Hunith supposed that several things now made sense, what with the King of sodding England on her doorstep: the fact that he was sulking in his bed at home rather than his flat in the city, the Dolce&Gabana jeans she'd teased him about when she saw him last that accentuated his bum quite nicely, the Maui Jim sunglasses, Calvin Klein boxers, the Armani t-shirts, Puma trainers, the lovely watch (was it Rolex? Or Stein?) that hung too large on his wrist and refused to have sized. He'd obviously found himself a wealthy paramour.
Hunith wished she'd pressed harder for an identity when she'd spoken with him so she'd realised how wealthy. And maybe kept her house constantly clean. Spotlessly so. Always.
It also explained away Merlin's blushes and non-committal replies when Hunith gushed over the photos and articles about the young handsome king and his clandestine lover of whom the paparazzi got half photos. Never a face and never enough for identification.
"I'm here to see Merlin," the king said after shuffling back and forth. The statement sounded more like a question.
Wordlessly, she stepped aside and gestured him in. "Of course. Your Majesty," she murmured, the honorific an afterthought.
He laughed, short and bitter. "Just alike, you are."
"Shall I fetch him?" She asked, dazed and star-struck.
"If you wouldn't mind."
Hunith drifted up the stairs, knocking on Merlin's door. "Darling, the king is here to see you." Nothing from her son's room. She knocked again. "Merlin? Merlin, I was hoping you wouldn't mind explaining to me why the king is in our living room?" Her voice was eerily calm, even to herself.
"Tell him to go away," her son"s voice grumbled.
"Merlin!" She hissed through the door. "I can't tell the king of bleeding England to go away."
"Tell him I said to go away and never show his face again."
"Tell him to take his pretty arse and shove off. Take a long walk off a short cliff, bugger off, take a dive in a kiddie pool, go hang himsel—"
"MERLIN!" Hunith reprimanded sharply, casting a worried glance over her shoulder lest her guest hear. When it was clear her son would say no more, she, shamefaced, crept downstairs.
"Erm... Your Majesty..."
"He doesn't want to see me."
"He respectfully requests that you leave him to his solitude-"
"He said to sod off, didn't he," the king said in that same flat tone that said he was a little bit amused with her noble efforts at formality.
The king sighed, all of the weariness suddenly showing on his face. "No, no, it's alright. I suppose I deserve it."
"I'll stay until he talks to me. If that's alright."
She nodded. "Um. Care for some tea?"
"Tea would be lovely. Thank you."
When she returned and pressed a hot mug into his hands, Arthur asked, "How much has Merlin told you?"
His eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
"I would have thought my behaviour and the general disarray of my house would be proof enough of that."
His laugh was real this time. "Your house is lovely. What I've seen of it."
Hunith coloured. "Thank you."
"Anyway, would you like to hear the story? Of how we met?"
"I would love to!" Hunith leaned forward.
Arthur laughed again. "Well, four years ag—"
"We met," the king nodded. "Quite by accident too. You see there was all of that uproar about me being gay."
"Which you are?"
He grinned in answer. "Perhaps bi, but definitely Merlin-sexual."
"Oh my," Hunith flushed.
"Ahem. Sorry. But yes. At the time... I was worried about my father and didn't want the press hounding me for something I wasn't sure was even true, so I went out to find a woman to be my arm candy for the next even and suss out my feelings and preferences. Lo I trawl the streets in something similar to my current outfit." He gestured at his ratty jeans and faded jumper. "I run smack into someone as I round a corner, knocking her completely to the ground! And may I say, Mrs. Emrys, your son makes a lovely woman." His lips fought the smile as Hunith's hands flew to her mouth.
"Y-you know?" She whispered.
"Of course. Not at first, of course. But I do now. It does become—well. First things first. I helped her up, startled by her beauty. And, Hunith, I might see where he gets it from."
She was going to faint if he kept being so charming.
"Of course, your son is not easily wooed, but I convinced him—her at the time, to come with me to a charity event. As my date. She looked panicked at that, but I misunderstood. I thought it was, you know, me being the king and all. My big head. Not the fact that she was actually a he and didn't really want me to know."
"But she went with you."
