“You are what?” Uther asked and looked at Arthur incredulously. He was not sure if he had troubles with his hearing or his understanding, or possibly both, or maybe Arthur had learned some foreign language Uther didn’t speak, but his son’s words did not make any kind of sense to him whatsoever.
“I said I’m ready to settle down and have a family, father. I thought you would be pleased.”
“Of course, but...”
“I have decided to end the relationships in my life you would disapprove of, and I’m ready to find the right girl and marry.”
These words made even less sense to Uther.
“Just give me a moment and explain yourself, Arthur, because I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Isn’t settling down exactly what you have been doing with this Emrys fellow of yours?”
“You know about Merlin?” Arthur said and flushed. Letting Uther know about Arthur’s partner for who knows how many years had clearly not been his intention at any point.
“Of course I know, Arthur! I have known about him for at least three years. Maybe closer to four. Whatever you think I am, I am not stupid.”
“Father, I was not implying...!”
“You are living together, are you not? When you said you are going to settle down I would have expected you to tell me that you have proposed to him and he has accepted. And yet you are talking about finding the right girl? Did you two have a row, Arthur?”
Arthur was staring at him like he had never seen his father before.
“Well?” Uther urged. “I do not have all day to discuss about your love life. Get out with it!”
“I... I broke up with him.”
“What? Why? When was this?” Uther said truly astounded. He had been under the impression that his son was utterly in love with this man he had shared his life with for these last years.
“Ten... no, eleven days ago. I thought that was what you expected of me! To get married with an upper-class girl and...”
Uther leaned on his elbows and massaged his temples. He could already feel the headache coming. He knew Arthur was sometimes temperamental, did not fully think his actions through and relied on other people’s opinions entirely too much, but this was idiotic behaviour even for him.
“This is not because Bayard told his daughter is getting married, is it?” Uther had to ask.
“Well... yes. I just... It seemed to bother you when he was asking about my plans of settling down.”
Uther decided to speak the next words very slowly and clearly.
“Arthur, I have expected you to ask a permission to bring Mr Emrys as your plus one to those events for a long time now. Your life partner happens to be a man, but as far as I’m concerned he has received a good education, has a steady job and does not have any past or current scandals on his shoulders. Compared to for example that Sophia girl you were dating as a teenager, I call this progress.”
Arthur seemed to be stunned into silence.
“Now, what exactly did you say to him and how are you planning to get him back?”
“You...” Now Arthur was actually speaking which was a relief. At least he had not swallowed his tongue because of the shock of his father being the reasonable one about this. Uther wondered how exactly had Arthur expected him to react, but knew better than to ask. “You want me to get back together with Merlin?”
“Do you have any idea how much of a relief it has been to be one of the few heads of an old, rich family who haven’t had to worry about their offspring having illegitimate children running around, exes asking for child support or fortune hunters trying to marry them to get their hands on our money? You being in a steady relationship with Mr Emrys, and Morgana being busier with establishing her own company to compete with mine than any kind of personal relationships has saved me from a lot of trouble and scandals.”
Arthur continued to stare at Uther like he was the one talking different language.
“If there is any possibility of you getting him back and continue your settling down with him, I would be very pleased. Call him or go visit. Take him to a nice restaurant; buy him flowers or chocolates or whatever you usually do to make up for it when you have done a mistake. Inform me when you have apologised to him, so I can invite you both to the next formal event that requires our presence. It’s about time for him to be introduced to our business acquaintances. Now, if you don’t mind I have work to do, as do you, so please stop wasting my time.”
“Yes, father,” Arthur said and left the room. Uther had not said it during their discussion, but he had been very interested in meeting this Emrys fellow for quite some time, and Arthur had better to make up with him. His son could be the most thick-headed person on this planet, but he was a generally good person and did deserve to be happy. As far as Uther had seen, this Emrys had made him happy. Uther went back to his work and hoped that his son would for once have enough common sense to swallow his pride and apologise.
”Your son is a major arse.”
Uther answered his phone and blinked. He hadn’t even had time to say his name or hello. That was how normal people usually started conversations, especially if they called from previously unknown number.
