Merlin has perfected the art of hiding his emotions. He now knows how to swallow his pain and face the day as if nothing ever changed. It was only a matter of time the pain he would have to conceal would be heartbreak from the first man he'd ever loved. He hadn't slept the night before, almost as if those moments of peace were stolen from him, and instead laid all night flipping through those 4 books that didn't rest on the shelf like the others.
He hadn't cried, despite his despair. He just sat feeling on the verge of empty, smiling as he flipped through these pages like he did almost every night. They were the most worn down, used, and tear stained books he owned (even though this was the 3rd copy of them). When sunrise came he hid them away like he always did before changing. Then he was downstairs and making breakfast.
Arthur stumbled out of his room, eyes red and dark circles under his eyes, and plopped down on the dining chair. His hair was disheveled, after dozens of times he's run his hands through it. He was surprised Merlin was up like normal, but he didn't want to voice that in case he scared him off.
They ate together as they had every day the past couple months. Merlin was chatty, going on about some bird he'd seen outside the window that he'd never seen before. Arthur simply nodded along, suspicious about the other mans attitude, and tried not to think of the night before.
The problem was that it's all he could think about. The words of confessed love coming from Merlin's lips like a song Arthur wished to hear on repeat. The fact that he lied about his true feelings because he was scared. What of? He wasn't sure. It was just a fear so tightly gripped that he couldn't bring himself to be honest should doing so end the world forever. He knew it wouldn't, but he felt otherwise.
The next few hours were spent gathering nuts, berries, and any other edibles. The temperatures had dropped significantly as August came to an end and autumn was approaching. The grass wasn't growing as quickly and the tree leaves weren't as bright of a green. Soon, Merlin knew, they would be yellows, reds, and oranges. He enjoyed autumn and was looking forward to it.
They made it back home with three baskets full of supplies. Merlin had only tripped five times, which was considered progress. It seems after all these years of training and walking, he still was as clumsy as ever. Luckily, that clumsiness hadn't harmed their collecting very much.
Arthur was growing more and more irritated, however. Upset that Merlin was acting as though nothing had happened. As if the night before wasn't even a thought in his mind, like he wasn't phased by confessing his love to his king only to be rejected. Merlin had smiled and joked and been himself all day, and Arthur hated it.
This is because he couldn't do the same. Because Arthur felt like he was lying to himself, just like Merlin was to himself, and neither one was being honest. However, Arthur couldn't try to pretend like the other man could. He couldn't laugh or smile or joke. He wanted to be real, even-though it made him a hypocrite.
It was lunch time when he'd decided enough. It was as if he'd been a bucket under a small flow of water and now it's overflowing. The hurt was beginning to escape over the edges, running along the side, and falling in the floor where Arthur stood. He was angry, though he knew he shouldn't be, but this water was boiling hot despite there being no fire.
"One time a toad had landed on-"
"Dammit, Merlin, enough!" Arthur exclaimed as he slammed his hand on the counter. "Can you just, for one moment, stop lying?"
Merlin was startled at the sudden change in attitude, the heat of the air surrounding Arthur, and forced himself not to flinch. Not allow himself to revert back to a hundred other times where this attitude happened and it ended on a lesser note. A note with him or his loved ones dead. No, because he knew Arthur would never hurt him. Instead he focused on what Arthur was talking about, which was the night before.
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to say something—Anything about how you really feel! You can't confess your love for me and then act as though it never happened."
"What else am I to do? You've made it very clear where you stand so it's not a big deal."
"Not a big deal?" Arthur cried out, "How is this not a big deal?"
"Because there's nothing to be done. I've always known you didn't love me so why should I be upset? I can't change you nor do I want to." Merlin explained as he sat down, a migraine forming.
"Do those feelings mean so little to you that you can act as though nothing's different?"
"I don't know what you want from me," Merlin said softly.
"I want you to be honest," Arthur said.
"The truth? The truth is I've learned to accept that my feelings for you will always be stronger and different than yours for mine. The truth is I've had my heart broken by you enough that this time is no different. The truth, Arthur, is that I'm okay with all of it."
"You shouldn't be."
Merlin looked up at his King with tired eyes and a sad smile, the smile that Arthur realized in that moment he's seen so often, one of pain and sadness for a loss he didn't know of, the smile of a broken hearted Merlin. He only realized now, as if seeing it for the first time, that that ache lingering on those lips was for him.
"When has life ever been what should," Merlin whispered.
Those words and that look should've been enough for Arthur to stop. To settle down and understand that he shouldn't be angry, that Merlin was trying to be the good friend he always was. Selfless and caring, expecting nothing (not even affection) in return.
However, Arthur was never truly mad at Merlin. He was mad at himself and he wanted to feel that hatred as well. He needed Merlin to be selfish for once. Honest. He didn't deserve unwavering loyalty from a man he'd once treated as nothing more than a servant. He didn't deserve someone who cares so much about him they'd live forever for the chance to serve him again, standing by his side even when it hurt to do so.
So he couldn't stop. He needed to feel something human, something rough and raw, something that hurt him. His whole world is gone and he needs to feel that now. He's angry that his wife mothered another mans children, angry that his sister died from her own hatred and he couldn't save her, and gods was he angry that he was still scared. He'd lost his home, his wife, his best friends, and his fight. Now, he knew, he was about to lose Merlin. Which is why he needed candor and rage from the other man...it was his only way of keeping him.
