Most people, whatever their beliefs or proclivities, are pretty much the same. Normal.
I'd give anything to be one of them.
Instead, I belong to the loose and fractious brotherhood of those born with certain psychic talents--telekinesis, mind control, prophecy, and so on. It seems to be genetic; you get one type of power per person, and like any other kind of talent, your ability develops from use as much as birth.
We even have silly names for ourselves. Telekinetics are called Movers, obviously because they can move objects with their minds. Watchers can see the future, tracking the inescapable results of every decision you make. Stitchers can heal--or unheal--any wound. Bleeders have a high-pitched screech that can quite literally liquefy your brain.
Sniffs are the literal trackers, psychic bloodhounds who never lose the trail once they have the scent of you. The only way to hide from them is to find a Shadow, someone who can shield you from psychic eyes. Shifters are our illusionists who can make you think a bottle cap is a diamond ring.
And there are the Pushers. The scariest bastards I've ever had the misfortune to meet. They can push their thoughts into your head, make you believe or do whatever they want. If a Pusher tells you to jump off a cliff--you do it and you'll never have a chance to wonder why.
So what am I? No one really knows. There's never been anyone like me before, never anyone with more than one talent, let alone all of them. But here I am. I seem to have a little of every power, but none of it is strong enough to be worth much. I've worked hard to keep it that way.
You see, there's Division. That's the covert agency that exists in most countries to round up our kind and use us for their own nefarious purposes. Lord Pendragon has ruled the UK Division for longer than I've been alive. I have one goal in my life: stay away from Uther Pendragon and his flunkies.
My mother was a powerful Shadow and kept me hidden for years. Then Division came for her and I went on the run.
Until the day Division came for me. And nothing was the same again.
He was little more than one of London's many shadows as he slipped around the corner and up the filthy staircase. The door to his tiny bedsit swung open at his touch as it always did. It closed behind him and locked again with only a thought, so habitual he barely even registered the small flick of power.
A hint of relief eased the worst of the tension in his shoulders, though he didn't completely relax. He never did. He couldn't remember what it felt like, if he'd ever known at all. Being hunted since childhood by a covert government agency with busy dissection labs did not lend itself to a sense of peace and well-being. But now he was inside and not all the combined forces of Division and Her Majesty's armed forces could make him go back out again today.
He spun around, hand out, sending a blast of power at the shadowy figure standing in the corner. It flew backward--and splintered into pieces.
He groaned. "Gwen, that was my coat stand. With my only coat on it."
"It was a plank of wood with nails in it." Gwen stepped out of his kitchen where she had actually been standing. "And your coat will probably survive. I don't think you'll actually notice much difference."
"You know, one of these days, I'm not going to fall for that anymore." The complaint was mostly good natured. Gwen was a Shifter, able to create an illusion over anything she touched. She also seemed to have some kind of strange power that kept people from getting mad at her for it.
She gave him a kind but dubious look. "I did your shopping," she said as she gestured to the canvas bags piled on his square foot of sideboard.
"And what did you pay for them with this time? Loo roll?"
"I still have a couple of fivers left." She tossed the notes onto the stove, since there was no sideboard space left. "They might last another half hour. If there's anything else you need."
He eyed her from across the room. Gwen often showed up with stuff he needed--Merlin's own shifting ability ended as soon as he stopped touching the object in question--but she didn't usually throw around extra cash.
"Okay, what is it?" He shook his head when she started to widen her eyes in the who-me? expression that had gotten her out of a lot of police stations. "You're buttering me up for something. It's not like I can't tell."
The eyes finished widening. Guilt set in almost instantaneously.
"Not that you aren't nice all the time, obviously! Of course you are," Merlin said hastily, then stopped backpedaling and narrowed his eyes as he realized just what--and who--he sounded like. "Are you sure you're not actually a Pusher?"
"Only one person we've ever heard of was born with multiple talents, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't me." Her teasing smile flared and faded almost in the same moment. "Actually, that's sort of what I wanted to talk to you about."
Manfully, he kept himself from crowing. He crossed the two steps to the kitchen and dug into one of the bags until he found a nectarine. "You bribed me with food just to talk about my pathetic powers? We did that last night at the pub."
"I've a friend who needs help. Well, sort of a friend. And I think you're the only one who can. Help, I mean."
Merlin's abilities as a Watcher had always been vague at best, and as with most of his abilities, he'd made no effort to improve them. He didn't see so much as he felt, but his feelings rarely failed him. He always knew when trouble was coming.
An unexpected shiver went through him, along with a flurry of impressions, indistinct but upsetting. Sickness. Pursuit. Violent shock. Lust. And most bizarrely, a feeling of companionship and purpose, lighting him up from within. That was the most troubling of all.
"If your friend needs a Stitch, you'd be better off taking them to crazy old Gaius." He slurped down the overripe nectarine and flicked the pit at the sink. It almost made it. "I think I saw him digging through the bins behind Boots."
"You know I'm rubbish at stitching. Might break someone's arm as well as fix it."
"It's not his arm. And I don't just need a Stitch. I need you."
Dammit. She was doing the cow eyes now. He was going to have to go out again after all.
Unsurprisingly, Gwen led him to a hotel in a neighborhood much like his own, where questions didn't get asked. The Camelot had been a wealthy man's townhouse a century ago and it looked like it hadn't seen much upkeep since the original owners. The stairs creaked a warning beneath his boots, but Merlin was just glad to be back in a building where his shadowing powers worked best.
"This way. I think." Gwen darted down a side corridor that seemed narrower than the others.
Merlin followed, disliking the lack of alternate exits, but trusting Gwen. Usually she was better than a Watcher at knowing how to avoid Division operations. She knew people who knew things, and that had always been good enough for Merlin.
She ran her hand along the shabby wallpaper as they walked, then stopped in front of what looked like a blank space until she touched it.
"Your friend has skills," Merlin commented, looking at the door that appeared out of the blankness.
"Resources," Gwen corrected, then knocked on the door.
There was a pause that felt oddly significant, as though they were being examined. Then the locks snapped on the inside and the door squeaked open a crack.
Another icy tendril of foreboding crept down Merlin's spine, and he tried not to give in to his instinct to turn around and walk the other way. Gwen would never do anything to hurt him, but he had no doubt that she was leading them both into trouble now.
"It's me," Gwen called softly. "Well, us. I brought him."
The door swung open enough to let Gwen through the crack if she turned herself sideways. Merlin slipped in behind her, then stopped dead when he saw the woman who was bent over a still figure on the bed across the room. Morgana Le Fey
"Oh, no." Merlin backed toward the door, but it swung abruptly shut behind him. "Great. I knew it was a trap. Dammit, Gwen."
"It isn't, Merlin," Gwen said, earnest and quiet. "I promise it isn't."
His attention stayed on the woman across the room as she straightened up and turned to face them. She was paler than Merlin had last seen her, eyes luminous and her voice weary. "I give you my word, we mean you no harm. I only need your help, and I knew you wouldn't give it if I were the one who asked."
"Why wouldn't I do a favor for Uther Pendragon's mistress? You asked so nicely the last time, what with the Bleeders and everything."
He pushed away the memory of lying on the pavement, hands clamped over his ears against the high-pitched screeching of the Division's most powerful Bleeders while their most powerful Watcher stood over him, looking at him like he was a dull rerun on the telly. The blood had trickled out between his fingers, drizzling onto the pavement before he managed to summon the last bit of his power to send the two men reeling with an invisible shove. The noise stopped just long enough for him to stagger to his feet and flee for his life.
She looked at him with an air of regret, if not apology. He turned his head, giving the rest of the room a quick assessing look. The figure on the bed behind her was a man in gray training clothes, dark skinned and dark haired and visibly too sick to be a threat. But by the window stood another man who practically radiated power.