Arthur nodded. "She did. And then promptly vanished like a proper Cinderella afterwards. Hardly considerate enough to even leave a shoe." He sighed. "But, of course, I'm a stubborn man, so I went looking. I went back to where I first met her, seeing only a clumsy dark-haired man instead. And while he was charming, I was looking for the girl. I asked him if he'd seen her anywhere. To my delight, he flushed and said, "No. No I haven't. Please leave me be." Imagine how speechless I was." Arthur chuckled warmly.
Hunith flushed, warming to the man that her son had apparently been in a serious relationship with. "You're so lovely."
Arthur sat straighter, cheeks turning a soft pink. "T-thank you..." Then he chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair. "I was afraid you wouldn't like me."
"Oh no," Hunith breathed. "I love you!"
He burst out laughing. "So much alike, Hunith, you and your son? So much alike."
She smiled warmly, sipping her tea. "What next?"
"Well, I calmly informed him who he thought I was," Arthur said, holding himself proud, eyes betraying his gravity. "And he said he thought I was a laze-about who was interrupting his work."
"The cheek! My son has never known when to hold his tongue!"
"Ah, but I love that about him," Arthur sighed with a private smile.
"Oh, Arthur," Hunith reached out, placing a hand on his knee. "You'll work this out. I know you will. Merlin's done nothing but sulk in his bed. He's just as torn up as you are."
"Thank you, Hunith," the king said kindly, patting her hand. "And I know. He can't live without me, just as much as I cannot live without him."
They sat in silence a moment until the curiosity got the better of Hunith and she pressed him for what happened next.
"Well. I began..." He coloured. "I began stalking your son, for lack of a better term, convinced that he was hiding his sister from me. Which he vehemently denied. Finally, for lack of a social partner, I demanded him to come in her stead to my party. Because there were several women—I'm sure you remember the scandals with Vivian and Sophia—yes, several women who refused my rejections and insisted on keeping ahold of my status and money. Sad, but truth," he tutted. "And that refusal, probably infused with help from both Sophia and Vivian, spurred these rumours that I am a homosexual. With a plan to shut them all up, I insisted that Merlin come to that party. This... This became a problem."
"Oh? Well. Other than my son being rather shy in the company of people by whom he is intimidated. Which, no doubt, he was terribly intimidated by all of those big-wigs, heads of state, and famous people..."
He chuckled. "Exactly. That and he didn't want people to know he was with me, giving them an excuse to invade his privacy."
"And, when I'd dragged him back to my private flat, he kept insisting that he couldn't go. He didn't want to reveal himself. So I suggested a disguise. And when he kept looking pained and upset about it, I finally snapped at him that he didn't have to go. Just tell his sister to show then.
"He finally just muttered a curse at me and then some other words I still don't know how to say and turned into the girl that I had fallen for. You could say my jaw dropped. And asked lots of stupid questions."
Hunith laughed. "I could see that."
"Yes, well," Arthur drawled, leaning back into the sofa, pausing for a sip of tea. "I was rather foolish and dumbstruck. How was I supposed to know that type of thing was even possible outside of movies. It made so much sense. And to think that he was a girl because he just 'wanted to try it out.' Just for a lark."
"So did he go—oh!" Hunith's brows lifted high as she realised. "I'm such a fool! How have I not recognised my own son—daughter—child!"
Chuckling, Arthur patted her knee this time. "It's fine. I made him—her dress up in all sorts of finery. Every time he complained, but put it on. I asked him so sweetly."
She rolled her eyes. "Bribery?"
"God yes. He is the most stubborn person I know."
"Aside from yourself, of course, Sire?" Hunith teased.
He tsked. "Just like your son. Yes, of course. Aside from my esteemed self."
Rising suddenly, Hunith hurried into the den and grabbed a pile of magazines. It wouldn't be so embarrassing now to admit a fondness for keeping tabs on his kingly activities. Embarrassing for her son, perhaps, but that matter wasn't so important right now. She dropped them down at her feet between her and the King, picking up the first one and flipping through it to the pictures of a ball several years ago. "Dear goodness, my sweet boy. A girl. She's incredibly lovely! Arthur, this dress suits her just perfectly."
Arthur preened. "Why thank you. I selected it myself."
