Dark blue – square – sticky note on the telephone:
Gwaine and Percy got engaged at our wedding.
They stole our thunder! This doesn’t bother you…how does this not bother you?
Arthur (your thunderless husband)
PS: when they get married I’m telling everyone that we’ve adopted kids. I want a fucking storm.
In the second week of university, Arthur sits in his economics lecture waiting for it to start. With his notebook open – pens lined up neatly cap-side up – it appears that he’s the only one ready.
Most of the other students sitting around him are on their phones or yelling across the room. One couple are already halfway into a horizontal tango across three of the chairs. As he looks on, Arthur’s back aches in horror.
The chair on the right remains empty. So too, is the one on his left side, and the one in front of him. Everyone assumes sitting at the back is for the disruptive students yet this is where Arthur is at his calmest. He can get out easily, crawling over his chair if necessary and people in the back are less likely to engage in conversation.
It’s 10:15AM according to the red neon hanging over the door.
Class should have started at ten.
He looks around to note that this appears to be of concern only to him.
“Oh thank god.” The empty seat beside him is no longer empty. “I slept in, thought for sure that I was going to be late.” It takes a moment to realise that the man is talking to him. “I’m Merlin.”
He fights off the little coil of irritation that twists further in his gut and takes the hand that’s offered. “Arthur.” One thing he can’t deny though; Merlin is cute. Big ears, sharp cheekbones, bright blue eyes…
“So is this fun?”
The question stops his daydreaming. “What do you mean?”
Merlin rolls his eyes and readjusts in his seat. “Economics.”
Arthur isn’t sure whether Merlin’s being serious. “To some it is.” Not to him, maybe his lecturer likes it but it’s difficult to tell. “What are you doing?”
“No idea.” The rumbling of students grows louder as they begin to get restless. “I’m just crashing.” Merlin pulls out a notebook only to doodle Arthur’s name in giant block letters in the middle of the page.
Arthur smirks. “Are you going to draw love hearts and rainbows?”
“A little presumptuous, don’t you think?” Merlin cocks his eyebrow and Arthur looks down, suddenly unsure of himself.
There’s a few beats of silence between them before Arthur feels comfortable enough to ask: “How come you were worried about being late if you’re not even in this course?”
Merlin draws a ying-yang symbol above the ‘T’ of Arthur’s name. “I didn’t want to be rude and disrupt class. Plus, people would stare at me if I did.”
Arthur writes the date in the top corner of the right hand side of the page. “Wouldn’t blame them if they did,” he mumbles.
Merlin smiles brightly; crinkles marking the corners of his eyes.
Arthur feels a small flutter erupt in his chest.
Finally the lecturer walks in, red faced and slightly panting. After an apology and another ten minutes of cursing modern technology class begins.
Apart from the scratching of pen against paper and the lecturer’s inspiringly dull voice, the room is quiet. If Arthur strains to hear it, he can make out Merlin’s breathing, soft next to him, or the whisper of material rubbing together as Merlin shifts in his seat.
“Hey,” Merlin whispers poking Arthur’s arm. The tail of Arthur’s g runs away across the page and he turns his head to glare at Merlin for ruining his previously perfect page. “Can I possibly borrow one?” He points to the small block of orange sticky notes, apparently missing said glare.
Somehow knowing it to be futile, he turns his eyes back to the diagram of the projector screen and nods. Merlin’s ink-stained fingers dart in and out in the corner of his vision.
The shuffling next to him gets louder until it completely stops. Suddenly there’s a brief moment of pressure to his forehead and he closes his eyes. The pressure on his forehead stops and he takes it as permission to open his eyes.
The chair next to him is now empty again.
Date me Atlas
When Arthur flips the note around, he squints and sees a string of digits hover just above its edge.
Peach square on the front door of their new house:
I had to change the alarm code. It’s 3-4-2-8-5. Morgana’s coming over later, can you tell her?
As he opens his eyes, he feels his breath literally get stuck in his throat which makes him panic for a small second because he doesn’t want to die naked in Merlin’s bed with Merlin still in said bed. The moment of panic quickly disappears when he realises that he’s breathing just fine. But that brings him back to what stole his breath away in the first place.
Merlin is asleep on his back, bed sheets tangled around his legs. His chest and torso are uncovered and his hand is flung carelessly up above his head. It’s the greatest romantic cliché of all time: sunlight streaming through the curtains and falling onto one’s beloved making them appear younger and ethereal, but god, Arthur thinks, as his eyes roam over Merlin.
It’s so true.
Merlin’s chest travels slowly. Up, and then down. His head slightly tilted to one side, lips parted as he exhales softly. The bright yellow light catches his hair, wrapping around them, until Arthur swears he can see gold highlighted in the strands.
It is in the midst of this admiration that he meets Hunith.
The door flings open, crashing into the wall before rebounding back. It’s doesn’t manage to close however due to the hand that deftly catches it and holds it open. “Merlin! Gwen’s pregnant!”
Arthur sits up quickly scrabbling for covers to make sure that he’ appropriately covered.
Merlin on the other hand sits up lazily scratching his chest with curled fingers. Arthur clears his throat and it’s a testament to how sleepy Merlin is that he’s apparently forgotten that he didn’t go to bed alone. With a hand over his heart he stares at Hunith standing in the doorway. The other hand goes down and pulls the covers up to his chest. “Mum!”
“Gwen’s pregnant!” Hunith crows again. She turns her gaze onto Arthur and smiles warmly. “Hello Arthur! I’ve heard so much about you. I would’ve met you sooner but Merlin keeps sequestering you away-“
“Mum…” Arthur feels Merlin’s head thump into his shoulder and he instinctively places a kiss on his dark head. “I was going to introduce you eventually…preferably when we were both clothed,” he moans.
Arthur wants to say yes, that was the plan, but all he manages is, “Nice to meet you Ms Emrys.”
She smiles and tuts at him, insisting that he call her Hunith to which he immediately agrees.
“So how long have you been dating?” She actually sits down on the bed with a hand placed on the fitted sheet to pull out the wrinkles.
Merlin groans turning his head so that he can survey his mother out of one eye. “Can I at least be dressed for this conversation?”
Arthur pouts. “Hey, can I be dressed for this too?” His shoulders are starting to break out in goose bumps, the brisk air of morning wisping across his skin.
Merlin grins at him and moves in for a kiss. “Nah, prefer you naked.”
With a raised brow he takes a glance at Hunith who silently watches them with a proud sort of smile on her face. He thanks above that Merlin was blessed with someone like her as a parent. “Your mother is still in the room,” he whispers against the corner of Merlin’s mouth.
Merlin sends her a heatless glare. “Hey, voyeur, get out and we’ll be there in a minute.”
Hunith returns his glare with a smirk and walks to the door. “I’ll put breakfast on; not doubt you boys are hungry.” The door shuts behind her.
Merlin flops back onto the pillows dragging Arthur down with him.
Green square on a telephone bill on the dining room table:
I’ve pair the telephone bill
If the call and say that I haven’t then they’re being wankers…and tell them I have.
Babies don’t weigh very much.
Arthur looks down at the bundle in his arms. Baby Thomas, named after Gwen’s father; Merlin’s step-father who died seven years before.
But back to the main cause of concern…baby Thomas. Touch betrays his sight. He can see Thomas – he’s not blind. His eyes tell him that there is a bundle of blue blanket and baby in his hands, his mind is telling him that he should feel some pressure on his palms but there’s nothing. Thomas doesn’t weight anything.
He’s holding an imaginary baby.
“I’m not holding him right.”
Lance chuckles. The bastard. Here he is holding Lance’s kid and seriously freaking out and all the father does is laugh at his plight. Lance sits on Gwen’s bed with his hand stroking her hair as she watches their son in his arms.
Maybe it’s the way that his voice turns high and pitchy by the end of the sentence that makes Merlin come towards him and gently place his hands under his own. “You’re doing fine. As uncles we get to do the fun parts.” He’s not going to cry at how Merlin’s family has practically adopted him. Really, he isn’t. “He’s amazing Gwen.”
Yellow sticky note on Arthur’s luggage tag:
I love you.
Staring at the red, sticky note, covered room, he starts to second guess himself.
It’s a little mean.
“Hey Atlas, what troubles you?” Merlin asks putting his bag on the floor and toeing his shoes off. He throws his keys into the little bowl on the table and stops before their living room as he’s assaulted by bright red. “Oh my god. Who died and bled on my walls?”
Arthur kisses him on the cheek.
Okay, it’s a lot mean. Hopefully sentiment will win over practicality, or well-established romance. Maybe it’s not too late to book a restaurant…
He plants his palms in the middle of Merlin’s back and gently pushes him further into the room. “It’s a surprise. I wrote something on one of them. You have to find it. Good luck.”
“Arthur? Arthur! Wait, what did you write? Oi! Dollop-head, how did you find this many sticky notes?!” Merlin begins shouting as he backs away. “Oh brilliant, you’ve put them on the ceiling…”
Note to self, Arthur thinks with his head between his hands in the bedroom, when proposing, don’t try to be cute, just get it done. He had braved leaving the room for all of about five minutes before the anxiety go too much for him and he decided to take a nap (read: hid under the covers like a child frightened of the rumbling thunder). Shit I don’t even remember where I put it…
It feels like half a day has gone by when Merlin finally walks into the bedroom.
Arthur can’t bring himself to peek and see rejection stamped all over Merlin’s face. Under the covers, the air’s getting stuffy and he’s beginning to sweat. His fringe already sticks to his forehead. A restaurant Arthur…why didn’t you pick a restaurant?
Merlin tries to break his cocoon. Cool air hits him suddenly and he reluctantly opens his eyes. Merlin sits on his knees, cheeks flushed pink, but face otherwise blank.
It physically hurts. Seeing Merlin makes him want to throw up because he’s messed this up, maybe it was too fast, he’s scared him off…
With a folded up sticky note (now forever known as wretched message transmitter) clutched between thumb and forefinger, Merlin hands it over to Arthur still looking nonplussed.
A small part of him is proud that his fingers don’t tremble as he takes the note. Oh god what the hell does this mean? “It’s blank…” he whispers already feeling the tears collecting in the corners of his eyes.
Merlin’s mouth drops open. Quickly he snatches the note back as if Arthur’s done him some personal wrong, and checks it before tossing it over his shoulder and huffing. “Shit, that wasn’t…why do we have so much trouble being normal? We’re complicated people…”
Earnest eyes meet his own when Merlin’s takes his chin in hand.
Arthur shakes himself out of Merlin’s grasp ignoring the hurt that scurries across Merlin’s face. “What do you mean complicated?” He raises himself onto his elbows and drags his body up so that he’s resting against the headboard. Merlin hangs his head seemingly in defeat.
Here it comes…
With a soft exhale of breath, Merlin straddles his waist placing Arthur’s hands on his hips. Confusion makes Arthur hesitate and begin to remove them, but Merlin’s fixes him with a look that dares him to try. “I hope you’re ready for this Atlas,” he whispers reaching into his pocket and pulling out another folded sticky note. “Here you go.”
His fingers automatically tighten on Merlin’s hips as he stares at the words. “Really?”
“What does it say?” Merlin says slightly amused and a little breathy. Merlin kisses him soundly on the lips before moving his attention onto Arthur’s neck.
The note floats onto the bed, forgotten.
(You’re lucky you’re pretty).
Yellow sticky note on the key dish:
Gone to Gwaine’s – he’s been stupid.
Can you check on Percy?
Call himGo around to his place.
I might not be home tonight.
"Do you think being in public will prevent him from leaping over the table to strangle me for despoiling you?” Sitting on their bed, Merlin’s fingers tug harshly at the knot of his tie. His suit, pressed so crisp that it could cut paper, and shoes polished until dull reflection trapeze across them is the fanciest that Arthur’s ever seen him.
Catching his fiancée’s gaze – andholyshitIhaveafiancée – in the mirror, Arthur snorts tying his tie. “Despoiling me? I’ll have you know that I was despoiled long before I met you.” He readjusts his collar ignoring the squeeze of the tie tight against his throat, constricting his airway like a coiled snake.
Merlin flops backwards, arms spread wide, over the bedspread. “Wonderful, that’s just what I needed to hear.” He sits up again. “Actually, no, they don’t count.”
This should be interesting.
Snagging his jacket from the coat hanger, Arthur shrugs himself into it. “Because?”
“You didn’t love them.”
“Are you saying that I love you?” Arthur smirks into the mirror catching Merlin’s reflection sticking his tongue out.
“I’m saying that I was also despoiled long before I met you,” Merlin returns cheekily grinning at him.
So not cool. Arthur turns, pulling at his cuffs and steps over to the bed standing between Merlin’s open legs. “Firstly can we stop saying despoiling and its variants, and secondly, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You were snow when we met.”