”Who is this?” Uther asked.
”This is Merlin Emrys. The one who dated your son for four years, and I just called you to inform that your son is an arse and I can’t believe I put up with him all that time. Is it only him or is it some Pendragon thing I wasn’t aware of?”
Ah. The infamous Mr Emrys who sounded more than a bit drunk. If this was the way Merlin had always communicated with Arthur, too, Uther suddenly understood the fascination his son held towards this man.
“I mean no disrespect, Mr Pendragon, but really, he had the nerve, the nerve, to call me today and ask me to come back to him. He leaves me for some shitty reason after four years and two weeks later asks me to come back like nothing happened. What an utter pillock.”
Uther felt like he should say something at this point.
“Are you drunk, Mr Emrys?”
“It’s Merlin. And not as drunk as I’d like to be. Some of us do have fixed working hours and an early morning tomorrow.”
Uther did not point out that he was answering the call from his office where he had arrived after seven that morning.
“What did Arthur tell you was the reason for your break-up?”
“He told me some rubbish about being expected to get married and have kids and continue the Pendragon line and who knows what else. I couldn’t really understand anything beyond him saying he’s leaving me. After four fucking years!”
Now Merlin for the first time during their discussion, if it could be called that, sounded actually hurt. Uther had never been good at comforting people, he expected that Arthur wasn’t either, but Uther felt that Merlin was the kind of person who always let his emotions show and expected others to be sincere with their feelings, too. Only pretending to be comforting would probably not go through very well.
“I mean, we could have talked about civil partnership and adoption and stuff if he wanted to. But instead he just told he was leaving and not coming back and broke my fucking heart. And now the arrogant bastard just expects us to get back together and play a happy couple again? Not going to happen.”
“Look, Mr Em...”
“Merlin, I’ve known that Arthur feels attraction towards both women and other men since he was fifteen, even when he never actually came out of the closet for me. And I certainly never had anything against the relationship between you two, because it lessened my worries of Arthur accidentally impregnating someone or some wench going after him for the money. I expect that I should have told this to Arthur before he... well.”
“Yeah well, that doesn’t make me feel any better. That just means your opinion, imaginary or otherwise, meant more to him than me.”
There was a pause, and then Merlin added with very small voice:
“I thought he loved me.”
There was really not much Uther could say to that, but he felt like he should have another talk with his son soon.
“Sorry for bothering you, Mr Pendragon. I just had to get to talk with someone who knows Arthur. My friends are supportive and all, but they just don’t get him. Neither do I at the moment, to be honest, but yeah. Sorry again.”
“It was no bother,” Uther said without thinking, because talking with Merlin had surely been a new experience but not necessarily an unpleasant one. As an afterthought he added: “You can call me Uther if you like.”
Uther could hear Merlin smiling.
“Thanks, Uther. And goodnight.”
Then there was only the beep announcing that Merlin had hung up, and Uther spent some minutes just staring at his phone, before he decided it was probably best to call it a day and go home to get some sleep.
Maybe he would also call Arthur to meet him the first thing tomorrow morning.
“Merlin called me yesterday.”
Arthur was sitting on the other side of Uther’s table. Uther was looking at the files on his table and not at his son.
“He called me and told you are an utter pillock and he’s not going to come back and play happy couple again that easily. What exactly did you say to him, Arthur?” Now Uther lifted his gaze to look at Arthur who was squirming on his chair.
“I... told him I made a mistake, and I’m sorry.”
“Did you grovel?”
“Did you grovel, crawl in front of him, beg at all? You definitely should have done some of that.”
“I thought you were all for proper Pendragon pride!” Arthur said and furrowed his brows.
“And I thought you have said before that you are above pride when you need to be. That boy was heartbroken when I talked with him. You had better to apologise and make sure you do it properly this time.”
“Since when have you cared about my relationships?”
“Since I found out you are dating Merlin.”
And ran a background check on him, Uther thought but did not say this part aloud.
“He seems an interesting person, and I can definitely see the appeal for you. I cannot wait for him to take part in formal dinners and accidentally pouring wine on someone’s shirt or complaining about having to wear a tuxedo or insulting every person in the board of directors. Make it happen, at whatever cost.”
