, “what about his doctor?”

 

Arthur could almost smile, he closed his left hand into a fist instead before releasing it. “I'll talk to Dr. Monmouth, and if he approves, we'll do it, and follow any conditions he has as well.”

 

Silence.

 

“Morgana?” Arthur called, eyes tense, tone worried.

 

Silence

 

“Counteroffer -” Morgana stated, tone firm.

 

“Morgana!” Arthur called out, agitated.

 

But Morgana was not going to back down, her tone remained firm, “no Arthur, I'll accept your condition if I can come to visit mid-way during your stay. I'll bring Gwaine and Autumn, we'll make it a family time. Who knows, maybe we'll bring Will, Sophia, and Aries too. Autumn will have someone to play with. We'll stay for a day, maybe two.” Morgana paused, tone turning back to concerned. “You are too good at hiding, unless you've lost control, and I need to see for myself, aside from a video conference that you're okay. Only with the counteroffer will I accept your condition. Take it our leave it.”

 

Arthur gritted his teeth, and clinched his jaw, but he couldn't disagree, “Deal,” Arthur agreed.

 

“And Arthur?” Morgana, tone turned knowing.

 

“Yes?” Arthur swallowed.

 

“Use that time wisely, on all fronts.” She was basically telling him that he needed to take the time – away, and out of their environment, together - to decide what he wanted to do. Morgana couldn't make it any plainer.

 

Arthur swallowed again, and nodded, before remembering that she couldn't see him before responding, tone grateful, “I will.”

 

Morgana continued, tone protective again, “And call me, when you're about to leave. It's getting late, and it's been raining. The roads are wet. If you feel you can handle it, spend the night. But call me first thing in the morning. I'll be sure to contact father, and then Nimueh to arrange your appointment times to have her clear her calendar, but you'll need to contact father, to to check in. You know he worries about us when he hasn't heard from us for long, and you've been away for two weeks.”

 

“I called him a few times to check in.” Arthur said, voice tight.

 

Morgana's tone turned firm, “He'll need to see you, Arthur. Especially, if your going away to the family cabin for a week and a half... or two. It's not part of your normal routine. And, your taking Merlin. I'm pretty sure Gaius has told father all about what's been going on with him right now. And they'll know that you too are going together.”

 

Not a good thing. Arthur sighed, “Fine, I'll go and see him in a few days.”

 

Morgana tone turned soft, “good,” and then her tone turned softer, more fonder, “I love you, you know that, Wart?” It was something that she called him from time to time, when she really wanted him to be sure of something – beyond - all doubt.

 

Arthur swallowed, his eyes started to water, he responded. Tone hoarse, “I love you too, Gana.” It was how he would respond in return.

 

“Goodnight, Arthur.” Morgana's tone was concerned, but trying to be understanding.

 

“Goodnight.” Arthur's tone was thankful, and fond.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

When Arthur laid in his bed for the night, his thoughts went to what transpired that day, and on the days that led him to this point. He and Merlin finally made a plan, a plan they both could agree on. A plan that Arthur could agree on. Arthur was under no delusions that it wouldn't be difficult for him to be supportive, and to remain strictly friends with Merlin. He would be a fool if he was. But he also knows that he would never let a friend suffer through something so traumatic on his own. Even if Merlin had Will and Mithian, Arthur intended to be there too. Just as he was before, but with some... necessary restrictions during the process. Merlin may not have been aware of Arthur's feelings for him in the past, but Merlin was always present and accounted for in Arthur's life, even if it wasn't the way that Arthur wanted him to be. How could he allow Merlin to go through his pain alone when Merlin was always there for him? How could he allow Merlin to suffer the same fate as his Aunt, who died feeling like she was totally alone? Arthur would never leave anyone to suffer that fate, and he certainly wouldn't leave Merlin - of all people, to feel like he was alone when it was within Arthur's power to give him what he needs.

 

Everyone had the impression that Merlin had the power in their relationship over the years because of Arthur's love for Merlin. Because of everything that they saw Arthur do for Merlin. They never really saw the things that Merlin's done for Arthur in return. That's probably because Merlin never bragged about it, or argued his case. And the times people saw things it was only to see Arthur doing things, and not the other way around. They never saw when Arthur cooked – since Merlin clearly couldn't, that Merlin would clean up behind them. They never saw when Arthur did the laundry that Merlin would dust, clean, or straighten out their flat. They never saw when Arthur took care of their vehicles for maintenance, that Merlin would take care of getting their cars to the car wash. And they never saw when Arthur would bring food to Merlin at work, that Merlin – on his days off, would pick Arthur up and take him to lunch – because he couldn't cook. There were other things too, which their friends did know, but somehow managed to forget when they decided to take sides thinking Merlin was no friend to Arthur at all. They forgot about the time when Merlin took Arthur to Spain shortly after Merlin had enough money on his own in his profession to do it. It was a thank you, for Arthur supporting him over the years, for being his best friend. They never saw how Merlin took care of Arthur when he came down with the flu one year, and pneumonia the next. And they never saw when Merlin would cancel his plans for the night if Arthur asked him out to the movies, or to a pub, or to just hang up on the sofa for the evening. Those may be little things in comparison, but it meant something to Arthur.

 

Merlin never asked for Arthur to fall in love with him. Neither did he ask for Arthur to keep that secret to himself. To decide to show signs of his affections, instead of telling him what those affections meant. And though Arthur knows he has valid reasons for not telling Merlin, he has to wonder if those were the only reasons. Was it because Arthur may have been afraid of rejection from Merlin? He wonders if that was a possibility. And considering the fact that he never noticed Merlin looking at him in any other way than a friend, Arthur, would be lying if he said it wasn't. Seeing Merlin with other men over the years, wondering, what those men had that were different from him. Were they Merlin's type? Was he serious about them? Could he ever be serious about someone – anyone? Was it just about the sex? Were those guys more fun? Is that why Merlin could choose them without thinking of Arthur as someone as an option? All of those things came to mind at one point in time. Arthur would be lying to himself again if he denied it. The flowers, the breakfast in bed, the shows of affection when Arthur would do a little extra for Merlin was not just to show - Merlin - Arthur's feelings only, but it was also a safe way to test the waters. Because if Merlin didn't return his feelings, Arthur's feelings weren't really out there to be rejected. And in the meantime, he could still enjoy his relationship with Merlin, and still enjoy all of their time spent together – without Merlin pushing him away. What if Merlin said no if he asked? There would have been a big chance Merlin would have, and where would their friendship be then? And what if he said yes?  What if he did it because it was just the natural progression of things for them? What if it had nothing to do with love at all? Merlin would deny Arthur nothing - if he asked. Arthur knows this for certain because Merlin has never denied Arthur anything over the years. When he asked!

 

What if he said yes, but only said it out of friendship? What if he said yes, but only said it out of obligation? What if he said yes, because he didn't want to hurt Arthur's feelings. Would it be real then, if that were the case? And would it have lasted? It was why Arthur wanted Merlin to see the signs, and to take the step on his own. To see how much Arthur wanted him, how much Arthur loved him! And how much he needed him. But it wasn't worth losing everything they had to make that sacrifice. It was too important, and Arthur... couldn't risk it. And what did that add up to for Arthur.... pining.

 

Arthur turned from his right side to lay on his back staring at his gold colored walls, and white ceiling as he continued to reflect.

 

Arthur didn't count on the pining to go as far as it did. He had no idea or thought that it would go on for seven years. It wasn't even pining at first. It snuck up on him. He knew his feelings, he and Merlin always had fun, and Arthur's romantic feelings were never in the forefront, it never pressed through because they spent so much time together as friends. It was a very slow...slow...slow...burn, that later turned into a fire. Each new boyfriend, each new break up, each new search for something better, were just the pin pricks in Arthur's heart. It didn't devastate him, but he couldn't honestly say that he felt nothing by it. That there was no pain, because there was. But not in the way that one would think. It wasn't jealousy, it was the loss of possibility. The thought that he and Merlin would never be together. That he would eventually choose someone else. That one of those men would be the one that Merlin was looking for. And it was looking good that this was not going to happen. At least... until Robert. Because, when Robert came into the picture... five and a half years later... things started to change for both Merlin and Arthur.

 

Robert was a renowed Heart Surgeon in his own right, and Merlin... Merlin respected him, admired him even. They became friends... good friends, before they became lovers. And though Merlin was still ever present for Arthur. Things were... different, for Arthur. Merlin looked at Robert differently in comparison to the other men that he dated over the years. Robert treated Merlin like he deserved to be treated, and it was obvious that Robert was a little bit in love with Merlin early on. He was handsome. He could pass for George Clooney if he wanted to, but had the rugged look, and charms like Gwaine. But his dark hair, brown eyes, and strong features were indeed striking on in it's own right. They went out a lot, and Robert spent more time with Merlin at their flat, and outside of it. Merlin didn't know that day when Arthur overheard Robert's proposal. Arthur came home from work early, and Merlin's door to his bedroom was open just enough for the conversation to flow through their flat when Arthur was on his way to his room.

 

** Flashback **

 

Merlin, I know that we've only been seeing each other for nearly three months, but I want to tell you that these past few months have been special for me.” Robert's tone was gentle, calculating, and Arthur could tell that it was leading somewhere. He froze, and so did his heart.

 

When Merlin responded, his tone was equally gentle. “It's been special for me too Robert.”

 

Arthur could hear the change from gentle to something more when Robert spoke next, and he could hear the smile in his voice. “I don't think that I've ever met anyone like you before, and I don't think I ever will again.”

 

Silence

 

Arthur could only think that Merlin had one of those deer in the headlight expressions that he would get when someone threw him a curve ball, something he wasn't prepared for.

 

You know that my time here is coming to an end in two weeks right?” Robert questioned. His tone still calculating, but it was tender too.

 

Yes,” Merlin mumbled. Still not knowing what was going on.

 

I want you to come back with me, when I leave -”

 

Robert -” Merlin tried to cut in with caution.

 

No, hear me out, Merlin.” Robert must have known that you had to throw Merlin off of his center to get results from him when it came to a matter of the heart, because this was a strategic mark, and Merlin was completely thrown, and so was Arthur. “Hear me out.” Robert said more assertively, “I want you to come back to the states with me. There's an excellent residency program, that would only improve your career. We could be together. You can move in with me, or we can get a new home of our own. One that we've chosen together. We can have a life together -”

 

Robert -”

 

I want to marry you, Merlin.” And it felt like Arthur's heart hit the floor with those six words, and it shattered into a thousand tiny little pieces. He didn't even realize that he was crying until the floodgates opened.

 

Robert,” Merlin paused. And Arthur could tell that Merlin was considering it. That it wasn't like his relationships with the other men, that there were some feelings involved here. Something! Could Merlin be in love with Robert? Arthur wouldn't be able to compete with that.

 

I'm not going to press for an answer now, Merlin. I want you to think about it. I've got two weeks left. I'll purchase two plane tickets, and I'll hope for the best that you make the right choice. Just promise me you'll think about it?” Robert pushed. Oh... he was good.

 

And after several moments of silence Arthur heard Merlin tell Robert that he would. That he would think about it.

 

** End of Flashback **

 

Those two weeks were torture for Arthur because all he could remember was that Robert purchased two tickets, and that Robert was waiting for an answer. Arthur couldn't sleep, he tried to, but he couldn't. His mind was going ninety miles an hour. He couldn't eat. He tried to, but he wasn't hungry. He forced himself to at least eat dinner at night, and part of his lunch that Leon would provide for him if he saw that Arthur didn't have anything to eat. And he stayed in his room when he got home because he didn't want to overhear any other conversations, and he was too afraid that Merlin would tell him that he was leaving. Leaving Arthur! And if he did, Arthur's only chance with Merlin would have been lost forever if he moved away. In fact, if Merlin moved away to the states, there would be no friendship left to hold onto either. They would only see each other on special occasions, or holidays when Merlin would come back to visit his family. Things would never be the same again!

 

It took Arthur a week and a half to finally break down, and ask Merlin about what he overheard. It surprised Merlin that Arthur knew. But he wasn't upset by the fact that Arthur overheard. Flatmates tend to walk in, and catch things at the most inopportune times. And Arthur has caught some things over the years.

 

** Flashback **

 

Merlin's expression was impassive. He was not showing how his decision affected him, or if it affected him, but his tone was soft. His ocean blue eyes – clear. “I told him that I couldn't go back with him.”

 

Arthur's heart was screaming in celebration, internally he was doing a dance in celebration, but his face showed nothing either. His tone was curious when he spoke next. “I thought you were into him, what made you say no?”

 

Merlin shook his head, as if considering the answer again himself. “He's a wonderful man. He's been fun, I enjoyed spending time with him, but I couldn't see leaving everything that I have behind for the unknown.” Merlin raised both of his hands to run his fingers through his hair. It always made him look adorable. “I couldn't leave my work, my friends, my family,” Merlin waved his right hand around as if to say everything, “I couldn't leave it all behind. I couldn't marry him, Arthur.” Merlin nodded to himself as if accepting his own decision as for the best.

 

And Arthur had to ask, he shouldn't have, he knew he shouldn't have, but he needed to know. And in a teasing, and curious tone he asked the question that left him with a feeling of hopelessness. “Did you love him?”

 

Merlin's eyes widened in surprise for that one. He used his left hand to rub across the top of both of his brows, and his forehead, and he licked his lips. Arthur tried his best not to notice, but he glimpsed there quickly anyway, before looking back into Merlin eyes to wait for a response. “I didn't love him like that. I liked him a lot. But I didn't love him enough to start a life with him.”

 

** End of Flashback**

 

**What came next **

 

The only thing that Arthur caught was, “didn't love him like that,” “and didn't love him enough,” because that meant that there was some love there. What else could Arthur think but that? And Merlin... Merlin has never even came close to saying anything like that about anyone else he's ever dated. This was important to Merlin. And why was this also important to Arthur? Because up until that moment Arthur always had the hope that as long as Merlin didn't fall in love with anyone else that there was always a chance for him. That there was always a chance for Merlin to recognize what he's had right in front of him all along. If he fell in love, then that meant that he didn't. That he didn't think of Arthur in that way. Arthur was always able to deal with the other men despite the pinprick feeling because he deemed them as irrelevant, Robert, was relevant. Which meant... the situation was hopeless. There would never be a Merlin and Arthur outside of friendship. Merlin was capable of being in love, he just wasn't capable of loving Arthur. And where did that leave him? It left him pretending to be supportive of his best friend and loving him from afar.

 

That's when the depression came. The feeling of hopelessness. The feeling of despair, and the feeling of loss of control. Arthur's appetite was almost gone, but he would force himself to eat, just enough. He fought that much. He couldn't afford for his father to find out about his depression only to decide that it was time to 'fix it.' The solution to 'fixing it' was the one thing apart from not having Merlin that Arthur couldn't deal with. Couldn't even fathom. It didn't stop the depression from coming though.

 

It didn't stop him from losing interest in some of the things that he enjoyed. Like playing golf, like hanging out with his friends as much as he did before, or like spending time on the weekends with his father. Though, there were other reasons for that. He couldn't afford to be found out. It didn't stop him from losing energy, nor did it stop some of those sleepless nights or his lack of appetite. He still worked out. He had to keep up pretenses. He still had to eat, but it wasn't enough. The food tasted like dirt instead. It didn't stop the feelings of anxiousness from coming over him. It didn't stop him from attempting to avoid others when he got at his lows, and it didn't stop him from feeling hopeless. These were the times when every new boyfriend of Merlin's no longer felt like a pin prick, but a knife to his heart. Because now it was a constant reminder that Merlin never would choose him. And Arthur tried to get over his feelings for Merlin. He did try. He didn't think going out, and having a relationship would help, but he did try. He did even try dating, but no one did it for him. And that's when Arthur came to some conclusions. What was the point in getting into a relationship when you were in love with someone else? Wasn't that like using them? Couldn't that constitute as abusing them in some way? Why would you have one offs when you didn't feel anything for them in return? Shouldn't sex mean more than that? Shouldn't you care about the person you slept with? Surely it's not fair to someone else just to use them for a temporary relief. Arthur wouldn't want to be used like that in return. And Arthur suffered so much loss early on in life with the deaths of his mother, grandfather, and aunt that it didn't seem fair to inflict others with the same loss by pretending he was giving more than he actually was. That was when Arthur made up his mind that if he found someone, the right someone, then he'd go out with them. But he would have to feel something for them first. The problem was... he still couldn't feel anything like that for anyone else, but Merlin. Did he feel like loving Merlin was unhealthy? No, he didn't feel that way. Because his love for Merlin was always pure, he never wanted to possess him, he was never obsessed with him, he wasn't a slave for him, he never stalked him, he never listened to his calls, his emails, or sat at his door to hear what happened on his dates. In fact, it was the opposite there. And if Merlin did have overnight company, and Arthur didn't think he could handle it, he would find himself at Morgana's where he was welcomed, and his guestroom was already set up for him. Sometimes Morgana would wait up, just to see if he was coming. She never went without hugging him and feeding him though, and Gwaine would either break out the wine, and depending on how Arthur was feeling... the brandy. No, it wasn't Arthur's love for Merlin that was unhealthy. It was how Arthur was dealing with it as being unrequited that was unhealthy. It was how the depression set in from it, because he couldn't let it go. Was that Merlin fault? Arthur wasn't sure that it was.

 

Of course it didn't take long for his friends to figure out something was wrong. They noticed his mood changes, they noticed that his mind didn't seem as focused, and as present like it was before. They noticed that he picked at his food. That he ate some of it, and that he played with the rest. He would go out. But they noticed he avoided certain topics of conversation, and they noticed that he grew tired, and he lost interest quickly. Morgana was the worse, because she had seen it coming for quite some time, even tried to get him to talk to someone. Arthur refused of course. They were too close as siblings for her to miss it though. And apparently her hugs were two-fold. One, to show her support and love for him, and two, to check for any weight loss - after she noticed changes. She brought food by actively then, and she would stand by to make sure that he ate it. Over the years, before the depresssion. She always encouraged Arthur to tell Merlin the truth. And as times went on.

 

You have to tell him Arthur! Either you have to tell him or you need to move on, but you have to stop living like this!”

 

And then, when she saw that he was avoiding her too, she learned to be supportive, and encouraging, but still nudging the fact that he needed to move on. She became a safe haven for Arthur. When he couldn't stay home. He would stay at hers and Gwaine's. He would play with his niece. She was precious and she was another who gave Arthur hope. His friends noticed the depression, but they didn't notice the source of where the depression came from until Morgana told them. But in between those times. They were always trying to give Merlin clues. Signs. Things that Merlin would always seem to miss. During Arthur's deeper moments of despair, he contemplated suicide. It couldn't be any worse he would think. And then, there's nothing else to live for. Arthur was well aware that this wasn't only due to Merlin. Depression is tricky, and when you have those feelings then everything else comes in too. But Arthur never took the step any further than having the thoughts, and after a few times of having the thoughts he dismissed it as an option for him altogether. There were things to live for. Life could be better...if...he didn't give up hope. It may have been hopeless where any relationship with Merlin was concerned, but it wasn't hopeless in every other aspect of Arthur's life. He still had his work. He was good at it, and it gave him a sense of accomplishment – of achievement. He still had his father. A father who loved him, who treated him with love, and treated him normally. "As long as he didn't know the truth," Arthur would think in the back of his mind, but still... he knew he was loved. He still had his sister. She was strong whenever Arthur felt weak. She was his shoulder to cry on without question, she was his support, his shield, and his safe haven. Her home was his, he always had an open door that would never shut, as long as she was there. He had his beautiful niece, so vibrant, and full of life. Who adored him. He had his friends, and even when he didn't want them – they didn't go away. They would take him out, and they knew Arthur's love for kids so they always involved him in any special occasions on that front too. Arthur would also think of his Aunt Margaret. He would remember the part of the conversation between Gaius and his father, when they discussed how she felt like there was nothing else to live for. And Arthur would come back to himself then, because there was always something else to live for. He only wished he could have done more for her. That they would have known when it got that far for her. It's one of the reasons he and Morgana don't stay away from each other for long. So they can make sure that the other never feels the feeling of being completely alone, even though the feeling still sneaks up unawares. Arthur would remind himself that he still had his self-worth, he still had his self-respect, despite the fact that he felt like a glutton for punishment at times where his love for Merlin was concerned. But what he would remind himself of most of all... that there was always something else to live for.

 

And that night at the pub, the last night when everything began to spiral out of control for Arthur, when Merlin said that there wasn't anyone else that he noticed. No one else that he knows... It was for the first time Arthur's resentment for Merlin actually showed through. He resented things over the years yes, how could he not? How could Merlin have missed all of the signs?! Arthur was wondering if Merlin would have gotten the sign if he came to his bed? He probably would have thought they were just hanging out. Now Arthur does know that that thought may be extreme, but what else was he suppose to think? And then Merlin had the nerve to question why Arthur was acting differently? Really? Where had he been all of this time? Granted, Arthur did his best to hide these feelings from Merlin. He'd wear the right clothes not to show the weight loss. He tried to keep up his mood in Merlin's presence, but he couldn't do it all of the time! It seemed like Merlin noticed anything else except for things that pertained to the matters of the heart. Things too painful, too emotional, or things he didn't want to address. Things that pertained to Arthur, Arthur thought. And yes, Arthur could give him the fact that maybe he should have told Merlin that he loved him, he sees that now, but what about everything else? How could his best friend miss everything else? When everyone else managed to pick it up? The thought never occurred to him that there could be something more. Perhaps...perhaps it should have. (Perhaps Morgana should have told him about Merlin's being abused since she knew all along, perhaps his father should have). Perhaps he should have noticed something, because Merlin was never remotely as dense on that level before. He picked up on things in the past. Granted, he wouldn't talk about painful things in regards to himself. He was closed off on that front. But he would listen to Arthur, to their friends. Somehow, somewhere down the line things... changed. Perhaps Arthur should have paid more attention too. It wasn't exactly abnormal behavior, but it wasn't quite normal behavior either.

 

** What is Now **

 

Arthur groaned from where he laid on his back still staring at the walls, and the ceiling in turn. He pulled his hands to his face to rub it. He wasn't tired, but he knew that he needed to sleep. Nimueh talked to him about getting a prescription for it if he had this problem once he got back. He thought he'd better take her up on that offer. Arthur's thoughts went to the moment where he found out about Merlin's disorders. When he found out that Merlin couldn't see Arthur's love for him, because he closed himself off from things that were too closely related to the pains that were inflicted upon him during his youth, and even up until now. He thought about the fact that it was the thought of losing Arthur that broke through Merlin's cracks forcing him to see. He thought about the fact that the only way that could have happened would be because Merlin does have feelings for him, and those feelings were strong enough to break through when there was a chance of loss from it's source... from Arthur.

 

It was a weight off of Arthur's shoulders that lifted when he found out about Merlin's disorder. Not that he had one, not the fact that Merlin has suffered far more than he could have imagined. Not the fact that his trauma was so intense that he had to hide it from himself - just to be able to survive it in his own mind - just to be able to function. No, not that part. But the fact that if it weren't for that... Merlin would have been able to see. If it weren't for that... Merlin would have chosen him. If it weren't for that... they would not have lost all of this time. They could have been together! But the fact of the matter remains, they have lost all of this time. What happens now? What about Arthur's suffering?! Shouldn't Merlin have to pay for any of that? Should it be Merlin's fault? Should Arthur make Merlin suffer too just so he can feel like Arthur did during his darkest moments? Would that be fair? Should Arthur walk away from Merlin after he gets healthy even though he knows full well that Merlin is the one for him? There something about knowing that you are made for someone. There's something about knowing deep down in your core that this person just 'fits' with you. And now, due to circumstances beyond your control that option was blocked from you. Should Merlin pay for it now if Arthur walked away? Should Arthur take some of the blame? Is any of the blame his to take? Is it Merlin's? Arthur does think he should have told Merlin, but he still stands by the reasons that he didn't. And those reasons are still the same reasons he has now. How does he know that Merlin's love for him is for the right reasons? That's a question that still out for the jury, because Arthur has no way of finding out without spending time with Merlin, without getting to know this 'new' Merlin, and finding out for himself. And at the end.... it boils down to trust. Can he trust Merlin? He never doubted in his trust for Merlin before. Should he now?

 

It was a weight that lifted when he found out about Merlin's disorder, it was another weight that lifted when he found out that Merlin loved him. For the right reasons or not, he loved him. The wrong reasons would definitely steer Arthur clear away from Merlin where any future aside from friendship is concerned. But where the weight of despair was, those two things lessened it tremendously. It gave Arthur more confidence on that front, he was confident everywhere else before, but on that front, that for someone reason he wasn't good enough for Merlin – he lacked. Arthur wouldn't say he was at the lowest there, but he definitely using some reserves to keep up his confidence, because deep down, he knew he was good enough for Merlin. More than good enough even. It was only after each time Merlin looked for someone else as option - without noticing Arthur - that it came to question.

 

But now knowing the truth, it boosted all of those things that Arthur questioned and doubted over the years. It brought it all to the forefront making it better on some level. Because now Arthur feels more in control than before where Merlin is concerned. He didn't have control before - because he was always waiting for Merlin to want him back. When technically, he still had control because all he had to do was tell Merlin of his feelings. But now, Arthur feels... different. The time away helped. Because with those two heavy weights lifted, Arthur felt lighter than he has in years. And in feeling lighter he was more receptive to the therapy, more receptive to getting better, with or without Merlin. Though he'd be lying to himself if he didn't want it to be with Merlin. He spent his time with the nutritionist. He learnt how to pick up more calories, how to eat again, how to eat the right amount of meals, the snacks - things that he knew, but equally things he'd lost track of without properly taking care of himself. He confronted the feelings he had about not eating. He confronted his feelings for Merlin, and all of the things surrounding it. He decided that he needed to be healthy, because if he continued down the path he was on he wouldn't be. Arthur took his control back. He made decisions for himself. He chose to get his own flat away from Merlin to give himself so more time to heal. He didn't decide not to see him at all! Why would he? How could he, if he was going to decide for himself what step to take next? And aside from that, how could he leave his best friend struggling in good conscience without doing anything? Where's the humanity in that?! If Merlin knew about his disorder, and chose to hurt Arthur over the seven years then maybe that would be Merlin's fair recompense, but that wasn't the case! Should he be cast aside for something that he did unawares? Would Arthur want to be? If the situation were in reverse? He didn't think so. Would it harm Arthur's recovery for helping his friend? Not if he doesn't go about it the wrong way. If they keep their friendship first they can make it through. That's partly where the problem began with them, Arthur fell in love with Merlin instead of just keeping it as a friendship. If he didn't fall in love with him then it wouldn't have gotten this far.

 

But can anyone actually choose who they love? Real love? Or does love find you? Love found Arthur before Arthur realized what love actually was, and it took up residence in him with such a force that it threw Arthur's entire circumference off kilter. That's not the kind of love that you choose, that's the kind of love that's meant. The question is... what do you do with it?

 

Things are going to be different as Arthur makes these choices. He will be living away from Merlin. He'll still continue to support him as a friend, he will still continue to be there – as a friend. But as of right now, that's all that he can promise. Because Arthur has to take care of himself too.

 

Does it make Arthur weak now for wanting to support his friend? Arthur doesn't think so. Maybe if Arthur faced his problems head on with Merlin in the first place he wouldn't have been so screwed up at the end before his breakdown. He wouldn't be having these problems now. It wasn't even until Arthur's breakdown that he did admit his feelings to Merlin. And that was only because Will told Merlin first by spelling it out. He admitted those feelings to himself, he's known that for years! But he never admitted those feelings to Merlin. Not until he was pushed to do it. It was something that he and Merlin had in common on that front. Needing to be pushed to snap out of it.

 

And now, Merlin has done something that changes everything while at the same time has brought them back to square one. He's put the ball back into Arthur's court. Like it was in the beginning when Arthur knew his feelings, but never told Merlin about it. He gave Arthur the choice, and he gave Arthur the control. Because now, it will be Arthur's decision to decide if they go any further than having a friendship. It will be Arthur's decision to decide when. It will be Arthur who will have to make the first move. And Merlin even made it a little easier. He not only answered the question of whether or not they were compatible, he even gave Arthur his answer to the unasked question in advance for when the time comes, leaving Arthur with no room for doubt that Merlin's answer would be 'yes,' if Arthur asked. Merlin also gave Arthur the green light. He told him to go, date, meet new people, do whatever he needs to do to sort things out. And on top of that he promised there would be no more advancements from him, and that he would do whatever it takes to get better. Merlin gave any power that he had over Arthur back to Arthur to do with however he saw fit. Something that is difficult for Merlin to do too, because of his own fear for rejection, but he sacrificed any feelings he would feel to give Arthur his sense of control back. To attempt to repair the damage that was already done. And Merlin knew it when he did it. That kiss. That kiss did something for the both of them. They'd never kissed before. How would they have known if they were compatible on that level? Merlin answered that by that kiss. Arthur's always been waiting on Merlin to see, to show something of his feelings for him. Merlin saw. He gave that back to him. He told him he loved him, and he demonstrated it in the kiss. It was a hello and a good-bye kiss all in one, because neither of them knew if they would move any further. There was only hope. And Arthur wasn't use to having that hope that he and Merlin would have something together for a while now.

 

And now they will have the time away. The time away from meddling sister's - another thing Arthur needs to address, friends who take sides, outside influences, and anything or anyone else who could have interfered with his and Merlin's time together. Even if Morgana and company comes up to the lake for a day or two, he and Merlin... will still have this. This will also be Merlin's break from psychotherapy. His time to process all of the thoughts that have come to the surface, and his time to confront it. This will also be Arthur's time to get to know the things that Merlin's never allowed him to see, or to know. This will also be Merlin's time to see the side of Arthur that he hasn't seen. This will be their time to talk about the things that they never felt comfortable sharing, to ask and to answer the hard questions, and this will be the time to resolve their differences. It doesn't mean that they're going to move forward from that point. They both have to be healthier first, but it does mean that they will have a direction to follow. That they may find themselves in a different place when this is over. Even though Arthur has to follow the plans of his therapy to the 't'. As Morgana stated, Arthur should use the time wisely on all fronts, and Arthur... intends to do exactly that. Because, as Merlin stated, the ball is in his court now.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Merlin laid in his bed with his hands entwined behind his head as he rested on his pillow, blankets wrapped securely around him, as he thought about his conversation with Arthur. Merlin was under no delusions that Arthur may not want him once this was all over between them. No delusions at all. Not the way that Merlin wants him. In fact, in the back of his mind it's something that he suspects will happen. That Arthur will attempt to try friendship, even if it's not the best option for him - to stay better. He is trying to stay positive, but the damage has already been done. Merlin is responsible for that damage! He took something that was beautiful – precious - between he and Arthur, and turned it into something ugly – and - twisted. It's his fault! How could it not be? His inaction has caused Arthur to succumb to depression. His not being a good friend, caused it to spiral out of control. How could Merlin expect anything less from Arthur than to want to be far away from him, or a half-baked attempt of a friendship? It's what Merlin deserves.

 

The only thing Merlin is sure of – beyond the shadow of a doubt - is the fact that Arthur loves him, and that he loves Arthur in return. But can love be enough? It can't erase the years! It can't erase Arthur's pain. Nor can it erase his suffering. No matter how much Merlin wants to do it! It can't undo the things that he did. No one cares about what he's been through – his past – the reasons why he acted the way that he did. That means nothing! The only thing that matters is what's happening now! And Merlin, Merlin would have rather cut out his own heart, and hand it to Arthur before he would willingly damage Arthur's heart instead. And the horrible thing is... that's exactly what he's done, damaged Arthur's heart. How can he make it right? Be his manservant, for the rest of his life? Beg? Grovel on his knees? Find a way to go back in time? Not have suffered the traumas that he dealt with in the past, to cause him to feel the pain that he did, to inflict pain in return? When he didn't know that he was inflicting pain at all? Or that he was suffering from anything himself? And on top of that, inflicting pain on the one person in the world that he would never want to inflict pain on? Maybe... maybe he should take himself out of the equation. Maybe he should walk away. It would make everyone else happy, it would solve their problems, it would solve Arthur's problems, and it would give Arthur a fresh start. Merlin doesn't deserve any happiness here. Not if it means that Arthur won't have any in return.

 

Merlin shook his head, for a good five seconds. The only thing that sounds logical is to attempt to make this right. To attempt to reverse things - if he can, to show Arthur in word and deed how he feels, and to work to make things better. That's what Arthur deserves. He deserves all of the happiness in the world, and he deserves to not feel pain. If that means giving him up... then so be it. Merlin... is irrelevant here, his feelings... are not of consequence, because he's done too much damage for it to matter. His friends - old friends - were right. Morgana was right for not wanting him to be around. For not wanting him to be around her brother. She didn't say that specifically - she didn't have to. Her word choices, her tone, and demeanor, clearly said as much. It was a repeal against Merlin, showing plain as day that he was not welcomed, around her brother. And he's not stupid enough not to know that she will do everything in her power to make sure that he isn't around her brother, or that she has the power to do it. It doesn't matter though, she's right for not wanting him around.

 

The only thing he's done since he was born was end up bringing people down. This just proves his father right on that front. He couldn't have been wrong about everything. The only thing he's ever done right was have his profession, and his friendships. Which he's lost now, with the exception of Will, Mithian, and Arthur. And that was only to find out all along that Arthur was in love with him starting at the age of twenty, and Merlin never saw it because he blocked the welcome of those feelings. Because those types of emotions were too high, too close, to bordering that of his past trauma experiences. And since he never faced that, how could he recognize the difference between the pain. It's a pain that he feels when he and Arthur are together now – because they haven't addressed the reason for the gap between them, and... when he thinks that Arthur doesn't want him back. Merlin rubbed his right hand across his forehead, licked his lips, and ran his hands and fingers through his hair. He would have blocked those feelings if his mind didn't recognize what it was back then. Seeing everything that he's blocked now, he knows that. He said it before, but experiencing everything again is confirmation of that. If it was considered as an unknown, as something potentially dangerous, he would have blocked the feelings to protect himself. But he can't deny fully that they weren't there. Or that those feelings made it through, and were locked away somehow. Unlike his feelings of pain that were blocked out altogether before landing it's mark. The force of it coming out when he thought he was going to lose Arthur proved that. And it wasn't that there were no feelings over the years because they were, when Arthur was straight, and he had to close it off. It did continue to come to the surface periodically. It was just.... there friendship was much too important to gamble on. Arthur would have been repulsed by a man's advancements when he preferred advancements from women instead, and Merlin never saw Arthur looking at a man in that way before in all of the years of their friendship. When Arthur decided that he was bi-sexual, the thoughts of friendship were already cemented in Merlin's mind. It was safe, and protected. And as long as he only saw Arthur as a friend he could keep their friendship. Anything else, was a reminder of their friendship, and Merlin would try his best to reciprocate. He never wanted to read anything more into it for fear that he could be wrong. Arthur was always sweet, even when he was straight. Merlin could have mistaken it for feelings at anytime, it was the only way to protect their friendship. To block what he didn't understand. He never thought to notice any signs of romantic feelings for anything more from Arthur?! He had no clue that there would be any? Stupid him! And maybe it was stupid of him to expect someone to tell him if he did! Maybe that was too much to ask. To expect Arthur to tell him if he did! Maybe he should have been a mind reader! Damn straight that he should have known better! Should have been able to detect something!

 

And what about the depression? How could Merlin have missed that? And how could Arthur not hate him for it?! Or for watching Merlin date other the years without end? He has to, there has to be some resentment there, but he's just not showing it. And Merlin knows why. Arthur's far too noble for that, he would try to understand it, to label it, to try to rationalize it, to fix things because he can't stand to see anyone suffer. He'd try to fix Merlin! Like a pet project! But maybe... maybe he should suffer. Maybe that's why Merlin came up with that cockomamy idea for Arthur to date anyone he wanted - which was basically giving a green light on doing anything else he wanted to do with them too - while Merlin remains single, and hanging in limbo. Maybe he deserves to feel what Arthur felt throughout the years. That's the only reason he can think of for thinking that what was a good idea. (Aside from Arthur needing to make a full recovery, which definitely comes first). The feeling of the unknown, the doubts, the wondering if you'll ever get what you want. It's only fair. It's what Arthur's had to deal with for seven years. Maybe it is right for Arthur to make a whole lot of new friends aside from Merlin. Friends that will notice when their best friend's life is spiraling out of control, while Merlin stays alone. That sounds fair too. Maybe it would be best to leave Arthur to living his life in peace. To move on, to find someone who treats Arthur the way he deserves to be treated. Who's not dealing with shit from his past. Someone who can love Arthur in the way that deserves to be loved.

 

Was it selfish to give the kiss? Was it selfish to try? It was all that Merlin had to offer to Arthur. He has nothing else, but himself, and his love for Arthur to give to him. Arthur has money, has a family who loves - and - supports him, has possessions, has everything that he could ever want. Merlin could think of nothing else to offer, but himself to show as a token for what he was feeling. The kiss was the pouring of that love, and it meant that he would stand by any choice that Arthur would make, without question. As long as it wasn't damaging to Arthur. And there's the quirk, because Arthur doesn't know that part, but Merlin would not try if he's not sure in his recovery - if he doesn't think he will end up getting better. He will not try if it's not going to help repair the damage done to Arthur, and if Merlin thinks there's someone better for Arthur... he would step aside. Too much damage was done to Arthur by Merlin, and Merlin... now aware of his actions... chooses find a way to repair this. Now if Arthur was completely sure that he wanted him, and they both were healthy... Merlin wouldn't walk away, but if he wasn't... he would leave his life forever to give him that. He deserves it. He doesn't owe Merlin anything. It was why Merlin was so willing to let Arthur go when he decided just to be friends. That... and the fact that Merlin would not be able to subject himself to being around Arthur forever if they weren't together. He knows it. It would be a difference if one or the other were not aware of their feelings, but that is not the case. Trying to be friends from there is like asking for more punishment, and after facing all of the traumas that's been tucked away in his own mind... Merlin knows he's not strong enough to suffer that kind of punishment. He's not as strong as Arthur. He knows he wouldn't be. What does that mean? It means, he would have to leave. To have Dr. Monmouth refer him to another Dr. for treatment far away from London, and to move on. He can find a hospital to work at closer to the location of Dr. Monmouth's referral, and a place to live. He can do it, and he has the money saved up to do so. It's not like he has any ties here. Not anymore. He only has Will, Mithian, his mum and uncle Gaius. He can visit them, and arrange for them to visit him. It will help Arthur to get over him if he wasn't there, and if he didn't feel the need to save him, because he wouldn't be there to save. He may not have been able to move before, but now... now... it may be the for the best.

 

Merlin used both hands again to wipe his face from the tears, and nibbled on the inside of his cheek. He knows that he and Arthur agreed on a plan. And he tried to give everything of himself in it to Arthur, but now that he's thinking about it? After everything that they've been through. After all of those years, it can't be fair right of him to accept Arthur's help. Arthur deserves more than that. Even if his intentions are pure. He can't put his life on hold anymore than he has already. It's like his friends say, like Morgana says, he is selfish, and it's all about him. Accepting that help, is still making it all about him. And Arthur will always be there for him, even if they weren't together as a couple, he would be there because that's the kind of man that he is. He would not let any one else suffer, even if he suffers on his own in the process. And he plans to help, despite the fact that he already is suffering. Merlin shook his head. He has to make the decision then, because that is one decision Arthur will not make. He will decide not to have a relationship with him. He will decide whether or not they remain friends. He will even decide how to limit their interactions, but he wouldn't decide to leave Merlin alone while he thinks he's damaged. Arthur, will want him to be healthy again, and it's not his responsibilty. Merlin has to take care of himself.

 

No, it wasn't selfish to give the kiss. Because Arthur should be aware of Merlin's feelings for him, and have no doubt of it. Arthur deserves to know that he is loved, and should never have to question it. If it weren't for Merlin's disorder – and his own stupidity, he would have chosen Arthur from the jump, without a second thought. And they would have been perfect together. Kissing Arthur, was a feeling that Merlin would never forget. It was overwhelming, feeling like static electricity in every touch, and it felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest. Every inch of him felt like a livewire. Something, he was not use to experiencing. And even though Arthur responded back little... he could still feel Arthur's love for him shining through. He would have done more. If Arthur wanted him to, but he's glad that he didn't, because it wasn't something that either of them were ready for. The intent of the kiss was to show Arthur that his feelings were real, and to erase any doubt from Arthur's mind once and for all of anything less. Because he does love Arthur, and he would have chosen Arthur - anytime. If he knew he had a choice. He tried to give back what he thought Arthur lost in waiting for him all of those years, and waiting on Merlin to see the signs, and waiting for Merlin to make a choice that Arthur had all along. He gave it back to him – the choice, and made it easier to leave no doubt of the answer, if Arthur were to ever ask the question.

 

He was committing to stepping aside, to remaining single, and to focus on going through psychotherapy. To do whatever it took. And while he was doing his, Arthur would be continuing his therapy, dating other people, and making other friends outside of Merlin to aid in his recovery. It was a perfect plan, in Merlin's own mind, despite how it would break his heart. Despite the fact that he and Arthur would no longer be living together. It wasn't about his feelings anymore. Not that it was before, but he really knows that he has no right to ask for anything now. So he made sure that he didn't... and agreed to everything. The only thing he couldn't agree to is remaining friends when this was over - if they were not going to be together. And he almost didn't agree to Arthur's help, until... Arthur talked him back into it. Merlin sighed – loudly. He really is an idiot! Arthur is only trying to help him, because he feels Merlin is alone and helpless! He's only trying to help, because he feels obligated to in some type of noble twisted way. He will not walk away from that part. Merlin has to be the one. And Arthur will refuse anything Merlin says unless he takes himself out of the equation, and moves away. Arthur placed his life on hold for him for seven years. Seven years... is long enough.

 

The tears never stopped coming. And Merlin had to be extra quiet, because Arthur was in his bedroom next door. If Merlin knew his thoughts would have come to this conclusion, he would have brought the vodka bottle with him to his bedroom. As it stands... Merlin wiped his eyes with his hands – that were now shaking, again, removed his blanket from him, and walked towards to his walk-in wardrobe. He pulled out suitcases. He purchased new luggage when he went away for a medical seminar for a month, in Japan - a year ago. He quietly began to do his packing. It didn't even bother Merlin because it would help him from not having to fall asleep, and succumbing to more nightmares. No... this was a good night for packing. For writing... some letters, though he hasn't decided yet if he should write the letters now, or once he's found a place. He would need to speak with Dr. Monmouth first for the referral in order to plan a course from there. Once that's done he can go arrange for a flight to where Dr. Monmouth sends him. He can even call work for a referral to a hospital in that area, or he can look on his own, and have recommendations sent for him. He knows it's last minute, but he has a very good track record there. And this is an emergency transfer. It would be easier for everyone concerned if he wasn't there. His mum and Gaius could stop worrying about him, his mum wouldn't have to feel so guilty. Because, even on the slight chance that he isn't doing... well... no one would know from afar. And that means no one would have to worry about him, and they could get on with their lives. Even Will, Sophia, and Mithian can get on with their lives too. And Arthur... Arthur could finally be rid of him. That is the best Christmas present he thinks he could give to Arthur. Aside from not showing up in London to begin with thirteen years ago. Because then he could have really erased those years. Loving him can't possibly be enough now to cover the pain. He screwed up enough already. But at least Arthur won't have to feel he has to support him. That he has to be there for him. That he has to put his own life on hold, any longer. He'll get to be free, and to move on with his life. Without Merlin in it. Merlin will always love Arthur forever, but maybe.... this can help reverse some of the damage that was done. By letting Arthur live his own life.

 

One thing is for certain, Merlin thought as he started packing his jeans, and then his shirts (he wouldn't be able to get them all, but he'd send Will later to retrieve the rest of his things. When he's far enough away, and after some time has past), when Arthur does finally leave to go home, or to Morgana's in the morning, Merlin... will be leaving shortly after.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

7:50am

 

Arthur woke up as the sun rays began to shine through his deep red curtains. His eyes opened, against his own protest to glare at the clock on the wall at the feet side of his bed only to see that it was 7:50am. Arthur groaned. He did not feel like waking up this early, but apparently... the structured routine from the 'resort' stuck with him. Hopefully it won't last much longer, because those thirty extra minutes can really make a difference. It didn't take long before Arthur climbed out of his bed to head towards the shower. Arthur couldn't help but be positive about the plan that he and Merlin put in place as he took his shower. It made him feel energized, as he shaved and brushed his teeth. And it put more rhythm in his step, as he put on his white t-shirt and blue stonewashed jeans. They finally had a chance to talk! They may not have resolved all of their issues, but it seemed... they came to... an understanding. Arthur wasn't sure how Merlin would feel about his going out and dating people, or the hanging out with other groups - outside of Merlin – part of their discussion. He didn't know if Merlin would accept that he wouldn't be able to guarantee anything other than a friendship. Or that he was still unsure of how to deal with the things that transpired between them over the years. He didn't know Merlin would take it, if he'd be accepting, or if he'd go back to pushing Arthur away again.

 

Merlin surprised him of course, because he was willing to wait. No, he was willing to do more than wait. He even challenged Arthur to date freely, to meet other people, and to do whatever he needed to do to get himself back on track. That, was definitely a surprise. On top of that... kiss.

 

Arthur thought about the things that he needed to do over the next few days as he made his bed, as he began to pull the crisp white sheets, and red comforter set that matched with his curtains in place. He knew that he needed to have his daily appointments with Nimueh as scheduled. He knew that Morgana managed to get him a 1:00pm appointment for the day, and that his time slots would move on to the morning slots from there. He knew that he would have to find the time to see his father. It would probably need to be during the morning hours, when his energy and overall demeanor was at it's highest. It wouldn't be wise to go and see him after spending a day with Merlin. Not now. When Arthur's own emotional state might be called into question. At least... not until Merlin could get a better handle on his.

