lady_ragnell (lady_ragnell) wrote,
lady_ragnell
lady_ragnell

But It's a Good Refrain (1/3)

Title: But It's a Good Refrain
Wordcount: ~23,000
Summary: Arthur doesn't care much about the popular radio program Dragon's Lonely Hearts until his ex-girlfriend calls in to slag him off and get advice. When he calls in and has an on-air argument with the host, it starts off more than he expected, including meddling friends, overinvolved fans, and maybe love.
A/N: Written for this prompt at kinkme_merlin. Title from Regina Spektor's "On the Radio."

—caller coming in from south of London. Hello, Drea, you’re on with Dragon’s Lonely Hearts, how can I help you tonight?

It’s just my boyfriend, he’s been so cold lately and—


“Christ, Morgana, listening to this drivel again? I don’t know how you stand it.”

Morgana sniffs and turns the volume up, slapping his hand away when he tries to go for the control. “I am driving, so I pick the music.”

“This isn’t music, this is some bloke torturing people’s life stories out of them for a nation to hear and occasionally playing a tune.” Arthur gestures at the radio and goes back to staring out the window. He’s glad to be getting back to the city but catching a ride with his half-sister instead of taking public transport wasn’t his wisest plan.

Doesn’t sound to me like he’s cheating on you, Drea, but—

“He isn’t torturing them,” Morgana snaps. Arthur is especially sorry that he chose to drive down with her when she’s in an even worse mood than usual due to their father refusing to donate to the charity she runs. “He’s listening. Something that you obviously don’t know how to understand or do, but this show really helps people.”

“Because they pay callers and write scripts and he’s just got the kind of voice that comes across well over the radio.” Arthur rolls his eyes when she does a particularly vicious lane-change without bothering to signal. “Come on, Morgana, you know how these things work, you’ve done enough advertising.”

“He is not a fake, and I know that because—” Morgana stops, cheeks going pink.

Arthur can’t help laughing, even though he knows Morgana will get her revenge eventually. “Oh my God, you’ve called him, haven’t you?” She grips the steering wheel tight, and he keeps laughing, drowning out the man on the radio trying to be soothing while the girl sniffles. “You have! You called Dragon’s Lonely Hearts like the Billy No-Mates you are.”

“It’s no secret that I didn’t have a good time of it after Aglain,” Morgana says between her teeth, “and I’m not ashamed of looking for help because he did help. So you can shut up about it.”

It takes a second, but he manages to gulp back the laughter that wants to continue. He knows better than to tease Morgana about anything related to Aglain, so apparently that means Dragon’s Lonely Hearts is not to be mocked in her presence. At least not quite so seriously. “Not as if he’s a real therapist or anything, though,” he points out, unwilling to capitulate completely.

Morgana shrugs. “Does he need to be?”

—really hope my advice helps, Drea, says the radio show host softly. I know it must have been hard to hear, but from where I’m sitting that’s what it sounds like.

No, it’s okay. I sort of knew it already, you know? And thanks, Dragon, I knew you’d help.

Thank you, Drea. Okay, everyone, let’s have a little break and listen to some music before our next call. First up is—


“Well, I suppose they aren’t paying him or anything,” Arthur allows.

“My God, you’re mercenary. I always forget that about you.” He just raises his eyebrows, since Morgana is the one who spends her life putting a bottom line on everything, even if it is for pandas or irrigation or whatever the hell her catchall charity is supporting this week. “Speaking of mercenary, has Vivian hit the three-month wall yet?”

Arthur blinks at the abrupt change of subject while the strains of something cheerful and indie and entirely forgettable fill the car. “The what? I’m still with Vivian, yes, if that’s what you’re asking, although I’ve had less time to see her lately with the new account at work.” And she’s taken to looking longingly in the windows of jewelry stores whenever they pass them, but Arthur’s definitely not telling Morgana that.

“The three-month wall, Arthur, I know you aren’t self-aware but you are meant to be good at analyzing patterns, aren’t you? It’s the point of economics courses, I would think.” He just lets her rattle on, since this is obviously vengeance for mocking her pet radio host. “Surely you’ve realized that almost no one you date ever lasts more than three months before they become ‘more of a good friend, really,’ or ‘footie’s all we’ve got in common’ or ‘well, she’s a crazy bitch, it’s not my fault I’ve only just figured that out.’”

“You can’t be denying that Sophia was a crazy bitch.”

Morgana pauses. “Point. But still. You can’t be that deep into denial.”

