Freya wakes to the sound of Arthur cursing steadily and quietly in the seat next to her, and comes alert so fast it makes her head spin, sitting up straight almost choking herself on her seatbelt. “What's the matter?”
“Fuck, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you.” They're pulled over on the side of the road, she manages to notice, but beyond that she hasn't got the faintest clue where they are. More to the point, she suspects that Arthur doesn't either, and to make it all worse they're in the middle of a downpour. “I'm pretty sure the satnav is possessed, and my mobile isn't getting any reception at all.”
Freya checks hers as well, though she's pretty sure Arthur could afford far better reception than she can. Sure enough, there's no service at all, not to mention it's getting low on battery. “Have there been any signs recently?”
“No useful ones. Fucking Scotland.” He breathes out hard, the way he always has when he's annoyed. Usually at Merlin. Sure enough, the next words out of his mouth are “I don't know why he decided we should all meet up in the Scottish Highlands of all places.”
Freya stretches out the last of her nap, and smiles when he gives her an apologetic look. “So we could all have an adventure, I'm guessing. Or because he wanted to watch you be a disastrous city boy.”
He shakes a finger at her, but a smile breaks out on his face. “You're a city girl yourself, these days.”
She shakes her head. “Brought up in the country, it doesn't count.” She peers up at the sky. It's dark, and not just from the rain. “Look, obviously we aren't going to get anywhere tonight. Have you seen signs for an inn or anything?”
“No.” He turns the key and the car starts again. The satnav chirps something cheery at them about taking a left in half a kilometer when Freya is relatively certain there aren't any turns in sight, if Arthur stopped and is this angry. “We'll go on a little farther, and we can pull over if we don't get back on track or find an inn. The back seat is comfortable enough, in a pinch.”
She gives the back seat a dubious look. It might be big enough for her to fit if she curls up a little, but she can't imagine Arthur actually taking a nap in it. “Where would you sleep?”
“I'll recline my seat just far enough not to crush you.” He pulls out onto the road and gives the satnav a look that promises murder when they pass by what it assures them is a turn-off. All Freya can see is a continuation of the rolling fields that seem to make up this part of the country, no lights in front of them or behind them as far as she can see.
“I suspect we're going to miss our room reservation tonight,” she says as gently as she can.
Arthur groans. “I would never have guessed. I should have let you drive.”
“It's your car.”
They go on in silence for a little while, the same silence that lulled Freya to sleep earlier. She pinches her arm to stay awake. It's the least she can do, to keep him from devolving into frustrated cursing again. That doesn't mean she has anything to say, though, just like she hasn't had anything to say the whole drive. The point of Merlin's mad reunion scheme was probably to get them all talking again, keep them from falling apart like so many groups of friends do in the years when they haven't got much choice about where they're living, but Freya still can't think of much to say to Arthur that isn't about the last night before he graduated uni, the way he dipped her back and kissed her and then went back to normal, the way they had one awkward coffee when she got a job in London after she graduated and silently agreed not to do it again. She has no idea why he offered her a ride in the first place.
The road doesn’t show any signs of having a turn-off, even though the satnav keeps telling them there should be left turns all over the place that they ought to be taking. Freya fancies that even it sounds harried by the time she reaches over and turns it off. “If we don’t have phone reception, then probably it’s just making guesses at this point,” she says when Arthur looks at her. “We should pull over and sleep, find civilization in the morning. They aren’t expecting us until afternoon, anyway.”
“I should have taken the train,” he mutters, but he only drives another kilometer before pulling off into a flat area of field and turning off the engine. For a minute, there’s only the sound of rain pouring down on them, louder when the windshield wipers aren’t going and the engine isn’t humming along beneath them. “I’m sorry about this.”
“You don’t have anything to apologize for. People get lost. And it was very kind of you to offer to drive me in the first place.”
Arthur breathes out and pulls the keys out of the ignition, putting the lights out. “I probably have other things to apologize for.”
Freya tips her head back against the seat. “Let’s not. Just—please. Water under the bridge.”
“I’ve been shit about staying in contact.”
“That’s what this weekend is for, right?” She sighs. “And for what it’s worth, so have I.” The rain gets harder, which she hadn’t thought was possible before. “Should we try to get some sleep?”
“It’s early yet, but there aren’t really any alternatives.”
A few years ago, he would have taken a page from Gwaine’s book and said there were enjoyable ways to spend the time, and Freya half thinks about saying it on his behalf, but their rapport is still fragile, and she doesn’t want to push it too far. “We can push on, if you’d like, but if we run out of petrol we’re probably fucked.”
