Rating: M (see warnings)
Warnings: Descriptions of terminal illness, a little violence.(highlight to read)
Summary: Arthur is a world class violinist, trapped in Sydney, Australia, by his fear of flying. In the wake of a mediocre concert, vicious critics and with barely a month to go before his next (hopefully reputation-saving) recital, Arthur is almost at breaking point. When his accompanist, Morgana, breaks her wrist in a car accident, Arthur is left without a pianist. And the story begins, when the Maestro at the conservatoire, Gaius Stresemann, recommends his protege Merlin Emrys to step in. Merlin, who plays as he pleases and only wants to teach piano to kindergarteners.
Well. The story really starts six months previously when Arthur passes out drunk outside Merlin's shoe-box apartment.
Music is the medicine of the breaking heart.
- Leigh Hunt
C O D A
Extract from the .com, article.
MERLIN EMRYS TAKES MUSIC WORLD BY STORM.
…after a stunning debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall. Playing Rachmaninov's second concerto, Emrys charmed audience and critics with a spell binding performance. He later captivated a sold-out house at Barbican Theatre, where his performance including a personal arrangement of Rachmaninov's third concerto as well as an unnamed piece, rumoured to be his own composition. His style is non-conventional, defying modern technical playing and "precise" interpretations favoured by most virtuosi. Nevertheless, Emrys' extraordinary clarity and musicality is such that some hail him as the Lipatti of our generation. As Alvarr, conductor of the London Philharmonic comments, "I had never heard the piano play like this."
Edwin Fischer concurs, "At last we have a Chopin sans caprices and with the rubato to my liking….when Emrys plays, it is no longer the sound of the piano, but music in its purest form."
However, after three months of avid anticipation, the phenomenal Merlin Emrys seems to have vanished. His manager, Cara Lake, known for more for her fall-out with infamous critic Uther Pendragon, says Emrys has stepped off the international stage for the time being. Rumours of illness have been circulating especially after Lake cancelled Emrys' U.S.A tour-
Article continues on page 2.
5 months later.
Life went on.
As they said, the show must go on… and go on it did. It returned more or less to normal, to the point where Arthur could almost forget everything. He recorded a series with Morgana through a contract with Deutsche Grammophon (Uther had contacts everywhere) which was more success than Arthur cared for.
"I'm proud of you," said Uther, a rare smile on his face.
Arthur had raised his glass of champagne and smiled.
"Thank you, Father."
All it took for him to board a plane nowadays was ten sleeping pills exactly, and a glass of whiskey. The world was suddenly open to him, and Arthur realised for the first time in his life, he was free. He just never thought freedom would feel quite like this: a little too vast, a little too empty. Carnegie Hall, France, Tokyo – Arthur went wherever, whenever. The world was round. But like the minim, it was a shell with nothing inside.
He practiced his violin with routine and the precision he loved. He no longer cooked, because every time he did, it would remind him – of the sound of laughter, of Merlin teasing. Sometimes, Arthur thought he saw Merlin sitting on the breakfast bench. When he found his truffle jar almost empty, he thought he was going mad.
Arthur was sorting his music scores one afternoon when he accidently found the package, bound with ribbon, of compositions. Compositions he had written for Merlin. He didn't know how long he sat there, staring at the blank envelope, before putting it back on the shelf.
Sometimes, he hated Merlin. But the anger never lasted long. Arthur either drank it away or drilled Bach until his fingers had long indents, red and raw form the press of the strings. He let music consume him, fill him with comfort and let Chopin dull the ache that was always there, but was becoming bearable as time went on.
Five months, twenty weeks, a hundred a forty days, three thousand three hundred and sixty hours.
It was like Merlin had never been here. The only reminder was Merlin Plushie, who sat on Arthur's bedside table because he couldn't bring himself to throw the last link away.
Arthur was practicing in his studio – a particularly difficult piece of Paganini – when his cellphone rang. Technically, it vibrated on the glass coffee table because Arthur always had his phone on silent when he was practicing. It proved too distracting otherwise.
