corilannam: (Merlin - pendragon)
[personal profile] corilannam
Continued from Chapter 6

The chill remained through the rest of the flight and the interminable drive back to Clarence House. He didn't even want to go back, but there were always debriefings and documents and a million tiny duties to fulfill before he could go back to what he had started to think of as his real life.

Assuming he could go back. He had heard nothing from Merlin since Arthur had snapped and hung up on him. And Arthur kept finding excuses not to call back, pride and righteous indignation covering for his nerves.

Merlin had chosen not to be there for him. He could take the first step back.

Unless he had decided to walk away.

Arthur checked his phone again. Maybe his voicemail just wasn't getting through yet after the international trip.

"This way, sir," George said, taking over again now that they were back in his natural habitat. "The Prime Minister--"

"I'm not sure I'm in the mood for the Prime Minister." Arthur let George usher him into one of the smaller drawing rooms where the stacks of informational briefs usually waited to bombard him with everything that had happened in the Commonwealth while he had been occupied elsewhere. At least he could catch up with his reading while whatever lackey the Prime Minister had sent nattered on.

"Nonetheless, sir, I'm afraid you must--"

"It's not your job to tell me what I must do or not do," Arthur growled, though that was often exactly what George's job was.

"So that's how you talk to the servants when you think no one's around?"

Arthur jumped and spun around to see Merlin standing in the corner of the room, shifting awkwardly next to the chair Arthur favoured. "Merlin?"

Merlin offered a hesitant smile. "Hi."

Arthur opened his mouth, then just shook his head. "How on Earth did you get here?"

"The train. They run regularly, you know, for those of us without Jaguars."

Joking was usually a good sign with Merlin. "No, I mean, how did you get in? And if you tell me you paid for a tour, so help me--"

"Gwaine got me in. I told him I really needed to talk to you in person, as soon as you got back."

"Oh." Arthur deflated a little. That did not sound so promising. "Well, I'm glad. I really wanted to see you, too."

Merlin's brow creased and his mouth tightened. "All right, but could you let me talk first?"

"All right." Arthur set his upper lip to stiff. His relationship experience consisted mostly of the last few months with Merlin, but he knew as well as anyone that a serious talk out of the blue rarely ended in smiles.

It might be for the best, if they ended this impossible thing between them now before it got public and any messier in Arthur's heart. Parting as friends--he could live with that, if he must. Perhaps.

Merlin looked at a point just past Arthur's head. Great, he couldn't even meet Arthur's eyes. Even friendship seemed less likely as the seconds ticked past.

Finally, Merlin cleared his throat in an awkward cough. "Excuse me," he said, "but do you think you could give us a few minutes?"

Arthur had completely forgotten George still lurked behind his shoulder. Great, two weeks away, and he had already assimilated his entourage. If there had been any chance Merlin wasn't about to break up with him, that probably drove in the final nail.

"Sir--" George began, and Arthur sensed something about the Prime Minister coming.

"Oh my God, would you just get out?" Merlin shouted, waving his hands in the air like he was shooing away a swarm of gnats.

"Sir," George yelped, and Arthur had a feeling he wasn't the one being addressed this time as George skittered out the door like the floor was burning his feet.

"Huh," Merlin said as though realizing his own power.

And with that, Arthur felt himself sink another two notches deeper in love with him.

"All right," he said, heavy with resignation. "Just do it fast, would you?"

Merlin looked at him with confusion and a little annoyance, but shook his head and held up a hand. "Just give me a chance, yeah? I'm not exactly great at talking about my feelings."

Arthur couldn't help but laugh; some days Merlin didn't do anything else. "Merlin, I just spent three hours of flight time with my sister weeping into my collar and telling me she loves me. After that emotional insanity, there's nothing you can say that's going to surprise me."

"You patched things up with Morgana?" Merlin's face lit up. "Arthur, that's amazing. What happened?"

Merlin had happened, but Arthur wasn't about to give that up right now. "Never mind what happened. For God's sake, Merlin, what are you here to say?"

His mouth twisted; Merlin still wouldn't look at him directly. "Right. So I thought a lot about what you said. You're right, and to be honest, I've always known it would come to that. You deserve someone who can be there for you in every part of your life."

If that someone wasn't Merlin, Arthur wasn't sure it would matter. "Or I could just keep you."

