A/N: Apologies for the delay. I'm posting this at 10 AM and I haven't slept a wink tonight (today? lol), just wanted to get this update out to you. Enjoy!
This isn't the end! One more chapter before c&c is over.
"Mithian and Arthur are in a fight," Gwen informs Merlin when he returns to the hotel hours later, the afternoon long since melted into evening. She whispers and glances around conspiratorially, as if it wouldn't do to speak about such matters in the open. "Mithian and Freya, too."
Merlin starts; even through the haze caused by Arthur's earlier dismissal, he knows this isn't good. "What? Why, what happened?"
Gwen shrugs, eyes widening and her fingers splaying helplessly. "I don't know! Why don't you tell me?"
Merlin stares fixedly at his shoes. "What are you talking about? I wasn't even here."
Gwen's narrow, shrewd gaze tells him she doesn't buy a word of it. "Fine, don't tell me. But I know it has something to do with you. One minute everything's fine, and the next Arthur is back from his fitting in a mood and Mithian's having it out with him."
Merlin winces. "Having it out with him?"
"Yeah." The confirmation comes from behind Gwen's shoulder, and a smiling Morgana joins them. "Well done, Merlin."
For some reason, Merlin is affronted at this. "I didn't do anything."
Morgana and Gwen both arch their eyebrows at him. Merlin sighs.
"Alright. I'll tell you what happened if you tell me."
"Fair enough," Morgana agrees. She settles herself comfortably in the nearest of the lobby's plush armchairs. "Nobody has exact details-"
Merlin gives a disbelieving snort.
Morgana grins, giving up her attempt at a disclaimer. "Alright, I eavesdropped…. with a glass. Apparently, lunch today had Mithian thinking. About giving up her career and all. I didn't hear the beginning, but I think she was trying to get Arthur to consider alternatives to traveling all the time, because that meant she'd give everything up. I got the sense that this wasn't the first time she'd thought about it."
"Of course not," Gwen intervenes, sounding sensible. "She's only human, after all."
Morgana continues. "Arthur wasn't too cooperative. But Mithian didn't really get angry until she brought her father into it."
"Her father?" Merlin prompts.
"Yes," Morgana says. "She moved here from England to stay close to him. They're very close- I heard a lot of mention of how much they mean to each other, after her mother died."
"Oh," Merlin says quietly. "So it wasn't just about her career, then."
"No," Morgana confirms. "But Arthur still wouldn't give, not even a bit, and that's when Mithian got really angry. I caught mention of another job that Mithian's father offered Arthur, apparently- some corporate writing gig. She said it would even pay better, so she didn't see what was the problem…"
Morgana trails off, and Merlin shakes his head, understanding. "Oh, no."
"Yes." Morgana nods solemnly. "All hell broke loose. Arthur was furious, saying this was her plan all along, to rope him into her family's clutches, and that he didn't get away from one corporate 'phony-fest' to get trapped into another."
Gwen is shaking her head, an expression of mild disapproval on her face. "What is wrong with him?"
Morgana bites her bottom lip, taking a moment before speaking. "More than what's on the surface, that's obvious. I was talking to him earlier, and… with all this… how insensitive and irrational he's being, it's obvious this shit runs deep."
"Poor Arthur," Gwen coos, shifting from disapproving to worried in the way only Gwen can.
Morgana nods. "Now they won't speak to each other. Arthur's locked in his room, and Mithian's out."
"What about Freya?" Merlin asks.
Gwen's brow furrows. "I'm not too sure about that. I didn't hear any of it - did you, Morgana? - and I don't know them well enough to be able to tell…"
Morgana shakes her head, barely checking a smile. "Oh god, it's obvious, isn't it?"
Merlin and Gwen both look at her expectantly, expressions blank.
"I've got to spell everything out, haven't I?" Morgana sighs and leans forward in her chair. "Merlin. Since we've been here, has Mithian ever mentioned you being gay?"
"Yeah." Merlin remembers it cropping up in their conversations more than once; hell, they talked about him and Arthur more than he and Arthur did.
"Has she ever mentioned it when you two weren't alone?"
Merlin searches his memory, still not sure where Morgana is going with this. "Uh…"
"Exactly," Morgana sits back, satisfied. "Merlin, I don't think she's told anyone that you're gay."
Merlin blinks. "What?"
"Much less that you were with Arthur," Morgana goes on. "I think she's keeping it a secret. And Freya liked you, and when she found out that you were gay today, she was angry at Mithian for not telling her."
A few things click into place. "That explains some of Freya's behavior," he muses.
But Gwen looks furious. "Why would Mithian keep Merlin's sexuality a secret? Is she- is she a homophobe?"
"Don't worry, love, no need to sic Lance on her." Morgana reaches over and pats Gwen's arm in a reassuring manner. "No, I think she's just a little insecure about it, and maybe she doesn't want to deal with how people would react on top of all the other stress."
"God." Gwen closes her eyes and presses her fingertips to her temples, massaging. "What a mess."
"Indeed." Morgana fixes her gaze on Merlin, pointedly. "Want to enlighten us on why that is? Perhaps what happened between you and Arthur after lunch?"
Gwen looks up, apparently curious enough to forego her attempt at relaxation, and Merlin sighs.
He recounts what unfolded on the boat and at Arthur's fitting. He skips over the gory details; his chest still clenches unpleasantly when he recalls the way Arthur's hands had coldly pried his fingers from his face, and Merlin has no desire to relive that in front of a concerned audience.
And it's a good thing Merlin takes such precautions, because the audience grows; Lance and Gwaine join the circle, and Merlin has to repeat earlier parts of the story twice so that they're both caught up. By the time he's through, his eyes are sparkling despite his best efforts, and Gwen silently hands him a tissue.
"So then I just took off for a bit, walked it off," Merlin sniffles, the sound too loud and pathetic in his ears. "Didn't work as well as it should have."
Lance leans over and gives Merlin's shoulder a squeeze. "I'm really sorry, Merlin."
Gwen nods, and even Gwaine looks subdued.
"I hate my brother," Morgana states.
Merlin rolls his eyes. As he does so, he feels his mood lift marginally; as always, Morgana's uninhibited reaction cheers him up. "No, you don't."
"I do," Morgana swears. "I'm going to kill him."
"I think Mithian had it right- we all need to cool off." Gwaine rises from his perch on the arm of Gwen's chair, stretching his arms. "Who's for drinks?"