 

Arthur paused, comforter in hand for a moment. He knew that he had to check in with Morgana. Arthur sighed at the thought, and closed his eyes for a moment before licking his lips, and resuming to lay his red comforter in place on the bed. He had to find a subtle way to speak with her. She meant well, she was an awesome big sister, who took her responsibilities to the highest point that Arthur could think of, but as of right now... it was driving him, absolutely... bonkers. Arthur sat on his bed looking towards his windows on the right, while he stared at the curtains. He took both hands and fingers and ran it through his hair. It stood up in odd places, before he ran his hands through again fixing it back in place. She needs to be able to trust him. To trust that he knows what he's doing. She needs to trust that he has control over his life, and that trying to take too much control away from him not is not helping. In fact... it was causing more harm than good! She has to listen to him! He turned his head to his left to look at his clock on his center wall. 8:20am. It was time to start the day. Arthur got up to look in his walk-in wardrobe for his red Oxford hoodie, and then his chest drawers only to find that it missing. He chuckled. Merlin always loved to borrow that hoodie for some reason, and Arthur, he loved to get it back because it smelled of Merlin afterward. Like it was something that they shared together. Merlin, has been borrowing that hoodie for years.

 

Arthur strode across the hall from his bedroom to Merlin's and knocked.

 

“Merlin?” Arthur knocked again, no answer.

 

“Merlin?” Arthur called out again, tone slightly concerned. Merlin was not a heavy sleeper. If he was still asleep he should have heard the knocks anyway. And yet, still... no answer.

 

Arthur paused for a few moments before opening the door only to find that the bed was made, and that the room was neatly in place. Arthur closed his eyes and sighed again. He must have missed Merlin before he left this morning. He didn't know what time Merlin's psychotherapy appointments started, or if he had any other plans for the day, but they always knocked on the other's door - when there was no overnight guest to interrupt - to tell the other that they were leaving, and to tell the other where they were heading off to. Arthur raised his right hand, and pressed his right thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose. He guessed things have changed now that he's decided to move out. Arthur wondered if things would ever be the same again between the two of them.

 

He walked to the kitchen next to see if there was anything around to scramble together for breakfast, or if he would have to stop somewhere along the way to get something to eat. Arthur understood that in the second week of his and Merlin's vacation, that he would have to leave for a day to meet up with Mordred. They promised each other that they would each meet up, after they left the resort. Mordred first, Bohrs second, and Kay last. Each scheduled to leave one after the other. And once everyone was out, they agreed to meet up - at the least - twice a month. Arthur only hoped that Merlin wouldn't mind him having to leave for a day. It wasn't like he planned for their trip to happen. It was unxpected. But it was also... absolutely necessary. It was necessary for them both, but - most importantly - it was meant to help Merlin. He needed to get out of the flat. He needed to feel like he had support. He needed to feel like he had a friend. And he needed to process everything that he hadn't yet in his nightmares, along with everything that he blocked off in his mind in order to protect himself. He needed to feel safe and secure in himself, and in his own mind again. And he needed the closest person to him to help him get through it. And what did that mean? It meant that he needed Arthur. He needed Arthur, and they both knew it. And Arthur... well, Arthur... planned to be there for him. Because it was the right thing to do. No matter how much his sister, or anyone else thought it was best to keep a distance. Arthur would keep a distance - as he stated - but in his own way, and not at the detriment of his best friend. He would be damned before he allowed that!

 

He also needed to set some time aside within the next few days to see his father. When he didn't feel like emotional mess. Arthur groaned just thinking about being an emotional mess, as he ran his right hand and fingers through his hair. It's not like he wasn't feeling a lot better. He does feel a lot better. Especially in comparison to how he felt before. He can see progress - in himself, he can see his control coming back, and he can see that there is going to be something better at the end of this. He doesn't feel... the thought of hopelessness anymore.

 

Arthur knew that he also had to find the time to either call or see Dr. Monmouth too, to see about getting permission for taking Merlin out of psychotherapy for the next two weeks. Arthur understood that their trip was two-fold, and not strictly for Merlin's mental health. They needed that time to get to know each other again. To talk about the subjects that plagued them. To talk about the hard subjects that they never wanted to talk about. To ask the hard questions that they were afraid to hear the answers to. That Arthur, was afraid to hear the answers to. They needed that time together! And Merlin. Merlin, needed to talk things out. He needed to talk about all of the things that he's dealt with – from the past to the present – and Arthur, needed to hear it.

 

Upon entering the white and back designed kitchen Arthur saw on the white based, and black tiled top kitchen island a box of baked goods placed on it. The matching kitchen counter had a fresh pot of coffee made, and by the box of baked goods, Arthur found a note with his name on it, in Merlin's handwriting.

 

 

Arthur,

 

I stopped by the Bakehouse to get you breakfast this morning. You know how I suck at cooking, lol! I know how you love the place. I've got some fresh crossaints, and at least three different pastries – including apple, I know how much you like that one. You'll also find some home made granola and Greek Yogurt in the refrigerator. Coffee's on too. Nice and fresh. Sorry I missed you. I have my psychotherapy appointment, and I didn't want to wake you. Have a good day.

 

Love,

 

Merlin

 

 

Love Merlin. That still did things to Arthur. Arthur had to admit that hearing Merlin say that, more than once, and now again - reading it in his words... that it gave him a feeling of warmth. It wasn't a question of whether Merlin loves him or not. It was a question of whether Merlin loves him for the right reasons. The lasting reasons. And not because he feels some sort of obligation to Arthur. Not because he feels guilty, and not because he's afraid of losing their friendship. The question is... how would Arthur be able to know for certain? Arthur feels like he's been dabbling in that world of the unknown and of uncertainty for seven years now. What would happen if he gave all in only to find out that Merlin didn't love him back for the right reasons? What if Merlin got all better, only to find that he doesn't want to be with Arthur in the first place? Arthur shook his head, and his eyes watered at the simple thought of it. He knows he's not ready to think about anything more with Merlin right now aside from friendship. Well, it's more like, that's all he's forcing himself to think about right now, and using, “he's not ready to think about it,” as his reason to not think about it. If he were being honest with himself, he would have to admit that to himself too. He knows he still has his doubts, that he is afraid. It doesn't mean those doubts stopped the feelings though! It doesn't mean those feelings make him stop from wanting more! And after that kiss... Arthur had to fight the feeling of wanting more, and going after it! Because wanting more was all that he's ever wanted from the moment he knew that he loved Merlin, and understood that his feelings were – are - in fact... real, and not some infatuation! Arthur knows he has good self-control. He went seven years without even coming on to Merlin! Not the way that Merlin put it all out on the the line for him last night! No, Arthur wasn't bold enough to do that! Not to Merlin, where he had everything to gain, and everything to lose in equal measure. So Arthur did what he thought was best back then. He focused on his signs instead. They were big signs! Everything except the full come on, the touchy feelys, and going to Merlin's bed! If everyone else could see it, it would have been safe to either say that Merlin was obviously too wrapped up in himself to see it, that he was too oblivious to see it, that he was clearly ignoring it, or all of the above. No one! Absolutely no one, would have thought there was something more to even consider! Not while Merlin was still managing to live his life just fine to them, continuing to have relationships – at the ready, continuing to function, and continuing to live! Who would have stopped to think that there was anything else?! And there's still Robert to consider. If Merlin was able to have deep feelings for him before, even though he claims to have never loved him, how could he not have recognized Arthur's love for him? Arthur rested his hands on the kitchen island, shoulders and head bowed as he continued to muse. There were so many questions that he needed to ask Merlin. And on some level, he is afraid to know the answers. He is afraid to know the truth. And he is afraid that Merlin doesn't love him back for the right reasons! Because if any of those things don't add up... it means that Arthur may have wasted seven years of his life for nothing. Because he will was – is - in love - so deeply in love – with someone who would never be able to return those feelings. And Arthur couldn't even fathom to think about what that would mean to him. And he doesn't want to think about it either. But he knows that he'll have to think about what that means, that he'll have to face it, because the answer leads to the brink of what is necessary for his own full recovery. And it's also two fold, because he will have to decide then whether he wants to move on with - or without – Merlin. And there's no therapist, who would be able to answer that question for him.

 

Arthur lifted his head, removed his hands from the kitchen island, and straightened his shoulders. He'll have to think about it later - have to face it - but not today. Arthur grabbed a saucer from the kitchen cabinet to place his apple bear claw in, went to the refrigerator to grab the homemade granola and Greek Yogurt, and grabbed a coffee cup to make himself a cup of coffee. He turned to look at the time. It was 8:35am when Arthur checked the clock on the wall above the right wall by the kitchen table when Arthur started eating. Arthur knew that he had to get started before the day got started without him. He just needed to eat his breakfast, and then he'd go back to Merlin's room to retrieve his red Oxford hoodie.

 

**

 

8:20am

 

Merlin swallowed-hard, his palms were sweating, and he felt like a child as he sat across Dr. Monmouth's mohogany finished desk, in his hard leather seats that never made anyone comfortable sitting in for long. Dr. Monmouth was doing a scary interpretation of his uncle Gaius, with both brows raised to his hairline.

 

Dr. Monmouth swallowed, and then ran his right forefinger over his bottom lip. He asked, in a tone - clearly not following, “I'm sorry Merlin. Am I to understand that you are coming here today to stop your psychotherapy -” He raised his right hand to stop Merlin as he was opening his mouth to speak. “Not specifically stop psychotherapy, but to transfer to another psychotherapist?”

 

Merlin nibbled on the inside of his left cheek, licked his lips, and responded as he looked at Dr. Monmouth head on. “Yes,” and as an afterthought, “sir.”

 

Dr. Monmouth sighed, and raised his right hand to run his fingers across his right brow, now that they were lowered again. “And not only do you want to request a transfer, but, you want to request a transfer as far away from London as possible?” Dr. Monmouth really wasn't following.

 

Merlin ran both hands and fingers through his hair, and started tapping his right foot into dark blue office carpet. Dr. Monmouth was following the pattern of Merlin's nervousness. He responded in a low gentle tone. “Yes.”

 

Dr. Monmouth almost gritted his teeth. He knew just how difficult it was to pull information out of Merlin if he didn't want to give it. Just like pulling teeth! He sat forward towards his desk, he back was against his chair before. He leaned his elbows on his desk, folded his hands, and placed his chin on top, before asking, curiously. “Do you mind providing the reason for such a drastic change?”

 

Merlin did grit his teeth, and clinched his jaw. What the hell was he supposed to say?! That he was trying to get away from the love his life to save them both from a path of self-destruction, because he didn't want Arthur to sacrifice anything more for him?! He doubted that would go over nicely! So what did Merlin do? He stopped tapping his right foot into the dark blue office carpet, started tapping his left one instead, gave his best smile, and lied. “I thought it was time for a change. I've got back all of the memories, and I'm trying to get my head around it. I need to get away - somewhere different - for a fresh start, all on my own.” Merlin finished cheerfully. It hurt inside to fake it because – inside - he felt like crying.

 

Dr. Monmouth wasn't buying it. But what could he say? It wasn't like Merlin was signed up to be insitutionalized! It wasn't like he was a candidate to be institutionalized! He was still sound in mind. He's only had past traumas that caused him to close himself off mentally to not be reminded of how severe those pains were in the past. He only did those things to protect himself. And it wasn't as uncommon as people thought it to be. Dr. Monmouth didn't know how he did it so neatly and completely for such a large part of his life though, without it affecting every aspect of his life in the present. But then again, when you block things, your own blocks the reminders of painful memories, or things that the brain couldn't decipher because the emotion itself was too overwhelming to categorize. But the boy isn't insane! He is of sound mind! And he is getting back on track. He has everything and every reason to believe that he could pick up the pieces, that he could be happy, settle down, enjoy his career, family, friends, and everything else that life has to offer. The only thing he needs to focus on is confronting the things that he's blocked, the feelings behind it, and how it applies to him now as those past events and pains that triggers from it continues to come to him. The mind will not give him every single memory back at once. The human mind will attempt to protect itself too. The only thing that Merlin has to do is not run away from it when it comes. If he can face it... he can survive it. And Merlin... Merlin came to him so determined. So ready to do whatever it took to get past this. To get better, to be healthy, and to move on with his life. What happened, between his last psychotherapy appointment, and now, that could have sparked such a drastic change? Dr. Monmouth didn't have the answer to that question. Only Merlin knew that answer, and Merlin... wasn't sharing. Why would he want to leave in the middle of his psychotherapy? When he was doing so well? It wasn't like he could force Merlin to stay. The only thing he could do was do as he asked, and that was find Merlin a very good colleague who would be able to take over the treatments in his stead. He still needed to drag this on a moment longer though. Maybe Merlin would change his mind in the process. Dr. Monmouth looked in Merlin's face to see the determined clinched jaw, Merlin's blue eyes daring to stare back at his browns, he then took a glance behind Merlin at his door to look again at the black leather suitcase and tote bag, and then back to look at Merlin stare once more. He swallowed. Tone resigned when he asked, “And you want me to find you a physician that specializes in my area of expertise that isn't far from a hospital that you could be employed at?” Merlin looked like he was trying to restrain an eye roll. The effect was just the same. And Dr. Monmouth could still hear the foot tapping on his carpet.

 

Merlin raised his right thumb and forefinger to press the bridge of his nose, he licked his lips, and responded, tone determined, “yes.”

 

Dr. Monmouth nodded slowly, before turning to the left of his desk to look at his black laptop, and typing into his search screens based at Merlin's request.

 

Merlin looked at the time. It was 8:30am. He didn't think anyone would notice him leaving town. Not many people would care to anyway. It wasn't like anyone has kept in touch. With the exception of Will, Mithian, and Arthur. Gaius has called once to check in, but his hands have been full with his mum. She still feels guilt stricken, and responsible. Like this was all her fault. It wasn't. No one chose for the things that happened to happen to him. No one chose for his life to be a disaster. No one chose for Arthur to fall in love with him, and no one chose for him to fall in love with Arthur. No one chose for his father to physical and verbally abuse on an almost daily basis. No one chose for Peter and his gang to threaten his life, making his life a living hell. No one chose for him to be bullied daily, to feel like he would never, ever feel apart. No one chose for his friends to hate him. No one chooses any of this! It was a roll of the dice in life, and Merlin... he lost!

 

“Okay,” Dr. Monmouth started, tone still resigned, like he really wished that he could have talked Merlin out of this one. Fat chance! If Merlin's determined face was anything to go by. “There's a Dr. Richard Wallace, he works in Boston, Mass, in the states. There's some first rate hospitals in his area too.” Dr. Monmouth paused before continuing. “There's Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham's Women's Hospital, and Baystate Medical Center.”

 

The only thing Merlin got from that was Boston, Mass, and he knew that he wouldn't be going there. Because Boston... is where Robert lived, and Merlin... was done with relationships. He knows what real love feels like now, he knows the feeling of the thirst that can't be quenched without the one that's meant to quench it. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that there will be no one else that can fill Arthur's shoes. There is no reason to even try. He's had enough relationships, and one-offs for a life-time to have figured that out. And it got him nothing, but a feeling of emptiness when he was through. No, Merlin... is done. He responded, tone firm, right and left hands balled into fist on burgundy leather armrest office shares, after shaking his head, “no, not Boston. Is there anywhere else?”

 

Dr. Monmouth bushy brows did another scary impression of Gaius' again before sighing, and saying. “I may have someone else in LA -” Tone resigned again before Merlin cut him off.

 

“I'll take it!” Merlin said, eyes flashing, jaw tight.

 

“You haven't even heard anything yet!” Dr. Monmouth's voice raised a notch, tone slightly exasperated.

 

Merlin shook his head, while taking his right hand out of a balled fist, and pulling out his mobile phone. Voice determined. “I'll take it. As long as they specialize in psychotherapy, and as long as there's hospitals in the vicinity, I'll take it!”

 

Dr. Monmouth restrained his eye roll. It was a near miss. Before he responded incredulously, “I don't understand why you would go so far away, but if you're determined,” Dr. Monmouth saw Merlin's frown, still hearing his foot tapping, and sighed, before continuing. “There's a psychotherapist there. Dr. Aulfric Timor. He specializes in psychotherapy,” Dr. Monmouth paused as he watched Merlin's fingers - from both hands now - go across his mobile phone's keypad in what seemed like ninety-miles an hour. Merlin paused to look up to Dr. Monmouth, as if he was waiting for him to continue. Dr. Monmouth internally shook his head before continuing. “There are three main hospitals in the vicinity of Dr. Timor's offices.” Dr. Monmouth paused again, and so did Merlin's fingers on his keypad. Dr. Monmouth did shake his head this time before continuing, “There's the UCLA Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and Keck Hospital USA -”

 

“Do you have a print out of that information so I'll be able to take it with me?” Merlin asked, all business all of a sudden.

 

Dr. Monmouth could only look at Merlin, expression in disbelief, and in a curious tone, he asked, “when do you plan on leaving?” He saw the bags but felt he had to ask.

 

Merlin held up his mobile in his right hand to face Dr. Monmouth with a full smile on his face. “There was a last minute cancellation, and I just picked it up. I have to get to Heathrow for departure within the next twenty minutes.” Merlin smiled deeper – dimples showing, eyes sparkling. “It's going to be the Air New Zealand. It's a one-way trip straight to Los Angeles, and I just signed up for premium economy. Departure time... 11:00am.”

 

Dr. Monmouth looked at the time on the right bottom side of his laptop. It was 9:00am. He sat back in his chair, and used his right hand to run his fingers through his hair.

 

**

 

9:15am

 

Arthur just finished up his Greek Yogurt and homemade granola, his apple bearclaw, and his coffee. He started cleaning the dishes before making plans on what he needed to do to start his day. It wasn't like he had to work for the next month. Morgana saw to that. He should go visit his father, but it was a weekday and that would mean going in to the office. That would defeat the purpose of him having the time off. No, Arthur shook his head - as dried his now clean dishes with a dish towel - no, it would be best to visit him later on in the week. He needed to go home. To get himself situated, to mentally prepare himself for his therapy session with Nimueh. No doubt Morgana was telling her everything that happened since he got back, and no doubt she'll know that he spent the night here, instead of his own place. Not that it was forbidden. It was something Arthur thought would be for the best, and she suggested it later - as a reminder, and in agreement. It's hard to keep a clear head, when the focus of your unrequited love is within your reach on a daily basis, even though, the love is not so unrequited anymore. The time away from each other would inevitably be for the best. To give them both some time apart, some time to think, without feeling dependent on the other. Granted, going away together does the opposite effect of that, but at the same time – it's the best option for them both. Some of their issues are – directly - linked. The time away, away from outside interference and influence. The time away to talk. To ask those hard questions, to resolve their unresolved issues, will help Arthur to see what direction he really wants to take. And for to Merlin – hopefully – to know for sure what he truly wants. To know for sure if Arthur... is what he truly wants. And hopefully he'll see - if that's the case - the reason for why he feels that way.

 

Arthur shook his head on that one. Love is so hard! There's is no real rule-book when it comes to love. The stakes are always high, and there's always potential for the crash and burn! It's a gamble! And you have to be either all in or all out, hot or cold, but choose which way you want to be... you must. It's not something you can sit on the fence for for long. You have to choose whether you want to be in, and you have to choose to give it your all. But you can't choose the love itself. Love... love does the choosing for you!

 

Arthur felt a chill run down his spine. And with that, the reminder that he needed to go back to Merlin's room before he left to get his red Oxford hoodie. He'd be sure to leave it by accident on his next visit. He knew how much Merlin loved to borrow it. Arthur smiled at that as he left the kitchen, and strode down the hallway to open Merlin's door, taking a glance around his room. Those ocean blue colored walls, and white baseboards. Ocean blue. A constant reminder to Arthur of the one who's eyes wields those colors. And how no one else could do it any better. Not to Arthur.

 

He walked over to Merlin's walk-in wardrobe to look for his red Oxford hoodie only to freeze in place, mouth left hanging open. Then to feel himself tremble, his heart stopping next at what he saw. Half of Merlin's clothes were gone. He walked in further to see that Merlin's luggage was missing too. He kept it in the far right hand corner deep inside the wardrobe. If Arthur could have died, it would have been in that moment, because he felt like his heart stopped beating, and his lungs stopped inflating and deflating. Arthur's eyes started to water, and he felt a moment of hopelessness surround him again. It took him a solid five minutes of staring at the half empty wardrobe before he spun into action pulling out his mobile from his right front jeans pocket. It was 9:30am. By the time Will picked up his phone, Arthur was in tears.

 

“Arthur?” Will answered, concerned. Normally Will wouldn't pick up his phone when he was teaching, being a professor at Oxford, and trying to keep his student's interest, but... Arthur wasn't a phone person. He did most of his talking in person if he could help it. Unless it was for business or short talk. If he was calling now, there could only be one of two reasons... Merls and Merlin.

 

Arthur's voice was stricken and hoarse when he answered. “Will, have you seen him?”

 

Will swallowed, “seen who, Arthur? Is everything alright?”

 

Arthur sucked in a breath, voice strained. It was obvious to Will that Arthur sounded like he was practically falling apart on the other end, and was trying to hold it in. “Merlin, have you.. seen him?”

 

Will grabbed and flagged his teacher's assistant, waving a hand to his phone. Owain gave him in a nod, and took up Will's position to continue the lecture in his stead while Will went for the door. Owain was a good teacher's assistant, will be a good professor, and Will wasn't overly concerned with him taking over the lecture. “No, Arthur. I haven't seen him.” Will voice was worried now. “Where are you?”

 

Arthur ran his left hand and fingers in his hair before backing out and landing on Merlin's black satin comforter set on his bed and sitting there. He shook his head. He could barely see before him. The tears were coming down so hard, and he gasped, before he responded. “I'm... I'm... in his room.”

 

Will's eyes started to water because something wasn't adding up. “He's normally in his psychotherapy sessions during this time.”

 

Arthur hiccuped. Voice grief-stricken. “Does he normally pack his bags, and half of his possessions for a psychotherapy session?”

 

“Shit!” Will gasped out. “I had a feeling this was going to happen, or something like this, but Merls isn't the type to pull a runner, and I've been keeping good track of him. Well.. between myself and Mithian, almost everyday. And Soph's been calling too!”

 

Arthur shook his head, before laying down – on his back - on Merlin's bed, and staring into his white ceiling. Voice resigned and hoarse. “He's not here Will.” Arthur croaked out. “He's..gone.”

 

Will ran his left hand and fingers through his hair before using the same fingers to rub his chin. His mobile still in his right hand to talk. “Did he give you the impression that he would leave?”

 

Arthur shook his head as the tears continued to fall before he remembered that Will couldn't see him. “No, not after...

last night.”

 

Both of Will's brows did a Gaius. It was Will's turn to choke out a response. “Did something happen between you?”

 

That took a second to register into Arthur's fuzzy brain before he said quickly with a shriek, “No! No, nothing like that!” Arthur's cheeks pink now, from embarrassment, as he continued, “we...we... talked. I thought we came to an... understanding.”

 

“Some understanding.” Will muttered under his breath. Arthur heard anyway.

 

Voice strained, “Will please, focus!” Arthur said while using his left hand to attempt to wipe the tears. His heart was beating triple time, and he had to bring himself back to focus too before he had a anxiety attack, and where would he be then?! “I need your help!” Arthur said pleadingly.

 

Arthur didn't beg. Unless it was serious. And anytime he did, it was because of Merls. He never had a problem getting anything else he wanted. And he had everything he wanted from Merls too, except for one thing, his returned romantic feelings. And now it seems he has that too, if he only saw it for it was and accepted it. Will wasn't taking sides on the issue though. Because Arthur has a lot of things that he needs to deal with too, and he didn't ask for any of this. Those seven years aren't going to just – magically - disappear because Merls can say that he loves him now. Will had to shake his head as his thoughts continued. No, Arthur and Merlin have things to deal with here. And both of them deserve and need - his support. They deserve a happily ever after, after everything they've gone through. To have that chance to explore what those shared feelings mean between the two of them, and to have a life filled with happiness. Because they've both spent too many years without it. Despite how they lived on their own. If only they could have it! Will swallowed, and tried to focus. “Go see Dr. Monmouth,” Will said before providing Arthur with the address. Arthur would remember anything of relevance. Or anything that he was told to remember. There was no need for him to wait for Arthur to grab a pen and piece of paper. Will groaned. Weyward tears starting to fall his way now. “We know that he had an appointment this morning. If he left he would have had to have gone through him first. Don't panic until we know for certain.”

 

Arthur wanted to say, “Easy for you to say, the love of your life is safe at home, and his is attempting to run away from him, or god knows what else!” “Arthur said instead, still trying to get his breathing under control, voice heavy, “I won't.”

 

“And Arthur,” Will called out, because he was just as worried. It was his best friend since the age of three that they were talking about here. “Call me if you need me to look too. I'll leave class if I have to. Just keep me informed. But go to Dr. Monmouth first, he may have the answers.” Will was grasping at straws in thinking Dr. Monmouth knew anything, they both knew it. But it was all that they had for a lead.

 

Arthur nodded, “I will,” Arthur groaned. “And I'll call you if – when – I find him.” Arthur didn't say good-bye. His red Oxford hoodie was missing from Merlin's walk-in wardrobe so he found his blue one instead back in his own walk-in wardrobe, before sliding it on, grabbing his keys, and practically breaking his neck as he ran out of the flat.

 

**

 

10:05am

 

Merlin... was cutting it close. But he made it in time for his counter check at terminal three. He was greeted by a nice clerk by the name of Mary Collins who assisted him. They went through his passenger identity information, his seating registration – he asked for a window seat - and his baggage claim information. His luggage was just the right size for Premium Economy to allow for him to carry it on the plane, instead of it being separated to be claimed later. He went through the security scanning of his bags – himself – and his personal belongings, and by the time he was finished. It was 10:30am. And with a few minutes to spare he even managed to stop to a cafe for a mocha latte before he went to go to the gate/lounge check in. The lounge was crowded. With lots of families and friends sending off their loved ones. Merlin wasn't hurt. It just reminded him of how lonely he truly was. How that would never happen for him. And then he remembered... He didn't deserve for it to happen for him. Not after everything he's done. Not after the hurt he'd past around to so many. To Arthur. He'd only hoped that Arthur would be able to move on. To find someone who could give him everything that he deserved. Because Arthur... Arthur deserved the best. No one deserved it more than him. He deserved to be happy, without, having to think about Merlin in his life. Without having to worry about about having to take care of him. Without having to worry about how to tell him that he didn't want Merlin in his life anymore. Arthur didn't deserve that sort of guilt. And now... now he won't have to worry about it.

 

The lounge in terminal three had some of everything. From complimentary food and drinks, to a fully-tended bar -which Merlin did manage to get a vodka on the rocks during his wait at, to Wi-Fi - plus newspaper and magazine selections, and a game room and cinema. It also had a family room, runway views, and an area they called No 1 Travel Spa, which offered messages and treatments. There were also showers set in the lounge, and single and twin bedrooms available too. Those would have definitely came in handy if Merlin had a flight departure that was scheduled for overnight travel, and he wasn't afraid of succumbing to more nightmares. Merlin sighed, and he took his seat at the bar as he continued to drink his vodka on the rocks. When had he started that habit? He didn't really know. It happened somewhere between the time that Arthur left, and somewhere in between the time of his first nightmare. The nightmares were the main culprit. The vodka only numbed the pain from everything else. It didn't necessarily take the pain away. He was still in love, and he still suffered from the nightmares every-time he closed his eyes.

 

Merlin's never been to the states before. The closest he'd come to even thinking about it was when he considered Robert's offer. He knew his answer before Robert even popped the question. But he promised that he would think about it. Merlin never really thought he was capable of love then. Those past relationships never did a thing for him. It was a temporary relief... a fix. Just to allow him to feel something. But it wasn't something that he truly wanted. He never understood the feeling of emptiness until he realized that he blocked it. He blocked because those feelings from those other men because they weren't for him. His feelings were meant for someone else. Someone who claimed it before he even realized that he gave it away. And those feelings were so strong that his mind automatically went in defense to block it because it saw yellow mixed with red. A sign of strong caution. A sign of something that it didn't understand, and because it couldn't be understood, it was blocked off to be safe and protected with everything else that was seen to have the potential of bringing catastrophic harm, or ever increasing pain. Merlin swallowed, as he ran has left hand and fingers through his hair, and played with the weyward threads at the bottom of his hoodie.

 

Love. Love is an emotion that isn't an emotion that's understood. It scary, and can be downright frightening. There's rarely a choice in the matter, and there's nothing that can be done when the emotion takes over you. You can only ride it like a wave, and enjoy the ride. Because it is a ride. A ride of heightened emotions. And those emotions come with a force because the only thing that comes closest to the emotion of love is hate, both equally strong, and equally dangerous. Dangerous, because you can't control it. Strong, because you don't want to. Not when your truly in love, and not when you're truly in love with the right person. It's not a pick or choose! Merlin took a big sip of his vodka leaving 20% in his glass before the bartender topped it off. Merlin gave him a nod in thanks. No... love... it just is. And now that Merlin does know, and understands, just what that emotion is, and how much it can take over your whole make up. If he can't have what he wants. He doesn't think he wants to have it all. Because he can't imagine ever loving someone the way that he loves Arthur. And there's no way that he could have that kind of relationship - their kind of relationship – with someone else. Not thirteen years of friendship, not the heart stopping, double-take feeling that consumes you very soul. No... not that kind of love ever again! He will just have to live life the way that it is. On his own. And hope for the best.

 

Los Angeles does seem like a nice place to start over. There's some big time hospitals over there to work at. Merlin looked online using his mobile to find that the UCLA Medical Center was ranked number one in Los Angeles. To work at such a prestigious hospital would do wonders for his career. And he is young, he could start over. Twenty seven gives him plenty of time to accomplish this. Merlin took a moment to think about his mum, Gaius, Will, and Mithian. He would have to arrange for them, and Sophia and Aries to take a trip to visit him. He didn't think he'd be able to step foot back in London for a long time to come, if ever. It would hurt to much, and it would be a constant reminder of what he's left behind. Merlin's eyes started to water just to think about it. He down the refilled glass of vodka in one go.

 

“You alright, mate?” The bartender asked. Lucan, was the name on his name tag, He had dirty blond hair, brown eyes, and deeply tanned skin, with a nice build. Merlin still looked. He wasn't blind! But it did nothing for him. That told him all that he needed to know as well confirmed it that he - definitely - wouldn't be wanting anyone else. That was it! Because two months ago - hell, a little over a month ago - he would have tapped that! Before he understood his lack of emotions for what they truly were. Lucan looked at Merlin curiously. He was obviously being checked out himself. Still... nothing. Merlin shook his head, before responding, giving into his fate.

 

“Yeah mate.” Merlin swallowed. “I'm fine. Hit me with another one of these, and I'll be just fine?” Merlin checked his watch, it was 10:42am. The gates should be opening soon. He could hold onto that.

 

**

 

10:15am

 

“Sir!” Dr. Monmouth heard his receptionist Finna yell out, “Sir, you can't go in there!”

 

Dr. Monmouth was leaning forward elbows on his desk, hands covering his face, as he listened from behind his desk wondering if his day would be over soon. He didn't know if he did the right thing with Merlin. But he knew there was nothing else he could of done. The young man's mind was made up! He knew exactly what he wanted, and what he wanted... was to be far away from here. If there was something else that he could have done to talk him out of it, he would have tried, but as it stood, there wasn't. Shy of locking the boy up. And there wasn't a valid reason to do so. He was of sound mind, and body. He knew what he wanted, and he was quite capable of making his own decisions!

 

“Sir!” Finna yelled out again, the sounds were coming closer to his door. “Sir please, you have to have an appointment!”

 

Dr. Monmouth sighed as he removed his hands from his face, and folded them together entwining them before placing his chin on top. Resigning for what was to come. He didn't have to wait long. The force of his door opening, and hitting his white walls could have told him that.

 

“Sir!” Finna continued to yell, as she stormed in behind... Mr. Pendragon, her brown hair flying in her face, brown eyes blazing. She shouldn't have wasted her time. Dr. Monmouth thought. Pendragon's could be arrogant bastards if they wanted to be, and they would be stopped by no one if that were their quest. And Arthur - the nicer of the three – taking after his mother, Ygraine – god rest her soul, would be no different, if the situation called for it, or if he felt threatened. Otherwise, he was completely charming and kind-hearted at any other time. But his Pendragon side was there, beneath the surface. And just like Ygraine, he could be fierce when he needed to be. Don't let him start on Uther and Morgana... Because he thinks that's the side of Arthur that he's seeing now. And Dr. Monmouth... had a good idea of what the situation was that brought Arthur before him right now. Chest rising and falling heavily, veins forced to his neck, hair askew, and lips red from constant biting. Dr. Monmouth doesn't even want to think about the fire in his eyes, and the red of his skin, he looked... absolutely... livid.

 

Dr. Monmouth swallowed, only wishing he could have had a shot of whiskey first before this discussion. He waved his hand as a flag off gesture to Finna. Tone confident, gentle. “Finna, it's alright. I know Mr. Pendragon, you may go.” The look Finna shot him in response was nothing more than, “that bastard! What right does he have to waltz up into this office acting like he owns the place! Doesn't he know anything about rules!” Dr. Monmouth thought he'd have to school her later because, Pendragon's, know nothing about rules. It was a well known fact. Not that he didn't like them – in fact he did like them, and respected them - but he knew that there were times that he just had to tolerate them too. Like now. And if Arthur wasn't looking at him like he was going to set up a pyre and flay him alive first... he would have preferred him over the other two.

 

Finna looked on for five seconds longer, and after one more nod of assurance from him she walked out, closing the door behind her. Arthur's chest was still heaving.

 

“Mr. Pendragon?” Dr. Monmouth acknowledged in the form of a question. He wasn't giving anything away. He knew about Arthur from Merlin's psychotherapy sessions, but those were based on doctor/patient confidentiality clauses. He could not/ would not discuss anything pertaining to Merlin's treatment, or progress, without Merlin's express permission.

 

Arthur's eyes were stoic when he spoke, his voice hoarse, his mouth set in a frown, his jaw clinched, and his hands in fists, “have you seen him?”

 

Dr. Monmouth was not going to give in that easily. “May I ask whom, you're inquiring of, Mr. Pendragon.” He'd known Arthur since he was a child. He could outplay him in these games, normally, except for when he was like...this. Since Arthur rarely ever got like this!

 

Arthur walked forward to Dr. Monmouth's desk, chest still heaving, and body shaking, skin still red, and eyes getting colder by the minute. Dr. Monmouth thought the temperature was dropping in his office. Arthur placed both of his hands on either side of Dr. Monmouth's mahogany finished desk, and leaned in. Voice sharp, anger lined in every layer of it. “Merlin. Have you seen Merlin?” Arthur was trying to harness all of his self-control. He almost got into two accidents just trying to get there, and all he could think about was Merlin. All he could think about was... why the hell did he leave?! Every muscle in his body felt stiff, he nearly had an anxiety attack just thinking about what he was going to do if he couldn't find Merlin, and now this son of a bitch is trying to toy with him?! Arthur gritted his teeth, and clinched his jaw so tight he thought it was going to pop as he waited for a response.

 

Dr. Monmouth glanced at his laptop again to check the time. It was 10:22am. He sat back in his seat to look at Arthur, he watched as his chest continued to heave, his breath sounding like he was wheezing, and his jaw was so tight that he thought it was bordering dangerous levels, and his hands were still balled in fist, like he wouldn't hesitate to use them. The redness still covering his face, and the bulging veins in his neck only reaffirmed that for him. Dr. Monmouth sighed, and spoke calmly, nodding at the same time. “Yes, he was here this morning.”

 

Arthur sucked in a breath. He didn't know if Merlin was lying by that note that he left behind. Especially with the missing clothes, luggage, and not even Will knowing why he had everything packed. He unfisted his right hand, and ran his fingers through his hair. He tried to control the rest of his body movements. He didn't think he'd truly calm back down until he found Merlin. Voice hoarse, Arthur asked. “Did he say where he was going?”

 

Dr. Monmouth wasn't surprised that no one - that Arthur - didn't know that Merlin was leaving. Yet... still, if Merlin did tell anyone he doubted Arthur would be standing here before him. And by the way Merlin made the flight arrangements so quickly to set for his departure... He doubted Merlin intended for anyone to know until he was long gone. But... Merlin didn't tell him to keep that part a secret. And Merlin is no longer his patient. Not to mention the fact that his traveling doesn't have anything to do with the doctor/patient confidentiality unless Merlin requested that of him. And truthfully, Dr. Monmouth doesn't think that the move across god's green earth to LA was the wisest of choices for Merlin right now. Not while he's was in the middle of his recovery. And not while he's been doing so well. He was afraid he may not maintain the psychotherapy, that he might regress, that he might not fight at the same magnitude that he's been fighting for all of this time. He was afraid that his point of focus would be gone. It's not the best thing that could happen while in the middle of psychotherapy, but... Dr. Monmouth doesn't know what happened to prompt Merlin's choice in leaving in the first place. Dr. Monmouth unfolded his hands to run his right hand and fingers through his hair before running those same fingers through his beard on both sides. He responded, in his same calm tone. “He was leaving town.” Dr. Monmouth responded honestly.

 

Arthur didn't realize that he landed in the chair behind him until he did, having his legs give out from under him. He couldn't cry. Not in front of anyone, and certainly not in front of Dr. Monmouth! But his heart felt like it was doing all of the crying that his eyes couldn't do. He never thought a heart could break so much until it continued to break. He placed both hands over his face to cover himself from Dr. Monmouth while he attempted to control his breathing.

 

“Arthur?” Dr. Monmouth used his given name then. His voice concerned.

 

Arthur removed his right hand from his face to raise it, as in saying, “give me a moment,” before placing it back over his face again. Arthur tried to count backwards from ten. He couldn't go from one hundred, until he caught the wording of what Dr. Monmouth said. “He was leaving town?” Which meant that he hasn't left yet! Arthur pulled his hands down from his face, still trying to control his breathing. His heart pumping heavily, his anxiety trying to break it's way to the surface – he pushed it away, and attempted to ask, voice hoarse. “Did he say where he was going?”

 

Dr. Monmouth looked at Arthur, worry clear in his expression. He looked like he was about to have an anxiety attack right in his office. He was doing a good job maintaining, but if he didn't calm down, and soon... Dr. Monmouth nodded again. “He's made arrangements to move to Los Angeles -” Dr. Monmouth cut himself off when he saw the way Arthur's eyes flared hot, and got cold at the same time. He didn't know what was going on in Arthur's mind at the moment. Seeing that Arthur was staring at him like he would light a pyre and flay him a alive first before burning him if he didn't respond... Dr. Monmouth swallowed again before continuing. “He has a flight scheduled at the Heathrow, and it's scheduled departure time is 11:00am -” And that seemed to be all Arthur needed to know because by the time he finished that sentence Arthur was already moving and out of his office, door slamming hard behind him. Not even a thank you given. Dr. Monmouth just shook his head. It only took three seconds before Finna knocked before opening the door to check on him. She must have been standing close by, waiting to see if she needed to be of assistance.

 

“Dr. Monmouth, are you alright?” Finna asked nervously, biting the inside of her cheeks, eyes widened. Dr. Monmouth looked paled.

 

Dr. Monmouth shook his head from where he sat resting in his chair. He turned to his left to look at his laptop, then deciding to turn it off, before getting up to grab his briefcase and saying, “clear my schedule for the rest of the day Finna. I think that will do it for me until tomorrow. And once you're done. Take the rest of the day off yourself.”

 

That threw Finna for a loop. As she stood by Dr. Monmouth's door, eyes widened in surprise. They never leave early, not until 5:00pm sharp. They haven't left early since... she couldn't even remember when. She nodded. “Will do. Will you be alright to make it home?” She asked, concerned.

 

Dr. Monmouth nodded. “I'll be just fine Finna.” “After he made a trip to Kilgharrah's for a shot of whiskey,” Dr. Monmouth thought. “Those Pendragon's can run your blood pressure up every-time!”

 

Finna nodded again, not a clue of what was going on in Dr. Monmouth's mind. Before she smiled and said, “that's good. You enjoy the rest of your day.”

 

Dr. Monmouth gave a small smile in return before responding, “you too.” Before making it out of his office to go on his way to Kilgharrah's where he wouldn't be expecting anymore uninvited guest.

 

Finna only watched Dr. Monmouth leave before turning everything off, and leaving his office to return to her desk to begin making calls. She glanced at her dark blue laptop to check the time before calling, it was 10:32am. If she got everything done soon enough she would still have time to catch her husband Lamarok, before he left for the police station to start his shift. She smiled at that. Maybe that horrible man that stormed into their office didn't ruin her day after all.

 

**

 

10:45am

 

It was at 10:45am that Merlin heard the boarding call announcement for Air New Zealand NZ1. Everyone who was set for the one way flight to Los Angeles, CA, were asked to go to Gate 7, Concourse A. It was the first call, so Merlin didn't rush, as he handed over some bills along with a nice sized tip for Lucan. He grabbed his bags that were set beside his bar-stool neatly, and he began to make his way over to his gate. It was no since to dally around. It wasn't like he had anything or anyone left here for him anymore. And it did hurt to see everyone else so happy while at the same time resigning himself to be alone. Not that he didn't enjoy watching other people be happy. Far from it. It was only sad because it reminded him that he wasn't, and that he didn't have what they had, nor could he have what they had. Merlin kept walking slowly, feeling more down by the minute thinking about that. He felt a little chilly, but he was warm. He knew that he shouldn't have taken it, but he took Arthur's favorite red Oxford hoodie with him, he was wearing it in fact. With his close fitting dark blue jeans, and his converse sneakers that.. has seen better days. Merlin wanted to have something of Arthur's to remember him by. And despite the fact that Merlin wore it too, he could still smell Arthur's scent on it when he wore it. They may not have been involved back then, but wearing something of Arthur's always made Merlin feel the comfort of home while he wore it. So the hoodie would it make it between both he and Arthur's walk-in wardrobes, as it has been doing for years... until now. Merlin could always by him another one, and have Will give it to him as a gift so it wouldn't look like it was given by him. That might be a good idea, Merlin mused as he made it to his gate. The line already long. They must have ran there, Merlin thought. He stood in line - the end of the line - while he continued his thoughts, as he glanced at his watch to confirm the time. It was 10:50am. Only ten minutes before scheduled take off.

 

**

 

10:36am

 

BEEP! BEEP! BEEEEEEEEP!

 

Arthur was beeping the horn of his Aston Martin a lot this morning. He'd almost been in four wrecks, and even managed to go through a few red lights, and some cautioned ones too. Arthur didn't even want to look in the mirror, he knew he'd look a mess. If only his sister and father could see him now! Arthur took his left hand off of the steering to run a hand through his hair with his fingers. He had absolutely no idea what he'd do if Merlin was gone from his life forever. And on top of that, he wouldn't even know why?! He wouldn't know why because Merlin just upped, decided to leave, and decided he didn't deserve to have a reason why?! It was different when Merlin wasn't aware of his deeds, but fuck, what was his excuse now?! Merlin has to be aware that this would devastate him! He has to know how much he means to him?! They just discussed what they were going to do only hours ago, just to wake up this morning to Arthur finding an empty flat with no sign of Merlin. Only to find a half-empty wardrobe, and no note to explain Merlin's reason for leaving, for good. He left a note saying that he was going to his psychotherapy session, for crying out loud! He even said that he loved me only to turn around having no intentions to be there at all! Arthur needed to calm down as his breaks squealed when he came to a stop at the stop light. He couldn't go through them all. Morgana already had him on suicide watch. No since in giving her any more ammunition. Arthur looked at the time, it was 10:45am, and he was about five minutes away from Heathrow, if - he could only make it through the traffic. Arthur had half a mind to get out the car and run. And it will only depend on the remaining flow of traffic before he really makes that decision.

 

Arthur was really trying to maintain all of the composure he could muster but literally, he was falling apart inside. He knows he needs to keep it together. Depression brings about many thoughts, and the feeling of hopelessness can be overwhelming. But just the feeling of knowing that Merlin could just walk out of his life, without... like it was so easy to walk away. Like he wanted to walk away. Arthur shook his head. He was starting to feel too angry, and he felt too lost to cry. Though, it was clear that crying, was exactly what he's been doing for quite some time now. If the puffy eyes, and the red-rims of it were anything to show for it. There was no doubt in Arthur's mind that he loves Merlin, even now. There was no doubt in his mind that he would be devastated if he walked out of his life without even a by your leave, an explanation, or even a fucking note!

 

If it weren't for the fact that Arthur's been instructed in his therapy to take a constructive step back, outside of his situation, to reflect, and make those important decisions. To decide whether a relationship with the man he'd been in love with for seven years – who never returned those feelings back – was the right choice for him. To take the time, to date, to meet people - outside of your normal circle with Merlin – to not be drawn back in while making that decision. If it weren't for his own self-preservation... because those same tips didn't truly apply when you found out that those unrequited feelings were actually returned... Another tear did manage to fall from Arthur's left eye as he had to stop at another red light, pedestrians walking across the street. Arthur and Merlin orbited around each other for years. Merlin suppressing feelings for him when he thought that Arthur was straight. And Arthur trying to show signs of his affections, but not openly confessing the reason behind those signs for the seven years since he declared himself bi-sexual. Because he understood things for what they were at the age of twenty. Between the two of them... they spent nearly seven years a piece with unresolved feelings because they couldn't tell the other what they thought. Because they couldn't risk the loss of their friendship. And Arthur not only didn't want to risk that. He didn't want to risk that Merlin would return his feelings for the wrong feelings. He didn't think his heart could take it if he gave an all in to Merlin, because he knew he would give all in, if he did. That there would be no half stepping with those kind of feelings. They are way to... deep, and the way of it... without end. And if he gave into those feelings, if he gave in to find their relationship ending because Merlin decided later that he couldn't really love Arthur. That he went into their relationship for the wrong reasons, that he felt obligated to be with him. Well... Arthur didn't have an answer for that because the truth was, he didn't know what he would do if that happened, because he didn't think it would be something that he could get past that easily. If it happened now - while he was recovering – he knows it would destroy him. How badly? Not to the point of suicide, but it would be a major hit. If it happened later, years down the road? He would be devastated, and that would be it for him where relationships were concerned. Because Arthur refused to put his heart out there again to be trampled on. Merlin my not have done that to him intentionally but the truth is, the feeling of it is just the same. And the love that Arthur has for Merlin runs through everything. It's not about capturing something that he can't have, it's not about possession, it's not about obsession, but it is about completeness. It is about knowing when you look at someone that that Merlin was the one person in the world that was made for you. And that that person had the power to either make you or break you because they automatically had half of your heart. And that's where it becomes scary for Arthur, because there's no guidebook to dictate how to go through this aside from treading carefully. And if that makes him a coward to be afraid of trying now because he's uncertain, because he already feels burned with fire, then so be it! He needs the time to step back, to understand, to really make a decision on what his heart truly can take right now. And he needs to be at a place to survive it, while he does those things. And just when Arthur thought that they both settled on doing just that Merlin takes the rug out from under him, and then decides that he's going to change the rules!

