Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip
paperclipbitch

"We're A Storm In Somebody Else's Teacup" {3/7}, Merlin, Merlin/Arthur

Title: We’re A Storm In Somebody Else’s Teacup {3/7}
Fandom: Merlin {Modern!AU}
Pairing: Eventual Arthur/Merlin {Merlin/Will, Arthur/Lancelot, and a mild bit of Merlin/Lancelot that came out of nowhere}
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 8000
Genre: Slash
Summary: In which Uther puts his foot down, Merlin exercises his self-control, and Edwin takes things too far.
Author’s Notes: Once again, thanks so much everyone for your lovelylovely words! I am enjoying writing this far too much. With regards to the bit where I mention Heroes; I am of course fully aware that the man who played Isaac is, essentially, Lance (Santiago Cabrera is my future husband), but let’s just pretend that he’s not, ‘k? And this also has, in amongst the characters faffing about and stalking each other on facebook, the start of the plot that came out of nowhere.

{Part One} | {Part Two}



If you were everything you say
Things would be different today
And if you were everything you swear
We wouldn’t be beyond repair.

- Aimee Mann


After a week, Uther has to intervene.

They’re not children any more – well, all right, Morgana has to concede that sometimes they do act like they are – but nonetheless Uther Pendragon has the ability to have both herself and Arthur shuffling their feet awkwardly and feeling about twelve. Still, she has discovered that Uther has this effect on most of his employees, who didn’t grow up with him, so it’s probably just a special abnormal power he has.

Uther sits at his gigantic desk in his glass-walled office, having a discussion on speakerphone with one of their overseas affiliates. Morgana shifts uncomfortably on one of the chairs set outside the office for People Who Are Waiting To Be Verbally Tortured By Uther Pendragon, staring down at her Manolos and reminding herself that she knows how the majority of this discussion is going to go; there’s no reason to feel nervous at all.

Still, although she kind of knows what’s going to happen it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have to live through it first, and Uther is capable of the most terrifying facial expressions. Morgana and Arthur have pale imitations that work perfectly well on other people, but Uther is the lord and master of the Pendragon Eviscerating Death Glare. It makes interns cry on a regular basis and, on average, makes about three staff members quit per year. The thing should be patented.

The lift dings to her right, and Arthur steps out. Morgana makes a show of examining her manicure to avoid looking at him; she’s been staying at Claridge’s the last few days, waiting for all this to blow over. Unfortunately, Arthur is being characteristically stubborn, Morgana refuses to apologise for something that is in no way her fault, and Lance will not return her calls, so they’re rather stuck in a rut of resentment and simmering fury.

Arthur sighs and slumps in the other chair, straightening his tie and fiddling with his cufflinks. Arthur’s daddy issues are so extreme they’re not even slightly funny; Morgana has spent most of her life watching Arthur strain to be good enough and, more often than not, be shot down in flames. Uther is proud of his son; but he’ll never bloody admit it. Morgana has had more arguments with her stepfather about this than she’s willing to remember; she’s certainly lost the majority of them.

“Is Lance talking to you yet?” she asks softly, nervously smoothing the edge of her skirt; Arthur isn’t the only one who wants to look as perfect as possible when going in to see Uther. Not that Morgana will ever confess to being intimidated by her stepfather.

Arthur lets out a breath between his teeth, but remains silent.

“Gosh, Arthur, you’re so chatty today, I just can’t get a word in edgeways.” Morgana risks a proper look at him; his mouth is set in a firm line, and he looks as though he hasn’t slept in several days.

“I don’t see the fucking point in saying anything,” Arthur mutters, after she’s stared pointedly at him for a while. “You’ve already foreseen everything I say or do; I don’t know why I have to bother filling in the blanks for you.”

“Very mature,” Morgana mutters.

“I’m not the one who deliberately made me lose my best friend because I accidentally insulted some mad friend of hers,” Arthur points out sharply.

Morgana refuses to rise to the bait; Uther is frowning at them, though he’s still talking on the phone, and the last thing they need is for him to see them yelling at each other.

“You are an ungrateful sod,” she says calmly, quietly, “And it’s your fault we’re here. So I’d shut up if I were you, because you don’t have a leg to stand on.”

Arthur’s mouth twitches with anger. “So you’re going to go in there and swear to my father that all of this is down to me?” he demands, clearly struggling to keep his voice low.

“I will if you’re about to make me out to be the villain,” Morgana responds steadily.

“We can’t tell him the truth,” Arthur mutters, after a moment. “So all he’s going to get are the things I did wrong, which is hardly fair, Morgana.”

I haven’t done anything wrong,” Morgana points out archly.

“Oh, fuck off,” Arthur snaps, folding his arms across his chest.

“I saved your life. I invited your best friend over so you could reassure him. God, my crimes weigh so heavily on my conscience.”

Arthur scowls. He’s incapable of admitting to being wrong, getting an apology out of him is an uphill struggle, and he’s a bloody stubborn man. Morgana is willing to concede that she’s pretty damn stubborn herself, but Arthur could win sodding medals for sheer obstinacy.