Morgana nodded toward him. "Lancelot Dulac, my bodyguard. His job today is to protect all of us."
The man Lancelot nodded toward him. Something in his calm gaze reassured Merlin. Lancelot was a Mover, obviously powerful, and Merlin wondered what he was doing working freelance for Pendragon's woman.
"Well, that will be a nice change," Merlin commented, turning back to Morgana. "I don't think I've ever had Division on my side before. Usually you're just a blur as I flee for my life."
She had the grace to give a tiny wince in acknowledgment. "I've made my share of mistakes. But not all of us agree with Uther's ideas. At least, not voluntarily."
He couldn't argue, much though he wanted to. Everyone knew Uther Pendragon was the strongest Pusher on the continent, possibly in the world, and he ruled over the British Division with the iron force of his will--literally. The only time Merlin had met the man, only his own latent pushing talent allowed him to fend off that powerful mind for the few seconds he needed to run. He still occasionally woke in a cold sweat hearing the echo of Uther Pendragon's voice in his mind.
Morgana watched him for a moment, then nodded and turned back to the man on the bed. Part of Merlin wanted to turn around and get out of there while he still could. But Gwen had gone to stand next to Lancelot, and both of them were giving him identical looks of hope and expectation.
"So this is your inside source at Division?" Merlin said, and Gwen shrugged.
"Who better than our best Watcher to tell you where not to be?" Lancelot said with the first hint of a smile Merlin had ever seen from a Division agent.
With a sigh he stepped up next to Morgana and looked down at the figure on the bed. He'd thought the man was deathly still, but close up Merlin could see that he was shaking with fine tremors, brow beaded with sweat. "This guy doesn't look very good."
He actually looked a lot like Gwen's father in appearance and condition, only younger than Merlin had ever seen him and sicker than Tom had been, even in his final illness. Merlin had never been able to prove it to Gwen, but he knew who'd been responsible for the unidentifiable, fatal disease. But if another relative of hers had taken ill, surely she would have told him.
"What did Division do to him?" he asked quietly, though there was no way the sick man could hear him.
Morgana looked down in silence, and Merlin wondered who this guy was to her. "You heard about the Americans and their drug?"
"Yeah. Trying to make super-strong psychics, weren't they?" Gwen had told him about it, and now he knew who had told her.
"Uther decided he could do better. Instead of just making a psychic stronger, he wanted to make them...like you."
"Like me," Merlin repeated. That seemed ridiculous--Merlin had a lot of powers, but he couldn't do much with them.
"If he could combine all the psi powers into one person, then amplify all those powers, no one would be able to stand against him. Not even the Americans."
"And I suppose this poor sod was the first experiment."
"Far from it. Just the first who lived. But he won't for much longer unless you help him."
"I already told Gwen, I'm no Stitch. I can barely heal a paper cut on a good day. What makes you think I can help your super soldier?"
She reached into one of the deep pockets of her jacket and pulled out her ubiquitous notebook, like all Watchers carried. Hers was heavy and ornately bound with jewels embedded in the cover. A gift from her lord and master, no doubt.
The pages were thick and rustled as she turned them. The quality of the paper sounded too good for this shabby room, here in the underbelly of life. He wondered again why she was really here and how Gwen had even met her.
Halfway through the book, she stopped and held it up toward him. Across both open pages stretched a shadowy depiction of the hotel room they were standing in, the bed they were standing over, and Merlin himself with his hand outstretched over the sick man's head. Above them both, a crowned dragon breathed fire onto a spinning coin.
Merlin cast a glance over the whole sketch, but his attention came back to the drawing of his own slender fingers on the other man's brow.
He cast a sidelong glance at the Watcher. "I don't like this at all."
She arched one elegant eyebrow at him. "I thought it was an excellent likeness, actually."
Merlin looked back to the sweating man on the bed. He didn't like this, he didn't understand it, but he did know right from wrong. Whoever this man was, he obviously needed help.
The man moaned weakly, the first noise he'd made since Merlin came in. His forehead glistened with sweat that trickled down his cheek to his slack jaw. His dark skin had taken on a sickly undertone, reminding Merlin even more of Tom. He didn't look like he was going to last much longer.
Slowly Merlin stretched out his hand until he could feel the fever heat on his fingertips. "I don't know what I can do for you, friend, but--"
The instant his fingers brushed the hot skin, he felt a surge of pure power go through him. He couldn't tell at first whether it was the other man's power or his own. After another moment, it didn't matter.
It felt like someone had shoved them both into a small box, shaken it around, then set it on fire. Merlin felt the power rattle him down to his toenails before he managed to find himself in the maelstrom.
Just like Merlin, the man had a considerable number of the known psi abilities jumbled up in his head. Unlike Merlin, all his powers were augmented to a fever pitch and completely uncontrolled. In the scrap of attention he could spare, Merlin wondered that the man hadn't leveled the entire hotel already.
He could almost see the energy now. The man hadn't affected anything outside himself only because the power was caught in a strange tangle, feeding on itself and ripping through its host like a virus in an endless loop of slow destruction. His abilities were foreign to his body with no way to integrate themselves like natural talents.
The thought caused a flicker on the edge of his awareness. He grabbed at it as something to focus on to steady himself amidst the chaos. Instantly, he felt himself sucked into a deeper whirlpool of distress. Images swirled around him, tossing him from one to the other like a pinball.
...standing over a hospital bed, watching a young man writhe in agony, a friend dying while he stood helpless.
...a stern man, Pendragon looming, honor, duty, fear.
...clenching his fist, the needle approaching his skin, can't show his terror, his fury, his determination.
Merlin tore himself out of the nightmare memories, gasping with the empathic reverberation. This man had given himself over as a sacrifice to Pendragon's ambitions. He should feel only disgust, but something inside him hurt with the need to help.
He reached out hesitantly with a wisp of his own power. He had little conscious control over most of his abilities and he didn't want to accidentally blast the hell out of his erstwhile patient.
The light touch of power against power was all it took. He felt the other man's shock for a surprising instant. Then something clicked--as if his power had found a match, slotting into place as if it belonged there in that tangle of energy and was the key to untangling it.
And that was all it took. He had no more conscious control over his actions, but watched himself finding and fixing all the problems that were keeping the man's powers from settling naturally. His telekinesis held the man still while his previously unusable telepathic pushing ability reached into the man's mind to still his panic. Merlin tried to send a bit of his conscious thought with it. I'm sorry, I'm just trying to help. I think.
He had always thought his healing ability was minimal. But as the disorder of energy dissipated, he found himself fixing the man's flesh as well, until the fever of his sickness abated. All the powers the man should never have had now hummed peaceably within him as if he had been born with them. Merlin was almost jealous, except that he felt a similar well-being within himself.
When the outside world returned to his awareness, Merlin realized he was panting as though he'd been chased clear across the city. His eyes felt fuzzy and dry. He blinked to clear them and looked down at the man on the bed.
Who was looking back at him from muzzily blinking eyes, beneath a blond fringe, out of a pale, fine-boned face that was all too familiar from Merlin's days of actually being chased clear across the city.
"Arthur Pendragon. You brought me to Arthur fucking Pendragon?" Merlin took a hasty step back from the bed and realized he was shouting. He didn't much care.
"I'm sorry," Gwen said with a mixture of misery and relief. "We had to disguise him to get him here, and then--well, it just seemed easier not to tell you who he was at first."
The door, the disguise--all Gwen's delicate work, Merlin realized too late. He stared at her in bewilderment. "Why would you help the Pendragons? They'll just use you, and then one day you'll find yourself walking into traffic for your trouble."
