Title: Falling Out of Favor
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Arthur meets up with Merlin in a park.
Word Count: 707
Prompt: #263 favor
Author's Notes: *zips lips*
Arthur wonders what reason Merlin could have had for asking to meet him at the park instead of coming over so they could walk there together. As Arthur approaches the bench by the lake where he sees Merlin sitting, something about Merlin's face gives Arthur a sense that everything is not okay.
Arthur sits down beside Merlin.
Merlin keeps his hands to himself. He turns his head toward Arthur slightly, but keeps his shoulders turned towards the lake.
Arthur isn't sure what's going on, but he makes the effort to speak to try to get Merlin to say whatever he's thinking about. "Hey," Arthur says.
Merlin stays silent.
Some pigeons land nearby and start pecking at the grass. The cold breeze ruffles their feathers.
Since Arthur can't look Merlin in the eye, he watches the hair at Merlin's temple move in the wind.
After about a minute – a minute during which Arthur has grown increasingly anxious over Merlin's strange mood, – Merlin takes a deep breath and lets it out in a large sigh. He says, "I want to break up." He turns his head fully away to look out at the lake again. "This isn't working for me."
Arthur's blood freezes in his veins. He feels suddenly weightless, like he could float up through the tree canopy above them if only his trousers weren't somehow stuck to the bench. His heart doesn't seem to be beating. His throat has gone tight, and he has to force his question out. "Why?" he asks. The word comes out with much less strength than he wanted to show. He almost sounds like he's pleading, and his embarrassment mixes together with his shock to cause his paled face to turn blotchy.
Now that Merlin has said the worst words Arthur could think of, the floodgates seem to be open. Merlin keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the water while he says, "It bothers me that everything is a competition with you. You can never just be with me. You can't talk with me as an equal: you can't have a conversation without making some sort of statement about how you have the same experience but that yours is in some way worse or better than mine. It's not just me who you compare yourself to, either." He takes a breath. "I've ignored it in favor of trying to get to know you for real, but no matter how much I like you or… or how hard my heart tells me I've fallen for you, I still don't feel that you treat me right. You have to tear me down to make yourself look better to yourself, and I've waited for the day when you would stop doing that because you saw it wasn't necessary. But it's been a year, and I have put up with more than I should have from you. I thought maybe you'd become different." Merlin's shoulders hunch. His voice turns bitter when he says, "I was delusional, I guess. I shouldn't have thought that way."
Arthur can't get a grasp on what Merlin is saying. Treat Merlin wrong? What does he mean?
The wind picks up speed. It bites at Arthur's nose and fingertips. It turns the surface of the grey water choppy.
Merlin's shoulders are still bent in, and his head is down. He shifts away from Arthur on the bench. He says, "I should go."
Arthur watches Merlin shift farther away from him on the bench one more time before Merlin stands up.
"Bye," Merlin says. He isn't looking at Arthur. He hasn't looked Arthur in the eye during this entire meeting.
Merlin walks away.
Arthur stares after Merlin's retreating back until Merlin is hidden by the trees.
Arthur's thoughts finally work their way around to becoming actions.
"Wait," Arthur says hoarsely, but it's too late for words.
In his mind, Arthur again runs through what Merlin said, but he still doesn't see what Merlin was talking about.
He sits alone on the bench.
His feet tingle with numbness when he gets up to leave. He considers following after Merlin, but then he realizes that Merlin doesn't want him.
Arthur's heart beats hard against his chest in protest, but Merlin is long gone.