Fanfic: (Don't) Regret the Mistakes - Epilogue
Merthur & crest
*Two Years Later*

Merlin packed up his gear, carefully placing his guitars in their travel bags, coiling the leads and packing away the loop pedal. After nearly eighteen months of jamming and writing songs, their three piece band Fissure had performed two gigs. This last gig had gone well, not letting the occasional mistake and misfire affect them, but they'd just kept on playing until they'd all gotten back in time again.

Merlin helped pack the stuff away in his bandmates car, ready to go home. His life was so different now to what it had been two years ago, when he'd been sure that an unfortunate incident involving a client was going to incarcerate him for more years than he would ever want to endure. Somehow, Inspector Mithian Norton had collated Merlin's medical examination results, his version of events, and Noller's prior track record of violent assaults and had managed to convince her Chief Inspector not to press charges against Merlin.

His relief that day, as he was released with Gaius as his companion, had been complete, and he knew he would never enter All The Pretty Things, or any other brothel ever again.

He'd stayed with Gaius for two months, looking for work. When he found a job as a bartender and general dogs-body at a sticky-carpet, grungy venue, he felt right at home, and ready to enjoy being around people again. The fact that music was performed most nights there, gave him a push to revisit his music, and work towards getting a set together.

Now, more than two years later, he pushed open the door to his flat, and was grateful for so many things that were now normal in his life.

He dumped his stuff next to the door, and walked into the tiny kitchen. Arthur was making scrambled eggs.

Arthur looked over his shoulder, and smiled, "How'd it go?"

"So good, Arthur. Next one, you'd better be there."

"I hated missing seeing you play, babe. But I had five teens I had to help through a computer literacy session."

"The ones who were in the riots?"

"Yeah. It's like, they are finally starting to see me as a person who gives an actual fuck about their lives, and not just some idiot posh git bossing them around."

Merlin sighed. He was aching for Arthur to see him play a performance, but after everything Arthur had lost because he wanted Merlin in his life, these small slivers of respect that he got from the teens he worked hard to try and rehabilitate rebuilt Arthur's own self belief.

He hugged Arthur from behind, resting his chin on Arthur's shoulder. "I'm proud of how persistent you are with them. They respect you, because you are putting yourself into their lives. You've got such a big heart."

Arthur smiled at the praise, and turned around to kiss Merlin. "Thank you, Merlin. Hungry?"

"Nah, well, yeah, but I'm more hungry for you right now."

Arthur grinned. Those eggs were going to go cold.

Merlin whispered into Arthur's ear, "Make love to me with your mouth." Arthur shivered, and grabbed Merlin's hand, dragging him towards their bedroom. He would always want to make love with Merlin, anyway and anywhere he wanted to.

He wasn't a Member of Parliament, and his father was only just beginning to speak to him again. But it had been worth it.

The End.

Fanfic: (Don't) Regret the Mistakes - Part Six
Merthur & crest
Gaius Phillipson was ushered into Merlin's cell, his expression one of not being able to believe that this was a real situation until he actually saw Merlin sitting at the table.

"Merlin, I feel like I've walked into some alternate universe. When did the sensible, intelligent son of Hunith Emrys become a prostitute who puts his life in danger, and has to defend himself from arseholes and winds up imprisoned for his troubles?"

"Gaius..." Merlin started.

"No, Merlin, we haven't really got the time right now. I just cannot believe that this is what you've been doing, telling Hunith that everything is going well. Well, everything is not going well."

"Gaius, I've messed up. Please, I know I've made all sorts of mistakes..."

"Alright my boy, good to know there is still some sense rattling around in that head of yours. Now what I need to know now, is everything. Tell me everything that happened."

Gaius weaved Merlin's story, taking each strand of a sentence, a detail, a fact, written down as Merlin answered his questions, how did the meeting start, where were you when you met Nollar, what was the purpose of his visiting you, what did you understand would take place, what did he say to you, then what did you do, Gaius constantly scribbling a stream of Merlin's words on his nondescript notepad, wanting as much detail as Merlin could possibly recall about what Nollar had said to him, how he had acted, what had happened at the moment that Nollar had been injured, how it had happened.

Gaius paused, and looked at Merlin for a lingering moment when Merlin described a crystal decanter flying across the room of its own volition.

"Have you ever seen this happen before?" Gaius asked in a dry voice.

"No," Merlin whispered.

Gaius pondered this, before clarifying, "You didn't somehow move something, pull on a cloth, or somehow manipulate..."

"Gaius, one minute Nollar was on top of me, choking me, my throat was being crushed, the next the decanter flew across the room like a champagne cork, and collected his head like a thug doing business with a baseball bat. It knocked him senseless, I'm not even sure if it might not kill him, and somehow, it was my fear and panic that did it. I don't know the fucking FUCK how, Gaius, but my SPIRIT moved that pretty, heavy crystal receptacle into Nollar's apparently not so thick skull."

Gaius stopped writing, looked down at his hands, and pondered the version of events he was collecting, this unlikely last detail not even making it onto his file note.

"Merlin, you have to be very careful with how you speak to the police. We need to make sure that what you tell them is accurate, and also speaks to them the truth about your need in that moment to defend yourself. I am going to request an urgent medical examination, which will corroborate your story regarding Nollar's attempted strangulation of you. Perhaps the shaking of the bed, the movement in the room, dislodged the decanter from it's place above you in the room, and landed on Nollar?"

"It's no use, Gaius. I can't fabricate what didn't happen. If I say it fell on him, they'll call me a liar, and say the angle is all wrong. If I say I threw it at him, they'll say I wasn't in fear of my life."

"And if you say you moved it with your mind, they'll have you psychiatrically tested."

"I'm not insane Gaius. If I speak to a psychiatrist, they might not believe my story, but that doesn't mean they will automatically decide I'm mentally ill."

"Merlin, I think we need to tell the detectives a version of your story, that is truthful even if some of the details are edited. You were acting in self-defence. Nollar had you confined in a room, you are much lighter and smaller in stature, he had been choking you, and however it came to be that the decanter crashed into his head, whether your arms swung it, or your mind reached out and pulled it, it all amounts to the same story. You were defending yourself from a life-threatening attack."

Merlin slumped. He felt like he was going insane, even if he knew in truth he wasn't. He was wired and wrung out, sleep deprived, acutely stressed from having to defend himself from Nollar, and having to defend himself against accusations of a criminal assault, his meeting with his former client, who was losing the plot and trying to convince him to start some affair. Merlin felt like that was just asking to destroy two lives with one stone.

Gaius stood and briefly patted Merlin's shoulder, before exiting the room to arrange the medical examination. Merlin had been too frightened to speak to the police who had arrested him at the scene, worried he would say exactly the wrong details and have the police later use this. The caution he had received had so rattled him, along with all the other events of the evening, that he had been too terrified to speak up about his injuries.

Soon Gaius came back to the interview room, with a female inspector that Merlin had not seen to date. Sitting down opposite Merlin, she looked at him civilly, as though he was perhaps not scum under her feet after all.

"Inspector Mithian Norton. You are Merlin Emrys?"

Merlin nodded, before remembering he would have to speak, "Yes, I'm Merlin Emrys."

"I'll be recording this conversation, as I have been advised by your barrister Gaius Phillipson that you have requested an urgent medical examination?"

"Yes, I want a medical examination," Merlin agreed, as he twisted and untwisted his hands in his lap.

"I'll arrange that for you. Do you have a preference for a male doctor?"

Merlin hesitated for a moment, he wanted simply to be examined as soon as practicable, but did not especially relish the thought of having to display himself to a female doctor, as irrational as that might seem. He was also terrified at the thought of a brusque, unsympathetic doctor going through the motions, and not properly assessing his injuries.

"I guess I don't have an opinion either way, as long as they will do the job properly and don't miss things."

Inspector Mithian Norton gazed at him speculatively. "All of our doctors do a through search and report. They are experienced in forensic medical examinations, any doctor on duty will not just give you a cursory look over, but will be searching for detailed evidence of injuries. If you are happy to see a female doctor, we can arrange the examination in the next few minutes."

Merlin assented, "Yes, please." Even though he felt self-conscious at the thought of being examined by a female doctor, he supposed it would be worse to leave it for a longer time period and perhaps somehow lose some vital evidence.

His chair scraped as he stood up quickly to follow Inspector Norton. Gaius gathered his notes in a clumsy pile.

Merlin followed her down the hall, and was told to wait just outside a nondescript door, which Inspector Norton knocked on, and entered.

"Just tell the doctor as much as you can about last night. Make sure she sees those bruises on your neck."

Merlin nodded mutely. He'd spent one night in this nightmare, and he was already weary, so weary...

Inspector Mithian Norton came out again.

"Our doctor can see you now, Merlin. Just take your time, no need to feel rushed. Can I get you something to drink, to eat?"

Merlin looked uncertainly past Inspector Norton, and towards Gaius. "Maybe some, toast, a cup of tea." Merlin had not really had anything for hours, and the mention of food made him feel nauseous. If he could just choke down some toast, he might not faint.

"I'll get something for you. Can't have you fade away, there's not too much of you to begin with." Gesturing towards Gaius, she said, "Perhaps you'd like a cuppa too. Could be in for a bit of a wait here."

When Arthur came into his campaign office, nobody met his eyes as he walked through the door. It was the silence which made Arthur realize that his entire staff had in fact been discussing him. He dimly supposed Gwen must have told someone. Perhaps she had told them all. Maybe she was arranging a skywriter. "Arthur Pendragon Cheated on his Wife, Vote for Him and He'll Tell Lies to You Too."

Morgana locked eyes with him, and tossed her hair as she walked into his office. Arthur followed, closing the door behind him, and told himself, nothing said to him by his own staff would compare to the rejection of him by his constituents. If what had happened in his personal life became public knowledge, then it would be impossible for his campaign to continue.

Morgana sat down, in his chair, behind his desk. Arthur sank into the visitor chair with a barely audible sigh, but it was enough to rewarded with an arched eyebrow from Morgana.


"Morgana, I don't know..."

"She's told me everything, Arthur. About you seeing some slutty twink prostitute, and that you've decided you love him, and have to rescue him. I feel like I'm living in some, some, overblown French romance, where the guy just follows his dick into everyone and anyone and fuck the consequences."

Arthur closed his eyes. She had a point. This whole falling in love with another man epiphany had really come at a bad time. Not that there would ever be a good time for him and Merlin.

"I know there are consequences..."

"Arthur, there are consequences, there are mistakes that can be managed. But this Arthur, this is going over the cliff, in a car, on fire. Thelma and Louise, man, do you really want to be dead at the bottom of a canyon?"

"Morgana, as far as anyone is currently aware, in the public eye at least, Merlin is simply a young man in trouble. He had to defend himself, and he's not exactly the built, robust type, so he had to use an blunt object to do it. Only Gwen, and now I surmise, my staff, are aware of the nature of our relationship."

"If you wade into this swamp, you are going to come out covered up to your neck. You can't help him Arthur, and expect no one to wonder why you're doing it. The fact that your wife has moved out of your home, might just alert them that there is something more to this. You let this boy go, and go beg your wife for another chance."

Arthur looked past Morgana, at the paperwork and files behind her. This was everything he had worked for, everything he had wanted for years. He didn't want to lose it. He could see it would be wrenched away from him.

"Morgana, how can I do this? You're asking me to leave Merlin to defend himself against possible criminal charges, that I should not step in to at least vouch for what I know of him, that he is not violent, or easily provoked, he would entreat first, using force would be his last possible option..."

"Arthur, what does any of this have to do with you? With your life? With your election campaign? He needs to get himself a decent lawyer, not drag you in the mud with him."

"Morgana, he is facing jail. Jail. Imagine what could happen to him in there."

"Arthur, he turns tricks. He'll probably do it in jail, might be even more lucrative for him." Morgana paused, and Arthur gaped at her crassness. He took a breath.

"You're right. That's exactly what he'll end up doing, to survive. He's worth so much more than that, how can you cynically say, just let him go to jail and be fucked forever?"

Morgana stood up and turned her back towards Arthur.

"You're a fucking fool, Arthur Pendragon. You've got this whole campaign so close to completion, to being a Member of Parliament in your twenties, and you want to strangle your future before it's even born, stick it in a bin liner and throw it away. Uther behind you every step of the way, putting in his best word for you with anyone who would listen, and you want to just treat it all like, like, it's nothing at all to throw it away, you entitled, spoilt, naive, wretched CUNT!"

Morgana's shoulders were shaking with fury, and she stood silent, unwilling to face the young man who was the living embodiment of everything she should have had, of her own aspirations, but which she had never been given the green light from Uther to just take it for herself. She was a woman, which no matter how educated, how talented, she would always be the supporting role for the golden boy, the always acknowledged son. She had thrown herself heart and soul into Arthur's campaign, biding her time for when she might be deemed to have come of age herself. Now she would forever be blighted by this scandal, his idiocy. All the work that she, and Arthur's campaign team, and most importantly, Arthur's own work, was all going to mean nothing.

"Morgana, I'm sorry if this feels like I'm betraying you somehow. Sometimes following your heart..."

"You're following your dick, Arthur, not your damn heart. At least be fucking honest. Gwen has your heart. She has never done you wrong, and you just want to get your dick into that boy's ass, because, hey, you've never done that before, and it's suddenly so important to have this big moment and shit all over your life, for the sake of a fresh ass. Well, not exactly fresh, just novel for you. For now. Wonder how you'll feel down the track when it's not all a novelty anymore."

Arthur closed his eyes. There was no way of making Morgana understand.

He had so much with Gwen. Love, stability, security, someone who cherished him. She was so worthy, never offending him, always kind. He could stay with her, and be happy. Always moderately happy, not too many ups and downs. But he could not go back, as good as she was. As worthy as she was of his respect, affection, care, concern. He could not mistake all these fine things anymore for actually being in love. For wanting to live and breath and disappear inside a person. For being so delirious with it, that he would do whatever he could to inspire Merlin to love him back.

"Morgana, I'm not the sort of person to just ignore someone who is in trouble. I can understand that it seems like I'm risking the ruin of everything we have worked towards. Maybe that's true. Maybe I'm ruining my only chance to be in this position, to have the power to change how this country is run. But what kind of person wants to be in power, but ignore someone he cares about?"

"But what about Gwen? Arthur, she is devastated. Do you even fathom what you've done to her?"

"Morgana, flinging Merlin away like he's nothing, is not going to fix Gwen and I. I can't live a lie. I'll do anything that she'll let me do to try and be her friend. If she'll let me. But what use is it to be in each other's lives, intertwined, if I'm not in it heart and soul. It's just going through the motions, and I can't live like that, and I don't think Gwen would want that in the end either."

Morgana's shoulders slumped, all the fight finally drained from her.

"This is irreversible, Arthur. It's not a two-way door, once you do this, it will change everything. And you can't get it back, no matter how much you might come to regret this decision."

Arthur sighed heavily. Morgana was right, this decision was both the most devastating, and yet the most patently obvious of his entire life. He could not even begin to contemplate his father's rage. It seemed to him more likely than not that he would be disinherited. That was not the consequence he feared. What he dreaded was the loss of his father's respect, his approval. He had only really ever held it on Uther's terms, but it was precious nonetheless. He wanted it to be enough for Uther that he was doing what he genuinely believed was right. Long years of experience of the man, gave him the insight that, unless he fulfilled Uther's ambitions for his life, that Arthur could never expect to receive his approbation. To deviate from the path Uther had shown Arthur, would seem to Uther to be a wholesale abandonment of everything he had ever tried to instill in Arthur. Arthur knew differently now. Perhaps his interpretation of honor and loyalty took on a different form to how Uther would manifest it in his life. But Arthur knew, however Uther reacted, that Arthur was not rejecting the spirit of everything Uther had tried to instill in him, only the particulars of changing the world through a political life.
Even so, their bond would be permanently broken, and if they ever spoke again, Arthur doubted it would be on the same terms as they held now. They were more like allies than father and son. They related to each other while Arthur complied with Uther's conditions. Choosing Merlin would be a unforgivable breach. If he just lived for approval, and it meant denying everything important, then it was an alliance purchased at a cost that Arthur could not pay anymore. He had too much to lose. He had Merlin to lose.

Arthur walked into his campaign office for the last time, and braced himself. He had to tell his staff his decision. Then he would tell Uther, the Conservative Party and the nation.

Fanfic: (Don't) Regret the Mistakes - Part Five
Merthur & crest
*Ten Days Later*

Merlin was feeling more positive within himself than he had in a very long time. For so many months, his life had been like corrupted date, his life a scene played on an endless loop, the same motions replayed, progression impossible. All that had changed in the last twenty-four hours. He had made a telephone call to an organization which specialized in helping people exit prostitution.

He had spoken to a counsellor over the phone, who had understood that he did not want to live this life anymore, that he needed help to figure out how to leave, and not just end up back on the game. There was money in his bank account, but it would not last forever. Even just the thought of trying to look for legitimate job felt intimidating, but the counsellor had reassured him, that with some references from his home town, and some skirting around his experiences for the last eighteen months, it was quite likely that he could find himself regular employment.

With his interest in music, the counsellor had been keen to suggest various options, including trying to get some work experience in relevant areas, whether working as a techie, helping hand for any friends who were gigging, applying to work in venues where music was performed, music stores, anything which would connect in with his love of music. There might not be as much money in these jobs, but he would feel real again, not someone whose whole existence was to live in a shadow, to provide a fantasy experience and then never bother a person in real life again.

Merlin thought again about Arthur, who had wanted to somehow make their experience a real one, but at the same time, wanted him to be hidden away, a shameful secret. Merlin was tired of a life where he was expected to hand over not just his body, but his soul, for a sum of money, and to give of himself, and receive a warning in return. Maybe Merlin could admit to himself, that he wanted Arthur to like him as a man, a friend, to treat him on an equal footing. But his fear, of being discovered, ruined by association with a prostitute, had overridden any potential for friendship, because to a man like Arthur, Merlin would always only ever be, a whore, or a former whore. Perhaps Arthur had believed him to be beautiful, unexpectedly wise and kind, but there would always be the chasm, between Arthur's destiny to be a leader, a Conservative MP, and maybe in years to come, to be entrusted with ever greater responsibilities and challenges, and the very human, scandalous nature of their initial meeting. Merlin knew that no matter how much Arthur may have personally liked him, that he would not ever sacrifice his aspirations of leadership which could be destroyed by a liaison between them.

He had wanted Arthur to come back to him. For their time together to have not been a once off mistake, but rather, the beginning of some kind of connection which would see them bring out the best in each other, where they would complement each other, and be better for the influence they had on one another. It was not to be. Merlin would take the steps he needed to exit prostitution, he would probably never see Arthur again, unless in the newspapers, or on television, and maybe Merlin would always feel a pang of bitterness in those moments, but he would move on, and make his life the one he wanted to live. He had stepped into suffocating quicksand, and needed to escape before it claimed him forever.

Tonight was going to be his final night. He had told Grunhilda, and she had tried to wheedle a few more weeks out of him, going on with a ridiculous sob story about how he was so popular, and why did he want to quit now when he had become a favorite for so many of the punters, but he refused to offer her any more than a final night. He would collect his things, and leave the brothel for the last time. It was not secure, unless you might describe a prison as secure.

Merlin had been dismayed to see a booking with Nollar. He was always pushing the boundaries, and was easily Merlin's least favorite client. He was belligerent, rude, and treated Merlin like he was a rag to wipe his boots clean.

Unfortunately, Merlin had become his favorite. He sometimes saw him only once a month, other times it was once or twice in a week. From very early on, he had taken to calling Merlin his beautiful prince, a title he bestowed in jealousy for Merlin's refined features and figure, to mock him for being in a position where he could not refuse Nollar, and also from his lust to touch and fuck someone he could never have gained favor from in everyday life. All the Pretty Things was a place where the rules of attraction, flirting, winning someone over, were irrelevant. For money, you could buy whomever you wanted to fuck. Nollar wanted Merlin, and he wanted him often.

He steeled himself, with the gratifying knowledge that this would be the last time he would have to use his body to satisfy Nollar. He would escape, be his own again, and would never again have to give himself to anyone he hated.

He waited in the room, giving it a cursory clean up, and trying not to feel churned up.
All the Pretty Things was not a brothel where the clients could do whatever they wanted to the prostitute they were seeing, physical violence was not permitted. Nollar had a thing for holding Merlin down, and had once or twice threatened to slap him across the face. He'd never actually made that contact, and Merlin supposed the holding down was partly to be expected as part of the experience. It still made him apprehensive that Nollar seemed to be as turned on by threatening violence, as he was by fucking Merlin.

Nollar did not knock.

"Grunhilda tells me that you're pissing off, and I won't be able to hire your ass after tonight."

Merlin unconsciously backed away.

"She does love to chatter on."

"So, it's true then, this is your last night here?"

Merlin looked him in the eye, and nodded.

"Well, then boy, get the fuck on with getting those pretentious clothes off, and come over here. I'm not paying £500 an hour so that you can mope about and pretend you're too good to suck my cock. You're a useless bitch, and are never going to be anything other than a whore, but you can give me a good send off tonight. I know I'll see you back on the game in six weeks, tops."

Nollar grinned as Merlin undid his shirt, his belt, and took off his clothes, quickly as bidden. He tried to look impassive as Nollar's lecherous gaze raked over him, appraising slowly his pale, lithe body, before resting on his flat stomach, the graceful curve of his hips, and his exposed cock. Merlin could not repress a shiver at being so overtly watched, being required to suppress and ignore his intense desire to hide himself, to make himself private and unattainable.

Nollar's grin widened at his discomfort. "There's my lovely, nude little prince. I'm going to have some fun with you tonight, you're going to be fucked and then some, and you'll be wishing you hadn't been so forthcoming with all your plans, Merlin."

It was best just to go along with it, to try and not give anything away, even though Nollar was relentless with his bullying.

"Come here, boy, and kneel."

Merlin nodded minutely, before crossing the room and kneeling down in front of Nollar.

He deftly undid Nollar's belt, before nuzzling at his still clothed crotch, peering up at him with his most winsome expression, offering his complete physical and emotional submission.

"Keep doing that," he ordered, shoving a hand into Merlin's dark hair.

Merlin complied, rubbing his face across and around, like a kitten stretching out and marking with his scent. If only Nollar would not insist on acting the bully, it wouldn't be so bad, he was handsome in a rugged, burly way.

"You're such a wonderful little slut for me, why do you want to work in some boring, shite job, anyway."

Merlin didn't answer him, unzipping Nollar's fly in the vain hope that sucking his cock would shut him up.

"Such a waste, what are you going to do, you won't even be able to get a job collecting rubbish off the streets, that's my prediction."

Merlin drew out Nollar's erect cock, opening his mouth and lathing it gently, keeping eye contact, willing him to shut his mouth. He pushed his dick further in, and then pulled out, letting Merlin continue to suckle it and roll his tongue repeatedly over the head. Nollar soon was pushing further in, gripping Merlin's hair tightly. Nollar was getting close, and Merlin clung desperately onto his hips, trying to ride out the unpleasantness of being almost choked, breathing when Nollar would momentarily pull out slightly before forcing in again. His taste and scent, fleshy and salty, was overpowering, like a close-up picture which deforms its subject. A few strong thrusts, and thick cum was pulsing into his mouth, which he struggled to swallow, even as it dribbled out the side of his lips.

Merlin gasped as Nollar released his hair, and pulled his spent dick out of Merlin's mouth, but he knew better than to physically move away. Nollar grabbed him by the elbow, however, and dragged him across to the bed, shoving him onto it, before pinning him down with his substantial weight. He was solid, perhaps twice Merlin's weight, maybe more. He was a tank of a man, and Merlin hated being pinned by him, he nearly suffocated him.

"Why don't you let me ride you," he wheezed out.

"Oh, so you want to be in control of these proceedings, little Merlin. Am I making you uncomfortable, little prince?"

Merlin shook his head, "Of course not, I just thought you might enjoy it more if I ride your cock hard." Merlin gave Nollar a suggestive smile, hoping he could seduce him into getting the fuck off him.

Nollar rolled to his side, and Merlin quickly sat up, before leaning over Nollar and pulling at his shirt.

His quirked an eyebrow, "Let's get this thing off, shall we?"

Nollar grinned again as Merlin undid the buttons on his shirt, before wrestling it off his shoulders, and seeing the powerful, brutish body underneath. It was the body of a man who could overpower, and smash, and intimidate without even having to try particularly hard.

"Like seeing what a real man looks like."

Merlin smiled at him. He hated Nollar, he was a shite-talking bully, but he had to find the positive, he had to find the positive to get through this...

"You know you're hot. Think I don't like being reamed by you, you fuck up my arse like no one else, it's like being gored by those fucking bulls in Pamplona."