Merlin shook his head. "Don't do that, Arthur. Don't settle for just what you think you can have. You're going to be an amazing King. You should have someone amazing at your side, someone who appreciates how extraordinary you are."

Arthur shook his head harder than Merlin had, as if to overrule him. "Stop it, Merlin. I was having a bad moment. I never meant--"

"It's really lucky for you that I'm an amazing person, and no one could appreciate your handful of good qualities more fully than I do." Merlin stepped forward, finally meeting Arthur's stunned gaze. "That's why I'm asking you out."

"You--" Arthur tried to breathe in while trying to get words out, and the result was a strangled wheeze. "You're asking me out."

Merlin nodded, very solemn. "On a date."

Arthur returned his nod, slowly, until he felt like a mechanical toy. Right. A date. He could work with that. "We can be discreet. There's a private little--"

"I got tickets to the premiere of the new Green Knight movie."

"Premiere?" Arthur sputtered.

"Yes. You know, with the red carpet and the cameras and people waving. I've never had to wave at cameras before, but you've been doing it since you could walk, so it can't be that hard."

"Merlin," was all Arthur could say for a long moment. "Are you sure?"

"Yes." Merlin met his gaze steadily, all evidence of nerves gone. "I mean, I'm quite sure I'll never measure up to what people expect, but I'm sure I want to be with you, and I'm sure I'm ready to let everyone know that."

"I stopped caring what people expect a while ago." Arthur grinned, started to step closer to Merlin, but then stopped as a thought occurred to him. "Wait, how the hell did you get tickets to the Green Knight premiere? Gwaine's going, and he practically had to prostitute himself for the tickets."

"Gwaine gave them to me."

"Are you serious?" The Green Knight had been Gwaine's favourite superhero since they were kids; Gwaine had been talking about this movie for years. "Well, I guess I don't have to ask if we have his blessing."

Merlin grinned. "He did weep a little when he handed them over."

Arthur grinned back and stepped forward again, full of joy, ready to pull Merlin into his arms. He stopped when Merlin put a hand up to his chest. "What?"

"Before you say yes or no, there's something else I need you to know." Merlin turned and moved back to the corner of the room where his knapsack sat on the floor next to Arthur's favourite chair.

Arthur had forgotten that he hadn't said yes, as if he could say anything else. Nor did he particularly care about whatever new secret Merlin had decided needed disclosure, though his curiosity piqued a tad when Merlin pulled out his laptop and started to set it up on the side table. "Wait. You're not in a porno, are you?"

Merlin looked over his shoulder, exasperated. "What porno do you think I'd be in?"

"One could see you as a hobbit in The Lord of Peens or some such thing. I'll be very supportive. I'll even pretend to be shocked, if you like."

"I'd be a sexy elf, and you'd be so turned on, you couldn't stand it." Merlin finished tapping at the computer and stood back. "There. That's what I wanted to show you."

It took Arthur a second to recognize the website, having grown used to accessing it on the small screen of his phone. But it hadn't changed its layout since Arthur was at uni; Arthur huffed a fond laugh. "You read an anti-monarchical blog? Merlin, I'm stunned, really."

Merlin just shook his head and motioned for him to look closer. Arthur walked up and bent over the screen. Close up, he finally noticed that it wasn't the website, not exactly. It was an update screen for the blog, into which Merlin had logged himself. Merlin--

He straightened up, mind spinning. He opened his mouth to ask, urgently, which one are you? But the question stuck in his throat because he didn't need to ask. Of course, he knew. He couldn't believe he hadn't always known that voice in the back of his mind, that he hadn't recognized him immediately.

On the down side, he would probably still have to deal with Will for family dinners for the rest of his life.

Merlin was starting to turn pale, even a little green, waiting for his response.

"I should have known, you wanker," Arthur murmured. And then, because Merlin seemed to be turning even greener in misunderstanding, Arthur clarified by grabbing Merlin's face between his hands and kissing him as hard as he could.

He could feel Merlin figuring some of it out; felt the pull around his waist as Merlin seized handfuls of his shirt. "Will and I agreed to nuke the whole site," Merlin mumbled into his mouth between kisses. "It'll be like it never existed."

"Don't you dare," Arthur returned and kissed him harder to keep him from saying anything else stupid like that. Someday he would tell Merlin--and Will--exactly what he knew and thought of their blog, but for now, he'd rather show his opinion without words.

