Arthur stood outside the door to his father's office, fidgeting with his cuff links. After a few seconds, he took a deep breath, straightened up, and knocked on the door.
Uther Pendragon was, by all accounts, an intimidating man. He ruled with an iron fist over his company, Camelot Inc., and expected that his son would do the same after his retirement. All Arthur's life, he had been groomed for his position as a CEO, and the inevitable high society life that would come with it.
Which was why Arthur knew that his father would not take this particular meeting well at all.
Arthur had known that he was gay as a maypole since he had gotten off with Leon Knight in the footie locker room at the age of 15. However, he'd never found a man worthy of uprooting his comfortable life as Camelot's golden boy.
Until six months ago. Six months ago, he had literally bumped into a big-eared man on the street, and somehow managed to fall head-over-heels in love with him. Now, he wanted to take the next step in their relationship, and ask Merlin to move in with him.
First, though, he needed to tell his father about the relationship. Arthur refused to hide this, to act like Merlin was a dirty secret. Merlin was worth destroying his relationship with his father for. And destroy it, this would.
Arthur pushed the door open, walking into Uther's opulent office. The man himself sat behind an overly large desk, in a chair that Arthur had always thought looked like a throne.
Uther looked up from the paperwork on his desk to give his son a tight smile. "Arthur." He acknowledged. "Sit. What is your business with me?"
Arthur sat. "Father. I wanted to tell you that I am in a steady relationship, and I'm going to ask my partner to move in with me."
Uther's face brightened. "It's about time you settled down. Why haven't I met this girl yet? Is she poor?
Arthur sighed. “No, Father. Listen-"
"You don't have to lie to me. A poor girl can be taught propriety. Look at Kate Middleton."
"Is it that secretary from your office? Well, that isn't ideal, but at this point I'll take anything. After you kept rudely rejecting every woman I offered to you, I despaired of ever finding you a match."
"However, you'll have to get this 'moving in with her' out of your head. Cohabitating before marriage is frowned upon in our circles. You should simply propose to her, I know Morgana would be happy to help plan the wedding."
"Father! Could you please stop talking and listen to me for one second!"
Uther did not look pleased at his son's insubordination, but Arthur wasn't concerned with that at the moment.
Arthur made sure he was sitting up perfectly straight in his chair, and looked his father directly in the eye. It would not do to show any weakness here.
"It is not my secretary I'm dating. My partner's name is Merlin. I say 'partner' and not 'girlfriend' because Merlin is a man."
Arthur had been expecting an explosion as soon as he released his words. Instead, Uther merely grew quiet, bringing his clasped hands to his forehead. After a few seconds, he dropped his hands again and fixed a steely gaze on his son.
“Arthur. I don’t quite know what has come over you, but you know full well how important it is that you marry a suitable woman in order to keep up the public image of Camelot Inc. You must stop this foolishness immediately”.
Arthur matched his father’s cold gaze with one of his own.
“I am in love with my boyfriend, and I will not leave him for the sake of your vanity.”
That did the trick. Arthur had seen some impressive rages from his father over the years, but he was sure that Uther’s face had never before turned quite that shade of purple.
“What you call vanity” Uther hissed, leaning forward in his chair, “is my concern for your future. I did not build this company from the ground up to see it go to ruins under the leadership of someone like you.”
Arthur snorted. “What, now that you know I’m gay, I’m less capable of running the company than I was before? I always knew you were intolerant, but this is a new low for you.”
Uther pushed away from his desk and made his way around it with a speed that belied his age, standing in front of Arthur. Abandoning any pretense of calm, he yelled “This company’s success relies on its public image, and having a CEO that’s living an…alternative lifestyle -”
Arthur jumped up himself, so quickly that his chair toppled over. He didn’t notice, distracted by the blind rage his father’s words were causing in him, the way Uther dismissed the most meaningful relationship Arthur had ever had without a thought.
“I am living the exact same ‘lifestyle’ as I was before, as I have known I was gay since I was fucking fifteen!”
