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[personal profile] rageprufrock
Title: Unfinished (KV Anh. 46 (374g)), pt 2/?
Rating: R, still for Will's mouth


It was 10:59 a.m. exactly when Arthur burst into the Pendragon family chapel through a back entrance for the clergy, slipped round the last standing-up funeral clutches of England's rich and fabulous exchanging gossip, and slipped into the family pew.

Uther gave him a rheumy look, but didn't comment. Katrina, dressed beautifully in a fawn-colored suit and ash gray pearls, gave Arthur a stink eye and looked at his still-dripping hair.

"So glad you could make the time, Arthur," she said.

"Of course I would come, it's Penelope's special day," Arthur said, addressing his words to his half-sister. Her wide blue eyes blinked sleepily at him from somewhere inside the nest of antique lace in which she was drowning in Katrina's arms. She had a sweet, bow mouth and dark blonde curls and so far, from his observations, it seemed that her limited hobbies included falling asleep on people's shoulders, spitting up on Katrina's most expensive couture (of which Arthur approved wholeheartedly), and attempting to cannibalize her own foot — all excellent projects for a small child, Arthur thought.

"Yes, well," Katrina said dismissively, "it is only fitting. You are her godfather."

He had liked Penelope immediately when they'd first been introduced, a week after she's come screaming into the world. Uther had let himself into Arthur's flat, announced Arthur had a new sister, informed him he was to be a godparent, and thrust Penelope into his arms. Arthur had stroked the soft, downy blond tufts of Penny's hair, then, and said, "Wow, I'm sure Katrina's thrilled about that," to which his father had rumbled something about Arthur's generally uncharitable nature. "Says the man who married a woman who complains our corporate philanthropic arm gives too much money to fucking Oxfam," Arthur had muttered, under his breath, and held Penny to his chest, pressing a kiss into her tiny cheek in apology, because it was hardly her fault her parents were Uther and a cow. If anything, he had more sympathy for her.

Today, at just over a month old, she gurgled at him like she remembered him, tiny pink hands reaching up and slapping at the lapels of his camel-colored blazer, fingertip catching one of the buttonholes, and Arthur stroked one of his own over the miniaturized geography of her palm, marveling at how little she was.

"Beautiful," he told her.

"Do you like it?" Katrina asked, stroking the lace of the christening gown. "It's antique."

"I meant Penelope, Katrina," Arthur clarified.

Thankfully, Father McClaren swept in then to explicate the various religious hypocrisies in which they were about to participate, and Arthur was saved from having to carry on a conversation with Katrina that wouldn't descend into uncomfortable, icy silence. Behind the romanesque choir screen — intricately decorated with paradise birds and flowers in wrought iron, sandalwood designs from when Arab traders had made a mark on one of the generations past — the organ began to hum, the music welling up into the rafters of the pre-gothic space, morning light pouring through the stained glass and painting the dark red runner of the aisle greens and blues and ethereal whites.

Uther and Katrina stood up, Penelope firmly in Uther's hold until Father McClaren drizzled apparently freezing holy water on her brow. She started screaming like she was being tortured, at which point Uther — remembering that fathering had never been one of his strong points — nearly dropped her before stuffing her back into Katrina's grasp, Arthur already halfway to his feet in the pew and ready to dive for the baby.

"Lovely ceremony," Lady Thistlewaith lisped at him, after, when the organ was playing everybody out into the streaming sunshine and the open bar, bottles of fizz being uncorked like it was Christmas or New Year's or the night Uther had told Arthur fucking Katrina was pregnant. "So happy for father."

"Yes, we're all very thrilled," Arthur told her, and made straight for the bar, where the girl mixing pitchers of Pimms took one look at his ragged expression and poured him a beefy glass of Beaujolais before handing him the whole bottle, too.

"You're a wonderful woman," Arthur told her earnestly. "Really exceptional."

She grinned at him. "Go on, then," she said, waving him away, and turned to the next pair of lushes, who Arthur overheard ordering two glasses of Pimms and volunteered to take the pitcher with them to save the waitstaff any inconvenience.

Arthur took his glass and his wine and his mounting self-pity and went to sit in a poorly appointed table in the corner, half-hidden by one of Grady's particularly eccentric climbing vines and the tent for the string quartet.

