Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip
paperclipbitch

"We're A Storm In Somebody Else's Teacup" {2/?}, Merlin, Merlin/Arthur

Title: We’re A Storm In Somebody Else’s Teacup {2/?}
Fandom: Merlin {Modern!AU}
Pairing: Eventual Arthur/Merlin {slight Merlin/Will, Arthur/Lancelot}
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 9000
Genre: Slash
Summary: In which a rescue attempt leads to Merlin getting very, very wet, Arthur inadvertently offending him, and Lance getting angry.
Author’s Notes: First off, thank you so much for the amazing response to the first chapter; I really wish I spent more time online so I could thank everyone personally. The plot for this epic is sort of an amalgamation of Merlin episodes and every comic I’ve ever read (practically) but ah well. And because the Southbank is very possibly my favourite place in the whole world.

{Part One}



Laughingly I take the fevered applause
Of the people by the riverside
I’m walking
Walking on water
God knows why.

- The Sundays

“You’re not coming,” Merlin says, voice somewhat muffled through the t-shirt Gwen is currently pulling over his head. “It might be dangerous.”

Gwen has managed to get herself fully dressed in what seems to be about thirty seconds flat, and is looking irritatingly perky for twenty past four in the morning. Merlin is still stumbling about, which is why Gwen has taken pity on him and is trying to help him get dressed.

“That did occur to me,” she says, handing him a clean pair of socks, “When you said: ‘Morgana says Arthur’s bitchy girlfriend is going to kill him’. I didn’t really think it was going to be a tea-and-biscuits sort of thing.”

Merlin finally manages to pull his socks on, and looks around for his shoes. “What makes you think you can help?”

“I’m awesome,” Gwen responds cheerfully, scooping up a pair of battered converse from the floor and handing them to Merlin. “And, out of the two of us, I’m the only one capable of walking in a straight line right now, which I feel gives me brownie points.”

Merlin scowls, shrugs into a jacket, and hopes his brain will have woken up a little by the time Morgana comes to get him.

As they hurry down the stairs – the lift is broken again – Gwen observes: “If you’re going to replace me with Morgana, you might want to remember that I have never called you up in the middle of the night with weird requests.”

Merlin considers this. “There was that time in uni when you were at a party and drunk and that guy was mean to you and you rang me up and I had to go and get Will and we drove halfway across the country-”

“Our unis were less than a hundred miles apart,” Gwen points out patiently, as she does every time Merlin recounts this story.

“-To come and be nice to you and then all your classmates thought you were dating both of us and I missed all my lectures the next day and Will got coffee all over my favourite jeans.”

The cold night air outside hits Merlin’s face, instantly waking him up. He shivers.

“Did you have a point?” Gwen asks after a moment.

Merlin smiles a little ruefully. “I think my point is that you’re going to be my Best Girl Ever for, you know, ever.”

Gwen smiles back, and it’s then that Merlin hears the screeching tires. A car comes around the corner on two wheels and pulls to a halt in front of them with a scream of brakes. Morgana is sitting with her knuckles white on the steering wheel, looking fragile and frightened and Merlin feels the adrenaline kick in; whatever she’s seen has clearly terrified her and he wants to help however he can. He and Gwen quickly get into the backseat, and Morgana drives off again.

“This is Gwen,” Merlin says, although he thinks Morgana already knows, “I wanted you two to meet under different circumstances, but…”

Morgana nods abruptly, flooring the accelerator and it’s just as well it’s the middle of the night because the roads are mercifully free of traffic.

“What’s going to happen?” Merlin asks, getting down to the point. “How can I help?”

Morgana takes a deep breath and then another one, keeping her eyes on the road.

“I saw Sophia,” she says, “I saw her… trying to drown Arthur.”

“I thought you said she was a gold-digger,” Gwen says, and if Morgana is surprised at how faithfully Merlin relays their conversations, she doesn’t pick now to mention it. “Surely she won’t get anything if she kills Arthur?”

“She’s… she’s like me and Merlin,” Morgana says, taking a corner too fast and making Merlin want to curl up on the floor of the car and weep, “Sophia has some form of powers… she’s using Magic. She needs Arthur for something, I just don’t know what.”

“Am I going to be able to help?” Merlin asks. “I mean, I’ll do whatever I can, but…”

“I didn’t know who else to turn to,” Morgana tells him, but her voice breaks halfway through the sentence and Merlin hates hearing how afraid she is.

“It’s going to be all right,” Gwen says, and she sounds so calm and reassuring that Merlin kind of wants to wrap his arms around her for a while until the world starts looking alright again.

Morgana catches Gwen’s eye in the rearview mirror, and nods decisively. “Right. I’ve seen what could happen, and so we’ll stop it. And at least I know exactly where we’re going.”

It’s just as well Morgana is the stepdaughter of a billionaire because she’s probably going to have about fifty speeding tickets later, but for the moment they flash through red and green lights alike, and Merlin tries to work out what exactly he can do to prevent attempted murder when the time actually comes, and also what Morgana will do to him if he has to ask her to pull over so he can be sick. Gwen reaches over and curls her fingers, warm and supportive, over his shoulder, and Merlin reminds himself that, for want of a considerably better word, he is kind of a superhero. So he will somehow do this, and it will all be fine.

Morgana abruptly brakes, leaving the engine running as she pushes the door open and sprints down the road. Gwen and Merlin exchange daughter of a billionaire expressions and then get out and run after her. Rounding the corner of a building, Merlin finds the Millennium Wheel ahead of them, lit up blue at night like it normally is. But Morgana is running towards it, and Merlin realises that the lights all over the Wheel are moving. Skittering around like they’re gigantic fireflies or something, and Gwen lets out a sound of confusion beside him.

