The door bell rings late at night. It’s ten though, so it’s not that late. But Mum has work early in the morning so she’s already asleep. Bran is also supposed to be asleep, but sometimes when Dad stays up late to get work done, he lets Bran stay up past ten. So Bran creeps down the stairs, curious because no one ever visits this late. Sometimes Dad’s friends from work would spend the night with him, working until morning even, but Dad would always tell Mum before that happens and he hasn’t this time.
When he peeks into the living room, Dad is leading a man he’s never seen before into the room from the foyer. The stranger looks as old as his father, or maybe younger. He is tall, taller than Dad, and skinnier too. If Mum had still been awake, Bran is sure she would have fussed over him and made him eat loads of food. He has messy black hair that curls a little at the ends and blue eyes that are darker than Dad’s. And his ears stick out a little, which Bran finds funny but knows it isn’t nice to think so. Unlike Dad, who always wears a clean button-down shirt and pressed trousers when he’s out, the stranger wears a long-sleeved shirt spattered with old paint and tight jeans. His socks are old and look like they have holes in them. Dad sits down in his armchair while the man sinks down onto the couch.
“How…how have you been?” his father says. That’s when Bran notices that Dad is nervous. And Bran has only ever seen him nervous when he tries to hide something from Mum, like forgetting to buy the groceries or take out the trash. But here, Dad is a little pale, and his shoulders a little stiff, and even with Mum, Bran has never really heard his father falter when speaking—only with Grandfather, but everyone is afraid of Grandfather.
“Okay. I’ve been…I’ve been good,” the man says, and he sounds just as nervous as Dad.
“That’s…good to hear,” Dad says, and Bran definitely knows that Dad could say something more interesting than that.
“What have you been doing? Are you working for…for your father?” the man asks, frowning a little afterwards.
Bran notices that his father frowns too, but answers, “Yes, I am. I’m head of the finance department.”
“I wouldn’t have expected any less from you.” The man’s lips quirk up for a moment in an almost-smile before disappearing again into a frown. “Though I half-expected for you to be living somewhere more posh.”
“Gwen wanted something more homely,” his father says, and strangely, the two of them stiffen.
“She’s your wife, yeah? I heard you got married.” The stranger tries to hide it, but Bran has always been told he was a perceptive child, and right now, the stranger looks hurt and sad.
“Yes, yes, I did. To Gwen.” Dad straightens his back a little, which Bran usually takes to mean he’s about to change topics. “And you? What have you been up to? Still painting?”
“Yeah, I was in America for a while, and up around Scandinavia, and over in Wales for a bit. Just learning new things and painting, making a name for myself.”
“…and you’re back here for…?”
“For good, hopefully. I just came back a few days ago, actually. Found a flat and studio I could afford. I’m getting settled in and, you know, re-connecting with everyone here.”
They talk some more, and Bran realizes that they are acting awkward around each other, like when Dad leaves Bran with one of his friends’ sons during a dinner party and the two of them can’t figure out what to really say to each other.
Bran is getting tired of leaning into the room from the hallway, and he accidentally stumbles. The noise makes both Dad and the stranger jump an inch or so, and they immediately look to where Bran stands sheepishly in the doorway.
“Bran, you should be asleep,” his father says, standing.
“Is…is that your son, Arthur?” the man asks, looking at Bran with wide eyes, and Bran wonders what makes him so fascinating to the man.
His father clears this throat and replies, “Yes. Merlin, this is Bran.” He walks over to Bran and, taking his hand, leads him up to where the man is sitting. Dad puts both hands on his shoulders, and Bran can’t tell for sure if his father’s hands are trembling or not. “Bran, this is Merlin. I used to go to school with him.”
“Hello, Merlin,” Bran dutifully greets the man. Though he wonders why the man is named after an old, loony wizard, because the man looks nothing like him.
“…hello.” The man stares at him before looking up at his father. “He looks just like you.” And the way he says it, almost whispers it, makes Bran puff out his chest a little and smile. Normally, when he hears people say that—and he hears them say it all the time—they say it in an “isn’t he adorable” way that makes Bran secretly scrunch up his nose. This man though, Merlin, says it in wonder, which is a bit odd if Bran thinks about it more. “He’s even got your smug little smile too.” The man laughs. And Bran likes his laugh, because even though Merlin has just called him smug, his laugh makes the air seem a little lighter and makes Bran want to smile back at him. Merlin’s eyes even brighten when he laughs, and he likes the colour of blue they turn. But the laugh is short, Merlin’s smile fading away too quickly. Bran looks back up at his father to see a slightly pained look on his face.
