Merlin (-15 years),
I realise that you're only thirteen, that the man who owns the tiny grocers down the street is still somewhat crazy and that you're really not old enough for a job because you need to focus on school and being a kid and helping your mum with chores and –
Do it. Just do it.
He's not as crazy as he seems and he'll be the reason you fall in love with government. Right now you don't understand it and that's understandable (tell Will to piss off when he calls you a nerd. He'll clean the same dirty pub for four years during Uni and you'll work two jobs that don't include sticking your hand in a toilet. At least you won't smell like piss during class!) but after two years with him you'll know the ins and outs, the history and the way things work – the risks people who want change have to take to be successful.
And you'll take everything you learn at that tiny grocers and put it to use when you go off to Uni, an extra fiver in your pocket and the memory of a fond wink resound in your mind as you board then train and wave goodbye to your mum. All those lessons, hours in the wake of fruits and vegetables and boxed dinners will pay to put food on your table, books in your hands and pints in your belly and you'll appreciate all of those things equally.
Buy a few more books and a few less pints. Take my word for it.
Go to Sterling. I know you're still up in the air about it, waffling back and forth -- swimming or politics, swimming or politics but do the swimming. You'll appreciate the feel of the medal around your neck and Professor Gaius will give you all the knowledge you could ever have for government, as well. It'll be the best of both worlds.
And I know this is all coming out as rather bossy but, let's be honest, you don't make very good decisions on your own and if I hadn't told you to take that job, Will would have and you would have never lived that down.
Trust me on that, too.
Of course, don't assume that my mentioning your poor decisions is an insult. I don't mean it that way, it's just – in the future, when you're... 28, maybe (christ. I can imagine how hard you're rolling your eyes right now, thinking, '28? OLD.'), you're still going to be a shit decision maker and it's not always going to be okay but it'll earn you some amazing mates and funny stories to tell at Christmas.
I won't tell you about those mates I mentioned, though. You'll find them each in your own time in an incredibly unique (and mostly accidental) fashion that will usually result in your embarrassment and their entertainment.
This pattern will repeat itself. Don't try to break it; just accept it.
I promised myself I would never be the one to break this news to anyone (no matter how obvious it may be) but, for you, in this very special scenario, I'll half-break a promise to myself and leave you with a suggestion instead:
Maybe the reason you sometimes get confused at swim matches doesn't have anything at all to do with the loudness of the room or how clear the water is (Yes, there will be a tampon at the bottom of the pool one day. No, you shouldn't swim down there to pull it out and then ask, "What is this?" because most of the room will laugh at you and your mum will be mortified. Just a heads up.) Maybe it really does have something to do with your blatant, unhindered attraction to blokes and, maybe, if you stopped being scared of what your ridiculously supportive mum (honestly, mate, she actually cheered when you broke your leg at 6 because you'd always wanted a cast and she was finally able to give you one) might think or your idiotic best mate (who can't even piss straight into a toilet half the time so, really, why does he matter?) might do if you actually spent more than a few ashamed, hurried minutes (unless you couldn't last that long at that age. Can you? I can't remember...) wondering why the hell it couldn't get that hard when you thought about Freya but that it's impossible to ignore it when you think about Gwaine (of all people!).
will might end up looking back one day at all the people you could have been closer to if you'd just accepted reality without fear because, let me tell you, being a twenty year old virgin of your own volition doesn't make you any less gay than having sex with a bloke does (and one feels a lot better than the other, just between you and I).
So, should you ever decide – Oh, to hell with you. You're gay. You like cock. Just be careful because there are quite a few that won't like you and I don't want this to somehow accidentally change the future and give me genital herpes at some point because that isn't funny and you really are a shit judge of character when it comes to the men you sleep with. Come out to your mum and Will. You'll be surprised by her hug, the way she tells you that she loves you all the same and the number of pints he buys you for finally realising the truth.
He might tell you he caught you staring as his cock. It's a lie; he doesn't have proof and there's never been much to look at anyway. You've had bigger and better and you – Christ, you're my thirteen-year-old self. Why am I saying this?
The moral of the story is: There is nothing wrong with watching the other blokes at swim practice and there's nothing wrong with the way you feel when you imagine kissing a boy rather than a girl because, at the end of the day, you'll be surprised to find that you like being a little different and prefer being in love to being normal. It won't always be easy, you'll get a bit of grief but your friends will be there and they'll remind you that it's all inconsequential; to be honest, I can't even remember most of the people who gave me a hard time. They mattered that little.
I can't promise you'll find the one, though. I'm still looking now, waiting for the next shit decision I make to send me down the wrong street on a busy Saturday where I'll bump into him and fall in love at first sight (sans the glitter and doves and all the rot because it never really works out that way).
Chin up, shoulders back and remember: You're going to be just fine.
Merlin (+15 years)
There's a string of comments underneath the post. Arthur stops to read one by a sixteen year old who is nervous to come out to her mum and says she can only hope her family is as supportive as Merlin's and another by a bloke who claims he's twenty-five, has been dating the same man for three years and hasn't brought him home yet in fear that his parents won't accept him. He writes that he can't express enough how much it means to him that Merlin has gone through the same hell, has lived with the same fears and has overcome them, grown into a person everyone – gay and straight alike – can look up to.
"He's great, isn't he?" Morgana asks, tapping her finger the header of the website where MERLIN EMRYS is written in blue and grey font, simple and clean. "He could probably teach you a lot about being honest with yourself."
"My sexuality doesn't need to be a national story, Morgana."
She 'hmms', finger trailing down the screen over comment after comment about how Merlin Emrys has changed peoples' lives. "You're right; you're like our own personal Anderson Cooper."
Arthur presses the lid of his laptop shut and glares, openly, when Morgana laughs.
"Give me a moment of honesty, Arthur? Don't you want to look that good at forty-five, too?" She steps back, gives Arthur room to push his chair away from his desk but she follows him out of the room, as well, heels clicking across the flooring behind him. "I bet he would jump all over the chance to follow Merlin Emrys around for a week and do a piece on him. It's guaranteed to sell; didn't you see number of views that post received? And that was just on his website – that doesn't include tumblr and Twitter and Facebook. Arthur, he's everything the LGBT community has been asking for and more."
"Morgana, everyone with a social media account considers themselves a political activist."
"But he's not sitting at home making videos about how things are going to get better – he's out encouraging businesses to donate to non-profits and showing up on politicians' doorsteps for a chat about equal treatment."
Arthur waves his hand in a 'yes, yes, whatever' gesture as he rounds the corner, telling his receptionist that he will be back after lunch and then, to Morgana, says, "There's a million and one journalists who have already written about Dan Savage; Merlin Emrys is nothing more than the British version and it won't mean anything for me to write a story that everyone has already read."