Arthur takes an uncomfortable few seconds to think over his past relationships, the ones that lasted more than two weeks. And Leon, Elena, Percival, and Mithian are all good friends but Morgana’s right, none of them lasted much more than three months before he realized they were acting more like friends who occasionally fucked than anything else. “Nonsense,” he says firmly, because it’s never wise to let on that Morgana might be right.

She laughs anyway and takes the turn for his flat. “That just means you’ve realized I’m right. Tell you what, Arthur, you might be a candidate for Dragon’s Lonely Hearts yourself.”

This is Dragon’s Lonely Hearts, if you’re just tuning in, and we’ve got a caller on the line. Gilli, I’ve heard you’re feeling a bit lonely tonight, so I thought we might talk you up to the ladies listening out there tonight, or maybe the gents …

*

Dragon’s Lonely Hearts, everyone knows, is on from ten till two on Friday and Saturday nights, and is hosted by the Dragon, a mysterious figure who doesn’t talk much about himself but took the airwaves by storm a year ago when he first got his show. He helps the lovelorn, the recently broken up, the pining, the eternally single, and miraculously, actually seems to help. He’s popular with the twenty-somethings of the city, hops right over their disillusionment with life after university and gets them smiling. He’s famous for getting calls from singles and making them talk themselves up until someone else calls the show up wanting a date, and then he screens the dates, and while Arthur is skeptical of this, apparently these set-ups nearly always end well.

Arthur finds none of this out because he actually cares.

Most of it he finds out because Morgana, annoyed with him for a myriad of reasons (but then, when isn’t she annoyed with him?), brings the show up at a pub night and it turns out that everyone listens to it when they stay in at the weekend. They all blather on about it for ages, including Vivian, who he can generally count on to be on his side, and Arthur just rolls his eyes and waits for the conversation to roll around to something he actually cares about.

(The breakup with Vivian four days later, incidentally, has nothing to do with this discussion, no matter what Morgana claims. It has everything to do, however, with Vivian’s habit of telling him what sort of ring she wants and leaving wedding magazines around his flat.)

Some of it he finds out because of his weekly phone call with his father, who is gearing up for his next political campaign and wonders if he ought to pay for ad spots on the programme, considering its popularity. Arthur firmly puts paid to that idea, since he suspects the audience of Dragon’s Lonely Hearts is quite liberal and wouldn’t appreciate Uther’s philosophies.

The rest of it he finds out when he and Mithian go out for lunch and she cheerfully slips in a story about a friend of hers who got set up on a date through the show and how her boyfriend proposed this past weekend. “You should put your name in,” she says, probably just because she knows it annoys him.

“I don’t exactly have trouble getting dates,” he says, tapping a few keys on his phone. It isn’t that there’s any urgent business, considering he’s a glorified accountant and likes it that way, but if he pretends he’s busy Mithian is the only one of his female friends who might actually leave him alone instead of badgering him.

“Yes,” she says dryly. “I know. Vivian called me in tears last night, you know.”

“I never promised to marry her, or even insinuated that I might.”

Mithian sighs and blows on her soup to cool it. “I’m not trying to put you on the defensive, Arthur, and God knows I think you and Vivian would kill each other within the year if you moved in together, let alone got married. I just think that sometimes you need to do things that you haven’t planned out to the last second, printed, and signed in triplicate.”

“I’m not boring,” he feels the need to point out. He needs to say it to Morgana at least twice a week, but he usually doesn’t need to with Mithian.

“You aren’t, you just plan things too much. You’ve got this plan for who you’ll marry, men and women both, and don’t try to tell me that there aren’t patterns, and maybe someone might last more than a season if you’re surprised, you know?” Mithian shrugs. “This isn’t an intervention, Arthur, honestly, and I’m not going to call in the show on your behalf or something stupid like that. You should just do something. Try speed-dating, maybe.”

“Speed-dating.”

“It’s efficient. One would think the idea would appeal.” She arches an eyebrow and smiles.

Arthur gives in and laughs. “Perhaps it does, but don’t go signing me up or anything. It’s a bit gauche to be dating someone new this soon, after all.”

“Of course you care about being gauche.” She rolls her eyes. “And put down your phone, Arthur, I know when you’re pretending to look busy.”

When he does, she makes a great point of changing the subject, and Arthur assumes that’s all he’ll hear about Dragon’s Lonely Hearts for a while, that it’s one of those odd things that seems like it’s everywhere for a few weeks before fading into obscurity again, like the time when all of his friends ended up talking to him about ducks completely by chance within the same week. He’ll hear Morgana mention it once in a while or see an advert on the Tube, like he’s starting to notice sometimes, and that will be the end of it.

