Young Vienna

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He didn't show at school the next day, but that was unsurprising. He looked as if he should be in a hospital.

Arthur approached Morgana just before fifth period, taking her by the wrist and dragging her into an empty hallway. She growled menacingly at him and whacked him in the side with her folder, smouldering. "I have history next, you should know," she said aloofly, looking down her nose at Arthur's tatty sports bag. "And if you knew anything about the life of a year thirteen, you would know that attendance is extremely important."

"Oh fuck off, Morgana." He looked over his shoulder, making sure they were alone. "I only wanted to talk to you for a minute."

"Well I hardly have time –"

"It's about Merlin."

She looked down at her hands, her deep sea-glass eyes softening. "What about him?"

"I'm worried –" Arthur cleared his throat, crossing his arms. "He's a bit... Has he always missed lunch?"

Morgana's brow furrowed, and she shook her head. "No, he used to sit with us every day. He always liked Thursdays because he got to have beans with his jacket potato... and he'd have a piece of fruit, because all the desserts contained dairy." Arthur looked at her expectantly. "I... I honestly don't know when he stopped coming."

Arthur huffed, running his hands through his hair. "Well, where does he go instead?"

Morgana scowled. "How would I know?" But then her eyes narrowed in contemplation. "He's very studious. Loves his books. Probably the library." Arthur nodded, resting a hand on her shoulder. She looked as if she might hiss at him and bite it.

"Thanks Morgana," he shouted back to her as he sprinted out of the hallway, already late for fifth period Sociology. She glared, but there was something softer around her mouth.

Arthur barely remembered where he was during class, let alone had any inclination to begin comprehending the case study his professor was babbling on about – his mind was far too preoccupied with Merlin. Merlin, his closest friend, Arthur thought. He didn't know if he could consider him this, what with their encounters usually being completely unplanned, unlike going to the movies with his mates; but there was definitely some kind of deliberateness behind them. And he was sure they meant more than any drunken nights spent with people such as Gwaine, Lance, or Leon, who, whilst good people, provided little intellectual stimulation.

Arthur felt warm when he was with Merlin. He wasn't sure if he could say the same for the other boy though, what with him looking like he would freeze to death at the pinnacle of summer.

He considered going to visit his house after school, but felt that might be an invasion of privacy. After all, it had only been one day, and maybe he was simply getting much needed rest. He was probably best left undisturbed, and he felt sure he'd be able to keep his concern quenched for at least another twenty-four hours.

So Arthur went straight home after school, exchanged brief smiles with his sister on the doorstep, ignored his father's stark absence as he moved through the house, and tried his hardest not to think about a tall, thin teenager with ridiculous ears.

*

To his relief, Merlin made an appearance at school the next day, even if he tried his best to avoid Arthur. Although he didn't look much better, there was a healthier pink high on his cheeks as he sat at the back of their History class, head bowed and hands thumbing a particularly large textbook. He wasn't sure if the raven simply didn't feel his intense gaze, or he chose to ignore it.

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