It is, of course, a tremendous irony that Seven is the one actually nearest Earth when the Once and Future (well, Once and Now, apparently) King decides to fuss himself enough to climb out of his watery grave. Ironic, because, of all of them, he's the one that wants this 'honor' the least. He generally eschews Earth just in case. Just so it won't be him.
They all have to know when it happens, seeing as they all have the same brain, more or less. Seven felt it blossom in the back of his head like syrup dipped vertigo, a dizzying rush as the entire universe seems to shift gravity to some point on the British Isles on a little planet called Earth in a boring solar system. Go there, the impulse screams, because Seven knows it's fate and destiny and all sorts of trite rot.
He goes anyway. Picked himself off the tiny galley floor from whence he had tumbled and set course. There's never been much of a question if he would. He's a Merlin, and Arthur has always been true north.
He dropped from the standard lunar orbit around the Moon, and queued up at one of the planet-fall ports behind a freight vessel. It's just another day on Earth; sun rising in America, sun setting in China. In the UK it's a balmy afternoon, according to a cursory check of the weather. Nothing special. According to the news feed, no revolutions have broken out, no governments are on the verge of collapse, and nobody has whacked anyone of any geopolitical or interplanetary significance.
All in all, it takes Seven half an hour to arrive on the shores of Avalon. It would have taken him twenty, except the freighter pilot didn't know his ass from his elbow and couldn't navigate his load into the sanitizer to cleanse all interstellar parasites. Seven got through though, deft and easy because he is such a fantastic pilot that several organizations keep trying to recruit him, some legal, some not. Not that it matters.
He landed Fiducia on an expanse of grass, not at all concerned he'd be issued a ticket for parking a interstellar vessel on someone's lawn because this property has been owned by Merlin for over a thousand years. He cut the engine and unstrapped himself from the console.
For a moment he paused in the bathroom, looked in the mirror. He looked like himself; thready beard, long unkempt hair, the tattoos on his jaw and cheekbones, more like a G-Thug or pirate. Of course, that also means he looks the least like the others, something he's tried hard to do with application of hair, scar, and ink. He almost reached for the comb for just a little bit of- but fuck that. What will it matter anyway? So, he just tied his oil smeared blue scarf over his head. His Once and Nowness can suck it.
When Seven exited the hatch, his heart was about to burst through his chest, but he'd never let it show, not ever. He'd rather choke to death on the business end of a flail. So when he spied the aberrant crimson on the otherwise rocky and weedy shore, Seven only firmed his jaw and set off at a steady stride.
King Arthur Pendragon was soaked and bedraggled, and looking not at all mythic or imposing on his knees in some marshy smelling mud. His blond hair was plastered to his head, his Camelot red cape twisted around him, sticking, chain mail sparkling with water droplets, and he seemed to be hacking his windpipe clear. Seven stood to the side, letting him get on with it, hands braced on his Plas-pistol holster. Nothing he can do to help at the moment.
When King Arthur sucked down a clear breath, not without wrinkling his nose in distaste, he looked around blearily. Seven could see when Arthur spotted his boots. Arthur's gaze tracked upwards, to Seven's face and Seven gave a casual little wave with a calloused hand.
Arthur looked at him, uncomprehending, and Seven suddenly understood 'dollophead' after several lifetimes of a general ambivalence bordering on befuddlement towards the term.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, your majesty.” Seven said with what he hoped was his usual gruff and dry delivery.
King Arthur Pendragon passed out with his face in the mud.
Seven rolled his eyes and dug the toe of his boot under a pauldron and flipped the king onto his back so he won't suffocate himself on silt. You're welcome, Destiny.
“I suppose you won't be walking on board, then,” Seven told the inert, mud-smeared majesty, feeling just a bit let down that this wasn't more grandiose. Seven was rather expecting piercing rays of divinely sent sunlight punching through the clouds to shine off etched armor, suffusing the long-awaiting figure with a halo of gold, as befitting someone of his stature in the mythic community as he strode from the waters of Avalon, his famous sword in one hand, face beatific and all backed by a seraphic chorus, perhaps some cherubs flitting around holding boughs of cherry blossoms and thus raining pink petals about.
The reality seemed to be King Arthur Pendragon with a mouthful of grit.
“Hey.” Seven nudged him with his boot.