“And you totally ploughed me.”
Christ almighty…He can’t help the laugh that escapes and nods slightly bashful at hearing it put like that.
Merlin rolls his eyes, standing up and looping his arms around Arthur's neck. “Fine we’ve only had each other but that’s not going to stop your father from murdering me and burying my body in the backyard.”
The mention of his father turns Arthur sombre. It won’t come to that….he’s sure of it.
Dinner doesn’t go so well and as his father glares at them above the top of his menu, Arthur wonders whether he’ll be buried right next to Merlin.
Uther sips his wine. “So you’re an artist.”
“Yes, I am,” Merlin confirms with a small smile. Arthur looks down watching his fingertips idly scratch the cream coloured tablecloth. The restaurant is a little quieter than usual tonight since it’s the middle of the week, but even then Arthur’s beginning to feel claustrophobic.
There’s an unimpressed hum coming from his father.
“You went to university to become an artist.”
All statements, no questions.
Merlin straightens his back, his pleasant turn of voice cut with an undercurrent of contempt. “I went to university to learn.”
As the waiter walks past their table, Arthur snatches him arm quickly. “Wine please.” Merlin offers him a reassuring smile, his foot curling around Arthur’s ankle. The gentle pressure reminds him that there’s actually a purpose for tonight. There’s a reason for Arthur walking into the fires of hell.
“Father, I actually…well there’s something I wanted to tell you.”
“Father, I’m getting married.” Across the table, Uther lowers his menu very slowly.
Arthur feels like he’s sitting in a vacuum. He can’t see or hear anything except for his father. It’s just him and his father, sitting, starting at each other in silence that is uncomfortably…loud.
“I’m getting married,” he repeats in case he wasn’t heard the first time, “To Merlin.”
Uther doesn’t even glance in Merlin’s direction before abruptly standing. “No, I forbid it.”
“Father please –“
“Do not contact me again.”
An empty chair now sits at their table.
“You know, on second thoughts, I’m not really hungry…” He’s been disowned. He just knows it. Shit, I’d rather be buried in the garden.
Merlin takes his hand, slumping into his seat as if all his strings have been cut. “Come on, Morgana and Leon are waiting for us. They’ve got a bed with our names on it and Leon’s throwing in breakfast in the morning.”
“You told her?” His eyes still haven’t moved from the empty chair. His father was sitting there, not even five minutes ago.
“She guessed.” Merlin rests his head on the palm of his hand, elbow resting in turn, on the tabletop.
“I knew he wasn’t going to be happy, but I thought he’d…you know…put that aside for me.” He pushes the chair out, and stands, his eyes still fixed on that damn empty chair.
Merlin pays the bill. “Don’t give up – he just needs some time to adjust. He’ll come around.”
Arthur shakes his head, his hand finding Merlin’s and clutching tightly. “He’ll hold this over me for the rest of my life.”
“He’s only one person, admittedly an important person, but one person all the same. Your family consists of more than just him. You do know that?”
Arthur nods. “I do.”
‘Hey, slow down, no need for those two words just yet. Save it for the big day.” Merlin winks at him as they walk out onto the street.
Red apple on the fridge:
You took me to a pottery class last month.
That was a horrible idea. I’m sorry that I got you banned from that place.
(I’m not really sorry – I told you that I wouldn’t do well there but you didn’t listen).
Arthur (your husband)
“Do we need anything?”
It’s absolutely bucketing down. Seriously, it’s practically going sideways, hitting the windows of the supermarket and it doesn’t seem to want to die out anytime soon. The supermarket lights flicker a little and Arthur finds himself rushing through the aisles lest the power suddenly fail, the automatic doors don’t open, and he finds himself spending the night on the supermarket floor.
As he picks up a can of soup he muses that if that scenario does come to past, at least he won’t be hungry. His husband on the other hand, currently warm and dry, is stuck in a foodless house.
Phone wedged in between his ear and shoulder, he repeats himself but only hears the dial tone. He dials Merlin again relaxing when he hears Merlin’s voice on the other end of the line. “Did you hang up on me?”
“What? No!” What makes you say that?” Merlin replies probably waving his hands around because that what he does when he thinks he’s been slighted.
“Because…never mind. Did we need anything?”
“Oh, yeah we need…”
He’s reaching the checkout counter. “Merlin?”
“We need…” Merlin trails off and Arthur hears the whoosh of air coming out of his lungs. “Jesus fucking Christ…”
“Merlin!” he chastises even though he’s not religious.
“The stuff that comes out of cows!”
Arthur is silent for a few seconds before he barks out a laugh. “You mean milk?”
There’s a sigh of relief from Merlin. “Yes, milk! I swear Arthur, I’m worse than usual today.”
He makes his way over to the fridge and puts a few cartons into the trolley. “You’re just tired. Gallery opening soon, it’s probably stress. Listen I’m almost done. When I get home, I’ll cook, we’ll eat and then you go to bed.”
The teen at the checkout counter gives him an uninterested nod of the head as greeting.
“I’ve got lessons to plan,” Merlin yawns.
“I’ll do them,” Arthur says entering his pin.
“You’re always doing them now, Arthur –“
“I don’t mind. You’d do the same for me. Get some rest. Okay, I’m getting off the phone and about to run to the car…I’m going to bloody drown in this carpark,” he mutters darkly as he looks up at the angry sky.
“Try not to get wet.”
‘Merlin, it’s pissing down. As much as I’d like to listen to you, it’s not going to happen.” They say goodbye and Arthur flips up the hood of his jacket in some small attempt of defence against the oncoming storm.
Dark blue Tetris L-block in the middle of the TV:
We should go to India. I want to see the Taj Mahal.
Create me an artistic burial chamber please?
Australia fights England in the Ashes.
Arthur sits on the couch, chocolate cake in hand, watching English hit another six. He’d jump up and pump his hands in the air if it didn’t mean his cake would probably fly across the room and hit the TV or the ceiling, or fall on his head.
No one seems to understand the importance of this cultural institution.
Elyan, Lance, Leon and Gwaine are more into football.
Morgana (and surprisingly enough, Percival) think that any sport worth watching should draw blood.
Gwen and Merlin don’t care for sports at all.
“Arthur how many years have we been married for?”
He turns down the television seeing Merlin watching him with his lip caught between his teeth.
He thinks back and tries to hide the soft smile that he knows now graces his face.
A cloudy day.
Blue skies and black suits.
Red Velvet cupcakes.
Getting home after the reception only to find themselves in the living room ‘slow dancing’ but really just standing in the circle of each other’s arms because they’re married.
Merlin shuffles. “We got married when we were…twenty sixish…so about four years. Getting tired of me yet?”
“Yeah.” Merlin grins at him impishly and walks back into the kitchen. A few seconds later he ducks his head back into the living room. “Arthur, how long was it again?”
“Four. See, I know, I care! I am a wonderful husband am I not?”
“The best,” Merlin says seriously; his eyes are holding something back though. If Arthur dared to look closer he might just be able to see what it is –
-but another wicket is felled by the Australia. Arthur finds himself shouting at the TV as they replay the dismissal that should never have been.
Purple square on the carton of milk and the fridge handle:
Put the milk in the fridge.
And please don’t forget to close the door after.
Arthur (your husband)
Sender: Merlin Emrys
Arthur, come home. Please.
Message Received: 4:23PM
Sender: Merlin Emrys
Message Received: 4:24PM
He sends a glance to Carol, the principal, asking for permission to leave. She frowns but waves her hand in the direction of the door He quickly darts out of the staffroom and into the corridor. The phone rings once, twice and then Merlin picks up. “I’m in the middle of a staff meeting…what’s wrong?”
“Arthur.” The tone of Merlin’s voice has him leaning, back against the door. “I’ve been let go from the school.”
“I don’t want to talk about it over the phone. Just…come home when you can.”
‘When he can’ is not an option as he stares at his screen. He re-enters the room, immediately gathering his things.
“Arthur, is everything okay? You look a bit peaky dear.” Maureen part of the administration team, pushes her glasses up to the bridge of her nose and looks peers at him carefully. Judging by the movement of her hand she’s about a half second away from placing it against his forehead.
He shoots her a smile and backs away. “Family emergency, I need to get home. Sorry Carol.”
Lucas catches his eye – year seven to nine mathematics – frowning. “Is Merlin alright?”
The question has him hesitating at the door. He says ‘yes’ waving them off, but his mind is going nonono.
When Arthur gets home he’s not even through the door before he starts calling Merlin’s name. The panic ratchets up higher and higher when Merlin doesn’t respond.
He makes his way through to the end of the house. “Shit, Merlin!”
The door leading to the back garden is open.
Merlin lies on the grass, arms spread eagled, on his back.
Please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead.
Arthur rushes over, dropping onto his knees, not seeing any visible injury. It’s a small relief considering Merlin hasn’t opened his eyes. “Merlin, can you hear me?”
He’s already dialling the number to the hospital when Merlin speaks; his voice raw and scratchy. “They could’ve died.”
“Who could’ve died??” Merlin keeps his eyes closed and his mouth pursed. Arthur’s never been as terrified as he is now.
Merlin croaks, “The children.”
What the – “Merlin what children, what happened today?” He wants to shake Merlin and scream into his face because he’s sitting here freaking the fuck out and Merlin’s just lying on the grass with his eyes still closed and his arms still out and just what the fuck is happening to them right now…
It’s getting colder now.
“There was a field trip today.” Arthur puts his hand on Merlin’s palm inwardly cursing the chill of his skin.
“You’re frozen. We need to get you inside.”
Merlin acts like he can’t hear Arthur and continues on. “We went to the park, to you know, draw inspiration and I left them there.” Merlin’s fingers curl over his own and grip punishingly.
“What do you mean, left them there?” He thinks over Merlin’s part time schedule teaching art at the local primary school, just down the road from Arthur’s own secondary school. Part time means that he only teaches Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Today is Friday, and that means that he only has a year two class. Six year olds.
“They could’ve gotten lost. They could’ve been kidnapped. I left them at the park. I was at home in the middle of the day and I got a phone call. Jeff was so angry at me. It’s like I completely forgot about them. A woman found them and returned them to school.”
Arthur sits in the cold, his fingers going numb and Merlin, almost lifeless beside them. “How could you forget them?” he asks, not angry, but confused. Merlin’s never lost a child before a child has never lost their belongings with him in charge. Merlin and loss just don’t go together.
He takes a quick glance at his husband and startles seeing Merlin’s lips tinged blue. He shakes off the onslaught of sluggishness that assaults his body. Merlin’s only dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and barefooted. He quickly stands up and hauls Merlin inside.
They make their way to the couch, and Arthur deposits Merlin right in the middle of it, pulling a blanket around his husband’s shoulders and turns up the heating before retreating into the kitchen.
He’s stirring sugar into milk when his mobile rings. “Arthur, how’s Merlin?”
It takes Arthur a moment to realise that he’s talking to Gwaine. Part of him wants to point out that Gwaine’s never actually called him Arthur before. The man prefers, for some strange reason, Blondie, or even weirder, Princess, but the fact that Gwaine called him and used his actual name speaks of a seriousness that should not be lightened. “What happened today at school?”
Gwaine sighs. “I don’t know. Jeff told him to take a few days off but Merlin resigned. Mate are you both okay? Have you cheated on him?”
“Fuck you very much Gwaine. I’d never do something like that…” Arthur trails off letting the unlike you go unsaid. “And what do you mean he resigned, he said he’d been ‘let go’?”
Gwaine’s voice sounds like it’s coming out of clenched teeth. “Stow the self-righteous crap okay. We aren’t talking about me and Percy. Do you know if Merlin’s…you know?”
The spoon clatters in the sink, bouncing from corner to corner. “No he hasn’t. Gwaine get to a point before I find you and kill you.”
“I’m just trying to figure out what’s wrong with him. He quit – straight out. Arthur, I think Merlin’s been off for a while now; I’ve been covering for him with Jeff. I don’t know anything about art – I can barely make macaroni necklaces!”
The world would shudder if you could, Arthur thinks, already envisioning pasta related monstrosities. “He’s tired; maybe he’s coming down with the flu…”
A quiet little exhale of breath travels down the line and Arthur frowns hearing the hesitancy in Gwaine’s voice. “He’s yelling at children, forgetting names…at our last staff meeting he got up to go to the bathroom and never came back. I found him on the swings outside and he told me he didn’t remember the meeting in the first place. I am telling you…something is wrong with him.”
Arthur pulls out biscuits from the cupboard above his head. “Okay…I-I’ll talk to him-”
“No. I’m not going to accuse him of anything or jump to conclusions. There is no reason for it. I’ll sort it out okay.”
“If you’re sure.”
