Arthur having dawdled until afternoon finally opened the morning paper which had been delivered before he'd even woken up.
As it was expected, the headlines did nothing to make him happier.
"SECRET AFFAIR between Prince Arthur and Prince Merlin,
It seems that after months of not being seen together after their very public romantic get together in Paris, Prince Arthur has been spotted with Prince Merlin again and not just that.
In this picture Prince Merlin is seen to be leaning on Prince Arthur quite cozily while Prince Arthur himself shields the young Prince from the cameras. They were seen together leaving the Beaufort Bar.
After this revelation it is highly expected that there maybe a royal wedding to look forward to after all."
Right smack in the middle was the picture of Merlin and himself and it didn't make matters any easier because they did seem to be quite close in the photograph. The article was continued on another page but Arthur decided he'd seen enough.
Now he'd have to deal with the backlash and also his father's wrath.
He'd been quietly contemplating when his father would call on him to 'talk' about this incident when his phone buzzed with a message. Scowling at the phone Arthur hesitantly reached for it and found out the message was from Merlin.
He felt confused that Merlin would text him so soon; he'd been jumping for joy and couldn't get out of Arthur's flat sooner yesterday.
'Reached home. Afraid to go inside because my mom's going to be so pissed.'
'Go in brat, they are probably worried as it is.'
'Did you get ribbed yet?'
An amused smile lit up Arthur's face and he texted, 'No, not yet.'
'Would you rather we swap?'
It took about a minute for Merlin to text back and Arthur wondered whether he'd lost him when his phone blinkered to life in his hands again, 'No, you're old man is scary.'
There was a hasty; 'no offense' after Merlin seemed to realize what he'd just said.
'None taken, let me know how it goes.'
'Will do, bye '
'Bye' Arthur refused to use a smiley because he wasn't the teenager here, he could picture Merlin rolling his eyes at that.
Merlin was rolling his eyes at Arthur's curt text without an emoticon but the nervousness he felt made him forget about it as he took gingerly steps to his house, his mom was going to kill him and god knows for how long his parents would ground him this time.
Merlin winced as his mother came climbing down the stairs rapidly her anger fuelling her forward too fast, not giving Merlin the time to procrastinate.
His father was sitting down in the parlors armchair and he looked at him for support only to find stern disappointment in his eyes.
"DO YOU KNOW WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO YOU?"
His mother was screaming at him and Merlin gave her a pained grimace which only made her raise her voice even more, "Don't you dare smile at me like that! You've gone too far this time! You got drunk, lost your guards, and god knows what would have happened if Arthur hadn't been there!"
Merlin refrained from saying anything knowing it would only make things worse for his case.
"And now the whole world thinks you both are having an affair, are you happy with that?"
Merlin was surprised then, "What?"
"What he asks! What indeed Merlin! How did you think it would look when Arthur had to drag you out drunk out of that club! What did you think people were going to think?"
Merlin frowned, had he been caught by the press again, Arthur hadn't even warned him! Obviously he knew some consequences were to be there but he didn't know it was this bad.
"Mom, I really don't know what you're talking about."
His mother then silently picked up the days paper and shoved it into his hands unceremoniously.
'Some worthy display of misconduct by the royals,
Finally it seems the mystery has been solved, Prince Arthur and Prince Merlin were seen exiting together out of the Beaufort Bar in London. As the world and all the people of Camelot and Mercia have been wondering what exactly is the deal between Prince Arthur and Prince Merlin after their heavily public courting in Paris it seems now that they have only been keeping us on our toes.
It's come to light now that Prince Arthur and Prince Merlin are still indeed seeing each other and they look quite comfortable in each others embrace as they exit the club together.
Patrons of the club who were present at the time told the London Mirror that Prince Merlin referred to Prince Arthur as his boyfriend.
Can we expect a grand wedding after all?'
Merlin groaned as he saw the picture of them together wondering why his life had to be so complicated. He hated the media people; couldn't they just leave him alone and go after some diva pop star?
When Merlin looked up at his mother after he had finished reading she was looking at him with a solemn expression and he involuntarily gulped.