“Dollophead.” Again, harder. His majesty flopped around in the mud, not terribly majestically.
“Well then.” Seven glanced over the water.“No explanation, then? Why's he back now?”
“Really? World War Three, first contact, a hundred years of civil unrest, planetary flight, and you bring him back on some random Wednesday because it tickles you?”
Somewhere some kind of bird made a honking noise.
Only the rattling of the waves whooshed.
“I'm waiting. Some explanation would be super.”
Seven's mouth twitched as he looked over the inert king. He did have an emergency stretcher in his med kit, but seeing as there was only himself, he'd rather not drag it along. He could have used magic to hold up the other end, but his own supply was too minor to support the stretcher and block view of whatever satellites might have their lense aimed at just this spot. Sure, the others called him paranoid, but they hadn't been loose in the universe. Seven was never sure just who might be on the other end.
Also, there was no sword.
“Hey,” Seven called to the dimpled water. “Where's Excalibur? He's gonna need it if he's expected to be kinging about.”
The lake made some lapping sounds. Seven thought they might have sounded considering.
“I know it's meant only for him. Fork it over, I'll see he gets it. I'm good for my word, you know that.”
Seven didn't see exactly what spat the silvery blade at him, only that suddenly it was sailing towards him. He dodged, and it stabbed deep into the sod ahead of him, swaying with the force of having stopped suddenly. If it hadn't been forged in a dragon's fire and therefore was nigh indestructible, Seven would have been pissed about blunting it.
He didn't say anything, but he did give the lake the bird. They probably saw it anyway. They definitely heard his grumbling as Seven was forced to haul a man with a good thirty pounds on him PLUS armor in a fireman's carry to the Fiducia. He dropped the king onto the spare bunk with as much care as he could. It wasn't a lot, but it had been a good thirty yards and Seven was annoyed, wet and tired.
Seven eyed the king, and begrudgingly straightened out a few of his limbs, then went to get Excalibur, wiping at the mud that had been scrubbed off on him. Not that it helped. The knees of his trousers were soiled, and his shirt and undershirt were soaked through with water that had been clinging to the king.
Pulling the sword from the earth sent a little zing of power up Seven's arm. He held the blade aloft, full of admiration for such an item of legend. He bore it into Fiducia, and stored it in the safest passcode locked hold he had, the one even the others knew nothing about.
Wasting no time, Seven strapped himself back at the console and fired up the vessel. In ten minutes he was in the line for deep space ascent. Once in orbit he cozied up to one of the fuel stations, and while the automatic mechanism pumped fuel into Fiducia Seven accessed his communications to deal with the flashing light that had been screaming aggressively at him.
There were five messages, most with much the same content. He listened to all of them just to be sure, then sent a data stream back.
Two picked up. It was his prim cadence that clipped out hello.
“Package received,” Seven said.
There was silence for a full minute.
“Central, do you copy?” Seven asked when the quiet had gone on a bit too long for comfort.
“Yes. Rendezvous expected at Central.” Two sounded distracted, even under the static and the din which was clearly Three in the background asking 'what's he like? What's he like?' in the manner of a caffeinated six year old.
“Copy,” Seven said.
The comm made a clicking, muffled sound and then there came Three, loud and clear, breathless and bursting with enthusiasm from so many parsecs away. “Seven, is he there? Can he hear me? Can I say hello? What's he like?”
Seven twirled his chair around to look at the entrance to the residential section of the ship. He considered a moment.
“No, no, no and a dead weight. Package is Sleeping Beauty,” he said. “Seven over and out.” He disconnected.
He rose then and returned to the bunks. He hadn't the first idea how to remove all the armor from the inert body in the bunk. Still, he needed to secure the king for the jump. Dispassionately, Seven nudged King Arthur's limbs around, and then pulled one of the bracebuckles from the wall to strap his highness in.
He was finishing the last one when he saw that the king's blue eyes were open, groggy. The king was staring at him.
“What?” Seven snapped. He felt irritable, he didn't know why. Possibly the way the king's brows went soft and relieved.
“Mrr'lin?” the king slurred.
Seven exhaled through his nose. “Not the, no. A.”
But the king had already dropped into unconsciousness.
They arrived at Tintagel Station almost twelve hours later. A fitful twelve hours, during which Seven was painfully aware of his cargo, unable to rest, to shut off all the possibilities and concerns inside his mind that buzzed with more power than Fiducia's engine.