"Arthur is a good man." The quiet words came from Lancelot and made Merlin start in surprise. "He is nothing like his father."
"Like enough." Arthur struggled to push himself upright. Merlin had never heard his voice before. The words sounded surprisingly bitter, but before Merlin could find any revelations in his face, Arthur scowled past him. "Morgana, what the hell is going on?"
"You're welcome, your highness," Merlin muttered, but worry elbowed out his disgruntlement when he turned and looked at Morgana.
She was stock still, eyes frozen wide and empty as though she had vacated the premises without notice. Lancelot crossed the room in a few steps and took her elbow.
"Morgana, what is it?" he said. "What do you see?"
Arthur finished his slow maneuver into a sitting position. "My father is coming for me," he answered for her as his legs finally swung over the side of the bed.
Lancelot cast him a sharp look. "You can see that?"
Arthur was doubled over with the exertion, but he managed to cast a wry look up at Lancelot. "I don't need precog for that. It's my father. I know."
Morgana gasped and shuddered. She looked down at her notebook in a daze and clutched at it, though she made no attempt to draw. "They're here. Arthur, run."
Lancelot made a move to grab Arthur, but Morgana stopped him with a delicate hand on his arm.
"We have to hold them off. Merlin, take him. Whatever you do, don't let them find you."
"Morgana," Arthur said sharply, but she waved him off.
"He won't hurt me, you know that. Now, go."
Gwen rushed to Arthur and wedged herself under his arm as support. Without thinking, Merlin did the same and together they got Arthur onto his wobbly feet just as they heard feet pounding down the corridor outside.
Lancelot turned his head toward the only window and the sash flew up. "Jump. It's only a story. I'll break your fall."
Arthur started to protest, but Merlin was already pulling him towards the window. It was hardly the first one he'd jumped out. "If you're going to run from your own people, better get used to it," he grunted as he contorted himself to get through the opening and then dragged Arthur after him.
Then they were falling. He felt Lancelot's power around them, slowing them. Merlin sent a blast of his own power at the ground to cushion them. They bounced off nothing, then tumbled in heaps on the pavement.
Arthur groaned, but Merlin dragged him back to his feet without mercy. "No time. Your friends can't delay them long, and they'll have a Sniff."
"Tristan. My uncle." Arthur groaned out the words, leaning on Merlin more heavily than before. "And Nimueh will be with him."
"Oh, fantastic." It took Merlin another second to realize that Gwen hadn't followed them. He looked up just in time to see the window slam shut. He blinked, and the window was gone like it had never been.
"Wonder which one of them she fancies?" Merlin muttered to himself and hoisted Arthur higher on his shoulder.
"Your friend Gwen? Both of them, actually," Arthur said as they stumbled forward.
"Really? You're kidding." Merlin turned his head to look at Arthur without thinking. Nose to nose they grinned at each other until Arthur abruptly straightened his face and cleared his throat as he looked away.
"Look, if you're supposed to be helping me escape, you'd better get a move on. Ow, fuck!"
Merlin steered him away from the lamp post a second too late. "Sorry," he lied. "Guess you'll have to have to settle for me saving your life from whatever perverted thing your father was trying to do to you back there."
Arthur stiffened against his side. "I'm sure Morgana told you what happened."
"She told me about the drug. She didn't tell me why Pendragon was testing it on his own son."
Arthur didn't answer, but he did gradually begin to regain his strength. By the time they had zigzagged down a third alleyway and emerged onto the street, Arthur was walking under his own power and looking, if not healthy, at least a bit less like lukewarm death.
"So where exactly are we going?" Arthur was starting to ask just as Merlin felt a warning prickle along the back of his neck, accompanied by an overwhelming urge to get off the street.
"We can't keep walking much longer," he said as they turned another corner. He spotted an Underground sign and grabbed Arthur's arm again.
"First sensible thing I've heard you say." Arthur followed until he noticed where he was being dragged. Then he dug his heels in, literally, until Merlin was jerked to a stop. "Merlin. I do not take public transport."
"Of all the--" Merlin stopped and looked around the busy street, then leaned in to speak quietly. "Look, they're coming now. We have to move faster, and the tube is harder to follow than a taxi in this traffic." Not to mention he didn't have money for a taxi, and he very much doubted Arthur had any cash on him, given the circumstances.
"Tristan and Nimueh are the best track-and-capture team around, and they've had a bitch of a time finding you before." Arthur sounded as casual as if he hadn't been part of the hunt, as though Merlin hadn't seen the man capturing people Merlin knew with little more than a wave of his hand as he dragged them back to Division. "You're a strong Shadow."
"I'm only strong enough to hide myself, not anyone else. That's how most of my powers are." Merlin felt his mouth twisting in something that might resemble a grin. "Aren't you glad you've spent so much time trying to catch me?"
Arthur gave him an odd look, but didn't take the bait. "I've no idea how strong I am at it, or even how to do it. I was a very strong Mover, but--everything's different now."
Merlin felt torn between compassion and anger. It was hard to forget who Arthur was, but he couldn't deny that Arthur was right. Everything had changed, and somehow they had ended up on the same side. It was equally as hard not to feel a kinship with him now, on the run from the people they both had reason to fear and hate.
"I think you'll be pretty strong once everything settles," he offered. "I could feel it when I touched you before."
Arthur's cheeks colored slightly, as though he weren't used to such intimacies. "Well, let's see, then," he muttered and looked at the newsstand just outside the station.
A stack of Guardians trembled, then the top copy flew to Arthur's hands. The newsstand owner started to shout, then subsided with a glassy-eyed stare as Arthur's whispered command erased all memory of the event.
"Not bad," Merlin admitted, trying not to acknowledge the tiny niggle of envy.
"Christ." Arthur stared down at the newspaper. "How long was I sick before Morgana got me out of there?"
Merlin felt another unwanted twinge of sympathy. It wouldn't do to hope that Arthur had truly repudiated Division and his father's quest for power. There was one way to find out, one person who could Watch enough to know, though Merlin liked the idea about as much as asking Uther himself.
But he needed to know why he could feel himself getting entangled with this man's life more with every minute.
"Come on," he said, pulling Arthur into the tube station.
Arthur followed without protest this time, shoving his newspaper at a passing commuter who showed no signs of surprise after Arthur looked at her for a second. Another Pendragon Pusher. God help them all.
"All right, I think I have enough on this to get us there," Merlin said as he dug in his pockets for his Oyster card. "I'll swipe it and make sure the gate stays open long enough for you to follow me. You take care of it if the copper over there starts looking at us."
"Or I could just use this," Arthur said behind him.
Merlin turned to see the other man fingering a bright blue Oyster card as though he'd never seen one before. "How did you--?" he started before realizing it was a stupid question.
Arthur grinned at him, proud of himself. "I just asked nicely," he said, inclining his head toward a middle-aged man in a suit who was unconcernedly buying himself a travel card.
"I guess I can't talk about scruples right now," Merlin said as he turned back to the gates. "Let's go."
He didn't let Arthur stand on the escalators, shoving him into the stream of anonymous commuters thundering down into the tunnels as though they were about to miss the last train that would ever run. Merlin felt a similar sense of urgency: Shadow or not, their luck couldn't hold out much longer.
A train had just pulled in when they reached the platform. Merlin started to get on the next to last carriage, then stopped. There was something wrong with that carriage. He should get on one of the other carriages, or perhaps wait for the next train.
He blinked, then shook off the compulsion and looked around at the people streaming out of their chosen carriage. When it was empty, Arthur stepped aboard and surveyed his new domain. "Much better," he said, then impatiently pulled Merlin after him just as the doors closed. "You're not easy to push. I could feel the suggestion slipping off you almost as soon as I sent it. Everyone else was like a sheep."
