It's Okay to Not Be Okay
She hadn't called any of them since. No calls, no messages, no visits. Merlin had been avoiding the Pendragon family as if they had the plague. Even at school, as Morgana had complained to him many a time since Merlin had started to avoid them, she would avoid Morgana and Arthur and seemingly disappear whenever they were in distance.
Merlin had gone from being a constant in his family's life, in his life, to being nonexistent.
Uther, in return, had withdrawn back to the person he used to be. Indifferent and working more than ever. Unsocial. Easily irritable at times. Reserved and quiet. Alone and Lonely. Blank.
He spent late hours at his office, like he had before she came into his life. He spent long trances in his dark bedroom, staring at his late wife's picture and then having fitful sleeps when he wasn't awake. He'd always spent time with his kids before, trying to be a good father in the absence of their mothers, and had set aside at least family time on Sunday…but when Merlin came, he found he'd been more motivated to spend more time with his family and try even harder to be there for them, and not drown himself in his work. Now he'd gone back to before, and maybe even a little worse.
When his wife had died, every day he kept going on he felt like he was dying just a bit more. And then Merlin came along and she was like Ingraine and he saw a little bit of himself in her…and it was like someone had taken both of their genes and created this girl so eerily an almost perfect combination between him and his wife. And things were better.
He hadn't felt like killing himself any more (for despite what he'd said to Merlin that night, he'd had suicidal thoughts before, just not then). He tried harder to pull himself out of his perpetual slump, the never-ending depression he was stuck in, and this dispassionate haze he could never clear up before Merlin came along.
And now she was gone and he felt like crawling down a dark hole and never resurfacing ever again.
That was why he was in front of her home, on a Sunday afternoon he usually reserved for his kids, and staring miserably at her door.
If he remembered clearly, Gaius had said his sister had gone out to a weekend conference in Dallas, concerning a medical discovery (on Gaius' behalf). So Merlin was all alone and he wouldn't have to suffer the embarrassment and awkwardness of confronting Merlin about this in front of Hunith, particularly if he had started to embarrassingly bawl or worse –break down in front of Merlin completely.
Bracing himself, he knocked on the door and it was opened to reveal a surprised Merlin. She looked like she just woke up, which wasn't too surprising considering it was Sunday and a day most people liked to sleep in on. She wore a long tank top that said 'Tired? Depressed? Angry?' and had an image of a pill at the hem that said 'Fukitol -1000mg', that he couldn't help smiling at, and short cotton shorts. She was also wearing the fluffy bunny slippers Morgana had teasingly bought her last year.
"Uther? What are you –"
"May I come in?" Still, he was happy that she was increasingly getting better at saying just his first name.
She nodded and let him in and he awkwardly walked in, glancing around the modest home. Despite a long time knowing Gaius, and even Hunith, he'd never been here before. It was very homey and comfortable, and he immediately felt relaxed, especially with little reminders of Merlin everywhere he glanced at.
He cut her off again, looking at her pleadingly.
"Don't cut off the rest of the family. Don't…don't stop talking to me, please."
Merlin blinked at him, caught off guard by his impassioned plea. He scratched the back of his head in embarrassment.
"I understand your anger at Arthur," he started quietly. "He is my son and I love him dearly, but I know what he did was a…jerky move," he awkwardly phrased it. "And I'm not here to plead on his behalf. He needs to own up to his mistake and make it up to you himself. I just…don't shut out Morgana or myself at least. We-we miss you. We need you…I need you," he hesitantly admitted.
God, that was probably creepy. He was old enough to be her father and was the father of her two best friends her age, and the way that could be interpreted as…But he couldn't help it or even understand where all these strong feelings for her were coming from or why he had them.
Bitterly, he mockingly thought a past life of his must have known Merlin from somewhere and was as close to her as he wanted to be.
Then again, maybe he had been her father in a past life.