“Give me an inch, Arthur,” Morgana says quietly; not quite begging, but insistent nonetheless. It’s perfectly within her power to walk into that office, tell Uther that Arthur is being a twat and it’s all down to him, and watch Uther tear a strip off his son. She could do that, but she won’t. She never does.

Arthur’s mouth shifts, just slightly, like he’s gritting his teeth. Morgana resists the urge to remove her left shoe and throw it at him; for one thing, these are Manolo Blahniks and have sadly not been designed for attacking irritating stepbrothers, and for another, Uther would see her doing that and she would instantly lose the moral high ground. Morgana likes having the moral high ground; it makes being a condescending bitch that bit easier.

Uther catches her eye through the glass and nods slightly; Morgana swallows against a rush of anxious nausea, and gets to her feet. Arthur follows her into the office, and they sit down on the other side of Uther’s desk.

Her stepfather has acquired an antique-looking letter opener in the shape of a sword. It looks sharp, and Morgana forces herself to remember that Uther does love them and will not actually physically hurt them.

When she finally raises her gaze from Uther’s obsessively neat desk, Morgana finds the man himself has steepled his fingers and is gazing at her and Arthur with a patient air. The I really have all day and will quite happily sit here for as long as it takes until you both tell me the truth and we have sorted this all out to a level that I am happy with look that is simultaneously reassuring and unsettling.

“So,” he says.

Arthur’s left hand twitches on his knee.

“I understand that the two of you cannot get along every minute of every day,” Uther tells them quietly, “And I admit I’d be worried if you did. But I think you’ll both agree with me when I say that this has got entirely out of hand.”

It’s amazing how Uther Pendragon can sound friendly and benevolent and simply concerned about his family, and yet there’s an undertone of malevolence hiding just beneath the surface. It’s something that never fails to impress Morgana.

“You are not children,” Uther adds. “Arthur, you are twenty-four years old next month. Will you still be ignoring your sister for days at a time when you’re thirty?”

Very possibly, Morgana thinks, but doesn’t say it aloud.

It would be entirely too easy to dismiss Uther as heartless and cold and a good businessman but a crap father-figure, and maybe Morgana would do that except for what happened after her mother died. Uther had never had that much time for Morgana – but then again he hadn’t had that much time for Arthur either – and her powers had been choked either by uncertainty or grief because she couldn’t tell what would become of her after her mother finally succumbed.

A week after the funeral, Uther had called Morgana to his study; a large, wood-panelled room on the top floor of the Pendragon Mansion. He’d sat her down by the fireplace and made her tea and been quiet and gentle and thoroughly confusing.

“You know, of course, that you’re independently wealthy now,” he’d said, which was perfectly true. “And now you’re sixteen, if you wish, you can leave here and live on your own.”

Morgana had felt suddenly faint, the room spinning around her, and before she could really register what was going on Uther was knelt on the floor before her armchair, his hands curled around her elbows to steady her.

“It would mean a lot to me if you’d like to stay here,” he’d murmured. “I know Arthur views you as a sister, and although I understand that I could never replace your father…”

Morgana had, at this point, buried her face in his shoulder and cried for a while, and Uther just held her and stroked her hair and not said anything at all for a reassuringly long time.

She’s never told anyone about that afternoon in his study, but it’s something she’s needed to remember, from time to time. And it’s also given her the courage to stand up to Uther when required; she can’t be as scared of him as everyone else in the universe is because she knows that, somewhere underneath it all, he is a lovely, lovely man.

Not that he’s looking particularly lovely right now, his steely we are going to sort this out if I have to prod you for hours with my dangerous-looking letter opener look pinning them both to their seats.

“You are both aware that I am in negotiations to buy out the Avalon Corporation,” he says. Arthur’s hand twitches again, and Morgana crosses her legs defensively. “It is becoming noticeable that… a rift has developed between the two of you. How can I be expected to prove there will be equilibrium within my company if my own family is refusing to communicate?”

In times of crisis, Uther always ends up falling back on the old and how does this make my company look? schtick. It annoys the hell out of Arthur, but Morgana can see through it to the real emotions underneath that Uther cannot and will not confess to, so she puts up with it.

Uther frees them from his piercing gaze while he picks up his shiny new letter opener and turns it over a couple of times in his hands. Morgana is ninety percent sure that he’s not threatening them with actual injury, but then Uther Pendragon is world-renowned for being unpredictable.

“Neither of you came to Sunday lunch this week,” he says, in a voice of false nonchalance.

Oh dear fucking God. It’s the only tradition the Pendragon family has; they all meet up and have lunch together on a Sunday in order to share censored versions of their weeks. It’s not much, but it’s what they do, and at least one of them has to be there every week. There are no excuses. Morgana feels the bottom drop out of her stomach, and she immediately turns to look at Arthur. He’s already glaring incredulously at her, and they stare at each other with a mixture of fury and guilt.

“You idiot!” Morgana hisses.

Arthur flushes. “According to you, I’m the one who specialises in being petty and idiotic,” he snaps. “Of course I’d avoid running into you. What the hell were you thinking?”

“What was I thinking? You threw the bloody drawer from your bedside table at me when I went to try and talk to you! Of course I wasn’t going to be in the same room as you!”

