corilannam: (Merlin - pendragon)
[personal profile] corilannam
Continued from Chapter 5

Cool autumn air wafted in the window. Merlin drifted into a dim awareness of the chill on his skin seconds before the alarm started beeping. He made a small, unhappy sound and refused to move from the comfy spot he had made for himself in the crook of Arthur's shoulder. Just one more minute.

Arthur stirred with an unhappy sound of his own and pulled the duvet back over them. "Stupid bloody alarm. Sod it."

"Keep telling you," Merlin mumbled. The new warmth made it even harder to contemplate rising. He hated Mondays. Every weekend spent with Arthur made each Monday more fundamentally loathsome than the last.

"Just stay. Gwaine will cook breakfast. I'll drop you at Avalon. No one will notice, just this once."

He was probably right. After spending the entire summer accepted as part of Arthur's social set, Arthur dropping him off would not seem so noteworthy anymore. The paps had finally given up on them in exasperation.

But if he broke the routine this once, let himself pretend that they were just a normal couple getting ready for work, he would do it again and again and again until even the least interested media outlet would be forced to report the obvious.

He no longer cared what people assumed about his sexuality. Arthur fit into Merlin's life like he had always been there, and Merlin felt perfectly at home at Arthur's side.

Arthur's side. He was not so sure about the King's.

Eyelids and every limb heavy with reluctance, Merlin pulled himself from Arthur's arms and crawled out from under the covers. Once he was on his feet, he bent to kiss Arthur's hair. "Coming for Monday night dinner?"

Arthur kept his eyes closed, but his mouth curved in a faint smile. "Has your mum forgiven me yet for stealing your Sundays?"

"She never minded and you know it." Merlin had never told his mother outright that he was seeing Arthur, but after more than three months, she must have had her suspicions.

"Wish I could come, but I have to head back to London this afternoon."

"So soon? But your flight to Sydney isn't until tomorrow morning."

"Dinner with the ambassador tonight to go over the itinerary. They're a little nervous."

"I suppose they would be, given--" Merlin winced. "Shit. Sorry."

"Remind me not to send you on the diplomatic missions. Ever."

Merlin pulled his clothes on as slowly as possible, conscious of Arthur's gaze on him from the bed and conscious that this was the last time they would spend any time together for nearly two weeks. "You'll call. Don't mind the time difference."

"As much as I can. My schedule will be pretty packed. You could still come along for the ride, you know. Go play with the koalas while I'm shaking hands and making speeches."

He looked over and smiled as he buttoned his shirt. "Never trust those fuzzy buggers. I hear they have sharp claws and piss on you when you try to give them a cuddle."

"Well, you've known Will for so long, I suppose I'll have to bow to your expertise."

"Ha bloody ha." Merlin stuck out his tongue and Arthur laughed.

"If you're going to leave that thing out, bring it over here."

Merlin complied. The snooze alarm interrupted them just in time to save Merlin's clothes from coming off again. Merlin pulled back with a sigh. "Got to go, or I'll miss my ride."

"Right. Go." Arthur turned his head to face the wall, looking like Merlin had just stolen his puppy.

Merlin sighed again. "What?"

"Nothing. I just don't like the idea of not seeing you for two weeks."

"You're the one leaving," Merlin pointed out. "You think I'm happy about it, either?"

"Then come with me. You have the time free. There's no reason not to."

Merlin stared at him, feeling helpless and panicked. In the past couple of weeks, this had started becoming more and more of a problem, every time Arthur had to go someplace where Merlin couldn't accompany him. "You know the reason."

"I'm not sure I do anymore." Arthur sat up and scowled at him.

"I can't just--"

"I swore I wouldn't push you before you were ready, but it's been months. How do you plan on having a relationship with me if we can't ever be seen alone together?" Arthur paused for a long moment, then looked away. "Or do you plan on having a relationship with me?"

"What?" Merlin stared at him, aghast. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, if nobody ever knows about us, no harm done when you get tired of me and--"

His words ended in a muffled groan as Merlin tackled him back down to the mattress and shut him up with his mouth. "Don't ever say anything like that again," Merlin muttered between kisses. "I love you."