“Yes, he does, doesn’t he?” Dad says in that voice he uses when he doesn’t know what else to say to Grandfather. His father then sighs, and Bran could tell that he’s gathering himself up, trying to be calmer, to talk better. “You wouldn’t mind if I get him back to bed, would you? It’ll just be a moment.”
“Sure. Go right ahead,” Merlin agrees right way.
“Goodnight, Merlin,” Bran says.
To Bran’s delight, Merlin smiles again. “Goodnight, Bran.”
With a nod to the man, Dad takes Bran’s hand again and takes him back upstairs to his room.
“Dad?” Bran asks after crawling back into bed. “Merlin isn’t a wizard, is he?”
His father laughs, short and bright, like he does sometimes when Bran surprises him.
“He’s a wizard with paint, if you want to see it that way,” he says.
“You mean, he’s an artist?”
“Yes, yes, he is.”
“Is he good?”
“…yes, he is. Very good.” Dad smiles a little before getting up from his bed. “Well, time for you to get some sleep. You have school tomorrow.” He ruffles Bran’s hair before turning off the light.
“Night, Dad!” Bran calls.
Dad gives him his usual crooked “goodnight” smile before stepping out of the room and closing the door behind him. Bran burrows deeper into his pillow and covers and promptly falls asleep.
- - + - -
A few days pass, and Bran forgets all about Merlin. He goes to school and plays with his friends, does his homework, and eats dinner with his parents. Then Mum starts coming home a little later than usual and doesn’t talk much, and Dad looks worried but also doesn’t talk much. Bran doesn’t think much about it though. Sometimes his parents get into these moods where they’re fighting, but they aren’t really. He assumes it will just pass and go back to normal in no time.
- - + - -
Then Bran wakes up after only an hour of sleep on a Thursday night to hear shouting—his father’s shouting, actually. And he’s never heard his parents shout at each other before. Rubbing his eyes, he walks out of his room and into the hallway.
“—this, this Lance, just waltzes back into your life, after ten years, ten years, Gwen, and you decide that you’ll just up and leave?!” he hears his father shout. “You’re going to just go with him, and forget about me, forget about our son?”
Bran isn’t sure what he’s hearing. Mum leaving? Forgetting about him? Forgetting about Dad? He scurries down the stairs as fast as he can.
“I’m not forgetting about you, Arthur, or Bran. But I can’t keep lying to you two, or to myself,” his mother said, in a calmer voice than Dad. She sounds tired, actually. “I love him, Arthur. I’ve always loved him.”
“And what about me then?” Dad isn’t shouting anymore. He sounds tired too. There’s a scrapping of a chair against the floor. “What about the ten years we’ve had?”
Bran reaches the doorway into the kitchen in time to see his mother sigh and set down the dishtowel she’s been worrying and wringing in her hands. His father sits in one of the kitchen chairs, and he looks sad, defeated. And that couldn’t be right, because his father never looked that way. Never.
“I’m sorry, Arthur. I did love you. I love you, I do. But…how I feel for Lance, it’s different somehow. Stronger. While he was gone, everything was fine, but now that he’s back for good, I just…I can’t fight it anymore, not when he’s so close.” When Mum says that, Dad looks up at her, and he looks like he wants to cry. Bran decides now is the time to interrupt.
“Mum? Dad? What’s going on? Is Mum leaving?”
The two of them turn to him in record time. And now Mum looks like she wants to cry too. She goes over to him and kneels to give him a hug.
“I’m sorry, baby. I can’t stay here anymore.”
“Why? Don’t you love us?” he questions. He could feel the tears stinging his eyes, but Dad always tells him men don’t cry, so he holds them in and just pouts.
“I do, baby, I really do,” Mum says, and now she is crying, large drops rolling down her cheeks. Bran hates when his mother cries. “It’s just…your father and I always tell you to be honest, isn’t that right? Well, I haven’t been honest to myself, or you and your father. And I need to start now, before I hurt you two anymore. Does that make sense?”
His mother sighs and takes his hands in hers. She explains, “You see, there was someone I was always trying to forget, to pretend I didn’t care about. But now he’s back, for good, and I can’t—I can’t pretend anymore. Not without turning into a horrible person.”
Bran looks at his mother, who looks back at him with sad, caring eyes. Then he looks at his father, who sits with his head turned, eyes looking at the kitchen floor.
