Notes: Originally written on LiveJournal as a gift for eldee in the 2011 merlin_holidays exchange.
Warnings: (American) Modern AU. Some homophobia. Lots and lots of pumpkins. And a heaping side-order of angst. Also character death and grieving.
"Your 'friends' are not coming to the funeral," Arthur said flatly as he set an old kettle on the stove and fiddled with the dials until a red circle appeared on the electric stovetop. "You think he would have bought a damn electric kettle."
"Don't change the subject," Morgana snapped. "I don't see why it's a problem. They want to pay their respects."
"They didn't even know him!" Arthur turned around to glare at his half-sister. There was no way in hell he was going to allow her to bring her ridiculous group of friends to their father's funeral. He wasn't going to let her ruin the service, or their father's reputation, that way. "None of them ever even met him."
"Gwen met him."
Arthur's jaw clenched involuntarily. He hadn't stopped to think about exactly who would be included on Morgana's guest list. Truly, if there was anyone he wanted to avoid seeing at the funeral, it was Gwen. His relationship with his father had ruined his relationship with Gwen, and he didn't want to be reminded of that, or the thousands of other mistakes he thought of when he looked at Gwen, at his father's funeral.
"I don't object to Gwen being there," he finally said, turning back to the kettle. "She's your best friend and she actually knew our father. Everyone else is just... they'll cause a scene."
"Why would they cause a scene? It's a funeral, Arthur. They know when to be polite."
"They don't need to be there," Arthur said firmly. "You're just being dramatic." Actually, he rather felt that she was being manipulative and disrespectful, but he wasn't in the mood for that argument. He wasn't in the mood for this argument, either, but he had to put his foot down. The funeral was in the morning and he couldn't risk anything going wrong. There would be very important people at the funeral and he was going to stop at nothing to make sure they weren't offended by Morgana or her activist 'friends.'
"I'm being dramatic? It's a funeral. Anyone who wants to come and say goodbye should be allowed to do so."
"Say goodbye?" Arthur asked, incredulously. He turned to glare at her, crossing his arms over his chest. "They didn't know him! Besides, I'm sure most of them couldn't care less that he's gone."
"Actually, most of them are quite pleased. That he's out of office, I mean, not that he's dead. But that doesn't make them any different than all the other jerks who are going to show up. Politicians, lawyers, businessmen... none of them give a shit about Dad. They'll just be there for appearances."
"I'm a lawyer and I give a shit about Dad," Arthur said, his throat closing up. He turned away from her to watch the kettle. He knew that Morgana was just trying to upset him, to out-logic him, to get her way. Normally, he wouldn't have put up with it. But he was too tired and his emotions were too raw. He just wanted the argument to be over. He wanted to win and he wanted the funeral to go his way.
The kettle hissed unconvincingly and Arthur turned off the stove, mumbling about how the damn kettle didn't even work properly. He wasn't entirely surprised - their father had cut caffeine out of his diet years ago. The kettle was probably left over from his tea-drinking days, or maybe he had only kept it for guest use.
"You're his son," Morgana said as Arthur poured the boiling water into two mugs. The false sweetness in her voice grated on his nerves. "There's obviously a difference." Arthur said nothing and handed Morgana her tea. He hunched over the island countertop and blew into his mug, watching the ripples his breath created on the surface of the steaming liquid. "They're my friends," she continued quietly. "It's my dad's funeral. They just want to be there for me."
"You didn't even like the man," Arthur pointed out, too tired to pretend otherwise.
"No," she agreed. "But he was still my father. I'm not happy he died, Arthur. I had always hoped we'd make up sometime in the future... have a proper father-daughter relationship again. I wanted him to walk me down the aisle at my wedding."
"Stop," Arthur pleaded, rubbing at his watering eyes. "I don't even believe you and I'm still crying over it. Fuck."
"You're exhausted," Morgana said sensibly. "You need to get some sleep."
Arthur shook his head and straightened up to glare at his half-sister. "Do you have any idea how pissed off he would be if he knew that I let you and your terrorist friends crash his funeral? I mean, come on, Morgana. We're supposed to be honoring his memory and you want to invite a group of outspoken critics? What do you take me for?"
"I take you for a generally kind man with incredibly unfortunate beliefs and slightly misguided intentions."
Arthur flung his hands out in exasperation. "Oh, of course."
"He's gone, you know."
"Jesus Christ, Morgana! Yes, I know he's gone. That's rather the reason behind the whole funeral business, isn't it?"
"I meant," Morgana continued in her calmest, most soothing voice, "that you don't have to please him anymore." Arthur scoffed and hunched back over his tea. "I'm serious. He's not looming over you - over us, over everything - anymore. You can do whatever the hell you want and he's never going to say another rude, criticizing, unloving thing about you again. You need to start living your own life. I'm not saying that letting me bring a few close friends to my father's funeral is the first step, but... it is the right thing to do."
Arthur shook his head again, knowing he had lost the argument. He didn't have it in him to fight with her anymore. She was his only remaining family and he couldn't stand to have her angry with him - not right then, not the night before their father's funeral.
He knew it was reasonable for her to want her friends to come to their father's funeral. And if she had had normal friends, he wouldn't have argued with her. But he wanted to avoid humiliation and scandal at all costs, and the easiest way to do that was to ban Morgana's outspoken political activist friends from coming to the funeral. She ran a small but successful non-profit that pushed for radical social change in all the areas that Uther had been most conservative. Sometimes Arthur wondered if Morgana was so extremely liberal just to make their father angry, but even if that was true for her, it wasn't true for her co-workers or her friends. They would be genuinely and fiercely opinionated and the thought of having people like that in the same room as his father's colleagues made Arthur want to avoid the funeral like the plague.
However, the tea was already getting cold and he didn't have any more energy to argue. Morgana cleared her throat and Arthur knew that he would be seeing her friends at the funeral in the morning. All he had left to do was hope that they would stay away from the senators and the journalists.
"I'm going to lie down," Morgana said, reaching across the island to cover one of Arthur's hands with her own. "Promise me you'll get some sleep?"
Arthur shrugged and sipped at his tea. "I have to stay up a bit," he said into the mug. "Look over my speech."
"It's not a speech, love. It doesn't have to be perfect. You don't have to be a robot all the time."
"It's a speech," Arthur said, feeling an uncomfortable tightness in his throat for what felt like the hundredth time that evening. "I can do speeches. What I can't do is say goodbye to Dad in front of the most important people in this city - hell, in this country. It's a speech and if you want to live long enough to see your stupid friends tomorrow, you had better not say otherwise."