"I know," Arthur muttered back, reluctantly, though he returned Merlin's kisses with fervour. "I'm sorry."

"Just... let me think about it while you're gone. All right?" He kissed Arthur's cheek and started to slide off the bed again.

"Yeah. All right. Love you."

"Be safe." He had to kiss Arthur one more time, just to make sure they were all right, before he grabbed his knapsack and holdall and headed downstairs.

"Ah, Merlin, just in time." Percival gave him a nod as he emerged from the side door. "I was about to leave without you."

"Sorry!" Merlin waved to the rest of Arthur's security detail. "Five in the morning is pretty brutal from this side. Morning, guys."

He got restrained nods from the day shift, and a cup of coffee from Elyan, who was going off duty along with Percival. "Still not coming down under with us, then, Merlin?"

"Wish I could." A twinge of regret made him look away as he headed to the car. Watching all the preparations for the trip had made him realize that he would never get to have a holiday with Arthur, not a proper one. "You lot keep him safe for me, yeah?"

They all sobered for a moment as the ghost of the old king, who had never come back from his last trip, loomed unspoken. "That's our job," Elyan answered.

Merlin nodded and threw his bags in the back before climbing in after. Percival and Elyan got in the front and Percival started the car.

"We're going to miss you, Merlin." Percival looked back with a grin as he eased the car down the driveway in near silence to avoid disturbing the still-sleeping neighbourhood.

"His Majesty the King has been in a remarkably contented mood for the last few months," Elyan said.

"Odd, considering the added burden of his new position," Percival added.

"I suppose the kingship agrees with him."

"I suppose it does."

Merlin rolled his eyes as soon as Elyan glanced in the rearview mirror. Arthur insisted that his protection officers were all humourless automatons, but that was because he never saw them off duty. It turned out Percival was an old friend of Lancelot's, which was how Lancelot's CV had come to Gwaine's attention. Elyan was soon to be Lancelot's brother-in-law. Both demonstrated a constant, fierce devotion to Arthur.

"So the only question that remains is: when are you going to make an honest man out of His Majesty Our Boss?" Percival grinned into the mirror again.

"When he makes it legal," Merlin retorted on autopilot. Out of self-defence, he had developed sarcastic stock answers for whenever he got these kinds of semi-teasing questions from Arthur's friends. Why they were in such a hurry to see him come out now, when they had protected Arthur's secrets for years, he had no idea.

"Aw, just get unionized. That's what my brother did. He's a modern King; screw the Church. Elyan, show him the article."

Elyan handed Merlin a folded newspaper, creased so precisely to the relevant article that they must have either just finished reading it or had been setting him up for this the whole time. "It's from this morning's paper. I expect His Majesty will probably read it on the trip back to the city."

Merlin started to read, but after a second decided to skip to the paragraph they had helpfully circled for him.

For company, The King brings only his half-sister, The Princess Royal, and uncle, Lord Agravaine, who are themselves rumoured to be linked in a non-genetic but perceptually incestuous relationship.

That would seem to take the pressure off His Majesty to reveal the partner of his choice to the nation, but he has given no indication that he means to do so. The salivating press has dubbed him "The Lonely King" even as they strive to link him with every male acquaintance seen more than once in his company. Since a brief flurry of excitement over a Welsh schoolteacher whom The King befriended during work on the Avalon School construction, no other hint of romance has emerged. In matters of the heart, it seems Arthur truly is a lonely King.

"I just hope His Majesty doesn't end up alone for the rest of his life like his father," Elyan murmured as though to himself, though he pitched it perfectly to reach Merlin's ears.

"Now there was a cranky old bugger." Percival gave a slow, and somehow not disrespectful nod. "God rest his soul."

Merlin opened his mouth to scoff. Of course Arthur was not alone. He had Merlin, body and heart. They were living the royal romance the public wanted to see, though Merlin felt no need to make a public performance out of it. Everything was fine.