Morgana's fingers wrap tightly into his suit jacket, sudden and jarring enough to make him stumble back a step when she tugs. The corridor is empty, doors shut tight and blinds drawn closed but he still glances around to make sure there isn't someone who might hear or see them. All the while, not caring in the least who might be around, Morgana says, "No, he's not, Arthur, and if you tried at all to be involved with the political end of your sexuality, you'd know that Dan Savage isn't everyone's hero." Her face is stern, serious. Her lips are pressed in a tight line, eyes hard and her nails are like claws against Arthur's skin when she grabs his hand. "Just come have coffee with us; if you, honest to god and not just because you're trying to prove a point, don't feel like he's worth telling the world about, I won't say another word about it."
Morgana has always been a constant in Arthur's life; she's always been around, close. Even when they were hours away from one another, separated for school or over the holidays, she made to stay involved and remind him that she was there if he needed anything. She was the first person he came out to, the first person to tell him his feelings weren't unnatural and, with that in mind, he supposes he shouldn't even dare to question her – she's never led him astray. But, at the same time, he wonders how the world will see him if he publishes a piece about a gay rights activist, someone at the head of the community encouraging parents to accept their children and for people to accept themselves, something Arthur himself isn't so sure he's succeeded in himself.
If he does this, the world will assume he's gay. They'll pick at his life, ask questions about his reasoning and why, of all the things he could have made a national headline of, he chose Merlin Emrys.
And, if they ask, is he ready to be honest? Is he ready to jump off the edge, not entirely sure where he'll land or if he'll still be alive when he does?
"Are you scared?"
"Of course not, Morgana." Arthur rolls his eyes, pulls Morgana's hand away from his. As he brushes out the wrinkle in his jacket that her clutching fingers left earlier, he adds, more firmly, "Why would I be scared?"
Her raised eyebrow silently asks if he really wants the answer to that question. But, no, he really wouldn't like an answer because he already has enough worries – not fears, worries – without the extra ten or twenty she is sure to list.
"I'll come for coffee," he stresses, aware of the way his stomach tightens and his heart rate picks up in response to her smile, wide and undeniably proud. "But I'm not promising –"
"I didn't ask for promises, Arthur," Morgana says, rolling her eyes, though the hint of a smile at the corner of her lips tells him she's not annoyed. She bumps her shoulder against his as they step into the lift, blessedly devoid of anyone else. "I asked for a chance and I think you'll be glad you gave it to me."
Merlin is pretty much what most would assume a vegetarian gay rights activist would look like; he's tall and thin, awkward and slightly attractive in a way that Arthur doesn't really understand. He does most of his talking with his hands, grand gestures that attract (and hold, in some cases) the attention of people around him and he smiles wide, all slightly crooked teeth and happiness.
Not so surprisingly, Morgana's mobile rings within five minutes after introductions and, despite Arthur's low, warning, "Morgana, don't you – Morgana," she waves dismissively and says, "I have to take this; I'll be right back."
"Does she leave you stranded with strangers often?"
"All the bloody time," Arthur mumbles, glaring at Morgana balefully when she makes a 'go on, talk!' gesture from outside, eyes stalking him through the window. "What did she promise you to convince you to come?"
Merlin looks genuinely confused when he says, "I don't – nothing? She just asked."
"No donations to your charity? A meeting with our father?"
"I don't run a charity," Merlin replies, his face slowly morphing from confusion to amusement. The little crinkle between his brows eases and the down-turned corner of his lips lift slightly. "I just talk to a lot of people, get the word out." He holds his cup with two hands, long fingers wrapped all the way around and mouth pressed close to the little plastic lid, steam ghosting over his lips as he asks, casually, as though it's not Arthur's entire existence he's tearing apart, "You're not out, are you?"
"I'm not –"
"I'm not taking your story to the press or anything, I'm just asking."
Arthur pauses to consider Merlin's words. There's obvious sincerity in his eyes and promise in his voice, reminiscent of the day Morgana had bumped her hip against his and said, "Don't lie to me; I don't take well to being lied to."
Though there are half a dozen answers he could give Merlin, Arthur settles with: "Everyone who matters knows."
"It's okay to still be in the closet," Merlin says. He shrugs, as though it's perfectly normal to be nearly thirty and still denying your sexuality to the public. "Anderson Cooper didn't –"
"I'm not Anderson Cooper; I'm –"
Arthur should be more annoyed about being interrupted once, not to mention twice, by a long-legged, big-eared, strangely beautiful gay rights activist who didn't ask for any money or a news article but he can't find it in himself to be anything more than frustrated with himself when Merlin presses his finger to Arthur's lips and says, "Look, I'm not going to tell you what to do; I travel across the country teaching people about accepting one another and part of that means accepting that some people choose not to make their sexuality public information. People lose friends and family for being who they are – they lose their jobs and, sometimes, their hope for being honest and that's fucking terrifying. I get it."
Merlin pauses to take a sip of his coffee and Arthur realises that he's been holding his breath through Merlin's entire dialogue, some kind of excuse resting at the end of his tongue that dies when Merlin looks up and starts again, low and warm "So, no, I don't run a charity and I don't want your money. I'm not going to tell you that you should scream the fact that you like cock from the rooftops and Morgana doesn't have to bribe me with meetings with your father to get me to come for coffee. There's nothing wrong with earning money for a cause but, to be honest, I really enjoy being out there –" he gestures at the window behind him, the bustling street where children struggle to keep up with their parents and teens tap away at the screens of their mobiles " – and being the person who might plant a seed in the mind of a parent who learns to accept their lesbian daughter or teach a straight student that their gay classmate isn't really different, that they deserve the same rights as everyone else because we're not charity cases, Arthur."
There's a moment where neither of them speak; Merlin looks like he's waiting for Arthur to comment – to agree. Arthur isn't sure he's ready to say anything; he's just begun to process Merlin's speech, doesn't quite know what he's meant to say or if he's meant to say anything at all. He almost feels dirty voicing an opinion on something he's not working to change, like complaining about the government after not voting or claiming he doesn't give a damn either way.
"There's nothing wrong with us," Merlin says after a moment, sounding so convinced – so sure – that Arthur can't help but stare at the firm set of Merlin's lips, the way his fingers clench around his cup. "I would rather be teaching people about that than sitting in an office dividing up where the money I've raised should go. I want to be part of the reason that, in fifty years – or less, less is good – teens don't have to worry about their parents disowning them, adults don't have to choose their career over their sexuality and there isn't a need for gay rights activists because there won't be gay rights, there will just be rights."
Then, as Arthur's stomach clenches and his mind struggles to wrap around the idea of someone believing so much in their own voice, in themselves, Merlin says, "I don't like coffee very much but this tastes alright," as though he didn't just lay himself and his dreams bare in front of Arthur without a request to do the same.