Nollar laughed snidely, before hauling Merlin on top of him.

"I want to see you ride my cock like you're at a rodeo, cowboy, or I'll tie you up and put you out of your misery, right?"

Merlin shifted on top, rolling a condom on with a speed borne of much practice, slicking him throughly with lube, before inserting Nollar's thick cock into his anal ring, quickly enveloping Nollar and lifting his pelvis up and down rapidly, while Nollar watched him, his fingers spreading over Merlin's hips, grabbing at Merlin's buttocks greedily, like he couldn't get enough of him.

He kept the pace going, building up a fine sheen as he fucked Nollar from on top, desperate to make the man come, so he had no excuse to overstay his time.

"Merlin, Merlin, you're trying to rush this, fretting that this won't be over soon enough."

"No, no, just trying to make it good..."

"Oh, it's good, watching your tummy clench as you fuck me like you're trying to start a fire down there..."

With this, Nollar abruptly pulled out, gripped Merlin's forearms and forced him onto his back, Merlin's cry of protest was silenced by Nollar forcing his tongue into his mouth. He felt like he was being dumped by a huge wave, feeling panic rise but unable to resist the force bearing down on him, almost choking as Nollar churned his tongue inside him, forcing his jaw open so that Merlin had to lie back and submit, feeling engulfed by this man, submerged in the quilting on the mattress, trapped, unable to resist and then Nollar was fucking into him, and had his hands on his throat, bearing his weight down on Merlin's throat, the pressure on his throat was the feeling of death, of his life being wrenched from him, his sight going dark when it suddenly stopped, Nollar collapsing as a great, loathsome dead weight on him.

Merlin lay there under him, too stunned to move for a few moments. When he gingerly tried to move, extricating himself from Nollar, and viewing his body, almost completely still, the sole movement was his breathing. He was bleeding heavily from the side of his head, where a crystal decanter, which had been on the dressing table, had somehow flown across the room and smashed into Nollar's skull, leaving a jigsaw of abrasions.

Merlin quickly grabbed his own shirt, and tried desperately to staunch the blood flow.

"Gwaine," he screamed, "Gwaine, anyone, help me, help me, he's dying, Gwaine..."

Gwaine burst into the room, stark naked, looking wildly at Merlin, and seeing Nollar on the bed bleeding.

"Fuck's sake, Merlin, what have you done to the bastard, what'd yer smash him over the scone for?"

"I didn't, I didn't, I don't know, how it happened, I don't know..."

Gwaine called for a ambulance direct from the room, giving the address and advising the operator that it was an emergency.

It was 6:45 am and Arthur was sitting at the breakfast bar, muesli being scraped out of the bowl, cup of tea rapidly cooling as he hurried to finish, needing to get into his campaign office early. Gwen ambled in, yawning, before she dropped their delivered The Guardian
newspaper on the bench. Arthur read rapidly, trying to skim over all the articles covering the election, curious to see if there was any progress in polls. The UK seemed to be in a quandary, there were no clear trends in favor of the Conservative Party, or showing that The Labour Party were going to be decisively defeated.

Arthur sighed, it almost seemed as if they were all performing a pantomime, where the conclusion was looming, but the playwright forgot to write the final scenes. The election on May 6 was drawing near, and the malaise among the voters was palpable, every commentator was drawing similar conclusions. The people of Great Britain were so disaffected, they had no great desire to vote for either of the main parties. The Liberal Democrats could end up winning enough seats to make it impossible for either of the main parties to form a majority in their own right. Indecision would lead to the decision possibly being taken out of the control of voters, and delivered to a party which did not have sufficient support to validly take control itself.

Arthur had scanned through the first few pages, his eye caught by a medium sized picture in the corner of page seven. Arthur snatched the paper up in his hand, and looked in shock at a picture of Merlin, seemingly being frogmarched out of the brothel by two tall police officers. His eyes swam as he took in the image, questions flashing in his mind like blown lightbulbs, was Merlin being arrested, what had he done, was Arthur going to be implicated somehow in this, was Merlin going to be put in jail, if Merlin was jailed...Arthur read the paragraphs desperately, that a young sex worker, Merlin Emrys, nineteen, had been arrested, on suspicion of attempted murder, after his client, Gerard Nollar, had been found in Emrys's room, bleeding from wounds inflicted with a crystal decanter found at the scene.

Arthur gaped, he knew, he just knew, Merlin would never attack a client for any reason, other than to defend himself. Perhaps he would be capable of defending himself in a situation of facing extreme aggression, but why would he deliberately target his own client, unless the client had been instigating the violence. Reading further, the article informed that the victim, Gerard Nollar, had not yet been questioned by the police.

Gwen caught sight of Arthur's pallid, worried face and came to Arthur's side.

"Arthur, you look devastated, what's in that paper."

Gwen's gaze fell on the picture of Merlin, and Arthur's gaze flickered away, he could not meet it in that moment, the moment she saw, though she did not realize it, the face of the man who had imprinted himself into Arthur's mind and soul.

"It's a terrible story, this young prostitute being arrested for attempted murder, I mean, when you think about it, how likely is it that this was an attack this young man instigated."

"Okay, but why are you so upset? I mean, you don't actually know him, and surely if he is innocent, the police will be able to get his side of the story."

Arthur felt his pulse throb in his throat, the spit pooling in the back of his mouth as he struggled to swallow, to find his voice again and speak.

"Gw...ergh," he uttered, before clearing his throat, feeling like a serrated blade was cutting him from the inside out. "Gwen, I know"

Gwen's mouth fell open, like a mute fish gasping in the air, begging to be thrown back into it's natural environment, and not be suffocated in a new world.

Arthur looked at her, at his wife, who he loved. He loved her, and it was not enough to change anything.

"Gwen, I know Merlin Emrys. The young man who is in that story. I have to help him."

"H-how, do you know him, Arthur?" Gwen pleaded, her eyes desperate with fear.

He had to say it. She knew, in her heart, she knew, but Arthur had to speak, and confirm a devastating truth she would never have even imagined was a real part of their lives.

"I was his client. I slept with him."

"No," Gwen wailed, sobbing in earnest now, "That can't be true, Arthur, why would you do that to me?"

"Gwen, I didn't mean for it to happen..."

"How the FUCK do you not mean to fuck a filthy whore, Arthur? Did he fall on your dick? Were you drugged, and woke up with him begging you for it? 'Cos I don't think that's how it went down. I want to know, when? When did you do this? Was it while I was visiting my friends, you bastard?"

"That was the second time."

Gwen moaned, holding her arms across her body like it would hold her world together. Arthur stood stupidly, wanting to comfort her, knowing that he could not offer it, because right now, he was her pain.

"Gwen, I'm sorry..."

"You're sorry? Sorry for fucking around behind my back? With a prostitute, a damn prostitute, am I worth so little to you that you'll trash everything, our marriage, for the sake of a teenage boy who'll fuck ANYONE for MONEY your stupid fuckwitted arse. He's not in love with you, Arthur, you don't need to go and rescue him, he's got his money, and that's all you've ever been to him."

Arthur shook his head, "I know, it sounds crazy, but he needs help, and I'm going to help him. Even if I mean nothing to him. Because he needs help, Gwen. I was wrong to lie to you Gwen. I was wrong to cheat on you. But I can't just pretend he doesn't exist, that I can just watch him end up in jail." Arthur choked on the last word.

"Arthur, this doesn't have to be the end for us," Gwen implored, "It doesn't Arthur. We can get counseling, we can work through this, but you can't go to this boy, Arthur, you have to let him fix up his own mess, and maybe we can fix the mess we're in."

"Gwen. I can't just let him go..."

"Fuck Arthur, is he really that good in bed? Seriously? You're going to throw back in my face my offer to work through this, you're going to ruin any chance you have in this campaign, and in any campaign ever again, you will be tainted for the rest of your life, no one in the Conservative Party will want to know you, will want to be associated with you..."

"Gwen, I will not let Merlin rot in jail. I've betrayed you, but I can't change that, I can't lie to you and act like I can just stand back and let whatever happens to Merlin, just happen. He needs my help, Gwen."

Gwen stepped back. Shaking her head, "I'm going to stay with Elyan. Don't call me."

The bed in the holding cell was hard, unyielding. He was tired, so tired, but too anxious and wound up to sleep. He laid on the mattress, every tortured thought in his mind returning to the events of the previous few hours. Those minutes with Nollar had been the worst of his entire life. Nollar had been trying to kill him, Merlin was in no doubt that he would have kept wringing Merlin's throat until he blacked out, until his breathing stopped and he went limp. In the midst of terror, of helplessness, of mortality, the decanter had flown through the air like some expensive special effect, and had connected with a sickening dull thud, the force so violent it smashed the decanter and proved that Nollar's head, for all his seeming hard and invincible, was just flesh and breakable bone after all.

Merlin could not help but see that moment in replay in his mind. He had never seen physical violence so closely before. He wished the moment undone, but there had been no escape, if it had not happened, he would be dead. What had happened? How had that decanter flown across the room. Merlin was frightened to admit it, but it seemed to him that somehow, his distress had made him able to control it, move it. It went against logic, definitely, but somehow, in the deepest part of his soul, he knew that he had done it.

Unfortunately, this would not bode well for his claim for self-defence. If he were to claim to the police that he escaped momentarily, and grasped the decanter before throwing it at Nollar, perhaps it would be expected that he should have tried to escape, rather than using force to defend himself. On the other hand, if he told the police that the decanter moved because he used his mind to control it, that would possibly lead to Merlin being assessed to see if he was mentally fit and able to be tried. Would that lead to the to the disastrous possibility of being imprisoned in a psychiatric facility?

Merlin had made contact with an old family friend, Gaius Phillipson, a well respected barrister, well versed in the intricacies of criminal law and procedure. Merlin was waiting for Gaius to arrive, so that he could have a legal representative present when he was formally questioned. When he finally heard a knock on his cell door, he assumed that Gaius had finally arrived, having had to drive from two and a half hours away.

Merlin was handcuffed by a sergeant, and led to a small room where he would see Gaius. Merlin gasped when the person who entered the room in the company of a constable was Arthur Pendragon. Where Merlin was disheveled, pale, listless and frightened, Arthur was tidy, grim, but resolute.

"Arthur," Merlin croaked.

"You were in this morning's newspapers, I read the details about what allegedly transpired with Nollar. Do you have a solicitor?" Arthur queried.

"I'm waiting for Gaius Phillipson to arrive. He knows my mother, he's a barrister."

"You'll need a solicitor as well. I'm going to call Lance, he can be here nearly immediately, if he knows you're about to be questioned..."

"Arthur, what are you doing here? This is going to get out, and then people will be asking very pointed questions about why Arthur Pendragon has been seen assisting me. A known prostitute." Merlin's face crumpled at the last words, the realization that his life as a prostitute would now become public knowledge sinking in.

Arthur wanted more than anything, to reach and hold onto him, to comfort him. However, in this room with surveillance, he could not touch Merlin. He would have to reach out to him with words, with action that would rescue him from the quicksand he was in.

"I'm not going to let you face this alone, Merlin. I know I have not known you for long, but I can't possibly believe you would have attacked this man, your own client, unless you had a justification for doing so."

"But, why, Arthur, I can see that you want to help me, but I can get help, and why would ruining you, ruining your life, be any help to me?" His eyes glittered with unshed tears, his mouth a wretched line as he held his emotions in, desperate to not seem weak.

"Not helping you, when you need it so much, would ruin me more than any newspaper story, or any scandal. I know my reputation will probably become shrapnel after a bomb blast, I know that, but, you matter to me, and I'm not going to just watch you go down, while I stand by, high and lofty and in power, and wretched for knowing I could have helped you, and didn't because I was afraid for my reputation."

Merlin could not seem to help it now, tears were etching down his cheeks, replenishing faster than he could wipe them fiercely away.

"You can't care about me, Arthur. You hardly know me, and you're married, and I can't handle having you here, then not again. I'm not robust, I can't bounce back when you realise you've been a fool and run back to your real life, your wife and career. Please, I'm begging you, go back while you can, I will get through this on my own, my mother will help me, Gaius will help me..."

Arthur held onto his own hands, in lieu of Merlin's. How could he convince this man that he cared enough that he would willingly discard his position as a candidate if that was what it took. That he cared enough to leave his loving, dutiful relationship with Gwen, which had been his safety blanket. He had never recognized this until now, that Gwen was never a threat to breaking his heart, because while he loved her, her caring nature, her solicitousness, he had never been passionately in love with her. He was in love with this boy, whose stupid life was messed up by mistakes, by taking the wrong path. Sometimes, though, the wrong path was when you did things just because they were there to be done, because the path had been already paved for you, because it made sense to everyone. Arthur had to find what was truly important, and not just regurgitate the received wisdom.

"Merlin, I know this must seem, out of left field to you, me wanting to help you. You're right, I hardly know you. But I know you enough to know I never want to let you go again. I'm not here to break your heart, I'm here to do whatever it takes to get you your freedom. What you want to do when you are free is your choice, but I've made mine. I won't sacrifice you for the sake of my...respectability."

Merlin studied the floor intently, his expression twitching with unspoken thoughts. "You don't owe me anything. You would be sacrificing your life, your dreams, aspirations, everything good you can do, everything you can achieve for others, throwing it all away, and when you don't owe this to me, Arthur. You are not responsible for what happens to me. It's not your fault. I can't let you destroy the destiny you are building, for you, and for this country, and for what? I don't need your help, Arthur. Please, go to your wife, explain it was all a mistake..."

"No," Arthur yelped. "No. You are not a mistake. It's crap I know, I still love Gwen, but fuck, I think you might be the one I should have been with all along." Arthur hated having to choose, but if it came to it, he was here, in this police station, not at home with Gwen. He hated that his marriage might fail because of this, hated even more that he would hurt Gwen, who had never hurt him. Arthur knew it was a mess, and was probably going to turn into a complete circus before it was over, but somehow, it would be worse, to go back, to be a pretender.

"You want to be with me?" Merlin uttered warily.

Arthur held Merlin's gaze. "Yes. Somehow, you are good for me. If we ever get out of this fix, I'd be crazy to let you go and be all kinds of wonderful in someone else's life."

Merlin laughed out loud at that. "Yeah, this is a whole lot of marvelous stuff going on here, why would you want to miss out on that, Arthur "has his whole life ahead of him" Pendragon?"

"Yeah, and I want you to be the other half of me for the rest of it." Arthur said quickly, only realizing what he had said, the implications, when it was out. "I mean it, Merlin. Don't think you can shake me off by selling yourself as some underachiever. You're so young, you've got time to get off the path, and I want to be there for you while you do it."

The constable who had brought Arthur in, indicated that Gaius had arrived. Arthur would be required to leave, so that Merlin could give his instructions to Gaius.

"I'll leave you to see Gaius. I'm contacting Lance Du Lac, he'll be required to brief your barrister."

Merlin looked up at him, face framed by slouched shoulders.

"Thank you. I'm sure your friend is going to be a great help. I'm grateful for you coming down to see me."

"Okay. It's okay, Merlin, I want to help."

With that, Arthur was firmly escorted away, taking one last look as he left, Merlin meeting his gaze with a look of resigned despair.

Fanfic: (Don't) Regret the Mistakes - Part Four
Merthur & crest
By all accounts, the election was going to be tight. All the coverage in the press, on television, newspapers and on the internet suggested that every single seat was going to be crucial. The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, had already been publicly stating that it would be harmful to democracy for the Liberal Democrats to try to pre-negotiate some deal to share power between their party and the Labour Party, if the Conservative Party could not win enough seats to have an outright majority. No one wanted the country to be led essentially by MP's empowered by each other's handshakes, rather than the votes of the constituents they professed to represent.

Arthur listened to his messages. Three from Uther. Obviously Arthur had been neglecting his father, having not made contact with him for approximately thirty-six hours.

He braced himself, and called.

"Father, it's Arthur."

"Finally, Arthur. This avoidance is unnecessary and juvenile. I have not had so much as a two word text from you since the debate, you just went to ground since that night. You need to be highly visible for the rest of this campaign."

"Yes, Father..."

"Now, don't just agree with me, and think I'm going to leave it at that. If I have learned anything from the last few days, it's that you need me Arthur, perhaps more than you even realise, to mentor you, and to keep you on track for the remainder of this campaign. So I will be joining you today for the launch of the Poster Campaign at Battersea Power Station."

Arthur processed that statement, every Conservative candidate from the London Boroughs would be there, not to mention their staff, numerous life peers, and journalists everywhere you moved, listening to each and every word professed. It was a day to get pumped up, to galvanize each and every person, to focus on the big picture. Arthur understood in every part of his being Uther's determination to be there, amongst all the party faithful, whipping each one into a frenzy of bloodlust, the jolt to move the campaign up a gear, and get people desperate to rid themselves of the blight of Gordon Brown and his leadership of Britain. Arthur needed the adrenaline, to get him in the warrior state of mind, but instinctively knew that Uther's insistence on accompanying Arthur spoke at distorted megaphone level of his lack of faith in Arthur, his unwillingness to let Arthur go and run his own campaign. Uther did not have enough faith in him that he could network with other candidates.

"Arthur, I will be arriving at your office in the next fifteen minutes."
"Father, it's not necessary for you to be...breathing down my neck for this whole day."

"Arthur, I know you and your team are doing an admirable job, an excellent job, but you should not dismiss me as if I were some millstone around your neck, but rather recognize my assistance for what it is, an advantage that not every candidate enjoys. When I introduce you to people, Arthur, they know my reputation, and that reflects onto you, gives them more faith in you because they know the son of Uther Pendragon will understand the burden of leadership, and what is required to gain the faith of your constituents."

Arthur knew that the argument was lost. He would only be goading Uther to keep denying him. Perhaps his Father even had a point. Maybe having two Pendragon's on the campaign was the best thing for the campaign, much as Arthur wanted to be his own man.

When they set off, Arthur narrowly avoided sharing the journey with Uther, managing to convince him that he needed to talk to Morgana.

George greeted them as they slid into the backseats.

"Good Morning Mr Pendragon, Miss Le Fay. Miss Le Fay I am so pleased that you are traveling with me as your driver."

Morgana smiled wryly. "Why is that, George?"

"I would hate to see you put unnecessary lines in such a wondrously beautiful face, trying to navigate your own vehicle to Battersea Power Station."

"George, I drive through London nearly every day..." Morgana began to protest.

"Ah, uh, uh," George tutted at her, "Today, you concentrate on elevating the profile of Mr. Pendragon. You are quite the asset to Mr. Pendragon's campaign, and should not relinquish any of your thoughts and exertions to mundane tasks such as driving."

Morgana stifled a giggle, and replied, "George, I am very pleased to have a chauffeur who is so attentive to the needs of his passengers, and so passionately committed to this campaign."

"Miss Le Fay, we must all, in every way, be it great or small, work towards the greater good. Would you not agree?"

"Oh, yes."

Arthur rolled his eyes at Morgana, and said in a low voice, "I think you may have wounded George by not asking him to take you anywhere previously."

"But he's your chauffeur."

"He likes to be kept busy."

Morgana snickered, and offered Arthur a drink from their in car stash. Arthur sipped his mineral water, feeling the nausea that had been building subside somewhat.

"Seriously, though, is everything alright, you just seem distracted the last couple..."
Arthur shook his head, "I'm fine, Morgana, I just wonder whether Uther will be an asset or a liability today."

Morgana responded with a sigh, "Try keeping him away today, Arthur. It's impossible. You have to figure out how to be your own man, and not let him overshadow you. It's your campaign."

"Okay, yeah, it's my campaign. Which Uther wants to direct for me. How can I be my own man, when he insists on directing my steps, calling the shots. I can't just..."

"I know. Believe me, I know. He's overbearing, convinced he is always right, almost impossible to sway from an opinion once he has formed it."

They sighed, and looked at each other. What else was there to be done, but to live with it, to know that it would be impossible to conduct the campaign without Uther being involved.

Morgana and Arthur arrived at Battersea Power Station, and found Uther, Vivienne, Leon and Gwen in a tense little clutch. Gwen broke out in a relieved smile, and immediately joined Arthur at his side, threading her arm into Arthur's. He felt slightly soothed by her warm presence next to him.

"Gwen, if I could have Arthur from you, after all you have him to yourself nearly every day, don't you, now Arthur..."

With that, Uther was drawing Arthur along, with Morgana and Vivian trailing behind, while Gwen looked on, annoyed that she, Arthur's wife, was being treated as utterly dispensable and irrelevant. George did his best to guide Gwen towards the main throng of people, waiting expectantly for the Conservatives Leader, David Cameron, to speak at the launch of their first major offensive, the Poster Campaign. Leon managed to get them some drinks and canapés that were being offered around.

Gwen sipped the glass of champagne, and watched Arthur be submerged by the jostling crowd, all jovial and upbeat for the launch.

"Perhaps Uther doesn't think it's necessary for the wife of a candidate to be involved in campaigning," Gwen complained.

Leon raised his eyebrow at her, "You can't change Uther, but you can make your own contribution Gwen." He nodded towards a group of women, milling about. "Why don't you introduce yourself to some of the other political widows. I'm sure they will be able to commiserate, and you might just impress Arthur and Uther with your hobnobbing."

Gwen smiled ruefully at Leon, tipped her glass to him, and then wandered over to introduce herself to the other candidate's wives. Leon was right, there would be nothing gained by sulking.

Uther recognized one of this former Eton classmates, and with great dignity, gave chase, pulling Arthur along to be introduced.

"Uther Pendragon, well, you have no need to be out here campaigning for your life, but it's good to see you here."
"Bayard, I might not need to campaign for my own place, but I'd would have to be unconscious to not come today, and support the Poster Campaign that will be pivotal in this election."

"Yes, well, if M & C Saatchi have come up with anything as good as what CCHQ are claiming it is, it might just be enough to wake up a brain dead populace into voting for the party that isn't going to send us all into oblivion."

Bayard's eyes flickered to Arthur, who was standing immediately behind Uther, and Vivian and Morgana, who were standing alongside Arthur.

"Have I introduced you to my son, Arthur Pendragon, he is the candidate for Brentford and Isleworth."

"Ahh, I thought it was you, one of the young guns. You've got everything to gain from this, Arthur, some momentum for the campaign. How does it feel to be on your first campaign?"

"Well, it's challenging, definitely, but certainly I would not have taken it on if I did not want a fight!"

"Who's the Labour candidate?"

"Will Logan."

"Oh, that chap, he's not much better than a hooligan."

"He's rough around the edges, but a lot of the people in the constituency respect him."

"That's why this campaign is so vital, people might like him well enough personally, but you have a message to deliver, that Gordon Brown has to go, and that means, don't vote for Will Logan. Anyway, Arthur, you're giving him too much credit, you're ten times the man he is, and I know that from two minutes conversation, and the fact that you are Uther's son. Do the party credit for making you a candidate, and don't give that hooligan a minute measure of respect, because he's not entitled to it."

Morgana interjected, "Arthur perhaps doesn't want to come across as old school with the electorate, with pugilistic rhetoric."

"It's not just rhetoric, it's reality. Don't credit voters with too much intelligence or subtlety, you've got to whack the message into their skulls, galvanize them into action. You won't do that with polite platitudes."

Uther grasped Bayard by the shoulder, "These two may be bright and shiny, but they can still learn from our campaigns. Morgana and Arthur are sometimes just a little too eager to be in touch with the people, but they're learning fast, and will do this campaign justice."

Bayard looked at Vivian, "You've done a few campaigns. Knock the whimsy out of them, will you. It's a damn bumpy landing if you don't win your seat, you won't feel like talking about respect for your opponent then."

Vivian smirked, and nodded, "I'm giving it my all, they think I'm heartless sometimes, but I do know what I'm on about."

"Not heartless, you just know how this game works. You two should listen to Vivian, pound it into the voter's heads."

Arthur's gut told him, as unpalatable as it sounded, that Bayard was not wrong. He nodded at Bayard, acknowledging the soundness of his advice with the simple gesture.

They moved as a group towards the main platform, eager to hear Mr Cameron introduce the campaign. Soon, they saw for themselves the Poster Campaign, and there was no denying, they would have a powerful impact. Gordon Brown, a smug, squint-eyed smirk on his face, next to the slogans "I TOOK BILLIONS FROM THE PENSIONS VOTE FOR ME", "I DOUBLED THE TAX RATE FOR THE POOR VOTE FOR ME", "I LOST

This was what Arthur's campaign had to get to grips with, getting people in his constituency not to see Arthur as having better qualities than Will Logan, or even being more passionate than Will Logan. From herein, the campaign would be ruthless. Britain was on the precipice of oblivion. There would be no more room for niceties, no quarter given. Arthur's campaign was reborn.