Arthur’s eyebrows shot upwards comically.
“Arthur, I know you, and I know you miss him. I cannot stand your pining after him and pouting for long, so you had better to go and tell him you are sorry in no uncertain terms. Make sure you tell him how much you adore him and how you cannot live without him by your side. Search internet for Valentine’s Day card phrases if you need to.”
“Umm...” Arthur begun, but Uther shot him a pointed look. “Alright then, father.”
“Good. You are dismissed.”
“So Arthur came to where I’m currently staying and was literally on his knees asking me to come back to him.”
Uther sighed. Did Merlin actually ever start phone calls with a greeting?
“Hello, Merlin. Yes, that was the least I would have expected of him.”
“Arthur bloody Pendragon! Your prat of a son! On his knees!” Merlin said, and Uther could hear him trying not to laugh aloud.
“Did you forgive him?”
“No, I heard him out but slammed the door shut when he was done talking. I’m not ready to forgive him yet. Gwen agreed.”
Uther did not really even care who Gwen was. Right now the only thing that seemed to matter was that at least Merlin seemed to have right kind of pride. Somehow Uther believed being with Merlin would benefit his son very much and maybe even these little scenes of humbling himself in front of something important would do good for Arthur.
“You slammed the door on my son’s face? I wish I had been there to see that.”
“Yeah. He was actually begging . I don’t think I’ve heard him beg since... Oh, but you probably don’t want to hear about that. Sorry.”
Uther did not want to imagine the last time Arthur had been in a position where he had to beg. He very much approved of Arthur’s relationship with Merlin, but he really did not need the details. Then a thought dawned on him.
“Merlin, where are you currently staying? If I am not mistaken Arthur owns the flat you were living in together.”
“Umm, yeah. I’m living at my friends’ place. Lance and Gwen’s. They’ve been really wonderful, and I think Lance even let Arthur hear his mind at some point. And I tell you, if Lance gets angry, things get ugly. The man has the personality and temperament of an angel, and it takes a lot to make him angry.”
“Do you have all your possessions with you?”
“No, of course not. Most of my stuff is still at Arthur’s place. When I left I just took some clothes and personal things with me. Gwen suggested that she could go and pack my stuff, but I think I’ll let them be there for a while. It’s good for Arthur to be reminded of me.”
Uther smiled. Yes, it would probably be good for Arthur.
“Do you think I should take him back?” Merlin asked.
“I am Arthur’s father. Do you not think I might be biased to answer that question?”
“Not really, no. Arthur values your opinion and approval, so I don’t think you favour him just because it’s expected.”
Uther thought that this was probably true.
“I think my son made a mistake which hurt you, and I believe it does do him good for once having to go after something, or in this case, someone, he wants. It is your decision, and it depends on whether you still want to be with him or not.”
“Yeah. That’s...Yeah. I have to think about it. Thanks again.”
The call ended, and Uther tried to concentrate on his work and not think too much of this man he had never even met.
Arthur sent me flowers. Even if I date men doesn’t mean I’m an actual girl
Uther felt his phone vibrate during a meeting and had to cough softly to hide his sudden urge to laugh aloud. Apologising to someone really did not seem to be among Arthur’s strongest talents. True, Uther had been one to suggest the flowers, but he had expected Arthur to know his partner better than to send him gifts he did not appreciate. Uther typed his answer quickly and tried not to visibly grin.
Maybe you should demand something expensive you actually want as long as Arthur is in vulnerable state.
A moment passed before his phone vibrated again.
I thought you didn’t like the idea of people taking advantage of him and his money
This time Uther smiled and put his phone away for a while to concentrate on the meeting. When there was a short break and other people were filling their coffee cups, Uther sent a message back to Merlin.
I clearly underestimated how much a person must go through when in relationship with him. I give you permission to ask whatever you want before forgiving him. You should have some prize for your efforts.
Not long after that he received another one.