While Merlin still isn’t sure what’s going on, he’s fairly sure this isn’t at all good, and so puts on an extra burst of speed, managing to catch up with Morgana, who has run past the wheel onto the Southbank, and now…

Merlin takes in the whole situation in a moment; he can feel himself panicking, his thoughts running around in desperate circles shrieking Oh God, oh shit, what do I do, his breath catching in short sharp gasps from running, but above all that there’s a sort of… blankness. A space in his mind entirely free of fear or confusion where he can see exactly what’s going on.

There’s an extremely pretty young woman in a beige silk dress that looks cold and impractical for this weather – Merlin is going to assume that this is Sophia – standing on the railing that separates the general public from the Thames, and she is holding what looks like a gigantic staff. The part of Merlin that has no idea what the hell to do starts mentally laughing at this – Jesus, this really is one step too far, his life is now officially stupid and abnormal – but the rest of him is watching how Sophia’s other hand is stretched out, fingers curling just slightly, and hanging in the air a few feet beneath that hand is…

“Arthur,” Morgana moans beside Merlin, desperation in her voice. Sophia hears, turning her head, and Merlin doesn’t even think about what he’s doing as he hooks his mind around the staff in her hand and pulls. It flies across the space between them and smacks into his palm. The wood feels alive; almost too hot to touch, but he squeezes it tightly anyway. Sophia’s mouth opens but Merlin is faster than her. He’s not entirely sure what happens, because he’s not consciously aware of thinking anything, but deep red light pours out of the end of the staff. It hits Sophia in the chest and, in a way that’s entirely ungory, she disintegrates. Merlin scarcely has time to think something like oh fucking hell I’ve actually killed someone when Morgana screams and starts running forward, and he belatedly remembers that Sophia was magically holding Arthur above the water, and now that she’s not…

Merlin can hear his heart pounding in his ears as he tries to catch Arthur with his mind and pull him to safety, but without being able to see him he can’t reach him. Morgana shouts Arthur’s name and it’s just as well it’s the middle of the night because this will be impossible to explain if anyone comes along, and Gwen is yelling something behind Merlin but he can’t hear her and he drops the staff as he finally reaches the railing, frantically looking over into the dark water. There’s no sign of Arthur.

“Don’t!” Gwen yells, but she and Morgana weren’t as quick as Merlin and he’s still not really thinking as he leaps over the railing while they’re still catching up with him. Gwen screams just before he hits the water and as icy coldness closes over his head Merlin finally comes to his senses and realises that he has just jumped into the Thames.

He surfaces, gasping; the cold is like a million needles in his skin and it’s disorientating: the river is shrouded in darkness but lamps all along the edge cast shaky pools of orange light over the surface, and he can’t hear whatever it is Morgana and Gwen are shouting at him. But he’s here now and Arthur is somewhere, clearly not fighting for his life because he hasn’t come to the surface yet, and Merlin ducks under, trying not to think too hard about the myriad of other things that might be in the Thames. He has to fight his way back to the surface; cold is making his mind freeze up and his breath is practically bursting in his lungs. But he remembers Morgana’s agony and he can’t let her brother die. He just can’t.

Finally, Merlin’s hand brushes against what feels like fabric. There’s a lingering warmth in it, a momentary crackle of some kind of Magic, which means this must be Arthur; he clenches his numb fingers and pulls. This time, when he breaks the surface of the water, he manages to drag Arthur with him, wrapping his arms around the other man and keeping him elevated.

Merlin!” Gwen’s voice is urgent, and Merlin knows there’s only so long they can survive like this. He screws his eyes up, gathering all the power he can find within him, and then uses it to elevate himself and Arthur until they’re both back over the barrier and lying on the cold concrete.

“You fucking idiot,” Gwen hisses, pulling off her jacket and draping it around his shoulders. Tears are dripping down her cheeks, shining in the feeble light. Merlin’s teeth are chattering too hard for him to say anything in his defence, so he turns his attention to Arthur. The other man is lying horribly still, eyes closed, and although it’s half dark Merlin can still see that the photographs of Arthur Pendragon haven’t done him justice; even mostly drowned he’s the most beautiful man Merlin has ever seen. He vaguely registers that this is not really the time to be thinking this, but he thinks he might actually be in shock and therefore is allowed to think whatever he wants.

“What do I do?” Morgana demands; her voice is ragged, frantic.

Gwen seems to pull herself together. “Move,” she orders Merlin and Morgana, and positions herself beside Arthur, tipping his head back. Merlin distantly remembers Gwen doing a First Aid course last year; coming home and wrapping him up in various bandages while she practised how to cope with everything from concussions to amputations. And she looks so calm, so collected, as she pinches Arthur’s nose closed and leans down to breathe into his mouth. Merlin almost forgets to breathe himself, watching Gwen pumping Arthur’s chest and breathing for him. Morgana is utterly silent on the ground beside him, and Merlin wonders exactly what she will do if it turns out they’re too late.

On Gwen’s next breath, Arthur starts choking. She sits back and helps him shift so he can vomit up copious amounts of river water, making a helpless groaning sound. And Merlin in no way notices that Arthur is still unreasonably good-looking while throwing up, because that would be strange and wrong.

Morgana lets out a shaky breath, moving to her brother’s side. “Wha-” he manages to articulate.

“Don’t worry,” she says, voice thick, “I’m taking you home. You’re safe, Arthur, all right? You’re safe.”

Gwen looks at Merlin, and he can see how afraid she was written right across her face. He wants to tell her how amazing she is, how clever she is, but he’s too cold for full sentences. Instead, he pulls her jacket a little more tightly around him – it’s not much, but it’s a start – and pushes himself to his feet. Gwen is at his side in a moment to help steady him.