Morgana patted Arthur's hand consolingly. "At least try to get some sleep," she said before standing. "I'll see you in the morning,"
Arthur watched as Morgana retreated into the guest bedroom with her mug. He heaved a deep sigh and looked around his father's apartment, wondering if he would ever be able to bring himself to live in it. It had been bequeathed to him, but he much preferred his own apartment. His apartment felt like home; his father's apartment felt like an office. It was too clean, too orderly, too perfectly decorated and arranged. It had always made Arthur feel uncomfortable, like he had to remain professional at all times, even though it was someone's home. He always felt slightly uneasy in this apartment, like there was some flaw with his suit or his diction or his posture or his teeth or his hair or his latest career direction... the list went on and on. Even without Uther Pendragon's presence, Arthur couldn't shake the feeling that he needed to be absolutely perfect in this apartment. The walls themselves were judging him.
No, he decided, he would not live here. He would sell the apartment and invest the money. That was likely what his father had intended him to do, anyway.
The morning was a dull blur of meaningless motions. Arthur had woken up, taken a shower, gotten dressed, and eaten a slice of toast before Morgana emerged from the guest bedroom, looking far more awake than he himself felt.
"Toast, again?" she asked, frowning.
"There's nothing else," Arthur said through a mouthful of crunchy bread.
Morgana opened the fridge and sighed. "There's eggs, cheese, onions, peppers... I'll make you an omelet."
"No, thanks. I'm not that hungry."
"Suit yourself." Morgana started pulling out ingredients, anyway. "You really need to learn how to cook."
"I manage just fine, thank you."
"Sure you do." She started cracking eggs over a bowl.
Arthur sighed and stood up from the island barstool. "I'm going to head over to the church. Is there anything you need me to do before I leave?"
Morgana glanced over her shoulder. "Why are you leaving now? We don't have to be there for another hour."
"Yes, but I can't stand to be in this apartment any longer than I have to, and we're going to be here all afternoon. Just make sure you clean up before you leave."
Arthur retreated into his room to grab his shoes and his jacket. When he came back out, Morgana was vigorously chopping an onion. He left without saying goodbye or even locking the door behind him. He felt overwhelmingly numb. He didn't feel sad, he didn't feel nervous, he didn't even feel guilty about not feeling such things. He just felt nothing. His tongue felt heavy and awkward in his mouth; his limbs felt unnatural and separate from the rest of his body.
In truth, he didn't know what he was supposed to be feeling at this point. He had never organized a funeral before. He had never even been to a funeral before. It had been several days since his father's death, and the reality was starting to sink in. He didn't really want to deal with the funeral. There were going to be a lot of important people there, people he would normally be tripping all over himself just to impress. But he didn't want to impress anyone, not on this day. He just wanted to go to work and distract himself, or maybe go to the gym and distract himself, or maybe even put on a bad movie or three and distract himself. Mostly, he just did not want to deal with everyone coming together to mourn his father's passing.
He took a taxi and had the driver drop him off two blocks away from the church so he could walk around a tiny park to kill time. By the time he made it to the church, Morgana was already there with Gwen.
"Arthur," Gwen breathed when she saw him approaching. She flung her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. "I'm so sorry."
Arthur forced himself to lift his arms and wrap them around Gwen's small, familiar waist. Her hair smelled of flowers and every horrible thing he had said and done to her. He hadn't seen or spoken to Gwen in almost six months, but now she was all over him. Her hair was in his face and her hands were in his hair and their bodies were pressed closely together.
Morgana turned away and Arthur could feel raw pain swelling up inside of him. He tried to stop it - he tried to control his emotions - but Gwen's warm touch was pulling it out of him. His hands twitched involuntarily on Gwen's back and she tightened her grip on him. Before he could stop himself, he was crying into her hair and holding her closer, practically suffocating her in his embrace.
"Arthur, Arthur," she whispered, pulling back and running her fingers gently over his face. She wiped his tears away and kissed both of his cheeks before lightly pressing her lips to his. "Just breathe."
Arthur took a deep, shuttering breath and stepped away from his ex-girlfriend. "I'm sorry," he said lamely, his voice hoarse as he tried to rein in his emotions.
"Don't apologize." She wiped at his eyes again and smiled sadly. "Do you have anyone coming for you?"
Arthur froze, suddenly hit with the realization that Morgana might have truly wanted her friends at the funeral just to comfort her.
"Um... well, Leon's coming..." he mumbled, somewhat embarrassed. He really didn't have many close friends. And he didn't exactly relish the thought of sobbing all over his oldest friend for the rest of the day.
"Good." Gwen fixed his hair idly, then stepped back. "Morgana's already spoken to the church people. She said there's not much for you guys to do except wait for people to arrive."
Arthur nodded vaguely. "Thanks."
Gwen gave him another sad smile and squeezed his arm affectionately before turning her attention back to Morgana, who was studying the bulletin for the service.
Arthur went up to the front of the sanctuary to examine the flower arrangements. He zoned out for a while, thinking about how much his father had hated flowers. As far as decorations went, Uther had much preferred art.
When Arthur turned back around, more of Morgana's friends had arrived and were standing with her in the back of the church. Morgana's closest co-worker, Morgause, was standing next to Morgana, their arms linked together. Next to Morgause was a very young looking kid with sharp cheekbones and huge ears that Arthur could see from all the way across the sanctuary. Next to him was another man with long hair who looked closer to Arthur's age. Yet another man stood between Morgana and Gwen, his arm wrapped comfortably around Gwen's back.
Something wretched and squirming settled in Arthur's stomach at this sight, but he swallowed down the feeling and made his way toward the group. When they noticed him approaching, everyone's expressions changed. All three of the new guys dropped their comforting smiles, and the one next to Gwen dropped his arm. Morgause frowned at Arthur as he reached their group.
"Arthur, these are my friends," Morgana said, gesturing with her free hand. "Merlin, Gwaine, Lance... you know Morgause."
Arthur nodded at them, but only the youngest one, Merlin, held out his hand for Arthur to shake.
"I'm sorry for your loss," he said kindly.
Gwaine and Lance echoed their condolences, but Morgause offered no sympathy. Arthur wasn't surprised. The only other time he'd met the woman, she'd spent a very awkward fifteen minutes ripping into him, his father, and anything either of them had ever accomplished.
Arthur stood with Morgana's friends for a few minutes, mostly discussing the caterer he'd hired for the luncheon that afternoon, until more guests started to arrive. After a heated and whispered argument, Morgana went to sit with her friends, leaving Arthur to greet everyone by himself. He pulled down his emotional shutters, plastered an appropriately solemn expression on his face, and stood at the end of the center aisle to greet several hundred politicians, lawyers, businessmen, military personnel, distant relatives, and family friends. They all shook his hands, muttered words about how bad they felt, about how they had known the great Uther Pendragon, about how they were willing to bring him food.