I really should. I’m a fucking saint for putting up with him. I’ll let you know how it goes
“Who are you sending all those messages to?” Olaf asked when he sat beside Uther, a fresh mug of coffee in his hand. Uther decided that maybe this time the truth would be best. In any case, it was his plan to show off Merlin at the business circles at some point when he was back together with Arthur, so Uther could already start advertising a bit.
“That was my hopefully soon-to-be son-in-law.”
“Oh? Morgana has a new boyfriend, does she?” Olaf asked interested. Uther only smiled.
“No, this is Arthur’s partner in life we are talking about. I think I’m also going to get more coffee before we continue. If you excuse me.”
Uther could only imagine the astounded expression on Olaf’s face. The situation was already giving him quite a bit of satisfaction; he could barely wait for his colleagues to actually meet Merlin.
“Arthur, come in. How are things with Merlin?” Uther said when his son appeared on the door of his office one afternoon.
“They are not.”
Uther just watched at Arthur who was hovering around the door and pushing his fingers through his hair again and again.
“I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried to call but he doesn’t answer. Maybe he has already wiped my number. I visited him, but he just slammed the door on my face. I sent him flowers, but he just commented that he’s not actually a girl. Oh God, he probably hates me.”
“Close the door and sit down, Arthur,” Uther said with more kindness in his voice than he had intended. Arthur closed the door.
“I miss him. I don’t know what to do,” Arthur said and sat down pushing his face against his palms.
Uther watched at him. He had little sympathy for any kind of weakness, but he was not completely heartless. Seeing his only son in such a state was not comfortable for him, even if he had spent numerous phone calls with Merlin just talking about how much of a prat Arthur could be.
“I carry his picture with me all the time. It’s a constant reminder of what we had and what I threw away. Do you want to see?” And without waiting for an answer, Arthur took his wallet out of his pocket and took out a picture. There was a dark-haired man sitting on grass in a park with Arthur. They were smiling and looking at each other mutual adoration and secrets only they knew in their eyes. Merlin was not conventionally handsome, but he had high cheekbones and blue eyes and overall pleasing features. He seemed to almost radiate with energy and good humour, and Uther could again see why Arthur was head over heels for this man. It was also good to have a face for the voice he nowadays heard over the phone almost daily.
“Maybe you should take the day off and go home to have some sleep.”
“But... I have work and...” Arthur said. His eyes were a bit puffy and red from either the lack of sleep or shedding tears not so long ago. Uther did not ask which the actual reason was.
“You are no use to the company in that state, and you have enough unused sick leave days to take one afternoon off. Go home, silence your phone, eat something and sleep. Then you can make more plans of how to woo Merlin.”
“I bought a ring.”
This time it was Uther’s turn to be surprised. Arthur was staring at the corner of the table and not meeting his eyes.
“If he ever wants me back, I’m going to ask him to marry me. I already have a ring.”
“I know, I know. I’m pathetic, am I not?”
“I never expected to be the one to tell you this, but maybe you should talk with him. Have a good heart to heart.”
“Yeah, maybe. I think I’ll take your advice and go home now. Thank you, father.”
“I miss him so much.”
Uther could not say he was surprised to hear Merlin’s voice at the other end of the line.
“I was going through the personal stuff I took with me when I moved out and found some photos and my diary from the time I met Arthur. God, he annoyed the hell out of me then! But now I haven’t talked with him for days, and I keep looking at the photos and reading the diary, and I miss him so much. I hope he would somehow magically appear here. I tried to call him before I called you, but I guess he doesn’t want to talk to me.”
Somehow, over his whole life, Uther had never expected to have to act as a relationship councillor, but apparently now both Arthur and his boyfriend valued his remarks on their relationship above all others. It was a new situation, and Uther was not sure if he really was the right person to even comment on Merlin’s rambling.
Then he had an idea. A sneaky idea and not at all honourable, but it might just do the trick.
“Do you still have the key to Arthur’s flat?”
“Yeah, I do. Why?”
“I think you should go and get some of your belongings from there if you are already in the mood of sorting them. Leave a note for him on the table while you are there and tell him you should talk.”
“But what if he’s there? If he hates me for breaking his privacy? If he has realised he’s happier without me?”
