'Ok, here we go again, another PR trip to another PR hospital when I have to go and look at what I can only imagine are PR children in PR beds with PR problems...I think I have a PR problem…'
It'd had been a very long day for the Prime Minister. The council meeting at 9 had been hell as his juniors were struggling to get to grips with the budget, his seniors were struggling to get to grips with the juniors and the old crone in the back of the room was still on his back about that botched visit to the London Hospital.
Then his secretary bustles in with a welcome cup of tea and a biscuit, and a not so welcome memo about another bloody hospital he's got to go and see, but only after he solves world hunger and tapes the ozone layer back together, of course. So he dragged on his suit and headed out the door…except he's the Prime Minister of Great Britain, so it was more a case of being pulled into his suit, crowd surfing out the door on his swarm of body guards and avoiding showing any VPL as he clambered into the car.
And then, just to make the whole day worse, good old Obama calls him for a chat the second they arrive so he actually has to hang up on the President of the United States with a 'why don't I call you later?' as if he were a 15 year old school girl with a boyfriend that's just a little bit too keen.
So it's with a weary sigh and a fake smile that he climbs out of the Jaguar, raising a tired hand to the anonymous flashes surrounding him, wishing heartily that it was another hand he was raising to them, perhaps a salute with just the one finger on it…
'And on your left we have the Elderly Services Department'...or OAP Enclosure as he liked to call it. The tour had been going on for over an hour and had been utterly awkward, to say the least. These patients were clearly in distress and pain, and all they wanted was some privacy to vomit and moan, not to have the most famous, and probably most hated man in Britain come a wandering round to shake their hands for the various papers waiting for him to trip over his own feet and demolish the coalition.
It's not that he didn't like the Elderly's, but they kept showing him pictures of their grandchildren and moaning about their hips and backs and feet, and it just got a little boring after a while. And then he met The Children.
Paediatric visits were, admittedly, the only likable part of these blasted visits, as these kids neither knew nor cared about who the hell he was, what the hell he did or what he was going to do about last Sunday's Bin Crisis in Surrey. They just saw him as a man in a suit with lots of other suited friends who liked taking photos of him all the time. Usually they granted him the courtesy of cheeky smile, an enthusiastic hand shake and a proud pronunciation that they were 6 years old, not 5, thank you very much, before asking if he had any sweets because the nasty nurse with the needle won't let them have any.
It was also the most heart-breaking part of his job, as whilst he could bring a falling economy back from the brink of death, or summon a hundred allied countries to his side in the case of a Third World War, even the Prime Minister can't save a dying child from the disease stealing it's soul. All he can do is wish them well, and promise that as soon as the nurse allows it, he'll buy them all the sweets in the world.
This time, there were 9 children in the hospital beds, and several milling around in various wheelchairs or reading in chairs with parents, some with those horrible drips attached to their hands, others swamped in elephantine standard issue gowns that kept sneaking under their feet and tripping them up.
Luckily he was able to catch one particular young girl who slid into his knee and picked her for a quick chat in front of the microphone whilst she fidgeted nervously and bobbed her dark curls, telling him that she'd been in the hospital for 3 weeks already and had made lots of new friends to play with and that her best friend was a girl with a lot of money called Morgana who used to bring her presents before she got moved to a ward for naughty children because she bit the nurse and that was naughty.
Little Gwen, who'd seemed shy at first, had the magical ability that all politicians craved; the ability to sway an audience with an adorable grin and a giggly laugh that made even the coldest of hearts want to smother her in cuddles, and once she got started she just didn't stop. It was only when her worried looking father strode past that she was lifted from his arms with a bewildered 'Mr…Mr Cameron, Sir. Er...what a pleasure to meet you, er...sorry about my daughter, she doesn't usually just wander off but I went to get a drink and I came back and she was gone, and I hope you…she wasn't a bother, was she?'
'Not at all, Mr Thomas. She was just inviting me to her birthday party on Saturday, if I'm not too busy of course...' he smiled back.
He was busy that day. He really wished he wasn't.
The next few children he spoke to were all far too shy to speak, hiding in the crook of their mothers elbows and skirts, only answering the simplest of questions about their favourite colour and book before letting the parents answer the questions instead, and he was having to use his strained smile again, before a tiny little hand tugged on his arm.