Merlin switched on the television in his bedsit, while he waited for his pasta to cook. He tried to watch at least one news update each day, sometimes if he had time, he would watch a more in depth analysis program, or documentaries. His brain was still connected to the rest of him, and was still important, he was more than a piece of ass, if he had an understanding of the issues facing the world.

Soon he was shoveling in his meal, watching the news report. It was almost entirely about the National Election, and today the Tories had their new propaganda machine in action, an abundance of posters that would be placed in prominent places, and in some cases, driven around on the back of trailers, so that they would not be static.

Merlin watched the footage with a smile, which froze when he saw milling among the Conservative throng, a familiar blond with tousled hair, chiseled features and looking sharp in a suit. Arthur. The young man he met the other night.

Merlin knew he was campaigning, but it was still a shock to see Arthur in his real life, looking full of confidence, and among those who would look on someone like himself as nothing but trash to be disposed of, if he should inconveniently make himself known. Merlin had no doubt, that if he ever told a soul about his night with Arthur, that the Conservative Party machine, not to mention Arthur's Father, the frightening Uther Pendragon, would stop at nothing to destroy any good image he might ever have left. He would be branded forever as that prostitute. No one would ever see him in any other light.

Merlin would keep this encounter to himself. Grunhilda would never tell anyone, no one would ever come to her precious brothel ever again if she spilled on who her clients were. No one ever had to know.

Arthur and Gwen were weary when finally they made it home. George had driven them, and it had been the first time all day that they had been together. Arthur listened to Gwen talk about all the people she had met, she sounded excited to have made some connections with other people in the Conservative Party.

Gwen squeezed Arthur's hand, "I feel like, for the first time in weeks, like we're closer, because we'll both be working towards the same goal. Not that we weren't before, but today just made me feel like I'm part of your team now, not just standing on the sidelines."

Arthur kissed the side of her head, "I'm so proud of how you mixed today. I think you did amazingly well, and I know everyone thinks you are just marvelous, so gracious, gentle but smart as well. I could not ask for a better political wife."

Gwen smiled at Arthur, with almost a tinge of sadness, "I feel like we're on the same team now, Arthur. This election has been so demanding of your time, I sometimes feel like I've only had the shell of a man left at the end of the day. But being here today, I feel like I'm sharing your life again, the biggest part of your life, and I'm so happy to be part of it again."

Arthur held her hand in his, and said sincerely, "You'll always be part of my life, Gwen."

Arthur knew one thing. He had a wife who would support him through his campaign, however ugly and ruthless it got. He still had to ensure one thing. That his indiscretion with the young prostitute never came out. If it did, it would destroy his life, both politically and personally. However difficult it might be, he had to approach Merlin, and ask him not to speak to anyone about him. He could not just assume that Merlin would have any concern for him, would spare him a second thought before going to some journalist and revealing everything about their night together. Perhaps he could pay him off, even offer to help him start out a new life. If there was one impression that Arthur kept of Merlin, it was that he was much too intelligent and talented to be wasting his life as a prostitute. If Merlin wanted help, even financial help, how much better would it be for Arthur to offer first, before Merlin might think of being tempted by a journalist's check book.

Arthur had made an appointment this time. He could not think of any other way he would be able to approach Merlin, short of stalking him, and he just had to hope that he would not be noticed. Fortunately, Gwen was away for the night, having been encouraged by Arthur to spend an evening with some of her university friends, to give her a little space, and time out from the worries of the campaign. Arthur felt relieved, and yet repulsed by his own feelings, that he found this opportunity all too convenient to pass up.

He knew his date with destiny (so to speak) was set for 11:30pm. He set out, on foot, and as if in disguise. He wore a grey insulated jacket, blue jeans, trainers and a dark navy beanie, completely covering his blond hair. He wanted to blend in, and be as undistinguished as he could possibly make himself. He even caught the Tube, determined to not follow his usual customs, for risk of being seen in his recognizable vehicle driving to a brothel.

It took a good deal longer to get there than it had a few nights earlier, but that was okay, because it gave Arthur some time to think. He wondered whether he should appeal first to Merlin's integrity. Rather than just straight out offer him a financial incentive to be stay quiet, to instead talk to Merlin about Arthur's own stakes, his own vulnerability and need for what had happened to never become public knowledge. Merlin had been very compassionate and understanding, perhaps Arthur could get a promise out of him first, and only then offer a payment to assist Merlin with his future.

However much Arthur tried to think through what he would say, he knew that life had no rehearsals, and no matter how much he could try to figure out beforehand what he might say, he would still have to think on his feet, respond to Merlin's words, and the nuances of what he said with his expression and body language, which more often told the truth when words were used as a barrier.

The genteel street was quiet, and Arthur was the only person walking up the steps and through the ornate front door, with the name of the brothel only visible on a small plaque next to the door. He was ushered through, after having first made payment for an hour. Arthur hoped an hour would be a long enough time to speak to Merlin, and not seem to be pressuring him into agreement. It suddenly felt a lot like an ambush, Merlin would be expecting a transaction to take place, not to be asked to make a life defining decision in the space of one hour.

Arthur's licked his lips, trying to moisten his mouth which was suddenly dry as tissue paper. He held the door handle, hand shaking slightly, but then resolutely rapped at the door.

"Please come in." It came back to him, that quiet, sweet, clear voice, spoken in a pitch distinctly higher than his own. It was the voice of a tender person, someone who had not been scraped raw by being ignored, let down, exploited or left to fend for himself while everyone who saw him was indifferent to his pain. Not yet.

Merlin smiled, but it seemed to Arthur it was a little strained. "It's a bit of a surprise to see you here, again. Thought maybe that being in a place like this was a bit of an anomaly for you."

Arthur quietly closed the door, and tried to calm his breathing.

He met Merlin's troubled gaze.

"It is," he admitted, feeling some of the tightness in his stomach relax. He could not pretend to Merlin that he was here as a regular paying client.

"It's not easy to say this to you, especially after you were so," Arthur hesitated, "understanding and kind the other night."

Merlin stiffened slightly. "It was nothing Arthur, I understand, maybe you'd be surprised how many men feel like they can unburden themselves to me."

Arthur felt slightly sick. He had convinced himself, however absurd it seemed, that he had shared a connection with Merlin, a human one, beyond a prostitute servicing the body of his client. Fuck, maybe the listening to his anguish about his campaign really had just been another day in the office for this boy.

He spoke formally. "Nonetheless, I want to say thank you for your kindness. I was very upset that night, and you could have just, acted like I was a driveling pain in the ass, but you didn't. Even if you do that for all your clients, Merlin, you should know that it was special. You were right to tell me not too worry about the personal jibes, they are an unavoidable aspect of being a politician, and feeling like voters would condemn me for it was overemphasizing its importance. I would even venture to say your counsel to me on that topic was wise."

Merlin stared at Arthur, too stunned to reply.

"I don't want to belittle what you did for me."

Merlin nodded slowly, waiting for Arthur to continue.

"Merlin, you know this is a very public campaign..."

Merlin's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline. "You think I would tell anyone about that night? Anyone? The press? The Conservative Party? The Labour Party?"

Merlin's voice was raised, not yelling, but sharp and angry.

Arthur waved his hands, no...

"Because I have not told anyone, Arthur. I will not tell anyone, Arthur. Do you think for one minute I want to be forever known as that rent-boy slag who was ass-fucked by Arthur Pendragon, Conservative, upper-class, impeccably well dressed and let's not forget well-connected Tory twit-face."

This was not going to plan.

"Merlin," Arthur started, trying to regain control.

"No, it's fine Arthur, for all your fine words, you just think I am a just a whore to be bought off, it does not even occur to you that I might never live it down if it became public. I would never live it down."

The tendons of his throat were taut as a kite string on a blustery day, and a mottled flush ran rampant across his face. His disillusionment and rage were blending a toxic cocktail, his speech vomited out, sudden and uncontrollable.

"Maybe you think I'm just waiting for my chance to sell my story, pose for the Tabloids and tell them about my night of passion with Conservative Golden Boy, Arthur Pendragon. Oh, I'm so wise, am I, I gave you such valuable advice, but better get your insurance policy anyway, in case I squeal like some pig being gutted."

Arthur slumped his shoulders. Merlin had turned one hundred and eighty degrees, the boy who had lavished compassion on him was now lashing Arthur, returning Arthur's favor. He had misjudged him, and this sweet-natured boy was cut to the quick, knowing that Arthur thought him all too likely to become a walking, talking cliche, the prostitute who sells his body, and then sells his secrets for even more money.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it, Arthur. Just get out." Merlin jerked his head towards the door.

"Please don't throw me out." Arthur's voice broke.

"Why? WHAT do you want from me? You've made it clear that you don't ever want this mess to see the light of day, well, I'm promising you, I won't tell a soul. Not a soul. I don't want anyone to know about this anymore than you do."

"I see that now, I'm sorry Merlin, I was just...afraid, and you're right, I misjudged you, your character, please, let's not leave it like this, don't hate me just because I'm a big, blond dumb-ass."

Arthur paused, and Merlin stared at him.

"You're a big, blond asshole, that's what you are," Merlin finally said softly.

"I am."

Merlin spun on his heel, facing away from Arthur. "Can you just go, Arthur? I have to see another client in less than forty minutes, and I really don't want to be tear-stained wreck. Bad for business."

"Merlin," Arthur breathed, and he knew right then, that he had been kidding himself, all he had really wanted was Merlin. To see him again. To touch him again.

Merlin looked at him, pale. "No. No, Arthur. You came to clear this mess up remember, not for a quickie." The last word spat out like Merlin had a mouthful of sour milk.

"You're in my mind all the time. Even when I'm thinking about other stuff, talking to people, you're right there, and the thing is, I don't want to just walk away and put this in some box in my mind, never to be opened again."

"Arthur, you can't have it both ways, wanting to keep this on the down low, and wanting to fuck, and then wanting me counsel you and then piss off and never talk to you again. If you just want a fuck, can't you just make an appointment with one of the other girls. Or Gwaine if it's got to be a man."

Arthur slumped, all the fight gone out of him. He'd got what he came here for, Merlin's promise that he would not talk about this to anyone, and it was obvious that offering Merlin any money would just enrage him more. This was not what he wanted. To force himself onto Merlin. To use him as a body and nothing else. He wanted Merlin, body, mind and soul, and instead he was in a brothel, where all that could be got was what he himself had proclaimed to Merlin was an anomaly, a mistake.

"Okay, Merlin, I'll go. Please, look after yourself."

Merlin smiled at him sadly. "I'll try."

Fanfic: (Don't) Regret the Mistakes - Part Three
Merthur & crest
Arthur opened the door, and let his eyes adjust to the slightly darker room for a moment, before he walked in and closed it. The first thing Arthur felt was overwhelmed, the room was decorated in such a ornate style, gold and scarlet wallpaper, dark timber panels on the walls, a dark timber bed with crimson and black sheets, and carpet that had a swirling pattern on it, purple, green and flecks of silver. It felt like some oppressive cave, closing in on him.

Arthur then noticed the young man, standing next to a tallboy, sipping a glass of water Arthur supposed, regarding him silently. Unlike any other conception Arthur might have had before of a male prostitute, this man was dressed simply, in a plain white shirt, and black tailored pants. His feet were bare, his collar undone. He looked like he was simply relaxing after a formal occasion rather than meeting a client he would service with a compliant fuck.

He met Arthur's gaze steadily, "So, I take it you have not been here before? Grunhilda decided you wanted a boy fuck, not one of the girls?"

Arthur smiled at him, so direct, and yet so softly spoken, "I honestly can't tell you what I'm looking for tonight. I'm feeling a bit shattered, so I don't even think I want any kind of fuck, to be perfectly honest."

The young man sighed. "Well, if we're going to chat, my name's Merlin."


"So, Arthur, I gather you haven't had the best night."

"No, well, not all of it was a total write off, but yeah, some of it was shit."

Merlin indicated a seat where Arthur could sit. Feeling oddly like he was being ushered into some psychoanalysis session, Arthur sat down, while Merlin glided over to the silky, slippery looking bed, and half-sat, half sprawled comfortably on top of the sheets, looking at Arthur like they were just here to catch up.

"Tell me what was good about your evening."

Arthur stopped short at that. What had been good? Well, he'd been able to get most of his arguments across, persuasively he hoped. His team had not let him down, Vivian had prepped him well for the substantive issues. Morgana and Leon had ensured the hall had reminders everywhere of how to vote. Gwen had been perfect, loyal and appropriate.

"Well, I guess everything that could be prepared for, I was prepared for, and that went well. I was just a bit blindsided by an attack on myself, a personal one, I did not see coming."

"This personal attack really matters to you?"

"I don't know. It might matter to people who want to vote for me."

Merlin was silent for a few moments.

"I think, from what I've seen of these things anyway, that if you're going to go in for a political life, that you basically have to expect highly personal attacks. People are voting for a person at the end of the day, and if they can be convinced that you're not the right person for their vote, based on some personal attribute they dislike, then that's just the way politics works, right. You can have all the best ideas in the world, but if no one respects you, likes you..."

Arthur shook his head, "It's the respect thing. I think most people who meet me, end up liking me, but tonight, I had just a personal thing, it was that I wore a bit of make-up for photos, not showy stuff, of course, just something to look natural."

Merlin frowned a bit. "That's the worst thing that was said about you? And you're torn up about that. I would just dismiss it. What a paltry thing to bring up, like it matters one whit anyway. It certainly wouldn't stop me from having confidence in you."

Arthur barked a laugh, before smothering it. He didn't think Merlin would be especially amused to hear Arthur's feeling that winning the confidence of his paid escort would not amount to much respect outside of this claustrophobia enhancing room.

Merlin read his mind. "Mmm, of course, who cares what a prostitute thinks. I couldn't have anything of value to say to you, I guess."

"No, I didn't mean it like that, it's just, you're paid to be here with me,"

"I don't say a damn thing I don't mean, even if I am paid to be here. You look like a man who has his shit together, even if you doubt yourself sometimes over setbacks, but setbacks happen to everyone, you just have to pick up, and keep on at it. That's my opinion, no extra fee for that." Merlin smiled at him, and Arthur relaxed, easing back in the chair, before kicking off his shoes.

"Go on, take that suit jacket off, I can hang it up. I promise I'm not going to jump you just because you take your jacket off."

Arthur handed it to Merlin, who hung it up on a hook on the door.

"Would you like a drink, Arthur? I could get you some mineral water, or juice."

"Mineral water would be fine."

Arthur felt a wave of tiredness run through him, all the stress of the evening making him suddenly feel utterly spent, and how utterly odd it was to be in this room, talking to a young man he'd never met in his life, and feeling comfortable, as though he was meant to be here with him. He watched Merlin walk over to a small bar fridge set up in the corner, and get out a tall glass like the one he had been sipping out of. Arthur supposed he was attractive, in an odd, tall, lean sort of way, his features crystal sharp, short, stylishly cropped dark hair both swallowing the light, and reflecting it, like black diamonds.

He had a beautiful mouth, an absolute rarity on a man. His lips were full, a sweet, apple red, rounded pout, which was all the more appealing on him as his face was relaxed and he was not forcing it, as was so often the case when people mistakenly believed that Marilyn Monroe's famous pouting should ever be replicated by anyone else.

His cheekbones were pronounced and refined, giving his face its elegance. He was tall and slender, and most likely smooth, not every muscle athletically defined.

Arthur accepted the drink with a small nod of thanks, watching the tiny sparkling bubbles rise to the surface held him mesmerized for the time being.

"Well, Arthur, I'm not sure how long you want to stay here for. I'm quite happy to keep you company, if that's all you require, but I'll just let you know that you're charged for every hour." Merlin had a kind expression on his face, like he understood somehow that Arthur had wound up here, partly on a whim, and partly by accidental vacillation.

When Arthur thought about that night afterwards, it was the feeling that Merlin was ever so politely dismissing him which made him feel reckless, like he'd had enough of other people deciding what he should do next. He placed his drink down, and moved deliberately towards Merlin.

"You have a funny kind of charm about you, Merlin. You're very honest, and direct, but still tactful, and kind. Like you're not one who would enjoy seeing anyone be humiliated, if you could help it."

Merlin looked up at Arthur, who was standing directly above him, eyes wide with disbelief.

"Are you flirting with me Arthur? Because you know I'm a sure thing, right?" Merlin said with a wry, partly suppressed smirk.

"No, well, maybe. Maybe I need to feel more like you're my conquest, rather than a paid boy-fuck. Do you think you could pretend a little bit for me, Merlin?"

Merlin smiled up at him. "My life is all about pretence."

"Maybe you're not the only one."

"You don't need to pretend anything around me, Arthur." Merlin had now sat up, his long legs sprawled apart on the bed, while leaning back on his hands. He looked at Arthur, his coy expression amplified by black, long lashes that feathered against his porcelain pale cheeks, while his lips hung slightly apart, in a wanton pout.

"Get undressed now," Arthur ordered, his heartbeat faltering, before returning with a thump.

Merlin immediately obeyed, unbuttoning his shirt, and shrugging it off, before lying back on the bed, and sliding out of his black trousers, then quickly slipping out of his knickers. He then sat back on the bed, completely naked, his legs spread apart to give Arthur a look at his goods.

And Arthur had to admit to himself, a flush of arousal suddenly spreading heat through him, and making his prick erect, that Merlin should be appreciated while he was nude like that. Merlin was so good at seeming a little shy that it was easy for Arthur to forget he was acting.

"You should come over here, Arthur," Merlin said in a quiet, steady voice, like they were about to have a discussion, talk over some important issue. Arthur felt a pang of sadness, that was something he felt he'd like to do with Merlin, if they were in a different situation.

However, he was also aware that his dick had it's own agenda, so Arthur came over to the bed, and ran his hands up Merlin's legs, from his thin, bony ankles, up the lean muscled calves, his thighs, and then brushing lightly over Merlin's cock. Even his cock was elegant, proportioned perfectly, and Merlin moaned softly each time Arthur caressed it gently.

It felt strange to be touching Merlin's prick, he'd only ever touched his own, but Arthur was mesmerized by touching the smooth hardness, the fleshy head, and sliding his finger over Merlin's slit. He had a little pre-cum beading out, which made Arthur's touching feel slippery and good.

He smiled at Merlin, feeling as though Merlin was suddenly his erotic plaything, he could do anything really, short of physically damaging his body, and Merlin would play along. He would act like he was enjoying it. He seemed to be an especially good actor at that moment, with his lightly panting breathing, and soft, but frequent moans.

Arthur pushed him back, so that Merlin was lying on his back, Arthur continuing to tease at Merlin's dick.

"Not many client's do that, you know. Most of them would have flipped me by now."

Arthur looked thoughtfully at Merlin, "Well, they mustn't have much imagination then. I can think of loads of things I'd like to do to you before flipping you over." Arthur realized the moment he said it that it was the truth. He could suddenly see himself fucking Merlin in about a dozen different ways. It was disconcerting.

Arthur sat over him, still dressed in his own clothes, but shaking his head brusquely when Merlin quietly suggested he get undressed. He was much too fascinated with what he was currently doing to bother.

"Put your arms, up above your head." Merlin complied, and Arthur suddenly realised he had been holding his breath, watching him stretched out like that, pale, his ribcage in stark relief, his rosy pink areola and nipples surrounding by pale skin and a fine sprawl of dark chest hair. The chest hair made Arthur smile, it made him think that Merlin must have eaten every crust and unpleasant vegetable his mother had ever served up to him, to proudly display that small strip of manliness.

Merlin seemed puzzled, "What are you smiling at?"

Arthur grinned, "Just be quiet, I think I'm trying to get you off here."

"Sorry," Merlin replied in an insolent tone, "Please continue."

Merlin spread his legs further apart, his breath still mostly even as Arthur played with his cock with slicked up fingers. He didn't really know if he was allowed to, but he risked a few petting kisses along Merlin's stomach and hipbones. Merlin shuddered at the touch of Arthur's mouth on his body.

"I like that, Arthur. You can keep on doing that, if you want. Or you can kiss me on the mouth, if that's what you want."

Arthur avoided his gaze. He rested his head on Merlin's stomach, his face turned towards Merlin's erect cock, rather than look him in the eyes. Merlin's offer of a kiss suddenly shattered his heart. He was turned on, and utterly wretched at the same time. He wanted to fuck the boy senseless, and at the same time wanted to walk away.

Arthur felt a single tear gather and then fall, wetting his face and landing with a soft splash on Merlin. He tried to throttle the urge to cry, but the harder he tried, the more it hurt his throat to keep it in. A few more tears fell, silent.

Merlin suddenly sat upright, and grabbed Arthur around the shoulder. "It's okay Arthur. You can cry. I don't mind, if that's what you need to do."

Arthur rarely cried, he was more likely to punch something, or go for a run until sweat stained his shirt in huge circles, until the endorphins drove away whatever hurt. This was different. He felt like all his efforts had been destined to go wrong, like he could not win no matter how hard he tried.

He was so lost in his thoughts that he was surprised to suddenly come to the realisation he was sobbing, and Merlin was just holding him, gathering him close into his thin chest, and nuzzling into Arthur's hair.

"You've had a godawful night, haven't you, just, yeah, just let it out."

Arthur choked out, "I feel ridiculous."

Merlin just shook his head, "No, it's not ridiculous to have feelings. I have them too, you know. If you don't let them out, you'll explode. And that would make a bloody awful mess for me to clean up."

Arthur chuckled at Merlin's silly joking. He'd stopped crying, and Merlin wiped his face with a tissue that he had grabbed from the bedside table.

"Better?" Merlin smiled.

Arthur heaved a sigh. "Yeah, better."

Merlin was still holding him, and Arthur had no idea what to do. A few minutes before, he'd been fondling the boy, and now he was recovering from some mental breakdown, and he did not know if he should just leave and go home.

Merlin spoke low, into his shoulder, "Please fuck me, Arthur. I'd actually like you to. You're lovely, and I don't want you to leave just yet."

Still sniffling, Arthur nodded, then circled Merlin's wrists with his hands, and pressed him down into the bed. This close, his scent was sweet, like rain-damp flowers, or sun-dried linen, and he inhaled before tasting him, feeling the soft/rough skin of Merlin's throat with a sweeping tongue, which led to kisses on the chin, his cheeks, and finally, delving into a soft, moist mouth, and Merlin was only too eager to meet Arthur's explorations with his own swirling, then thrusting tongue.

Arthur felt intoxicated by the feel of the young man beneath him, his hipbones digging into Arthur's lean stomach, the feel of possessing Merlin, rubbing his clothed erection against Merlin's nakedness, and yet, if he wanted this, to possess him completely, to get his cock inside him and bear down and fuck him hard, Arthur would have to become vulnerable too, undress, remove his carefully constructed self and become- someone else entirely? His true self?

"Just get undressed, Arthur. I'm not going to judge you, you know, and I'm certainly not going to tell anyone. This is just you, and me, and right now, I want you and I know you want me."

Arthur nodded, and let Merlin help him undress. He leaned into Merlin once they were both naked, and writhed against him, the feeling of Merlin's soft skin against his was comforting, the feeling of Merlin's movement and squirming against his body unlocked a desire in Arthur to hold him down, to let Merlin feel utterly taken by him.

He fucked him in that position, holding his wrists, Arthur's body weight keeping him from moving too much, not that Merlin seemed to mind, he spread his legs wider, and gazed at Arthur with feverish intensity, his soft groans a reflexive response to Arthur filling him to the brim, both hovering on the edge, before Arthur came, fucking Merlin faster until Merlin suddenly jolted into his own orgasm.

Afterwards, Arthur lay in Merlin's embrace for a while, slightly dazed, and wanting to stay in that room, which had felt so claustrophobic, and now felt like a comfortable nook he never wanted to leave.

But slowly, reality trickled into Arthur's consciousness. He had to leave. He had to return to his actual life, an election campaign, his trusted team, his wife. His sojourn had ended.

Arthur arrived home just after 1:00am. He was anxious that Gwen would be waiting up for him, when he felt like his own and Merlin's intermingled scent would be detected by her, arousing her suspicion, his betrayal of her would be obvious in the expression of his face, and by some innate sense, she would just know that he had slept with another. It did not matter whether it was another woman, or that in this instance, Arthur had slept with another man. It was a lie to Gwen, it went against the understanding they had with each other. They had married each other, and Arthur had always been sure he was in it for the rest of his life. He had felt soothed by being with Merlin, but now he would have to pay the price in the fissure in his relationship with Gwen.

When he quietly opened the front door, he sighed with relief that the hall light was on, but that it appeared Gwen had already gone to bed. He stripped off, and showered in the downstairs bathroom. Hot water pounded into him, leaving his shoulders and back fiery red and pliant. He thought perhaps he could just let the events of the evening just drain away like the soapy residue he rinsed off himself, come out of the experience realizing just how vulnerable he had made himself, both in his private and public life, by his actions.