 

Arthur knows he needs to be rational. That he's thinking partly irrational. He knows there has to be an explanation for Merlin just deciding to run off without an explanation – something - that doesn't lead Arthur to think that he was being lied to this whole time. Or worse, that Merlin's feelings were something based on obligation, on friendship being lost, and on not wanting to hurt Arthur. Maybe his feelings weren't what he claimed it to be? They'd never have any answers if they didn't try to find out. Not if Merlin walked away now!

 

Arthur finally made it to Heathrow. He only hoped his car wouldn't be towed away because he certainly didn't have time to find the designated parking area. It was 10:52am! And he had just made it inside to he hear the boarding call for Los Angeles with a direction of where to go. Arthur couldn't have been more grateful to hear it. He was also equally grateful that he didn't stop exercising when he stopped eating accordingly. He was needing every bit of endurance in his arsenal right now as he basically side-stepped, jumped over, or ran through or around everything or everyone that he could to get to is destination before... he was too late. Because... if Merlin went on that plane, Arthur truly doubted that he would ever see Merlin again. Not if he got that far in his decision process. Arthur didn't even think that a trip from him to Los Angeles would have done anything to sway Merlin either if he left to get away. And who knows if Merlin would have wanted him if he left or stayed?! One thing was for certain - no matter how Arthur feels – Arthur will never truly know how Merlin feels about him, unless he puts himself out there too to find out. But can he?

 

**

 

10:52am

 

Eight more minutes, Merlin thought to himself as the line for boarding continued to creep forward. He had to focus on something, because his mind was focusing on other things. Like if Arthur would forgive him for making this decision. For taking this choice away from him, even if it was for his own good. Somehow, Merlin doesn't think that he will. He knows that Arthur would be able to move forward. It's in his blood, and he's strong. He has support. And he's handsome, caring, loving, and is absolutely everything that anyone could ever want in a loved one. There was no doubt in Merlin's mind that Arthur wouldn't be able to find someone who could truly love him totally and completely. Arthur could move on, but Merlin doesn't think that Arthur will forgive him from taking this choice away from him. He'd still want to fix him – to make him whole again, like a puzzle - and then, if he's not fixed to his satisfaction? To his expectations. Where would that lead them then? Arthur could not promise or consider anything but that he would think about it. He probably only meant that because he didn't want Merlin to reject his help. And Arthur shouldn't feel obligated to help him. Merlin shook his head while standing in line. Merlin was doing the right thing, at least... he hoped so. It was one of the reasons why he left earlier than originally planned this morning. Because Merlin had the feeling that he wouldn't be able to leave at all if he saw Arthur one more time. Or worse, if Arthur discovered his plans. Merlin didn't know what he would do then, or how he would explain it aside from the fact that he was doing what he thought was best. And Arthur deserves nothing but the best. Somehow, deep in his core, Merlin doesn't think Arthur would agree that Merlin's intentions were for the best.

 

The third boarding call sounded through the airport for Merlin's flight. There were six people ahead of him now. He heard commotion somewhere from behind him but he paid no attention to it. He didn't want anything to throw him off right now. He was trying to keep his focus. Plane rides weren't exactly his favorite things either considering the fact that it doesn't always make it to it's destination. Merlin even remembers the first time he went into a plane, that was taking flight. It was a planned trip to see the Eiffel Tower in Italy. It always fascinated Merlin, and since it did, the trip and the tour was given to him for his twenty first birthday. He had a panic attack write as the plane started to take it's flight. It was Arthur who talked him through it, who managed to hold him through it, even though they were wrapped in their seat-belts. Those seat-belts left no form of security for Merlin. It was Arthur, who was his security, his strong arm, his comforter, and his protector. It wasn't about idolizing him, it was purely fact. They always had a connection. Gay, bi-sexual, or straight, there was always a connection. They just never understood what it was. And now... he was walking – running - away, and they never truly would see... just how far that connection ran. Because Merlin knows it runs deeper than a superficial love. Something that Arthur continues to accuse him of having. And he'd never believe it for anything else since if it's coming from him. There's no proof Merlin could give him. Love is not something you can look at like that. It can feel like a palpable force, but it's not something you can hold like a gift. There's no way to guarantee the feeling unless you trust. There's no way to truly see it unless you believe, and you see the actions of love being displayed before you. Words are only confirmations, it is not, something that will completely reassure you that you are making the right choice. Not if you are truly trying to force youself to believe that the feelings aren't real to begin with! And that's why Merlin felt so sure in the fact that Arthur wouldn't choose to stay with him, if he stayed behind. Because he knows that Arthur resents him for things that he can't change, but is equally Merlin's fault. He knows that Arthur hasn't forgiven him for it - that he doesn't want to - but is trying to wrap his head around it anyway. To try and understand. To balance it all somehow. And that means, the only reason he would be attempting to help right now would be out of obligation because he doesn't want to watch him suffer. And because Arthur doesn't want to feel responsible for standing by idly, and watching him do it. It's very noble, but it's not enough, and not fair that Arthur would put himself out there like that. Not even thinking about his own recovery during the process.

 

Merlin groaned, and it grabbed the attention of young blond haired, green eyed, pale skinned little girl. She had wide green eyes, sharp cheek bones, a button nose, and full red lips that looked like she could be pouting with them. She couldn't have been more than seven with her shoulder length hair. Merlin smiled at her, but looked forward anyway, catching her returned smile as he'd done so.

 

No, it wouldn't have been right. Merlin could talk himself through this process over and over again, but the answer would still remain the same. Arthur was only helping him because he felt he had to. It had nothing to do with love, but obligation and a desire to help. And though he didn't say it, he didn't leave much room for hope that there would be anything more between them after everything was said and done. Nothing else aside from 'he would think about it.' And Merlin really couldn't blame him for that. Arthur's heart has been open for the past seven years, and now he's only trying to protect himself. He had every right to close that door. To take a step back. To date, and to meet new people. Those are things that he should have been doing all along! He's only trying to do what he thinks is best in his own head right now. And Merlin's not going to stand in the way of that. Just because he couldn't handle watching it doesn't mean it wasn't the right choice for Arthur. Just because Merlin doesn't want to see Arthur dating other people - now that he knows how Arthur feels about him, and understands his own feelings for him in return – doesn't mean Arthur shouldn't have the time to get out there and date. Just because Merlin doesn't want to see or hear anything about Arthur sleeping with other people while he remains single throughout this whole recovery process – where there wasn't a timeline placed on! – doesn't mean that Arthur shouldn't explore. To get out there. To know something else that is other than Merlin! Aside from his other group of friends that he still does have! Just because Merlin couldn't handle the ultimate rejection in the end of, “He would think about it,” doesn't mean that Arthur wasn't warranted to have the time to think about it. Those were all right. But not a reason for Merlin to stay, and not a reason to allow Arthur to help him. Because there was nothing in the middle of any of those scenarios that made Merlin to believe that Arthur would actually choose Merlin once they were through. Arthur was only offering his help.

 

There was more commotion from behind Merlin but he was still wrapped up in his own thoughts. Well... that was until the man behind him yelled bloody murder about someone cutting the line, and the family ahead of him turned around to see what was going behind him. That was before Merlin got the shock of his life. When he felt a hand grip strongly around his left arm. He didn't even have to guess who it was. He knew that grip. Had known it for the past thirteen years, as he was pulled in every which direction by it to go one place or the other. Even if they didn't touch all of the time they touched enough for Merlin to know! He knew the smell of the scent of cologne that overtook his nose, but was only lightly sprayed. He knew the feel of that hard chest his arm was being pulled against too. The only thing that Merlin didn't recognize was the tone of voice that came from it. He shuddered... just the same.

 

“You selfish bastard,” Arthur said with venom

 

Merlin froze, and sucked in a breath. “Arthur,” Merlin gasped out.

 

“Where do you think your going?” Arthur asked, voice hoarse, breathing sounding like a wheezing instead. Merlin still hadn't turn around yet. Arthur, this close is normally a warm presence around him, but now, Merlin could only relate it to.... bone chilling. He croaked.

 

“I thought it for the best, Arthur,” Merlin said, still looking ahead, still frozen in place, every muscle tense, blood gone from his face.

 

Arthur nodded, his voice, cold, “you thought it was the best for whom?”

 

“For you -”

 

“That's bullshit!” Arthur shrieked. Arthur has had some time to think about it as he's been running the gambit to get to Merlin before his departure. This may have something to do with him, but it has everything to do with Merlin, and the fact that he can't face it if Arthur tells him no. It has everything to do with Merlin's fear of confrontation and rejection. And it has everything to do with the fact that Merlin wants to run away from it, instead of confronting it head on. There might be other reasons, but Arthur is sure that this is the core of it.

 

The other passengers waiting ahead of Merlin, and behind him, along with some of the clerks collecting their boarding passes, quieted.

 

Merlin flushed, embarrassed. But still afraid to speak with Arthur. Not when his tone was like that. It's not that Merlin hasn't heard Arthur speak to people in that way before. It was rare, but he has. He just... hasn't heard Arthur speak that way towards him! Merlin thought his decision was for the best. How the hell did he find him! “How?” Merlin choked out.

 

Arthur felt very inclined to answer that question. The question of how his life felt like it was about to fall apart again, and only in a matter of minutes of him thinking that everything was turning around in the right direction! “I went to grab my red uni hoodie that you borrowed from me,” which he sees is doing just fine on Merlin, “and imagine my surprise when I went into your room, and found half of your clothing, including my red uni hoodie missing.”

 

Merlin went from frozen to tense, “I'll give it back -” He tried apologetically.

 

“I don't give a damn about my hoodie Merlin, I asked you a question!” Arthur shrieked. It was completely silent around. Apparently everyone was thinking they were listening to a lover's quarrel. Merlin's palms started to sweat, and he was certain if he looked in the mirror his skin would be beet red from embarrassment. He nibbled on the inside of his cheek, and kept his head down, will that was until a clerk approached.

 

Merlin looked up to the clerk. He was too embarrassed to keep his head up before, with everyone staring.

 

The nice clerk, Mary Collins, who helped with his counter check spoke, trying to sound nice – it came out as cautious. “Hello sir, may I grab your boarding pass please?”

 

“You are not going,” Arthur felt like he was vibrating beside Merlin. His tone, unyielding, his eyes cold.

 

Merlin's heart sped up, and he felt a shiver run down his spine, because he's never been able to refuse Arthur anything. “Arthur, you can't force me to stay,” Merlin said, while attempting to hand the clerk his boarding pass until Arthur grabbed the same arm – the right one - he was about to use, now firmly holding both of his arms. Chest pressed against Merlin's back as he stood behind him. Merlin's luggage still at his feet.

 

“I said, you are not going,” Arthur hissed.

 

“Is everything alright?” Mary asked. Her brown eyes watching on worriedly. Like she didn't know if she needed to call for security.

 

Merlin turned slightly to the side to catch a glimpse of Arthur, and froze again at what he saw. His hair askew, his eyes on fire, his mouth a thin frown, his jaw clinched, and if he could feel Arthur's chest heaving as he stood back pressed to his chest. Merlin swallowed-hard, paled again, and shuddered.

 

It was at that moment that Merlin understood a few things.

 

  1. Arthur had no intentions of letting him get on his flight.

  2. Arthur had no intentions of hearing or seeing reason.

  3. Arthur had no intentions of even backing down to listen to reason in the middle of an airport in front of all of these people!

  4. Merlin... Merlin wasn't going to be able to make his flight. He could kiss his chance of going away good-bye. And if he didn't end up shutting up right now, and doing exactly what Arthur says, he will be even more embarrassed than he already is, because apparently, Arthur doesn't feel compelled to have this conversation somewhere else if it's what it takes to force Merlin to stay!

 

It didn't bode well for Merlin, that's for sure.

 

**

 

“I am an adult!” Was the first thing Merlin attempted to say -yell - as he slipped into the passenger seat of Arthur's Aston Martin, and buckled up. Tone petulant.

 

“Than fucking act like it Merlin, and I'll not treat you as a child!” Arthur was still visibly shaking as he responded, buckling his seat belt first before putting his key into the ignition. His tone, still hoarse.

 

“It's not fair for me to have accepted that from you.” Merlin shouted, while shaking his hair. His hands and fingers now running through his hair.

 

Arthur looked at Merlin, incredulously. He hadn't even pulled off yet. He didn't think that he could until he stopped trembling. His was trying calm down, but he was still feeling anxious. And very much afraid of what was coming next. And then, to hear that. “What does my helping you have to do about anything being fair?!” Arthur screamed, his chest – still heaving. Arthur's scream sounded off loud enough that Merlin thought it would crack the car glass. It's a good thing that it didn't.

 

“Because I can't give it back that's why! I'm not a charity case, Arthur!” Merlin yelled, eyes ignited, with his nose flaring up. He couldn't even really look at Arthur right now. He could only glance at him briefly before looking through the front glass window of the car instead.. Merlin sounded broken, a few weyward tears already falling from both eyes, as he continued. “There's nothing I can ever do to make it right. And I've thought about it. There's nothing I can do. I've already taken enough for you, I don't want to take this.” Merlin finished shaking his head.

 

“I don't believe you.” Arthur wasn't far behind Merlin where the tears were concerned. His eyes were watering again. He shook his head, took both hands and fingers and ran it through his hair, before shaking his head again in disbelief.

 

Merlin kept his eyes facing the front window of the car, not looking from left to right, not yet. He licked his lips, and started tapping his right foot into the carpet. There was nothing he could say to make it right. There would never be anything that he could say or do to make it right. Somewhere deep inside Arthur would always hate him for that because there would be no way to truly make him pay. No way... except for rejecting him, and just saying that he wanted to be friends, and nothing further after everything else is said and done. Believe or not, that would be the ultimate pain imaginable for Merlin. The ultimate rejection. And that's not even about his condition. That's about having the love of your life decide while they're still in love with you, that they don't want you anymore. Despite Merlin not having the chance to prove himself as worthy. Despite the fact that he is being held accountable for everything in the past that he did to unintentionally hurt Arthur. Despite the fact that he knows his feelings are real, and are for the right reasons that have nothing to do with obligation, keeping Arthur's friendship, or guilt. Granted, Merlin does love Arthur – always has as a friend – and would love to keep their friendship. But that is not the reason behind returning his love. His love runs much deeper than that.

 

The ultimate rejection would be to take everything that Arthur throws at him, own up to all of his deeds (whether he did it intentionally or not - due to a disorder(s) that he didn't ask for, based on several years of abuse and bullying that he didn't ask for.), he can allow Arthur to date without question or showing signs of jealousy for an inopportune amount of time as set by Arthur, he can think nothing of Arthur going out with other people – without him, think nothing of him moving out, stay single himself, and while he does all of that he needs to be sure to go to psychotherapy, return to work when his time off ends, and plan his schedule around Arthur's free-time. And in between all that, Merlin needs to prove to that he loves Arthur dearly – and for the right reasons – along with somehow gaining Arthur's forgiveness. And if none of this is done, to Arthur's satisfaction, at the end of a time that Arthur's deems that he's healthy... then Arthur has the right to say he doesn't want anything more than friendship, or no friendship at all.

 

Which will definitely happen because even if Merlin gave in to all of Arthur's demands, even if he surrendered everything allowing Arthur the control to dictate everything from him, even if he begged for forgiveness everyday, even if he remained single and stepped aside to allow Arthur to come and go and he pleased, there still would be no way to prove that he loves Arthur for the right reasons. Arthur only reserved the right to think about it. He never agreed to anything further than wanting to help. And there's no resentment there from Merlin. Arthur has every right to do what he wants to do. To do what he thinks is best. He's trying to protect himself from seven years of heartache. Who wouldn't want to protect themselves? Arthur not only wants to protect himself from love, but also from falling into a deeper state of depression while he's recovering. Merlin understands that. But why do they both have be tortured to make that happen? When they both know that the ultimate rejection will surely follow? Merlin had several thoughts – several questions, but he responded with this statement instead, as the tears continued to fall down both eyes. “It would have been better for you if we had never met.” Merlin said quietly.

 

Arthur felt like he was stabbed in the chest. Like he was stabbed – through his heart, and into the very core of him. Because that meant that Merlin wished he never knew Arthur at all. That his life would have been better without Arthur in it. Of all the things to say. That's the one thing that Arthur has never regretted. That, and falling in love with Merlin in the first place. Arthur was feeling stumped now, and a little bit lost. He raised is right hand and fingers, and ran it through his hair, and tugged it none so gently. And when he spoke, the pain was evident in his voice. “How can you... how can you even say that?”

 

Merlin swallowed, before shaking his head. Maybe Arthur didn't understand. Merlin replied quietly, tone distraught. “Because it would be better for you. I don't deserve you Arthur! We're more than likely not going to resolve our differences. So where will that leave us then, in the end? It would be better if I moved on, and left you to live your life how you deemed fit. To meet people, to find someone -”

 

“How... dare you!” Arthur voice cracked with rage, slapping his right hand to the dashboard. It was such a loud smack that it sounded off through the car. Merlin recoiled, eyes stunned, and mouth gaped open. “How dare you make a decision like that for me, and justify it like your doing what's best for me!” A tear fell from Arthur's left eye, and then right, before it kept coming as he yelled. “Like you know... what's best for me!” Arthur's tone turned stricken, as he used his right hand again to attempt to wipe his tears. “You have no idea, Merlin.” Arthur shook his head. “And you had the ordasity, to agree with me just last night to allow me to help you only for me to wake up in the morning to find you gone. For me to have to retrace your steps to end up getting the information out of your Dr., only to find out that you were heading to LA! To find you leaving, without even telling me! How dare you, you bastard!”

 

“Arthur -”

 

“Not now, Merlin!” Arthur yelled, as he wiped his eyes and face with both of his hands and fingers, before wiping his hands on his jeans, putting the car in drive, and taking off, tires squealing. “I don't... I can't even think about it right now.” Arthur shook his head as he sped out of the airport, and onto the highway. And after considering the fact that Arthur was speeding and still shaking... Merlin thought it would be wise not to say anything else until they were parked again.

 

 

**

 

Arthur's brakes screamed in protest as Arthur stopped in front of their flat. He didn't put the car in park, nor did he remove his seat belt. He only used his right thumb and forefinger to press the bridge of his nose, before looking straight ahead again. He hadn't looked at Merlin at all.

 

And Merlin... Merlin was afraid to look at him. He swallowed, but tried - tone apologetic, to speak, “Arthur-”

 

Arthur wasn't having it. He started shaking his head. He did calm down during the drive though. His chest was no longer heaving, and his complexion seemed normal again. Arthur took a deep breath before finally turning to Merlin. The pain in his eyes, his voice, and the grief of it, was still there. “I'm dropping you off. I need some time alone.” And this is when Arthur's tone sent a chill up Merlin's spine because it did sound like a threat. “If you are not here when I get back, Merlin, then so help me...” Arthur's jaw clinched, and eyes closed, as if trying to compose himself.

 

Merlin was actually afraid of Arthur at that moment. Because Arthur was being completely unpredictable, and Merlin doesn't have any real experience with this side of Arthur. Not the angry and impulsive – atrabilious - side. Not that it's not there. Which is probably because Arthur's never been angry at him for long. Well... not until recently. And certainly not long enough for Merlin to have time to adapt to it, to set a pattern, or to predict what might come next! To be able to predict – to discern - whether Arthur would in fact... follow through with his threats. As it stands, he's already forcing Merlin to stay in London. He turned to face Arthur, and swallowed again before nodding. It took him ten seconds to move because he was still staring like a deer caught in the headlight at Arthur, as Arthur's eyes held his captive. Merlin licked his lips, Arthur noticed, but his anger radiated through him. It was Merlin that brought out this reaction. For what he's done to him. It made Merlin cry more. Will the tears ever stop?!

 

“Arth-” Merlin attempted again, only to stop when he saw the pain shoot across Arthur's face at the sound of Merlin calling his name.

 

Arthur shook his head again at Merlin. He swallowed, groaned, and sat his head back on the driver's seat, turning his head away from Merlin and looking straight ahead. Arthur continued to shake his head, as he spoke, voice cracking, “I...can't... talk to you right now. I'll come... back... but I can't... right... now, and I have my appointment with my therapist soon,” Arthur kept shaking his head, his jaw clinched. “If she sees me... like this...”

 

Merlin nodded, and attempted to reach out to clasp Arthur's right hand in his left, but Arthur immediately flinched at the motion, and Merlin pulled back quickly - rejected. Merlin swallowed. He made things even more worst than they were before. Merlin could only find himself nodding to Arthur in agreement of Arthur's suggestion of speaking later. And he understood it for it was too. Arthur, needed to calm down - and to control his temper and anxiety levels - before saying anything else to Merlin. Arthur didn't want to say or do anything that he would regret later. And that was his predictable and self-controlled Arthur coming back to the surface again. The one that he can relate to -- now understanding that that other side directed at Merlin from Arthur, was based on some hidden resentment and anger that Merlin's sudden attempt of departure ignited – if it wasn't already there - being reined in by Arthur all along. Merlin couldn't help but agree to Arthur's request.

The next thing that he knew... he was standing outside of the car, door slammed, and Arthur was down the street fixing to make a sharp right turn, tires protesting in it's tracks. Arthur pulled off so fast he didn't even give Merlin the time to collect his luggage. However, considering the events of the day, Merlin could only be left to assume that this was a strategic move on Arthur's part. To prevent Merlin from doing a runner again. He didn't even contemplate on it any further before he walked inside of their flat, heart still in his throat, on shaky legs. There wasn't anything that he could do about it right now. Not until he could speak with Arthur – to have their much needed talk. Apparently, they both have a lot of unresolved feelings, and hidden emotions below the surface that they haven't addressed yet. 

 

**

 

Chapter Text

 

Arthur did manage to call Will on his way back to his new flat. He never heard Will sound so grateful, and so happy before. Unless you counted the day of his wedding, and... the day that Aries was born. It was obvious that he was worried about his friend, but when he heard what Merlin's plans were, and that Arthur managed to stop him in time from going, Will was indeed happy, and extremely grateful. He only regretted that he missed the signs. That he didn't know that Merlin was contemplating this next move. That he wasn't there to help him when he got that far gone. He had intentions to go see Merlin right away, but Arthur assured him that Merlin was fine, and that he needed some rest. Some time to himself. Will was reluctant to accept that, but had no reason to believe that Arthur was misleading him, or planning something else. He hesistated, but agreed, asking Arthur to continue to keep him posted, and to let him know when it was okay to stop by or to call. Arthur knew that even his request would not hold Will off for long, before he reached out to his friend. Not after Merlin's attempt to flee! But Arthur only needed to buy a little bit of time. And Will would respect at least a day. Arthur advised that he would, and asked Will if he could also reach out to Mithian and Sophia to ask of them the same thing – he doubted he needed to be concerned about their other friends, Merlin's family, or his sister at the moment. Will agreed to do so, if it was best for Merlin right now. And Arthur assured him that it was.

 

Yes, Arthur assured him that it was. But Arthur had other reasons for this too. He needed to speak with Merlin, and without anyone influencing him before they had their discussion. Arthur himself needed time to calm down fully, and he needed to get himself together to talk with Merlin, with a cool head. And most importantly, he did not want anyone going to see Merlin who might fall for his reasons for wanting to flee, and aid him somehow along the way. No, this was between him and Merlin, and they needed to resolve those things together first, and then, everyone could reach out to Merlin again. After, Arthur get's that ludicrous idea of fleeing across the other side of the world out of Merlin's head! And if... if by chance Merlin still wants to leave... and there's nothing that Arthur can say or do to change his mind... Arthur would have to respect his wishes. Arthur really doesn't want to think about that last sentence right now.

 

Arthur was barely able to calm down. And he barely made it home, coming close to having another accident along the way. Arthur thinks he even started some road rage. There was a lot more yelling out car windows, and horns blaring than he's heard about or seen in a long time, and they all seemed to be directed at him. Not that he cared about that at the time, or now even for that matter. He couldn't focus on it, not while his mind is being possessed by so many thoughts. He couldn't get past Merlin's words of wishing they had never met. Because, after seven years of unrequited love and depression Arthur doesn't even wish that! And Merlin... Merlin was going to take his choice away from him by moving to California. Would he have ever told Arthur why? Would he have attempted to keep contact? Would he have come back to visit? Or did he plan to fade out of Arthur's world in hopes that Arthur would have forgotten about his existence? Arthur shook his head as he yanked off his blue Oxford hoodie, throwing it on the couch as he walked through his living room. How could he have thought anything like that! Arthur started stripping his other clothes off along the way from the hallway to his bedroom. Socks, jeans, t-shirt, and boxers before he found his way to the shower. The shower would calm him. He just needed a break. A moment, to clear his mind. A moment to understand. Wasn't it supposed to be easier, if Merlin returned his feelings? It didn't feel any easier. In fact, it felt so... hard, Arthur thought. As he allowed the spray of the water to run down his face, chest, cock, legs, and feet. He didn't know what to do. This is a new Merlin with returned feelings, who made advancements – on him, with all of his emotions going through his head, and he didn't know how to handle it when he was trying to take a considerable - healthy - step back! Especially if he doesn't know if Merlin's feelings of love for him are for the right reasons! He's had years of bottling up his emotions, how could he know for certain, and so quickly at that?! If only Merlin knew about his feelings before Arthur's breakdown! Arthur grabbed the soap finally and began to clean himself off. He wasn't dirty. He just took a shower only hours ago, but he wanted to take his time before he faced the world again. He needed to.

 

Does it make him weak, that he wants to go over to Merlin right now, and to tell him how much he loves him? That he doesn't want Merlin to leave him? Does it make him weak, that he still wants to have a life with Merlin in it? Does it make him weak, that he really doesn't want to date other people, but was going to do so because it was a request during therapy? And maybe... even on some remote and unintentional level... to make Merlin jealous? To make Merlin feel how Arthur's felt over the years everytime he watched Merlin go out with someone else? Is it wrong that he doesn't want to forgive Merlin right now? That on some level he wants to see him suffer some in return for what Merlin's done to him for the last seven years? Or, does that make him human? Is it wrong for him not to believe that Merlin's loves him for the right reasons? Should he take Merlin at his word? After seven years of thinking Merlin didn't love him like that at all?! Arthur doesn't know. But somewhere in there Arthur understands that he has to forgive Merlin in order for him to believe that Merlin loves him for the right reasons too.

 

He has to forgive Merlin, or the resentment he's feeling is only going to get worse, before it turns into bitterness. He has to let it go, because there's nothing Merlin can do that can truly make up for everything that's happened between them. And short of Arthur walking away from Merlin, throwing all of Merlin's deeds back into his face, reversing their roles of the past seven years, ignoring Merlin's feelings – and shagging half of London himself... there's no way to punish Merlin for it either. And maybe... maybe that's why Arthur didn't want to commit to anything more. Because he wanted to torture Merlin for a while, on some level. To leave him in limbo, the way Arthur's been in limbo for the past seven years! Arthur shook his head as he turned around to allow the water from the spray to run down his back, legs, and arse. Those things were never Arthur's intentions – well... maybe not all of it. He didn't plan it out – that's for certain, but the dating and the waiting to commit without giving a gaurantee did work in his favor, even though the waiting to commit, the dating – meeting other people, and the moving out for a while was – is - necessary for his own recovery. Something he hasn't focused on as much since he returned, because he has immediately started to put Merlin's feelings before his own again. Without thought. But he knew that Merlin couldn't honestly feel good about him dating, moving out, or seeing people away from him. No matter how much he challenged him to do it, no matter what he said. Not if he loved Arthur like he claimed to have. Arthur knew the feelings of that firsthand. But he thought... they were both sacrificing something here. Merlin was going to support him in his recovery, while Arthur was going to do the same for Merlin. Like he's always done for Merlin, because Merlin's never lacked support from him. Which makes Arthur want to throw something in thinking about the bloody lame excuse that Merlin gave him for leaving. It wasn't anything to do with an obligation for him, and Merlin knows it!

 

And truth be told - whether Merlin knows it or not - Arthur understood that he was sacrificing the most here, because supporting Merlin would require his presence more so than not. And he was putting himself in the fire because of his feelings for Merlin. Suffering from depression – and being forced to stay in close contact with the source, while trying to recover is not the best thing for him. Morgana was right on that front, even though she was being overbearing in her attempts to keep him away. She was right. It wouldn't be the best thing for him. Not if Merlin were to hurt him, which he has complete power to do if he wanted to right now. He just doesn't know it. And that's why he needs that time away from Merlin. To take some of that power away, and to strengthen himself. And that does require getting out there, meeting new people, and moving out. Because his feelings are just as raw as Merlin's. But where Merlin's emotions are all over the place – and not focused on one thing, Arthur's emotions are focused around Merlin's. And each connection leads back to him, since he hasn't distanced himself enough. And because he's been putting Merlin first, again. It was a major risk to take on Arthur's part, a gamble. Because Merlin is the source of his unrequited love, and if Merlin were to turn around after he recovered to say that his feelings weren't real... the damage could be irrovocable. Just like what could have happened if Merlin stepped on that plane. But he was going against his own better judgment, his sister's, his therapists, and not to mention is own self-preservation to do so. In order to help his best friend – like he thought they'd both agreed on. Because they would always be friends first. The details of everything else could have been worked out later. But Merlin decided to make his own plans. Without thinking of Arthur feelings in this, while Arthur's been doing nothing but thinking of Merlin's feelings, and of how Arthur can get past his own suffering to accept Merlin again all along. It's reminds him of their old pattern, before Merlin was aware of his own condition, all over again.

 

It does leave feelings of resentment in this that Arthur needs to deal with. It does bring up reminders of the past, that hasn't been forgotten yet, just because almost three weeks ago he found out about Merlin's condition. Three weeks isn't enough time to heal from seven years of damage, and to say that that explains it all! It can't erase the pain. Nor can it erase the suffering of it either. He's been putting his feelings on hold, because he's been focusing on Merlin's as being more important. And if Arthur were being honest with himself, he'd have to acknowledge that too. He'd be lying, if he didn't think that Merlin should pay, for some of the things that Arthur has suffered from over the years. Arthur's been unknowingly paying for Merlin's suffering all along. He'd be lying if, in the back of his mind he didn't think that Merlin should take some of the blame, that he should feel some of the pain. Because... it was only fair, if Arthur had to feel it too. And that's the quirk, Arthur knows it can't be fair! That he can't truly blame Merlin for his actions or his inaction in doing those things, when his illness was the cause for most of those actions. He can blame Merlin for some of the things, but not for all of it. And that only makes him feel empty, with no place to channel his anger – or resentment to now, because the reasons behind Merlin's actions and inactions don't match up anymore. And because he hasn't found anything to channel it into, it's still focused on Merlin.

 

The only thing that keeps Arthur in check is his love for Merlin, and his need to help and support Merlin as he get's healthy again. It's the only feeling, and want for Merlin that hasn't changed between everything that's transpired between them. His love, remains unshakeable. And stands as a constant reminder to Arthur telling him that those feelings cannot - and will not - be ignored for much longer. He'll have to address it. And the fact of the matter is... Arthur is hurt – but his hurt can heal in time. Heartbroken – but his heart can mend in time too. He is in love – And those feelings are constant, and unalterable. Time won't be able to heal or mend those feelings. Which leaves him with little choices in what comes next. And that brings him back to where he and Merlin are right now. They need to talk. They need to yell - if necessary. They need to resolve their differences. They need to ask and answer the hard questions, and Arthur... needs to come to a place where he can forgive Merlin! Only then can he get to a point to gaurantee anything else! If he can get there. If he can muster a little faith in Merlin, where believing Merlin loves him for the right reasons are concerned. He always had faith in him before. He never had reasons to doubt that, or question Merlin's sincerity in the past. The only doubt was always on this one single subject. If Merlin accepted his love, would it be for the right reasons? And now... now that Merlin has accepted his love... Though it is still out for the jury on whether Merlin's love is for the right reasons... Why does knowing the truth about Merlin change everything else now? Why does it call everything else into question too? That can only go back to the misplaced anger – the resentment, and having no real place to channel it to. Now that Merlin has a get out of jail free card! Arthur gritted his teeth just in the thought of that one. But he couldn't really blame Merlin completely for something that he had no control over, it was his illness that was responsible. He could only blame Merlin for the things he was responsible for. Even though Merlin was still the one doing it before Arthur's eyes. It doesn't chage the feelings though. And that's something Arthur will have to think about, to deal with, but not today. Not when he had to focus on his therapy session that was scheduled only an hour and a half away.

 

Arthur turned the shower off, pressed his feet onto the shower rug when walking out, and grabbed two large white towels from the built in shelf on the wall beside the shower, by the window. One to dry his body off with, and one for his face and hair. It didn't take him long before he sorted his hair out, and was pulling on undergarments, before changing into his navy blue v-neck cashmere sweater, and his black Armani dress trousers. He finished it off with a pair of black Vintage Gucci Italian loafers, sliding them on before he pulled his black leather double-breated knee length button down trench coat out of his wardrobe to keep him warm. The temperature felt like it was dropping again outside. It was best to be prepared. He needed to be prepared. He needed to be dressed – to look the part, and to be ready for battle when he had his appointments with Nimueh. She was like a shark – a predator. Looking to stake out her prey, and sniffing for any sign of blood. If she detected any weaknesses in Arthur, she would strike. And with Morgana providing her with the ammunition... Arthur swallowed, he had to be ready.

 

**

 

Morgana was cleaning up her kitchen when she heard the doorbell ring. She purposely took the day off in case Arthur needed her. She knew he ended up spending the night over at his old flat, and she was more than a little bit worried that it would set Arthur back in his recovery. There's was little more that she could do short from kidnapping, and sending him off to some far away land, or possibly doing the same to Merlin. She shook her head internally. No, she couldn't do that, even she had her limits. But she refused to see her brother fall so deep into depression again. Merlin has no idea, of the things that Arthur has gone through. No idea, of what he put Arthur through – continues to put Arthur through! Not that any of this isn't Arthur's fault. Arthur had some fault, and choices he could have made better here too. However, the things that Merlin put him through over the years far outweighed that, in her opinion. And just because Merlin has valid reasons for it now, doesn't mean that those seven years never happened. That doesn't mean that she didn't have to stand by, and watch her brother put his hopes and dreams into someone who couldn't return those feelings back. While Merlin instead showed nothing less than adoration as a friend, accepting everything from Arthur along the way. Never thinking to say something was too much. That doesn't mean that she didn't have to stand by and watch her brother succumb to depression, and have thoughts of taking his life. It doesn't erase anything! It just says that Merlin has excuses for it now. Like everyone should break out the champagne and say, “So that was the problem, well... problem solved! Drink up, and be merry all!” Yeah right, Morgana said to herself while rolling her eyes, and walking to her front door.

 

And now, now... Arthur wants to put his own recovery practically on hold to help Merlin who didn't even notice that he was falling apart right before his very eyes! She couldn't be angry at Arthur if she tried. He is her baby brother -- her only brother! She has wanted to knock him upside the head a few times though, over the years. Her control, in some ways does just that - in hopes that he wakes up! - while trying to get him better at the same time. Because he really does need some sense knocked into him! The problem is, it wouldn't have worked. Something that Morgana has learned the hard way over the years. It wouldn't have worked unless Arthur allowed it to work. And the reason why only some things worked, while others didn't? It was because Arthur's got nothing but stars in his eyes where Merlin is concerned. The only thing that did work was making sure that he ate, had support, a place to stay, and someone always there to talk to. Morgana had to make sure that she was always there, and their friends too. And when he got to the point of no return - because somehow he knew himself well enough to know when he needed the help - only then... would he give her the complete green light of control to take over. Like he's always done. She knows he's trying to take his control back now. She can see that -- and feels it too. The problem their having now is that she doesn't want to give it all back, not if the results boils down to getting this bad again, before he get's help next time! She doesn't want it to have to come to a 'next time' at all! And it makes her angry, because she can't be mad at him for being in love. And she's not being too controlling, despite what Gwaine says. She's watching out for her brother because she doesn't want to lose him to himself for good! If he was looking out for himself that would be different, but he's too busy looking out for Merlin instead like his own health is irrelevant! Like it doesn't matter! What good would it do if he took care of Merlin only to fall apart or lose himself in the process?! He's too bloody noble for his own, that's what he is! And how can she be mad at him for that?!

 

But she can be mad at Merlin, because he was the cause of all of this! Because he does too greedily takes in everything Arthur gives him, including his support, and never thinks about whether Arthur needs some support too. He takes, and takes, and didn't once think about how Arthur was depressed, how he dropped weight, or how he was having anxiety attacks right before him because he was too busy wrapped up fucking half of London to notice! Like the thought never came to mind that Arthur needed something too, or that Arthur was in trouble. And it probably didn't, because it would have required of him thinking of someone other than himself for a change. And even after he became aware of his feelings, it's still all about him! He never even thought to ask about Arthur's condition - even though Arthur's been taking the time to learn about his – only thinking of how it affected him, because Arthur was away – trying to get better - and not catering to his needs. And now, Arthur wants her to round up the lot... to say what exactly?! “Everyone, perhaps we reacted harshly towards Merlin, and maybe we all owe him an apology for screwing Arthur – unintentionally – over for the last seven years, and...oh yeah, there's that little part about driving him to the point of suicide, taking advantage of his kindness – his friendship, and being such a horrible friend there too at the end!” Morgana rolled her eyes as she muttered to herself sarcastically, shaking her head from side to side – her long black hair swaying in both directions - as she continued her way – slowly – to the door. Even though the doorbell ranged again.“And let's not be upset about Arthur's breakdown – no - that would be wrong, or the way that Arthur's sacrificing his own recovery to help someone who was too wrapped up in his own life to notice his own best friend while he was suffering - from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and weight-loss - because he was too busy sleeping with the whole Metropolitan area! We'll give him a pass on missing every sign in the book of love – even though he still did continue to sleep with the whole Metropolitan area while doing so - his condition is the reason for that. How can he be held accountable for not seeing the signs in that case, even though we all noticed it, and gave him hints too? No, he really can't be blamed for any of that. It wouldn't be fair! But, let's not forget how Merlin wants support now when he didn't give, and is still not giving any in return to Arthur. Let's not forget that now... because Merlin is aware of his feelings, that he just wants Arthur to forget that the last seven years actually happened, and wants him to put his heart and everything on the line to surrender, and accept Merlin feelings for him in return. No questions asked! Because... again, just like throughout their entire friendship, Merlin's needs comes first! And whatever Merlin wants, Merlin gets! And maybe it's time for us to all bow down and accept it! But...No big right, we acted wrongly, it's only right for us to fix it now. Despite the fact that Arthur isn't seeing clearly. We'll just be there, for them both, and pick up the pieces when they crumble like a deck of cards, again. Because that's what friends are for right? Right.”

 

Sometimes, her little brother could be delusional. But she's not going to tell Arthur that. Of course she wouldn't! It would only push him away, and he needs her to support him. Even when he can't see reason! They've always promised to support each other, to not allow the other to ever feel alone - abandoned, and Morgana has kept those promise over the years. And she will continue to do so. Just like they agreed upon, all those years ago. And if Merlin does end up with Arthur's forgiveness? Well... she'll just have to watch him like a hawk, because...at the first sign of trouble... And in the meantime, if they do end up working things out, she'll have to come to a point where she'll accept Merlin again. She'll have to forgive him. Merlin's actions will determine how smoothly that will go over, and that will be based on how he treats her brother. She still sees, and likes Merlin as a friend. She just doesn't see him as someone for Arthur, not after everything that's happened! Not yet at least. Probably because she's still unable to see past the pain that Merlin's put Arthur through. And to add insult to injury, he still has enough power over Arthur to say that he's sorry, to provide an excuse of mental illness, and to say that he loves Arthur back. Like that's supposed to cover seven years of heartache! And because Arthur has stars in his eyes for Merlin, and was looking for a valid reason for Merlin's inaction... all is forgiven! Like those seven years never happened. And not only that, he also wants to oversee Merlin's recovery, be his support, and the icing on the cake... he wants take him away to the family lake-house too! For up to two weeks, he may as well be rewarding Merlin for breaking his heart! And this is despite the fact that Arthur's own recovery calls for him to keep some distance away from Merlin. She's offended for Arthur! And since he is not looking out for his own health, it's up to her to look out for his health for him before he gets too far gone this time. Because who's going to be the one to pick him up as always when he falls? She is! Who's going to notice? Not Merlin, because it's still all about him! So if she seems a little more protective, if she's a little more controlling, if she's a little more forceful... It's because she trying to make sure that her brother doesn't fall to the point of no return – or to the point of involving their father! - while he's focusing on someone who never loved him back for all of this time, instead of on his own needs. Who's going to look out for him if she doesn't? And since he's decided to ignore his own needs – his own recovery, to support Merlin instead, she's going to have to step in - to direct, to guide, and to nudge - to be there, to support him, whether Arthur wants her help – or not. She put on her best smile as she opened the door.

 

**

 

“Hello, little brother.” Morgana said sweetly, as she opened the door further to usher Arthur in.

 

He smiled in return, using his right hand and fingers to run across his brow as he walked in. “Hey, I saw your SUV out front. I thought you were going into work?” Arthur said, tone distant, along with his expression, as he took off his black leather trench-coat, and passed it to Morgana to hang up on the hook. She took it easily, and did so.

 

Morgana shook her head as she walked toward the kitchen, knowing he would follow – it was their ritual, she waved her right hand for him to take a seat at the head of the kitchen table that seated six. “No, it's slow right now, and then.. you didn't call, so I waited to make sure that you were alright.”

 

Arthur winced – he should have called, but he got distracted with Merlin's attempt to flee. It was tense between them too, because they both knew that there were things that needed to be discussed, but no one was jumping to share.

 

And both he and Morgana knew how to bide their time.

 

“I'm sorry,” Arthur said sincerely, tone and eyes expressing apology, as he took his seat. He even managed to muster in a small smile. “I meant to call you just as we agreed, but I got... side-tracked.”

 

Morgana turned to him in time to catch the hurt that flashed before his expression before he attempted for stoic. She's spent too much time observing him for signs of depression to miss it. She grabbed two slices of multi-grain bread from the bread cabinet, and placed it on a saucer before turning back to him and asking, tone concerned and curious, “did something happen?” She didn't stare at him in wait, she continued to the refrigerator to grab the ham, roast beef, and cheese slices to build his sandwich. It was best for Arthur not to feel pressured to talk. It made him feel in control.

 

Arthur rubbed both hands over his face, he was sitting back in his chair, but leaned forward – elbows on the table. Arthur nodded while his hands were still covering his face. “Merlin tried to leave town.”

 

Morgana almost dropped the Cheshire cheese that she just pulled out of the refrigerator along with the ham, and the turkey. That threw her for a loop. She placed the cheese, ham, and roast beef on the counter top before turning to Arthur – who still had his head in his hands. “Why was he going to leave?”

 

Arthur dropped his hands from his face. She knew his eyes were red-rimmed when she saw him at the front door, but he seemed fine, and she didn't want to comment on it until he was ready.

 

Arthur shook his head. Even though he was trying to hard to hide it, the emotions – the pain – was flickering all over his face. “He didn't want to stay,” Arthur whispered, tone sounding grieved, tired. “He said he was doing it... for me. So I wouldn't feel obligated to help him.”

 

Now that's a sure way to trap Arthur, Morgana thought – to herself. If Merlin could succeed in making Arthur feel that way - hurt or guilty - about his reasons it would push him to decide something that would lean more favorably in Merlin's favor, and more quickly. Again, not giving Arthur the time to decide for himself what he wants. To force his hand and to rush a decision. Morgana's jaw clinched automatically at that. Merlin may have had a disorder, but he has had chances to have a lot of the things that he wanted over the years, while Arthur's life completed revolved around his. Whether Arthur sees that or not. And what Merlin's doing right now has nothing to do with his disorder. Doesn't he see even now how unfair that is?! But instead of allowing Arthur the time to decide, he's basically trying to push an ultimatum out of him - forcing an all or nothing - because he knows that Arthur loves him, and would do anything for him – including give in – instead of losing Merlin altogether. Morgana was getting angry just thinking about it. She really hoped that Merlin's intentions were far from her assumptions, but he has to see that that is exactly what it looks like! Like he's trying to force Arthur's hand to make a decision, just because his own mind is made up! How is that even fair?! And instead of waiting, he decides to move knowing what it would do to Arthur if he does. And not even thinking about the repercussions of it because he wouldn't have to be there to clean up the mess. Just like he's been doing all along, except for then he had a steady excuse. What's his excuse now? He may not have been responsible for not noticing Arthur's love before, but he knows of it now, and this time, he's willingly breaking Arthur's heart. All because he can't wait! If Arthur's waited for seven years then dammit, Merlin should be able to wait at least a month! Morgana was getting angrier by the second, but she couldn't show that in her tone. Her tone was supportive, encouraging even – when she spoke again, as she started stacking the ham, roast beef, and cheese slices on the multi-grain bread. “And were you, doing this out of some sort of obligation to Merlin?”