But the words felt hollow and his voice refused to fill them. He sat back and said little more until they dropped him off near his house and drove off to wherever royal protection officers went when they were not protecting someone.

Arthur strode through the airport corridor that the police had cleared just for Arthur and his entourage. The emptiness felt strange; having an entourage again also felt strange after his months of casual work and play in Cardiff.

One lone newspaper stand remained open for Arthur's pleasure. The proprietor, an older gentleman, stood stiff-backed at the till.

"Good morning, Harold." Arthur picked up his usual selection of broadsheets, plus a couple of the tabloids because it was a long fucking flight to Sydney and he still wasn't used to being able to surf the internet on the plane.

"Good morning, Your Majesty." Harold did not move to ring up the newspapers Arthur had placed on the narrow counter next to the till; someone would reimburse him for his merchandise and trouble later.

"How is your son?" On impulse, Arthur added a packet of Minstrels to his purchases. Merlin had been eating them in bed yesterday. "Did he select a university at last?"

"Yes, sir." Harold shook open a bag and began to slide the papers inside. "East Anglia, sir. He started there last week."

"Excellent choice. Congratulations." Arthur started to walk on, trusting George to take the bag for him.

And wouldn't Merlin laugh at how quickly Arthur had reverted to that behaviour?

He turned back and pulled his wallet out of his pocket. Behind him, his security detail nearly collided with his private secretary as they tried to figure out what he was doing.

"Sorry, nearly forgot." He offered Harold a self-deprecating smile as he pulled out a twenty-pound note, making sure his father's portrait was face down as he held it out. "Will this cover it?"

For a moment they all stood there as Harold stared at the money. The back of Arthur's neck prickled – was it not enough to cover the bill? Was he really that out of touch with real life?

Then Harold nodded a stiff, reluctant nod and took the note. He rang everything up and then slowly, methodically counted out Arthur's change into his palm.

On the way to the plane, he texted Merlin. You'd be proud of how well I can fake normalcy.

By the time he reached the aeroplane steps, he had a response. I'm prouder when you're abnormal. But I love you either way.

He boarded the plane and came face to face with his uncle and sister with a beaming smile. Morgana looked startled, but Agravaine smiled back and rose to embrace him. "Arthur. I haven't seen you since the funeral. You're looking very well."

"You as well, Uncle." The munificence of his mood spilled over, and he gave his uncle a conspiratorial grin. "Love agrees with you, I see."

To his surprise, Agravaine actually blushed before giving Arthur a sly grin of his own. "And with you, perhaps? Or have none of the rumours held any truth?"

Before he could deny it, his hand tightened around his phone. Agravaine's gaze dropped to Arthur's fingers; he looked up and tapped the side of his nose, but thankfully did not press.

"So it's true, then?" Morgana had not bothered getting up to greet him, and stared at him now with a hard, but puzzled look. "I know it's not Gwaine or Leon, so which is it? That French architect? The Welsh school teacher?"

His ebullient mood soured at her demands. "Guess what, Morgana? I don't answer to you."

He expected her face to harden further, as it always did these days, but instead her lips tightened with a weird vulnerability. "I was only asking."

"I think we're past the point of sharing familial concerns, don't you? You gave up that right when you tried to disinherit me, when you rejected me as your brother, and when you attacked me the day we buried our father."

Agravaine cleared his throat and buckled himself back into his seat before hiding behind his newspaper. Arthur glared at the masthead of the Times and mouthed "coward" at him.

Morgana's lips quirked, another of those disconcerting echoes of their old accord. Arthur wavered, wondering whether to press, but then George cleared his throat from his seat across the aisle from where Arthur was supposed to be sitting. He realized that of course, the plane could not depart until he took his seat, and nobody would overtly ask him to do so.

He sat, across from Morgana, refusing to give any ground. As the jet engines revved into a roar, he leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes.

"I never wanted it to be this way between us." Her voice sounded small, so that he almost thought he had imagined the words.

"You were my sister until the day we found out who your father was." Arthur kept his eyes closed, but allowed himself a bitter smile. "Good thing we're British; we know how to do irony."

