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[personal profile] rageprufrock
So [personal profile] zoetrope, [personal profile] mklutz and I went to the philharmonic. This happened.

Title: Unfinished (KV Anh. 46 (374g))
Rating: R, for Will's understandable reaction to Merlin's car
Summary: (Merlin)

Half-eight in the morning was entirely too early for madness to have already descended at Tintagel, but after the tray of custards had capitulated into gravity and also a tower of delicately perched champagne glasses, the swans had somehow got out of their enclosure and begun attacking the caterers, and with Arthur nowhere to be found, Mrs. Gaitlin had declared the day a disaster and taken to her bed.

Elsewhere at the estate, its long, tamped-dirt and pebble drive was almost entirely disguised by a small caravan of refrigerated catering trucks, emergency landscapers, event planners' battered minis, and an appalling number of unmarked white trucks of dubious provenance.  The half-dozen dogs that called the estate home were all parked in a half-circle around the kitchen door, staring longingly inside at where great violence was being done to a lot of chickens, and people were shouting at one another in two Romance and one Cyrillic language.  Down the lawn, around a towering inferno of hydrangeas, the gardener Uther had seduced to Tintagel with the promise of vast quantities of money and free reign over the myriad walled and pocketed gardens that scattered the grounds was having an arm-waving row with someone wearing a dark-green boiler suit carrying electrical equipment, an ax, and looking wild-eyed.

It was also far too dreamy a day for chaos: the countryside effusively green and hazy with sun, low mist being brushed aside by an easy wind running its fingers through the hedgerows and startling birds out of branches.

And it was upon this Arthur mused, lying out in the hot, dry sand around the little pond and staring up at the bluey-white sky.  The sound of motorway traffic was distant and hidden away here, the day felt almost peaceful, insulated from the two-dozen text messages his father's long-suffering secretary had sent him with escalating numbers of uppercase letters and logarithmically increasing exclamation points.

His mobile rang again, and sighing, Arthur pulled it from his pocket and barely managed to say, "Really, Gavin," before Gavin burst out with:

"Where are you?  Are you coming?"

Arthur considered, briefly, saying that he was in Mallorca, but he'd always hated the way Gavin cried.  "I'm in the car," he lied.  "I'm on my way."

"You were supposed to be here last night," Gavin thundered.  "Do you know what's happened here?"

Ignoring the fact that everyone was forever remembering that Arthur would rather saw off his legs and walk back to London on the stumps than spend a fucking evening with Katrina — much less with Katrina at Tintagel, watching the BBC or ITV string up lights or trample the grounds or for spoiled, coked out actresses wander around Arthur's mother's rose garden — Arthur said, "I don't want to know what's happened there."

"I will tell you what's happened here!" Gavin yelled.  "The caterers have provided us with enough chicken to feed the African horn and no fish at all, the swans have got loose and I think one of them must be Zeus because he's chasing poor Libby around and she's terrified it's going to savage her, Percy, that wretched creature, is eating the rugs — "

"Hey," Arthur warned, because Percy was his favorite.

" — the chamber we hired is nowhere to be found, the nanny has quit citing workplace cruelty and opted to return to Siberia, and that was all before your father realized that you hadn't arrived last night, weren't going to be at breakfast, and that you still aren't at the house!"

Arthur said, "Right," and hung up, pushing himself to his feet.

Out of sheer bloodymindedness, Arthur had left the Audi in London and elected to drive his dusty, falling-apart Golf into Surrey, knowing the exact way Katrina's mouth would purse unattractively when she saw it.  It took two tries to get it going, and its muffler made a hideously unattractive noise every time Arthur engaged the accelerator, but it was the first thing he'd ever bought all with his own money and he was unaccountably fond of sort of pathetic objects  — which explained his childhood rescue of Percy — and turned back onto the A3, where a few minutes later he steamed past a broken down Ford Fiesta billowing smoke and just missed three people, dressed in fawn and white, tumbling out of it shouting.


In the seeming absence of any imminent rescue, Will Hopper had searched the glove compartment of the dusty red Fiesta for something to make life worth living and had only produced wine gums.

"We're fucked," he pronounced around a cherry-flavored one.

"Your fillings are fucked," Merlin shouted over his shoulder, where he was hovering over the opened bonnet of the car and trying to wave smoke out of his face, as if he knew fuck-all about cars.  "Come over here and help me fix it."