He wanted to regret what he done with Merlin, with a prostitute, all it had been was paid sex, paid relief. He would move on, he would forge ahead, not tell Gwen, because what good would actually come of it, he would put aside the set-backs of the evening, and repress his thoughts that he had required solace, and had received it. Merlin was a person, after all, and as he had said, he had feelings too. He had comforted Arthur, but Arthur had to move on, and not remember, ever, what he had found in that room with him. He could not ever seek it again.

Still, as he slipped into his bed with Gwen, her deep breathing a sign she was well asleep, he could not bring himself to caress her. He let exhaustion take him.

"Hey, sleepy head." Gwen smiled at him as Arthur ambled into the kitchen.

Arthur yawned, and stretched, "I've slept in. Everyone in the office will be baying for my blood. Especially that Morgana, she's got a sadistic side to her, you know."

Gwen scoffed. "Morgana texted me this morning, saying I was to let you rest a bit, that you did magnificently last night, and that even if you felt undermined by Will Logan's stupid foundation slur, that it was just political sniping, no one would actually decide how to vote on that basis."

Arthur privately disagreed, sometimes people voted on the most irrational reasoning. He was sure the foundation quip, while petty, would resonate with some people. However, he was not going to dwell on that.

He leaned in to give Gwen a peck on the cheek, but she grabbed him around his waist, and said into his shoulder, "I hope you're okay. I was worried about you last night."

Arthur twined her soft brown ringlet curls absently in his hand. "I came back, in one piece. I lost it a bit, but I think I'm okay now."

Gwen frowned skeptically, "You can be around me when you lose it. You don't have to handle this all on your own."

Arthur looked at the white glossy doors of their bright, modern kitchen, and could see his drawn face reflected back at him.

"I'm not alone. You're right here with me."
Gwen looked unconvinced, but did not say anything more. Arthur drew her close, wanting to shut out all the reasons in his head why Gwen was right to be worried. It would be alright. They would be fine.

His staff were all busy when he came into his own campaign office, close to midday. He felt terribly self-conscious, here they all were, backing up after a late night, when it was his campaign. He should have been the first one in, not the last. He vowed to himself, no matter what, that he would not let them down again.

Morgana sauntered up, "You look a bit fragile today, Arthur. We've got a journalist from the local rag coming here in about forty-five minutes, so I think some lunch needs to be on the agenda. You look hungover. Please tell me you did not go out on a bender last night?"

Arthur gave a scoffing laugh, unnerved that Morgana was so close to the mark. His snap response was to play up to it, to use humour to deflect. "Morgana, you're just annoyed I didn't invite you out, so that you could prove, yet again, that you are officially harder than I am."

Morgana quirked her eye-brow, "I am harder than you, Pendragon, and don't forget it. You might be the destined to take the seat in Westminster, but I'll be the one making sure you don't fuck it up."

"You're so supportive Morgana," Arthur drawled sarcastically.

"I am the best type of support person, Arthur. I'll kick your arse if I deem it necessary. Think of it as one of the perils of power. I'll call you out if I think you're messing up the most meaningful thing you are ever going to do in your life."

Leon appeared, interrupting Morgana, "Great pep talk, Morgs, your gifts are wasted here, I think you should think about going into one of the caring careers, maybe grief counseling, a suicide hotline, nurse, midwife, childcare. You just have such a caring way about you."

"Oh Leon, can't handle a woman who tells it like she sees it, hmm? Go on you, I know you're just champing at the bit to update him on his schedule."

Morgana left, only half pretending to be annoyed, on a mission to get some sort of decent meal into Arthur before the journalist arrived.

The journalist arrived at half past one. He appeared to be a very earnest man, if a little bit twitchy. He shook Arthur's hand deferentially, while Arthur tried his best to put him at ease.

"Thank you, Mr. Pendragon, for allowing me this opportunity to interview you. You must be very busy on the campaign trail, particularly after the public debate last night."

"Yes, well, being around the press becomes second nature, so it's only to be expected that I would want to be interviewed by a journalist for the Brentford and Isleworth Gazette."

"Well, Mr. Pendragon, it is certainly an honour, especially considering your own family heritage, with politics in the blood, so to speak, that might give you a certain confidence, do you think, about the result?"

Arthur smiled to himself, not even one question in, and Jonas was trying to see if he could paint Arthur as arrogant, entitled, when the reality was Arthur was going to have to fight tooth and nail for every vote.

"Naturally, my father, Uther Pendragon is yes, a Life Peer in the House of Lords, and has been most supportive of my decision to campaign for the constituency of Brentford and Isleworth. Obviously that support is invaluable. However, I would be extremely foolish to take even a single voter for granted in this campaign. I am not going to win anyone's vote simply for the sake of the identity of my father. What the voters value is someone who will represent their needs and interests, industriously, passionately, intelligently. That is, in short, how I will seek to represent the constituents."

Jonas nodded, an ingratiating smile not quite reaching his eyes. "Well, that's the thing, isn't it Mr. Pendragon, I dare say that the current MP, Minister Logan, would make similar claims about how he would represent us."

"Minister Logan is a committed, formidable opponent, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he would put himself into the seat with every ounce of energy and talent which he has. I respect my opponent immensely and do not think for one moment that he is himself lacking in any way. My concern is with the leadership to which Minister Logan must answer. That is where we differ ultimately. The Conservatives have a plan to cut the deficit. The Labour Party in power have doubled our national debt. Do we actually want five more years of their destruction of the nation's future, our financial viability?"

"So, let me understand you correctly, you believe Will Logan on an individual, man to man level, is equal to you in skills and capabilities and therefore, people should not see you as a superior candidate? I have to say, Mr. Pendragon, I doubt Minister Logan would be similarly generous in his assessment of you."

"Well, Jonas, listen back over your recording, and you will realise that is not exactly what I said. I see no benefit is unfairly running an opponent down. I think people are frankly, fed up with that kind of politics, where politicians could often be mistaken for schoolkids throwing taunts at each other. What I do fear is another five years where Labour ignore the reality of our obligations, and continue to overspend. It's the path to disaster, and the voters of Brentford and Isleworth carry the responsibility, with each vote, to ensure that Great Britain is given the best opportunity to avoid this catastrophe by voting in a Conservative Government."

Jonas paused to consider Arthur's answer for a moment, and then asked suddenly, "Do you think you're just too honorable for this career, Mr. Pendragon? Isn't leadership, at the end of the day, about knowing when to land that knock out punch when it is required. If you are too busy being honorable, you might wake up one day to find that your opponents have found your weak spot, so to speak, and stormed the castle, having no compunction about dirty tactics, or whether you have a personal foible, or what have you. The public may not like this, but at the end of the day, a politician must exploit the weakness of his opponent, or end up cast aside, his power and position taken by another."

Questions about honor, about power. Getting power, does the ends justify any means. Was Jonas right, was Arthur a fool to not at least try and dig up some dirt on his opponent, Arthur knew that were his own secret found out, it would be a cataclysmic revelation, he would probably be forced to resign, he would not even be given the chance to be voted for. An automatic fail.

The people who voted for him, expected him to be beyond reproach. Was it utterly unrealistic? Yes. Would voters be brutally unforgiving? Perhaps not, but scandal was scandal, recovering from such things was difficult, if not nearly impossible. Maybe it could be done if you were a celebrity, perhaps. People expected a celebrity to indulge, drugs, sex, groupies, it was almost like their so-called private lives were in fact, part of the performance, part of the insatiable need for entertainment. But a politician? Bill Clinton had a whole nation up in arms when Monica Lewinsky sucked his cock. He was not the perfect human being after all, just a man in a position of authority and power.

"I don't believe any person is too honorable for this calling. It is simply a matter of each man or woman who intends to represent the people of this nation, must do it because they believe in what they are fighting for, they believe that this nation can be a great one. I don't claim myself to be infallible, but I don't wish to base my campaign on magnifying Will Logan's particular flaws, real or imagined. The voters should know our plan of action, and decide on that basis. Looking for the so-called knock out blow, it's just a distraction from the tough work we have ahead of us. I've heard it described that whoever wins this election is going to inherit a poisoned chalice, because belts will need to be tightened. Well, I want the voters to know, I want it. Give me that so-called poisoned chalice. What is leadership, if we only want it when it's all good times ahead. I want the chance to be part of leading this nation through it's recovery. I want to take the bull by the horns, help bring us out of a position of crippling national debt, people unemployed, and relying on welfare, when all they want is to be employed, to be self-sufficient. That's what I want to see for the people of Great Britain."

At the end of the interview, Arthur felt exhausted, but satisfied. If nothing else, it had clarified for himself what mattered. He wanted this opportunity, more than anything, but he'd be damned if he would stoop to mud-slinging to get it.

It was nearly eight-thirty in the evening, and Arthur was going over some points he would be making in his appearances the next day. His mind drifted along the words and lines, the endless bullet points that monotonously separated each indispensable fact, as hypnotic and repetitive as reflective road markers on a night time drive.

Arthur tried to concentrate, tried to snap his wandering mind back into focus. He'd already consumed far more coffee than was really necessary, in an effort to stay alert. He pointed his gaze towards the words in front of him, but his mind had entered another world.

He was in a park, somewhere with trees scattered throughout, expanses of green grass inviting him to sit down, to lay down, to feel the breeze flutter against his skin, whisper in the leaves, to be quiet and still. He was with Merlin, who was standing. He was dressed in a blue t-shirt and jeans, and had canvas trainers on his feet. His arms were stretched out in front of him, as he leant against one of the trunks, looking up into the branches, the dappled sunlight dazzling his eyes. He was basking in the warmth like a cat.

Arthur sat up, and just watched him, as Merlin passed his hands over the roughness of the bark. They were on a date, only it was the best kind of date, where they did not feel any necessity to fill their time together with activities or even conversation, but were just content to be together in a beautiful place.

Merlin smiled at Arthur, the warmth in his eyes rivaling the radiance of the sun, before he flopped before Arthur, and brought their mouths together in a tender, teasing kiss. Arthur caught him around his slender waist, and Merlin licked into Arthur's mouth, sending an involuntary shiver down his spine. His own elegant fingers were stealing underneath Arthur's shirt, caressing his taut stomach, before cheekily pinching at the tiny rolls formed by sitting forward.

"I love your puppy fat, Arthur, so easy to mould in my fingers."

"Puppy fat! You are so manipulative, skinny little twerp."

"Do you like being manipulated by me?"

"You flatter yourself, Merlin. If you want to kid yourself that there is an ounce of puppy fat on my body, to make yourself feel superior with your scrawny arms, and bony arse..."

At which point, Merlin guffawed, and muffled the rest of Arthur's diatribe, with a friendly, smiley kiss. Arthur grabbed a handful of his hair, and pressed Merlin's mouth to his, he wanted to get a whole lot closer to that lithe, beautiful body, their swapping of insults was part of the fun, but he wanted more now, wanted to push his tongue as far in as possible, to feel the soft inside, the smooth, pearl teeth, to embrace and close his eyes, and lose himself in Merlin's scent, his firm stomach and chest pressed to his, Arthur's fingers in his hair, grasping at his throat...

"Arthur! Arthur!"

He looked blankly at Morgana, who was waving a hand in front of his face. He felt like he just been teleported, so abruptly was he back in his real life, in his office, and that's what he was supposed to be doing, preparing for tomorrow.

Morgana peered at him, genuinely worried. "You looked like you were in some trance just now. Go home, get some rest, Arthur. I'll get Vivian to brief you in the morning, remember, that's what your staff are here for."

Arthur nodded. He set the stack of papers back down on the desk, grabbed his suit jacket and left for the night.

Merlin finished showering, and gathered his small bag, in which he had a few toiletries, some aftershave, toothbrush, toothpaste, some gunk to fix his hair. His working clothes, clean and pressed, would be waiting for him when he arrived at All the Pretty Things. He'd been working there, initially as a receptionist before Grunhilda had come upon the brilliant suggestion that he actually try to entertain a few clients himself. Merlin sometimes still wondered why he had agreed to it at all. Sure, he made ten times more money than he had as the receptionist, or his previous work in a clothes shop, but he had discovered there was a price he paid, for which he was never sure if money could adequately compensate.

Like when he had to fuck someone who made his skin crawl, and he had to moan and writhe like he was in ecstasy, like it was the best fuck ever, when inside he could not wait for it to be over. Like not being able to tell most people what his real employment was. Lying to his mother, every week when he dutifully called her, and she asked him searchingly if he was alright, when he just wanted to cry to her, no Mum, no, but he'd say, "I'm fine, yeah, Mum, I'm working on my songs, I've met a few people, yeah, hopefully something will come of it soon, yeah." That every song he'd written in the last eighteen months had been full of his bitterest feelings, how much he hated his life, yet he hated himself even more for not being able to just walk away from it.

He had come to London, with a dream, to meet people, get a band together, and write and perform songs that would distill the truth of life as he saw it, would not just make you dance, or be distracted, but would express every sorrow, every uncertainty, every ambiguity, every universal disillusionment but need for hope. He had started out working in a vintage clothes store, but he had not been able to get enough shifts there to actually pay all his rental on a bedsit, never mind other minor things like food. So, he had scoured for other jobs, and had come across an advertisement for a receptionist at a brothel, which required someone well spoken, able to be discrete and sensitive. He had thought, piece of piss, how hard could it be to take a few phone calls, direct men like traffic and keep quiet about it.

He had hesitated slightly, after his initial meeting with Grunhilda. She had been pleased enough to hire him, had offered him the position on the spot. Looking back, Merlin could see that Grunhilda had been banking on him fulfilling a niche that All the Pretty Things had not at that point been able to cater for. All of the escorts were women, with the sole exception of Gwaine. Gwaine was quite unlike Merlin, he was attractive in a virile, masculine way, sculpted muscles and a lean body, but Merlin had discovered that quite a lot of the client's preferred his own thin, angular looks, which were counterpointed by his expressive and pretty face. He did not think many of his clients would ever identify as gay, but they often seemed to see fucking Merlin as sampling a rare delicacy, not something they would do on an ordinary day, but as an arousing exception to their usual palate for girls.

After a few months of working both his daytime job and his nighttime job, his supervisor at the vintage clothing shop had felt unable to turn a blind eye once again to Merlin turning up for a shift with black shadows under his eyes, making mistakes when putting sales through, and being unable to hold a reasonable conversation with a customer. It had been off-putting for customers, who would approach him for his opinion, only to have Merlin respond with a yawn he could not control. He had cried when he finally got home the day his supervisor gently told him that he was a great guy, but he needed to sort out his issues. He'd been too ashamed to admit what he was really doing. He knew it probably just seemed like he was out having fun and getting wrecked. The reality could not have been more different.

So, he had become dependent on the income from his prostitution work. But he knew he had to get out of it, and soon. He was still shaken by the intense session with the attractive young blonde. He felt like it had been too real, he had asked the man to fuck him, and had really meant it. It was not a feeling of pity, but rather a strange sense of empathy, of knowing exactly how it felt to be judged, to be expected to hide your real emotions and give the right impression, to have to pretend to be excited, enthusiastic, eager, when inside your gut churned with nervous tension and fear. Everyone, in every walk of life, was judged now by such superficial standards, and Arthur had been battered by it, but not entirely broken. Merlin did not want to end up broken either, so cynical about sex and attraction, that he could never willingly give himself to another. He had in a sense, given himself to Arthur, had tried to comfort him, but Merlin knew that he had to get out of this scene if he was going to start confusing his employment with his personal feelings.

Fanfic: (Don't) Regret the Mistakes Part Two
Merthur & crest
Gwen met Arthur at his office at 6:30pm, so that they could travel together to Uther's home in Kensington. Arthur was grateful to have her warm, steadying presence by his side. Arthur could not imagine his life without her, didn't want to. They settled into the back of their car, Arthur closing his eyes, while Gwen rubbed soothing circles on his hand and wrist.

They arrived at Avalon Hall just before 7:00pm. The butler ushered them into the drawing room, where Morgana and Leon were already seated, talking quietly, drinks in hand. Arthur and Gwen were soon sipping on mineral water, before Vivian arrived, 7:00pm on the dot.

Uther graced them all with his almost-smile. "I'd like to welcome you all to Avalon Hall this evening, I'm most pleased that we can come together to discuss Arthur's campaign. The next few weeks will perhaps be some of the most difficult and perhaps even wearying of your lives. The days will be long, you may sometimes feel impossibly long, but I remind you all that it is only a few weeks, that all of you are young and so should have stamina and fortitude, and also, think of the prize that awaits the victor."

"A Member of Parliament, in the House of Commons, wields the most potent power in the entire country, the ability to create and repeal laws, to consider and decide on policies for the running of Great Britain, the effects of which may be felt for years and decades to come. This is no small privilege that my son, Arthur Pendragon, has been granted to campaign for this seat, and so we must waste no opportunity, and not indulge any mistakes, as even the smallest mistake can result in disaster in a time such as this. Great Britain is poised on the edge of a precipice, and its people are responsible to deciding who they want to shape the future of us all."

Uther paused, and Arthur thought perhaps Uther had finished his opening address, but alas...

"We cannot expect the people of this great country to know which direction they ought to go. We must convince one and all of the need to reinstate a Conservative majority in Parliament, to end the rampant mismanagement of the Labour Party. Now I know that already a leaflet drop has been sent out, but I believe that tonight is the real beginning of our campaign, that we're all in this moment together."

For another ten minutes, as Uther droned on, Arthur observed his staff. Morgana's face was frozen into a smile which was looked as genuine as a plastic Barbie's, Leon was fiddling with a throw pillow and had unravelled a tassel, Gwen was trying not to huff with boredom, and Vivian was glaring at Uther, because she desperately wanted a smoke.

Eventually, Uther invited them all into the dining room at quarter to eight, Gwen tucking her arm around Arthur, as much to lean on him as to show affection.

Arthur whispered to her, "Don't let on to Uther that you're bored, or I'll never hear the end of it."

Gwen stiffened at that, aware that Uther did not think her at all a suitable candidate for the role of future MP's wife. It made her bristle, if she was honest with herself, as long as she was supportive of Arthur, why did Uther have to be so disparaging of her. She often thought he had more of an issue with her skin tone, than anything else, not that she would ever call him on it, for fear of the nasty repercussions for Arthur.

Vivian had ducked out to the manicured courtyard garden which adjoined the dining room, hastily smoking her Dunhill in less than a minute before she came back in, feigning as if she'd been in the dining room all along. Uther boomed out, "Vivian, my dear, please don't feel that you can't smoke, none of us here are the slightest bit worried by that, but you will need to hear all the discussions and planning tonight."

Morgana bit down a groan, Leon chuckled, because Uther clearly had no idea that inviting Vivian to smoke as it pleased her was an invitation to turn the atmosphere into choking smog. Vivian pulled out the Dunhill packet, silver engraved lighter, and the butler provided an ashtray. It was going to be a long night.

"Now, I would like to hear first about how you intend to promote Arthur as the finest candidate for the Brentford and Isleworth seat."

Vivian spoke up first, "Well, on the whole, I think we're emphasizing that Arthur will have a lot of energy and drive to deliver positive outcomes to the constituency, because the Labor and Liberal Democrats will be using the negative tactic, that Arthur is too young and inexperienced to take on this job."

She continued, "The CCHQ will be mostly commenting on the failures of Labour, from taking billions of pounds from pension funds, doubling the national debt, failure to act decisively to end the British Airways dispute because the Labour Party is bankrolled by the Unions, just basically reminding people of the failures, because otherwise apathy and loss of collective memory might mean these things are forgotten in the polling booth. The message that is going to be pushed is to voters is we must not reward failure, and let them do it all over again."

Morgana interrupted, "Okay, but that tells us absolutely nothing about Arthur's campaign. I think we need to have as many photographs as possible, Arthur talking to school kids, shopkeepers, housewives, business people, teenagers, just have him as someone able to relate to everyone, able to understand their concerns and willing to throw everything at an issue until there's a result. He's got no political track record, so lots of background, his days as an advisor, and being able to talk a lot of politicians onto his causes already. Also, I think we should promote his gap year, even though that was a few years ago now, but you spent it doing some humanitarian, voluntary work, isn't that right?"

"Yes, I spent six months of that year in Kenya, mostly teaching English in the local school but also digging out wells, for fresh water, and helping with education efforts for more effective crop sowing and harvesting. It was a great year, that."

Arthur smiled at the memory of that year, mainly because it had been Uther's idea, to use just in this exact context, but that would never change the joy that people had felt at his selfless help, and the joy that Arthur had felt in having no expectations on him beyond doing what he was asked to do, to follow orders. Sometimes having people constantly look to you for the answers, leadership, guidance, was wearing. He could never admit that to Uther though, it would be tantamount to admitting he did not have the stomach or stamina for a political career.

"I think both Morgana and Vivian are fully aware of the elements we need for a successful campaign, making voters aware of my particular strengths and abilities, but ultimately we must convince voters that change is imperative, that the Labour Party cannot be trusted with Great Britain's future, that these mistakes must not be allowed to continue."

Uther interrupted, "Well, clearly Vivian and Morgana are directing their focus at different angles of the campaign, and as long as the pieces of the puzzle fit, then we can be assured of success."

Vivian smiled at Uther, portraying sincere acknowledgment of his wisdom, even if the thought of being told she could fit together with that vapid, vague excuse for a Campaign Manager made her want to tell Uther he would not know a stupid whore if she put herself in a bus poster. Maybe Morgana could have some pretty pictures of herself made up while she was busy photoshopping Arthur's latest, Vivian seethed, vote Blond and Pretty for the future. Yeah, she and Morgana were so in sync.

The dinner itself was finally being served, an entree of delicate Thai fish cakes and spring rolls, with a spicy dipping sauce was supposed to be eaten daintily, however regardless of the grandiosity of the dining room, everyone was so famished and over it by that point, that the entree course was finished in less than ten minutes.

Arthur leaned back, accepting a second glass of red, feeling that everything useful that could be achieved this evening had been done, and that the sooner dinner was complete, the sooner they could all go home to catch up on rest.

Over dinner and desert, it was agreed that a professional photographer would be engaged the next day, to trail Arthur at his appearances for the next two days, to be worked into the next constituency letter. In the end, even Vivian had to agree that it was necessary to communicate to the voters not just what Arthur would do as a Conservative MP, but his own personal qualities.

Arthur sighed, frustrated that two brilliant women seemed determined to be at loggerheads, when he genuinely needed the contribution of both to make this a successful campaign.

Arthur was startled out of these thoughts, Gwen rubbing at his back, apparently all too aware of the tension that was manifesting first in Arthur's thoughts and consequently in his body. He smiled ruefully, it was like being held in a class where the teacher didn't want to acknowledge that every single student had lost their focus and was staring out the window.

When the dinner finally ended, everyone peeled themselves out of their chairs and headed for their cars.

It was past 11pm, but tomorrow would start back at 7:45am, to allow additional time for Arthur to be made up for his headshot photographs.

Vivian met Arthur the next morning, in his office, to let him know the stylist and photographer would be arriving at the office at 9:00am. They decided to have some initial photographs taken in Arthur's office, with the background of binders full of legislation, parliamentary reports, enquiry papers and all the other reams of information and opinion which the ordinary Member of Parliament would be expected to be conversant with.

Arthur was dressed in his navy wool suit, blue and white pinstriped shirt and a red and silver striped tie. He read through some press releases for the day, to realize that there are some issues which have been dredged up by the Labour Candidate, leaflets delivered throughout Brentford and Isleworth claiming that bus passes for elderly pensioners would no longer be funded if the Conservative Party claimed government. It was exactly the kind of fear of the unknown, of removing something which while it may not have seemed important to everyone, would be worrying for the vulnerable people who may lose a benefit. Such a benefit was for some the difference between the pleasure of paying a utility account, or paying said account and actually eating. These benefits which to the well-off seem paltry and small, but can sway a fearful voter to opt for what they know they currently have, as opposed to taking a risk on a change of government and getting, who knows?

Arthur knew he would have to work hard to combat such misconceptions and blatant misrepresentations. The Conservative Party had plans to reform the Welfare System, of that there was no doubt. In particular, the unemployed who refused paid employment offers would not be able to rely on the largess of the public purse, but would have a rude awakening of having benefits reduced or cut completely.

Arthur took a closer look at the Labour Party candidate's constituency flyer. Will Logan was a rough around the edges, straight-speaking candidate, who dripped venom against all the ideals and agendas of the Conservative Party, as being manifestly wrong-headed. His picture showed him cross-armed, the background a blurry representation of one of the local high streets, respectably attired in suit and tie, but still looking young and brash, ready to swing a riposte like a fist.