Uther sighs pointedly. They both shut up.

“I would like to know what is going on,” he says, in a tone of precarious calm. “I would like to know what is going on right now.”

A nasty little voice in Morgana’s head is telling her to drop Arthur right in it, but she also knows that there will be no coming back from that. And really, Arthur is a prat and an idiot but she already knew that and this is not actually his fault, loathe as she is to admit it. Well; most of it isn’t his fault.

“Arthur has had an argument with Lance,” she begins, since Arthur is looking horribly helpless and is apparently not about to say anything to save the day.

Uther remains looking impassive, but Morgana knows that her stepfather has never really liked Lance. It’s not something he’s ever come out and said, but it’s always been implied.

“I fail to see how that is relevant,” Uther says.

“I… may have inadvertently said some things that exacerbated the situation on both sides,” Morgana lies smoothly, though she can’t stop herself from twisting her skirt nervously in her right hand. She and Arthur have one unspoken rule: they may do what they like to each other in the name of being siblings and therefore being entitled to make each other’s lives hell, but Uther never ever finds out. He always takes these things way too seriously and it tends to get intense and a bit scary. Kind of like now, actually. “I won’t bore you with the details,” she adds, “But Lance won’t speak to either of us and understandably Arthur isn’t very happy with me…”

“…And it’s all got a little petty and out of hand,” Arthur finishes. Morgana shoots him a grateful look; if they get started on the penitence right now Uther might stop looking at them.

“I see,” Uther murmurs. Mercifully, his death glare eases up a little. With any luck, he won’t be too angry with them; he doesn’t like Lance so Morgana’s supposed actions will be forgiven, but he does understand that Lance is very important to Arthur so that should just about exonerate him.

It’s taken years, but they’ve finally started to figure out exactly which combination of buttons to press.

“I’m so sorry about missing Sunday, Uther,” Morgana says. “It was childish and we shouldn’t have dragged you into this.”

“It will never happen again, father,” Arthur adds.

“You’re bloody well right it won’t,” Uther tells them both severely, but there’s a hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth so Morgana thinks that they’ve probably got away with it. Then he suddenly looks stern again. “Is there anything you need to say to each other?”

Uther does tend to treat them as though they’re about five, but Morgana has to admit that the process does, frustratingly, seem to work.

“I fucked up, Arthur,” she says, turning to face her brother. “I really wasn’t setting out to hurt you.”

Arthur sighs, but the smile he gives her does seem to be genuine. “I know,” he tells her. “And… I probably shouldn’t have thrown a drawer at you.”

Morgana shrugs. “At least we know I have excellent reflexes; next time someone tries to take my head off I will be ready.”

Uther is watching them with a patient and paternal air, and has put the pointy sword-shaped letter opener back where it belongs. Morgana is more relieved than she’s ever going to admit.

“You can both go,” he tells them. When they get up to leave, he adds: “And I’d rather not have to do this again.”

His voice contains just a hint of a steely threat. Morgana loves her stepfather; so affectionate, yet so sinister. It’s a truly admirable combination, and one that she and Arthur have just not perfected, no matter how many hours of diligent practice they put in.

In the corridor, waiting for the lift, Arthur chews his lower lip and doesn’t look at her for a while. “I think we’ve become over-reliant on your precognition,” he says at last. “Apparently I don’t know how to cope with the unexpected any more.”

“Join the club,” Morgana murmurs. “Still, I should probably have ignored my dream and told Lance not to come over until later. Common sense, you know?”

Arthur smiles slyly at her. “So you’re admitting that it was partially your fault.”

Morgana shrugs. “It was still largely your fault.” The lift dings, and they both walk in. “Lunch is on me,” she offers.

Arthur nods. “All right.”

“And then,” Morgana adds, “You can help me get all my stuff back from Claridge’s.”

Arthur rolls his eyes, but doesn’t say ‘no’. It’s about as close to the word sorry as either of them are ever going to get, and it’s enough.

^

“Wow,” Gwen says appreciatively.

“I told you,” Merlin says, shoving her slightly. “Didn’t I tell you?”

“You said Lance was ‘bloody gorgeous’,” Gwen tells him. “You did not use the phrase ‘fucking Adonis’, which I would probably have done.”

Merlin smiles, scrolling down the page on his laptop. He and Gwen are currently lying on his bed – his is currently the only room in the flat that will connect to the internet, because basically everything about their home is crap – crammed way too close together. Merlin has Gwen’s elbow digging into his ribs and her hair tickling his nose, but it’s all for a good cause, so he doesn’t mention it.

“What exactly are you going to do?” Gwen asks after a moment, annoyingly sensible. “Are you going to friend request him and then write on his wall hey, I’m Morgana’s weird friend, you might remember me because I was there when you had a very personal fight with your best friend-slash-boyfriend. Want a coffee?

“No,” Merlin says patiently. “And if I do, I’m at least going to write want a shag?

Gwen rolls her eyes. “Merlin, I say this in the most affectionate way possible, but Lance is out of your league. He is, to all intents and purposes, out of everyone’s league. Look at him. He is not going to shag you.”

Merlin pouts. “You are a crap best friend.”