"You're grounded for a month, no tv, no game rooms, no hanging out with your friends, no having anyone over, no school trips, and we're changing your body guards."
Merlin sputtered but a glare from his mother silenced him and he sulked, dropping his shoulders and staring at the floor.
Merlin was then engulfed in a tight hug by his mother; "Don't ever go drinking like that again!" she chastised as he awkwardly hugged her back. Balinor was looking at the two of them with a fond smile and Merlin smiled back as his father winked at him.
Arthur had expected it to be Merlin when his phone buzzed again but he was dismayed to find it was Uther.
He ignored the phone for a while until he realized that he better get this done with soon.
"Yes father." He sure as hell wasn't going to prompt anything if that was what his father wanted of him.
"Did you see the papers?"
"Are you going to explain?" Uther asked in a brittle tone, clearly not happy with his son testing his tenuous at best patience.
Arthur cleared his throat, he never failed to spill whenever his father used that tone on him, and it made him feel like a five year old.
"There's nothing to explain father, I already told Morgana everything. Merlin was drunk when I noticed him accidentally in the club' he made sure to put emphasis on the word that it was an accident before continuing, 'some of the patrons were trying to take advantage and I had to intervene."
Uther cursed softly but Arthur couldn't hear anything except 'noble' and 'incorrigible.'
"And you couldn't have just asked Lancelot or Gwaine to drop him at his hotel?"
Arthur had no answer to that, after all that would have been the reasonable thing to do. He must have anticipated that the press would be tailing him and Merlin. Merlin had the excuse of being too drunk to think properly but Arthur had no such luxury and he waited for his father's angry outburst.
He was surprised when it never came and instead found himself even more shocked when Uther sighed and asked him "You've ended up caring for the boy haven't you?"
Arthur wanted to deny it straight away but after what he'd done it would be stupid to deny it so Arthur chose a half nonchalant and half diplomatic answer, "I've known the runt since he was born, of course I care about him a small measure father."
His father tutted and then said "Your mother thinks we should go on ahead and marry you both anyway."
"Father please tell her to stop that, the press have just blown this out of proportion."
"Have they really?" asked Uther and the stern tone left no room for doubts.
"Yes!" Arthur insisted, "You can't possibly believe the press! Its nonsense!"
Uther hummed and then said "If you still want the boy atleast be discrete about it here after."
Arthur huffed, "I don't father."
"If you say so Arthur" Uther said cagily before the he started asking him about business proposals and such and Arthur was relieved.
Arthur was getting ready for bed when his phone next buzzed again; he opened it to find a text from Merlin.
'Got grounded for a month, how did you fare?'
'Good, that should teach you something.'
'She's changing my body guards too '
'I'm glad, the last ones were lousy'
'But I liked them'
'Merlin, bodyguards are not meant to loose the only person they are guarding so many times'
'Guess you have a point there, you never answered my question :/'
'I didn't get into too much trouble.'
'Gonna sleep now, night Arthur'
If they had thought that the press targeting them after Paris was bad this was maddening, Arthur couldn't go out anywhere without the press tailing him and his bodyguards were running ragged trying to ward off the press.
There were all manner of questions shouted at him whenever he stepped out of his limousine to his office and the only place he was safe from the press was at his place in Camelot, thanks to the security systems.
He expected the hype to die down but it only kept on escalating as days passed by with neither of the royal families making a statement about the incident.
Even Morgana who was usually able to scare off the press with her cold glare was finding it hard to ward them off. She'd told him in no uncertain terms how much the situation irritated her, his mother had called exactly three times in the following weeks each call to rant to him about how unfair it was that her children were not properly settled down yet.
Arthur had rolled his eyes and tolerated her dramatic sighs, after all Igraine was his beloved mother; he had to keep reminding himself at times. Honestly he didn't know why Igraine was so insistent on seeing Merlin and Arthur together.
And if this wasn't worse he had this insane urge to call Merlin or send him stupid texts like a teenager at times when he was bored out of his mind and all alone in his flat in Camelot. He studiously ignored these urges, and to make things easier he'd leave his phone in the bedside table until he went to sleep, lest his treacherous hand make the decision to slither to it and type without his permission.