He turned to find a small boy stood in front of him, not dressed in a hospital gown like the others, but a simple red t-shirt and jeans, and very, very blond hair. He was staring at the Prime Minister almost suspiciously before shooting out an arm to grasp his, and shook his hand importantly; all the while stating 'Good afternoon Mr Cameron, my name is Arthur Pendragon and I am the King of Camelot.'
A journalist to his right let out a surprised laugh at the small child with the big voice, and turned to whisper loudly to her friend, but Arthur simply ignored them in favour of waiting for him to speak. 'Well then...good afternoon Your Highness' he replied with an honest grin, wondering why on earth he hadn't spoken to this child sooner, as he was obviously keen to talk. '...And what are you here for then? Bumped knee? Poorly tummy?'
The boy frowned at him confusedly, probably wondering, as many had, how anyone so stupid had ever become Prime Minister before replying slowly 'No, I'm fine, thank you...'
Almost everyone in the ward turned at the sudden shout, and Arthur jumped about a mile before practically sprinting down the long corridor to the bed at the very end, nearly slamming into the wall as he did. The Prime Minister and a group of his flashy friends followed a second later to find the source of all the noise.
An even smaller boy was sat upright in bed with very dark hair that stood up in ruffled spikes, all pale skin and big blue eyes that had scrunched up suddenly in pain. He was bent over double, one arm wrapped around his stomach as he cried out, the other flapping slightly at the side of his bed, thin fingers closing desperately over thin air.
Arthur, who had frozen slightly at the sight of the boy, suddenly leapt forward and clutched at his hand before wrapping another arm around his back, patting it gently, and murmuring soft words that the crowd could only guess at understanding. When the boy in the bed cried out a second time, he shot a panicked look at the Prime Minister before shouting 'well, do something! He's hurting!'
The child's voice was no longer pompous and arrogant, but frightened and scared as he glanced round at the group, both arms still gripped tightly around his friend who seemed to be struggling to breathe. So the man did what any good Conservative should, and called for someone else to come and help. Well, he ran for someone else to come and help really, but still...
Listening to the stupidly squeaky shoes following him down the ward, he led the nurse to the sick boy's bed, and to Arthur who seemed to be on the verge of tears, and looking even paler than his friend. She shot a quick disapproving look at the journalists surrounding them before bustling towards her patient, one hand pushing back the sweaty hair from his forehead, the other trying to untangle Arthur's fingers so she could take the boy's pulse.
'Arthur...' The nurse had adopted a firmer tone as she pulled at his wrist. 'Arthur, you have to let go so I can make sure he's ok...'
'But he's hurting!' 'Yes, I know but if you let go of him now, I can find out where he's hurting and make it go away, ok?'
There was a short staring match between the elder nurse and the stubborn boy before slowly he released his vice-like grip, and skirted towards the edge of the room, looking a little bit lost and confused without the hold of the other boy.
Suddenly there was a great flash from behind him, and both the child on the bed, who'd been gesturing weakly at his stomach in between pants, and Arthur flinched before turning to look at the soon-to-be-fired-if-I-have-my-way photographer standing there.
And then he wasn't standing there anymore because the Prime Minister had shoved him roughly out of the view of the room with a shout of 'for God's sake man, have you no heart?'
This will make a fine front page, he thought as he strode angrily back to the room, "Prime Minister assaults rogue journalist in front of dying children!" He wasn't really sure why he was going back to the bed, but most of the crowd had dissipated in his absence and it was only his PA and body guard remaining, both trying hard not to look too interested in the scene before them, but both failing miserably of course.
Well, them and Arthur, who was stood at the end of the bed, one thumbnail anxiously between his teeth, the other wrapping itself in the thick blankets near his friend's feet. Shooting a quick glance towards the rapidly emptying corridor, the politician moved forwards towards the boy and murmured 'Arthur, why don't you come and stand over here with me for a while? Look, you can still see your friend, but you won't be in the way of this nice nurse...'
He felt 'nice' was pushing it a bit, as the nurse was currently roughly injecting a horribly sharp needle into the poor boy's hand whilst he whimpered slightly, offering him no comfort what so ever, but she was also in hearing distance and it was better to be a liar than a Gordon Brown these days.
The blond haired boy glanced back at the bed for a few moments before taking in a deep breath and striding back to the Prime Minister, all traces of fear completely hidden beneath his mask as he said 'he's not my friend. Kings don't have friends'.
'Right, right, of course not, sorry. Is he your brother then?' The contrasting hair colours made it unlikely, but they both shared the same bright blue eyes so...
'No!' Arthur scoffed loudly; 'As if he'd ever be related to me! No, he's my servant.'