 

Arthur shook his head, from where he was seated. He took both hands and fingers to run it through his hair, before attempting to run it back in place, and tousling it instead. He licked his lips, before responding, tone certain and a little bit broken, “No, not in the way that he was accusing me of. Of course I'd want to help him, how could I not? He's my best friend, I've been in love with him for seven years, of course I wouldn't want to turn my back on him. In some way, you can think of it as an obligation, but it's also out of love, and not wanting to see him go through this alone. He knows that! He was lying.” Arthur shook his head, and lifted his head to the ceiling, his eyes were watering slightly – it made him want to hide that. “You should have seen him, Morgana.” Arthur's tone turned stricken. “He looked like he was falling apart last night. He was drinking heavily – he wasn't drunk though surprisingly, but it was clear that he was drinking a lot - he was all alone in the dark – trapped in his own worse nightmares – he's been reliving his past traumas you know, in his dreams...” Arthur shook his head, torn, and leaned forward placing his elbows back on the table, his hands dropped to his sides after he ran it through his hair previously. He shook his head again before covering his face with his hands again, and continued, tone strained, “He's going through psychotherapy during the day, and waking up every night from the nightmares of everything that he's tried to run away from in his own mind – for all of these years. Of course I wanted to be there to help him! And we agreed to that last night. He even agreed to allow me the time that I needed for my own recovery, he lied, and then... this morning, he was gone.” Arthur's voice cracked on the last word.

 

Arthur didn't even notice Morgana going to the refrigerator, grabbing the mayonnaise, and adding it to his sandwich. He didn't even notice her grabbing the chips. Nor did he notice her putting the sandwich meat, cheese, and mayonnaise back into the refrigerator. He only stiffened when she placed his chips and sandwich before him, and took a seat beside him at the table. He lowered his hands from his face then, his eyes were watered, but he didn't cry – he was obviously holding it back for her benefit. She was not going to let him stop eating. She doubted he even ate lunch yet, and she knew that he had an appointment with Nimueh shortly. She responded gently, cautiously, “how did you find out about his plans?”

 

Arthur shook head as he picked up half of his sandwich. Tone hoarse. “I didn't. I only went into his room to look for my red Oxford hoodie to find that half of his clothes were gone along with his luggage set.” Arthur took a deep breath before taking a bite of his sandwich. It should taste delicious, but it tasted like sand.

 

Morgana closed her eyes for a moment, and grabbed her scrunchy to place her hair into a messy bun. She kept her tone gentle, encouraging, and open – eyes sincere, when she asked, “What was he planning to do? How did you find out?” She got up for a moment because she forgot to get Arthur some tea, being thrown off by the news. The kettle was still hot. She had just had some tea herself, before Arthur arrived. She grabbed a tea cup, and added in the cream and sugar, just the way that Arthur liked it, and passed it to him as she waited for a response. And since Arthur looked like he was going to fall apart if you blew too hard, she waited, patiently.

 

He gave her a small smile at least, as he placed his sandwich on the saucer, and took the tea cup from her with his right hand. He closed his eyes, and took a sip, before setting it on the table beside his sandwich and picked up his sandwich again. His tone was still strained and hoarse. “When I noticed his things were... missing, I called Will. He told me... well rather, reminded me that Merlin had a psychotherapy session scheduled for this morning. I went to Dr. Monmouth's office only to find that Merlin was gone, and that he had plans to relocate to LA, his flight was scheduled for take off at 11:00am at the Heathrow.” Arthur heart started beating a tad bit faster just talking about it, and he sucked in a breath.

 

Morgana's mouth was hanging open in surprise, until she caught herself and closed it. But her eyes were still widened.

 

“I made it just before he boarded.” Arthur concluded, tone still strained and hoarse. Eyes distant and lost.

 

That didn't add up. Morgana got up to go make herself another cup of tea with cream and sugar before she asked, openly curious this time, right brow raised. “And that was it? He just left with you, after making all of those arrangements?” Both of Arthur's brows raised then. He had the good grace to look a tad bit guilty. He licked his lips, and took a sip of his tea. Morgana's left brow raised to match her right, “well come on. You've gotten this far now, you might as well tell me the rest.” She added with her left hand on her hip - wearing her snug fitting dark blue jeans, and her dark green long-sleeved cashmere turtleneck sweater with white socks, still looking like she walked out of a fashion magazine - before she grabbed her now made tea with her right hand, and making it back to the kitchen table beside Arthur.

 

“I don't think I gave him much choice in the matter.” Arthur bit out. He really didn't remember everything that he said. He was fighting back a full-blown anxiety attack at the time. He knew that he was desperate, he knows he owes Dr. Monmouth and his secretary an apology, and he knows he probably owes Merlin one too. The only that Arthur was thinking about at the time was that he couldn't bear for Merlin to get on that plane! He couldn't bear to see him walk out of his life – for good. He knew that he loved him too much to see him leave. But he also knows that he felt angry - and he understands why, now that he's taken the time to reflect on it. But he hadn't reflected on it before he went after Merlin. And at that moment - and even now - there were so many things - so many emotions - that were bubbling and threatening to come to the surface. Things he really needs to discuss with Merlin. Something that their trip was meant to accomplish! But to see that Merlin would just leave, that he would discard him like that, like he never cared about him in the first place. While Arthur's done nothing but love him, even to the point of putting his life on hold... And then, he had nerve to say that it would have been better if they had never met. Arthur thought if he lived to see one hundred, he'd still remember how painful it felt to hear those words coming from Merlin. He felt a twinge in his heart just thinking about. Arthur placed his sandwich back on the saucer, grabbed a napkin from the side of the table nearest the wall, wiped his hands before setting it down, and running both hands through his hair in frustration.

 

Morgana waited him out, eyes widened, slight frown, she had a feeling with all of Arthur's delaying of the topic that this wasn't going to be pretty.

 

Arthur finally whispered out. “I forced him to stay.”

 

She was right.

 

“You did what?!” Morgana voice went octave.

 

Arthur winced, and then grimaced. A flash of anger went across his face, and then shame. He shook his head, before responding, his tone distraught, with a hidden layer of anger laced in it. His voice raised after each sentence. “What was I supposed to do? He was going to leave, Morgana. And I could tell that he had no intentions of coming back, and I know him well enough to know that he didn't! He made it sound like he was doing it for my own good. He said that he couldn't have me taking care of him out of obligation. That there was no way that he could make anything between us right. That he's taken too much from me, and that he didn't deserve me, like it was his choice to decide for me! He said that I should be with someone who did deserve me. After everything. After last night, when he wanted me to believe so badly that he loved me” Arthur shook his head before continuing, voice hoarse. “When he promised me that he would stand by me in my recovery by giving me the space that I needed. He even told me to go out and date, and meet new people. He even... kissed... me! What the hell do you think I was supposed to do, just let him go – without even knowing why?!”

 

Morgana sucked in a breath, and her brows were running competition as to which one would go higher. If it weren't for Arthur having to leave soon to see Nimueh, she would have broken out the brandy by now. Which will be – exactly - what she will be doing once Arthur leaves.

 

Arthur's voice turned stricken - grievous, his eyes began to water, despite his attempting to control it – her heart went out for him, just to see him like this. “And then... and then... I woke up this morning to find that he was gone, that he had no intentions of coming back, that he was about to board a flight to go to LA, and I lost it. I'm not proud of it, but I lost it. What was I supposed to do, just let him leave?!” Arthur asked, it was a rhetorical question, Morgana knew. He shook his head, and swallowed hard. “So I stopped him, the only way that I knew how. Before he walked out of my life. And then he said that it would have been better if we had never met.”

 

Morgana sucked in a breath. She knew that Merlin didn't mean that last sentence. That was meant to hurt Arthur, and it landed it's mark because it succeeded. But the rest. And then a thought came to mind, as she ran her right hand and fingers over her forehead, alarmed, she asked, “Arthur when you said by force, you didn't mean -”

 

Arthur brows raised too, and he paled, before answering hurriedly, “My god Morgana, I would never hit Merlin! I lost it. I got angry, I lost my temper, I stopped him from turning in his boarding pass, but I didn't hit him! I would never forgive myself for doing something like that.”

 

“Verbal abuse is almost just as serious as physical abuse, Arthur.” Morgana chided, eyes sharp. “It's still abuse and sometimes people would rather have the physical because it's temporary over the verbal which seems to last a lot longer and causes more damage. Depending on the situation.” Morgana muttered, and rambled on almost to herself – like she was repeating something that she read, while scratching her chin with her left hand and fingers. “The point is, the boy is recovering from abuse, physical and verbal, and bullying. Do you really think that helped your situation any or his?” Arthur would never forgive himself if he did anything to set back Merlin's recovery.

 

She wasn't being Merlin's cheerleader, but she knows what Arthur's 'losing' his temper is like. And it's a rare occasion when he does it because he has to feel pushed or threatened to get to that level. And since he's always so calm, charming, noble, loving, and gentle, she can count it on her one hand the times when he's actually lost his temper. And those... she mentally counted – three - times that he lost his temper previously were when their father tried to get Arthur to distance himself in his relationship with Merlin when they were younger. Their father didn't think Merlin was a good influence on Arthur, when in truth she does think he foresaw what's happening now. Their father was astute like that. And now... in reflection, she understands why. Because their good old father knew a lot more about Merlin's history than what he led on about, considering his close friendship with Gaius. Their father's attempts never worked though. Arthur only accused their father of being prejudiced towards Merlin and judgmental. Their father's attempts only made Arthur want to stick up for Merlin more. Especially considering the fact that their father never said anything about any of their other friends, and encouraged their friendships. It only left Arthur to believe that he was right, since their father wasn't able to give him any valid reasons why he should have distanced himself from Merlin. But the last time Arthur did lose his temper - which happened to be their father's last time to attempt to persuade Arthur to distance himself from Merlin too - Arthur's temper had surpassed her's and rivaled their father's own. So she knows what 'lost his temper' means. And considering it was over Merlin's leaving... and the way that he tried to... She doubts very seriously that losing his temper came out the way he's making it sound to her. And considering Merlin has never seen that side of Arthur before – because they've never been that mad at each other, and Arthur absolutely adores him... She doubted he would have taken it well. And considering his past to boot, he definitely wouldn't have, at least... not... now, while he was still recovering. She doubted he would have been strong enough for that. Even she watched her temper around Merlin when she saw him last. But she couldn't think of any alternatives for Arthur either on stopping Merlin aside from getting him some place where they could talk. And if Merlin was refusing, if Merlin was still wanted to go away, if he was completely disregarding Arthur's feelings, if he was lying to Arthur, if Arthur felt threatened... So many what if's?

 

Arthur went on unaware of his sister's silent concerns.

 

“I didn't abuse him, Morgana! I didn't hit him. I didn't bully him! I got angry. I had a right to get angry. There's not a person alive that doesn't get angry. He was about to leave! Without even telling me. Trying to tell me that it was for my own good, like he had a right to choose for me what was for my own good! And I was fighting having an attack the whole time! I lost my temper because I couldn't control everything at once, and I felt backed up into a corner. While almost losing the love of my life in the process. It's not an excuse. I'm not proud of it. But if I didn't do it he would have left.”

 

Morgana's expression basically said, “dam right it wasn't an excuse!” She wouldn't normally defend Merlin – not lately anyway, but she does defend what she sees as right from what she sees as wrong. And she would tell Arthur, if she thought he was wrong about something too. But she knows that Arthur would never do anything to intentionally hurt Merlin. He's been hurting himself for years just to allow Merlin the time not to be forced into a decision that he should have been forced into a long time ago. It would have saved them all the grief. And since Arthur was the key to unlocking Merlin's emotions, it may have unlocked it back then too. Not that anyone would have known that. No more than Merlin would have known - if he made his feelings known while he still had a mind too himself, when Arthur was straight – when he didn't know if Arthur would have accepted those feelings. Somehow... Morgana thought that he would have. No one loves their best friend as much as Arthur loved Merlin. He probably didn't recognize his own feelings for what they were at the time. Just because he dated women didn't mean that he didn't love Merlin romantically too. He just didn't recognize it. Even though the spark in Arthur's eyes would go ten times as high for Merlin than it did for any woman that he's dated before over the years, or any man that he took interest in during his 'self-discovery' phase. Morgana mentally put two forefingers down to hyphenate that phrase before shaking her head. Maybe, if Merlin had given in then, he may not have fallen as deep into his disorder(s) as he has now, where he has to go through such intensive psychotherapy sessions to 'fix it.' Where he may not have just missed out on his chance with the person he so claims that he really wants most of all now. Again, so many what if's! Morgana internally sighed. Before responded gently, openly, saying, “I think, instead of asking the question of what were you supposed to do... you should be asking yourself what do you want to do.”

 

Arthur sat back in his chair, sandwich and tea forgotten. At least he ate half of it, Morgana thought. He looked up to the ceiling, and used his both hands again to cover his face. He groaned – loudly, before he shook his head. And responded, tone hoarse. “I love him.” Arthur swallowed. “I can't stop lovinghim. There's nothing that I can do to stop it. There's no - magical - cure to fix it, no potion to drink to dissolve the feelings, and I seriously doubt dating anyone - or even sleeping with someone else - will be able to 'fix it.'” Arthur paused, voice broken when he continued. “But I need time. There's still so much that I haven't even dealt with. I just got back, and I've only had time to focus on Merlin. I haven't had anytime to truly think about what I wanted to do yet. That's what the trip was supposed to be about.”

 

Morgana swallowed, and closed her eyes briefly before opening them, she took a sip of her tea by picking it up with her right hand, before placing it back on the table again. Then she pulled her scrunchy out of her hair, to let it fall before pulling it back up again. This part was not a secret, this she knew, she listened on.

 

I can't lose him, Morgana.” Arthur finally croaked out.

 

Morgana nodded, as much as she wanted Arthur to move on with his life she knew that. It didn't stop her from worrying though, but his choices - once he made them - was his. She asked firmly, he need needed to make some decisions. “What are you going to do?”

 

Arthur pulled his hands down from his face – still sitting back in his chair – eyes watered, and gave her a look that said, “isn't it obvious,” before saying in that same tone of his expression, “what can I do? I love him.”

 

You don't have to allow Merlin to force you into making a decision so soon, she thought. You don't have to continue to put Merlin's needs first. Maybe Merlin could possibly think about your needs for a change, and not attempt to run away when he feels he can't handle it! Because that seems to be no different than blocking out his feelings. Isn't that part of his recovery, to face his feelings, and not run away from it? And now that he can't run away from it in his own mind, he figured he'd run away from it by plane. Morgana internally rolled her eyes, because that would be classic Merlin to only protect himself first while Arthur laying everything out on the line for him. Instead of being honest with Arthur and himself of what is really bothering him, because she wasn't buying his ridiculous excuse either.

 

Morgana realized she was thinking to long, but rolled her eyes, and responded back, tone exasperated, “but you have to make sure that this is the right decision for you, Arthur.”

 

“Morgana -” Arthur was about to argue, hands closing in fist before Morgana cut him off.

 

He needed to understand that this wasn't just a normal decision. That this was his life that they were talking about here! He had such a tight rein on every other aspect of his life, with the exception of his love life. She had to make him see reason. She responded, tone firm, eyes firm while still gentle. “No, listen Arthur. For the past thirteen years your life has revolved around Merlin in one way or another. You've had your other best friends, but even they can say that it's been about Merlin, from the moment you met. It's always been, “do you think Merlin would like this? I wonder if Merlin is free this weekend? Do you think Merlin will want to go here? No, Merlin doesn't like to watch horror movies, or Merlin doesn't like those psychological thrillers.” She paused, left brow raised, daring him to argue that. Arthur didn't interrupt – his eyes were looking forward to a fixed point on her kitchen wall, his jaw clinched. She continued, “Now, to be fair, those were things you would think about in regards to a best friend. But you never would go on and on about those things in regards to your other friends once Merlin came into the picture. You always made sure that Merlin was included then. And Will use to complain that Merlin was similar in regards to you back then too. He felt like he was given a back seat to his and Merlin's friendship from the moment they moved to London, and met you. But this isn't about Merlin here, this is about you.” She waited again, and with no interruptions, she continued. “And as you got older, when you fell in love, it's always been about when will Merlin notice. Why can't he see? What else can I do to show him?” She waited again, no interruption. Arthur practically drilling a whole in the wall with his eyes, jaw continuing to clinch tighter. They both knew that she was telling the truth. “And now that he can see, it's about what if he doesn't love me for the right reasons. Something you've been concerned about for quite some time now. And you have valid reasons for questioning that, because Merlin has always given you what you wanted – if you really wanted something, why not give you himself too, if you asked?” She raised her right brow, because they've had that discussion, because basically he could have had Merlin a long time ago. But again, he was too noble with his idealistic thoughts of what love should be like, for his own good. He had to want it all perfect, and for the right reasons, instead of just accepting love as it comes. Arthur's reasons were valid, the logic of it was sometimes questionable. But again, it was all about Merlin, and he never wanted to do anything to hurt him.

 

She continued. Eyes still firm and gentle, tone building, showing clearly that she was getting to her point. “But during these past seven years Arthur, you did fall in love with him, you did watch him continue to date. And to you, he was happy. He accepted all of your signs without even noticing the meaning behind them, he shared your signs of affections, and returned them with signs of love and friendship. He never noticed those signs in the way that you wanted him to. And in your desire of wanting him to see those signs – of your love for him - you got sick. And depression can happen to people, but your depression came upon you from loving someone at such a degree when the person you loved didn't love you back, while you continued to surround your life around him – while he lived his life, without you in it, at least, not in the way that you wanted to be in it.” Arthur remained silent, glaring at the wall, jaw clinched, but the tears were falling from his eyes before he even realized it, she passed him a napkin to use. He did, as he sucked in a breath. Her eyes watered too, it hurt her to talk about it. To remember how she watched him fall apart. It was always the two of them against the world. She doesn't ever want to lose that. She went on, eyes and tone soft, gentle. “And instead of separating yourself - even though Merlin stayed attached to you at the hip as a best friend – instead of pulling away, getting the hell out of your flat – for longer than a day or two, you stayed, and you got sicker. Since you couldn't find it in yourself to tell him.” She shook her head slightly there. They've had those discussions too, several times over the years, where she tried to convince him to tell Merlin. He even tried – several times even, but there was something about Merlin that made Arthur shy when he realized he had to be outright blunt for Merlin to get the message, and then that was even questionable. It made Arthur on some level afraid that Merlin was intentionally ignoring his attempts in order to not have to tell Arthur no, and Arthur didn't want to force a decision for again, the wrong reasons. So he went back to his signs. And even tried dating again, and more than a few people that time around. But the dating never took the love away, and eventually faded out. Arthur must have been thinking about that too because he gave a tiny smile through his tears as he wiped his face with the napkin Morgana passed him again. She smiled back, but continued on just as gently.

 

“You continued to pour yourself into that person, you continued to love that person, because you thought it would eventually pay off, you thought – he would eventually see, while your heart and mind was broken from the hopelessness of it all. And I don't have to tell you how bad it got Arthur, you lived it, you're still living it. But then somewhere... out of the blue, when you were finally got it in you to realize just how bad things were between you, how sick you'd gotten, when you were finally going to pull away, you happen to be the one who triggers Merlin's emotions, because he couldn't stand to lose you. Because the feelings were there, unacknowledged, and unwanted for all of this time... And now, now that he has no choice but to confront it, he's left with no choice but to admit that he wants you, and that's fine. He should know what he wants. But think about the pattern Arthur. It's always been about what Merlin wants for you. It doesn't matter if he always gave you what you wanted, you never selected a choice that didn't include Merlin in it. Not even when it comes down to your own mental health, or your own recovery, because even now, you are putting him first. The choice here, this choice here...” Morgana said while tapping her right fore-fingernail on the kitchen table to make a point. “This choice here needs to be about what you want for once, and not about Merlin. It's your life, Arthur. You have to live it, but you cannot let Merlin force you into this decision. Or give you an ultimatum when while you're still trying to figure it out. He may not owe you for you falling in love with him. He can't take the blame for what your heart tells you to do. But he does owe you the time to make a decision. It's the least he can do for his part in all of this. Because even with a condition, he should still own up to his responsibilities now that he can so clearly see the damage that he's done. It's like causing a wreck, it wasn't intentional but it happened, you share some responsibility in cleaning up the mess, and taking care of the victims during the process. His illness may have been the culprit, but you weren't looking at his illness – you didn't know about his past, you were looking at him, just like he wants you to look at him now. Your still thinking about responsibilities, and allowing Merlin time to get healthy, and you've done nothing wrong in this mess aside from what you allowed to happen to yourself because of love, and being too damn noble for your own good!”

 

“Your only seeing the bad -” Arthur croaked out before Morgana interrupted him.

 

“I think I'm calling it right in the middle, and we both know it.” Morgana shook her head, and swallowed, wishing she had some brandy, before responding tone and eyes, open and honest. “You know that I've always loved Merlin. I can't say that I've liked him recently – after seeing everything that's happened between you too, and watching him act like he didn't care that you needed to get better at all in comparison to you not being there for him. Like I only sent you away for his benefit, and not for you to get well. Like your breakdown didn't happen, or like it was insignificant in comparison to his situation. And no one was comparing it, he made it sound like it was all about him. Instead of it being about you needing to get better too. Instead of him putting his selfishness aside for once, to think about you too, as you've always thought about him. That did get me, and it would! Your my little brother, and he was being selfish, and wrong. I didn't even say anything negative to him until he started yammering on about that nonsense! His attitude about it all, like he shouldn't be sorry about anything. And everyone else should be going woe is Merlin, like he's the only one that's suffering since you weren't there to be there for him. I do have to admit, that did get me. And I've talked to him, more than once even, and I didn't see a lick of remorse in him. It was still all about Merlin.”

 

Arthur averted his eyes, covered his mouth with his right hand, and swallowed, but listened on. He didn't know anything about the details of those past conversations, but he could only assume one of them was from that argument that they had in the bar while he was away. It was something to think about.

 

Morgana clinched her jaw, but continued, tone and eyes still open, “I know that he has an illness, but just like you have had to own up to the things that you've done wrong, I think he should too. Aunt Margaret, whenever she did have an episode around us when we were little, before father got more cautious of her being around us unattended, and before she decided to strike out on her own always apologized. She always owned up to what she did wrong, even if she wasn't aware of what she was doing at the time. She would ask what she'd done, and she would be sorry, and she would attempt to make it right. People do accept responsibility, Arthur. It's not always ignored as if it doesn't exist. As if it should be overlooked, no matter the damage in it's wake. I think that's what he doesn't see, and everyone is too afraid to tell him, your too afraid to tell him, because we've always just given him what he wanted, just like you did, but in our own way. And when we do tell him off, we all look like the bad guys for attempting to set him straight, or you jump to his defense.”

 

Arthur shook his head. “He has apologized, to me that is.” Arthur shook his head again, before placing both hands and running it through his hair, and licking his lips, before speaking firmly - but still hoarse. “He apologized, and he's blaming himself for everything. But most of that is his emotions going all over the place from everything that he's had to face again. He hasn't even processed the things that he's done yet, or hasn't done even.”

 

Morgana nodded again, before taking both of Arthur's hands into her's and folding them together, she spoke gently, her eyes matching, “Whatever you decide, I will support your decision. As long as you can look me in the eye and tell me that decision is for you, and not for Merlin. And as long as you take the time to make the decision without allowing yourself to be forced into a wall or given an ultimatum, which is basically the same thing. And if Merlin can't find it in himself to see that you need time, if he can't find it in himself to give you that time, if he can't see for himself that you have things you need to recover from too – even though your situations are different – then he's probably not the friend that you thought he was. At least, not anymore. Because it is clear that you need time. But whatever your decide, make sure that it's for the right reasons. And don't expect me to stand by, and watch you throw your life in the toilet if it isn't, thinking I'll just come and pick up the pieces. We promised each other that we would look after each other. Don't let yourself go, don't give up on your own recovery while focusing on Merlin's alone. Even if you do decide to be with him you'd do him no good if you are not whole yourself.”

 

Arthur nodded, tone and eyes resigned when he responded. “I haven't decided yet, we haven't even talked since...” The unsaid airport fiasco was clear. “We need to talk, and we need that time away, but... I promise.” Arthur shook his head. He couldn't stand to see how worried his sister has become, and knowing that he was the source of that worry - while he's been focused on Merlin instead. It was like their Aunt Margaret all over again, and she's closer to him. And she's worried about him... while being pregnant at that. He was going to have to find a way to fix it all, for everyone, including himself. His tone was hoarse from emotion as he continued. “And I promise that I will do everything that I need to do to in order to get better, but you need to do something for me too.” Arthur paused to tighten his hold on their folded hands. Morgana listened on, watching their hands, and waited. “When I make this decision, no matter what I decide I need you to be able to support me in it.” Arthur raised his brows since their hands were still folded together to stop Morgana before she spoke, she was just about to. She clinched her jaw, and listened on. “I know that you have your own thoughts about how Merlin feels about me. So do I. And you've made some valid points, but the fact of the matter is Merlin's disorder was different from Aunt Margaret's. Though you do have a good point in taking responsibility. That's something Merlin's going to have to live with. And your right on the point that the years still did happen. I'm still feeling the results of it, and am having just as hard a time in forgiving him in some things as you are.” Arthur swallowed.

 

Morgana continued to glance at their hands before looking back at Arthur. She was surprised that he was having a hard time forgiving Merlin at all. Merlin could probably destroy Arthur's Aston Martin like he did his Porsche and Arthur would still have stars in his eyes for him. But it made her feel better that he was thinking with a clear head. Because no one could just turn around, and ignore their own pain, as if the past never happened. How could they heal from it? Coming to the point of acknowledging that means he really is starting to get better. She listened on.

 

And this time when Arthur spoke, he sounded strained. “I'm having a hard time forgiving him, but I know that I can. That I have to. I just need some time. And I need to know that we aren't rushing into things, and that Merlin is doing things for the right reasons, and that he's not lying to me. I still need to have that distance from Merlin to figure it out too because being with him, all of the time – with all of his emotions in full force - leaves my thoughts to think in the wrong directions. And it seems to do the same affect on him too. Which means we aren't really focusing on what needs to be done then. Especially not if Merlin agrees with me in one moment, and attempts to fly away to LA in the next.” Arthur swallowed, as he shook his head. “But I don't even know if he meant anything that he said before – not after the way he was going to leave. I don't even know if he even loved me in the way that he claims. It brought all of my fears back to the forefront. He was so willing to leave it all behind, to leave me behind, like it didn't matter, like I didn't matter.” A tear fell from Arthur's left eye, he didn't notice it. “Those actions this morning from Merlin does not match up with his words, and it's confusing as hell, because as much as I want to walk away right now I know that I can't. Arthur banged his best with his right fist in his chest, voice hoarse and pained, eyes distraught while saying, “because this won't allow me to.” Arthur swallowed, as he hit his heart, before shaking his head - tone broken. “I don't know what to do.”

 

Morgana's eyes watered then. She nibbled on the inside of her left cheek, before licking her lips, and speaking – tone and eyes encouraging, “I think you need to talk to Merlin, Arthur.”

 

A few more weyward tears fell from Arthur face, before Morgana unfolded her hands from his and passed him another napkin. He chuckled painfully, and took it before responding – tone and eyes broken. “He doesn't even want to be in the same country as me.”

 

Morgana shook her head, and leaned other taking her left hand to run it through Arthur's hair, putting it back in place again. It was all over the place. Before she responded encouragingly. “Even being mad at him, I can honestly tell you that leaving you would have been the last thing that Merlin would have wanted to do.” She held her right hand out to stop Arthur from interrupting, he was about to. “I've known him for thirteen years too remember?” Arthur rolled his eyes with a clear expression of, “not in the same way.” She rolled her eyes back before continuing, tone knowing. “You need to talk with him. He's not being honest with you, that's for certain. But you won't know what he's thinking unless you talk to him. And while you're at it, you need to do some talking to. Because your not being completely honest with Merlin either. Your not lying to him, but you are omitting things. Granted, it's because your trying to protect him from your feelings while lending support instead, but it's eating you up inside and he needs to hear what you have to say. Maybe then he can understand why you've been holding yourself back. And why you haven't just jumped into his bed by now.”

 

Arthur flushed, even through his tears, while Morgana shook her head and rolled her eyes.

 

Morgana continued, tone comforting, eyes gentle. “He does love you Arthur. He always has. He just became a suckey friend in the end there when he got men crazy, but it took him what ten and a half years to screw up royally in your thirteen year friendship? And no, we don't know if he loves you for the right reasons, but you do owe it to yourself to find out after seven years of loving him, and waiting for him to make a decision. And you've practically admitted that you will always love him. You owe it to yourself to talk with Merlin and to try and figure it out. Whatever you decide. Whether you decide to be together, to remain friends, or to part ways. You both owe it to yourselves this time to talk, and to be honest with one another. Without the kid gloves, because that's what I suspect is going on here because it seems like you've gotten no where after two major discussions – if Merlin trying to run tail to LA says anything - and you're always left coming back looking like you've been run over by a train. A heart can only take so much abuse, Arthur!”

 

And god help her, she never thought she would give that advice to her little brother, but she would never steer him wrong. Even if sending him to talk with Merlin again will add to more sleepless nights of worrying for her. Hopefully her doubts about Merlin will be proven wrong, or he'll change to become less self-absorbed. She continued, tone sincere. “But the feelings your feeling right now, the pent up emotions that are causing you not to forgive right now. Are human feelings, Arthur. Your just not use to being angry at Merlin. But I don't know anyone alive who would be able to get over everything that you've been through without any resentment to deal with.” Morgana paused, because she needed to get this out too. Her first tone became more discerning, her eyes gentle, but firm as she continued. “It takes time. It's a human response. And that still doesn't take away the fact that he was too wrapped up in his own love life to notice your depression, your withdrawing at your lowest points, your onsets of anxiety attacks, and your weight loss! He had to be basically sleeping on the job to miss all of that! You were upset at Merlin during those years. You had to have been. Because he was your best friend, and the one person that you depended on aside from me and possibly Gwaine, and he wasn't there for you. He lived with you, and didn't even notice you had a problem. And after all the times that you have been there for him, and have constantly put him first in your life. And even now, your doing the same thing, and he's still not there for you, attempting to run away instead. You have the right to be upset. There has to be feelings that you have to work through. You were just falling so deep that you never acknowledged it, not even to yourself, and definitely not to Merlin. If you had expressed it then, you both may have some sense knocked into you way before now. But these feelings that you're feeling, it's not something that's just showing up, that's why you're having such a hard time forgiving him now. You need to talk it out. You both do. He needs to know what you've gone through, and maybe he can understand you're reluctance now. And you both need to do it without running away from each other! Because... apparently, you haven't been very honest about your feelings regarding this matter or with what you want to do next either.”

 

Arthur shook his head, and rubbed his hands over his face. He swallowed-hard, and groaned loudly, before sounding grief-stricken. “Your the one who told me that I should be dating other people. You, Nimueh, and that therapist back at the resort. You all said that I should be getting out and meeting other people. You even agreed with my suggestion to move out! In fact you practically moved me in here!”

 

Morgana sucked in her lips and licked them, before running her right hand over her brow, and speaking sharply. “That doesn't excuse you from sharing your feelings. And my involvement... in helping... in giving you directions... in sending you to see your therapist... That's because my little brother was in a full blown depression, losing weight by the minute, having frequent anxiety attacks, threatening suicide, and having a nervous breakdown right before my very eyes!” She ended in a shriek.

 

 

Arthur flinched, and shuddered. Eyes fixating back to the wall again. Arthur understood very quickly that she was not going to be finished yet.

 

 

She continued, tone still sharp, voice elevated a few levels, eyes glaring. “That's because my little brother was in love with someone for seven years who didn't love him back, and pop, all of a sudden he claimed that he does, and didn't show a lick of remorse about any of the damage that he's done during the process. That's because I wanted my little brother to get better again, and preferably before our father found out, and decided to take matters out of my hands deciding to 'fix it!' Morgana shrieked again.

 

Arthur winced and grimaced. He was still incredibly shaken from the day, and now from this discussion too. But it didn't stop him from remembering the 'fix it' solution. They both feared that. Arthur's expression became crestfallen and chastised all in one.

 

But Morgana wasn't finished. “That's because I wanted you to have sometime away from Merlin, because you never would have chosen that for yourself as long as you knew about his disorder - that he conveniently told you about, along with his sudden declaration of love for you - before you left in an effort to get you to stay! Your depression is sparked by an unrequited love, Arthur, of course I'd try to keep you away from the source of it for as long as I could. I didn't even make it permanently, I just wanted you to have some space. How else would you have had a clear mind to make a sound decision about what you wanted to do! And you wanted to get better, and you didn't believe Merlin before you left. You were still being treated for an unrequited love! And that has nothing to do with you being honest with him now. How were you ever planning to accept him if you couldn't be honest with him about how he's hurt you?! You need to talk to him! But don't blame me for wanting to protect you, what kind of sister would I be if I didn't?! And you still need space, you still need to get out there to meet people outside of Merlin, you still need a clear mind away from Merlin to do that. To make own your choices. Without always choosing what Merlin needs first. No one steered you wrong, Arthur. The only advice that you received in all of this is that you need to put yourself first, because who's going to do it if not you? It's obvious that it's not going to be Merlin. At least not until you two can finally put your heads together to be honest with one another. Without him attempting to flee. And he'll never know if he's doing anything wrong until someone tells him. And that leaves you!”

 

 

Chapter Text

Arthur was grateful that he finally got his anxiety down to an acceptable level. He did not want to have another confrontation with Merlin while on the precipice of a full blown anxiety/panic attack, and he was so close to that the last time. As it was – while trying to hold it together - he was already having a panic/anxiety attack right before Merlin's very eyes! Arthur shook his head while driving, and paying attention to the road – still in thought. But if it weren't for his trying to keep it under control as best as he could...he would have been in the hospital right now instead of on his way to his old flat. And that wouldn't have gone well because him being in the hospital would have been a sure way for his father to find out--everything. Morgana's words ranged through his thoughts about how Merlin must have felt at the airport. He could only imagine from Merlin's side of things, that he looked like a mad man. Arthur shook his head to himself as he drove to his old flat. It wasn't his intention. But it didn't make it right either. There's no justification for it, he was wrong. He should have considered Merlin's condition. It was just...that at that moment... Merlin was not acting like someone who had a condition. Merlin was cold. Merlin seemed fully aware of his actions, and fully aware that he was going to leave Arthur, and on some level...he seemed fully aware that it showed that he didn't care. While saying it was for Arthur's own good. Well...Merlin's ends failed to justify the means. Because there would have been nothing about Merlin getting on that plane that would have been a benefit for him right now. And he thought he made that clear to Merlin last night. It's not like Merlin isn't aware of his feelings for him. He's made that clear too. He confessed to it as soon as Merlin asked him. It's not a secret. Why would he leave?! Arthur took his left hand off of the steering wheel to run his hand and fingers to his hair before returning it. And that's the twist for Arthur. That's something that he doesn't understand. He didn't understand it this morning, and he doesn't understand it now.

 

Merlin claimed that he loved him, he argued the case that he loved him for the right reasons. He was quite adamant about it even. And Arthur heard Merlin's words, loud and clear. He's heard every word that Merlin's ever told him. He doesn't miss a beat from when Merlin speaks. And he remembers everything of importance, and since it pertains to Merlin, everything is of importance. It's something that he and Merlin don't have in common, because Merlin hasn't noticed a lot about Arthur, nor does he always take in Arthur's words, but Arthur does do this for Merlin. Throughout their friendship, and up until now. Arthur knows Merlin in ways that Merlin has never taken the time to know Arthur. And where Merlin has blocked off his emotions, Arthur never did. He sees it all, and he feels it. Arthur can only assume that's why his depression is so severe. Because he never did turn off his emotions. He's tried, but with every attempt, he's failed--or made it worse. So when Merlin told him that he wanted to make their arrangement work, when he challenged Arthur to date other people, to go out and meet other people, when he accepted Arthur having to move out, claimed that he would do whatever it took, and claimed that he loved Arthur... Arthur took Merlin's word for it, and tried to believe it. Because he wanted to believe it! It was all that he had to hold on to. That doesn't mean that Arthur believed that Merlin loved him for the right reasons. Merlin has been very quick to say that he does, but he obviously has not really taken the time to sort it out. And him attempting to go on that plane was proof that he was not being honest with Arthur. Is it possible he's not being honest with his feelings too? He didn't have to go across creation to get away from Arthur. That was Merlin's decision to stay far out of reach. And if Merlin believes that was being honest with Arthur...then Merlin's not being honest with himself.

 

It's not like Arthur couldn't completely relate on that front. He's told Merlin what his therapist has asked of him to do for his recovery, but he never specifically said what he wanted to do either. Probably because he's been uncertain himself. Afraid that he's going to walk off of a cliff if he decides everything to soon. He has admitted to needing time, he has admitted that he needs to meet other people – to date other people – to have less dependency and more of his own identity outside of Merlin, he has admitted that he can't guarantee anything other than a friendship right now, but he hasn't gone any further to elaborate. And saying what he had...prompted Merlin to say that he didn't even want to be friends with him anymore. Because he couldn't wait for Arthur to make a decision. Like Arthur didn't just tell him that his therapist advised that he follow this routine for his own recovery. Merlin didn't want to be friends because he couldn't stand to wait! So he chose to give an all or nothing instead. Something that...for the first time...Arthur couldn't give Merlin.

 

Arthur shook his head again. He clocked the distance. Thankfully he only had another ten minutes. Morgana knew very well what she was doing to move him across town. He didn't even go to her flat everyday before, she probably figured it would be the same thing in reverse in not wanting to go and see Merlin.

 

When Arthur thought about Merlin's words of not wanting to wait. He couldn't help but think that Merlin's never really had to wait. He's never had to play it even or to allow Arthur's feelings to come first. But he's also never taken the initiative to try either. He's always accepted that he comes first where Arthur is concerned. And that was just fine, until it wasn't. Throughout their relationship Arthur always catered to Merlin's choices, or he's made decisions based on things he knew that Merlin would choose for himself. He was never wrong. But that's probably because he always paid attention. Maybe on some level then he must have felt like Merlin needed some...special handling. Even though he wouldn't have had any idea of Merlin's past abuse. That...like Merlin said, was an Emrys family best kept secret. And if Will only knew about the verbal abuse--something he just admitted to, and not the physical. And considering the fact that Will's known Merlin since the age of three...one would have to believe that it was a best kept secret. Arthur always intervened on any bullying that he's ever seen. And if there was more like Will stated, the night before he left, then Merlin was pretty damn good at hiding it, or lying about it. But then again...if he locked it all away in his own mind..than that would mean that they wouldn't have noticed if Merlin stopped allowing things to be noticed himself. Merlin's condition was not one that could have been spotted out. To everyone he stood out as self-centered and oblivious to everyone else's needs. That is still part of his personality it seems. It wasn't all about his disorder on that front, but an ingrained part of who he is. But his disorder brought it out to new heights because Merlin turned his emotions off where deep - personal and painful - feelings were concerned. It just made him cold at times, because it only affected him there. To some he lacked sensitivity. Which led people to think that Merlin didn't care or that he was calloused, unless a topic of discussion held relevance to him. And he would perk up when the discussion held relevance to him. It wasn't like Merlin's was like that throughout their friendship -at least not as bad as it's gotten - he'd gotten worse closer to his adult years. But Arthur - as always - made himself more flexible to Merlin's needs. Arthur catered to his needs, to keep him involved, and to always make him apart. And eventually...even through some of the changes...so did everyone else. His attitude wasn't something that would make anyone think anything was wrong with him. Not on the grand scale of things. People had personalities like Merlin's. It a human trait. No one would have known that his was so deep that he blocked so much off. And everything was just fine. Until it wasn't.

 

Arthur continued to stare ahead on the road, and groaned. He's always catered to Merlin. He always based his decisions around him, always supported him, and has always been there for him. He's always placed Merlin's needs before his own. Which... in some ways was the reason why he wanted to allow Merlin to choose him on his own, without Arthur coming right out, and bluntly expressing his feelings. He didn't want Merlin to feel forced into a decision. And now, the one time he speaks with Merlin about his own personal needs... And it wasn't even him that finished the discussion - it was Merlin that steered the ending to where he wanted it to go - but the one time Arthur needed Merlin to understand, what was the result? Merlin wants to move to LA.

 

Merlin was perfectly capable of picking up the signs it seemed from anyone else who put the moves on him, but he always missed the signs from Arthur. Even though Arthur's were more elaborate, more romantic. And now, even when Arthur was trying to tell him how he feels – while Merlin has his emotions! - and what he needs...Merlin's still missing it. And it wasn't like Arthur didn't attempt to get Merlin to talk first last night. It was the first thing that he did. He tried. He tried to get Merlin to talk about how he was doing, about his nightmares, and about his condition. (Hell, he even took the time to study up on Merlin's condition to understand it better, to be more supportive! He even talked to Will too to understand what was going on with Merlin now!) He tried to get Merlin to open up. Merlin only answered what he wanted to answer. And that was classic Merlin. He doesn't always open up, he's not always honest, and he doesn't always express himself. Even though he's quite capable of doing so when he wants to assert himself for something that he wants. Kissing Arthur and making him feel like a bowl of jelly proved that! It wasn't like Merlin was afraid to deflect the discussion from himself to steer it to Arthur instead. And Merlin was good at it. He was good at steering the conversation to a desired outcome that normally ended in his favor. And it never bothered Arthur before before because he always wanted to give him everything. Well... until he realized that giving everything may be what could possibly end his life. Until he realized that giving everything was hurting himself, and worrying everyone else around him, with the exception of Merlin. That's when he realized that he had to start taking his life back into his own hands without giving up everything. And what happens the first time he asserts himself with Merlin?

 

Arthur shook his head. He remembered his last conversation with Merlin before he left for the resort, and how Merlin waited until the last minute to say that he would have said yes. That he loved him. Merlin understood very well how much those words would have affected Arthur at that moment. That's probably why it was the last thing that he said, because he wasn't getting the outcome that he was looking for. And it did affect Arthur! It did. Merlin knew how to hit his mark where Arthur was concerned. And if it weren't for the fact that Arthur was one step away from their father finding out about his condition? If it weren't for the fact that some of his self–preservation actually kicked in? Arthur knows for a fact that he would have stayed, and given into Merlin's every demand because he had no power over himself at that moment. Not when it came to Merlin, not when Merlin actually told him everything that he wanted to hear – whether it was all true or not. And if Arthur made that decision... There would have been nothing that Morgana could have done to stop him. Which is probably why she wanted to create some healthy distance between them. She probably didn't think he was seeing straight. Arthur shook his head at himself. She was right. He wasn't, not at that moment, and not since he's been back. Because his focus went entirely back to Merlin again. And now...Merlin's told him that he would have been better off if they'd never even met... Merlin knew how to hurt him when he wanted to, and he knew that he had the means to do it. It wasn't boding well for Arthur trying to get better if Merlin didn't understand. But that would make a difference if Merlin actually cared about him like that in the first place. The plane incident leaves much room for doubt in that area.

 

Arthur swallowed and groaned again. He was out of his depth here and he was confused. Merlin agreed with him on all of those things that he told him he would need to do for his health. And then Merlin tries to go on a plan to leave. And if Arthur didn't get there on time... Merlin would have left. He was in the process of boarding for god's sake! And he was refusing to speak with him, refusing to leave with him. If he didn't force him he would have left. It was an equivalent to saying a big fuck you! What message was that saying to Arthur? Because it certainly wasn't saying it was for his own good! What part of any of that could have been for his own good? And obligation? When has that ever come up as a question in the thirteen years that they've known each other? He's done nothing but love and support Merlin, and it's had nothing to do with obligation and they both know it! Arthur blood pressure felt like it was up notches as he processed each thought just thinking about it. He took several deep breaths. He had to calm himself back down. He couldn't afford to lose it or himself with Merlin. Nor could he afford to have another onset of an anxiety/panic attack either. Arthur may have felt better after speaking with Morgana, but the truth is... he didn't feel any more secure about speaking with Merlin.

 

**

 

Merlin had several emotions that ran through him after Arthur dropped him off in front of their flat like a impudent child who was disobedient this morning. Like he was twelve! It ranged from anger, resentment, anger again, regret, defiance, and finally resignation of the situation, at least... for now.

 

He felt anger, towards Arthur, because he embarrassed and humiliated him in the middle of the airport. When he should have left him to leave or not have come at all. His decision was made. It was for Arthur's own good for him to leave. Why couldn't Arthur see that? Why did he have to show up to take that decision away from him? What gave him that right?!

 

He felt resentment, towards Arthur, for taking that decision away from him. For telling him that he needed to move away, for telling him that he needed to date other people, to meet other people, and for not being able to give him anything better than an, “I'll think about it,” once they were through. What kind of guarantee was that?! It was no guarantee at all, that's what it was! He expects Merlin just to sit around and watch the love of his life date and date without even a date in place to how long this was going to be happening for. What did he expect Merlin to do for all that time? And what, did he expect him to stay home and wait by the fire for when Arthur deemed himself ready and available to be there for him? When did that even happen? And why was it that Merlin had to make the sacrifices here in having to wait? And what happens once everything is said and done? What happens if Arthur finds someone he's better suited for? Merlin's pretty sure that Morgana will be making sure that she's all over that plan! If only to keep Arthur away from him!

