Over the next four days that led to Friday, Merlin’s condition barely improved, even though Arthur was constantly by his bedside, taking care of him.
Many times he’d asked if he should call for a doctor but Merlin always told him he was fine and didn’t need anyone. However, this was clearly not the case considering he’d collapsed when he’d tried to get out of bed once. Arthur had told him sternly to stay in bed after that and took it upon himself to cater to Merlin’s every whim.
Muttering something about swine flu, Merlin had ordered him to leave him alone. As if Arthur would abscond his friend to fend for himself like that. Never.
When Friday dawned and Merlin was still hacking all over the place, Arthur had given him the unwelcome diagnosis of having to cancel the interview. By no means was Merlin having any of that and demanded to be driven to the paper editing office.
Very much against his will, Arthur was taking Merlin up there now in his clunky old Ford. He glanced over to his friend who had done his very best to look presentable and was even wearing the new Converses. However, there were still those telltale signs.
For instance, he was constantly sneezing, sniffing and snorting, had a ghostly complexion and, despite how Arthur always kept a cool, wet cloth on his forehead, there was still a cold sweat on his face. Even someone without a brain could see the poor boy was ill, but Arthur was hopeful that Merlin could still somehow achieve the job, regardless of his ‘swine flu’ – as he had dubbed it.
“Well, good luck,” Arthur smiled at his friend as he drew the car up outside the busy block of offices.
Merlin nodded nervously and swallowed a lump in his throat, taking a deep breath. Arthur could see he looked quite tense and wrote it off as jitters about the interview. He wasn’t wrong. Merlin was indeed very jumpy. Writing meant everything to him and it would probably be ages until he managed to find another interview. He’d only just graduated and more than most papers weren’t at ease with taking on someone so young. This would be his only chance for a long time. If he messed up, it would all be over. That’s what Merlin’s mind was screaming at him and, having known him his whole life, Arthur could see this.
“Hey, it’ll be alright,” he said comfortingly, handing Merlin back his folder of papers that his friend’s trembling hands had let slide to the floor. “You know you’re good enough for the job, you’ve just got to show them that.”
“You reckon they’ll like me…?” Merlin looked doubtfully at the looming offices.
“Well, why wouldn’t they?” Arthur reasoned. “Go on, off you go or you’ll be late.”
“You’ll pick me up, right?” Merlin asked as he began to pull the window of the car down so he could climb out.
Arthur nodded and Merlin sent him a final grateful glance before clambering out of the window, picking himself up and making his way up the steps of the building. Carefully watching him go, Arthur gave him a ‘go on, then’ look when Merlin turned around halfway up the steps, looking lost.
As Merlin was swallowed up by the swivelling doors of the office, Arthur leant back in his chair and kept a watchful eye out for when he would return in what he guessed would be an hour or so.
After a short snooze, Arthur picked Merlin out from the crowd as his friend finally appeared and walked up to the car. He tried to read Merlin’s expression as he climbed back into his seat and sat down heavily, but his friend’s face was utterly blank. Never having seen him like this before, Arthur wondered whether his unyielding expression was good or bad as he started up the car and pulled away.
“So,” he said after an uncomfortable moment of silence, “how’d it go.”
“I’ll tell you later,” Merlin mumbled, staring impassively at the floor.
Arthur decided to stay quiet after that and remained so until they were back in the flat.
He sat down next to Merlin on the sofa where his friend was slumped, staring at the folder of papers that were settled on his lap.
“What happened?” he asked gently, sensing that what had taken place hadn’t gone to plan.
“They said I was too young and inexperienced,” Merlin said, his voice quiet. “More like I had an infectious disease they didn’t want to catch…”
Arthur narrowed his eyes sympathetically and wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulders. Merlin was shaking now and Arthur was sure he saw a tear escape his eye.
“I…I really wanted that j-job!” Merlin’s breath caught in his throat as he said it and he let out a small sob.
“I know,” Arthur rubbed his friend’s back as Merlin suddenly fell upon him, crying into his shoulder.
They sat there for a moment and when Merlin eventually released him and looked him deeply in the eyes, Arthur was startled by the living storm of gold he found there.
He’d seen it once before when Merlin had got emotional. It had been a number of years ago when they were still in school. Merlin had gotten angry, really angry, in fact livid would do it justice, when the school bully had attacked his scarf with a hedge trimmer.
Arthur, just about to stick up for his friend and teach the idiot who was boss, had caught sight of the golden blizzard in Merlin’s eyes. Seeing it quite clearly, there was no denying it wasn’t a trick of the light.
He’d been frightened at first, and then curious, but said nothing to Merlin about it, however, and instead spent a long time pondering and mulling it over in his mind. Being only eleven years old then, Arthur had a more vivid imagination and had told himself it was some kind of magic. He’d stuck with that theory ever since, even though, now he was an adult, it just sounded stupid, or at least it would if he hadn’t accidentally caught Merlin actually using magic in the kitchen to clean the dishes of all things. After that he’d been sure.He knew Merlin would tell him eventually, when he was ready, but until that day, Arthur was going to be his shoulder to lean upon.