"Mr. P –Uther," she stared at him in surprise, rather shocked. But she smiled grimly and reached out to gently touch his arm. Her other hand reached up towards his face, fingertips brushing tears he hadn't noticed from his eyes.
He blinked rapidly, trying to get rid of them and mask having had them at all, and then he wiped a hand down his face to get rid of the tear tracks as well.
"Ingraine is gone. I don't know what to do after her. My children don't need me. They're fine by themselves. I just don't know what to do with myself," he told her in frustration.
"Live your life," she said softly. "Be happy."
"Then come back," he asked her miserably.
She nodded reassuringly. "Okay. I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd feel like this. I hadn't meant to hurt you all. Come here," she pulled him into a hug and ignored his shaking body and the quiet sniffling that was muffled against her, or even the wetness she felt against the side of her face and on her shoulder.
When he pulled back, he gave her a small smile and then started rummaging around his pocket, taking out a small bottle.
"Do you have some water? I missed taking these in my rush to get over here," he asked tentatively.
"Yeah, yeah," she went to get him a glass. "I'm sorry. I should've offered in the beginning."
"No, we kind of got sidetracked –I kind of just blurted everything out first," he brushed off her apology.
"If you don't mind me asking, what are those for?" she got a glass and filled it up with water.
"They're…they're my antidepressants," he muttered, trying not to look at her.
She paused and glanced at him, before finishing up and heading over to him, handing him the water without another word. He took two pills out and swallowed it down, drinking water after.
"My, uh, psychiatrist tells me that these should be a better fit for me than Zoloft," he weakly joked.
She sat down at a seat at the island counter, biting her lip as she reached over it and took the medications from him, reading the label 'Celexa'.
"You don't need 'em," she smiled feebly at him. "You got me, right?"
Uther laughed, making her relax. "Yeah, I do. Only, I don't suppose I can tell my psychiatrist that, can I? Actually, I hope you don't mind –I haven't really spoken to my psychiatrist about you. It would be…it would look weird…It wouldn't look right, us. I mean, she would probably think it…strange," he ended up slightly upset.
She understood where he was getting at and nodded sadly.
"I know. Anyway, forget that. Tell me what's been going," she gestured for him to sit across from her at the island.
He sat down slowly, thinking about everything, and then they talked for a long while about what went on in each of their lives while she'd been avoiding him and his family.
"Merlin, what…what happened that night Arthur didn't show up?" he asked tentatively, but he was more worried about what she had to go through and wondering about the next day and her strange request of him.
She fidgeted uncomfortably before divulging in him her rather rebellious night, and that she'd slept over some unknown man's (the same man she'd gone gallivanting with the night before) home and spent the entire day with him. He stared at her incredulously before standing up abruptly.
"Merlin! How could you?! That was so irresponsible and you could've been really hurt! What if he'd been a-a-a killer? Or a rapist! You –"
"I wasn't and he isn't!" she interrupted angrily. "Look, you aren't my dad –"
He cringed and she backed down, seeing him deflate as he sat back down.
"No –no, I didn't mean that," she inwardly winced.
"No, you did. And you're right. I'm not. I don't have a right lecturing you," he mumbled.
She sighed. "I didn't mean it, I swear. And you were just being worried for me, I get it and I appreciate it a lot. Uther, my dad's an asshole. He left me and Mom a long time ago, before I was even born. As far as I'm concerned, I only know one person as a dad, and the only one qualified is standing right in front of me. That I do mean."
Uther gave her a shy smile that she gazed fondly at.
"I just…I just worry. And I don't want to see you hurt. And despite everything, I still wish you'd get together with my son and really be part of my family," he told her honestly. "I'm sorry Arthur did what he did. I wish he hadn't. Lord knows, I want more than anything for that night to be taken back and I could've done something to have been able to make that night magical for you. I just want that fairytale ending and we were all happy and together," he confessed his embarrassing and rather sappy desire.