"Of course. You have exceedingly good taste," she said absently.
"Do be careful, Hunith; your son would scold you for increasing my apparently already too-inflated ego."
Flipping through another, she caught sight of her son in a brilliant satin and tulle gown, red heels, hair all swept up into a flattering up-do. "Gracious... She's stunning."
"I told you your son makes an attractive girl," Arthur smiled fondly.
He waited while she flipped through several more magazines, wanting to kick herself for having not recognised her own son. Though, she reasoned, it was hardly her fault, seeing as she had spent more time looking at the man next to her son. She smiled slowly, realising she'd have him for a son-in-law. Most likely. Merlin would forgive whatever he'd done wrong. She was sure of it. "Well, it certainly explains so much. And then... those photos... Of you with...with another person? Where you only see a little bit of the person? That's my Merlin?"
Ducking his head, Arthur nodded. "I was a bit upset that they got even that much. We've been so secretive. I'd thought we'd gotten away with it."
"Well no one knows," Hunith said. "I mean, I'm his mother, and even I couldn't tell from those photos."
"Yes well..." Arthur waved a hand, lines of irritation appearing on his brow. "That is, in part, where all of those gay rumours sprouted."
"Hm," Hunith hummed, flipping idly through the magazine. "So the two of you went to that party together, obviously."
"Yes. After I got over my bit of shock at the whole magic thing, it became fun. It was exciting. I teased Merlin into coming to these events, and we started... well we started hanging out together in my free time. We'd hide away in my private flat—the extremely private flat that even my father doesn't know I have. And with Merlin being magic and all, it only made it easier to keep a secret. He could make me invisible. He could make me look like someone else. He could make me the jacket on his shoulders!"
"Gracious," she murmured. "I knew he was powerful..."
"Hunith, your son could bring the country—the globe to its knees, should he desire."
"He would never do that!"
Arthur laughed. "Of course not. He's too much of an idiot—and I mean that in absolutely the fondest of ways. And he's too kind."
"I'm glad you've come."
"Me as well. I've been dying to meet you. Merlin said it was a bad idea."
"Well." She lifted her mug. "To under better circumstances, then."
"Agreed." He sipped his tea and then went on. "At any rate. What then... I think by this point, we agreed that we had been dating. Two years had gone by? That sounds about right. Blah blah, there's a lot in here. We fought. Made up. The usual couple things. Watched old movies and had popcorn catching contests."
Hunith chuckled. "You'll have to watch out for him. He cheats."
"Don't I know it!"
She laughed again.
"Well," Arthur began, flushing slightly and avoiding her eyes. "I really want Merlin with me."
Hunith nodded, her eyes shifting towards the hallway where she thought she saw movement. Merlin emerged already? She glanced back at the king, saying nothing. For the moment.
"And that..." He sighed mightily. "That was the crux of our argument. The one that drove him home. I'm ashamed to say I lost my temper. I wanted "Melina" to go away, and "Merlin" to stay by my side. The public already saw "Melina" and knew her, but they knew—know—nothing about Merlin. And I want to change that! But Merlin says he isn't ready to be public eye-candy. But I know he is. If he'll just give it a shot. He's already been given some of the public-training as Melina, and knows the way that politics work. And, of course, it's a more serious game when one plays for 'keeps.' But that's how I play. This isn't something just...casual. And Merlin knows it too. And I just wish..." He ran his fingers through his hair. "And it isn't as if...Well. Merlin being Melina in public and Merlin for only me in private is a lie. Even if I were to marry Melina, who is she? She's not real. Merlin is real. Merlin is the person who exists. I love Merlin. Not to say that I don't love Melina, but I love Melina because she's Merlin. Merlin is the one who argues with me when I'm wrong and refuse to admit it."
Hunith watched the play of emotions over the prince's face. Angry to frustrated to a bit sad to fond. "You love him."
Expression turning tender, Arthur nodded. "Very much so."
"I'm sure he knows that."
"He'd bloody better," he replied stoutly. "But I want us public. I don't want to have to go sneaking around and lying about all this."
"Poor dear," Hunith stood and shifted to sit next to the king, hugging him with all the love she could give as a mother. He sat stiffly in her embrace a moment before hanging an arm around her shoulders and relaxing into the embrace.
