Tora (torakowalski) wrote,

MBB: Not In This Land Alone 3/4

Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

Having nearly been shot was incredibly frustrating.  It meant that Arthur’s security was doubled and, in some cases, tripled and it turned out that two or more bodyguards, all determined not to let the King get shot on their watch, were much harder to slip away from than an overly indulgent Lance.
“Poor baby,” Morgana mocked, watching him while he paced up and down.  “Fancy these big, bad men wanting to keep you alive.”
“I don’t know why you’re so relaxed,” Arthur told her, “You’re not allowed to go anywhere either.”
Morgana smiled, slow and evil.  “No, but I have Morgause to keep me company.  What you need, Arthur, is a friend.”  She held up her hand before Arthur could tell her to fuck off.  “I know it’s a novel concept, but I’m sure you could make one if you tried really hard.”
“I do have friends,” he protested.  “Lots of them.”
“Oh yes?” Morgana asked politely.  “Where are they then?”
Arthur opened his mouth.  Then closed it again.  “Fuck off,” he managed at last, refusing to let her know that that had stung even though it had.  Rather a lot, in fact.

“Arthur,” Morgana said, putting her hand on his shoulder. “Sorry, was that a bit close to the mark?”

He rolled his eyes at her. “Don’t be stupid,” he said, shaking her off.

He stalked next door and found Gawain standing to attention by the window and Leon watching the door.  They both sprang to their feet when they saw him.
Arthur stopped walking, his vague idea of spending some time bothering Lance dying a death.  “Where’s Lancelot?” he asked.
“He’s not here, Your Majesty,” Gawain said.
Arthur resisted rolling his eyes.  “Really?” he asked.  “I never would have guessed.  Is he next door?  I’ll just pop through then.”
“No, sir,” Leon said.  Arthur stared at him.  People didn’t say flat nos to him.  Leon cleared his throat.  “I’ve been asked not to let you leave your rooms.”
“On whose orders?” Arthur demanded.
Leon looked uncomfortable.  “Lord Monmouth’s, sir.”
Well, Arthur thought, wasn’t that fantastic.  “Is he here right now?” he asked.
Leon didn’t answer immediately, but Gawain’s eyes flicked to the opposite door.  
“I see,” Arthur said and marched past both of them, slamming through the door before either of them could decide whether they really wanted to try to stop him.
Three heads snapped up when Arthur pushed the door hard enough to send it bouncing off the chair behind it.  
Geoffrey’s face tightened guiltily and Arthur was about to snap at him when he saw that Nimueh, his father’s least favourite of all his Prime Ministers, was also there. Uther might not have liked her, but Arthur did; she’d gone to university with his mother and she was always prepared to talk about her.
“Good afternoon, Arthur,” Nimueh said, smiling like she’d been waiting for him. She pushed out a chair for him.
“Hello,” Arthur agreed, sitting down, “I’m afraid my invitation to this meeting must have been lost in the post.”  
Lance was sitting on the other side of the table; Arthur raised his eyebrows at him, Lance just gave him a tiny headshake.  Whether he was telling Arthur that this hadn’t been his idea or that Arthur should let it go, Arthur wasn’t in the mood to work out.
“Your Majesty,” Geoffrey said, leaning forward over the table.  “We were merely discussing the changes to your coronation, nothing that you need to concern yourself over.”
If that was supposed to make Arthur back down, it didn’t.  “The changes,” he repeated. 
Nimueh walked around the table, her heels clacking sharply on the wooden floor.  She curled her hand around Arthur’s forearm.  “In light of the recent attempt on your life, we all feel it would be safer to have a smaller ceremony and, of course, to forego the parade.”
“No,” Arthur said, horrified, before she’d finished speaking.  The coronation had been ten months in the planning, the first time the British public were really going to get to see him as their King.  “The parade is the most important part.” He lowered his voice, looking at her pleadingly, “People need to see me, Nimueh.”  
What with mourning for his father and the cancelling of his trip to Australia, Arthur was starting to feel more and more cut off.
“Your Majesty,” Geoffrey started but closed his mouth following a glare from Nimueh.
“Lancelot,” Arthur interrupted, “Security can handle it, right?”
Lance grimaced when everyone turned to stare at him but, “Yes, sir,” he said confidently.  
“Good man.”  Arthur set his face into his most decisive and regal expression.  “So that’s settled, then.”
Geoffrey did not look happy but he didn’t fight him. Nimueh just smiled, nodding.

Merlin spent the weekend home in Ealdor staring despondently at stuff.  First it was the dashboard of his mum’s car, then the television, then his mum, then next door’s cat when it snuck in and curled up on his lap.
He didn’t know what to do.  Will had probably committed treason or something, he’d used Merlin and nearly got Arthur killed.
But, as angry and hurt as Merlin was, he didn’t think he could report him.
What if Will knew more about Valiant than he’d let on, what if Valiant hadn’t been working alone?  
“Fuck,” Merlin groaned.  The cat looked up, tilting its head back at him.  “Fuck,” he told it.  The cat meowed and butted against Merlin’s hand until he started stroking it under the chin.
By Sunday evening, he still had no idea what to do.  He couldn’t face the idea of going back to work and seeing Arthur, knowing he was part of the reason why Valiant had known which room to aim for.  
He called Gwen at two o’clock Monday morning, not realising how late it was until she answered, voice foggy and half-awake.
“Merlin?  Do you have any idea what time it is?”
Merlin glanced at the clock.  “I’m really sorry,” he said, “I’ll go.”
She sighed.  He heard what sounded like a man’s voice mutter something sleepy next to her and felt twice as bad.  
“Not much point now, is there?” she asked.  “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he started to say then realised he’d need to tell her that he wasn’t.  “I’m not going to be at work for a couple of days.  I, um.  I broke up with my boyfriend.”  It was probably, horribly true and it sounded better than my boyfriend was in league with the guy who shot at Arthur.
“Oh, Merlin,” Gwen said, sounding more upset than he did.  “You have, uh, five days’ leave in your contract, I think.  You can take them this week, if you want?”
Yes, please,” Merlin said, feeling bad for leaving her in the lurch but incredibly relieved to know he wouldn’t have to face Arthur for another week.  “And sorry.”
Gwen just laughed softly.  She was so nice, he felt really bad for (half) lying to her.  “Take care of yourself,” she said, “And don’t forget to watch Arthur’s coronation on Friday.”
“That’s this week?” Merlin asked, not sure why he was surprised that Arthur hadn’t mentioned it.  He felt a rush of anxiety roll through him because what if Valiant wasn’t working alone, and what if they tried something at the coronation? 
“Lance says security preparations are getting ridiculous,” she said.  There was a soft murmur from her end of the line. “And apparently I shouldn’t have said that.  Oops?” 
Merlin was so busy feeling incredibly relieved that security had already been heightened which, now he thought about it, of course it had, that Gwen was already saying goodbye by the time he realised that she’d just implied Lance was lying next to her right now.
“Gwen!” he said but she’d already hung up.
There went his half-formed theory that she was having some kind of Cinderella affair with Arthur.  Still, good for her.  One of them should be lucky in love and it sure as hell wasn’t him at the moment.

