“Merlin!” Gwen exclaimed, “What’s wrong? Is your mum alright?”
They all turned to look and Merlin was standing in the door to the common room, looking ready to burst into tears.
“She’s fine,” he sniffed, “But she told me my cat died.”
“Oh, dude, that sucks,” Elena said.
“Yeah,” Merlin said, a bit wetly. “It’s dumb. But it’s just, my best friend said that he couldn’t believe I was leaving him, that he would just waste away without me. And now it’s… He’s just a cat, right? But I’ve had him since I was seven and…”
The trembling of his jaw and the sheen in his eyes became a bit more pronounced.
There were soothing murmurs from all their friends, until Arthur released a sigh of pure frustration.
“Merlin, you absolute moron.” He ignored the fury in the gazes that turned on him and stood, walking over to Merlin with a quick stride. “You hated that cat.”
Merlin looked up at him with a sad pout. “I did not.”
Arthur rolled his eyes and dragged Merlin over to the chair he’d been sitting in. He sat himself, and with a quick yank, Merlin was sprawled over his lap.
“Yes, you did. You said he was a twat of a cat that shouldn’t be trusted and only you would bring home the most vicious monster in the whole animal shelter. Though, that part is quite true. You have a habit of picking up hideous strays. Like Gwaine, for example.”
Merlin curled up in Arthur’s lap and the sound that escaped him could have been a chuckle or a sniffle.
“Like you,” Merlin retorted.
“You are quite mistaken,” Arthur said haughtily, “You are the hideous stray I deigned to adopt. And you should tell Will that his stupid little joke killed your cat and demand recompense.”
Merlin turned his face into Arthur’s neck.
“It’s Will’s fault?” he asked in a small voice.
“Of course it’s Will’s fault, Merlin. Kilgarrah wouldn’t have wasted away for missing you. He would scratch you as soon as look at you and never ate his wet food if you were the one who put it out, even though he liked it better than the dry food by miles.”
Merlin pressed closer to Arthur. “He was such a weird dumb cat,” Merlin said. There was definitely a bit of laughter in his voice now.
“The point is, you weren’t his favorite. He barely liked you. This only happened at all because Will was being a wanker about you going away for school.”
Merlin sighed, seeming to relax completely against his friend. “And because he was old,” he said softly.
Arthur ran a hand down Merlin’s back. “Yes. That too,” he said gently, and then more firmly, “But mostly because of Will. Of course, I’ll be helping you design your repayment plan. You can milk this for weeks.”
As Arthur went on listing all the things Merlin could demand from Will for the murder of his childhood pet, the rest of their friends looked on. Elena and Gwen could hardly stop themselves from cooing at the two. Lance, Leon, and Percival were amused and indulgent. And Gwaine… he finally got it.