Morgana rolls her eyes. "It's not even five."
Gwaine responds with another eye roll. "So?"
A third eye roll. "So, it's appallingly early-"
"Don't make me laugh."
"And it wouldn't do to show up at the rehearsal dinner knackered."
Gwaine shrugs. "Maybe they're not having one anymore."
Gwen sends him a sharp glare, and Gwaine shrugs again. "What? Aren't we all Team Merlin here?"
"First off, there aren't teams," Gwen admonishes. "Second, though we are supporting Merlin, we shouldn't openly wish harm and unhappiness on others."
At that, Gwaine mutters retorts beneath his breath but sits down again. Merlin drags a hand through his hair. "Shit. I forgot all about that."
"It'll be fine," Gwen says immediately, soothing. "We'll be there. Just sit through it, it'll be fine."
"What if I'm supposed to give a speech or something?"
"I can find out for you," Morgana offers, pulling out her phone.
"From who? The groom, the bride, or the maid of honor, who hates my guts?"
Gwen tuts, and Lance's hand is on Merlin's shoulder again. "No one hates you, Merlin. No one could hate you."
"I second that," Gwaine says, raising a hand. "You're the greatest bloke I've ever met, Merlin. I'd go so far as to call you my best friend."
"Would you, now?"
It's a new voice, very amused and very familiar. Merlin turns, though he hears Gwen's gasp of surprise and delight.
Behind him is Percy, grinning broadly, and it seems to make Gwaine lose control.
He yells Percy's name and seems to launch himself across the room. Nobody is able to catch the finer details; the motion is too quick. But then Gwaine and Percy are pulling out of a hug, and they stand arm in arm, and Elena, by Percy's other side, is smiling ridiculously.
Gwaine leans over and presses a kiss to Elena's cheek. "Missed you two."
"Yeah, figured that out," Elena laughs, but she leans into Gwaine's slight embrace. "We missed you, too."
The others rise and offer their greetings. Elena, Gwen, and Morgana end up in a sort of private female huddle, and Percy dwarfs Merlin in a hug.
"Heard you were in a bit of a fix, Merlin," Percy says, expression gone serious.
Merlin sighs. "Yeah, that sums it up."
Morgana turns, giving Gwaine one of her best glares.
"No matter what you say," Gwaine says, smiling triumphantly. "Drinks are in order now."
They don't get drinks; at least, not all of them do. Gwaine, Percy, and Elena leave the hotel, with promises to a disapproving Gwen that they won't get too drunk. When they reappear, hours later, they've somehow got a mollified Freya in tow. Morgana also departs, heading for a nearby café, where she says she's meeting Morgause. Lance and Gwen retire to their room, after several attempts to involve Merlin in some sort of activity that didn't involve moping. Merlin refuses them all, smiling a little crookedly when Gwen starts to worry her lip and assuring her that he's absolutely fine on his own.
He ends up staying in the now empty lobby, ordering a coffee, staring at it, then going to his room and changing his clothes for the rehearsal dinner several hours early.
A few minutes after seven, he departs from the lift with shoulders slumped. Morgana and Morgause are waiting for him, heels tapping impatiently.
"There you are," Morgana says, the words exaggeratedly impatient from her ruby red lips. Morgause narrows her eyes at him, chilling Merlin to the bone.
"I'm not that late," he defends feebly. "Just a few minutes."
"They're keeping the car waiting," Morgause says, disapproval dripping from her voice.
"Hello, Morgause," Merlin says, deadpan. "Good trip?"
She doesn't answer, snagging Morgana's arm and pulling her ahead. Merlin barely keeps from rolling his eyes as he follows them.
Gwen is standing outside, a pretty picture in a short purple dress. She takes Merlin's hand and tugs him a bit too forcefully towards the car, shooting Morgause a glare over her shoulder.
"Gwen." Merlin tries to wriggle his hand in the vice grip she has over it.
"Yeah?" Gwen says distractedly. "You alright, Merlin? Feeling better?"
"Dandy. Gwen, what's wrong?"
She looks at him for a moment, then her expression dissolves into a nervous smile. "Just a bit nervous, I guess. And Morgause. She always gets on my nerves."
Merlin leans into the small space between them and presses a kiss to her cheek. "You look beautiful."
She blushes. "Thank you, Merlin."
The long, sleek car holds most of his friends; Lance scoots over to make room for his wife, and Gwaine pats the empty space next to him. Merlin awkwardly crawls over a few people to reach it, almost falling on top of Percy, which makes Elena laugh.
As soon as Morgana and Morgause climb in, the car jerks into motion. Small conversations spring up; Percy and Lance argue about football, Gwen and Elena discuss work. Merlin is overly conscious of Freya, on the other side of Gwaine, deathly quiet with her hands wrung in her lap.
Gwaine pats his knee reassuringly. Merlin gives him a shaky smile.
The weight of the evening is suddenly felt, descending heavily upon Merlin's shoulders. Tonight is it; either he finds a way to get Arthur back, or he'll be lost to him forever. He won't get another chance, short of dramatically shouting "I object" while Arthur stands at the altar.
The image of Arthur standing at the altar, Mithian by his side, is enough to roil his stomach. Merlin concentrates on holding back the urge to vomit during the rest of the car ride.
Eventually, the car slows and stops. Merlin is the first to climb out, sucking the fresh air into his lungs, trying to ignore the soft light emerging from the restaurant before him.
He feels a hand at his back, tentative. "You alright, Merlin?"
But Lance still looks worried, even as Gwen takes his arm. "Take your time, Merlin. We'll be inside."
Lance's brow furrows as he looks at her, puzzled, but Gwen tugs on his arm insistently, and as they walk away Merlin watches her lean in to whisper something in his ear.
Freya is standing behind him, hands clasped in front of her, tentative gaze on him. Merlin takes the few steps that would bridge the gap between them.
Freya clears her throat. "I realize this is the second time I apologize to you in two days, and you must be…. sick of me."
Merlin shakes his head. "Freya-"
"No, let me finish." She tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear and begins again. "I'm sorry. I wasn't angry with you but I was still rude to you, and I wasn't nice to you when I had no reason to be, and…"
Freya sighs. "A maid of honor is supposed to be gracious… welcoming. I wasn't."
"Freya. You don't have to worry." Merlin considers putting a hand on her shoulder, then thinks better of it. Her arms are wrapped tightly around her chest, as if barely holding herself together.
Freya's mouth twists into a small smile. "Thank you."