To his surprise, Merlin blinked back tears and put her head in her hand, glancing away from him in pain before jerkily and upsettingly facing him. Her lips trembled as she tried to find the words she wanted to say, and she gazed at him soulfully.
"Uther, I love your family. I do. And no matter what, I will always count you all as part of my family and that I'm part of yours. But Arthur really hurt me. I have loved your son, even if I didn't know it, from the moment I met him in 4th grade. He was my fairytale prince. Even when he became a prat, I wanted to be with him –even if I didn't trust being with him. I can't –I can't do it. I can't be with him, not now. It just really hurts, Uther. I feel like breaking inside sometimes, because my ideal of him has finally completely shattered and I don't want to be hurt like that again.
"It's not okay, Uther. I'm not okay. And even though, even now I still feel a lot for him, I can't be with Arthur. I like Tristan. I really like him and he makes me feel good. He makes me feel wanted and cared for and even loved. He's sweet to me. He's kind and he's considerate of what I feel, of what I want, of what I need. Arthur isn't want I need right now, but I think Tristan is. Please let me have Tristan just for now. Let me have him," she practically started pleading with him.
Uther looked pained at that, but nodded reluctantly.
"Okay. But if he hurts you, I'll make him pay. And I'll work on Arthur," he promised. "Just…tell me his last name."
"Why? You going to get a background check on him?" she slightly joked, though she knew he was probably seriously considering it then.
"Maybe," he smiled halfheartedly.
"De Bois, I think it was," she told him then and watched as the water he'd sipped at to calm himself was choked on. She worriedly went to his side and rubbed his back, while he tried to get himself back to normal.
"Tristan de Bois?" he asked faintly.
"Yes, why?" she became wary.
Uther rubbed his neck unsurely. "Merlin…that's…that's my brother-in-law. Tristan's Ingraine's brother."
Her mouth opened up in an 'o'.
"Well, that's unexpected."
Uther chuckled disbelievingly. "Yeah, 26 year old dark haired, blue-eyed business man?" At her nod, he continued. "Yeah, that's him."
"…Oh. I see," she leaned heavily against him, slightly dazed at the new information. He wrapped an arm around her waist to help support her and keep her steady. "Then…could I ask…how is he? I mean, what kind of man is he? Is he…is he really that sweet, is there something I should know?"
And despite wanting to scream that Tristan de Bois was a horrible man, he was a cheat, a liar, anything to discredit him and keep Merlin wary and away –he couldn't lie to her, not when he was just wanting to protect her and didn't trust anyone else with her, and he'd desperately hoped it would've been his son that had gotten the chance to be with her.
"Tristan is…he's a good man. He's honorable, cares greatly for his loved ones, and wouldn't hurt anyone or anything if he could help it. He's honest and he's a stubborn fellow at times –he was a bit of a womanizer," he revealed and watched her face become crestfallen. "Having a different girl every other day…but he doesn't seem to have a string of girls to hang on his arm this past two weeks. Hadn't actually, since…since the night Arthur stood you up and the two of you apparently met. I guess you…you make him faithful."
He could see her smiling happily at the island countertop, and despite wishing someone else was making her happy, he really was glad to see her like that.
"I guess I do," she murmured. "I hope I do."
He squeezed her tightly before letting his arm fall to his side.
"So, uh, I have to head back. I kind of sneaked out of family time over at the mansion to come see you. We were marathoning Bond today –I left with the promise to bring back more ice-cream we've been pigging out on all day," he looked at her and asked with his eyes, 'Do you want to come?'
'Will Arthur be there?' she steadily looked back.
He got his answer without it being expressed, though he really wished she would come over that day and just hang out, like before.
"This Friday, do you want to sleep over? Morgana will love it and be extremely happy. She misses you. As have I," he shifted nervously.
"Will Arthur be there?" she asked aloud this time.
"No, he'll be staying over at Leon's then," Uther hurried to reassure her. Well…he would just have to find a way to get Arthur to decide he'd sleep over Leon's before then. "So?"
"Yeah, that would be nice."
