"They look sickeningly happy don't they?" Merlin said as he moved to stand beside Arthur where he was watching Gwaine and Elena swaying in one another's arms to Madonna's Crazy for You, as besotted now as the day they had got together back in high school seven years ago.
Arthur shot Merlin a sideways glance and his lips quirked. "Remember when everyone thought they'd be the first to get married?" Arthur slid Merlin a sideways glance and quirked his lips.
"I think I know who might be next," Merlin said, nodding at another couple moving hand in hand onto the dance floor. "Talk about eye-fucking." Mordred and Freya moved into one another's arms, like they'd been doing that same dance for decades when in reality they'd only met at the wedding earlier that day.
Arthur appeared to consider for a moment then said, a huge grin spreading across his face, "Mordred really is pretty. You obviously got your ears from your mother's side."
Merlin glared at Arthur for a moment and then grinned back. "Arse," he said, elbowing Arthur in the ribs, feeling proud that he was able to act so carefree around him. Of course, that was all it was, an act. He took a moment to study Mordred and felt something warm settle in the bottom of his belly. He'd always wanted siblings, and finding out six months ago that he had a younger brother hadn't been the shock it might have been. He and Mordred had hit it off from the start.
Arthur's smile evaporated at Merlin's words and he turned away, fixing his attention on the dancefloor again. When he turned back to Merlin after a minute or so he said, "I was such a prick."
"You were," Merlin agreed, thinking back to Arthur 'surprising' Merlin by coming home from a business trip to Florence and finding Mordred – who had turned up, a complete stranger, unannounced and exhausted on Merlin's stoop a few hours before – asleep in their bed and jumping to every wrong conclusion he possibly could. That episode had been the start of six long months of separation, a separation that had no end to it. Six months since he'd touched Arthur. God.
Arthur frowned. "Join me for some fresh air."
He didn't wait for Merlin's answer, just turned and made his way to the French doors that led out into the hotel grounds. The doors were propped open to allow the scented summer air inside and the two of them walked silently past the wrought iron tables and chairs that were currently unoccupied due to everyone being inside enjoying the free bar, past a gushing fountain and over the faux Japanese bridge and into the landscaped grounds beyond. After a few minutes of that, Arthur stopped at a bench set on the side of the lake and sat down.
Merlin sat beside him and surveyed the scenery before them in the fading evening light and said, "You made my John Lewis gift card look really tight after giving Gwaine and Elena a wedding."
"There have to be some perks to being the heir apparent," Arthur said, voice quiet as he looked straight ahead across the water where a pair of swans were nuzzling one another in much the same style as Gwaine and Elena were inside.
As Merlin remembered it, there had been very little in the way of perks for Uther Pendragon's children. No special treatment. State school, part-time jobs as soon as they were old enough – Uther was determined they would take nothing for granted. The approach hadn't backfired exactly – both Arthur and Morgana had first class honours degrees from good universities – but neither of them had wanted to take over the reins of Camelot Hotels. Morgana had spent most of the last two years in Iceland studying rock formations or something like that, Merlin wasn't entirely sure, and Arthur had set up a grant-giving charitable trust that he worked hard to establish, whilst also working at the British Museum, earning his credentials towards curating his own collection one day.
In a twist of fate that Merlin could never have predicted seven years ago, it was he who worked for Camelot Hotels, he who had worked as Uther's personal assistant after getting a first class degree of his own in English and Business, he who was now Uther's right hand man, in line to succeed him when he retired next year. When Uther had offered Merlin the job, he and Arthur had been together for four years; when they'd split up two years after that Uther had called Arthur a fool and assured Merlin his plans for him hadn't changed, he was still family.
Inside the hotel, the pace of the music changed from eighties ballad to nineties pop as the intro of Everything But the Girl's Missing drifted out towards them, and something twisted angrily inside Merlin then. The situation, this horrible nothing between him and Arthur when they had been each other's everything until jealousy, pride and a whole fuck-ton of miscommunications had barged it's evil way between them and—
He felt Arthur's touch before his words registered. Just his pinkie curling over Merlin's where it lay on the bench beside him, closer to Arthur than he'd realised, like it had a mind of its own. "I brought you something," were the first words to register. Arthur reached inside his suit jacket and retrieved a red folded origami butterfly that he handed to Merlin, who felt too stunned to breathe as the gut wrenching anger faded away like it had never been and the ever-present hollowness in his chest eased.
Merlin unravelled the butterfly and found, Miss you, Love you, written in Arthur's messy scrawl. He couldn't help the gasp that escaped him as he read the words.
He glanced at Arthur, but he was still staring ahead as though he was too scared to direct his gaze at Merlin. Merlin took a deep breath and in one move, had straddled Arthur's lap, bracketing his thighs, eyes locked into Arthur's now that he had no choice but to look at Merlin.
"You're a prat," Merlin said, regretting his words when the hope that he'd seen burgeoning in Arthur's eyes faded.
Arthur closed his eyes as though trying to block out the pain and Merlin curled a hand around his jaw, running his thumb over Arthur's lower lip and that rewarded him with Arthur's eyes on his again, hope reigniting in their intenseness.
"But so am I. Six months, Arthur. It's felt like six years." He dipped his head and kissed Arthur, lips tingling at the familiar contact, eager to take more but not before he said, "I still love you, too. I don't think it's possible for me not to."
"God, Merlin. Never leave me again. I've been going out of my mind." Arthur sparked the kiss again.
Merlin sank into the kiss. He'd honestly thought he'd never have this again. Hadn't even been sure that Arthur would speak to him today, not when they'd successfully managed to avoid one another these last few months despite Merlin working for Uther and all of their mutual friends. Merlin had been living out of a suitcase, hotel hopping and telling himself it was for work, never once returning to their flat for any of his things, not sure his stuff would even be there after he'd walked out.
Merlin pulled away, leaning back and avoiding Arthur's eyes, said, "Check your pocket."
Arthur slid his hand into his jacket pocket and came out with a blue origami figure. It wasn't as well made as Arthur's but it was unmistakably a butterfly. Merlin didn't watch as Arthur unfolded it but he felt as Arthur's fingers tipped his chin and drew their gazes back together. The writing on the unfolded figure read I miss you. Merlin had slid it into Arthur's pocket back inside the hotel, when he'd thought he'd only have those few moments. It seemed Arthur had been on the same page the whole time.
"Just in case it was still in doubt," Merlin said, kissing Arthur again and grinding his starved cock against Arthur's answering interest.
Arthur pressed his forehead against Merlin's and said, "We were the first of all of our friends to get married. I was so scared we'd be the first to divorce as well."
Married wasn't strictly true as in they'd become civil partners at twenty-one, before the law changed last year and same-sex marriages became legal. That hadn't stopped them taking each other's names, wearing each other's rings and throwing the mother of all parties after the ceremony.
"I wouldn't have let that happen." Merlin threaded his left hand into Arthur's, only then noting that he was still wearing his ring – how had Merlin missed that? He thought of the many times he'd driven to their flat and sat outside in the car, too scared of rejection to go inside. Today had been his lifeline as it loomed ahead of him, but as it had grown closer the sicker he'd started to feel – what if Arthur brought a date? What if he didn't come at all? What if, what if, what fucking if.
Arthur squeezed his hand and said, "Me neither." He leant in and pressed his lips to Merlin's and whispered, "I'm not me without you," before cupping the back of Merlin's neck and claiming him.
Inside the music changed again but they neither noticed nor cared.