When Leon finally arrived, he gave Arthur a long, warm hug that left Arthur struggling to keep his carefully managed emotions in check.
"Do you want me to stand with you?" Leon asked quietly as he stepped away.
"No," Arthur said quickly, rubbing his eyes quickly. "Can you sit with me, though? I'm up - up there, across the aisle from Morgana."
Leon nodded and patted Arthur's shoulder before heading toward the pew Arthur had indicated. When the line thinned out and the last stragglers were seated, Arthur walked down the aisle to join Leon at the front of the sanctuary. He could feel everyone's eyes on him as he walked and he tried to keep his gait natural and smooth, but found that he couldn't move in any sort of normal way when he was so self-conscious about it. After what seemed like an hour of hobbling and limping, he finally reached Leon and slid into the pew to wait for the service to start.
The funeral was slow and full of dreadful hymns that attempted to be uplifting but only succeeded in making Gwen weep loudly on her new boyfriend's shoulder. Several of Uther's co-workers, those that had known him the longest or those that were most important, went to the front of the church to say things about the recently deceased. Arthur didn't listen to any of it. It was meaningless to him. Morgana had been right - these people didn't care about his father.
When it came time for his speech, Arthur stood up from the pew and moved mechanically up to the front of the church. He pulled out a tightly creased piece of paper from his breast pocket and smoothed it out over the pulpit. When he looked up, there was an ocean of black staring back at him from the pews. He swallowed and cleared his throat, trying to center himself.
'Just a speech', he told himself as his fingers worried the corner of the paper. He cleared his throat again and glanced at Leon, who nodded slightly at him. Taking a deep breath, he avoided looking at Morgana or Gwen and began reading what he had written out over the past couple of days. He shared memories, pieces of advice his father had given him, and bits of Uther Pendragon's biography. He tried to say what his father had meant to him, how their relationship had formed his whole life and the way he interacted with every other person he knew. He tried to communicate what Uther had meant to him, how Uther had been as a father and mentor, what it had been like to grow up in Uther's immense shadow, and how it felt now that he was expected to fill his father's shoes.
As he read his speech, he listened to his words and regretted every one of them. He knew he should have been saying more about his father's amazing political career and all of the things his father had stood for and fought for and tried to do 'for the good of the people.' But he hadn't been thinking about that when he was writing, and now he felt entirely too exposed. He tried to think ahead and pick out parts of what he had written that he could skip over to make his speech shorter and more appropriate, but then he stumbled over his words and had to give it up.
When he neared the end, he glanced at Morgana and forgot what he had been saying completely. She was crying - actually crying - and wiping her eyes with a tissue. He could see her and Gwen holding hands, and Morgause's arm was around her shoulder.
Arthur stared at her, stunned into silence.
Leon cleared his throat and Arthur looked blankly back down at his speech. It took him a moment to find his place and when he continued, he felt like a robot. The words were coming out of his mouth without emotion or proper pacing. He didn't want to sound cruel or unfeeling, but Morgana's reaction had put a stopper on his grief. Seeing her fall apart like that - seeing her have honest, human emotions about their father's passing - had been too much. He had to shut down or risk openly sobbing in front of all these people.
"Thank you," he finished his speech lamely, folding up his piece of paper and shoving it back inside his pocket as he hurried back to his seat.
"Good," Leon muttered, patting Arthur's thigh as he sat down.
Arthur tried not to twitch away from Leon's touch. He hadn't felt this on edge since the night Uther had died. Every sign of affection that came his way made him want to cry, and just then, it was overwhelming. He didn't want to be pushed over the edge. He covered his face with one hand and took a few deep breaths, trying to control himself.
When loud, jarring bagpipe music signaled the end of the service, Arthur stood up and excused himself before anyone could approach him. He found the nearest bathroom and ran his shaking hands under freezing cold tap water.
"Fucking losing it," he muttered to himself, looking at his reflection in the mirror. He looked half-dead. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair was far less neat than he thought it was - had he been running his fingers through it? His eyes and nose were red and wet. Frankly, he looked like a mess. The thought of all those people out in the sanctuary looking for him, wanting to tell him yet again how sorry they were about his father, wanting to offer any help they could, wanting to ask how he was holding up - the thought of them was making him feel sick.
He soaked a paper towel under the cold water and pressed it to the back of his neck. The door creaked open and he looked up, hoping against hope it was Leon coming to check on him.
It wasn't Leon, but it wasn't one of his father's colleagues, either. It was one of Morgana's friends, the young one with all the cheekbones. The kid paused, staring at Arthur with a frightened, caught look on his face.
"Um - sorry."
Arthur shook his head, unsure what to say.
"I just, um..." Morgana's friend, Arthur couldn't remember which name belonged to which person, glanced toward the urinals, then back at the door. "I'll wait," he said decisively before leaving.
Arthur let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. He tossed the paper towel in the trash and looked at himself in the mirror again. He fixed his hair, rubbed his eyes, and adjusted his tie. Nothing seemed to help. He still looked out of sorts. Giving up and deciding that maybe if he looked horrible enough, fewer people would try to talk to him, he left the bathroom and headed back to the sanctuary.
To his relief, most of the guests had left already. He knew that he would likely see them all back at his father's apartment in a little while, but it was still a relief to see such a small crowd. He did his best to be polite and gracious when people approached him with condolences. No one bothered Morgana. Arthur knew that almost no one knew who she was - she had removed herself from Uther's life years ago - but he couldn't help but be jealous of the way she was completely under the radar.
Finally, only Leon, Morgana, and her friends remained with him in the sanctuary. They divvied up the remaining flower arrangements and carried them out to various taxis to bring back to Uther's apartment. Arthur made sure not to make eye contact with the kid who had walked in on his breakdown in the bathroom. Arthur wondered how Morgana even knew this kid - he didn't look a day over twenty.
When they had all arrived back at Uther's, Arthur let Leon find a place for all the flowers as he went around and straightened every object he could get his hands on. The caterers arrived and busied themselves in the kitchen. Arthur retreated to his father's room and changed into a clean undershirt and button-down shirt. He had sweat through the ones from the morning as he had run around the flat, cleaning like a madman.
He ignored the knock on his door and didn't look up when the door opened after a few more moments of silence.
"People are starting to arrive," Leon said, hovering awkwardly in the doorframe. "Do you... want to come out?"
"Not really," Arthur said, standing up anyway.
