Arthur is five years old, and he dare not ask.
He aches to, when his father’s hand cups his shoulder, steel eyes pricking Arthur’s gaze. The scrutiny sifts through him, hunting for fragments of an unspoken mother, known to Arthur only through the pitying whispers of Camelot’s court.
Arthur feels the moment of discovery when Uther’s thumb kneads into bone, as if he could force her shallow shadow out of Arthur’s skin and build her anew.
“Father,” Arthur chokes, questions withering on his tongue.
Uther recovers himself, leaving Arthur to stand alone in a silence choked with their omissions. An almost possessive anger floods Arthur. "She was mine too", he wants to cry. "Give something, one small memory, and I promise to hide it in my palm and keep it safe forever".
Arthur is eight years old and, because he doesn’t know better, he ascribes every tender truth about his character to his mother.
His insatiable sweet tooth is her doing, as is the bell of his laugh, and his humiliating fascination with wildflowers.
Arthur is nine years old, and blames his faceless mother for his shortcomings.
The bowstring hooked on his finger trembles at the sight of a sun-speckled doe. The arrow flies crooked, but Uther’s short, furious snort at Arthur hits deeper than any strike.
Arthur is eighteen years old when Merlin saves him, and only then does he start to realize that showing mercy isn’t a mark of failure, but of strength.
As he pants above Merlin, taking in the smell of salty skin trapped between sheets, Arthur finally understands what it must feel like to lose the other, the better, half of you.
Uther is bedridden when the twenty-year-old question finally ripens and falls from Arthur’s lips.
When Arthur asks it, the words are weightless. It’s surprising, how easily they come to him. Warmed with affection, the feelings behind them are as natural as his first fluttering kisses with Merlin felt.
“What was it about her?” Arthur asks. He strokes his father’s limp hand, plunging deep into his muddy gaze until he finds a solitary spark still buried at the bottom. “What was it, Father, that made her impossible to forget?”