People like Merlin are unheard of; so rare that Arthur fully doubted even existed (and still does to some extent, he's not fool enough to believe with just one meeting). Heartfelt and proud, Arthur doesn't really have to wonder anymore why there were so many comments, so many people who told Merlin their stories and thanked him for being himself.
Arthur isn't scared; he isn't scared of himself, of his sexuality, but he worries – he worries sometimes if Morgana is going to get drunk and tell her one of her strange friends (Mordred or, worse, Morgause) about Arthur, that they might sell the story to the news. He sometimes feels like the world is watching, that they're not looking because he's well-known, they're looking because they know. And, for the first time, he wonders how many other people live like that, waiting all the time for the ball to drop or for someone they considered a friend to let their secret slip. Is it terrifying for them? Because he knows he won't lose everything, he has a support system that wouldn't desert him for the world but... How many people only have someone like Merlin? An online blog and a person they have never even met that doesn't promise it's going to get better but encourages others to help make it better – for everyone, not just the LGBT community – isn't really the kind of support system anyone should be forced to solely rely on.
The kicker? Merlin hadn't even tried; he'd done it without having to. And that – it's a gift.
"Xbox or Playstation?"
And suddenly Arthur goes from feeling like he and Merlin might be on the same page for once to being absolutely confused (again). "I don't –"
"Play video games? Why do I think you're about to say 'I don't even play video games'?"
"Because I don't," Arthur replies. "I haven't since... Uni."
Merlin laughs. "No video games – alright. What do you do, then? In your free time?"
"Exciting." Merlin draws the word out, raises a brow and then waves his hand in a 'go on, go on' motion. "What else? Normal things, please. You're making me nervous with all your serious staring and I'm trying to find something we might actually have in common."
Arthur shifts slightly in his seat; he watches Merlin's brow raise, watches as Merlin's lips seal around the edge of his cup and then admits, finally, that he's not sure what to say.
"Anything," Merlin says. He sounds amazed (and slightly exasperated), maybe even a touch embarrassed by being forced to push Arthur into a proper answer. "Films? Food? Something."
"I work a lot."
"And live very little, clearly."
Annoyed, Arthur says, "I enjoy working." It's true; he loves what he does. He loves the research and the thundering feeling in his chest when he puts together the final piece that everyone else is missing – the piece that creates the perfect story. The opportunity for travel, great pay and notoriety that comes with writing a front-page story has nothing on the feeling of home he has when he's sitting in front of his computer, stitching together facts and hidden truths to produce the kind of story that people pause on the street to read, talk about throughout the day, the week, the month – forever.
When he looks at Merlin next, he's caught off guard by the fond smile he finds. Merlin nods, looking every bit as understanding as Arthur expected he wouldn't be. "I get it," he says and Arthur knows he does, can feel practically feel the honesty.
"When would be a good time to meet so I can start collecting notes for my story?"
Merlin shrugs. He looks nervous – unsure – when he says, "Anytime is fine, I suppose. I make my own schedule; you could come by my flat tomorrow if you have time. It's probably the place to catch me at my best. I keep a ton of extra notes there, too; you might want to look through them."
"Probably a good idea," Arthur replies, aware of Morgana's proud little smirk as she approaches. Her mobile is tucked neatly in her pocket and Arthur is sure that, if he checked, he'd probably find she planned her "surprise" phone call around the same time she planned Arthur's meeting with Merlin.
"So, tomorrow?" Merlin asks. "I'll give you my address and you can –"
"I knew you two would become quick mates. Look, there's already a date planned." Morgana slips into her seat next to Arthur and dares a wink in his direction, pleased when he scowls just slightly at her word choice.
"It's not a date," he says, avoiding looking at Merlin. The word makes him uncomfortable – the sly way she says it makes him feel even worse. Arthur doesn't date – he can't. "You suggested the report to begin with."
"And it will be amazing," Morgana says, talking to Merlin. She pats his hand, a comforting gesture Arthur notes is very comfortable – it’s clearly not the first time she's done it. "You deserve more publicity than you have; Arthur is going to make you and your goals national news."
While he might have doubted in the beginning, Arthur is sure now that her words are true. It won't take much to sell Merlin to the world. Slightly awkward, a natural giver and easy to look at? Readers will adore him. It's Merlin's goals that Arthur is going to struggle to make people understand, to sympathise with.
He knows the effort is worth it, though. Thirty minutes with Merlin has him more than convinced Morgana has pointed him in the right direction.
Whether or not the story is worth risking his entire livelihood for – his privacy, too – is the only thing Arthur is left to question when they part twenty minutes later, Merlin's address tucked deep in his pocket and list of questions he's already curious to ask rolling through his head.
Merlin's fingers tap against his knee, an uneven rhythm that draws Arthur's attention away from the screen of his laptop twice before he finally says, "Nervous?"
"You have no idea," Merlin mumbles. His fingers still, though. Instead, they clutch silently at the denim over his thighs. "I don't know how to talk about myself."
Arthur actually laughs; he and Merlin have that in common. "Hardest questions to answer are usually the ones that would seem the easiest. Where did you grow up?"
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you. It's a secret."
"Seriously," Merlin adds when Arthur raises a brow, just barely holding in a laugh. "I'm pretty sure it's not even on maps – it's that small."
"Parents, then? Tell me about them."
"I only have my mum," Merlin admits. He doesn't sound sad or embarrassed – like he's accustomed to the idea. Arthur doesn't pry, just makes a note and continues to listen while Merlin continues. "Her name is Hunith, if you need that. She makes the best beans and toast ever, make sure you note that."
"Noted. Is she supportive?"
"Of my sexuality?"
"Of your career choice," Arthur specifies. "And your sexuality, I suppose."
Merlin nods, enthusiastic. Arthur swears Merlin's entire face brightens when he says, "Yeah, she's – Christ, she's amazing. When I came out she made me a special dinner, when I brought my first boyfriend home, she all but said outright that he'd never find another bloke like me."
"Except it sounded more like a threat than a suggestion," Merlin adds after a moment of thought, Arthur's fingers flying over his keyboard. "Please don't tell the world about that, though. He's probably still in hiding, hoping and praying she isn't going to find him for breaking my heart."
"Did he?" Arthur asks, concerned with the sharp flash of anger he felt at the mention of Merlin's broken heart.
"Not really." Merlin shrugs. "I mean, it hurt as much as anyone's first break-up did. Kind of natural to have your feelings hurt and you can't really help thinking you might be one of those rare cases where you meet the love of your life on your first try."
Arthur isn't really sure about that. He's never had a real relationship and though he knows he should probably attempt to prove Morgana's assumption that he's emotionally stunted wrong, he doesn't feel like he's missing out on much. There are no nights where he stays up staring at the ceiling, wishing he had a warm body curled against his or mornings when he wakes up to his eerily silent flat wondering what it would be like to stay in bed for a few extra minutes to listen to a partner bump around in the kitchen, curse quietly when they burn the eggs or spill the juice.