He heard the door open, but he didn't care until he heard the Prime Minister's voice. "Oh! Excuse me, Your Majesty."

Arthur took his time disengaging from Merlin's face, helped along by Merlin breaking into wheezy chortles. He turned and raised an eyebrow at George, who stood behind Cara Nimueh, looking nonplussed.

"As I tried to tell you, sir: The Prime Minister."

"Indeed." He turned his most charming smile on Nimueh. "Forgive me, Prime Minister, but I'm afraid we're going to have to reschedule. I have a date."

Merlin had planned the most normal date he could imagine: dinner and a movie. He thought he had done rather well on both counts. Dinner was at Pizza Express, because that was what Merlin could afford and who didn't like pizza? He'd found one in a quiet neighbourhood with a semi-private alcove that he managed to book for the night.

Arthur beamed at the front door, at the excited wait staff, at their flabbergasted fellow patrons as they were led to their seats. Percival and Elyan took the other table in the alcove between them and the steps leading up to it. They could be seen, but not heard, which Merlin decided was a life compromise he was prepared to make.

Once they were seated, Arthur continued surveying their surroundings with delight. "This is perfect. I love this."

Merlin raised his eyebrows with amusement. "If this gets you so excited, I can't wait to take you to Wagamama, Pret, and Nando's."

"I'm for it. Gwaine brings takeaway from all these places, but I've never actually been inside." Arthur laughed, then looked up at the server who approached them with a steady, professional smile. Merlin wondered if assignment to their table had been made as a punishment or a reward.

"Welcome to Pizza Express, Your Majesty. Sir." She nodded to both of them. "I'm Mary and I'll be serving you this evening. Can I get you any drinks or starters while you look at the menu?"

"How do you do, Mary?" Arthur picked up the menu. "Could I see your wine list? Oh, no, here it is."

Mary grew visibly nervous as Arthur frowned down at the short list of available wines. "Is everything all right, sir? If you don't see something you like--"

"He's fine," Merlin interrupted with a grin. "He wanted to show off his vast knowledge of fine wines and world culture, only he's just realized that he doesn't recognize anything on your menu."

Arthur lifted his head enough to glare daggers across the table at Merlin, but Merlin could see his lips twitching. "Actually, I thought I would ask our lovely Mary to recommend something."

"Oh, I would be happy to. Let's see." Mary bent over the menu with Arthur, looking happy to be back on solid professional ground. "We have a wonderful new Shiraz from Australia, perhaps in honour of your recent--"

She stopped cold, frozen in obvious remembrance of the reason why Australia had been Arthur's first royal trip. How easy it was, Merlin reflected, to forget Uther entirely with Arthur so bright in the public eye. Easy for everyone but Arthur, at least.

Arthur only smiled gently. "Yes, I remember I had a spectacular Shiraz while I was down under. I'm sure this will be just as good. Merlin?"

"Sounds good," Merlin agreed, though he hated Shiraz. "And some dough balls."

"Dough balls," Arthur exclaimed. "Yes, let's have some of those. And some bruschetta please. I'm famished."

"Dough balls for those two ominous-looking blokes as well." Merlin nodded toward Elyan and Percival, looking stern at their table. "Better make it two orders. I mean, really, look at them."

Arthur looked surprised as Mary nodded and headed off. "I don't think I've ever seen them eat before."

"That's because they won't unless you offer them something," Merlin said. "And I just saw Percival staring at someone's pizza like it might make a sudden attempt on your life."

Arthur just smiled and caught one of Merlin's feet between both of his. When the dough balls arrived, Percival and Elyan looked over at them in surprise. Merlin gave them an enthusiastic thumbs up, but they waited until Arthur looked over his shoulder and nodded before Percival shoved two in his mouth at the same time.

Merlin had just stuffed one in his own mouth when he noticed a woman out on the main floor aiming a cell phone camera at him, trying and failing to be discreet about it. He made sure his cheeks were well stuffed with dough before he smiled and waved at her and watched her jump and scurry away.

Arthur stiffened a little, but didn't look. "You're handling this with remarkable good humour."

"I decided to cope by treating the whole circus like the farce that it is." Merlin dipped another dough ball in garlic butter. "It really is silly that everyone gets that excited over who you're dating, don't you think?"

"I know. It's like I'm royalty or something." Arthur caught Merlin's hand when he tried to inch the garlic butter out of Arthur's reach.

