Title: The Sporting Life
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Mordred
Summary: Arthur stands in the court with his hands on the racket, the world muted around him and his hopes not yet crushed. Another Grand Slam title so close to being his, yet the victory feels so far.
Warnings: maybe some inaccuracies about tennis
Word Count: 1k
Prompt: #228: Second Chances
Author's Notes: In no way do I claim to be an authority on tennis, I'm merely a fan and spectator who likes to make strange noises when her favorites are winning. Do forgive any mistakes I made trying to describe a match and the technical aspects. And lets pretend Mordred is a tennis prodigy. Also, this fic was the result of me watching the US Open Men's singles final (*chants* Stan!Stan!Stan!).
Sweat drips down the sides of his face and over his neck. His muscles coiled tight with unreleased tension, aching from the strenuous activity he's put his body through for the last three hours. On the other side of the court his opponent is bouncing on his legs, gearing up for more. He doesn't stay put. Clad in black unlike the red of Arthur's shirt. He's also fighting for the title with unrelenting passion. The Billie Jean King Tennis National Center their venue and battleground.
Arthur rolls the racket in his hands, can hear the blood pumping in his ears. He's got two sets won against one lost where Mordred showed proficiency and a superb technique. Arthur can recognize talent when he sees it. Fear gnaws at him from the knowledge.
Mordred is barely twenty, his youth clear on his round face and bright eyes. He's a newcomer who's ready to take the world by storm. He was a wildcard back in Australia, now he's giving all he's got against Arthur Pendragon, The King. And it's easy to see why he's gathered a following of his own already, fans who chant his name and want to see him live up to his potential on the court. They want him to beat Arthur.
Mordred hits the ball with great strength, the racket on the right side of his body. Arthur watches the green ball fly in the air. Impressive speed behind its leap, Arthur is sure the Hawk-eye catches every single thing going in on the blue of the inside court. But he doesn't look at the board, doesn't need to know the speed for sure or be reminded of the 5-4 of the game.
Arthur just about manages to return the serve, the ball bouncing against the nylon strings of his racket, his arm's muscles tense with the strike. Mordred runs on the other side of the net but it's too late and the ball lands outside. Mordred turns around, shakes his head and Arthur feels warmth pump through him, the trickle of excitement mixed with fear. Thirty-love.
He's so close to the end, to victory, but Mordred still has a chance. They could tie. Stranger things have happened.
The crowd is background, a muted faceless animal who occasionally becomes alive as they roar like an untamed lion with every point gained, every perfect backhand, every unforced error. Hundreds of eyes on them. On him. Appraising every move he makes. There are always two kinds of people, those who root for him and the ones who want to see him fall. Witness the end of an era. He's read the twitter hashtags and the Facebook comments. Some shower him with praise, others he'd rather forget about. And there are those claiming his backhand's still a glorious sight worthy of being seen and celebrated.
He imagines what those watching the match on their telly, on their laptops during a live stream, on bars and restaurants must think of him. Arthur trying to beat a kid.
At twenty-eight Arthur feels he only has a couple more years to prove himself, show the world he truly is deserving of his ranking, of his wins. Although his expiry date is getting closer and closer with each day according to some. It's like the world expects your talent to dwindle once you stop being an upcoming twenty-something. Fresh to the world. It's a battle of experience versus youth.
He exhales, shake his head trying to rid himself of negative thoughts. He's got to focus on the game. Merlin would chastise him for being so hard on himself. Merlin. There's a nice thought. Merlin makes him better in a thousand different ways.
He focuses. Throws himself into the game. Arthur's never been able to shake off Uther's way of training, his words when it comes to the sport. His father always wanted him to be one of the greats, to join him up there with other legends like Rod Laver, Pete Sampras and himself. Tennis won't forget about Uther Pendragon any time soon.
Arthur won't admit it but he's tired, his knee protesting against his bouncing like it wants to remind him of the injury that let him out of the game months and months ago. Like his body wants Arthur to remember this is a second chance, a do-over. His opportunity to finally win the US title as it's eluded him so far. To hold the shiny silver cup and kiss it for the cameras.
Arthur runs, runs, but doesn't make it and the ball slips away from him, rolls over a white line. Mordred plays with more enthusiasm and intensity after that. A fist pumping in the air, the sweat band across his face holding his dark hair back. His serve something vicious, his eyes glinting darkly. Arthur's suspecting Mordred is not one to back down easily.
The game goes on stretching the minutes into infinity. The court, the ball, his heart hammering in his chest. The racket gripped tight in his hands. Mordred's excited eyes and his grunts. Arthur hitting and jumping. Closer, he's getting closer. Mordred ducks, avoids.
Arthur pushes forward, grits his teeth. He can do it. He runs fast with one goal in his mind. And then, then it happens, the world moves in slow motion, the ball is just a point hovering above him. He stops breathing. He breaks the serve and then it's over.
It's over. He blinks, drops the racket on the court.
There is a lull around him, the world on the fringes, he can't move. Needs a minute or a thousand. He's no longer in his body, he's seeing everything like an outsider, the crowd jumping and roaring, voices calling his name. Screaming. Chanting. The king, the king, the king! He doesn't return to his body until he's shaking Mordred's hand amicably, a sign of their sportmanship and mutual respect. Modred's smile doesn't hide his dissapointment. He's just as sweaty and tire as Arthur.
"I've always admired you, good game," Mordred says, and Arthur is taken aback at finding his words genuine.
The camera's are on his face. And Arthur finally realizes he's won.
This is it.
He looks up at the boxes and before anyone can stop him or something else happens, he jogs towards the crowd, jumps up between them with no security or anyone to stop people from congratulating him and patting him on his back or from trying to hug him. He's only thinking about finding Merlin. He needs to be with him. He always believed in him, even when Arthur was losing his confidence, always ready with a comeback and a thousand reasons why Arthur should never stop believing in himself.
As soon as he sees Merlin he finds him smiling and proud. Arthur isn't sure if it's him who pulls Merlin towards him or if Merlin is the one to jump in his arms, the only thing that matters is that they're holding onto each other and their mouths are fused. It's his sweat and Merlin's lips and their mutual elation. Arthur kisses Merlin until his lips are red and sore and Merlin stares at him like he always knew Arthur was going to win. Merlin looks as beautiful as the first time Arthur saw him, a God in the clay, magic stemming from his hands as he hit every ball send his way. His serves precise and ruthless. Arthur will always believe out of the two Merlin is the better player. There is a certain elegance in his wildness on the court.
"I told you so," Merlin says against his lips, displaying a smug smile.
Arthur shakes his head, incredulously, "Really, Merlin?"
Merlin laughs, body shaking against Arthur and he doesn't think this moment could get any better. He hugs Merlin, keeps him as close as he can. Arthur thinks his friends and Morgana will forgive him for only seeing Merlin in the sea of what used to be a faceless crowd.
There'll be more time to celebrate with them, for now he's where he wants to be.