Because Arthur’s life never quite works out the way he plans, this is not the case.

Instead, two Fridays later, frustrated with the world and his friends and especially his father, Arthur finds himself in the gym in his building around midnight, working off his frustration with the radio playing softly because his iPod isn’t charged and he was too impatient to wait for it. The system is playing Dragon’s Lonely Hearts, because of course it is, and Arthur mostly manages to tune out everything but the music until he recognizes a voice.

It’s just, Vivian is saying, I knew he didn’t do long term, and that he’s friends with all his exes, but I thought I would be different, you know? She sniffles. I thought he loved me!

Arthur feels a pang of guilt, since he knew Vivian was more invested than he but he’d thought that after a few weeks she would at least be feeling a bit better. In what ways did you stand out from the pattern? the Dragon asks gently.

He … I … she splutters, and Arthur winces and slows down with his weights to listen. Arthur was just … I was the only one he wasn’t good friends with before he dated! she manages triumphantly at last. I mean, we were acquainted through our fathers, but he’s been friends with all the others for ages.

I mean, says the Dragon with more patience than Arthur would have in his position, do you know if he treated you any different from the others? Took you anywhere special, introduced you to family members he didn’t the others …?

A pause, and a sniffle. Arthur gives up all pretence of pretending to work out, feeling both outraged and wretchedly guilty. I suppose not, Vivian says quietly at last. I wasn’t around while he was dating any of them, but I can’t think of anything like that.

Well. It sounds like the Dragon takes a deep breath from the crackle of the speakers. You sound like an intelligent woman, Viv, so you know this already, but I’ll say it anyway: if someone doesn’t change their previous behavior, then they’ll never change the way their relationships end. This bloke—Arthur, right? This bloke clearly has a pattern that’s working for him, and if he’s doing things the same way he’s always done, then sure as anything, he’ll end it the way he’s always done as well.

That right there, what sounds like a clear dismissal of Arthur on a radio show that Morgana is undoubtedly listening to, tips him over the edge into anger, and he slams out of the gym and up to his apartment to get his phone and give this arsehole a piece of his mind with the sounds of some woman singing about how to be insensitive chasing him on.

*

By the time Arthur gets up to his flat, he’s managed to talk himself down at least a bit, enough that he doesn’t grab for his mobile the second he’s in the door. This Dragon doesn’t know Arthur’s side of the story, how hard Vivian was pushing to get married after three months and how Arthur never knows quite what he’s looking for and never ends up satisfied no matter how hard he tries, and perhaps he’d dislike Arthur on his own merits, but Arthur can’t blame him for putting him in a box based on Vivian’s tearful words.

When he does check his phone, after a few deep breaths and a swig out of a bottle of cider, he’s got texts from nearly all of his friends. He only bothers reading Morgana’s, since hers is undoubtedly going to be the worst, and puts up with having to scoll down several times through all the HAHAHA to get to I could almost feel sorry for you if it weren’t true.

Arthur fully intends to make himself a cup of tea and sulk in his bedroom with a film or whatever’s on the BBC, but his phone goes off before he can. It isn’t Morgana, who he would have just ignored, but Mithian, who’s probably just calling to check in and be kind. If he blows her off, she’ll probably keep calling until he answers, so he sighs and flips open his phone. “What? I heard Vivian’s call while I was working out, if that’s what you’re calling to tell me.”

“I need you to not freak out,” she says, and he winces preemptively, “but I need you to turn on your radio again, because you may as well be prepared.”

“What, has Elena called in now? Or Leon, or Percival?”

Mithian sighs. “Arthur. Do you really think any of us would? Just turn it on.”

He has to go to his bedroom for the only radio in his flat, the one he keeps tuned to the news to wake up to in the mornings, and fiddles with the dial until he hits the station where Dragon’s Lonely Hearts is still playing. “What have I missed?” he asks.

“A woman called in to talk about men like you,” she says, but under it he hears —and I have never met a man like that who wasn’t a terrible user in some strange woman’s voice.

Neither have I, to be honest, says the Dragon, laughing a little, putting Arthur’s hackles right up. I do always have to keep in mind that I’m only hearing one side of the story, but someone who breaks up after three months nearly every time, who usually only dates his friends … well, that’s a sign of someone just looking for convenience, really, not love.

“Excuse me, please,” Arthur chokes out, and hangs up because he can’t listen to this knowing Mithian’s listening as well, not when he’ll be wondering the whole time if she felt like that when he ended it and has always just been too polite to say so. She rings back immediately, of course, he wouldn’t expect anything different, but he just silences his phone and keeps listening.