He sometimes wondered how his benign ambivalence toward Katrina had turned malignant. When he'd first been introduced to her, the summer after he'd turned twenty-one, thoroughly sunburnt from a week in Ibiza and feeling indestructible from a series of sexual encounters that had pushed the boundaries of physical possibility, he'd just remembered her as handsome and agreeable enough, and pressed a polite kiss to her cheek, welcomed her to the family and wished his father every happiness. But somewhere in the last half-decade Katrina had gone from being a civil and inoffensive fixture during Arthur's holidays and school breaks to a troll wearing Prada who had a vile tendency to appear at random in the C-suite when Arthur least expected it.

Morgana — who'd briefly been his step-sister during a regrettable four-year period that had prompted a great many uncomfortable questions about the technical definitions of incest — had asked if Arthur wasn't responding poorly because Uther was replacing Arthur's mother.

"Except I liked your mum," Arthur had pointed out. He had, because Fiona had been hilarious and boozy and scandalized Morgana by spending a lot of time wearing hideous floral caftans and smoking pot with Arthur by the pool.

Morgana had laughed, because the volcano in Iceland meant she was stuck in Florence at a shoot and wouldn't be able to make it for the blessed event — lucky bitch.

"To be fair, though, I think we both realized that relationship was doomed," she'd mused. "And also, mostly we were at school for that debacle."

He watched Katrina holding court, rocking Penelope's pram easily with one hand and laughing with perfect poise to everybody around her, which included three members of the House of Lords, several titled husband-and-wife duos, one barrister Arthur hated, another barrister he seriously fucking hated, and the head of HR at Albion Guaranty.

Loathing her now was pointless, of course, Arthur knew, and a waste of time. She and Uther were married, they'd reproduced, their lives — excepting the continued entanglement of real estate and the new complication of a half-sister — were entirely separated from Arthur's. He ought to be grown-up enough to be polite.

"Right," he muttered to himself, and drank some more.

"If we're sacked, you should probably tell us now, as we're about to go on and begin our first set," someone said.

Arthur turned around in his seat and saw the blue-eyed man from the boathouse and the string quartet again — only now he'd changed into a white shirt and khaki pants and he was wearing a perfectly awful pink polka-dot bow-tie.

"What," Arthur asked, pointing at it, "is that?"

He tipped his chin down to his chest, and Arthur was momentarily distracted by the mess of his black curls, before the man looked back up, guileless and wide-eyed. "The party planner said it was a girl."

"My sister, I hope, would have better taste than that," Arthur laughed.

The man grinned back. "So — not sacked?"

Arthur laughed. "Only if you remove the bowtie," he said, lipping at his wine glass. "What's your name, by the way? I missed it."

The man smiled at him, sweet. "Merlin," he said. "Merlin Emrys? I'm — "

"You sit in the first cello seat we endow with the London Symphony Orchestra," Arthur finished, raising a brow. Merlin in person looked nothing like the photographs on the LSO website, nor the poorly illustrated articles brought to him by the interns in the philanthropy department. Certainly, nothing had betrayed the truth of Merlin's elegant hands, long fingers tugging at the bowtie until it came loose, and he folded away into a pocket. "I didn't think world famous musical prodigies did christenings in Surrey."

"Even Elton John does the right christenings in Surrey. And anyway, I could hardly refuse your father," Merlin laughed, and eyed Arthur's wine. "Mind?"

Arthur held out his glass and watched as Merlin tipped it to his mouth, the way the Beaujolais stained his lips.

"Very few people do," Arthur murmured. "Anything good planned?"

"Actually, we'd hoped you'd be amenable to us being terrible," Merlin replied brightly, passing the wine back to Arthur, the stem still warm from his fingers. "Off key, squeaky, very first-year violinist sort of things. In the middle of the second set, I was going to drop my cello on Will's foot and see if he screams."

"Excellent," Arthur said. "Looking forward to it."

Merlin winked at him and vanished under the skirt of the tent, and Arthur heard voices and the sound of strings on the other side, a bright and instantly recognizable laugh, and chairs behind rearranged. The first note, high and sweet and unbroken, cutting through the ambient sound of distant voices.

Across the yard, the serving staff — all soundly drunk at this point — were veering around dangerously with their silver trays of cucumber sandwiches and salmon and cheese bites and miniature beef tartares. The last of the guests had toddled out of the church, making their way down the yew alley and to the south lawn, flocks of Sloane girls in terrifying fascinators teetering around as their pencil heels sank into the manicured grass and the Smythes, who had actually hired Elton John to sing at their ruby wedding anniversary. Not for the first time, Arthur reflected that he hated Surrey.

