Title: all of our flaws (go hand in hand)
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Modern Royalty AU. Most people think Prince Arthur is perfect, but Merlin knows better.
Warnings: Discussion of claustrophobia and (mild) panic attacks.
Word Count: 860 words.
Prompt: #223 imperfection and the trope_bingo square ‘locked in.’
Author's Notes: I was deliberately trying to write something funny and light-hearted this time and then the angst snuck in there anyway. I give up.
The thing about Arthur Pendragon, Merlin reflects, is that in many ways, he is practically perfect. Born a prince, with all the wealth and consequence that this entails, he has also had the good fortune to grow up handsome and athletic, his golden hair and tanned skin gracing the cover of every magazine in the country and earning him the title of UK’s Hottest Celebrity every year since the day he turned eighteen. As far as individuals with whom one could conceivably be trapped in an elevator go, conventional wisdom would suggest that Arthur Pendragon, Prince of Wales, is not exactly the worst person Merlin could have found himself landed with.
“What do you mean, we’re stuck? We can’t be stuck, I’m meeting the King in half an hour. Do you even know who I am?”
Unfortunately for Merlin, Arthur isn’t exactly the best person, either.
“It’ll be fine,” Merlin says, for the umpteenth time, watching Arthur pace back and forth across the small space. “I’ve phoned Uther to let him know we’ll be late, and the maintenance crew is doing everything they can to get us out of here.”
“I know,” Arthur says tersely, and continues pacing.
“It probably won’t take more than half an hour.”
“Which means we’ll be out of here before lunch.”
“I know, Merlin.”
Merlin waits. “Can you stop doing that?” He asks, after several minutes of strained silence in which only Arthur’s footsteps can be heard. “You’re making me dizzy.”
“I really don’t care,” Arthur says, but stops pacing anyway.
In recent weeks, Arthur has become very good at leaving places which have Merlin in them: rooms, beds, relationships. No wonder he seems to be finding the close quarters wearing.
“Arthur,” Merlin says, after a while. “You’re tapping.”
“No, I’m not,” Arthur lies, and stops drumming his fingers on the railing. His left leg starts jiggling up and down as though to compensate, and he shifts restlessly on the balls of his feet. It’s hard not to notice, being as they’re in such close proximity, that his hands are shaking slightly. He looks miserable.
“Are you claustrophobic?”
“Of course not, Merlin,” Arthur snaps. “I’m just getting impatient, that’s all.”
Merlin leans back against the wall of the lift and rolls his eyes. It’s been twelve minutes, thirty-two seconds, six angry phone calls and a stream of strikingly unconventional curses since the lift stopped, and it looks like they’re not getting out of here anytime soon. There is sweat beading Arthur’s upper lip and he keeps wiping his palms on his neatly pressed trousers, but he still won’t look at Merlin.
“I’m scared of sheep,” Merlin offers, when Arthur has moved on to grinding his teeth and sighing at intervals, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He looks at Merlin.
“Sheep. Terrifying. Me and my mate Will were cornered by a flock of them, once, when we were kids. Gave me nightmares — all those beady little eyes, staring at me.”
Arthur stares at him too, looking remarkably like a sheep. A pale, golden-haired sheep that Merlin kind of wants to hug right now, but doesn’t. Finally he gives a short laugh, and slides down the wall to sit beside him.
“You’re crazy,” he says, holding onto his knees. “I’m not claustrophobic.”
“Okay,” Merlin says.
“I don’t believe you, but I’m willing to accept that you have no obligation to tell me either way.” Arthur has made this abundantly clear. “I’m only your PA, after all.” Arthur has made that clear, too.
A particularly weighty silence follows, and Merlin’s stomach feels so heavy it’s a wonder they don’t both fall through the floor. Well, he thinks. That would be one way to get them out of their predicament.
Twenty-six minutes, five seconds, and Arthur says: “Are you in love with me?”
“Answer the question.”
Merlin looks at him. Arthur looks at his hands. “I’m not in love with you the same way you’re not claustrophobic,” he says, because Arthur isn’t the only one who’s been lying to himself. He takes a breath. “Do you hate me?”
Arthur scrubs both hands through his hair. “About as much as you hate sheep.”
“Then why did you leave?”
Arthur doesn’t say anything, for a very long time. Then, he says: “I may possibly get a little uncomfortable in small spaces.”
He looks at Merlin. Merlin looks at his hands. He turns one of them palm-up on the floor between them, and Arthur takes it.
It ends up taking thirty-nine minutes, twenty seconds, and a handful of aborted apologies to get them out of the lift. Arthur insists on helping Merlin out first, and may or may not pinch his bum while he does it, because Arthur Pendragon is a royal prick.
But the other thing about Arthur Pendragon, the one thing that Merlin will never admit to anybody even on pain of torture or death, is that he is far from perfect. His teeth are slightly crooked, his nose is off-centre, and every so often he can be a total idiot.
Fortunately for Arthur, Merlin loves the stupid prat better that way.