In Mercia, Merlin was in quite a similar situation. His new bodyguards gave him no slack and he couldn't slip away anywhere except to the bathroom and even then one of them followed. He was being herded out of the school flanked by his bodyguards as the press had taken residence in a corner of the school and refused to go away.
Gwen gave Merlin a sympathetic look as he grimaced and got back into his SUV, with tinted and bullet proof windows and all.
Merlin hadn't called or texted Arthur after that day but they were constantly on the news channel everyday, well atleast the local news channel anyway since that was the only thing he could see with his mother around. He wondered if his mother was doing it on purpose, refusing to change the channel even when Merlin whined. It seemed Arthur was facing the same situation and it made Merlin guilty to know that if he'd just stopped after his first two pints all of this might have been averted.
He surprisingly found himself wanting to talk to Arthur. He theorized that now that they had cleared the air and decided to be friends he could actually talk to Arthur without it having to be for no other reason. Still he did have this teeny tiny crush on the prat and the thought of what he'd found in Arthur's bedroom still made him blush. Not to mention the amount of guilt he was feeling for the situation he'd landed them in.
It wasn't like Arthur would want him bugging him anyway. He had much better friends like Lance, Gwaine, Leon and who knew how many other bed partners to entertain.
His mother was still giving him the silent treatment while his father was away to France on some important convention of country leaders.
Arthur was on the phone talking to some Japanese chairman whose English was too horrible for Arthur to understand properly and he resorted to speaking in Japanese, no matter that he had to twist his tongue in a frankly unnatural way.
His office door opened without any warning and Arthur was almost expecting to see Morgana but it was not in fact his evil sister. Arthur smiled for the first time in weeks at seeing Mithian who was mirroring his smile back. He quickly cut the line offering a half arsed explanation before walking forward and engulfing Mithian in a hug. She was dressed sharply in a pencil skirt and white long sleeved shirt and Arthur felt warm as she kissed his cheeks and they parted.
"So long Mithie, it's good to see you."
Mithian smiled fondly before linking her arms with Arthur's, "It has been too long hasn't it? Come on then, let's get out of this place and get lunch."
Arthur immediately agreed relieved to have the company of someone he felt comfortable with for once.
When they settled into a fine restaurant and placed their orders Mithian started to talk, "So I hear your life's been more interesting these days." She said curious but not prying.
Arthur huffed, "Interesting is not the way I'd see it Mithie, more like wearisome."
"Really, so what have you been doing since you've been back from America?"
"Managing the company and I'm also back to training."
"Do you like being back?"
Arthur contemplated that for a minute before he decided on the answer, "Yeah, I definitely like being back except for the recent happenings of course. So what have you been upto, did you finish that advanced linguistics course after all?"
Mithian was all smiles as she said "Yes I did and I'm moving back to London for a while."
Arthur was surprised, he'd always figured after graduating Mithian would probably settle down in Spain. It was one of the reasons there was such a rift between them back when they were dating.
"Have you been to visit the folks yet?"
"No, not yet. I wanted to see you first." Mithian said with a small smile and Arthur didn't know what to make of it.
Thankfully, the arrival of their food interrupted what he was about to say and after that they picked up their conversation filling in on each others life's since they'd gone their separate ways five years ago.
When they were ready to leave Arthur saw the crowd of photographers waiting outside the hotel and he glanced apologetically at Mithian.
"Sorry about this Mithie, I'll understand if you want to go later."
Mithian though was not flustered by the press' appearance and held onto Arthur's hand, "Nonsense, of course I want to go with you Arthur."
Arthur was confused as he knew for a fact that Mithie hated the press which was another reason for tension between them but shrugged as he led her out.
The flashes almost blinded him and Mithie's grip on him tightened which made Arthur glance back at her to check if she was okay. When she gave him an imperceptible nod Arthur did his best to shield her from the paps with his body before they both walked quickly to the car.
'Who is your new lady Prince Arthur?'
There were some similar questions thrown about and Arthur couldn't block them out before he reached the car.
'Are you cheating on Prince Merlin?'
'What about Prince Merlin?'
