Title: Just Right Together
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Uther
Summary: Arthur thinks over his father's reaction to his relationship, then visits Merlin.
Word Count: 1077 (sorry about that)
Author's Notes: Sequel to Cause for Concern
It was a long walk back to campus in the mid-January cold, but Arthur needed the fresh air. He felt overwhelmed.
He would never have guessed that Uther would react well to his relationship but poorly to his subterfuge. Arthur felt as though he had disappointed him more than he ever had before, and Uther had always been difficult to please.
Being his son was like running a race in which the finish line was always moving further away. Arthur's marks at school were always as good as those of his peers, but they were never good enough for Uther. He had enjoyed playing tennis, but Uther had insisted he play football.
"A Pendragon is not a strutting peacock, son. A Pendragon is a leader," he'd said. "Work hard and you'll be captain soon enough." To Uther's dismay, Arthur never had made team captain; he gave up footie altogether long before university.
Arthur had always worked hard to gain Uther's approval, even when his pronouncements seemed unfair. But this time, Arthur feared that Uther was right; he'd let himself down, too, and even worse, his father didn't believe he was good enough for Merlin.
I just wanted to keep him safe, Arthur thought. Now that he knew Uther was inclined to accept Merlin, his fears began to disappear, but guilt crept in to replace them.
His father's opinion should never have mattered. It wouldn't have, if it had only affected Arthur. He had the abilities to make his own way in the world, if necessary. He'd always thought it was simply too much trouble to come out when he wasn't dating anyone.
He'd been with Merlin for two years now, though, and Merlin was an exceptionally sweet and gentle man. It was terrible to imagine him under Uther's judgement. Arthur never wanted to see Merlin hurt.
It really wasn't a matter of Arthur's priorities, as Uther seemed to think. Merlin was far more important to him than his father's wishes. He was happy with Merlin, proud to be seen with him; their friends knew of their relationship.
Arthur had envisioned the two of them living together indefinitely, never discussing his private life with his father or his future colleagues, even though he wanted the world to know just how special Merlin was to him. Merlin deserved far better than to live as Arthur's secret, but Arthur had never been able to reconcile his love for Merlin with his fear of Uther.
It had been natural to assume that Uther had old-fashioned opinions. He was fond of saying that reputation was everything. He had taken over the family company from his own father and expected Arthur to run it one day. It still seemed true that Uther was concerned with propriety, but not in the way that Arthur had ever understood the concept.
In fact, it had been rather obvious that Uther was imagining a wedding in the near future. Arthur could never have conceived of such a thing when he was 12 and crushed on older boys, when he was 16 and Sophia kissed him and he felt nothing, or when he'd first asked Merlin out. At this point, Arthur couldn't imagine ever loving anyone but Merlin, but the idea of getting married had seemed too impossible to consider.
Arthur wasn't surprised when he found his feet had carried him not to his own flat, but to Merlin's bedsit.
It was nearly eleven. Merlin was probably in bed already. Arthur wanted to slip in beside him and curl up in his warmth. As quietly as possible, he used the key Merlin had given him to let himself into the tiny flat.
Inside, it was quiet, and the lights were low. Merlin was asleep on the sofa, his feet propped on the coffee table in front of him. A heavy textbook lay open on his chest; his head was thrown back and his mouth open. He was snoring softly. He didn't make a very pretty picture, but Arthur treasured the privilege of seeing Merlin at his most vulnerable.
Arthur removed his shoes, coat, necktie, and jacket, and he unbuttoned and untucked his dress shirt. He tiptoed closer to Merlin. He carefully lifted the book off Merlin's chest, then placed it, still open, on the coffee table.
Merlin stirred and blinked awake. "Arthur," he said, his voice gruff. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"I didn't mean to wake you," Arthur said. He sat down next to Merlin.
Merlin moved closer and took Arthur's hand. "Oh, you're cold," he said. "Let's have a cuddle."
Arthur nodded and squeezed Merlin's hand.
"Are you alright?" Merlin said.
"I—" Arthur began. He shook his head.
"What is it?" Merlin said. He wound both arms around Arthur's waist. It felt good to have Merlin near; he always mended the cracks inside Arthur, before they could grow wide and break him apart. Arthur rested his head on Merlin's chest.
Suddenly, Merlin pulled back a little. "Oh! You saw your father tonight, didn't you? I forgot about that. Did something go wrong?"
"No. Not as such, no. He asked a lot of questions," Arthur said. "I told him about you." He looked back at Merlin. Merlin's eyes were wide.
"Did he react badly?" Merlin said.
"No, not at all," Arthur said. "He approves. He wants us to meet him for breakfast tomorrow."
A slow, delighted smile spread across Merlin's face until he was beaming. "Arthur, that's amazing! I'm so proud of you." He hugged Arthur tightly in his excitement.
"I don't deserve that," Arthur said. "He surprised it out of me. I should have told him on my own. He was disappointed in me for lying, and he's right. I'm very sorry, Merlin."
Merlin's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Oh no, Arthur. You had no way of knowing how he would react. Sometimes we have to keep secrets in order to stay safe."
Arthur's throat felt tight. "It wasn't for me," he whispered. "I wanted to protect you. Now I feel as though I don't even deserve you."
Merlin pulled him close again. "Hush. Of course you do. We're just right together."
He nodded against Merlin's chest again, swallowing down the threat of tears. Merlin gently stroked his hair. Eventually, Arthur calmed enough to ask, "Is it alright, then? Will you meet him?"
"Of course I will," Merlin murmured. "We should get some sleep, now."
Arthur drifted off to the steady rhythm of Merlin's heartbeat.