An hour into the luncheon, Arthur found himself standing alone by the windows that made up most of one wall of his father's living room. His father's secretary had just walked away and, for the first time since he'd stepped out of his father's room, it seemed that there was no one else waiting in line to talk to him. He didn't mind because he really didn't want to talk to anyone else. However, with no one chatting his ear off about their favorite memories of Uther, he had nothing to do or think about. He stared down at the half-empty mug of cold tea that he was gripping tightly and sighed. He wished everyone would leave. Another hour of this and he was bound to have a very public breakdown. Caging up his feelings on such a stressful day was exhausting.
Arthur looked back up from his mug, hoping to catch the eye of some prominent lawyer or someone else he could talk to about anything work related, but what he found instead was Morgana's young, skinny friend standing two feet away.
"Um," the kid started, blushing as he held out a plate of cheese and crackers, "Morgana threatened to kick me out if I didn't bring you some food..."
Arthur took the plate and glanced across the room at Morgana, who was smiling wickedly at him. "Thanks," he said quietly. Arthur looked back at the kid and tried not to stare at his high, pink cheekbones. "You should have just taken the easy way out, though. I'd kill to be able to leave right about now."
"Oh, no, not the party. I meant she'd kick me out of her apartment."
Arthur stared blankly at Morgana's friend. What on earth was he talking about?
"I live with Morgana," he explained, his brow furrowed in what was probably a mirror image of Arthur's own confusion.
"Oh, I didn't... she never even said she was seeing someone," Arthur mumbled. He tried to think back over the conversations he'd had with Morgana in the past six months or so. Until Uther's death, they had been brief conversations, mostly over the phone. They had been closer before, but after Gwen had broken up with Arthur, he had taken a break from her strange life and her strange friends. She couldn't have been dating this kid for more than half a year and they were already living together? That didn't sound anything like Morgana. In fact, Morgana hadn't seriously dated anyone in years, as far as Arthur knew. Besides, this guy was way too young.
"Sorry?" the kid asked, leaning closer to hear Arthur better. Arthur locked his knees to stop himself from stepping back and away from this strange kid with the too-perfect bone structure who had just invaded his personal space.
"I didn't realize she had a boyfriend," Arthur clarified. "She never said."
Morgana's friend's eyes widened comically. "Oh, no. No, no, no. I just live on her couch."
Arthur frowned. "Why?"
"I'm just staying with her until I can save up enough money for my own place. It's hard to find an apartment, you know. Especially when you don't have a job, since you have pay first and last month's rent and the security deposit... it's like three months worth of rent right up front and I don't have that at the moment. So she's been letting me sleep in her living room."
Arthur shook his head and looked back down at the cheese and crackers he was holding. He knew that people struggled to make ends meet - he wasn't stupid. It was just that he had never been one of those people. Neither had Morgana, although she had a tendency to befriend every person in their city who couldn't afford rent.
"Sorry to hear that," he finally said, looking back up at the kid. "It can't be easy living with her."
"It's not so bad."
"Well, maybe you haven't noticed yet, but she's very particular about her things. Possessive, even. I tried to borrow a book from her once and she had me sign it out. Like a fucking librarian. You'll see soon enough. How long have you been staying there?"
"Nearly two months."
Arthur barely managed to arrange his features to conceal the expression of shock that had attempted to plaster itself across his face. "You've been sleeping on a couch for two months?"
"Nearly, yeah. On and off, though. I mean, sometimes I stay with other people. Mostly on the weekends, so she can have a bit of privacy. I'm trying not to overstay my welcome too much, you know. But all my stuff's at her place, so..."
Arthur glanced over at Morgana and then around the huge room filled with guests from his father's funeral. If there was anything that would have pissed off his father more than knowing that Morgana had invited her liberal friends to his funeral, it would be knowing that Arthur had let one of Morgana's liberal friends move into his apartment. Arthur couldn't shake the idea. He thought about what Morgana had said to him the night before - about living his own life. Uther Pendragon had been fairly heartless when it came to helping other people, but Arthur - no thanks to Morgana's outspokenness - couldn't help but be filled with sympathy when he heard about someone suffering. He imagined it had something to do with never having known his mother. He hadn't grown up with a soft, kind-hearted parent, so he'd had to make do with teaching himself how to treat other people. He had watched his father grow more and more solitary as years went by, and he had struggled not to go down the same path. His father had lost a wife and turned cold and bitter because of it. Arthur had lost a mother and always strove to make her proud, somehow. He still followed in his father's footsteps and took every opportunity his father had given him, and he would always be grateful for that. But he did wonder what Uther would have been like if he'd been just a bit more open to the plight of other people. Some days, when he grew bored of dealing with the stacks of divorce case files in his office, he wondered if he could have managed to be an improved version of his father, had he gone into politics instead of law.
"What's your name, again?"
"Oh, Merlin." Merlin smiled nervously.
Arthur looked over Merlin and frowned slightly. The kid was really far too skinny. He felt a sort of sad protectiveness come over him - the same feeling he got when he came across a three-legged dog in the street or saw a particularly small child at a divorce trial.
"Merlin," Arthur repeated. "Listen, if you're looking to move off Morgana's couch, I have a place you could stay for a while."
Merlin balked at him. "What?"
"My dad left me this apartment," Arthur explained, gesturing around the room. "I've no intention of living here myself, so I've got to sell it or rent or something."
Merlin shook his head quickly. "Oh, no. I could never afford this place. Probably not even if I saved up for a year."
"No, I meant you can stay for free. Someone should live here... it's just an expensive waste of space, otherwise."
Merlin blinked a few times, the expression on his face steadily changing from disbelief to shock. "Arthur, that's so generous. I don't even know what to say."
"Just say yes," Arthur said gruffly. He didn't want a huge display of gratitude. He just wanted to give the kid a place to sleep that wasn't Morgana's couch. "It's no big deal, honestly. I need a few weeks, at least, to sort through all his belongings, anyway. As long as you don't mind that I'd be stopping by on occasion to go through everything and start packing up..."
"No, no I wouldn't mind at all, of course not," Merlin said frantically. "You can do whatever you want - it's your apartment. Um... are you absolutely sure about this? I probably can't even afford the electric bill on this place."
"Don't worry about it. Seriously, I don't care. I just inherited a small fortune. The least I can do is let you stay here rent-free for a while."
"I - thank you." Merlin sounded overwhelmingly genuine and Arthur shifted awkwardly. "Thank you," he repeated.
Arthur tried to shrug it off. "It's no problem," he said, setting his coffee mug down on the windowsill so he could start eating the cheese and crackers. He wasn't hungry but he had to do something other than listen to Merlin thank him over and over again.
"You know, you're nothing like Morgana says you are. I never would have expected you to be so... considerate. Not to mention generous."
