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All Too Familiar

Chapter Text


Arthur looked up from his newspaper when he heard the bell jingle, and the door to the coffee shop opened. It was 7:15 and his supposed blind date was fifteen minutes late. What he saw was not something or someone he wanted to see.

The man, when he saw Arthur, scowled also.

Merlin ignored Arthur and went to the other side of the cafe and sat down. Arthur glared at him for a long while until he finally got up and marched over to Merlin.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded.

Merlin frowned, and looked as though he considered simply ignoring Arthur. "If you must know, I have a date."

"With whom?"

"It's none of your business, Arthur. We're not married anymore."

"Fine, I don't care. I just find it rather peculiar that you have a date in the same cafe where I have a date."

"What are you implying?" Merlin asked, challenge all over his face.

"Wouldn't be the first time for you to stalk me." Arthur didn't wait for a response and returned to his seat, shifting it so his back was to Merlin. A second later, his mobile chimed.

Gwen: So sorry, Arthur. I just talked to my friend, he said he's running late, but I didn't get his message beforehand. He should be arriving any second now.

Arthur: It's no problem, Gwen. What's he wearing? And what's his name?

Gwen: Oh, right. I never told you. Emrys. And he's probably wearing jeans, and a red shirt with a leather jacket. That's what he had on this morning when we met for breakfast.

Arthur stared at his phone for a long while and then slowly turned to look at Merlin, whose nose was buried in his book. He was drinking from a coffee cup, so he must have gone to the counter and ordered while he waited for his date to show up. Merlin. Who was wearing jeans, a red shirt, and a leather jacket.

Merlin. Arthur's ex-husband. Who liked to be called Emrys by his friends. Was Arthur's date.

Chapter Text

Coming to terms with the fact his assistant had set him up with his ex-husband, Arthur took in a deep breath. He finished the last of his coffee, left a few extra coins on the table, and stood up. Avoiding any to all eye-contact with Merlin, Arthur grabbed his coat from behind his chair, and made his way to the door.

Should he have told Merlin that this was all a misunderstanding? Probably. But it also required for Arthur to talk to Merlin again and the way Merlin had reacted to him, seeing him there, was too much to handle. He'd just have Gwen text him and let him know. If he didn't see Merlin again, it'd be best.

He didn't even know how in the bloody hell could Gwen have met Merlin, and let alone, become friends with him. Gwen had recently started working at Pendragon Industries and was new in town. Where could they have met?

Of course, he wanted to know. But, he wasn't going to ask. Merlin was his past, and he'd stay in the past. Arthur did not want to know what Merlin got up to, what clubs he visited, and what company he kept that he'd been acquainted with Gwen. The last thing he wanted was to learn about what ridiculous and over the top pick up lines Merlin used in clubs to get dates. It was no wonder he needed to be set up.

It was just bad luck, it was with Arthur.

There were plenty of gay people in Camelot, and Arthur couldn't believe his luck. What were the chances—

His mobile rang. It was Gwen.

"Hello?" Arthur said, picking up after the second ring.

"Arthur? Why did you leave—"

"Gwen, do you know who you set me up with? Do you know who Emrys is?"

"I know, he just told me."

"He knew?" Arthur asked, unbelievably shocked.

"No, of course not. I told you both the same thing, I wasn't going to tell you the other person's name or any description until you were face-to-face. He didn't know your name was Arthur Pendrago—"

"So can you blame me that I left? Gwen, he's my ex-husband!"

"Arthur, I didn't even know you were once married."

"Well. Yeah." Arthur shook his head and then pinched the bridge of his nose. He could feel a headache creeping up. "Listen, Gwen. I've gotta—"

"I can't believe you just got up and left," Gwen said, cutting him off, and sounding agitated.

"What was I supposed to do?"

"Tell him who you were, at least."

"Gwen—"

"Arthur, it's common courtesy. Okay, so I didn't know you were married, and yes, I know—what are the chances that I meet this great gay bloke and think he's perfect for you only to find out he's your ex. I mean, you were married. One can see why the two of you got along."

"We didn't get along, Gwen."

"You know, at least he told me he used to be married."

Arthur paused for a second. So Merlin told Gwen about him? He wondered just how much. He wondered if it were all bad things or did he throw in some good stuff too. Surely, it wasn't all bad. They had dated for two years before getting married and staying married for another two—

"Arthur, are you there?"

"What did he say?"

"About what?" she asked.

Arthur shrugged, as if she could see him. "When you just told him my name."

Gwen took a deep sigh. "He called me after waiting a few minutes, since I'd already told him you were there. He said he didn't see anyone that he felt an instant connection with, and then I described him to you. He sounded a bit surprised. I mean, pleasantly surprised, like it was a joke but not a mean joke. Anyway, he said that you'd already left and then I called you immediately."

"Well. Good try, Gwen, but what can you do? I'll see you in the office—"

"Arthur, you need to go back to him and apologise."

"Apologise? For what?"

"For leaving."

"Gwen, I don't think it's a good idea, and I'm sure he understands why. He would have done the same."

"Would he have?" Gwen asked, she sounded so sure of herself, that Arthur doubted his decision.

The Merlin that he knew wouldn't have just got up and left. He would have approached Arthur, made a bit of small talk because he was awkward like that and explain the situation. Then he would have offered to buy Arthur another cup of coffee, because he was kind like that.

"Well, I'm not him."

"Arthur, you should go back. I bet he's still waiting there."

"No, Gwen. I'm sure he's already left. I'll see you later, all right?" And without a warning, Arthur disconnected the call and continued walking away from Avalon Coffee House.

Chapter Text

Arthur flopped down on the bar stool at The Scholars Pub and nodded at the bartender. Percy gave him a grin before he came over and asked, "Gin, or bourbon tonight?"

"Bourbon."

"Oh, was it that bad?"

"It was Merlin."

"What was Merlin?" Percy looked confused, and reached behind him for a glass and the bottle of bourbon. "Say when..." he said, pouring.

"That's fine," Arthur said when he figured enough drink had been poured in his glass and he didn't want to get completely wasted. "And my blind date. It was Merlin."

"How is that even possible? Does he live on the other side of the town? I mean—he was at Avalon?"

Arthur shrugged. It was just his luck, he supposed. His life - which was perfectly imperfect at times, or absolutely fucked up at other times. He took a long sip of his drink,, and in one go, explained everything to Percy.

When Arthur looked up at Percy again, the man looked genuinely nervous.

"What's the matter?"

"Well, it's been two years. Can't say the two years did him wrong," Percy said, observing something past Arthur's shoulder.

"What are you talking about?" Arthur asked, annoyed.

"Emrys."

"What?"

"He's just walked in."

"What?" Arthur snapped, turning to look at the entrance door. "Why would he come here?"

"It seems he still knows you," Percy said, and placed an empty glass next to Arthur. "What do you think he'll want? Gin or Bourbon?"

Arthur turned around before Merlin could tell that Arthur had seen him. He took a long, deep sigh before he replied Percy. "It's almost eight o'clock on a Thursday evening."

"You're right," Percy said, and both of them at the same time spoke, "seltzer with lime."

0-0-0

Merlin sat down on the stool next to Arthur, and Arthur stared at him for a few seconds. He was still shocked that this was actually happening. That Merlin had showed up at Scholars. They had now been divorced for almost two years, and Arthur hadn't seen Merlin in any of their usual hangouts, like the Avalon Coffee Shop. or The Scholars Pub. Merlin had even started grocery shopping at a different location.

"Figured I'd find you here," Merlin said, and before he could order, Percy had his seltzer with lime ready for him.

"Thanks, Perc. How are you?"

"I'm great Em, how's it going with you?"

"It's...interesting."

"Yeah, so I heard about the blind date," Percy said and Arthur glared at him. Percy raised his hands up in surrender, and walked away from Arthur and Merlin. "You boys play nice now."

"So, you just left."

Arthur shrugged and didn't say anything. He simply stared at his drink. "What was the point?"

"The point? The point was that you could have told me, and I wouldn't have just sat there like an idiot."

Arthur scoffed. "And talked to you again? When I came over the first time—"

"You were already starting a fight before you even approached my table."

"And so why would I want to go back?" Arthur asked. "Anyway, it's a fucked up situation. You didn't have to come here to tell me what an arse I am. You did that enough while we were married."

"That wasn't while we were married," Merlin said, sounding hurt, and something inside Arthur shook. Yeah, he was right, it wasn't while they were married—it was mostly towards the end. While they were getting a divorce.

"How do you even know Gwen?" Arthur asked, trying to change the subject.

"Her boyfriend Lance is in my sculpture class. He stayed late one day as we were discussing his assignment and she came by the class. We became friends and well..."

"She thought you'd be perfect for her boss."

"She fancies herself a matchmaker, says she's matched several people with their soulmates and was convinced she could find someone for me—That was— Nevermind when that was."

"What?" Arthur asked, turning to face Merlin. They were so close to each other. Arthur hadn't been this close to Merlin in years. During their divorce, they'd sat across the table from each other while the solicitors did all the talking and the negotiating. Now, he was so close, Arthur could simply reach over and touch him. He felt the heat radiating off Merlin's body and mix in with his.

No, that kind of thinking was not a good idea.

"It's not important," Merlin said.

"Right. Nothing ever is," Arthur turned away again and sipped his drink.

"Well, then. Here we are..." Merlin mumbled, seemingly to himself.

Percy came back then and he brought a small basket of chips that he placed it between Arthur and Merlin. "Okay, here you go. It's not fancy Avalon paninis, but best chips in all the bars in this area."

He walked away, taking both Merlin and Arthur's empty glasses to refill them.

"And here we are," said Arthur.

Chapter Text

"Anyway, I should go," Merlin said, pushing back on his stool and standing up.

He and Arthur had slowly eaten the chips Percy had placed in front of them, and had drunk their drinks in silence. It was the type of comfortable silence Arthur was used to. The type of silence he'd not had in nearly two years.

"What were you going to say before?" Arthur asked, and when Merlin looked at him confused, he added, "About Gwen. Something about her trying to play matchmaker with you...you trailed off or a bit."

"You should know that means. I don't like to discuss—"

"Tell me anyway. What have you got to lose?" Arthur asked and they were quiet again for a while. This time, it wasn't a comfortable silence as the tension hung between them. Regardless, Arthur was willing to wait for it.

"I told her it had been some time since I'd dated. And she asked me specifically how long and I told her. So she was convinced that her matchmaking skills were going to guarantee me a hot night."

"After a coffee?"

Merlin shrugged. "She said I'd want you the moment I laid eyes on you."

"And did you?"

Merlin looked at him for a long minute. He reached into his jeans' pocket and brought out his wallet to leave a tip for Percy. He was good like that, Arthur remembered. No matter how much they drank for free, he always left a tip for his bartender friend. Even if he'd only had seltzer.

"We've made our mistakes, Arthur, and we should learn from them. Sorry I chased after you here. I wasn't even sure you'd be here. But I guess some things never change."

Arthur didn't say anything. He watched Merlin's hands fold around a twenty pound note which he placed under the chips basket, then put the wallet back in his pocket.

"I gave you that shirt," Arthur said. Why wasn't he ready to let Merlin go? Why was he still making some sort of a conversation with him? Really, Arthur. It's over. You're supposed to hate him, remember?

"Right, you did," Merlin said, pulling on his collar. "I honestly couldn't remember. I stared at it in the wardrobe for a long time, wondering if it was the right thing to wear. I wanted to go home and change before going to Avalon, but was just busy..." Then he paused, flushing slightly. Merlin did that when he'd realise he'd been going on on a tangent. He did never know when to shut up.

"Well. I'll see you, then."

As Merlin walked away, Arthur turned his attention to his glass of bourbon and finished it. He stared into the empty glass for a few minutes until Percy returned.

"You played nice?"

Arthur shrugged. "As nice as one could given the circumstances."

"You want to run after him, don't you?"

Arthur squinted his eyes and looked at Percy. "What would I even say?" he asked eventually, because yeah, Percy knew him well.

"Has that ever stopped you before?"

"But...I..."

"Just go, Arthur. Get it out of your system."

Arthur shook his head at Percy's tone, but didn't stop himself from getting up. He would have left some money for the drink but he was certain he was going to return because by now, Merlin would already be far gone. So he all but ran out the door and onto the street looking for him.

He spotted Merlin walking on the footpath towards the Metro and ran.

"Mer..."

Merlin stopped and turned around, looking bemused. "What is it, Arthur?"

"You still didn't tell me what you said to Gwen. There's more to the story."

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Why aren't you letting this go? You told Gwen you never wanted to see me again."

"That's not what I told her."

"Well, according to her it was something along those lines— so why do you care?"

Arthur crossed his arms and stared at him. Now either Merlin was going to tell him or he was going to walk away. There was nothing Arthur could do. Again, he had to wait for it.