“Ok?” she asks quietly.

Merlin smiles at her. “Best Girl Ever,” he says softly.

She giggles shakily, wiping at the tear smudges on her cheeks, and makes sure he’s standing on his own before going to help Morgana get Arthur upright. The other man is just about conscious, head lolling, dripping wet, and Merlin forces his half-frozen limbs to move.

The walk back to car takes far longer now, since Merlin’s joints seem to be frozen solid and his skin feels like it’s trying to crawl off his body and go somewhere more interesting than him, but at least the Millennium Wheel is no longer glowing. Merlin’s going to take that as a good sign.

^

When he wakes up, incongruously in his own bed and wrapped up in about twenty blankets, Arthur realises that he has absolutely no idea how he got here. This isn’t an entirely rare occurrence, but usually the big blank in his brain is preceded by memories of phrases such as Arthur, would you like some tequila? or what do you mean you haven’t been to this club before, I’m bloody taking you right now. Now, all he has is a vague memory of buzzing the door to let Sophia in, and now he’s here, cocooned in blankets he didn’t even know he had.

Sophia isn’t here, but when he tips his head Arthur can see that Morgana has fallen asleep beside him, dark hair spread over the pillow. For a split-second, he panics – oh God, he hasn’t had sex with Morgana, has he? – before he remembers that even if he was the most drunk person in the world ever he still wouldn’t inadvertently have sex with Morgana, and manages to calm down again. Although it really doesn’t explain what she’s doing here, dozing on top of the sheets beside him.

Arthur has not seen Morgana looking quite this awful since they were sixteen, and she came into his bedroom in the middle of the night and said: my mother has cancer and in three months’ time she’s going to die, and I can’t tell her. She looks pale, her eyes surrounded by dark circles, and he sincerely hopes that she’s not in here to tell him that Uther is about to die because he is seriously not in the mood. Then he tries to move and finds that he aches all over – like he fell down a flight of stairs and then dozens of angry people wearing pointy steel shoes came and kicked him a lot – and decides that he’s not in the mood to hear that he’s about to die either.

Attempts to ask for clarification just end up in weird mixtures of vowel sounds coming out of his mouth, but Morgana hears them and her eyes open immediately. Her drawn face lights up immediately, relief written clearly across her features.

“Oh thank God,” she says, sitting up and reaching out to feel Arthur’s forehead as though checking for fever or something. “You’re awake.”

Arthur’s of course I’m awake, it’s what people generally do in the morning, and I have a meeting at nine-thirty so would you mind helping me escape from this stupid blanket prison someone has pointlessly made gets lost on the way to his mouth, and comes out as: “Wha?”

“It’s all right,” Morgana tells him, brushing his hair off his forehead. She’s been frightened, Arthur can tell, and that worries him because Morgana never gets frightened. She knows the outcome of everything in advance, so she never falls prey to uncertainty or terror. At least; she hasn’t so far. “I’ve called and cancelled all your meetings for today.”

What the fuck? Arthur tries again, but his voice seems to have gone into hiding. Maybe he’s got some kind of really weird flu. Maybe he’s got malaria this time.

“I thought, for a while there, you weren’t going to wake up,” Morgana says, voice shaking a little. “I mean, Gwen and I were here for hours, she had to perform CPR twice, I was this close to calling an ambulance.”

Morgana never babbles. She’s far too dignified for it, and the sight of her anxious and rambling frightens Arthur more than anything else could. He may not be able to talk, but he still has facial expressions, and so glares at Morgana with his best explain what the fuck is going on right now face until she pulls herself together.

“It was Sophia,” she says, clearly fighting to keep her voice steady. “She tried to kill you.”

Of all the things Arthur thought she might possibly say, it really wasn’t that.

“…Bugger,” he manages croakily.

His first instinct is to disbelieve Morgana, because Sophia? Trying to kill him? The idea is, quite frankly, laughable. He arches an incredulous eyebrow.

Morgana sighs, and he notes that her hands are trembling, just slightly.

“No, really,” she insists. “Do you honestly think that if I’d paid one of your girlfriends to stay away from you-”

“Again,” Arthur can’t help adding.

“All right; again,” Morgana concedes, “I’d feel the need to come up with this elaborate ruse?”

Arthur shrugs; he knows he’s being a little unreasonable, but he aches all over and nothing makes any sense, so he thinks he has every right to be unhelpful.

Morgana sighs. “I told you who I’d paid off and why every time,” she points out patiently.

It does help, having a sister who can see the future and isn’t afraid to act on it. Morgana is fiercely protective and has never had any scruples about abruptly finishing Arthur’s flings for him, if she knows it’s going to end badly. And she was perfectly open about which girls she got rid of. There was Kate, who was trying to get pregnant to trap Arthur into marriage, and since he was only about nineteen at the time that would have been bad for everyone involved; and Helena, who was secretly on about twelve kinds of prescription medication to prevent her from setting fire to everything around her, and Marian, who Morgana had freely admitted was just a bitch.

Ok,” Arthur concedes, because disbelieving Morgana is evidently going to get him nowhere fast.

She gives him a faintly smug smile; only Morgana, Arthur reflects, could conjure up her usual I Am Always Going To Be Right Because I Am Quite Clearly The Most Awesome Person In The World Ever, When Are You Going To Learn Arthur? smile in spite of the worry still etched on her face and the fact she’s clearly been up most of the night panicking.

“Sophia has weird magical unnatural powers as well,” Morgana tells him, reaching to needlessly fluff one of his pillows. Arthur belatedly realises that he’s lying propped up against more pillows than he thought they had in the whole flat, and decides that Morgana had better hurry up with the explanation because right now he’s generating more questions than she’s giving answers. “She was trying to drown you.”