"That's the most I've ever gotten out of my pushing ability." He dropped into a seat across the aisle from Arthur. "I've never done much to other people, but nobody else can push me if I don't want them to. Except maybe your father."
They sat in silence in the empty carriage as the train jerked into motion. "This is the District Line train for Gedref. Next station, Mercia Square," the pleasant female voice said over the loudspeaker.
By the time they passed through two stations, Merlin's sense of foreboding had eased, but a different unsettling feeling took its place. He jiggled his leg for a minute, then got up, paced the length of the carriage under Arthur's baleful stare, then sat again, this time next to Arthur. Strangely, he felt better, like he was where he meant to be.
"I know," Arthur murmured, staring up at something more distant than the advert for English courses overhead. "I feel it, too. Absurd, isn't it?"
"You didn't answer me before, you know." Merlin studied the profile of the man next to him. In his gray running gear, looking lost, he barely resembled the cool, unruffled Division agent that Merlin had once seen take down three other Movers at the same time. "Why is your father running his experiments on you? It didn't sound like this drug has much of a survival rate."
"It has a zero percent survival rate." The corner of Arthur's mouth that Merlin could see twisted a bit. "Well. Until me. And to answer your question, I volunteered."
"You volunteered? With a survival rate of nothing? Wow. I knew you were an enormous prat, but I didn't realize you were an even bigger idiot."
Arthur turned his head just enough to shoot him a glare. "You calling me an idiot. That's rich." He turned away again. "It was my duty. I was the strongest, I had the best chance. I don't expect you to understand."
He didn't think he'd ever understand how a Pendragon thought, but he was beginning to understand this Pendragon a little better. Merlin leaned to his right almost imperceptibly, brushing his shoulder against Arthur's in silent acknowledgment of the cost of his words.
Arthur huffed and elbowed him away. "I don't require pity. You needn't pretend not to hate me. I don't expect this to change anything."
Merlin sighed and leaned back in his seat. "Oh, I'd like to still hate you. Believe me, I'd like that very much." He stood up as the train slowed again. "This is our stop."
They stood together in silence as the train came to a stop. When the doors opened, Arthur started to step out. On impulse, Merlin stopped him with a hand to his chest. "It isn't that I hate you. But your father's experiments.... He killed my mother."
Arthur looked at him, something that wasn't sympathy or sorrow or regret in his eyes. "Yeah," he said finally. "He killed mine, too."
Then he was off, striding through the twists of the station as if he knew exactly where they were going. Merlin shook off his surprise and sent an experimental push at Arthur, a command to fucking stop and wait for him. He could see when Arthur brushed it off, though several random people on the opposite platform stopped in their tracks, not seeming to mind the cursing in their wake.
Merlin grinned widely at even that much success and stopped to get the people moving again before he jogged after Arthur. He found him waiting outside the station, calmly sipping a coffee though there wasn't a stand or cafe anywhere in sight. Some unsuspecting Londoner would be under-caffeinated today and not know why.
"So where are we going?" Arthur asked as Merlin came up panting beside him.
Merlin tried to glare, but it had even less effect than his attempt at pushing. "Follow me. We need someone to tell us what comes next. I don't know about you, but I'm well out of my league."
Thankfully, Arthur decided to forgo the obvious insult. He still looked dubious, and privately, Merlin was as well. The Dragon was, without question, the most powerful Watcher anyone had heard of. Even Division were so afraid to deal with him that they had imprisoned him and then let him go, or so legend had it. Personally, Merlin had always suspected that Uther had finally met his match and wisely found himself a less aggravating Watcher to serve him.
Though after today, Merlin was beginning to question Uther's general ability to judge people's character.
"You must be kidding," Arthur said as Merlin stopped in front of the old pub buried back between a church and a derelict hat shop.
Merlin ignored him and pushed the door open. The place might look a little downscale, but if Arthur preferred the undoubtedly pristine laboratories of Division, he was welcome to go back there.
He led the way through the maze of empty tables toward the back. The sole worker behind the bar didn't even bother looking up from her magazine. Any visitors before the noon hour were always for the Dragon.
Around the corner from the kitchen, a long dingy corridor stretched down to a single door at the end. Two burly guards stood on either side of it. Behind him, Merlin felt Arthur tensing for a confrontation. Without thinking, Merlin put his hand back to touch Arthur's arm just as the guards stood aside.
One of them pushed open the door. "He's expecting you."
"Of course he is," Merlin said under his breath, awkwardly nodding his thanks as he pulled Arthur past them. He wasn't sure if the old Watcher's blessing would prevail if they realized who Arthur actually was.
The room beyond was exactly as Merlin remembered from when he had stormed out of it two years ago. He gritted his teeth at the memory. Arthur looked at him briefly, then went back to examining their surroundings.
There was not much to examine. The overhead light was rather dim; rumor had it the old man's visions were so powerful he didn't need normal light to see. A wide wooden table, its surface clear even of dust, took up most of the space with two chairs in front of it and one behind it.
"There are always exactly as many chairs as visitors," Merlin noted, just to have something to say in the silence.
"I endeavor to be hospitable. Everyone has a place at my table. Even you, young Pendragon."
They both jerked their heads around at the voice, strong even as it creaked with age. The Dragon was sitting in his chair like he'd been there all along. He was immaculate in a suit that had been fashionable a century ago. White hair swept back almost like a crest over the top of his head. His large, dark eyes glittered with thinly veiled impatience. Merlin supposed that when you always knew what was going to happen, it must be difficult to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.
"Thank you," Arthur replied cautiously, never taking his eyes from the Dragon as he groped for one of the free chairs and lowered himself into it. "I think I've heard a lot about you."
"I'm certain that you have, son of Uther." The Dragon turned to Merlin, who was sliding into the other chair with a painful sense of deja vu. "Young Merlin, I am surprised to see you here again."
"No, you're not," Merlin answered flatly.
"The last time you were here, you swore by all that was holy that you would never return."
"The last time I was here, you told me my mother was going to die, and there was nothing I could do to stop it."
"And now she is dead," the old man agreed. "And here you sit."
His teeth started grinding again, and he glared at the old man, knowing it wouldn't make any difference one way or the other. "Things have changed."
The Dragon looked between them and suddenly, bizarrely, beamed at them like it was Christmas morning. "Indeed, they have. Indeed, they have!"
They waited, but the old man just kept smiling like a loon. After a minute, Arthur cast a questioning glance at Merlin. The look quickly turned to exasperation as Merlin avoided looking back.
"Look, you're going to have to be just a bit more forthcoming than that," Arthur finally said as he leaned forward in his chair to tap his fingers on the table. "We need to know what to do. We need to know what's coming."
"Of course you do. If you looked for yourselves, you would not have to bother an old man."
"I've only just gained that ability." Arthur sat back and gestured dismissively toward Merlin. "And he's pretty well useless, as I'm sure you know."
"Hey," Merlin protested, but the Dragon was already shaking his head and beckoning to them both.
"For the sake of destiny," he said, keeping his hands outstretched towards them. "This once, I will show you what you should have already known."
"What destiny?" Merlin tried to ask, but the old man just gave him another impatient look.
Arthur was already rising up far enough to lean over the table and let the Dragon place one wizened hand on his face. He looked determined and serene--growing up a Pendragon apparently gave one a higher tolerance for concepts like destiny.
Reluctantly, Merlin rose and mimicked Arthur's stance. He let the old man curve his hand around Merlin's cheek and tried not to think about how it resembled a claw.
They stood like that until Merlin felt his back twinge. He opened his mouth to say something, started to pull away--and then the world dropped out around him.
