Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Alice, Hunith.
Summary: Would being with Merlin always feel like Arthur's standing on the edge of a bridge on a lake, feeling the warmth of the autumn sun, and yet, scared of what would happen if he jumped and took a chance?
Word Count: 1200
Prompt: 289 for camelot_drabble
Author's Notes: So I totally took the "prompt" and the only thing it's incorporated in is the summary. Because, life is hard, fanfiction shouldn't be. Part 15 for the "A Secret Admirer?" Totes unbetaed.
Arthur was back in Merlin's tiny car, and his heart was beating rapidly. They were heading over to Merlin's place. He knew where Merlin lived, but he'd not known exactly which building, which flat. The fact that Merlin was trusting him with something that was obviously something he'd like keeping to himself—was exhilarating and frightening.
Would being with Merlin always feel like Arthur's standing on the edge of a bridge on a lake, feeling the warmth of the autumn sun, and yet, scared of what would happen if he jumped and took a chance?
"Arthur, this is Alice." Merlin motioned towards the older woman that was seated in the armchair in the sitting room. She had kind eyes and she smiled softly at him. She immediately got up from her chair to greet him, and Arthur rushed towards her, he didn't want her to make an effort for him.
"Very nice to meet you," she said and then looked at Merlin. "Do you need me to stay—"
"No, thanks for staying late tonight, Alice," Merlin said and she nodded.
"You know I'm used to odd hours my whole life, boy, it's no effort at all."
"I know, thanks again," he said. "Is she asleep?"
She shook her head. "We had a nice game of cards and she's in the bath. I reckon she'll probably want her late night tea and then call it an evening."
Alice gathered up her things and said goodbye to them and Merlin walked her to the door. Then Merlin turned to look at Arthur and released a sigh.
"So this is where I live," he said.
"I like your place," Arthur said.
It was a small flat, but well kept. Arthur could see that Merlin and his mother had been living there for a long time. There were pictures everywhere and mismatched furniture that all seemed to…fit. It was the kind of home Arthur would have liked to grow up in. Nothing fancy about it but the essence of warmth, comfort, and security was exuding everywhere.
"Have you lived here a long time?" Arthur asked.
They were both standing awkwardly in the sitting room, and Merlin hadn't offered for Arthur to sit, so Arthur hadn't moved a muscle.
Merlin shrugged. "A few years. I moved in after my father passed away and my mother was diagnosed…" He trailed off, looking away from Arthur.
"Diagnosed?" Arthur whispered.
"Cancer," he said and Arthur tried not to show his reaction. He figured the last thing Merlin wanted was pity, or empty words, he'd probably heard it all.
"I'm sorry…" Arthur said in a gentle tone. "I can't even imagine…" He wanted to sound genuine. He wanted Merlin to know that he cared about him. Even if this was why he'd been keeping himself at a distance, that Arthur understood. He'd never demand anything from Merlin. If anything, he'd want to only give and give because Merlin deserved it all.
"It's been a long-winded battle but she's in remission," Merlin said, sounding slightly happier. "Alice and Gaius live next door, and well, Gaius has been our doctor since before I was born… They help me take care of her. Alice has been everything to me. If it weren't for her—"
"Merlin, who are you talking to out there?"
Arthur stiffened up immediately as Merlin crossed the room in two strides and went to his mother. He introduced them and Hunith gave Arthur a knowing look.
She looked fragile, but there was a fire in her eyes that told Arthur that she was solid iron. It was the same kind of fire and determination Arthur had seen in Merlin's eyes, and he smiled at the thought of knowing where it came from.
"How are you, Arthur? It's finally good to meet you."
"Oh?" Arthur asked with intrigue. "You've heard of me?"
"Mum— You should be resting."
"Oh hush," she said in a teasing tone. "Why are you still standing Arthur, come, sit with me." She pointed to the sofa and sat down, expecting Arthur come and sit next to him. "Merlin, make us some tea, would you?"
Merlin nodded awkwardly and continued to stand in his spot. "Don't…don't ask him any embarrassing questions," he said.
She laughed as if she'd planned on doing just the thing.
When Merlin was gone, Hunith turned to look at Arthur, and her smile sent a chill down Arthur's spine. It's as if she was looking into Arthur's soul and assessing whether or not he as good enough for her son.
"Your home is lovely," Arthur said.
"It is what it is," she said, looking around. "I've lived here for so long that even if Merlin insists that he can afford something bigger and better—it's just too much of a hassle to move. Besides, I'd rather he leave this place after I'm gone—"
"I don't think Merlin appreciates you talking like that," Arthur said immediately. He didn't want her to talk like that, and he didn't want Merlin to walk back into the room and listen to her speaking about her death.
She chuckled lightly. "Think you know my son already, do you, Mr Pendragon?"
And there was that challenge, the fire with which Merlin burned. "So, Merlin talks about me?" Arthur asked, hoping the slight subject change would put them in a better mood.
Her face lit up then. "I remember the first day he'd met you," she said. "I'd never seen him so luminous…if that's the right word. It was like he was on fire from within. He'd casually mention you in conversation. Mostly talking about his friends Percy, and Morgana, and Gwen, but then… Arthur this… Arthur that…" She laughed again. "I've been waiting to meet you. But, of course, it's Merlin. Duty comes before everything else. He didn't want to get a boyfriend if it meant he'd get distracted from his responsibilities."
"I'm sure it didn't help that he never actually introduced himself to me," Arthur said. He tried to think about the times he could have met Merlin, especially if they'd been at the same parties. But Merlin knowingly kept his distance from Arthur, Arthur was sure of it.
"It was the same with his father and I," she said. "We'd had the same friends but never talked to each other, and one day he walked up to me and said hello, and I was a goner. I could never think of anyone else but him. Found reasons to sneak out of the house with my girlfriends to see if he was at some party and…" She paused to take a breath.
"Are you all right? Do you need me to get—"
"No, it's fine. I've had a long day…" she said and then sighed. "Not as young as I used to be."
They changed the subject again and Hunith asked Arthur questions about his work.
"Here we are…" Merlin walked into the room holding a tray with three tea mugs and biscuits. "Sorry, I'm not much of an entertainer," he said, placing the tray in front of Arthur and Hunith. He took his seat at the armchair that Alice had been sitting on and picked up a tea mug to hand to his mother.
"Thanks, dear," she said and sipped from it.
"So what were you talking about?" Merlin asked.
"Work," said Arthur.
"Hmm," Merlin said, giving his mother a scrutinising look, "I believe that."
They drank their tea in more or less companionable silence with Merlin and Hunith speaking about some neighbours and Merlin asking after what Hunith had done for the day.
Eventually, Hunith got up to excuse herself and head over to the bedroom.
"I'll help you," said Merlin.
"No, clean this up, boy," she commanded him and he quickly followed her orders.
Then, she leaned over and kissed Arthur on the cheek. "It was very nice to meet you, Arthur."
Arthur nodded. "You too."
"Be careful with my boy," she whispered in his ear and then left the room.
READ NEXT PART: STAYING