“You’ve dated many women since you were fifteen, I don’t see why you can’t -”
“Each and every one of those women was a lie, made up so I didn’t have to deal with this exact conversation.”
The two men were nearly toe to toe, their shouts escalating as time went on. Uther, not used to this level of disobedience from Arthur, decided to end the conversation. He took a few deep breaths, attempting to find the calmness with which he had started the argument.
“If you insist on continuing your relationship with Melvin -”
“Merlin, I will have no choice but to disown you.”
Arthur looked as though someone had slapped him across the face. He had known that Uther would take his confession badly, but he had been holding out hope that Uther would be able to see past his prejudices for his own son. Arthur snapped his mouth shut and replied with a quick “Fine. You’ll not have to worry about seeing me again.” before turning on his heel and exiting the office, letting the door slam shut behind him.
Immediately after leaving his father’s office, Arthur made his way towards Merlin’s flat. After a fight with his father, Merlin was one of the few people who knew how to make him feel better. Merlin knew that Arthur often didn’t want to discuss the argument, but simply needed a distraction, so he didn’t stew in his anger. That tended to make Arthur even angrier.
It was things like that that solidified Arthur’s conviction that he had done the right thing by breaking with his father. He was upset, of course, and hurt that Uther could dismiss him so easily, but he also felt unexpectedly…relieved. All his life, nearly every choice Arthur made had been carefully calculated to earn Uther’s approval, and now he would no longer have to consider Uther, would never have to weigh whether or not something was important enough to him to risk Uther’s wrath.
So, it was an angry, hurt, confused, relieved, and overall emotionally unstable Arthur that knocked on his boyfriend’s door.
“Come in!” Merlin called from inside, and it was as though Arthur couldn’t open the door quickly enough.
Merlin was curled up around a textbook on his thrift store sofa, hair damp from a recent shower and dressed in one of Arthur’s jumpers, which was so large on him that the sleeves covered his hands and made it difficult for him to turn the pages. It was the most adorable thing that Arthur had ever seen.
Merlin looked up from his reading at Arthur’s footsteps, and his characteristic grin spread over his face. However, the grin was quickly replaced by a concerned frown when he took a look at Arthur’s face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, untangling himself from the sofa and getting to his feet.
Arthur sighed. “I’ll give you one guess.”
“Isn’t it always?”
Merlin walked over to Arthur and slipped his arms around his waist. “What’ll it be this time? Shitty TV and takeaway, pub, or football?”
Arthur couldn’t resist hugging Merlin back even if he wanted to. “Actually, I think I want to talk about it this time.”
Merlin gave a theatrical gasp and put a hand to Arthur’s forehead. “Talk!? You’re dying, aren’t you?”
Arthur batted his hand away and said, far too casually. “Do shut up. I think I was just disowned.”
Merlin’s eyes widened in shock, and he stepped back, leading Arthur to sit on the sofa. “Tell me what happened.”
It was a demand, not a request, and Arthur shouldn’t have found that as endearing as he did. “I told him about us. He tried to get me to leave you, and when I refused, he disowned me. Then I stormed out.”
“Oh Jesus. I’m so sorry.”
“What the hell are you apologizing for?”
Merlin looked down, fidgeting slightly with the cuffs of Arthur’s jumper. “I hate that you had to choose between he and I.”
Arthur pulled Merlin back into his arms, burying his face in Merlin’s unruly hair. “You didn’t ask me to choose. He did.”
“Still. He is your father.”
Arthur snorted, but found that these words didn’t affect him as much as he thought they would. “Not anymore, apparently.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, Merlin still feeling unnecessarily guilty about the situation. However, something about the conversation didn’t sit right with Merlin. He looked up at Arthur. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
Arthur blushed at Merlin’s perceptiveness, and then tried to pretend that he wasn’t blushing. He had wanted to make a big deal about this, but Merlin could be like a dog with a bone when he thought Arthur wasn’t being truthful with him.
Arthur took a deep breath, and then just blurted it out. “What I actually told my father was that I was planning on asking you to move in with me.”