He lets out a startled laugh. “I don’t think I’ve heard you swear before.”
“The situation sort of seems to call for it.” She makes a face. “I’d kill for running water so I can clean my teeth, I’m going to feel disgusting in the morning.”
“First place we find in the morning,” he promises. “I’ll pound down some stranger’s door if I need to.”
“My hero.” Freya thinks about getting out of the car to get in the back seat, or to get into the trunk looking for something to wear besides the jeans and shirt that already feel like they’re attached to her body after most of a day’s travel, but it’s raining too hard for it to be a serious thought. “The back seat is still mine, then?”
“Yes, absolutely. Feel free to use my coat as a blanket, you get cold, right?”
“Right.” It still feels awkward and strange that he remembers her habits like she remembers his, but not quite as much as before. Maybe that’s his point in bringing it up. “Sorry if I elbow you or something, but I’m not getting out of the car.”
“Of course.” He leans out of her way as she makes her clumsy way into the back seat, sprawling into it more than anything else. It’s long enough that she doesn’t have to curl herself entirely into a ball, and she supposes that’s as much as she can ask for. Arthur’s coat, heavier than the season really warrants (though then again, this is Scotland), is stuffed down behind his seat, and she pulls it over her shoulders as she settles on her side. She catches Arthur’s eye in the mirror. “Are you going to sleep, then?”
He pulls a tablet out of the pocket he had it stuffed in. “I have a few books on here, I think I’ll read a few pages before I turn in. Unless the light will bother you?”
“Not at all.” She pauses. “If any of them is something you think I’ll like, and you don’t mind, you could read aloud? It’s early to sleep.”
There’s only a few seconds’ silence, their eyes meeting in the mirror again, before he looks down at the tablet, presses a few buttons, and starts reading out loud. It’s some ridiculous cozy mystery of the sort that her Gran used to read, where the amateur sleuth lives in the sleepy Scottish countryside and owns an inn, and Freya pays more attention to the sound of Arthur’s voice than to the words. She’s always liked listening to him talk, his posh-boy accent, the way his voice gets warm when he’s smiling, and it’s like being back at uni, one of the nights when they all ended up crashing in someone’s room reading the Romantics or Plato or, on the nights they felt like being daring, James Joyce’s love letters, out loud to each other. She wonders if they’ll do it at this reunion of Merlin’s, if anyone will think to.
Freya falls asleep sometime after they find the body and they’ve been introduced to someone’s pet sheep, lulled by his voice rising and falling over the words and the sound of rain on the roof. She wakes up a few times in the night, the first time when the rain lightens, the second to discover that Arthur is snoring, his seat reclined just far enough that he won’t run into her.
She wakes again to the sound of someone knocking on the window and Arthur letting out a startled noise, opening the door to find a grinning man with a truck asking if they’re lost. Somehow, even though he’s just woken up, Arthur manages to find the energy and the wherewithal to charm both directions and an offer of the use of the facilities at the man’s house within five minutes. Freya stays in the back seat, yawning her way awake, until they get there, and then changes and brushes her teeth after giving the man’s wife enough thanks and apologies that it must be amusing, judging by the way Arthur grins and then easily charms her, letting Freya get away.
“Morgana is never going to let me live this down,” Arthur says once they’re on their way again, much cleaner and fresher and with clear directions that don’t even require doubling back.
“What part of it?”
“All of it. Getting lost, getting caught in the morning like a pair of stereotypical teenagers in a film …”
“At least we weren’t making out?”
She winces as soon as she says it, but Arthur grins over at her, looking away from the road for a second. “I suppose we weren’t.”
Both of them lapse back into silence after that, but it’s an easier one than it was yesterday, and Freya lets it stand. They stop for breakfast when they find civilization again and talk about stupid little things over it, like their favorite London spots and whether Elena’s haircut will look as unfortunate in person as it does on Facebook, and the conversation continues on and off throughout the day, winding through the wilds of Scotland until they reach the place Merlin chose for their reunion in the late afternoon.
Everyone comes pouring out of the adjoining cabins when they pull in, asking where they’ve been and why they didn’t answer their phones, and Freya finds herself and Arthur swallowed up by their friends, no chance to say anything more, to work out the last of the awkwardness between them. She doubts they’ll have a private moment for the entire time, and she’s starting to want one, to see if the promise in Arthur’s eyes this morning was a promise after all. If they can get started nearly two years after that first kiss.
Freya could regret not being able to find out yet, but they’ve got the whole drive back down to London at the end of the reunion, and there’s always a chance they’ll get lost again.