"Thomas, turn that shit down or find somebody better to listen to!" Arthur yells up the stairs to his 14-year-old son.
"Sorry!" Thomas' voice comes floating down. "Blame Matt, he's the one that likes them— ow!"
"It's not my CD, Uncle!" Matt's voice interrupts, after obviously smacking Thomas.
"Arthur…" Guinevere says with a sigh.
"I'm sorry, I just cannot stomach the Smashing Pumpkins," he says, turning his attention back to the hallway closet, continuing his search for his old art box.
"Yes, the lead singer does tend to whine, I know," she says indulgently, making a mark on Merlin's latest manuscript with her red pen, now on its thousandth refill. "And Merlin has yet to learn the proper usage of a comma," she mutters.
"He says that's what he has you for," Arthur's voice from the closet replies.
"Oh, does he, now?" Gwen raises an eyebrow and makes another mark on the page.
Upstairs, Billy Corgan's caterwauling is cut off abruptly and is replaced by the Stone Temple Pilots and Scott Weiland's seductive growl.
"Better?" Thomas' voice comes floating down.
"Yes!" both Arthur and Gwen yell.
"And why are you working on that now, Guinevere? It's Saturday."
"You're mental. You're the editor-in-chief, remember? You can relax a little."
"Precisely why I can't." She looks at him. "Has it occurred to you that perhaps I enjoy my work? Particularly when it's something of Merlin's."
"Yes, yes, your pet author, everyone knows," he rolls his eyes.
"You know I have to hold myself to a higher standard now that I run the damn place," she says, looking back at the binder in her lap. "What kind of chief would I be if I slacked off while the rest of my editors worked their asses off?"
He snorts. "You'd be a normal boss, probably."
"Yeah. That's the last thing I want. And besides, if I didn't give my all, Will would probably come back from the grave and haunt me."
"Yes, I can see it now, writing appearing all over the walls, in blood, all misspelled and with improper grammar and punctuation," he says sarcastically, poking his head out of the closet and wiggling his fingers at her.
Gwen chuckles at him and stubbornly makes another correction to the manuscript. Arthur sighs and ducks back into the closet.
Suddenly Arthur starts to laugh. "Oh, my God," he says, staring at an old Polaroid he's withdrawn from the now-found art box.
"What?" Gwen asks, looking up. He comes over and hands her the photo. It is an old shot of the two of them, Arthur with his black Mohawk, nose ring, and all, Gwen pressed to his side, young and sweet and fresh in her red dress.
"It's from my first opening at Lance's," he says, smiling.
"I remember. You should take this to work on Monday. Your students would love it," Gwen says, studying the picture.
"I don't work at the university on Monday. That's one of my painting days, remember?" he says.
"I can never keep your ever-changing schedule straight," she says. "Last term you did work Mondays. This one, apparently not."
Arthur chuckles, bending to sit beside her on the couch. "Move it, Vin," he says, shooing the patchwork quilt of a calico cat from his spot curled against Gwen's hip. Thomas brought the cat home five years ago, a limp, half-starved excuse for a kitten with dirty, matted fur. He was missing most of one ear, so Arthur immediately dubbed him Vincent van Cat and went to fetch a saucer of milk from the kitchen. Vin uncurls, stands and stretches, then walks across Gwen's lap (padding purposefully across Merlin's manuscript) to settle on her other side, allowing Arthur to sink down next to her on the sofa, where he leans his head on her shoulder.
"My students already worship the ground I walk on, if they see that I have a gorgeous wife, too, they'll start thinking that they can all have everything," he tells her, nuzzling her with his nose a little.
"Ah, yes, it's so nice to see that your success still hasn't gone to your head at all, even after all this time," she teases him, lifting her hand to caress his cheek. She looks down at the photo. "God, look how young I was."
"You're more beautiful now, you know," he says, turning his head to kiss her neck.
"I can't say I miss the Mohawk," she says, reaching up and running her fingers through his soft blonde hair as he continues kissing her neck. Her eyes drift closed.
They open their eyes to see their son at the bottom of the stairs, hands on his hips. Moments later his partner in crime comes bounding down.
Born only a week apart, they've been nigh inseparable since. Matthew looks so like Merlin, thin and pale with dark hair, large ears and bright blue eyes, that Freya often jokes that if it weren't for Matthew's skill with numbers and the fact that she was there when he was born, she would suspect cloning.
"Oh, come off it, Tom," Matt laughs.
Thomas makes a disgusted noise. "It's bad enough that they've got that… that painting of Mum in their room that I have to see if I go in there, but it's even worse to walk in and find them snogging on the couch." He sticks his tongue out and makes a gagging noise.
"Shut it, you, we weren't snogging. Not yet," Arthur teases, sitting up straight once again. "You should be thankful that your mum and I still love each other."