Hunith gave a double take when she came downstairs the next morning and found Merlin still in his pyjamas, trying to get next door’s cat to eat some toast from between his fingers.
“Merlin?” she asked. “Shouldn’t you be dressed by now?  You’ll miss your train.” 
He snatched his hand back just before the cat decided it had had enough of him and took a swipe with its claws.  Apparently cats really didn’t like toast.  “I’m taking the week off,” he said, hoping she’d be fooled if he sounded casual enough.
She wasn’t.  She walked around the table and wrapped her arms around him.  He squeaked and tried not to flail; she might be his mum but he was twenty years old and unexpected hugs were alarming.   
“I’m so sorry about you and Will,” she said, “But, sweetheart, you can’t hide here forever.”
“I’m not,” he said, “I’m just hiding here for the week.  Seriously, Mum,” he added, when she looked like she was going to protest.  “I called my boss and it’s fine.”
Hunith stared at him long and hard.  He tried to look innocent, heartbroken but brave all at once; it stretched the limits of his acting ability.  He hadn’t told her about being there when Arthur was shot at and he wasn’t about to, even though it would probably have been a good excuse for why he wanted to avoid London for a while.
“All right,” she said, “I have to get to work.”  She leant over and kissed his cheek.  “Don’t spend all day tormenting that cat.”
After his mum left, Merlin spent some time watching How To Look Good Naked.  Once he’d decided that he was fully capable of accentuating his hourglass shape, should he ever acquire one, he dragged himself to the bathroom for a shower.
It felt weird to be hanging around his mum’s house in his pyjamas, like being seventeen and on A-level study leave again or something.  He hadn’t lived here since he and Will moved to London for uni two years ago.  

He didn’t want to think about which was one of them was going to get the flat. Or, really, he didn’t want to think about any of it.  
He stayed in the shower until the water went cold then stuck his head around the bathroom door and glared at the boiler until it heated up again.
He was just about to get back into the shower for another half an hour of wallowing when his mobile started to ring.  
“Shit,” he said out loud and, grabbing a towel, raced down the stairs. If it was Will, he wouldn’t answer anyway, but he still nearly broke his neck trying to get to his backpack at the bottom of the stairs.   
There was a number he didn’t know on his screen and he answered it hesitantly, wondering if Will was sneaky enough to borrow someone else’s phone to call him.
“You’re not at work,” said a voice.  A very familiar voice.  
Merlin blinked.
“Arthur?” he asked.  “Or Rory Bremner?”
Arthur snorted.  “Hardly.  That man does a terrible impression of me.  Now, where are you?”
“Um, I’m--” Merlin mopped up a droplet of water rolling down his shoulder and frowned.  “How did you get my number.”
“Guinevere,” Arthur said like that wasn’t important.  “Are you ill?  You can’t just take time off work when I need-- When the country needs you.”
“The country needs me?” Merlin repeated doubtfully.  
“I’m being crowned on Friday and you’ve left my rooms half finished.  If I lose something in this mess, the whole ceremony could fall apart.”
He sounded rather un-Arthur-like, a little shrill and strung out.  
“Arthur?” Merlin asked carefully, “Are you all right?”
“What?  Of course I’m all right.  I thoroughly enjoy being shot at and having to defend my right to a proper coronation from idiots and eating my lunch alone.”  
Definitely not all right.
“I’m sorry you have to eat lunch alone,” Merlin tried slowly, “But I’m in Ealdor for the week.”
“Ealdor?” Arthur voice rose incredulously.  “Why on Earth?  There’s nothing there but some allotments, a post office and a community centre. Trust me, I opened that community centre.”
“There’s lots here,” Merlin said quickly, feeling the need to defend his home town even though he’d been quick to get away from it.  “We’ve got, um.  There’s a library and a Budgens and it’s only one bus from the nearest cinema and--”
“All right, all right.” Arthur sounded like he was smiling.  “I believe you.  It’s a regular metropolis.  Which doesn’t explain why you’ve suddenly run off to it.”  He paused and then said, as hesitant as Arthur ever got, “Oh, I suppose the shooting was a little much?”
Just like that, the guilt came back.  It would be so easy to let Arthur think that was the reason, but he couldn’t do it.  Arthur had proven to be a surprisingly good almost-friend-person and he hadn’t done anything to make Merlin bail on him.
“No, that’s not the reason,” he said, “I, uh, I broke up with Will.”  Ask me why, he thought, maybe I can tell you if you ask.
“Oh.” Arthur cleared his throat.  “Oh, well.  That’s, uh.  Yes.  Very unfortunate.  Are you--?  How are you bearing up?”
Merlin smiled helplessly.  Right.  Arthur was far too posh and well bred to discuss breakups, especially if it might lead to a conversation about feelings.  
“I’m doing all right,” he said.  “I’ll be back next week” -- when I can hopefully look at you and not think about how my boyfriend almost got you killed -- “Good luck with your whole getting crowned thingy.”
“My getting crowned thingy,” Arthur repeated.  “You do have a marvellous way with words.”  
Merlin smiled.  “It’s why you employ me,” he agreed.
Arthur laughed.  “I knew there had to be a reason.”  There was another pause but he didn’t hang up so neither did Merlin.  “Listen,” he said in a rush, sounding awkward but determined, “If Will’s the one you’re meant to be with, I’m sure it’ll work out.”
Merlin pressed a hand to his stomach which hurt suddenly, rather badly.  “Will’s not the one I’m meant to be with,” he said, even though saying it made him feel sick.
Arthur cleared his throat.  “Right,” he said. “Well. I’ll see you next week.”
“Yes,” Merlin agreed but he was talking to the dial tone. 
He checked the caller display, amazed that Arthur hadn’t withheld his number then, feeling reckless and kind of silly for feeling reckless, saved the number in his phone under King, Arthur.

They’d decided on open-top cars for the journey to Westminster Abbey rather than the horse-drawn carriages Arthur’s father and grandmother had used for their coronations. 
Arthur was twenty-one and a lot of his PR revolved around making him look modern, not weighted down with tradition.
Predictably, Geoffrey hated the idea which, Arthur had to admit, was part of its charm.
There had been some talk about Morgana riding with Arthur but, “I’m not your consort,” she’d told him firmly so she and Morgause were travelling in the car behind.
All of which had been fine, absolutely fine, while they were planning it, but now Arthur was riding to his coronation, alone, in a Bentley which he wasn’t even allowed to drive.  He wasn’t nervous, of course, but he was, perhaps, a little apprehensive. Some company might have been nice. 