Merlin laughed and turned his hand over so that Arthur's fingertips stroked over his palm. Their fingers, greasy and garlicky, caught together over the tablecloth so no one could doubt that this was more than just a friendly meal. Merlin's nerves kept trying to jangle with the implications of what they were doing, but every time he looked up at Arthur, the happiness in his smile disarmed him.

"This really is perfect," Arthur said. "Exactly what a date ought to be."

"Yes, well." Merlin tightened his fingers around Arthur's. Arthur seemed so polished in every other social interaction, Merlin found it easy to forget that this was his first real date, the first that had meant anything. The thought abashed and exhilarated him.

The pizza came, forcing them to separate their hands. Mary looked at them like she was trying to suppress a giggle as she set their food down.

"So tell me what happened with Morgana." Merlin inhaled a satisfying glob of mozzarella.

Arthur toyed with his terrifying slice of prosciutto and goat cheese and shook his head with an air of disbelief. "To make a very long story short, my crazy sister has apparently decided that fucking you is enough proof that I'm nothing like my father."

Merlin tried not to snicker. "Well, that's a good point. I don't think your father would ever have fucked me."

"I should hope not."

The tiny grimace of distaste on Arthur's face was too adorable for Merlin to resist. "Although, your father was quite fit, as I recall."

Slowly, Arthur put his pizza down and picked his napkin up. He dabbed at his mouth, which did nothing to conceal his nauseated expression. A second later, his foot kicked Merlin's shin hard under the table. "I hope that was worth the trauma to my brain."

"It was," Merlin assured him. "But seriously, tell me everything."

As Arthur described his conversations with Morgana, Merlin forgot all about his own stress. Merlin couldn't do anything without his own family and it had hurt his heart to see Arthur so hopelessly alone when his father had died. "That's fantastic," he said when Arthur finished. "I can't wait to meet her."

"She's just as excited to meet you, which to be honest, rather terrifies me." Arthur finally picked up his pizza again, attacking it with a hum of contentment. "And after that, if the world doesn't end, I just have to get through my own coronation, then get Morgana married to my uncle--"

"Seriously, you can eat while thinking about that?"

"--and then reform the entire Church of England, even if I have to drag old Geoffrey and the entire synod into this century with my bare hands."

Most of his encounters with Arthur's royal powers had been somewhat localized. The thought of what Arthur could do for the entire country left Merlin a little breathless. "You're quite sexy when you get power crazed," he joked. "Though I'd worry first about the civil laws being equal. Does the Church's opinion really matter than much anymore?"

"It matters to me."

"Well, I suppose you are the Head of it, after all. But still."

Arthur shook his head. "It's not that."

"Then why?"

"Because someday I expect that I'll ask you to marry me." Arthur leaned forward, making Merlin's breath stop with his gaze. "And when I get married, I'm going to do it in Westminster Abbey, after a lavish procession, with the entire world watching as the Archbishop of Canterbury performs the ceremony."

"That sounds like the most horrible thing I can imagine," Merlin told him, which was mostly true, although he couldn't deny that something about the image appealed to him on a primal level. Maybe it was just the thought of marrying Arthur, sealed to him for the rest of their lives.

A grin flashed through Arthur's intensity. "And that alone is a brilliant reason to do it," he said. "But I want my wedding to be exactly like my father's, my grandfather's, my great-grandmother's. No one, for the rest of history, will ever be able to say that my marriage meant any less than theirs. That we were worth less."

Merlin had to break away and look down at the table, chest tight. This was what his mother had meant by history, that it was different for kings, even in this day and age. "Well, all right. I'm in."

"Are you sure?" Arthur kicked at him again playfully. "I mean, if you're not keen on challenging the system and changing the world, I suppose I could marry someone else."

"Oh, no, you couldn't." Somewhere in the back of Merlin's mind, he felt the creeping awareness that he had just tacitly agreed to marry the King of Great Britain. He shoved it aside to deal with later. "Who else would go along with your mad ways?"

"Well, there was this hobo outside the--ow!"

They kept kicking at each other while they finished their pizza. It was the best dinner Merlin had ever had.

The movie proved a different matter.

"All right, remember, I'll get out first and give them a little wave and then you get out behind me," Arthur instructed as they pulled up in front of the Odeon after a quick clothing change back in Arthur's apartments.