Merlin met Arthur’s eyes, and his grin spread over his face again. “Oh really? And when are you planning on doing that?”
Arthur relaxed at the teasing. “I was going to move all your things to mine while you were sleeping and leave you to figure it out by yourself. It wouldn’t take me very long, most of your things are shit.”
Merlin swatted at him lazily. “Prat. See if I move in with you now.”
Arthur shifted slightly, fumbling in the pocket of his jacket. “Guess I’ll just have to give this spare key to someone else.”
He dangled the key in front of Merlin’s face, and Merlin snatched it out of his hand. “Oh no you won’t. Mine. No take-backs.”
“So I’m stuck with you, then?”
Merlin moved to straddle Arthur’s lap and leaned in for a kiss. “Yep, looks that way.”
When Arthur left his office, Uther tried to go back to doing paperwork, but kept getting distracted by the thought of what had just occurred.
Out of his two children, Arthur had always been the one that he could count on to understand and obey him. He loved Morgana, of course, but she was headstrong, prone to fighting him for the sake of fighting. Arthur wasn’t weak willed; he just saw the importance of his father’s work, the importance of his own cooperation, for the sake of the greater good
It wasn’t that Uther was a homophobe, exactly. Frankly, he’d rather his son have a dalliance with a man than risk getting some poor girl pregnant out of wedlock. It was more the fact that Arthur wanted to flaunt this relationship, let the world know that he was a homosexual.
For Uther may not be a homophobe, but many of his associates, affiliates, and acquaintances would take exception to Arthur’s lifestyle choice. Leaving his company in the care of someone who was openly gay could be disastrous, and he refused to let anything happen to Camelot Inc.
Still, that didn’t mean that Uther was happy about this situation. He loved his son, and not only for the constant reminder that Arthur gave him of his beloved Ygraine.
Looking up, Uther realized that it had been over half an hour since he had actually gotten any work done. Clearly, he needed to put this matter out of his mind. Arthur would come to his senses and realize that his bond with his father, his bond with the company, was far more important than his boyfriend.
By the time Uther left work that day, he was in a much better mood. His productivity had gone up a great deal since he had stopped thinking about the situation, and he had managed to convince himself that Arthur would apologize to him within a week, and things would go back to normal.
He should have guessed that things wouldn’t be that easy.
The second Uther walked through the door of his house, he found himself face to face with a furious Morgana.
“So, I’ve just spoken to Arthur” she said, her calm tone a complete contrast to the anger on her face.
Uther was not eager to fight with both his children in the same day, so he responded with a neutral “Hello, Morgana.”
Unfortunately, this only seemed to enrage Morgana further. “Hello!? I’ve found out that you disowned Arthur because he’s gay, and all you have to say to me is hello!?
Morgana sounded much too casual when she mentioned Arthur’s sexuality. “Did you know he was gay?”
Morgana scoffed. “Please. I’ve known our dear Arthur played for the other team since he was twelve.”
“He said he’s only known since he was fifteen!”
“Well, everyone already knows that I’m smarter than him, especially when it comes to emotional matters. Nevertheless, that does not excuse this disgusting example of bigotry.”
Uther felt a bit of a headache coming on, as he often did when Morgana got on one of her soapboxes.
“Morgana. I don’t care that Arthur’s gay, but if he’s to run Camelot Inc. in the future, he cannot show any weakness, lest he be ripped to shreds.”
Morgana looked at him with disbelief. “Being gay is not a weakness, Uther. And it certainly does not make someone less capable of running a company.”
Uther stepped around her and began to make his way to the kitchen, eager for a bit of a drink. Talking to Morgana could be a bit like talking to a beautiful, assertive brick wall.
“Not everyone thinks the same way you do, Morgana. You’re young, and don’t remember the time when everyone thought that it was a weakness, and morally wrong to boot. I’m merely looking out for the interests of the company.”
Morgana followed him. “You’d put the interests of the company over the interests of your own son?”