Will rolled his eyes.  "As if either of us knows fuck-all about cars," he said, and turned to Gwen, who was clutching her shoddy, four years-old Nokia to her phone as she wandered around in abortive half-circles trying to find a bar of O2 service and mostly failing.  "Any luck?"

"Hi," Gwen shouted into the mobile.  "Hi, is this a taxi service?  Hello?"

"Right," Will said, and turned back to Merlin, who was about to — "Fucking hell, mate, what are you doing?" he yelped, and pushed up to snatch Merlin's shoulder and jerk him backward.

Merlin pointed at the smoking engine.  "I was going to try that thing," he explained.

"You're fucking learning impaired," Will accused, and pulled Merlin even further away from the car, for their collective safety.  "Do you not remember the fucking terrible conversation Gaius had with you and forced me to attend last week?"

Glowering, Merlin said, "It's not a big deal."

"That was your bowing hand," Will told him impatiently, "now insured for three-quarters of a million pounds — somehow, I think it's a big fucking deal."

"I hardly think minor auto repair is going to render me incapable of playing," Merlin said peevishly, at which point the Fiesta decided to interject itself by making a loud banging noise, spewing out even more smoke, and to visibly slump another two inches closer to the ground, as if the extreme effort it took to keep itself in one place was too much.

Will cocked one brow at Merlin.  "Merlin, that car's beyond repair."

Taking a protective step toward it, Merlin said, "Don't say that, Clarence is a great car."

The exhaust fell off the back in a orangey, rusted chunk, thudding dully against the grass where they'd pulled over on the side of the motorway.

"Don't say a fucking word," Merlin revised.

"Thank Christ," Gwen cheered, and Will and Merlin turned around to see her hurling herself halfway across the road at an Addison Lee taxi.

The process of arranging three people, a violin, Gwen's terrifyingly expensive viola, and Merlin's cello in the backseat of the cab was precarious, especially since six yards down the road where the taxi had halted there appeared to be robust mobile service and with it roughly a half-million text messages and voicemail from someone at Tintagel named Gavin who became more shrieky with each one.

"So we're apparently an hour late," Gwen reported, holding the phone six inches from her ear.  "And also, compounding the already chaotic chaos of a very special day."

"Oh, well, for shame," Will said, rolling his eyes elaborately.  "How dare we offend the great and amazing Uther Pen-fucking-dragon on the christening day of his midlife crisis."

Droll, Merlin said, "I think it's name is Penelope, Will."

"Penelope Aleksandra Pendragon, actually," Gwen said, hanging up the phone mid-tinny-shout from the earpiece, like she just couldn't be bothered anymore.  

Will's eyes bugged out.  "That child's name is PAP?"

"That poor, poor girl," Gwen giggled, helpless.  "Uther as her father."

"And that evil harpy as her mother," Will finished, at which point the driver chimed in to say, "If you three are talking about Katrina fucking Pendragon, then that old bag is a right cunt," which boded ill for the entire afternoon, but was nowhere near as ominous as when the driver pulled up the long driveway at Tintagel and abandoned them in front of a battered-looking Golf, a maid being chased by a small herd of swans, and a man trying to wrest an axe out of the hands of an electrician, trying to hack away at a massive rhododendron.

"God in heaven," Will murmured, holding his violin close to his chest like a talisman.

"I've seen worse," Gwen said bravely.

And then a round-faced, dark-haired man barreled out of a hidden side door, deftly avoided the rhododendron-based fight, nearly kicked a swan, and called out, "You!  You three!  You're late!"

Aggrieved, Will turned to Merlin.  "This is your fault," he complained.  "You're the only reason we're trapped here, stuck with this gig."

A month earlier, when they'd been hired, Will had said, "Merlin, I could kiss you for landing us this gig," Merlin reflected glumly, folding his arms around his cello case for comfort as the man, much more red-faced up close, drew up short in front of them, and huffing, counted them twice before barking:

"Aren't you supposed to be a fucking quartet?"

"Lancelot is on his way," Merlin said feebly.  

Apologetically, Gwen said, "The bass doesn't fit in the car we were in, and he had a lesson right before and said he'd meet us here, and there was appalling traffic all on the A3 and — "

"Right, shut up," the man said, already pulling a mobile out of his pocket and punching at the touch screen, "just follow me, and be prepared to pull a bassist out of your arses if he doesn't materialize by 11 a.m."

Lagging behind and huddled together, Merlin leaned over to Will, whispering, "Who the hell is that guy?"

Shrugging, Will muttered, "Probably fucking Arthur Pendragon — I always heard from everybody he's a total twat."