“I am. It’s…thanks, you know, for looking out for him.” Arthur feigns pain in saying the words but really, he admits that Gwaine’s dedication to his husband is admirable, and in the past a little questionable (although the question was put to rest when he married Percival).
Gwaine lets out a rueful laugh. “That must’ve killed you, Princess.”
Yellow sticky note on Arthur’s present for his 23rd birthday:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DOLLOP-HEAD!
LOTS OF LOVE,
YOUR IDIOT xx
Merlin runs into the bathroom, tie askew and hair standing on end. He looks like a hipster. Arthur shudders at the thought. He didn’t marry a hipster…he married a soft version of a hippie, but not a hipster.
“Have you seen my keys?”
Mouth still crowded with foam and the head of his blue toothbrush, he shakes his head and says ‘did you try the dish by the door’. Actually he doesn’t say that, what he does say aloud is more: “Di foo fy de ish aye fe oor?”
He gets a raised eyebrow for his troubles.
Spitting into the sink he turn the tap on quickly rinsing out his mouth and washing his face forgoing his daily shave. “I said, dish by the door. You know…where you always put your keys after you get in.”
He doesn’t notice the tightness around his husband’s eyes or the hunching of his shoulders until Merlin bites back icily. “Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.”
Immediately his brain backtracks trying to figure out what he’s done to warrant such a response.
His brain comes up empty though. File not found.
“Retrace your steps.” Merlin huffs like Arthur’s being especially trying and Arthur can feel his hackles begin to rise. It’s early and though he’s awake, he’s still tired, grumpy and un-caffeinated so he’s rather not deal with his husband’s mawkish attitude. “Or not.”
"I’ve been rushing around all morning. Of course I’m not going to remember where I’ve been in the house.” Merlin stops and pulls his tie off. “Why is this house so goddamn huge? I can’t find any of my shit in it.”
Watching Merlin’s blood pressure climb, Arthur finds his mouth dropping open in surprise. “What’s wrong with you today? Calm down, you’re seeing Morgana and Gwaine in an hour.”
“Why would I want to see them?” he sneers.
Arthur pauses watching the hardness displayed on Merlin’s face. “You agreed to meet up – they’re worried about you. Christ, right now? I’m worried about you.”
“Well don’t be. You always do shit like this…”
“Freak out when I express anything other than…” Merlin pauses wide-eyed for a moment until Arthur places a hand on his arm. Merlin’s skin is warm and his muscles twitch frantically under his palm. Merlin shrugs him off and stalks into their bedroom.
Arthur follows feeling unease slither along his skin. “Merlin?”
“I’m not in the mood for this.” Merlin rips at his shirt. Arthur hears the pinging of plastic buttons hitting their tiled floor and just what on each his happening today. He’s never seen Merlin this angry. It has to be a clone…or a changeling…or…an alternative universe version of him.
Merlin looks at him, nostrils flaring, and Arthur wants to flee.
There’s nothing but silence. Merlin turns back quickly stripping out of his trousers and pulls on a pair of sweatpants. The muscles on his back ripple and tense, Merlin’s shoulders taut and his movements stiff.
Arthur blinks once with his eyes fixed on Merlin because the man in front of him is not his husband.
Yellow sticky between page 15 and 16 of War and Peace
yellowwhite and bluegreen paper…and food...
Can you knock on the door and leave it by the table, don’t come in.
“So I want all of your assignments, double spaced, bibliographies and with names on the top right hand corner.” He hands out the rubric sheet to his students, all the time, his eyes scanning over them to make sure that they’re paying attention. “Christopher, I see you on your phone.” The boy in question drops the phone onto his desk like it’s on fire. Yes, he likes the power. “As you can see, your name is worth one mark.”
Murmurs break out amongst the class.
He’s quite proud of this sheet. It’s informative, all clean lines and nice fonts. Merlin had even said so himself after agreeing to print it out for him when Arthur was still marking piles of year eight homework. He quickly looks at the clock and then to some of his students who look anything other than impressed.
He needs to get out more.
“Last time a quarter of you forgot to put names on your work. Either you believe that your work is unworthy of your name, or you believe that I can distinguish between twenty-five different essays all typed up within the same parameters.” As he reaches the front, he puts down the remaining sheets of paper and leans against his desk. He’s got a good bunch of kids this year, despite his grumblings to Merlin.
“Mr Pendragon?” A hand shoots up. He stands a little taller and nods indicated the girl, Emma, to speak. “This isn’t right.”
“What do you mean?”
“These aren’t the rubric sheets. I think it belongs to your husband.” The classroom seems to grow in volume as they focus on the paper on their desks. Arthur reaches for his extra copies and sees what’s on it. He can feel the students begin to stare at him as they make sense of the words and tries to speak but is stopped when his throat chokes up forcing him to cough. When it feels like he's loosened the hand clasped around his throat he manages to say. “Everyone, sheets back to me. All of them now. I’ll email the rubric tonight.”
Josh holds the gathered sheets over his table with worried green eyes surveying him – Arthur’s being assessed. “Mr Pendragon,” he looks at the sheets, unwilling to meet Arthur’s eyes, “are you okay?”
He swallows and collects the sheets of paper. “I’m fine Josh.”
As the bell to go home rings, his class stands uncharacteristically silent, and collects their belongings. Quietly they each murmur, ‘have a good weekend’, all shuffling slowly out the door like they don’t want to leave him just yet.
His students should be screaming about what they’re going to do on the weekend. They should be excited to get out of school. Instead they’re dragging their feet, worried for him.
Arthur musters up a bright smile clapping Megan and Louis on their respective shoulders and herding them all out. “Everything is fine. Go out. Enjoy your weekend. Write your essays. Begin with your names!”
With the last student disappearing down the corridor he closes the door and drags a hand down his face. How is he going to go home and act like he doesn’t know what he knows? How can he pretend that everything is fine when he’s read this?”
Gaius, you need to help me.
I hit Arthur. I got angry and hit him. Oh god, I don’t remember what happened. We were arguing about…something and then I was shoving him. I shoved him into a wall and then I hit him.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
I can’t remember things anymore. I’ve forgotten how to...
I can’t find my words.
Yesterday morning I had no idea who Arthur was. For an hour I thought I was living with a stranger until he kissed me on the cheek and told me that he had to go to work.
Gaius, please help me.
Don’t tell Arthur.
Watermelon slice on the house keys:
My favourite drink is chocolate milk.
Your favourite drink is iced coffee with caramel.
Arthur (your husband)
There’s too much to do.
“Prince Prat, wake up!”
Arthur snuffles into his pillow and rolls over. A hand spreads out onto Merlin’s side probably finding it cold. His fingers curl briefly like they’re not completely convinced that Merlin is away from their bed.
“Over here.” He comes up pressing a kiss to the back of Arthur’s neck and threads his fingers through the blonde locks. “Come on. We’ve got a busy day ahead of us.”
Finally Arthur deigns to turn his head and cracks a bleary eye open.
Open them both.
As if Arthur’s reading his mind, the other one flutters open. His heart beats faster for a second; tiny thumps that he swears beat ‘Arthur’ over and over and over again.
Settling on his knees beside the bed he folds his arms on the top of the mattress and leans his chin on them.
Arthur scoots over, trying to shake his fringe when it falls into his eyes. He shakes his eyes clear and puts a hand over his mouth to catch his morning breath. “It’s not that bright outside,” he croaks. “It’s early…dark…sleepy-time.” There’s a little crease between his eyes and Merlin smooths it away with his thumb.
“Let’s go to the park. Watch the sunrise.”
Arthur blinks and a small frown appears. “Can I get coffee?”
Ah yes, Arthur is not a morning person. Merlin’s fingers automatically find Arthur’s face, tracing a path from his eyebrow, down the curve of his nose, to the corner of Arthur’s mouth.
He leans in close like he’s letting Arthur in on a secret. “I’ll even feed you.”
Arthur’s lips quirk up into a smile.
Fluoro pink flower on a set of paintbrushes:
Why do you call me Atlas?
“But I’m only thirty-one.”
Gaius looks down at the chart as if he has to confirm it to himself. For a moment, Arthur thinks, that he’s made a mistake. They’ll be a widening of eyes and a profuse apology followed by ‘I see that we’ve mixed up your results with someone else’s’. Through it all, the grip of Merlin’s hand will loosen until they’re both holding their hands over their mouths, shoulders shaking in silent laughter born from dizzying relief because they’re alright.
Gaius softly sighs.
Merlin’s grip around his hand gets tighter and tighter until his fingers grow red and begin to throb.
They’re not alright.
“It’s called Early-Onset for a reason,” Gaius reminds Merlin. Merlin stares at him. Arthur nods once already accepting the outcome.
Merlin’s gaze moves out to the window, he doesn’t look at either of them…
Arthur? I need to talk to you.
What’s wrong? I swear it wasn’t my fault.
I don’t even want to know. Sit please.
Love, what is it?
I’ve been seeing Gaius – medically. He’s getting my results tomorrow. I need you to come with me.
What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you tell me?
I don’t know what wrong, I didn’t want you to worry but…just, you’ll come right?
Of course I will…were worrying for no reason, you’ll be fine...
Arthur turns his attention back onto Gaius. He reads Gaius’ face; eyes so sad, fingers trembling as they play with the edge of Merlin’s medical report. This is killing you too, isn’t it?
Merlin’s meant to be untouchable, protected at all costs. Merlin isn’t a victim, or helpless by any stretch of the imagination.
But that's not entirely true anymore.
“My boy, I am so sorry.”
“I’m thirty-one,” Merlin repeats as if it will change the outcome. “I’m only thirty-one…”
Arthur wants to scream.
He doesn’t. What he does do is clear his throat, straightens his back in the chair, squeezes Merlin’s hand and tells Gaius to email him everything.
“I’m going to take him home.”
Merlin doesn’t talk on the way back to the car but that’s okay. Merlin is digesting. Trying to take it in and understand what this means for his future.
Arthur can allow him the time. Oh god. I can’t though. He stops on the footpath and stares at Merlin who leans against the car. They haven’t got the time, to be more precise, Merlin doesn’t have the time.
“Arthur.” He’s not even sure that Merlin spoke aloud in the silent street. “Are you okay?”
“I should be asking you that question.”
“Arthur-“ People smile at them as they walk past and all Arthur can think is, you are so lucky that you don’t know what I do. “I’m afraid.”
“Me too.” Arthur opens the door and gently manoeuvres Merlin into the car before getting into the driver’s side. Merlin’s settles, head against the window.
Arthur stares at his husband before turning on the ignition.
In sickness and in health (and zombie apocalypses-
Merlin you can’t say that!
Because that’s never going to happen.
You can’t know that!
Fine, then I’m adding nuclear war.
You’re such a pragmatist).
Red circle on the TV remote:
Press the red button to turn off the TV
Arthur (your husband)
Arthur stares at the range of sticky note and almost bursts into tears.
He needs to write five digits. Just five simple digits that disarm the alarm of the house.
He picks up the pen to begin but finds that he can’t.
This note isn’t an everyday reminder.
This note is different.
This note has context.
This note signals the beginning of the end.
Instead of those five digits he writes;
I love you xx
Merlin walks into the room as he stares at the three little words written in his slim handwriting.
“What are you doing?”
It’s been a week since Gaius’ office.
Four days since Hunith first cried.
Three days since Balinor hopped on a plane from Japan.
A day since Morgana sat quietly on their couch, hands over little Mordred’s ears, and cursed a blue streak so long that it could rival the length of the Great Wall of China.
He quickly covers the note with a piece of paper as arms come up around his shoulders. Merlin’s cheek presses into his own.
He feels the kiss dropped onto the side of his neck, his eyes sliding shut in response.
“I was writing the code for the alarm in case…”
Merlin hums near his ear. “Good idea. Give it to me and I’ll stick it up now.”
“I haven’t written it yet.”
Merlin spins the chair around. Arthur leans back a little and looks at him. “I thought you said you did.”
Arthur spins around to the desk and takes the note in hand. “I couldn’t let that be the first thing I wrote you.”
He holds it up for Merlin’s eyes to see.
Merlin quickly snatches the note, eyes barely taking a glance, and climbs onto Arthur’s lap kissing him until they’re both out of breath, flushed, chests heaving and foreheads pressed together. Arthur’s hands are on Merlin’s hips, Merlin’s arms around Arthur’s neck. They’re staring into each other’s eyes, blue against blue.
Arthur offers Merlin a small smile.
They both ignore the tear that trails down Merlin’s cheek.
Yellow sticky on the bathroom mirror:
Won’t be able to make it today, wouldn’t want your friends to know that you’re dating a ‘dumb little country kid’
At Merlin’s insistence they hold a dinner at their house.