"We met for coffee a few times after Lance introduced us. Well, tea really because Gwen detests coffee. During those times, she found out I was single, divorced, and, well, hadn't dated anyone since my divorce. So she took pity on me for my dry spell—"

"No one?" Arthur asked, unable to hide his surprise.

"Arthur—"

"Really? You've not shagged anyone since our divorce?"

"Fuck off, Arthur," Merlin said, turning around. He started to walk, no sprint away. Naturally, Arthur ran after him.

"Merlin. Wait. Me too."

"Go away, Arthur."

"No, listen to me!" Arthur caught up with Merlin and pulled on his shoulder so he could face him again. "I wasn't making fun of you, if that's what you're thinking. I was just going to say that I've been in the same boat. Maybe Gwen finds us both attractive—because I told her it's been almost two years for me since I've been with another man."

Arthur had no idea why he was telling Merlin all of this. Maybe it was the bourbon talking, or maybe it was just that he hadn’t talked to Merlin in two years and wanted to tell him everything. Even if this was going to lead to a fight.

Merlin glared at him for a long while before his body visibly relaxed. "That's unfortunate. And, I didn't need to know that. It's over, Arthur. It's been over. I'm trying to move on with my life. You should too."

And with that, Merlin was gone for good.


Chapter Text

When Arthur returned to the pub, Percy was waiting for him. As soon as Arthur sat down, feeling stupid, and like a complete fool, Percy asked: "Is it time to take a shot?"

"It's time to take a shot," Arthur said.

Percy poured them two shots of something, Arthur had no idea, and both he and Arthur gulped it down.

"So what did he say?"

Arthur bit his lip before he answered Percy. "He said he'd not been with anyone since the divorce and this was supposed to be his date of getting back into going on dates. And well, it turns out it was me. Imagine his disappointment."

"So he's not been with anyone?" Percy asked and Arthur shrugged. "Same as you."

"I've...been...with people," Arthur said.

"Yeah. You met a bloke at a club and when he got you to the alley behind the club, you all but ran from there. Kissing some random blokes at a club but never taking them home isn't 'being with people', Arthur. Did you tell him?"

"Tell him what?" Arthur asked but Percy didn't reply. He simply glared at Arthur. "Yeah, I told him. He said he didn't care. But what's it matter, anyway?"

"When you're living on your knees, you rise up," Percy said.

"What does that mean?"

"It means maybe you either go after him. Really go after him. Or move on. It's been two years Arthur. I know that you weren't married for a long time and there was trouble—"

"Right, trouble!" Arthur snorted. He took in a deep breath and got up off his seat. "All right, what do I owe you?"

Percy rolled his eyes and came back with the cheque. He'd only charged Arthur for the plate of chips and the shot of tequila. Arthur took out a bunch of bills from his wallet and left them on top of the printed paper.

"I'll see you later, then," Arthur said. "Say hi to Gwaine for me."

Percy nodded, and even though Arthur wasn't sure, he could feel his friend's eyes on him all the way to the door.

Four years of relationship down the drain, and apart for two years, and it'd all led up to this. Arthur being set up on a blind date with his ex-husband. The one that got away. Or maybe the one Arthur pushed away.

Percy was right. No one else had felt right. Arthur had done the pub thing, the club thing, but random hook ups weren't his forte, and whoever he'd manage to kiss, didn't feel right. A first date never led to the second date, and they all seemed more interested in status than getting to know Arthur.

He wondered what kind of men Merlin was looking for.

No, he didn't want to imagine that. He didn't want to care. He was such a fool. It was good when he was living in the bubble where he hated Merlin. But knowing that the relationship obviously meant something to him was too much. Too much to handle.

-0-0-0-

Arthur returned to work the next day and found Gwen sitting in his office. She looked happy to see him, but Arthur could see the curiosity in her eyes.

"So..."

"So what?"

"Merlin told me he went to see you at a pub. He wasn't sure if you'd be there but it was your usual hangout place so he took a chance."

"Yeah, he was there."

"Oh, come on, Arthur! Give me something."

"Can you bring me the Jones file, and send Scott in, I want to discuss the presentation with him?"

"Arthur!"

Arthur rolled his eyes and removed his coat before sinking down on his chair. "What do you want from me, Gwen? Better luck next time."

"You know, I thought you two were perfect for each other."

"Maybe at one time we were. But not anymore."

"So what happen—"

"Jones, Gwen. And Scott."

Gwen got up off her chair, with an attitude no assistant should possess, and stormed out of the office. If it were Uther, he'd have sacked her at a moment's notice. Besides, Arthur didn't understand why she was harassing him about it. Wasn't she all chummy with Merlin? Shouldn't she be asking her new best friend why they never worked it out.

Thankful that Gwen actually did her job and sent Scott in, Arthur didn't have to think about Merlin anymore. He buried himself in work and focused on the presentation that was due on Monday. They were going to land a big advertising firm's account, and he needed to have his A game on.

Weren't they all big firms, after all? Sooner or later, they had all started to blend together, and Arthur could barely tell his accounts apart anymore.

Still, work was work, and it kept him busy. And busy was always better.

Chapter Text

Arthur tossed and turned in his bed, restless, and absolutely unable to fall asleep. He hated nights like these. He didn't want to take a pill as he had not taken something to help him sleep in over a year, and he didn't want to take a shot of brandy, either.

As he lay on his back, staring at the ceiling in his semi-dark bedroom, he tried not to think about it. About him. After Merlin had moved out, Arthur had been like this. He couldn't sleep, he thought about calling him, or texting him obsessively until he'd finally send him an email. Of course, his emails received no replies.

He'd thought about death so much, it felt more like a memory. And now, Arthur was back to square one. Back to being around Merlin and not being able to touch him.

 

"If you'd rather spend time with Jack, then maybe you should have just stayed at Jack's place."

Arthur had once accused Merlin of being unfaithful, only to now discover, that Merlin had not dated anyone since the divorce. It didn't mean he'd not had sex with anyone, or kissed, or...

 

"He's a colleague, and we were discussing work. How can you accuse me when you are also the one that is always in the office. Always coming in late after I've fallen asleep. You shower before you get into bed. What am I supposed to think about that?"

Doubts.
They'd been so full of doubt.

 

"I'm going to get a job."
"But you're still finishing your project. Do you even have time to—"
"I can't have you pay for everything. I need to carry my weight—"
"Merlin, don't. You know I don't care about money."
"Your father cares."
"I pay for us from my income, and not my trust fund. He has no right to say anything to you. I told you not to answer his calls."
"What am I supposed to do when he simply shows up at my studio? The studio you paid for."

 

Arthur closed his eyes and started to count his breaths. He needed to fall asleep. He couldn't, he shouldn't have been remembering the conversations. The fights. Their last moments of when everything had fallen apart.

Finally, he got up out of bed and stumbled to the cabinet in the bathroom that carried his medications. He grabbed the bottle of Stilnox and took two. He didn't need to think about this. He needed to fall asleep and move on with his life.

He needed to stop the hurt.

*

The next day, Arthur met Morgana for lunch. He was still groggy, despite having had three cups of coffee, and a shot of espresso from Starbucks.

"What is wrong with you?" his sister asked, giving him a once over before barking out her drink order to the waitress.

He glared at her for a second before turning to the waitress and giving her an apologetic smile. His sister was the worst kind of spoiled rich girl, and no matter how many times Arthur told her that she couldn't simply treat others like shite, she never listened. He had hoped she'd grow out of it, but evidently, that was never going to happen.

"I saw Merlin the other day," Arthur said casually, dipping the breadstick in the tiny container of butter. He took a crunchy bite as she glowered at him.

"What? He's still alive?" she said, her voice full of venom.

"Why do you hate him so much?"

"Because he tricked you into marrying him, and was simply living off you for years!"

"He wasn't living off me, you know that. He was still at art school when we met and he needed to get his degree. Now, he's doing well for himself."

"Yes, only because you left him. He probably couldn't get anyone else to pay him for sex."

"Morgana!" Arthur shouted, surprised at how worked up he got about this. Still, after years.

Besides, Arthur didn't want to point out that Arthur hadn't left Merlin. Merlin had left Arthur. He was the one that'd filed the divorce papers.

Morgana, just like his father, thought that Merlin was only with Arthur for his money. Because Arthur paid for everything, and that wasn't true at all. Merlin had loved him. He'd truly believed that.

No, he knew it to be true.

"Please. He only left the flat after you moved out because I had to tell him so. If no one had confronted him for living off you, he'd still be there. He needed a kick in the arse—"

"What?" Arthur asked, completely shocked. What was she even talking about?

After their fight, their last fight as a married couple, Arthur had left the flat. He'd stayed at a hotel for a few days, and then he was crashing on Morgana's sofa. He had hoped he and Merlin could have reconciled, got to talk—after they'd calmed down, but it hadn't even been a week when Arthur had got the call from his landlady. Merlin had left the flat, no one had any idea where he was, and it was another week when he'd received the divorce papers via courier at his job.

Morgana gestured her hand as if dismissing the entire thing. "It's old news."

"No, Morgana, what are you talking about?"

She shrugged and before she or Arthur could say anything, the waitress had returned with their drinks. They ordered their lunch, and when Arthur looked at Morgana again, Morgana didn't acknowledge him.

"I'm done talking about this, Arthur. You really need to forget that man, and find someone more suitable in society."

Chapter Text

Arthur walked back to his office in a daze. He couldn't believe what he'd heard from Morgana — actually, he could believe it, Morgana was always telling people how to live their lives — but he couldn't believe Merlin had listened to her. That he hadn't come to Arthur.

And after all these years, did he still believe —that was how Arthur felt?

He didn't care about money, or his flat, or his job at Pendragon Accounting. He'd only cared about being with Merlin, having a life with him, and then that chance had been taken away from him.

0-0-0

"I need to know what really happened," Arthur said to Gwen after he'd told her what he knew. "If Merlin left me because of something my sister said…"

He paused for a few minutes and Gwen stayed quiet. She was good like that. She always knew when to let people have their space.

"I should at least apologise. I mean, I was so rude to him at the coffee shop and then at the pub when he came to see me— we didn't really talk either. I should do something. Clear the air—"

I'll love you till my dying days.

Arthur had made Merlin that promise when they'd got married. The wedding had been small, only a handful of their friends, and it took place at Gwaine's house. Of course, his sister and his father had refused to attend, and Arthur should've known their empty threats weren't going to be so empty after all. They had worked together to break them apart.

"You should call him," Gwen suggested quietly. "Even if it's just to talk, to meet for coffee." When Arthur raised an eyebrow and he was going to protest, she went on. "I'm not saying you should tell him you want to get back together or something…I mean, unless you do…"

"Gwen…"

She raised her hands in surrender and gave him a small smile. "You were together for four years, Arthur. You've seen each other through it all, and now it's time for you to go back to your promise. Show him he should've trusted you, and I don't know, send a full battalion to remind him of that. Of the love you used to have. The friendship you shared. I honestly do not know what I would do if someone came between me and Lance, and Lance wasn't there to reassure me through it all. And I'd do the same for him."

"I should call him?" Arthur asked; he knew what he had to do but he needed to be sure. "Do you think he'd want to meet?"

What would he even say? We shouldn't have thrown away this thing we had? I should've come after you.

0-0-0

"Can we meet for coffee?"

Arthur hadn't dialled the number in ages. He was surprised he still remembered it, surprised Merlin hadn't changed it.

"Why?" was Merlin's response. Of course, followed with, "I'm sorry, that was rude."

"No, I deserved that," Arthur said chuckling. "It's a valid question."

"Okay…so why?"

Arthur took in a deep breath and realised putting it all out there was better. "I recently discovered Morgana said some things to you, and I didn't know, Merlin. I didn't know…But, they weren't my words. I don't even know what she'd said. What caused you to leave our home…" To leave me.

"Arthur, if this is about getting back together or…" Merlin breathed into the phone. "One sec." He seemed to be talking to someone else on the other side. Arthur should've asked if he was busy. He could have sent a text message instead.

"Sorry," Merlin said, and suddenly all the background noise from Merlin's side was gone. "I'm in my office now. Listen, Arthur…it was a long time ago, and I don't want you to feel—"

"No, Merlin. You don't understand. It's not about getting back or whatever. It's not what I want. I just want to talk. Tell you it wasn't me. Those words weren't my words. The last thing I would've ever wanted was to hurt you. And if anything, I just want our friendship—"

"We were never friends, Arthur. We were together from the first date—"

"Yes. Together for four years, Mer. I just, aren't I allowed to admit I miss you? We used to talk and we were close, and I shared everything with you."

"Fine," Merlin said, sounding exasperated. "Oh for crying out loud!" he shouted into the phone. "I'm on the bloody phone. The door's closed for a reason!"

Arthur smiled to himself. He could imagine Merlin's face then: the crinkled eyebrow, the glare, and then biting the inside of his cheek to stop himself from yelling some more.