Arthur had taken one look at the pandemonium spreading throughout Tintagel like a particularly vicious Girls Aloud song, said, "Right," and had gotten to work, leaving the ostentatious and overpriced present he'd had his secretary order in the backseat along with his conspicuously casual suit and stormed the grounds in old trainers and jeans.  

First there was the issue of the gardener, Grady, and more importantly, of Grady's prize rhododendrons, and how they were both in vapors over the heinous cruelty the event planners' electrician wanted to deal out in order to string up lights throughout the grounds as per Katrina's request.  Firstly, Arthur took the axe away from the Ted, the electrician, and then he took the garden hoe away from Grady and then he brokered a fragile peace by forcing Grady to admit that the rhododendrons needed trimming, anyway, and that surely — surely — with his artful eye for landscaping and the electrician's willingness to bend they could find some solution.  Then he'd held up the axe and the garden hoe and threatened them with both until they'd sulked off to string up fairy lights and Japanese lanterns and God knows what the fuck else.

Distantly, he'd seen Libby, one of the upstairs maids, fleeing with a swan in hot pursuit, but before he'd been able to suss out just what the hell that was all about an entire half-cooked chicken had flown out of the ground-floor window over the massive kitchen sinks.  By the time he'd gotten downstairs, half the serving staff were cowering in the wine cellar drinking straight from a shared bottle of Pimms — problematic on several levels, but not worrying enough to prevent Arthur from stealing a swig — and he'd been forced to intervene between the caterers and the on-staff chef at the saucier's station, which, on a relative level, had the least number of knives in immediate proximity.  Then, having dispatched the caterers to sort out the mountainous heaps of fowl waiting to be fired and sent the cook away to find fish, some sort of fish, any sort of fish at all, and helping himself to another glug — the serving staff had moved onto a Sainsbury brand Cava at this point — Arthur heard Katrina's voice filtering through the doorway, and so volleyed himself out of a window and directly into the path of Libby, hysterical with tears, and a swan.

Mascara and eyeliner running horribly, Libby clutched at him and wept about Leda, and vicious, horrible birds, and to be fair, the swan did hover menacingly a foot in front of him while Libby cowered behind.  Before them, the lily pond was serene and dotted with pink blossoms, reflecting the massive white tent being erected left of the yew alley.

"Libby, for fuck's sake, it's a swan," Arthur sighed, and made to grab at it.

Which was how he ended up in the boathouse looking for a first aid kit and trying to fabricate a sufficiently convincing story to tell the swan handlers for when they were returned only forty-five birds instead of the original forty-six.  Arthur's knee-jerk response to being savagely attacked had always involved fighting back, and after enthusiastically kicking the damn thing in the lily pond it had vanished and hadn't reappeared, and then he'd been too busy trying to avoid Libby's effusive expression of gratitude and seek medical attention to wonder if it had survived.

His watch — glass cracked, fucking swan — said it was almost 10 a.m., and he swore under his breath and redoubled his efforts to affix the gauze and bandage on his hand before Gavin saw him and had a fit he wasn't dressed and wasn't already at the chapel.

"Oh, thank God," someone said, and Arthur peered over his shoulder to a harried looking man with dark curls, extremely blue eyes, and a frantic look on his face.  "Would you mind if I had a go with that first aid kit?"

Arthur looked him up and down.  "You all right?" he asked.

The man nodded.  "I'm fine — it's just, my friend, he's the bassist for the reception — he was just attacked by a swan," he babbled, and barely pausing for breath, he said, "Um, I know it sounds mad, but he's bleeding quite profusely."

"Bloody fantastic," Arthur muttered, and clutching the gauze to his hand, closed and picked up the kit with the other, and said, "Right, where is he?" so he could go and head off the inevitable lawsuit before Uther heard about it and forbade anybody from having avians on the estate in an act of typical overkill.


"How do you get attacked by a swan?" Will marveled, holding a rag to Lancelot's head.  

Dazed, Lancelot kept staring blankly into Gwen's worried face, and he murmured, "It just — it came out of nowhere.  One minute, I was walking by the lily pond, and the next, it just rocketed out at me, and — "

"I found a first aid kit!" Merlin cried, waving over at them madly as he jogged up the lawn, toward the reception stage where they'd all situated themselves, instruments carefully laid out, still in their cases, a mess of electrical wiring tangled like black snakes at their feet.  A blonde man clutching a green plastic kit was trailing after him, looking harried and somewhat bloody himself.

"Here," the man said, and peered at Lancelot's head as he handed Will the box.