He waved to the crowd but refused to scan the faces for anyone he might know.  Gwen was down there somewhere, apparently, and he would have encouraged Merlin to come, except Merlin was in Ealdor nursing a broken heart. 
Not that it mattered to Arthur where Merlin was, except that his ears might have made him easier to spot in the crowd. 
The procession turned the final corner and Westminster Abbey was suddenly in sight.  Arthur drew in a deep breath; the last time he’d been inside was for his father’s funeral.  Which was something he wasn’t going to think about today. 
He wished, suddenly and pointlessly that his father could have been here today.  He wouldn’t have said anything reassuring, but he would have told Arthur to remember his duty and that might have helped, just a little, with the fluttering of Arthur’s heart.
“King Arthur!” someone yelled from the crowd and then everyone was doing it.  A few people had flowers, which they threw toward the car.  It made him think of the bodies of soldiers being carried through Wootton Bassett and the pictures he’d seen of his mother’s funeral but he forced himself to smile and wave and look like he appreciated the gesture.  
The roar of the crowd grew, drowning out the purr of the engine, the Abbey loomed up, filling his line of vision and Arthur was clenching his hands into fists, attempting to wring out his sweaty palms when, suddenly, the road ahead exploded in a geyser of smoke and flame and debris.  
Arthur tried to duck but the force of the whatever it was, explosion, it must have been, sent him flying backwards, over the boot of the car, landing with a bone-jarring smack on the tarmac. 
Everyone was screaming.  Arthur shook his head, trying to stop the ringing in his ears.  There was blood on the front of his jacket but he didn’t think it was his. 
Rolling up onto his knees, he grabbed the back of the car and pulled himself to his feet.  His back hurt, his shoulder throbbed but he forgot about that when he looked across the car and saw his driver.  Or what was left of his driver.  There was blood everywhere and Arthur bent over, suddenly, retching. 
He was glad two seconds later that he was already on his knees when a second explosion rocked the already shaky ground.  He was flung off his feet and had barely come to a stop when someone grabbed him.
Instinctively, Arthur shook them off, but, “Arthur.  Arthur.  It’s me,” Lance shouted and Arthur stopped fighting and clutched at his arm instead.
“Are you all right?” Arthur asked.  He couldn’t hear well, the explosions still echoing in his ears, but he could see fine and it was obvious that Lance was hurt, blood running down the side of his face and shards of glass glinting off the front of his jacket.
“Me?” Lance said, shaking his head, “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
Arthur let himself be pulled around the side of the car.  Sirens were screaming toward them and Arthur knew the drill for this kind of emergency: stick with Lance or whoever got to him first, get in a car, get away.
Reality was rather different though.  None of those drills had included screaming, crying, terrified members of the public, some of whom were covered in blood and a few who weren’t moving at all. 
“Arthur,” Lance snapped but Arthur couldn’t look away from a little girl with a bunch of flowers clutched in her hand and blood all down the front of her I ♥ London t-shirt.
“I think people are dying,” Arthur heard himself say.  He sounded shell-shocked to his own ears but that didn’t make it any less true.  “Lance, come on.”
Lance stared at him.  “I’m going to get sacked,” he said, but it wasn’t a no. Leon was sprinting towards them; Lance waved him off.
“Just until the ambulances arrive,” Arthur promised and took off running for the little girl. 

Merlin stared blankly at the television.  His hands were shaking, he wasn’t sure if he was breathing.  He’d settled down on the sofa in his pyjamas with a cup of tea, expecting to spend a peaceful couple of hours watching Arthur be regal and magnificent but, instead, he BBC cameras had been right there to capture the explosion.
Merlin was fairly certain he hadn’t blinked since, too busy looking at Arthur and Lance, both covered in blood, standing in the middle of the injured, doing what they could with torn off scraps of shirts for bandages and ties as tourniquets. 
That’s my King, Merlin thought, or should have thought, but he didn’t, not quite. “That’s my Arthur,” he told next door’s cat, stunned, watching as Arthur paused for a moment, wiping grimy sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and spreading blood instead, looking out over his bleeding, frightened people.  
All he needed was a crown and a sword in his hand and he’d be the image of some medieval king surveying his battlefield.
Merlin’s phone was in his hand before he could stop himself.  He knew Arthur wouldn’t answer, Arthur was, at this very moment, kneeling at a woman’s feet, wrapping what looked like a piece of his jacket around a nail sticking out of her leg, but he couldn’t help phoning him anyway.
“Arthur,” he told the voicemail when it kicked in, “Oh my god.”  And then he couldn’t think of anything else to say.  “Can you call me?  Please?”
He’d hung up before he realised that he hadn’t said who he was and that the chances of Arthur recognising his voice weren’t great.
“King Arthur is now being led away by his security,” the TV announcer was saying and Merlin looked back at the TV to see that, yes, someone had peeled Arthur away from the injured woman and was leading him toward the back of an ambulance. 
Gwen was suddenly in the frame, her arms around Lance, helping him to follow Arthur.  He was limping and so was she and Merlin suddenly needed to be in London more strongly than he’d ever needed to be anywhere before. 
He didn’t bother to pack, just threw on the nearest clothes, grabbed his wallet and headed out the door.  He was halfway down the drive when he realised he had no idea when the next train was to London. Ealdor was a tiny station; it might not be for hours.
His mum’s car was on the driveway.  He put his hand on the door handle, unsurprised when it opened for him, slid into the driver’s seat and put the car in gear.  He didn’t have the keys but apparently the car didn’t care about that right now.  He didn’t have a driving licence either but he just couldn’t work out how little things like that were supposed to stop him.

The television was on and Arthur couldn’t look away from the updates scrolling across the screen: 
27 dead, 33 in hospital, King Arthur sustained minor injuries
28 dead, 31 in hospital, King Arthur released from hospital
Arthur had never actually got as far as a hospital.  At least he didn’t think so.  He felt like he’d blinked just before the explosion and woken up here, back at Buckingham Palace with blood in his hair and stiffening his shirt. 
His whole body hurt, but he couldn’t really feel it.
He knew he needed to shower and he knew he needed to take the tablets Gaius had given him, but he had to know what was happening outside first. 
The BBC seemed more interested in recycling photographs of him tending to the wounded, but he didn’t want to know about them, he already knew which of those people had survived.  Now he needed to know about everyone else, about the thousands of people who had come to watch him be crowned and had possibly lost their lives instead.
He’d insisted on the parade, insisted.
“Your Majesty?” It was Gwen.  Arthur couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken directly to him.
He tried to smile but gave up when she winced.
“Everyone’s worried about you,” she said quietly.  “Why don’t you take a shower?”
Arthur didn’t mean to laugh but he couldn’t help it.  “Everyone’s worried about my poor hygiene?” he asked.
She didn’t smile.  “I think Morgana wants to hug you,” she said, “But not while you’re covered in blood.”
Arthur appreciated her in that moment for making it about Morgana rather than him.  “I can’t,” he told her.  He pointed at the television, feeling stupid and helpless.  “I have to know.”
Gwen nodded.  “How about I stay here and call out any updates?” she suggested.
Arthur stared at her.  “Will you?” he asked, because that might work and he did want to wash away this blood.
Instead of replying, she sat down beside him.  “Lance fell asleep in one of the bedrooms,” she told him, “I need to wait for him anyway.”
Arthur stood up, feeling his back and shoulder scream at him in protest.  “Thank you,” he said, hesitantly touching her shoulder as he passed by.
When she looked up and smiled at him, he felt a sudden nostalgia for the days when they were young and friends, playing together with the horses at the Mews. 
“Only 25 still in hospital now,” she called before he stepped into the bathroom.
Arthur started to slowly unbutton his shirt and let himself inhale for the first time in hours.