“Oh,” Arthur says, because there isn’t much else he could say to that, even if his voice was working properly.

“But I called Merlin, and he stopped her,” Morgana adds.

Merlin Emrys is one of Morgana’s friends, and he works for Pendragon Industries. Arthur did get hold of his employee records the day after Morgana mentioned meeting him, just to make sure that his sister hadn’t befriended some kind of psychopath, and had found Merlin’s ID picture. Although he’s willing to admit that no one can take good photographs when put up against a stark white background on a Monday morning, he couldn’t help wincing at the truly appalling haircut the other man had anyway. But there was nothing in the file to imply that Merlin was going to kidnap and torture Morgana for the hell of it, so he didn’t have to go and be scary and threatening and make Merlin leave her alone.

Arthur doesn’t have the option of using precognition to vet everyone Morgana comes into contact with the way she does with him, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t give it a damn good go anyway.

“Details, Morgana,” he croaks.

She looks slightly uncomfortable. “They… fought,” Morgana says at last. “And Sophia ran off.” She bites her lip and continues, in a rush of words: “But she’d already dropped you into the Thames by then.”

Arthur really hopes that Morgana’s just picked a really shitty time for a joke, because if she hasn’t…

“It’s all right,” Morgana adds quickly, as though Arthur hadn’t noticed this by his distinct lack of being horribly drowned, “Merlin jumped in after you and got you out.”

Even if his voice was working properly, Arthur thinks he’d be left entirely speechless by this anyway.

Morgana smirks slightly. “I’ll admit it wasn’t quite the smartest plan, but everyone’s still alive, so…”

They’re interrupted by a very pretty young woman Arthur is fairly certain he hasn’t met before walking into the room.

“Merlin’s awake,” she says, “And I know you said I could borrow some clothes from Arthur…”

Arthur’s first thought is something instinctive and incoherent along the lines of no! You cannot give my clothes to this man! I have seen his awful hair! before he remembers that Merlin has, however incompetently, apparently saved his life and it might be kind of petty to begrudge him clothing.

“Oh!” the woman says, apparently noticing that Arthur is some degree of awake too. “Arthur! You’re all right!”

“…Yes,” Arthur says, in lieu of the million sarcastic things he could say in reply to that, because his brain still feels a little mushy and he gets the feeling that whatever he snaps at her will be sub-par and Morgana will tease him about it forever.

“I’m Gwen,” the random woman tells him, with an instantly charming smile. “I’m Merlin’s friend.”

Something Morgana said earlier in her panicked babbling bobs up in Arthur’s brain. “CPR Gwen?” he hazards.

She blushes. It’s somewhat gratifying; Arthur may have had to work hard at all sorts of things to get on in life, but he was born with wonderful amounts of charisma.

“I was, um, well, glad to help,” she stammers, and Arthur decides that his is clearly a sign of how completely brilliant he is because he’s currently trapped in bed feeling like crap – and probably not looking that much better – and he is still able to reduce people to incoherent jelly. “Um, clothes?” she adds.

Arthur shoots Morgana a look that clearly says if you give away any of my favourite clothing items I will forget that I am grateful to be alive, and she rolls her eyes but goes and finds some of the clothes Arthur normally wears when going to the gym that he won’t mind parting with, and Gwen hurries out with them.

Morgana walks back over to the bed and helps Arthur sit up, freeing him from his blanket prison. After a couple of false starts, he’s able to stay sitting up on his own, and his body starts feeling like it might listen to him long enough for him to have a shower. Morgana sits down on the mattress beside him, and abruptly throws her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder. It’s a true testament of how much she cares about him, Arthur notes, since he’s beginning to realise that he still smells like the Thames, and he hugs her back. This, too, reminds him of that horrible night when they were sixteen; when Morgana was shivering so badly that Arthur forgot everything but the need to comfort her, wrapped her up in his bed with him, and held her while she cried for three hours.

“You’re not going to cry, are you?” he whispers after a moment.

Morgana chokes on something that is either a giggle or the beginning of tears; it’s too muffled for Arthur to be able to tell. “No.”

“Promise?”

She laughs, and lets him go. “Twat. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother.”

Because then you’d have to have Sunday lunch with father without me, and the two of you would find ways to murder each other with parsnips and it would all be very traumatic.

But all Arthur does is grin.

^

“You really are an idiot sometimes,” Gwen says fondly, coming unannounced into the bathroom just as Merlin is trying to work out whether his arms will reach up high enough for him to dry his hair. His body aches from using his powers and whatever he did with Sophia’s Random Magical Staff Thing and from being a moron who jumped into a river without thinking for someone he didn’t really know.

“Gwen!” he says, jumping at the sound of her voice. “Should you be in here?”

“I have seen you in varying degrees of nudity before,” Gwen points out reasonably, walking over and taking the smaller towel from Merlin’s hands, reaching up to start drying his hair. “In fact, I saw you mostly naked only this morning when you apparently lost the ability to dress yourself.”

It is sort of depressing sometimes; how Gwen blatantly does not fancy him at all. All right, so it would be awkward if she did, but it’s not exactly good for his ego either.

“Yes,” Merlin agrees, voice somewhat muffled by the towel she’s vigorously shaking all over his head, “But now I’m… wet.”

“Oh God,” Gwen deadpans, “I see what you mean. I have managed to entirely fail to notice how madly in love with you I am for nearly two decades; oh, but now I have seen you all soggy in this unreasonably gigantic bathroom that is about the size of our entire flat, I realise I cannot contain my desperate lust for you. Oh, Merlin, please, take me up against the sink!”

Merlin folds his arms and pouts.

“Sorry.” Gwen smiles softly. “I’m very glad you didn’t drown.”