"Well, you've caught me in a rare mood," Arthur said dryly, trying not to be too offended. Morgana was truly infuriating sometimes. She always lectured him on how he needed to be less like Uther, but still seemed to group him and his father together in the same horrible categories. "Besides, she's family... we bring out the worst in each other. That's what siblings are for, aren't they?"
"I wouldn't know," Merlin said. "I don't have any. I have my best friend though and he's sort of like a brother. I guess you could say he brings out the worst in me. Well, no..." Arthur raised one eyebrow in amusement and continued eating the cheese and crackers while Merlin tried to work out what he wanted to say. "He's wears on my patience, is all. He's actually the reason I don't have anywhere to live at the moment."
"Doesn't sound like a very good best friend," Arthur commented.
"Well, we were roommates - we moved to the city together - but I had to move out because I could never get any sleep. He always had people over or was playing loud music or shouting at his video games or having loud and crazy sex. I'm a light sleeper, I guess."
Merlin looked far too young and innocent to be saying things like 'loud and crazy sex,' but Arthur tried not to dwell on that. "He sounds fairly inconsiderate."
"No, he's just... he's his own person. He does what he wants and makes no apologies."
Arthur nodded, thinking that Merlin's best friend sounded like an asshole. "Was he upset that you moved out?"
"Not at all. We knew going into it that it would be sort of rough. We're best friends but we lead reasonably different lives. I just probably should have thought about that a little more before I agreed to move in with him. Oh well... that apartment had rats, anyway. The worst I have to worry about at Morgana's is the occasional ant in the kitchen."
"Well, as far as I know, there aren't any rodents or bugs of any kind here. But there is a nosy old lady who lives a few floors down. She used to stalk my dad a bit. I think she's harmless, but don't be surprised if she comes around knocking and trying to figure out who you are."
"Noted," Merlin said, smiling. "She can't be any worse than Morgana's neighbors."
"Have you met the one with the cactus?" Arthur asked, rolling his eyes.
Merlin nodded sagely. "That guy gives me nightmares."
Arthur gave a pretend shudder of disgust, watching another one of Morgana's friends approach them. This man had long brown hair that Arthur's fingers itched to touch. Normally, Arthur didn't have a strong desire to touch another man's hair, but he was exhausted and this man's hair was truly beautiful.
"Found you," the man said, handing a coffee mug to Merlin. "It's wine," he whispered. He handed another one to Arthur, who took it cautiously.
"Um," Arthur said stupidly.
"It's from Morgana," the man explained before taking a sip out of his own mug.
"That explains it," Arthur muttered, setting the wine down next to his cold tea on the windowsill.
Merlin glanced uncertainly between Arthur and his friend. "It's a bit, um... inappropriate, isn't it? Sneaking wine at something like this."
"Go ahead," Arthur said, not wanting Merlin to think he had been offended. "I just haven't eaten enough today to drink that. I don't want to embarrass myself in front of all these people."
"They're just a bunch of stiffs," the other man said. "What do they matter?"
Merlin gave his friend a chastising look, but Arthur simply shrugged. "Some days, I feel the same way. Still, it's probably not a good idea for my career if I get wine-drunk in front of the city's most prominent lawyers."
"Is that who's here?" the man asked, his eyes widening as he looked around the apartment. "I assumed it was all... lobbyists or something."
"I don't think it's standard practice for lobbyists to attend senators' funerals," Arthur said, not entirely sure if the man had been joking or not.
"God, I hate lawyers," the man groaned before drinking more of his wine.
Arthur put a cracker in his mouth to stop himself from saying something. Surely this asshole knew that he was Morgana's brother, and that Morgana's brother was a lawyer.
"He doesn't mean that," Merlin said apologetically. "He's a lawyer, too."
Arthur didn't even try to hide his shock this time. Since when did Morgana befriend lawyers? And, truly, this guy looked nothing like a lawyer. He had longer - and prettier - hair than Arthur had ever seen on a professional, an unkempt beard, and what looked like a hand-me-down suit that didn't fit him properly at all.
"You don't have to look so upset," the man said, grinning widely. Arthur noted that his face was really very wrinkly when he smiled. "You don't even know what kind of lawyer I am."
"If you say divorce lawyer," Arthur started, but then Morgana appeared out of nowhere and swept her friend away before anyone could say another word. "See, that's what I mean," Arthur said as he watched them disappear. "She's very possessive of her belongings."
Merlin laughed. "If she hadn't taken him away, he would have just wandered off on his own eventually. Probably mid-sentence. He's a bit spacey. Brilliant, but spacey."
"He's not a divorce lawyer, is he?" Arthur asked cautiously.
"No, human rights lawyer. Are you a divorce lawyer?"
Arthur nodded and tried to spot the man in the crowd of guests. A human rights lawyer? Well, at least that explained why he was friends with Morgana. "What's his name, again?"
"That's Gwaine. He's, uh..." Merlin trailed off, smiling to himself.
"And the other guy?" Arthur asked before he could stop himself.
"What other guy?" Merlin asked blankly.
"This morning," Arthur explained, already regretting having asked about it. "With Morgana, it was you, Gwaine, Morgause, Gwen... and another guy. I wasn't really paying attention to names."
Merlin's face settled into a neutral expression and Arthur could feel his ears burning. "Oh, that's Lance."
Arthur nodded and finished the rest of his cheese and crackers, desperately trying to think of anything else to talk about.
"Here you are," Gwen's voice brought him back to reality. Arthur looked up to see Gwen and Lance standing next to Merlin. "You're very good at hiding."
"I'm not hiding," Arthur said, hoping they hadn't heard him asking Merlin about Lance. "I'm fairly out in the open."
"Don't contradict me," Gwen said affectionately. "So, how long do you have to play host?"
Arthur checked his watch. "Well, it's supposed to be over in half an hour. We'll see how many people actually leave."
"I'll kick them out, if you want," Gwen offered, smiling sweetly.
Arthur couldn't help but return the smile. "And how are you going to do that, exactly?"
Gwen nodded toward Merlin. "I'll get him and Gwaine to start making out. That should clear the room pretty quickly, don't you think?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. Gwen's favorite past time during their relationship had been annoying Arthur by constantly talking about gay men. Arthur knew it was a joke, but Merlin clearly didn't because he was blushing ridiculously.
"Why not me and Gwaine?" Lance protested. "Much sexier."
Arthur frowned slightly as everyone else laughed. He suddenly felt like he was the one missing the joke. He also found it very strange that Gwen's boyfriend would joke about kissing another man like that. He had never understood the jokes that Gwen or Morgana or any of their friends insisted on making about homosexuality. For him, it wasn't a funny topic. It wasn't even really a topic. It was just something that should be avoided, if not actively squashed, at all costs.
