[À PREMIÈRE VUE]
Merlin falls into love with Arthur so easily that it hurts.
It starts the first time Morgana invites him over for the holidays. Arthur isn’t very friendly to Merlin, but that doesn’t matter. Merlin falls in love with Arthur’s eyes, droopy with sleep in the mornings and electrically alert when passionate. He falls in love with Arthur’s big hands and thick thighs and the way you have to work to see one of his beautiful smiles. Merlin falls in love with the way he sucks on his lip and taps his foot when he’s impatient and reads Sherlock Holmes over and over again. Maybe Merlin falls in love the first time Arthur said his name, with the way it rolls of his tongue like it should always be there.
But if Merlin’s world is irrevocably shattered and shifted by Arthur, he keeps it deep inside, so that Arthur won’t notice. And he doesn’t.
Merlin’s been called many things in his life – too skinny, too tall, dopey, odd, plain, androgynous, et cetra. So when he overhears Morgana suggesting that Arthur should get to know Merlin better, because she thinks they would be adorable together, he’s only a little hurt when Arthur snorts and says cruelly, “Merlin, really? Don’t make me laugh. If you’re going to set me up, find someone better. Someone interesting. Merlin’s so simple.”
“Merlin’s lovely,” Morgana counters. “He has a great personality.”
“That’s just what you say when someone is unattractive,” Arthur says.
"God, you’re so insensitive,” Morgana says, but she doesn’t dispute it.
Merlin chews on his lip thoughtfully. Maybe he should leave, but instead he just waits a minute or so, until Arthur and Morgana have moved onto a discussion of what to get Uther for Christmas, before walking around the corner and into the kitchen.
“Merlin, there you are,” Morgana says, all businesslike. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Merlin replies. He glances at Arthur, who is already busy on his Blackberry. “Are you coming, Arthur?”
When Arthur doesn’t immediately answer, Morgana says, “No, he’s golfing with Uther today. Let’s go.”
Merlin licks his lips, gives Arthur one last glance, and follows Morgana out the door. He mumbles a goodbye on the way out, but Arthur either doesn’t hear its significance or doesn’t care.
Merlin tries not to say much around Arthur, tries not to bother him too much. It’s done mostly for selfish reasons. Whenever Arthur is around, Merlin worries too much. He wonders if he’s being boring, or if what he’s saying is simple. He wonders if someone else could be filling the silence better than him.
One day, he’s caught in a deep discussion with Freya on the phone when he spies Arthur standing at his door, quite obviously listening in. Merlin can’t recall what they were talking about – probably one of their usually conversations about Doctor Who or Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. He’s not sure why Arthur would care enough to listen at the doorway.
Maybe he’s talking too loud, Merlin thinks at the time, and resolves to remember to shut the door next time.
Merlin can taste the liquor in Arthur’s mouth the first time they kiss, can hear his words slur when he says, “Do you want to…?”
It’s a bad idea, of course. Nothing good can come of it. Except, Merlin’s muddled mind thinks please and closer. He’s foolish, really, to ever think he could say no to Arthur.
Arthur rolls over him like summer heat, his body a physical reminder as he attaches his lips to any part of Merlin he can find, covering him with wide, wet kisses. Merlin slides his hands over the planes of his body – the smooth skin and tight muscles. He doesn’t want to miss anything.
They need to be quiet, because Morgana is just a couple of rooms over. Truth is, Merlin would be quiet anyways, too afraid that it would end, that he would do something wrong. Because Arthur is so perfect, so confident, maneuvering them both and making Merlin want him with the simplest touches that he never would have thought could make him feel this way.
“Hold on,” Arthur rasps.
Merlin cannot do anything else.
Afterwards, he wants to curl up next to Arthur and just breathe him in. So he does, for a few precious moments. Then he realizes Arthur probably won’t want Merlin in the bed when he wakes up. So Merlin stands up, puts on his clothes, and walks down the hallway to his own room, the hard wood floors cold against his bare feet.