He knows that he really scared her, but they’re not ready to talk about it yet, and that’s ok. One day they will sit down and Gwen will shout and Merlin will apologise and it will all get fine between them.

“Oh,” Gwen adds, “And Arthur has woken up. So your stupidity did have some positive results after all.”

“I haven’t indirectly killed my boss’ son,” Merlin agrees, “This can only be a good thing.”

Gwen smiles, stepping back. She hangs the towel over a rail and hands him a neat pile of clothes; Arthur Pendragon’s clothes, Merlin realises.

“I can’t wear these!” he says, hushed and panicked.

Gwen sighs. “You can’t hide in here forever, Merlin,” she says, a little too reasonably.

“I don’t see why not,” Merlin says, “It’s ridiculously large in here, you said so yourself. The bathtub is bigger than my bedroom.”

But Gwen is a scary force to be reckoned with, and apparently, after a sleepless night torn between worrying about Merlin and repeatedly making sure Arthur didn’t die, she wants a nice hot shower. Merlin does not exactly blame her, and after she turns a very determined glare on him he obediently gets dressed in Arthur’s clothes – they must be about the same height, but Arthur apparently has a far more manly build than Merlin – and slinks out.

Morgana is striding about looking very regal in a pretty silk dressing gown, but she also looks completely worn out.

“I don’t know if I’ve really thanked you yet,” she says, and throws her arms around him. Merlin is slightly non-plussed, but manages to hug her back.

“Really,” he says, “I’m glad I could help.”

Morgana finally releases him, and the smile has gone from her face. She’s looking firm and shrewd and utterly terrifying now. “You were an idiot. I cannot believe you just jumped into the river.”

Merlin flushes uncomfortably; he’s perfectly aware it was a stupid thing to do, and he’s fairly sure Gwen will go on and on about it for at least the next, ooh, decade, and so he will get to spend even more time wondering why the hell he did something so blatantly stupid and lacking in self-preservation. He’s not sure he’ll get a proper answer, though, no matter how long he dwells on it.

“I know,” he mumbles sheepishly.

Morgana smiles, and the anger is immediately gone, as though it was never there in the first place. If Merlin wasn’t already kind of scared of her, in an entirely affectionate way, he knows he would be now.

“By the way,” she says, voice dropping, “If you happen to run into Arthur at any point, which is not outside the realm of possibility, I haven’t told him Sophia’s dead; could you not mention it?”

Merlin is never going to mention Sophia again, if only because he’s never killed anyone before and while she was obviously about to do A Bad Thing, it doesn’t change the fact that, somehow, he made her disintegrate. Really, it’s not something he’s capable of casually dropping into conversation with anyone.

“I won’t,” he manages at last, because Morgana is looking at him as though she expects an answer of some kind.

“Thanks, Merlin.” She kisses his cheek. “Kitchen’s down there,” she adds. “If you want to eat something. I need a hot bath and some clean clothes I think, before I have to give a sanitised version of this to Uther.”

She sweeps off, and Merlin is left standing in the hall for a moment, bare feet getting cold against the laminate floor before he reflects he should probably go and eat something. His stomach is clenching, though whether that’s because he’s starving or because he’s had an incredibly stressful day he honestly can’t say.

It takes a couple of attempts for him to find the kitchen, because Morgana and Arthur’s flat takes up the entire top floor of their building and therefore has a slightly terrifying number of rooms, but eventually he finds a large, airy space with a fridge about the size of Gwen’s bedroom in it, and decides it’s safe to assume that this is the kitchen.

After a moment, he registers that Arthur Pendragon is also in the kitchen, sitting at the gigantic round mahogany dining table, looking decidedly alive and reading the Financial Times with a slight frown on his face. Merlin opens his mouth to say something that will hopefully come out sounding slightly normal – because he gets the feeling he’s not quite arrogant enough to carry off the hey, I kind of somehow managed to save your life this morning; awesome, huh? – but his attention gets caught by the little crease of concentration between Arthur’s eyebrows, and all words ever dry up in his mouth.

Merlin has seen the pictures and has, on a couple of occasions, seen Arthur at the ends of corridors and things because they do, after all, work in the same building and everything, but his most recent frame of reference for Arthur was him lying on the ground vomiting and almost blue with cold, when he was depressingly handsome while doing that. But now he’s been cleaned up and he’s had some sleep and Merlin belatedly realises that Arthur is shockingly good-looking. That’s really the only way to describe it; you glance away and think that your brain must have been doing its own equivalent of air-brushing, because no one can be that gorgeous in real life, and then you look back and are once again surprised by just how beautiful Arthur really is.

Stringing together a sentence that doesn’t involve words like golden and cheekbones is proving to be impossible, and Merlin really hopes he isn’t blushing because that would be the final sodding straw. It’s bad enough that he’s wearing the least-flattering outfit ever and his hair is still dripping cold water down the back of his neck. Finally, he decides that Arthur’s dazzling looks must be something you can get used to, after a while, because otherwise the man wouldn’t be able to do anything without being ravaged every time he stepped outside his office, and therefore it is time for Merlin to stop drooling over him and pull himself together.

He’s just about to say something like hello, where do you keep your marmalade? – which is going to sound slightly crazy but is far better than most of the alternatives – when Arthur seems to catch sight of him out of the corner of his eye, and finally looks up.

^

There’s a man standing in the open kitchen doorway, Arthur notes when he finally looks away from the doom and gloom of the FT. A skinny, pale man with a messy shock of damp dark hair – Arthur apparently doesn’t entirely manage to hide his wince, because a momentary look of confusion flashes across the man’s face – looking somewhat swamped in Arthur’s clothing.

“Merlin?” he asks.

