Title: Brush Strokes
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Arthur visits Merlin's studio.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: The next in my Uni AU series. Not beta'd.
“I get it,” Merlin laughed. He’d told Arthur about his studio, but hadn’t expected this reaction. He supposed, in a way, he’d forgotten how beautiful it was. Being away from home, and now seeing it through fresh eyes, meant he could appreciate Arthur’s sheer wonder.
“Can we go in?”
He’d certainly never heard his friend sound that excited. Grinning, Merlin unlocked the door, giving it a fond pat as he pushed it open. He didn’t care if Arthur noticed. Flicking the light, he stepped back to let the other boy in.
The journey home had been uneventful, despite his mother’s promises. They’d both been working hard for the final few weeks of term and Merlin wasn’t sure which of them had fallen asleep first. Arthur had – thankfully – lost his wild-eyed look by the time they arrived home and Merlin showed him to his room.
“Did you do these?” Arthur was walking around slowly, hands clasped behind his back. He had the familiar ease of someone who knew the danger of touching a painting without permission. He stopped in front of a large canvas.
“Yeah,” Merlin muttered, blushing as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Obviously before uni – I’ve learnt a lot since then.”
Arthur shook his head. “This is good. Your technique is really solid. You could sell this.”
Merlin’s flush deepened. He’d seen Arthur’s work, heard the lecturers talk about it. Arthur had more talent than Merlin could dream of, and didn’t seem to realise. Hearing him praise his work gave him a warm, satisfied feeling in the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t the compliment – he’d had them in the past. It was because it was from Arthur.
“What about this?”
Merlin jolted. “Oh.”
The picture was big, resting against the far wall with a dust sheet over it. Merlin walked forward, fingers brushing against the fabric.
“My dad did this.”
“He’s an artist too?”
He stared at the white sheet rather than meet Arthur’s gaze. A hand on his shoulder made him jump. He glanced at Arthur, but his friend smiled softly.
“Show me something you’re proud of.”
Merlin knew Arthur was giving him the chance to pull himself together, to step away from something personal. He half-turned, then turned back.
“This,” he said. “I’m proud of this.”
Grasping the sheet, he pulled it off with a flourish. It would have been more dramatic if he hadn’t got tangled in it, but Arthur helped to fold it before turning back to the picture.
“Explains the dragons,” Arthur said quietly.
It was a fantasy scene: a sprawling castle with a dragon curled around one of the turrets. But Merlin had never been able to describe the magic of the painting, and he’d never tried. He kept this hidden from his friends, but it felt right showing Arthur. He would understand the power in the strokes, the mystery in the blend of colours.
“Is your mother artistic?” Arthur said, crouching down so he could get a better look. Merlin shook his head, then realised Arthur couldn’t see him.
“No,” he said, “I get it all from dad.”
“There’s hints of his style in your work,” Arthur said admiringly. But then he stood up, turning to face Merlin. “But your own style is equally impressive.”
Merlin shook his head. “I could never do what he could.”
“Don’t doubt yourself,” Arthur said, “you’ve got talent.”
Merlin looked at the painting again. “My legacy,” he murmured.
They stood in silence for a few moments before Merlin tossed the sheet back over the picture.
“We should get cleaned up for dinner.”
Arthur didn’t say anything as they left the studio and Merlin carefully locked up. They headed back to the house and parted ways on the stairs, both intending to pull on clean clothes before dinner. Merlin slipped into the bathroom, splashing his face with cold water, trying to shake off the tiredness, before heading back to his own room.
He didn’t mean to look. But Arthur had left the door open and was shrugging on a clean shirt as Merlin passed. He glanced in, then did a double-take. As he made to look away, blushing, his mouth went dry. There was a scar along Arthur’s back – an old one, but Merlin couldn’t think of what could have made it.
He hurried away, shutting his own door behind him and leaning back on it. A shiver ran through him. Suddenly, complaining that he’d never be as good as his father at art seemed minor. It should be inspiring him, not making him feel he wasn’t good enough.
At least his dad had given him a legacy to inspire to. Arthur’s silences, strange behaviour and the look in his eye meant Merlin was certain Arthur’s father hadn’t given him the same kind of inspiration.
He changed and reached the hallway at the same time as Arthur. This time, he initiated the contact, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“I meant what I said before,” he murmured. “I know how important your art is to you. While you’re here, you’re more than welcome to use the studio.”
Arthur shook his head. “It’s your space,” he said, “I couldn’t-,”
“You can,” Merlin insisted, “and you will. I’m the one who dragged you here.”
“Kicking and screaming,” Arthur said with a smile. He took a step towards the stairs and gestured for Merlin to go first. Merlin had taken the first few steps when Arthur spoke again.
Merlin didn’t turn back, not wanting to make the moment awkward. He waved a hand over one shoulder and heard Arthur snort in amusement as they both hurried downstairs for dinner.
His father might have left him a legacy. But his mother would leave him the washing up if she thought that he was stalling. Not that he intended to – it had been far too long since he had tasted her cooking.
Arthur was in for a treat.