Merlin had no idea how he got from Ealdor to London.  All he knew was that it was dark by the time he arrived and he was fairly certain he hadn’t paid the congestion charge. 
He had to park his mum’s car a few streets away because of all the police cordons, leaving it on a red line and made his way to the Palace without any plan about what to do next.
Quite a crowd had gathered, a lot of people laying flowers, which seemed a bit creepy since none of the royal family had died.  (Merlin knew that because he’d had talk radio playing the entire journey.  He knew Arthur was home too, he just couldn’t imagine that he’d want to see Merlin.)
Merlin was used to convenient things happening around him, but it was still kind of a coincidence that his mobile started to ring at that moment.
King, Arthur flashed across the screen and Merlin’s hands shook suddenly.
“Hi,” he said then couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I got your message,” Arthur told him.  He sounded quiet, less strident than normal. 
“Message?” Merlin repeated then, “Oh. That message.”  He felt his cheeks heat up.  “Are you all right?”
“Mm,” Arthur hummed.  “No.  Perhaps.  My doctor prescribed some pain medication, which I’ve taken.  It makes it a little hard to feel anything.”
Despite himself, Merlin couldn’t help grinning.  “I think that’s the point,” he said.  With Arthur clearly stoned, it was easier to admit, “I’m outside the Palace.”
“Come up,” Arthur said immediately, “Before someone arrests you for loitering.”
“No, I.” Merlin hesitated.  Except, he did really want to see Arthur and prove to himself that he was all right.  “Can I?”
“Wait there,” Arthur instructed and hung up.
Merlin spent a few hysterical minutes imagining Arthur stumbling across the courtyard in his pyjamas to open the gate and let him in.  It was a relief when the solider on guard beckoned him forward instead.
“Merlin Emrys?” he asked. 
Merlin nodded.
The solider looked like he couldn’t believe he was saying it, but, “Come with me,” he said.

There were more people in Arthur’s wing of the Palace than Merlin had ever seen there before, as well as a lot more guards.
He had his visitor’s pass checked eleven times, but it wasn’t annoying, it was reassuring.  People kept trying to kill Arthur; he’d submit to a cavity search if it was likely to keep Arthur safe.
Merlin frowned.  Possibly that had come out rather wrong.
Gwen looked up from a sofa when Merlin walked into the living room.  She jumped up and wrapped her arms around him.
“Hi?” Merlin said, patting her back awkwardly.  He thought of the pictures of her, down amongst the injured with Lance and Arthur and tightened his arms suddenly, squeezing her.  “Are you okay?”
She nodded but didn’t lift her head from his shoulder.  “I twisted my knee a bit,” she said, “Nothing serious.  Lance is all bruised and cut up and--” She waved her hand, hitting Merlin lightly on the bicep.  “There was so much blood.”
Merlin pressed his face into Gwen’s hair and held on.  They might not have known each other long but he cared about her a lot and he hated the idea of her getting hurt. 
“Where’s Arthur?” he asked when the itch under his skin got too much. 
Gwen pulled back and rubbed at his collar a bit.  “Mascara,” she told him apologetically.  “He’s next door with Morgana.  He’ll be pleased to see you.”
Merlin didn’t know why that made him blush but it did.  “I doubt it,” he said awkwardly, “He’ll probably think I’m in the way.”
This time when she hit him on the arm, it was definitely deliberate.  “Don’t be stupid,” she said, “Not tonight.”
Swallowing hard, Merlin nodded.  “Through there?” he asked, pointing at a door he’d never gone through before.
Gwen nodded and Merlin turned the handle.
He found himself at the bottom of a short flight of stairs.  He could hear voices floating down to him so he made sure to tread heavily as he made his way up.  He rounded the top of the stairs and nearly backed all the way down again when he found himself in a bedroom.
“Sorry,” he said, staring at Arthur and Morgana, both in their pyjamas, lying next to each other on the bed.  “Really.  Very sorry.”
Morgana rolled to her feet before Merlin could stammer anything else.  She was wearing a Muse t-shirt and there was a long scratch down her cheek. 
“Hi, Merlin,” she said softly, touching his arm as she squeezed past him.  “Make sure this idiot sleeps, yeah?”
“Um, yeah?” Merlin agreed, staying where he was until she’d closed the door at the bottom of the stairs behind her.  “I’m really sorry,” he said again as soon as she was gone.
Arthur sat up, wincing and frowning all at once.  “Whatever for?” he asked, “I invited you here, didn’t I?” He frowned again.  “Or did I?  Maybe you invited yourself.  Either way.”
“You and Lady Morgana,” Merlin tried, feeling stupid.
Arthur’s eyes widened.  He laughed then looked appalled at himself for doing so.  “Please don’t ever say that again,” he said.  “Do you have a sister?” Merlin shook his head.  “Imagine you do and then imagine sleeping with her.  That’s what you just implied.”
“Oh.” Merlin didn’t feel relieved, he absolutely didn’t.  “Sorry?”
“Please do stop apologising.”  Arthur had finally got to his feet.  His face had drained of colour and there were tiny frown lines around his eyes as though he was in pain. 
“Should you be standing up?” Merlin asked, finally walking toward him.
“Probably not,” Arthur agreed but he didn’t sit down.  “Could you come here?”
Arthur reached out as soon as Merlin was close enough, his hands curling around Merlin’s shoulders as though he needed the support. 
This close, Merlin could see a bruise on Arthur’s chin, that his hair was still damp from washing out other people’s blood, that his eyes were heavy with painkillers and exhaustion.
Merlin was touching before he could talk himself out of it, pressing his palm over the bruise on Arthur’s jaw.  
Arthur didn’t move, didn’t make a sound, just let his eyes fall shut.  He was shaking.
Merlin knew this was a mistake; he was going to get rejected so hard and he still wasn’t over Will.  He knew all that but he still slid an arm around Arthur’s shoulders, pulled him forward until Merlin could press his temple to Arthur’s cheekbone.  
Arthur’s arms wrapped around him.  “You came here,” he murmured, like it was surprising. 
Merlin turned his head into Arthur’s hair.  “Yes.  Sorry.”
“Were you worried?”  Arthur asked.  His tone sounded like it wanted to be sly, wanted to be teasing, but it was too serious for that.
Merlin made himself laugh.  It didn’t fool anyone.  “What me?  Worry about a prat like you?”  He somehow managed to pull Arthur even closer.  “Yes,” he said, “I was worried.”
Arthur was quiet for long, endless seconds.  “I know it’s rather an imposition,” he said at last, “But could you possibly stay here tonight?”
Merlin knew he should say no but he thought of the stiff way Arthur was moving, the shadows in his eyes and the images of him from this morning, doing his best to save his people’s lives, and couldn’t say anything but, “Of course I will.”