And the thing is that men like this Arthur bloke, they’ll never change, the woman is saying. Someday he’ll marry some woman and get divorced a year later because she isn’t enough for him either. I had a boyfriend like that once, and if you’re still listening, Vivian, you’re well shot of him!

The Dragon (and really, Arthur can’t keep thinking of him like that, what sort of fucking name is the Dragon) makes a noise halfway between a laugh and an attempt to shush her. Only one side of the story, remember?

Bollocks. You know as well as I do that this Arthur is an arsehole.


That gets her a nervous laugh. Maybe, yeah. You never know, right? Anyway, thank you so much for your call, and let’s have a bit of music before we have our next caller?

Arthur snaps his radio off before whatever song condemning him comes on next and is looking up the station’s phone number on his mobile before he can think better of it, ignoring the increasing texts and missed calls from Mithian, Morgana, and occasionally Leon. He calls, jaw tight and feeling more humiliated than he can remember in ages.

A cheerful woman answers the phone. “You’ve reached Dragon’s Lonely Hearts, can I get your name please?”

“Arthur,” he says as calmly as he can manage.

There’s a pause. “Oh, shit,” she says quietly, and then in a much less cheerful and more timid voice she says “Are you going to sue us?”

“I am not. But I would like to say that I don’t appreciate my friends texting me to let me know that people are talking about me on a radio show and making assumptions about my character that I can’t defend against.”

Another pause, and then the woman says brightly “I’ll put you through!” in a tone that Arthur recognizes from the workplace, that of someone who doesn’t want to deal with whatever problem’s been dumped in her lap, and suddenly he’s hearing what must be the end of the song playing on the radio and someone counting down quietly to prepare to go on the air.

Arthur thinks about hanging up, but before he can manage to do it the song ends and he hears the Dragon say “That was Kate Nash, and this is Dragon’s Lonely Hearts, and we seem to have a caller on the line. Hello there, who have we got?”

There’s still time to hang up, to not have Morgana and Mithian and everyone else when the gossip gets to them looking at him disappointed and amused in the morning, but he trusts his ability not to lose his temper in such a public forum, at least more than he already has. “Arthur,” he says, because he might as well.

After a second, there’s the distinct sound of someone sucking in a breath. “That’s … quite a coincidence,” the Dragon says weakly.

“Actually, it’s not.” He sighs. “Look, I’m not on here to shout at you, I’m not that much of an arsehole, but I don’t appreciate the entire city of London making assumptions about my personal life. That’s all I’ve got to—”

“No!” They both pause, at that. “No, this is brilliant, actually,” the Dragon continues, barreling on, though it’s clear he has no idea at all what he’s doing. “Obviously some listeners are having trouble figuring out how someone falls into a relationship pattern like the one Vivian mentioned earlier, so perhaps you can give us the other side of the story.”

He refuses to assassinate Vivian’s character as his was assassinated. “There’s very little to say about the other side of the story, I’m afraid. I get in relationships that I believe will work out, and if they don’t seem to be satisfying both of us I end them.”

There’s a stunned little silence at that. “Well of course they aren’t satisfying, if that’s the attitude you go in with!”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Look, you called up pissed off and with every right, but if you want my advice … if you get into a relationship because you ‘think it would work out,’ then you aren’t getting into it for the right reasons. You didn’t mention attraction, or infatuation, or anything else like that. No wonder you’ve found all your relationships unsatisfying, if you go in expecting that at best they’ll ‘work out.’ You should date people because you’re crazy about them, or think you could be, not because you’re hoping for satisfaction.”

Arthur breathes in so he won’t shout. It’s one thing hearing he needs more spontaneity in his relationships from Morgana and Mithian; it’s another entirely to hear it from a stranger, especially not one who sounds as if he’s barely out of university, if that. “You have no right to sit in a studio and judge people you’ve never met and who don’t ask for your advice. You know nothing about me and you aren’t saying anything you couldn’t get out of a university counseling textbook or a romantic film, so I’m going to guess you don’t know much about love either.”

“Wow. Wow, okay. Obviously I know nothing about you but you know everything about me. You know, you aren’t the first to call my advice trite, or say I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I guarantee you that what I lack in credentials I more than make up for in personal experience. I’ve dated every kind of arsehole out there, ones that cheated, ones that lied, ones who saw me as a step on a ladder, married one that—no, you know what, I’m sorry, everyone, that was overshare. Arthur, I apologize for offending you so with my advice. Let’s have some music, shall we, and when we come back let’s have a new problem, or is anyone out there lonely tonight? I’d love to do a date auction.”