"Right." Merlin rubbed his palms on his thighs. It was the first time he'd ever ridden in a chauffeured car, and the first time he'd seen a red carpet that wasn't on the television. Everything seemed much more real than it had in their cosy corner over dinner.

Arthur squeezed his knee in what might have been reassurance, except for the gleam of battle-light in his eyes. "Don't fret, Merlin. This is going to be fun."

"You betcha," Merlin managed to get out with the last of the air in his chest as the driver opened the car door on Arthur's side.

The noise hit him first, a din of cameras and shouts and babble. The shouts and the camera clicks swelled into a roar as Arthur got out and the assembled fans and press clued into the unexpected arrival of royalty.

Merlin slowly slid himself over to the seat Arthur had just left and sat, trying to steady his breathing. Then he sat some more, until Arthur reached back into the car and grabbed his arm to haul him out.

"Smile!" Arthur hissed as he slid his arm around Merlin's waist and waved seemingly at random to either side of them. Percival and Elyan already flanked them, and Merlin vowed never to think of them as a waste of taxpayer money again.

He stared for a long, vision-bending moment at the red carpet under his feet. Then Arthur pulled him into motion and Merlin's head jerked up and his lips stretched into the broad smile Arthur had made him practice in the car.

Step by step, he made it up the red carpet until they could finally slip inside the theatre. People swarmed around them, but Merlin ignored them, knowing they wouldn't talk to Arthur unless invited to do so. Idiotic royal protocol had some uses, at least.

"All right?" Arthur asked softly as an unfazed PR person came to show them to their seats, clearly chosen to keep Arthur in a position where Percival and Elyan could get to him at all times.

Merlin inhaled and tried not to look around with what he suspected was a bad case of the crazy eyes. "At least it's done. Everyone in the whole world is talking about how I'm sleeping with you now."

"Oh, no, not yet." Arthur slung an arm around his shoulders as they followed their usher down the aisle. "It'll take a little time for it to hit the internet. Then you have to give all the vultures time to tweet it up and spread it around, and there are the time zones, of course."

"Great," Merlin sighed.

Because he damn well was not coming out again, he held Arthur's hand all the way through the previews.

The Green Knight was chasing the Lady up to the top of Tower Bridge, having destroyed most of the motorway in the process. Merlin had just managed to forget all the eyes he could feel watching them as much as the film when Arthur leaned over to whisper in his ear.

"Now," he said.


"Right now. This is the moment when everyone in the Western world is thinking about you and how you're sleeping with me."

"Thanks," Merlin whispered back. "And fuck you."

Arthur chortled and around them, everyone within three rows of them also laughed, even though nothing funny had happened on the screen.

They left through the back, like usual. Arthur could see that Merlin had had enough of the public eye for one night, and frankly, Arthur had as well.

"Back to Clarence, sir?" his driver asked as they pulled away from the theatre.

"No, to Buckingham, please, Ranulf."

Merlin had started to lay his head down on Arthur's shoulder, but straightened in surprise. "Buckingham? Why? I swear to God, Arthur, if you tell me you have work to do--"

"Not work," Arthur promised. "Just something I want to do. Bring your bag in."

One very specific thing that he had only just thought of during the film, but which was now, as Gwaine would say, burning a hole in his pants.

Although Ranulf said nothing, he must have made a call after Arthur shut the partition, because the head housekeeper was waiting for them at the private entrance. "Welcome, Your Majesty," she said, keeping her eyes on Arthur, though they kept twitching curiously towards Merlin. "This is a lovely surprise."

"Sorry for the lack of warning, but I decided I wanted to sleep in my rooms here tonight," he said. "I trust that won't be a problem?"

"Of course not, sir. We keep them ready for you at all times." She hesitated, clearly wanting to ask more. "If you need assistance, I can call for--"

"No. We won't need anything. Thank you." He nodded and took Merlin's hand, pulling him toward the stairs.

"Wait, I'm pretty sure I'm going to need things," Merlin protested, almost falling into him as he craned his neck to look around.

Arthur didn't answer until they were alone in the King's suite. He had not been in these rooms since he was a small child; the dim glow of the lamplight brought no memories. Nothing of his father remained. Everything here was now his own.

"We won't need anything, because I'm assuming you brought condoms and lube," he finally said when the door was closed and locked behind them.

"What? Why would you assume that? What kind of tart do you think I am?"

Arthur merely raised his eyebrows with a small smirk.

