Arthur Pendragon was not the least bit interested in the Diamond Jubilee. He scowled at the flags that suddenly appeared all over the city of London. He ignored the news reports filled with slavering reporters wittering on about pageants and beacons and concerts.
He did not care about any of it.
Don’t be mistaken – Arthur loved the Queen, was a Monarchist through and through. He had fought for his country, for God’s sake - but the sheer overwhelming amount of bonhomie and sudden onslaught of patriotism from everyone he met had been making him grit his teeth for at least a month. He felt as if he had a permanent headache from the tension of it all.
To crown it all – hah! – because he owned an apartment on the banks of the Thames where the pageant would pass, the security around their building was getting ridiculous.
Still, he consoled himself, it was Friday evening and he had a four-day weekend to look forward to. He had arranged a large delivery from Fortnum and Masons as well as his wine merchant, and his partner of six years (and the love of his life although he would walk on hot coals before he’d admit it) would be home by now and they could look forward to a quiet long weekend when they didn’t even have to get out of bed.
The thought of that cheered him up immensely, and by the time he turned the key in the door and walked through he was smiling and more than ready to get the weekend off to a good start.
“What the fuck?” He stared at their once tastefully decorated lounge, which had now disappeared under a sea of red, white and blue. “Merlin!” he yelled.
“You bellowed, oh dear one?” Merlin walked in from the kitchen and grinned at him.
“How…what…?” Arthur gestured around him, lost for words.
“It’s for the party on Sunday, of course.”
“Yes – we agreed that the gang would come here to watch the pageant.”
“We – when –what?”
“You remember – at Elena’s birthday do in March. We said we would host a party for the Jubilee.”
“Merlin,” Arthur knew his tone was verging on the dangerous. Sadly that didn’t seem to bother Merlin at all. “I was on a business trip in Hong Kong. I wasn’t at Elena’s birthday party – which means we didn’t agree to anything.”
“Well, I knew you’d love the idea, so that’s fine. Can you help me put some of this on the balcony?”
“Who exactly is coming?”
“Just the usual gang – Gwaine and Elena, Lance and Gwen, Morgana and Leon, Percival and Freya, Elyan and Mithian.”
Sometimes, Arthur thought Merlin didn’t know him at all but then he caught the glance Merlin threw at him and the twinkle of mischief in his expression. It was clear that not only did Merlin know him, he had circumvented a couple of months of Arthur bitching before he would have given in anyway.
“You know I hate you, don’t you?” He grumbled as he pulled at his tie.
“I know. I’m devastated.” Merlin moved across and took over, although he was not so much helping to remove the tie as dragging Arthur towards the bedroom.
With a sigh of defeat, Arthur let himself be dragged.
Saturday turned into an orgy of a completely different kind than Arthur had planned and instead of fabulous bouts of sex all over the flat, he spent the day fighting with flags, bunting and various patriotic decorations. He did, however, draw the line at the hideous face masks of the Royal family that Merlin had found and not even Merlin’s saddest puppy dog expression could make him shift on that one.
He was less than impressed when he opened the door to the first of their guests on Sunday to discover Gwaine and Elena wearing Charles and Camilla masks. Being Gwaine and Elena, of course, he was wearing the Camilla mask and she was sporting Charles.
Arthur sighed. It was going to be a very long day. Clearly, alcohol was the only way to go. He headed into the kitchen, resolutely ignoring the large cake with the red, white and blue icing, and instead grabbed the first bottle of champagne. There was a satisfying pop as it opened and he filled four glasses and stuck them on a tray to take through to the balcony. He stopped on the threshold for a moment and stared at Merlin, not sure whether to laugh or cry. Elena was in the midst of painting Union flags on his cheeks and he was bedecked with bunting. Arthur shook his head, took one of the glasses off the tray and tossed it back. Then chased that with another.
A few moments later, he headed back to the kitchen and poured another four glasses.
The day steadily got more surreal. Gwen and Lancelot, both primary school teachers, had turned up dressed in red, white and blue and with enough art and craft supplies to set up a shop. They had then insisted that everyone made appropriate headgear. Morgana and Leon had arrived in ballgown and faux naval uniform. Given the way the day had started, Arthur should not have been surprised that Leon was wearing the ballgown. As he remarked to Morgana, there never was much doubt who wore the trousers in that relationship. He should have expected the resultant head slap. He consoled himself with another glass of champagne and ignored Leon’s sniggering.
Another four glasses of champagne in and he was beginning to mellow slightly, though he had already set fire to six different Royal family masks. Percival had been particularly sad when Arthur had removed his Catherine face. Arthur ignored him, there was no way a man that size should be able to look like a six-year old who has just lost his ice-cream.
