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if at first you do not succeed (then try even harder)

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It was a well-known fact that it wasn’t just Merlin or Arthur, but Merlin and Arthur. Merlin was  handsome, lean, and possessed almost elvish ears, cheekbones that can cut glass, and a smile that can outshine the sun itself whereas Arthur was stocky and shorter by half an inch (something Merlin loves teasing him about) and had shiny blond hair that actually produces a family of sparkles when exposed to the morning sun. Merlin and Arthur looked like total opposites, but they were the very definition of best friends who were rarely seen without the other.

Fortunately, the first time Arthur realized he had a thing for handsome, lean, black-haired guys with almost elvish ears, cheekbones that can cut glass, and a smile that can outshine the sun, said person was currently having a Chemistry class and he was saved from doing something rather embarrassing.

“Google, google on the net, ‘how do I ask someone out on a date?’” Morgana pointed at several tabs open on Arthur’s laptop. Arthur internally screamed and slammed his laptop shut.

“Where did you even come from, you harpy?”

“Gwen is having English right now, so I’m waiting for her.” Morgana took a seat beside Arthur and placed her textbooks on the table. “Anyway, back to the topic, why are you googling tips on how to ask someone out on a date? It’s not like you’ve never asked anyone on a date.”

Arthur flushed. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t his first time asking people on a date, one of those people being Gwen (Morgana’s girlfriend at the present), but all those turned out to be total disasters, (Merlin was always there at the end of each bad date to cheer him up with ice cream and movies with lots of explosions, so he wasn’t that quick to count it as a total loss) but this time, he’s asking a Very Special and Important Person out so it has to be perfect.

“You’ve finally realized your big, gay, crush on Merlin?”

Arthur stammered, “What? No, I’m--”

Morgana already had that I’m-cooking-up-a-great-big-scheme-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-to-stop-me-look while Arthur tried to come up with a half-decent explanation. Not that his harpy of a sister needed deserved an explanation, but it was best he tried to shift her focus away from that particular subject before it becomes the whole school’s business.

“Am I not allowed to Google things I’m curious about, now?”

“Oh Arthur, if only you could see the big heart eyes on your face when Merlin’s around.”

“I do not have heart eyes--”

“Even Gwen sees it, hell, I’m willing to bet the whole school can see it!”

Arthur turned more red. The fact the whole school knew he was in love before he did was a little embarrassing. Morgana always called him thick and he’s willing to acknowledge the fact maybe he was a little thick when it came to feelings (not that he’s willing to admit it out loud).

“So what if I did?” Arthur bowed his head, “It’s not like he likes me back or anything.”

He could hear Morgana start muttering about boys and feelings. “You do know your drama and angst is totally unnecessary, right?” she got something out of her pocket and handed them over to him, “those are tickets for my recital this Sunday. You can ask him to go with you.”

“But he always comes with me to your recital!” Arthur said. “How is he gonna know it’s a date?”

“It’s simple. Ask him if he wants to go on a date with you. If he says yes, then you can both confess your feelings for each other as I play a soulful rendition of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’”

“Please don’t tell me that really is your recital piece.”

“I’m full of surprises, dear brother.” Morgana checked her watch and started gathering her books from the table. “I have to go, Gwen’s class is almost over.”

“What if Merlin says no to me?” Arthur asked Morgana as she stood up.

“Then it’s a no. Sad. Though, I’m sure Merlin won’t say no to you.”

“Are you a seer now as well?”

“Like I said,” Morgana smiled. “I’m full of surprises.”

And with that, she left the library while Arthur continued to stare at the tickets in his hand.

***

“You're surprisingly quiet today.”

Merlin and Arthur were on their way to Arthur's house to do their respective homework (although it always ends in 10% homework and 90% playing Xbox or watching a movie) when Merlin was going on about his day while Arthur tuned everything out in favor of thinking about the tickets in his pocket. He didn't even notice Merlin turn silent.

“I'm just thinking.”

“Arthur, you know that's bad for you.”

“Shut up, Mer lin.”

Merlin smiled and both sirens and a chorus of angels were ringing and singing in his head seeing that smile directed at him. There also seemed to be too many butterflies in places where there shouldn't be any butterflies at all. They were only walking, but his heart was already skipping beats.

Being in love apparently felt like the beginning of a heart attack.

The corners of the dark-haired boy’s mouth turned down. He looked at Arthur and said:

“Seriously, are you okay?  You look like you swallowed something sour.”

Arthur tried to give Merlin a grin but judging by the other boy’s face, it wasn't working well either.