"Yeah," Matthew says, poking him. "You know Rob? You don't want that mess, mate. His parents hate each other."
"Right," Thomas allows, running his fingers through his tousled mop of caramel-colored curls. "You wouldn't be so cool if it were your parents snogging on the couch."
Thomas laughs now as Matthew's mouth snaps closed.
"His parents have snogged on this couch," Arthur mutters, and Gwen smacks him.
"What are you looking at?" Thomas notices the photo in Arthur's hand and walks over.
Grinning, Arthur holds out the photo.
"Who's the bloke with the Mohawk with Mum?" Thomas asks. Matt comes up and looks over his shoulder.
Arthur raises both hands and pushes his hair up between them, holding it vertically between his palms at the top of his head.
Arthur nods, arranging his hair back to its normal state.
"I mean, I knew about the tattoos, but earrings and a nose ring, Dad?" He peers at Arthur's face, looking for signs of the holes.
"They closed up years ago, Son."
"That's what your dad looked like when I met him, Thomas," Gwen says, laughing at him.
He looks at his mother, a puzzled expression on his face. "I don't think I want to know," he decides, and looks back down at the photo.
"Wow, Auntie, you were… kind of, um, hot," Matt observes.
"Thank you," she says, chuckling.
"What do you mean, 'were?'" Arthur asks, arching an eyebrow.
"Okay, I think I'm going to be sick," Thomas says, handing the photo back to Arthur just as a car horn honks outside.
"About time, Dad," Matthew grumbles.
"Where are you two off to?" Arthur asks.
Thomas looks towards the door. "Uncle Merlin promised to take me and Matt to see Men in Black, remember?"
"Oh yeah," Arthur says.
"You want to come, Dad?"
Arthur looks at Gwen. "Nah, I'm good. You guys go have fun."
"What's Auntie up to while you boys are at the movies?" Gwen asks, wondering if she should give Freya a call.
"Um, something about taking the twins to their ballet class, I think," Matt says, following Thomas towards the door.
"Ahem," Gwen says, clearing her throat.
"Sorry, Mum," Thomas turns back, jogs over to Gwen, plants a kiss on her cheek, and trots back to the door.
"Thank you," she says. "Oh, and tell Uncle that I'll have these corrections to him by Monday," she calls after him, and he waves his hand, acknowledging he's heard her.
"Have fun," Arthur adds.
The door closes, and Arthur leans back over and places another soft, wet kiss on her neck, and another, and another. "House to ourselves," he mutters against her skin, reaching over and removing the red pen from her hand.
"Arthur…" Gwen protests, but weakly, as the binder is already sliding from her lap. She pulls his lips to hers and it clatters to the floor. A startled Vin leaps down, twitching his crooked tail in an irritated fashion, freeing the couch so that Arthur can lean over his wife, pressing her back against the cushions.
Then the phone rings.
"Bloody fucking hell," Arthur curses.
"Some things never change," Gwen snickers as Arthur answers the phone.
"Hello," he snaps.
"Oh, hi Tom, sorry. No, not at all."
"Tonight? I didn't realize you were in town."
"Dad's in town? He wasn't supposed to be here till next week," Gwen says, looking at Arthur, who shrugs.
"No, it's just that my father's having us all over tonight for his birthday."
"Us, Merlin and Freya, and Morgana and Gwaine. I'll call him and tell him you and Hunith are coming."
"It'll be fine, Tom. He likes you, remember?"
"Yes, he does."
"All right then. Seven."
"Um, did you bring any of that Sherry he likes from Ibiza? That."
"Right. See you then. 'Bye."
Arthur hangs up and then says, "And now I'm off to do naughty things to your little girl."
Gwen laughs, standing now. "Aren't you going to call your father?"
"After. Big dragon wants his little dragon first," he says, smirking at her. He pulls her tight against him, running his hands along her still-slender body.
Arthur leans down to kiss her, his lips soft and pliant against hers, warm and seductive. Gwen threads her fingers up through his hair and pulls gently away, staring up at him. My knees still turn to water. My body still cries out for him.
She slides her hands down to rest on either side of his face, a tiny smile playing at the corner of her lips.
"What is it?" he asks quietly.
"You still give me butterflies. Even after all this time," she answers just as softly, pressing against him a bit.
"Only butterflies?" he teases, nibbling at her lips.
"Okay, bloody great… dragons… flapping around, then…" she manages between his nibbling kisses.
"Better," he says, bunching her shirt in his fists for a moment as he kisses her, delving deeper now. She arches up into him, winding a leg around his, poking her bare toes up under the cuff of his trousers.
"Oh, you…" he growls, pulling away, sliding his hand down her arm to take her hand and lead her up to their bedroom.