Arthur’s bed was the most comfortable place Merlin had ever slept.  The sheets were cool and light, the duvet reassuringly heavy and the mattress felt like it was made from clouds.
“I’m never moving,” Merlin told Arthur seriously. 
Arthur made a soft noise.  “That’s fine,” he said, sounding half asleep.
Merlin decided not to think about that too closely. 
He was lying on his side, a good foot of bed between him and Arthur, except that Arthur kept shifting and wriggling and Merlin was sure Arthur was going to kick him in a minute. 
“You’re in pain, aren’t you?” Merlin asked, leaning up on one elbow and putting his hand on Arthur’s shoulder to stop him moving.
Arthur hissed in a breath and Merlin snatched his hand back.
“Only when idiots lean on me,” Arthur said but he sounded exhausted, tetchy rather than actually annoyed.
“Can you take any more painkillers?” he asked.  He wished for one brief, ridiculous moment that he was studying medicine like Gaius had wanted, if only so it meant he might be able to help Arthur feel better right now. Geography was an interesting enough degree but Arthur probably didn’t care about the ethnosocial implications of bridge-building in Laos right now.
“Not until the morning,” Arthur told him.  He breathed out slowly.  “I’m fine.  Just a little sore.”
Right, Merlin thought, like the Titanic was just a little ship.  He didn’t say that though, just reached out and put his hand back on Arthur’s shoulder, softer this time, moving his palm slowly over the soft material of his t-shirt.
Arthur made a questioning noise but he didn’t actually ask Merlin what he was doing, which was good because Merlin didn’t really know. 
Eventually, he felt Arthur start to relax under his hand and he smiled as he listened to Arthur’s breathing slow and steady.  He carefully withdrew his hand and settled down on his side of the bed, closing his eyes.
It was very quiet in Arthur’s bedroom, almost peaceful, and Merlin was almost asleep when Arthur sat up with a choked off cry and a jolt that shook the bed.
“What?” Merlin asked, scrambling to sit up too. 
Arthur’s eyes were wide and his breath shook.  “Sorry,” he said, “I’m sorry. I thought I heard-- I think I heard the explosion again in my dream.”
Merlin wondered if it would be all right to put his arms around Arthur then realised that he already was.   “Hush, you’re okay, you’re safe,” he said helplessly. 
Arthur leant into him a little, letting Merlin take some of his weight, only a little but it still felt like something important.  “I know I’m safe,” he said, breath blowing hot against Merlin’s cheek. “It’s everyone else I’m worried about.”
There wasn’t much Merlin could say to that so he just held on tighter. 

Arthur woke feeling too warm, but very comfortable.  It had been a long time since he’d woken up in bed beside someone else and he’d forgotten how grounding it was.
Merlin was sprawled across Arthur’s chest which did nothing for the pain in Arthur’s shoulder but quite a lot for the rest of him and Arthur’s hand was tucked under the waistband of Merlin’s boxers, fingers curled around Merlin’s hipbone.
He felt he should probably be embarrassed by that, but it was hard to be when it felt so right. 
Merlin stirred sleepily and Arthur withdrew his hand reluctantly, laying it on Merlin’s waist instead, over the top of his t-shirt.  He missed the feeling of skin on skin so much that it was ridiculous. 
“Mm,” Merlin muttered, rubbing his cheek on Arthur’s t-shirt. 
The only reason Arthur managed to resist curling forward and kissing the top of his head was that his back wouldn’t currently bend that way. 
He cleared his throat and forced himself not to sound fond.  “Good morning, Merlin,” he said as pointedly as he was currently able.
It would have been funny to see how quickly Merlin woke up and scrambled away from him if it weren’t, well, not funny at all.
“Oh my god,” Merlin said in one long breath, followed by, “Hi.  Sorry.”  His hand shot out and he pressed two fingers just above Arthur’s left nipple.  Arthur’s breath caught.  “I dribbled on you, sorry.”
Arthur shook his head.  “I should have expected nothing less,” he said. 
Merlin’s eyes were very blue in the early morning light and his bed hair was magnificent.  His t-shirt had twisted around so the neck was stretched along one shoulder, showing the long line of his collarbone.
None of which was the reason that Arthur reached out to touch; it was the expression on Merlin’s face as he looked at Arthur, worried, fond, nervous, affectionate, that made Arthur be very, very stupid for once and drag his fingers across Merlin’s hip, up the concave dip of belly, just lightly, nothing Merlin couldn’t move away from.  
Merlin’s breath stuttered and he stared at Arthur, cheeks flushing, eyes getting wider.
He licked his lips and terrified hope shot through Arthur like the promise of a kiss.
“Oh,” said Merlin, so quietly Arthur almost didn’t hear him.  He closed his eyes for a moment.  When he opened them, whatever had been there was gone.  He moved backwards and Arthur let his hand drop to the bed. 
“Would you like some breakfast?” Merlin asked quickly, “Or tea?  Coffee?  Orange juice?”
Right, Arthur thought, Of course.  “Coffee, please,” he said and let Merlin escape without pointing out that Merlin didn’t live here and the coffee was not his to offer.

Merlin’s hands were still shaking while he waited for the kettle to boil.  He’d found instant coffee in the cupboard above the sink, which probably wasn’t what Arthur was used to, but it was in his kitchen so he couldn’t really object.
His stomach still buzzed from the drag of Arthur’s fingertips across his skin, shockingly warm even through his t-shirt.  It had been too much, first waking up curled in Arthur’s arms, then the Arthur actually touching him. His heart was still pounding.

