Title: Pinky Swear
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Hunith
Summary: Merlin thought his punishment was babyish.
Warnings: Hints towards child abuse.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: Time Out
Author's Notes: Ooh, ickle boys. Continuation of Fresh Start.
A knock on the door made Merlin’s head jerk up. He jumped to his feet and hurried to the door just as his mum opened it.
“Can Merlin come and play?”
Merlin grinned, knowing that voice. Ever since that first day at school, he and Arthur had been inseparable. Teachers knew not to split them up or chaos was the result and the rest of the school knew you didn’t pick on one without the other taking revenge. Arthur had stopped getting into so many fights and Merlin had found some of his missing confidence.
“I’m afraid not,” his mum said. She glanced at him and scowled. “Back on the step, Merlin.”
“No buts. You know the rules. Back, now.”
Merlin scuffed his feet but did as he was told. The rules of being in “time out” were horribly unfair. It should be “time in”, for he wasn’t allowed to do anything but sit on the step and think about what he had done wrong. Merlin still thought his idea was great, that was the problem!
Luckily, the bottom stair was still in ear-shot of the door.
“Did you walk here by yourself, Arthur?”
Merlin didn’t hear Arthur’s reply, despite straining his ears. But the next thing he knew, Arthur had entered his house. Merlin half-rose but a warning look from his mother made him sit back down again with a scowl.
“At least have some juice before you go home,” his mum said, leading Arthur into the kitchen. Merlin’s scowl deepened. It was bad enough Arthur seeing him having to sit here like a baby, now he got to be a grown up and talk to his mum while Merlin just sat here. What made it worse was that he couldn’t hear anything other than the soft murmur of voices. There was nothing he could use to tease Arthur with later.
He knew his mum was distracting Arthur, just as he knew Arthur had come here by himself. She wouldn’t let him walk back alone – it was a long way to the Pendragon mansion and Merlin knew the area around here wasn’t a good place for a nine-year-old to wander alone. Arthur may have got here alone, but he wouldn’t be returning unaccompanied.
Merlin had just started to worry that he was thinking sensibly when he heard a crash from the kitchen and the sound of a glass breaking. He jumped from the step, not caring about some stupid argument. He knew what was about to happen.
Running into the kitchen, he saw Arthur pressed against the wall, tears spilling down his face and his whole body shaking as he started to breathe heavily. Merlin could hear his mum trying to reassure his friend that it was just an accident and that everything was okay, but he paid her no more attention than Arthur was. Instead, he slipped across the kitchen and curled his pinky around Arthur’s. Arthur immediately returned the pressure, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself down.
Hunith watched them with an astonished expression. Merlin helped clean up the glass – carefully – while his mum sorted out Arthur. She took him upstairs and told him to get some sleep while he calmed down before phoning Arthur’s house and informing someone where he was. Then she turned to Merlin.
“How did you know?”
Merlin shrugged. “It happens at school,” he mumbled, feeling like he was betraying Arthur. “He can fight all the bullies but sometimes something just sets him off and he freaks out. I know how to calm him down and I can often see it coming.”
“Do you know why?”
Merlin scuffed his feet, unable to look at her. The next thing he knew, his mum was taking his hands in her own, crouching down in front of him.
“Answer me, Merlin.” Her voice was soft and gentle and Merlin could feel tears in his eyes as he looked up at her.
“I think it’s his dad,” he whispered. “He had this bruise once…”
He trailed off as his mum shut her eyes.
“Are you angry?”
“Not at you, love.” Before Merlin could protest he was too old, he had been pulled into a hug. “Why didn’t you tell someone? Tell me?”
“He said it was a secret,” Merlin murmured. “It’s not my place to tell.”
“We can’t tell anyone about our secret,” he whispered, “why should I tell people his when he asked me not to? Was I wrong?”
“No, darling. You were trying to protect your friend.” This time, Merlin hugged his mother back, feeling like he was the luckiest boy alive right now.
“There’s nothing we can do until he wakes up,” Hunith continued. She pulled back and looked her son in the eye, but Merlin could see her earlier anger at him had vanished. “I believe you hadn’t finished your time on the naughty step?”
“That’s so babyish, Mum,” Merlin whined. She grinned and gave him a playful swat.
“I’ll increase it if you’re cheeky.”
“Come on, Merlin, time-out time. And no more leaving tripwires in the bathroom!”
Merlin grinned and scampered back to the step. This time, he was thinking, but not about his attempt at an earlier prank. He was thinking about Arthur and how frightened he had been about an accident. Merlin had broken loads of glasses and his mum had never been angry, only scared that he might have hurt himself. Did Arthur’s dad even care?
Merlin settled into a more comfortable position on the bottom step, more commonly known as the naughty step. He didn’t mind this time though. Not when he knew it was his fault and that his mum would never punish him for something that wasn’t his fault. Nor would she ever do anything to hurt him.
Merlin rested his legs across the stairs as he waited for his session to finish. No one was going up to Arthur without his say-so. Whatever it took, he would protect his friend.