"You should come apple picking with us tomorrow," Gwen said.
Arthur blinked, startled at the suddenness and randomness of the suggestion. "Sorry?"
"We're going apple picking tomorrow. Probably pumpkin picking, too. You should come with us. You need to relax and get your mind off all this dreadful stuff. Come on, it'll be fun. Morgana's going... you can invite Leon, if you want."
Arthur looked around at the small group of Morgana's friends that had surrounded him. He didn't know any of them and he didn't relish the idea of spending a day apple picking with Morgana and Gwen. He doubted Leon would want to go - Leon wasn't the apple picking sort. He wasn't really the apple picking sort, either. He didn't generally do anything outside of work.
"I don't know," he said, trying to be polite. "I really need to catch up on work. I've gotten really behind the last few days. Tomorrow's Sunday, so I was going to use it to prepare for next week... try to finish up some stuff from last week..."
"Come on," Gwen said gently. "You need to do something fun."
Arthur sighed and glanced briefly at Lance before nodding. If he was honest with himself, he had never once regretted doing any of Gwen's "fun" suggestions. He just didn't want to be a third wheel or the odd one out. He didn't want to make Lance feel uncomfortable and he didn't want to be made to feel uncomfortable by Lance in return.
"Good," Merlin spoke up. "I'm going to buy some gourds. I'll decorate your dad's apartment, make it look it like fall."
Arthur couldn't help but laugh at this. His father had never decorated for any season or holiday. The most he had ever done was buy a small plastic Christmas tree for the corner of the living room, and that had only been when Arthur and Morgana were very young.
"Where does one even go for apple picking these days?"
"He asked like an old man," Gwen narrated for the group. Everyone laughed and Arthur allowed himself to smirk. "There's an orchard outside the city. Actually, if you're coming, would you mind driving some people? We've been having trouble working out the carpools."
"So, you're really just using me for the Benz."
Lance's eyes widened at this and Arthur bit down another smile. He loved his car, if only for the reaction it got from other people.
"No," Gwen said pointedly. "We would have used a taxi or borrowed someone else's car or something. We don't have to use your car if you don't want."
"It's fine," Arthur assured her. "I'll just have to go home and pick it up."
"We can meet you at your apartment tomorrow morning, if that's convenient."
"Of course," Arthur agreed. He hadn't planned on going back to his own apartment that night, but now that he had an excuse for it, he couldn't wait to get back home. He had been staying in his father's apartment for nearly a week. He missed his own things. And he missed his car - he'd been taking taxis everywhere for the past few days.
"Great." Gwen grinned at him. "We'll come over at 9:30."
"You don't need me to pick people up?" Arthur asked, not really wanting to do such a thing, but feeling as though he should offer.
"No, I'll just give them directions to get to your place on the subway."
"Good." Arthur smiled. "See you at 9:30, then."
Arthur didn't bother answering his cell phone when it rang just after 9:30 the next morning. He simply grabbed his keys, locked his apartment door behind him, and hurried down to the street to meet Morgana and her friends. There were two more people he didn't know, plus Morgause's creepy husband - Cedric or Cenred or Chad or something. Arthur could rarely be bothered to remember people's names. He could never bring himself to feel too badly about it, though, even when it became a bit of an awkward problem for his work.
"Arthur, this is Will and Freya," Morgana said in an unnecessarily business-like tone. "You can drive the two of them, plus Gwaine and Merlin, okay? I'll take the rest."
Arthur nodded at her as he waved hello to Will and Freya. They looked just as young as Merlin, and the girl looked even skinnier than Merlin, if such a thing were even possible.
"Okay, let's go," Morgana said, heading toward her car, which was double-parked.
"Are you going to give me the address?" Arthur called after her. She waved her hand dismissively as she slipped back inside her car. Gwen, Lance, Morgause, and the creepy husband followed suit.
"I've got directions," Merlin said, showing him a handwritten list of turns and road names.
"I just need the address," Arthur explained as he started walking down the block to where his car was parked. "I've got a GPS."
"I don't have the address," Merlin said, reading over the paper. "Just... directions."
"Did you look them up, or did Morgana look them up?" Arthur asked. Morgana was possibly the worst driver in the world, and her sense of direction was truly abhorrent.
"I looked them up," Merlin said, laughing. "I don't let Morgana look up directions."
"Good. This is me." He gestured at his car as he walked around to the driver's side. When he unlocked it, Merlin slid into the passenger's seat, while Will, Gwaine, and the skinny girl filed into the backseat.
"This is cramped," Gwaine complained, squirming around behind Arthur's seat.
"Don't mind him," Merlin said quietly as Arthur started the car. "He's really grumpy when he's hungover."
"I can deal with grumpy as long as he isn't going to blow chunks all over my car," Arthur said seriously.
Merlin glanced at the backseat and turned back around smiling. "Don't worry, he's asleep already."
Arthur nodded, waited a few seconds, and then cleared his throat. "So, are you going to tell me where I'm supposed to go, or what?"
"Right, sorry." Merlin scrambled for the piece of paper he had shoved into his pocket. He rattled off the first few lines of directions as Arthur pulled out of the parking spot.
"Mind if I smoke?" Will's voice came from the back seat.
Arthur stopped the car rather jerkily at a red light. "Don't you fucking dare."
"Whoa, geez. Calm your tits, I was just asking."
"This car cost a lot of money," Arthur said through clenched teeth. "I don't want it smelling like cancer." He couldn't help but be protective of his car. He didn't let anyone do anything in it - no smoking, no drinking, no eating, no wearing dirty clothes.
"I didn't know cancer had a smell," Will retorted.
"Please don't fight," the girl piped up. "It's too early."
Arthur switched on the radio, trying his best not to regret agreeing to this outing. There was a reason he didn't generally spend time with Morgana and her friends. It wasn't just because their politics disagreed with his own - it was because he rarely cared for their personalities. Gwen had been the rare exception. She had been exceedingly kind, but she also had never been afraid to call him out on his bullshit. Morgana could have made a living doing just that, but she was so cruel about it. Gwen had been gentle, yet still firm, and that had made all the difference. Arthur found it so refreshing to be around someone outside of his family who wasn't too afraid of him to stand up to him, and who did so without hatred. If he was honest with himself, which he hated doing when it came to Gwen, that had been the basis of their entire relationship. He had only dated her because he had never met anyone like her before. He had enjoyed their friendship immensely, and the sex had been good, but he had never felt anything deeper toward her. Their whole relationship had been one giant lie, and some days he really hated himself for it. In the end, Gwen had broken up with him because they couldn't reconcile their many differences of opinions. Gwen was as liberal as they came - that was why she was so close with Morgana. Arthur, on the other hand, could barely bring himself to care about politics. When he did, he usually sided with his father - for the sake of convenience and keeping up appearances. When he refused to change - because what few beliefs he did have were his own and why should he change when he didn't even love her - and she refused to compromise, their relationship came to a messy end. Arthur hadn't seen her since the break-up, but if her behavior at Uther's funeral and the luncheon were any indication, she held no grudge and still viewed him as a friend.