Merlin, on the other side of the curtain and blushing, still, said, "Right, last minute change — let's start with Il Ritiro," which prompted Will to make a perfectly awful face at him and say, "Oh my God, have you no shame? You've already got a crush on him?"


Even if Merlin did have the tiniest of crushes on Arthur, it was hardly like it was a crime, or that he was the only one. In between pieces, and while on autopilot for the least interesting parts of Handel, Merlin had seen no fewer than a dozen separate horsey-faced socialites waft over to wherever Arthur happened to be and laugh loudly at every single thing he said, touching his elbow flirtatiously. So far, the most successful of his suitors had been a little girl in a custard-yellow dress and white pinafore who asked Arthur to dance, a sight that had been so murderously cute Merlin had been afraid he'd sprout fallopian tubes or that Gwen would spontaneously become pregnant.

By the time they broke to scavenge for finger sandwiches and tiny eclairs and puddings, Merlin was fairly certain he was in love.

"I'm with Will," Gwen told him around an oyster swimming in diced shallot and meyer lemon. "This is embarrassing."

Merlin ignored her in favor of cupping his cheeks in both hands, propping his elbows up on his knees where he was huddled on the grass, and staring at Arthur as the sunlight gleamed off of his straw-blond hair. The little girl, having identified him as her knight in shining armor for the afternoon — the slut — was still monopolizing his dance card, standing in her white patent leather shoes on the toes of Arthur's loafers and letting him walk around all around the lawn.

"Obviously, we'll have two children," Merlin said to himself, dreamy. "The first should be a boy, and he'll have Arthur's hair, and my eyes, and then, we'll have a girl."

Will flopped down next to him in the grass, lip curled in revulsion.

"Merlin, come the fuck on," he pleaded. "This food is entirely too delicious for me to ruin it by throwing all of it up."

Lancelot leaned up against Gwen's side. "I think it's cute."

Will gave him a betrayed look. "You're a fucking terrible influence and we're replacing you with someone who won't encourage this shit post-haste," he swore.

"We can live in one of those horrible flats owned by horrible people who live in Covent Garden," Merlin sighed to himself, already constructing elaborate erotic fantasies involving his cello that would probably void his insurance policy.

They played through two more sets, bowing through Handel and Bach and Schubert, the notes slippery and easy and the music as familiar to Merlin as the geography of his own body. After Merlin tortured Will by queuing up three Debussy pieces one after the other, Will gave him a dirty look and hissed, "Fine, we'll play Clocks." Merlin smirked the entire time a string arrangement of Coldplay floated through the blue sky over Tintagel, because Will hated Debussy more than Merlin hated Coldplay by far. As a peace offering, as the last notes of the song faded, Merlin allowed, "Between the Bars, next," and Will retorted, "Oh, like one Elliot Smith song is going to wash that aftertaste of three Debussy pieces out of my mouth," but he was smiling.

The day went from hot and still to breezy in the late afternoon, after the heat broke, and the vast droves of people started to dissipate into smaller groups, little clusters of expensive afternoon dresses braying Hooray Henry laughs, and Merlin kept finding himself searching the crowds for Arthur's shoulders, the blond of his hair.

In the laziest arc of the afternoon, when everybody was as fizzy as the endlessly flowing champagne, a series of ginger-haired and tow-headed waitresses meandered over to the chamber, laying offerings near their designated mountain of possessions: a particularly excellent bottle of cava, strawberries, hulled and accompanied by a pot of double cream, candied ginger, salmon and cream cheese and chive sandwiches, a delicate plate of towered beef tartar, fresh grated horseradish and an unrecognizable sauce that zinged on Merlin's tongue.

"Are we that good?" Merlin finally asked, when he and Gwen and Will were cruelly savaging the newest treat — a plate of flakey pastries decorated with spun-sugar cages — while abandoning Lancelot to play a solo, glowering at them bleakly.

The waitress grinned at him. "Oh, you're all lovely, but we're acting on orders."

Will, raising an eyebrow and talking around a custard tart, asked, "Orders?"

The girl laughed, and slanting her eyes surreptitiously, tipped her head back and to the left, where a clutch of fabulously wealthy twats were all gathered together, fanning out around Arthur, who looked easy in their company and politely interested.