“You may say as well that Arthur is putting the interests of his lover above those of his father.”
“It is not Arthur’s job to put your interests first! You are the father in this situation, Uther, and it is your job to accept your children for what they are!”
“That should go both ways.”
“No, it shouldn’t!” Morgana was full out yelling at this point, which was unusual for her. She, like her father, tended to prefer a calm rage. “You were the one who decided to have children, you are the one who must support them! Frankly, if you knew you were going to ascribe more importance to your job, then maybe you shouldn’t have had children at all!”
With this last assertion, Morgana turned on her heel and left. Uther watched her go with a sinking feeling.
Her last comment made him feel profoundly uncomfortable, and more than a bit guilty.
Three months later, Morgana strode into Arthur and Merlin’s shared flat as though she owned the place.
This wasn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence, but Arthur, who was sitting at the kitchen table looking over financial figures, groaned and asked “Who the hell let you in?” like it was the first time that it had happened.
Morgana, predictably, ignored him in favor of hugging Merlin, who she tended to treat a bit like a lapdog.
“Merlin! How are you?”
Merlin (the traitor, Arthur thought) smiled, hugged her back, and said “Hello, Morgana. I’m fantastic. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m fine. But, I’m actually here to see you, Arthur, if you’ve decided to stop being such a tosser.”
Arthur looked up, wounded expression on his face. “What gives you the right to come into my home and insult me, you harpy?”
Morgana sniffed. “Well, if you’re going to be like that, maybe I won’t give you the good news.”
“Good news?” Arthur perked up at the words. Merlin crossed the room to stand next to Arthur’s chair, unwilling to be left out of possible excitement.
Morgana pulled a newspaper out of the bag she wore over her shoulder, and flipped to a page in the middle of it. She slapped the paper down on the table and jabbed her finger at a tiny section of the page. “Read that.”
Arthur pulled the paper toward him, and Merlin rested his chin on Arthur’s shoulder so he could see as well.
The headline to the blurb read ‘PENDRAGON GIVES GENEROUS GIFT TO STONEWALL’. As Arthur read through it, his eyebrows climbed higher and higher on his forehead, so that when he looked up at Morgana, his expression looked somewhere between shocked and disbelieving. Merlin, on the other hand, merely looked worried. Better than anyone else in the world, Merlin knew how much it had affected Arthur to be disowned because of his sexuality, how difficult he had found it to cut all contact with his father. The article, which explained how Uther had made a large donation to a prominent LGBTQ oriented charity, was suspicious, given the attitude that he had shown toward his son, and Merlin was concerned that it may upset his boyfriend.
Morgana looked at Arthur expectantly. “Well? Isn’t this good news?”
“Hardly.” Arthur didn’t elaborate any further than that. He got up and grabbed the kettle. “Tea, anyone?”
Morgana refused to be dissuaded by Arthur’s obvious subject change. “Of course it’s a good thing! Maybe he’s changing his mind?”
Arthur slammed his hands down on the counter, but didn’t turn around to face either of his companions. “It’s far more likely that he’s realized that the general public is in favor of gay rights, and he’s trying to make the company look good. I’ll bet he and his CEO friends all complain to each other about how they have to donate to the queers.”
Morgana had not been expecting this sort of response. Unlike her brother, she had gone back to speaking to her father after a few weeks, although their meetings were still a bit strained. They hadn’t talked much about the situation with Arthur, but when they had, Uther had seemed remorseful about his actions. Despite that, Uther hadn’t made any attempt to contact Arthur since their fight. When Morgana had seen the report of Uther’s donation, she had thought that it may be Uther’s emotionally constipated attempt to apologize to his son. When she voiced this thought to Arthur, however, he only seemed to become angrier.
“If Uther was trying to apologize to me and didn’t have the decency to do so in person, don’t you think he’d have done something to draw a bit more attention? I’m surprised they even reported this in the papers.”
Merlin, wanting to head off Arthur’s anger, took his hand and led him to sit back down, taking over the making of the tea himself. “Maybe he thought it’d attract more attention than it did?” he suggested, plunking a mug down in front of Arthur and giving another to Morgana.