“Morgana would tell you the same thing,” Gwen points out. “And Will… well, I’m not sure what Will would do but it would probably involve inappropriate groping. You might as well stick with me.”

Merlin clicks on another of Morgana’s photo albums. “Fine,” he murmurs at last, “I might as well. You’re quite nice.”

“I am quite nice,” Gwen agrees cheerfully. They scroll through a few more photographs tagged Lance Du Lacque before she finally sighs and says: “Merlin, I know you’re attempting to be selfless here and get Lance talking to Morgana and Arthur again, but seriously, are you doing this in an attempt to seduce him?”

“No!” Merlin protests. “And I think I resent that accusation.”

Gwen stays quiet, clicking through more photographs, before turning to look at Merlin and saying: “Yes, but we have now seen the man’s arse in jeans. From several angles. And it’s quite, well, you know.”

“He and Arthur should make a calendar of some kind,” Merlin mumbles, before he’s really aware of saying it.

“Oh dear God,” Gwen says. And then she thinks about it; he can see her eyes widening slightly. “Oh dear God.”

A couple of clicks later finds a picture of Arthur and Lance at a party of some kind, laughing in an irritatingly aesthetically pleasing fashion.

“All right,” Merlin says, “If you had to. Arthur or Lance.”

“You are such a teenage girl,” Gwen murmurs. But Merlin continues to look at her, until she blushes and sighs. “Lance, probably. Because he might not be a twat the morning after.” She fixes Merlin with a firm look. “What about you?”

“Oh, Lance, of course,” Merlin says quickly, but his eyes are drawn back to the picture on the computer screen, the way light glints off golden hair, and he has to forcibly remind himself that a) Arthur Pendragon is a dick, b) Arthur Pendragon almost definitely thinks that Merlin is insane, and c) Arthur Pendragon clearly despises Merlin.

Gwen gives him that horrible shrewd look she has, the I’ve known you since we were four and with the exception of your Weird Unnatural Powers you’ve never been able to hide anything from me, and Merlin tries to look innocent.

“Are we done?” Gwen asks at last, turning back to the laptop. “Are we done with the thinly-veiled stalking?”

“I am trying to do a good deed,” Merlin protests feebly. “And if I ask Morgana for Lance’s number it’ll just sound like I’m trying to hit on him – which I’m not, Gwen, so stop looking at me like that.”

Gwen sighs. “You’re no fun at all sometimes,” she says. “Look, let’s just google him and get his work contact number.”

This turns out to be a lot quicker than trying to track him down through Morgana’s facebook page, but also has fewer pictures of Art- uh, Lance, and therefore is considerably less fun.

“Really, though,” Gwen says a little later, when they’re in their kitchen drinking tea, “What exactly are you planning to do about Lance? I presume you haven’t told Morgana about this…”

Merlin shrugs, because he really has no idea what he’s going to do; he just gets the feeling that no one should lose their best friend over the Weird Abnormal Abilities that some people just seem to… have. Even if Arthur is annoying and doesn’t really deserve to have friends, especially not ones that look like Greek Gods.

“I’ll figure something out,” he says. “I’m sure I can manage to wing it.”

Gwen puts her head in her hands. She really has known him too long.

^

Over the course of chai lattes the next morning, Morgana explains to Merlin that she and Arthur are talking again and she’s moved out of Claridge’s.

“You couldn’t have stayed another couple of days?” Merlin asks. “I was hoping to come over and have ridiculously expensive room service. And maybe steal a bathrobe. Or two, I think Gwen might want one as well.”

Morgana smiles almost indulgently, reaching over to pull the collar of Merlin’s shirt out from where it’s got caught under his jacket. Merlin is so used to people rearranging his perpetually messy clothing – he does his best, he really does – that he barely notices.

“Just say the word and I’ll send you and Gwen off to Claridge’s for the weekend,” Morgana offers. “And you can steal as many bathrobes as you can carry.”

Merlin rolls his eyes. “I am not some kind of… underprivileged outreach project for you,” he says without venom.

Morgana laughs. “All right,” she says, “I won’t buy you pointless weekends in five star hotels.” She tips her head to one side, considering him. “Can I buy you a haircut, at least?”

Merlin touches his hair a little self-consciously. “It’s not that bad,” he protests feebly. “And you haven’t had a problem with it before now, has it got worse overnight or something?”

“Arthur may have mentioned it,” Morgana says lightly.

Oh. Merlin frowns. He knows that the first thing Arthur did, upon seeing him in the kitchen, was to flinch at his hair, because that was kind of hard to miss, but really.

“And by ‘mentioned it’ I might actually mean ‘brought it up about seven times’,” Morgana adds. “He seems mildly fixated.” She takes another sip of her latte. “Oh, and he says to actually thank you for the whole life-saving thing. I’d have made him do it in person, but Arthur is incapable of getting on with people and I thought it might be best if you didn’t have a blazing row.”

Merlin smiles. “We probably wouldn’t have a blazing row,” he offers, “I do try not to argue with people who can fire me on a whim.”

Morgana smiles back; there’s a steely edge to it. “If Arthur fired you on a whim you know I’d do something exquisitely painful to him until you were hired again,” she assures Merlin.