"Sorry, it's a busy day here today. We're doing an open house of sorts and no one seems like they can do anything without me."

"It's at your new studio? When's the show?" Arthur asked; he'd always had an interest in Merlin's art, and now it was his career, it made him happy.

He remembered how in his last year at art school Merlin had managed to attain an internship in Italy under some famous sculptor whose name Arthur couldn't recall, and he'd turned it down to stay with Arthur. It would have been six months, and it was a huge opportunity, but Merlin had made that sacrifice for them. It was even better to know that despite that setback, Merlin was doing well on his own.

"The show?" Merlin asked, chuckling. "It's on Friday. Which really, is just two days away now. The staff is driving me mad enough to drink."

"Drink? On a Wednesday?" Arthur asked, amused.

"It's been known to happen," Merlin replied, sounding equally amused.

"So, can I come to the show? Would you mind?"

"I…" Merlin hesitated for a bit. "Sure. Gwen and Lance are coming, and Arthur, if you want to talk, I'm not sure if that's the right place. Because…"

"No, it's fine. I'm just coming to show you my support. I always did with your work. Unless you've forgotten."

"No, of course, I've not forgotten." It was quiet for a few seconds and Arthur wasn't sure if Merlin had hung up. He still needed the address of his new studio, which he figured he could also obtain from Gwen. "The thing is, Arthur, I don't want you to take it the wrong way. But, I sort of also have a date for the show."

"I thought you…" Arthur stopped himself. He didn't know anything. "I don't know what I think."

"Yeah, my blind date was my first date, but I've been going on dates with other men. I mean, I'd made the resolution on my birthday. And I mean, it's great you want to talk, and be friends, and all that, but I already told you, I can't get back together or—"

"Of course," Arthur said, nodding, as if Merlin could see him. "You're right. I just wanted to talk. And now I'll be at your show with my support. I'm looking forward to it."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, are you?" asked Arthur.

"Yeah. Great. I'll email you the advert for it."

"Brilliant. I'll see you on Friday then."

"See you then."

Chapter Text

"Thanks for accompanying me," Arthur said, as he and Ethan got out of the taxi outside of Merlin’s art studio.

Ethan and Arthur had practically grew up together, so when Arthur told Ethan what his Friday night plans were, Ethan had been kind enough to volunteer so Arthur wouldn't have to go alone.

In their four years together, Merlin had met Ethan a few times, but since Ethan was always busy and travelling the world, they'd not formed a close kinship. Ethan, after all this time, was still Arthur's friend. And Arthur was glad for it.

There were plenty of friends they still had to share after the divorce, mainly Gwaine, Mordred, and Elena. Asking his friends to take a side would have been a suffering too terrible to name. Arthur hadn’t wanted to do that. He'd told his friends they could be friends with him and Merlin if they wanted. If they wanted to be on Merlin's side, that was all right too. That was how he'd ended up only being friends with Percy, who never went out of his way to talk to Merlin; meanwhile, Gwaine saw Merlin often.

"I can't wait to see Merlin's face. Can you imagine?" Ethan said as Arthur held the door to the studio open for him.

Arthur chuckled lightly. "You know, Merlin knows you're straight."

"So not the point, mate," Ethan said, patting on Arthur's shoulder. "All he's going to see is you brought this…" he pointed to himself, "…as your date."

"You're not my date," Arthur said, laughing, and as soon as they entered, he ran right into someone. "Shit, I'm so sorry!"

The man Arthur had bumped into barely looked at him, and kept walking.

Arthur and Ethan shared an awkward face and continued walking in.

"What's his problem?" Ethan asked, and Arthur shrugged.

0-0-0

"Arthur!" Gwen approached them as soon as they'd checked in their coats. "And who's this?"

"Ethan, this is my assistant, Guinevere. Gwen, this is my oldest friend, Ethan. He's just in town from Shanghai for a few weeks, and we had plans for dinner tonight."

"It's wonderful to meet you," Gwen said, shaking Ethan's hand. "My husband is around here somewhere…" She pointed towards the small crowd gathered. "When I find him, I'll make sure he stops by to say hello."

"This is quite the turnout. I don't remember Merlin's stuff being any good," Ethan said, and immediately Arthur elbowed him. "Ow."

"Oh, you know him? I mean, of course you do. You're Arthur's oldest friend."

"Relax, Gwen," Arthur said in a firm tone. Just then, a waiter walked by carrying a tray of champagne flutes, so Arthur grabbed a couple of glasses for him and Ethan. "Ethan's straight."

"Oh, so you're not here to make Merlin jealous," she said in a whisper.

Arthur shook his head.

"Oh no, I'm here to make Merlin jealous," Ethan said with a wink, wrapping his arm around Arthur's shoulder. "He doesn't need to know I'm still straight."

"I don't need this right now," Arthur said, hoping he didn't sound totally frustrated. "I'm here—we're all here to support Merlin. No one is making anyone jealous. Or whatever. Merlin doesn't want to get back together, and neither do I. It was a coincidence we got set up on a blind date—and a wake up call for me I should try to be friends with him again. That's all. Stop with your over-analysing of the situation. Please."

Gwen looked as though she were about to argue, but Arthur spotted Merlin, who was coming right in their direction.

"You made it!" Merlin said, smiling, but keeping a pointed distance between himself and Arthur. And Ethan. "Ethan! I've not seen you in ages!"

"Hello, Merlin," was all Ethan said.

"Brilliant. You've met Gwen," Merlin said, looking as though he'd picked up on Ethan's cold attitude. "Of course, she's Arthur's assistant. I mean, you've met her before, obviously. Anyway. Glad you're here. There's free food and drinks and—"

"Emrys…"

Ethan and Arthur exchanged a look when the man Arthur had accidentally bumped into walked up to them and placed his hand on Merlin's shoulder.

"You're being missed," he said.

The man was tall with vibrant red hair, and freckles. He wore torn jeans with a black t-shirt and a black blazer. He looked like a man who didn't know how to dress down, if he wasn't always dressed up. If anything, Arthur thought he looked like he was trying too hard to be casual.

"Right. Of course!" Merlin said, slightly flustered. "I was saying hello to my friends. Charles, this is Arthur and Ethan. Charles is a friend of mine I know from Tate. He helped me set up the open show—"

"Brilliant," Charles said, looking unimpressed. "You can't be entertaining your friends, dear." He cupped Merlin's face and leaned down to kiss Merlin's cheek. "Now, let's go and impress some buyers."

"See you later," Merlin said, smiling, as he allowed Charles to whisk him away.

"That's his date?" Ethan asked, almost scoffing. "Please, Arthur. I think as far as dates go, you're winning the lottery."

"Eth—"

"Hi." Their argument was interrupted when a tall man with dark hair, and gorgeous eyes approached them and hugged Gwen. "Sorry, I got sucked into some talks about sculpting. Didn't mean to leave you alone for so long."

"It's all right, I've been chatting with Arthur. My boss. Arthur, this is my husband Lance, and this is Ethan."

"Hello." Lance gave them a soft smile, but Arthur caught the hint of awkwardness in his posture. Needless to say, he knew who Arthur was in relation to Merlin, and wasn't sure how to deal with the entire thing.

"So I hear you're taking classes with Merlin…" Arthur said. They started to walk around the studio, passing the paintings on the wall and taking note of all the people admiring Merlin's work.

"Yeah." Lance ran a hand through his hair. "It was Gwen's idea. She'd seen a brochure about art therapy at the hospital when I was there…" When Arthur looked confused, Lance smiled softly. "I was in a car accident a while ago. I did some physical therapy, but I was still struggling with…stuff. I didn't want to talk to someone about it, so Gwen suggested maybe taking a sculpting class would help me…cope."

"Oh, that's a good idea,” Ethan put in. "My ex-girlfriend did a programme like that in Shanghai. Working with kids with neurological disorders. Art and music therapy programmes. It's all the rage."

Lance nodded, and Arthur smiled at his friend, bumping his shoulder.

When Arthur's gaze drifted around the art studio, he found Merlin looking at them. Arthur nodded once and returned his attention to Lance.

"Yeah, exactly. It was helpful. I mean, I was able to let out my frustration and anger or whatever was bottled up with something positive." He smiled and Gwen squeezed his arm. "There were some classes where you brought in your work — the ones you didn't like and you got to smash it and start all over. Those were my favourites."

Arthur gave a bark of laughter. "I can't believe he still does that!"

"What do you mean?" Gwen asked.

"Merlin used to talk about it all the time. One of his art teachers did that. You created art, only to destroy it, to create it again. It was his favourite class in Uni. I'm not surprised he's incorporated in his own teaching techniques."

"You don't think it's completely mental?" Gwen asked.

"It's completely mental," Ethan said.

"It is. But it's so Merlin."

0-0-0

Arthur and Ethan walked around the studio admiring Merlin's work. Okay, so maybe Arthur was admiring Merlin's work and Ethan was mostly scoffing at him. Like the best friend he was.

"When do you go back to Shanghai again?" Arthur asked, teasing.

"Sick of me already? Oh, my heart!" Ethan mocked him by placing a hand on his chest and pretending to have a heart attack.

"Calm down. There aren't any women here for you any more, and you know you're simply itching to get back to your fu—"

"Hi." Merlin's voice silenced Arthur's insult and Ethan immediately stiffened.

"It's you again," Ethan said.

"Behave," Arthur said.

"Enjoying yourself?" Merlin asked.

"Well, I learn to live with the unimaginable," Ethan said. Arthur didn't even know what that insult was supposed to mean.

"It is art," Merlin said with a smile.

"Sorry. Ethan's just being…Ethan," Arthur said, grabbing Ethan's arm and leading him away. "Honestly, you don't need to be so rude." When Ethan opened his mouth to say something, Arthur added, "Stop being yourself. Just go and chat up with Gwen again. I'll come and fetch you."

"Sorry about that. Ethan's a bit jetlagged still, I suppose," Arthur said to Merlin and raised his champagne glass at him. "Good job with the show."

"Do you like it?" Merlin asked, looking embarrassed. He ran a hand through his hair. "I wasn't sure if I was ready to do an opening. I mean, people in my studio, judging my art…"

"Look at where you are! It's brilliant. I mean, can you imagine being even further from where you started? I'm happy for you. Really proud of you too. You're doing amazing for yourself!"

"Thanks a lot—"

"Emrys!" Charles's voice boomed through the room again.

Arthur couldn't help but roll his eyes. "Really. You're on a date with that guy?"

Merlin bit his lower lip. "He asked me to dinner and well… we're seeing how it goes. I mean, he's been helping a lot with my production and PR…"

"Didn't think you were the type to sleep with someone so they could be good for business," Arthur said before he could stop himself.

He and Merlin stared at each other for a while.

"Sorry, it's not my business."

"No, it's not. And I don't appreciate—"

"Arthur, we're going to be late for that thing," Ethan said, coming to Arthur's side immediately. "You know, drinks with Stacy."

Stacy, was codeword for Ethan wanting to get out of a sticky situation. Why he was using it there with Arthur, he had no idea. But if Ethan thought they needed to leave, Arthur needed to trust that. Still, he wasn't done speaking with Merlin.

"Can't she wait?" Arthur asked, turning to look at Ethan.

"No. You know she can't. And Mark is going to be there too…"

Arthur raised an eyebrow at Ethan who gave a slight twitch to his shoulder, shrugging without looking like he was shrugging. "Come on, then."

When Arthur turned around to face Merlin, he found Merlin gone. Well, not gone. He was at the other corner of the studio, speaking with Charles and other people. Charles had his arm around Merlin and had pulled him close. Merlin did turn his head to look at Arthur but Arthur immediately diverted his attention towards Ethan.

"Well, let's go and meet Stacy and Mark then," he said.


Chapter Text

"So, what did I miss?"

Arthur sat on the bar stool next to Ethan and grimaced up at Percy who poured them their drinks and then look at Arthur expectantly.

"Merlin was on a date," Ethan answered for Arthur.

"Oh, we already knew this, didn't we? I mean he'd told Arthur—"

"And the man was an arse," Ethan added.

"Emrys or the date?" Percy asked.

"Both, actually," Ethan said and started to drink his beer.

"Why did we have to leave though? I was having a good time. I mean, I got to know Gwen's husband and—"

"We had to leave because if you want Merlin back, you're going to have him work for it just a little bit."

Arthur scrutinised Ethan with a look. "Want him back?" Arthur shook his head. "Even if I wanted him back, I would be the one who'd have to work for it. It was my fault Merlin was hurt. It was my sister who said...something to him...that made him run away."

"It wasn't pretty," Percy said.

"Wait, what do you mean?" Arthur asked immediately turning his attention away from Ethan. "What do you know?" And more importantly, why did you never say anything?

How did Arthur manage to have it all, and then lose it all.

"I asked Gwaine about it," Percy said, shrugging.