Arthur wrapped his hands around the mug and heaved a deep sigh. “I doubt it. My father’s intelligent. He’d know that even a large donation wouldn’t matter much to people who weren’t involved with that particular charity. Honestly, this just sends the message that he’s fine with gay people, as long as they aren’t in his family.”
Morgana hadn’t thought of that possibility, which seemed more in line with the views Uther would hold than Arthur’s earlier explanation. Still, she couldn’t help but feel optimistic. Money was important to Uther, and though he was hardly a miser, it wasn’t like him to spend money on things he didn’t like or support.
However, Arthur was understandably still smarting from the blow Uther had given him, so she didn’t share this view, choosing instead to ask Merlin about his studies.
The grateful smile Merlin sent her way told her that this was the right decision.
Merlin’s Chemistry class, which he loathed more than anything else in the world, ran a bit late one Thursday. Professor Monmouth, a dry older man, had taken the chance to lecture the entire class about the state of their lab reports (the comment on Merlin’s paper had read “This is a mess”, which Merlin thought was more than a bit unfair).
Anyway, Monmouth’s lecture had run ten minutes over the time that the class usually ended, which meant Merlin was currently running across campus, schoolbag bumping against his hip at every step, on the way to his meeting.
During his first year as a graduate student, Merlin had been welcomed with open arms into the LGBTQ group on campus, which met promptly at 4:00 every Thursday. He had been involved in the group, which welcomed interested advocates from the general population as well as students, ever since.
Merlin finally reached the room in which the meetings were held, throwing the door open so enthusiastically that it hit the wall with a loud bang.
Freya, the current president of the group, was cut off mid-spiel, and she gave Merlin a good-natured glare. “Hello, Merlin. It’s nice of you to have joined us, but couldn’t you be a little quieter?”
Merlin, attempting to get his breathing under control, gave Freya an apologetic smile before crossing the room to drop into a chair next to Gwen.
Gwen, who was one of the club’s few straight members, looked away from her boyfriend, Lancelot, to quietly greet Merlin.
He nodded at her, still panting, and cast a look around the room as Freya resumed reviewing the minutes from the last meeting. Most of the people in the room were their regulars, students or community members that tried to show up to every meeting, but there was one man who was new to the group.
The man was older than their typical member, and looked supremely uncomfortable to be in the room. Probably straight, then, and looking to open his mind, maybe due to a child coming out of the closet or something similar. That was Merlin’s favorite type of group member, the ones who were realizing for the first time that homosexuality, which they might have been against or simply indifferent to in the past, was really no different than heterosexuality, that there were all types of gay people, good and bad.
It was these thoughts that led Merlin to approach the man after the meeting, shooing Gwen, Lancelot, and Freya away with a promise to catch up to them in a bit. Up close, the man looked vaguely familiar, as though Merlin had seen him before, although he couldn’t put his finger on why. The man was facing away from Merlin, so Merlin tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.
The man turned around slowly and regarded Merlin with an impassive look. Merlin was slightly taken aback, but he introduced himself anyway. “Hi there, my name’s Merlin. I haven’t seen you here before. Is this your first meeting?”
As the man continued to look at Merlin, something almost like recognition flared in his eyes. It was quickly hidden, however, and the man took Merlin’s outstretched hand and gave it a firm shake. “Merlin. My name is…Tristan. Yes, this is in fact my first meeting.”
Merlin smiled. “Tristan. It’s nice to meet you. I’m the vice-president of the group, so feel free to ask me any questions you might have. I’ll see you next week, I hope?”
The odd look had returned to ‘Tristan’s’ eyes, but he merely gave a nod and assured Merlin that he would, in fact, be returning next week.
As Merlin excused himself to run after his friends, Uther wondered if his hunch could possibly be correct, that this young man was Arthur’s lover.
Since Morgana had shown him the article detailing his father’s suspicious donation, Arthur hadn’t heard anything about the man.