Merlin doesn’t say you know, you really scare me sometimes, but it’s a close thing.

“Thank you,” he says, because there doesn’t seem to be much else to say. They sit in companionable silence for a while, before he gathers all his courage and says: “How are things with Lance?”

Morgana grimaces. “He’s not talking to me or Arthur,” she admits. “He’s not taking it nearly as well as Gwen did.”

“Yeah,” Merlin smiles reminiscently. “She just compared my life to Heroes, it was quite sweet really.”

“Oh, Heroes,” Morgana says, screwing up her face in disgust.

“Not a fan?” Merlin hazards.

“Did you see what they did to the character with precognition?” Morgana asks.

Merlin did; the sight of a man pinned to the floor with paintbrushes through his arms and legs and also half his head missing was fairly memorable. And also, Isaac was very good-looking, with the being-perpetually-covered-in-paint and the occasional faintly gratuitous shirtlessness, and Merlin and Gwen have missed him a lot.

“Point taken,” he says.

When Morgana has swished off to do work or harass Arthur or whatever it is she does all day, Merlin finishes his chai, makes sure his supervisor is nowhere around, crosses every part of his anatomy that can conceivably be crossed – and then uncrosses his fingers so he can dial the phone – and calls up Lance.

It’s not quite as terrifying a conversation as Merlin was expecting it to be; Lance is of course faintly suspicious but, after Merlin explains that he’s really not planning to bring Arthur or Morgana with him and all he wants to do is talk to Lance in a public setting and he’ll even buy him a drink into the bargain, the other man becomes reassuringly receptive.

“It worked,” he tells Gwen, ringing her up on her lunch break to be smug. “I’m meeting Lance in that pub – The Golden Dragon – after work.”

“Do you have condoms, Tic Tacs and clean underwear for tomorrow?” Gwen asks, sounding bemused.

I am not going to have sex with him!” Merlin insists.

“I’ve heard that one before,” Gwen points out, laughing. “And there I was the next morning, making breakfast for three.”

Merlin hangs up on her.

The thing is, Merlin decides, trying not to have a panic attack in the toilets before he leaves work, is that Lance is so far out of Merlin’s league that the idea of any kind of seducing at all going on is kind of ludicrous. Merlin is perfectly willing to admit that he has very nice eyes, whether they’re blue or gold, and he has a certain charm, but he’s also aware that he doesn’t have the kind of looks that make people walk into doors peering over their shoulders for a second look.

(He knows that Arthur does, because Merlin was in the corridor the time that one of the women on the ninth floor did just that. She got three stitches, and always swore it was worth it.)

It’s sort of gratifying when he walks into the pub and Lance waves him over immediately; he wasn’t really expecting to be recognised, given how he got glanced at maybe twice while Arthur and Lance were having a really personal argument.

“I’m going to assume you’re Merlin,” Lance says, smiling. He has a spectacularly nice smile; sort of crinkly, and Merlin has to forcibly remind himself that swooning went out of fashion a long time ago. And also, if he makes a tit of himself, Gwen will never ever let him hear the end of it. Ever.

“Um, yes,” Merlin says. Well, he’s certainly more coherent than he was when Arthur said something similar, though he really has got to get more assertive when replying to his name. He sees a trace of bemusement flash through Lance’s eyes, and decides to make a concerted effort not to come across as a complete moron.

Lance buys him a drink, which is good because Merlin kind of really needs one.

“Did Arthur put you up to this?” Lance asks about halfway down his first pint.

“Arthur thinks I’ve got about the same I.Q as porridge,” Merlin says, shrugging. “The only time I met him he offered to buy me a pony and then accused me of trying to shag Morgana.”

The smile on Lance’s face is fond; Merlin assumes that Arthur must get less abrasive with repeated exposure. Or maybe he’s like a disease that you get used to. And God, that thought is quite disturbing.

“Did Morgana put you up to this?” Lance enquires after a moment.

Merlin just raises an eyebrow in a Morgana doesn’t delegate; why would she get someone else to do the intimidating for her? kind of way.

“Good point,” Lance says. He considers Merlin for a while, and Merlin resists the urge to try and flatten his hair and straighten his collar because it’s not like this is a job interview or a date or anything. “So why are you here?” Lance asks at last. He doesn’t sound particularly accusing; just curious.

“Morgana misses you,” Merlin tells him. “And I think Arthur does too; he tried to fire five people in Accounts before Uther stepped in and pointed out that if those people did get fired it would just make the company look like it’s letting people go and what with the economic situation being shit he doesn’t want to make Pendragon Industries look weak at all.”

Lance’s smile is faintly bitter. “That sounds like Uther,” he says. “All about appearances.”

He drains his pint.

“I’m not Arthur or Morgana,” Merlin says, deciding that getting into a discussion about Uther Pendragon will only go down a really inadvisable road, and also possibly end with Lance getting alcohol poisoning, so it’s time to change the subject, “But I think I can help anyway.”

Lance raises an incredulous eyebrow in a look that’s eerily like Morgana’s.

“Can you see the future too?” he asks.

“Actually,” Merlin corrects him, “I can move objects with my mind.”