This was going to be a tough campaign. For all that Will Logan might seem tough and laddish, he was well liked by many of the locals, who found his belligerent style convincing and passionate. Arthur was naturally more poised and considered in how he spoke, and so in any debate, would have to be on his guard against appearing aloof.

Will's campaign starter was already homing in on the fears of the populace, that to vote in the Conservative candidate would mean an imminent loss of an important benefit. Arthur was already on the back foot.

The photographer and his assistant arrived, closely followed by the stylist. Arthur felt ridiculous having his hair fluffed up, and powder delicately swished with a large kabuki brush which made his nose feel ticklish. He knew it was important he present a professional, polished image, but really thought foundation was going a bit overboard. However, he smiled gamely at the stylist, who Morgana had personally selected, and kept these thoughts to himself.

The photographer's assistant set up several light-diffusing panels, and Arthur spent about forty-five minutes being verbally instructed in the art of appearing natural. Sometimes he was standing, sometimes sitting behind his desk, eventually the photographer had him leaning against his desk, posing like he was a catalogue model.

Morgana and Vivian were reviewing the photographs on the photographer's laptop, and oohed and ahed over the photos, for once agreeing on something, that the ones of Arthur leaning against the desk were the best.

"Hah, Arthur the hottie," Vivian teased mercilessly, "You'll have all the women in the constituency voting for you, based on these photos."

Morgana gave Arthur a cheeky eyebrow wiggle, "Maybe you should loosen the tie a bit Arthur, give the ladies a bit of what they want..."

Arthur just shook his head at the pair of them, they finally agree on something, and it's this, believing shameless objectification of his looks would win him the voters confidence. He knew they were only goading him, and he had to smile that finally, they could share a bit of cheeky banter with each other.

The initial part of the photography session completed, the photographer and assistant took a break, as they would be trailing Arthur and Morgana all day. Leon came in to advise Arthur about his campaign visits for the day.

Arthur knew he had to get straight on this bus pass issue before fiction became fact in people's minds.

"Vivian, I'm going to need you to draft a pamphlet advising our constituency that funding for bus passes for pensioners will not be removed if the Conservatives win. It needs to be short, sharp, a rebuttal of Will Logan's scuttlebutt, and we need to have it delivered tomorrow, so we need a draft by 11:30."

Morgana shook her head, "We should wait until the next Constituency letter, and reassure everyone that the Conservatives manifesto states specifically that the Winter Fuel Payment, free bus passes, pension credit and free TV Licenses will be protected for pensioners. Anything else will look scattershot, reactive."

Arthur disagreed, "It's not that I don't think that's exactly what we need to do in our next letter, but we need this pamphlet out asap. We need to emphasize that the Conservatives will protect the needs of pensioners, not take to them with a scalpel. We'll take a cut to MP's salaries to reduce the deficit."

Vivian nodded at Arthur, agreeing with his instinct to nip this issue in the bud. She left for her workstation without further comment, as she had only just over an hour to get it done.

Arthur and Morgana were doing their best happy banter chit-chat with the organizers of a local charity, cleaning and packing second hand books which would then be on-sold, the proceeds given to charities which had initiatives to assist the poor and the protection of the environment.

Arthur was chatting with a local mother who volunteered, and they had just been discussing their favorite meals to cook, as they were cleaning and packing recipe books, when the photographer asks her in a strained, trying so hard to be polite voice, if she could move aside so that he could get a better angle for his photos of Arthur.
Arthur looked kindly at the woman, Mel, and asked teasingly, "Fancy being in my next campaign letter? You'll be famous!"

Mel giggled, and Arthur looked at the photographer over her head, indicating with a toss of his head to take the photo with him and in it.

Morgana whispered to the photographer, and he quickly changed his tone, changing his angle so that Arthur and Mel would both be in the shot.

"Yeah, lovely, just keep on chatting to each other, like you were before."

They continued on, as a little group, to the Isleworth Library, to visit during some of its community activities. There was going to be a children's story time and craft session, teenagers were encouraged to come to a session on graphic novels, while later in the afternoon, there was a romance writer who was going to share her methods of writing a best-seller.

After watching a group of small children wriggle, squirm, cry and occasionally pay attention to the story-time, Arthur was surrounded by yet more young mothers, and offspring, and this time, the photographer took more photos than a paparazzo, ensuring there would be lots of good photos for the campaign. One of the mothers though, asked him about the bus passes and other pension benefits, if it's true they will be cut, as she holds onto a toddler who has run for the front door five times already. Arthur assured her this was not going to happen, that all benefits for pensioners would remain in place.

He held her energetic son for a few minutes, while she continued to quiz him, and after answering her questions while trying not to let kicking, flailing toddler go and run off, Arthur suddenly figured that being a candidate for a constituency seat was perhaps the second most tiring occupation he could be engaged in.

When they finally got back to his office, the pamplet had been drafted and approved by CCHQ, and could be delivered in the round of mail the next morning. Now, Morgana and Vivian would need to get cracking with the next constituency letter, ensuring that a slew of policy from the Conservative Manifesto was distilled into easy to digest snippets, which would engage the voters, while at the same time not over-simplifying policies and risk being accused of mis-leading the public.

"Arthur, while you were out, we received an email from CCHQ, Will Logan wants to hold a debate against you, at the Isleworth Town Hall," Vivian said, bringing the email up on her screen, "Leon, when can we schedule it in?"

"Hang on," interrupted Arthur, "Is this actually good for my campaign? I know that David Cameron is going to debate against Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown, and that is going to be in a lot of people's minds, do we really want a debate that compared to a televised national debate, is it going to come across as parochial?"

"Well, CCHQ seem to think it's worth doing," says Vivian.

Morgana nods her head, "I actually think it's going to be great for you, Arthur, allowing local voters see you in person, not just smiling for the camera, and volunteering for charities, but actually showing them all what you're made of, that you're going to stand up for them in Westminster, and not just make up the numbers on the benches."

"That's right Arthur, this is your opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Will, and gain the voter's confidence in you, when you convince them that the Conservative Party is not just good for the nation, but great for them, with their concerns. You have to take Will on directly about all these pamphlets as well, it's all well and good for us to put out a flyer, but you have to skewer him on this issue, like a rhino through a wild boar."

"Fuck, Vivian, are we talking about a political debate, or some kinky sex act," laughed Arthur.

Vivian just quirked a filthy grin at Arthur, "Stop getting distracted, Pendragon. You need to nail him. You know it! Rhetorically I mean."

Morgana by now had lost it, and Leon was turned away, chuckling, trying desperately not to let on that he'd been listening to Vivian's tirade. It was not at all convincing, seeing as Vivian had a carrying voice, and they were all in the office together.

"Well, Arthur, should I schedule it in with Will Logan's assistant?" Leon asked.

Arthur looked heavenward, and shrugged in resigned acceptance, "If Vivian and Morgana are going to keep ganging up on me and agreeing about things, then clearly I must acquiesce. Even if I think the idea is a total wank," Arthur added, defiantly.

"Oh, shut up! It's going to be in the town hall. There will be proper lecterns, and I'll personally see to it that we have Conservative Party bunting on every available surface." Vivian had found her pet project for the week.

The Isleworth Town Hall had been strewn with posters and bunting from both the Conservative and the Labour parties, from every possible angle, every possible viewpoint in the entire auditorium, there was a picture of Will Logan or Arthur Pendragon visible. Morgana and Leon had been at the Hall since the moment it opened in the morning, jostling with Will Logan's staff to get posters up in the most prominent locations, where the majority of the sitting audience would see them.

Leon and Morgana had to chuckle to themselves afterwards, at having done the dirty work that Vivian was suddenly unavailable to do, being much more urgently required to assist Arthur with reviewing the topics which would be debated that night. In the end it had been Morgana who had made the telephone calls arranging for posters to be printed, and she and Leon had driven to the printers to collect them, along with bunting and other paraphernalia which so subtly reinforced exactly who to vote for.

Arthur had been holed up with Vivian all day, and had been avoiding a number of telephone calls and messages from Uther. His rather limp excuse was going to be Leon's absence from the office, which was obviously porky pies, but there you go. He was doing his best to reign his nervousness in, he did not need Uther second guessing every single argument he was going to present tonight.

Arthur knew Uther would be expecting to talk to him immediately before the debate. It was unlikely he would be able to avoid him, unless he performed a stage dive over Uther towards the lectern, which Arthur thought, might impress some of the younger voters, but probably would seem crazy to everyone else. He felt confident, he knew his stuff, and he was ready for Will Logan. Uther's words, helpful or no, would not derail his confidence.

Meanwhile, Gwen had arrived at his office, looking demure and pretty in a green tailored shirt and herringbone skirt, her hair and make-up immaculate but thoroughly unremarkable, clean, presentable and respectable. A potential MP's wife had to complete the picture of confidence and stability, wear an impermeable armor of respectability and reliability. Arthur gathered her into an quick, affectionate embrace, grateful for her understated but genuine support.

Arriving at the Isleworth Town Hall, Arthur and Gwen were ushered in by Morgana, Leon and George, Uther and Vivian were already inside.

Gwen gave Arthur an encouraging squeeze before she made her way down to the front. Uther looked back and his steel gaze locked with Arthur's for a long moment, before he quickly strode towards Arthur. Arthur was not sure what was more intimidating, a room full of locals chattering, most of them disillusioned with all politicians in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, and curious as to why they should vote for any candidate at all, or Uther, bearing down and ready to cut Arthur to the quick if he deemed his performance a failure.

Uther spoke in a low mutter, that could only be heard by Arthur, "It's unforgivable that you did not respond to my communications today. I cannot believe you would not seek my advice before the most important night of your political career to date. I could have helped you, given you the benefit of my years of experience in public life and Westminster, yet you continue to treat me as an annoying irrelevance. I hope you're happy with your own preparations for this evening, because if you don't rise to the occasion, you do so with the knowledge that you spurned the advice and tactics I could have proposed to you today. That's all I'm going to say on the matter."

"Father, I appreciate all your help on this campaign, I spent today reviewing the issues with Vivian, and I think we've got everything well in hand."

Uther did not respond beyond a glare of reproach, before he turned away and went back to his own seat. Arthur felt a churn inside his gut, as much as he wanted to ignore Uther's dressing down, it still affected him emotionally to the point of making him feel slightly nauseous. Morgana came up to his side, and gave him a friendly squeeze, and suddenly, he and Will Logan were about to be announced by the debate chair, and in a what felt like a slightly unreal, dreamlike haze, Arthur found himself walking towards the stage as he was announced, shaking hands with the debate chair, and then with Will Logan as he was announced.

Arthur quickly sized Will up. His smart suit was well tailored, neat and respectable, and yet still somehow, Will Logan had street credibility. Whether that would translate to locals voting for him on election day was yet to be seen.

The chair formally introduced both candidates, before setting some ground rules for the debate. The chair would introduce each topic of debate, Will and Arthur would each have three minutes on how that particular issue would be handled by them or their party, before they would be able to question each other's points for a further five minutes, before the chair would require the next topic to be discussed.

The first topic up for discussion was the economy. They each had their three allotted minutes on the topic, before it came to questioning each other.

Will got out of the starting blocks that split-second faster, with "Okay, Arthur, you've shown that the Conservatives are going to take a big sharp razor to essential services and the civil service in the UK, that it's all going to be about cuts, and not looking at the broader picture of, yes, we need to get the budget deficit down, we need to get back to surplus, but not in this simplistic way that the Conservatives propose, that's just going to send the whole economy spiraling into recession."

"Well, Will, no, what we're proposing to do will do no such thing, we're going to prioritize spending cuts to bring back a semblance of balance and reality to the national budget, after more than a decade of Labour's profligacy. In lean times, if you don't cut back on expenses, you're living in fantasy land. We're seeing how countries around the world who will not wake up to reality are paying the price, we're all paying the price with them. It's about some short term pain, in the form of cuts, none of which will be to the most fundamental of concerns, Health and Foreign Aid, but these cuts must be implemented now, before the deficit becomes a crippling liability."

"That's the point though, if you pull the rug out from under the economy, by slashing willy-nilly at vital programs, then we will end up in a recession, people out of work for years. Labour is going to help teenagers and young adults find their place in life, by guaranteeing a place in training or education for all sixteen and seventeen year olds, and will guarantee anyone between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four a guaranteed place in training, work experience or a job if they are out of work for more than six months. The Conservatives are going to brush these initiatives aside like dusty lint. You're argument about cutting costs, taking some short term pain for long term gain rings hollower than a catwalk model's tummy my friend, because the long term cost of leaving young people to languish in unemployment is astronomical, both in the personal, and for the community as a whole, when we lose the vital contribution that these young people should have made, and when they are alienated from society, and feel they have nothing of value to give, that's when crime happens, that's when riots happen."

"Okay, talking about riots is just blatant scare-mongering, your whole campaign is just fears and smears, you're presenting it as if the whole country will implode if the Conservatives choose not to implement or continue funding of every single scheme which Labour has instigated."

"The whole approach of the Conservative Party is to just cut everything..."

"Yes, Will, including the salary's of MP's, by five percent, and then freeze them at that rate for five years."

"Okay, great gesture, the most important thing though is not gestures, but ensuring that appropriate services are delivered, you're talking about a 5% salary cut, but a cut of a third of all civil service jobs over five years is going to have a catastrophic effect on education, national security, research..."

"And if we don't make cuts, then everyone will feel the abysmal pain of an inability to pay for all these things, we can't just make money appear out of nowhere, like some genie granting us three wishes, we have to face facts, accept that some services may have to be cut, tighten the belt, and get on with life, instead of constantly expecting a hand out, everything delivered on a platter, and expecting no initiative in people to better their own lives. We cannot afford as a nation to micro-manage every single aspect of people's lives..."

At this point the debate chair called time, which meant Arthur was literally cut off mid sentence, but it was now time to move onto the next area to be debated.

The next topic was very much related to the economy, and Arthur was glad it was coming up early on the agenda, as Will Logan had been doing his utmost to besmirch Arthur on the issue of pensions and benefits for pensioners.

Arthur put forward the Conservative Party position, that the minimum age for receiving a pension funded by the state needed to be reviewed urgently, so that no man or woman could receive such a pension before they reached the age of sixty-six. In an time when the population was living for a longer time, this measure would be implemented by the Conservative Party by 2016 for men, and 2020 for women. The would also take all necessary steps to abolish any laws stipulating a compulsory retirement age, as this policy was now at odds with the reality of an aging population, where as many older people as possible needed to be encouraged and allowed to continue working, and by doing so, retain their own careers if that is what suited them, and also reduce the burden on the tax-payer.

When it came to the free question time, Arthur had the first shot at Will, and used it to dismiss, as false, Will Logan's claims that the Conservative Party would discontinue
the Winter Fuel Payments, concessionary public-transport fares, free eye tests and prescriptions and free TV licences for the over-75s.

Will then defended his actions. "Nowhere, in your own Manifesto, do you specifically state that these items are going to be protected. The Labour Party has done the right thing in bringing this absence to the attention of the public. If you want to chop and change and make up policy on the run, well then, that's fine, we've got it in black and white in our Manifesto, all the Conservatives have is their assurances."

"So, Will, you're trying here to make an issue out of a non-issue really, we've publicly stated that these benefits are not at risk..."

"Yeah, well, Arthur, with all the other cuts that the Conservative Party want to make, you can't honestly expect us all to believe that your party was not secretly considering this, hoping that it would not come up in any debates until after the election, and then you'd use the tough financial conditions as a convenient excuse..."

"Will, we've stated our position on the matter quite clearly, and your attempts at fear mongering and conspiracy theories are bordering on the pathetic, to be frank. The real issue that needs to be addressed tonight is Labour's utterly ludicrous timetable for increasing the age of the state pension. I mean, saying that you might increase it to 68 sometime between 2024 and 2048 is simply ludicrous, ridiculous, you might as well start talking about how much licenses will cost for our spacecrafts to the moon, as project that far into to future."

"No, mate, we actually employ economists and actuaries to do that number crunching for us, someone has to think about building Britain's future, it's foundations. I know you're too busy WEARING foundation to think about these things, Arthur, but in the Labour Party we actually think of things beyond our next photo opportunity and whether our complexion is looking delicate and radiant!"

At that the whole assembly hall started to laugh, some people just a titter, while other audience members were obviously looking for any reason to laugh raucously, and it took the Debate Chair a good two minutes to calm everyone down.

Arthur felt his whole countenance burn at the humiliation of it, because like it or not, there was an element of truth to it. It was not as though Arthur went about wearing make-up every day, it had just been deemed a necessity for the constituency letter, but suddenly, it seemed to Arthur like the most idiotic thing to be criticized for, and paradoxically, the most personal. It was petty, pathetic, totally irrelevant to the good governance of Britain, and yet, it was an Achilles heel, a small weakness and everyone here was laughing at him for being persuaded into thinking it was some great idea.

Somehow, Arthur pulled himself together, and the debate continued, and it probably seemed to everyone that Arthur accredited himself well, neither he nor Will were declared the winner, but as Arthur was milling about with his team at the end, he could not help but overhear some people chuckling about that "foundation joke, that Will Logan got him there, did you see how red he went."

Gwen looked at Arthur, just that small frown of understanding how much this must humiliate him. She couldn't really understand though, could she? They were all flogging themselves, working long hours, getting to grips with issues, finding solutions to real problems, and that was the moment those people were taking away with them from the debate. The idea that Arthur was some vain, foolish, fancy-dressing fop.

Uther fixed him with a steel glare. Arthur did not need to hear him speak, he could see it all, like some big damned thought bubble over Uther's head, "One little slip-up could cost the whole election..."

Arthur pushed away from them all. "I'll see you all later, Gwen, I just need some time to myself, okay?"

Gwen looked hurt, but nodded, not wanting to make a big scene when lots of locals were still milling about, exiting the building.

Arthur strode out through the front, and hailed a taxi. George would ensure that Gwen was safely returned home. Arthur just needed an hour or two to himself, to work through his feeling of failure, of the unfairness of it.

When he got into the taxi, he realised he had no idea where he wanted to go.

Almost as if on auto-pilot, he directed the driver to take him across town. He didn't feel anything, really, just a leaden kind of feeling. The driver looked at him in the back a few times, a bit worried, unable to figure out where he should be taking his passenger.

"You want a bit of entertainment, son?"
Arthur woke up from his daze. "Entertainment, you mean a club?" Arthur asked incredulously.

"No, son, not a club. Entertainment, you know, a gentlemen's establishment, if you catch what I mean."

Arthur got it. A brothel. He'd been to a brothel once in his whole life, and had found the whole experience a bit seedy and spectacularly overrated in his opinion.

"I know some pretty discrete places."

Arthur looked out the window, seeing his blank, drawn reflection peering back at him. "Sure." Arthur figured the driver just wanted to get rid of him, and Arthur felt, once he was dropped off, he could always wander off, once the taxi drove off.

The driver took a few turns, and eventually pulled over in front of a beautifully maintained Georgian house. "You look like the type that wouldn't be too interested in a cheap escort. This is popular with the toffs and upper management types."

Arthur smiled at him wanly, paid the fare, and got out.

He stood outside on the pavement, and the driver didn't just drive off, but was waiting for him to enter. Arthur shrugged, and walked up the little stairway, and through the ornate wooden door, with intricate lead-light panels.

He was immediately in a waiting area. A rather large lady, with a head of grey curls, was sitting at the desk, and immediately gestured to Arthur to come over. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, he came over, smiling politely. He was about to start explaining that he really didn't need to stay, when she came barreling in towards him, and Arthur honestly wondered for half a horrified moment if she was going to offer her own services.

"Oh," she panted salaciously, "You are GORGEOUS aren't you. Honestly, most of the types that come here, well, they're well dressed enough, all perfect suits and tasteful, but grey, if you know what I mean. Whereas you are a sight for sore eyes, I'll tell you."

Arthur spluttered, he was trying to say something about arranging a taxi.

"Now, darling, don't get all terrified of me, like some rabbit in headlights, I know you're hardly likely to be interested in a fine, matured dame like me, you'll want some pretty filly, I'll find the right one for you."

Arthur's reluctance must have shown on his face, because she suddenly changed tack. "Maybe you're not after a night with one our ladies, but perhaps a night with one of our charming young men might be more to your tastes."

Now Arthur really did feel out of his depth. He was suddenly very regretful of venturing out on his own. When had he become so dependent, on George, on Gwen, on Leon, even Morgana and Vivian to steer him along.

"Now come on, young man," and she picked up her telephone, and apparently speaking to someone on the other end. "I know you're not busy tonight, I have a treat for you, so just you treat him gently."

Arthur was alarmed, at the thought that he might be shoved into a room with a large, tightly muscled man, who would most assuredly make Arthur want to race out the door, not abandon himself to a night of pleasure. He'd never thought of himself as exclusively a ladies man, but he did not especially relish the thought of being alone in a room with some buff, cut whore.

"No, I'm sorry, I've made a mistake here, I'm sorry for wasting your time, and blundering in here like some fool."

"Now, now, no need to get all jittery. The lad I've got for you, well, he's almost as pretty as our girls, actually he's prettier than most of 'em in my opinion, not that anyone cares about it, but he's a gentle one, too, won't force you to do anything you're not comfortable with. Honestly, half the time, the clients just want someone to listen to them. Now you just go on ahead, he won't bite, I promise."

With a sense of unreality, like someone else was walking down the hallway, Arthur walked until he got to the last door. He knocked, and heard a quiet voice say, "Come in."

Fanfic: (Don't) Regret the Mistakes Part 1
Merthur & crest
Arthur Pendragon watched himself in the mirrored wardrobe door, as he tied a light blue silk tie into a Windsor Knot. Cross over, loop up, back down, to the right, loop through again, across, up through loop and down. Done.

He appraised himself carefully. Smooth cheeked, his blond hair barely skimming over the edge of his blue shirt with faint white pinstripes, a contrast against a dark grey wool silk suit, the crease in the trousers sharp as a blade edge. He looked calm, measured, clean, conservative, uniform, reassuring, faceless, the power of being the elite, in control, born to rule. Born to govern.

It promised to be another long day, and the election campaign had not even officially begun. That was likely to be called within the next few weeks. Arthur had his first appointment at 8:30am, with his media relations officer, and then an hour with his campaign manager, which was his own formidable half-sister Morgana LaFey. Arthur shook his head, remembering that at his father's insistence, Arthur had requisitioned Morgana's services even prior to his official endorsement by the Conservative Party. Uther had deemed it necessary as Arthur would be contesting a particularly tough constituency.

Arthur strode into the kitchen, and gave Gwen a peck on the cheek. She proffered a plate of ham and cheese croissants, Arthur collected one and continued out through the front door. Gwen called after him, "Love you, Arthur. Don't forget to come home, okay. Sometime before midnight would be lovely."

Arthur sighed, and closed the front door behind him. Was there any point in even saying to himself that he would "make it up" to Gwen, once, if, he was elected as an MP. Arthur knew the demands on his time would become more urgent, unrelenting, perhaps even irrational to an extent. Arthur knew Gwen would have to adapt to this way of life, or come to a determination that being the wife of an MP was not for her. Arthur would not be able to promise that it would be easier once he was elected.

His driver, George, was waiting for him out the front. "Mr Pendragon, Sir, I have your large latte here."

"Thank you, George. Do you think you might start calling me Arthur today?"

"I think not, Mr. Pendragon."

Arthur and Vivian ran through the appointments which would keep him in the public eye for the week. He would be visiting three primary schools, each an opportunity to spruik his party's agenda for improving standards in state funded schools. The Conservative Party had never been reputed to especially care for the standards of taxation funded schools, but with the result of the election likely to teeter like a wobbly gymnast on a balance beam, all the stops had to be pulled out to convince the wider public to vote for them.

"Right, well, any speeches to look through?"

Vivian riffled through her pages of notes, finding three separate clipped documents, each one being a speech Arthur would deliver, important points indicated with some removable labels.
Arthur read through the first speech, which was to be delivered at the schools. It listed various initiatives: -

Doubling the size of Teach First, which attracts top graduates to the teaching profession.
Introducing Troops to Teachers for former members of the armed forces and Teach Next for high fliers working in other sectors.
Allowing schools to reward good teachers and deal with under-performing teachers.
Developing a network of Teaching Schools on the model of teaching hospitals.
Stopping funding for teacher trainees who do not have a lower second degree or better.
Reducing opportunities for teacher trainees to retake basic literacy and numeracy tests.

"It will be important to emphasize the positive initiatives, Teach First and Troops to Teachers, I think these ideas will really resonate with most voters, who want to see the overall skill level of teachers improved," Vivian said.