"I'm sorry if I… said something I shouldn't have." Merlin scuffs at the floor with his ridiculously overpriced shoes, marveling at his ridiculously understated apology. He wants to apologize for more than that- he wants to apologize for ruining what should have been a glowing time for her as maid of honor, a glowing time for Mithian and Arthur and everyone involved. He wants to apologize for everything he's done. He wants to apologize for what he's about to do.
Freya's smile is tight, barely a curve of her lips. "You don't have to worry."
She walks off after echoing his words, not giving Merlin a chance to respond. He stands still for a moment, a lone deer in the warm passing headlights; and then he moves, going inside.
The hall is beautiful; small, lit with warm light from high chandeliers, the tables draped with gilded ivory cloth. The tables form two circles that line the empty middle, where a few brazen couples have already begun to dance.
Merlin feels a nudge at his shoulder. "Fancy, huh?"
It's Elena, hand at her mouth, no doubt covering a mischievous smile. Merlin smiles in turn. "Yeah."
"Come." Elena inclines her head to where their friends are gathered, choosing seats. "We've saved you the best seat in the house."
Merlin isn't sure whether to be alarmed or comforted at that. He follows Elena to the round table, to a chair sandwiched between Gwen and Morgana. From this point, he realizes, he has a perfect view of Arthur.
Morgana seems a bit put off. "Shouldn't we be at the head table? Me and Merlin, at least?"
Leon shrugs. "There isn't much of a head table." This is true; the head table is small, though the only rectangular table in the room, seating only Arthur, Mithian, Uther, and Mithian's father.
Morgana is not consoled. "I'm his sister!"
"Half-sister," Gwaine mutters beneath his breath, chuckling when he catches Merlin's eye. Thankfully, Morgana doesn't hear him.
On the other hand, Merlin is not too miffed about being on a table separate from Arthur's. His friends are welcome company right now, welcome distractions. Besides, he needs to figure out what he's going to do about Arthur before he faces him.
He needs to be definitive.
Beside him, Gwen sighs. "This hall is gorgeous."
"Bit overdone, don't you think?" Gwaine says. "This is only the rehearsal dinner, not the actual wedding."
Morgana never wastes an opportunity to roll her eyes at Gwaine, and she does so now. "It's Uther's only son. I'm surprised a flock of white doves didn't accompany Arthur at his entrance."
"You're right. That would have been appropriately tacky."
Morgana glares at Gwaine, and Gwen quickly interrupts what would have been a heated back-and-forth. "It's fancy, but not tacky. It's tasteful. Elegant."
"I'm having an outdoors wedding," Elena declares, and Percy offers his view on the matter, and soon Merlin is zoning out flowers and color schemes and focusing on Arthur.
He's sitting in the table directly across from theirs, staring into his lap. A dancing couple will occasionally flit across his vision, but when it passes, Arthur's face is the same. Occasionally, he'll look up; when a comment is directed at him, Merlin guesses, or when Uther claps him on the back, laughing. Arthur will smile, then, a wan hollow thing.
Mithian, at Arthur's right side, looks no better.
Arthur looks up suddenly, meeting Merlin's gaze. Caught by surprise, Merlin looks away; then, face burning, he engages Gwen and Lance in conversation.
The music fades into the background. Waiters begin to serve the first course, and Merlin picks at his food.
Presently, Morgana stands. "I'm going to dance."
As she walks by, she touches Merlin's shoulder. "I suggest you do the same," she says, with a suggestive look in Arthur's direction.
"Heard that," Gwaine says, when Morgana is a reasonable distance away. He leans over Percy, who swats at him, and sets an arm on the back of Morgana's empty chair. "Want to dance, boyfriend?"
Percy laughs. "I still can't believe you did that, mate."
"I can't believe I missed it," Elena adds. "You being even stupider than usual. It must have been a sight to behold."
"Oh, yes, it was lovely," Gwen says sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
They laugh again. Merlin smiles weakly, forking some salad into his mouth when Elena begins to rave about the fantastic dressing.
When a waiter removes his empty plate, Morgana returns to her seat. The waiter asks her if she's through with her salad, untouched, and Morgana nods. "Just bring me more of this fantastic wine."
Merlin stares at her as she tips back her head and takes a large swallow. She evenly stares back. "What?"
"What are you doing?" Merlin asks.
"What you're not," she scoffs. "I'm getting drunk, and I'm going dance. And then I think I'm going to get laid."
Merlin's eyebrows shoot into his hairline. "Whoa."
Morgana shrugs, incorrigible. "You could learn a thing or two from me, you know."
She tips back her wine once more before standing, joining the growing group of dancers in the middle of the room.
A few moments later, Gwen and Lance rise too. Then Percy and Elena. Merlin catches sight of Gwaine dancing with Freya, hands on her waist. Even Mithian is being spun around the room by Leon.
It's just him and Arthur, alone on adjacent tables. On impulse, Merlin shoots him a wry smile.
After a moment, Arthur responds with a smile of his own.
Merlin is considering going over there, sitting next to him, saying whatever- he doesn't care- when the chair beside him creaks with weight.
"You're running out of time, mate." Gwaine pops something into his mouth and forms his words around it.
"I'm aware of that," Merlin says through his teeth. "Excuse-"
"Dance with me, Merlin?"
It's Sophia, smiling sweetly, and Merlin reluctantly takes her hand.
Sophia is not a terrible dancer, and the song isn't terrible either. Sophia stays mercifully quiet throughout the whole thing, and Merlin thinks that he may just enjoy this night a tiny bit when the song ends. He's passed then to Elena while Percy takes Sophia's hand, and Merlin spends the next few minutes trying to spare his toes the terror of Elena's clumsy feet. But Elena's bright company makes up for it- almost. Trying not to wince as he walks, Merlin is halfway back to his table when Morgana demands that he dance with her. Frightened by the slightly mad look in her eyes, Merlin complies.
Once in Morgana's arms, she pulls him flush against her in a surprisingly strong tug. "Oof!"
"Hush." Her voice is dramatically low and too close to his ear for comfort. "I want to ask you something."
"This isn't really helping people think nothing is going on between us…"
"I already talked to Arthur," Morgana says dismissively. "Now listen."
Her vice grip on Merlin tightens, bringing them closer, if that's even possible. "Okay! I'm listening!"
"I've already asked Elena, but she doesn't know… who's that guy?"
Merlin waits expectedly for her to release him. She doesn't.
