Morgana sighed as she looked over the clothes that had been laid out on the bed: one navy-blue sequined ball gown with copious amounts of tulle and one naval officer's uniform, freshly pressed. Today was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and there was to be a celebration at Merlin and Arthur's flat. Their terrace overlooked the Thames River and would provide the perfect view for them and a select group of friends to see the pageant as it passed. Although Morgana was excited by the prospect, she wasn't so sure Merlin had thought things through when he planned it...
Arthur was not the same man he once was, and ever since returning from his deployment with the Royal Navy to Afghanistan six months ago, he'd been skittish in crowds and around loud noises. Merlin, God love him, seemed oblivious and wouldn't hear of cancelling the party, insisting that Arthur was fine and would warm up once the festivities were in full swing.
She knew seeing Leon in his uniform would make Arthur maudlin, but it had been Leon's suggestion to dress for the pageant in the first place and he rarely had an opinion about anything, so she didn't want to discourage him. When he emerged from the shower, his towel wrapped around him like a kilt, she had an idea...there was a chance it would make Arthur smile; something he did far too infrequently these days.
"Know what would be really funny?" Morgana smirked at Leon and hoped her eyes weren't as sad as her heart was heavy.
"If I wore the dress to the party?" Leon responded with a short chuckle.
Morgana's smile transformed into a grin and she stood on tiptoe to kiss him. "You know I love you, right?"
"That's only because I'll never be as pretty as you," Leon winked and lifted her, then twirled in a circle. Morgana screamed and hooked her legs around him, pressing their foreheads together as the room spun around them.
Morgana and Leon were late to the party because of the damned security in front of the building. They had chastised her for dishonoring the Royal Navy by treating it's uniform as a costume. On the way up to the flat, she started to worry whether or not Arthur would have the same reaction, but the look on his face when they strode in was priceless. Rolling his eyes at Morgana, Arthur gaped next at Leon. Then, he broke into a grin and shook his head as Leon pirouetted. Morgana was relieved that she hadn’t offended her brother but as Arthur graciously received her with a hug, she noted that he already reeked of champagne and she wondered just how early he had started drinking.
"We always did know who wore the pants between you, didn't we?" Arthur quipped, pumping Leon's hand.
Playfully, Morgana cuffed Arthur upside the head, but regretted it the moment that he flinched away instead of pinning and tickling her the way he used to. She watched as he retreated to the kitchen, slugging down a hefty sample of champagne before returning to offer them some. Laying her hand on his forearm, she thanked him kindly and then asked him if he'd been doing any better lately.
A flush crept up Arthur's neck as he answered in the affirmative and he left in search of Merlin. Morgana wanted to follow after her brother, hug him tightly, and tell him that it was okay, that he was amongst friends, that everyone would understand if he needed a moment to get away from the chaos of it all...but knowing him, it would only make things worse. Instead, she pulled Leon out to greet the others and watched in amusement as Gwaine blatantly lifted Leon's skirt.
No one said anything when Arthur collected the royal masks Merlin had passed around and burned them one by one in the kitchen sink. Only Morgana stood by his side, holding a pitcher of water should the flames get out of control, watching as Camilla and Charles' paper faces blackened and curled as they turned to ash. Arthur consoled himself with the last of the champagne and Morgana silently rubbed his shoulders.
When Merlin called in that the pageant was passing by, Morgana watched as Arthur, almost physically, pieced himself together and went out onto the balcony. There, he tipped into Merlin's arms, before pulling the two of them into the wall.
Merlin laughed as Arthur nuzzled him, seemingly unaware that Arthur was doing it as a means of escape from his surroundings. Arthur was a hometown hero, but he needed saving too, and Morgana hoped Merlin was up to task.
"How much champagne have you had?" Merlin asked as Arthur swayed drunkenly, threatening to send them both toppling from the balcony.
"Not quite enough yet," came Arthur's response, and Morgana could hear the anxiety in his tone.
When the bells passed, signalling the Royal barge was on it's way, Arthur sobered and straightened. Both he and Leon drew to attention, saluting the Queen and her family as their training decreed. Morgana found herself momentarily swept away by the others enthusiasm, and waved wildly as she cheered them along. After the barge passed, Morgana glanced over to Arthur, who was still in the same position.
Merlin was there beside him, gazing across with such love and adoration that a lump formed in Morgana's throat at the sight of it and she felt like she was intruding on a private moment. Looking away, she shared a smile and a kiss with Leon instead. He stole his hat off of her head and she tweaked his nipple where it was peaking out beyond the bodice that was sagging along with the shoulder strap.
When the pageant was over, Arthur looked mildly relieved and dragged everyone inside for a toast. Champagne gone, he poured a round of tequila shots and passed them out with a half-cocked smile that spoke volumes to Morgana but apparently didn’t set off any warnings for the others. Morgana soured further and shot a dark look at Merlin. He had been with Arthur for six years, why couldn't he see something was wrong?
After his shot, Merlin giggled, his entire body listing sideways. He was even drunker than Arthur was, and had started to assemble a lopsided paper crown from the art supplies that Gwen and Lance had brought with them. "Arthur hasn't a hat!" Merlin announced.