"Oh, fuck me. Arthur?" Will asked. Merlin promptly went calf-eyed, and Will turned to frown at him. "You're going to be insufferable about this aren't you?"

Merlin told the waitress, simpering, "Tell him I said thanks."

"Yeah," Gwen decided, "he's going to be insufferable about this."

Merlin was even more insufferable when, a few minutes later, the waitress returned holding a trio of molten chocolate cakes and held them just out of reach.

"Firstly, that's teasing, and secondly, you're short one," Merlin complained.

The girl grinned, saying, "Mr. Pendragon says that if you all want the cake, you'll have to earn it."

"Oh, did he," Merlin muttered.

"If you think we'd prostitute our friend out for those cakes, then you are absolutely right," Will said decisively and turned to Merlin. "Right, mate, go on."

Merlin punched him in the shoulder.

"Actually, he requested a song," the waitress said, and handed over a slip of paper.

Kodaly cello solo, 2nd movement — let's see if you deserve principal.

When Merlin looked up from the elegant stretch of Arthur's handwriting, he met the elegant blue of Arthur's eyes, gleaming in challenge from across the lawn. Merlin just held up the slip of paper and mouthed, Really? Arthur grinned back and held up a cut crystal glass in toast, raised his eyebrows like a little boy offering a dare.

"Right," Merlin said, folding up the paper and stuffing it into his pockets. "Everyone else off the platform."

"You freak," Will accused, even as Gwen was smiling indulgently and pulling him away toward the chocolate cakes, "you have that batshit piece memorized, don't you?"

Merlin did, because when he'd been six, Gaius had given it to him to keep him busy during a hot, horrible summer in London during his parents' divorce. Sonata for Solo Cello Op.8 was technical gypsy music, Merlin had decided bitterly, when he'd been eleven and still attacking the piece in between the Bach and Mozart and Handel and Haydn he'd played during rehearsals and recitals and auditions and in chamber groups. Kodaly had collected Hungarian folk songs into his staff paper, and folded into the notes technical curiosity that had Merlin scrambling, his left arm sore and weak after uselessly plucking his way awkwardly through the first movement and becoming savagely angry at the second. While learning it, he'd gotten angry and taught himself the viola and burnt three copies of the sheet music — but he'd always come back to it, and he loved it, now, the way he imagined kings long ago had loved spoils of war.

So he settled in his seat, the familiar weight and warmth of his cello cradled in the vee of his legs, stroked his fingers down the strings and closed his eyes.


The Pendragons endowed the first cello seat with the LSO because Igaine, possessed of bluer blood than even her husband's, had grown out of being a sub-par musician as a child into a patron of the arts with a particular fondness for the Elgar Cello Concerto. Arthur had grown up at parties and black-tie events and associated the overpoweringly lush smell of his mother's Shalimar perfume with the Barbican, the Royal Festival Hall, wood-paneled rooms at vast country estates, violin shimmering in the air and the lingering, rich tones of the cello streaming through gardens.

She'd played recordings of Janos Starker and taught Arthur how to dance before he'd turned seven and his father had promptly shipped him the most dreadfully expensive and posh pre-prep he'd been able to find. The sonata wasn't exactly conducive to waltzing, but that hadn't ever been the point, and Arthur still remembered looking up to his mother, the gold floss of her hair curtained over her shoulder in the solarium, their shoes tapping across the parquet floors

He'd been pulled out of class, his first year of pre-prep, and transported back through the narrow back roads of Surrey to Tintagel, his father distant and stone-faced on the other side of the towncar informing Arthur his mother had died.

"She always had a weak heart, you knew that, Arthur," his father had said, and paused before adding. "She didn't suffer. It was very sudden."

Arthur had spent the week after hidden in his room with his mother's record player, ignoring the flocks of important men and women who poured into Tintagel with bloodless European kisses for his father's cheek and flowers, their condolences and praise for Arthur's courage. He'd listened to his mother's Jaqueline du Pre recordings and thought that he'd never known his mother had a weak heart at all.

What had hurt, then, and knocked the wind out of him like a fist to the stomach had changed over time to a wistful longing, leaving no surface traces, no outward scars. When Arthur listened to cello he thought only of the sunlight filtering through his mother's hair, his too-earnest first attempts to lead, of being happy, and young.

"Well?" Merlin asked, when he'd finished, eyes shining.