“Nonsense. It is three in the afternoon. When was the last time you remember Arthur being at home at this time on a workday?”
“Yeah. That’s true.”
There was a moment of silence, before Merlin spoke again.
“Maybe I will go there now, before he leaves work. Thanks again, Uther. Really.”
Uther could not help but smile when the phone clicked shut.
You tricked me
Uther’s phone vibrated late that evening. He had just arrived home and took out his phone, not surprised to see that the message was from Merlin. He chose the direct approach.
Did it work?
The next message was very reassuring.
Yeah, it did. Thanks. We talked and I’m moving back in with him :) Even if he’s still a pillock he’s my pillock
Uther smiled. He could feel Merlin’s happiness just through the few simple words. He had not much to say, and he was not a man who expressed many feelings with words. In the end, what he sent back was simply:
I’m going to be your son-in-law!
Uther received the message, once again, in the middle of a meeting and could only just stop himself from laughing aloud when he read it. It had been some weeks since Merlin had moved back in with Arthur. He typed an answer quickly.
Did he go down on one knee?
Yeah, he did actually. Two times on his knees in front of me in such a short time. Who would have known?
Congratulations to both of you.
The rest of the meeting Uther concentrated on the actual subject but could not help bragging about his son’s engagement a bit to his colleagues during the break. When he went back to the office, he ordered his secretary to go and reserve a table for three people the next evening in his favourite restaurant. It was probably more than time for him to actually meet Merlin Emrys in person and when there was such a cause for celebration, Uther would be foolish to refuse the opportunity.
“He said yes. We’re getting married.”
Arthur’s voice was so full of pure happiness when Uther answered the call that he smiled widely, even when Arthur’s news was not news for him anymore.
“I am very proud of you,” Uther said. It was a rare admission but in this situation, well deserved.
“Thank you, father. I just called to let you know. Better to start preparing for Merlin attending all the events from now on. He can be a real disaster if there’s no one looking after him.”
“Then it would be best that you looked after him,” Uther said pointedly, hoping his son would catch the double-meaning, but quickly changed the subject after that. “When is the ceremony?”
“We haven’t decided yet. Maybe this fall.”
“I want you both to come dine with me tomorrow evening to celebrate this.”
The father and the son spent some minutes talking and when Uther finally finished the call, he was actually very excited to see what would follow. He was also very happy for Arthur and Merlin. Everything was going to be fine in the end.
“Merlin! Do you have any idea how much this suit cost?”
“Sorry, Arthur. We’d better go and clean it up as much as we can,” Merlin apologised.
“If this doesn’t come off, I swear...”
Uther listened to the familiar bickering when the couple left the room and decided to have more champagne. Merlin had been just as entertaining party company as Uther had expected him to be. So far he had spoken his mind just a bit too loud of someone’s dress, insulted at least three people by rolling his eyes at something they had said, dropped cheesecake on a fitted carpet and been apparently extremely uncomfortable in his new suit if his squirming was to be believed. But apparently Merlin had also charmed half of the ladies in the room with his naturalness, his conversation skills that went beyond the usual topic of global economics and, surprisingly enough, dancing skills. Merlin was clumsy, that much was true, but on the dance floor he had some natural grace, and he had been one of the most desired dancing partners in the room all evening.
Somehow Arthur had not appreciated how popular his fiancé was becoming.
Uther emptied his glass and noticed that Arthur and Merlin still had not returned. He chose to search for them and, if needed, he could send someone to fetch a clean suit for Arthur.
When Uther found the men’s room, neither Arthur nor his partner was there.
Instead he heard some very disturbing noises from the room nearby. It included shuffling of clothes and someone scraping wood and unmistakable sounds of kissing. His suspicions were confirmed when he heard his son’s voice say:
“Oh God, do that again. Now, Merlin! Please!”
And after that Merlin’s soft laughter and:
“Patience, my love. I’m getting there.”
It appeared that having Merlin in the family was going to be surprising and entertaining in more than a few ways. Uther chuckled and went back to the ball-room, giving some privacy to the couple, secretly hoping that someone else would find them before they were quite finished.