Wiping his hands on a cloth, Arthur placed his violin carefully on top of the piano lid and crossed the room to the table. The flashing word on his cellphone read:
Arthur stared at the phone in his hands, heart racing. The phone stopped vibrating.
"Dammit!" swore Arthur, flipping the phone open – but before he could redial, Merlin rang again. Without hesitation, Arthur pressed the call button.
"Hello," he said, trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible.
But when the person spoke, it wasn't Merlin.
"Is this Pendragon?"
"I'm sorry," said Arthur, feeling dread coil in his stomach, "who is this?"
There was a pause.
"Will?" Arthur repeated, incredulous. "Why the-"
When Will spoke next, his voice was so anguished the words made Arthur sick.
"Merlin needs you."
30 hours later.
St. Helier's Hospital, Sutton, London.
Arthur had been too fucking terrified to even need sleeping pills. He spent the entire journey completing transactions online and researching everything he could find on cystic fibrosis.
It all made sense.
Will had explained the whole story as Arthur drove to the airport and breaking every single speed limit on the way. Explained that Merlin had collapsed one night and would have suffocated to death had Will not been late coming back from rehearsal and went to check on him. Explained that Merlin was going to die because he couldn't afford surgery – had refused surgery until it was nearly too late.
Every minute that ticked by meant it still be too late.
"I'm here for Merlin Emrys," shouted Arthur, not even bothering to slow down at the reception. "Merlin Emrys – where is-"
"Sir! Sir, you have to register here before-"
"Just tell me where Merlin Emrys is!"
"I'm sorry, sir but you must-"
Arthur turned, and he had never thought the sight of Will – hair dishevelled and looking exhausted – would fill him with such relief.
"Tell these imbeciles-" Arthur began, but Will cut across him, speaking to the nurse.
"He's family," said Will. "Just flew all the way from Australia to see Merlin."
The nurse looked from Will to Arthur then back again, before nodding.
"Very well," she said, and then she didn't have a chance to say anything else because Arthur was striding towards the nearest elevator.
"Did the money-"
"Came through," said Will, rubbing a hand over his face. "Merlin's been out of surgery for a few hours now."
Arthur ran a hand through his hair.
"Thank god," he whispered. "Thank god."
The lift came to a stop, chiming as the doors opened. Will led them down a white-washed corridor, the pea green doors numbered in plastic lettering. They stopped outside the third door to the end, and Will paused before opening.
Arthur stepped inside, and Will closed the door behind them.
And there was Merlin – lying pale and still on hospital sheets. His face was covered with an oxygen mask, tubes snaking from his mouth and nose to various machines clustered about his bed. There was the sound of steady beeping – a metronome of a heartbeat. Merlin was thin – thinner than Arthur had ever seen him, even covered by the shapeless hospital gown and blankets. His collarbones threw dark shadows in the hollow of his throat, his face almost gaunt. But the expression was peaceful in sleep, and Arthur just managed to reach a chair before his legs folded beneath him.
"Jesus," he breathed, reaching for Merlin's hand, "Jesus."
"The doctor's said he should be alright for now," said Will quietly, "They've patched up the…the hole in his lung. Said it had been getting worse for some time. Merlin- he didn't tell me anything. He just didn't say – god, the fucking idiot."
He never told me any of this, thought Arthur. He squeezed Merlin's hand in both his own, the hurt, relief and worry mixing into one painful pull in his chest. Something wet dripped onto his pants, and it was a long moment before Arthur realised he was crying. He pressed Merlin's hand to his mouth, kissing the knuckles. He caressed the bird-thin wrist, ran soothing circles on the skin with his thumb.
Some of the emptiness seemed to ease.
It was almost an entire day before Merlin woke. The doctors banished Arthur and Will from Merlin's room for a few hours, but otherwise, Arthur kept a constant vigil at Merlin's bedside. He didn't realise he had fallen into a doze until he was awoken by someone tracing a pattern on his palm.
When he opened his eyes, it was to see Merlin staring back at him from the bed.