Arthur had agreed, not exactly happy, but supportive nonetheless, and agreed to organise most of it. Merlin had gone off, mostly staying in his studio but venturing out, time to time offering assistance that Arthur waved away.
“You aren’t ready yet.” Arthur walks into the bedroom, intending to change out of his food splattered t-shirt.
The lump in the centre of the bed doesn’t move but Arthur hears Merlin ask, “Ready for what? It’s early.”
He doesn’t pause, instead moving to the bureau and opening the second drawer trying to find another clean shirt. “Everyone’s coming over tonight.”
And at this Arthur does pause. “To…to see you, so we could tell them…about your diagnosis?”
“I’m not ill Arthur. I told you, it’s just a cold. It’ll clear up in a few days.”
“Merlin,” he makes his way to the bedside table and reaches into it, pulling out a piece of paper and pamphlets. Merlin peeks out, sticking his hand out and takes it curiously pulling himself out and sitting up when he reads the information. Arthur hates having to watch the slow slump of Merlin’s shoulders.
“I forgot about that.”
Arthur lets out a snort and then stops. Why am I laughing, oh my god, I’m a horrible husband.
“Arthur it’s okay to laugh. That was funny.” Merlin slowly gets out of bed and shuffles to the bathroom to get ready, although not before twice patting the spot over Arthur’s heart. “How long do I have?”
“After Morgana and Leon get here should be fine.”
“Arthur, where’s the…” Merlin reappears, toothbrush in hand and waves It around. “Foam, cleaning thing?”
“Oh, we ran out this morning…hang on, I’ll check the other bathroom.”
On his way there the doorbell rings and the door swings open. “Arthur!”
“Morgana. Hi Mordred, you wanna say hello to me?” he pokes Mordred’s nose and tries not to take it to heart that the kid does nothing more than star back at him. “Hey mate.”
“Arthur,” Leon says walking into the kitchen. “How’s Merlin?”
“He’s getting ready. I need to find him toothpaste. Excuse me.”
When he gets back to the bathroom, he sees Merlin sitting slumped on the toilet seat. “Morgana, Leon and Mordred are downstairs. Here’s the toothpaste.” He puts his hand on Merlin’s back feeling a little jump under his touch. “Love?”
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Merlin says with his head still hung low over his chest.
“What, brushing your teeth? I think that’s the only idea that matters. Can you imagine me without teeth? You’d never kiss me again,” Arthur teases, trying to get Merlin out of whatever funk has decided to swamp him.
“I mean the dinner. Who’s coming?”
“Gwen, Lance, Thomas, your mum and dad, Gwaine, Percy, Elyan, Mith, Gaius…and the trio currently wrecking our kitchen,” he lists off wincing as he hears another crash.”
“Oh…so many…I want to go back to bed,” Merlin mumbles.
“Hey, please Merlin. Don’t shut yourself off from them, from me.” Gently, he lifts Merlin up and they shuffle over to the vanity. “Try and enjoy tonight,” Arthur asks, kissing Merlin’s cheek and putting the tube of toothpaste in his hand.
Merlin tilts his head to the side. “Arthur?”
Arthur moves, hooking his chin over Merlin’s shoulder so that he can see them both in the mirror’s reflection. His hands trail up and down Merlin’s side. “Hmm?”
“What am I doing?”
“Brushing your teeth,” he reminds Merlin taking a brief second to push his face into the back of Merlin’s left shoulder. Sadness threatens to overwhelm him and he takes in a deep breath, his nose filling with Merlin’s scent. It’s okay Arthur. It’ll be okay.
When he collects himself he looks back up.
Merlin’s grip on the handle grows tighter until his knuckles go white. “How…”
“You squeeze a little bit of it onto the bristles and then put it into your mouth and…brush...” He thought process stutters, fucking great description that is Arthur.
Merlin sighs. “I don’t understand. Will you…”
Arthur brings his hands away from Merlin’s sides, trailing them down Merlin’s arms until he liberates both the toothbrush and toothpaste.
“I’ve got it.”
Eventually, with Merlin ready, they walk into the kitchen. Gwaine and Elyan sit at the breakfast counter debating the merits of vodka and whisky. Gwen and Morgana sit at the dining table, heads bent together and eyes fixed on a mobile phone. Thomas and Mordred play together on the floor. Mordred pushes a toy car through Thomas’s legs and Thomas waits patiently whilst telling Mordred that he wants to drive a train one day.
“Lance went to get Percy from the fire station. Mithian’s on her way. Your parents and Gaius are…in the driveway,” Morgana says cocking her head in the direction of the door.
They both trade glances and gape at her. “How did you hear that?”
“I hear everything,” she retorts. She forces Merlin to sit and gets him a glass of water with an additional kiss to the top of his head as she goes past. With Merlin sufficiently distracted with Gwen, she takes Arthur by the elbow. “He’s certain about this,” she asks pulling him into the alcove leading to the study.
Morgana leans against the wall and surveys him. He shifts on his feet unsure of what she’s looking for. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m…awesome.” Sarcasm drips from his voice but he can’t find it in himself to care. Merlin seems to live in his studio for most of the week; door locked, pop music bleeding through the cracks, cutting Arthur off of the island that occasionally revealed himself to be his husband.
Rolling her eyes, she moves closer to him. “Arthur. Cut the bullshit. I’m not Merlin – I don’t need to be protected.”
“I’m well aware…what do you want me to say? I’m fine, Merlin’s not. Its shit but I’m doing a good job of dealing with it.”
“Yeah, too good a job. That’s what concerns me.”
He’s fine. Honest to God, he’s perfectly fine. What he’s going through comes secondary to Merlin because, Christ, what Merlin’s going through is unimaginable.
Arthur scowls. “What do you want from me? Do you want me curled up in a corner bawling my eyes out?”
She smacks the back of his head. “Ow!”
“Don’t be melodramatic. All I want is for you to acknowledge that as much as we’re here for Merlin, we’re here for you too.”
Okay, so, not a bitch. She pulls him down and kisses his forehead softly. “Come, I’ve stolen you away from Merlin’s side long enough.”
“There he is, we were about to send out a search party.” Hunith quickly hugs Arthur tightly and something inside him crumples as he feels her body tremor. It’s just a little movement but it’s enough to make him want to take Merlin and run far away in the hopes that nothing will hurt him. Of course, no matter how far they run, it’ll end in the inevitable.
When the others arrive they sit around the dinner table laughing and joking. If half of them notice that the other half is quiet no one makes a point of it. Not until Merlin stands clearing his throat formally with his lip caught between his teeth.
Lance notices first quickly hushing everyone. “Gwen mentioned that you had new for us.”
“Ah, right. I did.” Hunith lets out a little squeak at the end of the table. “Mum, don’t please-“
“Hush now, let him speak.” Balinor takes her hand and squeezes it gently though his eyes are unmistakable watery too.
Arthur looks across the table as Gwaine, whose brow is furrowed and mouth pursed, says, “Someone explain. Now, because I’m jumping to all sorts of conclusions and none of them are good.”
“Right, Gwaine, sorry.” Merlin shifts on his feet and closes his fist on the table. “A few of you have probably noticed that I’m…off.” Merlin looks at Gwaine who in turn looks at Arthur. “Yes, Arthur told me what you told him. It’s good that you did. It’s good that you noticed because I wouldn’t. Couldn’t…” his voice breaks.
Under the lights Merlin goes paler. “Merlin?” asks Arthur softly peering up at his husband.
“I went to see Gaius…I have Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease.” Hunith begins crying into Balinor’s shoulder and Arthur wonders if Uther would have the same reaction if it was Arthur’s diagnosis. He can’t see it happening. Maybe if his mother had survived and sat at the table, hand tucked in Uther’s own…just maybe.
Around the rest of the table, faces convey shock and sadness. Mithian gasps grabbing Elyan’s hand; they haven’t been dating long but Arthur hopes she’ll stick around. She fits with them. Lance looks at Gwen and then at Merlin and then at Gwen again. There’s sadness in his eyes, a mixture of hurt and understanding – hurt from Gwen keeping this a secret, understanding that it was Merlin’s secret to tell.
The reaction that surprises him the most…or maybe it’s the least, is Gwaine’s. Gwaine shakes off Percy’s hand as it moves to his shoulder and pushes himself out of his seat. He looks caged in, afraid and angry. Percival remains seated and although concerned about Gwaine’s reaction, Arthur follows his lead.
Merlin drinks down a big gulp of water clapping his hands together. “I’m going to bed.”
No one stops him.
Gaius’ tired eyes roam around the table. “I suppose I’ll be answering your inquiries then,” he murmurs behind his hand.
Orange star on a sketchbook cover:
Sculpt something beautiful.
Merlin begins second-guessing himself. Maybe this would be better in person but Arthur hasn’t exactly left him alone. It’s stupid. Him hiding in the bathroom. The shower running. The door locked.
At the other end of the line the voice starts getting annoyed and Merlin has to close his eyes feeling fear inch across his skin. “Hello? I don’t have time for this, I’m hanging-“
“Arthur needs you!” he blurts out. Cold washes over his body despite the warmth of steam fogging up the mirror above the sink.
Merlin.” It’s the same distaste. The same tone that was used in that restaurant so many years ago that left Arthur fatherless and heartbroken. And him? It left him feeling so fucking guilty that he had half a mind to tell Arthur too run after Uther. To run, and promise his father that he’d marry the first women that walked past them in the street, damn Merlin to hell.
But Merlin didn’t and maybe it was selfishness on his part. That he couldn’t find it in his heart to let Arthur go because he loved that blonde prat and couldn’t imagine a life without him. No, Merlin couldn’t and wouldn’t live without him.
What he’d never consider was Arthur having to live without him. And thus, the reason that he’s sitting on the edge of the bathtub with Arthur’s mobile pressed against his ear and the door locked behind him, is to repair something that he essentially destroyed.
Maybe with him out of the way, Uther will be pleased enough to reconnect with his son.
“Don’t hang up. It’s about Arthur. You need to watch out for Arthur. You have to be there for him. You have to take the first step. He’s going to fight you at first, but don’t give up.”
Please, oh god, please.
It’s silent, but then Uther’s voice comes on strong, a little loud. Concerned. Worried. And Merlin barely stops himself from weeping and punching the air in relief. Uther still cares. “Merlin what’s wrong with my son?”
Arthur will be okay.
Purple and blue striped circle on all the doors of the house:
I’m coming home early today – we are going to have lunch together. Don’t be alarmed when I enter the room.
Don’t call the police.
Arthur (your husband)
He finds the questionnaire having searched the internet. He prints it out on a white piece of A4 paper and answers the questions on a separate piece of paper. This isn’t necessary but he needs to know, he figures that it’ll be a good way of keeping track even though a small part of him realises that he could forget any number of things on any given day.
Gwen laughs when he tells her that he’s forgotten how to print things out from the computer. She teases him for being lousy with technology. He laughs too saying that technology is stupid and it is. Everything moves so quickly. Something big today doesn’t matter tomorrow and that’s terrifying for him; whose tomorrows could cease to exist.
Pink rectangle on the sock drawer:
I love that when I come home after a bad day at work that you wear mismatched socks because it makes me smile. That’s all. That’s all I love about you…okay you’ve twisted my arm, I love you – mind, body and soul.
Arthur (your husband)
“Arthur, can you test me?”
Arthur sighs putting away the last of the dishes and turns only to see Merlin coming towards him with the questionnaire clutched in his fingers. This isn’t necessary, he wants to say, but he knows that Merlin will win – no matter how many times he says no. “Okay, give it to me.”
A chair squeaks across the kitchen tiles.
“Short Portable Mental Status Questionnaire – are you sure?” It’s out of date, by a decade at least. There are probably tests that are updated or completely brand new. More meaningful. Better. Accurate. But Merlin’s insistent, he wants to use this one.
“Yes, c’mon Arthur…first question, date, month and year. 15th of January, 2011.”
Okay good so far. “Day of the week?”
“Tuesday!” Merlin chirps and Arthur give him a little grin.
At this Merlin’s brow furrows and his fingers begin to tap at the table. He has his eyes closed and it’s instinctual, wanting to guide him along, but Arthur won’t because it wouldn’t help. Eventually Merlin waves his hand and sighs. “I uh…pass.”
Damn it. He flings the tea-towel over his shoulder and leans against the sink. “Phone number?”
Merlin doesn’t even try. “I don’t remember.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-one.” He beams at Arthur proudly. Arthur can only return a weak smile; they celebrated Merlin’s thirty-third birthday last Tuesday.
“Where were you born?”
He doesn’t correct the question figuring that most of the world would know it anyway. “Who is the current president of the United States?”
“The president before him?”
“Mother’s maiden name?”
“Conroy.” YES! YES!
Arthur keeps his fingers crossed out of Merlin’s field of view. “Count backwards from twenty by three’s.”