His majesty had slumbered through the journey, even though he'd been sleeping for centuries, Seven didn't know why he needed more. On the other hand, it meant they didn't need to have any awkward conversations and that suited Seven just fine. He did not want to have to explain who he was, or where they were or how much time had passed, and he didn't understand the envy dripping from the others for his position when they sent data streams to check his progress. It was just as well he hadn't been able to sleep, otherwise the constant interruptions would have driven him mad.
The various levels of security surrounding Tintagel were opened for him in a twinkling, and soon enough Seven landed Fiducia in the hanger of the small station. It was well hidden, their little sanctuary, concealed behind the best technology, obscured with the strongest magic.
For once, there were people waiting to greet him, besides Shay. As soon as he set down Shay began attaching the umbilicals to Fiducia to filter her water and sewage systems, clean the Oxy-scrubbers, charge her networks. But, there were also the others, lined up in the docking bay. There was Two, ramrod straight in one of his pansified tight white jumpsuits, uplink in hand, his short haircut betraying what ridiculous ears they all had. Three was almost bouncing in anticipation and had carefully selected an antique shirt with Ash and the quote 'Hail to the King, Baby', his mop of hair showing signs of actual styling effort, Four was nudging an elbow into him and laughing, even though he himself had even preened; none of his clothes were wrinkled in carelessness. Even One, whose shaved head did even more tragic things for the ears, as did his state of body building, was standing towards the back. Ever loyal, Lance was at Two's elbow.
Seven hit the hatch and shucked his hands into his pockets.
“I'd say special. Where is this Queen you lot are always going on about? Is she a dainty little flower?” Shay said, smirking, wiping her hands on an oil cloth before tucking it in her back pocket.
Seven saw Lance's lips quirk just barely in amusement, exactly as an andriod shouldn't, unless that andriod had been in the company of warlocks for a few centuries.
Seven came down the ramp and they all seemed to inhale and hold their breaths, attention fixed on the open hatch.
When no dramatic entry occurred Three frowned. “Where is he?”
Seven raised a brow, and flicked his head back. “Bunks.”
“He has not regained consciousness?” Two said, frowning.
Seven shook his head. This clearly gave them all pause, with Three's face crumpling in concern. Seven rolled his eyes. “I took a scan, he's fine.”
Two stepped up the ramp, looking Seven in the eye like he thought an unblinking stare was going to answer lingering questions. “Five is dealing with a plague on the Danpring Colony. I will tend to him.”
“I want to see him,” Three said. “It's Arthur!”
“Whoa there, tiger,” Shay laid a hand on Three's shoulder, then rubbed it.
“It can wait,” Two ordered. Seven snorted when Four and Three looked slightly crestfallen. Good dogs.
Seven followed Two to Fiducia's bunks, hanging back in the doorway when Two stepped in, his footfalls lightening to a soft and reverent tread. When he stood beside the Once and Future King, Two stared down at him, his face going tender. He reached out a hand and caressed the blonde hair softly, pressing it back from the brow of the slumbering monarch.
The open affection made Seven snort. Two jolted, and shot Seven a piercing look.
“Don't get too familiar.” Seven said gruffly. “He ain't ours.”
Two stiffened, then removed his hand to work with the uplink. “The least you could have done was clean him up. He's our king.”
“Little mud won't hurt him,” Seven said, then glanced behind him. Lance had boarded the ship and, looking as awkward as only he could, tried to be as unemphatic as possible as he slid by Seven with an expandable stretcher in hand.
Two released the brace buckles. “Try to mask your disdain for our liege.”
Seven was obliged to help Lance move the king onto the stretcher, seeing as Two had the slender constitution of a noodle. They shuffled King Arthur out of Fiducia's narrow confines, and down the ramp. Shay hung behind Three and Four as they crowded close to get a glimpse of the king as he went by, walking a few paces with the stretcher to drink in the continence.
“He's filthy!” Protested Three.
“I don't presume to know him that well.” said Seven, leading the way and refusing to stop and let the bask.
“Berk. Could have at least tidied him up.” Even Four sounded slightly chastening.
“Not a nursemaid,” Seven reminded them.
“If I'd been there I'd have—” Three started.
“Swooned before he had a chance to?” Four teased, his disapproval evaporating.