Arthur's lips thinned and he stepped backwards and away from Merlin. "I think I can survive without one, thanks."
"Nope," Merlin argued loudly. "Everyone's got a hat."
Sheepishly, Morgana fingered her own: a paper replica of Napoleon Bonaparte's bicorne that Leon had made and tucked into her hair at a jaunty angle. In turn, she had made Leon a tiara. Percy and Freya wore matching bonnets, Gwaine and Elena respectively sported a traffic cone and an ice cream cone, Elyan the sun and Mithian a rainbow, Lance a pirate hat and Gwen Viking horns. She would have dashed them all in a second if she thought it would make Arthur happy.
Merlin added more glitter to the crown as he babbled on about traditions and doing things in the name of friendship, unaware of the growing sadness in Arthur's eyes. When Merlin was finished, he crawled over to Arthur and into his lap.
"Merlin!" Arthur protested, trying to ward the paper crown away without tearing it. After a minute, he gave up and sat placidly while Merlin placed the crown on his head. Much too large, the yellow circlet sank down over Arthur's eyes, and with a sigh, he shoved it back up.
Merlin reached forward, smoothing Arthur's hair and tipping the crown so it rested behind Arthur's ears, keeping it from slipping again. A grin blossomed on his face and then he started to giggle. "Queen Arthur! Let's hear it for the Queen!"
Percy and Freya stopped groping one another long enough to cheer and Gwaine put his fingers into his mouth, letting loose a piercing whistle. Gwen and Lance looked at each other for a split second and then began to hum the opening bars of the national anthem. Elyan was the first to start singing, but soon, everyone had joined in.
"God save our noble Queen" everyone sang, and Merlin chimed in, "Arthur!"
There was a round of giggles, and on the next bar, there was an enthusiastic cheer, "Long live our noble Queen, Arthur!"
Arthur barked a laugh and everyone smiled approvingly, but a moment later, his laughter grew hysterical and out of place. Soon, it had given way to great, heaving sobs and everyone quieted down as Arthur clung to Merlin. Slowly, each couple excused themselves. Gwaine gripped Arthur's shoulder as he passed and mumbled about the national anthem signalling the end of the party. With Percy's help, Merlin got Arthur into the bedroom and the soft rumble of their voices could be heard from the hallway.
After Percy and Freya departed, Morgana and Leon hung around a bit longer, exchanging looks of concern while they cleaned up some of the detritus. Finally, Merlin emerged from the bedroom, sobered and rubbing the back of his neck. His eyes were wide and troubled and he glanced at them apologetically. "I'm really sorry..."
"Don't," Leon said kindly but Morgana glared.
"I told you that a party wasn't in Arthur's best interest," she said coldly.
"Yeah, well..." Merlin sighed and nodded as he looked away. "Look, I'd walk you down except I'm not too keen on leaving him alone..."
"It's fine," Leon said, taking Morgana by the elbow. "Give us a call in the morning and let us know how things are going, if you need anything."
"I will," Merlin said softly. "Thank you."
On the way home, Morgana silently stared out of the window. It wasn't until they had undressed and Leon was finished brushing his teeth that she spoke up.
"What the hell happened to my brother, Leon?"
He wiped his face on the hand towel and sighed as he straightened. "He survived a bloody war, Morgana, give him a break."
"I am giving him a break! I'm giving him all the breaks! That's not even what I'm talking about!" Morgana raged. "He's hurting and I don't know how to help him. I want my brother back! Where did he go, damn it?"
Leon pulled Morgana to him, wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "He's still there, he's still Arthur, but you don't go through something like that unchanged."
"You did!" she said as she clung to him.
"We all deal with what we saw in our own ways," Leon gently chided.
"But why does Arthur have to deal like that?"
"Because," Leon said. "He was our commander. Our leader. And he blames himself for what happened to Mordred..."
"What?" Morgana cried, pulling back. "But that's ridiculous! There was a roadside bomb, it wasn't anyone's fault!"
Leon's eyes glazed over and he suddenly seemed miles away. "I know, but we couldn't save him. He died in Arthur's arms. He was the youngest of all of us, Morgana...barely old enough to be there in the first place. Arthur gave the orders for the mission, and he'll never forgive himself for it. Mordred's death...it rocked us all, but it shook him to the core."
Silent tears tracks down Morgana's face and Leon brushed them away with his thumb. "Don't worry, Arthur has Merlin to take care of him."
"Merlin?" Morgana spat. "He's the reason Arthur freaked tonight. I told him Arthur wasn't going to want that party, and it's like he didn't even care! He doesn't get it!"
"Don't you think that out of all of us, Merlin gets it best? He lives with Arthur, he sees what we don't. Merlin's pushing him, showing him that he can go on living, that it's okay to feel. Merlin is good for Arthur,” Leon rationalized.
Morgana sniffed and shrugged.
Leon gave her arm a soothing rub and kissed her softly. "C'mon, let's go to bed. In the morning, you can call Arthur and invite them for a quiet weekend in the country, just the four of us. And you can even pretend it was your idea..."
A small smile tugged at the corners of Morgana's lips and she wiped her eyes before slapping Leon's arm. "That's because it was, you twit."