“…Okay. I get it,” Bran says. Because there isn’t anything else he can say without making everything worse. But all he really gets is that his mother was leaving them for good, and that still counts as hurting them.
- - + - -
That night and the next few nights, Bran sleeps cuddled up next to his mother while Dad sleeps alone in the bedroom that used to belong to both of Bran’s parents. Dad is avoiding Mum, working long hours and then spending most of his time at home in his office, and Mum is avoiding Dad, not waking until he’s gone for work, leaving the house in the afternoons and keeping to the kitchen or Bran’s room. Whenever Dad does see Mum, they avoid each other’s eyes and turn quickly away. Bran watches all this silently and just wishes everything could go back to normal. And if he cries a little while in the shower and hugs his mother tightly when she’s already asleep, then no one has to know.
- - + - -
Monday morning, Mum is standing in the foyer, her suitcase already sitting outside on the doorstep. Dad’s already said goodbye and is hiding in his office, so it’s just Bran and his mother now. He flings his arms around her waist and presses his face against her stomach.
“Mum…mum…” He doesn’t know what to say as he stifles the sobs threatening to escape from his throat.
“Shh…hush, love,” she says, hugging him back and rocking back and forth. “I’ll still see you again. Don’t worry. I just won’t live here anymore.”
“Why do you have to leave?”
His mother sighs and kneels to be eye-level with him. “Baby, we’ve talked about this already. If I stayed, it’d be unfair for you and your dad.”
“But it’s unfair if you leave, too,” he points out.
“I’m sorry, love. There’s nothing else I can do. I will see you though. Soon, I promise. Be a good boy until then, yes?”
Dad doesn’t come out of his office until Mum is long gone, and Bran is late for school, but he doesn’t care. His world is falling apart, and he feels as if he hasn’t seen his father in years. He asks if he could skip school, and his father just nods tiredly. When he sits down in his favourite armchair, Bran crawls into his lap, even though he is really too big for that now. But Dad doesn’t complain, just sighs and holds him close. And if the both of them cried, they didn’t say anything about it. They’re men after all.
- - + - -
Bran sees his mother again on Wednesday. She picks him up from school, and he spends the night at her new home, a nice apartment with a man named Lance. Mum says Lance is a nice man, and he is really nice. Bran can see that he’s good person, and he tells great stories about his adventures around the world. Bran wants to like him, but when his father comes to pick him up, he sees that Lance makes his father sad. Mum makes his father sad now, too.
So when Dad asks him how the sleepover had gone, Bran just shrugs and says, “It was okay.” Then he asks, “Can I stay with you though?”
Because Mum still treats him the same, but she’s different now, and he feels left out when she’s with Lance. He misses her—a lot actually, and wishes nothing had changed between them all, but right now, Dad is more important. Mum at least has Lance; Dad is all alone except for him.
Dad smiles for the first time in a week and ruffles his hair.
That night, he curls up in bed next to his father for the first time in years and falls asleep with his father’s arms wrapped tightly around him.
- - + - -
On Friday, Dad asks Aunt Morgana to take care of Bran for the night. He asks Bran if it is also okay with him, and Bran says sure. Because Dad looks like he's about to break and needs time to take care of himself, not Bran too, and besides, it seems like the only time Bran ever sees his cousin Mordred nowadays is at school.
So he goes to Aunt Morgana's house and spends time with Mordred. He likes Mordred, because he's smart and fun to be around, and he doesn't ask Bran questions about Mum, doesn't ask him a million times if he's okay. Mordred just gets it. And they stay up late playing games and talking until Aunt Morgana and Uncle Leon both end up ordering them to bed.
The next morning, Bran and Mordred are watching the Saturday morning cartoons, waiting for his father to pick him up when the door bell rings. Bran cranes his head a little and gets a perfect view of the doorway. But when Aunt Morgana opens the door, it isn't his father, but Merlin at the door. Aunt Morgana looks as if she's seen a ghost. Bran stands up and pads quietly to the entrance of the living room. Mordred notices and does so as well.
“Hello, Morgana,” Merlin says, looking a little sheepish. “Long time no see?”
“Merlin!” Aunt Morgana gasps before throwing her arms around his neck. And that's a shock, because Bran has never seen Aunt Morgana hug anyone but family before—and his father only rarely at that. Yet here she is hugging Merlin so hard, he nearly falls backwards.
“Morgana?” Uncle Leon comes out of the kitchen. “Who is…?” His question dies in his throat when he sees Merlin, and he too looks shocked. “Merlin!” he calls to the man as Morgana lets go of him, still staring wide-eyed.