He thinks whoever Arthur comes to love will be very lucky.
“I don’t normally do that sort of thing. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea,” Arthur says at breakfast while Morgana is out on the patio, chatting away with Gwen. Arthur is stammering and uncertain, looking sort of desperate. Probably worried that Merlin’s gotten all hopeful now, thinking Arthur actually likes him.
“Don’t worry, I understand perfectly,” Merlin says. He tries to smile, but he thinks it looks rather unnatural. He stares down at his half-eaten bagel and suddenly just wants to get away. “I have to go. Bye, Arthur.”
Merlin goes back to the guest room he’s staying in and makes to take a shower. Before he does, he pauses and stares at himself in the mirror, naked in the harsh bathroom lighting.
He tells himself this isn’t any different from when Lance said Merlin wasn’t his type or when Will explained there was nothing sexual about him. Freya and Gwaine thought of it different – to them, it was better to just stay casual because Merlin was really more of a friend and they weren’t the serious sort. So it was just sex with them. Either way, no one wants Merlin for who he is, inside or out.
Maybe Merlin’s just not built for love.
“Morgana, is there something I should change about myself?” Merlin asks impulsively one night. Their curled up together with hot cocoa by the fire, and it would be perfectly wonderful if Arthur wasn’t in the next room over, skyping with someone and laughing at every other sentence. There’s no use in figuring out what is so funny, because Arthur has ear buds in. He obviously doesn’t want to be here, would rather be back in London pub hopping with his mates.
Merlin isn’t sure he’s ever made Arthur laugh – maybe inadvertently a couple of times, by tripping or making a stupid comment, but that’s probably the extent of it. And it’s not the same, anyhow.
“Of course not,” Morgana replies, as if by rote, although she at least has a gentle tone when she says it. “You’re lovely, Merlin.”
In the next room over, Arthur laughs loudly again, and Merlin can feel a tingle go though his chest. He wants to curl up further into himself, but it’s hard to explain if it’s in a good way or bad way.
Morgana leans in, her breath tickling Merlin’s ear. “You like him, don’t you?”
Merlin nods, his head accidentally knocking into Morgana’s lips, still too close for comfort. He’s never expressly told her so yet, but it’s not a secret anymore, either.
“You know,” Merlin says, shrugging. He means forever.
Morgana smiles sadly and tells him, “There are nice boys out there for you, Merlin. Arthur isn’t a nice boy. Nor were Gwaine or Will.”
“Are you going to say Lance wasn’t nice, too?” Merlin bites out.
“I don’t think it’s fair to call Lance mean just because he’s straight.”
“I think it must be me,” Merlin admits, a hushed secret by a crackling fire. Arthur is still skyping a few meters away, but he’s too preoccupied to listen to them.
“It’s really not,” Morgana assures him, but what does she know. Morgana is beautiful and charming and perfect, and Merlin after all these years still hasn’t learned from her.
“Morgana says you’re in love with me,” Arthur says.
“Oh,” Merlin says. He can feel himself making that face where his eyes crinkle when he looks at Arthur, the same as when he looks into the sun. “Well, yeah.”
“Yeah? That’s all you have to say?” he demands, face and neck a violent red.
Merlin isn’t sure what else there is to say, on his part. There’s not been anything to say for a long time.
“You’re so stupid,” Arthur says, voice choked. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“You said I was simple remember?”
“You’re not simple at all,” Arthur whispers. His face is all twisted up, and Merlin belatedly wonders if Arthur is about to cry. Before he can ask, Arthur has wrapped his arms around him, and they’re sort of hugging. “I just wasn’t looking. You’re –” he swallows.
Oh, Merlin thinks. His head starts to swim. Arthur presses a kiss right behind Merlin’s ear and moves back, but Merlin holds on tight.
“Don’t move,” he says over and over again.