Sometimes Arthur wondered what had possessed him to live with Morgana. His step-sister had always been irritating and the fact that they had somehow (though through no fault of his own) ended up at the same university was definitely not a good enough reason to live together. But his father had bought the flat for them and insisted that both of them live in it so that his money did not go to waste. It did help that the flat was at least ten times better than any of the student housing in the area, but not much.
If he were completely honest, Morgana was not that bad a flatmate: she picked up after herself, she cleaned the bathroom every other week and took all her hairs out of the plughole, she even washed up her own lunch dishes and made him a cup of tea after he’d finished one of his essay frenzies. It was just that, sometimes – like now, she was a little… loud. There were times when he could swear that the wall between their rooms was made of paper: he could hear everything.
Seven o’clock in the morning was not the optimal time to be woken up, especially when you were an Arts student with a six hour week. Plus, there were some things Arthur could have done with never knowing about, a lot of things actually and his step-sister’s ownership of handcuffs was one of them. When Arthur said loud, he meant loud.
The rhythmic sawing noise from the adjacent room was speeding up and Arthur groaned, folding the pillow over his ears, but, somehow, Morgana’s voice defied muffling and he heard her moans quite clearly through the padding. It did not even manage to drown out Owain’s grunts of pleasure. Really, he decided, he needed to get a new pillow, and possibly a machine gun.
The hearing was not even the worst part, he admitted to himself as blissful silence fell. The worst part of the whole thing was Morgana grinning at him across the breakfast table in the mornings as Owain made bacon and eggs (by far the best boyfriend she had ever had in Arthur’s opinion). Her grins could make him embarrassed even when he had nothing to be embarrassed about.
That morning he glared at her over his coffee mug as Owain whistled to himself while prodding fried eggs. He always whistled after morning sex, Arthur had learnt. Even if he had not heard every sodding thing he would know that by now.
“Did you sleep well?” Morgana asked with a wicked grin. She did not even pretend innocence, and somehow that made it worse.
“Until about seven,” he replied as composedly as he could, “when something woke me up.” He refused to be cowed by her gaze but Owain spluttered a little and Arthur could see that the tips of his ears had turned red. Apparently her boyfriend was not as thick-skinned as Morgana, but Arthur had come to the conclusion from years of experience that there was no one as thick-skinned as Morgana.
“How dreadful,” she said, affecting a look of horrified sympathy. “Do you have any idea what it was?”
“None whatsoever – you weren’t doing anything at seven, were you?” She paused and Arthur made a mental note to mark another one to him on the tally stuck to the kitchen door.
“Sorry, can’t help you…” she said. Then Owain turned around to deposit their breakfast on their plates. The two of them began a discussion about their first lecture of their day, at which Arthur automatically switched off. Scientists, he thought with affectionate venom. He settled for eating his bacon and eggs (and he had to talk to Morgana about keeping this one, because maybe the loud morning sex and the knowing grins over the table were worth it if he got this for his troubles). The sound of his name caught his attention and he looked up to see Morgana grinning mockingly at him.
“But, of course, Arthur doesn’t start until… what time is it, again?” she asked, her voice sugary sweet.
“Three,” he told her with a smug grin.
“By which time I will have had,” she made a point of counting the hours on her fingers, “Five hours.” She sighed heavily. “I hate you, by the way.” He nodded with a smirk and snagged the newspaper as Owain got up.
As Morgana was finishing up her coffee and pulling on her boots, the phone rang. Arthur grabbed it from the cradle and read the caller ID.
“Bugger,” he announced with feeling.
“Uther?” his step-sister asked, looking up at him from beneath the curtain of her hair, where she was crouched in the doorway. He nodded, staring at the phone acidly while his thumb hovered in between the answer and ignore keys. “Remember,” she told him as she and Owain headed for the front door, “Owain went home at half past ten, as he always does, and you were with us all the time.”
“I know, Morgana,” he hissed at her, as though his father could somehow overhear the conversation although he had not answered the phone at the time. “I do know how to keep secrets from my own father.”
“Good – then if he finds out I’ll know you did it on purpose,” she told him before the door banged shut behind her.
He finally gave in and hit the answer button, grimacing as he brought the phone to his ear.
“Hello father,” he said in as upbeat a voice as he could manage, thanking God for the coffee. If he had been any less awake, no doubt his father would have given him the third degree about his drinking habits again.
“Arthur,” his father’s greeting was curt as always. “How are the essays going?”
He had cobbled together a meal by the time Morgana got back from her lectures and she smiled gratefully as she shuffled through the door.
“No Owain?” he asked.
“He’s got a lab report due on Wednesday,” she informed him, collapsing into her seat at the small kitchen table.
“All the more for us, then,” he said, grabbing a fork.
“Lasagne?” Morgana asked with a raised eyebrow. “You make lasagne?”
“I found a recipe,” he replied with a shrug but she looked unconvinced and poked at the meal with her fork suspiciously.
“It won’t kill you,” he protested.
“So say you,” she retorted, “I still remember the burgers you made.”
“I was eleven!” Arthur said with annoyance.
“I was sick for a week,” Morgana reminded him. “They were raw.”
“They were brown on the outside. I didn’t know you were supposed to check the middle. Anyway, it’s beef. The French like it best raw.”
“Please tell me you cooked it,” Morgana begged with a horrified expression, staring at her lasagne as though it were about to moo at her.
“Of course I cooked it!” he snapped back, his patience reaching its limit. He stabbed down with his fork angrily. There was a moment of silence while Morgana looked across at him with sympathy.