A second later, before Arthur can muster a response, or the apology he knows with a horrible certainty that he ought to give, he hears the beginning strains of Lily Allen singing “Fuck You” and then a click as the line cuts out.

He knows Morgana and Mithian and maybe the rest of his friends will be calling him incessantly by now and that he should pick up the phone and deal with them because it will only be worse in the morning, but instead he thinks of the way the Dragon’s voice shook with something that wasn’t quite anger when Arthur pushed him, and how much he just reminded himself of his father at his worst, and turns his phone off and goes to take a shower instead.

*

Arthur knows it’s Morgana pounding on his door the next morning almost before he wakes up. She’s got a certain way of knocking, especially when she’s annoyed, that has struck fear into his heart since she moved in with them when he was fourteen. And, he admits to himself as he remembers why his stomach is clenched with guilt, she’s got every reason to be annoyed.

“You’ve got a fucking key!” he yells anyway, on principle, because even if he was a complete arsehole last night he was also an arsehole to a strange radio show host that Morgana should not be sympathizing with over her own half-brother.

“Yes, but I’m angry with you!” she shouts back, and Arthur levers himself out of bed to stagger to the door before his neighbors start complaining, which they’ve been known to do when Morgana’s in a mood. Really, she does nothing but ruin his life, it’s a wonder he loves her so much.

The door isn’t even all the way unlocked before she’s bursting through it, far too professionally dressed for a Saturday morning, narrowing her eyes at him the second she sees him. “Anything you have to say,” Arthur starts preemptively as he stumbles towards his kitchen for coffee, “I can guarantee that I have already thought about myself at least twice, and probably worded more strongly. I may not be a good person, Morgana, but at least I’m self-aware.”

“You are a good person. It’s why I want to kill you this morning.”

“Couldn’t you have sent Mithian, or Leon? Percival, even. They’re much better at making sense in this sort of situation.”

Morgana grabs his arm just before he makes it to the refrigerator. “Stop deflecting. I wouldn’t like you so much if you didn’t know what you’d done was wrong, Arthur, so I’m glad you’re feeling guilty. My question is what you intend to do about it.”

“What on earth can I do about it?” He shrugs and starts his coffeemaker up, making sure there’s enough for two. “Do you want toast?” She nods, but never looks away from him. “If you’re asking me to call and apologize, believe me, I’ve considered it, but they’ve undoubtedly got caller ID and already have my number blocked, and using someone else’s phone feels dishonest.”

“My God, I sometimes think you were born five hundred years too late, with your ridiculous chivalry. There are other ways to apologize. The show’s bound to have e-mail, or if you want to continue acting Shakespearean you can always write to the show in the post, care of the radio station. He reads fan mail aloud on air sometimes, when he gets an especially good one.”

That feels right, in a way—of course it does, Morgana knows him better than anyone. He’s always found it easiest expressing his thoughts on paper, where he has time to think them through and get past his first impulses, which are nearly always defensive. “Maybe I will.”

“Don’t say maybe, Arthur, you’ll waffle long enough to talk yourself out of it, and you hit a button last night. I’ve listened to this show a lot, and people have been awful to him, but I’ve never heard him lose his cool like that. This matters.”

He puts the toast down in the toaster and starts rummaging for jam for hers and honey for his. “Didn’t I say I knew that? I’ll write a damn letter, Morgana, though if he’s smart he won’t bother reading it. I wouldn’t, if I were him.”

She smiles and goes to hover over his coffeemaker. “Neither would I. Let’s hope he’s a better person than either of us, then, and don’t let it stop you writing.” She tosses a look over her shoulder. “If you do write him and post it, I’ll tell the others never to mention it again, and we can all forget it happened.”

Arthur considers asking if he really thinks their friends will drop it just like that, but Morgana has powers that he knows not of and sometimes it’s best just not to ask, so he leaves it. “I’ll write him, but you don’t get to read it.”

After a second’s consideration, she nods. He puts the toast down a second time automatically because his toaster never manages it right the first time and turns around to watch her, because she’s obviously got something else on her mind. Sure enough, the coffee isn’t even ready before she speaks again. “Now that that’s over with, are you okay?”

“Other than feeling like a complete git and wishing I had the excuse of being drunk for that phone call, you mean?”

Morgana puts her hands on her hips. “I mean that I was listening last night, and even though it was by accident, he managed to press every one of your buttons and did it while you knew people you cared about were listening as well. You may have deliberately gone for the throat just like you always do, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt as well.”