“I – uh – I mean, that is, um… yes,” the man says. He is staring at Arthur as though he has grown another head; which Arthur is going to assume hasn’t happened, because even though pretty much anything is possible at this point in time, he feels sure he would have noticed.

Arthur reminds himself that a) Merlin has had a somewhat trying day, what with saving Arthur’s life and everything, and b) Morgana insists that although Merlin comes across as vague and incompetent, he is actually hiding an incredibly sharp mind, and Morgana is generally right about everything, though Arthur will of course never admit it.

There is a mad sort of awkwardness in the air, and Arthur cannot be dealing with this right now.

“There’s a toaster over there,” he says, waving his hand at the appliance on the sideboard. “If you want, you know, some food.”

“…Right,” Merlin says, after blinking a couple of times. He appears to mentally shake himself, and then gives Arthur a suddenly blinding grin, which is a much better alternative to the blank, stunned expression of before, although it does have the unfortunate side-effect of making Merlin look completely demented.

Arthur tries to pay attention to his newspaper and not listen to Merlin clattering about behind him, but keeps being distracted by one thought: this is not how this is supposed to go. Admittedly, Arthur hasn’t exactly had his life saved before, and definitely not by bemused-looking men who appear to have difficulty remembering their own names, but he’s reasonably certain there’s meant to be more sort of conversation than this. Or, you know, something.

A few minutes later, Merlin sits down opposite him. The table is big enough for Arthur to spread his broadsheet out right across it, so they’re not exactly squashed together or anything, but they’re now occupying the same sort of space and Arthur feels that he needs to make this weirdness stop before he does something inadvisable like banging his head against the wall.

“Coffee?” he offers, and when Merlin nods with a murmur of thanks he pushes the cafétiere across the table towards him. Merlin pours himself a mug, and then looks down at the dry toast in front of him.

Bugger,” he says quietly.

“I can get you-” Arthur offers, but Merlin cuts him off with a quick shake of his head.

“It’s ok,” he says, “Where do you keep your jam?”

Arthur points at one of their million cupboards – for the first six months after getting the kitchen redone, he and Morgana had to have a detailed map and a Powerpoint Presentation on where all their different groceries were kept – and Merlin smiles slightly. Then Arthur’s mouth drops open, because Merlin suddenly gets a look of real concentration on his face and his blue eyes flush gold. A moment later, and a pot of raspberry jam floats over and lands neatly on the table in front of him.

“Your power’s flashier than Morgana’s,” Arthur offers, as Merlin unscrews the lid and begins spreading the jam on his toast as though this is a perfectly normal everyday occurrence; and, Arthur reflects, it probably is.

Merlin offers him that brilliant smile, the deliberate gravitas disappearing, and looks like a cretin again.

“It is,” he agrees mildly; not in an arrogant way, just in a stating-the-facts kind of way. “Hers is cooler though,” he adds, taking a bite of toast.

Arthur reads the same column eight times, while Merlin devours what appears to be an entire loaf of bread, and tries to figure out what’s going on here. He doesn’t like not being in control of a situation, and right now he doesn’t feel in control at all.

“You saved my life,” he blurts out finally.

Merlin swallows a mouthful of toast. “I did,” he agrees mildly. “At least, I think I did, I mean, parts of it are a bit hazy.”

Arthur smiles slightly, but forces himself to continue. “And of course I’m grateful-”

“That’s ok,” Merlin says, shrugging, apparently accepting the thanks Arthur didn’t quite say.

“Yes, but, well…” Oh dear God, if it turns out Merlin’s incoherency is somehow contagious Arthur is going to have some kind of (extremely manly) hysterical fit. “What do you want?”

Merlin looks completely and utterly puzzled, his whole face crumpling up in what appears to be confusion. He must be dreadful at poker, Arthur reflects, because every little emotion is right there, writ large across Merlin’s rather expressive features.

“Um,” he says. Arthur pours himself another cup of coffee and sips at it while Merlin apparently attempts to shuffle some words together in his head. “Well, what does anybody want?” Merlin says at last, sounding hopeless and like he knows that’s the wrong answer but isn’t entirely sure why.

Maybe Morgana has been lying when saying to Arthur that Merlin is secretly very intelligent.

When Arthur continues staring incredulously at him, Merlin stammers: “Well, you know, I want world peace, obviously, and Pushing Daisies not to have been cancelled because it was really cute, and a ridiculously nice and pretty man to sweep me off to a life of luxury and general awesomeness… and… I don’t know… a pony?”

Arthur pours himself another cup of coffee, because he’s going to end up with his head in his hands otherwise and if Morgana finds out that he’s been rude to her friend then she will probably hit him or tell Uther some horrible rumour about Arthur and an intern and then his father will look at him for at least a fortnight.

“Let me get this straight,” he says patiently, “You saved my life, and in return you want me to buy you an American TV show and a pony?”

“Well, not really,” Merlin says, and now he’s looking Arthur like he’s the idiot, “I mean, I’d have nowhere to keep it for one thing, and – and what do you mean, in return?”

“You saved my life,” Arthur says, and it comes out as kind of more than a rebuke than he means it to, “You jumped into a river for me. I assume you want some kind of compensation?”

“Oh,” Merlin says. “Well, um, no thanks. I just did this to help out Morgana.”

“Are you trying to…” Arthur trails off. Merlin looks slightly affronted.

“I’m gay,” he says, with very little patience. “I’m not interested in your sister. Very attractive as she is.”

All right. Arthur can cope with this. “What about Gwen?” he asks.

“I haven’t asked her,” Merlin responds nonsensically, shrugging. “I mean, she and Morgana have only known each other about six hours…”

Oh dear God. Arthur grits his teeth. He honestly can’t work out if Merlin is being deliberately obtuse or if being Magical and Abnormal just means that his brain works differently to… people’s.

