Title: A Narrow Path
Pairing/s: Arthur/Merlin (pre-slash)
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Arthur learns about Merlin's talents and considers his own principles.
Word Count: 1066 (sorry)
Author's Notes: Sequel to The Start of an Adventure.
It turned out that it was as easy for Arthur to live with Merlin as it had always been to spend time with him. After a very short time, they established a comfortable routine.
Because Arthur earned a great deal of money at his job, he was only charging Merlin a small portion of the flat's full rent. Merlin was responsible with his money, but he had no reliable income. It was common for him to sell a painting one month and struggle to make ends meet the next. Arthur knew, also, that Merlin rented a small studio space across town. Since Arthur hadn't planned on taking on a flatmate at all, there was no need for Merlin to also pay half the rent on Arthur's flat.
In return for Arthur's generosity, Merlin took over the grocery shopping and the cooking. Arthur learned that Merlin was, in fact, very talented in the kitchen. Even though their chosen careers were quite different, Merlin and Arthur's schedules were similar; they were both early risers, and most mornings Merlin made an elaborate meal, such as pancakes with bacon, porridge and fruit, fresh bread with delicious cheeses that Arthur had never heard of, and many other treats.
Even on the weekends, Arthur no longer waited until the last possible moment to get out of bed. He made the time to fully savour these breakfasts. Aside from the food, it was a real pleasure to chat with Merlin first thing in the morning, whether they were teasing each other about their bedhead or having more serious discussions.
One Sunday morning, Arthur bit into a crumpet topped with butter, honey, and cheddar cheese, which was amazingly only one part of the meal Merlin had prepared.
“I'm surprised that you never went to culinary school, mate. Your art is incredible, but cooking would've been something to fall back on, right?” Arthur asked.
Merlin nodded and laughed. “A lot of blokes have said that to me,” he replied. “When I spend the night with someone, I always try to make them breakfast. It's not always possible, mind you. A lot of people our age don't bother keeping anything in the pantry except a jar of mustard.”
Arthur furrowed his brow, considering the other men who had benefited from Merlin's culinary skills, and those who had missed out on breakfast, but certainly not on whatever other skills Merlin possessed. Arthur didn't like thinking about any of it, but he shoved that feeling to one side of his mind, vaguely planning to examine it at some later date.
He waved a hand at Merlin, encouraging him to go on.
“Well, you see, I'm on a rather narrow path, and I can't imagine ever leaving it,” Merlin said. “I've been on this path almost all my life. I've always loved creating pictures. They're like little worlds that I've made, places I can visit at any time. You'll probably laugh, but portraits are the same. I was an only child, and when I was a little kid, I was drawing friends for myself.”
“I would never laugh at something as adorable as that,” Arthur said, grinning widely.
“Oh, shut up.” There was no anger in Merlin's tone, but the tips of his ears had turned red. “But yeah, everyone was impressed with what I could do. And refrigerator magnets weren't enough for my mum. Oh no, she framed my efforts,” he said with a laugh. “Back then I always drew fantastical creatures, and yet somehow my family and my teachers all praised their realism, because obviously, they all knew what an imaginary monster was meant to look like.”
“You don't do many imaginary creatures now, though,” Arthur said.
“No, not very often,” Merlin said. “I think people saw something special in my art and did whatever they could to encourage me. I kept drawing, mostly the pictures in my head. When I was 12, my art teacher bought me a sketchbook and some watercolours. That was when I started recreating what I saw with my eyes, instead of only what was in my imagination. I knew I had a gift for it, and pursuing it was always the only choice for me.” He shrugged.
“I didn't mean to suggest you should be doing something more practical instead. Seriously, I've never seen anything like your paintings. I don't pretend to understand composition, but I love to look at them. The colours are so vibrant,” Arthur said.
Merlin smiled with what looked like real pleasure. “Thank you, Arthur. You should come along with me next weekend. I have a gallery opening, and I'm hoping to get lucky.”
“You want me to help you get laid?” Arthur asked, clutching his hand to his chest as though the mere thought of sex horrified him.
“No, arsehole. I'm hoping to make some big sales,” Merlin said, rolling his eyes.
Arthur laughed. “I knew what you meant. Sure, I'll come. Thanks for inviting me.”
Arthur was glad that Merlin was staying with him now, for Merlin's own financial security, since earning a good living in the arts could be very difficult. But he wasn't going to let Merlin know about that. It would have made their friendly arrangement seem sordid, far too much like someone rich pampering a lover with money and gifts. A situation of that kind was fine for others, but it felt distasteful to Arthur. He suspected Merlin would agree. More to the point, Arthur and Merlin were just friends.
It was strange, Arthur mused, how often he had to remind himself of the status of their relationship. Arthur hadn't lived with anyone since moving out of his father's mansion, and he appreciated the easy domesticity of sharing breakfasts and dinners with Merlin and of sprawling together on the sofa to watch films together in the evenings.
But Merlin was his friend, and Arthur didn't date his friends. Arthur's mother was dead, his father was distant, and he had been an only child, too, until his stepsister Morgana came into his life. Morgana's mother was just as cold as Uther, and Morgana and Arthur had never gotten along.
Just as Merlin had always had his artwork, Arthur's principles were the only real constant in his life. Arthur wasn't sure he'd even recognise himself if something so fundamental about him were to change.