Arthur nodded, he agreed that the positive initiatives would always sell better than punitive ones like taking some trainee teachers out of their chosen profession.

Arthur would also be attending the BETT Trade Fair, which would be showcasing education technology. He would be meeting various manufacturers and presenters, who would be vying for attention and new contracts, while Arthur would be there to show the Conservative Party's support for the economic opportunities created by such trade gatherings, and the necessity to ensure that the UK, and London in particular remained a hub for such events.

Vivian handed Arthur his schedule for the week, there was not a single hour in his diary which had not been specified as belonging to some particular event, appointment or press opportunity.

Vivian noticed Arthur's slightly raised eyebrow at the overfull diary, and drawled, "Arthur, for the next month or so, you'll probably need my say so to so much as take an unscheduled toilet break. We need to keep you in the public eye, and for you to be seen to be competent in inquiring into all manner of issues. An MP must have an eye on national, international and local issues of concern and importance. You can have time for yourself when you retire." Vivian laughed haughtily at her own proclamation, except that it wasn't really a joke as far as it concerned Arthur.

Arthur consoled himself with the thought that Vivian and Morgana would also have no lives of their own, if Arthur was successful in contesting for his constituency of Brentford and Isleworth.

The constituency of Brentford and Isleworth was currently held by the Labor Party, but the Conservative Party would be campaigning very hard to convince voters that a change was now needed, that thirteen years of Labor in Government was enough.

"Well, Vivian, once more unto the breach, once more. We'll get this seat this time."

"Absolutely, Arthur. Do you think I agreed to be your Media Relations Officer, so that you could lose to Labor, or the Liberal Democrats. I am the best of the best at this, so you have to trust me when I say that every single publicity opportunity, you need to take with both hands. And you need to be on the ball the entire time. One slip up, and the press will be onto it like a dog licking up spilt gravy."

Vivian was leaning into Arthur's personal space, waving her pen aggressively, a little too like a stabbing dagger for Arthur's liking. He leaned back in his chair.

Even with someone as talented as Vivian on board, Arthur would still need to be able to think on his feet, and have the answers which accorded with the Conservative Party Manifesto uppermost in his mind at all times, so that each issue was dealt with cohesively in the media.

"I need a cigarette." Vivian pushed the speeches into Arthur's hands, and grabbed her lighter, Dunhill cigarettes and was out the door as Morgana swept in, a picture of contrasts, dark flowing hair, unearthly pale complexion, blood red lips and a dress that matched her lipstick in its shade of intimidating red.

"Wow, Vivian, why don't we just put your desk on the footpath, so your work doesn't interrupt your smoking."

"Shut up, princess precious, we all know you only got this job because Uther forced Arthur to hire you."

"Ladies," Arthur interrupted, before they could continue their bitching, a daily, nay hourly event, "important business to attend to, let's focus on that."

"Focus on your own job, Morgana, instead of poring over my peccadilloes."

Morgana smirked at Vivian, but said nothing. She liked to rattle Vivian's cage.

Arthur waved his hand in front of Morgana's face. "Morgana, what are we doing here? Wasting my time?"

Morgana answered him with a draft letter, to be sent to all households in his constituency, setting out the problems that the current Government had inflicted on the UK.

Our economy is overwhelmed by debt, our social fabric is frayed and our political system has betrayed the people.

The letter also addressed various local issues of concern, particularly shortages of school places.

Overall, Arthur was pleased with the phrasing of the letter, and only had some suggestions regarding the layout, wanting the headings to be in bold red so that they would catch a person's attention, and persuade the voter to actually read the thing, and not just toss it straight into the waste paper basket.

It was time to push on, Arthur grabbed his speeches, jacket and telephone, and paced out the door, waving cordially to his other staff, heading to the car.

George was waiting patiently, and opened the car door for Arthur, before wordlessly reoccupying the driver's seat. Arthur knew he'd spent the hour hovering outside the car. Most drivers would have just sat back and caught up on some talk-back radio.

"To your first appointment then, Mr. Pendragon. I believe it is Isleworth Town Primary School?"

"That's correct George."

"Will you be visiting many schools in the area, sir?"

"Yes, I believe I'll probably visit them all."

"May I suggest then sir, that you allow me to purchase some anti-bacterial gel, for your hands. Children and schools are brimming with diseases, which while not usually fatal, are not especially pleasant when one must work such long hours."

"Thank you, George, I think that's an excellent idea. Perhaps though, a small, pocket size bottle would be appropriate for me to carry, leave the one liter bottle in the car."

"Yes, Mr Pendragon. It would be rather difficult to carry that around."

Arthur had to admit it to himself, the kids were alright. The little ones bounced around him like he was Santa Clause, and the older ones were just happy to have a reason to muck around during the special assembly. Arthur spoke amiably to some of the teachers, some of whom were sitting at the front of the assembly, making meaningful eye contact with some of the more unruly students.

Immediately after his formal presentation, five of the students from Year Six asked him questions which they had written on cards.

A young girl, dark long hair in a neat braid, her voice both girlish and serious, asked, "Hello Mr Pendragon, my name is Eva. Mr Pendragon, if you are elected as the Member of Parliament for Brentford and Isleworth, will you try to arrange for every student attending school to receive his or her own laptop computer?"

"Thank you very much, Eva, for your question. I would say that we are committed to ensuring that all schools are properly equipped, so that every student has sufficient access to computers. All students in this day and age should leave school with a high level of competency and literacy with regards to using computers. However, I believe it is unlikely that the Conservative Party would use taxpayer money to equip individual students with a laptop computer. We believe that public monies should be used to build better facilities in schools."

The next boy introduced himself as Benjamin. "Mr Pendragon, will you build a skatepark in our constituency? Because we really need one, everyone hates us skating in the normal parks and the footpaths. We need somewhere good to skate, Mr Pendragon?"

"Thank you for your question, Benjamin. I believe there is already a proposal for one to be built in Elthorne Park, and I believe there is about £200,000 set aside for this project. It's a very worthwhile endeavor, as public access to health and recreation facilities is imperative for the physical and mental well-being of all members of the community. So, as your MP I would be doing whatever I could to assist the local council, to see that this proposed skatepark is built."

After the assembly, there was a small morning tea, during which Arthur continued to converse with the teachers, while sipping tea and eating biscuits. Before long though, it was time to leave, for the next appointment.

It was nearly five in the afternoon when Arthur returned to his office. He had spent most of the day talking to people, and actually wanted nothing more than a few minutes to himself, but that was unlikely. Vivian brandished some papers at him the moment he stepped in.

"Arthur, we've just received an email from Conservative Campaign Headquarters. Gordon Brown has called a press conference at 10 Downing Street for tomorrow."

"Ah, so he's finally realised that he can't avoid it forever, that the populace of Britain won't just go away and let him continue being Prime Minister if he ignores petty things like time limits on terms of office."

"Arthur, save it for the press conferences," Vivian retorted. It was nearly 5:30pm, and they needed to review a leaflet that would be delivered to every household in the constituency within the next forty-eight hours. When the election was called tomorrow, the starter's gun would go off, and there would be no second chances if they stumbled, and fell.

It was nearly 8:00 pm when Arthur and Vivian had finished the draft of the letter. Morgana would have a final read over tomorrow morning, before it would be sent to Conservative Campaign Headquarters to have a final review before thousands of leaflets were printed and posted out.

As Arthur left his office, he checked his mobile, and found six voice mails. Sighing, he listened.

"Arthur, this is Uther. Please have your assistant contact my secretary tomorrow, to arrange for a convenient time to have a conference. I'll expect Morgana and Vivian to attend of course, so that we can discuss your strategy and how you will need to present yourself to give the Conservative Party the best chance of winning Brentford and Isleworth."

"Arthur, my secretary has contacted Leon, and I'll be expecting you, Morgana and Vivian for dinner tomorrow at 7:00 pm, to be followed by the campaign discussion I referred to in my earlier message."

"Arthur, please pass on my invitation to Guinevere, as obviously she also needs to be aware of the main points your campaign should be emphasizing."

One was from Gwen.

"Arthur, please call Uther. He's already called twice today, he's quite desperate to talk to you, because he's heard that the election is going to be called tomorrow. See you tonight."

One from his old university buddy, Lance.

"Pendragon, we need to catch up. Starting a new job in London soon, so I thought we could grab a pint or two, like old times. Don't be a stranger, pick up that phone, bye."

Another one from Uther.

"I've had my secretary contact Leon, to forward your campaign flyers to me. We'll discuss these tomorrow night."

Arthur groaned at this. Yes, his father, Baron Uther Pendragon if you please, was an appointed life peer, in the House of Lords, having been appointed five years previously on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. He had been familiar with the parliamentary system and the workings of Westminster since that time, and so theoretically, was a valuable resource to Arthur in his bid to win a seat currently held by Labour for the Conservative Party.

In theory. In practice, he had no experience of running a campaign to be elected as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. To be a Member of Parliament was to maintain a delicate balance between being accomplished enough that people would have confidence in you as their elected representative in Westminster, but also having enough of the common touch, so as not to be seen as overly intellectual, theoretical or upper class, which would earn you the ire and scorn of the people you were trying to convince to vote for you.

What would be the point of Uther lecturing Arthur, Morgana and Vivian on the contents of the constituency letter tomorrow night, when the deadline for Conservative Campaign Headquarters was tomorrow morning. Arthur flung his head back, frustrated, but knowing that he would have to nonetheless bear up under Uther's scrutiny and comments the following night.

He called Uther.

"Father, it's Arthur."

"Arthur, I've been trying to reach you all day. Why didn't Leon get you to call me back earlier?"

"I don't know, Father, I've been out the whole day, and when I got back to the office, Leon had left for the day, and I didn't get around to checking my messages."

"Well, never the less, the election is going to be called tomorrow, so I thought we needed to get together to speak with Morgana, Vivian, Leon and yourself about the direction of your campaign."

"About that Father, the first deadline is tomorrow morning, 10:00 am, so that headquarters have enough time to vet our proposed letter..."

"Arthur, that's why I needed to hear from you earlier today. You must check your phone, or have your assistant contacting you regularly, so that this doesn't happen again. I'll expect to see you all 7:00 pm sharp tomorrow night."

Uther rang off, obviously annoyed that Arthur was proceeding into the campaign without his influence in this first step.

In many ways, Arthur did have Uther to thank for his first steps into political life. His position as life peer in the House of Lords had allowed Uther to influence and pull strings with the Brentford and Isleworth constituency committee, to allow Arthur to be approved as their candidate. Arthur was young, twenty-seven, some thought too young, but there was a prevailing feeling the the Conservative Party had to embrace new possibilities, which meant being more inclusive of younger party members and allowing some to campaign for seats.

George dropped Arthur at his front door.

"Have a pleasant evening Mr. Pendragon."

"Yes, and you, George. Please be here by eight tomorrow."

"Yes Mr Pendragon. My brass wares collection will have to gather a little dust these next few weeks I fear."

"Oh, George, why is that?" Arthur just managed to suppress a yawn. George was a little obsessive about his apparently very rare collection of brass wares. He even apparently had a few items of medieval era armour, which he seemed to derive great pleasure from polishing.

"Well, I usually polish a few items each day after breakfast, but during these next few weeks, I fear that I might be restricted as I will need to prioritize my duties as a driver."

"Yes George, well I imagine the next few weeks will require sacrifices from us all."

"Indeed Sir."

George opened the door, Arthur trailed into the front door at just on 8:30pm. Exactly twelve hours from when he'd left.

Gwen was sipping on a cup of tea in the kitchen, looking comfortable in her pjs and slippers.

"Kettle's just boiled, want a cuppa?"

Arthur sank into the chair opposite. "Thanks, that'd be lovely."

Gwen pottered around, reboiling the kettle and popping a tea bag into a mug.

"I presume you called Uther back?"

"Yes, just now, and he's pissed off that I didn't get back earlier today. We're going Avalon Hall tomorrow, dinner starting at 7:00 pm for a war council. Uther would like you to be there, and I have to tell Leon, Morgana and Vivian to come as well."

"Arthur, they'll hardly be surprised at that. They'll be expecting long days and nights for the next few weeks."

Gwen came up behind Arthur, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pressing a kiss to his temple.

"You have a great team there, they are all very loyal to you."

Arthur smiled up at Gwen, clasping his hand over hers. "The next few weeks are going to be really demanding. This might be my only chance at this, to prove to the party, and my Father, that I can do this. You'll have to forgive me if it seems sometimes like you don't have a husband anymore."

"Well, it seems to me like now's as good a time as any to remember why you became my husband."

He grinned at her, as she straddled his lap. "I am a great admirer of many of your skills. You make an excellent cup of tea."

"Come upstairs. The tea's going cold anyway." She kissed him lingeringly, to which Arthur decided carrying her upstairs really was the only response that made sense.

Morgana paused before speaking. "It's not that there's anything actually wrong with it, it will meet all the criteria, and CCHQ will definitely approve it. I don't know, Arthur, I know Vivian comes with all the right credentials and that you have a lot of faith in her. She just never seems to be able to write material that will really connect with people. It's all political speak."

Arthur huffed, "I'll connect with the people with the visits and public appearances."

"Everyone in the constituency will receive one of these letters. You'll be lucky if you meet one percent of the voters who live in it. You know that Arthur. Why are you so defensive about Vivian anyway."

"Morgana, I hired her because she has one of the best reputations in the Conservative Party, and she knows what she's doing. She's been instrumental in other campaigns, you cannot just dismiss her."

"I'm not dismissing her, Arthur, I'm just saying that in this instance, I think you need to display more connection with the people that you want to represent."

"Well, we'll be doing more of these..."

"Yes, and every single one counts, Arthur, especially the early ones, before the voters become so sick of the whole thing they just turf it into the bin. You cannot bombard the voters, too many letters is as bad as not enough."

"Morgana, we've got half an hour. Get Vivian in here, we'll do what we can."

Morgana pushed herself away in the swivel chair, and strode briskly to invite Vivian in. Vivian was conferencing with CCHQ, trying to lock in a visit from David Cameron to Brentford and Isleworth to show his support for Arthur Pendragon. Vivian death stared Morgana, for attempting to interrupt such an important conference. Morgana waited with a thin line of a mouth, until Vivian finally finished the call.

"Morgana, you don't have any idea do you? It's going to be so hard to pin down David Cameron once this campaign really kicks into gear, if I don't lock in a time now, it might not happen at all. What's so important anyway, that you have to hang over me."

"You need to come to Arthur's office to rework the constituency letter with us."

"But Arthur's already approved it. What imaginary failings does it have, that it needs to be rehashed? Can't bear to send out something that you haven't got your paw prints all over?"

"Vivian, it's lacking the ordinary touch, it's so full of political speak, people won't read past the first line."

"Whatever, Morgana. I've done two campaigns, how many have you done? Oh, that's right, none! Why don't you just defer to someone who knows better on this score."

"Just because I haven't done a campaign before, doesn't mean I'm wrong. This letter makes Arthur seem impersonal, unapproachable. It can't just all be about policy and platforms, we have to communicate the type of man Arthur is, that he has integrity, that he wants what's in the best interests of his constituents, that's he's not in this just for power and glory, but he wants to make a difference, make peoples' lives better."

"The best way to do that is to outline clearly how he's going to do that, not just make fluffy statements about why he's going to make a difference. People are interested in what he's going to do, not why." Vivian looked at Morgana with disdain, "You can dance around here in your fancy power suits and designer shoes, but you haven't got a clue how to run a campaign. You ought to be grateful that you're here to watch and learn, instead of thinking you know it all."

Morgana was speechless for a moment, before collecting herself. "The letter will be reworked, with your input or without it. I was just being courteous and professional by inviting you to be involved. I could have just reworked the whole thing without even informing you Vivian."

Morgana stalked back to Arthur's office, angry that Vivian had to try to make every disagreement they had about Arthur's campaign into a petty, personal attack. The woman came highly recommended, but she thought Morgana was beneath her, and that therefore her opinion counted for nothing.

She looked at the clock. She had fifteen minutes, she went back into Arthur's office, and made him open up the document. In the end, she could only tweak a sentence here or there, a complete overhaul could not be done in such a short space of time. She would just have to ensure that she was more involved in the drafting process the next time, no matter how much Vivian despised her for interfering.

The Morgana/ Vivian confrontation made the office atmosphere Arctic. The rest of the day was spent with each woman pointedly ignoring the other. When they gathered around the television set to watch Gordon Brown make his announcement that the Election was to be on May 6 2010, they stood as far away from each other as was possible, while still being in a position to see the screen.

Arthur knew he had to make them work cooperatively or his whole campaign would be a disaster. They at least would have to feign some kind of united front tonight, or Uther would be frothing at the mouth. Most likely Arthur would bear the brunt of it, Uther had only recently discovered he had a daughter from a fling earlier in his life, and would be reluctant to criticize the daughter he was only beginning to form a relationship with.

Arthur would be expected to be a leader, by Uther, to pull together disparate people into a cohesive, well-functioning entity. If he couldn't control his own staff, what chance did he have of running a constituency.

These thoughts in mind, Arthur ordered them both into his office. He felt like a bloody school principal, about to threaten them with detention. Unfortunately, barring some major indiscretion, he could not sack either of them. He did not want to sack either of them. He just wanted them to bloody well pretend for his sake that they could get on, just enough to not claw each other's eyes out over every little disagreement.

Arthur was just grateful he had Leon as a personal assistant. Arthur could always rely on Leon to be sensible. He was rarely upset by anything, got on with his job, almost never made mistakes, and was a good friend to boot.

Arthur decided that being direct was the best option.

"Morgana, Vivian, we all know why we're here. The Election's been called, we're having a campaign meeting with my father, Uther Pendragon tonight, and we need to all be on top of our game. I respect you both enormously, otherwise I would not have you on my staff. I just ask that during this campaign, that you please respect each other."

Both women nodded, looking at Arthur but not at each other. Arthur supposed it was a start.

Vanity is Unappealing, A Vamp However...
Merthur & crest
It was warm in bed. He burrowed under the worn blankets, cosy in the little cocoon of warm air and body heat, just being, not thinking, or worrying, just...

"Merlin," called Gaius, in his simultaneously exasperated and conceding way, "Will you please exit your boudoir in the next two minutes, or I'll have to come in there and sweep you out myself."

Merlin groaned into his pillow, ("I heard that," called Gaius) and rolled out of bed, sitting forward for a few seconds to adjust to his new reality of being cold, out of bed, and summoned to another day of being utterly taken for granted serving his King and Queen and living out his and King Arthur's great, entwined destiny.

Quickly swapping night shirt for day-time shirt, jumping into breeches and pulling on his boots, so well worn they might as well begin walking themselves, he trotted out and wished Gaius a hearty good morning.

"Your breakfast is on the table, and if you don't finish it at double pace, I doubt very much that you'll finish it at all before Arthur arrives to drag you off. Honestly Merlin, you are serving a King and Queen now, I know Arthur has allowed you to be lackadaisical in the past, but now that he is married, he's not going to be so indulgent."

Merlin stared at Gaius, a deliberately blank expression disguising his disbelief. Even Gaius treated him like a honest to goodness doormat these days, as though his whole purpose in life was to be the best Manservant to ever be recorded in the annals and history of Camelot, and not a terrifyingly powerful Warlock, who was forced by law to live his life hiding in plain sight. Days like this, Merlin felt alone. Alone, but bidden by destiny to live among them, to serve King Arthur, and his Queen Guinevere in mundane, trivial, manual labour. A labour of love, indeed.

"Merlin, will you stop daydreaming, get started on your breakfast..." Gaius continued to mutter under his breath as he packed away his cooking utensils and pots, while Merlin dolefully ate his porridge.

He trotted out of the room, and headed directly for Arthur's chambers. Such a minefield now. Gone were the days where Merlin would brashly charge in, flinging open the window coverings, bellowing cheerfully at Arthur that it was time to get out of bed. "Rise and Shine." Hmmm, not such a good move if Guinevere was still in Arthur's chambers, gave an unfortunate and rather embarrassing connotation to such words when Arthur's wife was present.

So, he would knock. Wait to be bidden to enter. Maybe that was why he was "sleeping in" so often these days. Apart from the alluring warmth of staying an extra few moments in bed, it often transpired that if he was just a little late, Queen Guinevere would spare him the embarrassment of seeing her and Arthur cuddling together, she would be attended by her own lady servant, and would be dressed and decorous. Merlin could cope with seeing them together in Arthur's chambers, like that, but felt like a fool when they had not yet arisen from bed. He knew he was meant by custom to be there, but he felt in every way an intruder, awkwardly waiting for Gwen (his friend) to leave, so that he could attend to his King.

Merlin was happy for them. He really was. He had encouraged Arthur to follow his heart, to make Guinevere his Queen, to see that loving the one dearest to him in his heart would not make him a weak ruler. He was happy for them. He just sometimes wondered when/if he would ever get to be happy for himself. Even just a little bit.

He heard murmuring at the doors of King Arthur's chambers, and knocked loudly.

"Come in," called King Arthur.

"Guinevere and I were just arranging a search party for you."

"Ah, well, it would be a short search, limited to Gaius's chambers, or the Tavern."

"Funny, Gaius always claims your at the Tavern, yet a tankard or two of ale is enough to set your steps weaving and your voice giggling."

"Good thing too, my wages only stretch to a tankard or two at best."

"Merlin, Arthur," Guinevere interrupted, grinning, "we have a council to attend this morning."

"Yes, Queen Guinevere, shall I just remove the breakfast articles from the chambers?"

Arthur interrupted, "I need my boots polished now, so could you please get on with that. Then you need to clean up these chambers, and attend the Council, which will begin in twenty minutes. Now Guinevere and I will take a short stroll, and will expect to see you shortly."

"Yes Sire."

King Arthur and Queen Guinevere left, Gwen smiling ruefully at Merlin, who gave her a quick wink. Arthur was being his usual demanding self, but Gwen, while dignified and beautiful as Arthur's Queen, tried to not put on airs around Merlin, especially in the privacy of their chambers.


The Counsel had been rather tedious, as these things often were. Merlin had suppressed a few yawns, but had somehow managed to listen to the proceedings without falling asleep. Again.

After the formal proceedings were closed, there was an envoy who was allowed to address King Arthur. He brought a small package, wrapped in red velvet, and proclaimed it a wedding gift from King Bayard.

Merlin regarded proceedings with his usual sense of foreboding. Who could fathom any good reason why King Bayard would send a wedding gift, when Arthur and Guinevere had been married for nearly six months. Merlin cocked an eyebrow suspiciously, but stayed quiet, waiting to see what the gift was.

Arthur and Guinevere received the small package, which Arthur gave to Guinevere to unwrap. When she did, she gave a small gasp, and Arthur bestowed a bemused look upon his bride. He then lifted the gift for all to see, and Merlin could suddenly understand Gwen's reaction. It was glorious, a large, circular gold pendant, with a round cabochon amethyst at its center, a triangular edging touching three points of the circular stone, with three scrolls, and six tiny bezel diamonds attaching the amethyst to the round golden frame of the pendant, the cut out scrolls and edging, contrasting with the shiny round gold of the pendant.

Arthur, in a show of humor, placed it against himself, pretending to admire himself, before placing it around Guinevere's throat. She was laughing at his jest, her eyes dancing, but became noticeably more sombre as the heavy jewel was placed on her, like it was anchoring her mood to its solemn beauty. She looked down at it, touching it lightly, reverently. It was indeed, a beautiful wedding gift.


"Merlin, where have you been all this time?" Gwen sounded peevish, which was unusual, but Merlin put it down to a long day. "I cannot find Lilia anywhere, my chambers are in disorder, and the gods only know how I am supposed to dress for this evening's repose, without her."

Merlin bit his lip, thinking it probably not the best time to remind Gwen that she had dressed herself for bed many times in her life, but followed her to her chambers nonetheless.

After having banked the fire, and swept some imaginary ashes from the hearth, he looked up at her to see her looking at him expectantly.

"Is there anything else, Gwen?"

"My lady," Gwen corrected.

Merlin got up, took her hands in his, and smiled, "My lady," he repeated.

"Find me my nightgown, and help me dress. I want something especially pretty for Arthur tonight."

Merlin nodded, although this was possibly one of the most mortifying requests Guinevere could ever have made of him. He might be a servant, but he was still human, and felt incredibly awkward about the possibility of seeing Guinevere not dressed. He squared his shoulders, and rifled through her wardrobe, and only after Guinevere had rejected three nightgowns, did she finally acquiesce to a deep blue silken nightgown.

His Queen then turned her back, so Merlin obediently undid the stays of her gown. He tried to breath normally, as the gown slid off her body, but felt like he was in the last place he should possibly be in. Honestly, what would King Arthur make of his manservant...

He quickly placed the gown over her, and she slipped into it.