“Twenty…seventeen, fifteen…eleven…I’m getting them wrong aren’t I.”Arthur tallies up the total and breathes a sigh of relief when he sees the scoring chart. It’s not great by any means, that they're even doing this in the first place, but it could’ve been worse. “So what is it?”
“According to this, which might I add is still extremely outdated: mild cognitive impairment. But in all fairness neither of us apparently did well when it comes to mathematics so that last question barely counts.” Merlin, shrugs like it doesn’t matter but that’s a lie. “Hey, it’s not that bad…although we’re gonna have to discuss you shaving a few years off your age. Any younger and I’ll be seen as a cradle-robber.”
“How old am I?”
“Thirty-three last week…you think you’re thirty-one. I mean I guess you could pass; you are rather youthfully put together.” Thankfully Merlin takes accepts his humour for what it is and cheekily replies: “Well you are older than me.”
“Only by a few months!” Whilst Arthur did open this can of worms, he can’t help how his voice screams indignation.
Merlin coos like a baby…creepily, before adding, “Well that’s a lifetime to a child.”
Yellow sticky note on Arthur’s mobile phone:
Morgana wants roses, mum wants daisies, and Gwen wants sunflowers and none of them can agree on anything. I’M DYING!
Make a decision because I can’t. If you don’t I’LL
DIEBE DEAD. Do you know what that means Arthur?
“Arthur, I need you to help me move a canvas.”
Merlin walks into the office streaked in blue and red paint. It’s even dripping onto the floor leaving purple-y puddles around his feet. Arthur lowers the lid of his laptop. “What did you do, bathe in your paint?”
“What does it matter, I’m the one who cleans around here,” Merlin retorts already leading the way. Having no choice other than to follow his husband, Arthur puts the laptop down and makes his way to Merlin’s studio.
“Reporting for duty, sir!” Arthur shouts with a mock salute.
Merlin jumps into the air dropping his paint brush. “Arthur!”
“So…what am I doing?”
“I don’t know.”
Arthur doesn’t comment on how often those words are used between them now. Merlin’s attention wanes easily these days. His mind skitters everywhere, jumping from thread to thread; always partial, never complete. “You said you needed me to move a canvas?”
“I did…yes, right…good.” Merlin wipes his hands on a tea towel and leads Arthur to the right side of his studio. “This one needs to get wrapped up and moved into the hallway for collection tomorrow.”
Arthur stares up at the massive piece, face slack with awe. “It’s brilliant,” he whispers, more to himself than the room at large. The colours are vibrant aside from the little dark circle in the corner where colours are slowly bleeding into black. “You’re going to be updating this one…”
“What makes you say that?”
“It is.” A kiss is placed onto his temple. “Here, take a corner, you remember how to wrap, right?”
“Yes – I’m not incompetent.”
Merlin lets out a chuckle. “When did I say that, your royal highness?”
Yellow sticky note on a jar of baby food – apple custard:
Only feed him two…I’m serious Arthur. Only two. And no ice-cream today, or pudding.
Gwen will kill me if we give him cavities before he even has teeth.
We do not want to witness the Wrath of Gwen.
It isn’t pretty.
They’re in the car driving back from Balinor’s when he hears Merlin groan. “What’s wrong?” He briefly takes his eyes off the road, trying to check on Merlin without causing an accident.
Merlin curls in on himself, covering his ears with the palms of his hands. “It’s too loud. My head hurts.”
There isn’t much he can do except make sure that all the windows are up and the radio’s off. “It’s okay, we’re almost at home.”
“My eyes hurt too.”
Arthur takes his sunglasses off from where they sit on his head like a headband and passes them over. “Here, put these on and close your eyes. Sleep if you can. I’ll wake you up when we get home.” Merlin grabs them blindly, shoving them onto his face.
The drive is silent, only Arthur’s own thoughts making a noise in the car.
They pull up into the driveway with Thomas, Lance and Elyan, sitting on the steps. “Uncle Arthur, Uncle Merlin!” Thomas shouts already running up to the car door. Merlin jerks awake and groans, palming his eyes.
“Shh,” Arthur says with a finger pressed against his lips. Thomas’s quick movements slow and he copies Arthur, putting a finger against his lips too. “Uncle Merlin isn’t feeling that well so we need to be quiet okay? Go tell your dad to open the door and breathe quieter.” House key clutched between his fingers and transferred over to Thomas, he sends him off and then rushes around to Merlin’s door. Merlin is still, his head bowed and hands still hovering near his ears.
“I know. Come on.” Arthur manages to draw Merlin out of the car. He doesn’t close the door unwilling to let any noise greet Merlin’s ears and instead hurries him across the lawn and into the house. Eventually he gets Merlin into bed; shoes off, body under the covers and head buried in his pillow.
Lance and Elyan stand when he enters the kitchen. “I’ve just got to close the car door and I’ll be back.”
“Don’t worry. I got it.” Lance brushes past him and disappears out the door.
“So how’s Mithian?”
“She’s good. Her birthday’s coming up.” Arthur hums, and reaches into the fridge taking out a beer. He turns offering it to Elyan who shakes his head with a well-worn smile. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“It absolutely fascinates you doesn’t it.”
“What fascinates you?” Lance asks and takes the beer.
Arthur grins, taking another bottle out from the fridge and uncaps it. “Elyan’s non-existent drinking habits.”
“Ah – that is a thing of wonder.” Lance says sagely, and takes a swig. “And it’s pulled followers. Gwen said she hasn’t had alcohol in years.”
Elyan shrugs. “Merlin quit out of solidarity a year after he turned eighteen.”
Wait what? Arthur drops the bottle onto the counter. “No he didn’t.”
“Yeah he did.”
“He drank at our wedding!”
Frowning, Elyan shakes his head, as if to say, you married Merlin, you’ve talked to Merlin, and you’ve watched Merlin, haven’t you? Lance chuckles and sits Thomas on his knee, gently swatting the child’s hand away from his beer with a stern ‘Thomas’.
“No he didn’t. He drank Appletisers.” Arthur thinks back to their wedding struggling to recall how many wines he had, and finds himself blushing. Merlin was unbelievably steady that night with him all but doubled over. He thinks back to them returning home and vaguely remembers laughing and draping himself over Merlin as they stood in the lounge room. Lance and Elyan trade amused smirks. “My life has been a lie.”
Blue spotty butterfly on the bathroom mirror:
When you wake up, brush your teeth.
Your brush is the purple one…it’s on the right hand side of the counter.
So -> -> -> ->(that side).
Arthur (your husband)
Blue spotty butterfly on Arthur’s cheek:
Stop treating me like an invalid.
“Date, month and year.”
He’s sitting on the floor, list for show, resting on his knee. Merlin’s folding clothes above him.
Merlin doesn’t even pause as he moves from shirt to jumper. “Pass.”
Alright then. Elyan proposed to Mithian. “Day of the week?” He asked Merlin to be his best man, being step-brother and all.
Merlin said no. “Saturday.” Good.
“What’s our address?”
“Pluto.” What the hell?
He watches Merlin whose face is partially hidden; turned away from fully confronting what he doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge. There’s no trace of humour in Merlin’s voice when he responds so Arthur sighs never having not wanted to ask these questions at all. “Merlin if you aren’t going to take this seriously then why am I doing it?”
His blue pair of slacks suffers a violent shake. “Why? Because you won’t talk to me otherwise!”
At this Arthur stands, questionnaire forgotten as it floats to the floor. “We talk!”
Merlin shakes his head, the pants balled up in his hands, creases becoming more prominent the longer the material stays scrunched in his hands. “No we don’t. You remind me about things and you talk at me or worse than that, for me…” He’s practically spitting now and Arthur stands still getting drenched in his anger.
“What? Merlin, I remind you about things because I have to –“
“I am my own man,” Merlin says interrupting him.
Arthur pauses, noting how Merlin no longer sounds angry but, rational. “I know that,” he agrees.
Merlin drops Arthur’s trousers onto the bed, his face a little slack and his eyes no longer filled with spite. “I want a divorce.”
“No you don’t,” is the automatic response that leaves his lips but that’s because he hasn’t comprehended what his husband just said. He takes a moment replaying the conversation and when he gets to those words it’s like a wall slams up and Arthur can’t find his way around it. What, no, wait, what? Arthur’s mind flounders as like there’s no mass of fibres between his ears. His voice goes dry, harsh to his own hearing. He’s not exactly sure what’s going on but it sounded like Merlin just said-
“Yes. Divorce me.”
This is absurd. Merlin’s stands there looking calm and undisturbed like he hasn’t thrown just thrown a knife at Arthur’s heart. He doesn’t know how he does it, but he manages to not drop to his knees and beg at Merlin’s feet. Instead he pinches the bridge of his nose and shakily says, “I’m not going to divorce you…I’m going to call Morgana.” Or Gwen, or your mother, or Gwaine, or Gaius… “And then I’m going to go out and clear my head for a bit.”
Merlin hums and says okay, turning his back on Arthur, trying to straighten out Arthur’s trousers.
Outside the house, he stands in the summery air, feeling like he’s been wrapped up in an iceberg. He paces from driveway to door, over and over again trying to make sense of what to do, or more to the point, where to go. He can’t stay in the house. Not with Merlin steadfastly entertaining notions of divorce.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Leon says, actually sounding apologetic.
“Leon, hey, can you put Gana on the phone.”
“Sure, just let me find her. You okay? Sound a bit funny.”
“I’m…coping; I just need her to stay over with Merlin for the night.” Arthur has to close his eyes at that feeling pain pass through him.
“What’s going on?”
“Gana, its Arthur.”
The phone is passed on from husband to wife. “Brother dear, what do you need?”
“How fast can you get here and can you stay overnight?” He voice cracks on overnight and he inwardly curses knowing the exact moment Morgana zeros in on it.
“Arthur,” Morgana’s voice goes hard and worried at the same time, “I can be there in twenty and I can stay for as long as you need. I’m packing as we speak.”
“Thank you.” He turns off his phone and sits on the grass, legs crossed, back to the front of the house so he won’t catch Merlin’s shadows pass by the window.
When Morgana arrives, bag in hand, keys clutched in a fist, Arthur stands going to meet her.
“I’m going. Merlin’s inside. He doesn’t know you’re coming but it probably won’t matter.” He opens the door of his car and enters it, turning on the ignition.
“Where are you going?”
“Not sure yet, if Merlin asks, then tell him I’ll come back.” He leaves Morgana standing in the driveway, her appearance becoming smaller in the rear view mirror, the house becoming less oppressive, and his heart squeezing until he feels faint from a blood loss that hasn’t occurred...
Off all the places he thought he’d end up, this would’ve been the last one on the list.
He jumps. His hands still clutched tightly around the steering wheel only tighten when a shadow looms over him.
There’s a knock against the window.
Automatically he winds the window down, eyes still staring ahead.
“I left Merlin.”
“Arthur…” The door opens. Ignition shut off. He finds his seatbelt undone and his father worriedly hovering over him. “Come inside.”
“I have to get back to Merlin.”
He doesn’t remember getting out of the car and walking up the driveway. All of a sudden he finds himself standing at the front door and he wants to run. His father being kind, it’s like a big neon sign that says your husband is dying, your husband is dying!
The house looks different, maybe it’s the colour. He remembers it being creamy… but now under the lights it looks white, eggshell, and pallid like Merlin’s cheeks. The ferns around the doorway are overgrown; held back with twine, yet still manage to brush his cheeks.
He feels Uther come up behind him, his hand snaking past to push down on the handle and swing the door open. In about two seconds flat, Arthur breaks his seven and a half year exile by stepping over the threshold
It feels odd.
“Who told you?” his voice squeaks in the quiet foyer as he toes his shoes off.
His father locks the door behind them and Arthur barely stops himself from flinching. “If your guess is Morgana then you are partially correct.” Uther looks older, but only by a little bit; lines set deep around his eyes and short hair thinning even further. “Merlin rang me some months ago.”
Surprise. That’s what he should be feeling, but instead he feels angry. His nerves are shot, like he’s had too much caffeine or he’s spoiling for the fight that he denied Merlin. “Of course he did,” he grits out. “And you, what? Thought that with Merlin finally gone you’d no longer have a faggot for a son?” He’s ashamed to note the tears starting to roll down his face and Uther’s voice in his head; just as stern as it was when he was six and skinned his knee, boys don’t cry…don’t be a girl.
“Language Arthur!” his father chastises which is hilarious when he considers the fact that he’s only voicing what’s refusing to be said out loud. “Arthur-“
His father looks as if he’s been smacked in the face and vindictively Arthur thinks, good. Someone ought to hurt as much as he does now. “Merlin being gone won’t change anything! Do you get that Father? I won’t marry a woman. He’s it. They’ll be no after-Merlin because I’ll be done.” And actually saying the words wind him like he’s been punched in the stomach. He doubles over finding it harder to breath, his face drenched in salty tears and snot that drip onto the floorboards.