Sheepishly, Merlin unzipped his knapsack and pulled out a box of condoms and a brand new bottle of lube. "I'm still insulted that you just assumed that I'd put out on the first date."

Arthur grinned and paced forward, backing Merlin into the bedroom. "I'm claiming my royal privileges."

"You have no royal privileges with my arse," Merlin informed him, but with a grin that promised otherwise. "I thought you said you never wanted to live here, by the way. You're not suddenly going to revert to royal prat now that you've got me where you want me, are you?""

"I don't want to live here." Arthur pressed his hand against Merlin's chest, waiting until Merlin's knees hit the bed before pushing him down onto the bedspread. "But I do want to fuck you in the royal bed. Just this once. That is my privilege and I'm going to take it."

Merlin betrayed himself with a moan. After that, it was easy to remind Merlin that this wasn't their first date at all--that Arthur knew how to rid him of his new clothes, how to kiss and tease him into trembling arousal, how to part his thighs, prepare his body, slide inside him and rock them both into orgasm.

Once he came, he felt mind and body relax as though he'd accomplished a great task long outstanding. He curled into Merlin's chest with a jaw-cracking yawn. "Now you're mine," he mumbled. "And nobody can ever take you from me."

Merlin woke sprawled across the King's bed, with his King sprawled over him, chest pressed to Merlin's back. Mid-morning light filled the room, or what little he could see of it. Although tourists undoubtedly already tromped through the public rooms below, quiet prevailed here. No alarms, no obligations; nothing but Arthur's warm breath and body.

All the discomfort of the night before, all the discomfort he would face in the future--all of it was worth it just to have this.

Arthur stirred against him, finding his skin with kisses little more than a brush of drowsy lips. Merlin pressed back against him, arousal seeping into him like sunlight.

They moved as little as possible, just enough to get a condom into place before Arthur pressed inside him. The slow, easy fucking let Merlin drift through sleepy pleasure until it crested to a sticky finish over his fingers.

Arthur shivered to climax inside him, then hummed as he ran his hand over Merlin's body. "Good morning."

"Good morning." He kissed Arthur's fingertips when they brushed over his lips. "I think I hear someone outside."

"Someone probably broke in with breakfast. Don't worry, they'll just leave it out there for whenever we're ready." Arthur yawned and started to wrap himself around Merlin again, but the mention of breakfast woke Merlin up the rest of the way.

He detached himself with a kiss and pulled his boxers on. "I'll just go scout it out," he said, leaving Arthur to free himself from the condom and bedcovers.

Merlin padded toward the door beyond which he had heard the clink of china and cutlery. He couldn't wait to see what constituted breakfast fit for a King. He really hoped there was toast.

The door opened onto what looked like some antique version of a lounge, filled with light and the smell of eggs and bacon. Merlin had not had much of a look at the place last night, with Arthur dragging him through the dim rooms.

And he didn't get to look at it now, because right in front of him was a sight he had never expected to see in his life: his best friend having breakfast and an animated chat with the Princess Royal. "Will?"

"Oh, there you are." Will managed to tear his gaze away from Morgana to look at Merlin with surprise, as though he were the one unexpected and out of place. "Have you met Princess Morgana?"

Morgana rose from her seat with a giggle, as though Will had made the funniest joke. Will stood at the same moment, like the gentleman he most certainly was not.

"I am so confused right now," Merlin complained.

Morgana laughed again and came to stand right in front of him. "Hello, Merlin," she said.

Up close, she looked more like Uther than Arthur ever had--but both of them had those piercing blue Pendragon eyes. Merlin stood stunned under her gaze, hideously aware of his state of unshowered undress. "Hello," he answered and started to extend his hand before he remembered that he really didn't want to touch Arthur's sister with the hand Arthur had just made him come all over.

She smirked a little, but it wasn't the bitter, angry smirk that she had worn for years as she tore her way through Europe and America, causing as much havoc and embarrassment as possible. When she leaned toward him, her eyes offered a conspiratorial glint. "I found your friend trying to get himself arrested outside Clarence House."

"I was trying to keep you from making the worst mistake of your life," Will said, sitting down again and reaching for the toast. Merlin's toast. "But that was before I met Her Royal Highness. Now I'm all for it."