Arthur made a gasp of surprise, words temporarily stolen from him. Merlin tried to sit up on the bed, eyes red-rimmed but crinkled at the corners. He was smiling, mouthing words through the mask.
"Hey," said Arthur, abandoning his chair to sit on the edge of Merlin's bed. "Hey."
Clumsily, Merlin reached up and tugged at the oxygen mask.
"No- I don't think you should take it off- " said Arthur, but Merlin batted his hands away with surprising strength for one who had just had lung surgery, and wrenched the mask free.
"Merlin!" Arthur exclaimed as something immediately made a shrill beeeeeep sound, and Merlin made a horrifying gasp, the sound dry and desperate. Arthur panicked and hit the call button.
It was another three hours before Merlin could talk. He glared at Arthur across the bed, propped up on pillows, the doctors having just left them in peace. Merlin still had respiratory tubes to help him breath, but he could still pronounce "Prat" very clearly.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Arthur asked – not sure whether he wanted to hear the answer, but at the same time, desperate for an explanation.
Merlin didn't speak, immediately, eyes staring past Arthur's shoulder.
Then, voice hoarse: "The doctor said I had a year."
At this, Arthur's grip on Merlin's hand tightened reflexively. He didn't notice how hard he had been holding Merlin's hand until Merlin winced and Arthur forced his fingers to loosen. He couldn't bring himself to let go, the cold shock curling painfully in his heart. One year. He didn't know how he managed to speak.
"Merlin. It's going to be alright-"
Merlin turned his head a fraction, so their eyes locked, his face blank and resigned.
"That was nine months ago."
Time stopped. Arthur stared at Merlin, mind refusing to process the meaning of his words.
"What? But Will said the doctors-"
Merlin laughed – and it triggered another bout of coughing. He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his free hand, hissing when the movement pulled on the stitches. Arthur didn't know what to feel.
"Arthur, it's not going to be alright. It's not. That's why-" Merlin broke off, breath hitching, "That's why I didn't tell you. It's not going to be alright, Arthur."
"Shut up," he managed to say, before his throat closed up again. It was taking all of his determination not to cry. God, he had done enough crying for a life time.
"You should leave-" Merlin started.
"I said shut up!" snapped Arthur, unable to keep the emotions in check. "You're not going to die."
He pulled Merlin against his chest, clutching at him, one hand cradling his head. Arthur felt sobs bubble up inside him, disbelief and grief, and he couldn't suppress the tears. Merlin's hand came to rest on his back, and Arthur shuddered at the touch, warm even though his shirt. He could feel each of Merlin's fingers, long and thin.
"You're not going to- We'll – transfer you. My father has a surgeon and he – you're not going to die, Merlin."
"Okay," said Merlin, hand still patting Arthur's back, "Okay, Arthur."
Taking a moment to compose himself, Arthur pulled back. Merlin was smiling faintly, tears running down his cheeks.
"I love you, you know," he said, the words muffled because of the tube. To Arthur, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard. "I've loved you for so long, you have no idea."
And Arthur laughed, unable to help himself, laughed because Merlin was here and he loved him. Arthur pressed kisses on Merlin's temple, in his hair while listening to Merlin breathe.
In, out. In, out.
They held each other for a long time.
Notes: Oh Lordy Lordy, it is finished. It probably too late now, if you've read this far, you've suffered through it. -___- Wrote it just before and in the middle of huge exams (which incidentally are still going on). Hence everything is rushed, the pacing is crap and I feel like there are a million gaps. Any coherency is solely thanks to lilith_lessfair. I feel like I could have done so much better with this, especially towards the end and the coda. I want to rewrite it, but it's OUT HERE now and, well. :(
Originally, this was much more Nodame Canon, but then it developed a mind of its own. I hope I kept true to the Nodame characters and elements, enough for the Nodame fans to have enjoyed it. The writing was atrocious, but i hope the plot and plushies and arthur!in!apron made you happy. Thank you so much for reading. ♥
I have a few timestamps in mind, because the timeframe was simply so long, I couldn't write all the little details I really wanted to. If you have any requests, shout. ^^