"What do you mean—"

Percy held up his hand gesturing Arthur to wait and then walked away. "Be right back." He went to help some other patrons, poured them all shots, and then returned five minutes later. When Arthur looked over at Ethan, he was watching with great interest, as well.

"Okay, so after you told me about what Morgana said, and your conversation with Emrys over the phone, I went and asked Gwaine. Part of your divorce settlement—I suppose if that's the right word—was that Gwaine and I didn't discuss it. I didn't want to take sides and it cause a rift between us. But finally, I asked him. I asked he knew what Morgana had said to Emrys, so he told me. Well, basic of what he remembered as he'd spent plenty of nights getting drunk with Emrys, and doesn't recall all the details of the conversation."

"So what was it?" both Arthur and Ethan asked at the same time.

"More or less that after your fight, Arthur left, and Emrys was waiting for him to come home. Eventually what'd ended up happening was Morgana had showed up. She told him that Emrys deserved to live on the streets and had no claim over the flat that Arthur was paying for. He had told Morgana that he was waiting for Arthur to come home so they could reconcile, and she told him that he should have known better. That Arthur was never going to respect him unless he'd made something of himself. And that he was foolish to turn that internship in Italy down—because then Arthur would be finally free of him. I think she said something along the lines that Uther had arranged for that internship, hoping the drive the two of you apart, but it didn't work."

"And Gwaine never told you all of this? Didn't think it was his right to tell Arthur that there were people working behind his back trying to ruin his life?" Ethan asked, sounding more and more upset with each word.

"Ethan, it's not Percy's fault."

"No, it's not. i know. But, honestly, if I'd known any of this, I would have been the first to tell Arth—"

"I know, I'm sorry. I can see my mistake now. I can see how I didn't help the matter by staying out of it. But now, it's been two years. Do you really think there's a chance to get back together?" Percy looked torn, and a second later, he had been pulled away again.

"Of course there's a chance," Ethan said.

"Ethan—"

"Don't, Arthur. Don't lie to me. Don't lie to yourself. If anything, you owe it to yourself to get revenge on your family."

"Revenge?" Arthur asked, confused.

"There's no better revenge than to getting back together with Merlin after they'd done so much to tear the two of you apart."

"Again." Arthur paused to let the words finally sink in for his friends. He looked at Percy and then back at Ethan. "Even if I wanted to try again—"

"Which you do," Ethan said, and Arthur scowled. "Okay, please. Sorry. Continue."

"Merlin's already told me he doesn't want to. He has willingly accepted my apology about Morgana's actions, but he's also said he doesn't want to try. I mean it's been two bloody years—"

"Yeah, and neither one of you have had sex with another bloke. I know you've gone out to a club to kiss or find a release, but tell me, have you even wanted to meet anyone since you and Emrys split?" Percy asked.

Arthur shrugged. "That's what the blind date was supposed to be about. About me finally moving on and—"

"And you ended up on a date with your ex-husband. Honestly? You don't see the irony in that? Destiny working to bring the two of you back together?" Ethan asked.

"Okay, first of all, I didn't realise you were so bloody invested in my relationships, Ethan. Second, I thought you didn't even like Merlin. And third, if you are so gung-ho about us getting back together, then why did you make me leave tonight?"

Ethan smiled and took a sip of his drink. "Because you two are your worst enemies. From the moment I'd walked in, Merlin's eyes had been on you. He may claim he doesn't want you back, but doesn't mean, he wanted that Charles bloke. And you two are always, always, going to fight. You have since the day you met. Except, at that time, it was endearing and led to some great sex. Now, if you're both jaded and fight, there's no make up sex in your future. Not until you two realise that you want to get back together. I mean, come on, Arthur! You're still in denial about wanting him."

"I don't—"

"Arthur."

Arthur sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I can't want him back. Because if this doesn't go anywhere, if I'm back to where I started, I can't—I don't know if I'd be able to survive that. I want to move on. I'm supposed to be heading to New York for work—"

"Fuck work," Ethan said. "Your father has dictated your life for far too long and your sister needs to mind her own fucking business. I know I've been away, but Arthur, I've seen how you've been for the past two years and you were in the same room with him for ten minutes and you'd changed. You can't let that go. Some of us can only hope to find what you have. And now you have another chance; a real chance. Don't tell me you're going to blow it up."

Arthur released a long, exasperated sigh. "What will you have me do?"

"What time does his show close?"

"Around nine thirty, I think."

"Well, you should show up at closing time."

"And then?"

"And then do what you do best." Ethan grinned at him, and winked.


Chapter Text

Arthur took the better part of a week to think about what Ethan had said.

The more he casually discussed it with his friends, the more he realised that all of them wanted him to get back together with Merlin. And none of them were surprised that Uther and Morgana had been involved in his divorce.

What he didn't understand was how easily Merlin had called it quits.

How stupid he had been to not chase after Merlin when he had filed the paperwork for the divorce.

It was a constant struggle to remind himself that no, he hadn’t been so stupid. Merlin had disappeared. He'd been the one who had left, and he was the one who had gone into hiding. Sure, he'd kept in touch with Gwaine, but Gwaine was and always would be loyal to Merlin. He never told Arthur where Merlin was staying, and Arthur's texts, voice messages, emails had all gone unanswered.

Ethan was right. It wasn't all on Arthur. He was not the only party involved or guilty. It had been Merlin's choice to leave.

So now if he wanted Merlin back—did Merlin want the same thing?

Again, it was Arthur who had seen Merlin at the coffee shop. It was Arthur who had called Merlin after he'd found out about Morgana's bitter words to Merlin. It was Arthur that had showed up to Merlin's open studio.

It was Merlin who had showed up at the pub the night of their date.

But, what did that mean, though? So Merlin had also made a gesture of reaching out. But would it even be worth Arthur's time? Would it be worth risking another heartache?

*

"The more you think about it, the more you're going to talk yourself out of it. Why don't you just stop running around in circles and do something?" Ethan told Arthur when they spoke on the phone again. He was in Hong Kong for the week before heading over to Sydney.

Sometimes Arthur wondered if Ethan was running away from something, under the pretence of work.

Work. That was something Arthur hadn't thought about in a while. He'd been going through the motions, making calls, adding numbers, and didn't bring up the topic of going to New York with his team. After Ethan had told him to fuck work, it was exactly what Arthur had done.

His team didn't need him. Honestly, it was such a well-oiled machine that it made him feel redundant. Mithian had been working with him for years, and she'd never even managed to get a promotion. He knew Uther would have never approved, he was everything Arthur was against. Maybe he could look into getting her promoted before he stepped down. Chances were, he was just going to walk out one day and never return.

*

"I'm giving you the New York project," Arthur told Mithian on Friday before the long weekend.

"I'm sorry? Are you—" Her eyes lit up and then she scowled as if Arthur was pulling a joke on her. "You're kidding me."

"No, Mithian. I'm the team lead on this, and I was supposed to go to New York, but you know what? My father doesn't need to approve this, and I decided that it's time you start showing everyone else in this company how crucial you are. This trip will do wonders for your career, and if you don't get a promotion or a hefty bonus from it, I will personally write your resignation letter and give you an astonishing reference. You deserve this."

"I don't know what to say..." Mithian said, sounding truly surprised. "I feel like this has come out of nowhere."

"No, and yes." Arthur smiled at her. "I've just been...preoccupied and lately I noticed that you lot work wonderfully with or without me. So this is your chance to prove me right. That the company can depend on you."

"You have changed in the past few weeks."

"Why do you say that?"

"I don't know...it's like you've got the light in your eyes again. I mean, not the way it was before...before...I mean..."

"Before my divorce," he said softly. "We're back in touch. My ex and I—"

"Oh? Are you thinking of trying again?"

Arthur shrugged. "I've no idea. But I do know that I don't want others to suffer while I'm sitting here wallowing in my own problems. Life moves on and I need to focus on doing good for others...and all that." He gave a short laugh, realising he was probably rambling on for no good reason.

"That's incredible, Arthur. I mean, sorry, Mr Pendragon."

"No, please. Call me Arthur."


Chapter Text

"Do you ever think about what we were in our previous life?"

Arthur laughed at Merlin's question, he was always talking about what they were, what they could have been.

"No, I don't," Arthur said, pulling Merlin closer. He hooked his leg around Merlin's waist and all but spread over him. He liked it when Merlin was this close to him, yet, it always felt like it wasn't close enough.

"Do you think we were together then?"

Arthur shook his head. Where was this coming from? "You know we would always be together. We're meant to be. It's what that fortune teller told us in that gypsy fair you dragged me to last week. Two sides—"

"It wasn't a gypsy fair!" Merlin protested, and then he laughed; the warmth spread through Arthur's body making him vibrate also. "I bet you were a prat then too."

"When?" asked Arthur.

"In our previous life. When we were together— I bet you made me work for it and because you were such a prat!"

"So would this be my karma? The fact that in this lifetime you're making me work for it?"

"Of course. I'm not that easy, Pendragon."

"No, Mer. You're anything but easy."


Arthur woke up from the dream. The dream he'd had multiple times in the two years he and Merlin had been separated. It was odd though, when he'd stopped dreaming this particular scene—he had believed he was getting over his break up, only to have the dream again.

Funny thing was—this dream that felt like such a reality—felt like a memory. Never happened.

Arthur remembered everything about his relationship with Merlin, but he knew that this dream—the scene that always came back haunting him wasn't a real memory. They'd never been to a "gypsy fair," or got their fortune told, or... it wasn't something from Arthur's past. It was a dream. A dream he had ever since they'd break up.

Peculiar. Merlin. His Merlin, didn't believe in past lives, or the afterlife. He was all about the here and now.

This dream Merlin...though different, felt like Arthur's Merlin, too.

Two sides of what?

Chapter Text

At sixteen when Arthur found out he had a half-sister, he was quite excited about it. He'd had a lonely childhood and his father was always working. But when he met Morgana, he was slightly disappointed. He'd hoped his sister would be more down to earth, someone he could share his secrets with, but if anything, Morgana was self-centred and always using her status to get whatever he wanted.

He hated having to go to school with her, waiting with her for his father's car to come and pick them up, and take them home.

Morgana fit in well with all the girls he knew, the ones that care more about who they knew than what they did or who they affected.

Once, when the driver had sent a text saying he was stuck in traffic and was going to be almost an hour late, Arthur waited in a classroom with Morgana where she was on her phone the entire time. She was taking pictures of them and said she couldn't wait to get home and download them on her computer before putting them up on facebook.

He rolled her eyes at her and walked away. If he was going to wait for the driver, he might as well wait outside in the sun, enjoying the weather. For once, it wasn't raining.

His eyes landed on a group of boys riding around on their skateboards, trying to one-up each other, and Arthur particularly took an interest in the bloke that seemed to be their leader.

His hair was slicked back, his ears pierced, and his jeans hung low. Arthur admired the way the boy's body moved with the board, as if he was controlling the air around him. He tried a 360-flip and the first attempt went well but the second one , he landed on his arse. His friends laughed at him, but much to Arthur's surprise, the bloke was laughing with them.

Then he turned and caught Arthur's gaze. He smiled at Arthur as Arthur suddenly felt self-conscious. The bloke stood up, said something to his friends who continued with their tricks, as the boy simply looked at Arthur.

They stared at each other for a while and Arthur was just about to get up, cross the distance between them, and say hi to him when Morgana's voice reached him.

Their car was there and she dragged Arthur towards it, and Arthur wondered if he'd ever see that boy again.

He hoped he did.

Chapter Text

Arthur arrived at Merlin's gallery ten minutes after it'd closed. If he knew Merlin still, he'd know Merlin often stayed a few minutes extra, alone in the dark with his artwork. He liked taking it all in, imagining his work in his head, and thinking of new projects.

He waited outside the glass doors peering in, wondering if he could see Merlin, but he couldn't. He hoped he wasn't wrong.

The wait wasn't long, and Arthur felt less like an idiot once Merlin came out of the gallery, and looked surprised to see Arthur.

"Sorry to scare you," Arthur said softly.

"It's fine. Just didn't expect to see anyone — see you here — is all." Merlin smiled at Arthur and then checked his watch.

"Are you going somewhere?"

"Yes. I had plans to meet with..." Merlin paused as if he were deciding whether or not he should be telling Arthur. "Some friends."

"Of course," Arthur said casually. "Can I walk with you? Or are you taking the tube, or taxi?"

"I was going to walk, it's only five minutes away. Thai Fever."

"Oh, you still go there?" Arthur threw his head back and laughed. "After they gave you food poisoning? Twice."

"It's under new management, thank you."

"And they didn't change the name?" Arthur asked, biting his lip, trying to stop himself from laughing more.

"I like the name, it has a bit of charm, I think. Don't you?" Merlin said turning, and as he started to walk, Arthur joined his pace. He figured that was as a good invitation as any.