The click of the kettle boiling made him jump and he almost knocked the whole thing off its stand when he flailed toward it.
“Careful,” said an amused voice and he turned around to see Lady Morgana watching him from the doorway.  She smiled at him and brushed past on her way to set a breakfast bowl and mug in the sink.  He tried not to stare, like the King’s stepsister always wandered past him in her pyjamas.
“How’s Arthur?” she asked.
“Fine,” Merlin said automatically then realised that was either really true or really not true.  He wasn’t sure if sort of slightly coming on to him was a sign on impending PTSD or not.
Morgana tucked her hair behind her ear and swung herself up so she was sitting on the counter by the sink.  She stretched out long legs and braced her bare feet against the wall, blocking Merlin's route out of the room.
"Um?" he asked, pouring some milk into his coffee then hesitating over Arthur's.  "Does Arthur take milk?"
"Yes," she told him, "And sugar.  Although not officially."
Merlin frowned at her.  "He doesn't take sugar officially?"
She smiled blandly.  "He's the King.  There's an official statement somewhere for everything."
Wow.  Merlin would not be able to cope with that.  Some of his horror must have shown on his face because Morgana laughed.  
"It's not as strange as it seems when you're born into it."
"Right," Merlin not-agreed.  He glanced at her legs, still trapping him.  "Am I your prisoner?" he asked, keeping his voice light.  
This time, Morgana's smile was warmer.  "Only for a moment," she promised him.  "I just want to have a quick word with you, re your intentions etcetera."
Merlin choked.  "My what?"
"The last time Arthur spent a whole night in bed with someone, he was seventeen and did it mostly to annoy his father. His father isn’t here now, so I’m assuming he cares about you."
Merlin stared at her.  "Okay, but Arthur's straight," he said slowly.  The whole slightly hitting on Merlin thing to the contrary, obviously.  
Morgana looked at him like he was slow.  It was a very familiar look, but normally Arthur was the one wearing it.  "Which is why he slept with you last night."
"Hang on!" Merlin didn't mean to shout but it came out sort of loud anyway.  "We slept in the same bed, we didn't have sex."  He had to lower his voice on sex because he was in Buckingham Palace.  You didn't say sex in Buckingham Palace.  
Morgana dropped her legs, pulling them up onto the counter and resting her chin on her knees.  "You didn’t?" she asked slowly.  
Merlin watched her; she looked sort of sad for some reason. People didn’t normally look sad when they found out that Merlin hadn’t had sex with their brothers.   "No.  Can I go?"
"What? Oh, of course."  She waved him off, not really looking at him anymore. 
Frowning, Merlin made his way back to the bedroom.  He wasn't surprised to find that Arthur had got out of bed; he didn't seem the type of person who could appreciate a lie-in, but he had to clutch the mugs extra hard so he didn't drop them when he saw Arthur standing in the middle of his bedroom, plain black boxers doing all good things for the muscles in his thighs.  He'd obviously got stuck half way through putting on a hoodie, because his arms were tangled above his head and Merlin could only see the bottom of his face.  The bottom of his face was very disgruntled.
"Are you all right?" Merlin asked, biting his lip so he didn't laugh.
"Yes," Arthur said, voice strained.  "Yes, I'm perfectly fine."
Merlin put the mugs down on the bedside table and walked toward Arthur.  Close-up, Arthur's chest was firm and the hairs smattered across it were very golden.  Shit.  Merlin shut his eyes for a moment.  He really wished Morgana hadn't put those thoughts in his head.
"It's your shoulder, right?" Merlin asked, slipping his hand under the rucked up hem of the hoodie and pulling it straight, putting one hand on Arthur's upper arm to support it while he eased the sleeve down.
Arthur hissed in a breath.  "You don't have to do this," he said quietly.  "You could get Morgana."
Arthur's skin was really warm. 
"Wouldn’t she tease you?" Merlin asked.  The hoodie fell into place and suddenly Merlin was talking against the side of Arthur's face.  His hair was messy and his cheeks were flushed.
"Pardon?" Arthur asked, half turning toward Merlin.  
Merlin couldn't remember.  That was really embarrassing.  And Arthur's eyes were really blue.  "Is your shoulder okay?" he asked instead.  Self-consciously, he unwrapped his hand from around it.
Arthur made a soft sound and turned toward him like he was chasing the touch.  Which he wasn't.  Obviously.  Arthur was the King; he didn't want Merlin.
"It's fine," Arthur told him.  He reached up and brushed his thumb under Merlin's lower eyelashes.  Merlin actually shuddered.  Arthur blushed.  "Sleep dust," he said awkwardly.  
Merlin nodded.  "Thank you."  He wondered suddenly, stupidly, if he could just lean in and kiss Arthur right now.  He was taller than Arthur, he realised, but not by much.  It would be easy.
"Yes," Arthur said even though Merlin knew he hadn't said that out loud.
"Yes?" Merlin asked.  It was too early for this; his stomach was in knots.  
Arthur opened his mouth, or maybe he just parted his lips, maybe he was going to kiss Merlin, Merlin thought dizzily but, before he could find out, sudden loud voices outside the door had Arthur stumbling backwards away from Merlin and Merlin left in the middle of the room like an idiot.
"You can't just barge in there," Merlin heard Morgana shout angrily followed by the clatter of outdoor shoes on the steps leading up to Arthur's room.  
Arthur straightened his hoodie and was every inch a king before whoever it was had reached the top of the stairs, the fact he was still wearing his boxers didn't seem to put a dent that at all.  Merlin was just glad he'd put on his jeans.  
"It's customary to knock," Arthur said mildly and an old man Merlin had never met but was pretty sure was Lord Geoffrey Monmouth stopped in his tracks.
"Apologies, Your Majesty," he said, with a half-sketched bow.  "I'm afraid my business is urgent."  His eyes skimmed over Merlin, one eyebrow raising delicately as though fully disapproving of Merlin and his presence was just too much effort.
Arthur folded his arms.  "I suppose you'd better tell me then."  
Merlin couldn't remember the last time he'd heard Arthur sound that formal.  Call it a hunch, but he didn't think Arthur liked Geoffrey Monmouth at all.
"In the circumstances it has been decided to move you to--" Another glance at Merlin, this one more suspicious-- "Well, somewhere else, as a safety precaution."
"It's been decided?" Arthur repeated.  "By whom, precisely?"
"Chiefly, Inspector DuLac," Geoffrey said and Merlin watched as the fight went out of Arthur.
"This was Lancelot's idea?" he asked.  "Where is he?"
"He went ahead to secure the route," Geoffrey told him.  He cleared his throat quietly.  "If you wouldn't mind getting dressed."
"Lancelot agreed to this?" Arthur asked again.  
Geoffrey's expression flickered with such a brief spark of annoyance that Merlin almost missed it.  "He did.  I'm happy to wait while you phone him to confirm."
He didn't seem like he'd be happy to Merlin.
"No," Arthur said, "No, of course I believe you, Geoffrey."  He looked pointedly at the stairs.  "If you could give me a minute?"
"Of course."  Geoffrey's bow was much more sweeping this time as he backed out of the room.  
"Should I go too?" Merlin asked once Geoffrey was gone.  
"No," Arthur said, opening his wardrobe and pulling out a pair of grey trousers.  "Wait, please."
Merlin carefully looked away while Arthur pulled on his trousers, waiting one more minute after he heard Arthur do up the zip.  
"Merlin." Merlin jumped; Arthur was much closer than he'd expected.  "Is my sock drawer really that fascinating?"
"What?" Merlin asked then blushed, realising he'd been staring fixedly at Arthur's chest of drawers.  
"Never mind," Arthur said.  His lips pursed like he was psyching himself up for something.  Before Merlin could ask if he was feeling all right, Arthur ducked forward and pressed his lips to Merlin's.  "There," he said, like he was marking a task off his day-planner.  
He stepped back one step then another.  "I'll-  Would it be all right if I called you once all this nonsense is over?" 
This was the most ridiculous situation Merlin had ever been in.  "Yes," he said, because it wasn't like he could say anything else.