For all Morgana’s the only one of his friends who dares ask him questions like this and expects answers, she’s the hardest one to answer. “I’ve been told a few too many times lately that I need to do something spontaneous, or get invested, or something else like that,” he admits. She knows that already, since caution is something they both picked up from Uther, in different ways.

“And?”

“I don’t know why any of them are still friends with me.” She raises her eyebrows and he turns around to butter their toast as the coffeemaker goes off and she starts pouring. “You I understand, since I never actually dated you, thank God, Uther would have had a heart attack when he found out, but the rest of them? As last night illuminated so clearly, I’m not a very good boyfriend, and after Leon and Elena, Percival and Mithian had to know …”

He’s still turned away so he’s not prepared for the smack on the back of his head that comes next. “Yes. They knew you. And they know you. Did it never occur to you that it takes two people to make a relationship? Percival was finishing his education when he took up with you, he knew his life was in flux and he knew it would probably end and I never saw him weeping into his pillow or anything, can you imagine? And Mithian wanted it to work because she knew it would be good if you could manage anything more than affection for each other, but neither of you could, and she got on with things. Feel free to beat yourself up for what you said to the Dragon, but that doesn’t mean he was right about everything.”

“I thought he was the be-all and end-all of relationship advice,” he snaps, even though he knows he shouldn’t.

Morgana sighs and hands him his coffee cup, and he turns back around. “Don’t be a bastard, Arthur, it doesn’t actually suit you. I’m trying to be comforting through my great annoyance and you know I’m shit at it. Be grateful.”

“I am.” Arthur starts eating his breakfast and Morgana seems to realize that that’s the end of the subject as far as he’s concerned.

“Good. Now, eat your breakfast and put on something presentable and then we’re going out for a walk, and perhaps you’re going to buy me something nice because I’m your favorite sister and you’re annoying and rude.”

That means he’ll be required to buy her something frivolous and expensive, but he doesn’t mind very much. “If I bought you something every time I was annoying and rude I would be broke,” he points out instead.

Morgana just laughs and toasts him with her coffee mug.

*

Dear Dragon Christ that’s a stupid name To whom it may

I wouldn’t read this if I were you. I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t. I’m afraid I said some unforgivable things the other night and I won’t try to make excuses for them. Even though you were an arsehole as well and I doubt I’ll ever get an I lashed out, and you didn’t deserve it. At least not as much as you got.

My sincerest apologies, whether you accept them or not, for everything I said. I should never have called in the first place but really what can you expect when you run a popular relationship show and people call in to complain using real names.

Arthur


It’s not much of a letter with all his offended pride edited out and he knows it, but he posts it on Monday anyway, before he can talk himself out of it. He sends it without a return address, something he knows Morgana would disapprove of if she knew, but he doesn’t want anyone to feel obligated to answer and it’s best not to have his full name attached anyway.

After that, Arthur goes about pretending the whole thing never happened, aided and abetted by his friends, who seem to be obeying Morgana’s edict never to speak of it (with the exception of Elena, who mentions it completely by accident on Tuesday night, but Elena’s never been the most adroit of his friends so he doesn’t mind very much). Mithian gives him frequent worried looks and Leon and Percival drag him out for a pickup game of rugby, which they generally only do when he’s been fighting with his father, but at least they don’t mention it.

That, of course, lasts until Friday night, when Mithian texts him Turn your radio on now, don’t ask questions, you know which station.

For all of half a second, he thinks about ignoring the text, pretending he’s in the shower or the gym or even out, though he almost never goes out of a weekend unless Morgana drags him or Elena begs him when he’s single. Then he goes to the bedroom and flicks the radio on, searching through the stations for the Dragon’s voice.

—sent me a letter, like I said earlier, he’s saying when Arthur gets there. And I get the impression this someone isn’t a regular listener, which is why I’ve given a bit of time here. But if you’re listening, out there, and I hope you are—apology accepted and no hard feelings, mate. I suspect neither of us was at our best.

Arthur knows that chances are huge he’s the one the Dragon is calling out to, so he doesn’t bother trying to fool himself that he’s surprised about that. He is surprised, though, that it got mentioned at all. If he were working on the show, he would have read the letter, snorted, thrown it away, and never mentioned or thought about it again.

So here’s a song to make up for the last one, the Dragon continues, and then we’ll hopefully have another caller on the line. Where are you all tonight? With that, a song starts in, one that Arthur doesn’t recognize but which seems to be about becoming friends. He allows himself a second of laughter before his phone goes off with another text.