"I don't know. If you're still eating there, and it hasn't killed you, I suppose it's all right." Arthur said, his hands in his pockets; suddenly he was feeling very nervous. "Who are you meeting there? I mean, you don't have to tell me. I was just—"

"Charles."

Oh, that bastard.

"I know what you're thinking, and it's just as friends. We decided...it wasn't going to work out."

"We? Or do you mean you?"

Merlin scowled at him, but Arthur could see no hatred in Merlin's eyes. "It was me. I don't think it would have been good. He was rather...possessive."

Yeah, that's one word for it, Arthur thought.

"I told him I didn't want to jeopardize our professional relationship, and our careers, and maybe we could revisit the idea later. Hopefully, given the way Charles works, he'd have moved on with several other people."

Merlin's tone was so casual, and Arthur was disconcerted by that. The Merlin he knew—the one he used to know—was never this casual about sex. He wouldn't even consider getting together with a man that was so open in his relationships. Perhaps, it was time to get to know Merlin all over again.

Even if it was as friends.

"I know what you're thinking," Merlin said.

"Probably," replied Arthur with a smile. "You always did know me best. Well, almost always."

"What does that mean?" Merlin asked, sounding amused.

"Nothing," Arthur said. He didn't want to bring this up now. This is not how he wanted to do this.

"No, tell me," Merlin said, as he'd stopped walking to stare at Arthur. "Clearly there's something you want to say. There's something you're here to tell me."

"It's fine, Merlin. I just wanted to say that we should try being friends. That's all. I'll just leave—"

"Arthur," Merlin reached out and grabbed Arthur's elbow, stopping him from walking away. "Please?"

"Fine," Arthur said through gritted teeth. "If you really knew me, you'd know that whatever Morgana said to you behind my back, would never be my words. If you really knew me, you'd know that going away, hiding, the way you did — would kill me. It did kill me. I was a wreck for weeks, months, who knows how long. You'd know that no other man could make me forget you. That I could never touch anyone else, knowing it wasn't you. That after all these years, even if you hate me, being around you is a million times better than not being with you at all. If we never make love, if we never be anything more than just two people who sit across from each other and have coffee — that that would be—"

Before Arthur could finish his rambling thought, not really realising what he was saying, because the words were simply tumbling out of him—Merlin kissed him.

Chapter Text

Being in Merlin's arms was so familiar and yet so strange at the same time. It was as if no time had passed at all, and Arthur was able to kiss him back, mould Merlin against his body in all the familiar ways — still, there was a part of him that knew this was too good to be true. They couldn't just go back to way they were. Too much time had passed, too many feelings were hurt, too many things were left unsaid.

His relationship with Merlin had been nothing like his relationship with his family. Arthur could have a row with his family and then gather around for family dinner pretending it was all good. He never treated Merlin like that, and he wasn't about to start.

Shut up, and keep kissing him, his brain was shouting.

Arthur opened himself up for Merlin, parting his lips, and Merlin slid his tongue inside. It'd been so long... too long since they'd done this. Arthur had never thought that they'd do this again.

He could feel himself spiralling down a hole he wouldn't be able to get out of, yet not stopping himself. Willingly walking into the trap that would shatter him forever. This time when Merlin broke his heart, Arthur didn't know if he could put himself back together again.

"Arthur..." Merlin moaned against his lips, his hips grinding against Arthur's, and even if they were slightly off in a dark corner of the street, they were still in a public place.

"You'll be late for your dinner," Arthur said, pulling away, before his mouth found his favourite spot on Merlin's neck and started to suck.

"You're a fucking prat," Merlin said, arching into him, his fingers digging into Arthur's shoulders.

"Come with me," Arthur said.

"Where?" asked Merlin.

"The Strand's just around the corner..."

"Arthur..." The hesitation in Merlin's voice was obvious, and Arthur kissed Merlin again. He wasn't going to take no for an answer. He wasn't going to let go of Merlin. Not tonight.

"You can text him while I check in. Tell him you had an emergency," Arthur said, rubbing the palm of his hand against Merlin's groin. Merlin was hard, his tight jeans giving everything away. "Please...."

Merlin groaned at the request. "This is a bad idea."

"Probably. But we're going to a hotel. It doesn't have to—I mean—it's not our place, right? No awkward morning afters. You can leave whenever you want to. Just say..."

"Say what?" Merlin asked, his lips against Arthur's as he mumbled the words.

"Say you'll come with me. Just come with me." Arthur wasn't above begging. Now that he'd had a taste of Merlin after such a long time, he wasn't ready to let go. He wasn't going to just let him walk into a restaurant and have dinner with another man. Merlin was his.

At least, for tonight.

"Let me..." Merlin whispered, his hands reaching under Arthur's shirt as he let out a slow moan. "I'll meet you there. In the lobby. Five minutes. Ten tops. I don't want to stand him up like that. He's my friend."

Arthur's grip on Merlin was tight as he pulled Merlin close to him. His hands squeezed Merlin's hips before they reached up to cup Merlin's face. "You promise?"

"I do," Merlin said, wincing at his words.

"Yeah..." Arthur said bitterly. He let go of Merlin and took a step back. "Ten minutes."

Merlin nodded, visibly relaxing. "I'll be there."

0-0-0

Arthur checked in for the night, accepting whatever room the hotel had available for him. By the time he turned around, he found Merlin walking in through the front door, eyes searching. When their eyes met, he smiled at Arthur, and Arthur gave a curt nod before heading over to the lifts.

"You came," he said when Merlin followed him into the lift, and Arthur pressed the button for the fifth floor.

"I told you I would," Merlin replied.

"How did Charles take it?"

"He was annoyed," Merlin said. "Told me to fuck off and that I could have just sent him a text message, and not make him look like such a fool."

Arthur shook his head. The man really was the biggest drama queen Arthur had ever come across.

"I want you to know..." Merlin said softly, and then paused for a long time. They reached their floor and Arthur stepped out of the lift. Merlin followed him. "I never believed that whatever Morgana said to me was how you felt. I knew it wasn't. I never...I was...insecure."

Arthur's heart pounded in his chest. He reached in his pocket for the key card and opened the door to the hotel room, gesturing for Merlin to enter first.

Merlin looked around a released a low whistle. "It was always champagne and luxury suites with you."

Arthur didn't reply. He closed the door behind him, putting on the DO NOT DISTURB sign, and reached for the small fridge in the corner. He brought out the small bottle of champagne bottle the hotel had provided, as if proving Merlin's point, and picked up the two glasses.

He perched himself against the small table in the corner of the room. "Will you make an exception for tonight?" Arthur asked, opening the bottle and pouring the drink in two glasses. Merlin didn't drink on the nights he worked, and he especially didn't drink when he had an art showing, unless there were special circumstances.

"What's the occasion?" Merlin said in a teasing tone, before he picked up the glass Arthur offered.

"This might be the last time I can afford a luxury suite," he said with a sardonic smile.

"Why's that?" Merlin asked, clinking his glass with Arthur's before taking a sip.

"I'm quitting."

"You're what?" Merlin asked, eyes wide.

"My job. The company. Father's company. I'll be submitting my resignation shortly."

"Arthur, you—"

"I don't really want to talk about that right now, if that's okay?" Arthur said, finishing his drink and then grabbing the bottle to refill his glass.

Merlin placed his hand on Arthur's wrist, pushing his hand down, stopping him from pouring the drink. Arthur looked into Merlin's eyes and couldn't read what Merlin was trying to tell him. He placed the glass down on the table, not taking his eyes away from Merlin, and Merlin finished his drink in one swallow.

Arthur stood up when Merlin cupped the back of Arthur's neck and ran his fingers through Arthur's hair. Merlin started to walk back as Arthur took his steps forward, and before they knew it, they were making their way to the bed.


Chapter Text

"Can you do me a favour?" Arthur asked, his hand slowly moving up and down Merlin's back.

"Hmm?" Merlin said, he sounded tired, and a hint of smile had crept up in his tone. Arthur could always tell when Merlin was smiling.

"Don't tell anyone about my resignation—" He was able to feel Merlin opening his mouth to say something so Arthur added, "Not even Gwaine. I know you tell him everything."

"I don't tell him everything," Merlin argued halfheartedly before he relaxed against Arthur.

Arthur knew when he woke up in the morning, Merlin'd be gone. He'd no idea what they were doing, or why were they even doing this. It was probably not a very good idea.

This certainly didn't mean they were going to get back together, especially because Arthur had a lot to figure out. Being in the moment with Merlin was good, and even if he'd not planned on his evening turning out like this, things changing like this and so fast wasn't necessarily...healthy.

They needed to talk. They needed to be friends first. Again.

Arthur needed to know why Merlin had left. Was he going to come back to him?

He needed answers.

Chapter Text

Arthur was right. When he woke up the next morning in his hotel room, he'd been alone. Perhaps it was too much to ask that Merlin would have waited for him, but he'd known this going in. He'd made it sound casual, and Merlin had treated it like that.

Maybe they could continue like this, he thought. Just keep it casual. He had a lot to deal with in his life, and going back to a relationship—if that was even possible—with Merlin wasn't something he needed to add on his plate.

If anything, he needed to get things off his plate.

*

The news of offering Mithian a promotion didn't sit well with Uther. After two missed calls, four text messages, and two calendar invites for a meeting, Arthur finally decided to call his father back.

"You're not in any position to promote employees," Uther said to him the moment Arthur had entered through the door to his father's office.

"She's on my team, and honestly, can single-handedly deal with any catastrophe that's thrown our way. She deserved this promotion more than anything."

Uther eyed him carefully, and Arthur wondered if he'd even have a chance to submit his resignation. With the way his father was looking at him, he was all but ready to getting sacked. It would have been a relief, anyway. Arthur hated confrontations.

Explained a lot to why he never really pursued Merlin after he'd left him. As strong as he'd looked on the outside, Arthur barely fought his battles. He had others to do that for him.

But that was all about to change now, wasn't it?

"My developing strategist tells me that if I undermine this promotion, it'll only look bad for the company," Uther said, looking away from Arthur, yet his anger hadn't dissipated. "You're lucky I don't sack the both of you. If it were anyone else, I'd think you'd planned this to stab me in the back."

"For what?" Arthur asked in disbelief, we work for Pendragon industries, and keeping her happy would only ensure that your company does well. That she won't steal your secrets and go and trade them in with your competition."

"She wouldn't dare," Uther said, scoffing. As if no one in this world could defy him. Uther Pendragon. King of Camelot.

Arthur rolled his eyes. "There's something I wish to discuss with you," he said.

"I'm not approving another holiday for you. You've been lacking at work enough. I cannot believe you didn't take the opportunity to go to California to expand—"

"It's not a holiday," Arthur said, losing his patience. He wasn't going to sit there and get scolded for another thirty minutes only to inform his father that he was leaving—to face his wrath again.

God, didn't this man get tired of always having a hissy fit?

"Well, what is it? I've another meeting with—"

"Here," Arthur said, throwing an envelope on Uther's desk. "I've already submitted my copy to the Human Resources director. Just to make it official."

"Official what?" Uther asked; he didn't even glance on the envelope as he'd not taken his eyes off Arthur.

"I'm leaving," Arthur said. When Uther still didn't react, Arthur added, "the company."

"Don't be ridiculous, Arthur. I'm sure this is all his doing. Now that he's back in touch with you."

Arthur closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. "This has nothing to do with him."

"Oh doesn't it? Morgana told me you'd started to see him again. I had hoped that after all this time, you'd learned your lesson. Moved on to someone worth the status of our family."

Arthur knew telling Morgana had been a mistake, but if he'd not had the talk with Morgana in the first place, he wouldn't have found out the truth. About the things she'd said to Merlin, about the things his father had done to keep them apart.

"I haven't been happy for a long time, Father. You know this, and you had to have known that this was coming. I can't continue here—"

"I hope you know that you can't use the family money to start your own business. To become my competition," Uther said, finally looking down at the envelope Arthur had placed in front of him, and opening the letter. He scoffed again as he read the content.

"The last thing I want to do is continue doing what I was doing here. And as for the family money..." Arthur shook his head. "You can keep it."

He had enough savings to last him a few years. Everything he'd earned at Pendragon Industries, Arthur had saved. He'd been good about doing that thanks to Merlin, and his flat was paid for by the money his mother had left him. His father didn't own him, and even if he wanted to put a freeze on Arthur's severance package—he could. Arthur had expected that. After ten years of service, all employees had an exit package saved for them if they'd left the company on good terms. Arthur offering an official resignation letter, giving enough notice to leave the job, and leaving his team in good hands was all part of a "good exit strategy." But he was sure that his father could complicate things for him.

He wouldn't have expected otherwise.

*

Arthur walked out of his father's office before Uther had a chance to truly rail it down on him. He was in a decent enough mood and didn't want his father to ruin his day.