Real Watchers, or so he'd been told, saw the future like a slide show: disconnected images of things to come with no explanation. The best of them saw clips of a moving picture: brief, vivid, and if they were very good indeed, targeted at what they wanted to know.
This was nothing like that. The visions flashed like a dream, and like a dream, Merlin was inside it. He experienced his own actions without context or volition. He was running, shouting, talking, walking down a long gray corridor he didn't recognize. He was face to face with Uther Pendragon and he felt no fear.
Through all of it, he was at Arthur's side, always at his side. He felt the weight of that just as he felt the weight of the blue eyes boring into his. The vision settled abruptly.
They were alone now, in a room Merlin didn't know. He had time to see that Arthur wore the same ratty joggers as today before he found his mouth seized by Arthur's demanding lips. Then it flashed until there was only the weight of Arthur's naked body on his back, pressing him into a painted brick wall, surging and thrusting and desperate.
Then the dream ended with the jolt of waking, except that everything went black.
He was still humming with the wholly unexpected arousal when he came to, sprawled on his back over the table. His eyes hurt when he opened them. He blinked and squinted to focus on the object hovering above him.
When it spoke, he realized it was the Dragon, looking down at him with an expression both curious and complacent. "You really should get up," the old man said. "Nimueh is here. Good-bye."
Merlin started to tip over the edge of the table. He flailed his arms and legs until he ended up in a heap on the fraying carpet. By the time he picked himself up, the Dragon was gone.
Arthur was also getting to his feet. He looked over at Merlin with wild eyes, mouth still open in shock. Even his hair was rumpled, like it looked when Merlin had--
He shut down the thought before it could take hold. There was no time to think about what he'd seen, or felt, or what it meant they were going to do if they lived that long. "Arthur, they're--"
"I heard." Arthur staggered a little against the table, ameliorating Merlin's annoyance at being interrupted. "We need a plan. We need to figure out how to defend this--"
The door slammed open.
Merlin spun, flinging a blast of power. He didn't get a clear look at the people he was attacking before the retaliatory impact propelled him across the room and into the wall.
"Well, well, that was almost disappointing," said a too-familiar female voice. "All these years chasing Emrys and here he is like a duck in a bucket."
"He's not what you've come for, Nimueh." Arthur's voice sounded far away, although when Merlin opened his eyes and lifted his head he saw that Arthur had positioned himself directly in front of Merlin.
He pushed himself to his feet for the second time in under five minutes and peered around Arthur's shoulder. Nimueh stood in the doorway, head to toe in red leather, with her hulking Sniff behind her. Merlin had always found Sniffs inherently creepy, but this one was something special with his huge black coat, his ravaged face and hate-filled eyes. This was Arthur's uncle?
"No, we've no more use for him now," Nimueh agreed unexpectedly. "But can't you just imagine how Lord Pendragon felt to discover that his favorite plaything, his own flesh and blood, had been stolen away from him?"
"I imagine my father felt unsurprised." Arthur's fingers wrapped around Merlin's wrist. The pads rested on his pulse, an unsettling intimacy. "He has always had more Watchers than just Morgana."
Then two of the chairs hurled themselves at Tristan and Nimueh. Tristan went down hard when his head hit the wall. Nimueh deflected the chair easily, but on pure instinct, Merlin held up his free hand and sent another shockwave of power at her. That caught her by surprise enough to send her backward out of the doorway to hit the floor as hard as she'd made Merlin hit the wall moments before.
"Guess she's not a Watcher, then!" Merlin started to crow, but Arthur was already dragging him out the door. He took a huge leap over the crumpled forms of the Division agents and the Dragon's guards, and Merlin followed with his own boost of power.
They barreled down the corridor. Behind them, Merlin heard the chairs being torn to splinters over Nimueh's shriek of rage.
They emerged to the front of the house where the server and a handful of early patrons gaped at them. "Get out," Arthur snapped, and Merlin couldn't be sure whether it was his tone or his mental shove that made them obey with impressive alacrity.
A second later Merlin was blown off his feet yet again, which was starting to get tiresome. That was enough to make the last straggling bystanders scream and run. Merlin also would have liked to run, but a new instinct made him understand why Arthur had not. Nimueh could not be escaped now, only stopped.
He rolled to his feet and this time sent an entire table at her head. She deflected it with a sharp gesture, but the one Arthur threw glanced off her shoulder and made her cry out in pain.
Merlin spotted the selection of fine single malt scotch behind the bar and decided the heavy bottles would look wonderful smashing against Nimueh's skull. He sent them flying with a thought, but they exploded halfway across the room. Nimueh didn't take her furious gaze from Arthur's face.
"Why are you fighting me, Arthur?" In contrast to the rest of her demeanor, her voice was silky and persuasive. "We've always been on the same side."
Arthur snarled and sent another table hurtling at her head. "Give it up, Nimueh. You're no Pusher."
"But wasn't I always the one who was kindest to you?" A flick of her eyes was all the warning Merlin had to duck before the table swerved and smashed on the wall behind him. "Poor motherless child."
"You were the reason I had no mother." Arthur's fury was palpable. This time he simply raised both hands and blasted her with pure power.
She lifted one hand in response and stood coolly as the shockwave deflected back on Arthur. He tumbled backward over a table. "You talk about family? You, who abandoned your father and now have murdered your mother's only brother?"
Merlin had not thought Arthur hit Tristan hard enough to kill him, but Arthur looked briefly stricken. Then his features froze over, making him look more his father's son than Merlin had remembered he could look.
"My mother wouldn't have known him." Arthur glanced briefly at the splintered wood around Nimueh's feet. "My father burned out his mind long ago. There was nothing left but my father's will."
The splinters moved upward in a rush, a makeshift dagger aimed at Nimueh's heart. It stopped a millimeter from her breast.
And too late, Merlin saw the light fixture shiver over Arthur's head. There was no time to warn or deflect before it crashed down onto Arthur, dazing him. The wires wriggled out of the fixture like snakes, then whipped around Arthur's body, binding his arms to his sides.
Arthur struggled, but the fight had already taken a toll on his strength. The animated wires slowly bent him backwards over a table like a human sacrifice while Nimueh turned her burning eyes on Merlin.
"Your blood was beautiful," she said. "I think I'd like to see more of it."
She lifted her hand and looked at the small lamp burning on one of the few intact tables. Electricity swirled over her palm, building into a ball of light that seared Merlin's eyes.
Frantically, he looked around. There was nothing that would slow her down for more than a second, not now that she had the scope of Merlin's abilities. Arthur would free himself, but not in time.
He looked at Arthur, met his desperate look, then looked above him. Nimueh raised her hand. He was out of time.
He reached out and seized her with his mind.
She gasped and jerked. His grip slid off her body, slippery like the bottom feeder she was. He had to grab her jacket, her belt, her boots and use them to propel her across the room--and up over Arthur's head into the ceiling.
Up into the bare wiring that had once powered a light fixture.
She kicked and thrashed, but couldn't free herself from Merlin's grip. The table beneath Arthur shook and started to lift.
Merlin looked into the ceiling and found the wiring. He saw where the electricity flowed and called to it with his own power.
Arthur stopped struggling and gaped up at the display over his head. Sparks showered down on him and the table nearly tipped over as Nimueh convulsed with the relentless current Merlin directed through her.
When her clothes began to smoke, when he was sure, absolutely sure that she was dead, Merlin let the power go back to its normal path. Nimueh's corpse fell to the ground at Arthur's feet. The table settled with a thump, and Arthur finally tore free from the wires. He stared down at the body, then looked to Merlin.