“I have to ask you something.”

“Oh my God, please don’t ask me to help you hide the body. I know we're best mates, but our friendship has limits.”

“...I’m keeping that for future reference, but it’s actually--well, um,” Gulp. Here goes nothing. “I want to know. If you would,  uh--”

Merlin’s loud and bubbly ringtone started ringing. Startled, he got it out from the depths of his bag and promptly answered. He gave Arthur a apologetic smile as he said hello to the person at the other end of the line and moved away to talk to them.

Of course the universe would let Merlin’s phone ring the moment he managed to gather the courage to ask him out. Of course.

“Hey, Freya needs me at the vet, said her cat choked on buns? Vans?” Merlin said, “Not so great reception. Anyway, what did you want to ask?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Arthur replied, “Now run along and do the Heimlich on Freya’s cat.”

“Prat.” Merlin promised to drop by later before running ahead of Arthur towards the clinic.

Hopefully Merlin wouldn’t ask about my question, Arthur thought.

He really needed a plan.


 

Arthur’s plan involved using various means of communication to ask Merlin out. He figured face-to-face would be the best way to do it since it had a more personal feel, but after that time on the way home, he’s not gonna put the life of Freya’s cat at the mercy of the universe so it could find a way to interrupt them again.

He and Merlin shared History every Tuesday afternoon, so he first tried the good ol fashioned way of passing notes. While the teacher was enthusiastically sharing about their topic for the day, Arthur already had his note prepared. Now, was the problem of getting it into Merlin’s hands. He glanced at the back, near the window, where Merlin was seated. Arthur was seated across the room, near the front, so his note would go through many nosy people (chances of getting caught were high, too, considering the distance).

As he was trying to figure out how to get the note to Merlin, he was struck by a brilliant idea: a paper plane! It would land directly his best friend’s desk. No one would be able to snoop. He folded the note into a plane, made sure it was decent, and when the teacher turned their back, Arthur threw the plane towards the dark-haired boy.

One small detail he didn’t take into account though, was the open window beside Merlin.

And because the universe was conspiring against him and his plans to ask Merlin out, the plane flew neatly out the window without missing a beat.

The rest of the class was busy copying the assignment for the next encounter while Arthur was giving himself a pat on the back-- not for a job well done, but for resisting the urge to hit his head against the desk multiple times.

 


 

The next day, he inserted a letter in Merlin’s science textbook on the way to their classes after lunch.

Merlin walked towards Arthur’s house later that day to do homework. Merlin babbled again about what happened in his classes plus some rumours flying around school (How does Merlin even know about those?), but so far he hasn’t mentioned anything about Arthur’s note.

The suspense was eating him inside out. Maybe Merlin didn’t open his book today. It’s totally possible, but then he had Biology so it was highly unlikely. The note falling to the floor was another possibility he didn’t like thinking about. Knowing his recent luck, that could be the possible explanation.

Merlin did mention he needed to work on a chapter worksheet in his science book, so he hoped he would find the letter then. That also meant there was a chance he would see Merlin’s reaction live.

Jury’s still out on whether or not that was a blessing.

***

As soon as they reached Arthur’s house, they began their homework session with first gathering snacks and drinks in the kitchen (“We need sustenance if we ever want to get these done.” “Yeah, but do we really need this much snacks, Merls?”) Then, they went upstairs to Arthur’s room to get settled. They placed the snacks and drinks on the table and begin to bring out their homework. Merlin always perched on the bed (“It’s heaven. If this was my bed, I’d never get up again.”) while Arthur sat at his desk. Merlin was engrossed in working through his assignments and eating a few bites out of a cookie every now and then compared to Arthur, who couldn’t focus at all with the knowledge that Merlin would be working on Science any time now and would find the letter.

So he waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

“Can I borrow your Science textbook for a minute?”

“What?”

“I let Gwaine borrow mine, since he left his textbook in his locker.” Merlin stood up and got Arthur’s Science textbook. Merlin said thanks and sat back on the bed to continue his homework.

Meanwhile, Arthur’ thought about the letter, where he wrote a poem waxing lyrical about Merlin’s laugh, his kind, blue eyes that was prettier than any ocean and if he would do Arthur the honor of going out with him on many, many dates.

He hoped his luck would hold out and that the letter fell out of the textbook and was carried away by the wind, never to be seen again.

(Somewhere in the neighborhood, Gwaine held the letter in one hand while laughing his guts out. Shakespeare would be rolling in his grave if he read this.

At least Arthur tried.

He kept laughing.)