"Where on Earth are you going, boy?" an imperious voice asked and Merlin froze automatically, realised that no, actually, it was fine for him to be here, and looked around.

Having decided that skulking around alone in Arthur’s rooms was creepy, he was on his way out of the Palace, half way down the main staircase.
The giant painting of King Uther with the labrador was looking at him.  Um, King Uther, that was, and the Labrador.  Only King Uther was talking to him though.
Merlin glanced around quickly.  A family walked past the bottom of the stairs but there was no one else immediately around.
"Pardon?" he whispered.
"Your Majesty," Uther prompted and oh Christ, not this again.
"I beg your pardon, Your Majesty?" Merlin said properly.  
"That's better."  Uther's mouth didn't move but his eyes did and Merlin could still hear him clearly.  "Why are you traipsing around the place as if you've nothing better to do when my son is in mortal peril?  What kind of a guardian are you?"
"Um, I'm not--" Merlin started to say then, "Wait?  What?  Arthur's in danger?"  The idea was so terrifying he couldn't actually process it.  
Uther rolled his eyes.  "This is ridiculous.  Gaius assured me you were up for the task.  Yes, Arthur is in danger.  That bastard Monmouth has him."
Wait, Merlin thought, Gaius reassures paintings? before exactly what Uther had just said penetrated his brain.  "Geoffrey?" he asked, "He’s in danger from-- Never mind. Where's he taken him?"
For the first time, some feeling other than annoyance crept into Uther's voice.  "I don't know," he snapped, "Find him!"
"Yes," Merlin agreed, because yes and took off running, back the way he'd come.  
He didn't know who he was hoping to find, just someone who might know where Geoffrey was taking Arthur -- and Morgana.  Arthur and Morgana; he was worried about them both -- but as soon as he'd flung the door open, he bumped straight into Morgause.
"Sorry," he said, trying to slip past her then stopped, turning back to look at her.  "Do you know where Arthur and Morgana are going?"
She tipped her head slowly.  Normally, she was very soothing, but not today.  "To safety, apparently."
Merlin groaned.  "No," he said, "No, they're in danger and I don't know where they are."
Morgause's hands were suddenly gripping his shoulders.  She was strong and he tried not to wince.  "Why are they in danger?  What do you know?"
Merlin hesitated.  "A painting told me," he said eventually.  He didn't care if she thought he was crazy, only that she either help him or let him leave.  
Morgause stared at him, her eyes narrowing.  "Okay," she said eventually.  "Uther or Igraine?"
Merlin blinked.  "What?"
Morgause waved a hand.  "Igraine talks to Morgana all the time but Uther never does.  I don't think she wants to hear him.  But that's not important.  Tell me everything."
"I think I should maybe be telling the police?" Merlin said, because as reassuringly calm as Morgause was, he didn't think the two of them were really up for pulling off a daring rescue all by themselves.
"Pfft," Morgause scoffed, "You trust the police?"  Her eyes flashed gold and Merlin forgot to breathe.  "No,” she said, “I think we can handle Geoffrey Monmouth by ourselves."

Overall, Arthur rather preferred the first way he woke up today to the second.  Waking up with a warm, Merlin-shaped blanket was infinitely preferable to waking up to a throbbing head, bile in his throat and the soft, fast sounds of Morgana's frightened breathing.

Arthur opened his eyes cautiously and squinted across rough, dirty carpet.  Morgana was sitting up against the opposite wall, an open cut bleeding down into her left eye and a scared, furious glare on her face.

He couldn't tell if they were alone in the room, but he couldn't hear anyone else breathing so decided to risk it.

"Morgana," he whispered softly.

Her head snapped up and she crawled quickly over to him.  Her left arm was held tightly against her side and Arthur decided, very calmly, that he was going to kill whoever had hurt her.

"Are you all right?" she asked, flattening one hand over his hair like she used to do when they were children and everyone else was too busy to comfort him when he was ill. 

He forced himself to sit up even though it awakened the throb in his head, burning nausea in his stomach and the ache in his shoulder that he'd picked up yesterday.

"Actually, I'm a mess," he told her and tried to smile.

Morgana just shook her head at him.  "Don't move, you idiot," she hissed, but she slipped in against his side to help him sit up anyway. 

Arthur dropped his head back carefully against the wall and tried to breathe through the pain.  There were bright lights at the corners of his vision and a worryingly sweeping blackness ebbing and flowing over everything.

"I'm sorry," he said, hating to admit weakness, but needing her to know she couldn't rely on his help, "I don't know if I'm going to be much good right now."

"Idiot," Morgana snapped again, "I don't keep you around for your escape strategies."

Arthur tried to smile, or thought he did.  He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on staying conscious.  "Do you have any idea where we are?"

Morgana shook her head, long strands of her hair brushing against his face.  "No." She rubbed the centre of her forehead.  "I remember getting in the car but nothing else."

Arthur was the same.  Geoffrey had led them out of the Palace through the one of the seldom-used back gates and Arthur had followed Morgana into the waiting car, sat in his usual seat and-.  Nothing.

Morgana's arm tightened around him.  "We'll be fine," she said.  "It's not like the government won't pay the ransom."

"Of course," Arthur said and didn't point out how unlikely it was that this was that kind of kidnapping.  "Look.  If anything-.  If you can get away but I can't, you will go, won't you?"

"Duh," she said, although her voice shook, "You think I'd sacrifice myself for you?"

Yes, Arthur thought, As I would for you.  He didn't say anything at all. 


"Do you have any idea at all where he might have taken them?" Merlin asked again.

King Uther in the painting on the stairs had refused to give them any more information but Morgause had found a painting of Uther, Igraine and baby Arthur in the Gallery and this Uther was proving chattier.  Not that even a chatty Uther was particularly effusive.