“She helped too,” Arthur points out long-sufferingly, “And she isn’t a friend of Morgana’s as far as I’m aware, so what does she want?”

“I don’t think she wants anything either!” Merlin seems to be getting slightly distressed; his voice is rising in pitch.

“But…” Arthur wants to go back to bed and hide in his impractical blanket prison until this all goes away. “You don’t know me and you risked your life to save mine and you work for my father so… what, do you want a promotion?”

Merlin scowls. “I can get one of those on my own merit,” he snaps, and Arthur seems to have touched a nerve somewhere, although he didn’t mean to. Some of his incredulity must accidentally show on his face, because Merlin’s scowl deepens. “I saved your life because you’re a person and you shouldn’t be murdered by Magic because that would be stupid. I didn’t do it to get things, I didn’t do it for a promotion.” His voice is trembling slightly. “I don’t want paying for something I did of my own free will.”

All the crockery on the table is shaking, and Arthur realises that somehow he has really hurt Merlin’s feelings. Merlin seems to notice the vibrating plates because he closes his eyes and after a moment they still. Merlin stands up.

“I wish I hadn’t-” he begins, and then cuts himself off. “No, I don’t wish I hadn’t saved you, because if you’d died your father would probably have made some kind of memorial and I’d have to look at your stupid prat face every day.”

He slams the kitchen door on the way out without actually touching it, and Arthur finishes his coffee wondering what the hell just happened.

About five minutes later, Morgana sweeps in. She’s wearing make-up and is looking clean and fresh and a lot more collected than Arthur feels.

“You are a twat,” she says calmly, tiredly. “You are a twat of the highest order. All you had to do was smile and say thank you and not mention his hair!”

“He basically called me a stupid pratface,” Arthur protests, and realises he sounds about five.

“After you essentially treated him like a prostitute,” Morgana snaps. “Not everyone’s as mercenary as you, Arthur!”

“Hey,” he says.

“You do not get to be offended,” Morgana says, glaring at him.

Arthur decides not to push it by asking what happened to ‘I’m glad you’re not dead, Arthur, I was so worried’? because then Morgana might do something violent. Not that he’s afraid of his stepsister or anything.

“Anyway, Lance is on his way over,” Morgana adds after a moment. “You were supposed to go out last night and what with Sophia being hypnotic you didn’t contact him. He’s worried about you. So I thought you could explain all this to him.”

It is, Arthur reflects, probably about time that they told Lance the truth; it has been around thirteen years. But he can’t help feeling that Morgana, by dumping all the responsibility on him right now, is probably trying to pay him back for being an ungrateful sod.

He’s not sure whether he deserves it or not.

^

The sofa is trying to eat him, Merlin thinks. He’s not feeling entirely rational right now, since his brain is basically full of two things. One: oh God, Arthur Pendragon is so gorgeous that he should be locked up for his own good, and two: I fucking hate Arthur Pendragon, he is a prat. And the sofa is very big and made of slippery black leather and is very squashy and Merlin doesn’t think that he’ll ever manage to get back up again.

He is flicking through a gigantic and heavy book he found on the coffee table; apparently Arthur or Morgana has some kind of extreme fondness for elephants because the book is full of pictures of the animals doing… elephant-y things, frolicking about and spraying water at each other and so on. Then again, Merlin also gets the feeling that he’s the first person to open this book, which sort of implies that maybe they don’t like elephants, in which case why do they have…

Merlin is not feeling at all rational and at some point the gigantic sofa is going to devour him and spit out his bones. He really hates today (oh yes: and Arthur Bloody Pendragon).

The door opens and Arthur walks in, looking distinctly awkward. Merlin doesn’t particularly want to talk to him right now, since Arthur seems to think very little of him and it kind of hurts. Merlin is fairly sure that people who are only alive because of you are not allowed to think anything but wonderful, shiny, fluffy thoughts about you. There ought to be medals and trophies and… certificates and things, not well, what do you want in return? and are you or your friend attempting to shag my sister?

Merlin turns a page of the Completely Random Elephant Book over so fast it papercuts his thumb, which doesn’t make him feel any better, and refuses to look at Arthur as the other man sits down in an armchair. He suspects that he’s being childish and also knows he’s got to be careful because Arthur could, technically, have him fired, but he’s still not about to initiate a conversation.

“Look,” Arthur begins, sounding slightly less cocky than he did earlier, when the door bangs open and another ridiculously good-looking man comes in.

Merlin turns to look and, after what is probably only a couple of seconds, reminds himself to close his mouth.

Arthur,” Random Gorgeous Bloke says, sounding relieved. He walks over and pulls Arthur into a tight hug that Arthur returns.

Merlin tries to work out if it’s normal for two apparently straight male friends to touch each other like this, and then remembers that he knows very little about this sort of thing; two-thirds of his friends are Gwen and Morgana, who are female and therefore don’t count in this, and the other third is Will, who Merlin does keep having sex with, in spite of his best intentions. Still, Merlin reflects dispassionately, trying to return his attention to the frolicking elephants, if they actually are a couple then they’re definitely contenders for the prettiest couple ever.

“Morgana said that Sophia tried to kill you,” Random Gorgeous Bloke says anxiously. “What happened?”

Merlin tries to stare at the page, but the pictures start shifting, the elephants actually start lumbering across the page, and he has to force himself to ease up a little. Glancing up through his eyelashes, he can see Arthur looks genuinely nervous.

“Lance,” he says – so apparently his friend’s name isn’t Random Gorgeous Bloke after all – “Morgana and I haven’t been entirely honest with you. There’s something I need to tell you.” He waves a hand at the big squashy armchairs. “I think you need to sit down.”