He'll take Merlin's word for it, though. In fact, he does take Merlin's word for it – types the direct quote and puts a star next to it to ensure he incorporates it.
"Other than working, what do you spend your time doing?"
Merlin laughs, loud and sweet. "You couldn't answer that question for yourself but you expect me to have an answer?"
"I already have your video game addiction noted," Arthur replies, gesturing at the mess of text on his computer screen. "What else?"
"I blog, mostly. It's kind of an all-encompassing job so it doesn't leave a lot of room for fun stuff; I haven't even been on a date in weeks."
Arthur doesn't mention the dating in his notes but he does look up. He can't rationalise the rush of annoyance he feels at the thought of Merlin dating, the rush he'd felt earlier when Merlin had mentioned heart-break but... Well, his curiosity is undeniable. "Your blog mentions that you haven't found anyone serious."
Around a small smile, Merlin says, "You read my blog? I feel so honoured." He pauses to laugh and glances at Arthur's computer, seemingly aware of the fact that the question was clearly personal, not meant for the report. Merlin doesn't mention it, though. He says, "I wasn't being dishonest, though; nothing worth forever just yet. I'm still pretty young, not worried about growing old by myself just yet."
"What about school? Where did you go? Were you involved in anything while you were there?"
"Is there going to be a lot of this?"
"That's the point of an interview, Merlin,"Arthur replies, daring a smirk when Merlins eyes him with annoyance. "I ask you questions, you answer them. I'll shadow you later in the week, ask some people some questions to get their opinions but, for now, I need an idea of who I'm talking – Wait. Where are you going?"
"Tea," says Merlin simply as he walks away, making it impossible for Arthur to not watch the subtle movements of his hips and the way he bounces on the balls of his feet when he digs through the cupboard. All the little noises Merlin's makes while he moving, the quiet song he hums when he prepares the kettle – it's all so ridiculously endearing.
Arthur doesn't know what to say – if he should even say anything – while Merlin fumbles around in the kitchen so, to be safe (because Arthur is always safe) he settles in the sofa and watches Merlin move, shockingly content where he is. He can tell his job isn't getting done in a day but, for some unexplainable reason, the realisation that he's going to have to do this again doesn't annoy him. If anything, he feels like he could do this every day for a week and not get tired of it.
Christ, this could be dangerous. His entire life is going to depend on this report and –
Merlin smiles when he shoves a pale orange mug into Arthur's hands. "Your bottom lip juts out when you think too hard," he says, pressing his thumb against Arthur's lip and pushing it, just slightly, into its proper position. Then, so quickly Arthur will spend the rest of the afternoon wondering if it even happened, Merlin presses his lips against Arthur's.
Merlin doesn't mention anything about it when Arthur stumbles slightly over his next question but it doesn't matter, anyway. He's so completely overwhelmed with new worries, new questions he doesn't dare ask, that it’s the least of his concerns. Why worry about proper speech when his entire existence, everything he's accepted as fact – being single forever, work more important than personal relationships – is all of a sudden being questioned?
There's no promise that this is going to end well. But, for some reason, he asks his next question anyway.
"Don't make it sound so melodramatic."
Merlin pauses and Arthur nearly bumps into him, not expecting the sudden stop. "It's not melodramatic," Merlin says. For the first time in the three days they've spent with one another, Merlin looks slightly angry. His lips are pressed together, pursed slightly and his eyes are sharp. There's even a hint of bitter frustration in his voice when he says, "Being afraid isn't melodramatic, Arthur – it's real. And people have real reasons to be afraid, don't you think?"
Of course Arthur thinks that – Yes. He lives every day with his own personal set of worries but then Merlin says, "Have you never felt the pressure in your chest when you think about the fact that your family might disown you? The heaviness in your feet when you're going to tell someone – maybe the first person, maybe the millionth – that you're not interested in the opposite gender? Hell, Arthur, have you ever even overheard someone – strangers, even – debating whether or not you're gay because you want to be or because you were born that way and felt like you couldn't breathe? Like the walls were getting smaller and smaller because you wanted to tell them you didn't choose to be the target but that you're not going to deny who you are because someone else thinks it's wrong?" and Arthur, who still isn't sure how exactly Merlin manages to make everything so personal, realises that he really hit a tender spot when he claimed being fearful was melodramatic (and was more than a bit hypocritical too, to be honest).
He's actually in a good situation, when it comes down to it.
Merlin nods, like he can read Arthur's mind and approves his thoughts, and then turns back around to continue his march down the packed corridor. He acts like their conversation didn't just happen or that, if it did, it wasn't a big deal.
Arthur has been to Westminster a time or two for work – research and interviews, sometimes to meet with a source – and can navigate fairly well through the corridors he remembers but he's a bit amazed by how familiar Merlin seems to be with the place, how many people raise a hand in a gesture of welcome and the number of "Hullo, Merlin!"s he hears on their way to – Well, wherever it is they're headed. Arthur isn't sure. "Where is it we're going?"
"My best mate from university is an MP," Merlin replies simply, continuing his trek. "He's also absolute pants at remembering when and where he needs to be so..." Merlin trails off, stopping in front of a half-open door that he pushes open without invitation. "Gwaine," he says, stepping through the threshold, leaving Arthur with no choice but to follow, "You were supposed to meet with Will an hour ago about this bill; he needs an idea of what he's walking into. Supporters versus non-supporters, what it might take to make them support. Where is the list?"
If Gwaine is the long-haired bloke currently leaning back in his chair, feet propped at the edge of his desk, he's in no state to be speaking to anyone. He doesn't pay Merlin's angry frown or crossed arms any mind, too preoccupied with the girl in the short skirt bent over trying to collect spilled paperwork off the floor. Merlin even snaps,"Gwaine!" loudly and then sighs when he doesn't seem to get the attention he requested.
Arthur remembers Gwaine's name, now that he thinks about it. Morgana has mentioned him before and his father, once or twice, has cited him as an up and comer that could be dangerous to disagree with. It would make sense that Merlin and Morgana, seeing as they were something more than acquaintances but less than mates before the coffee meeting the day before, might have some contacts in common.
As for Arthur's father... Uther Pendragon makes sure to know a little about all the MPs. "Just in case," he always says, as though each one is a threat that might need to be dealt with at a moment's notice.
He doesn't really want to think about that, though. His father isn't quite understanding about Arthur's sexuality; he's not the kind of father who would disown him but that hasn't stopped him from tricking Arthur into a date with a woman a time or two, an attempt to convince him that it's 'just a phase' – a phrase he's repeated on a daily basis since Arthur stuck a foot ("A toe, Arthur," Morgana would correct if she were around to read his mind) out of the closet four years ago.
