cyus: (Merlin)
[personal profile] cyus
Title: Layer Cake
Pairing: Arthur/Percival, Merlin
Rating: PG
Length: 3600 words
Summary: Life's about cake and choices even when destiny peek-a-boos at a school fair.

The low light of the corridor made Arthur want to turn tail and escape back to the office. The stack of receipts was waiting for him to file it before the week was out if he didn't want his admin to cut his coffee allowance for all of the next month (eerie how a school could look the same thirty years on) but Percival's grip on his hand didn't exactly allow for escaping prematurely.

As they drew closer to the sports field out back, the noise levels rose and a few kids pushed past out through the door, carrying a giant canvas between them. Percival slipped his hand to the small of Arthur's back and preceded him out into the sunshine after another pat of encouragement. Arthur was itching to switch his glasses for shades but socialising over cake and tea was too personable so he settled for glancing over the rim of his glasses as he stepped around a few balloons to the cakes selection. Percival caught his eyes over the heads of people, then rolled them when Arthur didn't even last half a minute before stuffing his face with cake under the pretense of social interaction.

"Dad!"

Hannah's fingers were on his plate and the last of his cake in her mouth before he even had the time to react and only watched the crumbs drop down the front of her paint-stained previously-white previously-expensive previously-Arthur's button-down.

"Hann," he said, glancing down at his plate then back at her.

She opened her mouth to show him the soggy cake munch and he slipped a finger under her chin to close it again.

"Having fun?" he asked then brushed the crumbs from her lips, looking around for the project she could possibly be involved in that had her looking like this after only a five minute head-start.

"We're painting families," she said around the cake, then took his hand and drew him over to the canvas. Percival was schmoozing with someone he knew from work while Arthur crouched next to the canvas watching Hannah plant her hands in the paint laid out and then fingerpainting a lot of yellow hair on two unshapely blob heads and no hair at all on the other.

"Is that a dog?" he asked, pointing to the black something at the smallest blob's feet.

"Kitten," she said in unfazed voice that carried enough of a hint of d’uh that Arthur was hiding his smile behind the empty plate he was still holding and his fist.

"Do I get eyes?" Arthur asked.

Hannah stopped mid concentrated hair-painting and glanced at Arthur like she was looking for his eyes, then back down at the canvas, then she shrugged, unconcerned, and rubbed her hands all over the shirt she was wearing to go for a different colour.

"Having fun?" Percival stood behind Arthur, letting his fingers slide around the nape of Arthur's neck, brushing his thumb into his hairline.

"Lots." Arthur pointed at the canvas. "I have hair."

Percival chuckled and bent down to brush his lips over Hannah's cheek for a kiss hello, grinning when she pushed him away to get back to her painting.

"I'm busy," she said.

"Your daughter," Percival whispered into Arthur's ear after he'd pulled him up from his crouch.

"Your artistic talents, clearly," Arthur replied, pointing at the blobs.

Percival smacked his hip and pressed a kiss to his jaw as well.

"He's here," he said into Arthur's ear, casually, like they weren't just staring at their daughter's loving depiction of their family and the imaginary kitten on canvas, not listening to her humming some song to herself that Percival sang under the shower after a morning spent shagging in their bedroom while Hannah was watching CBeebies.

Arthur turned his face to Percival, glancing at him over the frames of his glasses and shrugged. "So?" he said.

Percival nudged him but Arthur only picked the cake crumbs from his plate then crouched down next to Hannah again. Percival tugged at his hair and Arthur ignored it for a moment, then pressed a kiss to the inside of Percival's arm.

"What's the kitten's name?" Arthur asked Hann as he dipped his fingers in some red paint, giving the kitten devil-spawn eyes.

"Da-ad!" Hannah arrested his movement with coal-black paint around his wrist, dripping over his watch, and shoved his hand off the canvas.

Percival snorted behind him and wandered off with another brush of his fingers to Arthur's hair.

"Bring some more cake?" Arthur shouted after him, raising his hands in pleading gesture, crumbs sliding off the plate and into the grass. Percival shook his head with a smile but beelined for the cake table anyway while Arthur spared the cake in the grass a moment of mournful silence.