Merlin avoided his gaze. Pity or censure--he couldn't bear either, not with the power still shaking his body and the stench of her in his nose. Very calmly, he gripped the back of the nearest chair, then leaned over it and threw up all over the seat.
When he turned back around, Arthur was almost done untangling himself. He looked at Merlin again, and this time Merlin accepted the mixture of sympathy and awe. "There's more to you than I thought, Merlin."
Merlin wiped his mouth and cleared his throat. "If you tell me I'd make a good Division agent, I'm going to throw up again."
Arthur smiled faintly. "Go clean yourself up. I'll see if Tristan's really dead."
He felt like he should go with Arthur for support, but Arthur was already striding past him back the way they had come. Merlin was almost shamefully glad to have the few moments to himself in the loo. He rinsed his mouth and splashed water over his face, then stared into his own reddened eyes in the mirror.
Just this morning he had known with reassuring certainty who he was, where the sides lay, and which one he was on. Now he was risking his own life to protect Division's golden boy, their newest and most powerful weapon. He could not have torn himself from Arthur's side with or without the Dragon's visions and he didn't understand why.
He had just killed a woman, and he did not regret it at all.
When he came out of the toilet, all the broken furniture and other debris was stacked neatly by the door. Nimueh's body was gone and Arthur stood in the middle of the room, surveying it with a frown. Merlin had no intention of asking him any questions about it.
"Tristan was my own blood and the most relentless Sniff at Division," Arthur said abruptly. "He could have tracked me to the ends of the earth, but just because he's... out of commission doesn't mean they won't be able to find us."
"Your father will have Morgana back under control soon enough," Merlin guessed.
Arthur nodded. "She's always been able to Watch me. We need somewhere to go."
"Mine? You've never been able to find it before."
Arthur shook his head. "They have your friend by now. She'll tell my father whatever he wants to know, including your address and directions to your front door."
Merlin felt sick again at the thought of Gwen in Division custody. They'd spent years keeping each other safe, and now everything had gone pear shaped. Gwen was beyond his reach and the only thing he had left was this pain in the arse of a Pendragon.
He ran his fingers through his hair and tugged at it in frustration. Arthur's eyes followed the gesture in a way Merlin couldn't let himself think about now.
"It's always best to stay inside," he said. "But what kind of place would make it harder for her to track you?"
Arthur turned and paced along the bar. "Somewhere with a lot of people," he said at last. "Morgana always has trouble with crowds. She says the sheer mass of decision points gives her a headache."
Merlin nodded; he'd suspected as much in the past. "And maybe they'll hesitate before trying to take you down in public."
Arthur's mouth twisted. "I wouldn't count on that."
They ran from street to street and building to building until the crowds began to bustle again. "We should get back on the underground," Merlin insisted, but Arthur shook his head.
"Too long going in one direction, too easy for her to see. Morgana loves trains."
"Wish I'd known that years ago," Merlin muttered, though he half-suspected Arthur was still looking for excuse to hail a taxi. He was fully prepared to argue that if Watchers could see the results from the decisions you make, Morgana would have them the instant they gave an address to the driver.
But then Arthur tugged at his arm. Merlin looked up at the sign on the looming building and smiled. Not his usual haunt, but it would do for crowds.
"Look, let's go get a coffee," Arthur said. Merlin frowned as he followed Arthur's gaze to the cafe across the street.
"What--?" he started, then was abruptly pulled through the revolving doors of their original target. "Right. Fewer decisions. I'm not exactly new at this, you know."
He got the slightest hint of a smile in acknowledgement as a steady river of shoppers flowed around them. "You just keep getting lucky. I can't fathom how." Arthur peered at the escalator and nodded towards it. "Come on, higher ground can't hurt."
Merlin doubted it would help much, but he shared Arthur's need to do something. He followed Arthur to the escalator, trying to ignore all the shoppers around them and not think at all about the emblems on their shopping bags.
As they got on the escalator, more and more of those shoppers were starting to stare at them, bloody and bruised from the fight and hardly dressed like proper clientele in a posh London department store. Arthur was staring off into the distance, not noticing the stares. He probably felt perfectly at home, Merlin thought sourly, and considered his own options.
A pair of elderly women in ostentatious hats were gaping down at them in horror from the other escalator. As they passed, Merlin reached out with an experimental push. We are nice young men, dressed nicely and looking... nice.
Instantly they beamed over at him, full of approval. He smiled back politely. As they continued down, they bent their heads together, probably discussing just how nice those young men had been.
Merlin swallowed and felt his nerves settle back into place. Until his brief moment of partial success on the tube this morning, Merlin had never been able to push his thoughts onto someone else before. Then again, he had never been able to control electricity, either. Whatever he had done to Arthur, something had happened to Merlin as well.
He kept pushing anyone who looked at them as he followed Arthur up the flights of escalators to the top of the shop. It was easier each time until on impulse, he made a rather staid-looking man do a little jig to impress the bored toddler whose mother was focused on the lipsticks at the Chanel counter.
Arthur finally looked back at him with raised eyebrows. Merlin grinned back, gleeful and unrepentant. Arthur shook his head with the disdain of someone who had always been good at everything. Merlin repressed the urge to point out who had done the most saving of whom over the short hours of their acquaintance.
When they reached the top floor, Arthur stopped the first employee he saw. "Pardon me. How can we get to the nearest secure stockroom?"
The employee looked surprised, and then she didn't. "Go left past the small appliances and then straight back through towels and bedding until you see the corridor behind the last cashier's desk on the right."
"Is there a key code?" Merlin asked, and she reeled it off.
"Thank you," Arthur said and let her go on her way.
Her directions brought them easily to the stockroom. The door came open with the code she'd given them. Several employees were working in the room and looked up at them with mild surprise.
"This room is off limits for the rest of the day," Arthur announced. "Special inventory, order of the general manager."
"You're all to have the rest of the day off," Merlin added. "And a pay raise."
Arthur frowned at him. "Really, don't overdo it."
"What?" Merlin said as the employees filed out past them with a total lack of suspicion and a great deal of good cheer. "It doesn't hurt to be nice."
The door closed and locked behind the last of the staff. Arthur held his hand over the lock for a minute, then ran his hands experimentally along the door frame. "I don't know the first thing about shifting," he admitted. "But this should buy us some time."
Merlin watched him check the door again, then pace stiffly around the room. Arthur moved like a caged animal who might snap and make a lunge for the zookeeper at any moment. "Are you all right?" Merlin asked, making a fleeting grab for Arthur's arm as he stalked by.
"I'm fine." Arthur shook him off and went to examine the nearest shelves of neatly folded towels. "This is all generic enough. Even Morgana will have a hard time pinpointing exactly where we are if she didn't catch it when we came in."
Merlin walked over to him and gripped his arm harder. Arthur was trembling again, barely enough for Merlin to feel. "Arthur, if you want to talk about it--I mean, your uncle--"
Arthur turned, eyes boring into Merlin's. Merlin took a step back, fighting sudden, overwhelming déjà vu. He expected Arthur to start yelling, or maybe punching, which would be understandable.
Instead, Arthur gripped Merlin's arms and shoved him back against the wall. When Merlin tried to twist away, an invisible force pressed him firmly back.
He was about to fight back the same way when Arthur used a weapon he wasn't expecting--his mouth, warm and incongruously gentle. Disarmed by surprise, Merlin stilled and stood with his heart pounding in his ears and Arthur's mouth coaxing his lips open.
The kiss was dry and soft in contrast to the force that held Merlin pinned to the wall. He could have broken either, but he stayed until the tips of their tongues brushed and Arthur tried to press deeper into his mouth.
