Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, mentions of Gwen
Summary: Battle of Camlann has been won, but that victory only brought them more trouble.
Word Count: 433
Prompt: #72 Acceptance
Author's Notes: Canon AU after 5x11
His bones felt heavy, far too heavy for a man his age. But there was too much going on, reports to review, patrols, messages from the neighbouring kingdoms, bandits – and above all, the shadow of the battle still hanging over Camelot.
They won. At least he thought they had won, and his people cheered when he led the knights back. Alas, it didn't feel like victory.
Arthur pushed the mountain of papers aside and pinched the bridge of his nose. Guinevere helped – she did most of the work, truth be told – but with everything going on he needed another pair of eyes. Preferably attached to someone he could trust, and with every passing year, the list grew shorter and shorter.
His legs carried him before the mind could persuade them otherwise, down and down into the dungeons. At some point he had acquired a torch; the guards disappeared when he dismissed them.
It was just the two of them.
Merlin grew paler and thinner, and older, somehow. He was sitting on his cot, conjuring bright blue butterflies out of his fingertips – didn't stop even when Arthur came in. Didn't even look up.
"Merlin," Arthur said.
"My King," said Merlin, hollow.
Silence stretched. Arthur refused to give in to the awkwardness.
"Is there anything you require, sire?" said Merlin eventually, not a trace of mocking to his voice, just calm resignation.
"No," said Arthur, and then immediately, "Yes."
That made Merlin look up and scowl at him.
"Well, that clears things up—"
"I think I need you."
Merlin's mouth snapped shut.
"Of course you do," he said, quieter.
"But I don't—I still can't trust you."
Arthur paced the length of the small cell and tried to compose himself, aware that Merlin's eyes never left him. There were too many thoughts – mostly accusations, some threats, and a lot of questions – that he couldn't give voice to, no matter how hard he tried.
Merlin was never one to let silence linger if he could help it.
"You know," he said. "All I ever wanted was—well. For you to accept me for what I am."
"A liar and a sorcerer?" said Arthur immediately.
"Oh, that too," Merlin was startled into a short laugh. "But also, I don't know. A friend? To put up with your prattish ways?"
"You can't address me like that," said Arthur, because it was an old argument and there were things you just had to say.
He didn't need to say anything else. He knew Merlin wanted his acceptance.
Maybe one day he would be able to give it.