"He stole my father from me. He stole my mother from me. He stole my brother from me. How can you blame me for hating him?" Her words stung as they drifted over him.

He couldn't blame her, really. There were still days he hated Uther himself--hated him for his faults of compassion, for Morgana, for dying. He just didn't see why hating Uther meant she had to hate Arthur as well.

His fingers tightened around his phone, his connection to Merlin. But as the plane lifted into the sky and his phone became useless, the connection slipped away, leaving him empty and alone.

"Arthur's trip to Australia is so exciting, don't you think?" His mum set the bowl of greens on the table, halfway between Merlin and Will. "Though I'm sorry he had to miss dinner again."

"Yeah, I'm sure he's devastated, isn't he?" Will chewed on a bite of roast, but never took his eyes off Merlin.

"Australia is so beautiful. Is Arthur seeing any of the sights while he's there?" His mum took her seat at the head of the table and reached for her drink. "I read all the articles in the paper, but of course they don't say much about his free time."

"I think he's going to go cuddle some kangaroos." Merlin buttered a roll, drifting in and out of thoughts of Arthur and the last time he had called from Canberra. "No, wait, that's what he wanted me to do, if I came."

The sudden silence alerted him to his mistake. His mum put her fork down on the table with a creamy gob of salad still impaled on it. "He asked you to go with him?"

"Mum, watch the salad." Merlin gestured to her fork, under which salad cream had begun soaking into her table cloth.

She ignored it and him. "Merlin. Did he really ask you?"

He looked down at his own salad, feeling their eyes boring into the top of his ducked head. He wanted to tell them. He couldn't tell them. He needed to tell them. "Yeah. It's no big deal. He asks all his friends."

"Merlin." His mother shook her head, sounding lost for words, which she almost never was.

Will heaved a frustrated sigh and let his own fork clatter down onto his plate. "Bullshit."

"Will," Merlin hissed. Nobody swore in front of Merlin's mother--and he would really prefer Will to stop talking altogether right now.

"He doesn't invite his mates on official tours. That's ridiculous."

"Well, they don't go to the stuff on camera, do they? So how would you know? Besides, I never said he invited me anywhere."

"But he did, didn't he?" Will's jaw could have cut glass as it twitched. "Come on, Merlin. We've had Sunday dinners on Monday for months now because you spend every minute of the weekend shacked up with him. How stupid did you think I was?"

They had pleaded work and royal duties, and Merlin had counted on his mother's pleasure at having royalty at her dinner table to help gloss over the explanations. As he looked at her now, biting her lip and looking back at him with steady concern, he realized he had been the oblivious one after all.

"I know you're not stupid, either of you," he said quietly. "And I know I've been spending a lot of time with Arthur. But--"

His mouth snapped shut on the lie already forming in his brain. No. He couldn't do it. Not mentioning something, having a secret was one thing, but he couldn't lie to his family.

"But," he resumed, drawing a steadying breath, "there's something I need to tell you. I've been wanting to tell you for a while now."

"Should I go?" Will's voice stayed even as he spoke, but Merlin could see the hurt simmering in his eyes.

"No. I want to tell you both. You're my family." He paused again to delay the inevitable. Plenty of people already knew about his involvement with Arthur, but they were all Arthur's people. Why did it feel different to tell the two people in the world who'd loved him best and longest?

Will heaved another sigh. "Let me help you. I can understand why you'd find this difficult to admit, after all. You're fucking him."

"William!" Merlin's mum snapped her head around to glare at Will. "Don't be crude."

As Will mumbled an apology, Merlin slumped back in his chair. Well, there it was. His entire head lightened to the point of floating, buoyed by the long overdue honesty. He imagined it was a small fraction of the fear and relief Arthur had felt when he confessed to the entire Commonwealth at once – but Merlin was happy to start small and work his way up.

"Yes," he said and finally let them see the joy that always wanted to well out into his smile every time he thought about Arthur. "Sorry, I mean, but yes, we've been seeing each other for a while now."

Will crossed his arms over his chest. Merlin's mum put her hand on Will's arm as though to either comfort or restrain him, but she still had her lips pressed into a tight line as she turned back to Merlin.