He was practically beaming at her when she said that. Standing up, he leaned over and tenderly kissed her forehead. He did make a note that he would have to schedule a time to have a little talk with Tristan though...
"You told me to be happy –you too, okay?"
She nodded and led him out of the door. He turned at her doorstep, giving her a happy smile, and then reluctantly walked to his car and away from her. From there, he got the ice-cream and hurried home, putting two cartons into the freezer and then tossing Arthur and Morgana their refills. He took his French Vanilla and dug in, eating in silent comfort as he watched Pierce Brosnan avoid the laser beam aimed at his head.
He took a glance around the room and noticed again, the space between them all. Morgana sat in her recliner, avidly watching the movie but pointedly ignoring Arthur and keeping a distance between them. Arthur was less into the movie, but still watching as he watched with a tense body and a sulky look on his face. Even Uther himself had sat away from them.
It wasn't an unusual thing, for all of them to be sitting away from each other. But now the awkwardness was now accompanied by intense hostility, made more obvious by the wide berth around Arthur. But Arthur had earned it and no one had any heart or motivation to patch things up.
He had grounded Arthur. Indefinitely. He'd also taken away Arthur's cell phone and replaced it with a company phone that had nothing in it but contacts. No TV, no hanging out with friends (but strictly kept to studying diligently in his room), no parties, no driving anywhere but to and from school (unless given permission from him), no computer unless for school (and would be monitored by Uther), and just nothing at all.
He'd, unable to help himself, also grown increasingly irritated and agitated with Arthur when it became clear Merlin was avoiding them. The longer she did, every day that she had, he couldn't help but become increasingly aggravated and hostile towards his son, and would easily snap at him.
But even though Arthur was genuinely repentant and upset at what he'd done and that he'd ruined his chance with Merlin, he didn't understand Merlin's avoidance or his family's decidedly hostile feelings and behavior. He didn't get that there were consequences to actions, and that he had to take responsibility for himself.
Uther had not taken his son to task (part of him had hope Arthur would figure things out for himself) apart from the grounding and taking away of things, or given him the lecture he'd been itching to give. Instead, Uther had been giving his son the silent treatment and the occasional glare. However, in a few moments he would be ending up getting to do his long-awaited lecture that would probably escalate into him becoming extremely angry and upset.
"Could you guys cut it out? You're being childish!" Arthur snarled out, standing up and angrily turning off the television in the middle of the scene where Halle Berry was having a standoff with the double agent.
"We're being childish?" Morgana screamed, getting up as well.
"What did you just say?" Uther's quiet voice cut through and both teens turned to stare at him. He was still sitting down and was looking at Arthur with a blank face. Morgana sat back down and quietly kept still, not wanting to interrupt. She kept the urge to berate Arthur herself, knowing Uther would soon be doing that and much better than she ever could. But though she forced herself not to participate, she definitely wasn't going to leave and miss this.
"You don't have the right to speak!" Uther snapped, glaring dangerously at his son. "You don't even understand what you've done and what has become of it."
"I know!" Arthur yelled back in frustration. "I get it! I hurt Merlin and I was a total jerk! But she'll get over it! She'll understand –I was being stupid like usual, and made a mistake. It was just a stupid, dumb mistake. I'll make it up to her and everything'll be fine!"
"You don't get it!" Uther hissed, becoming even angrier with the ignorant words his son just spouted off. "When you hurt someone, it doesn't just get brushed off! She won't just 'get over it'! There's no 'understanding' about it! When you make mistakes, sometimes those mistakes can't be taken back and they can't be forgiven! Mistakes happen, but that doesn't mean that there won't be a fallout! You don't get a pass for being stupid, for being a jerk! There are no excuses for such behavior! You don't get to be a jerk, for doing stupid shit and expect things to be okay and not have consequences.