'Ah right, a servant. And what does a capable young King like you need a servant for?' He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, he really did. Luckily, the boy didn't seem to notice, and had once again become lost in the scene before him, of his 'servant's' pain. He then whispered in his tiny, child's voice 'because I get lonely'.
The Prime Minister hadn't spoken in several minutes. Not even to tell his secretary that no, he would not be leaving the hospital anytime soon and yes, he would like a cup of tea when he returns to Downing Street. He simply nodded and it was done.
Arthur hadn't spoken in several minutes either. Neither had the boy in the bed. But he was unconscious, so he had an excuse. After the nurse had drawn a curtain around the bed and told them both that the patient was asleep, they'd both drawn up chairs and whilst Arthur had curled up in his, drawing his knees up to rest his chin upon them and clasping his hands sullenly around them, the other man had simply sat, fingers loosely entwined as he contemplated what to say next.
He didn't even know the boy's name.
'Your…er…servant' Arthur glanced up at him questioningly, 'does he have a mum or a dad coming to visit, perhaps? Or is it just…you?'
The boy returned his gaze to his knees as he mumbled 'just me'.
This worried him slightly. Surely any parent, poor of pocket or loose of love should bother to visit their child in hospital, even just to keep up pretences in front of the Social, or in Arthur's case, check where their 7 year son is toddling off to before simply letting them go. And more to the point, how could the hospital allow this? Today of all days, when their every move would be scrutinised by journalists across the country, they let two unaccompanied minors into their wards without asking a single question about their guardians?
His phone buzzed in his pocket. Making a mental note to check up on these sack able offences later when his paternal hormones were not hijacking his brain, he quickly glanced at the screen. And groaned, loudly.
Arthur looked up at him again in confusion as he stowed the device back in his pocket, and he had to take a few moments before stating 'Listen, Arthur, I'm so sorry, but I have to go. There's been a sort of…bad thing that's happened and I have to go and sort it out.' He pretended not to see the boy's eyes dart quickly to the curtain in front of them, the unspoken question of 'as bad as this?' going unnoticed as he bent down in front of the chair and held out a hand for the child to shake.
A tiny smile quirked the corner of Arthur's mouth as he returned the gesture before he quickly retracted it and the 'I don't care' shutters slammed again. He didn't say goodbye to the Prime Minister, but he did incline his head in a terrifyingly adult manner which was easily recognisable as dismissal.
Before he exited the ward, the Politian snuck a quick look at his young companion, and gave a small huff of amusement at the sight. Practically the minute his back was turned, Arthur must've leapt from the plastic seat and was now carefully drawing back the curtain to visit his friend again.
It was only the car ride home that the overwhelming sadness hit him again. It always hit him in his car, for some reason. His driver had even go so far as to sneak a packet of tissues into the side pocket of his door this time, and had pointedly raised the black partition between them the minute they pulled away from the hospital.
He always felt the guilt as well. The ever-present chirp of 'what right have you got to be sad? You barely know these children; you spoke to them for mere minutes. Think about what their families must be going through, their friends…'
Now his thoughts filled with those images of Arthur clutching desperately at the little boy's hand. The two lonely children whose parents don't bother to visit, who only have each other to cling to when they get scared, or hurt. There might only be one of them soon.
Oh god, he thought, can't start thinking like that. Heading down that road never ends well. That road shouldn't even have appeared in his mental sat nav. It's a dark and terrifying road that should only be found in the dustiest of maps in the dustiest of Libraries. He quickly pulled out his phone again, scrolling quickly through his texts and soaking them up, refusing to let any sharp-edged thoughts of empty hospital beds or empty plastic chairs into his already over tired imagination.
He was the Prime Minister. And he had a meeting to attend.
The nurse with the squeaky shoes and the unsympathetic smile had greeted him at the desk, and for some reason, hadn't shown any surprise at all that he wanted to visit the pale, dark haired boy in the bed at the end of the ward. But, maybe she was surprised and simply didn't show it. She must have one of those shop window dummy faces, he supposed, a forehead of NHS plastic and lips of liquid taxes.
They crossed the hospital in silence before the noise and chatter of the children's ward hit them full force, and the Prime Minister allowed himself a small smile at the chosen topic of conversation; himself.
'What does a Prime Mister do anyway?'
'It's Prime Minister, not Mister, and my mummy said that he looks after the country. Then daddy spat his coffee out on his new tie and mummy got cross again.'