"Morgana, I can't see your face, or any part of you really because you're holding me so tight, so I don't know who you're talking about…"
Morgana loosens her grip on him, enough so that he could back up enough to see her face, then shifts her eyes subtly to the left.
Merlin looks in that direction, curious as to who captured Morgana's eye. Gwaine and Freya are the first couple to their left, but Morgana couldn't have been talking about Gwaine. Near them is another couple, swaying gently, and the young man has a familiar face.
But that couldn't be who Morgana is talking about.
"I'm not sure who you're talking about, Morgana..."
"Green tie," she says.
Merlin sneaks another cursory glance. Yes, it's him. He doesn't bother stifling a sigh.
"Morgana, he's way younger than you…"
"Aha! So you know him!"
Merlin nods. "His name's Mordred, he was on Arthur's old rugby team. But-"
Morgana releases him, moves as though to make her way across the dance floor. "Mordred. Thanks, Merlin-"
"Morgana." Merlin snags her forearm as she passes. "He's, like, twenty one!"
Morgana arches a brow. "So?"
"He's here with someone," Merlin points out, jerking his chin towards the girl in Mordred's arms.
"He's just dancing with her. It doesn't mean anything." Morgana extracts himself from Merlin's grip. "Wish me luck, Merlin!"
"I will not," Merlin says, even as Morgana walks away and he knows she can't hear him. "Ruining people's lives," he mutters beneath his breath, then freezes, realizing he's doing exactly the same thing.
Feeling well and truly morose, Merlin drags himself back to his table, where he starts to stuff himself with pasta and tries not to think about Arthur and the clock he can hear ticking in his head.
"If everyone could please take their seats…" It's Freya, standing at a table near Mithian's, a microphone. Her cheeks are pink, but her voice is strong. "A few of us would like to make our toasts, and then dinner will be served."
There's subdued commotion as people pull out their chairs and take their seats. Merlin watches as Freya introduces Sophia and Vivian.
Sophia taps a glass to signal the start of her speech. "We've been friends with Mithian since university."
"I've been friends with her my whole life," Vivian cuts in.
"Yes. We were roommates- me, Freya, and Mithian. And I remember that we shared everything… makeup, clothes, even boyfriends."
This earns a laugh from the room.
"Thank goodness, though, Mithian has found somebody we haven't dated to call her husband!"
Sophia smiles, but the laughs are significantly less this time.
"Even if we'd like to," Vivian adds. "Arthur's a great guy."
Nobody laughs this time. Merlin winces. Beside him, Gwen has buried her face in her hands.
Freya quickly stands. "Thank you, thank you…"
"Mithian, you're a sweetheart, and we wish you and Arthur all the best," Sophia manages before Freya pushes her into her seat.
"Thank you," Freya says firmly. "Now, a statement from the bride's cousins, who've flown all the way from America to celebrate with us."
A girl a few tables over stumbles to her feet. Merlin remembers her vaguely from lunch; lunch, which felt like ages ago, but was in fact mere hours ago.
"Nimueh's in the bathroom… I think." Swaying on her feet, the girl brings a hand up to her mouth to stifle…. something. "But I'd like to talk to you all about something very serious. I lost my phone, and… in all honesty, I think someone's stolen it, so please give it back. Please."
Freya hurries over to the other table to push the obviously drunk girl back into her chair. Merlin feels a tap on his shoulder and sees Gwaine and Percy stifling laughter with their fists, Elena rolling her eyes at them. Gwen's face is still in her hands.
"Our bridesmaids, everyone," Freya says weakly, having returned to her table and retrieved the microphone. "Now the groom's sister, who is also a bridesmaid…"
Merlin looks to Morgana, surprised; she didn't mention to him that she was giving a speech. But Morgana looks indifferent as she gets to her feet, clutching the end of the table for support. Merlin winces. She's been drinking.
But Morgana surprises him again; the words that come from her mouth are fluid and clear, and if she's drunk, she does an impeccable job of hiding it. Then again, Merlin shouldn't be surprised. Morgana would sooner be caught dead than in an even mildly compromising state.
"I think we can all agree that my little brother is… special." The way she says the last word, with a note of her particular brand of teasing, makes everyone laugh. "And I think we can also agree that we're entitled to thoroughly embarrassing our relatives at occasions like these. It's practically a birth right. And since Mithian's relatives did such an excellent job of it, I will graciously try to do the same."
Everyone laughs, and there's even a few stray claps in the crowd. Mithian's face is red, and Arthur's shaking his head, but both are smiling. Merlin looks up at Morgana with grudging admiration. She managed to effectively gloss over the fiascos of speeches prior to hers, without offending anyone or being overt. Merlin suspects that he's not alone in his thoughts.
"Arthur is special," Morgana says, returning to her earlier point. "He's brave, and smart, and strong, and ridiculously noble and… don't worry, I'll get to the embarrassing bits! He's competitive, but no matter how much he wanted to he could never quite beat me at board games, could you, Arthur?" She gives him a teasing smile. "Not when we were kids, and not now. I'm a better rugby player, too."
This earns another round of laughter, and Arthur's protests are vaguely heard in the din.
"I digress," Morgana says, waving her hand, and attention returns to her. "Arthur is special. He's all those things I said, but he's also wonderful, and he has a big heart. A gigantic heart, and it holds affection for everyone, for everything. Maybe it weighs him down."
Morgana pauses pensively. Merlin sneaks a glance at Arthur. He looks stricken, and Merlin thinks that Morgana definitely got it right. There's a few curious glances and some titters in the lull.
But Morgana doesn't let it last. She composes herself, her smile a bit shaky as she continues. "But that's what makes him so brilliant. He's got a gigantic heart, and he follows it." There's a few contented sighs, and Merlin spots Gwen wiping at her eyes. "I mean, I missed him loads when he decided he was going to travel, but he was following his heart. And I hope he continues to do that for the rest of his life."
Morgana raises her glass. "To Arthur, and his bloody big heart!"
There's a few shocked gasps at Morgana's language, but the reaction is enormously positive. Everyone raises their glasses, many people clap, and a few people rise from their chairs to undoubtedly give Arthur a second round of congratulations, caught in the spirit of the moment. Someone shouts, "Hear, hear!" It sounds like Leon.
"Did you know you had to give a speech?" Merlin asks Morgana.
"No," Morgana says casually, signaling the waiter for more wine.