"I think you were supposed to take that turn," Merlin said suddenly, craning his neck around to look through the back window.
"Shit," Arthur muttered, flicking on his turn signal.
"You should just let me drive," Will said. "I'm an excellent driver."
"Fuck off," Arthur said. He had very little patience for cocky little shits like Will. He was undoubtedly like the rest of Arthur's least favorite of Morgana's friends - full of himself, pretentious for all the wrong reasons, self-righteous, and generally a cocky little shit.
"We're almost there," Merlin said awkwardly as Arthur made the turn he had missed. "Just a few more minutes..."
Arthur glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Will opening his mouth. He turned up the radio to avoid hearing whatever it was Will was saying and was rewarded with Gwaine shoving a knee deep into the back of his seat. He shifted, cursed under his breath, and tried to focus on the road. Gwen had invited him out to have fun, but so far the trip was anything but.
To no one's surprise, they were the first car to arrive at the orchard. Arthur called Morgana on his cell, but Gwen picked up and explained that they had gotten a bit lost and would hopefully be there in about ten minutes.
"In that case, I'm going to pee," Will announced. "Anyone else?"
"I'll come," Gwaine said groggily.
Arthur watched as the two of them headed toward the small market. "Who the hell invited that asshole?" he asked, unable to keep his frustration inside now that Will was out of earshot.
"I'm pretty sure he'd ask me the same about you," Merlin said, smiling slightly.
"Did I do something to offend him? Was driving him here a rude thing to have done?"
"He doesn't like corporate types," Merlin tried to explain.
"Or politicians," the girl added.
"Or anyone involved with the law, really. Policemen, judges... lawyers..." Merlin gave Arthur a tight-lipped smile.
"Who the hell does he like, then?"
"Musicians," the girl said thoughtfully.
Merlin nodded. "Yeah. Musicians, artists, writers... anarchists..."
Arthur stared incredulously at Merlin. He knew Morgana was liberal, but he had thought she had more sense than that. "Since when has Morgana hung out with anarchists?"
"She knows him through me," Merlin said quietly. Arthur wondered if Merlin was an anarchist - he seemed somewhat offended by Arthur's reaction. "He's the one I was telling you about yesterday, the one I used to live with."
Arthur did his best not to gawk. "Will's your best friend?"
"Yeah, I've known him my whole life." Merlin shrugged. "We grew up together. We don't always see eye-to-eye on things... I'm not one hundred percent behind anarchy, for example, but we're family by this point. We don't have much choice but to get along as best we can."
Arthur couldn't help but relate. "Sounds like me and Morgana."
"Except, you're actually family," Merlin pointed out.
"So we've been told," Arthur muttered. "Personally, I like to think she's part-demon or part-alien or something. Anything to explain the part of her that isn't part-Pendragon."
"She's not that bad," Merlin insisted.
"You didn't grow up with her," Arthur retorted. "Anyway, I think that's her car."
When Morgana's passengers unloaded, Gwen and Lance immediately tugged the skinny girl away to accompany them on an early morning hayride through some fields. Arthur couldn't think of anything he wanted to do less than go on a hayride, especially with Gwen and her boyfriend, so he turned down their invitation.
"She's a lot nicer than Will," Arthur commented as he watched the three of them leave. "What's her name, again?"
"Freya," Merlin said. "You're horrible with names."
Arthur shrugged. "I know."
"Anyway, you're just saying that because she's quiet."
"Quiet's a good trait," Arthur muttered as he saw Gwaine and Will emerging from the market and making their way back over to the group.
"You'll never guess what they have," Gwaine said, grabbing Merlin's elbow and taking him away without further explanation.
Arthur watched them disappear behind the market, then turned to look at Morgana, Will, Morgause, and the creepy husband. This was not going very well at all.
"How was the trip?" Morgana asked, breaking the heavy tension.
"He wouldn't let me smoke," Will pouted before Arthur could answer.
"I told you he wouldn't." Morgana rolled her eyes.
"Come on," Morgause said sharply, staring daggers at Arthur. "Let's go look at the pumpkins."
Arthur followed them over to an outside market that had over one hundred giant crates filled with every size, shape, and color pumpkin.
"What, we can't pick our own?" he asked, disappointed.
"Not the pumpkins, apparently," Morgana said, picking up a small one and holding it up next to Arthur's head. "You can pick your own apples, though."
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked, shoving the pumpkin away from his face.
"Comparing size," she said, setting down that pumpkin and picking up a bigger one. "I want to make a jack-o'-lantern of your stupid face."
"Very funny," Arthur said dryly.
"Come on," she said, putting the pumpkin back. "Lighten up."
Arthur sighed and stared down at a pile of pumpkins as she wandered off to find her friends. He wasn't having fun. He just wanted to go back to his apartment and catch up on work. He was going to have to work late every day that week thanks to this little excursion. Granted, he usually worked late three or four times a week, but he had hoped to be able to take it easy this week. A huge part of him wanted to dive into a pile of work and not resurface until all his feelings about Uther were well and truly buried. But another, smaller part of him knew how unhealthy that would be and was fighting to stay balanced. That was the part of himself that had convinced him to go apple picking, and that was the part of himself he wanted to squash like a fucking rotted pumpkin.
He walked around for a few minutes, wondering if Morgana would let him escape if he offered to pay for a taxi to take her friends back to the city, until he came across a crate of tiny colorful gourds.
They were disgusting.
They were misshapen, covered in warts, grossly colored, and some were even vaguely reminiscent of human genitalia. Horrifically deformed human genitalia, but human genitalia nonetheless. They were so obscenely hideous that he couldn't stop looking at them.
He reached for a relatively innocent-looking one and picked it up. It was pear-shaped with orange on the top and purple on the bottom. It had several warts that Arthur couldn't resist running his fingers over. These gourds made him want to gag.
"Oh, you found them!"
Arthur dropped the gourd in surprise and turned to see Merlin standing right behind him.
"Are you trying give me a heart attack?" he asked, willing his shoulders to relax.
"Sorry." Merlin smiled innocently and moved next to him to examine the gourds. "I've been looking for these."
"Why?" Arthur asked. "They're disgusting."
Merlin laughed and reached for the most phallic gourd in the pile. It had five or six different colors, dozens of warts, and was curved at an alarming angle.