Merlin didn't know it, but by acting as if he was okay he was actually making it worse. If he continued this act then they would never recover. He would forever hold himself at arms length from Arthur in fear of rejection and loss. It would pull them apart, a crack in glass that if left unchecked would spread, and Arthur couldn't let that happen. He couldn't afford to lose Merlin because he was too scared to be true.
So he would have to make it worse in order for things to be better. He can see the walls building up around Merlin and he needed to crash them down, even if it hurt them both.
"That's horse shit and you know it," Arthur pushed. "What do you really want to say?"
"I have to trust that no matter what we'll always be friends. That's all I've ever wanted."
"And I thought I could trust you, Merlin. That was never true, was it? All you did in all our years together was lie to me about who you really were," Arthur snapped.
"You know why I did that, Arthur."
"It doesn't change the fact that you lied to me everyday for years. I'll never forgive you for that."
Merlin slammed his hand on the counter in frustration, "I'm done asking you to. I lived in fear everyday since I was born. Do you know what it's like to be different? To be hated for being born the way you were? I was tortured and attacked and treated like a monster for being a sorcerer! I wanted nothing more than to tell the person I cared about most in the world who I really was, but I couldn't. Do you know how much that hurt me?!"
"I'm sorry that you went through all that. But you could've come to me, told me! You know I would've been there for you no matter the cost."
"I told you why I didn't. I couldn't put you in a situation where you were forced to make that choice," Merlin sighed.
"That's the problem! You've done so much for me, given up so much of yourself to serve me, and now you're doing it again. You're lying to me and yourself to protect me," exclaimed Arthur.
"I want you to be honest. Be selfless and pissed. Hate me because I'm the reason you've lost so much, are covered in scars, and now I'm the reason you're pretending to be something you're not. We're not in Camelot, Merlin, so why are you still protecting me?"
"I can't hate you, I never could. I especially can't hate you for dying because that was my fault. I can't hate you for staying dead because I chose to wait for you. No matter what, I will always care about you and protect you. I will always save you and I'm so sorry I couldn't before," Merlin said as he stood and walked to look out the window. It was raining hard now, but he had a feeling it was about to become a larger storm.
"Why?" Arthur asked, taking a breath to calm himself down. "Why did you wait? Why didn't you live your life free of myself?"
"You know why, Arthur."
"I need to hear it. I need you to be honest with the both of us. You're not fine, so stop saying you are."
Merlin felt it was a cruel ask. That it was just Arthur twisting the blade in his heart as a way to cause him more pain. To say it is one thing, but to say it knowing there wouldn't be a return is another. He couldn't understand why Arthur would be so cold and brutal to him... He didn't know that Arthur was ready to be honest too.
"I waited... because I love you." Merlin whispered as he turned away from the window and looked at the man in front of him.
The man who's hair was a fair blonde and whose eyes were the bluest he'd ever seen. A man who's smile was crooked and who's frown was deep. The man he'd served everyday in Camelot not out of duty but out of want. Saying those words lifted a weight off his chest, especially since he'd always wanted to tell Arthur the truth. He could breath for the first time in so long.
Arthur grabbed him on the shoulder, ready to say what he'd only dreamed of saying before, but never got the chance. The storm came quicker than Merlin could've anticipated and within minutes a hurricane was among them. It was something that had been brewing far away for almost a day now, the real reason for the drastic change in temperature, but neither men knew it. Hurricanes in Great Britain was never a thing before the past couple centuries but, like most things, that's changed.
With the shifts in water levels and climate, the occurrence of tropical storms and small hurricanes increased around Great Britain. However, it was the nuclear manipulations that caused erotic weather (and plant/animal life but that's not important here) to reach this far out that even a Hurricane can reach this particular section.
Hurricanes are about three times stronger than they'd been two hundred years ago. Three times larger, deadlier, and erratic. This is the first time a hurricane managed to make it this far, which is why even Merlin hadn't expected what happened next.
A large tree trunk blasted through the window behind him. They'd managed to jump on pure instinct just enough that only the left part of Merlin's abdomen and leg were impaled by the tree roots. That instinct also had Merlin's eyes glowing seconds after first impact to send Arthur flying to the bookshelf. The hit was harder than Merlin anticipated, knocking Arthur out, but he was free of any further injury.
Glass was shattered and scattered across the living room. The whistles of the wind was louder now, but most of the window (and wall) was plugged by the tree. Merlin felt an immense pain, his eyes watering, as he looked down at his injuries.
Half his body was just covered in bruises and scratched, but the other half was completely shredded. Bottom fragments of the tree went from his back side to his front. They stuck out in dozens of places from starting from his bottom ribs all the way down to his ankle. Hot blood oozed from the wounds and was quickly puddling on the floor.
It was hard to think or breath, but the whole time he just focused on one thing. Arthur was okay. He wasn't hurt, he's not dying, and he's going to wake up. That's all that mattered to him, despite his circumstances. So he stayed, standing in immense pain, waiting for Arthur to get up.