It was difficult to remember a time when he had not known Morgana. Although his father had only married her mother when they were ten (a short lived affair which had ended abruptly when her mother had run off with Uther’s personal assistant) they had grown up knowing each other, fighting and teasing. It was only ever at moments like this, where Morgana knew what was going through his head without his having to say anything, that he remembered just how well she knew him.
“I take it from your charming manner that your father was having a go at your grades again.” He was always Arthur’s father, never hers, even though Uther had taken care of her after her mother had left for the Canary Islands with half of his money. But Morgana always called him ‘Uther’ or ‘your father’. He had never asked her about it, and he probably never would, but it was something he always noticed.
“I got a 2:1 on my last essay,” Arthur told her with a shrug, looking up at her defiantly. He knew his face had gone blank, as it always did when they discussed his father’s influence in his life.
“That’s good,” she said, her lips quirking into a genuine smile.
“It’s not a first,” corrected Arthur, “and I need to be perfect in everything before I take over the family business.” He took a mouthful of lasagne as an excuse not to continue. The taste was a pleasant surprise: apparently throwing lots of things in at random did sometimes work.
“You really need to tell him that you don’t want to run the family business, Arthur.” She said. Arthur didn’t answer. “And that’s not the only thing you need to tell him.”
“He’s right though,” Arthur said, cutting through her point as fast as he could.
“How?” Morgana looked horrified at the suggestion.
“I could have got a first on that essay,” he answered. “I should have got a first on that essay. If I hadn’t gone out the night before it was due in I could have looked it over again.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Arthur,” his sister told him in her no nonsense tone. “You spent an entire week on that essay. I barely saw you for days. It counts towards what? One percent of this year?”
“Two percent,” he corrected.
“Wow, that’s going to destroy your whole degree,” She said in sarcastic horror. “So you got a harsh marker – it happens. Uther has no right to tell you that you need to work harder.”
“You tell me I don’t work hard enough all the time,” he pointed out.
“I’m a science student; you’re an Arts student – that’s how it works: I complain that you do nothing, you complain that I can’t string a sentence together with grammatical accuracy. Also, I live with you, I know you do work. Uther doesn’t know shit about it.”
“He’s my father,” Arthur told her firmly.
“That doesn’t mean he’s infallible.”
“He sends his love by the way,” Arthur added, “and he’s pleased that Owain’s being a gentleman.”
“Oh… he’s not that gentle,” Morgana allowed herself to be sidetracked, smirking a little as Arthur gave her his ‘must you?’ face.
“I think I’ll just pretend you didn’t say that,” he said. Morgana’s smile increased and she began to eat her food.
“You,” she said with determination, “need to get laid.”
“We’ve had this discussion,” Arthur said with a sigh.
“And I seem to recall your side of the argument was stupid.”
“I don’t have the time,” he told her, trying to end the conversation there.
“That’s not an excuse.”
“No, it’s a reason. I don’t have time to go out, I don’t have time to find someone and I don’t have time to deal with the fall out…”
“Then make time,” Morgana said, “you’re cooped up in the house all the time and the only people you talk to are Uther and I.”
“I talk to Owain,” he protested, sitting up straighter in his seat.
“He doesn’t count.”
“I’ll tell him you said that, shall I?” He asked, trying to distract her, but that never worked.
“You know what I mean.” She told him, stubbornly refusing to be redirected as he knew she would. “This lasagne is delicious, by the way.”
“Thanks. But what if my father finds out?” he asked.
“Are you planning on telling him?” she asked. He shook his head. “Then how is he going to find out? Not that it would matter if he did.”
“You’ll have to tell him sometime,” she said. “So you’re gay…” she paused, probably for dramatic effect, she did like to make a show of these things. “It’s not the end of the world, Arthur.”
“Not yours, maybe. But his?”
“He’ll have to deal with it. One day he’ll notice that you’ve never had a girlfriend.”
Arthur declined to answer and focussed his attention onto his dinner again, glaring at it.
“Come on, Arthur. You haven’t been out with anyone since that guy in first year that used to get drunk and throw up all over your floor.” She told him. “Look. I’ve got a few friends; I’ll set you up with one.”
“No, Morgana,” he said, looking up in alarm. “I am not going on a blind date that you’ve set up for me.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” she asked.
“I’m killed and left in a ditch,” Arthur replied with complete seriousness. He had met some of her friends. They varied between the subnormal and the criminally insane. There was no happy medium and the only thing they ever talked about was physics.
“They’re nice people, look. It’ll just be one date, somewhere you choose, no strings, no pressure. One date with a nice guy, one evening where you get out of the house and you might even get a free meal out of it.”
“I’m not the girl,” Arthur protested.
“Hey, sometimes I pay for Owain’s dinner,” she said.
“That’s because dad gives you shitloads of money.” She shrugged, unabashed at the allegation.
“Look. Just try it. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. If it does, then, great.”
“Arthur.” She replied, mimicking his tone exactly. “You can’t live by Uther’s rules your entire life.”
“Because you’re so ready to tell him that you and Owain are sleeping together.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Hypocrite,” Arthur retorted.
“So, are you going to say yes, or are you too much of a coward?” Morgana asked, taunting him.
“I’m not scared!” Arthur protested.
“Then that’s settled. Friday night, that’s after your next deadline, right? Where do you want to go: that place down the road, or somewhere in town?” Arthur gaped at her.
And that was how he found himself not quite agreeing to go on a blind date with some friend of his step-sister, and no matter what he said she would not let him out of it.