A moment too late, Merlin realises exactly what this conversation is going to be about, and decides that he doesn’t want to go through it; it was bad enough when he had to have it with Gwen. He snaps the big heavy book shut and is just about to try and flee when Arthur says, entirely without preamble:

“Morgana can see the future.”

The look on Lance’s face is priceless.

“Arthur, I get that last night must’ve been pretty stressful-”

“No,” Arthur cuts him off. “I mean, she can really see the future.” He swallows, but keeps going. “She saw Sophia trying to drown me and got there in time to save my life.”

He’s leaving Merlin’s part out, but right now Merlin doesn’t mind. If there was a way to get out of the room without drawing attention to himself then he would.

“That’s… that’s great,” Lance says at last. “But what, was it a one-time thing? How long as Morgana been able to see the future?”

Arthur takes a deep breath, and Merlin thinks oh shit, his fingers curling tight around the sides of the book. He starts praying for the sofa to hurry up just eat him already.

“As far as I know, she’s always been able to,” Arthur says.

“Oh,” Lance says, a frown beginning to form on his face. “How long have you known?” he asks Arthur.

Arthur bites his lower lip, looking down at his hands. “Since about a month after our parents got married,” he admits.

Lance draws a sharp breath in between his teeth. “Arthur, that was thirteen fucking years ago,” he points out, voice starting to tremble.

The silence is horrible, and before Merlin thinks it through he hears himself telling Arthur: “Gwen reacted like this.”

Arthur’s eyes flicker almost incredulously towards him, but Lance is the one who speaks. “Who the hell is Gwen?” His frown deepens. “Who the hell are you?”

“He’s one of Morgana’s weirdo friends,” Arthur mutters dismissively, and that stings too. “Lance, look, no one knows. Uther doesn’t even know.”

“Apparently he does,” Lance snaps, waving a hand at Merlin, “And you’ve always known. We’re supposed to be best friends, why wouldn’t you and Morgana tell me?”

Merlin tries to come up with something helpful to say, because Lance’s betrayed expression is genuinely horrible to look at, but he’s drawing a blank. Unfortunately, so is Arthur.

Lance’s mouth curls into an ugly, bitter little smile. “I thought we’d got past all that,” he says, getting to his feet.

“Got past what?” Arthur asks almost desperately, getting up as well.

“I’ve spent years trying to prove that I’m just as good as you,” Lance says, voice really shaking now, “Years trying to show that I may not have your money or your breeding but that I’m your equal anyway, and apparently nothing’s changed since I was the scholarship kid you and your bloody mates beat up in the school playground.”

Oh. Merlin tries to slip the stupid elephant book back onto the coffee table; he’s got to find a way out of here before it gets even more personal.

“Lance, you can’t seriously think that-” Arthur begins, voice cracking.

“Have the two of you been laughing at me all this time?” Lance demands. “Laughing at the poor bastard who you’d duped into being your friend?”

“Lance-”

“Wouldn’t it have been easier just to keep trying to kick my head in behind the science building?”

Arthur grabs Lance’s arm as he makes to turn away. “I stopped doing that,” he says insistently. “I stopped it because Morgana foresaw-”

Merlin grimaces; he thinks it isn’t his place to tell Arthur that he’s just made a huge mistake. Arthur is going to find out for himself in a moment.

Lance has gone pale. “So you only befriended me because your sister told you to?” he asks, voice deadly and quiet.

Arthur realises what he’s just said; pure horror streaks across his face. “No, Lance, it’s not like that!”

Lance wrenches his arm from Arthur’s grasp. “Don’t bother,” he snarls, “Don’t fucking bother, Arthur.”

He storms out. Arthur spares Merlin a look of pure venom before he follows, yelling Lance! Merlin hears the front door slam anyway. He dumps the book and manages to lever himself off the sofa.

In the hall, Arthur is yelling at Morgana. “Are you happy now? Are you fucking happy now? Have you got what you fucking wanted?”

Morgana has drawn herself up to her full height and is looking particularly scary and regal. “I thought it was time Lance found out the truth and I thought it would sound better coming from you,” she says calmly. “I didn’t know you were going to make such a bloody mess of it.”

Arthur sighs, the sound coming out tight and angry. “You’re not about to tell me you didn’t know this was going to happen,” he snarls.

Morgana’s mouth twitches nervously, just slightly. “I saw Lance here and you talking to him,” she says. “You woke me up before I saw exactly how it turned out.”

“Oh, yes, right.” Arthur’s mouth twists into a sneer, and Merlin shrinks back into the doorway a little. “Sorry, I should have guessed that this was my fault, since apparently bloody everything else is.”

“Not everything I say is a criticism!” Morgana snaps. “And will you stop taking all this out on me!”

“This is all your fault!” Arthur shouts.

Morgana glares at him. “A lot of the reason you’re so angry is that Lance has rejected you,” she says, voice steady but icy. “So just think that over and stop treating me like your own personal punching bag.”

Stop it,” Arthur hisses, a different sort of expression fleeting over his face.

“I’m not going to stand here and take your abuse just because you can’t cope with the fact-”

Stop it!” Arthur storms down the hall and a moment later a door slams.

Morgana exhales slowly and finally catches sight of Merlin.

“I’m sorry,” he says helplessly.

Morgana shakes her head. “The consequences of not getting a full night’s sleep,” she tells him, with a thin smile. “Come on, let’s find Gwen and I’ll drive you both home.” She glances over her shoulder, down the hall. “It’s only going to get uglier from hereon out.”

{part three}
Tags: character: arthur pendragon, character: gwen, character: lancelot, character: merlin, character: morgana, pairing: arthur/lancelot, pairing: merlin/arthur pendragon, pairing: merlin/will, series: teacup 'verse, tv show: merlin, type: slash
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