Which is why it came as such a surprise when he answered the phone to hear his father’s voice at the other end.
“Arthur?” was Uther’s uncharacteristically hesitant opening.
To Arthur’s horror, the sound of his father’s voice, which he hadn’t heard for nearly four months, caused him to have an almost Pavlovian reaction. His throat closed up, so he had to clear it several times before he could answer, and when he did return with “Father?”, it came out far less confident than he would have wished.
“Yes, hello. It’s been a while.”
Uther sounded quite disinterested when he said this, and Arthur’s anger at his father abruptly returned. “Yes, and whose fault is that?”
Uther sighed, the noise loud in Arthur’s ear. “Arthur -”.
“Father, if you are trying to resume our conversation from four months ago, then there is little point in this phone call. I am happier than I have ever been in my life, and I have no intention of returning to the closet.”
“That is not what I called about. I was merely wondering if you had seen the news, that I have been giving large sums of money to gay-friendly organizations lately.”
Arthur snorted, and his sarcasm was evident when he replied. “Yes, Morgana seemed to think that giving that money was some sort of grand gesture that you accepted my sexuality.”
“No, Father, you listen to me. I don’t care how much money you throw at gay-friendly organizations. You showed your true colors when you disowned me. If this is some sort of an attempt to buy me off, it won’t work.”
“Please do not contact me again.” Arthur ended the call and threw his phone across the room.
The bell above the door in the coffee shop rang, and Merlin looked up to smile at Tristan.
The older man had attended every meeting faithfully since that first, and had even been getting involved with the activities. He seemed especially interested in an upcoming Pride Parade the group would be participating in. However, in the most recent meeting, Tristan had seemed distracted. Merlin, who had decided that he would take the severe man under his wing, had approached him, and Tristan had asked to speak to Merlin privately.
Tristan, who perpetually wore a business suit, was quite obviously out of place in the student-dominated coffee shop. However, he seemed determined to blend into the venue as best as he could, ordering a black coffee at the counter, and then coming to sit opposite Merlin.
Up close, Tristan looked quite haggard, though he hid it well. There was an awkward silence after the two men exchanged greetings, which Merlin decided to break by getting straight to the point. “So, you seemed out of sorts at the last meeting. What was it you wanted to talk about?”
Tristan swallowed a mouthful of coffee and fixed Merlin with a piercing gaze. “As you probably guessed, I joined the LGBTQ group because a member of my family ‘came out’, so to speak.”
Merlin nodded gravely, managing not to laugh at how the slang sounded in the straight laced man’s mouth.
Tristan continued. “A few months ago, my son told me that he was gay. I did not react well. To make a long story short, I haven’t spoken to him since then. Being out of contact with him has been…unbearable. I love my son dearly, though I may not always be able to show it properly. I joined your group to educate myself, and I now wish to reunite with him. The problem is, my son is quite stubborn, a character trait which he, admittedly, inherited from me. We have always had trouble speaking to each other. I thought that gestures, such as donating to Stonewall, would work better than words to repair our relationship. Unfortunately, my son seems to have gotten it into his head that this was some sort of bribe, and now I admit that I am at a loss as to how to proceed.”
Tristan was a man of few words, and this was easily the most Merlin had ever heard him speak. However, his conviction impressed Merlin. The man was horrendously out of touch – it seemed that a simple apology had never occurred to him – but he obviously cared for his son, and wanted nothing more than to fix his mistake. Merlin spared a second to wish that Arthur’s father was more like Tristan, before replying.
“Well, I think that the best thing you could do in this case is talk to your son and apologize for your reaction, but I understand if that’s not an option – my boyfriend’s a complete stubborn arse, I know how it is when they just won’t listen.”
An odd look came to Tristan’s face at Merlin’s affectionate insult. Merlin was quick to correct any mistaken assumptions he might have. “I love him, but that doesn’t make him less of a stubborn arse. No one’s perfect, right?”
Tristan gave a rare smile at that, and pretended to toast Merlin with his coffee cup.