A hand comes over his chest, and he weakly tries to push it away, but then the other one finds the small of his back forcibly straightening his body as he gasps for breath. “Arthur, shh, just breathe…”
Eventually he sags against his father, face pressed into the crook of his neck and hiccups, “You don’t understand.”
The words are said quietly, still shrouded in fear that all of this is a lie, and the possibility that Uther possible suffered from memory loss (irony aside) and forgot what drove them apart. “I love him.”
His father sighs. “I think I understand that more than you know...”
Arthur draws away and wipes his face with the sleeve of his shirt. “I think I ruined your jumper.”
Uther rolls his eyes with a smile. “I have more than one jumper Arthur. Go to the bathroom and clean up a bit. Have you eaten?”
“I’ll get you a drink then.”
“No, I should go back. We were fighting…Merlin said he wants a divorce.”
“I’ll drive you home. Morgana is with him now. Bathroom is down the corridor, last door on the right.”
Arthur counts it as a win that he doesn’t counter his father with I remember. He walks into the hallway, taking in the small changes over the years. There are fewer knickknacks out on display, even fewer photos on the wall. There does seem to be more pictures of his mother and less of him which manages to sting him a little, but what did he expect. In the bathroom, he splashes cold water on his face and ignores the red around his eyes or the blotchiness of his cheeks.
In the kitchen, his father puts down the fork from his salad and asks, “Do you believe him?”
Arthur rubs the back of his neck. “No…a little…” he amends. “He’s a bit unpredictable. I can’t get a read on him sometimes.”
His father rests his forearms on the countertop. “I insist that you stay here tonight. Morgana has spoken to me already and wishes to inform you that Merlin is currently painting in his studio.” Uther waits, patiently, face unreadable as he allows Arthur to consider his offer.
The ball, as they say, is in Arthur’s court.
Yellow sticky note on the calendar:
Go back and try and get unbanned at the pottery class.
When Arthur opens his eyes, he panics…until he catches a glimpse of his dresser and the cricket bat sitting over the top of it.
And it was awkward, and a little frightening, and overall, not as horrible as he thought it could be.
After hearing that Merlin was fine at home, Arthur said he was going to bed. His father didn’t object, instead reminding him that there were leftovers in the fridge and leading him to the linen closet so that Arthur wouldn’t have to sleep on dusty sheets.
Arthur was already half way to protesting, not wanting (expecting) anything other than the couch, when Uther gave him a heatless glare that said: ‘do not argue, I am father, you are son, obey me’. After finding what he thought was suitable, he walked through the hallway to where Arthur’s bedroom was located.
Checking his watch and seeing the sun peak through the curtains, Arthur can’t help but groan, pressing a palm over his eyes. New day, everything looks better in the morning…do I feel better? Turning in his bed, Arthur reaches out to check his phone. A text message from Morgana tells him that Merlin’s been good company, and that he can take his time in coming back.
Inwardly he’s frowning, not quite sure whether he should be hurting that Merlin’s apparently doesn’t care or flushed with relief that things with his father have gone better than expected.
Stewing in bed won’t do him any good.
He gets up, feet firmly on the floor of his room (and he still can’t believe that Uther kept his room!). Though he had wanted to ask questions last night, he had the feeling that his father didn’t really want to talk about it.
After brushing his teeth, he walks into the kitchen, scratching his arm idly, and opening the fridge door to get the milk out.
He startles and turns seeing Uther seated at the dining table, newspaper open and bowl of cereal resting on a placemat next to his coffee. “Father,” he returns.
“Did you sleep well?”
His father doesn’t sound angry, or disappointed…he doesn’t exactly sound happy either. Small talk, Arthur racks his brain trying to work out if it’s good or bad. “No – I mean, yes, and, uh, thank you for the sheets.” Silence returns; bar the sound of his quiet movement. Feeling exposed in the daylight, even with his father’s back to him, Arthur opens his mouth, “It’s a nice day today…sunny.”
The newspaper rustles over the table and Uther audibly scoffs. “This is ridiculous,” he mutters under his breath standing up and turning to face Arthur. “Arthur, you are my son.”
Arthur slows his movements. I am aware.
“And, although I may not necessarily agree with your choices, I only wish for your happiness,” he stops, taking a breath, and taking a measured step forward. His voice becomes quieter, and the next words he speaks are not forced out like he’s reciting a script. “I’ve been foolish and as a consequence of that, I lost you.”
Arthur stares hard at countertop feeling inexplicably hollow hearing the words coming out of his father’s mouth. “It’s okay…”
“You can’t even look at me, so no, Arthur, it isn’t. When you told me about your engagement, I was angry…” he lets out a rueful chuckle, “obviously. My storming out was quite hard to miss. I’m old, Arthur…in my time, children asked for forgiveness, not the parents, and that’s what I expected of you. But you never came…” he lets out a shaky breath.
“I’m sorry.” Arthur doesn’t mean to apologise, but it comes out anyway as he raises his head.
Uther shakes his head vigorously. “I’m proud that you didn’t come to me. There is great satisfaction in knowing that you think independently and stand by your convictions.”
“I’m apologising Arthur, for the hurt that I’ve caused you. I’m asking for forgiveness…and an opportunity to get to know you and Merlin and the life you share. I understand if you won’t. I expect you not to but just, know that I’ve been trying…Morgana’s been helpful – she found me a group…FFLAG?”
It’s a good thing that Morgana isn’t here to capture Arthur’s expression with a camera. “Oh my god.”
Uther nods, apparently trying to rush to the end of his confession, “Yes, good, you’re aware of it. It was rather enlightening. Just, know that if you’ll allow me, I will endeavour to be there for you all in the future.” Having spoken his peace with a smile in Arthur’s direction, the phone rings and he quickly goes off to get it leaving Arthur still in the kitchen and trying to get a grip on what just happened but only being able to come up with: I need so much coffee…
Just as he’s fixing his cup Uther walks into the kitchen muttering about incompetent fools. “I have to go into the office for a short while.” He reaches around Arthur opening the cupboard by his head a pulling down a travel mug and filling it with coffee.
Arthur frowns. “You’ve already had a cup at breakfast and two when you woke up considering what’s in the sink.”
Uther screws the lid on taking a step away from Arthur. “Your point?”
“How are you going to know the difference between a heart attack and a caffeine-high?”
“I am well versed…just don’t tell Morgana.” He puts the mug on the counter, and puts his suit jacket on. “I’ll be back as soon as possible; if you need anything I’ll have my phone on.” He untucks his collar from the back of his jacket. “I’d like you to stay for dinner.”
It’s sincere. At least, that’s what Arthur thinks it is. There doesn’t seem to be any malice his father’s eyes nor, any dark lilt to his words. It’s the years of caution though that has him hesitating in his response. “I should probably head home to Merlin.”
His father claps him on the shoulder and disappears with his voice echoing through the house, “Well, think about it. That’s all I ask.”
For the next few hours he stays indoors and watches TV in his borrowed set of pyjamas thankful that it’s a Sunday, and dreading that he’ll have to deal with the Monday. When it ticks just past eleven he feels that he’s moped enough and set about cleaning the house. He showers, eventually changing back into his own clothes. He sits on an upturned hamper in the laundry waiting for Uther’s clothes to come out of the dryer. Half an hour later he pulls them out and folds then into a small pile that smells faintly of lemons.
Clothes in hand he debates going into his father’s bedroom wondering if it counts as trespassing. Ingrained politeness wins though as he turns the handle and pushes open the door. His father’s room hasn’t changed much.
The double bed, covered in pale grey sheets, is still devoid of pillows bar the one that gets slept on. The curtains are open, light falling onto a small green chair with a table in front of it with an opened book lying face down on its surface – the spine, folding in half like a valley.
There’s a photo of his mother on Uther’s bedside table. It’s one where she’s smiling into the camera, a daisy crown atop her hair, mid-laugh, in a field of green.
Arthur, almost tiptoeing, gently places the pile onto the bed and turns to exit but stops when he catches site of the dresser, surprise already flying across his face.
There are photos of them when he was younger, frames and glass sprinkled in dust from being undisturbed for so long. Family portraits with Arthur’s fists pulling at Morgana’s hair and Morgana’s face scrunched up already halfway to turning around to smack him as they sit in their parents grasp. There are photos of his parents in their university days, and Morgana learning to ride a tricycle. There’s one of him, embarrassingly enough, playing in the sandpit with a bonnet over his head, and sand around his mouth. Arthur’s proud to note that he’s come a long way from eating sand.
But then there is his parents wedding photo - his mother in a white puffy dress and his father with dark hair on his head, standing straight and grinning right at the camera – in a garish gold frame. And sitting in front of that is one of Morgana and Leon against a dark red backdrop, with Morgana smirking in Leon’s lap whilst Leon pulls a face at the camera, in a sleek silver one.
But then there’s one, in front Morgana’s wedding photo, in a matte black frame and Arthur blinks at it. His hand instinctually reaches out to touch, but brought back at the last minute. It’s from their wedding reception. It’s him and Merlin on the dancefloor in each other’s arms, bodies facing each other, with Arthur laughing with his head thrown back and Merlin gazing at him fondly with a smile on his face.
It’s a photo of him and Merlin just as dusty as the other ones meaning that his father put it up years ago, and he was telling the truth, being sincere, actually sorry and Arthur finally feels like he can breathe again.
He leaves the room; just reaching the couch when the front door opens and Uther comes in, phone pressed against his ear and grocery bags clutched between his hands. Arthur takes them walking into the kitchen and begins putting things away as his father finishes the call.
“How was the incompetent idiot?” he asks putting the eggs into the fridge.
“Not the idiot who I was supposed to get mad at,” Uther replies. “How was your day?”
“Good. I just cleaned a bit and watched some TV. Your clothes are laundered and on your bed.” Arthur holds his tongue in regards to the photo as Uther hums. “I’d like to stay for dinner, if that’s okay?”
“Yes!” Uther blurts out before regaining his composure and continuing more sedately, “that would be wonderful.”
At dinner they eat steak and homemade pizza and drink beer and it’s awesome. Arthur’s can’t remember the last time he had fun with his father. And that’s the most ludicrous thing ever, that’s he’s only a few years shy of thirty-five and only just finding out that his father has a great sense of humour.
Still slightly surprised that his father actually cares, Arthur shrugs, tipping his head back to get the last sip of beer. “I’ve got a good lot of students. There are a few that might go down the wrong way…but overall, they’re good.” Uther drags another slice of pizza onto his plate. “They know about Merlin,” Arthur says, and immediately feels depressed. “They’ve cut my schedule accordingly but I’ll have to quit soon. Probably the end of semester-“
“No. Don’t quit,” Uther says with a surprising amount of fierceness. Arthur would worry that he’s struck his father angry, but the look in Uther’s eyes says otherwise.
“Father, I have to care for him.”
“Yes, you do, but you also need an outlet.” Uther leans back in his chair. “I took time off to look after your mother and, don’t misunderstand me, I loved her very much, but I shouldn’t have done that.”
Arthur doesn’t jump to conclusions and waits for Uther to explain, only prompting him by asking, “Why not?”
Uther looks at him sadly. “Because by the end of it, all I saw was her suffering and try as you did, neither you or Morgana could change that.” They’re finished with the food but still remain seated, no one making an attempt to clean up. “I’ll hire a carer for you. That way you can still work and someone will be there for Merlin. And I want to do this, so don’t fight me, please.”
“How come you haven’t suggested a facility?”
“Because how could I ask you do that to your husband when I couldn’t do that to your mother?” Uther stands and begins clearing the table leaving Arthur there to collect himself for his return home.
In the car they don’t talk.
When his father pulls up in their driveway, Arthur sits watching the house. He searches for something to say, to convey how thankful he is for the last two days but comes up with, “I had fun today.”
His father doesn’t seem to mind. “Me too. Go on, your husband’s waiting for you.”
“Do you want to come in?” Arthur pulls the seatbelt off, but doesn’t open the door.
“If Merlin wants me to leave then I will,” Uther says.
Together they walk up the driveway and Arthur puts his key into the lock, opening the door. The house is warm and there are low murmurs coming from the living room. The TV, Arthur assumes. Behind him, his father removes his jacket and folds it over his arm.
Morgana catches them in the hallway and watches them. Uther rests his hand on Arthur’s shoulder and she takes it as s sign. She rushes up to them flinging her are arms around their necks. A small part of Arthur feels sorry for not even considering how their turbulent relationship affected her.