Three ignored him. “He's the most beautiful thing I ever saw.” He gave a distinctly twitterpated sigh.
Seven rolled his eyes, and was glad when Three and Four fell back as he and Lance bore the king through to the corridor, to the elevator.Two followed at their heels. They passed by One leaning on the wall, who did not alter from his position with his arms crossed over his chest. He watched them go, but his face was impassive, not even the little twitch on the scarred left side. Why he couldn't carry the stretcher, Seven didn't know.
After a tensely silent elevator ride, Lance and Seven carried Arthur into the med-chamber, and laid him down on the procedure table to remove the stretcher.
“You may go, Lance.” Two said, activating the unit.
Lance nodded and departed. Seven followed him, leaving Two to tend the figure.
Freed, Seven went up to the galley on the third floor, slouching against the wall of the elevator for the duration of the ride. The lights were too fluorescent, everything too sterile on Tintagel. He didn't spend a lot of time here, he preferred to be out in Fiducia, preferably with great quantities of distance between himself and a crowd of other men with his face.
In the kitchens, he rifled around until he located a bottle of whiskey. God, he needed this. Had needed it for hours upon hours, wanting to drown his worries in the acid taste of alcohol to just dull the sharp corners of all his thoughts, just blunt them a bit to make the long trip a little less hellish, but he hadn't dared. They'd know, if he'd arrived in Tintagel even so much as tipsy. They'd know, in that horrible group way they had of just knowing, and they'd never forgive him for fling Arthur drunk.
Never-mind he was still an excellent pilot completely drunk.
Seven extinguished the over-head lights, leaving only dim threads of safety lighting by the doors. He headed into the attached dining hall. In the dark the floor to ceiling windows showed an exquisite scene of the gas giant Tintagel orbited, clouds of dust and ice crystals and a carpet of far reaching stars.
Seven sank into one of the chairs, removed the bottle cap and threw it across the room. He wouldn't need it again. He planned on devouring the entire bottle in the hopes it would mute his unrest. He took a lengthy pull from the bottle and sighed. A start.
He'd not gotten very far when Four strolled in, flipped a chair and sat in it backwards, bracing his chin on the chair back while he watched Seven suck at the bottle.
“So,” Four said after many minutes of silence. “I figure, if you tell me all about it you won't have to endure an interrogation by Dos. Or from Tri. Either way, you'd be happier giving me the intel and I'll pass it along.”
“Where is Three?”
“Observation room, watching Dos. Gonna burst his little self.”
“Christ,” Seven breathed.
Four made a gimmie gesture, and Seven reluctantly handed over the bottle. Four took a few gulps then handed it back.
“So?” Four prompted.
Seven shrugged. “Not much to tell. He was already on the shore when I got there, coughing. He looked up at me then passed out. He woke up a little when I got him on board. Called me Merlin then passed out again. End of story.”
“That's it?” Seven was pleased to note even Four looked a little let down. “No angels flying out of his arse? Divine choir? Trumpets? Spontaneous rain of toads?”
“That's a plague.”
“Not to the French.” Four said and grinned.
“There was nothing except a near need for CPR.”
“What about the sword?” Four asked.
Seven drank, shrugged. “It was returned.”
“Really?” Four perked up. “Excalibur? Here? Shit, where is it?”
“It's not for us.” Seven snapped, feeling angrier about it than he had any right to.
“Obviously, but still. Excalibur. Sword to end all swords? It's here? You can't blame a man for wanting to see it. Touch it. Prime did use to go on about it.”
Seven had nothing to say to that. He'd heard all those stories too, and yet, he felt the sword better remain safe until Arthur was fit to wield it. Four had that rakish gleam in his eyes. He wouldn't do harm. Just hide away with Shay playing Knights or Pirates or some shit. Despite a gender shift, Shay was more rakish than Four any day of the week.
When Four realized Seven wasn't going to budge they sat in silence for some time drinking, and Seven was glad of it. He didn't want to talk about it. Vehemently. He just wanted to drink, and now he finally had the chance to quell the worried firings in his brain, he did.
Eventually, Four mumbled something about Shay and he took off, leaving Seven in the dark. It didn't bother him. He felt fully confident of drinking in the dark. So he did. When the bottle was gone, he found another, and when that was gone he dragged himself to his station room and fell into the bed. He prayed there would be no dreams.