"Cheers," Will said, and frowning at the man's hand, asked, "What happened to you?"

The blonde scowled.  "Swan," he muttered, and glancing at Lancelot, he said, "Sorry about this — I did try to kick it to death earlier."

"Clearly it can't be killed with mortal weapons," Lancelot grumbled, and Merlin flashed the blonde a wide, guileless smile as he said:

"Thanks — we really appreciate it."

"Yeah," Will said, attaching a Batman plaster to Lancelot's head, while Gwen clutched at his hand and cooed at him fretfully, as if this were the desert and Lancelot was riddled with shrapnel, rather than fucking Surrey and attacked by a bird.  "This entire day's been a bloody disaster."

The blonde raised his eyebrows.  "Is that so?" he asked.

Considering the fact that he probably worked at the estate, Merlin rushed to say, "Well, I mean — our car broke down on the way, and everyone's been a bit of shit to us since we got here..." faltering as he realized he actually just exacerbating the situation.

"Fucking christenings," Will said bitterly, adding a Barbie plaster underneath the Batman plaster and hoping Lancelot wouldn't look at his own face anytime soon. Depressingly, it didn't actually manage to make Lancelot less attractive. "Fucking posh christenings."

"Anyway," Gwen said, blushing in obvious shame over the rest of her quartet and digging up a smile for the new arrival, she turned to the blonde man, "I'm sorry, none of us caught your name?"

"Arthur Pendragon," he told them, smirking, and helping himself to a plaster — plain, no cartoon designs at all — he said, "If you'll excuse me," and headed off toward the main house.

Merlin managed to wait until Arthur was just a distant, tow-headed dot on the green carpet of the lawn before he blurted out, "Oh God, oh God, was that — we didn't — did we?  Oh, Christ," while Will said, "Shit," and Lancelot snatched Gwen's compact out of her hand and asked, pitchy, "Will, what the fuck have you put on my face?"

"Oh, no," Gwen said faintly.  "If we don't get paid, we don't have money to get back to London."


Arthur's good cheer from his run-in with the string quartet was thoroughly destroyed when he took a wrong turn in the herb garden and ran straight-away into Katrina's miserable designated homosexual, who took one look at Arthur's sweaty, sunburnt face, his now-bloody t-shirt, dirt-covered jeans, and said:

"Oh, my God, Arthur, you're in a state."

"Yes," Arthur said acidly, "thank you for that."

Jonas pursed his lips. "Katrina will have a fit if you roll up for the christening like that."

Having been on the other side of a closed door for many, many of Katrina's fits, Arthur knew intimately their triggers, durations, and varying decibels, and he resisted the urge to remind Jonas that he could give a fuck if Katrina fitted herself right into the lily pond with the God damn murderous swans.

"Then I'll just have to go wash up now, won't I?" he said, in a way he thought might be interpreted as polite if Jonas squinted and was slightly deaf.

He cut through the butler's pantry and then a side staircase back down to the the main entrance, where his car and present and suit were awaiting him in an ocean of now-arriving guests, decked out in pale pastel suits and hats they'd deemed too tasteless for Ascot. They were all clutching beautifully gift-wrapped packages from Liberties and Selfridges and Tiffany's. Arthur, to be a twat, had instructed his secretary to order something off of the John Lewis website on sale, and he hefted it in one hand — suit hooked over his other set of fingers — and kicked the door of his Golf shut as Katrina's guests gave him measuring, dissatisfied looks.

Arthur's old chambers were located on the third floor of the east wing in Tintagel, up the grand staircase and then another spindly flight of steps into a turret that overlooked the lily pond. It was surprisingly claustrophobic for the size of the estate, but there was a massive window seat and a secret passage to the kitchens and a number of convenient footholds for a growing child tempted to risk life and limb by climbing around the roofs of the family estate. As a boy he'd loved Tintagel so much he'd dreamt of it during endlessly long school years, and standing in the doorway of his room, Arthur had a vivid moment of being twelve years-old all over again, knowing summer stretched green and hot in front of him like the huge stretch of the south lawn.

Which made it all the most foolish he hadn't been back in almost a year, since he'd seen a swath of Russian tourists tearing blooms off of his mother's rose bushes and had flown into a blind rage. After he'd thrown them — and six dozen other tourists — off of the estate, he'd been subjected to a summary lecture from Katrina about the vast cost of upkeep for a creaking behemoth like Tintagel, and how they must economize and monetize where they could.