Then Merlin turned his head away. He shoved Arthur back with a reluctant mental effort, though he allowed Arthur to keep his arms pinned to the wall. "What the hell are you doing, Arthur?"
Arthur stood stiffly for a moment, until he let out a long sigh and pressed his face against the exposed line of Merlin's neck. "You saw it, just like I did. We were here. You and I together, just like this, in your dragon's dream."
And there was his déjà vu. The remembered sensations were nothing to the heat of Arthur's breath on his neck, but both made him shiver. He closed his eyes and for the first time in his life, reached out with his Watcher's sight and asked a question.
The vision consumed him immediately. Bare flesh touching, grinding, joining, here against this gray-bricked wall. It lacked the sensory immersion of what the Dragon had shared, but was no less vivid for it. What he was doing was unmistakable, who he was doing it with, even more so.
His eyes flew open with a gasp, then he gasped again. Arthur's hand was between his legs, massaging his cock through his worn jeans.
"You saw it again, didn't you?" Arthur's voice was rough in his ear. "I did, too, before. Destiny, didn't he call it?"
"I don't believe in destiny," he lied. Though whether he did or not, that wasn't the relevant question to him now. He wasn't sure if he even liked Arthur yet, but he wanted him powerfully.
The Dragon hadn't seen that they must do this, only that they would. Someday, Merlin really wanted to prove the Dragon wrong. Someday, when he wasn't hard for the man offering to fuck him.
His hands were still pinned to the wall, but he had his own power. He thought about the thick ridge of Arthur's cock under the soft trousers and how much he wanted to rub it the way Arthur was rubbing him.
"You know Watchers can only see the results of the decisions that we choose--" Arthur's words broke off with a grunt. Merlin had never had the fine control to use his telekinesis like this before. It was heady, arousing--or maybe that was just the way Arthur's breath was rough against his neck.
Merlin turned his head and nudged at Arthur's face until they found each other's mouths again. They kissed and ground into each other until Arthur tore away. Every breath shook as he rested his forehead against Merlin's.
"Whatever decision I made that brought me here, it isn't one I can undo," he said. "And I wouldn't."
Merlin laughed, just as shaky. "You seem to think this might possibly be a good idea."
"Merlin." Arthur freed his hands. Merlin obligingly brought them to Arthur's body. "Of all the visions I've seen in Morgana's little book over the years, or in my own head since I woke up this morning, this is the only one I've actually wanted to come true."
"All right. I guess we should get something out of this destiny lark," Merlin answered before sinking into Arthur's mouth once more.
After that, it was simple enough to make the clothing peel away from each other's bodies, moving each other without touching except to kiss. Merlin finally closed his fingers around Arthur's cock. It was potently erect, but not as much as he wanted it.
"Get hard," he ordered. "Really hard. I want you stiff and dripping so I know you really want to fuck me."
Then he pushed the words directly into Arthur's mind. He didn't relent until he saw Arthur's pupils dilate and felt his cock go gratifyingly rigid in his hand.
"Hard enough for you?" Arthur growled and took a step back.
Before he could protest the distance, Merlin was whirled around and shoved face first against the wall. They had nothing to use, no protection or lubrication. Merlin was too aroused to give a damn, but he couldn't stop a hiss of discomfort as Arthur pushed a dry finger into him.
Arthur stopped and they stood together in silence except for their short, anxious breaths. Merlin almost giggled with hysteria as he wondered if any of their emerging psi talents included conjuring lubricant from thin air.
Then Arthur leaned forward and spoke low and rough in his ear.
"You're wet and loose," he said and the words sank into Merlin's mind like they belonged there. "You're relaxed and eager, and I'll slide into you like silk."
Merlin shuddered from the words and the way they were pulling at his reality, trying to shape it. He fought to let the compulsion settle, to allow Arthur to push it into him.
"You won't feel any pain while I'm fucking you." Arthur started pushing his finger in again, and this time Merlin felt only an easy, natural slide. "All you'll feel is your bones melting with the pleasure of having me inside you."
"Think a lot of yourself, don't you?" Merlin said--or started to, before the melting pleasure began right on cue.
Arthur's finger pulled out, then two worked back into him. Merlin groaned and rested his forehead on his arm, bracing himself against the wall. He pressed back onto Arthur's fingers and undulated his hips to get them deeper. He hadn't known the space inside him was empty until Arthur started to fill it.
"I know you don't really need this anymore." Arthur pulled his fingers back like they had all the leisure in the world, then pushed back in the same way. "But I think I really like finger fucking you."
"Selfish arse," Merlin said with another, very different hiss as Arthur's fingertips stroked softly inside him. They had found a very nice spot that was only making matters more urgent.
Arthur laughed, smug despite the hitch in his voice. "From where I'm standing, I'm not the one with the greedy little arse."
Merlin couldn't help laughing in return, shaking his head against his arm. "All right, I've had enough of you, Pendragon, I really have."
Arthur snorted against the back of his neck. "You haven't had nearly--"
His whole body seized. His fingers curled, unconsciously and deliciously, in Merlin's arse. Merlin grinned and threw his head back in triumph. Arthur surged mindlessly against him.
Merlin sent the mental push again, this time elaborating out loud. "You're frantic for me. Your cock hurts from wanting to fuck me. You're going to take your fingers out and then you're going to put your cock in and fuck me as hard as you can. And I'm going to be the best you ever had."
A low groan vibrated against his shoulder. Arthur's fingers pulled out and clutched at Merlin's hip. He was fighting the push, but the head of his cock already prodded against Merlin's hole.
Merlin reached again into Arthur's mind. How warm and welcoming Merlin would be. How tight and sweet his passage around an invading cock.
Then he stopped pushing and simply, instinctively, pulled.
Arthur surrendered. He sank into Merlin, let himself be pulled deep. But when they settled into fucking, he set his own rhythm, determined but unhurried.
After only a few thrusts, Merlin squirmed with the need for greater satisfaction, but no touch physical or mental made Arthur hasten the pace. Worse, Arthur's push was still there in his head--every thrust spread that melting pleasure through his lower body. Bliss without completion, perfect for a long bout of lovemaking.
But Arthur wasn't his lover and Merlin just wanted release. He dropped his hand to his cock and worked himself into a sharp rise toward orgasm.
"Oh, no." Arthur buried himself deep and bit at Merlin's ear. "Not without me, you don't."
Merlin was so distracted by the sensation that he didn't recognize the push until it was too late. He snarled and bucked against it, but it had already woven itself in amongst the rest of the commands Merlin had let Arthur set in place. Merlin tried again to shove it away. Arthur merely thrust into him again and strengthened the push while Merlin was distracted by the new wave of pleasure.
He gave up and let Arthur shove him hard up against the wall to continue fucking him. It felt good, so good, even with climax out of his reach. But he was not going to let Arthur bloody Pendragon have the last word. Two could play this game.
Arthur was focused on making sure Merlin submitted to his dominance. A tiny push of his own was almost too easy to slip into Arthur's mind. Merlin waited a moment, then smiled and tipped his head back onto Arthur's shoulder.
Pleased with Merlin's submission, Arthur kissed him slow and intoxicating as he rocked into him in a sweet, steady pace. They were committed now to seeing this through.
Merlin closed his eyes to enjoy the feelings, the rightness of the union. He slowed his strokes on his cock to match the lazy pleasure Arthur was giving him from behind.
He let go of his cock and reached back to grope at hot skin when Arthur began to thrust faster. They grappled at each other, hands slipping on the sweat of their bodies. Merlin let out moan after moan as Arthur's cock did its work inside him and his flesh responded as Arthur had dictated.