And, just to prove a point, moves Lance’s empty glass from one side of the table to the other, levitates a beer mat, and – for scientific purposes only, honestly – undoes three buttons on Lance’s shirt.

Lance’s delighted expression is somewhat similar to the one Will had when Merlin told him, and the look Arthur had on his face when Merlin got himself raspberry jam without touching anything. Merlin hasn’t exactly told a lot of people about his powers, but the men always react the same.

“That’s unbelievably cool,” Lance says, with feeling, as Merlin reluctantly does the buttons on his shirt back up again. “I’m buying you another drink for that.”

Merlin is still nursing his first one, but lets Lance go up to the bar and come back with two more pints anyway.

“Look,” he says, deciding that he should just get down to the point, “I’ve been able to do this all my life. I told one of my friends when I was seven, but my other friend – my best friend – I didn’t tell for eighteen years. And I’ve lived with her for the last three.”

Lance’s face has the memory of betrayal on it, now they’ve moved on from the fun illogical abilities bit and into the your best friends lied to you bit. But Merlin is determined to do this, for reasons he still hasn’t adequately defined to himself, even though Gwen keeps giving him looks that are really far too knowing.

“Why?” Lance asks. “Why wouldn’t you tell her? Something that’s such a fundamental part of who you are… why would you hide that from someone you care about?”

Gwen didn’t ask these questions, just sent him off to group therapy, and Merlin finally reflects that he got off lightly. At the time, he thought it was a lousy punishment, but now he realises that he could have had to have this conversation with her, and that would have been infinitely worse.

“I wanted to be more than that,” Merlin says, and he doesn’t know what he’s saying until it’s actually pouring out of his mouth. “I didn’t want to be defined as the guy who can move things with his mind. Yes, it’s useful, and fun, and important to me, but I’m so much more than that.” He thinks some more. “And also, I know it sounds lame, but it is fucking impossible to drop into conversation.” Merlin twists his fingers together awkwardly, staring at them knotting in his lap. “Plus, after a while, it kind of seemed like whichever way it came out it was going to sound bad. It became easier just not to say rather than to admit I’d spent over a decade lying.”

Lance thinks this over, doing a thoughtful twisting thing with his mouth that Merlin doesn’t look at because otherwise he might forget he promised himself not to embarrass himself unduly in front of Lance.

“You do realise how completely and utterly lame all that sounds,” Lance says, after a while. Merlin opens his mouth to protest, but Lance cuts him off with a disarming smile. “No, I mean, it makes sense and I get it, I do, but those really are dreadful excuses. They’re probably really important to you and Morgana and maybe even Arthur, but to those of us who aren’t superheroes, those reasons are crap.”

Gwen did say something similar to that, drunk and cross; she’s basically forgiven Merlin, but it’s there deep underneath, worming away as she tries to work through the depth of his betrayal. And he’ll feel guilty about it for, ooh, forever.

“I’m not a superhero,” he says inanely, at last. “I’d look dreadful in lycra, for one thing.” He swallows. “You know.”

In spite of being friends with Arthur and Morgana, Lance is clearly considerably less bitchy than most people Merlin knows, because all he does is smile at him, rather than making a comment on Merlin’s tendency to say random and mad things for no apparent reason. It’s a welcome reprieve.

“Did your friend hurt you when you told her?” Lance asks, looking interested.

“No,” Merlin says. “Well, she got all quiet and determined and forced me into going to a support group for people with abnormal abilities, but really, she was surprisingly ok about the whole thing.”

“She’s evidently a better person than I am,” Lance tells him, a smirk playing about his mouth. “Because I’ve spent most of the last week wanting to rearrange Arthur’s face.”

Merlin, to his credit, does not say: oh, really, don’t do that, because that implies a certain level of commitment to his horrible, horrible crush on Arthur Pendragon that he’s really not willing to give.

“I wouldn’t worry,” he says instead, “Gwen’s a better person than, you know, most people. It’s just one of those things you have to get used to.”

Lance laughs, but his expression becomes really serious a moment later. “So what are you suggesting I do?”

“Well,” Merlin sighs, “You just have to get over it. I know, it’s shitty advice and it sounds awful and it probably comes across as smug when I say it, but tomorrow Morgana will still be dreaming the future and she’ll still have lied to you for over a decade about it. So either you decide you still want to be in her life, and in Arthur’s, or you decide that the last however many years mean nothing, and you cut them out completely.”

Lance stares at him for a minute. “You know, for an inoffensive guy who seems to have difficulty remembering his own name, you can be surprisingly blunt.”

“I’m in line for a promotion,” Merlin sighs, and drinks some more of his pint. “I don’t actually have the I.Q of porridge. Honestly.”

Lance clinks his glass against Merlin’s. “Good to know.”

One thing that has been abundantly clear since Merlin was about fourteen is that he is a dreadful lightweight. It made uni fun in a traumatic sort of way, and Will has always used it to his advantage, though Merlin forgives him for it because he’s never done anything with Will while drunk that he hasn’t also done while sober. Which is he fully aware does not actually redeem him, but that’s an argument for a different day.