Merlin's smile widens at the sight of Uncle Leon, and Uncle Leon gives him one of those big manly one-armed hugs Dad sometimes gives his friends.
“It’s great to see you. Where have you been? We thought you’d fallen off the planet!” Uncle Leon says.
“Oh, I’ve been here and there,” Merlin says. “Finding myself, sort of.”
“Well, you could have at least emailed us or something, you idiot,” Aunt Morgana says, having gotten over her surprise and returning to her usual pleasant self. “Even if…even if everything hadn’t worked out with Arthur, we were still your friends.” She gives him a glare, and Merlin hunches his shoulders a little and continues to smile sheepishly. But then, Aunt Morgana always has that effect on people, even on Uncle Leon sometimes.
“I’m sorry. I was…kind of a wreck when I left—but I’m fine now. Nothing to worry about!”
“Right, well, we’re glad you’re back. It’s been quite a long time,” Uncle Leon interjects before Aunt Morgana could say anything more.
“Yes, it has been a while. And you're married!”
Aunt Morgana rolls her eyes. “Yes we've been married for nine years now, Merlin. We even have a son already.”
“Oh yes, and he looks fantastic,” Merlin says with a grin, his gaze falling on Mordred, who stares at Merlin in that odd, slightly unnerving way of his. “He reminds me of you, Morgana.” At that comment, Mordred deigns to give Merlin a small smile. Mordred is a bit of a mummy’s boy, though Bran would never say that to his face.
“What brings you around here? Finally decided to show yourself after all these years?” Uncle Leon asks with a smile.
“Actually, I'm here to take Bran home,” Merlin says, nodding over to where Bran stands at the edge of the foyer.
A very worried look appeared on Aunt Morgana's and Uncle Leon's faces.
“You've...met up with Arthur,” Uncle Leon says.
“Two weeks ago.”
“And...now you're...friends again? Back to picking up after him? Are you sure you want to do that again?” Aunt Morgana questions, and Bran wonders what exactly that means because she looks angry as she speaks.
“Not exactly. Umm Arthur came to me, actually, yesterday night, really drunk. I had to take him home, so now he's hung-over and bedridden.” Merlin has a big frown on his face, and Bran decides right away that it doesn’t suit him one bit. “He said he needed to pick up Bran, and I said I'd do it since there was no way I was letting him near a car.”
Aunt Morgana sighs while Uncle Leon shakes his head.
“He told you, didn't he? About Gwen?”
Strangely, Merlin looks over at Bran with concern before answering, “Yes, yes, he did, and I assume that was why he was drinking.”
“I knew we shouldn't have let him go alone,” Aunt Morgana remarks. “We're lucky he's not lying face-down in an alleyway somewhere. Otherwise, he's all right, though?”
“Yeah, I suppose.” Merlin grimaces and adds, “I don't even know how he knows where I live.” Merlin doesn't seem to notice when Bran's aunt and uncle exchange glances. “But anyways, I should get Bran home before Arthur tries something stupid.”
“Yes, you better,” Morgana agrees, and Merlin crosses the foyer to Bran.
“Hello, Bran,” Merlin greets him, crouching down to be eye-level. “Your dad's sick so I'm taking you home. Is that okay with you?”
“Okay,” Bran says with a smile, and Merlin smiles back.
After they gather Bran’s stuff and say the customary goodbyes and take-cares, Merlin leads him to a little blue car that’s a bit beat-up. Strangely, even though it’s nothing like his father’s fancy car with leather seats and fancy little gadgets and buttons, Bran likes it; the seats are comfortable and the atmosphere homey. And Bran laughs a lot when Merlin talks about the most random things—candy, rabbits, TV shows, summer, anything that seems to pop up in the strange man’s head.
- - + - -
When they get home, Dad really is sick, half-asleep and groggy under the covers. He moans and groans when Merlin prods him awake enough to swallow some paracetamol, and Bran can’t help but giggle as Merlin tries to manhandle his father back into bed properly.
“Your fault for drinking so much, you big baby,” Merlin says before closing the door behind him. There’s a thump from inside that sounds like Dad had thrown a cushion at the door. Bran laughs again, and Merlin looks down at him with a smile. “Now, what do you want for lunch?”
“I don’t know.” Bran shrugs, because usually Mum is around to make Saturday lunch.
“Hmm, how about…blueberry pancakes?” Merlin suggests as they head downstairs for the kitchen.
“Blueberry pancakes? For lunch?”
