Title: A Symptom of Silence
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Gaius
Summary: Arthur doesn’t know why it hurts him when Merlin’s hurting, except he does…
Word Count: 430
Prompt: 320. Eavesdrop
Author's Notes: Sorry for the angst...
Arthur doesn’t know what causes him to pause outside the physician’s quarters, staring at door where it’s opened a crack. He can hear voices inside, but cannot see through the gap. He shifts closer to it, quiet in his boots, and affords a quick glance down each end of the hallway to check for passersby. He’s alone, and grateful for it. He wouldn’t know how to explain what he’s doing, a king reduced to eavesdropping on his subjects.
It occurs to him that he would never actually have to explain himself, but the thought’s fleeting, and then he hears Merlin’s voice filtering through the gap.
“I just- I don’t understand why I’m feeling like this.”
“It’s only natural to want to be recognised for one’s accomplishments, Merlin- ”
Merlin’s breath hitching cuts Gaius off. Arthur frowns at the sound, replaying Merlin’s words through his head over again, frowning even harder when he can’t make sense of them.
“It isn’t that, Gaius,” Merlin says, his voice shaky. Arthur doesn’t ponder on it much, doesn’t want to know why. “I don’t care about being acknowledged… for that, anymore. Not really. It’s just… Arthur.”
Arthur has to stop himself from flinching at the sound of his name, the way Merlin whispers it with such defeat. He has never heard Merlin sound that way before.
“I do everything for him.” Merlin’s voice is higher now, more strained, and in Arthur’s head he sees him sitting at the table, his hands fisted in front of him, his lips so pursed they’ve gone white, his head lowered so no one will see the tears gathering in his eyes. Arthur shoves the image away, swallowing hard around the lump in his throat. “I’ve given everything for him- for him to…” Merlin’s breath stutters. “And he won’t even admit we’re friends.”
Merlin’s voice breaks on the word, friends, and Arthur doesn’t know what to do, what to say. He wants to barge in there and comfort Merlin, or maybe just call him an idiot, and on any other day - in any other circumstance - he would, but Merlin isn’t finished speaking, pleading— “Why am I not good enough?”
Arthur runs, like a coward, and it’s a blow to his dignity, but he can’t stop and he can’t turn around and he can’t face Merlin when he’s upset like that, could never stand it when he cried. He doesn’t know why it hurts him when Merlin’s hurting, except he does… he does know, but he doesn’t want to think about it, about that, about anything.
So he doesn’t.
He just runs.