Uther seems to share the same sentiment, pulling her in close, and whispering that he’s sorry for being a stubborn fool. Eventually they break apart when footsteps stop and a pained ‘Arthur’ is said in the distance.
Merlin looks absolutely wrecked his eyes red, hair askew, skin as pale as milk. “You came back,” he hiccups, bringing his hands up to cover his mouth. Arthur, with a sharp prod surprisingly from his father, rushes over and hugs Merlin.
“Hey now, I was always going to come back. Don’t cry Merlin.” Arthur doesn’t apologise for leaving realising that his father was right in a way. He needed to leave for a while to think about something outside of them. He feels better now, more centred and capable.
A few moments pass and Merlin looks over his shoulder freezing instantly. “Arthur? Your father’s here,” he whispers.
Arthur laughs leading Merlin by the hand over to Uther who is smiling a little uncertainly. “It’s okay Merlin. Father?”
Uther clears his throat, reciting a similar apology to what his gave Arthur. “I really am sorry. I hope you can forgive me. I’d like to get to know you but of course I’ll abide by your wishes if you want me to leave…”
“Please, stay. I’ll get you something to drink…” It’s said with so much reluctance that Morgana rolls her eyes.
“Stay and cuddle Arthur, I’ll get drinks.”
They give Uther the tour, and Merlin even lets him into his studio. Uther looks appreciatively at his artwork and then peers at Merlin’s signature in the corner of one of his finished pieces. “I own one of your works,” he says slightly stunned. “In my office at work; I find it calming to look at when work is stressful.”
Merlin ducks his head and says thank you as they leave and join Morgana.
Uther only stays for about fifteen minutes, revealing to Arthur that Merlin seems to be a little nervous at his presence. He takes Merlin’s hand in his own, thanking him for treating Arthur so well, and hugs Arthur tightly before following Morgana out of the house.
By ten, they’re tucked up in bed. Merlin, the little spoon, pressed against Arthur’s chest. “You’re still up,” Arthur groggily states.
Merlin lets out a shuddering breath that seemingly travels through his whole body and Arthur presses his palms tighter against Merlin’s stomach. “Arthur, I’m sorry. I’m a bastard and I’m sorry and I love you and it’s all shit,” he says, holding onto Arthur’s hands. “I am so sick of this. When I remember, I feel guilty for forgetting. I’m forgetting everyone. And what kind of man forgets his own husband.”
Arthur kisses the back of Merlin’s shoulder and sighs. “Merlin-“
Merlin rambles over him. “I mean, look at you! You’re like this masterpiece! All goddamn sculpted and unblemished and you belong in a gallery where people can admire you. And I used to be able to do that…” he whispers. The room is dark and Arthur doesn’t turn on the lamp fearing that moving will stop Merlin from talking. “I used to be able to lie next to you and look at your face and know how lucky I was that you were mine.”
“I’ll always be yours, you don’t have to worry.”
Merlin shakes his head. “That’s not what I mean. Now I don’t look at you to admire you.” That stings a little and Arthur would say so - all in jest, but this isn't the right moment for levity. “I look at you to try and figure out who you are to me. Did I pick you up at a bar? Did I shag you senseless and have to sneak out? Are you someone that I’ve been cheating with? Why am I in a stranger’s bed? And I panic until I see our photo on the bedside table and I still don’t know anything, and it’s horrible and I hate it but more than that, I hate what I’ve done to you.”
Arthur finds himself glad that they aren’t facing each other and that the light isn’t on. He doesn’t need Merlin to see his face. He doesn’t say anything, waiting, until he can open his mouth and not sound like his drowning from his own tears. “Merlin, you are…” he presses his face into Merlin’s back. “You are amazing, and caring and wonderful and I love you and even if you asked me to, I wouldn’t stop. I’m not going to leave you.”
Merlin begins to shift trying to turn around but Arthur grips tighter stopping him. “Arthur,” he huffs.
“I don’t hate you. And if you really don’t want to hurt me…then you won’t say such horrible things about yourself…” Arthur knows that he’s taking a chance on that request. Merlin could easily get angry at him, but Merlin doesn’t.
He resettles and sighs; bringing one of Arthur’s hands up to his lips and kisses it. “I’ll try.”
“That’s all I ask,” Arthur replies with a yawn, finally sleeping when Merlin’s breath evens out.
Grey moustache on the hallway mirror:
Don’t panic love. You are standing in front of a mirror. The person you are seeing is you.
What a handsome devil you are! And see your cheekbones are totally kicking off.
Arthur (your husband)
“Gwaine! What are you doing here?” Merlin frowns and zips up the rest of his cardigan.
Gwaine grins at him and bows. “Hanging out,” he says trying to get through.
Merlin raises his hand and blocks the doorway. “Are you still seeing her? Because if you are, then get out.”
“Who?” Gwaine asks, looking confused.
This is ridiculous. “Who? How many people are you fucking around with?”
Gwaine sighs, hand moving to run over his beard. “None. Shit Merlin, out of everything to remember you remembered that.”
“What are you talking about? And you didn’t answer my question.”
Percival now appears beside Gwaine. “Hi Merlin!” He stops feeling the tension that’s passing between his husband and friend. “What’s wrong?”
“Merlin thinks it’s 2007. You know, when I…” Gwaine looks down at the floor as he says this unwilling to look at them.
When Percival realises what’s being hinted at that he just smiles at Merlin and puts an arm around Gwaine’s shoulders. “Merlin it’s okay. We sorted everything out. Are you going to let us in or shall we all freeze to death?”
Merlin wants to believe Percival’s words but Gwaine’s still looking so immensely guilty that he doesn’t. He lets them in and calls out to Arthur.
When Arthur appears, and looks at Gwaine worry etches across his face. “You alright mate?”
“2007,” Percival says kissing Gwaine’s head and dragging him away.
Arthur moves his head as if to say, ‘I got you’. He crosses his arms and Merlin really wants to know what's going on because Arthur should be angry at Gwaine. Hell, Percy should be angry at Gwaine. “You are such an attack dog, it’s cute, but unwarranted,” Arthur says easily, coming up to rub his shoulders. “It’s 2011. Percy and Gwaine are doing fine. Married and happy.”
It vaguely comes back to him and he closes his eyes. “I, yeah…I should apologise. Shit…”
Arthur moves him to where Gwaine and Percy sit. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
If Merlin’s expecting some small amount of anger, he’s sorely mistaken. “Back with us?” Gwaine offers him a smile just as Percival smacks him with a cushion. Percival laughs already holding the pillow over his head as Gwaine shouts, punching him. “Ow you arsehole! Just see if you get any tonight!”
Yellow sticky note on Arthur’s bag of lunch:
Your dad is trying. He might say the wrong thing, he might say something that you won’t like about me, but know that he’s making an effort.
Merlin (your friendly neighbourhood ghost)
PS: If it really does bother you then tell him that I’ll haunt him :)
Yellow sticky note on Merlin’s latest artwork:
As touched by this as I am, this isn’t funny on so many levels that it’s almost funny. What have I told you about trying to be funny?
PS: Here’s a hint.
“Thank you…” The plate in Merlin’s hand begins to shake.
Arthur drops a kiss to his forehead. “Arthur.”
Suddenly the plate smashes into the wall. The slice of bread slides down slowly, jam leaving a red trail, until it flops into shards of glass.
Sighing he crouches before his husband and takes his hands in his own. “Merlin…it’s okay.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because you’d never willingly forget me, now would you?”
Merlin’s breathing heavily, head bowed down refusing to look at him. Merlin’s trying to hide and Arthur can’t let that happen.
“Merlin?” He lets a little uncertainty bleed through but it works well enough that Merlin looks up and leans his head into Arthur’s shoulder.
“It’s not fair.”
Immediately, a hand moves to cup the back of Merlin’s head, just at the nape where his hairline meets smooth skin. He breathes in deeply catching Merlin’s scent. He smells warm. Sort of fuzzy like freshly laundered clothing.
“I’m sorry I got angry,” Merlin mumbles a few moments later.
Arthur pulls back and kisses his cheek. “No matter, those plates were ugly as fuck anyways.”
Merlin bats at one of Arthur’s shoulders. “Those were from Uncle Dragoon.”
Merlin’s great loony Uncle who has a distinct disliking of him. Dragoon seemed to take perverse pleasuring in making Arthur jump through hoops for his approval. Arthur glances at the shattered plate and winces seeing its garish pattern. He's sure that the crazy bastard picked it out just to spite him. “I rest my case.”
Orange alien on the bedside copy of Lord of the Rings:
On our first date I tripped over a crack in the footpath and twisted my ankle. You insisted on carrying me home. The next day you couldn’t get out of bed.
This doesn’t mean that I’m fat.
Arthur (your very handsomely built husband)
“What’s wrong with it?”
Arthur peers down at his tea cup cautiously as if it’s going to bite him.
“Doesn’t it taste right?”
“Merlin…what tin did you take out of the cupboard?”
“The one with the sugar in it.” He quickly moves to the kitchen and returns with the tin in question.
Arthur can’t fight the laugh. “Oh my god. You put salt in my tea.”
Merlin sheepishly looks at the tin. “I can’t read the label…I guessed,” he hesitantly explains.
“It’s like I’m ten years old and being pranked.”
“I never did the whole pranking thing as a kid.”
“Oh you missed out love.” He puts the cup on the table lest he forgets and takes another swig from it. “Switching salt for sugar is a classic. Well done.” Merlin grins cheekily at him. “That’s not permission to do it again…at least to me…maybe we can do it to Morgana the next time she visits.”
“Brilliant! You couldn’t be faulted for it either.” Arthur launches himself over the couch suddenly desperate to see his father’s face. He can imagine it now; lips pursed, him struggling to swallow and smile weakly at Merlin because he won’t shout because he knows that it's not Merlin's fault.
“Arthur, where are you going?”
“To invite father over for tea!”
Pale yellow lightbulb on the pillow on the bed:
Morgana will tell you that I used to wear dresses as a child. She will also tell you that I did this all of my own choosing.
I’d like to set the record straight.
I did wear dresses as a child. I did not however do this of my own choosing. In fact I refused many times but eventually had to agree because she threatened to decapitate my Action Man.
I miss my Action Man.
He died in a horrible death. Accidently got thrown in the fireplace.
Arthur (your previously cross dressing, now Action Man-less husband)
“Did you know that I can paint?”
“I didn’t.” Arthur draws a red line through a student’s paragraph and looks up. “Show me?”
Merlin brings out an unfinished portrait. Its colours are muted, pastels that run together. Arthur ohhs and ahhs over it and Merlin beams. He then turns to put it away before returning to his spot on the couch.
As Arthur reads a sentence that makes no sense (it’s unintelligible) and he laments his school's understaffed English department, when Merlin speaks. “Arthur?”
He doesn’t raise his eyes, and continues to read through to the end of the page. “Yes love?”
Merlin sounds like he’s telling him a secret. “Did you know that I can paint?”
“I did.” Arthur responds differently knowing that he won’t be caught out. “You paint wonderfully.”
“Can I show you what I’m working on?”
“I’d like to see it.”
Merlin gets up off the couch and pulls out the unfinished portrait.
This is the twenty-ninth time that he’s seen this piece of work in three hours and Arthur's awe for it still hasn't waned.
Yellow sticky note under Arthur’s car windscreen wiper:
You owe me money.
I accept food…
And sexual favours.
“Can I see Will?”
Arthur stops and turns already feeling unease run through him. “Will?”
Merlin sounds so excited. “Yeah! My friend Will. I want to see him. We were meant to go to the park yesterday but I forgot and I need to tell him I’m sorry.”
He doesn’t want to tell Merlin this. He doesn’t even want to think about it but Gaius told him to be as honest as possible. So he will. Even if he has to watch a little bit of Merlin vanish before his eyes. “Will isn’t around anymore…he passed away some years back.”
Merlin shakes his head, smile dropping in a second making way for anger. “You’re lying. Where’s mum, I want to talk to her. She’ll tell me where he is.”
“Merlin-“ But Merlin already has his phone out and held against his ear.
“Mum! I want to see Will.” A few moments later Merlin’s face falls further and tears threaten to spill. “Oh…he didn’t? It didn’t hurt right? Yeah I will…” he holds out the phone. “She wants to talk to you.” Merlin curls up in the corner of the couch.
Her voice comes on sweet and reassuring. “Hi sweetheart, this was a tough one. He’s never done this one before has he?”
“Would you like me to come over? Maybe you should go out? Roam a little, meet up with some friends?”
“I don’t know…”
“Arthur, it’s alright for you to go. I’d love to spend time with my son.”
“If you’re sure. You can reach me by phone…I appreciate that. Thank you.”
Pale purple flower on the bedroom door knob:
I think my father actually likes you.
He says your art is very expressive.