“Yep. Arth—your father always liked eating them when he’s had a bad day.” Bran wonders if Mum ever knew that about Dad. He doesn't remember her ever making them.
“But I’m not having a bad day.”
“Oh, well then, I guess it’ll make a good day even better. How’s that sound?”
“Okay,” Bran agrees. Merlin beams at him.
- - + - -
The pancakes are delicious.
- - + - -
When his father finally comes downstairs that night, Merlin is cooking dinner—fried rice, since he said he’d learned it during his travels and Bran has never had homemade Chinese food before. Bran is sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through one of Merlin’s sketchbooks because he’d asked to see his art. Dad stops at the threshold into the kitchen, runs a hand over his face and stares, seeming to just take in the scene before him.
“Arthur,” Merlin greets him with a glance over the shoulder. “Go ahead and sit down. It’s just about done.”
Dad’s brow wrinkles as he frowns. “You cooked? You didn’t have to.”
Merlin sets down the spatula and half-turns around, giving Bran’s father a scowl. “Yeah? And what have you been feeding Bran for the past few days? Take away?”
Which is exactly what they’d been eating. Bran doesn’t mind it so much, but he does miss homemade food. He knows Mum wouldn’t approve of his and Dad’s new eating habits, and Dad grimaces.
“…all right. Fine. Thank you, Merlin.”
“Good. Go sit down.” Merlin nods to the table and turns back to the stove, not waiting to see Bran’s father sit himself down at the head of the table—his usual seat, to the right of Bran.
“Hey, kid,” his father says, running a hand through Bran’s hair.
“Hi, Dad. Feeling better?” Bran asks.
“Much, thanks to Merlin.” His father props his head up with a fist and glances down at the sketchbook laid out in front of Bran.
Bran grins and tells him, “Merlin showed me his art! He’s amazing!”
Dad smiles back, eyes a little soft and a little sad, and nods. “He is.”
Bran looks up to see Merlin looking over at his father with wide eyes, but Dad doesn’t notice, reaching out to flip a page of Merlin’s sketchbook.
“Merlin?” Bran calls.
Merlin’s eyes dart over to Bran, and the man shoots him a quick smile. “Food’s done. Just give me a sec.”
And true to his words, a minute later, Merlin is setting bowls of rice down before them before sitting down at the table, to his father’s right—where Mum used to sit. Bran isn’t bothered by it, since Dad doesn’t look bothered by it. Dad doesn’t say anything, in fact, just looking at the food and giving Merlin a raised eyebrow before settling in to eat.
“Not bad, Merlin,” Dad remarks, but Bran knows his father well enough to tell that he actually really likes it.
And it seems Merlin does as well, because he rolls his eyes before replying sarcastically, “Thank you, Arthur, glad you approve.”
“It’s really good,” Bran says, since Dad won’t, and eats heartily as Merlin smiles at him.
Dad eventually thinks of something to talk about with Merlin: “How are things going for you? Have you found a new gallery to work with?”
Bran finds himself perfectly content to eat his rice in silence, listening instead as his father and Merlin gradually relax and talk to each other more freely. His father is different around Merlin, different from the way he acts around his work friends, or around Aunt Morgana and Uncle Leon, or even around Mum, before…she left. Dad seems…lighter when Merlin is around.
- - + - -
That night, Bran isn’t sure what time Merlin leaves. Merlin helps tuck him in at night, promising that he’d see Bran the next day. His father and Merlin talk in hushed tones as they turn off the light and leave Bran’s room.
- - + - -
A few nights later, Bran is nearly asleep, curled up against Merlin’s side after he, Merlin, and his father crowded together on the couch and watched a movie. Bran is happy and relaxed, lulled by the warm press of his father‘s and Merlin’s bodies on either side of him and Merlin’s hand petting his hair.
Then his father says softly, “Merlin, I wanted to say…”
“Thank you. I wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”
“No problem,” Merlin says, and even though Bran’s eyes are closed, he just knows Merlin is smiling.
“It’s just, you’ve done so much, and you really didn’t have to. So…I wouldn’t hold it against you, if you…I mean, you know you don’t have to do this forever, right? Bran and I, we’re okay now. If you won’t want to, I won’t…I won’t force you to stick around or anything.”
Merlin huffs and remarks, “Arthur, you’re useless without someone around to look after you.” Bran hears his dad start to protest but Merlin continues, “Besides, I’m doing this because I want to. After all, you definitely need the help and what are friends for? At least—I was hoping that…that we’re friends again?” Merlin sounds so small and unsure that Bran wants to tell him that of course he’s Dad’s friend, but they think Bran is asleep and Bran really shouldn’t be listening in the first place.