“Anyway, it sounds like you need to make a bigger gesture. You seemed to be interested in the Pride Parade. Maybe if your son sees you at that, he’ll realize that you understand him now? I mean, that can hardly be construed as a bribe.”
Tristan looked thoughtful. “…that may actually work. I have a daughter as well, I can ask her to make sure he’s there…”
Merlin smiled at the hope in Tristan’s voice. “All you’ve got to do is get him to listen to you. After that, you can apologize and such. And hey, if that doesn’t work, I’d be happy to put in a good word for you.”
Tristan nodded decisively, then drained the rest of his coffee and stood up. “It’s a plan.” He turned to Merlin and offered his hand. “Thank you so much for your help, Merlin. You’re an exemplary young man.”
Though Merlin was amused at the archaic complement, he was nonetheless pleased that Tristan thought so highly of him. He shook Tristan’s hand firmly. “You’re welcome. Good luck!”
Tristan nodded once, then, lost in thought, left.
The day of the Pride Parade dawned warm and clear. Merlin didn’t usually like dressing too flamboyantly, but, as this was a special occasion, he had opted to wear a rainbow t-shirt. He arrived at the starting point of the parade about a half-hour before it was set to start. Even with his earliness, he was far from the first person there. Gwen, who was wearing a rainbow bandana in her dark curls and brandishing a paintbrush, was the first to greet him. “Merlin! Let me paint your face!” she called cheerfully.
Merlin was slightly wary of her (He didn’t think Gwen actually had any artistic ability) but he submitted to the face-painting anyway.
As Gwen grabbed his chin and pushed his face to the side, Merlin saw Tristan approaching with trepidation. He was wearing a button-up and jeans in place of his usual suit, but he still stuck out like a sore thumb. Many of the people milling around were in drag, in skimpy clothing, or else covered in glitter and feathers. Several people walking by gave Tristan odd looks before Merlin beckoned him over to the group. Gwen, who had just finished painting the word PRIDE on Merlin’s cheek, looked at Tristan and clicked her tongue sadly. “You’ve never been to one of these before, have you?” she asked him kindly.
Tristan shook his head. “I haven’t. Merlin, there’s something I need to tell you before -”
Merlin interrupted him. “Surely it can wait a few minutes? No offense, but you look…stuffy.”
Tristan opened his mouth to reply, but was shocked into silence when Gwen grabbed his face and started to give it a treatment that was similar to Merlin’s.
Merlin nodded at her handiwork, which looked to be two interlocking ‘male’ symbols. “Yes, that’s the right idea, but it’s not quite enough. Do you have another one of those bandanas?”
“I don’t, but Lance could probably spare his.”
“Right, thanks. Back in a tick!”
Merlin disappeared, weaving through the crowd, and Uther sighed. He wanted to tell Merlin who he really was, so he wouldn’t be blindsided when Arthur saw them.
Gwen noticed his discontent. As she turned his face to paint interlocking ‘female’ symbols on his other cheek, she said “Merlin told me about your son. I’m sure everything will go wonderfully.”
Uther smiled at her. When he had first walked into the group meeting, he hadn’t expected to form any sort of relationship with the people in it. Yet, he now counted these young people as his friends. Gwen had such a kind heart, Lancelot was so noble, Freya hid a wicked sense of humor beneath her shy exterior and Merlin…Uther would be proud to welcome Merlin into his family. That is, if Arthur could forgive his father for hurting him. God, Uther hadn’t realized how difficult it could be to be gay until he had met these young adults and heard their stories. He was ashamed to think of how he had acted when Arthur had come out to him, how he had created and encouraged an environment in which Arthur needed to hide who he was.
As Uther was having these thoughts, Merlin returned, Lancelot in tow. Uther blinked incredulously as he took in the sight of Lancelot, who was shirtless, had a large rainbow and the word ALLY painted across his chest, and was absolutely covered in glitter. Merlin caught Uther’s eyes and grinned. “Guess you can see why he doesn’t need the bandana” he said, before pulling the object out of his pocket and tying it loosely around Uther’s neck. “There. Now you look the part.”