Arthur had listened to that absolute shite for roughly fifteen minutes, stunned, waiting for his father to interrupt, to agree with him, to say that they might endure Katrina renting out the south lawn to ITV or the walled garden to fucking BBC or let Shine film some medieval bullshit in the cellars but that there had to be a line drawn somewhere.

"They're just flowers," Katrina had said, then, and the next thing Arthur had remembered with any clarity was the wind whipping his fringe as he'd driven back to London at ninety-five miles an hour.

And it was sympathy for his brand new half-sister and sympathy alone that had brought him back to Tintagel, Arthur swore. Down the hall, the antique grandfather clock bonged on and on, and by the time it struck ten chimes, Arthur had already hurled himself into the bath, brushing his teeth as he stood under the lukewarm spray.


Once they'd all managed to stop quaking and gloomily waiting to be told they'd been sacked, the quartet had managed to muster up enough energy to set up, doing sound checks with the party planner and tuning instruments, even though Will was constantly moaning about how nobody ever fucking noticed if anything was out of tune at these fucking things anyway so why the fuck did they fucking bother?

"For the simple pleasure of irritating you," Merlin told him tartly, and sorted through their set music. It was all afternoon easy listening, benign classical elevator music, the type of thing they could all play in their sleep, and Merlin looked longingly at the Super Mario arrangement he and Will had done last week in a fit of abject boredom while Gaius had been lecturing the entire philharmonic about the gravity and responsibility of bringing the love of arts to the masses — or something.

Will glowered, buttoning his shirt wrong behind the sheet Gwen had thoughtfully put up over a corner of their white and cream-striped tent, his khaki trousers still unbuttoned and a tuft of his dark blue pants with their telephone booth-red rocket ships sticking out. Merlin felt momentarily very sorry for himself that Will was his best friend.

"And I don't see why we couldn't play anything interesting," he whined.

Merlin slanted him a look. "Mrs. Pendragon requested — and I quote — 'light, airy, classic, elegant,'" he recited, paging through Handel and Bach and Debussy. "I really don't think anything you'd qualify as interesting falls into those categories."

"Meanwhile, tossers in Los Angeles get to cover fucking Elliot Smith," Will muttered. "Our lives are rubbish. Totally rubbish."

Lancelot stuck his head into the partition, and having swapped the Barbie and Batman plasters for plain ones, somehow looked even more dashing. "Everyone's filing into the chapel now, just a heads up," he said, and glancing at Will's chest, added, "Your shirt's buttoned wrong, mate," before ducking out again.

Merlin was grateful Gwen had started fucking him during their second year of uni, thereby making him thoroughly out of bounds, or he could easily see himself nursing one of those fruitless crushes on him that only turned into homosexual intercourse in Corbin Fisher web clips. Will, meanwhile, swore, undid all his buttons, and started over again, musing, "Well what about something classy? What about a Coldplay cover?"

"Hate Coldplay," Merlin said absently. "What do you say about starting with Handel?"

"No you don't," Will contradicted. "What about The Scientist? You love that song."

And Merlin had loved that song, during his rapturous two-week affair with Paolo, the temperamental flautist, which had ended with Paolo hurling a timpani mallet at Merlin's head and returning to Spain. The song had lost some of its shine since then.

"How about Water Music?" Merlin asked, plucking out the pages and flipping through them. They were dog-eared and watermarked, annotated in blue ballpoint and graphite and ink from an entire lifetime of playing, in his handwriting and Will's handwriting and Gwen and Lancelot and Gaius's handwriting, and the music felt as intimate as a diary page, every mark and note another practice, another memory, vivid like the clear, perfect sound of a first clarinet.

"Yeah, fine," Will sighed. "Which one of you's playing the second violin, then?"

Merlin shrugged. "I can do it; Lancelot's better on cello than he is on the violin."

They had, between them, three violins, Gwen's viola, Merlin's cello, and Lancelot's bass, and they were all conversational in each instrument, although most fluent on their own. Merlin was omnilingual with strings, easy on woodwinds, and stilted — but would do in a pinch — with a French horn. When melancholy, or drunk, he decamped to a piano. Having lacked the wherewithal to form successful friendships with people until he'd met Will very late in primary school, he'd made music instead, curious and ravenous for the one thing that had resisted the easy touch of his magic.

"Poor musical prodigy, taking one for the team," Will said, sailing out of the partition, and Merlin gave that the two-fingered response it deserved.


Happy reading! Digital cookies if anybody knows, offhand and without using Google, what the title means.
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