He was certain that after an hour, he'd start getting phone calls and text messages from Morgana demanding answers. So he figured that the best thing he could do was shut his phone off. But before he did that, Arthur sent out a message. To Merlin.

Arthur: Hey, going to shut my mobile off because of...reasons. I'll be at the room again tonight. Stop by if you want. Eight o'clock.

He didn't wait for a reply. Arthur turned his mobile off and headed home. He decided to pack an overnight bag as he hated using the hotel toothbrush and paste, and went to dinner at his favourite sushi place.

One night with Merlin wasn't enough. Arthur definitely wanted a repeat. And if he knew Merlin, Merlin felt the same.

Chapter Text

Arthur's fingers raked through Merlin's hair as he tugged on his locks and pulled him in for a deep, long kiss. It's been ages since he'd done this. Since he'd claimed Merlin to be his.

This was how it used to be. When Merlin was his.

*

"Don't you think we should talk?" Merlin asked him. He turned to face Arthur, his leg brushing against Arthur's.

"About what?"

"What we're doing. And why."

"Why did you show up?"

"You know why."

Did he? "Because it's been so long since you've had a good shag and you knew I was always at least good at that?"

"Arthur..."

"You left last time. Just like how you left before. If we haven't talked, it's certainly not because of me. It's because you always run away." There. If he wanted to talk, Arthur was going to tell him exactly how it was.

Worst case scenario, Merlin was just leave. Again. Arthur was already used to that scenario.

"Wow," Merlin said. "You still hate me."

Arthur could feel his face scrunch up in confusion, and in a bit of irritation. "You sat across from me during our divorce proceedings. You had nothing to say to me. I was under the impression you hated me. You sent Gwaine to clean out our flat of your things. I had no idea where you were when you were gone. No, Merlin, I don't hate you. I just don't know how to feel. How to act."

He took in a deep breath, wondering if Merlin was going to say anything. He didn't.

"This..." He gestured between them. "We were always good at fucking. You were always good at fucking me. I was always good at sucking you off. If you want to talk about why we're fucking, there's an obvious answer to that. If you want to tell me why you ran away..." At least Merlin had the decency to flinch at those words, "...I'm all ears. I don't have much to say to you. Whatever I wanted to say, I told you outside Thai Fever."

*

They were quiet for a long time. Much to Arthur's surprise, Merlin didn't leave. If anything, he edged himself closer to Arthur, resting his face in the crook of Arthur's neck.

Arthur held him.

This wouldn't continue on like this anymore. It couldn't. Arthur wasn't going to reserve the hotel room again, and they weren't just going to meet for a shag. He knew it. He needed to make sure that Merlin would know that he expected more. Wanted more. He'd meant what he'd said. If they simply sat across from each other and drank coffee, that would be enough for him. He wasn't going to reduce his feelings for Merlin, reduce their relationship for what they'd had to something so...casual.

There was no honour in this. No deeper meaning.

Arthur had left his job because he was searching for something more meaningful, and he wasn't going to make his experiences with Merlin insignificant, either.

*

Arthur woke up with a moan. He arched up as he felt Merlin's mouth on him, his hands gently massaging Arthur's thighs.

"What..." Arthur panted. "What are you doing?"

Merlin released Arthur's cock with a pop. "If I have to tell you, then I must not be doing it right."

"You're still...what time is it?" Arthur asked, eyes searching for the clock.

"Almost seven o'clock. Thought maybe we'd shower and I could take you out for breakfast. Well you know, after...this." Merlin licked the head of Arthur's cock, and a shiver went down Arthur's spine.

"Breakfast?"

"I owe you that. A conversation I mean. Sitting across a table at a cafe, maybe giving you my reasons—hoping they don't sound like excuses."

Arthur rested his head back against the soft pillow and closed his eyes. He knew. He knew all he had to do was just push Merlin the right way, and he'd open up to him. He was glad his patience had paid off.

After all these years, he still knew Merlin better than anyone.


Chapter Text

"Do you want more tea?"

Arthur sat at the table in Merlin's kitchen looking down at his empty cup. After the night they had spent in the hotel, he and Merlin had gone out for breakfast, before Merlin invited Arthur back to his place.

His place.

Merlin's flat was exactly like Merlin. Stuff was all over the place. Some of his art was hung up on the walls, otherwise, it was scattered about, placed on the floor. His bed was in one corner, somewhat made, and his laundry basket was on the far left with clothes spilling out of it. No doubt Merlin did laundry once in two months, if that, when he was really out of everything. That's how it'd been before Arthur had taken it upon himself to do the laundry for them, or had called in the laundry service if he'd been busy with work.

"Arthur, tea?" Merlin asked again when Arthur hadn't answered the first time.

"Right. Sure," he said, looking around the kitchen again. The basics were there, a few plates, a couple of bowls and three tea mugs. "You don't get a lot of guests."

Merlin shrugged, his back to Arthur. "Haven't had much time for socialising. Had to get my career off the ground and—well, I didn't really date much, did I? No point in tidying up when you've got no one to impress."

"What about friends? Gwaine?"

Merlin placed the cup in front of Arthur and sat at the chair across him. "Gwaine doesn't care. He moves things around here and there, we talk when I go in to the laundry centre. He thinks I should drop my clothes off but I like going in the self-service facilities, gives us a chance to catch up and talk. He rarely has time to stop by one of my shows." He smiled for a moment before taking a sip of his tea. "Besides…"

"What?" Arthur asked, when Merlin didn't continue his thought.

Merlin shook his head. "It's not important," he said with a smile. "But, nowadays I am so busy, I might have to look the service up. Or get an assistant to help me with those things. Maybe I should ask Gwen."

"She is very organised, and she likes you so much, she might help you out for free."

Merlin laughed. "Free is always better."

They were quiet for a while as they drank their tea. When they'd been together, this wasn't anything new to Arthur. He and Merlin'd always shared a silence that was never awkward, or out of place, it was their silence. Now, it felt different. It was awkward, and felt forced.

Perhaps Merlin felt it too because he reached out and grabbed Arthur's hand.

"You always took care of me. Ever since we were kids. Do you remember the first time we met?"

Arthur nodded. "Outside of school. You were with your friends, and they all looked up to you. I was so jealous because I didn't have any friends. Not really."

Arthur remembered the first time. He'd been in awe of Merlin, even though he didn't know his name at the time. And then he'd been pulled away by Morgana, who'd seen Arthur watching Merlin, and then the next day had tried to get Merlin's attention for herself. She'd treated everything like a competition.

It'd made her great in business, and a perfectly perfect bitch in real life.

"Morgana and her friends made fun of me and my friends. Called us all sorts of names, and you'd been there to defend us, without even knowing us. And you'd been there taking care of me ever since. You were my best friend, and the first boy I fell in love with."

Arthur chuckled. "But I wasn't the first boy you had sex with." Or the third or fourth.

Merlin shrugged. "I was afraid of falling in love with you so I did everything I could to stay away from you. And then...we'd ended up together anyway, right?"

"Right," Arthur said, "until you left. This time you let Morgana make you believe the mean things she'd said. You didn't wait for me—"

"I didn't. I didn't want to," Merlin said.

"What?" Arthur asked, confused.

"I knew...I knew the things she said weren't your words, but it didn't mean they weren't true. I'd been living off you for years. I was nothing, Arthur."

"You were my everything."

Merlin gave a sad smile at that. "And you were mine. But, I was nothing in my field. I was a kept artist. I was a joke."

"Merlin, we were married."

"Yeah."

Arthur's eyes widened and he stood up, pushing the chair behind him so hard it toppled over. "I loved you. I took care of you because I believed in you. In us. I wanted you to work on your art—and you left—why? Because you wanted to be a starving artist?" He scoffed. "Fuck you, Merlin. You could have said those things to me. You could have told me how you felt rather than take the first opportunity to run away."

Arthur had been punched in the gut. Again. And he didn't even have anyone to blame but himself. He knew he shouldn't have pursued Merlin again. He knew he shouldn't have listened to Gwen, or Ethan, or anyone. He should've left his company a long time ago, he should've just run away like Merlin did. Then maybe he would have moved on. God, he'd been such a fool!

Merlin believed whatever Morgana had told him because he wanted to leave. He wanted to leave Arthur and then he'd found the perfect way to do it. Arthur had been so quick to blame Morgana and his father he'd not even realised he'd been played.

He scoffed as he turned around and walked away from Merlin. He made his way to the door when Merlin pulled on his arm.

"Arthur, you need to let me finish—"

"No," Arthur said, his voice firm. Still, he hated how he sounded: so bloody wounded. He'd let Merlin do this to him again.

All those words he'd said to Merlin outside Thai fever now seemed like a regret. He'd wanted to be around Merlin again, and look what it'd got him. Another heartache from the very same man. Two years of working hard to forget Merlin, to working hard on moving on had been flushed down the toilet.

He was such and idiot.

"Please, Arthur. Don't leave like that. Don't leave me."

Arthur didn't wait to hear whatever Merlin had to say. He walked out of the door and into his car in less than five minutes. He drove off, taking left and right, without a destination in mind. He didn't want to go home, but he didn't want to go to the pub, either. He didn't want to go anywhere Merlin would follow him; where Merlin could find him.

He just drove.


Chapter Text

"Let me get this straight…" Ethan said into the phone after Arthur recounted his last conversation with Merlin.

It'd been a week since that incident and Arthur had his mobile off for days. Only a handful of his closest friends knew his number for the landline and Ethan had been one of them.

"You didn't actually let him finish what he was trying to tell you and you stormed out?"

Arthur scowled, even though he knew Ethan wasn't able to see him. "I'd heard enough."

"What if there was more? What if he was going to tell you it was the biggest mistake of his life? What if—"

"It doesn't matter."

"It doesn't MATTER?" Ethan shouted and Arthur had to take his phone away from his ear. "You can't possibly be this stupid."

"Okay, so I reacted," said Arthur.

"Badly."

"Fine," Arthur said, sighing. "I reacted badly but you would have done the same thing as me if you'd been there. Don't act like you're completely calm and collected when someone pisses you off."

"Are you going to call him? Has he been calling you?"

"Yeah. I saw a few missed calls and a couple of text messages. He doesn't know where I live, and hopefully, Percy or anyone else won't tell him." Arthur thought about Gwen. She could easily find out where Arthur lived and give Merlin the address.

"If he calls me, I'll tell him," Ethan said.

"God, you're fucking infuriating, you know that?"

Ethan laughed into the phone. "You need to let him finish telling you what he had to say. I bet it's something that'll make you feel better."

"It won't," Arthur said, annoyed.

"Of course. You're right. God forbid you have your ex-husband that you're still in love with come back to you and tell you he'd made a huge mistake. Of course, it won't make you feel better. Because you like living in misery."

"Why are you so annoying?"

"I don't know. Why is everything such a suffering competition with you?"

"Ethan…"

"Listen, mate. I'm coming back to Camelot next weekend, you best be back together with Merlin, I'm going to drag you to his gallery myself and make him tell you whatever he had to tell you in front of everyone."

"I'm not going to call him."

"Okay, but if he calls you again, you should pick up," Ethan said. "Now, I've got to run, and if I call you on your mobile. Pick up. You need to stop turning it off, mate. What if there had been an emergency?"

"You have my home number."

"I bet Merlin's mobile number is still the same. I still have it, you know. Maybe I'll just text him your home number and he'll keep calling you there or better yet, do the reverse-look up on the internet and find your home address."

"I hate you."

"There's always room for improvement," replied Ethan. "You could loathe me by the time you get back together with your ex."


Chapter Text

In order to avoid another argument with Ethan, Arthur decided the next time Merlin would call, he'd pick up. The trouble was, after dodging Merlin's calls for days, it seemed as though Merlin had given up.

Did Arthur owe Merlin anything?

Even if Merlin hadn't finished his story, his words had hurt Arthur. Arthur's world had once again come crumbling down. No, love wasn't everything, and a failed marriage was just that, a failed marriage. He needed to focus on restarting his career, possibly starting his own accounting firm, if he was capable, or maybe go into business with Ethan.

There were plenty of things Arthur needed to be taken care of and fixing his — whatever it was with Merlin — no longer seemed like a priority. Not even something on his radar.

*==*

"Arthur, it's Gwen."

Arthur answered all of his calls now, because he didn't want Ethan to yell at him or blame him for anything.

"Hi, Gwen. What can I do for you."

"Gosh, Arthur. The office is so boring without you and your replacement—"

"Mithian? What's wrong?"

"Well, she's nice, but you know, not nice to look at." Gwen laughed into the phone and Arthur shook his head.

"She's with you, isn't she?"

"Well, yes. We wanted to ask you out for a drink after work on Friday. You know, some of us who actually have jobs and all…"

"I'm working on it… getting a job, I mean, not drinking all the time…" Although, he was drinking all the time, as well. "Who else is going to be there?"

"Why would anyone else be there?" Gwen asked, sounding suspiciously nervous.

