“I’m leaving,” Gwen says quietly, standing in the door to Arthur’s study with her coat on and her handbag tucked under her arm.
Arthur looks up from his desk with a frown. He didn’t see any appointments in their shared calendar on the pantry door for tonight. He wonders if he forgot pub night again.
“When will you be home?” he asks, remembering that Gwen asked him to show more of an interest in what she was doing. Gwen’s face, instead of showing signs of pleasure that Arthur’s showing an interest in what she’s doing, goes through an emotion that disappears too quickly for Arthur to identify. He thinks it looked like sadness.
Arthur’s frown deepens.
Gwen takes a step into the study, and now Arthur can see the suitcase and duffel bag sitting in the hallway.
“I didn’t know you were going on a trip,” he offers apologetically. Maybe he truly didn’t notice that there was something on the calendar. Of course it’s entirely possible that it’s a spontaneous trip. It’s the school holidays, after all. Gwen might be taking him up on the offer to go on vacation without him since he’d be too busy working to take time off. “Do you want me to drive you to the train station?” He makes to get up from his desk but stops when Gwen shakes her head.
“No, not a trip,” she replies calmly. “What I meant was, I’m leaving you. For good.”
Arthur’s eyes widen and he stares at Gwen. Her words make no sense to him. “What?” he finally manages.
“I don’t know how to make this plainer,” Gwen says. “Things haven’t been right between us for so long and I just —” She sighs and tucks a strand of her hair back behind her ear. When she speaks again, her voice sounds resigned rather than sad or regretful. “I can’t do it anymore, Arthur. I just can’t.”
“But we’ve been working things out!” Arthur tries to protest. “I’ve been trying to be more attentive.” He swallows. “I thought we were doing better,” he finishes quietly.
Gwen shakes her head again. “We really weren’t. I want more from you than meaningless platitudes and hollow efforts to be affectionate.” She looks at Arthur, and he wonders how Gwen can be so bloody calm about this. She’s giving up on their life together, on everything they’ve built over the last ten years. Why isn’t it affecting her?
“I don’t want to end up hating you,” Gwen admits finally. “I care about you too much for that, but I can’t be with you anymore. Not like this. I’m sorry.”
She steps away again and Arthur wants to call her back, wants to get up and take her hand and stop her from going.
But he doesn’t.
He feels numb and his first instinct is to shut down and not let any emotions overrun him, so he goes with it. He needs to keep a cool head first and foremost. If he allows himself to feel all the pain and anger and resentment that he knows lurks just at the back of his mind, he might lash out. Losing his temper now won’t help anything because it will turn into harsh words that will make certain that Gwen won’t ever speak to him again.
“I’m staying with Morgana for the time being. I’ve packed enough clothes to last me a while, and I’ve been moving out anything I want to keep already, so there’s not much left to pick up anyway.”
Arthur swallows. He hadn’t even noticed that Gwen’s things had been disappearing. Oh God.
“Goodbye, Arthur. I wish things could have been different,” she says, and now there’s finally a hint of regret in her voice. Arthur looks up. He doesn’t know how to cope with this situation, so he does what he always does when he finds himself out of his depth. He straightens his back, and juts out his chin. It’s almost as if he can hear his father tell him ‘stiff upper lip, son!’
“Me too,” he says stoically.
He doesn’t stop Gwen from turning her back on him and leaving the room, but it’s a close thing. He almost rushes after her to fall on his knees and beg her to stay, to give him another chance. The prospect of being alone from now on scares him, and yet he can’t make his legs move.
When he hears the front door click shut, Arthur flinches. His shoulders are still rigid when he sits back down. He stares straight ahead, staring at the open door until his eyes hurt from the strain. His mind keeps going round in circles, always coming back to Gwen’s impassive face when she told him she was leaving him. He wonders how much he must have hurt her that she’s able to walk away from their relationship appearing as if it didn’t even hurt a little bit.
Finally, he drags himself to their – well, his, now – bedroom. He undresses simply by habit, and crawls under the sheets. Sleep doesn’t come for hours.
Meanwhile in Hackney
Merlin stares at the picture of himself and Will for a long time. They’re at the beach, Merlin with a horrible sunburn, and Will looking almost as bad. They’re laughing, arms slung around each other, both obviously happy just to be near each other. The quality of the print isn’t the best because when they took it, selfies weren’t even called that yet and phone cameras hadn’t yet reached the standard they have nowadays. And yet, it’s one of Merlin’s favourite pictures of them.
He strokes Will’s face, traces his smile with the tip of his finger.
It’s unfair. Horribly, terribly unfair.
They were meant to have a great night out. Nothing special like celebrating an anniversary or promotion. Just a date. Dinner, a terrible film at the cinema, and then a walk home.
It was the same as so many nights before. They stole bites off of each other’s plates, and shared dessert. At the cinema there were a handful of other people braving the late night showing. Of course that meant that Will and Merlin were constantly shushed. They have a habit for laughing too hard during moments that weren’t supposed to be funny and therefore inadvertently always were to them. It had been the perfect night out.
It had rained while they were in the cinema, and even though the temperature had dropped a few degrees, Will wanted ice cream. Merlin had argued that it was too cold for ice cream now but Will wouldn’t give up. Not even when Merlin pointed out that there was nowhere open to get ice cream from. They could head back and go to the Tesco on Morning Lane, Will had said. But Merlin was much more interested in getting home and into bed.
He was going to tell Will exactly what it was they could be doing instead of getting ice cream when Merlin heard the screeching of tires.
Someone, probably a police constable but Merlin isn’t sure, explained to him that the driver had swerved to avoid hitting a stray dog. Apparently he had lost control of his vehicle on the wet cobbles and ended up heading straight for the pavement.
Merlin screws his eyes shut, trying to dislodge the memory of the headlights racing towards him and the sudden pain as he hit the ground a few feet to the side. He looked up just in time to see –
Merlin gasps, and tries to replace the image with happier memories.
Like that day on the beach.
Tears are blurring the picture beneath the glass. Eventually Merlin cries himself to sleep on their bed that feels like it has grown in size since this morning. He’s curled around the picture, still wearing all his clothes, not bothering to pull the duvet over himself.