Someone approaches Morgana's table to compliment her on her speech, and Merlin waits for them to leave before leaning over and saying, "That was good."
"I was blessed with many talents," Morgana says, chin high as she occupies herself by cutting her chicken. "One of them is public speaking."
Merlin rolls his eyes. "You meant it."
Morgana scoffs. "It was a speech, Merlin. I said what needed to be said, and-"
"Spare me," Merlin says, shaking his head and grinning. "You Pendragons…"
Freya gives a polite cough, magnified by her microphone, and all eyes go to her.
"That wasn't the last speech, though it was lovely," she says with a chuckle. "Next is Mr. Pendragon, the groom's father."
Merlin feels himself start to cringe before he checks the knee-jerk reaction. He exchanges a glance with Morgana, whose wide eyes suggest she's thinking along the same lines as him. This can't be good.
"Arthur's a smart man, as my daughter said." Uther's start seems virtually harmless- a compliment to Arthur is way better than Merlin expected- but Morgana sneers at Uther's use of the word daughter. "He's got a healthy mind, to match his, uh, big heart, and it certainly would have been an asset to Pendragon Enterprises."
At that, Merlin's tempted to take a page out of Gwen's book and bury his face in his hands. Worried, he sneaks a glance at Arthur. Arthur's lips are pressed into a very thin line, almost invisible.
"Some people just never outgrow the adolescent desire to travel, explore the world, and all that. Or perhaps he just doesn't have a head for business." He shrugs indulgently, and to Merlin's fury, a few of the older men in the room respond with nods.
"For a long time, I'll admit, I was worried about him," Uther goes on. "The arts, while they have their place in civilized culture, don't put bread on the table."
Arthur's nostrils are flaring now. Alarmed, Merlin stares intently at Freya, shooting her messages with his eyes. Stop this! Interrupt him! Make him sit down!
But Freya gives a slight shrug and briefly splays her fingers, a gesture of helplessness. Merlin sighs, but he thinks he understands. Freya can't cut off Uther, the groom's father, as she did the bridesmaids.
"But Arthur's choice of a bride has alleviated my worry," Uther announces to the room. "Mithian is a beautiful, ideal bride, and I have no doubt that the two of them will be settling down before long."
He smiles toothily before handing the microphone to Freya, to scattered applause.
Setting aside his utter contempt for Uther, Merlin seeks Arthur out again. Arthur doesn't look angry anymore. He's staring into his lap, blinking, jaw slack. He looks as like a little boy; like his disappointment disarmed him, robbed him of the adult rush of self-righteousness and anger.
In a wild moment of impulse, triggered perhaps by that forlorn look on Arthur's face, Merlin stands up.
Freya notices this immediately, and bless her, she understands, because she brings the microphone to her mouth and says, "Hold on, we've got one more speech: from the best man, Merlin Emrys."
She sits down, and Merlin thinks he spots a smile curving her mouth.
"Hello." Merlin surveys the expectant faces of the guests. Now that he's standing, he realizes the pressure of the moment; he has to cover up for Uther, just as Morgana did for the bridesmaids. But, more importantly, he has to wipe any trace of sadness from Arthur's face. He has to make him smile.
Merlin looks at Arthur. Arthur's looked up from his lap, at least, and there's a guarded sort of expectation in his eyes. Merlin reads this look for what it is- he wants to hope that Merlin's going to say something pleasant, something that won't tear him to shreds, but he's afraid to. He's afraid Merlin, too, will disappoint him. Merlin's struck by an unbidden thought- what has the world done to you? - and his heart stops in his throat at the tragedy of it. But he knows what to say.
"In her fantastic speech, Morgana said that Arthur has a big heart," Merlin starts, shooting her a small grin before facing the crowd again. "And he does. But before I get into him-" (he barely stops himself from blushing at his terminology) "- because that might take me awhile, since he's my best friend, I'd like to take a moment to talk about Mithian."
He sees Mithian's eyes light up, and he's hit by another wave of pity for her- because someone else should be doing this, someone who knows her better, who can do her justice. "I've only met her this weekend, but I can already tell she's very kind, very clever, very beautiful, and a wonderful person to know. Any guy would be lucky to have you."
It's the truth, Merlin thinks- though he really hopes that guy isn't Arthur. "Now, Arthur. Morgana mentioned that he's got room in his heart for everyone and everything, and that's true. I have several stories that can testify to that."
People respond positively to this, excitedly sitting up in their chairs and chuckling. Everyone loves anecdotes.
"I saw earlier that Mordred was here," Merlin says, again acting on impulse. He spots Mordred a few tables over and lifts his hand in a small wave, which Mordred responds to, smiling broadly. "When I was at uni, I used to watch Arthur's rugby team play. They were called the Knights-" Merlin pauses a few of said Knights- namely Gwaine, Percy, Leon, and Lance- raise a bit of a cheer for themselves. Arthur's grin right then, to Merlin, is like the sun. "And I remember the day Mordred approached Arthur and asked to join. Arthur told him to come back a few days later, when they'd be holding tryouts, and Mordred did- and he blew them all away. He was so good. Arthur said he could definitely join, when Mordred confessed that he was too young to."
Merlin can tell that the crowd is hanging on to his every word. "Arthur told him, begrudgingly, that he couldn't join, then. But Mordred told Arthur how much playing meant to him, and he proceeded to show up to every match for like, a year…"
People laugh at this, and Merlin feels himself smiling, too. "Mordred was still too young, but Arthur could see how much it meant to him. So he figured out some convoluted way to allow Mordred to play, and I remember Arthur staying up nights to figure it out. That's how big his heart is… don't worry, though, it was legal in the end."
Mordred is nodding with a small smile on his face, confirming the story to everyone who looked at him. Again, Gwen looks misty-eyed.
"I have many other stories like that." The words seem to be spilling from his mouth, spilling from some secret reserve inside him, where they've been waiting. "How Arthur threw a match against a guy who was his sworn enemy throughout all of university because his mother died the weekend of the game. How he kept a promise he made to Morgana when he was a teenager for years to come- that on her birthday, every birthday, he'd be waiting with breakfast before she woke up so that he'd be the first person she saw on her birthday. That doesn't mean they didn't fight- they're like any pair of siblings, bicker more than most, perhaps. But Arthur's the kind of guy who has as much kindness as he has a sense of humor. Probably more."
Merlin pauses to take a breath. The room is completely silent.