"I heard you the first time," Gwaine says after the skirt-clad women hands over his paperwork. His smile is roguish and his voice is low, suggestive when he murmurs his thank you before she leaves. He turns his attention back to Merlin only after she's disappeared down the corridor. "I didn't meet Will because I didn't need him; I sent him a text and told him all of his information was here, to come and pick it up before he left."
"He obviously didn't get it, then," Merlin replies, settling himself in a chair across from Gwaine's desk. He looks slightly imposing sitting there, staring down Gwaine, who is easily more muscular and could probably snap Merlin if half if he was angry enough to try. "This isn't something to play around with, Gwaine. You need to communicate if we want to progress as a team."
"What's the goal?" Arthur asks, suddenly unsure of himself when Gwaine and Merlin both turn to him at once, two sets of eyes examining him as though he's some sort of alien threatening their entire existence.
"The goal?" Merlin asks a split second before Gwaine says, "Who the hell are you?"
Arthur goes to answer – to introduce himself – but Merlin cuts him off before he can even begin, saying, determined and without pause, "There are still hate crimes that go ignored, LGBT youth are still six times more likely to attempt to self-harm than heterosexual teens and civil partnerships are not marriage."
"Merlin's goal is equality," Gwaine says, "meaning he can tell the entire world how much he loves his future husband and not have to worry about someone throwing rotten produce at him for it."
"Rotten produce is a little over the top," Merlin says, rolling his eyes. "But Gwaine's general explanation is correct, yes."
Arthur is beginning to realise that the longer he knows Merlin, the deeper he seems to get. On the outside there's this man – who is more like a boy in most ways – who practically exudes happiness and appreciation for life. And then, not an hour later, he's pulling at the edge of his suit jacket and quoting facts about self-harm rates and hate crimes, pressing for change almost to the point of frustration.
There's a wrinkle between his brow that wasn't there when they had coffee a few days before; a downward curve at the edge of his lips that shows Arthur that he cares, that he worries. Because, to be fair, Merlin has obviously learned to live with whatever prejudices he's been shown in the past, the work he does now it's for himself – it's other people like them, people who clearly don't have the same support Merlin was given.
"Maybe I can help, then," Arthur says, settling himself in the chair beside Merlin. "My father might still have some pull with the other side – maybe he can drop a word or two in favour."
Gwaine, more slowly and with blatant annoyance about being ignored the first time, says, "And how do you figure that?"
Arthur supposes he should answer, it'd probably be more polite to, but he's a little awe-struck by the smile Merlin gives him, the way he bites at his bottom lip like he's trying to keep his grin from splitting his face into two and the kind of all-consuming feeling that comes with knowing he's the one who put it there.
The blinking cursor at the end of Arthur's computer screen is cruel. It's an undeniable reminder that, though he and Merlin have spent four days together, for no less than three hours at a time, he has made absolutely no progress in trying to explain what exactly Merlin does or who Merlin really is.
It's not that Arthur doesn't understand Merlin, it's that he isn't quite sure how to explain to the world, who generally appreciates the idea of less work earning them more money, that Merlin's idea of working is working harder for nothing. The fact is, when asked, only 1.5% of people in the UK admitted to being gay, bisexual or transgender and it's not going to be easy to sell Merlin's story to the remaining 98.5%. How is Arthur going to make people who have very little in common with Merlin, much less what he goes through on a daily basis to support equality, feel connected?
Arthur's sigh is long and slightly annoyed. He rubs a hand over his face, presses his fingers against his aching temples. When he looks up Merlin is staring openly, a half-smile on his lips when he says, "Work is rough; we should be unemployed."
"You practically are," Arthur replies without hesitation, silently amused when Merlin responds by sticking his tongue out. "How do you even afford to live with all the volunteer work you do?"
"I have a degree in Political Science." Merlin turns back to the laptop on his lap, fingers tapping away at the keys. "I put it to use on occasion to pay the bills but I'm actually just used to being poor; surviving on little and making the most of it comes naturally."
"Why aren't you putting that degree to real use?"
Merlin glances up, confused. His brows draw close together, his head tilts slightly to the side and he says, sounding slightly unsure, "I am; how can I expect to change the way the political system sees me if I don't even understand the political system? I went to school to learn how to make a difference, not to get a nine-to-five job that makes me miserable."
"Why are you a journalist?" Merlin continues. He lifts his hands away from the keyboard, makes a swooping motion to signify Arthur's office, the high-backed chair Arthur is sitting in and the mahogany desk they're somewhat sharing. Merlin has printed e-mails scattered across his corner, story after story from people of all ages asking for advice or wondering if maybe he can make room for them in his busy schedule to speak at their college or university, to go over some ideas about how they might be able to come out to their incredibly religious parents. There are also scatted notes about MPs who plan on opposing bills that might support marriage equality. "Why did you choose this over writing books or being a lawyer?"
Arthur says, simply: "I like facts –"
"I like change –"
"– and I wanted other people to know the facts."
"– and I want other people to know that there's going to a future where our sexuality doesn't limit us, doesn't define us; that we're more than who we have sex with behind closed doors or who we fall in love with."
"Why the political crusade, though?" Arthur asks, genuinely interested. He pauses, holding up a hand to show Merlin he needs a moment to finish his thought, to figure out what exactly he's asking. "Why not just start your own version of It Gets Better or –?"
"Because it doesn't get better unless we make it better; we can tell people – not just kids, it's more than just kids – that it gets better but what difference does it make if we work to make it that way? It's almost like telling them that it ends when they're older."
"And," Merlin adds quickly, "To an extent, it does. I'm not a target of insult every day and I don't look over my shoulder when I walk by myself but a lot of that is because there were people before us who spoke up when it was far less normal to be gay and said they wanted to make a difference for people in the future, too. If they had stayed quiet, where would we be now?"
Arthur could very easily say, "Right here" and mean it. His sexuality, unlike Merlin's, isn't what's guiding his life decisions; it has affected small choices, no doubt, but he hasn't centered his life around the fact that he's gay. Arthur probably could get away with marrying a pretty bird, having children with her and pretending to be happy; he could probably fit that part quite well if it was required of him.
But, thankfully, he lives in a time where he can be gay in silence and in relative peace... if he stays silent.
Merlin sighs, says, "Can we stop talking about this?" and shuts the lid of his laptop with a click. "Tell me about you – something other than the fact that you're gay and don't play video games."
"I like books?"
"Are you asking me if you like books? Why do you sound unsure?"
"Part of the glory of working in journalism has always been that Arthur is the one who asks the questions; very rarely is he asked questions and he likes it that away, thanks ever so. He's never quite sure what to say, weary of the way his words could be misconstrued.