As he was turning back to Hannah's work of art Arthur saw him at the sidelines of the footie match, grin on his face as he clapped his hands and whistled. He bent down to say something into his wife's ear, pointing out one of the girls on the field, and kept his other hand on the shoulder of the two-year old pressed to his leg. Arthur was a creep for it but he couldn't stop staring, cataloguing the line of his jaw and throat as he threw his head back laughing, didn't have to do much to imagine the snort of laughter that went with the next facial expression.

"Da-ad," Hannah shouted into his ear, paint-fingers clasped around his shoulder as she was shaking him. She was red in the face, paint in her hair and lips twisted to a frown as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. "I said you have to help with the house."

Arthur brought his hand to his face to rub over his eyes, just in the nick of time realizing that he was still dripping a mixture of red and black paint. He gave Hannah a smile and put him out of his mind, brushed Hannah's hair from her face with the back of his hand and tucked a strand behind her ear with clean fingers.

"Well, the house is big, of course," he said, eyeing the canvas. Hannah had done a fine job of the pitch-black fence that made them all look like they were standing inside a prison cell, and Arthur bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. With some white paint he had that artistic venture look just a bit friendlier and near perfect with a few touch-ups of red and blue and yellow by the time Percival's legs pressed to his side again.

"Joining the school, Mr Pendragon?" Percival asked as he held out the cake for Arthur to take, then settled next to Hannah in the grass. Hannah had taken to painting across the leaves and herself while Arthur had been engrossed in the family portrait, and Percival chuckled as his tissue made little difference to their paint-stained child.

"Footie now!" Hannah called and was on her feet and running across to the balloons and the field a heartbeat later, leaving Arthur and Percival to glance at each other across the canvas.

"You got paint on your face," Percival said and made to dab spit-wet tissue at Arthur's face until they both toppled into the grass, careful not to land in any of the paints laid out. Percival propped himself up on his elbow, arm across Arthur’s chest, pulling at the open collar of his shirt.

"Will you spend another year not talking to him, then?" he asked, following Arthur's glance and Arthur had really not been staring again, or at least not at him but at their multi-coloured daughter running up and down the field or wherever the ball went.

"He doesn't know me. And it's mad. And he doesn't know me..." Arthur turned to look at Percival. "And it's mad," he said with finality.

"You not doing anything is mad," Percival replied, hand splayed across Arthur's chest. "Another year won't make this go away." Percival made the whirly-swirly gesture over Arthur's stomach that had always been Arthur's only way to express that there was something he knew but couldn't explain.

Arthur batted at Percival's hand. "It's nothing."

"Liar."

They both looked across towards the field again, with him lifting his son onto his shoulders, tickling him in the process.

"It's madness," Arthur whispered.

Percival dropped a kiss to his shoulder and leveled himself up to walk across to the field, starting to shout encouragement to Hannah from yards away. Hannah waved at him mid-run, then nearly stumbled over the ball. Arthur chuckled. It was madness.

He left the canvas to dry in the sun and cleaned the paints off his hands at least.

"It washes out," one of the women trying to clean her seven year old from head to toe said as she caught Arthur inspecting his jeans, rubbing at them.

"Good to know," he said and winked at the boy, then shook the water off his hands as he wandered over to the football field.

"You have to kick it harder, Hann!" Percival was shouting at the top of his lungs when Arthur joined him, pressing damp fingers to the nape of his neck.

"I hope you're not telling her to kick someone's balls."

"Give it five years," Percival replied and elbowed Arthur before he slid his arm around Arthur's back and sank his hand into the back pocket of Arthur's jeans.

"Is she winning?" Arthur asked, watching as Hannah tried to kick at the ball and hit thin air instead.

"Always." Percival laughed.

Arthur let himself lean in a little, hips pressed to hips, just soaking in the sun and the day.

"Come on, Hann!" he shouted in unison with Percival when Hannah neared the goal, then missed the ball entirely. She turned to face them, lost look on her face until Arthur gave her a smile and she promptly burst into tears as she came running towards them, arms raised for Percival to pick her up immediately. Percival twirled her once before settling her on his hip, her fist half-stuffed into her mouth.

"Happens, Hann," Arthur said, dropping a kiss to his daughter's hair while she hid her sobbing face in Percival's shoulder.

"Your daughter," Percival mouthed over her head with a smile. Arthur kicked at his shin in retaliation while he drew his fingers through Hannah's hair, rubbed her back.

"Pee," Hannah stage whispered into Percival's ear but she only clung tighter with the shame of defeat still in her face as he made to set her down.