 

He felt anger again, towards their friends, for not even reaching out to speak with him, to stop by, to even ask him how he's been doing during this time. To even have a show of some empathy, some sympathy towards his situation. They had no problem supporting Arthur, why can't they show some support for him too?! And granted, he didn't return anyone's calls the night that they reached out to him before Arthur left for the 'resort.' Or after the bar incident, but they could have at least made an attempt! He could have died and no one would have known, or cared. With the exception of Will, Mithian, Sophia, and now Arthur, now that he actually came back like he gave a damn! And Arthur, he shouldn't have left in the first place! He only left to get away from him, and as soon as he returned, what did he do? He moved out. So much for his support!

 

He felt regret, regret towards Arthur, and in his handling of the situation. Granted, Merlin had no intentions of having a discussion with Arthur to tell him that he was leaving. He wouldn't have been able to leave if he did. And force would not have been necessary because his mind wasn't as set as it was at Dr. Monmouth's then, or as it was at the airport. It was easier not to speak with Arthur about his decision. It was much easier for Merlin to have a clean break. To remove the scab, and to flee. But maybe he could have left the note ahead of time. Or maybe he should have left the night before. He could have called Dr. Monmouth for that information instead of going to see him in the morning. And Dr. Monmouth, how could he have given Arthur that information? Why would he tell Arthur of his plans? He felt regret that Arthur felt that he betrayed him. Because that did seem like the expression Arthur had on his face. Merlin knows that Arthur loves him, but he sincerely thinks that Arthur will not choose him later if he doesn't choose him now. Why would he when he's going to be dating all of these eligible men who don't have problems, who don't have a history of abuse, who don't have the excess baggage that Merlin has? Who in their right mind would choose him now after finding out the truth?! He's damaged goods, and no good for Arthur. Arthur deserved the best, the best...is not him.

 

But Merlin, Merlin couldn't lie to himself and say that his decision was all for Arthur either. Because in reflection he'd have to admit that he was being a coward. A coward because he didn't want to stick around to hear that Arthur didn't want him anymore once he had time to process his feelings. Once he had time to think about what he wanted. Once he had time to date. Once he had the time to possibly sleep with someone else, when he hasn't even slept with him! Merlin stopped his pacing, and went to the refrigerator for a beer before going back to the living room and plopping on the couch. He was still in Arthur's red Oxford hoodie and his dark blue jeans. Socks and sneakers long removed. He pulled himself in his safe position, knees to chin, arms securely wrapped around them as he took a sip of his beer. No, he couldn't lie. He didn't want to watch it, and he didn't want to wait for a decision. Because if Arthur couldn't guarantee what he was going to do once this was over, if he didn't choose him now, what hope did Merlin have?

 

How did he expect for him to live like that? And it wouldn't be like he wouldn't be seeing Arthur. Arthur would be there to support him. He would be there to take care of him. Merlin would be seeing him everyday knowing that he couldn't have him. He'd be watching those other blokes making passes on someone, who belonged to him! On someone who loved him. How was that fair? Merlin didn't think about it fully when he was so quick to shut Arthur up, agreeing with everything that Arthur said automatically. He did feel the jealousy go through him when Arthur mentioned he would have to date other people--it prompted the kiss. He felt that, before he pushed the feeling away. He accepted it, he managed to shut Arthur up, and he managed to kiss him all in one go without really processing how any of those things would have been affecting him. Until he was alone to ponder on it. And boy...did he ponder it. And once he was done, he managed to talk himself right out of it everything, summarizing it up as being for Arthur's own good. No wonder Arthur called it bullshit! Arthur knew him much better than he knew himself. Arthur may not have known his reasons but he knew that he wasn't being sincere with those reasons. And now...what was he supposed to do?

 

He felt defiance. Because Arthur may have his luggage but that didn't stop Merlin from leaving again. He already paid for his plane ticket, his flight arrangements were already made. He could arrange to take a later flight. His wallet was on him, as well as his passport information and credit cards, he could buy a whole new wardrobe. He had enough money for it! He only sent some of his income to his mum, and Arthur never accepted money from him for rent or utilities. Arthur wasn't even going to stop paying for Merlin now, even though he moved out. He was clear in his message of supporting him—Arthur never left room for error when he knew what he wanted and made a decision. Merlin had enough, to start over. And he could leave again, before Arthur came back. But then he thought about Arthur's threat, and....Merlin groaned - and swallowed hard - before taking a huge gulp of his beer.

 

He felt resignation. Because he couldn't leave again. Not without a solid plan for escape, and at least.. not now. Not while Arthur was expecting it—and Arthur could use his resources to track Merlin down easily if he wanted to. He was well within his means to do so. He didn't always use his power or prestige, but it isn't like he hasn't before either. If Arthur wanted to find Merlin bad enough...he would.

 

It's not like Arthur is going to just turn around, and give in to Merlin's demands just because Merlin wants him to. He's not an idiot to think that. And if he doesn't have Arthur to himself long enough, without outside influences, he probably won't give in to anything. He's pretty sure that Morgana has a say so in some of this. He's watched enough over the years to know that the siblings are very protective over each other. He doesn't know how far that goes, or exactly...why, but he knows that if Morgana has it in her head to keep Arthur away from him... If she sees Merlin as a threat - which she clearly does, or as someone that will hurt her brother, common sense says that she does - she will do everything in her power to protect him. And the fact of the matter is... he did hurt Arthur. And Merlin hasn't even begun to process the damage that he's done on that front. Not even the tip of the iceberg. He knows he's accepted all of the blame but he hasn't even taken the time to process what he should be blamed for, or exactly how any of this affected Arthur. Arthur's always so strong, he holds everything together. He holds Merlin together. He can't imagine anything being able to tear Arthur down. Not to the depths of Morgana's description, and not to the way of their friends'. Arthur's never complained. He's always shouldered everything, he's always been there! Like an unstoppable force. He caught a glimpse... of something different, before Arthur left. He noticed something was off, before that. But then he came back and he looked strong again. And Arthur went back to looking after him again, like he's always done. And still... that unstoppable force. No, he doesn't even know if he wants to know the damage he's done on that front yet, because it might hurt him more to face it up close. It was almost... easier to run away than to deal with the fall out of it.

 

He just knows that if Arthur doesn't choose him now - when he knows exactly what his feelings are - the chances are that he'll change his mind if he waits to decide later. And then where would he be? Merlin shook his head and took another gulp of his beer. He didn't even realize that he finished it until he got to the last drop of it. He groaned, as he unfolded his arms and legs in order to rise and get another one.

 

**

 

Merlin heard the key entering the lock as he walked out of the kitchen. It didn't take but a second later before the door was opening - his luggage peaking in first, and then Arthur. He was actually surprised that Arthur would bring his luggage back. He didn't know if he would have ever seen it again. If Arthur's actions in the car and at the airport were an indication for Merlin to think that. He stood there, still, and waited for Arthur to notice him, as he watched Arthur walk down the hallway returning everything to his room. How he missed Merlin standing there? Merlin wasn't sure. Arthur must not be all there at the moment was his only conclusion.

 

When Arthur returned from Merlin's room he saw him, and froze. His eyes widened next as in recognition of Merlin's presence, he licked his lips, closed his eyes for a moment, and used his right hand and fingers to run it through his hair. And then he spoke, tone apologetic, humble. “I'm sorry -”

 

Merlin's eyes widened, but his tone showed no emotion in it when he interrupted Arthur to say, “I know that you are -”

 

Arthur shook his head, tone turning broken. “No, don't pass it off. I was wrong, I had no right to try to stop you. No right to take that decision away from you. I just...” Arthur winced. “I just, I didn't know what else to do, but I was wrong, please...forgive me.”

 

“Arthur -” Merlin tried hesitantly.

 

Arthur shook his head again, tone still broken. “I was wrong, I didn't take your past -”

 

Merlin flinched, Arthur caught the motion. Merlin doesn't want to be treated differently because of his past. He doesn't want to be handled with special care just because of his past treatments. Not from Arthur. Not when Arthur's never had to do that for him in the past.

 

But Arthur needed to get this out. He felt like he had to. “I should have taken it into consideration. I didn't think about how you would have felt. I lost control, but it was no excuse for my behavior.”

 

Merlin stilled, but he nodded. The gesture saying clearly that Arthur was forgiven.

 

Arthur nodded back. The tension was palpable between them. It has been from the moment that Arthur had that first anxiety attack in front of Merlin, before their confrontation, and before he left. Could they ever get back to the way that they were before? Arthur looked at the beer in Merlin's hand. “Could you,” Arthur used his right hand to gesture towards Merlin's beer, “not?”

 

Merlin raised his right brow, eyeing Arthur questionably.

 

Arthur looked at him, like he didn't know how to speak to him without saying the wrong thing. But tried again, tone strained. “We need to talk, Merlin.”

 

Merlin still looked at Arthur like he was off, like some alien from another planet, but he shook out of it for a moment, as if catching the meaning behind Arthur's words. Tone reassuring. “I can drink and still have a clear mind Arthur. I have a high tolerance, you know that.”

 

And Arthur does know that. And maybe that has something to do with Merlin's emotions too or his stubbornness, but it doesn't change the fact that they needed to have a serious discussion, and there needed to be no excuses when they were finished. Arthur didn't think he could survive another one of Merlin's attempts to flee. Arthur tried again, tone soft, but nervousness layered all through it. “I know, but we need to talk, and," Arthur gestured again towards the beer with his right hand. “I don't want another repeat of last night.” His tone turned strickened. “I can't take, another repeat of last night.” That was as honest as Arthur was going to get in regards to the damage that would have been done to him if Merlin had gotten on that plane.

 

Merlin was surprised by that. But he understood. He turned around to carry the beer back to the refrigerator, grabbing two water bottles instead. By the time he returned the lights were on and Arthur was sitting on the couch waiting for him. Merlin swallowed. He walked – slowly – to settle on the couch. Passing Arthur a bottled water. He took it easily. They were both settled on opposite ends. Merlin didn't feel worthy at the moment to sit as close as he would normally, beside Arthur. He didn't know if he should, after...what he did.

 

Arthur grimaced, as if picking up on Merlin's reasons for sitting so far away. He didn't move either. It was obvious that they were at an impasse, and had no idea of how to get past it. At least, not without opening up some old and new wounds in the process.

 

Merlin didn't like opening up wounds.

 

Arthur closed his eyes for a moment. His breathing, even. He sat back on the couch, and started, tone beseeching. “Why did you leave?”

 

Merlin went to his stock answer automatically. “I did it for you.”

 

Arthur opened his eyes and turned to where Merlin was seated on his left. His eyes watered. “I don't believe that.”

 

Merlin's expression hardened, his eyes darkened. “Believe it or not, it's my answer.” Merlin didn't want to answer that question. Why would he want to? Why would he put himself out there like that?

 

“Merlin,” Arthur's tone turned to a man that sounded broken.

 

Merlin shook his head, “no, no Arthur, you asked me why I left, and I answered you.”

 

Arthur shook his head. “But your not telling me the truth. How can we get past anything if your not honest with me?”

 

“Like you've been honest with me?” Merlin deflected.

 

It was classic Merlin.

 

Arthur groaned, tone patient, but losing it. Because dammit, getting a straight answer out of Merlin was as hard as finding a needle in a haystack! When it was something that he didn't want to share. Something they both knew that he needed to share! “Merlin, how are we going to get past anything if you don't tell me why? I can't even begin to know what to say next that won't make you run for the hills in the morning! You told me everything was fine last night. You said that you would allow me to support you, that you would allow me to do what I needed to do to get better, you practically dared me to do it!” Arthur used his left hand to run his hand and fingers through his hair, his water still in his right hand. He shook his head again, tone grieved. “You dared me to do it, you said everything was going to be fine, you even... you even kissed me, and then--this morning...” Arthur shook his head again, he swallowed, “this morning you left me a note like you were going to see me later only for me to find half of your possessions gone, and that you had plans to take the next flight out of the country. What do you expect me to think?! What do you expect me to believe? Do you honestly think I'd believe that you did all of that for me?!” Arthur shook his head again, looking at Merlin in disbelief.

 

Merlin swallowed –hard. He leaned forward to put his water bottle on the coffee table. And sat back in his seat, he folded his arms to his chest. Tone hard, when he responded. “I had a change of heart.”

 

Arthur gasped. And looked at Merlin with an expression that clearly said, “really...” before saying what he really thought, “You think?” Arthur shook his head. And breathed in deeply before adding more, tone exasperated. “Like I didn't gather that one for myself when I saw you trying to run away from me. I may be blond but I'm not dense Merlin.”

 

Merlin tensed. He didn't want to have this discussion. He didn't want to face Arthur. Arthur didn't understand. Well... maybe he did. But Merlin didn't want to talk about it! He went to his next stock answer. “I didn't want you to support me, to help me, out of obligation.”

 

Arthur expression turned from exasperated to disappointed. He didn't know what to say. He was trying to keep it together. Trying to rationalize things in his mind, to understand. He can't get to any conclusions unless Merlin fills in some of the blanks, and Merlin's refusing to fill in the blanks! He tried again, tone imploring, “Merlin, when have I ever done anything for you out of obligation?” Arthur didn't wait for a response. “I've done nothing but support you from the moment we've met. I've tried...” Arthur swallowed, before leaning forward himself and putting his water bottle on the coffee table unopened, before he turned to face Merlin head on. “I've tried to do nothing but be there for you, and it's never been out of obligation. It was always out of friendship first, and love second. And I wouldn't be your friend if I wanted to stand by and watch you fall apart. I wouldn't love you, if I was going to leave you to your own devices alone. How could I stand by and watch? That's not obligation, Merlin. Not in the form where someone feels that they have to do something out of duty.” Arthur said 'duty' like it was a bad word, before continuing. “It was never a duty with you, Merlin. It isn't one now. And I know that you know that too, I don't think you could possibly believe that, not in your heart, so... please...” Arthur voice ended softly, but the plead was clear, his eyes matching the tone.

 

Merlin eyes watered slightly at that. He knew that. It wasn't the problem. But it was easier to rationalize that than to face his actual problem. Merlin never unfolded his arms from his chest. It was a gesture of defense, of being closed off. He didn't have anymore stock answers left though because Arthur dismantled and disarmed them. He settled for one of his truths. Tone soft. “I don't want you to date other people.”

 

That didn't surprise Arthur as much as he thought it would. But he tried, to respond in a question. “Even if it was for my own recovery?”

 

Merlin raised his right brow then, he frowned. “How is dating other people going to help your recovery, exactly?”

 

Arthur raised his right brow too. He turned in his seat, taking off his shoes and lifting his legs to sit comfortably beneath him to face Merlin better on the couch. He folded his hands above his thighs, and leaned his left side into the couch to get an even better look at Merlin. His tone turned curious, his expression open, because he really wanted to know. “Do you understand anything about my condition, Merlin?

 

No, Merlin didn't, but he wasn't going to tell Arthur that. “You suffer from depression, Arthur.”

 

“And do you know why?” Arthur wasn't going to settle for that answer.

 

Truth be told. Merlin didn't know the details surrounding Arthur's depression. He was too busy focusing on how to stop Arthur from leaving him - and on focusing on how to keep Arthur, and focusing on getting better to keep Arthur - than to focus on anything surrounding Arthur's depression. He knows that Arthur told him that he was a mess, and about how bad he had gotten. But Merlin didn't even focus on the details of that part of their conversation because it was shrouded by the fact that Arthur was leaving if Merlin didn't stop him. All other thoughts were out the window with the exception of that fact, and Merlin's explanation of why he acted the way that he did towards Arthur! And of Arthur's knowing that he would have said yes, and that he did in fact...love him. It may have been selfish, but it was the truth! He knows that he's being blamed for it, he knows that Arthur had a 'breakdown,' he knows that Morgana told him that he keeps thinking it's all about him, and Gwaine told him to put himself in Arthur's shoes for a moment. He knows that Arthur was depressed but, truth be told...he didn't think about why Arthur got sick, especially since he didn't realize that he was getting sick to begin with. He only saw the signs in the end and by then...it was too late. Merlin swallowed.

 

Arthur looked at Merlin like he was able to see inside of Merlin's very soul while being able to read all of Merlin's thoughts as they processed through his brain. And he didn't look surprised by Merlin's conclusion either. Maybe just a tad bit disappointed.

 

Arthur nodded, like he just received an answer to his question from Merlin even though Merlin didn't/couldn't actually say/answer anything. And Arthur wasn't surprised by the conclusion because Merlin hasn't taken the time to figure him out, and to learn about him like Arthur has taken the time to figure Merlin out and to learn about him. The only missing piece was Merlin's past, and him blocking off his emotions. It was something he couldn't have known about. Merlin hid those things from himself, how was anyone else going to see it? Where Arthur's business was out and on the street, people did know about him, and Arthur's emotions were not blocked out from Merlin. He tried to hide it, to not make Merlin feel guilty – responsible even – but he couldn't hide the obvious. He didn't have Leon or Morgana living with them to help him keep up pretenses all of the time at home. It was there, and Merlin didn't see it. Just like he doesn't see it now. No, it wasn't a surprise, maybe a little disappointing. Arthur swallowed, he shook his head internally because it didn't give him much comfort in Merlin's feelings for him at the moment either. But he does know that Merlin loves him – they've been friends for thirteen years - he just doesn't know if he loves him like he says he does. If Merlin's ever taken the time to really process that thought either, or has he rationalized that thought in his mind and decided to stick with it like he rationalized whatever was in his mind for his reasons for leaving? Because he can't possibly know Arthur well enough to love him like he claims if he can't see his pain that is out in the open to see. Even now, with all of his emotions in tack! Even Arthur can see Merlin's pain – now that Merlin has no choice but to let his emotions loose, even though he's still trying to hide it for the most part - and he saw what Merlin allowed him to see before that, the emotions that he didn't block away in the recesses of his own mind. He saw it before he left – and he sees it now - without Merlin having to spell it out for him. He just can't respond to all of it, in the way that Merlin wants him to right now, without losing himself in the process. He knows that Merlin wants all of him. Heart, body, and soul. And technically, he has it. But...Arthur would lose himself if he rushed into any of that right now. He would not be able to survive if he gave himself completely over to Merlin now, and everything went south. He needs to see to that part of his health first. So...instead, he's trying to give to Merlin everything that he can actually give without completely destroying himself in the process. He even explained that it was for his own recovery too, and that he wanted them both to get healthy again. But he didn't put aside Merlin's other needs. He continued to put those needs first, before his own. Even though technically, he should be far away from Merlin right now, and he feels it too. It hurts. But now...here he is...

And did those thoughts hurt to expound upon. Arthur swallowed again, his eyes watered, and his chest tightened. Arthur spared Merlin in coming up with an answer to the question that he had no answer for. When he continued, his tone was hoarse. “I have a depression that's based on having a love, unrequited--” Arthur held up his hand on Merlin's immediate protest to that fact.

 

Merlin's eyes watered, but he stopped.

 

“--My depression, is based on being in love for seven years to a person that's never loved me back.” And Arthur had to close his eyes while shaking his head then. His tone was still hoarse next, but it was almost like he was laughing painfully at himself. His expression, grieved. “It was by my own stupidity. To want... to wait... to try, and to stay, to just give – signs - instead of saying how I felt outright. Even though I tried, several times over the years mind -"

 

Merlin swallowed hard.

 

“--I tried to tell you, I tried to do everything. I just didn't want you to choose me because you were doing it out of our friendship, or because you didn't want to hurt my feelings, or out of some twisted obligation because you didn't know how to say 'no' to me. And then...” Arthur's voice turned broken. “Then... all of those... men, and I didn't see where or how I would get a chance to tell you -"

 

A tear fell from Merlin's right eye, his left eye following suit.

 

“--every sign, every new boyfriend, every attempt that I did felt like a rejection. It was fine, in the beginning. I always felt like I had... time... like you would come around. Like you would see me as someone that would be like one of those men. That you would see that I was better than them, because I am better than them. I would have treated you so much better, I would have loved you so much better. I was already doing it!” Arthur shook his head, he was crying too but he didn't notice it until he unfolded his hands that were resting on his thighs and raised his right hand to rub his face. He wiped the tears then, before rubbing his hand on his black Armani dress trousers.

 

Merlin chest was hurting just listening. He didn't want to listen, but he knew that he had to. This was a part of Arthur that he didn't know. That he ignored knowing. A part of Arthur that he somehow didn't want to know because he had everything sorted in his mind, and this part of Arthur, wasn't included in it. And how could he understand if he didn't know all of Arthur? There was so much that he didn't know about his friend. And that really tells Merlin just what kind of friend he actually was over the years if he wasn't there for his supposed best friend. Who did Arthur turn to when he didn't have Merlin? When Arthur was always there for Merlin in return while holding back his own grief the entire time? 

 

Arthur's voice was full of emotion as he continued, but it was painful, and he was still laughing at himself because it's obvious he took the blame for everything as he started to talk about it now. “I kept waiting. And somewhere down the line, I started getting sick. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and my mind never stopped thinking about you. It wasn't about my best friend then. It was about my love for you, and how I wanted... I wanted you so much... and I couldn't... have...you. And you never knew.” Arthur shook his head. “I couldn't...do that...to you. It wasn't your fault that I was falling apart! It wasn't your fault that you couldn't see! Even though I did everything in my power aside from telling you and presenting myself in a bow to give to you. It still wasn't your fault, because I was the one who couldn't find a way to tell you!” Arthur groaned. “Morgana wanted me to get help, she wanted me to tell you, to leave, but I couldn't. You were still my best friend. If I left what would it have told you? You were depending on me to be your best friend. And I was the idiot that stood by, a glutton for punishment, a masochist always coming back for more. Our friends, everyone, they got really active on trying to provide you hints too then. They kept feeling sorry for me. Like I was going to fall apart right before them or jump off the nearest bridge for some peace of mind.” Arthur covered both hands over his face then too, he choked out what he said next. “I thought about it. I thought about more than what I let on, more than I ever admitted to. I didn't want to scare anybody. I didn't want to worry Morgana. My aunt...” Arthur sucked in a breath.

 

Merlin held his. He doesn't know much about their aunt, he only knows that she died shortly before he and Arthur met. Arthur and Morgana kept that secret, if it was a secret, close to their heart. He does know that they loved their aunt passionately and never had a bad word to say about her. Merlin doesn't know what to say. Arthur has heard from him about his past – even early on – from what Merlin was willing to share, he encouraged it, but Merlin's never taken the time to learn about Arthur's nor did he encourage it in return. He was just there for him. And now... 

 

Arthur's hands were still covering his face. Like he was ashamed of being seen while he spoke. His tone, still hoarse, changed from painfully laughing at himself to painfully hysterical. “I always thought... in my mind... that as long as you never fell in love with one of those men, that I still had a chance. That there was still an opportunity for you to see me, for you to notice me, but then you met Robert. And with that... my last hope was gone -"

 

“Arthur -” Merlin was going to try and interject then because Robert wasn't what Arthur thought he was, but Arthur pulled his hands from his face remarkably fast and his face was red, tears falling quickly, and he was starting to have trouble breathing. Merlin swallowed hard, and his tears started to fall freely too. He didn't interrupt again, but Arthur has to see...

 

Arthur read in Merlin's expression somehow that he wasn't going to interrupt him, he probably read the rest too, but he wasn't finished. “--He came into your life. You spent... all of your time with him. He was...special...to you. You did more with him than you did with anyone else that you've ever dated. At least... from what I've seen. And that day, that day that he proposed, you said... that you would think about it. You didn't say no, you said you would think about.” Arthur swallowed, and shook his head even though it was still covered by his hands. “He meant something to you. And... when I asked you, you said that you didn't love him like that. You didn't say that you didn't love him at all. There was love there Merlin. So the thought of you not loving anyone was gone. You did, and you were quite capable of it too. You just weren't capable of... loving... me. Your reasons for not leaving that you gave me, were based more on the fact that you didn't want to leave everything behind. Your friends, your family, your work. It wasn't based on you not wanting to be with Robert. That was your response.”

 

Merlin didn't know what to say. Because that was true. He just never realized it until now. He didn't love Robert enough though, but there was some emotion that got through. It wasn't enough for him to leave everything behind. It wasn't enough to leave Arthur behind, but it was obviously enough to break Arthur's heart. Merlin chest started to hurt. And there was nothing that Merlin could say or do to change Arthur's mind on the subject of Robert, he could see that. Because, apparently, Arthur's been studying Merlin for a long time now, and he knows Merlin better than Merlin knows himself. And that seems to include now too. Merlin could only take his hands to wipe the tears from his eyes as he continued to listen.

 

Arthur continued, grief stricken, tone hoarse, broken, “I spent more nights at Morgana's then. You didn't notice, or maybe you did. I'd leave you notes, or I'd send you a text, but I couldn't stay home as much then. And after Robert left... you started dating - a lot - more men than you'd ever done before. You were... busy. And there was definitely no time in the midst of that busyness for me to tell my best friend that I was in love with him. Especially if he didn't know it before. My depression was harder to hide then. I left work more frequently. But Morgana and Leon were able to cover me where father was concerned. As long as I managed to keep up pretenses. As long as I stayed happy for him... And it was so...hard... because I love my father. He should know what's going on with me, but I couldn't....” Arthur groaned, shaking his head again under his hands.

 

Merlin doesn't know about this either. He doesn't have a clue! He does know that Uther loves his children dearly, and would do anything for him. He does know that Uther didn't like him being around Arthur as much, though he didn't know why. He also knows of Morgana and Arthur's tongue-in-cheek phrase that they use of 'fix it' and that's one phrase he doesn't know the meaning of. But when they say it, it's not something that their joking about, like it has a hidden meaning, and there is real fear there between the siblings. Merlin never took too much time to think it out. Especially because he repelled against thinking of anything too painful, and it was obvious that this was something that was too painful. And now, with all of his emotions in check, he could see clearly that there was more to the story. He just doesn't know if he wants to hear it, he doesn't even know if Arthur wants to tell it. He wanted to reach out to Arthur, to hold him. And to never let him go. But he didn't think it would be right at the moment. And he didn't think he was worthy of it right now either. 

 

“I had to keep up pretenses. I had to stay strong, for as long as I could. I had to find some way to get over you... but I couldn't. Not when I saw you so much, not when I lived with you. Not when you didn't know, and you continued to be my best friend always making yourself available to be with me in between all of your dates or your one offs! I didn't have a break. And it wasn't your fault. I just couldn't tell you! Morgana was going crazy. All of our friends were making me eat, the food would taste spoiled, it tasted like mud, it tasted like anything but food. But I couldn't drop but so much weight before my father would inquire about my health. Clothing could only cover but so much. And it's not like I was trying to alarm anyone, I just couldn't eat! I only slept when Morgana would force me to, or if I passed out. She even got a friend of her's to prescribe me sleep medication. I know now it was Nimueh, and she was talking to her because I refused to go and see a therapist. Would could I tell them exactly? That I was in love with my best friend, and I didn't know how to live without him so I'm this stupid idiot that doesn't know how to stay away, taking the scraps that fell from the table instead because that was the only part that I was ever going to get from him?!” Arthur choked out a painful laugh.

 

Merlin was at a loss. He didn't know what to say. There was nothing - that could be said - to make anything about this situation better. And he has the feeling – based on Arthur's difficulty in presenting the information – that he hasn't shared all of this with anyone before. Not even Morgana. Like he couldn't/wouldn't share it. Like he kept the burden on his heart so no one else had to feel it too. So no one else had to worry about him. So no one would feel sorry about him, or think that he needed more help than he already did. Apparently Morgana saw it anyway. If her attitude and over-protectiveness were anything to go by. But Merlin didn't see it though. He felt ashamed.

 

Arthur went unaware of Merlin's inner thoughts, his tone broken, hollow. “And then, that night... in the bar, after thanksgiving. When Gwaine... when he told you if you paid more attention you might find the person that you wanted right within your reach -"

 

Merlin winced, and grimaced. He remembered that conversation. And now...he remembers Arthur's abrupt exit. He didn't have to remember though, because apparently, Arthur planned to enlighten him.

 

“--You said that you do pay attention, and that...no one within your reach was the one for you. That's when I finally got my answer. I finally got my answer for all of my signs, for everything, and I realized... If I didn't get out then...that I wouldn't be able to. I already gave up, but I was still holding on to a thread then. That night, cemented any other assumptions, hopes, dreams, or what if's that I could have possibly had left to ponder. It was clear, that you would never want me. And I felt I lost everything all at once, my best friend and the love of my life. All in one go.”

 

Merlin felt like an ass as he listened on. Because the things that Arthur is talking about should have been obvious, for someone who paid attention, for a friend that paid attention. And he always thought that he paid attention to Arthur. He gave his available time to him. Sure he got closed-minded, sure he had his own objectives, but...this? And somehow...he missed it.

 

“I lost my best friend, because you couldn't even see how much pain I was in. You never even stopped to consider why I wasn't home as I often. Why I withdrew from everyone. Why I would cook for you yet – never - eat myself. You never even thought to ask why I watched the telly all night instead of sleeping, or why I stayed home more from work more often. Or why I didn't even come home at all! And then... all of a sudden you took an active approach, to force me into telling you what the hell was going on! And I... panicked. I couldn't tell you what was going on without telling you the truth. And how could I have possibly told you the truth without telling you everything?! And what kind of fool what I look like then?! You didn't even want me! I couldn't take anymore than what I was already dealing with - and I could barely take that - and I couldn't take you browbeating me for an answer too! And you didn't even care before then! You just wanted to know because - all of a sudden - you starting getting some breaks in between your relationships to notice!”

 

Merlin flinched, because he deserved that resentment. He did. But he didn't know what to say, and the last time he was about to interrupt Arthur stopped him. Merlin was pretty sure that it was hard enough for Arthur to talk about this without interruption. He waited.

 

Arthur continued on unaware of anything that Merlin was thinking about because he couldn't even look at him. He was too ashamed to. He was too ashamed to be in his own skin at the moment, but the words of everything decided to roll of his tongue, unintended, and completely unbidden. But...now that he started, he couldn't finish until he said it all. Arthur hand's continued to cover his face, he hiccuped, and shook his head. When he spoke again he spoke like a man that lost it all. Who came to the point of the pit of his despair. “And then, when I finally made up my mind, when I finally knew what I had to do, when I finally gave up...then...all of a sudden...you...turned around and said that you loved me. When I was finally going to get help. You tried to get me to stay. You told me everything, and it made...sense. I finally had a reason for why you never noticed me in that way. But the damage was already done. It wasn't your fault. And on top of that, your condition covered everything aside from how you lacked being a best friend, or...even a friend at all...for that matter. It was nice to have a reason, but...” Arthur shook his head, and used his fingers and hands to wipe his face as much as he could before he lowered them. He face was still wet, lips plump from biting, complexion, still red – including his eyes and nose, puffy even. He eyes looked like a man who lost everything.

 

Merlin thinks Arthur's under the impression that he's lost him. And Merlin couldn't hold back now, he didn't care if he was worthy or not, he only saw that his friend was broken, and he did the only thing that he could think of doing. He moved across the sofa at lightning speed and he pulled Arthur into a tight embrace. It startled Arthur. He tried to pull back, but it was a weak effort, and Merlin was stronger at the moment. It forced Arthur to give in to the hug. To be comforted. He hiccuped again, his breath hitched, and then...he wept.

 

“I'm so sorry,” Merlin said, hoarse, tone just as broken, tears falling, as he rocked with Arthur into the hug.

 

Arthur shook his head. “I didn't tell you for you to feel guilty. I told you, because you had the right to know.”

 

Merlin shook his head, and he kissed the top of Arthur's head. Arthur head was nestled under his chin. Their arms, wrapped around each other. “I love you. It was your love for me that made you sick. Unintentionally, whether it was from my disorder or not that I didn't notice, it was my fault.” Merlin swallowed. “I'm so sorry.”

 

Arthur shook his head to disagree, Merlin only pulled him even tighter towards him and shushed him. They wept together.

 

It was going to be a long night. Because they weren't done.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

They wept together, until Arthur eventually passed out from exhaustion in Merlin's arms. Merlin continued to hold on to him tightly, rocking gently with him, and periodically kissing the top of Arthur's head. With everything that's happened Merlin seriously doubted that Arthur's gotten enough rest. His eyes didn't bespeak that of a man who did. Merlin should know. He suffered from nightmares. And apparently, Arthur suffered from the love of him. Because, having a depression based on an unrequited love was just a fancy way of saying the same thing. And Merlin thought about it. All of those times that Arthur cooked for him throughout the years. He couldn't think of a total, they've lived together for so long there isn't even an estimated tally. But thinking of the recent years, he didn't even consider that Arthur hadn't eaten. Well...not long enough for him to question it that is. Something would always come up that would side-track him from saying anything. But he couldn't honestly say that the thought of Arthur, not eating as much in front of him, hadn't occured to him at all. And what he really didn't want to say was that he let the thoughts pass over instead. Because those other miscellaneous things continued to happen to allow him to be side-tracked. So instead, he relied on his assumptions that Arthur had already eaten, or that he had somewhere to be where he would eat, or that he had a big meal previously. Never did he question Arthur himself, for his reasons for not eating with him or in his presence. Arthur was the strong one. Arthur could take care of himself. There wasn't a need for Merlin to get involved because as long as Arthur took control everything was safe. And in that respect, Merlin didn't mind giving that part of his control to Arthur because Arthur, made him feel secure. Their little safe haven was safe. And Merlin was happy in his neat little world. While apparently not having a clue that his neat little world was falling apart right before his very eyes while he failed to see it for what it was. While he ignored all of the signs!

 

Merlin decided if he was really going to think about this he was going to have to take Dr. Monmouth's tips in processing his thoughts. Because this was going to hurt to think about, and it wasn't something he was going to be able to suppress any longer. First of all because he couldn't lock it away any longer – that ability was stripped away with the burst of emotions and memories that replaced it – it would take years to change back to the way that he was again, and second, because Arthur deserved better than that. Especially if he loves Arthur the way that he says he does. The way that he knows he does. He needed to put Arthur's words with his memories to actually process it. He had to accept what was done, and how it applied to him. Basically, in this respect he had to face it, come to terms with it, survey the damage, and find a way to make amends if possible. Merlin is aware that he won't be able to repair all of the damage he has done. He always understood that, that's would made it even more difficult to face, and easier to hide away from. But Arthur's confession only confirmed just how much he wouldn't be able to repair. This was the part of his recovery that Merlin disliked the most. It wasn't easy for Merlin to see how his own actions affected others, or how he hurt them. Especially while he was dealing with how he himself, was traumatized at the same time in the past. While he was being forced to relive those memories. It doesn't really excuse his actions though. Merlin couldn't even give himself a free pass on this one. That would be like saying whatever happened to Balinor gave him the right to abuse Merlin and not feel sorry for it. Or that Balinor didn't deserve to be punished, or even prosecuted for physically and verbally abusing his son for years. All due to Balinor being depressed from having Parkinson's disease and being unable to work. That would mean Balinor would have been excused of his actions due to the things that happened to him that lead him to that point.

 

Or, Merlin could go one further and think about the bullies. Bullies are bullies for a reason. They don't go off having their kicks on torturing the people they assume as weaker than them for nothing. Well...maybe some of them do. Because some bullies do bully others for power, but there are also...more complex reasons as well. Some do it because of their need for control, because they fear they lack it and need to exert themselves by dominating others. Some people bully because they find they are rewarded for their horrid behavior. While other bullies do it because they can't find an avenue to channel their anger and frustration to so - instead - they channel it by abusing others. But what do studies show as the primary reason for why people bully others? It shows that bullies are heavily influenced by their family backgrounds. And some cases studies show that bullies are often bullied by their own parents, family, or that those same bullies have self-esteem issues themselves, and they cover it by bullying someone they think is less than them to make themselves feel better, or to take the attention away from them. These things are not consciously in the minds of the bullies when they attack their targets, not for the most part. Researches have found this information and have run clinical studies on bullies to understand why they act the way that they do. Which means, many of those same bullies are not consciously aware that there are real reasons as to why they act or react the way that they do to others. Does it excuse them?

 

Should their actions be excused because of what brought them to that point to bully others? Should Balinor's? Merlin didn't think so, they still affected someone else's life. They still played a role in damaging someone else by their actions. They still affected his life, and now this is the result of it. Merlin understood that he may not have consciously been aware of everything that he had done, but it didn't leave him any less blameless for some of his actions. And though his illness played a part, he couldn't deny that some of that was him too not paying attention, and being caught up in his own life. So should he be blameless in all of this? Merlin didn't think it was possible to be. And especially not after hearing about all of the damage that was done, and seeing it clearly how he missed it now, knowing that all of it wasn't his illness. And even if it was, it would be no excuse not to accept some of the blame for the damage, and no excuse for him not to attempt to make amends. Otherwise, he would be no better than Balinor or the bullies, who allowed their past and present to dictate how they treated others around them. How they treated him.

 

Merlin thought about Arthur's weight loss. He made it a point never to really stare hard at Arthur's hard body-- especially since he was attracted to him since the first day that they met. It was something that he'd set in his mind to do when Arthur was straight. It was because Arthur always had a nice body, and was extremely fit due to playing sports, jogging/running, and working out. His body, was definitely, hard for Merlin to miss. And being young boys who are best mates, you tend to place yourselves in situations where you get a see a lot more...of each other than what would be acceptable as adults now. Not that they'd ever changed from that. They've been friends for thirteen years! But still...watching Arthur's body would only spark desire, lust, and then a pure need of want. Merlin always stopped at that point for fear that his thoughts would come to the surface in his expression, something he learned early on to manage. (Though it seems that Arthur managed to break through some of that line of his defense just fine, if he's able to read most of Merlin's thoughts now.)

 

He couldn't afford to show weakness. He couldn't afford to make himself a target. He didn't want to be considered different like he wasn't good enough, or like he'd never measure up. And he definitely did not want Arthur to feel the need to change his routines because of Merlin's 'sensitiveness' of seeing his body or getting too close. So what could he do? Because he was already doing it, it didn't hurt to strengthen it where Arthur was concerned. He'd already learned to control his expressions, to not display emotions that would show hurt or fear or anything that he considered as too painful. His main reason for doing this started with his father, to protect himself from being a target. His secondary reason, to protect himself from the bullies and the snobs. Those types of expressions were like cutting yourself and bleeding in front of a vampire, being an idiot for not expecting someone to attack. Because bullies swarmed to those who suffered and to those who feared. They're drawn to them like a beacon. It's easier to leave a mark on their victims, leaving their example for others in that way. And thirdly, he did it to protect himself from Arthur. They spent all of their free time together. Arthur was as close to Merlin as any boyfriend was, possibly closer. Except for the fact that they weren't boyfriends! They did everything together with the exception of exploring any romantic feelings, kissing, excessive touching, or having sexual contact. If Arthur picked up on anything, Merlin could have lost their friendship. Arthur would treat him differently, he would have distanced himself from Merlin, he wouldn't have been Merlin's comforter anymore. He wouldn't be Merlin's best friend. Those things far outweighed any desires that Merlin could have had for Arthur in those moments every time.

 

So he schooled his expressions. He added another notch of security by suppressing any desires that he had for Arthur too. Because Arthur was more important than any thoughts, desires, or feelings he may have had for him. He restrained it all, he controlled it, and now...it is something that is more unconsciously done than it is by choice. He's learned to protect himself first. To look out for himself first. To secure himself first. To set up his lines of defense. To not open himself up for an attack. How else was he going to survive? He even had it categorized in his own mind from what was dangerous, what was to be considered to be handled with caution, and what was to be considered as an unknown. If it was an unknown, and it couldn't be decided upon quick enough where those feelings should be placed, it tended to bounce back into caution and sometimes safe - depending on what it was. Merlin's thoughts for Arthur..his romantic feelings for him when he felt them before, were unknown, and bordered on explosive because it wasn't something that he could control. It was too strong. The friendship side of their relationship was much safer. And his safe zones were still Arthur – in a platonic way. And so was his work, his friends, his family – as long as they didn't talk about the past, and everything else that he could have control over was part of it too. If he couldn't control it, to protect himself, he tended to let it go. But now, his defense mechanisms seem to be doing the opposite effect. Because he wants to be seen – just a little bit, and he needs to be believed, but he's not.

 

It didn't mean those thoughts and feelings never came his way when they were younger though, it does mean that he dismissed them when they were younger. And it was only those stronger situations that stood out because Arthur managed to break through Merlin's carefully placed barriers. It was difficult because Arthur never treated Merlin any differently for being gay. He treated him like he treated Gwaine, Lance, and the rest of their friends. And those male friends were sports fanatics, they were use to changing clothes in front of each other or stripping with ease. Of course Merlin wouldn't say that he was 'uncomfortable'. Because that would be a lie in huge form. Of course Merlin didn't say that he didn't 'appreciate the view', because that would have been a lie too. So how did Merlin survive all of this, without letting on to anyone? He desensitised himself first. He was already blocking out feelings, this was just a little bit more. He could not afford to lose his best friend. Arthur was everything to him. He was his force of nature, he was unstoppable, his knight in shining armour, and his comfort zone. He could not lose him. And making a pass at him, getting hard in front of him, showing desire/lust/want in his eyes – in his expression, would definitely push to that undesired outcome of losing Arthur. He had no reason to believe that Arthur would have taken kindly to that sort of advancement. So that meant Merlin, not looking at Arthur's body. And he never veered from that, even when Arthur came out as bi-sexual. And if he did...it was never more than a glance. He focused on Arthur's face.

 

But if Arthur lost that much weight...Merlin managed to miss it there too. Because it wouldn't have been long before it would have reflected there too. And Arthur was talking years of fighting it. But Arthur's body, Merlin only saw the signs of that on that one night – a month before his and Arthur's first confrontation - that he went into Arthur's room to check on him. It wasn't like he never checked to see if Arthur was awake before, but this time, he actually paid attention because they hadn't spent as much time together recently, and Merlin was finally starting to notice. He came in to Arthur's sheets pushed down to his hips. And that, was the night Merlin noticed the weight-loss, and noticed that Arthur was no longer at an acceptable weight. And it wasn't something that could be ignored. Unfortunately...it was years too late to notice. Merlin swallowed.

 

The men. All of those men, as Arthur pointed out, never did it for Merlin. The feelings were temporary. A coping mechanism in it's own right. Merlin has learned years ago how to gain his pleasures from men, how to release any frustration, and any...tension. It helped him while suppressing any feelings that he needed to keep at bay because the energy, had to be directed somewhere. He never took into consideration that Arthur might possibly feel uncomfortable by having all of those men in their flat. Arthur never voiced that he was uncomfortable with it. Nevertheless, Merlin never took into account that Arthur wasn't always there come morning either. He always dismissed the fact that Arthur spent so much time at Morgana's. Just like he dismissed the subtle and not so subtle hints that came his way about having the 'right man' right under his nose and him not even knowing what to do with it! He never took the time to consider that the 'right man' was Arthur when they'd say that. Merlin was normally complaining about himself at the time. And Arthur sat through those conversations, sat through those hints, and sat through Merlin's rejections of it all...of him...throughout the years. Conversations that would make Arthur think that he wasn't the right one for him, that he wasn't good enough for him, when that couldn't have been more far from the truth. Merlin weighed out those options years ago, and decided that Arthur's friendship took precedent over any unwanted feelings that he could have had for his best friend. Their friendship was the most stable thing in Merlin's life, and Merlin would have been damned if he was going to lose it! He would have done anything, given up anything to keep that friendship, to keep Arthur in his life. Especially if he thought all that they had was being threatened! And now... and now, those same defense mechanisms are being used against him, because he may very well lose Arthur by the time this is through anyway. And it would be because of how he's defended himself – protected himself – from getting his own feelings hurt, from feeling that intense level of pain. His illness played a part, but it didn't play the entire part, and Merlin would be lying to himself if he said that it did. Merlin sighed. He was all cried out at the moment but he knew he would have cried again if he wasn't. It was all too painful to think through again. But he had to fight it. Having Arthur in his arms reminded him of the reason why, he kissed Arthur on the top of his head, still holding him to tightly, and tried again.

 

He should have seen it. Arthur was right. He was perfectly capable of picking up on when he was being hit on by other men. He knew how long it would take to take someone to bed, and knew exactly what it took to keep them there...if...he wanted to. And Arthur pulled out every sign and hint in the book, presented it to him, along with gifts, and Merlin never saw it because it was from him. Like Arthur was far above those other men. And that's the point, because he was/is. Because Arthur was/is far above all of those other men. Arthur could never be held in comparison to them and what Merlin did with them, not like Arthur was comparing himself to them only a few hours ago. No...those men didn't hold a candle to Arthur. And Merlin, Merlin didn't see it because Arthur was already placed in a category of friend and precious. Like a valued treasure, a prized possession that you didn't want to tarnish. And in Merlin's mind, he placed Arthur on a mantle for safe-keeping. Because Arthur was something that Merlin didn't want to destroy. Like he'd destroyed so many other things in his life. And Merlin's path with men was cataclysmal. Arthur, Arthur was held as untouchable in that regard for Merlin. And he would never put Arthur in that position to share the same fate as those other men did. And what was the effect of it all now...he destroyed Arthur anyway.

 

Merlin shook his head. Arthur deserved more than that. He could see it now. The flowers, the fancy restaurants, the candlelight dinners, the cozy by the fireplace movie nights, the weekend getaways, the month in Brazil. Hell, his own room color! What 'best friend' knew – and purchased the paint for - the exact room color that would match 100% with the color of your best mates' eyes?! And then have the fortitude to say that it was their favorite color? How the hell did he miss those signs?! Even with blocking things off pertaining to Arthur! He protected himself from his own unwanted feelings - and from people that would hurt him leaving feelings and pain that were too close to the pain and feelings that he felt - from his past traumatic experiences. Not from Arthur's feelings beings directed at him! Arthur would have never hurt him. There was no danger there! Merlin hesitated. The love...the love was the danger there. The emotions must have been too strong. It was still no excuse.