His ebullience dimmed a little more with every moment that passed without them saying a word. "I really wanted to tell you," he tried again. "But I didn't want to jump the gun. It seemed easier to just keep it quiet until I was sure it's serious."

"Oh, great, so it's serious now. How can that even happen?"

"Will," Merlin's mum said quietly, patting Will's hand but not taking her eyes off Merlin. "Perhaps you should take a plate home. I need to speak with Merlin and it might take a while."

Will agreed too quickly. He didn't even bother with the plate, grabbing a drumstick off the chicken and avoiding Merlin's gaze as he kissed Merlin's mum on his way out the door. The weird silence resumed in his wake.

"I really thought you'd be over the moon," Merlin said when he couldn't stand it anymore. "Aren't you such the fan of royal romance?"

"But Merlin, that's not real life." She shifted her chair to sit closer to him and hooked her ankle around his the way they had done when he was small. "We watch it on television, but living it is something very, very different."

"He's been coming to dinner since May, Mum. How is that not real life?" Arthur had never seemed anything less than overwhelmingly real to him since the day they met. Peculiar as hell, sure, but Arthur's world had its own reality that never showed on the telly.

"I think Arthur is a lovely person. I've never had any doubts about the strength of your friendship." She put her hand over his, and the warmth of it suddenly made him feel like a small child again. "But no matter how down to earth he seems, he's not an ordinary man, and whoever becomes his partner will never have an ordinary life."

"I know." He had tried not to think about it. Arthur had kept his public and private lives separate for so long now that Merlin had let himself believe it could stay that way forever.

But he had also known from the beginning that it couldn't.

"Is that really what you want for your life?" his mother pressed. "To become part of an institution you've always disliked?"

"No," Merlin had to answer. "That's not what I ever would have wanted for myself."

Her smile turned thoughtful, drifting past him. "I've always known you were meant for extraordinary things, but I want you to be happy above anything else."

"I am happy with him. I love him." Something in his chest relaxed as he thought the words as he said them. "I wouldn't have chosen this situation, but I love him. Whatever he needs from me, I'll find a way to give it to him."

Her smiled warmed again and her hand tightened over his. "That's all I needed to hear."

"Do you think I could actually do it, Mum? If we did have to come out?" A hundred highly disturbing images flit through his inner vision: crowns and castles and silly waves. He had got used to Arthur's place at the centre of all that, but had a harder time picturing himself anywhere near it. "I'm not sure I'd make very good royalty. And no queen jokes, please."

"I'll leave those to Will, I think. I'm not worried about you, Merlin. I'm much more concerned that I have nothing to wear to a royal wedding."

He laughed as they finished dinner, though his stomach still tightened with all the ill-defined expectations he felt looming, but still couldn't figure out.

Arthur probably imagined the slight hesitance he heard in the steady chop of the rotor blades, a note of caution as the helicopter circled the crash site. Beside him, Morgana clenched her fists and ignored Agravaine's awkward pats of comfort as they finally landed.

No memorial yet marked the site where Arthur's father had lost his life, except for a large, long rock that had resided in that spot for thousands, if not millions of years before they had shown up. The heat from the crash had hastened the job of smoothing the surface, and on that surface the names of the dead had been engraved.

His father's name came first, underneath the stark date of the crash: a simple, unassuming Uther Pendragon. Arthur traced the letters, then brushed his fingers over the names of the helicopter pilot, his father's protection officers, and his private secretary of over thirty years. Silently, he thanked them for their service. Even inside his own head, it didn't sound like enough.

He touched Uther's name again and wondered if his father had known what was happening, if he'd had time to be scared.

The wash of tears behind his eyes startled him. He shoved his sunglasses harder into place and inhaled through the sudden congestion in his nose.

Thank God he had insisted on a private visit without so much as a camera phone within a hundred kilometres. He could feel himself falling apart more and more by the second, as the horrible reality of his father's death melted down his emotional walls into a suffocating slag heap in his chest.

