Title: Text HELP For a Friend
Pairing/s: (pre) Merlin/Arthur
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: During a bad night, Merlin calls Arthur, but he doesn't know why. It's not like they're really friends or anything, right?
Warnings: slight mentions of verbal abuse
Word Count: 917 (inside word limit for once!)
Prompt: #94 - Caring
Author's Notes: Wow, so, this turned out mostly well, I think. I like to play with Arthur's character, having him be this "rough-tough-arrogant-king" kind of guy, but also having a secretly caring and very genuine side. It was fun to test out, at least. I definitely might want to expand on this universe, I have a few ideas in mind for it. Anyway, please enjoy!
With shaking fingers, he dials Arthur's number.
Merlin can hardly register the dull sound of the device ringing over the sniffling and wrecked sobbing of his voice. He's trying to stay as quiet as possible so he won't wake Mordred up in the room over, but as the words echo over and over again in his mind, the stupid, hateful words, he can't seem to silence himself.
Finally, after what feels like an eternity of drowning in his own tears, the phone clicks and relief swells within him as Arthur's groggy voice demands, “What?”
Though, Merlin can hardly find it within himself to speak, choking on all the things he wants to say. All he manages, in the end, is a softer whimper, as he struggles to say, “A-Arthur.”
Arthur's voice is suddenly loud and clear, no longer laced with sleep. “Merlin?”
Merlin continues struggling with his words, his breathing uneven. He's really trying not to panic but for some reason he can't help himself. Arthur asks again, “Merlin? Merlin, mate, answer me!”
“Arthur, Arthur, Arthur,” he says, again and again, as if it'll bring him some sort of solace, like a chant, like prayer. “Arthur.”
“I'm here,” Arthur assures him, as if Merlin didn't hear him the first time. “Merlin, what's wrong?”
What's wrong? Merlin can name a dozen things that are wrong. He's all wrong, his life is all wrong. It's wrong that his father had to die when he was so young and leave him aching for someone to call “Dad”. It's wrong that his mother wanted so desperately to give him that that she remarried a horrid, wretched, no good, terrible man that he's expected to call step father. It's wrong that he treats Merlin, and more importantly, Mordred like they're dirt, worth no more than the scum on his shoes. It's all wrong and it's not fair.
But he doesn't say this. He doesn't even know why he called Arthur. It's not like they're really good friends or anything. Sure, they talk, and they hang out in groups together. Sometimes they go and see movies together and sometimes they eat together, but they've never been particularly close. Merlin is closer to Arthur's half-sister Morgana than he is to Arthur himself.
He sighs uncertainly. He should just hang up.
“Merlin!” Arthur's voice interrupts his thoughts. “Answer me, you clod!”
“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbles, barely coherent. “Sorry, sorry, sorry. I'll hang up, I'll--”
“You'll do no such thing!” Arthur snaps, in his most regal tone. He says it as if Merlin is a subject, a peasant even, and Arthur is his king. “Merlin, you sound horrible. What on earth is the matter with you?”
He can't seem to unclog the words catching in his throat. “It's nothing, it's nothing, Arthur--”
“It's not nothing if you're calling me at—” a pause. “--Three in the morning, sobbing your bloody eyes out. Spit it out, Emrys. What's eating you?”
Merlin sniffled, trying to collect himself properly. Leave it to Arthur to state the obvious, bypassing all courtesy to get to the heart of the problem. “You're going to wake Mordred. Stop yelling.”
“We're on the phone, Merlin,” Arthur snorts. “The only person who will wake up your little brother at this point is you.”
Merlin can't help but laugh a bit at this, so soft he barely hears himself. He wipes at his eyes with his shirt sleeve.
“But really,” Arthur goes on, voice softening slightly. “What's wrong? And why did you call me?”
Merlin shrugs, despite himself. He knows Arthur can't see him. The truth still is, he really doesn't know why he called Arthur. But he felt like, at the time, he'd needed to talk to him. His first reaction when he'd gotten upset was to call Arthur. Which, really didn't make sense.
“I don't know,” he says, finally. “Why haven't you hung up?”
“Because I'm not heartless,” Arthur replies, almost sounding offended by the mere thought that Merlin would think him to be. “And I am actually concerned for about you, in case you didn't guess already.”
Merlin's heart squeezes in his chest, something stirring deep in his stomach. “Really?”
“Of course,” Arthur huffs, then, gentler, says, “Tell me how to help.”
This side of Arthur is unknown to Merlin—this softer, kinder side. Usually Arthur is known for his arrogance and king-complex, but has a fierce loyalty to those important to him. But this? This caring side? All for him? He's never seen this before.
But it makes his aching heart feel lighter, somehow.
“Do you need me to come over?” Arthur offers, when Merlin doesn't answer. “I will, you know. If it'll help to have a friend.”
Merlin thinks of his brother sleeping in the room over, his mother sleeping downstairs, and his “step-father” god-knows-where. He should say no, shouldn't invite Arthur into his crazy home and distressed mind.
But he breathes in. “Please.”
“Give me ten minutes,” Arthur says with finality. “I'll be there.”
The line goes dead, and Merlin drops the phone on his bed. He's still shaking but somehow, somehow, he feels calm.
He curls up onto the sheets, reaching out to clutch the phone in his fingers again.
“I'll be okay,” he whispers to no one in particular, as if by saying the words, they'll come true.
Merlin waits until he hears the crunch of tires on gravel in his driveway, and his phone lights up with a text, not even ten minutes later.