"I'd take care of him," he continued, voice muffled against her shoulder. "I really would. I wouldn't let anyone harangue him. I'd demand privacy and respect. Our private life is none of their business. He worries too much."
"Only if you sometimes seem to worry too little," Merlin said, shuffling into the room. "Mum. My boyfriend, if you don't mind. Hands off."
Hunith pulled back with a smile, Arthur practically jumping from her arms.
"Merlin!" He stopped short, gaping at her son. His hair stuck up in funny angles, pale and a little gaunt from distress. "God, you look awful."
He rolled his eyes. "A pleasure to see you too, Arthur."
"Merlin," Hunith cooed, wrapping her son in a hug. "I'm glad to see you joining the living."
"I worry about you," Arthur said quietly. He stopped at arm's length, hands jammed into his pockets.
Picking up the tea mugs, Hunith slipped into the kitchen, leaning against the cupboard to listen, peeking, unabashed, around the corner.
"What are you doing here, Arthur?" Her son asked tiredly, itching his scalp.
"I'm here to get you back."
"And if I don't want to?"
"Don't be stubborn. Please."
Merlin merely looked away, the oversized sleep shirt looking rather adorable.
"Merlin..." Arthur reached a hand out, taking Merlin's wrist, looking encouraged that he'd let him. "Forgive me? I am sorry I was rash and harsh on you." More silence. "And I am sorry that I said those things about the knickers."
"Arthur!" Merlin hissed, casting a glance back towards the kitchen. Hunith tucked her head back around the corner just in time. "Shut up!"
But the king was grinning. "I love you, you know."
"I know. I heard."
Merlin's ears burned red. "I heard you speaking to my mum. All those silly things," he mumbled. "Do you..."
"Of course I really mean them. I think—"
"Wait, wait. Don't... don't just barge ahead, Arthur. I need... I need to think about this."
"Right. Right of course." Arthur dropped his wrist.
"Come on. Don't be like that. You know..." Merlin dropped his voice making Hunith strain to hear. "You know I love you."
"You may have said it once before."
"Oh shut up," he huffed. "I love you, you twit. But I don't know... I don't know if I'm ready. I can't be... you know. For the people, love the people, icon to the people."
"That's me, you idiot."
"But by association, me also! And I'm not... I'm not ready for that type attention."
"I'll guard you, Merlin. They won't be able to say a thing against you. I'll make it very clear. And Morgause is a very good publicist, no matter how terrified you are of her."
Merlin shuddered. "Right..."
"It won't be so bad. Will it...?"
"I want... I want you, Arthur. Not all the pomp and circumstance of royalty. Just you."
"But, Merlin," Arthur said gently, taking his hands again and moving closer. "Merlin, I am royalty. Just as you are magic, I am royalty. And I accepted that part of you. Can't you accept that part of me?"
Merlin turned away. "Why did you have to go and do that!"
"Do what?" Arthur looked a bit confused and hurt.
Laughing quietly, the king wrapped his arms around Merlin, puling him back against his chest. "Because. I am the king and an expert tactician. And a great champion of the truth. And the truth is, Merlin Emrys, I love you and want to be with you forever."
Hunith couldn't help the smile spreading across her face as Merlin's expression melted to tender and fond before he turned and kissed Arthur. "I love you too, you soppy git."
"Does that mean—"
"It means I'll think about it."
"It also means that I forgive you."
Popping out of the kitchen, Hunith wrapped her arms around the boys. "Please, Arthur, if you can stay the weekend. I'll make dinner, and you two just keep... keep...doing that." She stepped back with a pleased grin. "Keep making nice."
"Is that what they call it these days?" Arthur murmured.
Merlin squeaked and Hunith swatted him. "None of that now!" But she smiled and practically sailed into the kitchen. "I'm planning the wedding, boys!"
She heard her son groan and Arthur laugh, murmuring something about how he loved "your crazy mum, Merlin. She's just like you."
"And that means I'm crazy?"
"You do do magic, Merlin."
"Shut up! That's hardly my fault!"
Hunith hummed happily, setting about preparing dinner. Everything was going to be just lovely.