The crowd went berserk and Arthur felt a tightness in his chest as they all screamed about Merlin, he shook himself out of it as soon as he was seated in his car. He had no obligations to Merlin; they wouldn't be in this situation if Merlin hadn't done something irresponsible again. Yes the Prince of Mercia was irresponsible and childish and Arthur reminded himself that he was not under any commitment whatsoever.
Mithian was, Arthur noticed evidently annoyed by the press as she was sitting too stiffly but Arthur couldn't bring himself to care to comfort her as he would have back then, his mind was still rebelling in some bizarre turmoil.
Merlin grabbed a pillow from the bed and settled himself quite nicely on the couch before he twirled the remote in his hands and gave it a kiss. He'd missed his tv, he'd missed his couch, he'd missed everything about just lazing about as the tv ran its commercials, he'd missed this so so much.
Finally the month had ended and Merlin was free again.
He browsed through channels settling down to watch Bones when he got this urge to tell Arthur. He was too happy to seriously think or restrain himself like he usually did. He waited until the commercials came on and then fished his phone out from his backpack.
'I'm freeee Arthur, I'm watching Bones now, what are you up to?'
Merlin waited and waited for a good hour looking at the phone and then at the tv. When his phone didn't light up with a message even after he'd brushed and dressed for bed he frowned wondering why Arthur wasn't replying.
Thinking that Arthur must probably be doing something important Merlin texted a quick 'Goodnite Arthur, the cannibal was the doctor by the way. Thought you should know since you missed the ending of that episode.'
When morning arrived Merlin was too much in a hurry to get to class to bother about Arthur not having texted back.
But when afternoon rolled around and Merlin noticed people giving him weird looks he wondered if something new had happened.
Gwen and Freya came to sit with him during lunch and Merlin noticed the girls being unusually quiet and somber.
"Okay, why is everyone giving me the long face?" asked Merlin.
Freya and Gwen looked at each other before looking at Merlin. Merlin wished Will was around, he'd be able to give him a straight answer but Will was home sick with the flu.
"You mean you don't know?" Freya's voice was timid.
Merlin looked even more confused and Gwen grabbed his hand in hers, "Merlin have you seen the news?"
"What news?" now he was fully aware and felt trepidation at what new plot the press hounds had cooked up now.
Gwen seeing that he was genuinely confused now looked uncertain, "Maybe you shouldn't read it, sometimes ignorance is bliss."
"Gwen, what is it?" asked Merlin imploring her to tell him.
Gwen hesitated but Freya blurted out, "It's Arthur, he's dating a woman."
Merlin's eyes scrunched together as a sharp pain stabbed at his chest for an instant, he cleared his throat though and said "Well, that's hardly unexpected is it?"
He picked up a piece of potato from his salad and chewed trying his best to appear nonchalant. He should have expected this, hell he had no right to feel sad but he did and it made him angry at himself.
Gwen huffed, "Yes but Merlin, the press are making it out to be some elaborate plan to go behind your back and cheat on you."
"That's ridiculous. Arthur's free to date whoever he wants and so am I."
Gwen nodded still scrutinizing him but Freya seemed appeased and they let the matter rest for the day.
When he went back home Merlin immediately spread the day's newspaper in front of him and there it was, Arthur with another woman, only this woman looked familiar and when Merlin remembered that it was the same woman in the photograph in Arthur's London flat Merlin felt his heart thud painfully in his chest.
He sulked for the rest of the day in his room feeling quite pathetic for being so impressionable and naïve. What had he thought really? That Arthur had some sort of affection for him? No Arthur had only saved him because he was a decent enough human when he was not being an utter prat.
Still it didn't mean he wasn't unreasonably and stupidly upset and it made him mope. He plugged his earphones in and went to sleep chastising himself again and again for letting his mind get away from him so. He was better off without someone like Arthur anyway, as much as he was noble and could at times be almost kind Arthur could not tolerate him and Merlin could not tolerate Arthur that was it, end of story.
"I don't like this" said Igraine as she slumped against the cushions after seeing yet another photograph of Arthur and Mithian together. It seemed like Arthur and Mithian had somehow rekindled their very rocky romance after five long years of being apart.
