Title: The Donkey and the Mouse
Character/s: Uther, Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Arthur and Merlin have breakfast with Uther; Uther wants to ensure their happiness.
Word Count: 1133 (sorry)
Author's Notes: Part 4 of my Part of the Family series: Cause for Concern, Just Right Together, At Arthur's Side. (Back to Uther's PoV this time.)
Uther opened the door to the café and waved Merlin and Arthur inside. He chose a table near the window and they all sat down, Uther facing them both.
Their joined hands rested on Arthur's knee. Well, they were certainly affectionate with each other, and not in any inappropriate way. That was good; Uther hated to see anyone ignore the rules of propriety, but he did remember how it had felt to have his wife at his side.
Uther signalled for a waiter, and they all ordered pastries and coffee.
“Arthur tells me you're training to become a doctor, Merlin,” Uther said. “Have you chosen a specialization?”
“Not yet,” Merlin replied. “I'd like to work with children in some capacity, but I'm planning to see what positions are most in demand when I've finished the first part of my training.”
“I see,” Uther said. “That's very wise.”
Uther met Arthur's eyes and nodded to convey his approval. Arthur's eyes widened and he looked away. What was wrong with him?
Uther continued, “Once Arthur graduates, he'll be coming to work for me, of course. But I'm sure I can find a placement for him in one of the branch offices, if necessary.”
“I didn't know that would be acceptable to you,” Arthur said. He was pulling at his shirt collar again, even though he was wearing casual clothes today and not a tie. It annoyed Uther.
“Obviously, it would be best for you to live with Merlin while he completes the next phase of his schooling,” Uther said. “Honestly, Arthur. I know you're not dim.”
“We, er, haven't really—haven't really made those sorts of plans,” Arthur stuttered out. He was looking at Merlin, who was looking back at him with a little smile. Then Arthur turned to Uther. “But I appreciate the consideration, Father.”
“You haven't discussed the future? But you're both grown men now,” Uther said. “It's important to know what you want from life.”
“Mr. Pendragon,” Merlin began.
“You may call me Uther,” he said.
“Ah, thank you. Uther,” Merlin said. “I'm not unclear about wanting to spend the future with Arthur. The truth is, he's asked me to move into his flat here many times. I've declined because I'm unable to contribute an equal share of the rent.”
Uther watched as Merlin let go of Arthur's hand to wrap his arm around Arthur's shoulders. Arthur leaned into him. After a moment, Merlin continued.
“Even though I don't know what it's like to come from money, I've never wanted Arthur to feel that his money meant more to me than he does,” he said.
Uther usually disliked it when people brought up subjects as distasteful as money, but he didn't mind in this situation. In fact, he was impressed at how much consideration this young man showed his son, and he was glad to hear that Arthur wanted to live with Merlin; Uther believed a stable life was of great importance.
Their food arrived. Uther sipped his coffee.
Arthur spoke to Merlin in a low voice not meant for Uther's ears, but Uther could hear him just fine. “Now that I know I can work in any office, maybe I can change your mind about moving in together, after graduation,” he said.
Merlin smiled at him again, and Uther almost felt he was intruding on a private moment. Had Uther not observed their loving looks and easy touches, he might have been concerned that these boys were not ready to commit to each other, but he could see clear evidence proving that wasn't the case. They really did seem besotted with each other.
Yet they were facing a problem. Uther wanted to protect them from any potential unhappiness; he needed a strategy. He pondered for a moment while Arthur and Merlin continued to gaze into each other's eyes, when the perfect solution struck him.
“Well, Merlin, I understand your reasoning. However, as your relationship is with my son and not with me, you should be willing to accept my generosity without fear of giving offence,” Uther said. Merlin's head shot up. “When you know where you'll be studying or working next, I'll find you two a flat, near your placement and Arthur's office. That way, neither of you will have to rely on your salaries for rent. You can divide your other expenses in whatever way you see fit.”
Both boys' mouths fell open. Uther's brow furrowed. Why did they look so astonished?
“I cannot understand why any of that would be a problem,” he said, with finality and not a little impatience. He was proud that he'd hit upon a solution to their dilemma. Why weren't they expressing their gratitude?
Merlin made as if to speak, but Arthur waved his hand and spoke first. “Father, Merlin and I will talk it over. Thank you,” he said.
Uther inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“You should get married soon, though,” Uther said. “Just because you're both men gives you no leeway to flaunt the rules of convention. And you're a fine young man, Merlin. I see no reason to delay your entry into our family.”
Merlin made a high-pitched sound and covered his mouth with his hand. He had blushed beet red. Arthur started laughing, beginning with a soft, surprised chuckle, which turned into a guffaw. He sounded like a braying donkey. The noise had attracted the notice of other customers, but Uther decided not to address it. This was, after all, only a café, not an expensive restaurant.
Arthur quieted down eventually. “Father, I'd never imagined you'd approve of my love life so enthusiastically,” he said. His arm was around Merlin now. “You've given us a lot to discuss.”
“Do you expect Merlin to object?” Uther said.
Arthur said, still sounding amused, “I meant that Merlin and I would talk about it. Between ourselves. Privately. Later.”
“I see,” Uther said. “Fine, then. Well, I haven't all day to spend at breakfast. I'm expected back at my office this afternoon. You two should finish eating so that you're not responsible for my lateness.” He nodded at their untouched pastries.
“Thank you for the offer, Uther,” Merlin finally managed to say, without much enthusiasm. Uther was bewildered.
“I'll pay for your wedding as well, of course. Based on what you've both said, I can imagine financing it has been another source of disagreement,” Uther said, trying to reassure. “Were you planning a lavish affair or something more private? I'll defer to your tastes in this matter.”
Merlin let out another high-pitched squeak, like a frightened mouse. Uther rolled his eyes.
A donkey and a mouse, then. They are rather well-suited, Uther thought. They both lack sense.