She turned, and saw that he was blushing.

"Honestly, Merlin, the amount of times you have helped Arthur dress, you would think you would be used to serving royalty by now."

Merlin felt as if he had been slapped. In the months since Guinevere had become Queen, she had never delineated a line between them like this, not in private. She had always remembered her friendship with him.

He hurried to fetch her outer garment, so that she could walk to Arthur's chambers, and then left, feeling unhappy.


The next morning saw Merlin being menaced by Arthur with his sword. Thankfully, Arthur was not angry about his manservant being called upon to dress his wife, but was merely perturbed that Guinevere had swept into his chambers, and apparently had pronounced that she was exhausted, and that Arthur was to keep to himself that evening.

Arthur could not understand why she was wearing her most pleasing and expensive night attire, only to refuse him.

"You're a married man now Arthur. Sometimes you'll have to work at it to keep the romance alive, you can't just expect her to feel romantically inclined simply because you are together for the rest of your lives. You still have to woo her."

Arthur frowned, "We've been married for only six months. You know Gwen, she's always so even and unflappable, she's never been demanding. I apologized to her once with a wilted flower, when I should have filled her home with flowers. Why would she suddenly need grand gestures, she's never been like that?"

Merlin sighed, privately thinking it was out of character, but still wanting to guide Arthur towards the best path.

"Queen Guinevere may be unaffected, but maybe she feels she has to assert her position to be respected by the Court? Even by you? Perhaps she was just having an off day. In any case, no man ever did himself harm by going out of his way to please his wife."

"Fine, but how?" Arthur huffed.

"Maybe take her for a day out? Like when you were courting."


King Arthur, and his Queen, returned from their picnic, but alas, they did not look like blissful newlyweds, but rather each wore the chagrinned, despondent expressions of the unhappily united. Merlin could not understand what they would have found to quarrel about.

In Arthur's chamber's Merlin had to duck to miss the boots that were being haphazardly flung, and Arthur was already ranting to himself, thoroughly unhappy with how the day had progressed.

"Nothing was good enough, Merlin, nothing! Queen Guinevere criticized everything, from my attire, to the route to the waterfall, then the picnic lunch was declared rustic and peasant, and the air too moist, the moss underfoot abominably slippery, the walking tiresome, and the outing too dull. Too dull, Merlin!"
Merlin did his utmost to suppress his smile. Really, what on earth was eating Queen Guinevere, she would normally rejoice in such a peaceful day with Arthur, why on earth was she so utterly charmless when Arthur had cleared his schedule.

Merlin privately resolved to discuss the matter with Gaius.


"I can't fathom why Queen Guinevere would be acting like this. She's turned from perfect companion to a horrid, vain, contemptuous..."

Gaius interrupted, "Well, perhaps the Queen is expecting Arthur's child. The early stages of pregnancy can be extremely trying, Arthur will have to find patience within himself..."

"Gaius, would it really change her personality so completely, she has literally become a different woman overnight."

"You've never experienced the nausea which is often part of pregnancy."

"Hghh, it still makes no sense. That would make Guinevere grumpy, but I know her, she would apologize straight after. I just can't quite figure it out."

Gaius looked thoughtful. "You don't suppose the wedding gift is connected to it?"

"That pendant. Do you think it could be enchanted?"

"That would explain the complete turnaround of her character. Perhaps you could ask her if you could look at it?"

"Right now? I'm sure she's already retired to her chambers, she won't want me barging in."

Gaius fixed Merlin with a stern expression, that one which said, this argument has been concluded, and you do not win, "Merlin, if it is enchanted, then the sooner we find this out, the better."

Merlin found himself running towards Queen Guinevere's chambers, late at night. If he didn't have the noblest of intentions, he'd be feeling as though he was racing towards a midnight tryst.

He knocked gently, feeling suddenly self-conscious, and nearly feel forward when Queen Guinevere opened the door as if she had been expecting him.

"Merlin. I'm glad you're here."


Guinevere smiled, "Oh, I know, I've been horrid today and yesterday. Do you think you could do something for me, Merlin?"

"Anything, Guinevere."

"Would you take this wretched thing," she thrust the pendant at him, "and tell Arthur I would be happier if it was left in the Royal Treasury. I would rather not wear it. Ever again."

Merlin held the heavy pendant in his hand, turning it this way, feeling it's weight, and the smooth polished gold, the glassy cool of the cabochon amethyst. It was one of the most beautiful objects he had ever seen or indeed, held.

"I'll take it to Arthur. But Gwen, why?"

"I can't explain it, Merlin, even to myself. I know I'm Queen now, but I find it odd to wear a gift from another man. There are some forms of royal protocol that I might never adjust to."

"Well Gwen, I think you are a bit mad, but then, maybe that's why Arthur loves you."

"Thanks, Merlin. You'd better put it on, you might be taken for a thief if someone sees you running about late at night with this."

Merlin stretched out his neck, and Gwen placed it on him. It felt heavy, but lovely all the same, cold and precious against his skin. He quickly tied his neckerchief around it, and bid Queen Guinevere a more restful sleep.


Merlin felt hesitant at Arthur's door. He could not explain it, he had bungled in often enough in the past.

When he was bidden to enter, Arthur was in a state of quietude, having spent his temper throwing various items around the chambers. Merlin sighed, thinking of the mess he would be required to clean.

"Arthur, is it really necessary to throw your things about like a wordless two-year old every time you and Queen Guinevere have an argument? I might need to hire my own servant, if I'm going to have to do double duty."

"Merlin, why are you here? Do I really need to be told off in my own chambers late at night?"

"Yes, Arthur, when you insist on carrying on like a child, I guess I will just have to punish you like one."

Merlin stopped short. Uh, what had he just said?

"How exactly would you propose to do that?"

"I'd smack you on the bottom, and put you to bed, imbecile!"

Arthur looked at Merlin in amusement.

"I think you would find you would have great difficulty in implementing your plan."

"You would be surprised what I can do, when I'm motivated."

Arthur moved suddenly, and swatted Merlin on his bottom.

"Still faster than you, Merlin."

Merlin's heart was now pounding, he and Arthur often teased each other, but this time it felt different, like the stakes were higher.

"I came here to give this to you." Merlin took off his neckerchief and revealed the gold and amethyst pendant.

Arthur stepped forward, peering at the pendant sitting on Merlin's chest, only a little above the breastbone.

"Merlin, why are you wearing Queen Guinevere's pendant?"

Merlin looked down at his wiry chest, "She doesn't...want it."

Arthur rolled his eyes, and turned away, "I thought women loved pretty things."

Merlin sighed, "I guess she just didn't think it was something she wanted to wear everyday Arthur. Maybe found it, I don't know, oppressive."

Merlin started to pull the pendant off, when Arthur placed his hand on his chest. "You hold onto it."


"You take care of it. Wear it sometimes."

"Uh, Arthur, I know you're upset about Guinevere rejecting the gift, but I think there might be a bit of a reaction if people see a servant wearing a costly jewel. Which was a wedding gift."

Arthur lifted the pendant, his finger's grazing against Merlin's chest. "I like it on you. Oddly enough, I think it improves your personality."

Words Failed But Hips Prevailed
Merthur & crest
Arthur and Gwen were on their second latte each when the inevitable topic of conversation came up.  Gwen had gotten married only six months ago, and was still in that sickeningly in love and happy honeymoon stage.  Arthur was happy for her, but often wished she would back off on all the well meaning advice she had for him about "landing" a boyfriend.  He was quite okay with being single for now.  So what if his most recent relationship had ended nearly a year ago.  He had been insanely busy building up his own business, a picture framing shop, which was doing better as he had a handful of repeat customers, impressed with the quality of his workmanship. 

He enjoyed the reactions he received from people when he presented to them their treasured photographs, or artwork, or even a diploma or degree, framed, now able to be displayed.  He'd learnt to watch their faces, for that first unguarded, honest reaction.  It was always a pleasure when they lit up, seeing that treasured work or photograph transformed into a lasting piece.  Somehow, it was always more than the sum of its parts, wood, metal, glass, parchment.  Well, anyway, he enjoyed his work.  He enjoyed it so much that it was actually easy to allow it to occupy almost all of his time.

Gwen however, seemed dissatisfied with this state of affairs.

"Arthur, why don't you go on a date with this guy from my work.  He's so nice, you'd get along really well..."
"Someone from work, Gwen, really?  I'm not a hopeless case, I can find myself a date."
"Arthur, since you broke up with Gwaine, you really haven't been out with anyone.  At all."
"What's so wrong with that Gwen?  Don't look at me like that.  Maybe I'm a bit sick of dating."
"How are you going to meet someone else, if you never try."
"Maybe that's my point.  There is such a thing as trying too hard.  Maybe I should just wait to see if I meet someone during normal life, instead of going out on a million blind dates."
Gwen made a exasperated sound.  "I'm not asking you to go on a million dates, just one!"
"It's always one, then when that doesn't work out, it's another, then another."
Gwen rolled her eyes.  Arthur could tell she was not going to let up, but he could be stubborn.  Very stubborn.  He just wanted to be left to figure this stuff out for himself.
"How long have we known each other, Arthur?"
They had known each other nearly all their lives.  Gwen's father had worked for Arthur's as his accountant, they had played together as kids, gone out briefly as teenagers, before Arthur started to figure some things out...
"Seriously, Arthur, you're like my brother by now, I wouldn't ever try to set you up just for the sake of it, or because I think you can't get a date.  It's just, well, Merlin's such an adorable guy, I get along with him so great, he makes working at the shop so much fun.  If he was straight, I'd ask him out myself.  Oh, and if I wasn't already married."
Arthur huffed a small sigh.  He'd caught sight of Merlin once when he'd met up with Gwen at the shop, Meteor Records & CDS, and had been taken aback at how damned cute the new guy was.  Arthur had a thing for coat-hanger thin, sharp cheek-boned brunettes.  He didn't really meet many guys who did it for him, but he had to admit, just on looks alone, Merlin was his type.  But, if anything, he'd rather introduce himself more casually, say next time he dropped in on Gwen, and see where things went from there.
Set-up dates were the worst in Arthur's opinion, because you really had no opportunity to dip a toe in the water, you were right in the deep end, flailing about trying to find something in common to fill an evening's worth of chatter with.  Inane, safe conversation topics bored Arthur, but if you started lobbing in opinions on politics, education, music or movies, more often than not, you found yourself having less in common with your date.  Arthur was a typical choleric, he had the tendency to be so firm in his opinions, and unwilling to admit that anyone else might possibly have a point, that he was often characterized as arrogant.

"Gwen, please, let me get to know this Merlin guy in my own time..."
Gwen scoffed, "Arthur, you'll hole yourself up in that shop of yours, and pretend that you just got too busy to do anything about it."
"I am busy, Gwen."
"Arthur.  You know I don't beg.  But please please please please, pretty please with cherries on top, be your best friend forever..."
"Alright," Arthur said it so loud that the people sitting at the tables around them stopped their conversations to look at them both.  Arthur shrugged as though acknowledging them, before turning back to Gwen.  Resigned to his fate, "See if you can set us up.  Dinner.  Or something."
Gwen was bouncing in her seat, "Arthur, I know you won't regret this.  You're going to have so much fun together."  She was clapping, actually clapping.  "I'll talk to him tomorrow at work, and find out when he's available.  Yay! Yay!"  Gwen's eyes were sparkling.

Arthur arrived at his business, "The Frame Gallery" at eight o'clock the following morning.  He had ten current orders waiting to be completed, and Arthur generally promised to deliver his pieces within a week.  It was good practice to have a short timeline, as it helped his customers to feel their work was completed in a timely manner, and ensured that his business had continuing cash flow.

He felt a surge of contentment as he passed through the familiar shop area, with various framed pieces on the walls.  There were art reproductions, photographs, sporting memorabilia, posters and graphic art.  Arthur had samples of his entire inventory of available frames and matts displayed on one wall of the shopfront, with a large counter in front of it.  

He would not open the shop for another hour, so headed to the workroom out back to continue on with his current work.  There were photographs which were neatly filed in a vertical rack.  Each photograph was scanned, the document then saved by reference to the invoice number.  The invoice would provide the details of the frames required.  Arthur looked at his spreadsheet, to check which item he needed to start on next.  

A multiple frame, the photographs being portraits of a newborn boy, a close-up of his feet, and the parents holding the baby.  All black and white photographs, the parents had chosen a white wooden embellished frame, 15 millimeters wide, with pale blue matting.  Sometimes, it felt like sleepwalking, helping people pick out an appropriate frame.

He spent most of the morning working in the back of the shop.  It took him a few moments to register that his phone had been ringing, and by the time he hopped down from his stool his phone had gone to message bank.

Waiting a few moments, he rang in to listen to the message:
"Arthur, hello, it's Gwen here.  Ring me back.  I've spoken to Merlin this morning, and he's really keen to go out on that date.  I'll give you details when you call back."
Arthur chortled.  Gwen wasn't exactly one to sit around and wait for things to just happen, was she?  He rang her number at the shop.
"Meteor Records, how may I help you?" Gwen in her most professional voice.
"Gwen!  I believe you wish to help out your desperate and dateless friend, so I'm all ears, I'm hanging on your every word, when and where am I to squire the lovely Merlin on a night on the town?"
"Arthur, yes, Merlin's free tonight!  So, I've booked a table for two at The Garden Party for 7:00 PM."
"Never heard of it.  Is it any good?"
"Yes, Arthur, it is charming, it has a courtyard garden with plants that grow right up on the walls.  You can sit next to the windows overlooking the garden.  It's very peaceful."
Great, they were going to some twee, cottage garden type cafe, definitely not the type of place Arthur would have chosen for himself for a first date.  He really thought Gwen was getting just a little too invested in this whole set-up.
"Right, tonight then.  I might have to close up early, to get ready in time."
"I thought you could meet Merlin from here, otherwise he'll be taking the tube.  He doesn't drive.  Thought it might be nice for you to give him a lift."
"Uh, okay.  I don't mind giving him a lift there.  Will you let him know that's fine with me, and I'll give him a lift home as well."  Arthur was a gentleman, and a bit old fashioned.  It would not ever sit well with him to not offer his date a lift back home.
"Oh, Arthur I'm so excited for you.  For both of you.  So I'll see you here at say 6:30 PM to pick Merlin up."

"Yes, I'm already breathless with anticipation.  I didn't know I needed a introduction agent until you decided to take on the role.  Tell me, will I have to pay you an introduction fee?"
Gwen giggled, choosing to ignore Arthur's famous sarcasm.  "You can pay next time we're out for coffee.  That should cover it."
Arthur ended the call, shaking his head to himself, as there was no one else to complain to.  In truth, he was nervous about what tonight's date would be like, as he did rather fancy Merlin, but had never spoken one single word to him. Ever.  He supposed that there would probably be a lot of to and fro in the conversation, getting to know facts about each other, you'd be unlikely to share anything more during a first date.
Arthur arrived home, having closed the shop half an hour early.  He flung his bag onto the kitchen counter top, and headed straight for his bedroom.  He looked though his wardrobe, moaning to himself that nothing looked good enough for tonight.  When was the last time he had bought anything new for himself?  Most days, he was happy enough just to pull on some plain pants, shirt, sometimes a tie, but usually not.  He'd gotten complacent about it, happy just to be comfortable, preoccupied with his business and all he had to do just to keep it open and viable.  Clothes were not exactly high up on the agenda.

Now he was groaning at the fact that he had nothing special to wear.  He pulled out all his clothes, and managed to find one pair of halfway decent jeans, medium wash blue, and a bright blue polo shirt with black edged collar and sleeves, that Morgana had given him recently for his birthday.

He showered, shaved, sparingly used his aftershave, and dressed for his date.  After drying his hair, combing it, then ruffling it again, he took one more look in the mirror, and was pleased.  He looked young again.  He was only 28, but honestly, some days he felt twenty years older. 

When he looked at the clock again it was getting on to six, so he raced out the door again, ready to do battle with peak-hour traffic.  When he finally arrived at Meteor Records, it took him ten minutes to find a parking space.  He dashed to the shop, realising he was now ten minutes late, and that the dinner reservation started in twenty minutes.

Arthur burst in through the doors, and collided with someone clad entirely in black, slim line shirt with a diagonal zip going from one shoulder to circle entirely around his body and end at the waist, pants made of heavy duty black denim and heavy boots with red/black marbled leather.  Oh.  This was his date.  Merlin.  Oh.

"Hi, there."  Arthur extended his hand towards Merlin, who had managed not to fall over under Arthur's momentum, and was now turned towards him.  His gaze didn't quite make it to Arthur's eyes but seemed to stop around about his neck, and he seemed to regard Arthur's proffered hand as though he was trying to offer him a week old fish.  Arthur dropped his hand to his side, before raking it through his hair.
Gwen spotted him, and bounded up to them.  In a slightly hysterical voice, she said, "Arthur, you're here, and this is Merlin, who you've just bumped into." 
"Yes, Gwen, thanks.  Sorry I'm late, traffic's awful."
Gwen made a sympathetic noise, "Well, best be getting on then, off you go." 
Arthur gestured to Merlin to exit though the door, but he was still looking at Gwen, Arthur thought a little forlornly, but Gwen swept them both out of the door like dust onto the street.  
Arthur spoke up again, "Gwen's apparently booked us a table at The Garden Party."
Merlin muttered something Arthur didn't quite catch, but thought might be "garden shed."
"Um yeah, wouldn't have been my first choice, but Gwen think's it's nice apparently..."
Arthur screwed his mouth a little to the side, looking at Merlin dressed as a Goth?  Emo?  Punk?  Nice was so not going to impress him.
"Here's my car, Gwen suggested I give you a lift."
Merlin nodded, looking at the car, "D-d-d-d-d-don't d-d-d-d-d-rive yet."
Huh!  Thought Arthur.  Gwen hadn't mentioned anything about Merlin perhaps having a little issue with stuttering.  She might have mentioned it.  Arthur caught Merlin looking at him, but Merlin quickly looked away again, like you might when you've been watching someone on a train and they suddenly look back at you.
Arthur opened the doors, and jumped into the drivers seat, Merlin climbed into the passenger side.  He looked a bit crumpled up, his legs almost parallel with his chest.
"Uh, the seat adjust's on the side there, there's a button that will adjust the seat back so you'll be more comfortable."
Merlin hesitated, then groped down the side of the seat, until with he found the seat adjust and began to move the chair back.  By the time he let the button go, he seemed to be almost sitting in the back seat.  "S-s-s-s-s-s-s-sorry," Merlin winced.
"Oh, no problem, just so long as you're a bit more comfortable.  Now, let's find this Garden Shed."
Merlin chuckled, which made Arthur relax a little.  He tried to take a subtle look at Merlin, while still watching the road.  Arthur sighed involuntarily, he was struck again by Merlin's looks, which were boyish and charming.  For all the hard edged, black, emo gear, he had a gentle expression in his face when he wasn't aware Arthur was watching him.  He seemed to be intent on looking straight ahead, as though he was worried about catching Arthur's eyes again.

Arthur was relieved when they finally found the place, even if it was as horrifyingly pretty and quaint as he had been dreading.  When they walked inside, Arthur had the distinct feeling this was a place to take his nana, not a hot date.  He mentally face-palmed, then made a note to face-palm Gwen when he saw her next.  Was she PMSing when she picked this place?  Maybe she was preggers, and was nesting.  Who knew, all Arthur knew was that this place sucked.

Unfortunately, the head waiter had already seen them, and had raced to the bookings calendar before they could agree to escape.  "Reservation?"
"Pendragon?"  Arthur assumed that Gwen had made the booking under one of their names. 
"Yes, that's fine, a table for two.  Please, follow me."
With that the waiter led them to a table set for two, positioned right next to glass bi-fold doors that looked out onto the courtyard garden.  Arthur just managed to suppress a groan, looking towards Merlin who also seemed unimpressed.  They were here now, they would have to make the best out of it.
After sitting down, and ordering the obligatory initial drinks, they pored over their menus.  Merlin barely looked up from his, seemed to be reading every entry as if each was minutely interesting to him.  Arthur scanned through, and after a few minutes settled on a seafood risotto.
He looked at Merlin, who was still flipping back and forth through the pages.  A waitress had come back with their drinks, sparkling apple juice for Arthur, mineral water for Merlin.
Hand poised at her orders pad, "Are you ready to order?"
Arthur looked at Merlin, trying to catch his gaze.  Merlin seemed buried in the tome of the menu, but finally looked at the waitress to order the cannelloni.  Arthur requested the risotto. 
"Would you like to order dessert now?"
Merlin just shook his head, and Arthur thought better of ordering the chocolate mousse, didn't want Merlin to think he was an incurable sweet tooth, or worse, likely to become fat.
"No thank you, although I would like a latte, after our meal."
"Certainly, sir."
The waitress gathered up the menus, and left them to themselves.
Merlin was gazing out the window, seemingly enthralled at the fountain, and various potted flowers, not to mention decorative touches like old wooden barrels spilt in half and planted with flowers, decorative planter stands, and a tiny wishing well.  Arthur furrowed his brows at the display, before turning his attention to Merlin, deciding it would be necessary to ask a few open questions to get the conversation going.
"So, Merlin, how are you finding working at Meteor Records?"
Merlin's glance skittered over his, focussing behind Arthur to the wall hanging directly behind him.  "It's good.  L-l-l-l-l-like it."
Arthur was privately wondering how someone with such a pronounced stutter would be able to work in retail, answering people's enquiries.
Instead, he continued on, "Yes, Gwen seems to like it there.  Has been there for I think nearly three years now.  How did you start working there?"
Merlin twisted uneasily in his seat, as if unused to being asked two questions in a row about himself.  "G-g-g-g-w-en  r-r-r-r-recom-m-m-mended me." 
Hmmmn, Arthur thought, first she'd managed to infiltrate Merlin into the shop, even though his stuttering clearly made him unsuitable for talking to customers, and now she was attempting to set this boy up with one of her oldest friends, Arthur.  Obviously Merlin had managed to charm Gwen, but how?
"How did you meet Gwen?"  Arthur was now curious, Gwen had only recently met Merlin, so why she would have recommended him for a job, as this boy must be reflecting poorly on her. Merlin interrupted his musings, 
"B-b-b-b-bus s-s-s-s-s-s-top."
"You met Gwen at a bus stop?"
Merlin just shrugged his shoulders, to imply yes.
Arthur was beginning to feel like some type of maddened investigative journalist, trying to wring answers out this boy, like getting blood out of the proverbial stone.  He pressed on, "Did she recommend you for the store after that first meeting?"
After a slight pause, during which Merlin studied his fingers, which had large silver and stainless steel rings on half of them, before answering, "Y-y-y-yes."
Arthur thought maybe he'd better change tack, perhaps quit with twenty questions for now.  
"I don't suppose Gwen mentioned to you that I started my own business this year?"
Merlin, still looking at his fingers, nodded almost imperceptibly, but said nothing else.
Arthur wasn't sure for a moment whether to go on, but he thought as the only alternative was probably stony silence, that he'd better continue his recent life history.
"Anyway, I started a framing business this year.  I'm a trained accountant, but I've left that, at least for now."
Arthur was saved momentarily from his monotonous monologue by the arrival of their meals.  Arthur had never been so relieved to see a seafood risotto in his entire life.  He thanked the waitress, Merlin also nodded, and they began to eat.
Arthur became aware on his third mouthful that he had been listening to the conversation of the couple at the next table, and quickly snapped himself back into focus.  He looked at Merlin who was methodically and daintily scooping up small bites of cannelloni, while studying Arthur with intermittent gazes.  
"How is it?" gesturing towards the cannelloni.
Merlin swallowed with a obvious gulp, before responding "S-s-soggy."
Arthur guffawed, okay so not the funniest joke ever, but he had to admit, the cannelloni looked sad, like it had been cooked three weeks ago, before being drowned in tomato based sauce and possibly re-heated.  His own risotto didn't impress him either, it tasted a bit gritty, but he didn't want to complain out loud, and Merlin didn't ask, so.
As they finished eating, Arthur was beginning to regret even ordering a coffee.  Merlin was gorgeous to look at, but excruciating to spend time with.
Even so, Merlin finally spoke up once their plates were cleared away, indicating he would like the chocolate mousse.  Arthur silently fumed.
After Merlin had finished dessert, and Arthur his coffee, Arthur offered Merlin a lift home.  Merlin shook his head, "T-t-t-t-there's a comic s-s-s-s-store I w-w-want to visit."
Right.  He was being ditched for a visit to a comic book store.  Even so, Arthur walked with Merlin until he reached the store, which was down the next street.
They reached the entrance, and Arthur for half a second contemplated just going in with Merlin, just to see if he would loosen up a bit in a place where he felt more comfortable, but then a few skate-punk teens barreled into him, pushing him out of the entrance, and Merlin seemed almost determined to escape, and Arthur suddenly felt like he was too tired for this shit, honestly.  He waved Merlin goodbye with a smile that was sad, and trudged back to his car.