It’s Morgana, of course, because she wouldn’t be herself if she didn’t gloat. Isn’t it nice knowing that there are people nicer than you in the world?

Nicer than you, too he texts back, and listens to the rest of the song in silence before he flips the radio off. There. Closure, for both of them, for a night when Arthur certainly hadn’t been at his best and he suspects the other man wasn’t either. This will be the end of it, and it will be something Morgana teases him about and Mithian worries about until the next thing comes along, a disaster of a date for Elena or a promotion at work for Leon or Percival stringing more than two sentences together at once.

That blissful supposition lasts until about two o’clock the next afternoon, while Arthur is trying to mock up a budget for a project the company is trying to weasel out of starting, and Mithian calls him. “Hello,” he says, expecting a dinner invitation or something similar.

“I owe Morgana pair of shoes for being the one allowed to make this phone call,” she says instead of anything comforting.

“Her ability to extort things out of all of us is frankly worrying,” says Arthur automatically, because it is. He’s pretty sure Leon’s the one who paid for her long weekend in Spain last summer, but nobody can get a straight answer on how or why. “What, was I insulted again last night after I stopped listening?”

“No, but you’re all over the fan sites this morning, apparently.”

Arthur takes an uncharitable second to curse Vivian roundly for calling the damn show and getting him involved in the first place, and then a more realistic one cursing himself for getting offended and calling. “Why am I all over the fan sites? And why the hell does a weekend radio show have fan sites? It can’t possibly be that popular.”

“It really can,” she says apologetically. “And apparently people thought it was mysterious last night when he didn’t say a name while responding to your message, so now there’s all sorts of speculation about who it is and what the apology was for. A lot of them seem to be assuming it’s something to do with his real life and that’s why he didn’t say it was Arthur, but a few have mentioned your call.”

As long as no one comes looking for him, he can at least keep ignoring it. “Thank you for informing me. It doesn’t make much of a difference at this point, but I do wish they’d leave it alone.”

“Secretly you just want to be out in the country somewhere keeping bees, don’t you,” she says, but she sounds more fond than mocking, so he lets it pass. “People on the internet never leave anything alone, you know that. They’ll get tired of speculating eventually, though, so hopefully neither you nor the Dragon does anything provoking until he’s got another call they feel like chatting about.”

“As long as I don’t have to do anything about it, it’s none of my business,” he says firmly.

“No, you don’t. Honestly, I wouldn’t have even told you if Morgana hadn’t threatened to tell you. I don’t even want to know how she found out about it.”

Arthur decides not to mention the fact that Morgana apparently called the show once after Aglain, and that she might be a bit more than a casual fan. She knows where he sleeps, and she has a spare key she’s not afraid to use when she isn’t delighting at waking him up by knocking at ridiculous hours. “Morgana’s methods are best known to herself,” he says instead. “I for one really don’t want to know. Anyway, thank you for telling me, and hopefully this will all blow over soon. I can’t imagine that some random arsehole insulting a radio host and then being forgiven will exactly capture the public’s attention.”

“I suppose not,” says Mithian. “Now, do you want to come over for dinner tonight? I was thinking sushi and a marathon of The Office.”

“Sounds lovely, I’ll be over at six,” says Arthur, and hangs up.

*

The next Friday, he ends up in his building’s gym again. Elena’s on yet another date that will undoubtedly turn into a disaster, Percival is on call in case it turns into a real disaster, Mithian’s out with other friends, and Morgana’s dragged Leon along as her date to some charity gala, so he’s on his own and feels more like spending some time working out than finding someone to go out with.

Dragon’s Lonely Hearts is on again, and even though he’s the only one in the gym Arthur doesn’t bother to change the station, or go back to his flat to get his iPod. He works through one of the infamous date auctions, several soppy stories, and one round of the Dragon giving advice to a broken-hearted girl in a tone of voice that’s getting way too familiar, and after the next song he gets a surprise.

This past week, the show has got more fan mail in the post than it has in the entire year I’ve been on the air, says the Dragon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s neat, I like it, but you lot know I can’t write you all back and still get my coursework done, right? But most of you were asking about one thing, so I may as well give you all an answer at once.

Somehow, Morgana is behind this, just like Morgana is behind everything embarrassing that happens in Arthur’s life. He just hasn’t figured out how she’s behind it yet.

The response to the apology was a special case, and it’s nothing to do with all you nosy listeners—you’re far too invested in my life, by the by, none of you even know who I am! So feel free to keep writing me letters, I love getting them, but there’s really no big mystery to do with the upstanding gent who apologized to me.