Merlin's smile is too wide, amused in a way that picks at Arthur's pride. It's almost as if he can read Arthur's mind, voice warm when he says, "I'm not about to tell the world your secrets, Arthur. Just be honest, for once – tell me about something in your life without questioning yourself in the process, yeah?"
"My father made Morgana and I share a dog when we were younger."
"I think she mentioned him before. He was a Corgi, wasn't he?"
Arthur nods. "She dressed him as Hello Kitty once for laughs. The second-hand embarrassment nearly killed me."
"Better him than you, though." Merlin's laugh sounds kinder this time around, makes Arthur feel less self-conscious. Then, more serious, Merlin says, "She talks about you often, you know? When you published that article on the charity scams and the millions of pounds worth of swindled money? Proudest day of Morgana's life, I think."
"She was the only reason I submitted it," Arthur admits. He looks down, taps his finger against his keyboard without typing anything. It's more of an act of uncertainty, something to do while he considers what to say next because he'd known he was in the right when he'd made the discovery, when he'd researched the article and stayed awake for three days straight typing and editing, typing some more and then editing again. Morgana had stopped by his flat twice a day, bringing tea and greasy food from the pub near her flat but she hadn't said a word until he'd called it complete, stared at it for a solid five hours and mumbled to himself, not realising Morgana was there to hear him say, "I really shouldn't."
"I didn't want people to lose faith in giving," Arthur tells Merlin, nearly the same exact words he'd said to Morgana when she'd drawn a chair up close to his and asked why he'd let his hard work go to waste. "I felt like if I told them that there were so many fabricated charities out there, ones that stole the hard-earned money they thought to be going to those who needed it most, that they wouldn't trust any charities."
"You did call out a lot of big names," Merlin says. He shifts in his seat, leans closer to Arthur's desk and cradles his chin in his palm, eyes meeting Arthur's. "But you didn't want to let people keep giving away their money, did you?"
"Morgana said the same thing; she suggested the follow-up article with the ways to research reputable charities, things to look out for when people ask for donations."
"And it put you on the map!"
"I was always on the map," Arthur argues jokingly because Arthur isn't sure how anyone could be mad at Merlin when he smiles like he does, all pride and understanding. "My last name assured my map-status was always guaranteed."
"Now you're getting cocky." Merlin shoves at Arthur's shoulder playfully and adds, "Those of us who had to earn that status from hard-work and many sleepless nights are getting a little jealous."
"Actually," Merlin adds a second later, his smile dimming just a little – as though he's disappointed, a bit sad. "I wouldn't want the pressure that comes with your name."
"You get used to it." And, really, Arthur has. He's accepted the fact that there are standards he will always be expected to meet, things he will never be allowed to be and that, on some level, everything he does will reflect somehow on his family – on his father and Morgana, on his mother even though she's long gone.
The press is cruel, Arthur would know better than anyone, and when the press and his name clash, it means nothing but terrible news.
And that's why he looks away when Merlin's eyes dip to the open collar of his shirt, when his eyes pause briefly on Arthur's lips before looking back up into Arthur's eyes because he wants – he wants so much – but he's not allowed to and... it's fucking awful, is what it is.
Though he might have gotten used to his name – the power it carries, the weight it leaves on his shoulders – he's not sure he'll ever be okay with it.
Arthur isn't sure when, exactly, he starts to think that stealing scones off of Merlin's plate is acceptable. He actually catches himself when the scone is already caught between his teeth and Merlin is biting his lip, clearly holding in a laugh. In most situations, he'd try to brush it off and pretend it didn't happen but he's enjoying the break from work, being able to go out with Merlin for tea and not worrying about bringing along his notes or his computer.
"How was your weekend with your mum?"
Merlin shrugs. "I feel bad leaving her; I'm so far away and she has no one else."
"You couldn't blog from there?"
"I could but that's not all there is to it. I have things I'm responsible for here – things to do that I can't get done from home. I can guarantee you Gwaine hasn't done any of the things I left for him because if I'm not in his office twice a day with sweets and a broom to beat away the girls, he spends his days doing the absolute minimum."
"It must be nice to be close to your dad," Merlin adds a moment later, a smile brightening his entire face when Arthur groans and says, "No."
Arthur takes a sip of his tea, washing down the taste of Merlin's stolen scone. "He's very involved in my life but for all the wrong reasons, I think."
"Not supportive, then?"
"In a sense," Arthur says. "He says he's okay with my career and my –"
Merlin nods, his eyes understanding. He doesn't press for more answers but his hand finds Arthur's knee under the table, squeezing just once to offer a bit of comfort. Arthur doesn't really need it – he's not sad about it – but he silently enjoys the way Merlin's thumb shifts over the side of his knee, the way it moves back and forth and the intimacy of it all. In keeping his private life private, he's never dared lunch with a bloke who might have even wanted to touch him in secret and give him a warm smile, all quiet kindness and promise of an ear should he ever need one.
But it's not an ear he asks for when he and Merlin make their way back to Merlin's flat, their hands brushing occasionally in a way he could easily claim was accidental if it was questioned.
Arthur's sudden comfort level is probably the reason he's caught so off guard when Merlin says, "Morgana says you went out this weekend to –"
"Morgana should keep her nose out of things that don't have to do with her," Arthur interjects coolly, doing his best to avoid the conversation entirely. He had gone out to pull and, instead, spent half the night staring at his mobile wondering whether or not he should text Merlin. He avoided every bloke that approached him and chose to go home and tug messily at his cock in the shower instead, imaging Merlin's perfect lips stretched wide around him.
It was probably the sexiest thing he'd ever allowed himself to think and, frankly, if Merlin doesn't stop talking about it, Arthur can't promise he'll be able to continue to pretend it didn't happen.
"Seems dangerous. Toeing the line of public scandal, aren't you?"
"Keeps it exciting."
Merlin looks uncomfortable – or maybe confused, Arthur isn't sure – for a moment. "So, you like the anonymity, then?"
"Do I have any other choice?"
"Do you really want an answer to that? Because I could tell you that the anonymous sex wouldn't be your only option if you were out." Merlin replies, giving one of those knowing looks that promises nothing good as he turns himself to face Arthur, back pressed against the arm of the sofa and one leg tucked up under his body. His eyes grow steadily more intense, brave and nervous all at once. "Or I could tell you how much more amazing sex is when you know your partner, when you take your time learning what sounds they make when you press your lips here –" Slowly, Merlin leans forward and presses just one finger to the soft, sensitive skin behind Arthur's ear, stroking just enough to force Arthur to bite his lip to hold back a groan "– or when you nibble here –" Merlin's fingertips trace the line of Arthur's jaw, the curve of his collarbone hidden under the thin layer separating his skin from Merlin's and the insatiable urge to kiss Merlin, the one that has been building up to the point of near suffocation since days before in Arthur's office when he told himself that some things were just not allowed, is no longer just a crazed idea in his mind, it's a reality.