"Arthur's just… he's the kind of guy you're lucky to have in your life. If you know him, you feel fortunate, and safer, somehow, in his company- protected. You look at him, and you think… 'You know, I wanna stay on this planet.'" This is greeted with a few chuckles and assenting nods. "It's not completely hopeless after all, if there's people like Arthur here. I mean, he kept a watch I gave him years ago, piece of rubbish really, because I bought it when I was a kid and it was way out of my price range. He's wearing it now."
A few people in the crowd crane their necks to see; and fuck him, he didn't mean to say that. But now it's out, and Arthur's looking at him strangely- awash with tenderness, perhaps, or confusion.
"I've known Arthur for a long time, and I count myself lucky for every minute." Merlin feels something swell in his throat- and he pushes it down, swallows it, furious with himself. "I may have been given the title of best man, but… he is the best man. He is. Arthur is."
Merlin hasn't yet put down the microphone when he's overwhelmed by the amount of applause, applause he didn't know could be generated from the small number in the room. It seems everyone is clapping, a great number of people are standing, and quite a few women are dabbing at their eyes with their napkins.
Merlin smiles, shocked and pleased. When Freya comes to take the microphone from him, Merlin isn't expecting to find her eyes glistening, and isn't expecting the way she leans in and presses a kiss to his cheek.
"What a wonderful speech," Freya sniffles into the microphone. "Now, we've held your attention for long enough. Dig in!"
That's exactly what people do. Merlin nearly relaxes back into his chair, knees suddenly rubbery. Gwaine and Lance reach over to pat him on the back, and Gwen's got a trembling smile to match the tears in her eyes, and Morgana's giving him a look that suggests deep approval. And that's all well and good, but all Merlin really cares about is-
Merlin turns, slowly, in his chair. Behind him, Arthur stands with his hands in his pockets, his gaze snapping quickly between Merlin's face and his own shoes. Merlin is acutely aware of several pairs of eyes on him. "Yes?"
"Would you… like to dance?"
Heart rattling in his chest, Merlin does the only thing he can do; he extends a hand to Arthur, palm up, an offer.
Arthur takes it.
If there weren't eyes on them before, there definitely are now; Merlin feels their gazes burning holes through him as Arthur leads him to the dance floor. It doesn't help that everyone's enjoying their dinner, seated, and so there's only two other couples besides them.
But that quickly ceases to matter as Arthur draws him in, close, and Merlin's acutely aware of his hand settling, gently, on the curve of his hip.
"What does this mean?" Merlin mumbles, then immediately regrets it; he doesn't want to disrupt this moment before it's even started. But Arthur's looking at him, curiously.
"Did you say something, Merlin?"
"No," Merlin says, then regrets it again. "I mean- yes. I'm wondering why you asked me to dance."
Arthur tilts his head to the side, studying him. "Isn't it obvious?"
"No." Merlin tries to push some firmness into his tone, but it sounds like barely a squeak to his ears. "I want you to say it."
Arthur bites his lip and looks down, lids sweeping over his eyes, color creeping into his cheeks.
"I'm not a mind reader," Merlin presses. "Does this mean you're… changing your mind?"
"It means I'm sorry," Arthur says, after a moment. "I'm sorry for acting the way I did. Especially when… that speech, Merlin. Thank you. None of it's true, but-"
"It's true," Merlin interrupts. "You did help out Mordred, and-"
"Factually, maybe. But I know you didn't mean it, so thanks for saying it anyway-"
Merlin blinks, his hands moving away from Arthur of their own accord. "You thought I didn't mean it?"
There must be something in Merlin's face, in his eyes, something that makes Arthur blanch and reach for him with a renewed vigor, his fingertips digging into Merlin's hips.
"No! No, I didn't mean it like that… fuck, can't I say anything right?" Arthur laughs breathlessly, but his eyes are dark, and he looks far from happy. "What I meant was that I don't feel like a particularly good guy right now. But I'm just grateful… so grateful to you..."
"You're a good guy, Arthur," Merlin says, and he doesn't need to force conviction into his voice. "But do you know what your problem is?"
Arthur looks at him, face suddenly gone solemn. "Please tell me."
"You have a good heart," Merlin says. "But you've stopped following it."
Arthur's eyes turn downcast, and he seems to be processing this. After a while, his mouth twists into a wry smile.
Merlin opens his mouth, unsure of what he's about to say- Choose me! Marry me! - but knowing he has to say something. This is his chance, his last chance. "Arthur-"
But Arthur only tugs him closer, effectively cutting him off. Barely a breath separates them now, and Merlin tries not to focus on the line of Arthur's body against his own.
"Can we just… dance? For now?"
Merlin swallows. It'd be so easy, so easy, to let his mind rest, to slip into the familiarity of Arthur's arms circling him, holding him, to the sway of their bodies.
"Do you promise?" Merlin finally says, throat dry. "Do you promise we'll talk? Tonight?"
"Yes," Arthur nods solemnly. "But for now, let's just… have this moment. Something to remember."
"Okay," Merlin mumbles, giving in, trying not to think of how that last phrase sounded like a goodbye.
When Merlin returns to the table, Morgause is sitting there, alone.
Merlin signals the waiter for a drink, then falls against the back of his chair. Impossibly, he feels both entirely drained and completely buzzed; Arthur has that effect on him, he thinks wearily. He tries not to look at Arthur as the waiter brings him his drink- Arthur, who has finally decided to dance with his bride. Merlin takes a sip of his drink. All he wants to do is have that promised talk with Arthur, because he doesn't think he can take the anticipation any longer.
"He's looking at you."
Merlin looks up, startled. It's Morgause, inscrutable eyes on him.
"What?" Merlin says, surprised there's no edge to her voice. It's like he's Morgana.
"Arthur," Morgause says impatiently, and her voice certainly has an edge now. She rolls her eyes. "He's looking at you."
Merlin has half a mind to tell her off for nosing in his private business, but he knows very well it was never really private; especially considering who his friends are. Besides- Merlin's itching with curiosity to see if Morgause's right, and quick glance confirms she is.
"Shit," he says, a little breathless at the intensity of Arthur's gaze. Morgause is still watching him as he takes another sip.
"So Arthur's made his choice, then?"
Morgause lets out a tiny, impatient huff. "He's choosing to keep Mithian in his arms, but keep his eyes on you?"