Morgana looked as shaken as Arthur felt. She walked a few steps away and buried her face in Agravaine's neck.

Seeing Agravaine's arms encircle her, Arthur ached with need for Merlin. He made a sharp gesture that brought George to his side in an instant. "Someone must have a phone that can make calls out here," he told him. "Find it and get it to me."

With a mere nod, George vanished and Arthur fixed his gaze on an indeterminate spot on the horizon until George reappeared with a bulky satellite phone. "To whom should I place the call, sir?"

"No one. Just give it to me. Please."

Arthur took the phone and walked out as far as he could get away with before Percival and Elyan started to twitch. The line rang five times before Merlin's sleepy voice answered.

"Did I wake you? Shit, I can't believe I forgot the time difference."

"I told you to forget the time difference, didn't I? You sound strange."

"It's just this satellite phone," Arthur lied.

"You're out at the crash site, aren't you? You should have told me when you were going. I would have waited up. Are you all right?"

"No." Hearing Merlin's voice undid him the rest of the way. "I'm afraid I'm not all right."

Then he was crying in small, choked sobs, clinging to the soft sounds of comfort Merlin made over the crackling line. It helped, but it wasn't enough. He wanted Merlin: wanted Merlin's arms around him, to bury his face in the crook of his strong neck and let Merlin make him feel safe, understood, and loved.

Comfort hovered just out of his grasp, but anger burned through his grief like fierce sun through a fog. Uther's legacy still oppressed him--only Arthur was denied the right to have the one he loved by his side. "I really need you."

"God, Arthur, I wish I was there with you."

Arthur always wished Merlin was with him. He always wanted more from Merlin than Merlin was ready to give. Most days he could deal with that and feel it a price worth paying for everything else they had together--but today, he had no patience left, no fortitude, nothing but need and grief for what he couldn't have.

"You could have been," Arthur said and hung up.

Merlin stared at the phone in his hand for a long time after Arthur disconnected from half a world away. Lying down to sleep again seemed like an absurd fantasy; not like he didn't wake up reaching for Arthur in the empty bed anyway.

He supposed that should have told him something in the first place. His relationship with Arthur was no schoolboy fantasy, even if he'd been inclined to pine after handsome princes as a schoolboy. They had a tangible reality together that had already begun shaping both their lives around it.

Only he had never wanted to admit what a real relationship would eventually require--that Merlin would have to bend his life to fit Arthur's with everything that meant. Arthur was the King. He would never live a normal life. The fucking national anthem was about him. That fact could never be changed or escaped.

And Arthur needed a partner who wasn't afraid or ashamed to stand by his side. He deserved that. Everyone expected him to find a worthy partner, someone glamourous, a rich aristocrat or movie star, someone willing to out himself for the sake of loving a King.

As for Merlin, he had envisioned a future with Freya, or at least someone very like her, who accepted his bisexuality with security and appreciation. He could have kept his queer identity a private matter forever, safe in the outward appearance of heterosexuality.

"God, what bullshit," he muttered into the darkness.

Arthur could have lived that same kind of half-life with Mithian by his side, but he had chosen to be himself at any cost. Merlin knew that the slurs, both veiled and brutally blunt, from certain factions of the press, the government, the Church, the Commonwealth, the common people, all cut Arthur and left myriad tiny scars. The guilt that lingered from the shade of King Uther's dictates burned like salt in the wounds.

Merlin considered calling Will, but what the hell could he say? Remember when I mentioned I was dating the King? I know you're still kind of angry at me for that, but what do you think I should do about this row we had? Should we break up?

He stuck his pillow over his face and groaned into it. Will would punch him. And Merlin would deserve it, because he already knew the answers to all of his questions.

It was time to stop pretending they could go on like this forever. Merlin couldn't be a boyfriend to Arthur from the shadows. He either had to step up, or let Arthur go.

"Was that your boyfriend?" Morgana asked out of nowhere somewhere over Dubai.

Arthur looked up from his magazine and stared at her stupidly for a moment. "What?"

