Title: To be his own man.
Character/s: Arthur Pendragon, Merlin
Summary: Arthur has spent all day treating Merlin badly. He knows he was in the wrong and he knows that he should apologise.
Word Count: 988 words
Prompt: This is me. (Prompt #419 Bingo round 2)
It was the end of yet another long day and Arthur sat in his chambers with his dinner in front of him, as Merlin puttered about the room, doing all the little things that needed doing. Usually, they would be talking about something or the other. Merlin would offer opinions about whatever was going on in Camelot at the moment. Arthur would listen and argue and often he would end up agreeing with Merlin, though he didn't always admit that.
Today was different, though. Merlin was working in silence and it was obvious that he was hurt and angry. He had every right to be. Arthur had been really hard on him that day, giving him one awful job after another, getting angry with him for no good reason, making fun of him in front of his knights, calling him a coward and laughing at him. This had become a pattern with him. Every now and then he would have a day when he was almost intolerable to be around. And Merlin would have to bear the brunt of it.
Arthur had felt like a cad all day. He'd hated the way he was behaving, he'd hated seeing that look of hurt on Merlin's face, but he'd carried on, anyway. He felt really ashamed of himself now. And he knew he had to apologise. He hadn't ever apologised to Merlin for anything before, but it was time to change that. It was time to stop being an entitled brat.
It was his good fortune that Merlin was unflinchingly loyal and devoted to him. Even his knights didn't give him the kind of love and devotion that Merlin did. And he did it without asking for or expecting anything in return. All he wanted was to be treated with kindness and affection. He wanted Arthur to respect him and listen to his advice. And that was no hardship, because Merlin often gave good advice.
Yes, Merlin was his servant, but he was also a friend, the only real one Arthur had ever had. And it was time Arthur acknowledged that and accepted it instead of trying to fight his growing affection for Merlin at every turn.
He was drawn out of his musing by the sound of Merlin's voice.
"Will that be all, Sire?" He said in a cold, flat tone.
"I need to talk to you, Merlin, so will you please sit," Arthur said, indicating the chair next to him. "And maybe join me for dinner? I don't much feel like eating alone, not tonight."
Merlin looked completely taken aback. "You want me to sit...at a table with you...and have dinner."
"And a couple of drinks, yes."
"Am I not too lowly for that?" Merlin said with a touch of bitterness in his voice.
"No. And I should never have made you feel that way." Arthur got up and went over to Merlin. I'm sorry," he said.
"You're...actually apologising." Merlin looked very surprised.
"I am. And I mean it too."
"Arthur...I just...I don't..."
"I know you don't understand. I want to explain myself. So, will you please forgive me for my very bad behaviour today and join me for dinner?"
They sat down and Arthur shocked Merlin further, by setting out a plate for him and doing the serving himself. They ate in silence for a while. Arthur was trying to decide how best to say what he needed to say. Merlin sensed that and he kept quiet
"I know I don't treat you very well. I give you too much to do, I make fun of you and I'm often unfair to you, " Arthur said. "But I need you to know that it's all a facade. I don't mean any of it. You're the best friend I've ever had, the one person I rely on, for comfort and counsel. I appreciate the fact that you're always honest with me and that you treat me like a person instead of a prince. I know I don't show it, but it's true."
"Then why the facade?"
"I've been raised to be very conscious of my position and to hold myself apart from others. I never really had any friends and no one ever talked back to me until you came along and called me a royal prat."
"You are a royal prat."
"I know. I've been conflicted about you from the beginning. I keep wanting to treat you like a friend and an equal, but I have all this training and teaching, telling me that I will never be respected and obeyed if I get friendly with those who are technically below me. I've had years and years of that and it's hard to fight."
"And that is why you turn into an awful brat everytime we get a little close or you show me a bit of affection."
"So what are you saying, Arthur? That this is who you are and I just have to accept it?"
"No. I'm saying that I don't want to be a brat anymore."
"Do you really mean that?"
"I do. I'm very aware of the fact that I don't deserve you, Merlin. But I want to try. I want to be worthy of your inexplicable devotion to me."
Merlin smiled wryly at that. "It's not that inexplicable, Arthur. Despite your prattiness, you've never failed me when I really needed you. And you've risked your life to save mine on more than one occasion. So I'd say the devotion is deserved."
"I'll keep trying to earn it anyway."
They talked late into the night as they shared a couple of drinks, sitting on the floor in front of the fire. Arthur had never felt as free or as much like himself as he did that night. This was who he was, not the replica of his father that he'd spent his life pretending to be.