Arthur has to respect him for sounding sincere about calling Arthur an “upstanding gent” or all things, given their interaction to date.

Although really, save some trees! The show’s got e-mail as well, Dragon’s Lonely Hearts at Camelot Radio dot com, and you’re more likely to get a personal response there. He laughs. Maybe I should be deliberately mysterious more often, if it gets my fans so excited. Maybe then I’ll get more listeners and they’ll give me more money. Right, then, I’ll cop to it, the apology was from a man who’d asked me out and now we’re making mad passionate love when I’m not on air.

Arthur almost falls off his treadmill. None of his friends are ever going to let him forget this, even though anyone with sense knows the Dragon is taking the piss out of his listeners for being nosy. “Shit,” he whispers, and turns the speed down in case he gets any more new information dumped on him.

So, in honor of Mr. Right for Now, let’s have some music, shall we? Marvin Gaye seems appropriate for the occasion.

For one horrified, mortified second, Arthur thinks he’s going to hear the immortal opening riff for “Let’s Get it On,” but it turns out to be “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” instead. Morgana won’t ever let him forget it either way, but at least this way it will be slightly easier to take.

He finishes his workout while carefully not paying attention to any of the calls that come in, though they don’t seem to be talking about the supposed “Mr. Right for Now” from what he can hear, and goes back to his flat to run through the shower. When he gets out, he thinks for a second about ignoring his phone, which he knows will have something on it from at least one of his friends by now, but he sighs and goes to face the music anyway.

Congrats on your radio boyfriend. Cannot decide if that is more or less lame than having an internet boyfriend, Percival has sent, because everyone thinks he’s an adorable gentle giant but he has a mean streak.

Elena’s is a simple oh my god, your LIFE, which means she’s probably already ended her date and he likely ought to call her to commiserate.

Instead, he sends her a quick how did the date go? and Percival I’m his imaginary fake boyfriend, I’d say he’s the lame one before stowing his phone and taking out a book to read. He does have work he brought home for the weekend, but all his friends look at him as if he’s terribly sad when he spends Friday nights working so he generally tries not to.

Morgana calls at one, just as Arthur’s almost figured out who the murderer in his mystery is (at least seventy pages before the detective, but at least it’s a night’s entertainment), and he considers not answering before remembering that Morgana will know he’s still awake by whatever means she uses to find these things out and just call back until he answers. Someday he’ll figure out where the bug that must be in his flat is. “Haven’t you found some innocent doctor without borders who won’t suspect you’re secretly a praying mantis until the last moment?”

“I was out with Leon, I couldn’t abandon him,” Morgana points out.

“Why not? You abandon me at that sort of thing all the time.”

She sighs as if Arthur is very, very tiresome. “Yes, but Leon isn’t my brother.”

Arthur spares a moment to worry on Leon’s behalf. “So are you calling to tell me that you’re deflowering Leon, then?”

“As if I could.” Morgana snorts. “No, I’m calling to ask why I wasn’t informed that you’re shagging my favorite radio host.”

He looks at his clock automatically, but there’s still no way that she left the party any more than half an hour ago. “Where do you get your information? It’s faulty, for one thing, and for another, you are extremely overinvested in this radio host’s life.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Arthur, I know you’re not actually shagging him, but you do have to admit, this is all hilarious. I’ve been listening to the show on my way home and all the callers keep trying to needle him for more information about you, they seem to think he’s trying to double-bluff us or something. He keeps getting all flustered about it, so I’ve decided you should call in and pretend to be his boyfriend.”

“No,” says Arthur, before she can get attached to the idea.

“Well, of course you wouldn’t, but you should. All the fans would go quite mad.”

“They would recognize my voice and warn him off of me,” Arthur corrects. “I doubt the fans have a particularly rosy opinion of me, which you would know, since you apparently read the fansites.”

Morgana hums quietly. “Some of them weren’t fond of you, but a few did defend you, and none of those few were me, actually. Seems you’ve got someone out there on your side, Mr. Right for Now.” Before Arthur can answer that properly, she speaks again. “Now, we’ve reached Leon’s place and he’s fallen asleep, so I’m going to hang up. You go back to reading your mystery, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow.”

“By the way, the victim’s masseuse did it,” Morgana says, and hangs up.

Arthur looks down at his book, which Morgana didn’t lend him and shouldn’t know he has, but which does in fact contain a suspicious-acting masseuse, and can’t help laughing.

Part Two | Part Three
Tags: fandom: merlin, modern au, other background pairings, pairing: arthur/merlin, rating: pg-13
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