"On the phone. When you were crying." She had been staring at him like this, quizzical and hungry, ever since that day at the crash site. "Were you talking to your boyfriend?"

Agravaine looked from his nephew to his fiancee, and then got up with no attempt at subtlety. "I think I'll go see if the Captain will show me how the radar works. Er, again."

Morgana did not acknowledge his departure. Arthur's incomprehension rapidly gave way to the usual mix of anger and sadness he felt around his sister. "Do you really think you have any right to ask me those sorts of questions anymore?"

"Yes." Her eyes burned onto his face, but he saw the slight ripple in her throat as she swallowed. "I need to know who he is."

"His name is Merlin." He hadn't planned to say it, but the moment he did, he felt a rush of mingled relief and fear.

"The school teacher."

"Yes. Our liaison from Avalon Primary. You know damn well who he is. And before you start judging me, I'm not actually his boss. I can't even fire him, more's the pity."

She nodded slowly and then broke eye contact to look out the window. "Why all the secrecy, then? I thought you meant to be out and proud."

"I am, but Merlin's not. I can't push him. It's too much to ask, given who I am." He had to bite his lip to slow his babbling. He had never talked about this with anyone, not even Gwaine, but he needed to, and the memories of their old confidences returned too easily.

"But you love him."

"Yes." That he couldn't deny. Let her use it against him if she dared.

"And you're waiting for him."

He paused just a breath before answering. "Yes. Though we've had a bit of a row. I don't know that I've anything to wait for now."

She broke into a bizarre giggle. "Jesus, Arthur. You sound almost like a real person, albeit a bit of a drama queen."

"He's off limits, Morgana."

Her eyebrows lifted. "I can't meet my future brother in law?"

"I mean it. If you even think about outing him or harassing him or looking at him funny, I'll strip you of everything you have that I have the power to take from you." He scanned a mental list of Morgana's titles, holdings, and privileges. "And that is actually everything you have."

He braced himself for the inevitable lash out. She disconcerted him again when she gave him a wondering look. "You really do love him, don't you?"

"Yes," he answered again, and then threw his hands up when she suddenly began to cry. "Oh, for fuck's sake. I give up. Take the crown, take the country, because I can't even figure you out."

Morgana started to giggle again and he found himself mesmerized by her eyes, glittering with tears and mirth. He hadn't seen her so open to him in years.

On impulse, he unbuckled his seatbelt and held out his arms to her. He said nothing, having had enough conversation about his feelings for one day, but he kept his arms out as he watched her weigh him and struggle within herself.

Then she was in his arms, half in his lap, pressed to him in an embrace as exhilarating as it was awkward. He breathed in the old, familiar scent of her hair and didn't dare say a word.

She stilled against his shoulder as though she was just as afraid of speaking. "I thought you were just like him," she said at last. "Cold and smug and incapable of love."

He had never thought of their father that way. In truth, he had never been sure if Uther really loved him, but surely he could have if Arthur had been just a little better, a little more normal, the way a prince was supposed to be. Either way, he wasn't ready to discuss that with anyone but Merlin.

"I loved him and I love you," he said.

"I want to believe you. I want to believe that if you can be so devoted to some common boy, you might even be able to still love me."

"Well, I can give it a try, if you'll stop being a cow. Do you really want the throne that badly?"

"No. I just didn't want you to have it." She was quiet for a moment. "I just didn't want him to have it."

"He's gone. Nothing you do can do anything to him anymore. That's what I realized; why I did what I did. Why should we waste our lives trying to hurt or please him when he'll never even know?"

"Perhaps. It was more satisfying before I started to suspect that you might be a good King despite your parentage."

"Now you really do sound like Merlin."

"I knew he must be the reason you suddenly seem a more attractive prospect."

He tugged at her hair, like he had when they were children, though not as hard. "Admittedly, putting up with Merlin is proof of a very noble disposition."

"I hope he leaves you for someone much better."

Her tone had no venom, but the words still sent a chill up his back. He had been trying not to think about it, but he worried that Merlin was about to do exactly that.

Chapter 7
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corilannam: (Default)
Cori Lannam

October 2017


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