"They're not disgusting, they're perfect. These are what I wanted to get for your dad's apartment. What do you think about this one?" He held the monstrous gourd out for Arthur's inspection.
"It's disgusting," Arthur said flatly. "They all are. Ugliest things I've ever seen."
"That's what makes them so great," Merlin said cheerfully, reaching for another one.
Arthur looked down at the large pile of gourds, trying to see their appeal. All he saw were warts. He wondered what his father would have thought about the horrible things having any sort of presence in his carefully styled apartment. An all-too-familiar feeling of sadness started to sink in and Arthur quickly halted his line of thinking.
"Where'd you run off to, anyway?" he asked, leaning down to pick up the gourd he had dropped on the ground when Merlin had surprised him.
"Oh, they had those - those things. Those cut-out things where you put your face in the hole and take a picture. Gwaine wanted to get one of me as Little Bo Peep."
"That sounds humiliating," Arthur commented, dropping the gourd back into the crate. He had to stop looking at them before he threw up or suffered any lasting emotional damage.
"It's just for fun," Merlin said, snatching up a few more of the offensive gourds. "I made him get a picture of me as Paul Bunyan, too. Here, hold these." Merlin shoved an armful of gourds at Arthur, who scrambled not to drop any. Then, he turned back to the crate to pick out more.
"How many of these are you getting?"
"A dozen," Merlin said, pointing to the sign on the crate. "Six bucks."
"Money well spent," Arthur muttered, turning away from the gourds and leaning against the crate. He eyed some large pumpkins nearby. "What are people even doing with these pumpkins?"
"Carving them, I expect," Merlin said idly as he sifted through the pile. "Or maybe making pies."
"Is it a lot of work, making pumpkin pie from scratch?" Arthur asked, staring suspiciously at a dirty, lumpy pumpkin.
"Well, it certainly takes longer than using the canned stuff. But it's not so bad. It's quite fun, actually."
"Somehow, I think we might have different ideas about fun."
"Have you ever made a pumpkin pie from scratch?" Merlin asked pointedly.
"Well, no, but-"
"Then you can't judge whether or not it's fun." Merlin straightened up, his arms loaded with more gourds, and grinned. "Come on, let's pay so we can put these in a bag."
Arthur followed Merlin over to the cashiers. "So, when do you want to move in?" he asked. "Clearly you've got all sorts of decorating plans."
"I'll probably just stick these on the windowsills in the living room," Merlin said, shrugging. "That's about as far as my decorating plans go."
"Oh." Arthur looked down at the gourds he was cradling. They really were hideous - there was just no way around it. "Anyway." He looked back up at Merlin, who was eyeing the gourds with what Arthur could only describe as joy. "You can move in today, if you want. Otherwise, it'll have to be pretty late in the evening this week or sometime next weekend. I'm going to be swamped with work in the next few days, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to come pick up your stuff."
"Oh, you don't have to do to that," Merlin said quickly. "Morgana said she'd drive my stuff over. There's not much of it, really. Just a few suitcases with clothes and books. She said she has a spare key, so... you don't actually have to be there, if you don't want, if you don't have time."
"I have time," Arthur said awkwardly. "Just not a lot of it."
"Well, I'll ask Morgana about it. It might make sense just to do it today, so neither of you have to worry about during the week."
Arthur nodded and dumped the gourds onto the cashier's table. Merlin paid for them, dropped them all unceremoniously into two plastic bags, and grinned at Arthur.
"Well, I'm done for the day."
Arthur frowned and took one of the bags as they walked out of the pumpkin market. "Aren't you going apple picking?"
"Well, I'll go with everyone, but I can't afford much more than this." He lifted up his bag. "These are all I wanted, anyway."
"He's lying," Will said, coming up between them. "He wants a pumpkin to carve and a pumpkin to bake and a whole truckload of apples."
Merlin laughed and opened his bag to show Will the gourds. Will praised their ugliness and trailed Merlin and Arthur as they walked back to Arthur's car to deposit the bags.
"I'll buy you some apples if you like," Arthur said when they started walking back toward the orchard.
"No," Merlin said quickly. "You've done enough, honestly."
Arthur shrugged. He really didn't care. He could spare twenty dollars to buy someone else apples. Will gave him a dirty look and Arthur rolled his eyes. Honestly, he was going to have to insist on a car swap on the way home. He had no desire to be stuck in a car with Gwen and Lance or Morgause and her husband, but anyone was bound to be better company than Will.
"Come on." Merlin nodded toward the indoor market. "Let's see what they have in here."
"I'm going to help them carry their pumpkin's out to Morgana's car," Will said, pointing at where Morgana and some of her friends were struggling to carry their purchases.
Arthur glanced over his shoulder as he and Merlin entered the market. "Why's he so nice to them?"
"Because he likes them," Merlin said simply. "Will's not big on pretending."
"You mean, Will's not big on politeness."
Merlin shrugged. "However you want to say it, yeah."
"He really hates me that much just because I'm a lawyer? I don't have anything to do with policy or any of that. Mostly I just sit around reading pre-nuptial agreements." Arthur walked over to a cheese display and picked up a large chunk of goat cheese. He smelled it and immediately put it back down. Who would eat something like that?
"He just dislikes the law in general," Merlin said quietly. "And he may be taking out some issues he had with your father... on you."
"Oh," Arthur said, picking up another wedge of cheese. He hated being compared to his father in that way, but couldn't deny that Will would probably hate him just as much even without Uther's shadow hanging over him. He might be more compassionate than his father ever had been, and significantly less political, but he was still fairly conservative, or at least moderate. Arthur wondered just how liberal Merlin was and if he would react along the lines of Will or Gwen if he ever realized what Arthur really thought of the politics he probably held so close to his heart.
"Ooh, yellow apples," Merlin said suddenly, hurrying away to the next aisle. Arthur followed him a few seconds later and found Merlin picking up and inspecting every single yellow apple. "The yellow ones are my favorite," he explained, turning one over in his hand. "It's hard to find good ones, sometimes. They get overlooked."
Arthur wasn't sure how a type of apple could be overlooked, or who exactly would be doing the overlooking, but he decided not to argue. "I like the yellow ones, too."
Merlin grinned at him and then held up two large, crisp-looking apples. Arthur felt his mouth starting to water slightly.
"My treat," Merlin said, heading toward the cashier. Arthur started after him, protesting, but Merlin held up his free hand. "They're twenty cents, Arthur. I can handle it, honest."
Arthur couldn't help but smile as he watched Merlin pay for the apples. Merlin tossed him one as they walked out of the market and Arthur bit into it quickly, trying not to think about how it probably hadn't been washed