When the pageant passed below them, he managed to set aside his own feelings and joined his friends on the balcony. Leaning against the wall, he pulled Merlin in close beside him, nuzzling into his neck.
Merlin giggled and asked, “How much champagne have you had?”
“Not quite enough yet.”
Arthur looked out across the river, slate-grey to match the sky and, despite his own cynicism, felt a rush of pride as the boats began to pass by below. Those powered by sheer muscle power of the men and women aboard were first, setting the pace for all that would follow. The flood barrier had been closed so the river was relatively calm. The bells passed and they could hear them clearly, ringing out a jubilant peal, and then a little later the barge holding much of the Royal Family sailed by. As it moved across in front of them he could see the Queen, dressed in bright white and standing out so clearly. The others cheered themselves hoarse and yet for that moment he could not find his voice. Instead he straightened up, moving away from Merlin slightly as his military training surfaced and he stood to attention. When the barge had gone by, he turned to find Merlin’s gaze fixed upon him, and the expression he saw there took his breath away. Merlin dashed a hand across his eyes and cleared his throat.
With the pageant over, the party moved in from the balcony and the drinking began in earnest. Arthur was feeling pleasantly buzzed by the time Merlin, who was getting to the seriously tipsy phase, announced.
“Arthur hasn’t a hat. You need a hat, Arthur.”
“I think I can survive without one, thanks.”
“Nope. Everyone’s got a hat.”
It was true. As he glanced round he could see that they had all been at the art supplies and were wearing a variety of styles.
“Arthur needs a crown.” Merlin announced, grandly.
Arthur watched in disbelief as somehow Merlin managed to cut out the shape of the crown. The sight of Merlin’s tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth as he drunkenly concentrated had Arthur hyper-ventilating for a few moments. The glue gun came out and he watched carefully, removing it before Merlin could stick himself to the table and really – who would let Gwen and Lance look after kids when they thought it was sensible to bring superglue – and watching in horror at the amount of glitter and rhinestones that ended up on the wonky paper crown.
By the time it was finished to Merlin’s satisfaction, Merlin – and almost everyone else – was giggling. Although Percival and Freya were – oh – not giggling. Ew. Arthur did his best to ignore them and soon found that easy to do when Merlin, grasping the crown in one hand crawled into his lap.
“Merlin!” he squeaked.
“Queen Arthur,” Merlin announced and placed the crown on Arthur’s head, where it immediately slipped down to cover his eyes. Merlin giggled and pushed it back up, wedging the bottom edge behind Arthur’s ears. “Let’s hear it for the Queen,” he yelled.
As one, and with no attempt to keep in tune, they began to sing the National Anthem, adding Arthur every time the word Queen was sung.
“God save out noble Queen – Arthur
Long live our noble Queen –Arthur.”
Arthur gave up. He buried his head against Merlin’s neck and laughed until he cried.
The National Anthem seemed to have the effect of signalling the end of the party and Arthur took a moment to wonder if that was hard-wired into British DNA or something. Whatever, it at least meant that he and Merlin were on their own at last. Once he had poured the last of them into taxis, he wandered back into the flat and stared at Merlin, who was face down on the sofa and snoring gently. Arthur threw back his head and laughed.
Neither of them felt much like laughing the next morning, and it was well after lunch-time before they could cope with the clearing up. Eventually it was done, they managed to get a late brunch put together and were now on their second pot of coffee.
When Arthur walked into the lounge with mugs of the fresh brew, he found that Merlin had opened the door to the balcony and was staring out over the river. He joined him and they sipped at their coffee in silence until it was finished, and then Merlin spoke.
“Do you think we’ll last sixty years together?” Merlin asked and the question appeared idle, as if he was not particularly bothered by the answer.
Arthur knew better. He could almost see the tension in Merlin’s frame. The waiting. “Of course we will.” Arthur let no doubt enter his tone. He turned Merlin to face him, taking the mug and placing them out of the way before he kissed him gently. “Merlin,” he whispered. “We belong together. For always.”
Merlin exhaled a shaky sigh of relief and relaxed against him, wrapping his arms tightly around Arthur’s torso.
“I love you, Arthur Pendragon.”
“I love you too, Merlin Emrys.”
As Arthur stood wrapped up with the man he loved, he thought of a young woman called to service and the man who had stood at her side for so long. He thought of the friends who had stood by him through the years, of Merlin who had brought him so much joy. He thought of a gaudy paper crown covered in sequins and glitter. And he thought what a wonderful weekend it had been.