Merlin lets out a shaky breath, unsettled by the question that was more of a statement. It would be the most tragic end to the whole thing, with Merlin and Arthur both miserable. What purpose would it serve? If Arthur stays with Mithian, he should at least do it because he loves her, because it would make him happy. But to choose Mithian while his heart is elsewhere… Merlin tries to tell himself it's not going to happen, that Arthur's smarter than that, but deep down he knows it's the exact sort of dumb, noble thing Arthur would do.
"He'll do the right thing," Morgause says, as though reading his thoughts. Merlin wonders what that is. "Arthur's that kind of guy."
And Merlin knows. Merlin knows she's saying he's going to choose Mithian.
"How can he?" he says, astounded when the words escape without his permission, astounded that he's confiding in Morgause, astounded at the roughness to his voice.
"Sometimes…" Moragause's eyes drift to where Morgana's spinning in Mordred's arms. "Sometimes people don't need you, the way you need them."
Merlin feels a brief pang of sympathy for her, feels his yearning for Arthur returning tenfold. "What do you do?"
Morgause stands, then, and shoots someone across the hall a sultry smile. She takes a couple of steps from the table, then glances back at Merlin. "You let go."
Merlin is not drunk.
After the rehearsal dinner, Percy had suggested that the group go out for drinks. Almost everyone agreed immediately, and those that didn't were drawn into it; namely Arthur, Mithian, and Merlin. Elena suggested the hotel bar, but Morgana discarded that idea.
"I know this place, Dixies," she said, employing the full force of her smile. "On Salvador Allende- not far. It's sort of an English hangout."
Nobody seemed to have any objections, and before Merlin realized it, he was being ushered into a bar. Merlin tried to seek out Arthur, but Arthur seemed to have developed a sudden proclivity for being otherwise engaged.
First, he was with Elena. The two of them sat together at the far end of the bar, and Merlin watched them, fuming.
"What's got your knickers in a knot?" Morgana said, she and Gwen coming up next to him.
"Nothing," he said, but the girls followed his line of sight.
"This is good," Gwen said. "Elena has a way about her. She and Arthur have been friends since grade school… maybe she's exactly what he needs!"
Soon, Merlin's robbed of her company, as Lance whisks her away. Then Morgana struck up a conversation with a cousin of Mithian's who tagged along, a woman with striking blue eyes. Merlin had just decided to approach Arthur, and was close enough to hear their conversation- "The arts? I'm a journalist… he doesn't even know what I do…" – when Gwaine accosted him, and by the time Merlin shook him off Arthur was talking with both Elena and Percy.
The night wore off in the same fashion. Gwen and Lance remained huddled together in one corner of the large room, drinking and talking and laughing in a way that was privy only to the two of them. Gwaine, Freya, Percy, and Leon spent most of their time playing a rowdy card came at a table in the middle of the room. Elena and Mithian seemed to have struck up a friendship, for they sat in whispered conference for a long time, looking deep in conversation. Morgana didn't move from Mithian's cousin's side. Arthur's company changed- Elena, Percy, Leon, Gwaine, Leon again. But he was never alone, and Merlin wasn't sure if he imagined it, but it seemed that Arthur was avoiding his gaze.
"Oh, who am I kidding?" Merlin mutters to himself, pushing his drink away from him with such force that it skitters across the wood of the bar and almost topples over. "Of course he's avoiding me."
Merlin sets a few bills on the bar table and walks out. He can walk back to the hotel. He's not drunk, after all.
After a few minutes of walking, of the brisk air in his face, his head starts to clear. Merlin quickly discovers that this isn't particularly a good thing as disappointment begins to register, closing over his heart. Arthur seems to have made his choice- and he didn't have enough respect for Merlin to tell him to his face. Instead, he chose to avoid him, like a child.
Well, Merlin doesn't need to stand for it anymore, he thinks, trying to sound determined even in his own head. He'll go to the hotel and pack his bags. He'll leave tonight. He doesn't think he'll be able to watch the wedding-
Merlin jerks at the familiar voice, then turns to find, impossibly, a breathless Arthur chasing him down the street.
"Slow down," Merlin says before he can stop himself, forgetting his resolve from mere seconds ago to stop caring about Arthur simply at the sight of his face. "You'll puke."
Arthur stops a mere foot from him, panting. "I didn't drink too much. Reckon I'll be okay."
Merlin scoffs. "Yeah, right."
Arthur's eyes narrow. "What?"
"Didn't look like it."
Arthur seems to be fighting an internal battle not to roll his eyes; and, of course, the innate prat within wins out. "You're one to talk."
"I'm an adult. I can hold my liquor." Merlin eyes Arthur for a second, searching for something he doesn't find, then starts to walk again. "Whatever. I don't need this…"
Merlin feels Arthur's hand brush his, then try to encircle his wrist, and Merlin draws back as though burned. The hurt look in Arthur's eyes almost shocks him into contrition, but Merlin holds his ground.
"You promised," he says, swallowing against the lump in his throat. "You said we'd talk, and you know what, you had a three hour window at the bar there, and you chose not to take it. I, on the other hand, can take a hint. So I'll be leaving your life now. Goodbye."
Merlin jerks away when Arthur reaches for him again, and again, and he doesn't care that Arthur's scrabbling for the slightest purchase, Merlin moves away and tries to ignore the way his heart breaks into shards of glass.
Merlin doesn't turn, doesn't let a muscle indicate that he's heard.
"Merlin, don't you fucking walk away from me!"
Merlin pauses; then turns on his heel, mouth open in disbelief. "What- are you serious?"
"Dead serious," Arthur says, and Merlin feels something bubble inside of him, something a lot like righteous anger.
"You entitled, arrogant, cruel prat!" Merlin's fists involuntarily clench at his sides. "You're the one getting married, you're the one who couldn't make a goddamn decision to spare both of us the fucking misery of being without you-"
"Merlin- you- you just showed up, okay, and fuck it's been hectic and at the fitting you just asked me if I love my bride, who does that-"
"- and even now, after you've chosen, you don't have big enough balls to tell me, no, you expect me to just watch you walk down the aisle and go back to London, quiet little Merlin who'll just go back to the back burner, at your disposal for your midnight calls and to alleviate your spells of boredom, ready to cater to your every whim!"
Merlin comes to an abrupt halt, breathing hard, and he doesn't notice he's trembling until Arthur's hand brushes his arm. He flinches, and hurt flashes in Arthur's eyes.
"Merlin," he says, quiet and serious. "I want you to listen to me."
"No," Merlin says, starting to turn away.