"Because if you wanted to grab an after-work drink, you could've asked me anytime. But you said Friday. And you know who only drinks on Fridays?"

"Merlin," she said quietly into the phone.

"Well, he stopped calling me so I'd figured he'd given up."

"Oh, that man's never going to give up on you!" Gwen said.

"Funny, that's what he'd said in his wedding vows, you know, before he'd signed the divorce papers two years later."

"Oh, Arthur…" Gwen sounded resigned, and Arthur wondered just how jaded and miserable he sounded.

"I'll be there."

"What?" She sounded genuinely surprised. "Are you serious?"

"Yes, Gwen. I want to come. I want to…see him."

Chapter Text

"What are you thinking about?"

Gwen asked Arthur as he sat on the bar-stool next to her. He'd arrived at the pub she'd told him about, as it was Friday evening and he'd said he'd be there. Mithian had just excused herself to go to the loo, and Merlin hadn't shown up yet.

"Just wondering if we'll ever stop this song and dance," Arthur admitted, more to himself than anything else.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I want him, I don't want him. I want him, he hurts me. He wants me, or does he feel bad for hurting me? I invited him to the hotel thinking I could do casual sex…"

"Can you? Do casual, I mean?" When Arthur didn't reply, she continued, "I couldn't do it. Not with Lance. I mean, if we ended things and had the opportunity to get back together—I mean, I love him so much, so I don't know if I could just have him in one way and not another. Not knowing who else he could be seeing, what he'd be sharing with others that he doesn't share with me."

"I used to think like that," Arthur said, finishing the last of his whiskey, and making a mental note of slowing down. "Then he left me. Because he wanted to make a name for himself and I was… I don't even know what I was doing? Taking care of him?" Arthur laughed. It sounded bizarre. He needed Merlin to explain it to him.

*-*-*

A few minutes later Mithian returned, and their group was joined by Merlin. He looked good. He was wearing a dark blue shirt with jeans that hung low on his hips. Arthur wanted to groan at how hot Merlin looked, how hot Arthur felt, but he kept his face impassive. He simply gave Merlin a nod, and then looked at Mithian, as if asking her to take charge.

"We should get a table," Mithian suggested looking around the room, "look there!" And she sprinted away as a woman on a mission.

"Mithian said her boyfriend might come by later, and Lance might stop by too, so you know, we'll have a big group."

"Great," Arthur said, not wanting to argue. Even if he felt like he was totally being set up on a date.

And then here he was again, contradicting himself. He wanted to see Merlin, but didn't want to be considered his date?

"Will Charles be joining us?" Arthur asked, because he was an arsehole.

Merlin gave Arthur an amused look, "No. I didn't invite him."

"So, do you want to talk?" Arthur asked, as they all picked up their drinks and walked towards the table Mithian had claimed in the corner of the pub.

"I don't know, are you going to run away again?"

"I don't know, are you going to tell me you never loved me, and you've actually started a small savings account to pay me back for every gift, or dinner, I ever bought you because apparently my money was too good for you?"

Ethan was so going to kill him.

They were quiet for a while and then Merlin started laughing. Arthur couldn't help himself, and joined in. Both Mithian and Gwen looked at the two of them as if they had multiple heads.

"What—what's so funny?" Gwen asked as Mithian continued to look bemused.

Arthur bit the inside of his cheek and looked over at Merlin who looked equally flushed. "It's how we are," Merlin said, not taking his eyes off Arthur.

"How…who are?"

"How we were," Arthur said, clearing his throat. "Us. We were never cordial. We always fought. It was sort of our thing." Arthur ran a hand through his hair and took in a deep breath. "Merlin never apologised—"

"Arthur never let up—"

"Merlin's always brash—"

"And Arthur's always a prat—"

"The only time we had been nice to each other were the times we didn't know each other. If I'd known that the boy on the skateboard I thought was "cute" was going to be the biggest pain in my arse, I would've immediately forgot about him."

"When Morgana was the biggest bitch to me," Merlin said, "Arthur came to my defence, and immediately after, insulted me. As if his sister wasn't doing a stellar job on her own."

"I was nothing like Morgana. I was trying to make you understand—"

"And I didn't need you to come protect me from her. I could take care of myself, you know!"

"Right. That's why you were crying in the toilet—"

"I was NOT crying!" Merlin yelled, exasperated. "I. Was. Not."

"Gwaine told me you were."

"Well, Gwaine's a lying liar that lies."

Arthur rolled his eyes and turned towards the table to grab his drink. He hadn't even realised though Merlin and Arthur were sitting next to each other, they had actually turned to face each other. Their knees touched, and Arthur had felt like they were the only two people in the room—something he'd not felt for a very long time.

Gwen and Mithian were staring at them. Again.

Gwen quickly diverted her gaze and grabbed her mobile. She started typing into it frantically, and Mithian simply gave him a knowing smile.

"What?" Arthur asked and Mithian shook her head.

Arthur would've said something but his mobile vibrated and he fetched it out of his pocket. It was a text message from Gwen.

>>Are you fucking kidding me? Take him home right now, Arthur. Before someone else steals him away.<<

Arthur scowled at his phone and then looked up at Gwen who seemed so nonchalant as if she'd not done anything.

>>What are you talking about?<<

Arthur placed his phone down and took another sip of his drink. Merlin was doing the same, looking confused, and something else…His eyes were dark, his cheeks flushed, and…oh, Arthur realised. Arguing had always been there foreplay.

His mobile vibrated again.

>>If I have to tell you what I'm talking about, then you are the stupidest person I've ever met. And you're not my boss anymore so I can say this to you. You obviously belong together. Whatever was in the past, it can sort itself out, but you'd be really really really stupid to let this go. Really.<<

Arthur stared at the phone for a while, feeling speechless. He wasn't sure he would be able to control his emotions if he looked up and saw Gwen. He'd always felt like he belonged with Merlin, and after all this time, that feeling hadn't gone away. Gwen had so easily seen through him and it was incredible. After all, she had set them up for that blind date to begin with.

He bit the inside of his cheek, something he did when he was nervous when Merlin placed a hand on his knee.

"You all right there?" he asked softly.

Arthur nodded. "Yeah, fine," Arthur said with a smile. "So, you wanted to talk?"

"I…" Merlin seemed to hesitate for a second. "It's a long winded story, and you sort of know the gist of it…"

"Yeah," Arthur said, drawling his words.

"We can always get into the details of it later, but before you run away again—"

"I won't run away," said Arthur.

"Yeah, but let me get this out okay?" Merlin asked and Arthur nodded. "It was the biggest mistake of my life. What I thought? Was wrong. The fact I let Morgana's words get to me, was probably the most moronic thing I could've done. I thought my art, my integrity was suffering because we were together, and that was far from the truth. I ran away because I was scared — because what if I was always going to be mediocre. I'd never be good enough to be with someone like you."

"Mer—"

"I know. I know. I know what you're going to say. And you're right. I have everything I want now, the fame, the money, everything. But when I saw you at the cafe after two years, Arthur, nothing mattered. Because I didn't feel the thrill—you weren't there to share it with me."

"And where does Charles fit into all of this? If you saw me and you wanted me back—if I'm reading this right—you were on a date with him. You were dating new people—"

"I guess I was still trying to get over you," Merlin said with a soft smile.

"How's that working out for you?" Arthur asked, cheeky grin and all.

"Not very well," said Merlin.

Arthur couldn't believe it. Ethan had been right.

"By the way, I really have you know," Merlin said, yanking Arthur out of his thoughts.

"Have what?"

"Started a savings account to basically pay you back for everything you ever did for me. But it looks like you might need it now."

"What'd you mean?"

"Given you're unemployed an all." Merlin winked and Arthur laughed.

When Arthur returned his attention to Gwen and Mithian again, he'd almost forgot that they were still there, both the women had tears in their eyes.

"Oh no," Arthur said.

"Oh, shut up," replied Gwen.


Chapter Text

"So, we'll do this again soon?" Merlin asked Arthur as they stood outside the pub. Gwen and Mithian had already left for the night, no doubt with the belief Arthur and Merlin were going to go home together.

But here they were, planning to meet again. And not planning to go home together.

"Are you trying to act like you still know me?" Arthur asked, amused.

"No, I wouldn't dare," replied Merlin. "I just…I thought maybe you wouldn't be interested in going home with me. Since, the last time you were there, it didn't end up so well, and you ignored me for days. I just think if we take it slow—maybe we'll get somewhere."

Arthur nodded. "Maybe."

"Arthur…" Merlin said in a grave tone before Arthur could say anything else. "I just want you to know my intentions."

"Your intentions?"

"I'd planned on moving on with my life because I'd thought I'd burned all the bridges between us. But, I'm not a person who believes in fate, or destiny, or whatever, but we were set up on a blind date together. After being apart for two years. I'd never in my life thought it'd be you. I should've known it because—the way Gwen was going on about you, I'd thought maybe she had a crush on you. So I should've known. You have the effect on people. You make them love you."

"I can't make anyone do anything," said Arthur.

"That's not true."

"So what's your intention, exactly?"

"I want us to get back together," Merlin said. And they way he said it, it was almost like he was adding: Here. Plain and simple. I've said it. Now take it. Because Arthur knew he couldn't leave it.

"Can I ask one more question?" Artur asked, walking up to the edge of the road where he'd parked his car on the street.

"Of course."

"If you want me so badly—"

"As if you don't want me?" Merlin countered with a smug smile.

"Okay, fine. Whatever," Arthur said rolling his eyes. "We should just be together, because we'd no problems we didn't need to work on. We didn't need to schedule any therapy appointments or couples' counseling because we were just so bloody perfect and that's why you'd left—"

Merlin released an exasperated sigh. "What's your point, Arthur?" There was no venom in Merlin's voice, if anything, he sounded like Arthur's words were hurting him.

"When I saw you at the coffee shop, I'd left, you'd come after me. I mean I went to see Percy and you said you'd known I'd be there. And then you were so angry, and you left, and you told me to have a nice life—"

Merlin laughed which Arthur didn't appreciate. They'd walked up to Arthur's car now. Arthur unlocked the doors and Merlin followed him still. Without an invitation, without any hesitation, Merlin got in the car. Arthur had expected as such, and he was glad for it. He didn't need to offer Merlin a ride home in so many words, he was happy to know there were things about Arthur Merlin could pick up on.

They sat in the car quietly.

"I might've to wait a few more minutes before I drive. Just to make sure I'm sober enough."

"Yeah, sure," Merlin said, nodding. "D'you want a mint?"

"Sure."

They were quiet again.

"So about that night…" Merlin began, "…I was more angry at myself than anything. To say I didn't know what I wanted was the understatement of the year. Every time I thought I'd moved on; I was finally making some progress, there was something about you that'd pull me back in. And then I'd go in this roller coaster of emotions. I hated it. I hated myself. I hated myself for being so successful, finally, and still being so unhappy. And I blamed you."

"Why?" Arthur asked, surprised.

"I don't know. Because I'm crazy, and self-destructive. Because I'm still that poor boy you saw skateboarding around with his friends and hustling people out of their money on stupid bets. Because I never thought I could amount to anything and since you weren't there, that I didn't deserve it?"

"Hmm…" Arthur said, grim.

"What?"

"Maybe you should schedule an appointment with a therapist. God, Merlin, if you can't make yourself happy. No one can."

Merlin laughed softly. "Maybe I should. Maybe it'll help me stop looking for you in my peripheral vision. Thinking maybe if you're just there—I might just make it."

"Merlin, you did make it," Arthur said. He turned in his seat to look at Merlin; really look at him, and he couldn't help it, as he reached over and threaded his fingers through Merlin's hair. "And I would always be there for you."


Chapter Text

Merlin always had it. The potential to be something great. Of course, Arthur had always known it. Whether it was when they were young and at the skateboard park, or when they were in Uni, and he was studying art. He was going to make it big, and all Arthur had to do was just wait.

"I never thought you'd leave me behind though," Arthur mumbled, mostly to himself, as he looked at some of the art pieces scattered around in Merlin's flat.

After the pub, Arthur had given Merlin a lift home, and naturally, Arthur had walked in right after Merlin. Because when it came to Merlin, Arthur didn't know how to stop himself. Merlin was the magnet that always pulled Arthur.

Merlin handed Arthur a beer and stood next to him as they both stared at a painting; Arthur admiring it, and Merlin probably finding flaws in it.

"So what's this called?"

"The lovers," Merlin said. "Through time."

The entire thing was a dream-like state with a tree hovering over two bubbles that looked like they were moving. Arthur couldn't see the figures in the bubble clearly, but he reckoned, that'd been the point. Lovers through time, it reminded him of a dream he'd had. The dream he'd had quite a lot.

"I never thought you'd come back to me," Merlin said, leaning on Arthur lightfly. "To answer your comment about leaving you behind."

"Hmm…" was all Arthur said.