Uther took Merlin by the arm. “Thank you, that’s quite wonderful. But I really must speak to you, alone, before the parade starts.”
Merlin frowned slightly, but let Uther steer him a short way away from their friends. “What is it, Tristan?” he asked.
Uther winced at that casual use of his fake name. “I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest with you.”
Before Uther could continue, he was interrupted by a familiar voice. “Father?”
Uther and Merlin both turned around, slowly, to the source of the voice. Arthur was wearing his very own rainbow bandana, knotted so that it was ruffling his blonde hair. He had some of Gwen’s artwork (hearts in many different colors) scattered across his cheeks and forehead.
And he looked absolutely gobsmacked.
Merlin, for his part, was feeling very stupid. Of course Tristan was Uther! That explained why the man had always seemed familiar to him, as well as the similarities between his story and Arthur’s. Recalling what ‘Tristan’ had said about his deep desire to reconcile with his son, Merlin decided to leave the two of them alone for the time being.
Arthur’s shock would surely make him more receptive to Uther’s apology.
Merlin spoke up. “So, I’m guessing this is what you wanted to tell me?”
Uther nodded rather sheepishly.
“Well” Merlin said, “It seems like you two need to have a bit of a talk. I’ll be over with Lance and Gwen.”
This caused Arthur to snap out of his shock, but by the time he had choked out “Merlin, what-”, Merlin was out of earshot. With no other choice, Arthur turned back to his father. “What is that on your face?” he asked.
Uther tried to resist the urge to touch his cheeks. “I’m not sure, actually. I haven’t seen it. Guinevere didn’t paint anything inappropriate on me, did she?”
Arthur blinked. “No, it’s just those male and female symbols interlocking.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, the circles with the arrows pointing up for female, and pointing down for male?” Arthur attempted to imitate the symbols with his fingers, but failed miserably.
“Right” said Uther. “What is it, the male is on one cheek and the female is on the other?”
It was at that point that the absurdity of the conversation hit Arthur. “Father, what are you doing here? Won’t it ‘hurt the image of your company’ if anyone sees you in rainbow?”
Uther huffed out an almost-laugh, steeling himself for this conversation. “Arthur. I was wrong to put the interests of the company above your happiness.”
Of all the possible replies Uther could have made to that question, Arthur never would have expected that one. “What?”
“Son, you know as well as I do how difficult it is for me to admit that I’m wrong. That’s why I donated that money to Stonewall. It wasn’t a bribe; it was an attempt to show you that I had changed my mind.”
Arthur’s entire worldview was being tipped on its head, and he didn’t know quite how to deal with it. “How do you know Merlin, then?”
“Well, when the donation didn’t work, I decided to begin attending LGBTQ meetings.”
“And you happened to choose the one Merlin’s involved in.”
“Yes, and before you ask, the reason that he didn’t tell you is that he didn’t know. Merlin’s not a common name, and neither is Uther. I didn’t want the members of the group to know how I had behaved towards you, so I gave a false name.”
Arthur, who had been numb for the entire conversation, began to feel the first stirrings of hope. It must have shown in his face, for Uther’s voice was stronger when he said “I want to tell you that I am sorry that I reacted so badly to your confession. I was wrong to tell you that you should stay in the closet and, if you’d like, I would be happy to rebuild my relationship with you.”
While Uther had been cold and unforgiving for Arthur’s entire life, he had never been prone to lying, so Arthur believed his words to be sincere. “Thank you, Father. Your apology is accepted.”
They had come to the point in the conversation where a normal father and son would have hugged. Unfortunately, Uther’s change of heart couldn’t erase over twenty years of history between the two, so they merely traded awkward looks at each other until Uther cleared his throat and said, softly, “I like Merlin. I’m glad you chose him.”
At this, Arthur smiled, and the two men, by unspoken agreement, made their way back to the growing crowd.
They marched in the Pride Parade side by side that day, and didn’t give a damn who saw them.