 

He could remember Arthur's hesitation of things now. Arthur even told him that he liked him a lot before and Merlin replied in turn telling him that he liked him a lot too, and that Arthur was the best mate that he ever had aside from Will. Arthur was right, on some level it was ignored. It's not that it wasn't there, it was that Merlin didn't want to read anything more into it. Those feelings...like so many other feelings were too dangerous to ignite. And much easier to dismiss. And love, the all consuming love that burns like a fire, swallows you whole, and makes you feel like you're drowning. That kind of love...for Merlin, would have been tucked away and padlocked under explosive, and locked away for safekeeping possibly never to be opened again. It would have been there. But it would have been protected like so many other painful and explosive feelings that Merlin had locked away in the recesses of his mind. So the signs went ignored and in Arthur's mind...unwanted. But the feelings itself were there, dormant, until the moment Arthur decided to leave him. When Arthur fell apart right in front of him. And it was like Merlin's foundation was tilted off Axis. Because Arthur was no longer hidden away for safe-keeping, no longer locked away, and no longer placed on a mantle.

 

Arthur awakened every piece of feelings that was stored for him, and it came out like a damn that was bursting loose in Merlin's mind. All of the feelings from those well placed hits from Arthur over the years that never went anywhere, all of those feelings when Arthur was straight that was neatly tucked away, all of those moments between them – unbidden - it all came loose. Arthur may doubt that Merlin's feelings for him are real. But the fact is, they most definitely are. They are real because those feelings have been there all along. But it was Merlin's own fears of the unknown, his fears of rejection, of acceptance, and of confrontation that locked them all away. But Arthur was right too, his illness couldn't have possibly locked them all away. That's also why there were cracks for Arthur to break through – to open that door to Merlin's emotions, during their confrontation - in the first place. Because it was Merlin who took part in locking some of it away himself, if only to protect himself. If only to maintain control. And that is why he never chose a relationship that he knew would actually go anywhere for long-term. And as much as he claimed that he wanted to meet 'Mr. Right', the fact of the matter is he was self-sabatoging his own relationships because on some level he didn't think he'd be good enough for something more. And because he didn't want to set himself up for it to fail. Robert, as Arthur is so astute in seeing...slipped through the cracks. He was only supposed to be in London for three months, it wasn't expected to be anything else but a fling in Merlin's mind.

 

And Arthur must have been studying in the school of Hard Knox of Merlin for quite some time to be able to figure half of these things out. Especially if Merlin hadn't been able to figure out half of it for himself yet. Not that he'd want to...figure it out for himself. The last thing Merlin wants to do is to confront the things that he's done wrong. He's heard enough things that he's done wrong from his father, the bullies, and all of those rich snobs for a life-time. But that's another matter, this...this is about Arthur. And if Merlin wants him, like he claims that he does – like he knows that he does, he's going to have to try and suck some of this up. Morgana said that she would be watching his actions because she didn't believe his intentions, and he's pretty certain that Arthur will be doing the same since he doesn't quite believe Merlin's either. Not that Merlin could blame Arthur entirely, especially since Arthur's been been catching him on his lies. Of course it would bring everything else that he tells Arthur into question too, leaving it all with room for doubt. But laying down, holding Arthur in his arms, on the couch, and listening to Arthur snore lightly...Merlin thinks that yes, this is what he wants. If he can only be strong enough to endure the things that are sure to be coming next.

 

Merlin groaned. Because this is going to be his worse nightmare coming to life to have to confront every last thing where Arthur is concerned – and he's cringing to think of anyone else - and it sounds like he has done a lot of damage there. Whether Arthur blames him or not, that really isn't the point. If he claims to love Arthur the way that he says...he's going to have to accept some of the pain with him – like Arthur's been attempting to do – doing for that matter - all along for him with what Merlin allows. Merlin's going to have to accept some of the same pain from Arthur that he himself, repels against. Because this was a result of him, because of his not noticing, because of his mind being made up in not wanting to notice, it was those things that aided in sending Arthur in this path. His illness is responsible, but some of the obvious signs, some of the things he missed...Merlin clearly sees was his own automatic self-defense mechanisms kicking in. A defense that would have been designed to keep Arthur at bay in his mind. And for Merlin, his feelings for Arthur placed all of his own feelings on high alert. Because the kind of love that he has for Arthur isn't something that he can control like everything else in his life. And relationships are about give and take. That's why he hasn't stayed in one. Because he needs control from all of those years that he hadn't had any. Friendships are different, friendships leave room for choice. Relationships...they can only leave room for compromise. And at some point in that relationship, decisions will have to be made that will result in a compromise between both parties. Whether both parties wanted to compromise or not. Particularly if they want that relationship to work. It was a big reason why Merlin didn't stay in a relationship – not when it got down to making decisions about where to go next in it, and a big reason why Merlin attempted to flee to Los Angeles. He freaked about giving up all of that control to Arthur, about the dating, and not knowing what was coming next without a guarantee! There were too many open avenues there. From dating other men – he would be jealous - he could lose Arthur, to meeting new people – Arthur would move on without him, to Arthur's moving out – out of sight out of mind, and to Arthur's not being able to guarantee that they would be together when this was all over – it would all be for nought. There was no control there for Merlin! And nothing he had to place his hopes on to look forward to. Yes, he agreed to it all. No, he wasn't being honest with himself in doing so.

 

And Robert...what could Merlin say about him? He was supposed to be a three month fling! Although, he did do everything with Robert. Any time that Robert had to spare between treating his friend was definitely given to Merlin. Everyday, everynight, every weekened dedicated to Merlin. Robert even convinced Merlin to take some time off when Robert had even more time to spare. He would always feign, “We only have three months, Merlin!”

 

Merlin's memories of Robert were absolute. Robert was wealthy so he gave Merlin anything that he thought Merlin wanted. He was perceptive, so he paid attention to Merlin's wants and needs. He was the perfect boyfriend. And the best part about it: there were never any pressures of choices in their relationship. If there was...Robert always had a way of putting it together to not make Merlin feel like he was actually giving up anything. That he was still in control. And Merlin loved every moment of those three months that they had together, but he never stopped to consider that he was in love with Robert. Robert was good for him, but he was still a fling! If Merlin thought for one second there was anything else he would have defended himself better against it, or broken it off sooner, but since he didn't...

 

Arthur was right in his reasons for not leaving with Robert. Though Merlin has no idea how. When did Arthur have the time to study him so well? It doesn't really matter now because the fact of the matter is Merlin hasn't studied Arthur at all - and maybe it's time that he starts - because Merlin's feels like he's at a distinct disadvantage here. And he probably should start soon, especially if he plans to have Arthur once everything is said and done. How could Merlin manage to to win Arthur over in the first place – since Arthur's obviously not making his decision to choose Merlin strictly based on love - if he doesn't take the time to study Arthur now?! To prove that he is paying attention, that he cares? And that goes back to the hints the lot gave back at the bar, and even Will gave for the wooing. Well...what the hell does Merlin know about wooing?! Not a damn thing that's what he knows! He knows how to go after what he wants and to take it. He doesn't know about the art of 'wooing'. And somehow...Merlin doesn't think Arthur will be very receptive to Merlin's usual methods of taking. Not if Arthur doesn't see himself as being separated from the rest, and wants to be. And truth be told, Arthur is separated from the rest. There may have been some feelings held for Robert down deep, but it's not even on the same margin as the feelings that Merlin has held for Arthur over the years. There were too many years, too many occassions, too many situations, too many gestures, and too much friendship to be able to place Arthur in the same category, the same stratus-sphere as Robert. And yes, Merlin didn't leave with Robert because he didn't want to leave his family, work, or friends. But Merlin also didn't want to leave with him to put himself in a foreign place with no control over his life. Merlin also didn't have plans longer than a three month fling - and was totally thrown for a loop with a marriage proposal - so taking his words in a conversation word for word probably wasn't the best thing, but Merlin could see exactly how Arthur's thoughts processes went, and he could see clearly how Arthur would have seen things, and he was right, feelings were there. They just weren't part of Merlin's intensions, and the feelings weren't enough because Robert wasn't the one!

 

And Arthur was right, when Robert left he dated, heavily. And his one-offs -- increased. He didn't pay much attention to it at the time but he sees now that he was basically compensating for missing Robert. He was compensating for all of the - now - free time that he had, and for the lack of sex in number for all of the sex he had with Robert. It really was a wild three month fling. Arthur was right again, he was...busy. And awwh, Merlin thought, Arthur called him...busy. That was so sweet. He shoulda told it straight like Will and called him a slut! But of course not, because Arthur is too much of a gentleman to say something like that to Merlin. He would never want to 'flat out' hurt Merlin's feelings. What he did say was as far as he was going to go on that front, and Arthur's word choice, still held all of the relevant meanings just the same. He's a Pendragon after all. Merlin's eyes began to water again. Why would Arthur want him when this is all over? He's going to be dating, he's going to be meeting new people regularly, he's more than likely going to be having sex with these people, why would he want Merlin when he can have so much more? Merlin didn't have an answer for that question. Because he didn't know why Arthur would want him when he could choose from so many other alternatives - both male and female - in the first place. He doesn't understand why Arthur would have been in love with him for seven years, and not have turned away. He doesn't understand why Arthur sacrificed so much for him, or why Arthur did the things that he's done from day one. He doesn't understand how he became so special to Arthur because it doesn't add up. And how could he understand why? How could he understand those feelings when he's done nothing but run away from those same feelings all along?! How could he possibly understand Arthur's choices or reasons why he's done the things that he's done, or reasons why Arthur hasn't given up on him or on his love for him over the years? Merlin turned his feelings for Arthur, which left him incapable of relating to why Arthur made the choices that he did. While Arthur decided not to because he wanted to hold on to hope. Well, Merlin didn't have hope! And he wasn't strong enough to hold onto those feelings – like Arthur did - without knowing that they would be returned back. Just like he doesn't know if he's strong enough to wait now. Merlin shook his head. It was starting to hurt too much to process his thoughts. This was everything that he should be confronting, and that he would have been hiding from if – Arthur didn't force him to stay.

 

Merlin sucked in a breath. He was still holding Arthur in his arms. Half of Arthur's body was settled over him on the coach where they laid. It was a comfortable pressure. It felt like they fitted together somehow. He doesn't want to think about the other ways that they could really 'fit together'.

 

Merlin knows that he has a very healthy sexual appetite. He could pretty much imagine that Arthur...does not from what he gathered from their discussion. It was something that Merlin didn't want to think about other the years where Arthur was concerned. In some of his previous thoughts that he processed Merlin understood that he would tend to revert to sex to change conversations from something that was meant to be serious, where compromises did come to play, or important topics were held for discussion. Because, the topics of discussion were normally things that he didn't want to talk about, and normally it was directed at him. It was another defense mechanism. And Merlin's been called on using it before. His prior boyfriends just didn't understand it for it was as it normally succeeded in distracting them. But it was true. The sex was more than a coping mechanism. Arthur wouldn't know of this of course. And Merlin would never want to share that. And why would he? When Arthur only knows that Merlin loves the sex, since he practically figured that out on his own. And Merlin doesn't want to leave Arthur with another reason to think that he's damaged goods – or unworthy of him. Merlin groaned. Arthur wants honesty from him. Merlin doesn't fully know how to give it. Somehow...Merlin thinks that's going to come back to bite him in the arse.

 

**

 

Arthur began to stir from his sleep as Merlin watched. He never noticed before how adorable Arthur looked in his sleep before, how...vulnerable. It made him think about the past seven years. It made him think of how vulnerable Arthur left himself for him. Just to continue to be his best friend. Just to allow Merlin to see the signs over the years. Those same signs that went unnoticed.

 

Arthur opened his eyes, blue meeting blue, before he winced and swallowed. When he spoke, his tone was hoarse from sleep, still cuddled in Merlin's arms. “I'm sorry.”

 

Merlin looked at Arthur incredulously. His tone was hoarse from disuse. “What do you possibly have to be sorry for?”

 

Arthur shook his head, eyes and expression open but a little sheepish, tone embarrassed. “For falling asleep.”

 

Merlin shook his head at Arthur in wonder, while tilting his head sideways in concern. “You looked like you needed it.”

 

Arthur nodded, but he didn't add anything more to Merlin's assessment.

 

“Have you eaten?” Merlin inquired raising his right brow, because this time he was going to force himself to pay more attention to the signs, painful or not.

 

Arthur had the good grace to look sheepish, but he averted his eyes from Merlin in response. “I had a sandwich at Morgana's.”

 

“And did you eat all of the breakfast I left for you this morning?” Merlin asked, because he didn't quite believe the sandwich part since Arthur turned his eyes away from him - not to mention the clear change in his expression – and, Merlin was a much, much better liar than Arthur. Arthur wouldn't stand a chance if Merlin did force himself to pay attention.

 

Arthur nodded, tone and eyes gentle. “I ate the apple bear claw, and the Greek Yogurt with the homemade granola.”

 

It wasn't enough for Arthur, and it wasn't enough to be considered meals in Arthur's condition and they both knew it. Despite how Arthur was trying to pass it off.

 

“How about I call for pizza?” Merlin said as a question, but was mentally planning to call in something.

 

“I can cook.” Arthur said immediately. Arthur didn't notice that Merlin was thinking ahead of him.

 

Merlin shook his head, eyes open, sincere, and yet - assertive. “I want to do this for you, and since we both know I suck at cooking... pizza, Chinese, Greek, or Cajun? Take your pick.” Merlin took control.

 

Arthur nodded, looking Merlin in his eyes. He swallowed, and sighed with a nod again giving in. “Pizza it is?” Arthur finished in a question.

 

“That's what I thought,” Merlin responded with a grin, eyes sparkling. He knew that Arthur did like pizza. How would it taste for him now? He guessed they would both find out. Merlin let go of his hold that he had on Arthur from their embrace. He wanted it back immediately after, but this wasn't about him at the moment. And boy did that sound different, after everything that he's heard from everyone, and learning what he himself has done. When they were both on their feet Merlin ran both hands and fingers through his hair, and stretched his arms above his head before – Arthur's hoodie started rising up showing his muscular stomach - placing them back down again and saying, tone assumptive and with a smile, “why don't you go take a shower, and change into something more comfortable. I'll call in for pizza first, before doing the same thing, and we'll meet back out here, yeah?” Compromise. He's going to have to practice on the art of compromising, Merlin thought.

 

Arthur looked at Merlin - well...he had just finished looking at Merlin's stomach as it peeked out from under his hoodie along with the lines of his hips that...he swallowed - like he was more precious than any rare gem, like he was as bright as any star in the sky.

 

And while Arthur did this Merlin felt naked, because...why would Arthur look at him like that? He didn't focus too hard at finding out.

 

Merlin leaned in, placing his hands on both sides of Arthur's face, and gave Arthur a chaste kiss on the lips. He couldn't help himself! Not after seeing and feeling the emotions that rolled off of Arthur just by that look. And...because Arthur hasn't stopped him. But Merlin didn't push. He let go after the chaste kiss. That Arthur did moan into. They took a few awkward steps back from each other. And they looked...awkward for a moment too, but nervous. Before Merlin prompted, tone hoarse, “shower?”

 

Arthur continued to stare at Merlin, he licked his lips before swallowing, and repeating – tone equally hoarse, “shower,” nodding his way to the direction of his bedroom.

 

Merlin eyes followed Arthur direction of his nod and nodded in turn. He grinned.

 

Arthur swallowed again, and flushed slightly, but he left that time to make it to the shower.

 

Merlin watched him and all that he could think about was that he wanted him. He wanted Arthur, and he wanted to slap himself because he missed all of those signs! Because if he didn't miss those signs he could have had Arthur all along. But Merlin had to press himself to think further. What kind of boyfriend what he have been to Arthur if he was so unemotionally attached then? Would it have lasted? More than likely not, he thought. Merlin swallowed.

 

Merlin hung his head in thought. He wants Arthur. How in the hell is he supposed to watch him date other men, watch him period, see him meet new people, while staying single himself – as someone who does love sex, with all of his new found emotions going crazy inside of him saying taketaketaketakenow?! How is he going to restrain himself, and be the good little Merlin to prove himself to Arthur without any of his defense and coping mechanisms that are sure to try to kick in out of his own self-preservation of not wanting to get hurt himself? Merlin groaned, because he knew full well that he was screwed every which way from Sunday!

 

There was nothing he could do but order the pizza, and take a cold shower. Merlin resigned himself to knowing that he'd be taking a lot of cold showers in the future. And then he grimaced, as he remembered what was coming next for their evening, after the pizza. He was not looking forward to the remainder of his and Arthur's conversation.

 

**

 

They sat in the living room, on the floor, backs against the couch, wearing comfortable sweatsuits, coffee table pulled towards them while they ate their pepperoni pizzas. Arthur allowed Merlin to have a beer this time, he even got one for himself. They had a feeling their next conversation might be even more heavier than the one that they had before. Merlin ordered two large pizzas. He always had a large appetite and he's pretty fit himself with working out, and jogging as a normal routine. He'd been doing that shortly after he and Arthur met. Sure, he's not as big as the lads with his lean frame. But he is muscular, strong, and firm, in all of the right places. As he's been told more times than he can count. And he does take good care of his body. Something else Arthur got him focused on doing throughout the years. Merlin was able to put down five slices of pizza easily. Arthur used to put down at least six, at the minimum. Merlin watched him struggling to eat two. He barely made it through the first one, and he was pulling the pepperoni off of the second one. Arthur was honest when he confessed the information about his food intake, Merlin thought. He did eat, when forced it seems...or in the mood, but it was not nearly enough. It hurt his heart to watch.

 

Merlin swallowed. And kept his tone neutral in saying. “Have you had enough?”

 

Arthur turned his head to the right slightly to look at Merlin and nodded with a small smile. “Yeah, I'm pretty full.” And Arthur wasn't lying, he didn't have an appetite. And his stomach was still in knots from saying everything that he said to Merlin earlier. He felt...raw. And waking up in Merlin's arms made him feel comforted, warm, but defenseless. And he doesn't quite know how he felt about that yet. Because Merlin could bring him to that state with little to no effort, and Arthur's afraid of what will happen if he let's himself go. If he gives in to Merlin. Because right now, he knows that would be the most unhealthiest thing for him. It doesn't stop him from wanting though. That's the agony of it all, and that's why there was a valid need for some real healthy distance between them. He doesn't think he'll share that part of what he's feeling just yet though. It'll only give Merlin more control than he already has.

 

Merlin tried another approach. Merlin tilted his head to the left and licked his lips, he raised his left brow, while taking on a firmer tone, yet gentle tone before trying again. “Okay, finish two more slices for me, and I'll put everything up, yeah?”

 

A flash of pain went across Arthur's face. His expression settled upon showing that finishing two more slices were going to be pure torture for him, before finally settling on impassive. He swallowed too, and nodded, tone soft. “Yeah, I'll finish this one,” the one he was playing with in his right hand while playing with the pepperoni's with the other, “and one more slice.”

 

That would only be a total three of the normal six or more slices that Arthur would have put down before. Merlin didn't say anything because at least Arthur agreed to that. He decided instead that he needed to try to pay even more attention than he originally thought. Which was...difficult...for him – especially watching the pain of it all, but he needs to prove to Arthur, and to himself on some level that it's not all about him. And if it is, he needs to break from that as best as he can. And maybe, just maybe...it might just help him in his own recovery, because it will continue to give him something else to strive for, and will hopefully...allow him to keep Arthur when they are through.

 

**

 

As agreed upon, Arthur did finish the three slices. It felt...forced, and Arthur felt like he wanted to throw up but he held it down.

 

Merlin cleaned up the pizza boxes storing away the remaining slices for later. He brought out more cold beers, because that was the only way Arthur was going to get anything that he wanted out of him, and Merlin knew it. They sat back on the floor again, backs to the couch, legs stretched out before them under the coffee table. And their beers settled on the coffee table before them.

 

“So...,” Arthur decided to take lead in the discussion again, he knew it wasn't going to be easy for Merlin, “you have a problem with my dating?” It wasn't a question, but Arthur was giving Merlin a chance to respond honestly. He finished with his left brow raised, and a small grin. Arthur couldn't help but feel a little good that Merlin was jealous. It made him feel wanted.

 

Merlin winced immediately looking to jump to the defense, eyes wide, voice alarmed, “I didn't say -”

 

Merlin failed his chance.

 

Arthur raised his right hand cutting Merlin off, “you didn't - have to say it - your tone said it, and I...detected some jealousy there too.”

 

Merlin sucked in a breath, and ran his right hand and fingers through his hair. He hated the feeling of being exposed. But Arthur already knew about this so there wasn't nothing he could do but answer the question. Tone resigned Merlin responded. “I don't understand why dating would help, and I don't know if I can sit there and watch you dating someone else knowing my feelings for you, and knowing that your in love with me too.” There, he said it, Merlin thought, before using his right hand to grab his beer and taking a swig of it.

 

Arthur looked pained. Because he knows quite well what it felt like to see Merlin dating other people. Except he didn't have a say so in the matter, and it wasn't anything about Merlin's mental health in question before either. But now, it's about his own. Arthur tried to reassure Merlin, eyes open and honest. “No one said that I had to fall for them Merlin -”

 

But Merlin couldn't stop himself from interrupting. “But who's to say that you won't?” Merlin's eyes turned glossy, expression crestfallen. Merlin knows that there's a good chance he'll lose Arthur if Arthur pursues this. There's too many other factors to take into consideration here!

 

Arthur looked strickened by Merlin's expression, and by his words. But there wasn't much wiggle room here for him. He tried again, trying for comforting in his tone and his expression. “There's something that you don't seem to understand, Merlin.” Arthur said as he ran his right hand and fingers through his hair. Expression and voice attempting for more solace, while the intensity of the words simultaneously brought an edge in Arthur tone, and it showed clear in Arthur's eyes too. “You know for a fact that I'm in love with you, but you seem to be under some misconception that I'm going to fall out of love with you in an instant when I've been in love with you for the past seven years. How do you think dating is going to change all of that so easily?”

 

That would hit on Merlin's fears. So, he still tried for honesty, but not what could have been said. He licked his lips, his eyes watered slightly, but he tried tone, saddened, “because you might find someone else, someone better -”

 

Arthur reached over using his left hand to grab Merlin's right, he looked Merlin in his eyes, tone full of sorrow, eyes watering, “Merlin, I love you so much that it hurts, literally. I doubt very much that dating is going to change that -”

 

Merlin slammed his beer on the coffee table with his left hand, Arthur flinched, and Merlin used his left hand and fingers to run through his hair. He continued, tone anguished.

 

“Then why do you have to do it?” Merlin was pushing, he was quite aware but he was scared and that he was being selfish, but he couldn't see past the fact that Arthur would be dating other people. He didn't want to lose Arthur, and anyone in their right mind would see how much of a catch Arthur was, they wouldn't want to let him go!

 

Arthur sighed. He could read some of Merlin's thoughts as the brief expressions flickered across his face, as he could see it in his eyes, and hear it in his tone. Arthur licked his lips and used his right thumb and forefinger to press the bridge of his nose in frustration. He was still unable to 'guarantee' anything right now. Not until they both worked out some things, and not until they both got healthier. And not until Merlin worked out his own thoughts too. And Arthur, Arthur would be no good for Merlin or for anyone else if he didn't focus on his own recovery too. His croaked out, expression pained, because he didn't want to hurt Merlin. “I have to do this Merlin, this isn't about you, this isn't about me trying to get over you quickly, and this isn't about me trying to hurt you. But it is about me trying to be less dependent of you. This is about me gaining some identity back apart from you since I dedicated so many years of my life trying to go after you, and trying to give myself to you. This is about me getting better.”

 

A weyward tear fell from Merlin's left eye, as he yanked his right hand away from Arthur's left, it hurt Arthur – he could see it in his eyes, but Merlin didn't care at the moment. His tone was hoarse when he responded, “I just don't understand. We haven't even dated, we haven't even had sex, we haven't done anything, and now you're going to be going out with all of these people that you will be doing these things with -”

 

Arthur was quick to interject on one part, tone equally hoarse, eyes watered. “I never even said anything about sex -” Arthur tried to say before Merlin cut him off, again.

 

“You can't guarantee that you won't Arthur, who knows what will happen out on a date, and you've just said that you needed to be less dependent of me to gain your own identity back, just what do you think that means?! Merlin shrieked, as he used his right hand and fingers to brush over his eyes, both eyes continuing to tear up now.

 

Arthur swallowed, because he didn't know what to say, he would have hoped that Merlin would have understood at least a little bit, but it seems...he doesn't. He tried another tactic, trying for reassurance, eyes still glossy but open and honest. “I'm not going to be dating all of the time Merlin, and half of it is also going out to meet people -”

 

“What do you think happens on dates, Arthur?!” Merlin snapped. Merlin couldn't help it, his emotions were going all over the place, and all he saw was that he needed to fight for what was his.

 

And Arthur snapped back with no filter. “Not everything that happens on yours apparently!”

 

Merlin recoiled, because that was a low blow.

 

Arthur grimaced immediately, and sighed, he raised both his hands and fingers to run through his hair before dropping them and saying apologetically. “I'm sorry, you didn't -”

 

“Yes, yes you did.” Merlin interjected shaking his head, because whatever Arthur was about to apologize for would have been a lie, when they both know about his history. He looked down at the carpet before whispering, “I deserved that.” Before getting up, picking up his beer and walking towards the same wall he backed Arthur up into the night before, sliding down on the floor pulling his knees to his chin and wrapping his arms around himself, beer in hand. He did deserve that.

 

Arthur felt like shit. He's trying. He's really trying, but how can he do it without sacrificing himself in the process? He got up, grabbed his beer, and joined Merlin on the same white wall, sliding down and stretching his legs out before him. Leaning his right shoulder into Merlin left and saying gently, eyes watered, but open. “I am sorry.”

 

Merlin shook his head. “I have no right, I just...” Merlin took a huge swig of his beer. He shook his head again, tone broken while bordering hopeless at the same time, weyward tears continuing to fall from both eyes. “I don't want to lose you.”

 

Arthur eyes watered, but he tried to sound comforting next while telling the truth. “Your not going to lose me Merlin, I'll always be there for you.”

 

“Just not in the way that I want right?” Merlin responded back, tone stricken.

 

Arthur kept trying, but he was at a loss. Arthur knows what Merlin is trying to push him into. He couldn't guarantee more without lying when he didn't have an answer for the unknown himself. Not while there were still things that needed to be resolved between them, and not while there was no way of knowing what the outcome would be. It would be reckless to make a decision like that right now, especially after everything that's happened, and especially in the middle of their recoveries. They needed time. Arthur could only offer comfort. “I didn't say -”

 

“You don't have to say it, dating other people proves it.” Merlin snapped again feeling sick. He took his left hand that was wrapped around his knees and ran it along with his fingers through his hair tugging. He knows he's probably going too far, he knows this is about him and not about Arthur's recovery, but he couldn't help it. He has to put up some type of fight! Once everyone else get's their claws into Arthur what chance will he have? There's gotta be another way!

 

“Would you rather leave me sick?” Arthur asked curiously, left brow raised, tone at a whisper because he didn't know how he'd feel about that but he had to wonder. He couldn't have been any more clearer that this was about his recovery if he tried, and yet Merlin has fought him every step of the way on this one topic. They hadn't even properly gotten to any other topic yet, aside from his own confession.

 

Merlin tried, his expression and tone hopeful, his eyes still flooded with tears, “We can take care of each other, Arthur.”

 

That rose the hairs on Arthur's neck. He used his left forefinger and thumb to press the bridge of his nose before shaking his head and licking his lips. When he responded his tone was pained because he was still at a loss. “How Merlin? How can we take care of each other like that? Your condition is different from mine, so your recovery process is different too, and very strenuous. Your going through intensive psychotherapy, and your forcing yourself to face things that you stayed away from facing just about your entire life. My focus, my focus always been all about you. I've been in love with you for all of these years until it became unhealthy for me to live normally. I surrounded myself around you. I didn't distance myself until I had to. I took all of that pain in. I have to have some time away from you. It's the only way for me to get some of myself back! Before my healthy love for you becomes unhealthy as it's already bordering on, and before I lose myself for good.” Arthur said as the tears started to fall down his eyes and cheeks, his expression and tone sounded broken. “I think my wanting to take my own life, and barely eating three slices of pizza proves that --”

 

Merlin flinched, and opened his mouth to interject but Arthur wasn't finished. He spoke right on through without even acknowledging Merlin's attempt.

 

“--I have date and I have to meet more other people to get me out of the habit of being so dependent of you. Of wasting my life away...waiting --” Arthur croaked out that last word.

 

And Merlin wanted to interject again because he was getting tired of hearing that he didn't want Arthur back, but he couldn't be that naive to respond knowing that this was more than about now and everything to do with the damage that was done.

 

Arthur continued on unaware of Merlin's own dilemma.

 

“--It helps to recreate the social organisation that I inadvertently tore down while trying to go after you all of these years. I'll be no good to you until I get better too, Merlin. And I'm not going anywhere. You'll still see me, and any dates that I do have you wouldn't meet them anyway because I have my own flat -”

 

Merlin was resigned then, understanding that Arthur was not going to budge on this. Merlin's tone was grief-stricken, he scowled, and used his left hand to wipe his face from the tears. “And who's to say that Morgana or the rest of the lot won't find you your prince charming -” Merlin tone took on bitterness at the end before Arthur cut him off.

 

“Really?” Arthur asked with a look of disbelief, stunned for a moment, before taking the tone of disbelief too. “Prince Charming, Merlin, this isn't a fairy they're aren't any prince charmings out there.”

 

“You know what I mean, Arthur!” Merlin jumped to his feet with lighting speed glaring down at Arthur.

 

And Arthur was not going to settle for that so he immediately got up too. Blue meeting blue breathing heavily, and frustrated. Arthur wanted to yell, but he was trying very hard to restrain himself while Merlin was trying very hard to push his buttons. Arthur sucked in a breath before bringing his left forefinger and thumb to press the bridge of his nose. He then decided to try for peace, if he could. He clinched his jaw, tone tight, but trying for gentle. “I can see that we're at an impasse on this part of our discussion, let's come back to it, yeah?”

 

Merlin still breathing heavily, glared at Arthur, but he moved over to the couch to sit down on it. It didn't matter if they got back to that discussion if Arthur wasn't going to budge on the topic itself. He tried for a smile, it turned out to be a grimace, but he did nod in approval of the change in topic.

 

“Why did you leave? The real answer answer this time.” Arthur asked, tone still a little frustrated but trying, while he stood at the other end of the coffee table looking at Merlin.

 

And Merlin wanted to roll his eyes. He didn't even know why he bothered when the second question was even worse than the first! And it wasn't like he could use any of his stock answers anymore! Arthur pretty much called him out on lying with those answers! And if he keeps lying whether intentionally or unintentionally, Arthur's going to question everything that he's ever said to weigh the sincerity in it, including his love for him. And Merlin couldn't afford that! He was barely hanging onto Arthur as it was, and he has nothing to use to prove his love to Arthur but his word. He has to do his best to control how he lies intentionally--which will be anything but easy, because it comes out of pure habit from as long as he could remember to protect and to defend himself, and he's never grown out of it because he still has to protect and defend himself! It wasn't compulsive, Merlin's quite certain of it. He's mostly aware of his actions--even though it's an automatic response, and he's more than aware that he could be bordering compulsive even though he's not. Not to mention, he can stop! If he wants to. Merlin was fighting a war in his own mind. Arthur's never pushed him this much for information before?! In fact, Arthur's never pushed him for anything at all! He normally gave him the choice, or chose things that they both would agree on! Merlin's mind was all over the place as he groaned closing his eyes. But if he tells Arthur the truth... Merlin opened his eyes from where he was leaned back into the couch to take in Arthur. And Arthur had his arms folded over his chest, beer still in his right hand, looking down at Merlin like he was reading every thought that Merlin had in the last thirty-five seconds. He didn't give away his thoughts but Merlin would be willing to bet there was more disappointment going through it. He looked at Arthur, who had his left brow raised looking back at Merlin, blue meeting blue, as if daring Merlin to come up with another lie. Merlin swallowed.

 

Merlin's eyes teared up then, and he started tapping his right foot into the carpet. He took another gulp of his beer that was still in his right hand before responding, tone soft--but broken. “I don't want to lose you.” Merlin looked up to Arthur from where he was sitting back on the couch, allowing the tears to flow, he sucked in a breath, and continued, voice strained. “I know that I gave in to everything that you said before. That I told you to do all of those things, that I dared you, but I can't...I can't see where you'd want to be with me at the end if you did all of those things, and I...” Merlin shook his head, and continued, throat hoarse from the tears, tone still strained. “I couldn't go through all of that. I couldn't wait while watching you do all of those things, only to lose you in the end. There was no...hope...for me to hold onto. Regardless of your support, there was no...guarantee...of anything else, and what I want most of all is you.” Merlin ended with his left forefinger pointing at Arthur like he was laying it out clear what he wanted out of this. Merlin started shaking his head, and he swallowed, before taking another huge swig of his beer.

 

For some reason, that answer angered Arthur. Maybe because it had nothing to do with his recovery at all, or maybe it was Merlin, but he couldn't hold his response back if he wanted to, and it came out sharp, and it was lined with anger. Arthur was shaking by the time he started, and his eyes were blazing. “Merlin, nobody get's a guarantee! You've managed to arrange your life in a way that you managed to get everything that you've ever wanted while protecting yourself from any source of pain. You managed to not go after anything unless you were guaranteed something in return despite what the effects were on others in your wake. You managed to protect yourself, and I've always somehow managed to give you everything that you've ever wanted, and the one time,” Arthur had to pause there, he took a sharp intake of breath, and used his left forefinger and thumb to press the bridge of his nose before shaking his head and continuing, voice tense and still laced with anger. “The one time, I come to you for something that I want, something that I need, your telling me that you can't wait because your not gauranteed that I won't be there when it's all said and done. It's an all or nothing, Merlin. Despite what you trying to tell me, it's an ultimatum that your trying to push me into, and if I don't put my own recovery to the side your telling me that you don't want to be there while I go through it. Your telling me that my feelings, my wants, my needs don't matter!”

 

Merlin recoiled, and shuddered before licking his lips as the tears continued to flow. He tried to choke out, “that is not what -”

But Arthur wasn't listening because Arthur was on a roll, and he didn't want to hear anything that Merlin was about to make up to get out of this one.

 

“That is exactly what your saying, but you've protected yourself so neatly over the years that you've managed to work it out to saying that your protecting others when in fact, your only protecting yourself!” Arthur ended in a yell.

 

There was a shiver that went down Merlin's spine. It wasn't from fear of any abuse from Arthur, but it was because of fear of his truths being made known. And he didn't know how he was going to handle it if Arthur figured it out!

 

Arthur continued unaware of where Merlin's thoughts wandered off to. When he spoke, his eyes were still blazing, he still was shaking, and his voice was painfully strained. And Arthur wasn't having a panic attack, Arthur was getting angry because Merlin couldn't see what he was doing to him. “I admit, I want to make sure that you love me for the right reasons, that you understand what those feelings are, after going for so long without them.” Arthur was trying to calm down as he spoke, his voice was came out hoarse, eyes still blazing but trying to calm down to be more gentle. “But I've compromised throughout everything. I've waited. I'm still compromising my own recovery to be here right now! I said that I would be there for your support, that I didn't want to leave you. That I would think this through, really think this through, and that I would make a decision. I said that I needed the time to heal, to recover, to not be on suicide watch from my sister, to not alert my father, to not lose myself in the process, but that I would be there. And your telling me... Your telling me that that's not enough. That's it's not enough because I can't guarantee you that I will surrender myself to you in the end. That it's not enough, because you don't want me to do what I need to do, because you don't want to give me the distance apart that I need to take myself from being so dependent of you. To get my own identity back! You don't want me to do that because your afraid that once I do I won't choose you. You want a guarantee that that won't happen?”

 

And Merlin wished there was a hole for him to crawl into in that moment, because Arthur was just able to summarize some of Merlin's worse fears in a matter of minutes, and he felt exposed. But Merlin wasn't done yet. And he wasn't going to go out without a fight!

 

Merlin tried to change tactics, tone and expression hurt, and he was hurt at the moment, with all of his thoughts laying out there to be stomped on. “How would you feel if I were asking these things of you in reverse?” It was lame but he was grasping at straws here!

 

Arthur calmed down immediately, tone and expression fond, but you could tell there was still some frustration in it all. “I've been through worse with you, Merlin, and here I am still offering my help to get you through this.”

 

Merlin sucked in a breath, tears still falling, mouth set in a frown, automatically trying to defend, “it's not the same, I didn't know -”

 

Arthur's voice got sharp again, but his expression was still fond, even though his eyes were pained. “You didn't know what? That you were in love with me. Well I knew that I was in love with you, and I never turned my back on you because I was too busy trying to protect myself from my own pain. And I'm not even turning my back on you now! I'm not even saying that I don't want you when we're finis-”

 

Merlin sniffed, “that's the problem, I don't know what you want -” Merlin's voice started to crack, but Arthur interrupted him again.

 

Arthur wasn't going to stop, because the only way he could get through to Merlin now was to push. And it pained him but he continued. “And if you can't tell that I love you then there's something wrong because the whole reason why I have to go through this recovery in the first place is because I want you too much!”

 

This wasn't happening, this wasn't happening, this wasn't happening, was all Merlin could repeat in his head. Until he thought of something as he remembered what he processed earlier. Compromise. It was his last chance, because once everyone started getting their hands into Arthur and setting him up on dates, once Morgana got involved... “I want us to be able to date too?” Merlin finished with a whisper, tears still falling, but his tone was trying for hope where there wasn't any.

 

Arthur raised his right brow, he was stumped by that. He should have seen it coming. And his expression and tone was incredulous. “You want us...” Arthur used his left forefinger to signal them, “to date.”

 

“Yes.” Merlin said, eyes showing all of his want, responded automatically.

 

And Arthur smiled, his expression was fond then in his own tears, but he still wasn't completely following that one. “Merlin, you are aware that we've known each other for thirteen years, that I've been in love with you for seven, possibly more than that, and I know practically everything there is to know about -”

 

Merlin shook his head and prayed for this to work. He placed his beer back on the coffee table with his right hand, and used both of his hands to wipe his face before rubbing his hands in his jeans. When he spoke his tone was hopeful and hoarse, his eyes were trying to show all of his want, and he said everything that he could think of to make it work, for Arthur to see. “No, no you don't Arthur. Well...not like you use to. Because, because I blocked so much of myself off you couldn't have known everything. You know more than I do, but you don't know me like I am now, like...I'm going to be. You don't...you don't know me romantically either. We've never dated, although, some of your signs were pretty much a date but, the problem with that was the fact that I didn't know about it. If you're going to date all of these people, if you're going to get to know all of these people while meeting new people, while I'm supposed to stay single in the process then allow us to get to know each other on that level too. You said you had to decide.” Merlin swallowed, as he tried to muster up all of his feelings to get his thoughts across. His tone was still hoarse while his eyes remained full of hope as he continued. “How can you decide when you don't know that side of us yet, together? Shouldn't I have a right to fight for you too? To have a say somewhere in there instead of sitting on the sidelines or getting left behind altogether? Can't I express how I feel for you too? Can't I show you? I'm asking for a real chance to really prove myself because there's no way that I can do that by sitting around and doing nothing. Not the feelings that you're looking to see from me. And at least, by doing this...if...if I lose you...it won't be because I didn't try.”

 

Arthur's chest was hurting by the time Merlin finished, and his love wouldn't allow him to turn away from Merlin's proposition. And once Arthur finished his thoughts, he couldn't find a way to disagree with Merlin's proposition either.

 

**

 

A Compromise

 

They agreed to two dates a week. Real dates, kisses too. Merlin was the one that forced that one. Arthur was going for one date a week. He was still nervous, and his recovery stayed in the back of his mind. But they did agree together that if the two dates interfered with Arthur's recovery they would go back to one date instead. But they agreed to two! Merlin thought happily, and now, there was room for hope.

 

**

 

And that was only the start of discussions.

 

**

 

The Lake-house

 

“You did what!” Merlin shrieked, skin paled, and alarm ringing through all of his senses.

 

Arthur sighed, he wasn't expecting that response as they sat on the couch feet propped up under their legs sitting across from each other. He tried again, trying to sell the idea, because it was a good idea! And this time it was Arthur his tone and eyes trying for hopeful. “I told Morgana that I wanted to take you away to the family lake-house in Wales, for a week... or two.”

 

“Why would you say that? Why would you want that?! And while we're both recovering? What part of any of this spells out to be a good idea?” Merlin didn't know why he said that. Maybe because his alarm bells sounded when Arthur said Morgana in he remembered their last conversation. But nevertheless, the words were said, and Merlin's eyes were wide while he waited for an answer.

 

Arthur used his right thumb and forefinger to press the bridge of his nose. His tone and eyes still remained hopeful because he was confident in this plan. “We both need the time away Merlin. You haven't been sleeping properly due to your nightmares and there's still things that you have to face, and I wanted to be there to support you, and there's still things that we need to resolve. Not to mention I need more time away too, and I don't want to leave you without my support, not while I can help it.”

 

That could work, Merlin thought, mind already working. Some time alone, to have Arthur to himself, without outside interference. It didn't stop him from saying. “And on top of that, your sister hates me -” Merlin's mouth rambled on without filter.

 

“No she doesn't-” Arthur was quick to defend in his tone and eyes. She doesn't hate him, she's upset with him, but she promised she would make it work if he and Merlin resolved their issues but she needed some time first. He remembered the last part of their conversation automatically and his sister's words before he left her flat.

 

I promise to be supportive, Arthur. Whatever your decision. I will have your back. And I will try to forgive Merlin for his part in all of this too. Just... give me some time. It's different for me, it wasn't easy standing their watching. But if he's willing to try then so am I. But your health is going to be first for me, and so is your happiness. You missed out on so many years of happiness, you deserve to know what that feels like.”

 

“Yes, she does.” Merlin responded quickly unaware of Arthur's thoughts. His tone was pained, but he wasn't going to argue with Arthur about his sister. Especially knowing how close the two are.

 

It didn't stop Arthur from inquiring for more information though, after picking up Merlin's tone.

 

Arthur paused, tone curious, right brow raised. “Merlin, what gives you that impression?”

 

No Answer. Merlin's expression closed off from giving anything away.

 

Arthur tried again, “Merlin?” Because Arthur wasn't buying it. Merlin wouldn't bring it up unless it was something. Whether it's from all of his emotions going all over the place or not, he needed to talk about it.

 

No answer, but eventually... five seconds later... Merlin shook his head, and sighed, eyes still not giving anything away. “Maybe you should ask her. But it doesn't matter because she was right, for the most part.” Except for where my feelings for you are concerned, Merlin thought, before continuing, “I can see that now. She was being protective of you in the only way Morgana knows how, but she was right in what she said at the time. And at least she was the only one to try and tell me what was going on with the exception of Will. Even if it wasn't relayed the right way, or if she lost her temper before she could get the rest out.”

 

That part was Arthur's fault. He sighed, and licked his lips, before running his right hand and fingers through his hair. His tone was soft when he continued. “A lot of the secrecy from the lot was my fault, Merlin. I asked them, made them swear hysterically not to tell you about my feelings. I didn't want you to find out that way, and they even tried for the signs like me, but...nothing ever worked.” Arthur shook his head before continuing. “It didn't stop them from trying to tell me to tell you myself or to move on. They were worrying and there was nothing that anyone could do. Well...not anyone,” Arthur swallowed, his eyes were distant. “But we didn't want to involve anyone else.”

 

**

 

The yearly Christmas Party at Morgana's

 

 

“Morgana's Christmas party!” Merlin was automatically shaking his head as he started pacing across the living room floor. Still shaking his head, tone firm, Merlin responded. “I can't go there.”

 

Arthur got up to in order to walk in front of Merlin to stop his pacing. His eyes were widened in surprise, his lips red from nibbling on them, tone questioning, he asked. “Why not? We go every year.”

 

Merlin didn't notice Arthur was in front of him and stumbled right into him. Arthur gripped his shoulders to hold him firmly before he fell flat on his face and waited.

 

Merlin responded quietly, eyes starting to turn glossy again after he righted himself enough for Arthur to let him go. “Because they don't want me there, Arthur.”

 

Arthur knew that things were tense, and that they may be tense for a little while, but everyone had to work on getting through this, including Merlin. And Merlin has a fear of confrontation, rejection, and acceptance to work through. He has to face it. Even though he'll try his best to circumvent facing it at all. Arthur used his right hand to firmly grip Merlin's shoulder as he replied. Tone and eyes encouraging and supportive. “There you're friends, Merlin.”

 

Merlin shook his head automatically at that. His tone becoming hoarse all of a sudden, though he leaned in to where Arthur held firm on his left shoulder. His eyes became glossy again. “No, Arthur, they're your friends. They don't want anything to do with me.”

 

And Arthur felt like he had to come to defense for everyone then, including Merlin because as long as no one was talking no one was resolving anything. His tone and eyes were firm, but he still held encouragement and comfort all over it. “Now that's not true, and you know it. I'm not saying that they were in the right, they shouldn't have stopped talking to you. But they didn't agree with what happened, and they were upset. It's their right, and their feelings, and not to mention choice to feel that way, but they never stopped being your friends. We have to all talk this out, say our peace, and we need to get past this, together”

 

It sounded comforting, but Merlin's emotions were still all over the place which made those words piss him off instead. He snapped, but didn't remove himself from Arthur's hold on his shoulder, remembering the look of hurt on Arthur's face earlier when he snatched his hand away from him. “That's easy for you to say, they never stopped speaking to you.”

 

Arthur sighed, closed his eyes, and licked his lips. He tried for reassuring, but he needed Merlin to understand where he was coming from here too. Support won't make any difference if Merlin refuses to face anything unless he's forced to do it. And he knows that Merlin wants to get better. “Look, you have a problem facing rejection, acceptance, and confrontation. You put it aside, and discard the feeling from your mind. Maybe you need to face it, if only to find it's not what you think it is after all. It was just as easy for you to reach out to them as you expected them to reach out to you.”