"I just want to-"
"No!" Merlin pulls his arm away and glares at Arthur, feeling something dislodge in his chest. "Listening to you does no good. I didn't imagine the moments we had this weekend, Arthur- on the boat, in the bar, at the boutique, and… every other minute! I didn't imagine any of it. I know that you - you want me – you have feelings for me, maybe you even love me, because God knows I love you."
Merlin chokes on the last word; he almost brings a hand to his mouth, stunned at his candor. He dares to take a look at Arthur. Arthur looks like he's been kicked in the gut.
Merlin swallows and finishes it, finishes them. "You may want to lead this… lifestyle… running from everything, pleasing the wrong people, making yourself unhappy. But I want a healthy relationship, a healthy life. I want to be happy. You made your choice. Let me make mine."
"Merlin," Arthur pleads, his voice breaking.
But Merlin turns away. He's taken three steps when he feels Arthur's hands close over his forearms, and the force of his grip tells Merlin he isn't letting go anytime soon.
"Merlin." The pleading note is gone from his voice, now. This is the authoritative Arthur, the Arthur who doesn't leave room for alternatives. "I want you to listen. Hear what I have to say."
His hands turn him around, and Merlin lets himself be malleable, knowing he can't fight Arthur with his grip so tight. He'll bide his time- and he won't listen to what Arthur says. His words, now, won't change a thing.
"Merlin, you're… you're the best person I've ever met." Merlin resolutely doesn't look at him, doesn't indicate he's even heard Arthur's words. "And I know that sounds dumb and hollow after everything. I know it's not enough. But… but you are. And I love every… everything about you. I love your kindness and your generosity and your dumb protectiveness. I love your messy hair and your bony knees. I love the way your eyelashes look when you look down- dark against your skin." Merlin hears his audible swallow. "And I call you- I call you at midnight because I need you, because you're right, because I rot away without you, because you're the best thing I've ever had in my life, you're the best part of me, and I have-"
"This doesn't help," Merlin bursts out, his voice wobbling. "You've said all of this already." He remembers scattered phrases from the weekend, kind words that felt as warm as melted butter. You fixed me. I wanted to be yours. Only you.
"Merlin, I'm trying to tell you that-"
"Please…." Merlin cuts him off again. Merlin chances a glance at him; his eyes are dark blue and red-rimmed, and his mouth looks bitten and damn him, why does he have to look so completely wonderful? "I can't… I can't listen to this. It makes it worse, makes it hurt even more. Please stop."
"I meant every word," Arthur says, with a vehemence as though swearing before a court of law.
"You chose, alright?" The edges of Merlin's vision go blurry, and he knows there's tears in his eyes. "Just- leave me be, give me a chance to get over you."
"No," Arthur says, a rough, guttural sound from the pit of him. "I won't leave you- I didn't choose-"
Arthur moves in, and the only warning Merlin has before Arthur crashes against him is the tightening of his grip on his forearms.
And then they're- they're kissing. Arthur's mouth is firm on his, stealing his breath, and Merlin's lips are unmoving, slack from surprise; and Arthur seems to misinterpret this, because he backs up, goes slower, his lips tentative at the corner of Merlin's mouth, pressing butterfly kisses there, and then moving them slowly across the seam of Merlin's lips, and oh it feels so lovely, but then Arthur presses his tongue there, parting his lips, and Merlin gasps, and Arthur's tongue spears him, and then they're kissing properly, deeper, and it's all so- so overwhelming and right and-
"Merlin." It's a breath from Arthur's lungs that he shares with Merlin, dips into his lips, and Merlin swallows it and kisses him with twice the vigor as before, if that's possible, and Merlin realizes dimly that his knees seem to be made of rubber and there's something crawling underneath his skin, some warmth that's found its way home again.
"Arthur," Merlin presses his name to his skin, where the red of his mouth gives way to flushed cheeks, and Arthur responds by drawing his bottom lip between his teeth.
Merlin moans, and he doesn't realize Arthur's hands have come up to frame his face until he feels them by his hairline, stroking his temple with smooth, short strokes.
Reluctantly, Merlin opens his eyes.
Arthur's a sight; lips kiss-swollen and parted, cheeks rosy, hair a mess. He makes sure Merlin's looking, albeit through heavily lidded eyes, when he says, very clearly: "I choose you."
When Arthur wakes, it is near morning.
Weak sunlight struggles to filter through the heavy curtains. Arthur eyes it with a fuzzy head, wondering why he feels so disoriented-
-and then it comes back to him, the drinking and the confrontation and the decision and the kiss, and Arthur barely notices his hand reaching up to touch his lips.
As his head clears, he relives the memory over and over again, feeling something surge through him; something bright and elated, something he hasn't felt for a long time. He allows himself to revel in this feeling for several moments, before he considers Mithian.
He can tell she's awake. He can tell she's been awake for a long time.
Despite the decisiveness with which he'd told Merlin of his decision- and Arthur certainly meant it- he feels apprehension and hesitation creep down his spine. He doesn't want to hurt Mithian; but he knows he has to. He wonders why the hell it took him so long to realize what he wanted, why he had to wait to the very morning of their wedding. He's handled it in the worst possible way.
Arthur knows there's no point in pretending to be asleep. "Yeah?"
It's a few moments before Mithian speaks, and Arthur almost turns over to look at her, but he isn't quite ready to do that yet.
"Something's different," she finally says.
Arthur nods, even though she probably can't see it. "I wanted to talk to you last night, but… you were asleep when I came in."
"Yes," she says. Her voice is eerily calm. "Is something different?"
Arthur wonders how to phrase it, how to put it in words that would make it okay. He knows it's impossible- but is there a way for him to convey his regret, to convey that it was his fault and his alone, that she was incredible, that she deserved someone who loved her, and he didn't deserve her?
An odd thought hits him, a memory from a line of a long email Merlin once sent him. You're a lion among men.
So Arthur turns around, looking Mithian straight in the eye when he says, "I can't marry you."
A/N: I'm very curious to hear what you think! I'm about to crash, so please leave me lovely comments + kudos to wake up to :)
Also, something fun! In a comment, or through a message, or through my tumblr (hisclotpole), ask me a random question about anyone or anything in the story. I've developed the characters a lot in totally irrelevant ways in my notes and I won't get to show most of it by the time we reach the end of the story, so I'd like to share the information with you this way. I'll gather the questions and post the answers with the next chapter. So excited to see your inquiries!