"Let's find the bathroom then, shall we?" Percival glanced at Arthur and across to the cake buffet, where he stood, leaning over to scrutinize one cake in particular.

"I-" Arthur started, and he shouldn't and he wouldn't and Percival just looked at him, mouthed please without the smile, the kind of please that came from too many late night conversations, too many screaming matches and apologies on post-it notes because Arthur was a coward. Percival turned with Hannah still on his hip and left Arthur standing at the side of the field amidst parents cheering for their children. He glanced around but the bloke was on his own, wife and children nowhere in sight, and with the excuse of some cake (what else?) Arthur walked over.

He poured himself tea into a papercup first, watching over the rim of his glasses when he poked at the cake with a fork before dumping it on his plate with a satisfied expression on his face. Arthur weighed another year of the whirly-swirly against this and stepped closer, sidling up, cake plate in hand and fork intent. He poked at the same plate, rainbow cake, and snorted a breath through his nose before he caught himself.

"Lovely," he muttered, and fingers tight on the plate and staring the cake in the eye, he turned. "Merlin?" he brought out, a bit strained like his voice got during these uncomfortable meetings when he came in unprepared because Hannah was ill or the car hadn't started in the morning.

The bloke groaned. "And I thought everyone had been..." he trailed off, glanced at Arthur. "Sorry it's-" he turned to look around, probably looking for his wife and kids before stacking more cake on the plate. "It's Merlin, mad I know, you'd think that-"

"-it's Merlin..." Arthur repeated when the whirly-swirly in his stomach pressed up against his lungs and throat because this had been only his head up to now, his head being wrong and strange and-

"Merlin, hey," the bloke said and shook Arthur's hand still holding the plate. "You're...?"

"Dad!" Hannah ran into his legs, hugging her arms around his thighs, face pressed to the small of his back. Arthur glanced over his shoulder at Percival following behind through the crowd of families, one head taller than everyone. Percival nodded a go on and Arthur turned back to Merlin, reaching behind himself for his daughter's shoulder, keeping her close.

"Arthur," Arthur said. "I'm Arthur." His heart was beating in time to the plastic pop music from the boom box, and he searched Merlin's eyes for some of the same, some of the sweaty hands and racing heartbeat and not enough breath.

"I ran real fast," Hannah said into his back. "And then, I won!"

"Oh," Merlin replied, cake tower of at least five pieces swaying a little. He hesitated a moment, then turned on his heel and walked off, not even glancing back.

"Oh," Arthur said before Hannah's fingers pinched at his stomach and it turned into, "Ow," which served as rather more illustrative anyway.

Percival wrapped an arm around Arthur's chest from behind, squeezing Hannah between their legs. She squealed at the new game.

"It's him," Arthur said before Percival could ask. "I don't know," he added, closing his eyes to the summer and the fete and the laughter of children around him. "It's Merlin." Arthur choked out a laugh, maybe more of a sob and Percival made the same shushing noise that he made for Hannah when she climbed into bed with them and hid under the blankets, afraid of the monsters of her nightmares. "I should be glad I'm not entirely mad then," Arthur continued but it wasn't as if this served as any kind of explanation and it came out more defeated than celebratory.

Hannah had wriggled out from between them and run off again, and Arthur turned in Percival's arms, looked up at him and shrugged because his words were stuck under that giant obstruction in his throat and Percival just drew Arthur's head to his shoulder and let him take a deep breath and another before some semblance of control reigned in his head again and his eyes didn't betray him any longer and he pushed away.

"Thanks," Percival said. It went with the please from earlier and made something feeling a little lighter at least. He took Arthur's hand and drew him across to whatever new game Hannah had discovered. Arthur smiled at a few parents he knew on the way, various functions they'd met at, and then caught sight of his daughter tying her leg to Merlin's daughter and attempting the three-leg run that lasted for all of a step before a fit of uncoordinated efforts had them both land face-first in the grass.

"You," Percival said, arms crossed in front of his chest but smiling, and Arthur cuffed him about the head.

Arthur waited a second before his daughter's red face announced the oncoming storm and he hurried over. Halfway across the grass he saw Merlin do the same, and he halted in his steps for a moment before continuing on, cringing when his daughter was well into a sob-filled accusation of the other girl, slashing angrily at the air.

"Hey Hann," Arthur said, and she glowered at him, face stained red with rage, then threw herself at him, beating her fists at his chest until Arthur caught them in his hand and held her close.