“Of course we’re friends again, you idiot,” his father says a few moments later, gruffly, in that voice he get whenever he tries and fails to hide that he’s actually really happy. “…I’m glad you’re here, Merlin,” Dad adds, and Bran’s pretty sure Merlin’s smiling because happiness just seems to rolls off of Merlin whenever he is.
“You’re welcome. Let’s get Bran into bed; I think my leg’s about to fall asleep,” Merlin says with a laugh.
Bran keeps himself limp, still pretending to be asleep as his father—he figures it’s his father since Merlin’s arms are skinnier—pulls him into his arms and carries him up the stairs. He’s tucked into bed by two pairs of hands, and he feels Merlin’s long fingers brush back his fringe.
“I’ll be heading home now I suppose. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” Merlin whispers as they slip out of his room.
- - + - -
A month later, after Mum and Dad are officially not married anymore, Merlin is still around—picking up Bran from school, taking him out for secret trips to the ice cream shop, helping him with homework, making dinner. Bran likes Merlin. He’s like a second father, but he plays with him more than Dad does, and he fusses over Bran the way Mum used to. Actually, Merlin fusses over Bran and Dad. And Merlin cooks. Well. Dad can only make ramen and curry, and there’s only so many days a person can eat those in a row. Merlin really is a great artist, and sometimes, when Bran has no homework, he asks if instead of going straight home, they could go back to Merlin’s studio, so that he could watch him work.
Merlin doesn’t ever stay for the night though, not until Dad finally holds out a key to him and huffs, “Here, just take our spare room. You’re practically living here anyways. There’s really no need for you to pay for a flat.” Which really means that Dad wants Merlin to move in with them, and Bran heartily agrees, tugging on Merlin’s sleeve when he starts refusing. Merlin quickly gives in though, because Bran and Dad exchange glances and then give him identical pouts. He laughs and calls it an unfair advantage before ruffling Bran’s hair.
- - + - -
One morning, Bran wakes up for school and hears his father and Merlin talking to each other in very serious tones.
“Arthur, wait, I—I want to be sure. I can’t take another repeat of ten years ago. What about your father?” he hears Merlin ask.
“Merlin, I don’t care what my father thinks anymore,” Dad says. “If you haven’t noticed, I’ve tried to be what he wanted. I’m well beyond the age to be listening to everything my father says, and seeing how well things went with Gwen, I’m tired of doing what he wants. And if he can’t accept you this time, then fine, I don’t care.”
And then all talking stops. Bran goes downstairs to see Dad and Merlin kissing in the kitchen. And then everything starts making a little more sense, so he shrugs and goes back upstairs to give them some privacy. Ten minutes of it anyways. Then Bran comes clattering downstairs as loud as possible because he has school, and he hates being late.
- - + - -
Eventually, two weeks later, Dad and Merlin get around to telling him that they’re “together.” They look at him with near identical expressions of worry, as if afraid of how he’d react.
He snorts and says, “Well, duh.” And then they’re staring at him with open mouths and wide eyes. “What? You’re bad at hiding things.”
“And…you’re okay with it? You’re not upset about….about your mother?” his father asks, and Bran just shrugs.
“Mum has Lance. Now, you have Merlin. Besides, I’ve been telling everyone Merlin’s like my second dad anyways.”
And now they’re looking at him with a funny look torn between shock and amusement—or at least Merlin is. Dad just looks shocked.
- - + - -
Nothing really changes. Merlin still picks Bran up from school, helps him with homework, and makes dinner. Dad is still the one who goes to the parent-teacher conferences, spends too much money on him, and makes sure he has everything he needs ready for school in the morning. He and Merlin still tuck Bran into bed together, and talk to each other as if forever teasing the other.
But at the same time, things do change. For one, Mordred and his parents come over more often—after Aunt Morgana and Uncle Leon gave Dad a Very Serious Talk about “treating Merlin right.” Merlin sleeps in Dad’s room now, and they do everything together outside of work. Dad and Merlin touch more, and hug more, and smile more. He also catches them snogging sometimes too, often where they really shouldn’t be. He’s still supposedly an “impressionable little kid,” after all.
Bran doesn’t care though, even if they do act stupidly in love all the time. Dad is happy, as is Merlin. And Bran has a proper family again—a slightly different family maybe, but still, a proper, happy family.