He'd caught the sun on his face, a hot blush across his cheekbones, his lip red and bruised from where he'd bitten down on it through the entire movement, his body curled over the cello like a willow branch, arms akimbo and his cheek nearly pressed to the neck of the instrument like a lover, rocking with it. Merlin didn't play with the detached control of Starker, nor the full-bodied commitment of du Pre. He didn't have a commercial gloss, and the sound that had gushed forth from his cello was unrelenting, fearless, reckless like making a hairpin turn at forty-five miles an hour, and Arthur wondered if he'd been listening to a different piece of music all his life, or if he'd never really listened at all, before Merlin had played it.

"I suppose maybe you should stay principle after all," Arthur teased, and handed Merlin a bone-china plate, chocolate pudding fairly falling apart on it. "Here."

Merlin supposed that if he really wanted to be seductive and attractive, he would eschew stuffing his mouth full of pudding and trying to talk at once, but by the time he'd thought of it, he was already asking Arthur, "Why that sonata?"

"The overly sentimental reason is because my mother used to play it when I was young," Arthur told him plainly before his mouth crooked up into a smile that made Merlin a bit lightheaded. "But mostly I chose it because it's tremendously fucking difficult."

"Twat," Merlin said, and soothed himself with an enormous spoonful of chocolate.

Far from looking insulted — and Merlin was developing a sinking suspicion that Arthur was one of those purposefully difficult people — Arthur just laughed, showing off all his white teeth, and when he composed himself again, he said, "Look, I wanted to — "

Except that was when Katrina screamed, shrill enough to pierce the afternoon calm, and some Tory wife started shrieking for an ambulance, and was anybody there a doctor, and in a heartbeat Arthur was gone, transported across the lawn and on his knees over Uther's crumpled body.

"This is classic," Arthur swore at his father thirty-two hours later, glaring at where Uther was imposing and terrifying even unconscious in a hospital bed. "Really classic you."

After his father's violent, ill-timed, and supposedly massive heart attack at the christening, Katrina had fainted, and the last thing Arthur remembered before climbing into the back of the ambulance with three paramedics and his father was a flotilla of society wives offering up the temporary services of their au pairs. In the distance, Merlin had been standing, white-faced and still holding his half-eaten pudding, one hand up and open, waving at Arthur as they'd gone steaming through Surrey.

Arthur was still in his suit from the christening, had stolen a mobile phone charger from one of the junior doctors, and had decamped to his father's private room panic without being observed. Gavin had called on the hour, every hour for going on thirty-two hours now, which meant that Arthur, even if he had wanted to steal a few moments of rest by his father's bedside, found it largely impossible when just after slipping into the early stages of dreaming, his mobile went mental and then when he picked it up, Gavin went mental all over again. The latest report had contained some angry asides about the swan population at Tintagel in addition to updates on Katrina's weeping and rending of hair, how the fucking chamber was still stuck at the house because their car had broken down, and how the French au pair dispatched to their home by their all-too-willing neighbor's wife knew fuck-all about babies, despite being excessively beautiful and well-endowed and shockingly stupid. Arthur had told Gavin to kill everyone, and bury the bodies in the yew alley, which frankly he thought was pretty sound advice coming from someone whose father just had a coronary and who's assistants couldn't fucking assist.

"And for the record," Arthur continued, slouched in a plastic chair next to the bed, "I never had a sudden fucking heart attack whenever you were trying to pull. I was always more considerate than that."

He had been. The first time Uther had introduced Morgana's mother and Morgana to Arthur, he'd very politely waited until he and Fiona had gone off into one of the portrait galleries before he'd gotten sick off of the lamb from dinner and vomited all over Morgana's crushed velvet dress. This has become something of a Pendragon family tradition, although when Uther had introduced Arthur to Katrina, Arthur had been old enough to make it to the restroom before the bad salmon had gotten to his stomach and he'd gotten sick all over a very ostentatious toilet.

Arthur reached across the white expanse of Uther's sheets — ignoring the mess of wires and tubes, the sickly gray pallor of his father's skin — and took his hand, nervous with it even though no one was watching.

"Right, you should know if you don't wake up, I'm sending Penelope to a comprehensive out of spite," Arthur said. "I'll let her boyfriends sleep over and buy her a second-hand car and tell her to become a social worker."

There was no real outward response, but Uther's heart rate monitor bleeped with particular anger for a second, and Arthur figured that was as good a sign as any.


Happy reading!
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