I knew you’d win him over eventually. How can anyone dislike you?
Arthur (your husband – who only dislikes you a little when you say that you’d leave me for Ryan Gosling – I’m way hotter than him)
“Gwen, I need you to help me with something.”
Gwen puts the mug of tea onto the table before him and sits down. “Anything.”
“It’s about my will. I need you to write a note to…” He’s gotten past snarling and yelling as the name eludes him. He’s past simply hanging his head in defeat. Instead he pulls out his wallet and shows her the picture in the clear little window. “My…”
Gwen takes the picture and her face goes solemn; eyes glassy. “Arthur. Husband.”
He nods pocketing the wallet. “Arthur, my husband.” He can’t stop the smile that accompanies those words. He feels his spirit lift automatically, warmth funnelling out from his heart and leaving his limbs tingly.
“What do you want to write?”
“No, you have to. I’ve forgotten how to.” He scoots closer to the table, brow pinched in concentration as he struggles to put the straw into the mug. With the task finally completed, he leans forwards closing his lips around the straw and sucks feeling warm tea slosh around his mouth.
From the corner of his eye he sees Gwen lean back into the couch and tuck a curl of hair behind her ear. “Okay.”
Yellow sticky note on a ring catalogue:
Mum knew you were going to propose. She saw you ring shopping. She didn’t tell me – don’t worry.
Merlin (your – still pissed off that you managed to cover the ceiling in stickys – husband)
They’re sitting at the dining room table, Arthur sorting out a multitude of medicines as Merlin starts his lunch.
Merlin speaks slower now…softer, like he’s running out of steam. The first time Arthur really noticed it he had called Gaius almost dizzy with fear and he was not reassured. “Are you sick?”
Arthur shakes his head taking the small purple tablet and putting it in every box designated to be Monday. “No Merlin, I’m not sick.”
Merlin frowns pushing his food around his plate. There’s curiosity in his voice as he asks, “Am I sick?”
Tuesday is an orange tablet. “Just a bit.” Arthur pops green capsules out of their packaging and puts them in a compartment for every second Tuesday.
Merlin reaches out one bony finger and pushes the capsule across the table where is hits another bottle of pills. “Oh…that’s a lot…they’re pretty. The colours. I like them.”
Arthur opens the bottle and catches the green capsule as it rolls off the table. Merlin finally takes a bit of his food – nothing too upsetting for his stomach. “I’m glad. Don’t forget to chew.”
“I won’t.” Merlin clamps his jaw together and swallows. He presses a finger against each bit of medication as if he’s counting them, but he’s not because he can’t. Not anymore. “They’re pretty. I like the shapes.”
“And the colours,” Arthur says absentmindedly.
Merlin almost drops his fork. “How did you know?”
Arthur picks the fork up putting it back in Merlin’s hands so he won’t forget. Merlin’s gaze goes to the cutlery. “Just a guess. Don’t forget to chew.”
“I won’t.” Merlin takes another mouthful of food and swings his legs. Arthur knows this because Merlin kicks him in the shin. He bites back a sound and stands coming around to Merlin’s side to readjust the blanket around Merlin’s legs, and the one around Merlin’s shoulders. “Can I have a crayon?”
He goes back to his seat, pulling out a paper with dosages for Merlin’s new medication. “After you finish eating.”
“Okay. I’m going to draw a picture for my mum.”
“She’d like that,” Arthur murmurs. Two tiny little purple pills go into Saturday's compartment. That's a grand total of eight pills on Saturday - it's a new record.
“I’ll draw one for my dad too. And maybe for Kilgarrah, but only if he doesn’t scratch me again. Cats have sharp claws. I don’t think it likes me much.” Kilgarrah’s dead. Long time now. Disappeared when Merlin was a teenager.
“After you finish eating.” Merlin nods and takes a bite of Arthur’s sandwich without any thought. Arthur doesn’t say anything but, “Don’t forget to chew.”
"I won’t." Merlin swallows and puts the sandwich back on Arthur’s plate. "Would you like a picture?”
“That would be wonderful Merlin, thank you.”
Merlin beams at him.
Red love heart shaped sticky note on the gift for Merlin, for their first Valentine’s Day:
Look, a present! Aren’t you lucky that I’m romantic? And you thought that you’d get nothing more than a quickie in the shower…shame on you (though that can totally be arranged).
Arthur presses his mobile closer to his ear.
Merlin can’t speak anymore.
Old phone messages will have to do.
Yellow sticky note on a business card for a real estate agency:
We’ll find a place soon…
Stop looking like you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
I’d be happy living in a cardboard box with you, you know that right?
Morgana pushes the door open dropping a squirming Mordred onto the carpet.
“Emrys!” he squeals leaving Arthur still a little miffed that he all he gets from the boy is a nod and small voiced ‘Uncle Arthur’. Mordred clambers onto the bed and sits against the headboard with a picture book clutched in his hands. “I’m gonna read to you,” he says opening the book and flipping to the first page.
Merlin’s face, earlier shadowed, seemingly grows brighter. His eyes struggle to follow Mordred’s animated movements but he fights to keep them open and aware. Arthur’s not even sure if Merlin recognises Mordred but the child’s enthusiasm and good natured chatter is welcomed in the quiet house.
“…and then the dragon said, you are the small creature and you shall listen to me for I am powerful and timeless…”
“Thomas is coming in the afternoon to drop off some food for you-“ Before he even manages a sigh, Morgana barrels on. “Yes, you can cook, I know. You’ve said. But he is bringing food regardless.”
“Thomas is nine.”
“Well, Thomas is apparently going through an ‘I’m a grown-up phase’. Gwen will be with him, but when you open the door, be sure to make a big deal if he mentions it.”
“Wow Thomas, I had no idea that you could carry a basket by yourself. You’ll be driving a car in no time,” he says with an appropriately surprised expression. It doesn’t seem to go down well. Morgana glares at him. “Alright, alright, I will be suitably impressed when the time comes.”
Mordred stops reading the book and looks at Merlin. He closes the book and quietly inches off the bed back over to them still standing in the doorway. Arthur drops his hand on Mordred’s shoulder and squeezes gently, his eyes still on Merlin’s still form. “He’s fallen asleep. Uncle…I’m thirsty…and Emrys wants you to stop being cyncle.”
“Cyncle…cynical? When did Merlin say that?”
“Just now. In my head.”
Morgana gapes at Mordred and launches across the room. She takes Merlin’s wrist in hand and ineffectually shakes one of Merlin’s shoulders before hanging her head.
Arthur's hands come up covering his mouth. Aside from the litany of 'no' stampeding across his mind, he's trapped by the thought of I am not ready for this...what am I going to do, Merlin! He can’t breathe; his heart beating and beating and going faster like a steam train.
Morgana yells his name. “He’s still got a pulse." The relief between brother and sister is palpable. Mordred stares up at him, a tiny hand twisted in Arthur's trousers, preventing Arthur from falling onto his knees and burying his face in his hands.
Arthur crouches before Mordred and holds him by his elbows. “Why did you say that?”
“Because he told me to tell you.” Mordred’s bottom lip begins quivering and Arthur’s heart cracks a little bit. Is he really so horrible? “Hey don’t start now.” He thumbs away a tear. “I’m not angry but I need to know are you telling me the truth?”
Mordred nods frantically.
“Okay kiddo. I believe you.” Arthur forces a smile onto his face and kisses Mordred’s temple before picking him up. “You said you we’re thirsty right? I might just be able to make us milkshakes. Would you like that?” A quiet yes is all he receives in return.
Square, world map on a plastic breakfast tray on their first wedding anniversary:
On the first day we met I actually hadn’t intended on crashing your lecture. My lecture finished late, I was walking past the window and you caught my attention. You looked so out of place; posh in a sea of idiots.
I always told you it was a good thing you’re pretty. I wouldn’t have stopped for anyone else in there.
Merlin (your still utterly besotted husband)
He pushes the door open and see’s Merlin propped up on the bed.
Merlin weakly pushes his cocoon of blankets away from his body and grunts struggling to move. “Hey, hold on. I’ve got it.”
Arthur readjusts them and only finds himself more confused when his husband, bats at his arm and the bed. Eventually, bony fingers trap his tie and pull until they’re eye to eye. “Merlin?” Merlin doesn’t kiss him. Just brushes his scruffy cheek against Arthur’s before pulling back.
And Arthur gets it.
Quickly he removes his jacket and crawls onto the space next to Merlin; his back against the headboard, holding Merlin in his arms.
Small huffs of breath ghost across his collar bone.
Merlin falls asleep.
Yellow sticky on an economic text book:
I’ve been watching you for the past few minutes (I had to study – it’s the library, you happened to be in it) and we need to talk about your posture. I know that you’re studying hard, but do you have to become the Hunchback of Notre Dame to get your degree? (take note, it’s my favourite movie, I expect you to know this).
One more thing before I go. I really liked going out with you, hell, I really like you.
I think you like me too (and if that doesn’t make me sound like a pre-teen I don’t know what does).
I’ll call you.
“How is he?”
He comes up to Merlin’s side kissing his cheek.
Hunith hands him a mug of tea.
“Fine. I read Harry Potter to him; Mordred and Thomas were rather thrilled. They sat quietly though it,” Uther reports placing a hand low on his spine and bending until the room reverberates with a crack.
Hunith tuts with a smile that masks her disgust at the noise. “I really hate it when you do that.” Arthur is inclined to agree.
Uther smirks. “Well I hate you cooking me porridge and kale sauce.”
“But it’s good for you!”
“Doesn’t taste like it.” He holds his hand up to stop her responding. “And Balinor agrees with me so don’t even start.” Hunith shuts her mouth with a click and begins muttering about having fed Balinor much worse than kale sauce without hearing him complaining.
“Look at this Merlin? In-laws are finally fighting. Took them long enough,” Arthur softly jokes taking his place beside Merlin in the bed. Merlin watches them all with bright blue eyes.
Hunith and Uther trade smiles before leaving the room. “Casey won’t be able to make it next week. So someone else will be sent by, vetted by me of course,” Uther assures with a hand on the door-jamb before disappearing.
“Reckon you’ll get a hot nurse?” Arthur turns onto his side looking at Merlin who attempts a shrug of his shoulders. Air whistles through his cannula. “Just don’t get any ideas. Hot nurse is to be left alone, no arse pinching.”
It almost looks as if Merlin’s glaring at him.
“Fine, fine, you get to pinch once…” Arthur sighs before remembering his news. “Oh, something cool happened today! Some of your primary school students are in my business class. They asked after you and wanted you to know that they’ll treat me wonderfully because you were wonderful. So thanks Merlin, I might get a nice no-fuss ride this year.” He nods his head and turns onto his back, folding his hands behind his head.
“2014 isn’t far away. How scary is that…we’ve been married for what, around ten years? Glad you aren’t sick of my face yet. Do you know what the anniversary gift for ten is? Apparently diamond jewellery…Merlin, we look like idiots in diamonds.”
He turns to look at Merlin, to see if he can find a response, but his eyes are closed, mouth slack with sleep.
Fluoro orange rectangle sticky note on the newspaper from Merlin’s second exhibition:
MERLIN, LOOK AT THIS!! LOOK MERLIN! LOOK!!
NOTHING BAD IN IT BECAUSE YOU ARE BRILLIANT!
“Morning love. Hope you had a nice lie-in.” The curtains whoosh open letting light stream into the bedroom and highlight the dust motes that float in the midst of the morning sun.
He hazards a look in Merlin’s direction, finally making his way over, carefully taking Merlin’s hand in his own and kissing his brow. Merlin’s eyes briefly open, and Arthur swears for a moment that the dull blue clears and brightens. He places a hand over Merlin’s heart; his own stuttering feeling the sluggish thump of his husband’s.
Merlin’s eyes close again. Arthur moves from his bedside chair and gingerly gets up onto the bed. He readjusts the wires and blankets and curls onto his side, an arm across Merlin’s concave stomach, his knees just touching the outside of one of Merlin's thighs. From this angle he can see Merlin’s sharp cut cheekbones, and his messy hair. He holds onto Merlin’s wrist, pads of his fingers trailing over the sallow skin and bony ridges that remind Arthur of just how much Merlin’s lost not only in mind but body too.
“Casey will be here in a few minutes to help get you ready. I thought we might read the newspaper and then maybe if you’re lucky, I’ll wield a paintbrush and create a horrendous piece of art to hang above your bed. Of course you won’t complain will you Merlin? I mean you love me too much to crush my attempts of artistic expression...”
Somewhere, deep down, he knows that the inevitable is coming soon.
Yellow sticky note on the pillow next to him – the first of which is from husband to husband:
We have no food…or coffee. This must be rectified immediately if there is any hope of you waking up.
(Your husband, just in case you forgot!)