"All her fault!" Hannah shouted into his ear, kicking if it wasn't for Arthur holding her close. "I was supposed to win!"

The other girl, Merlin's daughter, was frowning at him and at her father and Hannah most of all, then just turned and tucked herself to Merlin's side, hugging his waist, before walking off to her mum standing at the side of the field, glowering over her shoulder every few steps, little fingers balled to fists. Hannah had calmed to hitching sobs and twisted around to look at Merlin and the girl in the distance. "I told her to wait," she said with an air of finality as she faced Arthur again and slipped from Arthur's grasp to run back to Percival.

"Sorry," Arthur said, eyeing the patch of grass at his feet as he straightened. "She's-"

"I'm not a servant. And I'm not gay," Merlin said.

Arthur's head snapped up and he stared at Merlin with his hands worrying at the side of his jeans, face dark and wrinkled in thought and a hint of pain. "It's..." Merlin laughed and gestured to himself and to Arthur. "You must think I'm mad, I think I'm mad, sorry, I-"

"If you're mad then so am I," Arthur said, cataloguing as everything flickered over Merlin's face: battles and kingdoms and alliances and betrayals and death. "No crown," Arthur added into the silence, gestured to his head like an idiot. He glanced over his shoulder at Percival who was crouching with Hannah but watching them.

"Right," Merlin said and laid a hand to his stomach and Arthur felt it there too, that whirly-swirly unwhirling and unswirling and he resisted mirroring the gesture. "Must be the cake," Merlin said through a bit of a grimace.

"I thought I was losing my mind," Arthur said instead and remembered how Merlin felt under his hands, his lips, how he felt caught mid-orgasm and how he felt holding him as he recovered from nearly dying once more.

"Yeah," Merlin just said and left them both in silence again, both staring at the rugged bit of grass at their feet.

"Right, so..." Arthur wriggled his fingers. "Any of that?"

Merlin thrust his hands into his jeans and glanced back towards his wife, then just shrugged and didn't reply, only stood hunched over, frown lines on his forehead.

It sat in Arthur's chest now, all the memories and feelings and affections just tingling at the tips of his fingers, like magic and the irony of that burned a bit. "Awkward," Arthur said, giving a snort.

Merlin huffed a small laugh, too, something tugging at his lips at least. "I carried you off dead..." he said on the heels of that and caught Arthur's eye, face rigid with pain for a moment when Arthur was caught in the same memory, burning fields and men dead everywhere and Merlin kneeling next to him, his head bowed, and for a moment they were there on that other field, dressed in red and gold and blood-streamed.

"I don't know if I can again," Merlin whispered, barely audible, and turned. Arthur caught him by his sleeve, pulled him back but Merlin tore free. "Don't ask me to, again, I don't know if I..."

Arthur let his hand drop, everything in his chest pulling tight to a point and curling into that.

"I'm not into men, I'm not into saving anyone, I don't know if I could-"

"You can," Arthur said because one of them had to say it. He dug for a pen and a scrap of paper in his pockets, something Hannah had doodled on earlier and scratched down his number and email, and just pressed it into Merlin's hand. "Just- if-"

"Arthur-"

"I'm not asking anything. I'm just asking-" Arthur bowed his head and he would have fallen to his knees for this man if this wasn't here. "I could never repay you, I could never ask that again. I just needed to know you were here." It slotted into his heart somewhere around the corner from Hannah and Percival, sitting just underneath and balancing his world a little on its axis. He closed Merlin's fingers around the scrap of paper. "I'm asking nothing else but I hope- I hope you're content,... love, lover, ... love." He trailed off and turned and had to be the one to walk away and not look over his shoulder.

The tingle of magic to his hair, settling a caress, just a touch hello or goodbye, he had to force himself not to turn around but keep walking.

Hannah ran towards him and he picked her up, twirling her through the air and held her close, not letting her go now.

"We're going to get ice cream!" Hannah yelled too close and too loud and Arthur laughed through the choked up feeling in his throat.

He whispered an I love you to her hair and an I love you to Percival's lips, with his fingers pressed to the soft skin of his neck and hoped Percival understood.

"I could never leave you," Arthur said into Percival's question marks.

Percival held him close, hugging Hannah between them. "I know," he said. "How could I not?"
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cyus

November 2012

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