"Her Royal Highness? Seriously?" Arthur emerged from the bedroom behind them, stretching his arms over his head. He was also still in his boxers, but he had taken the time to wash up and also pilfer Merlin's spare t-shirt from his knapsack. "I can barely get ‘hey, you' out of him, and she gets ‘Her Royal Highness?'"

"She's a princess," Will and Merlin answered in unison, then looked at each other and shrugged. They might not want to fund her lifestyle, but Merlin dared any man to meet a beautiful princess in person and not feel a little awestruck.

"She's a witch with evil powers, is what she is." Arthur shambled over to take Morgana's seat at the little table and started buttering the last piece of toast. "I can't believe her children might actually be my heirs someday."

Losing the last piece of toast was worth seeing the look that flashed across Morgana's face, almost too quick to catch, at Arthur's words. If Merlin had not been standing so close, he would have missed the tiny catch of her breath. He knew enough of royal politics and her situation to understand the promise Arthur had just offered her – not just inheritance, but legitimacy.

"How did you even know where we were?" Arthur added before taking out half the buttered slice in one bite.

Will gave him a withering look across the table. "The flag was up."

Arthur froze, eyes wide as though he had momentarily forgotten who he was. "Ah. Right."

Will shook his head and then got up and heaved a sigh. As he stalked across the room towards him, Merlin braced himself for whatever punch or admonishment he had coming.

Instead, Will threw his arms around Merlin and clamped him tight against his chest. "You're a damn fool," he muttered into Merlin's neck. "But if this is what you want, I'll be with you until the guillotines come."

"Oh, thanks." Merlin meant to sound bitchy, but it came out more as a snuffle against Will's cheek.

They hung on for another minute, while Arthur and Morgana pretended to ignore them over the clink of china and their own halting attempts to relearn casual conversation with each other. Finally, Will let go and rubbed Merlin's back. "Go put a shirt on. I saved you some toast under my napkin."

Merlin brightened and hurried to make himself decent. The toast was slightly burnt, but he still protested when Arthur tried to nick the second piece and then Morgana succeeded. He was all right with it, he supposed – it was just a normal family breakfast.

Epilogue – some months later

The choir swelled as Arthur paced, step by measured step, toward the altar, where the Archbishop waited. Thousands of people sat crammed into Westminster Abbey, kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, all of them a blur as he concentrated on moving in a straight line in time with the pages bearing the enormous coronation robe that stretched out behind him like a carpet.

Even Will had been muscled into attending, installed somewhere in the back and no doubt breaking out in hives at the sheer amount of pomp currently oppressing him. The thought made Arthur feel much lighter under his heavy state robes.

Of all the people in the Abbey, only the ones at the front truly mattered. Gwaine and Leon waited in their robes with rest of the peers; Mithian sat with her parents and all the other visiting heads of state up in the royal gallery.

And on the aisle, just a few metres from the Coronation Theatre, Merlin sat with Morgana. He had gifted Morgana a coronet in the style meant for the sovereign's siblings, which she held between her gloved hands on her lap. Sadly, until they married, he couldn't force Merlin into robes or a coronet of any kind.

The anthem peaked and the sudden roar of "Vivat Rex! Vivat! Vivat!" shocked him back into the moment. He felt his knees tremble as he mounted the steps onto the dais where his throne awaited. Arthur knelt by the chair, carefully, and felt the hush of the abbey wash over him as he closed his eyes to pray.

He had intended to pray for strength, courage, and wisdom, but instead he found himself reaching out for some echo of his father. Please be proud of me, Father. Forgive me as I keep trying to forgive you.

The melancholy of his thoughts lingered through the procession of the Regalia, as he turned to present himself to the four corners of the Abbey while Geoffrey proclaimed him and the trumpets sounded. As he finally settled into the coronation chair, he let his mind clear to focus on the oath he was about to take.

"Sir," Geoffrey said, moving in front of him. "Is your Majesty willing to take the Oath?"

"I am willing," Arthur answered.

"Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?"

"I solemnly promise so to do."

"Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?"

"I will."

"Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you maintain and preserve inviolable the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?" Unseen to anyone but Arthur, Geoffrey raised his eyebrows.

"All this I promise to do." Arthur returned the slightest smile. His promise was sincere: changing the Church was God's work, and he would devote himself to it with all the sacred obligation he had just incurred.

He accepted the anointing, with the same oil that had anointed his father and grandfather, with peace in his heart.

After that, the investiture began, beginning with the lesser regalia. As Arthur accepted sword and spurs, ring and orb, he could feel the crown looming from the altar, already weighing heavy on his brow.