 

Merlin shook his head, because even though he didn't blame the lot for not reaching out to him, he still remembered how he felt. How he felt alone. And he doesn't even want to know what they think of him now too, with everything about his childhood, and his past out there as common knowledge among the group. Merlin couldn't find it in himself to say any of that to Arthur yet. They made so much progress together in one evening, and Merlin didn't want to lose the moment, nor did he want to find himself saying anything to take anything that they accomplished back.

 

Arthur was unaware of Merlin's solemn thoughts as he continued trying to encourage his friend. As he tightened his grip on Merlin's shoulder for comfort, blue meeting blue, tone intense. “I'll be there with you, every step of the way. You have me, Merlin.” And he'll make sure the lot is on their best behavior, and that they find a way to fix this! Arthur thought to himself. Because he would make sure that they were on their best behavior. Because he would make sure that amends were had by all parties concerned. But he needed Merlin to be able to confront this too. He had to, not just for their friends, but for himself. If he continued to run away he would never face anything. Yes, Arthur would deal with it. It will be next on his to do list. But he could only handle one confrontation at a time. And an encounter with Merlin now, pouring out his heart to Morgana and Merlin in one day, was enough confrontation for Arthur to be able to mentally and physically handle right now. The lot, would have to come later.

 

Merlin spluttered, eyes widened looking at Arthur, but his mouth lost his filter again, as he responded, tone hoarse. “I don't have you.”

 

And if Merlin's words couldn't cut like a knife... Arthur used his left hand to place on Merlin right shoulder, now having both hands holding firm on Merlin. It was a sign of comfort, of security. Arthur rested his forehead on Merlin's as they breathed each other's air heavily being so close to each other. When Arthur responded, his tone was hoarse too. “You do have me, Merlin. It may not be in the way that you want, but you do have me. And maybe you need to get use to the fact that you had everything that you wanted before, but you just didn't notice, and deal with it now.”

 

It was a reminder that Merlin needed to accept what he had now, and that he needed to work through it. It was a reminder that Merlin still needed to face the things that he was running away from. It was a reminder that there was plenty blame to go around. It was also a reminder that Arthur was there all along, that he was still there, and Merlin just didn't/couldn't see it. It was a reminder that everything wasn't going to just magically fall into Merlin's lap now, just because he wanted it to. That he wasn't going to conveniently have everything he wanted, as he had it before. That life...didn't work that way, even if Merlin did everything before to live like it actually did to protect himself. And how did Merlin get all of that from what Arthur said? He didn't know.

 

**

 

Apologies

 

“I'm sorry,” Merlin said honestly, as they sat across from each other again on the couch, legs propped up beneath them, facing each other.

 

Arthur shook his head, tone and expression open and honest. “It's not your fault. I blamed you, for missing the signs before. But it was my fault. It was all my fault. I should have told you.”

 

Merlin shook his head, he didn't see it that way anymore, at least not all of it. Even though it would have been nice to be told. “It's not your fault for falling in love Arthur. No one has a say in that.” Merlin shook his head again while licking his lips, and looking at Arthur. His tone was just as open as Arthur's.

 

Arthur followed the motion of Merlin licking his lips before averting his eyes. He took his right hand and fingers and ran them through his hair again before shaking his head. His eyes were still soft and open, his voice, full of regret as he thought of ways that could have changed their situation in the past. “I should have told you. I could have tried harder not to fall for you. I should have done something. I should have moved out, or bought you another flat. Anything than feel the pain from all of this.”

 

Merlin moved other to the other side of the couch, and propped his legs underneath him still. He just wanted to get closer to Arthur. They were inches away from each other now. Merlin didn't want him to regret what he thinks Arthur is regretting. His eyes and tone were gentle when he responded. “I can't say that I would have wanted you not to fall in love with me. That would be a lie. I regret...that...I didn't know about it. That I didn't see. And that I missed you going through what you went through without having your best friend around to support you.”

 

Arthur's eyes watered, his tone turned stricken as he responded, “you couldn't have -”

 

But Merlin was having none of that as he shook his head, before clinching his jaw, and grabbing both of Arthur's hands to place in his own. He tone, was sure, gentle, as he responded, “I could have. If I knew.”

 

And Arthur shook his head too, expression and tone turned broken, his eyes were still watering as he responded. “You didn't want to know, Merlin. You didn't see. If you didn't even think my romantic gestures were something more than friendship then you weren't ready to accept my feelings.”

 

“Arthur -” Merlin tried, his expression crestfallen.

 

But Arthur wasn't finished. His tone and expression was still broken, as he continued. “Be honest with yourself Merlin. We already established that you can see some feelings. You weren't ready to accept mine. And the only reason why you did was because you didn't want me to leave when I did. Your emotions broke through because they were forced to.”

 

And there was nothing Merlin could say to make Arthur believe anything different.

 

**

 

Sex

 

“What am I going to do? You expect me not so have sex at all, but yet your not going to give me any either?” Merlin asked as they sat across from each other on the couch again, legs propped beneath them and facing each other. Merlin couldn't help but ask, this was already the longest he's gone without sex in years, and Arthur wasn't planning on giving him any either.

 

Arthur flushed but it disappeared quickly. He raised a brow. His tone was teasing when he responded with a half grin. “You know, I think you've been conditioned for sex. This might be a good change for you.”

 

Merlin looked flabbergasted. “Change for me. How could you do it?” And wasn't that nice, Arthur said he was conditioned. He went from busy to being conditioned instead of just saying what Will said. He was so sweet.

 

Arthur flushed slightly again, and he was teasing this time, as his eyes sparkled. “I don't need sex like you do, Merlin.” Arthur loves sex, he just doesn't have to have sex to survive, like some people do. But Arthur kept his thoughts to himself.

 

And Merlin knew that he was screwed, but he had to ask. “When's the last time you had sex?” Merlin asked, right brow raised, tone pitiful all of a sudden because he knew he was in for a long wait, but still having a problem following how Arthur could survive without sex.

 

Arthur shrugged, with a grin, eyes gentle. “It's been a while...” Arthur didn't feel comfortable giving up that piece of information. And it wasn't that he hadn't had the opportunities, it just wasn't the right opportunities.

 

Merlin still wasn't following. The thought of not being able to have sex for the unforeseen future was...disturbing for Merlin. And he couldn't see how Arthur could go without it, for whatever amount of time that he missed it for. “What, was there no one available?” Merlin pressed.

 

He really was oblivious. It was cute, Arthur thought. Depending on what he was being oblivious about.

 

Arthur shrugged again, and raised his left brow. “Apparently, I was the fool who was waiting...for you.” And that was all that Merlin was going to get from Arthur. At least...for the night.

 

Merlin's brows did a neat impression of Gaius, and he only hoped Arthur didn't wait that long, and since Arthur wasn't giving anything else...Merlin was resigned with the fact that he was indeed screwed, because if Arthur could wait that long he could definitely, no hands down, out wait Merlin. Yes, Merlin was screwed.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Arthur!” Hunith exclaimed as soon as she opened up her front door.

 

And Arthur smiled, before responding in kind, tone gentle. “Hunith, how've you been? It's a been a long time.” And Arthur wasn't lying. It's been at the very least six months since he's seen Hunith last. And in those six months she'd looked like she aged ten years. She was still beautiful but Arthur was able to see more gray streaks running through her hair and more bag lines took residence under her eyes. There were even wrinkle lines surrounding her mouth, frown lines it seemed, though that was odd because those were where her laugh lines had been before.

 

“That it has my boy,” Hunith said happily as she pulled Arthur down for a big hug, “that it has. Now come in and out from the cold. I just made a big pot of chicken soup, some tea, and some crescent rolls. We can eat first and talk later.” And Hunith meant that, because just as quickly as Arthur assessed her, she was assessing Arthur in his baggy dark blue hoodie and stonewashed baggy blue jeans. She knew what she heard from Will, Morgana, and the rest of their friends, but seeing...seeing is believing. And Arthur looked like he'd dropped a good twenty pounds if not more. It was his continuing to work out and his clothing choices that threw people off on his weight loss, but it was coming all the more clear now, even with his work out routines. He had bags under his eyes that was covered with purple marks. His hair did not seem nearly as healthy and shiny as it used to be, and neither did his skin. He was just as handsome as always, and if you didn't know him any better – and really was not paying attention - you would have assumed he was just extremely tired, but if you did really know him, and if you were paying attention.... Arthur wouldn't have been able to hide this from Uther if he saw him right now, not even if he wanted to. It felt like he was trembling lightly in her arms, and his eyes didn't seem as focused as she pulled him down for a hug.

 

Just thinking about all of that food made Arthur's stomach feel like it was setting up lines of defense to block the food from entering as his stomach started tying into knots simultaneously. And Arthur knew for a fact that Hunith would be like Morgana, attempting to make him eat as much as possible. Arthur inwardly cringed. His outer expression however, remained his normal charming self. He smiled. “That would be lovely,” Arthur said as he crossed over the threshold - Hunith closing the door behind him - and took off his black leather trenchcoat, which Hunith grabbed immediately to hang up on the coat rack. Arthur eyes ran a coup d'oeil around the living room and from what he could see of the kitchen and the hallway. “Is Gaius around? I was hoping to speak with him too.”

 

Hunith's eyes widened as she turned to her left to look at Arthur as they walked into the kitchen. It wasn't a surpise when someone would want both she and Gaius present. It was easier than having to repeat things all over again. Hunith shook her head as she continued to walk, “No, no he is not actually. In fact, he's gone to see your father today. Something about having lunch at the mansion.” The last sentence sounding like a question. “It was rather sudden.” Hunith finished as they made it to the kitchen with a slight shake of her head.

 

Arthur's eyes widened just the same as he bit down on his bottom lip and a ran his tongue over the meat there. Arthur shrugged for Hunith's sake. He kept his tone neutral but their was some tension there. “It does sound rather odd. I would have assumed that father would have been at work, especially with my being off. But I haven't been there in a while so I'm a bit out of the loop.” Arthur finished with a small smile that he was certainly not feeling at the second. He needed to know what was going on. It was hard to keep up pretenses when he had no idea what to protect himself from, and he was due to see his father soon. Morgana had stressed that point more than once along with saying that their father was asking about him. Arthur's chest tightened some just thinking about it.

 

Hunith smiled at Arthur as they made it to the kitchen and at the six seater white wood kitchen table. She gestured for Arthur to take the seat at the head of the table, as she went to grab the bowls, saucers, and cups for the their soup, crescent rolls and tea. “Well I'm sure that everything's fine.” Hunith said with all of the confidence that she could muster, but didn't quite feel. Gaius was acting pretty off for the past few days. Ever since Will paid his last visit and updated them on both Merlin and Arthur's conditions. And he was particularly spooked when he learned that Arthur had contemplated suicide, and apparently, more than once. So spooked in fact, that he froze and his skin paled instantly. Like Jacob Marley's ghost on A Christmas Carol. Hunith asked him what was wrong several times, but he only tried to shake her off telling her that he was fine, and that there was nothing to worry about. Even trying to keep her head in the sand to not see the horrors around her could not stop her from seeing that something was wrong with her brother. But Gaius was a man of many secrets, he'd tell her if and when it was necessary for her to hear it.

 

Arthur detected a twinge of nervousness in Hunith's voice and realized that he wasn't seeing things wrongly either. Something must be up. He'll have to contact Morgana and soon to see if she's heard anything. For now, he really needed to speak with Hunith, but first...lunch. He hadn't even had breakfast!

 

It didn't take but a few minutes before they were settled at the kitchen table with soup, crescent rolls, and tea. Hunith evaluating how much food Arthur was taking in. Arthur managed half of his chicken soup, a crescent roll, and his cup of tea before saying that he was absolutely stuffed and that he couldn't take in another bite if he tried of Hunith's delicious meal. And this was in the time that Hunith took to eat all of her food, to clean up, and to go back to the table to watch him. Hunith inwardly shook her head. This was the Arthur who would have eaten her out of house and home years ago, and now... But she couldn't say anything, because she knew that Arthur still had his pride just from looking at him, and she knew that he didn't come around just for the soup. Even if he needed it. Eating and taking care of himself was what she didn't have to worry about where Merlin was concerned. He would make sure that he took care of himself and he didn't suffer from depression. But she understood enough about depression to know that none of this was intentional for Arthur. He didn't ask for any of it, no more than Merlin asked for his disorders. She got up, and grabbed his bowl, saucer, and tea cup with a smile, before saying, “I'm glad you liked it. Why don't you head on off to the living room. I'll just clean this up quickly and I'll be right out in a few minutes.”

 

Arthur nodded in acquiesces, before sincerely saying, “thank you, Hunith. The lunch was delicious.” And Arthur wasn't lying, he knew Hunith would have made an excellent chicken soup – he's had it before over the years, he just...wasn't able to appreciate it now.

 

Hunith beamed at Arthur. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Pendragon, now head on off to the living room.” She finished as she waved her right hand in the direction of the doorway that led to the living room.

 

Arthur chuckled and shook his head, before responding, “will do,” as he headed off towards the living room. Atmosphere still tense from the moment he walked in the front door. Arthur only wondered if it was just him feeling it.

 

It wasn't.

 

**

 

Hunith was settled beside Arthur ten minutes later, the glass coffee table holding two glasses of milk and chocolate biscuits. “So, what I can do for you, Arthur?” Hunith asked, though she had the feeling that Arthur was coming to her for Merlin's sake and not his own. It was a rare occasion for Arthur to ask anything for himself. That maybe because there wasn't much that he didn't already have but it didn't matter. Arthur didn't have a selfish bone in his body. He constantly put his friends and family first, and then Merlin. Merlin was first before it all. It was always Merlin for him, and what he could do for her son. It was lovely to see how well loved her son had been, how well Arthur looked after him, if only it weren't making Arthur sick right now. The only positive thing out of all of this was the fact that Merlin wasn't able to repress his painful emotions any longer. That he had to face it. Oh, and maybe the fact that he's finally able to see Arthur differently. If he understands those feelings yet.

 

There was nothing positive that happened in this scenario for Arthur. Not if you're trying to move on and the person you're trying to move on from after seven years all of a sudden says that they want you. It didn't help Arthur's recovery now. It could only draw him backwards instead of pulling him forwards if he weren't careful, and she knew, where Merlin was concerned...he wouldn't be careful. Not without someone looking out for him, and she understands that this is where Morgana comes in. Merlin is a lot stronger than Arthur on that front, and after having a life-time of maintaining control to protect himself...he would definitely do it now to keep himself from getting hurt. Psychotherapy won't be able to take that part of Merlin away, Merlin will have to work on those tendencies himself as he begins to look out for others. Hunith thought that Merlin would have helped Arthur's recovery originally, along with himself. She really did, but she didn't know how severe Arthur's condition was at the time. How far his depression had gotten. And Merlin has to get better too. They both, had to get better. She didn't know if it would be possible trying to get better while together, it wouldn't benefit them. And she knows her son is stubborn and that he wants what he wants, he may not see reason right now, and Morgana stated that Arthur doesn't see reason where Merlin is involved sacrificing himself every time. Merlin is the stronger of the two in that scenario. Merlin would have to see that Arthur would need some distance from him, but he would have to want to see it. Or Arthur would have to get stronger to see it. Merlin is doing a lot better, that she knows, but she also knows how much he depends on Arthur as a fixture in his life. She doesn't know how well he would manage without that fixture, or if he would be willing to try to see how he would be able to manage without it. If he would allow Arthur the time to get better. She knows that Morgana wants her to talk to Merlin about this, but hell on anyone if Merlin has made up his mind on something, it will not easily be changed. Hunith sighed internally. There had to be a way for both of the boys to be happy. Healthy, and happy. And Merlin's lived a life time thinking he was happy but never experiencing what true happiness was really like, only the temporal. It would be nice to see him content in himself and in life, without building walls to protect himself from hurt and harm.

 

Arthur - unaware of Hunith's thoughts - turned slightly to his right to better face Hunith in his seat before saying, “I wanted to speak with you about Merlin.”

 

Hunith nodded giving a gentle smile, before responding, “I figured as much.”

 

Arthur nodded in turn. “Have you spoken to Merlin recently?”

 

Hunith shook her head, wringing her hands together slightly, “no, no I haven't since our psychotherapy sessions. I gathered that he didn't want to speak with me right now and we've been kept well informed of everything by Will and Morgana of you two's conditions. I knew that he wasn't alone and I wanted to give him some time to come to grips with things.”

 

Arthur sighed, he figured as much in thinking that they have been informed of him. He really didn't want many people to know of his condition. The less people who knew, the less of a chance the information had to making it back to his father. He tensed immediately at the thought and swallowed hard before continuing, with a slight strain in his voice. “He misses you.”

 

That startled Hunith some. The last she'd seen of Merlin he was very upset and it felt like he blamed her for everything. Like it was her hand that hit her baby boy herself. Those sessions still broke her heart every time she thought about it. Especially since she blamed herself for everything anyway. For not being there, for not noticing, and for not getting Merlin the help he needed earlier—even when he swore everything was fine. She tried to sound normal, taking the shock out of her voice while keeping her expression neutral as she responded. “I miss him too. I was just trying to give him some space.”

 

Arthur had a feeling of what space really meant, but the only person in this scenario who was required to have space was the only person who continued going right back into the lion's den because no one else wanted to follow. With the exception of Will and Mithian. “Look, Hunith. I know you haven't been to see Merlin since you had your psychotherapy visits together but it is extremely important for Merlin to have all of the support that is possible right now. He doesn't need to feel isolated or alone, and he needs to be surrounded by people whom he can trust. People whom he can confide in as he's confronted by his fears.” People who love him, was also unsaid but clear.

 

Hunith hesitated. The only two people she could see her son truly confiding in was Dr. Monmouth and Arthur. Dr. Monmouth, because he is Merlin's psychotherapist. Arthur, because he was the one that triggered Merlin's emotions returning. He would speak to Arthur, especially if he thought he might lose Arthur if he didn't. Hunith understands this because Merlin buried his painful feelings a long time ago and that was not something he would want to share with anyone about. Including her, especially since he blames for her some of those said problems, and because he knows that she blames herself in turn. It would make Merlin feel too exposed and vulnerable. She suspected that was why he continued to deny needing help for all of these years. She didn't want to tell Arthur that. Arthur didn't need to know that. His recovery was just as important. Their situations were extremely different, but Arthur's condition is serious and she couldn't overlook that. And she knew that if Arthur felt like he needed to put his own health aside, his own life aside, if he felt that was the only way for Merlin to get better...he would do it. And that would not be fair to him, and no one should be asking him of that. As much as she would like to say what her boy needs, she knows that once Merlin does get better he would blame himself for losing his best friend in the process if Arthur's recovery went to the point of no return. If it was done because of him, which it would be, in Merlin's mind. No, she couldn't say that to Arthur. Her eyes glazed over, and her tone was a little light as she replied. “Has Merlin told you that he wanted company?”

 

Not in so many words, Arthur thought to himself, before saying about the same thing out loud. “He didn't have to. He went from having all of his friends one minute and not having a bit of recollection of the things he's buried in the past to having all of the memories and having no friends and family to support him.”

 

Hunith winced, her own guilt clear in her expression.

 

Arthur paused and used his right forefinger and thumb to press the bridge of his nose. “Give or take a few.” Arthur grimaced. “Hunith, I understand that you were giving Merlin time, but...in his situation he needs support, he needs to know there are people around for him, even if he pushes them away. He needs to know that the option is available for him to have. Even if you give him a call or stop by, something, something to make him feel like he means something, like he's still a part of it all and that no one hates him.”

 

“Arthur, I love my son.” Hunith said, almost in defense.

 

Arthur's eyes widened, tone contrite, “I never doubted that for one moment. I'm only saying that now is the time for everyone to band together in support for Merlin. It's not about our wants or needs but what Merlin needs at this time.”

 

“And what about you, Arthur. You can't actually be there but in so many ways can you? Morgana told me about the recommendations given by your therapist, technically you're not supposed to be there at all if you hope to get better.”

 

Arthur swallowed, thinking about his and Merlin's last conversation and how he tried to explain his recovery to Merlin but managed to get no where but signed up for two dates a week, something Nimueh was livid about upon hearing.

 

Arthur, in order for you to recover you have to let go of your dependency on Merlin, you have to get your own identity back. And that means you have to distance yourself from Merlin as much as possible. That means you shouldn't be spending nights there and you certainly shouldn't be planning on going out on dates with him, it will only undo everything that we have accomplished so far.”

 

And Arthur thought about Merlin's suggestion after they talked for the evening, “maybe we should try joint therapy.” Arthur didn't know that Merlin was trying to find another way of getting as much time with Arthur as possible away from his sister and away from his friends.

 

Nimueh did not like the suggestion one bit though. Her blue eyes started blazing as she paced her office floor, and Arthur shrunk back in his seat as she rambled on. “I can see how it would benefit your friend, to an extent, but how exactly would it benefit you?”

 

Arthur couldn't answer that question. It was a good thing that he didn't have to as Nimueh went on.

 

I'll tell you how, it wouldn't benefit you Arthur. It wouldn't benefit you one bit. The more you involve yourself with Merlin the more dependent you will become and the more your identity, your will, will become sucked up in his own. And if he loved you as much as he claims he would see that, he would take the time to consider what is beneficial for the both of you, and not only for himself.” It made her sad, it really did, seeing how far Arthur had come. Feeling like she'd seen it all through Morgana's eyes and through Arthur's sessions, and knowing that Arthur is not thinking of his own life one teeny tiny bit. That he is relying on someone who is not thinking about Arthur's life at all. Nimueh would never advise anything that wasn't professional, and she doesn't know Merlin well enough to judge but the results are there. If he cared, that wouldn't have been a suggestion. If he cared about Arthur's recovery he wouldn't have been so adamant about dating - he would wait, if he cared about Arthur's recovery he would have let Arthur have the time needed to recover. At least she got Arthur to bring the number of dates from two to one times a week. He really didn't need any, but Arthur isn't thinking about himself and what he needs to recover.

 

Arthur's eyes were glossy, his tone was pained when he responded.He needs support, Nimueh, I can't leave him like this.”

 

Nimueh closed her eyes and sighed as she stopped pacing and sat back in her chair to look at Arthur. Her tone full of compassion, but firm.Then find him the support, and make sure that it's not all you. Otherwise, there may be a good chance that you might not make it through when this is all over.”

 

Which led Arthur next to thinking about his phone call with Gwaine on the way over to Hunith's.

 

No one's mad at him, Arthur. Sure they wished they could have told him what they were thinking. Sure they wished that he didn't attack Morgana at the pub blaming her for having to take you away from him for your own recovery's sake. Sure they wished they didn't stop speaking with him instead telling him how they felt. Something they're not use to doing because they're use to letting Merlin have his own way, despite if his own way was selfish at the time. They are upset Arthur, that he didn't seem to care one bit that you were contemplating suicide, that you lost all of that weight, that you were breaking down all around us, and still, his only concern was you being taken away from him instead of your well-being for your recovery.”

 

Arthur sighed. “This is not about me, Gwaine, this is about Merlin.”

 

And we understand that too, Princess, but the fact of the matter is Merlin did not show the signs of a friend that cared about another friend in that instance. Let alone someone he claimed to be in love with so the lot was upset with that and you can't really blame them for how they felt.”

 

Gwaine! I need your help here!” Arthur shrieked.

 

And I'm trying Princess, but if you think you're going to get an apology out of all of them you've got another thing coming.”

 

They've abandoned him.” Arthur responded, frustrated.

 

Gwaine was unrepentant. “And they can say that he's done the same to them. When Merlin was too busy on a date to be there for Vivian and Elyan's first miscarriage, the birth of  your niece Arthur, or not to even notice that you're ill, and even now, now that he knows he's still pushing you to do things against your own recovery.”

 

He didn't push me Gwaine.” Arthur denied immediately.

 

Arthur,” Gwaine's tone turned very serious. “Did you explain to Merlin everything about your condition, what it entails, and what's needed for your recovery?”

 

Arthur used his right forefinger and thumb to press the bridge of his nose and winced, “yes.” Knowing exactly where this line of questioning was going.

 

And who's idea was it for you two to date?”

 

His.”

 

And did you automatically say yes?”

 

No.”

 

Did he even once mention your health in his pushing you to date?”

 

No.”

 

Gwaine spoke in victory. “And that Arthur, is why the lot is upset. You're not looking out for yourself and the one person who could be looking out for you in the same way that you are looking out for him happens to be looking after himself.”

 

Arthur groaned, before saying.“You sound like Morgana.”

 

Gwaine's tone softened. “No, this isn't your sister. This is me, sitting on the sidelines and watching, seeing things that may not have been noticed, and you my friend, have it bad. You have all of the warning signs that your therapist said you had, and unless you distance yourself from Merlin some you will never see it. Your too dependent on him to notice, and your not putting your own recovery first or even second. Like Merlin is probably doing for himself.”

 

I know that you mentioned Merlin not being there for the sad things but his condition causes him to block away from things too painfully close to what he's dealt with in the past. Vivian and Elyan may have been too much for him.” And even as Arthur said that he knew that Gwaine would chop his defense to bits.

 

Gwaine sighed. “I'll give you that. But what about your niece, a birth is supposed to be a happy time isn't that right?”

 

He's not perfect, Gwaine.” Arthur admonished.

 

Gwaine huffed in disbelief. “No one's perfect, Arthur. We aren't either. We're not even judging him, we're only worried that he's going to take you some place that we can't pull you back from.”

 

Arthur shook his head, and after remembering Gwaine wouldn't be able to see that on the telephone responded,“let me worry about that.”

 

Gwaine winced.“And we would, if it didn't affect us all, and if we didn't love you so much. And don't think we don't love Merlin too. Because we do. Each of us knows about his condition, how he's been doing, and that he's had visitors everyday. We knew that he wasn't alone. And it's not like he returned any of our calls, and I made it a point to tell Merlin to contact me whenever he needed someone to talk to.”

 

Merlin doesn't know all of that Gwaine. He's seeing things differently right now and he's blaming himself for everything even though he knows everything is not his fault.”

 

No, everything is not Merlin's fault, I agree. And no one blames him for everything. In fact, the questions are coming from what's happening now, while Merlin does have his emotions, while some are about how he missed your obvious depression in the past. And as far as everything else goes...Merlin would know how much everyone loved him if he took the time to think about it. If he wasn't on the defense thinking everyone was out to get him when we're not. It's not all about him here. Even at the pub, the last day most of us saw him, no one pushed him away or judged him. Our only requests were to put himself in your shoes for a moment, and to make sure – before playing with you – that you were in fact what he wanted.”

 

He's quite certain that I am.” Arthur chuckled.

 

We know that. Even though that doesn't mean that he's taken the time to truly think about it. It could just mean that his mind is set, whether he's thought it through or not. And what would that mean for you once he's confronted everything and is at peace with himself, as much as he can be, only to turn around to say that he didn't think it through properly to begin with?” Gwaine sighed. “We wanted him not to play with you so early on in your recovery until he knew for certain, and pushing you out on dates doesn't sound like someone keen on your recovering and being less dependent of him.”

 

Arthur sighed. “I think he feels if I am recovered fully, he might lose me.”

 

Gwaine tsked.“And that's what love is about. If you love something, set it free, if it is yours it will come back to you, if it doesn't, it never was. I did the same thing to your sister and eventually she came around--”

 

Arthur groaned, tone admonishing.“Gwaine, really?”

 

Gwaine went on as if uninterrupted.“--The point is, he has to let you go if he really wants to keep you, otherwise it will always be like he's putting himself first and like he doesn't care about you. And whether you see it or not, if he doesn't let you go to recover instead of pressuring you, you're going to end up resenting him for how slow your recovery has progressed. Your going to end up hating him if you don't recover at all. And if he doesn't let you go enough to allow it, he may end up with dependency issues the same as you. If you want a healthy relationship you both need some time apart.”

 

Arthur winced.“What are trying to give Nimueh a run for her money?”

 

Gwaine huffed.“No, but I'm trying to help two good friends that don't see that they could be the detriment to the other unless they take it slow.”

 

Arthur sighed.

 

And so did Gwaine, before he continued, tone resigned. “I'll talk to the lot again. If anything we can also get support for Merlin while giving you a break at the same time to aid in your recovery. And we do miss him, it's not like we don't, but we wanted to give him some space too. But Morgana's right too Arthur, you shouldn't be there half as much as you are. I do understand that Merlin will need you some, but spending the night, the dates, those parts are too much for you. There has to be something that can be done that doesn't hinder one of you from recovering in the process, and what's needed for your recovery doesn't seem like it's standing in the way from Merlin's progress. It sounds like it's more for his own personal reasons alone.”

 

And Arthur didn't know what to say.

 

But he tried anyway.“You all sound like I have no control over the situation, of my own choices where Merlin is concerned.” Arthur said exasperated.

 

Gwaine's tone was incredulous.“Can you honestly say that you do? Because if you did everyone would leave you alone, well as alone as one could get when they have a big sister named Morgana, but we would give you more space because you wouldn't agree to something because you felt forced to do it or bullied into a decision because you're too in love to say no.”

 

And what could Arthur say to that that wouldn't be considered a lie when he would do anything for Merlin including be there for him against his doctor's orders. A doctor who was right in recommending space was necessary when there's a dependency issue on someone else, especially when that someone else is someone you are in love with? Absolutely nothing, that's what! Arthur thought to himself. Instead he reiterated. “Gwaine, this isn't about me, this is about Merlin, mistakes or no mistakes he is still our friend and he deserves our support.”

 

And Gwaine did not miss the fact that Arthur didn't answer the question. He sighed. “I'll get Morgana to round the lot up together and we'll talk about it then.

 

Which led him right back to where he was right now, with Hunith. Arthur sighed while using his right hand and fingers to run through his hair. “I'm trying to do the best that I can do in this situation. No one knew Merlin had a disorder, and the knowledge of it didn't come to light until my breakdown. It wasn't planned out, no one asked for it, but here it is. I'm just trying to do the best I can for my friend.” Arthur neglected to say that they could have had an idea if they were only informed, but he was tired of the blame game, it wasn't about blame anymore. Though he wasn't naïve enough to not see that you have to recognize your own faults in order to truly move on.

 

Hunith smiled proudly at Arthur, her tone mirroring her smile. “You've always been there, looking after my boy. If it wasn't you, it was Will, but it was always you somewhere in there from the day you two met.”

 

Arthur didn't know how all of this was relevant to what he needed for Merlin now but he allowed it.

 

Hunith smile dimmed and she shook her head lightly, tone gentle, as she continued. “I would never leave my son to suffer Arthur. I know from experience that Merlin needs time on his own to deal with things and so I granted him that while still keeping myself informed of his progress. You needn't worry, Gaius and I will go to see Merlin shortly. In fact, I'll give him a call today.”

 

“Thank you,” Arthur said, surprised, not knowing it would be that easy.

 

“But you must do me a favor too, Arthur.” Hunith said as he turned to her left to look at Arthur head on.

 

Maybe, not that easy.

 

“Yes,” Arthur said, tone soft.

 

“You must take care of yourself in all of this too. Despite how Merlin may be acting right now I know for a fact that he cares deeply for you. If something were to happen to you because you've been sacrificing yourself for his well-being I doubt he would ever forgive himself for that.” Hunith said in all seriousness.

 

Arthur swallowed hard. He wasn't picking that up from Merlin. It seemed like Merlin was trying to hold on to a guarantee that he himself couldn't give without lying, but he didn't say anything against Hunith. Maybe Merlin does care about his personal well-being and Arthur hasn't seen it yet. Arthur mentally shook his head because he hasn't seen it yet but somehow he hasn't moved away from Merlin either, instead navigating still in his orbit to be pulled in by the force. The force of love. Which Arthur is beginning to realize is the most dangerous force out there. Arthur only wished he was strong enough to pull away some more, and to be able to stand firm with Merlin instead of allowing himself to be pushed into decisions that he has no business being pushed into. Sure he manages quite well standing up to Nimueh and even Morgana if needbe, but when it comes to Merlin... He'd say he was whipped, but...they haven't even had sex yet! And even with Nimueh, he couldn't get away with everything. But at least he still managed to stand his ground with the lake-house and having at least one date a week with Merlin unless he regresses more, or loses more weight. Apparently he lost four of the six pounds he'd gained since his return. It wasn't looking good at the moment, and Nimueh thought it was proving her point because the only thing different about his coming home was being back in the presence of Merlin. Considering the fact that Arthur spoke with everyone else while he was away.

 

Arthur tried explained what his recovery entailed to Merlin, and more than once. Merlin wasn't listening to him when they spoke. He couldn't see pass the dating. Not to mention it wasn't like Merlin was big on sharing, he still wasn't speaking about his own painful memories yet. They'll be at it until next year if Merlin doesn't start talking soon. And Arthur doesn't think he would be able to survive that long. But for Hunith... Arthur responded in kind, his tone gentle, sure, “I will do my best.” Arthur only hoped that he could.

 

**

 

“Why exactly have you called us all here, Arthur?” Freya asked.

 

Arthur's chest tightened. It was his second confrontation in one day. Third if you counted his phone conversation with Gwaine, and Arthur counted it. Arthur's tone was tense as he responded. “I wanted to talk with you all about Merlin.”

 

Morgana wasn't saying anything but in this meeting she took a seat at Arthur's side. Arthur knew that she wouldn't let him drown alone. It didn't mean she had his back though. It just meant she wouldn't let him drown.

 

“Is Merlin alright?” Gwen asked worriedly, chewing her bottom lip.

 

Arthur was quick to reassure, well...in the best way that he could. “He's doing fine, for the most part. He's been dealing with his nightmares and the things from his past, he's...struggling, but he's doing fine.”

 

Lance nodded. “Okay, what is it that you need, Arthur?”

 

“I wanted us to put aside whatever differences we have where Merlin is concerned, to support him, to let him know that he's not alone.” Arthur replied.

 

“No one's angry with him, Arthur. Well...we are upset with the way attacked Morgana at the pub in saying that she was only trying to take you away from him instead of it being about your much needed recovery from your breakdown, which he didn't seem to think was relevant.” Vivian said, her tone was firm but true, while rubbing her belly with her left hand. Her glass of apple juice in her right.

 

“She was only trying to look out for you,” Elena added with a small smile.

 

And Arthur understood this, his sister would always look out for him, that's what sister's are for. And he loves his sister fiercely. He used his left hand to extend to Morgana's right. She took it instinctively and squeezed it. It gave Arthur strength. Comforted him even, as it always has to give him the strength that he needed to continue. His tone was soft as he continued. “I know, and I am grateful for it. But this is not about me at the moment, this is about our friend who thinks everyone hates him at the moment.”

 

“We don't hate Merlin, Arthur.” Elyan's eyes widened, quick to defend. Though it was clear that there was a lot of things going unsaid, for Arthur's benefit.

 

It didn't have to be said, Gwaine had said it all earlier.

 

Will, Mithian, and Sophia said nothing. They sat in support, knowing this conversation was not for them. They've been with Merlin since the beginning trying to support him, and they've never left Arthur without support either.

 

Arthur grimaced and used his right hand and fingers to run through his hair. “You may not hate him right now but all Merlin sees is his friends that he's had for years abandoning him. He hasn't said anything about being blamed for anything. He seems to be blaming himself, although, he hasn't processed everything yet. But what he is clear about is his feelings of feeling hated right now.”

 

Leon shook his head, his tone was soft when he spoke. “We could never hate him, Arthur. In fact, we told him we would be there for him, if he wanted us to be. I personally only told him to make sure that it was you that he truly wanted. Seeing you go through what you went through only for him to later say that he was wrong in his feelings would only devastate you later.”

 

Everyone nodded at that. It was something that they all seemed to agree on.

 

Arthur swallowed. “And I understand, and I'm grateful to all of you but as I told my sister,” Arthur turned to his left to glance at Morgana. She looked at him in turn with a small smile. “The best way to support me in all of this would be to support us both.”

 

And even though Sophia had no fault or blame in any of this it was Sophia who broke the ice, tone expectant. “What would you have us to do Arthur?”

 

And Arthur's heart warmed in that instance because he could finally see progress.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Merlin,” Arthur called out, as he entered the front door of his second flat.

 

“I'm changing Arthur, I'll be right out,” Merlin called back.

 

Arthur didn't respond, as he hung up his black leather trench coat in the closet. When he finished doing so he went to the refrigerator to help himself to a bottle of water, before going into the living room to cut on the telly. He flipped through the channels deciding on Sherlock for some background noise, while still finding the show remotely interesting as he waited for Merlin. Despite the stress of the day he couldn't have been any more happier with the outcome. He managed to get Hunith to reach out to Merlin again despite whether or not he would push her away, and managed to get the lot to do the same as well. The lot decided that phone calls would be a good place to start. It would open up the lines of communication again while still showing Merlin that they cared, and were concerned about his well-being. And after the phone calls the communication lines would be open for appearances, and invites out, which would then be welcomed without pushing Merlin too far out of his comfort zone. The next part of the plan was definitely to get Merlin out of the flat more, and that would start with Autumn's play that Merlin had already promised Autumn he would be going to, and by attending Morgana's Annual Christmas Party. The last outing would be the much needed one to two week getaway at the lake-house that Arthur had planned for them both. Though there weren't many if not any agreements that going to the lake-house would be a wise idea. And it wasn't Merlin they were worried about. They were worried about him. Arthur reminded them on the spot that this was not about his own personal well-being but about Merlin's. Though he almost lost his left hand in saying that because Morgana nearly squeezed the life out of it with her right hand in frustration. How she got so strong was beyond him, or was he becoming weaker? He didn't want to think about it. He only thought the sooner Merlin got better, the sooner everything else would be okay. Even though he didn't have many people agreeing with him on that front.

 

Arthur was happier that some progress had been made. He was starting to get discouraged and despite what he said to everyone else he knew he wasn't going to be able to hold out much longer on his own. He wanted to support Merlin, to be strong for him, but he knew that he had to take care of himself too. And Merlin was more than capable to take care of himself--and was doing so. He just needed to feel like he wasn't alone in all of this. And he needed to feel some sort of security in him, something Arthur still wasn't able to give, because he wasn't very secure in himself at the moment. He couldn't promise everything to someone he was completely dependent on already. That would only add to it, or make it worse. He needed time and distance in order to honestly make that decision. Otherwise it would only be a lie, and Arthur was a man of his word. Whatever he promises he tries his best to follow through with. Hence, him not making any promises at the moment for something he is so unsure of until he can gain some stability in himself and in his life.

 

Nimueh told Arthur that he needed to find Merlin more support because it couldn't be all on him and Arthur was able to accomplish just that. Arthur only wondered how Merlin would feel about seeing him less when the time comes. If he would hold it against him, and say that he didn't want to be his friend anymore like he said the first time Arthur broached the topic of distance. Or his attempt to move away, the second time he broach the topic. He didn't know what to expect, and he didn't know how to handle another negative response when he was trying to look out for himself, and Merlin at the same time. He doesn't know if any of this will be acceptable to Merlin. Arthur didn't get the impression that it would be every time he voiced what was needed for his recovery. It was always like the topic was grazed over. But the fact of the matter remains that he is supposed to be following his rules of recovery, and he hasn't been. The fact of the matter remains that he has a new flat that he hasn't spent one night in, because he's been staying with Merlin instead. The fact of the matter is he's been staying with Merlin, and has not distancing himself as he was charged to. The fact of the matter is he was charged to go out, to meet new people, to date new people, to maintain healthy eating habits, to maintain and gain more weight, and to live independently from Merlin. None of which, has he accomplished yet.

 

And it's not only him who's noticed this now but Nimueh has, his nutritionist, and Morgana too. Although, Morgana was more lenient about a lot of it giving him time to gain his bearings again from being away, but after hearing about the weight loss even she wasn't going to allow anymore. Which leaves Arthur right back where he started in not being able to spend the nights at his old flat with Merlin anymore. Arthur understood that Morgana wanted to make sure that he was eating and that he was getting the distance from Merlin that he needed. The only real change from his routine over the past two weeks was that he wasn't in contact with his new friends and that he was spending most of his time with Merlin. There was nothing else to show for the drastic changes aside from those two details, which basically proved Nimueh and Morgana right. Morgana threatened bodily force – and by force she meant she was sending Leon and Percival to Merlin's in order to pick him up - if he didn't return back to the flat that evening, because she didn't think he would choose to on his own if he wasn't forced to. And she didn't want to discuss what she thought Merlin was doing on his end to prevent Arthur from following through in putting himself first. And if anyone had the means and the power to force Arthur to do something...it was her. Arthur inwardly cringed at that. Although it reminded him that he didn't get a chance to speak with Morgana about their father. He still had no idea what was going on, and he felt completely out of the loop. Something that he always hated. The only thing that Arthur did know was that his father had been asking about him - and more than once apparently - and that Gaius went to see him for lunch. He knew nothing more and nothing less. Which left him no where closer to finding out now what was going on than where he was this morning. Arthur's chest tightened again just thinking about it. He had to remember to speak with Morgana about it. And soon.

 

When Merlin came out of his room with a snug fitted white t-shirt and and snug fitting dark blue jeans to match Arthur swallowed. But he kept his composure as Merlin came to sit beside on the couch.

 

“So I got a lot of phone calls today,” Merlin started.

 

Arthur feigned ignorance by raising his left brow, tone light. “Really? Who from?”

 

Merlin was not fooled and his expression showed it as he replied. “From my mum, Lance, Gwen, Leon, Elena, and Percy.”

 

Arthur smiled at that. It was starting. They figured four to five calls between the group at a time, and not all of the calls at once. They didn't want Merlin to feel overwhelmed. “That's great, I told you no one hated you.” Arthur said while using his left hand to punch Merlin lightly on his right arm.

 

It was Merlin's turn to raise a brow. “And you wouldn't have had anything to do with any of those calls right?” Because Merlin wasn't stupid, he could smell a rat on this one.

 

Arthur stilled, his expression and tone was stoic as he replied, “I don't know what your talking about.”

 

Merlin shook his head, he wasn't upset. “It's fine, Arthur. I would have rather liked that they reached out on their own - without your interference - but I'm not upset.”

 

Arthur sighed, his tone was relieved as he spoke. “They were going to reach out anyway, on their own that is.”

 

Merlin closed his eyes for a moment before opening them, and licking his bottom lip. His tone was that of disbelief when he responded. “And when was that going to be?” Merlin asked.

 

And Arthur thought it was best to change their conversation topic. “How was your psychotherapy session today?” He asked instead, curiously.

 

It was Merlin's turn to still then. His tone was nonchalant as he replied. “It was...fine.” Merlin nodded. “I had to explain my reasons for staying instead of going to LA, but Dr. Monmouth was pleased in the turn of events. He thought it would be better for my recovery if I stayed here, considering how far we've gotten already.”

 

Arthur nodded, tone positive, “that's...good. What did you address today? What was your focus?”

 

Merlin swallowed. His eyes grew distant, and his tone was a tad tense as he replied. “We spoke more on the bullying and how I allowed it to affect my life.” Merlin ran his left hand through his hair along with fingers leaving his hair in disarray, and licked his lips before shaking his head and saying, “enough about me, how was your day?”

 

Like he actually dedicated any time speaking of himself to begin with.

 

It didn't take long before Merlin attempted to deflect the topic from himself, changing it to focus on Arthur instead. It happened a lot during their discussions. Arthur just never noticed it before because Merlin was able to do it so swiftly. And once it was done, and you were deep in the change of another discussion, it almost felt too late to return to the abandoned subject at hand. Arthur had to address it this time.

 

Arthur shook his head, his tone was gentle but firm. “Merlin, I promised you that I would offer you support, and that I would be there for you, but...how am I really here for you if you won't even talk to me?”

 

Merlin's eyes widened, and he shook his head trying to reassure instantly, “just you being here for me is supporting me, Arthur.”

 

Arthur's voice turned frustrated and his expression followed suit. “That's not what I meant and you know it. Look, I'm not going to push you into opening up but I'd like to know that you are, that you will that is, and that you won't go back to holding everything in as it suits you just to protect yourself. You told me that you would do whatever it took to recover. You promised me that before. Does that still hold true?”

 

Merlin clinched his jaw, his expression turned stubborn, as he gritted out his response, “yes.”

 

“Then let it hold true by talking to me.” Arthur said imploringly.

 

Merlin sighed and ran both hands over his face, before placing his hands at his sides on the couch. His tone was pleading and his eyes were just a tad glossy as he responded. “I'm getting there, Arthur. I just need some time but...I will open up, and will tell you everything that you need to know.”

 

Arthur's chest lightened just a bit on that. He ran his right hand and fingers through his head as he responded, tone gentle. “This isn't about me, Merlin. This is about you and your recovery. It's not what I need to know, but what you need to get off of your chest in order to deal with your past to see how it's affected your present.”

 

“And a big chunk of that is how it's affected you, Arthur. You are such a major part of my life...” Merlin got up and walked to the window at the far corner of their living room. He spoke quietly. “My deeds have directly affected your life and the lives of our friends, my family, any close co-workers, and anyone else I've held at any importance in my life, but it's affected you the most. I have to come to terms with that.” Merlin finished wistfully while looking out of the window.

 

“No ones blaming you for anything, Merlin.” Arthur said as he watched Merlin looking out the window. His tone remained gentle as he continued. “We only want you to get better.”

 

Merlin shook his head. “You don't see, Arthur. You don't have to blame me for anything. I've seen enough to blame myself. There were so many things that I could have done differently. Things that I could have said. If I wasn't so afraid.” Merlin said in reflection.

 

Arthur wasn't hearing it, quick to reassure, as he got up and walked towards Merlin at the window. “And that's why it's not all of your fault, Merlin. Some of that has to do with your condition.”