"I didn't raise my son to be an idiot ignoramus! I didn't raise you to be some spoiled, moronic imbecile who thinks it's okay to hurt someone they care about! You were taught to cherish the ones you love! Especially…especially since after your mother," Uther's voice broke and he had to look away from his son for a moment. "Things aren't okay, Arthur. Merlin hates you."
Arthur's face paled, but it was Morgana who spoke up.
"You spoke to her? When?''
"Earlier. Before I picked up the ice-cream," Uther revealed, voice deadened.
"She…she hates me?" Arthur asked in disbelief.
"Don't talk to her. Don't come near her," Uther warned his son, narrowing his eyes at him.
And then he turned sharply on his heel and strode away, going into his home office and slamming the door behind him. Morgana quietly got up from her seat, gathered Uther's left behind carton and spoon as well as her own, and traveled to the kitchen where she put away the cartons and then washed the spoons.
"Huh. Didn't know Uther could curse," was all she could manage to say.
When Uther had left, Merlin had closed the door behind him in complete exhaustion. She'd rested her forehead against the door and closed her eyes, taking deep breaths to steady herself and calm down. Still a little upset, she grabbed her phone and dialed Tristan's number, trying to ignore the fact that –in the little time she'd known him –she had quickly put his number at speed dial two and her favorites, just right behind Uther.
"Hey –so I don't want to come off as clingy or some kind of needy type of girlfriend or anything…but I really need you right now," her voice grew hoarse with unwanted tears she tried not to spill. "Please?"
"Merlin? I'm on my way. Where are you?" he immediately answered her.
She told him her address and she hung up, sliding against the door to sit against it in a slump on the floor. Thirty minutes later, her doorbell rung and she lethargically stood up, seeing him through the peephole and opening the door to him after.
"That was fast," she smiled weakly at him.
"I rushed. Probably broke speeding laws and ran a few red lights, but it wouldn't matter to me anyway. Are you okay? What's wrong?" he asked her, more worried about how upset she looked and why she'd called him so urgently.
She brought him in and closed the door, burrowing herself immediately into his arms after. Instead of pushing for answers, he held her closer and murmured soft assurances into her ear, trying to comfort her, even if he wasn't sure why or what she needed comfort for.
She then brought him to the couch after she'd calmed down some, and blurted out everything about the night he'd met her. How she was finally having a date with a boy she'd really liked, and had for the longest time, only to be bitterly disappointed. And she told him how she'd been avoiding him and his family, how the boy's father and strangely her closest friend had come to visit her and pleaded her not to distance herself. She spoke about her feelings about everything, even about how she'd felt for that boy, though she was sure Tristan wouldn't have wanted to hear about her feelings for another guy.
"I don't get it. Is there something wrong with me? Am I not pretty? Am I too boring? Am I –" she just started rambling in tears, when he put a finger to her lips and stopped her.
"You're perfect the way you are," he said seriously. "I can't see you as boring, having spent time with you and just feeling alive every moment of every day I'm graciously allowed to spend by your side. You're beautiful. I'm so glad that he never showed up that night, because he missed out and I was able to get to know such a wonderful girl. He wasn't there, and instead I was. I know you still have feelings for him, but…I make you happy, don't I?"
She gave a half smile, feeling very grateful for him.
"Yes. Yes, you do."
"Then so long as I make you happy, you have me to be there instead," he promised her. "And even when I don't, I'll probably be like a parasite and hang on to you, sobbing like a baby," he grinned lightly. "And handcuff myself to your car or something, while I'm at it."
She laughed through her tears and smiled at him thankfully.
"I just…I just want someone to tell me it's okay to not be. Okay, that is," she looked at him, knowing she probably looked pathetic.
"And it is okay," he told her sincerely. "You don't have to be. And I'll be there for you when you are…and when you aren't."
Then he kissed her and she felt like all her worries, doubts, and fears just simply melted away.
Dream Arthur wasn't real. Real Arthur wasn't a prince. But she had Tristan.
And he was as close to a knight in shining armor in real life.
Merlin was more than okay and happy with him.