'He seemed really nice, though!' Gwen's little voice rang out in the crowd.
'You're only saying that because you got to go on TV with him!'
'Anyway, he is nice! He stayed with Arthur, didn't he?'
There was a sudden hush at this. The nurse had reached the door to the ward now, and shot a glance at the Politian, which might've been almost fond, had she not suddenly snapped her fingers at him to follow like a dog and entered the room with frightening conviction.
Glancing through the panelled windows, he amused himself watching the children scurry into their respective beds from where they had huddled upon Gwen's and the parents scurry back to their respective children from where they had huddled around the well-used coffee machine in the corner.
They were all so cheerful. All of them. Every time he visited any children's ward up and down the country, each and every one of them managed to smile at him in a way that made him think they were not sick at all, and were in fact simply sat around a dorm room at boarding school, idly chatting about their friends and trying to avoid the scary house mother.
All except Arthur, who had curled up like a cat at the end of the world, trying to sleep and ignore it all until it was over and, holding onto something he believed to be slipping away. Suddenly, as the nurse made to exit the room again, he caught her arm and asked quickly 'Arthur's friend, the little boy in the bed, just…tell me, how long has he got left?'
The nurse side stepped him slightly and began to move away, throwing a casual 'not long at all, really. He should be gone in a few days, to be honest' over her shoulder as she went.
A few days. Oh god, why did he come here? He cancelled three budget meetings and a luncheon for this? To find out something he could've been happy with never knowing. I bet Obama doesn't have this problem, he thought brokenly; I bet he just snaps his fingers and obese children diet willingly, and disabled children perform backflips.
He was still stood outside the door when the nurse came back again, this time carrying a pile of paperwork with her, which she quickly dumped on a nearby trolley, before pushing him, him being the Prime Minister if he was quite correct, through the door and into the ward. He was still getting used to his 'leader of the country' voice, but now seemed like a good time to try it out as he exclaimed loudly; 'Excuse me, you cannot push me around like some kind of unruly child. I am the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and that could be classed as assault, I hope you know. I'm sorry, I cannot stand for this. Just because I am travelling alone today does not mean I can be thrown around…' it wasn't working.
Botox Face simply raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him before sighing dramatically, and squeaking over to the nearest child in her care. He knew he should've brought his bodyguard. Now, he was simply stood in the middle of the ward, getting in the way of other nurses and not quite knowing what to do with himself.
It seems that, yet again, his paternal instincts made that decision for him. Because suddenly, amidst all the bleeps and buzzes and noises of the children's ward, two tiny bursts of laughter shot out from behind the curtain at the end like bullets, the sound ricocheting off his ears and heart, causing his legs to shuffle towards it.
Arthur was perched comfortably on top of the sick boy's bed, leaning back on one arm with his legs dangling loosely over the edge, and looking a great deal happier than he had done the day before. His small hand was slotted in the gap between the boy's thumb and his leg, which moved slightly as the Prime Minister entered his view.
His bright blue eyes widened comically as he suddenly leant forward to whisper to Arthur, who was facing away from him; 'Oh my god, Arthur, it's the Prime Minister! He's here!'
The blond boy turned towards him, and gave a slow, embarrassed grin at the man before him, his cheeks flushing slightly in the presence of the one person who'd sat with him when his tiny heart was breaking.
Arthur raised his hand from the boy's and gave a quick, awkward wave before he returned his attention to his friend and declared smugly 'Oh, I know. Mr Cameron, meet my...er…meet Merlin. He's my best idiot. And Merlin, meet David Cameron. I met him yesterday when you were busy dying…'
'Oh well I'm sorry that my pendix didn't live up to your expectations…'
'Merlin, it's your appendix that went wobbly, not your brain…'
They spoke surprising well for children of such a young age, and were so utterly at ease with each other, it was almost as if the Prime Minister were watching an adult conversation between the oldest and dearest of friends.
Then he actually took in what Arthur had said. Appendix. The boy, Merlin, had appendicitis. '…gone in a few days.' But she didn't mean dying. He's going home!