Lance holds his drink considerably better, but does seem to be intent on getting drunk anyway. Merlin lets him, if only because he suspects the last week has been pretty awful for the poor guy. And, he learns, as Lance starts to lose a few of his inhibitions, he has the most fantastic stories about Morgana and Arthur as teenagers; stories Merlin will never be able to pass on or even reference because otherwise Morgana will probably do something painful and lingering to him, but they’re interesting things to know anyway.

The story about the three of them lost and naked in Bruges should probably be made into a movie, or at the very least some kind of ITV Drama.

“I like you, Merlin,” Lance informs him with a lopsided smile a couple of hours later, when Merlin has told him the nearly-braining-Will-with-a-clock story, along with a couple of other stories that show his Potentially Magical Powers are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Merlin mentally recites he’s straight he’s straight he’s straight for a moment, follows it up with Morgana will kill you, you know she will, and finishes up with and he’s Arthur’s best friend so he’s probably got some kind of dickish personality trait that he’s kept hidden so far. He really has got better self-control than Gwen ever gives him credit for.

“I think we should get you a cab,” Merlin says.

Lance nods, with a sleepy smile that should probably be outlawed because it actually makes Merlin’s knees weak, which is just not right. “That’s a good idea.”

Merlin checks his watch, and realises that it is actually a lot later than he thinks it is; nearing eleven. “And you’re going to call Arthur in the morning?”

Lance nods. “Well, I will if Galahad puts me through, anyway.” He smirks at Merlin, and drops his voice to a very loud whisper. “He’s Arthur’s PA. He’s been trying to get in Arthur’s pants for years, but he’s being way too subtle about it.”

Merlin knows he shouldn’t, but does anyway. “So is Arthur gay?” he asks.

Lance shrugs. “Morgana seems to think so. Arthur doesn’t seem to have an opinion. You kind of have to spell things out very clearly for him.” His smile lurches across his face again. “I’ve been telling Galahad for months that Arthur doesn’t actually know he’s flirting, he really should just get naked across the desk at some point.”

“Um,” Merlin says eloquently. Lance has not mentioned any feelings for Arthur on his part, and even kind of drunk has failed to bring up the fact Arthur is blatantly in love with him, which sort of implies to Merlin that maybe Arthur isn’t the only one who needs things spelt out for him. “Cab. We should put you in one.”

Lance is warm and heavy and smells annoyingly good underneath the alcohol; he gives Merlin a crushing but apparently heartfelt hug before he gets into his taxi, and Merlin is dignified and does not even try to grope him. The minute the cab is safely out of sight, he pulls out his mobile to call Gwen.

“Hey,” he says, when she answers, “I just put Lance in a taxi, and even though he is drunk and really pretty I did not take advantage. How’s that?”

“I’m impressed, Merlin. We’ll have to discuss it at length later,” she says dryly, but her voice is shaking just slightly, and Merlin’s stomach clenches.

“Gwen, what’s happened?” he demands, the smile dropping off his face.

“It’s… it’s all right, Merlin,” she stammers. “But you need to get in a cab to Morgana and Arthur’s home, and you need to do it now, all right?”

“I don’t have enough cash on me,” Merlin says. “I’ll just get the bus-”

There’s a pause, and then a voice that sounds weirdly like Arthur’s yells in the background: “Tell him we’ll pay. Just get him in a bloody taxi.”

Well, Merlin reflects, waving his hand frantically at an approaching black cab, that isn’t a good sign.

^

Gwen looks very small and lost on their sofa, hands wrapped around the mug of tea Arthur made her. Morgana will say this for her brother; he is a gentleman above all other things. There isn’t a lot to say and anyway they’ve got to wait for Merlin to get here before they start discussing things in great detail.

“I’m so sorry, Gwen,” she murmurs anyway.

Gwen frowns. “Why are you sorry?” she asks. “I’d be dead right now, if it wasn’t for you.”

The thought doesn’t really make Morgana feel better. After all, if she hadn’t been tired and fallen asleep on the sofa watching television, she would never have had her vision, and then…

Morgana shivers, and no one says anything. Arthur is looking a mixture of thoughtful and angry, standing by the window and staring down at the street below. Gwen is curling into herself; the confident, bubbly woman Morgana met a little over a week ago repressed by fear. Morgana herself finds her attention caught by yet another fucking stupid coffee table book; this one on frogs. She’s reasonably certain that she and Arthur didn’t buy a book on frogs during their initial Amazon splurge, which means that Arthur was drinking and clicking while she was living at Claridge’s.

She dreads to imagine what other things he might have bought; maybe she’ll ask some time that isn’t now.

“Merlin’s here,” Arthur announces, turning away from the window. “I’ll go and get him.”

In the five minutes it takes Arthur to go downstairs, pay the cab driver, and come back upstairs with Merlin, Morgana paces, trying to work out what she needs to say. Trying to work out what it all means. Gwen sits very still for a while, and then puts the remains of her tea on the coffee table beside the stupid frog book. Neither of them speak; the tension is palpable.

Eventually, the door opens and Merlin practically comes running into the room.

“Gwen?”

