In a perfect world Arthur would be allowed to wake up slowly and gradually, and there would be no noise but birdsong and maybe the rustle of wind on the leaves.
In this world, however, he woke up abruptly to Merlin stomping in, banging the door and screeching 'breakfast!' at the top of his lungs. Arthur kept his eyes stubbornly closed, while on his other side Gwen slid out of the bed. Gwen was a morning person, as was Merlin.
Arthur was most emphatically not a morning person.
'Go away,' he muttered into his pillow. Merlin put the tray down with a clang that seemed to reverberate in Arthur's head.
'You can't sleep all day, Arthur,' Merlin said in what he probably thought was a reasonable tone. 'Look, the sun's up already.'
'It's summer, that's not a valid argu - no, don't!' he started, but it was already too late. Merlin threw the curtains wide open. Bright yellow light flooded the room and Arthur groaned.
'I can stay in bed if I want. I'm the King,' he said, aiming for authoritative but ending up peevish.
'Not before breakfast, you're not,' Merlin said cheerfully.
Arthur turned onto his other side, burrowing into the sheets, doing his best to ignore his manservant. He had a point, though. It was something the three of them had all agreed on. For the rest of the day, Arthur would be their King, with all the responsibilities and burdens that meant, but in those precious few moments before he left his room, he could just be Arthur. It had it's disadvantages, though, simply being Arthur.
Such as a distinct lack of respect. Last time Merlin had dragged him out of bed by his feet, and the time before that he had stolen the blankets. Merlin was still in the other side of the room though, so Arthur listened for any approaching footsteps.
There were none, but Gwen giggled, and he turned his head just in time to get hit by – something. Something quite hard, actually.
He opened his eyes to look at the offending item, which turned out to be a breadroll. It was lying innocuously on the pillow, where it had landed after bouncing off his head.
'Right,' Arthur said, looking at the – admittedly delicious smelling – piece of bread. He launched himself out of bed and at Merlin in one smooth movement. Merlin gave an undignified squeal and went down, limbs flailing, while Arthur wrestled him to the floor.
'Get off, you great, big, fat - '
'Who are you calling fat?' Arthur asked, indignant.
'Well, I have had to make a few adjustments to your trousers recently, Arthur,' Gwen said with an impish smile.
He gave her a mock-injured look, and the brief moment of distraction was all Merlin needed to launch a counter-attack. Arthur yelped as Merlin poked him sharply in the ribs, and he redoubled his efforts.
Merlin was a lousy fighter, whose rare hits were more likely to be accidental than on purpose, and it was only a few minutes before Arthur had him pinned immobile to the floor.
'Alright, alright, you're not fat,' Merlin gasped, grinning. Arthur rolled off him and closed his eyes, lying flat on his back. He was thoroughly awake now, which might have been Merlin's plan all along – he was a lot more cunning that he was generally giving credit for, Merlin – but being awake meant facing today's duties.
He sat up and rubbed his face. There was a diplomatic envoy coming today, and he'd need to be courteous without being too deferential, and there was that failed harvest, and -
He looked at Gwen, who was crouched next to him. He hadn't even noticed her moving.
She put her finger under his chin and tilted his head towards her. Their lips met in a light, gentle kiss, almost chaste.
'Come on,' she said softly. 'Breakfast.'
She went back to her chair and Arthur got up from the floor. He glanced at Merlin, who had that strange half-happy half-wistful expression on his face he always had when he saw Arthur and Gwen together. Arthur offered him a hand up, and then went to his place at the table.
Merlin puttered around for a few moments, doing things with cups and jars, and then made to leave.
'Right, I'll be just,' he said awkwardly. Arthur rolled his eyes and stuck out his foot, tripping Merlin. Arthur caught his sleeve just as he was falling and pulled him into the extra chair. Merlin landed with a slightly dazed expression.
'If I'm not the king, then you're not a servant. Now pass me the butter.' Merlin gave him a look. 'Please.' Merlin passed the butter.
'Anyway, no need to act all surprised,' Arthur said, busying himself with the bread. 'You thought I wouldn't notice there's enough food for three on that tray?'
'Maybe I just anticipated your huge appetite,' Merlin said nastily.
'Are you calling me - '
They both turned to Gwen.
'Are you planning another food fight?' she said. 'Because if you do, it won't be me this time who has to explain to the servants how half a jar of butter ended up on the ceiling.'
'How did you explain that, anyway?' Arthur asked.
'You don't want to know,' Gwen said darkly.
'Fine, no food fights.'
They ate. The cook had opened up a new jar of jam, and Arthur smeared his bread liberally. Blackcurrants were his favourite.
He wished things could stay like this forever. But in less than an hour he would be in the council rooms, and this, this little moment of peace and harmony, would seem like a distant dream. At least he could remember it, treasure it as a little secret that was all his own, something to cling onto while he was negotiating the new border agreements with -
Merlin kicked him in the shin. Arthur gave him an affronted look.
'No kinging before breakfast,' Merlin pointed out, mouth half-full.
'Do you have no manners at all? And I wasn't.'
'Yes you were. Thinking of those border-things, right? Tell me I'm wrong.'
Arthur had stopped trying to lie to Merlin a long time ago, so instead he said, ' Kinging isn't even a word.'
'It is now,' Merlin answered, grinning. His triumphant expression was somewhat spoiled by the blob of jam on the side of his mouth, which he apparently hadn't noticed yet.
Oh, what the hell. If Arthur couldn't do this here, he couldn't anywhere. He grabbed Merlin by the neck and leaned in, licking the jam from his mouth in a brief kiss.
Merlin looked down at his plate immediately, ears bright red.
'You know, that really is a very effective way of making him shut up,' Gwen said, eyes glittering with amusement.
'Pity we can't do that in public.'
'The knights would be a bit surprised,' Gwen agreed.
'Most of them, definitely. Although I'm sure Gwaine wouldn't bat an eye.'
Merlin muttered something under his breath, still scowling at his plate. He looked like he couldn't decide between being insulted or pleased, so he settled for taking another large bite of his pastry.
Arthur gobbled down his last piece of bread and leaned backward, watching Gwen and Merlin bicker over something. He'd lost track of the subject, but he liked seeing them together. He'd never seen anyone argue more affectionately than Gwen and Merlin. In fact, he had never seen them fight, actually really fight, over anything.
They noticed him looking and stopped. Gwen smiled, glowing with happiness, and Merlin's face seemed to be in danger of splitting in two, he was grinning so wide.
'What?' Arthur said innocently.
'You look happy,' Gwen said.
'Well, I guess I am.'
Gwen reached out and took his hand, and Arthur took hold of Merlin's. Merlin and Gwen joined hands too, making a circle.
In a few moments, Arthur would put on his crown. His smile would disappear and he would be king again, the man in charge, making all the hard decisions that no-one else would make.
But right now all that mattered were two beaming smiles, the soft pressure of fingers against his and the taste of blackcurrants on his lips.