Arthur should probably be disappointed in himself when he realises that this was Merlin's plan all along but he can't be arsed to even care, too busy stroking his hands over the notches in Merlin's spine as Merlin's mouth presses open against his, their breath mingling between their lips before Merlin smiles and shifts even closer, tongue stroking over Arthur's tongue and the roof of his mouth. He even goes as far as to tug Arthur's bottom lip between his teeth when he pulls away, all seductive smiles and husky speech when he runs his fingers over the bare skin of Arthur's stomach and says, "Do you even tell them your name, Arthur? Do they moan it when you fuck them?"
He doesn't even realise how hard he is until Merlin speaks, until he punctuates his question by pressing his lips close to Arthur's ear and moaning his name low and slow, breathless and wanton. Then, when Arthur is almost sure he's going to come from Merlin's voice alone, Merlin adds, "Let's move this to my room, hm?"
It's too much. Merlin is too much. When they stand, Merlin laces his fingers behind Arthur's neck and half-jumps when Arthur's hands find the back of his thighs, pull Merlin's legs to wrap tight around his waist while Merlin mumbles, "Fuck," and grinds his cock, hot and hard underneath the soft fabric of his shorts, against Arthur's stomach. He stresses, "bed , Arthur – bed" and then laughs breathlessly, pleased when Arthur growls and dips his head into the curve of Merlin's neck, teeth pressed just against the unmarred skin.
Arthur forgets everything the moment his back hits the mattress – the fact that he's never had sex in a bed that wasn't in a hotel room, that Merlin knows his name, his secret and, even still, Arthur trusts him. Merlin is all anxious hands, lips and teeth. It isn't until Arthur's back arches against Merlin's mouth that he realises he lost his shirt somewhere along the way to Merlin's bedroom, probably on the floor somewhere in the hall but he doesn't really care, too busy rocking his hips up against Merlin's and feeling his cock press against the hard line of Merlin's, earning himself moans he wishes he knows he won't be forgetting anytime soon. They're too warm, too real – personal in a way Arthur hasn't heard before.
The craving of Merlin's sweat-slick skin against his own has lessened but it's still there, still clawing at his mind while his hands slip past the edge of Merlin's shorts, his fingers pressing against the warm, rounded flesh of Merlin's arse. He leans up to worry the flushed patch at the juncture of Merlin's neck with his teeth and Merlin's sure fingers trailing through the sparse hairs at the nape of Arthur's neck, gripping too hard and tugging too sharply when Arthur's mouth licks and nips at Merlin's adam's apple, when Arthur's fingers tease at the crease of his arse with just a hint of nervous excitement he can't fight down.
Merlin's lips trail along Arthur's jaw and then his neck, down his torso after a brief stop to worry one of Arthur's nipples between his teeth. He looks immensely proud when Arthur groans "fuck" and "Merlin"; he even goes as far as to mumble a quiet, pleasure-ridden, "I like when you moan my name."
Arthur thinks that even if Merlin pulled away right now and claimed he had two cocks and a scat fetish, he'd still be perfectly fucking okay with letting Merlin just keep on his little path of pleasurepain, teeth capturing the little bit of skin that isn't drawn tight over his abs until Arthur hisses and Merlin moves along to the next tempting spot. His fingers are quick, deft when they pull the button free on Arthur's trousers and tug them down, pants coming down with them until Merlin is standing at the edge of the bed, pulling what's left of Arthur's clothing off of his ankles. With a saucy grin that makes Arthur groan, forces him to reach down and press hard against his cock to keep himself from coming right there.
Merlin pulls his own shorts down over his hips and kicks them away from his feet before crawling back up the bed, slow and teasing. His mouth skips Arthur's cock and goes straight for his thighs, nibbling there the same way he had on Arthur's stomach but he's a bit too far gone to get out anything more than a long, drawn out "fuck" before Merlin's mouth is just there, no teasing warning licks or a moment of warm breath across the head. He goes from a single sharp bite against Arthur's right thigh straight to Arthur's cock with a deep, wet swallow that catches Arthur completely by surprise.
It's a pleasant surprise, no doubt. Merlin's cheeks hollowed out, his slick, swollen lips tight around Arthur's cock as he slides up and then back down, tongue tracing the head of his cock and the thick vein on the underside, teasing and daring as he stares up at Arthur with lust-blown pupils. Somewhere deep in Arthur's mind he realises that this wasn't what he planned for, that the sight of Merlin on his knees between Arthur's parted legs, the hot, wet heat of Merlin's mouth around his cock isn't allowed but it's been too long and though Arthur's hands manage to find Merlin's hair, his fingers wrapping in dark curls, he doesn't tug Merlin away the way he intends to. He ends up pushing Merlin down, forcing his cock deeper until he feels the head slide across the roof of Merlin's mouth and the deep breath Merlin takes through his nose before he presses forward, taking everything Arthur has until his nose is buried in dark gold curls.
And fuck if Arthur can reconsider anything after that.
He rides the wave of pleasure that comes with a talented mouth around his dick and struggles not to come before Merlin pulls off with a wet, incredibly obscene 'pop!' that Arthur swears all the strangers he's ever had sex with didn't create. Merlin looks twice as lust-stricken as Arthur when he sits up, cock long and hard between his legs, wrapped in the hand he isn't using for leverage and being pulled unevenly – sharp jerks between slow pulls.
"We can switch, if you want. I'll lie on my back." Merlin's voice is quiet and breathy; there's a tiny gasp in the middle of his sentence and Arthur notices that it coincides with the second Merlin's thumb skimmed over the head of his cock, spread the bead of precum that had been there moments ago. The head is damp now, gleaming in the low yellow light of Merlin's messy little flat and Arthur swears he's never seen anything sexier then Merlin stroking himself with one hand while the other reaches between his legs, teasing the pucker of muscle Arthur would die to be touching for himself right now.
And then Merlin moans Arthur's name again, lips parted, eyes staring directly into Arthur's and – Christ. He might come just watching Merlin get himself off and listening to him say his name.
Arthur sits up, pushes Merlin's hand away from between his legs and nudges Merlin's knees a little further apart. Merlin's thighs, though slim, are firm under his hands; he slides them up and then down, coaxing a little moan from Merlin's lips and he watches as Merlin's cock twitches, demanding some sort of gratification that Arthur provides with one hand while the other reaches between Merlin's thighs, fingers stroking his balls and then tracing the tight patch of skin behind them. He doesn't go further; he teases the skin, Merlin's balls and then the skin again but mostly he focuses on stroking Merlin's cock firmly, tugging quiet gasps and breathless murmurs of 'fuck, fuck, Arthur.'