Effusive, seriously, he needed to spent less time amongst the Eton-educated elite. 

"I'm afraid I know very little about Geoffrey's personal habits," Uther told them, eyes locked on the far corner of the painting where Igraine was stroking the downy soft hair on the top of Arthur's head. 

"Would Igraine know?" Morgause asked.  Her hands were clenched into fists at her sides like she'd like nothing more than to punch the painting until it gave her some answers.  Her tone was soft and patient though.

"You'd have to ask her yourself," Uther said and he sounded sad for a moment, "She hasn't spoken to me in nearly twenty years."

Since she died, Merlin thought.

He stayed back and watched as Morgause knelt down beside the bottom right corner of the painting.  "Aunt Igraine?" she said, "It's Morgause."

No answer.

Morgause shot Merlin a frustrated look.  "Geoffrey's taken Arthur," she ploughed on, "Do you know where?"

Igraine stayed silent.

"It's no use," Merlin whispered, not sure why he was whispering but sure that he should.  "I don't think she knows we're here."

"Yes, she does." Morgause pressed her hand to the painting, fitting her fingers over Igraine's against baby Arthur's head.  "Auntie.  Please."

"Camelot." It was so quiet that Merlin almost didn't hear it, but that was definitely what she said. 

"I don't--" Merlin started, but Morgause hushed him. Merlin pressed his lips together, sure that this was pointless. Camelot House was where Igraine had died, falling down a flight of stairs while Uther and Geoffrey sipped tea upstairs. It was one of those stories, the kind everyone knew.

"Camelot House?" Morgause asked, "Are you sure?"

Igraine didn't say anything for long enough that Merlin was afraid she wouldn't.  "Yes," she said eventually.  "It's where he killed me."


"Such a terrible tragedy." Geoffrey's voice was soft, old and tired, but his hand holding the gun was entirely steady.  "I did my best to save you, of course, but there were just too many of them."
"No one will believe that," Morgana snapped at him.  It was her are you stupid? tone, the one she used to use on Uther.  
She was standing between Arthur and Geoffrey.  Arthur wished she wouldn't, wished he could make her move but it was taking all his energy to stay on his feet to face down the gun.  His fingernails wedged under the window-frame were all that was keeping him on his feet. He could only hope Geoffrey hadn't noticed.  
Geoffrey shook his head like shaking away a bluebottle.  "Of course they will.  They always do."  He jerked his head at Morgana. "Now, move out of the way."
"Why?" she demanded.  "You're going to shoot me anyway."
"Oh," Geoffrey said, "That's true," and pulled the trigger.
Morgana crumpled like a house of cards. Arthur didn't recognise the sound that came out of his mouth, just launched himself at Geoffrey not caring any more about the gun still clutched in Geoffrey's hand. 

Geoffrey was an old man and Arthur had had self-defence training since he was three years old but he was uncoordinated with rage and possible concussion and Geoffrey let him get one punch in before shoving him hard, back against the wall. 

"I always knew you were a son of a bitch," he spat. 

Geoffrey just smiled.  "That's funny," he said, "That's exactly what your father said. Potassium chloride is excellent at mimicking a heart attack, you know.”

Arthur saw red, actual, literal red, but before he could attack Geoffrey again and, by god, he would kill him this time, Geoffrey pressed the gun up under his jaw, forcing Arthur's chin upright.

"Your whole family is a disgrace," Geoffrey told him.  "Impostors, usurpers, you have no right to the crown."

Arthur set his jaw and didn't speak. 

"No, last words, Your Majesty?" Geoffrey shook his head.  "How disappointing. I have often regretted not giving your dear mother a chance to utter her last words."

Arthur flinched but god, no, he wasn’t going to give this bastard the satisfaction. Fixing his eyes on the ceiling, feeling Geoffrey press the barrel of the gun harder against the soft skin under Arthur's chin, Arthur set his teeth. 

He wasn't going to beg.

"Oh well," Geoffrey said, and Arthur shut his eyes when he heard the scrape of the hammer drawing back.

The explosion was deafening, loud enough to take Arthur off his feet.  He rocked backwards, grabbing at the wall, realising as he did that people who've just been shot in the head very rarely grab.

Snapping his eyes open, he stared. 

The ceiling had come down.  Not the whole ceiling, but a perfect circle of masonry which had fallen onto Geoffrey's head and was currently pinning him to the ground.  From the amount of blood, Arthur didn't think he'd be getting up again.

Morgana lay on her side, her arm outstretched.  There was a look of horrified determination on her face and her eyes were glowing gold. 

Arthur felt his legs start to give out and he stumbled one step, two, then collapsed down next to Morgana.

"Oh my god," he said and wrapped both arms around her. He pressed his hand to the front of her shirt, expecting blood but finding nothing. He tried to turn her around but she stayed where she was, stiff and still, the clamour of her heart under Arthur’s shaking hands reassuring him that she was very much alive, alive and apparently, miraculously un-shot.

For once in his life, Arthur had no idea what to say.  He wanted to demand to know what the fuck had just happened, how she wasn't dead, how Geoffrey was, but Morgana was trembling, he was trembling and he pressed his face into the curve of her shoulder and didn't say a word.

Camelot House was apparently the Monmouth's ancestral home.  Merlin had only heard of it in relation to Igraine dying there and Morgause didn't know where it was but, luckily, the car they stole from Buckingham Palace Road had GPS.

Yes, they stole a car.  Merlin was actually too distracted worrying about a million other things to worry about that, or about the fact that Morgause had clearly never driven on the left hand side of the road before.

"Oh my god, don't kill us!" Merlin shouted, grabbing onto the dashboard as they screeched from the middle lane into the right hand lane far too late and just in front of a double-decker tourist bus.

"I'm an excellent driver, shut up," she told him through gritted teeth.

Her glare was kind of scary so he shut up. 

For a minute, anyway.

"Why would Geoffrey want to kill Arthur?  I don't understand." He had his phone in his hands, turning it around and around but Morgause was right; they couldn’t phone the police. If Geoffrey was a traitor then who knew who else was.

Morgause screeched to a stop at a red light and turned to look at him.

"Geoffrey's family dates back to the Middle Ages," she said, "Perhaps he has decided to stake his own claim to the throne."

"Does he have a claim to the throne?" Merlin asked.

Morgause shrugged.  "I'm sure he could find one.  Even I have a claim on the British throne." Merlin felt his eyes go wide and she laughed.  "But I'm not trying to kill your Arthur, don't worry.  I can't think of anything worse than being Queen."

Merlin subsided back into his seat.  "He's not my Arthur," he muttered, but not very loudly, because judging by the ache in Merlin's heart, it was quite possible that he was.

Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Tags: fic, gwen/lancelot, merlin, merlin/arthur, merlin/will, merlinbigbang, r-rated
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