Arthur arrived back at his apartment, and flung his keys and phone at his couch, before flopping on it himself.  He prodded listlessly at the television remote, sure that there probably wouldn't be anything much watching.  It must have been Nazi o'clock though, because there was yet another documentary about the Third Reich playing, Arthur flipping the channel again before it seriously depressed him.  There was a late news bulletin, which he watched more to keep himself from mulling over the evening.  Then the phone rang.
Arthur picked it up automatically, and saw it was Gwen.
"Hey you, how did it go tonight?"  Gwen calling him, he wondered how he would have reacted to that had things gone a whole lot better that night...
"Well, Guinevere, it's touching that you feel it's necessary to ruminate on the debacle that was my date with your friend Merlin, however, I am right now, as of this minute, catching up on essential news items.."
"You're watching tv, and you can mute it.  And no, you can't mute me.  What do you mean, debacle?  Oh come on, I know Merlin's a little bit younger than you, and he's maybe a bit more wild and free than you feel, with your business and all that responsibility..."
"Wild and free?  How about withdrawn and sullen.  Or not so much speaking to me, as stammering out the occasional one or two word answer to my conversational questions.  Could you not have at least warned me that Merlin has a serious issue with stuttering."
"Oh, what?  He stuttered a lot?  I know he sometimes stutters a little , but I guess I'd never thought much about it, because he usually just keeps on talking through it, I guess I've just gotten used to it."
"It was painful, Gwen, he didn't manage to say anything much to me, because every time he spoke, it took him five or six goes to get out one word.  That is, when he actually used words.  The rest of the time, it was a shrug, or a nod, or just looking at something immediately behind my head that was fascinating."
"Oh, how awful."  Gwen now sounded truly upset.  "Merlin must be so unhappy right now."
"MERLIN!  What about me, your long-suffering friend Arthur, who you pushed and prodded to go on an extremely awkward date with a morose, stammering, disinterested EMO, but no, don't worry about me, GUINEVERE, I'll be alright, you just watch out for little Merlin now, and leave me to my Hitler documentaries."
"What?  Arthur, stop watching Third Reich documentaries, they're bad for your health, too many of 'em.  Oh, of course I'm sorry you and Merlin didn't hit it off, I know you're quite different, but I just thought somehow you'd click with each other.  He can be quite a funny guy you know."
Arthur just humphed at that.  Arthur had to admit, there were a couple of cute asides buried in the evenings jumble of conversation, but seriously, not enough to qualify as a funny guy, at least, not in Arthur's books.
"Look, Gwen, I'm grateful that you want me to be happy, and that you thought me going out on a date with Merlin would make us both happy, but in all honesty, I had a shit time.  So, don't feel offended if I never talk to the guy again."
"Alright, Captain Grumpy.  Sheesh, remind me not to try and hook you up with any more hot guys."
Arthur let out an exasperated groan, before Gwen butted in again, "So, maybe we should catch up for a movie or something.  You know, so that your social life isn't entirely non-existent.  What about seeing the new Martin Scorsese film, Hugo, I've been hearing it's absolutely brilliant."
Arthur pondered, and figured, yeah, why not, he wasn't really mad at Gwen anyways, more frustrated that his first date in ages had tanked so spectacularly.  That was no reason to become a total recluse. 
"Tomorrow night then?"
"I'll meet you at your shop, Arthur.  I'm finishing early tomorrow, so I'll have a chance to get myself all dolled up for you."
"What about Lance?"
"He's away on a work trip?"
"So I'm your back-up guy?"
"Arthur, you know I love you, but sometimes you really are a total...dunderhead."
"You really know how to charm a man, Guinevere."
"Tomorrow night then."
"Goodnight Gwen."

The next few weeks were busy, well, that's what Arthur told himself anyway.  There was always something to do, whether it was crafting the frames and completing orders, doing paperwork, cleaning up the workroom so that it was tidy and organized, and during quieter moments, redoing the display in the front window of the shop.  Arthur thought there was nothing more off-putting than a front shop display which was not regularly updated.  He spent a few hours with some portraits of Morgana, which she was happy for Arthur to display.  He'd framed them in whitewashed frames, with a grey matt, which meshed well with the black and white photos she'd had taken, not grainy but not crisp sharp either, but almost dream-like.
Happy with his days work, he wondered whether he should drop in on Gwen and surprise her at Meteor Records.  He knew she was working later tonight, as Friday nights were often busy with the punters as they poured out of work and onto the streets for end of week drinks.  He thought she might like to get some dinner with him during her break.  Even Arthur didn't feel much like being holed up at home on a Friday night, but he wasn't really in the mood to head out to a club, especially on his own.  Okay, so maybe Gwen was being his back-up girl.  Whatever.

He strolled into the shop, looking around for Gwen when someone else caught his eye.  Actually, it would be entirely impossible to not notice him at that moment, because he was dancing like a sixties go-go dancer, whipping his hips and generally shaking his pants about with abandon, as he sang along to some song on his iPod.
"Boy you're just a stupid bitch, and girl you're just a no good dick, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Oh, Uh Huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, oh."
Merlin was emphasizing his singing with his hip flicks, until he was a blur of energetic movement.  He was dancing whilst simultaneously cleaning the windows. He doused the panes liberally with soapy water, before wiping them clean with a squeegee.  Arthur's heart gave a definite thud, as he watched Merlin, his iridescent green top falling off one shoulder, black, torn up jeans skimming over his long legs, white patent leather belt circling his thin hips, and wearing some funky green and red trainers.  Merlin's cheekbones were stained with a happy flush, and it was flat out adorable.  Arthur shook his head at himself, why the hell was he getting so turned on, when he knew how crap their date had been.  Damn it, the boy was sexy, no matter how awful a conversationalist he might be.
Arthur let out a pained grunt at a sharp jab in his ribs.  Gwen.
"See something you like?" she drawled in a filthy voice, and Arthur was ready to pull the stupid beanie she was wearing right over her face, to shut her up.  He looked at her sideways, and she had a smile on her face that was simultaneously smug and innocent.
"Shut up, Gwen.  It's not like you couldn't notice Merlin there, I'm surprised he hasn't flooded the shop with the amount of water he's sloshing about."
"Yes Arthur, I'm sure that's why you've been watching him like Sylvester stalking Tweety Bird for the last few minutes."
Arthur rolled his eyes, why even bother he thought, "Yeah, okay, he's pretty...dedicated to that window washing, isn't he.  Like, he might have washed that window three times now."
"Why don't you go ask him about it?" teased Gwen.
"About window washing? Is that a good ice-breaker is it?  Yacking about window washing?  How about washing up?  I hear people get horny about vacuum cleaning."
"Arthur, you're attacking me because for you the best form of defense is attack, and you're feeling defensive cos you know you want to talk to him."  Gwen gave Arthur a look that said, don't even bother trying to disagree with me, or I will whack you over the head with the nearest non-lethal object.
Arthur suddenly felt a knot of nerves in his gut.  He had really tried to not think about that night with Merlin a few weeks back.  He'd even wondered whether he'd even given him a proper chance.  After he'd had a day to recover from the embarrassment he'd felt, he'd had to admit, even if only to himself, that it wasn't Merlin's fault that he stuttered.  It wasn't as if the guy was being deliberately rude, or insincere, he'd just had trouble getting the words out.  Arthur had left it, and then when a few days became a few weeks, he knew it would be terribly awkward to call Merlin up out of the blue, and try to see if he was interested in giving it another shot.
However, seeing Merlin shimmying was doing something to Arthur, and he thought to himself, I'm gonna go talk to him.
Gwen smirked, and left him to it, going out back to grab her stuff, so that they could have dinner.  Arthur sidled up to Merlin, who was oblivious to him with his headphones on.  Arthur tentatively tapped him on the shoulder, and Merlin spun around, squeegee slopping water in Arthur's face.  Arthur flinched, and Merlin's flush turned into an even bigger blush.
"S-s-s-sorry 'bout t-that.  D-d-didn't s-see"  Merlin paused, for a long moment, "y-y-you there." 
Arthur smiled what he hoped was his most charming and disarming smile, before saying "My bad, shouldn't have creeped up on you like that."
"H-h-h-how are y-y-you?" Merlin asked, wringing his squeegee into his bucket, then pulling both earphones out.
"Well, thanks.  It's great to see you again."  Arthur didn't want to play it too casual, but did not want to seem as embarrassingly keen as he actually felt.
Merlin looked a bit dumbfounded for a moment, before recovering himself, "R-r-really?"
"Absolutely, you're doing some damn fine dancing there, by the way."
"Oh," blushed Merlin, but started to grin a bit as well, "Yeah Yeah Yeahs, when I l-l-listen to t-t-them, it's l-l-like attaching a jumper l-l-lead to my legs.  C-c-can't help m-myself."
Arthur's loud laughter had Merlin grinning and giggling along with him for a moment.  Merlin crossed his arms, and leaned against the glass window wall, "So, w-w-what brings you here t-t-tonight?"
Arthur hesitated for a moment, and then LIED, "I thought I might see you here."
Merlin looked ridiculously pleased.  "R-r-really.  G-g-g-guess you're in luck." 
"Guess I am," agreed Arthur.  This was actually going better than Arthur thought.  "So, I was wondering..."
Merlin's eyebrow lifted infinitesimally, before encouraging Arthur with a "Hmmm"
"Yeah, whether you'd like to go out with me again some time?"
"G-g-gee A-a-arthur, t-t-t-took your t-time asking m-m-me out on a s-second date."  Merlin's tone was teasing, but Arthur was suddenly scrambling for an excuse, why had it taken so long for him to do this. Shit.
"Well, Arthur, you ready to go out and grab dinner?"  Gwen interrupted with a sweet, sincere smile.
Merlin looked at Gwen, then at Arthur who was doing his best impersonation of clueless, before looking back at Gwen.  "Arthur's here to m-m-m-meet up with you?"
Gwen did a little side-wiggle of her head, her expression puzzled, "Yeah, we're going out for dinner break, Arthur thought he'd keep me company.  Hey, do you want to come with us?"
Merlin's demeanor changed from happy, bouncing on heels, to suspicious and snarky in an instant.  "No thanks, Gwen."  He looked pointedly at Arthur, "I wouldn't w-w-want to impose on your c-c-catch-up."  Merlin's bullshit detector was clearly now on high alert.
Gwen, bless her, was undaunted, "Oh, but you wouldn't be Merlin, you must be starving."
"I'l grab s-s-something later."  Merlin turned his back towards them, as if to start on the windows again.
"Merlin," implored Arthur, "you can always come back to washing windows later, yeah?"
Merlin spun around to stare at Arthur, before grabbing the bucket of dirty water and upending it on Arthur's head.  Gwen gave a shriek, while Arthur just groaned. 
"Y-y-yeah, A-a-arthur, t-think I'll d-d-do that."  Merlin stalked off, while Arthur removed the (now empty) plastic bucket off his head.  Gwen just gave Arthur a look that said, what the hell?
"Um, yeah, I might have given Merlin the impression that I came here specifically to see him..."
"Oh Arthur." 

It was a week after Arthur's altercation with Merlin.  It had been a rather humiliating moment, being doused with dirty window washing water, but somehow, Gwen had not been at all sympathetic to him.  She had gone racing after Merlin to see if he was okay, after Arthur had been so insensitive.  Gwen had hinted that Merlin had actually been rather heartbroken by how badly their first date had gone, and seeing Arthur at Meteor Records had felt like a second chance, for him.
Arthur lying to him about his motivation for coming to the shop had felt like a slap in the face.  Arthur got it, he really did, he was the biggest prat of all time, he brought new depths to the term prat, etc. etc. etc.  He shook his head - he'd only been trying to impress Merlin.  The guy was so sensitive.  When he complained to Gwen, she just shushed him, and said, "You made him feel like an idiot.  Lots of people assume he's one, so being made to feel like an idiot for believing you, it just really pushed his buttons Arthur."

So, Arthur had sighed a big philosophical sigh about the situation, and figured he was destined to never speak to Merlin again, and never hear about him, save for maybe the occasional mention by Gwen.  Which would not be her meddling.  Nope, Gwen seemed to have learned her lesson, Arthur could find his own damn dates from now on, as far as she was concerned.  Said with a caring pat to his shoulder. 
When a familiar figure walked through the door of his shop, Arthur nearly spluttered his cup of tea.  A good look.
Merlin held up his hand, "Hi!"
"Uhhmm, hello."  Arthur put his cup of tea down on the counter, and looked directly at Merlin.  "Can I help you?"  What on earth was Merlin doing here in his shop?
"Y-y-yes y-y-y-you can, actually.  I've g-g-g-got this p-p-p-poster I want f-framed, and G-gwen said y-your r-r-really good."  He held up a rolled up poster, and looked expectantly at Arthur.
"Oh."  Arthur smiled, genuinely pleased. "Yeah, I'd love to do that for you Merlin.  Bring it over here, let's have a look."
Merlin brought the poster over, and gently unrolled it.  It was a tour poster for that band he'd been dancing to, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  It was a photograph, treated to look like graphic art, with the band name scrolled across their photo as a banner in gothic font, printed in pink with a white outline, the hair and clothes of the band retouched to look blue, pink and purple, overlaid on top of black and white photography, with a city skyline in the background, and a purple sky.  It also appeared to be autographed, which would make it especially important to Merlin. 
Their eyes locked when Arthur looked up from the poster.
"So, what d-d-do y-y-you think?"
"I like it.  Great poster, the girl's gorgeous, isn't she?"
Merlin nodded, "Yep, she's a goddess.  Actually, N-N-Nick's fuckin' h-h-hot as well."
Pointing to the spiky haired guy, Arthur smiled fondly.  "You look a bit like him, Merlin."
"Is t-t-t-that s-so?"
"Yeah, a bit.  Both skinny, scrawny and sexy as hell."
Merlin blushed a bit at that, but tried to just defiantly pout at Arthur, like whatever.
Arthur decided he'd better get on with this, Merlin had come in for a quote on his poster, and probably didn't want his stupid flirting anyway.
"It's quite a large poster, have you thought about whether you want a matt around it?"
"W-w-what do y-y-y-you think?"
"Well, it depends really on your preference.  If you want the frame to not be noticeable, then going with a plain frame is what you want, but a matt on the other hand, can give it more of a presence, makes it feel more textural, have greater depth."
"W-w-what colour d-d-do y-y-y-you think w-w-would work?"
"You could matt it with one of the colours in the poster, maybe the blue, or purple because it's the least prevalent colour, so might balance out the composition."
"Y-y-you d-d-d-don't think it m-might look lame?"
"Mmmm, yeah, maybe.  Probably.  Better just go for a plain frame then."
Merlin guffawed, at how quickly Arthur had backtracked.  They agreed a plain black aluminum frame, which was going to cost just under £80. 
Arthur figured to himself, well, that's that then.  He wasn't sure how to wrap up the conversation without seeming rude, but didn't want to draw it out and embark on another of his ill-fated attempts to get to know Merlin, which always ended in...
"H-h-hey A-arthur, y-y-you wanna g-g-get a c-coffee?"
"Sure.  Let me get my keys, so I can shut the shop."
They walked across the street, to Arthur's favourite cafe, Pantry, which had a lot of organic and vegetarian meals, which he thought might be important to Merlin.  He could not remember if he was allergic to anything. 
"Soy latte." 
"Large cappuccino, what muffin do you have today?"
The funky waiter, who'd brought them both glasses of water as they sat down, replied "Banana and walnut."
"Uh, okay, one of those."
Merlin smirked at Arthur.  "G-getting d-d-desert this t-t-time?"
Arthur raised one eyebrow, "Life's unpredictable, eat desert first, haven't you heard that one, Merlin?"
"Oh, I j-j-just thought m-m-m-maybe you'd b-be trying for a q-quick getaway."
Arthur held his hands up in the I surrender gesture, "I'll eat slowly, if that makes you happy."
Merlin just chuckled, he seemed to be enjoying his ability to make Arthur feel awkward, cheeky bastard.  He was also a bit of a sexy bastard, otherwise Arthur would not put up with this shit.  However, if Merlin was willing to give him the time of day, then Arthur was willing to endure a bit of teasing. 
One thing he didn't want to do, however, was try to engineer the conversation.  He thought, he might let Merlin steer the conversation.  Mercifully, Merlin seemed to take the hint.
"S-s-so A-a-arthur, if we w-w-were in a TV show, w-w-what sort of characters w-w-w-would we play?"
Seriously, thought Arthur, a hypothetical question about what character, oh what the hell, "Well, your name is Merlin, and mine is Arthur, so maybe if they turned you into an old dude, you could play Merlin, and I'd be King Arthur?"
"S-s-s-so you think s-s-something m-medieval then?"
"Well, obviously, just based on our names, and also because I'm quite regal looking.  You could pass for a warlock just as is," smirked Arthur, though secretly admiring Merlin in his skin-tight black jeans, and red tee. 
"Oh, so I w-w-wouldn't have t-to be all old and w-w-w-wrinkly then?"
"It would be such a shame to do that to you, I think."
"Huh."  Merlin wasn't agreeing or disagreeing, but was enjoying this ridiculous conversation.  "Y-y-y-you know, I t-t-think w-w-we'd be g-great in s-s-something s-s-sci-fi, l-l-like Misfits or s-s-something."
"You, you punk-arse brat, would fit right in.  You'd be Nathan, obviously.  The one who talks shit."
Arthur suddenly felt the implications of what he'd just said.  He met Merlin's gaze for a long moment, before Merlin shrugged, and said "You'd be Simon.  The beautiful one."
Arthur gulped.  Was Merlin saying he thought Arthur was beautiful?
"Y-y-you g-going to s-share that muffin, or d-do I have to s-s-s-stab you w-w-with a fork to get a bit?"
Arthur spooned a bit, and held it up insouciantly, waving it just in front of him.  Merlin leaned forward and licked that muffin off the spoon.  After that, Arthur would have happily fed him the whole thing.
Merlin leaned back, sipping a bit of his soy latte.  "Do you remember the episode where Nathan fell in love with Simon and kissed him."
"Yes.  Uh, one of the most awkward kisses ever. In my opinion."
"Yeah, w-w-well Nathan was all c-c-cursed wasn't he.  W-w-w-wasn't even his real feelings, or s-s-s-supposedly, because of the c-curse, those w-w-w-weren't his real feelings, or s-some such bollocks."
"So, you're saying men can't have feelings for one another, romantic feelings, unless one of them is cursed.  On television, you mean?"
"Y-y-yeah, m-men can't k-k-kiss or h-h-hug unless o-o-one of them is c-c-cursed."
"So, if I wanted to kiss you, would that mean one of us has to be cursed?"
Merlin raised his eyebrow, before replying, "W-w-well, o-obviously it's you who is cursed.  G-got the w-w-worst c-c-case of f-f-foot in m-mouth I've ever c-come across."
Arthur felt laughter bubble up inside him.  So he was a bit taken off guard when Merlin swooped in, and planted his full lips around Arthur's for a blissful moment.
His laugh kind of got throttled by his hammering heart.  "I take it you like me well enough, even if I regularly say exactly the wrong thing, and show all the sensitivity of a cane toad."
Merlin smiled, and said, "It's a g-g-good t-t-thing you're so damn beautiful, otherwise I'd p-p-probably not even have b-b-bothered."
"So, you're only after me for my looks?"
"M-mostly.  Isn't that why you talked to me the other day?" 
"Okay.  So maybe I'm interested in you because you're luscious.  Doesn't mean I'm not guessing there's more to you than a hot arse."
"T-t-t-there is more.  I-i'm just t-t-trying t-to figure o-out if you're interested in the w-whole p-p-package, or j-j-just my a-a-arse."
Arthur sighed.  Merlin was interested in him, against the odds it seemed, but was still smarting at how Arthur had reacted to him, during the first date.
"Look, Merlin.  I'll admit, I was probably a bit overbearing during our first date.  I wasn't exactly patient, with waiting for what you might want to say.  I really regretted not calling you afterwards, but by the time I realised that, it had already been a week, and I thought maybe you'd be pissed or not interested."
Merlin didn't say anything, just gave an encouraging mmm.
"I'm sorry I lied last week, in the shop, when I said I was coming in to see you.  I acted like a fuckwit, I know, I wanted to impress you, and I didn't want to admit I'd given up on thinking about you, and that I was there to see Gwen.  I want to get to know you, maybe if you can forgive me for being a prat, and thinking that your stutter made you a less likable person.  I was an idiot to think that."
"B-but y-y-you're n-n-not a p-prat all the t-time, are y-y-you?"
Arthur was skeptical, "Um, well maybe not all the time."
Merlin chortled, "At l-l-least y-y-y-you're being hon-nest, A-arthur.  I a-accept y-y-your apology."  Merlin paused for a beat.  "A-a-apologies."
Arthur grinned.

Bowling had been Merlin's choice.  Well, Merlin and Gwen, and they were both gawking and giggling behind their lime and raspberry spiders like a pair of teenage girls, each ogling their respective dates.  Arthur thought Merlin was just keen on bowling so that he could make a fashion statement in his pink bowling shirt that was monogrammed. With ME. Also, perhaps because it might be the only sport which Merlin would stand half a chance of keeping up with Arthur on the scoreboard.
"Okay, Gwen, your turn's up," bellowed Arthur over the pulsing techno music.
Gwen pushed her spider aside, grabbed her bowling ball, and gave the bowling ball a good, confident roll down the lane.  She was doing well, five strikes, and two spares so far.  Merlin of course, had seven strikes already.  When she finished her turn, (another strike), she sashayed back to Merlin, who gave her a high five.
Lance took his turn next, and totally broke with all team protocol and morale by mouthing "Love you baby" to Gwen.  Team Go for Broke was going to be clobbered by Team Fierce unless Lance got his head back in the game. 
Arthur noticed Merlin looking at him, and he knew, just knew, that Merlin was laughing at Arthur for being so competitive.
Arthur stalked over to their seats, looming over Merlin who had been lolling about in the plastic seat, but was suddenly squirming to get himself straitened up.  Arthur was too quick for him though, and trapped him half-supine, catching his lips determinedly with his own, Merlin responded by chasing Arthur's tongue with his own, grabbing Arthur around the waist and pulling himself up on Arthur in an attempt to pull Arthur into his lap.  Arthur capitulated, happy to lose this battle of wills, then flicked off the baseball cap that Merlin was wearing, threading his fingers through Merlin's flattened hair until it was sticking out in every direction in existence. 
"Hey, g-g-give that back."
Arthur had snatched up the cap, and was holding it behind his back, refusing to let Merlin have it back.
"What is it Merlin, your lucky cap or are you incognito?"
"I l-l-like my cap.  G-g-g-give it b-b-back."
Arthur just stretched back as far as he could whilst not falling out of Merlin's lap, and shrugged, with a grin.  He flicked Merlin's hair a little more, before gently settling the cap back on Merlin's head, and then planted a kiss on his lips.
"You're adorable, you know that.  Cap, or no cap."
"Y-y-you're j-j-just trying to d-distract me, c-c-cos Gwen and I are b-b-b-beating you."
"Aw, Merlin, that's only partially true.  I also just like the snogging and the feeling of you squirming against me."  Arthur smiled his most predatory smile.   
"Y-y-you know A-arthur, I m-m-m-might have m-m-mentioned that f-f-foot in mouth t-thing, you're d-d-doing it again."
"Get used to it Merlin.  You're getting the whole package here, not just the highlights."
Merlin groaned.  Didn't he know it.
The end.

PJ Harvey - live
Merthur & crest
Just a short entry to say how amazing PJ  Harvey was to see live. Most of the songs were from "Let England Shake", although she also did some older stuff, such as "Down by the Water".  She has a fantastic voice, very pure and clear, which she uses to great effect.  All of the songs from that album were reproduced almost perfectly, and it was a real privilege to see such skilled use of different instruments to create the eerie and moving music that was in this performance.  Polly doesn't really talk at all between songs, mostly the lights would fade to black, until the next song started.  I understand that she is actually quite shy, and when the music itself was this intense and perfect, then I don't mind if there is no banter or talking.  Better to say nothing than to ramble.  She did however speak at the end, to thank us, and also during the encore, introducing her AWESOME band, John Parish, Mick Harvey and awesome drummer whose name escapes me (but he was awesome.) The only fault I could pick with the show was not having the sample of the lady singing in the track "England" a whole lot louder, because on the album the interplay between PJ's mournful singing, and the lament that is the sample, always moves me so much I want to cry.  I wanted that sample to be Loud! 


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