Arthur doesn't expect Merlin to grip his wrist, to guide it back until his fingertips press against the tight press of muscles and then lean forward against Arthur's body, chin pressing against the crown of Arthur's head and chest close to Arthur's mouth, nipples tight as his breath ghosts over them between the swipes of his tongue. "Don't ask," Merlin says, voice shaky above Arthur. "Don't ask, just – fuck. Please."
"Lube, Merlin. Where's the lube?" Merlin gestures with the hand that isn't struggling to push Arthur's fingers into himself at the drawer of the bedside table and Arthur leans back and reaches to pull it open. His fingers rummage through the contents, biros and folded slips of paper before he brushes against a plastic bottle, slippery at the top and pulls it free. It's a struggle to pull away from Merlin's hand long enough to wet his fingers but he does and then, as Merlin gasps and rocks his hips forward, pressing his straining cock against Arthur's over-warm skin, Arthur presses a single finger inside. It's tight, almost impossibly so, and Arthur is thankful he didn't attempt two fingers on the first try. And it's exciting, too, in the dirtiest way possible – the idea that Merlin will remember this later, will know that it was Arthur he was with and not some nameless bloke from a club who took the minimum, sex that was fast and hard and mostly silent, and then went along his way.
The next two fingers slide in slowly, one at a time until Merlin finally has enough of waiting and shoves Arthur on his back with firm hands against his shoulders. He finds a condom in the same drawer as the lube, tears it open with his teeth and rolls it over Arthur's cock with precision, quick and anxious. After, he shuffles forward, aligns his knees on either side of Arthur's hips and sinks down over his cock.
The surge, the tightening warmth pooling in his groin, is nearly instantaneous. Arthur can't decide what part of Merlin he wants to touch – his thighs, straining with every downward thrust and pull up or his chest, the hard expanse of his stomach or his cock, bobbing with every movement.
Arthur takes turns; he strokes Merlin's thighs and tweaks Merlin's nipples with his fingers, shaking with pleasure. Merlin pulls his hand down, guides his fingers to wrap around his cock and mumbles, between a deep, body-wracking groan and a soft sigh, that he's so fucking ready and Arthur nods, forces his hips up to meet every one of Merlin's downward thrusts and it's all over not long after that. It's Arthur's name that tumbles from Merlin's lips when he comes, when his body draws tight over Arthur's and his cock pulses, warm come spilling over Arthur and Merlin's stomachs.
All the anxious tension, the anxiety and the want explodes under Arthur's skin, in his chest and he comes a few minutes after Merlin. The tight ring of Merlin's arse pulsing around his cock in addition to the swiftness of his trusts, the soft, tired way Merlin mumbles his name after he's finally stopped coming, is what finally forces him to lose control.
Merlin's skin is damp with sweat when he pulls off, throws his leg over Arthur's body with a slow, quiet groan and falls onto the sheets next to him, a pleased grin on his lips that lessens into one of quiet pleasure, of contentment when he asks Arthur if he has anywhere to be anytime soon and Arthur answers, without pause, "I'll stay if you don't mind, actually – a nap sounds good right about now."
"How is the article going?"
Arthur sighs, deep and low, leaning back in his chair away from the relatively blank screen of his computer. He has a couple notes, mostly tidbits about Merlin's hopes for the future, using social media to relay a message that how somehow gotten lost in the number of charities focused on the LGBT community and how what he does is different because he's different but none of it really fits yet; it's all little snippets of what couple be a great article without the foundation that will make it a great article.
And then there's the fact that part of Arthur doesn't even want to write the article anymore. It's not that Merlin isn't worth talking about it's that Arthur doesn't want to share him. He realises, to an extent, that he and Merlin can't be a couple. Merlin is out and proud, not the kind of bloke who will want to kiss Arthur in the shadows or hide at home at charity dinners rather than being at Arthur's side but that doesn't mean that Arthur's ready to tell the world (and a number of gay men who probably have more to offer Merlin than Arthur could ever hope to) how worthy he is of being loved.
Because Arthur wants to be the one who falls in love with Merlin, who wakes up to him in the morning and who learns the noises Merlin makes when his fingers skim over a new patch of skin or when his tongue traces the shell of Merlin's ear, his teeth finding the moistened skin right after.
He wants that to be his; he wants Merlin to be his. It's only been a day since he saw Merlin, since he fell asleep in Merlin's bed and didn't wake up until nearly two in the morning and, even then, he hadn't gone home. Merlin had made tea and insisted they watch comic movies until they both fell asleep again, Arthur's head leaned against the back of the sofa and Merlin's head cradled against Arthur's shoulder.
It's been a little over twenty-four hours and he already wants it again; is having a hard time not inviting himself over to Merlin's for a repeat of the day before.
Morgana says, "It's never good when you're silent for this long," and the pleasure in her voice is strong, suggestive. "You fell for him, didn't you?"
Arthur attempts to make his scoff sound convincing but, when he fails, he settles for just ending the call and going back to staring at his half-arsed notes, willing himself to remember something other than Merlin's lips smiling against his.
Merlin (-15 years),
I told you in my last letter that I was still waiting for 'the one' and, though I promised myself I wouldn't write you another letter (too much focus on the past makes it impossible to focus on the future), I really thought it should be noted that patience pays off and, eventually, you'll find him.
You're not going to be sure for a couple of days; you're going to think he doesn't understand you and you're going to wish he were a little more like you, a little more open; you're going to wish that he looked at you with a little less confusion, a little more adoration, but there will be a moment when he smiles, half-embarrassed and half-proud, and you will know right then that he's everything you've been waiting for.
And then, you're going to have to wait some more. This is the place I'm still sitting in – the waiting. He's not out and you're not going to force him because you understand that being out is a personal decision that no one should be pushed into and everyone, especially you, should be understanding of all the reasons that exist for someone to keep their sexuality secret.
Will it disappoint you? Yes, it will. But you will work harder for change knowing that, one day, there might be someone like you who falls in love with someone like him and they won't have to worry about the stress that comes with being out because they'll be accepted – they'll be equal. And their love won't be something they have to hide, it'll be something they can talk about at lunch or not talk about at all, just feel without the added worry that someone might dislike them for it.
He'll work with you, too. He'll put your name on the map at the risk of ruining his own. Remember to thank him every time you wake up to his fingers slamming too harshly against his keyboard and to press a kiss between his brows because it's the only thing that seems to remind him that he shouldn't furrow them so often.
If you're quiet, he'll let you curl up and watch him write. It sounds slightly boring but the expressions he makes – sometimes proud, sometimes happy and, most often of all, nervous – are what you love most about him so it's really not so bad.
For now, know that your time does come. We're getting there, Merlin. We are.
(And you're still a complete and total idiot. He brought you flowers and you managed to trip and break the vase in less than five minutes. Thank Christ he's getting used to it – he wasn't even mad. Clearly, he's worth holding on to.)
Merlin (+15 years)