Maybe his rivals are right. Maybe he is too dumb to be Prime Minister after all. He let out a great sigh of relief, and mentally shook himself before jumping straight into the boys' conversation;
'So Merlin…' the child in question glanced at him, looking absolutely terrified at being addressed before Arthur's thumb wormed its way into Merlin's closed palm and his fingers wrapped warmly around the boy's fist, and he managed to squeak out a quiet 'yes, Mr Minister…I mean, Prime Cameron…no, I mean Mr…er…'
'How are you feeling today? You had us all quite worried there for a while yesterday…' the Politian smoothly interrupted, taking the spare seat next to the bed. He'd almost glanced up at Arthur first, as if to check if that was alright, but he was a grown man, and grown men do not ask 7 year old boys if they can sit with their friend. But Arthur was too busy smirking at Merlin's mistake to notice, and hurriedly dove in with 'I wasn't worried!' which seemed to be the automatic response for him, ignoring the hurt look that crossed his friend's face.
The dark haired boy looked to the Prime Minister then, as if hoping that maybe he would admit to being worried about him, but the man's disbelieving snort at Arthur's declaration appeared to tell him everything he needed to know.
Suddenly, Merlin began to cry out in pain, snatching his hand away from Arthur's to wrap it around his stomach and doubled over again, starling both of his companions at the same time. Arthur's smirk seemed to run off his face, leaving a frightened gasp in its place as he reached out to his friend again, this time placing a shaking hand around his shoulders, the other smoothing back Merlin's hair as he'd obviously seen the nurse do the previous day.
But just as suddenly as the cry had started, it stopped and was soon replaced with a muffled laugh from somewhere near Merlin's knees before the boy sat up again with a giggle of 'see, Arthur, I knew you were worried!'
Arthur quickly snatched his hands back like he'd burnt them, before turning on his friend and shouting 'Merlin! I hate you!' with all the crossness a child can muster.
But just as the Prime Minister was about to intervene and say that yes, Merlin shouldn't have teased you like that, but you should never say you hate people, the blond haired boy threw his arms around his friend, practically kneeling in his lap, and drew him into a clumsy, desperate hug.
And if, when Arthur eventually pulled away, his face was as wet as Merlin's shoulder, no one said anything. The other boy simply reached up to his friend's face and brushed away the tears with a small thumb and gentle smile, before he abruptly turned to the man beside them and said cheerfully 'so what does a Prime Minister actually do?'
'I…er…well, I run the country, I handle people's money and I make friends with other countries' but not for long, he added as a mental after note, he doesn't get around to calling Obama back.
Merlin cocked his head in confusion; 'no I meant when you're not in a suit…'
He chuckled slightly and said 'when I'm not in a suit? Ah right well then I talk to the Queen in her castle' he finished with a story-tellers smile, all wide eyed and magical, and both boys had turned to look at him incredulously.
Then Arthur said 'really? You know the Queen?'
'Oh yes, we've shared many a cup of tea over the years. I've even walked her dogs!'
Two pairs of blue eyes had lit up at the thought, and they suddenly huddled together on the bed, whispering conspiratorially in each other's ears before they both turned to him, faces shining with mischief. Merlin shot a quick look at Arthur before he asked eagerly 'can we meet the Queen?'
'Go on, we'd be really good!'
'Well I would be, but I could make sure Merlin behaved himself too!'
'Arthur, shut up, he hasn't answered yet! So…?'
The Prime Minister opened his mouth. And closed it again. And opened it again to say 'Er, well it really wouldn't be…appropriate, boys…'
The gleam abruptly faded from Arthur's eye, and Merlin's hand once again closed around his friend's thumb as they both let out equally crushing sighs of disappointment.
'…however, as we're such good friends, I might be able to send you a signed photo, but only if you promise not to tell anyone, of course' he smiled encouragingly at them, hoping to elicit a smile at least, but Merlin simply let out another sigh and said 'but there's nowhere for you to send it to…' before Arthur quickly elbowed him in the ribs.
'Actually…' he'd adopted him stern teacher voice again; 'whilst we're on the subject, where do you two live? And where are your mums, hmmm? I'd quite like to speak them, if it's alright…'
'Nowhere!' came the automatic defence. This time it was the Politian who let out a sigh; 'Boys, if you can't tell me, I can just ask the nurses. I'm sure they'd be more than happy to tell me where you came from.'
They didn't tell him. He didn't ask. He was called into a meeting about 'mandatory security for the Prime Minister who thinks he can do as and when he pleases' or words to that effect, but as soon as the final suited yes-man exited the room, a new campaign began.
A scrutinising campaign to hunt down every orphanage in existence, every homeless family, ever runaway child, until The King of Camelot and his most loyal servant finally find a home.
And a signed photo of the Queen.
And all the sweets in the world.
He really shouldn't promise children that anymore…