Title: Inside Out – part 4
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin and Arthur have a little talk about expectations.
Word Count: 979
Camelot_drabble Prompt: pt 419:bingo-round 2- counseling
Author's Notes: none
Disclaimer: Merlin characters are the property of Shine and BBC. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Surprisingly, Arthur didn’t yell at Merlin. Instead, he thought about what Merlin had said, seeming to mull it over. Finally, Arthur said, “Standing up to my father isn’t possible. He is the king, after all.”
Merlin let out a long sigh of relief. If Arthur was willing to see reason, or just listen to Merlin even if he didn’t take Merlin’s advice, they might be okay. He’d missed Arthur so much. He wished he could make it all better somehow, but he knew that it had to be Arthur’s decision, Arthur’s bravery, Arthur’s willingness to say no to Uther that would turn the tide. But he wanted Arthur to know that he’d always have Arthur’s back.
Walking over to Arthur, Merlin didn’t even think about standing over him. He didn’t want to give Arthur any reason to feel that Merlin was trying to badger or overwhelm him, not when Arthur was finally opening up. Instead, crouching down next to Arthur’s chair, looking up into Arthur’s startled eyes, Merlin said, “I noticed that he gives you the hardest tasks. I noticed that you struggle with them, but always you are successful because you are brave and resourceful and smarter than you look.”
“Is that a compliment?” Arthur said, his mouth twitching as if he wanted to smile. “Who are you and what have you done with Merlin?”
Merlin just shook his head. “Don’t let it go to that pea brain of yours. I’m sure the next moment, you’ll be the clotpole you always are.”
Arthur huffed, an almost snort, then said, “I’m sure my brain is bigger than yours, idiot.”
“I’m sure you think so.” Merlin gave him a quick grin, then sobered. “Arthur, you are the bravest man I know but you aren’t invincible. You do what your father insists upon even if it’s impossible and when you bring back the prize he demands, he just tosses it aside.”
Arthur’s face was pinched at that, but Merlin knew that he needed the hard truths. At least Arthur wasn’t yelling at him or even pushing him aside. Emboldened, Merlin put his hand on Arthur’s arm, both to steady himself and to connect with Arthur, hoping that he’d hear Merlin and truly listen.
When Arthur didn’t do anything, didn’t move away or yell at Merlin for such familiarity, Merlin’s heart eased just a little. Maybe Arthur would listen after all.
“He doesn’t reward you for it. He doesn’t even tell you that it was well done. He doesn’t give you any peace, just gives you another task, harder next time.” Merlin squeezed Arthur’s arm a little, then let go and leaning back, stared up into Arthur’s eyes. “Someday, you won’t be able to complete whatever it is. Because it will be too hard and too dangerous for anyone, even the most courageous, even the most able of knights. And then you’ll be dead.”
“Merlin,” Arthur said, “He’s the king. He gets to say who lives and who dies.”
Frowning a little, Merlin said, “It is one thing to send out a cadre of knights to overcome adversity. It’s quite another to send you without backup. And yes, I’m your backup, but I’m sure the king doesn’t see me as anything more than an annoyance or maybe even a liability.”
“I’ve had to rescue you a dozen times. Of course, you are a liability. You’re a menace, perhaps the greatest menace this kingdom has ever faced.” Arthur’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, though.
For a moment, Merlin worried that Arthur had found out about his magic. But when Arthur just sat there, waiting, Merlin gave him a little grin, half-taunting, half-relieved. “Har, har. I’ll remember that next time you want a hot bath or a mince pie in the middle of the night.” Sobering, Merlin said, “I think he’s testing you to see when and how you will break. But I know you. You won’t break, you’ll take it and take it until no one could survive. Don’t you see? He’s killing you by inches and you let him. Yes, he’s the king, but he’s also your father and you need to call him out on it.”
At that, Arthur stood up and started pacing. “And how do you expect me to do that? Just walk up to him and tell him no when something needs to be done? I’m responsible for the kingdom’s well-being as much as my father.”
“Use your own judgement. I’ve seen you in action. I know you can be brilliant at times – and no, don’t let that go to your head. Give him alternatives, ones based in knowledge and judgment. You’ve been out there a lot more often than he has. You know your people.” Merlin stood up, leaning against the table.
“I’ll think about it,” Arthur said. He looked like he meant it, too.
And then there was a last truth. Merlin wasn’t sure how Arthur would take it, though. “One more thing. Next time there’s a faire, you need to go.”
“No,” Arthur said, fast and hard and final. He glared at Merlin a moment, then looked away. “No.”
Merlin reached over and grasped Arthur’s arm, stilling him. Looking deep into Arthur’s troubled eyes, Merlin said, “For my sake. Morgana and Gwen are the worst. Last time, they made me try on one of the dresses Morgana wanted to buy and it was embarrassing.”
“I thought you liked wearing dresses,” Arthur said, giving him a little grin.
“I am wrong. You are the worst!” Merlin rolled his eyes, then said, “Look, clotpole, I was checking that dress for moths. But never mind that. At the faire, crowds gathered. People were snickering. Even Gwen, my former friend, looked like she was trying not to laugh. Please, Arthur, you are my only hope.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Merlin grinned. He’d count that as a win. For now.