 

Merlin laughed painfully. His tone sounded hoarse as he spoke. “And a big chunk of that has to do with me, and I hate that part of myself. Do you think I like to look back to see that I lived like that? Do you think that will leave me fond memories in the future? Do you think I like this new distance between us? The fact that I have basically pushed you away because all of a sudden you're now allergic to me and you you can't be in my presence for so long without having a major allergic reaction?--”

 

“That's not true, Merlin.” Arthur chided.

 

“--How else can you explain it, Arthur?! My mum, someone who hasn't seen you in months, pointed out things to me about you that I haven't noticed half as clearly, and you've been right – here - before me this entire time. And all I've been thinking about is how I don't want to lose you. And what I need to do to keep you. I was so focused on that that I didn't even pay attention enough to notice that you're still losing weight. Just like I missed it the first time!”

 

Arthur flinched. “That's not -” Arthur tried, quick to reassure, quick to defend.

 

“Don't even bother denying it, Arthur.” Merlin said, tone almost resigned. “I called Will after I spoke with my mum earlier and he confirmed it all for me. He told me everything. He spoke to Morgana. But the fact remained that he shouldn't have had to, I should have been able to notice it all for myself. You've been right here! I noticed that you didn't eat enough, but I didn't notice anything else. I needed to see, but I've been so use to protecting myself for so long, so use to looking out for myself that I keep forgetting that there's more to it. That it's not just about my wants – and my needs - not when I want you too.” Merlin shook his head before adding, “and I know about the dates too.”

 

Arthur's eyes widened, startled, alarmed. “I got Nimueh to agree -” Only to get cut off again by Merlin.

 

Merlin grimaced as he looked out the window, watching the children play on the streets. “She didn't agree, Arthur. She had no choice. And that was my fault too. I pushed you into agreeing to those dates to begin with because I didn't want to lose you. I still don't.” Merlin whispered to himself before turning to Arthur and facing him head on. “And I keep thinking if I give in, if I turn away and allow you to date, to meet new people, that you'll forget about me. That you'll fall out of love with me. Because why would you want me if you have so many other choices to choose from? So many other people without a mental illness, without the excess baggage of being abused, and without the history of hurting you?”

 

Arthur's eyes watered at that. He took his right forefinger and thumb and pressed the bridge of his nose. When he spoke, his tone was resigned. “You seem to have forgotten something Merlin. You don't get to choose who you fall in love with. And something tells me I've been in love with you a lot longer than the seven years but I just didn't notice it until then. And no, I didn't know about the mental illness or the excess baggage of abuse, but I can honestly tell you that I wouldn't have stopped loving you or stopped loving you any less because of it. You're still you. Your the one I fell in love with. Granted, there were some qualities that weren't the best, but as Morgana put it, I was so blinded by the love aspect that I never noticed. But the qualities that weren't the best are the same qualities that you're working on. We can make it through this Merlin. If we take both of our needs into consideration. Without pushing the other away. That's what I've been trying to say all along.”

 

Merlin only hoped that was true, but he nodded. His tone was curious as he asked, “what did your doctor say?”

 

Arthur sighed and shook his head, but there was nothing that could be lied about or sugar-coated here, he had to respond honestly. “She said I shouldn't be spending the night. That I shouldn't be going out on dates with you because it will only add to my dependency of you, and that I will continue to lose my identity.”

 

Merlin grimaced, and sucked in a breath. Those words felt like a kick to the chest. But he needed to hear it anyway. His tone was hoarse as he asked, “and about your weight loss?”

 

Arthur's eyes watered a little more, his tone was soft as he replied. “She was upset, that I lost four of the six pounds that I gained while I was away.” Upset was actually and understatement but Arthur left it at that.

 

Merlin was staring at him head on and was apparently able to read between the lines of what Arthur didn't say. His next question confirmed it. “And is that because you just can't eat or is it because you don't want to?”

 

And that question made Arthur angry because his eyes were blazing, and his tone was on the defensive as he responded. “I don't want to hurt myself, Merlin! And I try to eat it's just....it's just....hard, and my stomach feels like it rebels against me when I do. And it's not all of the time. Some days are better than others. Maybe if I ate smaller portions. Like I did when I was away. Six small meals, like Morgana suggested or rather...instructed along with the snacks, that might make the difference. It did while I was away.”

 

And Merlin didn't understand. Granted, he's never had an eating disorder, he has no idea why someone wouldn't eat, or why they would harm themselves. He doesn't know much about depression either. Aside from his studies. And each person is different, though some of the same things may apply for them. Which is why he probably didn't take it as seriously as he should have upon hearing about it. Considering how he's always seen Arthur as being so strong. That, and his own issues blocking his understanding of it. His own blindness in this case. “And why haven't you done that?”

 

Arthur snorted and scowled at Merlin. Like it was so easy. Like he could just decide to make it all go away. Like he could just block everything away like Merlin did for all of these years, deciding certain things were unimportant - irrelevant – like him apparently, since Merlin didn't choose - nor did he want - to fall in love with him in the first place. It didn't quite work that way in Arthur's world, Arthur thought to himself. His tone was painful as he spoke, eyes watered. “Why haven't you opened up yet? It's hard that's why! And this has been a rough few days since I came back. We had a heart to heart, you told me everything was fine, that we were going to be alright, and I woke up the next morning to find you were planning to head off to LA without a by your leave!” Arthur ended that last sentence with a shriek.

 

Merlin flinched, stunned, but Arthur wasn't finished.

 

“And then I had to deal with the stress of it all. It's not your fault. I'm not blaming you. It's just not good on me to deal with. The first thing that seems to affect me is my appetite, and then my sleeping habits. And I have a tendency of forgetting to eat.” Arthur finished as he began to pace the living room floor.

 

Merlin shook his head, still having problems understanding totally but trying to get it. “But Will said if you don't gain back your weight, and continue to gain we won't be able to go out on any dates at all. And if you don't start taking care of yourself you're basically a danger to yourself. Do you even know what that means?” Merlin finished that last sentence as a weyward tear fell from his left eye. His tone was soft, but there was pain there too.

 

And yes, Arthur knows exactly what that means. That's what he's been trying to say all along, but apparently, Will said it best. Arthur sighed before stopping his pacing and turning to face Merlin. He used his hands to wipe his face from any stray tears that fell too, his tone was hoarse as he replied. “Yes, Merlin, I know what that means. What do you think I've been telling you this entire time? Why do you think Morgana has been acting the way that she has, for her own health?”

 

And Merlin didn't know. He thought she was strategically striking out at him trying to land her mark. That she was going overboard on Arthur by sending him away, to keep Arthur away from him, and that she would do whatever was necessary to keep it that way.

 

Arthur must have read some of that because he answered his own question. His tone was grieved as he spoke. “It wasn't...for her health. And she's always loved you too. She use to see you as another little brother to protect and to watch over. And she tried to get through to you over the years too, but you would get so defensive that she ended up leaving you to your own devices. She has no choice with me. I am her brother, and we've been close our entire lives. And she won't leave me be. Not that she would stop, but it's a promise that we made to each other. She won't give up. And I wouldn't want her to. I would like her not to be so overbearing at times, but when things like this happens it keeps proving her right and me wrong. I didn't intend to lose weight. I didn't know the last few days were going to be so stressful, but I do have to follow the recovery path set in order to get better. It's the only thing that's been proven to be effective.”

 

“So what are you saying?” Merlin asked softly, eyes to the floor, almost afraid of where this discussion was going.

 

Arthur sucked in a breath, but responded honestly - as best as he could - praying Merlin would understand. “I'm saying that I do need to follow my doctor's orders. I can't stay the night anymore, unless under extreme emergencies. I have to lessen my dependency, and I have to keep better track of my weight.”

 

“So I won't be able to see you anymore?” Merlin asked with a small voice. Waiting for the ax to fall.

 

And Arthur didn't know what to do. These conversations were getting harder and harder on him, leaving his stomach in knots, and he was trying his best to be honest. Trying his best to give Merlin what he wanted. And he could only hope Merlin would understand because this had nothing to do with Merlin personally, but everything to do with what Arthur needed to get better. Arthur's tone was reassuring as he responded. “No one said that I needed to stay completely away from you. They said I needed to distance myself. I need a life that isn't about you being in it. I can still come by, we can still hang out--even though these interactions need to be limited, I can go on one date a week with you so long as I continue to gain weight, and I can still be there for support, but it has to be around everything else too. So it's not something that I'm depending on. Which will help me to not depend on you.”

 

It still hurt. They were going from always being available for each other to not being always readily available for each other. They were going to have limitations on the amount of time they spent together. Though, if Merlin were to be honest with himself...if he really was as busy, as Arthur stated he was... Merlin wasn't that available himself for quite some time, years even, even if he thought he was. It was Arthur who kept himself available for him. Who waited for him. Merlin shook his head. He couldn't think about the implications of that right now. He'd put it off for another day. His tone was gutted when he asked the next question. “And what about us going away?”

 

Arthur sighed, and used his hands to run through his hair. His tone was weary as he responded. “Nimueh was against it, but Morgana had already agreed to it as long as I followed her conditions. Which was a daily video-conference with Nimueh, and with her, five therapy sessions a week instead of one, and allowing her, Gwaine, and Autumn, oh...and possibly Will, Soph, and Aries along as well mid-stay for a few days. Those were her conditions.” Arthur gasped as he managed to get everything out in one breath as if he repeated Morgana's demands word for word.

 

Merlin didn't doubt that he did.

 

Merlin smiled and then he froze as Arthur's words caught up with him. His tone was alarmed as he asked. “And when were you planning on telling me about the mid-stay visit?” Knowing Arthur right now he probably wasn't planning on telling Merlin at all.

 

Merlin was right.

 

Arthur had the good grace to look sheepish. “Oh, somewhere around the mid-stay.” Arthur shrugged, and gave a sly half grin.

 

Merlin shook his head.

 

“What?” Arthur asked immediately. “Morgana had already told me about your confrontations, and besides she said she would support me but to give her time and that she would be willing to make it work, if you were willing to make it work too.”

 

“Me?” Merlin asked innocently, pointing his right forefinger at himself, raising his right brow with a small smile.

 

And Arthur sighed, because he wasn't buying Merlin's innocent act for one moment. Not this time that is. There were too many people who said the same thing and they all said that Merlin attacked Morgana first. Too many emotions or not, he needs to think about what he does to other people too, just like he would expect it in return. Arthur's tone was soft as he spoke. “Merlin, I'm not taking sides, even though this is my sister that we're talking about, but from the sounds of it and not only from Morgana but from everyone else, you attacked her in the pub and accused her of taking me away from you. Like that was her only reason for sending me away.”

 

“That's because that's what she did.” Merlin replied bitterly, his eyes hardened to match his tone.

 

Arthur shook his head in disappointment, but his response continued to be gentle.“Even if that was the slightest bit true it wasn't the reason why she sent me away. And she couldn't have sent me away without my consent. Which proves that you were wrong in your assumption to begin with when you said what you said. And Morgana's never attempted to take over guardianship over me. Not even once, she's only looked out for me, even though she's probably well within her grounds to do more, especially if I can't pick myself up again soon enough. And you know what? She didn't even say anything about that part of your accusation which could have exonerated her instantly. She only said that you upset her because you were still soley focused on what was happening to you and not anyone else. Like everything was about you, like she sat there and plotted how to undermine you instead of sitting and thinking about how to look after me. That even with your emotions you still couldn't see the damage that was done. That you refused to. And she understands your condition is serious, she was only hurt that you couldn't look past yourself to see anything or anyone else. Especially someone else you claimed to love. She said that there was no real remorse there. Does any of this sound familiar?”

 

Merlin grimaced and nodded. It didn't completely change his mind, but he didn't have anything to prove that Morgana's intentions were otherwise either. Nothing aside from his own gut feeling. Though that may not count as much either right now because he's been on the defensive lately. Maybe he just didn't understand her protectiveness because he himself didn't have any siblings. Somehow, Merlin wasn't convinced that was the case.

 

Arthur continued, looking at Merlin head on, tone just as soft. “I'm not accusing you of anything Merlin but I do have to say that before judging, I think we all should begin to look at the facts first. And you know my sister better than that. If she really wanted you away from me she would have made it happen by now. (Arthur thought briefly about the Henderson's who Morgana bribed to move out of their flat.) She is trying, Merlin. Despite how she goes about doing it. She's only acting in the best way that she sees fit to help me. No different than when your mum forced you to get help. She was doing it to protect you.” And Arthur didn't go any further on that subject because Morgana has done nothing to Merlin personally. Arthur was the only one that she's been focusing on – him - and his well-being. Merlin may be a part of that, but it was indirectly, and not as a sole purpose. No matter what Merlin thought of the matter.

 

“So that's what we're going to do?” Merlin asked, looking at Arthur, resigned, and not sure how to deal with all of this.

 

Arthur looked sharply at Merlin then. “Oh...I don't know, Merlin. If I say yes, will you be gone in the morning? If I say yes, will you throw another ultimatum my way saying that we can't be friends, if I can't promise anything more? Because you asked me to lay it out on the line, just like you did before and those were the reactions I received, and I don't think I can take any of those reactions right now. So I think you should be the one answering those questions.” Arthur answered, he was attempting for nonchalant in his tone, but there was some underlying fear behind his words.

 

Merlin recoiled, and then he sucked in a breath, before attempting to be honest in his words. “I'm not going to run away again, and I won't...try to get you to do anything by forcing it upon you. You just have to understand that I'm in a different place than you. You keep saying that you don't know how I truly feel but I know, it's been there all along whether I addressed it or not, but the feelings are true. And it will be difficult knowing that you are going to be going out on dates and meeting new people, which in essence is basically trying to get over me.” Merlin held up his right hand as Arthur attempted to speak to silence him. “That is what it means, Arthur, whether you know it or not, whether you realize it or not...” Merlin shook his head and used his left hand to wipe the weyward tears that fell from his eyes, his tone was hoarse as he continued. “Whether you realize it or not, whether you want to admit it or not. The goal is for you not to see me the way that you do now. Which leaves a good chance for you not to be in love with me once everything is said and done. That's why I wanted something. Something to hold onto, some part of a guarantee to know that you would still want me, that you would still be thinking of me. And maybe that's selfish, maybe it's wrong for me to be asking that of you after everything that I've done, but I love you too much to want to give up. Not on the only chance that I saw. I had to take it!” Merlin walked away to sit back on the couch. He pulled his legs up in the seat, pulling his knees up to his chin, and wrapped his arms around them. He shook his head, his tone and expression was pained as he continued. “But I know that you need to do this, I understand. I'm just afraid is all. I'm losing everything it feels, even as I'm gaining things back. I'm losing the biggest parts of me in exchange of these god forsaken memories that I never wanted to begin with! My mum blames herself, Gaius is worried, Will and Mithian are dedicating their time to me, the lot turned their backs. Yes, they're making it right - now - but it didn't change the fact that they did it. You can't even stand to be around me for long periods without not being able to eat, without getting sick, what does that make me look like? How do you think that makes me feel to know that?! To know that your body is repulsed by me? And what kind of person does that make me? And the worse part about it is that I failed to see it all. I failed to see how I affected your life. Let alone the love part. I know how I managed not to see that part - I can see it all now - but everything else? How the hell did I manage to miss those things?! There's no excuse for how I missed those things! And now...and now, I have to pay the price for my own negligence and the price could very well mean losing you!” Merlin cried out, ending in a sob. He shook and ducked his head in his arms that were pulled up in his knees. Not wanting to be seen.

 

And Arthur's heart felt like it broke in hearing those words from Merlin. And he had no way of making any of it all better. He wanted to, he really wanted to. He wanted to throw everything away. He wanted to get on his knees, he wanted to give a guarantee, he was willing to give it all, and the only thing that stopped him was knowing that there wasn't much left of him to give. Knowing that he needed to fix himself first before he could truly be any help for anyone else. Knowing that his sister was relying on him and was worried about him. Knowing that his father was up to something and fearing what that 'up to something' really was. Not wanting it to be a 'fix it' something. And that only led him back to his aunt. Which made him inwardly shudder in thought. There was so much more at stake. And the only thing Arthur could guarantee would be his support. His help, but he couldn't guarantee anything else. He said it all already. And if Merlin couldn't see how much he loved him then Arthur didn't know what else to say because he's pretty much laying it all on the line for him, and leaving himself little wiggle room for error. Arthur walked over to the couch slowly, the tears started falling from his eyes just hearing Merlin's sobs and knowing that he couldn't take it away. He sat beside Merlin and pulled him in his arms, causing Merlin to drop the hold he had on his knees to rest his head on Arthur's shoulders as Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin. “We're going to get through this together, you'll see. We're going to get through this.” Arthur continued to whisper.

 

**

 

“Are you going to stay for dinner?” Merlin asked softly, a good half hour later.

 

“I want to say yes, but I don't think that will be a good idea. My flat's on the other side of town and I'm pretty sure Morgana wants to see me eat something after hearing about my weight loss.” Arthur said. He felt like a teenager with a curfew. But he could see his sister looking out her window now waiting for him to pull up. He was only surprised that she hadn't ringed him yet.

 

It hurt, Merlin wasn't going to lie to himself on that front. If he had to start facing all of the painful feelings than he may as well start now. He had to try to not let Arthur see it though, if possible. He couldn't take anymore than what he was already dealing with. “Okay,” Merlin nodded, as he pulled himself away from Arthur's arms.

 

Arthur felt bereft by the loss.

 

“I understand,” Merlin continued. He saw the stricken expression in Arthur's face by him pulling away, but that was Merlin's way of dealing with things. He pulled away, he closed himself off, he protected himself first. It was his way of dealing with pain. Though technically, that wasn't really dealing with it as much as it was suppressing it. And it wasn't very comforting to a partner when you were in a relationship either. Merlin inwardly sighed. It was something that he would have to work on. If he wanted to be with Arthur. But not today.

 

“Merlin -” Arthur tried, his expression and tone was pained.

 

But Merlin wouldn't let him continue. His tone was closed off, distant even, as he spoke. “No, you should go. It's a long drive across town and if you want to make it home by dinner you'd best to head out now.” Merlin finished as he stood up.

 

Arthur's chest tightened, it felt like it was burning, he closed his eyes first to block off any tears from Merlin's immediate rejection, and when he opened them as he spoke, his tone was hoarse. “Okay,” Arthur nodded, “you'll be alright?”

 

Merlin was quick to nod. Expression closed off from giving anything away. “I'll be fine, Arthur. I'll just order me something to eat, and I'll head off to bed.”

 

“What about the nightmares?” Arthur asked, concerned.

 

Merlin had forgotten about that...until now. He cringed inwardly. But his tone and expression didn't give away any emotion. “It will be fine. It's not nearly as bad as it was before. No need to worry.” It's better to have Arthur believe that, Merlin thought.

 

Arthur wasn't sure if he could tell whether Merlin was lying or not. He felt it in his heart that he was, but Merlin's expression and tone didn't give away a thing, and there was no nervous ticks either rising to the surface. He still didn't believe him though. But he couldn't call him a liar without proof. Arthur only nodded. They'd be together for a week or two soon enough, and Merlin wouldn't be able to hide anything he was trying to then. He would have to talk about it. Arthur's expression turned impassive too, but his tone was gentle as he spoke. “Okay, call me if you need me. In fact, call me anyway, or I'll just call you before I turn in for the night. Just to make sure that you're alright.”

 

Merlin was shaking his head. “You don't have to do that, Arthur -”

 

“I don't have to do anything, Merlin. I do it because I want to.”

 

**

 

The next few days were extremely busy. Arthur had to arrange for his and Merlin's trip while maintaining his therapy visits with Nimueh, keeping his distance from Merlin, while still managing to spend time with Merlin at the same time. Which meant he could only spend a few hours with Merlin each day before he had to return back to his own flat.

 

Merlin was busy with his psychotherapy visits but Dr. Monmouth was pleased with the progress, and the fact that Merlin was beginning to open up more. He didn't know what sparked the changes but he was content just the same. Arthur made sure the crack on Dr. Monmouth's office wall from where he slammed the door into it was repaired, and he sent a box of Belgium chocolates to Finna as an apology for his actions on the day that Merlin planned to flee. He also cleared the trip with Dr. Monmouth so long as Merlin did an hour a day video conference with him for five days a week while he was away.

 

Everything was getting in order. Their bags were packed and there was only a few loose ends that needed to be squared away. Like Autumn's Christmas play, Morgana's Annual Christmas party, and Uther.

 

The rest of the lot continued to contact Merlin, and he even started having daily visitors which gave Arthur his exit to not have to stay as long creating the extra distance that he needed. He and Merlin would still talk on the phone but - once Morgana found out - the talking time was limited. “It defeats the whole purpose of it all, Arthur!” Was her reasoning. So they brought the calls down to thirty minutes an evening instead of an hour or two.

 

And thanks to Morgana's cooking and Arthur's own, Arthur was able to pick back up the four out of six pounds that he lost again, and added two more pounds to that bringing him to gaining a total of eight pounds. He still had a good twenty more pounds to go, but Nimueh and the nutritionist were pleased in the results. Not so pleased that she would agree to Arthur having two dates a week with Merlin though. No, not that pleased. “One date a week is enough, Arthur, don't even try to push it. I didn't even agree on the one!” Would be Nimueh's reply. It wasn't the first time they'd had that discussion, or the second. It probably wouldn't even be the last, but it was worth a try. If only to get that forlorn expression off of Merlin's face every time he would have to leave to go back to his own flat. Even though Merlin would try to hide it from him.

 

**

 

“Morgana, have you spoken to father at work lately?” Arthur asked while slicing into his steak. She, Gwaine, and Autumn were at Arthur's for dinner for the evening. It felt good, having them right next door. Two flats down. Having family close by. Even if he did miss having Merlin near too.

 

Morgana nodded as she took a sip of her water. “Yes, I have, he's doing fine. But that reminds me, he's still asking about you. Make sure that you pay a visit to him before you leave town. You know he get's antsy if he hasn't seen us after a few weeks, and you're pushing it on three now.”

 

Autumn wasn't paying attention as she was trying to be a big girl while slicing into her steak. Gwaine listened to the siblings silently. There were certain secrets to the Pendragon family that he wasn't aware of, and Uther's being so antsy towards his children, and Morgana's over-protectiveness of Arthur was one of them. Though he understood her protective nature, but wanting to build another floor above their flat to keep Arthur close.... It sort of left questions.

 

“Do you think he'll notice anything's...off?” Arthur tried to ask discreetly.

 

Morgana raised her right brow, as she sliced into her steak and dipped it into the gravy. Arthur made a mean steak. It was good having him live close by, especially since she was about to have another baby. And if he kept on cooking like this... Morgana's expression was impassive for the sake of the others as she spoke to Arthur. “He'll think something's off if you don't stop by at all. You can always do what you've normally done to cover things but you can't afford to miss anymore visits. He's even had Gaius over at the mansion a few times and who knows what he's been telling father.” Morgana's expression broke a little to show her concern.

 

Arthur's stomach felt like it was starting to knot again. He understood his normal means for covering things. His normal means was wearing extra t-shirts, padding, and extra pants - if necessary - to cover for the missing weight. He also wore baggier, yet more expensive clothing. The fabric would cover the missing weight as well. But he's lost so much and that was a lot of extra clothes to have to cover up things. And that didn't take away the fact that Gaius was coming around, and more than once. Considering Gaius knows everything about his condition and his breakdown. If word got back to their father... Arthur inwardly recoiled to what that would mean-- for him. He could run away. But their family had resources, he would be found. Look at his aunt. And that thought only made Arthur want to throw up everything that he just ate. He had to hold it together. Who knew what their father found out, or if he had found out-- anything at all. Gaius may not have sold him out like that. Especially knowing what that could mean to him, and by extension, Merlin. Arthur only hoped that he didn't.

 

**

 

“Hey Merls,” Will yelled out from the living room. “What are we going to watch tonight?”

 

“You could be home watching your own telly,” Merlin yelled back at Will from the kitchen.

 

“Where's the fun in that? Soph's having a girls night. Their doing the mani and pedi things while the kids are watching some kids movie. Why would I want to stay home for that?” Will yelled back.

 

“Arthur didn't mention anything about that.” Merlin said as he came from the kitchen with plates for their Chinese food, utensils, napkins, and their beers.

 

“That's probably because Morgana's been keeping Arthur close to home. She's been trying to fatten him up as best as she can. And before you two go away. Words even out that she'll probably send a chef along with you guys too. To make sure that Arthur is eating his six small meals a day with snacks.”

 

“What,” Merlin said taking in all of that, as he sat on the floor, back to the couch, and started distributing everything, “she doesn't think that I'll make sure that he eats when we go away?” Merlin couldn't keep the bitterness out of his tone.

 

“No,” Will said as he grabbed his plate, napkin, utensils, and beer from Merlin before filling his plate with his sweet and sour chicken and shrimp lo mein, “that's not why. You have to take into account that Arthur's got almost thirty pounds total to gain back. That's an awful lot of weight, Merls. And no offense to you, but you didn't notice that he needed to gain weight to begin with. So she's trying to do the best that she can to get him back to a healthy weight. And Arthur's allowing it because he's trying too. They've been cooking back and forth at each other's flats and eating. Gwaine's loving it. He feels like he's getting gourmet cooking round the clock, and Autumn's loving it, because she has her uncle next door. But the good part of it all is that Arthur's managing to put on some extra pounds and his therapist is pleased in his progress.”

 

“And you really think he wouldn't have had the same progress if he stayed here?” Merlin doesn't know why he's pushing. Why he's saying half of the things that he says. He really needed to watch his mouth filter before he said some things that he couldn't take back, but he still couldn't completely understand why Arthur had to be away from him so much to accomplish what he's accomplishing now.

 

Will sighed, as he placed his utensil in the shrimp lo mein box for a moment. “If he stayed here, he wouldn't focus on himself or his health. That's the whole thing about dependency. And if the person he's dependent on wasn't focused on him or his health either...” Will trailed off, before continuing on. “Arthur would always put your thoughts and needs before his own. It would be natural, instinctual even, and he wouldn't have noticed how far he would have gotten until it was possibly too late. Basically, it would have been what happened but all over again. I'm pretty sure Arthur didn't even notice how much weight he'd loss, or how far his depression had gotten until he tried to come to grips with it, and realized that he didn't have as much control as he thought he'd had any longer. If he could have been here, he would have been. Hell, he was, until his therapist lit a fire onto his arse about his weight loss and Morgana intervened even harder than before.”

 

Merlin winced, and took a large sip of his beer, before using Will's utensil and distributing some of the shrimp lo mein onto his plate. “I just don't understand how it could have gotten that far.”

 

Will used his left hand to squeeze Merlin's right shoulder. “It happens Merls. It's nothing that anyone could have foreseen. We all tried to watch after Arthur. We tried to get him to tell you his feelings or to move on. He tried to do both, it just didn't happen. We tried to give you all of the signs, and you just weren't getting it. And depression, depression is a sneaky thing and it comes with a lot of things like the anxiety and panic attacks, like the eating disorders, like the trouble sleeping, like the suicidal thoughts depending on how bad it gets.” Will quoted like he'd been doing some studying on the topic. “Arthur probably didn't even know it was depression at first. No more than you knew about your own condition. Hell, you didn't really even have visible signs of a condition. Not something we could pinpoint. Sort of like a ticking time-bomb. No one would have had a clue unless you exploded. Arthur was just your trigger point. And some of your signs are actually parts of your personality that only caused it to be more prominent. You blocked off everything to avoid feeling it. Arthur didn't, and his results was the depression. Not that I'm a doctor or anything but that's my guess, based on everything I've seen and heard. Your part I know for a fact though from Dr. Monmouth, except for the ticking time bomb thing, that was me and my way of processing it all. Haven't had a chance to speak with Nimueh though.” Will said as he took a sip of his beer. “People aren't meant to have to deal with that sort of pain for such a long time, and being in love with someone for seven years, having that person not loving you back, is a long time. Especially if you haven't given up, while trying to show them all the signs in the world. That's a lot of pain for one person to endure.”

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. He was tired of hearing that he didn't love Arthur back. “Thanks a lot, Will.”

 

Will was unperturbed. “No problem, pass the shrimp lo mein please.” It wasn't like it was personal towards Merlin, and he did ask. Not to mention, there was no point sugar-coating any of this. Sheltering Merlin from the truths of things obviously was not to his benefit – it only kept him in his comfortable world of himself without seeing the happenings around him as clearly, and they never sheltered their feelings away from Arthur. Merlin needed to be aware of things too.

 

Merlin wanted to dump the box of shrimp lo mein on Will's head. The only thing that stopped him was the fact that he himself, might want seconds later.

 

They sat through the Avengers. Marvel movies were Merlin's favorite, and Will loved watching them too. And Arthur, but Merlin didn't want to think about that. Arthur didn't stop by because he knew Will was going to be there. It still hurt. Knowing that they were going from seeing each other all of the time to having limited interactions. The only good thing about it was the fact that he knew that Arthur would call him later – like he did every night before he went to sleep – and he knew that Arthur was actually getting some sleep with his sleeping pills, and that he was putting on some weight with Morgana's help. He just didn't know what was going to happen when Arthur started to date. That was going to be the tell all. Would Arthur still have time for him? Would he still call him before he went to sleep? Would he still be around to support him as he said? Would he fall in love with someone else? Would he forget about him?

 

“I can hear you talking over here you know.” Will said as he chewed, his mouth full of sweet and sour chicken, his eyes on the telly.

 

“Am not,” Merlin rolled his eyes, quick to defend.

 

“Yes so, you definitely are and I can hear Arthur's name all over your thoughts.” Will said, still watching the movie.

 

“How the hell can you hear my thoughts?” Merlin asked incredulously.

 

“It's easy, it's crying out at me. It's wondering what's Arthur doing right now. And what's going to happen in the future, blah blah blah. Nobody knows what's going to happen in the future Merls. Not even Arthur knows. Stop thinking about it. It's only going to drive you up a wall in thinking about it and...you have company here.” Will said, using his left forefinger to point towards himself, eyes still not leaving the telly.

 

Merlin knocked Will upside the head with his right hand.

 

“Oi!” Will shrieked, as he turned to Merlin. “What the fuck was that for?!”

 

“Your not company, your not even a visitor anymore. You practically live here except for the fact that you don't pay rent.” Merlin said, agitated, while shaking his head.

 

“You don't pay rent either.” Will quickly replied, while rubbing the back of his head with his left hand.

 

“That's because Arthur never accepted any money from me.” It wasn't like it was a repeated conversation. Arthur said it once when prompted, Merlin didn't fight him on it. They lived together from there.

 

“Well there you go. Arthur wouldn't accept any money from me either.” Will said, like he just finished his closing argument in a case that he was sure to win before a judge.

 

It was bull. Merlin knew it and Will knew it too. Though the latter would never admit it.

 

“What am I going to do?” Merlin asked mournfully.

 

“Why does it have to be what you're going to do? In fact, this isn't a situation that you can control, that you can arrange a certain way for your benefit. This is real life, and your dealing with a real person here with real feelings. And he's not one of your patients that you can prescribe something too, or sew them up to fix the problem. And he's definitely not one of your many blokes who you can fuck and make it all better.”

 

“Will -” Merlin tried only to be cut off.

 

“No, hear me out. I think I'm on to something here. You mentioned to me before that you mentally placed Arthur on a shelf right?”

 

Merlin reluctantly nodded after pausing the movie.

 

“Okay, well you had control there. In you're relationship. You had control of Arthur for seven years – possibly more --”

 

“He wasn't in love with me for all of that time Will!” Merlin said in a huff.

 

Will shook his head. “We've talked about it. The lot, and even Morgana. We think Arthur was in love with you a lot longer. It's just the fact that he was straight at the time that leaves us stumped, but Morgana thinks if you would have told Arthur about your feelings then that he would have told you yes, and she knows her brother. And more than you do considering they have always been close, and you blocked yourself off from knowing everything about him. We tend to all agree on that front.” Will paused, knowing how Merlin likes to interrupt. Merlin nodded to Will to have him continue. “We thought about it. From day one Arthur took a liking to you, and basically incorporated you into his own life, always making sure to put your needs and wants first somehow. Making sure that you were included. Until your needs and wants actually became his. He probably saw something in you that needed that closeness, that needed that extra attention. And Arthur was always the type to be there for everyone else. That was something that everyone could agree on too. They all had similar first encounter experiences with Arthur where he helped them in one way, shape, or form. You were just...different. He saw something more. And everyone agrees that he did place you first in there. You were too close. It was probably why Uther didn't want you to to be so close to his son to begin with.”

 

“I know everyone says that Arthur's placed me first in everything, but I placed him first in my life too. I'd do anything for him right back from day one, and yes, we were close, but I would do the same.” Merlin said defensively, his eyes were blazing.

 

Will shook his head. “No Merlin, no you wouldn't have. You had the control early on, even when you didn't know it, and when you did...you kept it. Arthur didn't choose anything that would have been something that you disliked. He studied you over the years. He saw something more in you. And while his feelings were still developing for you, while he was still getting to know you, while you were still gaining importance in his life... You were building up walls, and defenses, and ways to block any feelings that could ever develop for Arthur out of your mind and heart. You remained his best friend, but even after a while you weren't even that as you mentally detached yourself from seeing things that needed to be seen in his life.”

 

Merlin shook his head. “Your wrong about that part.” Trying to deny with all of himself. His eyes watering instantly at the thought.

 

“Am I?” Will asked, because he's had some time to think about it and he didn't think so. “Because he was in love with you and he gave himself to you, constantly placing the ball in your court. And dedicating his time to figure out how you could see the light, which meant he studied you. Not in a crazy stalker way, but in a way to know you fully in order to understand which ways to approach you, and to better find a place in your life. To have you see him differently which would have then given him the opening he needed for you to notice his signs. He did anything for you. And you knew you had that control, you never gave it back to Arthur because you liked having the control – you've admitted some of these things yourself about control. Just not how it applied to Arthur - you just didn't know anything about it was romantic where Arthur was coming from. You blocked yourself off from seeing it. You directed where you wanted Arthur to be in your life. You lined it up, like a chess game. And Arthur loved you so much that he either didn't pay attention to how you arranged things, or he didn't care as long as it wasn't hurting him or directly affecting him -”

 

“Really?” Merlin said while looking at Will incredulously, his tone mirroring the same expression.

 

“Not finished.” Will rolled his eyes. “The problem is that it actually ended up hurting him, and it started to directly affect him, and it was because of this that he wasn't able to be placed on your shelf anymore. In fact, he had to take himself down. Which screwed up your carefully laid out plans on how everything was controlled in your own mind, and it triggered things. The point of it all that I'm trying to make right now, you ask? The point, is that you want to place Arthur right back up on that shelf again.” Will finished while taking a bite of his sweet and sour chicken, like he gave the answers of all answers to Merlin.

 

“That's not -” Merlin was quick to deny.

 

“True?” Will cut in while chewing and swallowing before continuing, “that's basically what you've been trying to do this whole time, and you just haven't realized it yet. Or no ones called you on it. Arthur would never do it. Well, not until he get's enough distance to lessen his dependency, but it's probably coming if you can't control it. You've always liked things a certain way Merls, and you didn't attempt many things unless there was a way to control the outcome. The good part is that you are good at many things. It made it easier for you to cover up in that department. The bad part is you still want to control the outcome of something that you can't control the outcome of. Not anymore anyways. Your so use to Arthur giving you control that you can't let go even when he's asking you to. And you were basically strangling him because you were trying to alter his steps to your own benefit without seeing that you were killing him slowly in the process in how you were going about doing it. Especially as your steps were going in the complete opposite direction of where Arthur needed to go. And why? Because he's always been your life-line. Someone strong and sturdy that you depended on. Which is why you didn't notice that he was drowning because you don't normally grab your life-line unless your drowning yourself.”

 

Merlin flinched. Will meant well, but that hurt. It wasn't intentional, none of this was intentional. But Merlin guesses that that is the point of this discussion. It didn't make Merlin feel any better. And it's not going to make him hurt any less.

 

Will un-paused the movie. “None of this is meant to hurt you Merls. Stop over-thinking everything. Process your thoughts, come to terms with it, make your corrections and amends, and move on. Don't over-think it, don't wallow in it. It's not like your going to be able to change the things of the past now. It's done. Stop asking these questions if you don't want to hear the truth of it. Arthur has to get better. I think we can all agree on that right?”

 

Merlin nodded, his eyes were watered.

 

Will paused the movie again. “And you have to get better too right?”

 

Merlin nodded again.

 

“He's still here for you, Merlin.” Will said reassuringly. “He's still doing everything to help and support you. Hell, he's still paying rent and utilities! You're basically a kept man if you didn't have a job. I wish I had it this good.”

 

“Will -” Merlin tried while running his left hand and fingers through his hair.

 

“The only thing he's not doing is exactly what your telling him to do. He's following his doctor's orders as best as he can. He's still not following it to the tee mind, they've had to cater their own orders for Arthur to include you in it, but he's doing the best that he can to not cut you out of his life altogether. The difference that you can't shape your mind around is that you are not arranging this yourself completely to ensure your desired ending, whether that ending would benefit Arthur or not.” Will said softly.

 

Just thinking about what Will was saying was starting to give Merlin a headache. “Your driving me insane.” Merlin said none too sharply while shaking his head.

 

Will looked at Merlin a little lost because he didn't think he could have made it any more plainer. He tried to rephrase it instead. “The point is you can't control him Merlin. Meaning there's nothing that you can do to alter this situation for your benefit, or to make sure that Arthur falls in your lap in the end. Nothing you can do to control Arthur. You had controls and you weren't able to see anything that was going on with him. It didn't work out, and Arthur was hurt in the process. While you you received a heaping dose of painful reality. Something you blocked yourself from receiving. You're upset because you lost the control. Even though you lost control right under your nose – even though you were too busy with life and your relationships to see it - because Arthur started to give control to Morgana piece by piece a while ago as he started to lose himself. And then she had to take it the rest away, because he was losing himself completely. Granted, she's like a General in the Army with her protectiveness and her being so overbearing, but you can't knock the results. Not on this one occasion.” Merlin cringed. Will shivered on that one too. Their thoughts must be similar, almost being glad that they were both without any siblings. Merls was as close as a sibling as he was going to get, and Merls missed a lot of Will's 'not so finer' moments. Morgana doesn't seem to miss a beat on Arthur's. But in getting to know them over the years... Arthur doesn't miss a beat on Morgana's either. Will would have to think about that more later. He shook his head before continuing. “You blamed other people because they had to take it away. Even though it was necessary, and they were already taking the control away while you still had Arthur on the shelf anyway. You didn't see it, partly because of your condition, and partly because you didn't want to see it. It would have broken up your happy place of the way things are in your mind. But it was what was happening and now you have to let it be.”

 

Merlin used both of his forefingers to rub his temples. “And there wasn't a better way to word any of that?”

 

Will glared at Merlin. That's what he get's for all of his efforts! “Be happy it wasn't Soph's way.” Will said as his reply.

 

“And what was Sophia's way?” Merlin asked curiously, not sure that he wanted to know the answer.

 

“Do you really want to know?” Will asked, while raising his left brow.

 

Merlin scowled at Will.

 

Will shook his head and responded, mimicking his tone to sound like Sophia's “Fine, she said she knows that you've gone through a lot. That your situation is serious, even though you are coming through it all really well under the circumstances, but you need to just suck it up where Arthur is concerned. Especially if you claim you want him. That you love him, and for all of the reasons that you're claiming it for. You need to let it go because if he stayed he could have died and there's a good chance that you wouldn't have noticed a thing.” Leave it to Sophia not to mix words.

 

Merlin flinched, and his eyes watered and his chest stung, because that did hurt. And the worse part of it all, was that there was a good possibility that it could have been true. He wouldn't admit that to anyone but it could have been true.

 

Will read some of Merlin's expression anyway. “You asked. Stop asking if you don't want to hear the answers.” Will wasn't going to lie to Merlin, and despite Merlin feelings he would be angry later if he found out if he was being lied to. But it didn't give Will any pleasure of telling Merlin some of the things that he needed to hear either.

 

“I think I would have seen if it got that far Will.” Merlin replied tiredly. Voice small.

 

And since when did Will become Dr. Phil? He does understand that Merlin has to process everything in his mind. He has to come to a point of confronting, accepting things, and seeing how it applies to him now, but it's just...difficult sometimes. And it hurts to see Merls hurt too. The only thing that makes it better is to know that it will get better if they keep at it.

 

Will tried again, tone gentle. “You may have caught it but it may have been too late. You didn't notice anything until it was too far gone as it stands. And he was with you more than the rest of us then, and now when he came back and lost weight again. You didn't notice that either. No ones blaming you, you have your own life too, and you have to look out for your own health, but even you would have to see that your not the responsible choice in the matter of taking care or watching over Arthur. And Arthur's a grown man. Not to mention the fact that you still have to watch over yourself Merls. And granted, your doing a good job in doing that, but watching over Arthur's well-being...is that really on the top of your to do list is it?”

 

Merlin closed his eyes for a moment. If he was honest it was more about making sure that Arthur still loved him in the end. Of course he'd want to make sure that Arthur got back on his feet too, but the thing that stood out more was knowing that Arthur would still love him. And knowing that there was a good chance that he wouldn't if they were so distant with one another, that someone better would come along.

 

And Will looked at Merlin knowingly. “And that's why Morgana is taking care of Arthur right now. It's not a direct hit. It not to ruin your carefully laid out plans. She's not completely plotting against you (Because Will was not even going to lie and say that she wasn't plotting anything at all. He knows Morgana, but he knows she had her reasons.), but she was able to see what you were thinking or planning that is and had to fight with Arthur to get him to protect himself. No self-preservation where you're concerned with that one.” Will shook his head. “She didn't attempt to sink your battleship. She still loves you. She only stepped in to put Arthur first in his own recovery. Like you've done for yourself in making sure that your first in yours. As it should be. Something Arthur had a hard time doing for himself in your presence. Something you can see - but may not want to admit - wouldn't have happened if he stayed here, and followed your way of doing things. Something that you will have to see if you want to have a relationship with Arthur in the end because relationships are about give and take, and not control. Something you haven't had a chance to think about enough because you've never stayed in a relationship long enough to allow the give and take. You always bailed before you got to that part. And trust me. I know all about the give and take, believe me, I have Sophia. And though she thinks she has the control in our relationship but she doesn't. It's about give and take, and I know how to handle her too to make sure that it balances. Just don't tell her that. It's a secret.” Will said the last part in a whisper, before grabbing the remote again and un-pausing the movie, speech over.

 

And what was Merlin to say about that? He knew his illness wasn't his fault. It wasn't something that he asked for, but somehow he still felt like he was being punished for it all. He knows it's selfish to expect everything to fall into his lap and follow suit now that he knows everything, but it still hurts because now it feels like he's trying to gain his grounding again while possibly losing the most important things in his life as a result of it. Which doesn't help him to want to gain that extra grounding if he doesn't have anything to fight for. If he can't have what he wants most of all. What's the point if he's going to lose it all anyway? What was so bad about having his walls if he still managed to hold everything together, while having them up - without - losing anyone in the process? That's the part he's still trying to figure out.

 

**

 

“Morgana, guess what?” Arthur said, excitingly, as he stumbled into her place the next morning, smile going from ear to ear.

 

“What?” Morgana asked, still in her off white silk robe and pajamas from the night before while making breakfast.

 

“Mordred's getting out a few days earlier. He wants to meet up this evening.”

 

Morgana smiled at that. “That's great, but...wait. Autumn's play is tonight.” Morgana finished, smile wavering.

 

Arthur almost forgot about that. He sighed, his smile faltered just a little. “Oh yeah, well I can't miss the play.”

 

“No, no you can't.” Morgana said as she tapped her right forefinger on her chin. “But why don't you invite him to come along -”

 

“Morgana -” Arthur was quick to say no.

 

Morgana held up her right hand at Arthur to pause him, and shook her head as she faced him from the kitchen. Arthur still standing in her living room. “No, I'm not trying to force a meet but why don't you invite him to come along, and then you too can hang out afterward. There's nothing wrong with him meeting everyone first anyway.”

 

Arthur was unsure. “But what about Merlin?” Arthur asked hesitantly. Knowing that Merlin promised that he would be at the play too. And not wanting to bring any of that before him. But Mordred wasn't a date right?

 

Morgana almost rolled her eyes, almost. “This isn't about Merlin, Arthur. And Merlin is aware that you made friends while you were away. There's nothing wrong with you bringing one of them to the play, and it gives everyone else the chance to meet him while it still allows for Mordred to feel comfortable having a chance to see you in your own element as well. It's perfect.” And it was, in Morgana's mind. Not to mention she would have the opportunity to meet the mysterious Mordred that her brother had gotten so close within a matter of a few weeks of being away.

 

Arthur was still unsure, but what Morgana said did make sense. “Fine, I'll shoot him an email telling him that we'll meet up at my flat first before going to the play.” Arthur said as he headed for the front door.

 

“Um...Arthur,” Morgana called out.

 

Arthur paused and turned back to her, raising his right brow in question.

 

Morgana gestured towards the kitchen table. “Breakfast first.”

 

Arthur sighed, and walked towards the table. He would have forgotten. And they both knew it. Though they weren't going to admit it. But he was getting there, it may not be instantaneous, but progress was being made.

 

**

 

Autumn's Play

Arthur's thoughts

 

The play was awesome. Autumn did an excellent job as one of the three wise-men (woman) in her case. As she delivered her frankincense and recited her lines. And she was one of the loudest voices in the house where singing was concerned. Mordred had an excellent time and the gang was all present on the interrogation front. They knew more about Mordred in fifteen minutes than Arthur knew about Mordred in a week. Even though this was not supposed to be a date. Merlin was there too. He arrived with Mithian. Arthur managed to introduce Mordred to Merlin and was hoping for more on Merlin's part but Merlin was cold on that front. It was a very, very cold front. Like blizzard cold. He was cordial, but his responses were sharp without leaving any room in there for a rebuttal. Mordred only turned to look at Arthur, and Arthur could only apologize with his eyes.