Finally, Gwen’s stoic expression slips and she gets up from the sofa, flinging her arms around her friend. Merlin hugs her back, looking scared and confused. For a minute, Morgana thinks that Gwen is going to burst into tears, but she seems to regain control and tugs Merlin to sit with her on the sofa. Morgana sits down in an armchair opposite, and a moment later the front door closes and Arthur comes to join them.

“What’s happened?” Merlin demands, voice shivering with anxiety.

Gwen has clasped both his hands with hers, but she doesn’t seem to be able to speak. Morgana knows it’s got to be down to her.

“I’m not sure how to tell you this,” she begins at last. “But… Edwin tried to kill you tonight.”

Merlin knows everything there is to know about Edwin; Morgana told him weeks ago. He frowns, squeezing Gwen’s hands tighter.

“But I’m fine,” he says. “I don’t understand.”

“He didn’t do a very good job of it,” Arthur mutters.

Gwen takes a shuddering breath. “Merlin, he set fire to the flat,” she tells him.

Merlin’s mouth drops open; he seems to be almost speechless with horror. “What?”

“I saw it,” Morgana says. “I only wish I’d seen it earlier; if I hadn’t fallen asleep on the sofa…” But she can’t let herself think about that possibility; she can’t.

“Morgana called me up,” Gwen says. “I had ten minutes to get out of the flat.” She gives Merlin a weak smile. “I grabbed everything important that I could, and Morgana and Arthur came to get me.”

Merlin nods, looking numb. “And then-”

“The whole block of flats went up,” Morgana continues, because Gwen doesn’t seem to be able to. “Edwin just… set fire to the lot.”

The building just combusted; flames were leaping out of all the windows with no discernable starting point. They called the fire brigade, of course, and amazingly there were survivors. Morgana can’t even begin to imagine how there were survivors, but somehow there were.

Merlin isn’t crying, but his eyes are glittering. Gwen wraps her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Gwen,” he mumbles, voice breaking, “I’m so, so sorry. I’m just… so sorry.”

Gwen inhales, breath shuddering. “Don’t be stupid, Merlin,” she says. “It’s not your fault.”

For a while, they sit there entwined on the sofa, and Morgana doesn’t say anything and doesn’t look at Arthur. Eventually, Merlin shifts and Gwen lets go of him.

“I don’t understand,” Merlin says. “Why would Edwin try to kill me?”

Morgana has been struggling to piece this together for the last hour, but it’s only now that something she’d completely forgotten slots into place in her head.

“Because he didn’t succeed when trying to kill me,” she says, slowly, trying the words out.

Merlin and Gwen frown, but it’s Arthur who snaps: “What?”

The theory forming in Morgana’s head feels fragile, like it might crack if she thinks about it too hard. She shuts her eyes, concentrating.

“He sent me flowers,” she murmurs.

“Lilies,” Merlin says, clearly remembering the event too. “But you gave them away.” There’s a pause, and then he draws in a sharp breath. “Oh God.”

Morgana opens her eyes again, to find Arthur and Gwen looking frustrated and confused.

“Morgana, this isn’t really the time for being cryptic,” Arthur says sharply.

“The woman I gave the flowers to,” Morgana explains, “She died three days later. Of an apparent brain haemorrhage.”

“You think they’re connected?” Gwen asks.

“I know they are,” Morgana tells him. “Edwin can create fire, but he’s a scientist, and he’s been experimenting. He’s created these things – he calls them beetles, but they’re not really – that can kill someone without any evidence. He slipped one into the flowers. He must have done.”

Gwen reaches for Merlin’s hand again, squeezing tightly.

“And you went and hung out with these people once a fortnight,” Arthur says, in a voice of disbelief.

Morgana glares at him, and he glares back; evidently they are going to have a heated discussion about this at some point, but this isn’t the time.

“All right,” Merlin begins, “But why is Edwin trying to kill either of us?”

Morgana shakes her head. “I don’t know,” she admits.

The silence is strained and awkward and scared, and Morgana hates that it’s come down to this.

“Ok,” she says firmly, deciding that it’s late and they’re all terrified now, “What I do know is that Edwin isn’t going to try anything more tonight.” She manages a smile. “Merlin and Gwen, you can stay here for as long as you like; there’s plenty of space.” Out of the corner of her eye, Morgana sees Arthur open his mouth, but he closes it again a moment later.

“Thank you,” Merlin says, with an attempt at a smile back.

“I think…” Gwen swallows, and continues: “I think I’d like to go and get some sleep now.”

Merlin nods, agreeing with her. Morgana goes to show them where the spare rooms are; they’ve got four bedrooms in the flat, though Merlin and Gwen elect to share one tonight. Morgana wishes that she could say something to make all of this better, but there really isn’t anything.

Gwen catches her hand as she’s about to given them some privacy.

Thank you,” she says sincerely, eyes shining.

When Morgana gets back to the living room Arthur has evidently been raiding their kitchen cabinets because he’s opened a bottle of whisky and has splashed a lot of it on their inexplicable frog book.

“Good man,” Morgana murmurs, accepting a glass and swallowing it straight down.

“Morgana,” Arthur says after a moment, “What exactly are we going to do?”

She holds out her glass for a refill, and notes that her hands are trembling slightly.

“Buggered if I know,” she sighs.

{part four}

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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