Morgana who was also present and reading a fashion magazine said "Well be happy for it mother, this will atleast give you some grand children to coddle with."
"Don't be daft Morgana, Arthur doesn't love her and I doubt she's right for him."
Morgana could see that her mother would rather Arthur marry Merlin than anyone else but she couldn't figure out why she seemed so against the idea of anyone else marrying or dating Arthur. Sure Arthur was smitten with the boy, most likely most of Britain was but that still didn't explain why Igraine was being so insistent.
"Why do you really want him to marry Merlin? I mean I get that they have this whole sexual tension thing going for them but other than that…"
"Arthur cares about Merlin, he always has. I believe Merlin could make Arthur happy, genuinely happy and not like he's pretending right now with Mithian or Vivian or the throngs of girls and boys he's dated."
"How do you know for sure?" asked Morgana.
Igraine came forward and sat down next to Morgana, "It's called mothers intuition Morgana, and it never fails."
Morgana shrugged turning back to her magazine.
"On that thought, I think Leon is quite wonderful, don't you dear?"
Morgana huffed, not needing anybody to tell her what her mother was implying, "Mother, focus on Arthur at the moment, won't you? It seems like Mithian might be planning to be around this time, I've never seen her weather the press this well before."
Igraine got a worried frown at that and said "You're probably right, the girl does seem like she's planning something. Too bad your brother is too stubborn to listen to me; I'll tell him I told him so when Merlin gets snapped up by other lads."
Morgana snorted, "If Arthur doesn't combust by then you mean." They all knew Arthur was just a tad too possessive and incredibly jealous.
Will was finally back to school after a week of absence and Merlin gave him a friendly shove as they convened near the lockers.
"Glad to know you're not dead mate" Merlin said cheerfully and Will shoved him back and they walked slowly outside not having any classes for another hour atleast.
"You were much easier to put up with when you were grounded."
"Shut up Will"
"So are you still coming to the thing on Friday?" asked Merlin and Will nodded.
"Good, we'll have to go in my car though. Mom's been a bit paranoid after the last time I gave my ex bodyguards the slip."
"That was incredibly stupid of you mate" unfortunately Will agreed completely with his mother, much like Arthur and didn't the thought of Arthur still make Merlin feel a pang in his chest, it was completely unfair.
If Will noticed his suddenly sullen mood he didn't comment on it as they sat side by side in the lawn outside the school waiting for the girls to arrive.
When they'd been silent for a while Will asked "So will Pratdragon be there then?"
Merlin was startled out of his thoughts and he considered the question, he knew invitations had been sent to Camelot as well but he didn't know whether Arthur would show up. Half of him wanted Arthur to come and the other just wanted nothing to do with the blond headed prat.
"I don't know…maybe but…I don't think he'll come. It'll just feed the rumor mill you know…"
"You should get a date…" suggested Will.
When Will raised his eyebrows and gave him a look Merlin sighed and closed his eyes. He hoped Arthur wouldn't come but if he did and brought his new lady friend along then the last thing Merlin wanted to be was to be painted as the looser. And he knew that's exactly what the press would write, 'Poor Prince Merlin heartbroken by Prince Arthur's new love affair.'
"You're right, but who would I ask this late?"
Will looked at him like he was nutty, "Honestly Merlin, you're rich and hot, who wouldn't want to go out on a date with you to a ridiculously rich party?"
"I don't want to be stuck with an anonymous stranger!" They kept silent again for a while.
"You know what?" asked Will.
"What?" Merlin was irate and Will tsked at him.
"You should ask Mordred."
"What? No! That'd be like using him, he's my friend."
"Merlin! You almost got shagged by him; he is not in any way just a 'friend."
When Merlin looked unsure Will said "Look this way you'll enjoy the company and get back at Arthur."
Merlin protested "This is not about getting back at Arthur!"
"Sure it isn't"
Merlin pouted and finally relented, he'd like to see Mordred anyway, and they talked on the phone plenty but the last time Merlin had seen Mordred was in Paris.
Have I made this a lot more complicated than it needed to be? :D But I think I'd like writing it this way.
Anyway, please read and review! Love always Amanda.