 

After five failed attempts on Thursday (one of which involved very nasty waffles), Arthur briefly considered just giving up. Then he crushed the thought before it could even take root because Pendragons never give up.

(He could also hear the universe’s evil laughter whenever everything goes wrong and damn if he’s gonna let the universe win.)


 

On Friday, Merlin wasn’t anywhere to be found in school.

They didn’t have any classes together on that day and since they only walked home together, Arthur didn’t have a clue where Merlin was at all.

After school ended, he walked towards Merlin’s house and called him. It only took four missed calls before he finally picked up.

“‘Ello?”

“Merlin?”

“Hi Arthur--” whatever Merlin was about to say next was cut off by a painful-sounding cough . “Did you miss me?”

Yes, I missed you so much I wished time would run faster so I could see you. “Absolutely not, idiot.” Arthur heard rustling noises at the end of the line and what sounds like someone blowing their nose into a wad of tissues.

“Are you sick?”

“Just a small cold.”

“Small? You sounded like you were about to cough your lungs out!”

“Are you worried?” Merlin coughed again. His lungs were probably halfway through his throat at the sound of it.

“Of course I’m worried.” He didn’t include the part where he would fight a thousand coughs and colds to avoid Merlin from getting sick ever again. “I’m coming over. I’ll bring soup and medicine.”

“Noooooooo, you’ll get sick too!”

“You probably didn’t even take medicine yet.”

“I do know how to take care of myself, y’know,” he could imagine the pout on Merlin’s face from a mile away, “bring me apples too.”

“You can’t tell me what to do, Merlin.”

“Prat,” Merlin said. “See you, Arthur.”

“Get some rest, dollophead.”

The image of Merlin all cuddled up in blankets waiting for him was so adorable Arthur couldn’t stop smiling on his way to the shops.

***

Arthur was slicing apples in Merlin’s kitchen when he heard him coming down the stairs.

“You brought apples!” Merlin said when he saw Arthur in the kitchen. He moved closer to Arthur, covered head to toe in a blanket  and rested his chin on Arthur’s shoulder. “Don’t forget to cut them into rabbits.”

“I know,” Arthur said, “don’t sleep on my shoulder, idiot. Go sit down on the sofa.”

Arthur’s heart grew ten times bigger watching Merlin shuffle towards the sofa. He doesn’t know how anyone could look adorable while being sick. It’s illegal.

He made his way beside Merlin with a plate of rabbit-shaped apple slices and the medicine he brought with him. He nudged Merlin to drink his medicines first then Merlin ate the apples with much enthusiasm a sick person could give.

They sat there in comfortable silence. Arthur flailing on the inside about Merlin’s adorableness while Merlin munched on rabbit-shaped slices.

Merlin placed the plate on the table and snuggled against Arthur’s side.

“Arthur?”

Arthur simply pulled him closer and ignored the loud beating of his heart and his brain short circuiting at the contact.

“Yes, Merlin?”

“Go out with me?”

On the outside, Arthur smiled at Merlin. On the inside, there was a clash between sirens of whatwhatwhat and a chorus of angels singing Hallelujah!

Did Merlin just ask him out?

“Um, you don’t have to say yes, uh,” Merlin was slowly pulling away from his embrace, “It’s fine I promise. It won’t change a thing. We’ll still be friends! I know it’s awkward hearing that from your best mate, but honestly--”

“Merlin?”

“Arthur?” he stopped squirming away from Arthur and Arthur pulled him back in.

“Shut up.” Arthur gave Merlin a peck on the lips. “Does that answer your question?”

Merlin beamed with the full force of the sun and Arthur couldn’t help but smile at him in return.

“I’ve been trying to ask you out for the past few days, yknow.”

“Really?”

“Really.” He decided that he could tell Merlin about those later. Right now, all he’s planning to do is cuddle Merlin to health. “I have tickets for Morgana’s recital. I know you always come with me, but I figure now you could come with me as my date this time.”

“You know I’ll never say no to watching Morgana shock the audience with her pieces.”

The pair continued to converse, with kisses in between, until they dozed off in the living room, lovingly clinging to each other.


 

(The next day, Arthur kept sneezing and coughing while on the phone with Merlin.

“Now I’m sick.”

“Who’s the one who won’t stop kissing me?” Merlin said. He sounded fond even over the phone.

“Well, it’s your fault,” Arthur sneezed again, “so take responsibility.”

“You only have to ask if you want me over, y’know.”

Arthur smiled. “See you later, Merlin.”

“Later, clotpole.”)