"This was the first painting I'd sold," Merlin said, "the one that'd made me feel like I was a big deal."

"So what is this? A replica or a print…or…?"

"The original," Merlin said, walking away, and then settling down on the mattress in the corner of the room.

Of course, he didn't have a real bed. Because Merlin didn't know how to buy furniture. He just slept on whatever was available.

"What'd you mean the original?"

"After I sold more pieces in big art galleries and made enough money to be able to get a studio, I hunted down the original buyer and made a deal with him. I wasn't sure if he simply wanted his money back, but I offered him three new artworks so he could give me Two Sides back."

"Two Sides?"

"That's what I'd originally called it," Merlin said, taking a sip of his own beer, and this time, Arthur leaned into him. He gave Arthur a small smile, and continued. "I had this idea of how the lovers in the painting were so similar and so different — two sides of the same coin. But when it was sold, I'd re-named it before sending it away. That name was for me, and not for anyone else."

"I used to have dreams about that," Arthur said, trying to remember the details of that dream he'd had so long ago. "That you and I…we were two sides of…something."

Merlin grinned at him, and then turned his body to look at Arthur. Arthur missed his touch, but he also liked being able to look at Merlin. He was free to do it now, to stare at him for as long as he liked, and no one else was around.

"You were my inspiration for that painting, and I'd not planned on selling it. It was just part of the gallery where my work was displayed—and then—it was the first piece and I couldn't say no. It was a part of me, a part of us."

Arthur smiled and raked his fingers through Merlin's hair.

"Charles thought I was completely crazy for not wanting to sell it, and then wanting it back…"

"And this conversation is over," Arthur said, pulling his hand away.

"Don't. Please…" Merlin grabbed Arthur's wrist and kept his hand on his head. He leaned into Arthur's touch, and Arthur didn't have the willpower to pull away.

"This is probably a very bad idea."

"I want you to have it."

"Have what?" Arthur raised an eyebrow as his fingers massaged Merlin's scalp, and Merlin had closed his eyes. He was such a sucker for a massage—Arthur had nearly forgot that.

"The painting. Take it home with you tonight."

"Tonight."

"Or tomorrow morning," Merlin said, opening his eyes, and grinning up at Arthur. "Stay the night, and in the morning, leave with the painting."

"You're just always full of bad ideas aren't you?" Arthur asked.

Merlin grinned, and Arthur pulled him closer, his lips hovering over Merlin's. "Not all my bad ideas are that bad. Especially not the ones that keep me close to you."

Chapter Text

"So you're ready to do this with him?" Percy asked, pouring Arthur one of his usuals while Arthur at on the bar stool.

Arthur had spent three nights straight in Merlin's flat. In the morning, Merlin would begrudgingly go to his studio, while Arthur went home, and looked online for job leads.

"I've no idea how long it'll last. This time," said Arthur.

"What do you mean?" Percy asked, looking surprised. "I thought this was going to be a new chapter in the Adventures of Arthur and Emrys."

Arthur shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. I've not told him yet, but it seems everything I want to do in my career, I've to travel overseas to do it. There are better job opportunities in Australia, and the States. The closest thing I found is Norway. There's a new firm starting, but that isn't a guarantee. If I were in the New York or Sydney, there's a possibility of moving back home after a few years. Not in Norway—that'd simply require for me to move on and one after that."

"So you're ending this before it even gets started?" Percy shook his head. "What about your friends? I know you're not particularly close with your family, but—"

"It's only for a short time," said Arthur.

"Arthur, you have to tell him."

"I know."

"Now. You have to do this as soon as possible, Arthur. I know he hurt you but you can't do the same thing to him. You can't just…leave."

Chapter Text

Arthur woke up to a warm body pressed against his. After two years of sleeping alone, he still wasn't used to have Merlin back in his bed. Back in his life. He tried not to make any sudden movements as Merlin looked quite peaceful, but his arm was at a weird angle, and it was starting to hurt. His attempt to not wake Merlin up ended up being a failure.

"Hmm…" Merlin moaned lightly and turned, throwing his leg around Arthur's and pulling him close. "What time is it?"

"No clue," Arthur said softly. It was a Saturday and they were sleeping in, and well, Arthur was unemployed and Merlin kept odd hours. They didn't have to be anywhere.

"I missed lazy weekends," Merlin said, his face resting in the crook of Arthur's neck as he hot breath coaxed Arthur's skin.

"I'll miss them again," Arthur replied.

"What do you mean?"

Arthur ran his fingers up and down Merlin's back, trying to think of the words. "I might have to shift to New York."

"Oh?" Merlin asked, his voice steady, but Arthur felt him swallow nervously next to him. "Have you got an offer?"

"Not yet. But I've definitely been contacted by a few people urging me to look at what they have, and apply. Possibly even fly out there."

"Just New York?"

"Or Sydney."

"Wow, you're a big deal, Pendragon."

Arthur smiled. It was something Merlin used to say to him when they were younger, and Arthur used to get good marks on all his tests. He was all of his teachers' favourite.

"Comes naturally," Arthur said with a smile, kissing the top of Merlin's head.

"So, what's the reason for missing the weekends?"

"What do you mean?" Arthur asked.

"You'll miss the weekends with me because you don't want to take me to New York or Sydney, or you don't think I'll come if you had asked."

Merlin was looking up at him now, still on his side, so Arthur turned so they could be face-to-face. "You'd do that? You'd leave everything here and just shift with me?"

Merlin shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time I tried to make a life with you. This time, I can afford to pay for my half of the journey."

"I didn't want to assume—"

"You're a complete prat, Arthur," Merlin said, smiling. Arthur couldn't believe Merlin wasn't upset. Not about his moving, or about him not asking Merlin to go with him. Before Arthur could say anything, Merlin turned away, and got up off the bed.

Okay, so maybe he was upset, thought Arthur.

He was back a minute later, handing Arthur a letter and settling back next to Arthur's side.

Arthur hesitantly opened the letter and read through it. It dated a few weeks ago, and was from a placed call International Art Galleries — New York Division. It was an invitation of sorts for Merlin to go and visit them in autumn.

"Oh," Arthur said, stupidly.

"I was thinking of going to New York, anyway. And for the record, blockhead, I was going to ask you to come with me."

"I still have trouble sometimes," Arthur said, slowly. When Merlin didn't respond, Arthur continued, "I…still find it hard to believe this is real. Again. Like the two years was a bad dream…"

"I know what you mean," Merlin said, pressing close to Arthur again. "When you're not here, I wake up in the middle of the night—I feel like I'd dreamt it all up. That we weren't getting back together. That last few months have just been this weird parallel universe I was living in and now my reality is the same. Without you."

"Maybe we should get married again," Arthur said.

"What?" Merlin asked, sounding shocked. He pushed himself away from Arthur and looked down at him, as if to really listen to what Arthur was saying.

"If we're travelling. Being abroad—legal rights and all that." Merlin's eyes continued to widen and he didn't respond. "Just signing some papers. Not a ceremony or anything. I don't even want to tell our friends…" Maybe not the right thing to say.

"I mean, if that's okay with you. If you want a ceremon—"

"No, I don't want a ceremony," Merlin said.

"You probably don't think it's a good idea—"

"It's a terrible idea."

"But you'll do it?"

Merlin nodded. "I'll do it. To be safe."

"To be safe," Arthur echoed, unable to hide the smile on his face.

Chapter Text

It was like a dream again. Arthur wasn't sure if he was awake or if he'd simply moved onto a parallel universe where everything seemed to just click.

He booked tickets for New York with Merlin, who kept busy at his art studio, and made arrangements of his own for meetings with galleries and artists. Arthur himself had two interviews lined up. One was for a consultant in New York with a lot of travel between Europe and the United States and the other was more tamed, mostly requiring him to stay in London.

He hoped for the second one because he didn't want to leave the UK. He'd just got Merlin back in his life, and he wasn't ready for everything to change, and for him to lose all his friends.

But in the end, he knew what mattered the most to him. Being with Merlin. He'd made the appointment at the registry office for when he and Merlin would return from the States and they could sign the papers to be married again.

All he had now to worry about was getting two witnesses for the ceremony. Perhaps he could ask Gwen and Lancelot, but he'd have to discuss that with Merlin. At the moment, Arthur was too busy living in it. He would worry later about what his father or his sister were going to say. If he ever told them, that was.

Merlin was his and this was all a reality again. That's all that mattered.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Arthur was just coming out of the shower when he heard Gwaine's voice in the bedroom with Merlin.

Merlin's place was so small, and it lacked a proper living room, so it was normal for the guests to hang out in the bedroom. Arthur wondered if Gwaine was aware Arthur was over at Merlin's place.

They had a week before going to New York, and Arthur had kept busy looking for more leads and job prospects. Even if the firm in New York had shown their interest, he knew nothing was ever written in stone.

On top of everything else, he'd also managed to convince Merlin to get rid of his flat and move his stuff to either his art studio or at Arthur's place. Once they knew what they were going to do for their career, they could figure out where they wanted to live.

Arthur knew if they found themselves settled in New York, Merlin would want full control of the flat they rent, with his name on the lease, and making sure he paid for his half of it.

Even if Arthur never had an issue with money or dealing with who paid for what, he was quite aware of the way Merlin wanted to do things. In their previous life, their previous marriage, Merlin's finances had been limited. But now, he considered himself Arthur's equal and wanted to show it. No matter how much Arthur told Merlin they had always been equal, this was Merlin's life too, and his feelings were just as valid. If not more.

Arthur best remember that this time around.

"I know you think we're doing this in haste…"

"It doesn't matter what I think, Merlin. I just want to make sure you're thinking this through."

"I am. We are," Merlin said. "You know I never stopped loving him. Regardless of how hard I tried to move on with my work and even trying to date— which was always a disaster because I couldn't fathom anyone else but Arthur touching me…You have to understand, don't you?"

Merlin sounded so bloody vulnerable, and all Arthur wanted to do was cross the distance between them and pull him in close. He never, ever, wanted to let Merlin go. Not after how they'd manage to get back into each other's lives after two years.

They'd been stupid, and selfish, and stubborn, but Arthur was going to change that. He wasn't going to let any miscommunications or fights between them win any more. Merlin belonged to him and that's where he was going to stay. Always.

"I know what the two of you mean to each other," Gwaine said. "But, moving away like this? And then getting married again—"

"I told you it's so if we get in any trouble or get sick—"

"Right," Gwaine snorted. "You're not fooling anyone, Merlin. You've wanted him since the day you saw him at school. You've wanted to be with him, around him since then. Even when you refused to tell me you loved him, I know you did. I just… It's not healthy to be so dependent on someone like this."

"You love Percival, Gwaine. How would you feel if someone said the same thing to you two? I know it's not healthy. It's completely mental, is what it is. But, we've always belonged together. Even before we met as school kids I used to have dreams about him. This is my life and I don't have to justify it to anyone. Especially you."

Arthur walked into the room then, clearing his throat.

"Sorry if I'm interrupting, I hope that's okay."

Gwaine straightened up after seeing Arthur. "It's fine."

"Did I miss anything?" Arthur asked.

Merlin shook his head and smiled at Arthur. "Just pondering over the meaning of life," he said.

"Brilliant. Always a fun topic," Arthur teased, leaning down to kiss Merlin's forehead, before looking for his clothes through the wardrobe. Over the course of the last few days, he'd started to leave a few items at Merlin's flat — since he had been spending so much time there.

"I see you've made yourself comfortable," Gwaine said.

"I had to. Merlin wouldn't let me leave." Arthur gave his cheekiest grin to Gwaine and then turned to wink at Merlin. "He's all like, I've got you back, and now I'm holding you hostage."

Merlin shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Ever the drama queen."

***

After Gwaine left, giving more of his sage advice to Merlin about how he should be careful, Arthur was glad to have Merlin all to himself again.

"So, still doing what we're doing?" he asked.

Merlin nodded and wrapped his arms around Arthur's neck, pulling him close. "No doubt about it."

"I know this can be too much—"

"Shh…" Merlin said, before he kissed Arthur. "I'm not doing anything I don't want to do. I was an idiot to let you go once, and you tried to get me back but I was stubborn. Now, I know better. There's no one else in the world for me. So, we're doing this. We're going to job interviews in New York, then we're travelling to Boston, and Washington D.C., and Florida, and whatever else touristy in the States, and then we're coming back to get married."

"We're starting a new chapter in our lives," Arthur said.

"Exactly," Merlin said, and kissed Arthur again.

Arthur knew things weren't going to be perfect. Some of their friends who'd seen them go through the bad break up were going to be sceptical about it. And his family? They were going to throw a major tantrum.

But in the end, it was Arthur's life, and he was going to do what made him happy. And Merlin, was it. Merlin was his family. The road to their recovery seemed all too familiar, but this time, Arthur was certain of their love, and nothing was going to be in his way.