They put the sceptre in his hand, and then the rod, and then he bowed his head. The crown was heavy, so heavy, though he had worn it around the house for weeks (and prepared for it all his life).

The moment it rested on his head and the Archbishop stepped away, the abbey erupted into a roar. "God save the King! God save the King!"

At last he had a clear view of the congregation. All the peers were putting on their coronets. He saw Morgana doing the same, and next to her, Merlin stood, silent, and watched him with wide, solemn eyes. As their eyes met, Merlin's lips curved in a brilliant smile, and then he was shouting with the rest of them, God save the King.

Merlin couldn't stop grinning even when the shouting stopped and the homage began. After all, it was pretty awesome to see the Archbishop of Canterbury kneeling in front of Arthur, pledging his fealty to his gay King. Who knew a coronation could be so subversive?

Morgana squeezed his hand when it was her turn to go and pay homage to her brother. It was the first time she had let go of him since four o'clock that morning; apparently Arthur thought he might be a flight risk. As if Merlin would miss this.

She knelt at his feet, taking off her coronet, and murmured her oath too low for anyone but Arthur to hear. He could tell Arthur wanted to touch her, but the sceptre, rod, and crown prevented any unplanned gestures of affection. She touched his crown and kissed his cheek as she rose.

Hearing the oath wasn't a problem when the Duke of Clarence knelt in her place. "I, Gwaine, Duke of Clarence, do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth will I bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks. So help me God."

Merlin's grin grew wider as Gwaine kissed Arthur's hand. Nobody could mean that oath more than Gwaine.

Agravaine went next, though he was not the lord of their family duchy. Arthur's uncle Tristan had sent his regrets from somewhere in Romania. Arthur had not got over that one for days--who the hell sent regrets to a bloody coronation?

Even more astounding was the sheer number of people he suddenly knew of sufficient rank to need to pledge their fealty to the new King. He saw Vivian's father kneel, and finally after Leon, Earl of Sussex, swore his faith, Merlin felt he could finally relax and just concentrate on keeping himself awake for the rest of the ceremony.

Breakfast the morning after his first public date with Arthur had been the last moment of peace and quiet they had enjoyed. The appearance of an actual partner had brought Arthur's theoretical sexuality into substantive focus, and Merlin still had difficulty comprehending how many people seemed to have an opinion about it. Combined with the whirlwind preparations for the coronation, Merlin had endured a fiery baptism into royal life.

And he had his own problems that he had not wanted to even mention to Arthur. Avalon was almost ready to reopen, but Merlin had not heard anything about what was to become of him. Elena had been offered a permanent placement in Year 6, which left Merlin without a position. Every time he called about it, Gaius only made vague noises about something being worked out.

On the bright side, Arthur had been wearing St. Edward's Crown to bed every night, which Merlin found delightfully kinky.

Arthur had disappeared into the inner chapel; he emerged at last, back in the Imperial Crown and purple velvet. Merlin gave silent thanks. From the endless rehearsals, he knew the ceremony was almost over.

Everyone around the dais stirred, ready to take their places in the procession as soon as the Archbishop and King departed. Morgana touched his arm again; they were to depart behind the gentlemen-at-arms and regalia bearers and ahead of the clergy, in the traditional place of the Royal Family. Merlin had no official business in the procession at all, but Arthur had insisted.

Arthur stepped down from the throne, taking the steps only slightly less cautiously than he had on the way up. At the bottom of the steps, he paused for a moment next to them. Morgana sank into a curtsey to her sovereign. Merlin froze; he had never actually bowed to Arthur before.

But Arthur was beautiful, regal, and just for that moment, Merlin could fully believe that some divine hand had chosen him to stand here. He bowed deeply, and gladly.

He rose to Arthur's beautiful smile, so beautiful that Merlin refused to hold himself responsible for what he did next. He stepped forward, dug his fingers into ermine, and kissed Arthur soundly in front of God and the entire world.

Arthur stiffened, but then laughed and kissed him back, swathing him in heavy velvet. "Merlin," he murmured.

"My King," Merlin whispered back and reached up to steady Arthur's crown before it slid off the back of his head.

The picture made all the newspapers, the websites, and the history books as well.


All comments welcome! I would love to hear anything you liked or didn't like about the story.
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Cori Lannam

October 2017


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