Arthur thrust faster still, skin slapping skin in a growing frenzy. His hands settled on Merlin's hips, fighting to hold them still as Arthur pounded into him. It was exactly the hard fucking Merlin had wanted, and Arthur had ensured that the pleasure was incredible, exhilarating.
But Arthur himself only groaned in frustration. When he finally stopped, still hard and unsatisfied, Merlin grinned. The penny had finally dropped.
"You little fucker," Arthur said, his voice equal parts admiring and furious as he dropped his head onto Merlin's shoulder.
"Don't worry. You'll come." Merlin reached up to pet the sweaty blond hair. "As soon as I say you can. But in the meantime, I think you ought to fuck me some more. I was really enjoying that."
Grumbling, Arthur stirred back into motion. Merlin sighed as he felt the pleasure resume with the strong pumping of Arthur's cock inside him.
"I hope you haven't forgotten that your climax is contingent on mine," Arthur panted into his ear. "I thought you were the one who was so eager to come."
"You showed me the error of my ways. It's been a long day; a good long shag is just the thing."
Arthur grunted and sped up, as if he could overcome the push if he just fucked Merlin hard enough. Merlin dropped his head until it hit the wall and grinned maniacally. The harder Arthur fucked him, the more intensely the pleasure rose. Merlin's legs started to shake with it, his knees trying to buckle under him.
"That's it, build it up," he groaned. "I want your balls bursting with more come than you've ever shot in your life."
Arthur choked, but he was beyond any thought of resisting that push. All his body could do was obey Merlin's command, building up his load until Arthur was crying out with the need to release it.
"Perfect," Merlin said dreamily, reaching back to pet Arthur again, pushing his fingers through Arthur's hair with every thrust. "You're going to come and come and come."
They stayed locked in intercourse, on the precipice of orgasm but unable to tip themselves over. Finally, Arthur gave a pathetic whimper and buried his face in Merlin's shoulder again. "Please."
"Not so hard to be polite, is it?" Merlin took a last moment to enjoy the throbbing pleasure in his over-stimulated body. Then he moved his fingers down to gently squeeze the back of Arthur's neck. "Go on, then. Come."
Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin's chest and buried himself one last time with a grateful sigh. His body shook around Merlin, as though the other man was all that was holding him together as he came.
His come pumped into Merlin in endless warm spurts. No lack of lubrication now, Merlin thought as Arthur gave a convulsive thrust and wetness began to slide down the back of Merlin's thighs.
Experiencing Arthur's release made him dizzy with the need for his own climax. His cock was swollen red and wet with precome, but he still couldn't get to the peak. He wanted--he needed--
Arthur's hand closed around him, stroked firmly up over the head, and then the first spurt of Merlin's come spilled over Arthur's fist. Merlin groaned with the relief of every pulse. "Fuck. Oh, fuck, yes."
It took a long time to finish coming. When they were finally both spent, Merlin slumped forward against the wall. Arthur stayed inside him, tight against his back. They stood there, clinging to each other with the come still slipping in cooling trails down Merlin's legs.
Sometime later they had parted, though not by much. Arthur had cleared the shelves of their towels and linens with one flick of his fingers. "Egyptian cotton," he said with satisfaction, though Merlin couldn't see why that was so important.
They lay on the pile of it after wiping off the worst of their mess. Merlin lay on his stomach and soon he felt fingers easing back into the place Arthur's cock had only just left. He shifted and clenched around them. It felt good, the way Arthur's fingers stroked inside his channel, now slippery with Arthur's come, though he knew he must be rubbed raw and torn.
"That's going to hurt soon," he mumbled into the towel under his face.
"No, it won't," Arthur answered. Merlin felt the push settle in his brain, accepting it gratefully. "It won't at all."
Arthur pulled his fingers out, bent to kiss one buttock almost reverently, then settled on his back next to Merlin. He left space between them, but every now and then Merlin felt a ghostly touch on his skin. It made him smile. Despite his upbringing, Arthur was turning out to be surprisingly tactile.
"What did you mean," Merlin said sleepily, "that Nimueh was the reason you lost your mother?"
Arthur shifted uncomfortably next to him. "I suppose there's no reason you'd know. Nimueh is--or was, thanks to you--my father's chief research scientist. She's always looked for ways to make Division more powerful. My mother was one of her first subjects."
"But why? How would your father allow that?"
"She volunteered. My father was very proud. After she died, he held her up as a paragon of loyalty and dedication."
"How old were you?"
Merlin frowned. "You've had this drug for that long?"
Arthur rolled his head toward Merlin with a strange look. "You really don't know anything, do you? Didn't you ever wonder why it was only Bleeders that came for you the last time?"
"Er. To kill me, I was assuming. Is that meant to be a trick question?"
Arthur was already rolling his eyes. "And did it never occur to you to wonder, even in your obviously limited intellectual capacity, why there have been no attempts on you since then? Not in over two years?"
Merlin gave a twitch of one bare shoulder. "I thought we were getting better at avoiding the lot of you. Or maybe that you'd finally figured out that for all my powers, none of them were developed enough to be of any use or threat to Division."
"Is that why you don't use your powers?" Arthur's gaze turned curious now, with a touch of pity Merlin didn't want. "Trying to avoid our notice?"
He shrugged again. "My mother always told me not to let anyone know what I could do. After she died, I didn't want any of it anyway. Never really needed it until you showed up."
"Merlin." Arthur sounded too gentle, and Merlin looked up at him sharply. "Despite all appearances, you are extraordinary, and we've known that almost since you were born. There was never any chance you would escape my father's notice."
Merlin propped himself on his elbow to look at Arthur. "But I'm of no use to him. Why else would he stop looking for me?"
"I'll admit, you've done a fine job of appearing useless up to this point. But my father doesn't need you as a soldier."
"He's you for that, I suppose. Then what?"
Arthur reached out and traced the inside of Merlin's arm where the blue veins stood out against the pale skin. "Your blood."
It came together in a rush. As clear as a vision, he remembered lying on the pavement as the Bleeders' shrieks pierced his head, blood trickling from his ears, through his fingers, dripping onto the ground.
He felt sicker now than he had then.
"He couldn't catch you, wasn't sure he could turn you if he did," Arthur went on. "But Nimueh promised that all she needed was a few drops of your blood and she could make a million of you, all under my father's control."
Merlin struggled to speak. "The drug is made from my blood. From me."
Arthur smiled without humor. "You made me what I am, Merlin."
Slowly Merlin turned over onto his side, curling in on himself. His nakedness suddenly made him feel chilled and vulnerable. Arthur turned onto his side as well and moved closer. He didn't touch Merlin except to rest his chin on the top of Merlin's head.
"I'm sorry about your mother," he said.
Merlin nodded a little, and they lay in silence for a long time.
He didn't remember the approach of sleep until he woke up with a towel crunched up under his face and a sheet draped decorously over his hips. He stirred and sat up. Arthur, already dressed, looked over at him from the door.
"He's coming," he said, eyes blank and bleak.
Merlin rubbed his eyes before reaching for his clothes. "Who did he send? Is it someone you can reason with? Or at least clobber so we can run away?"
"It's my father."
"Yes," Merlin said patiently as he pulled on his shirt. "I realize that your father can turn anyone--"
"No," Arthur said with considerably less patience. "I mean my father is coming personally to inform me of the error of my ways."
Merlin stopped in the middle of doing up his zip, a sensation of dread swamping his usual low grade unease. "Shit."
"Yes, well put." Arthur shifted with what Merlin could already identify as uncharacteristic nervousness. He started to say something else, but Merlin never heard it.
Bring my son to me. Bring him, or I will not let you live.
When he could hear his own thoughts again, Merlin realized he was on his knees with his hands clutching his head. Arthur was watching him sadly.
"It's time to go," he said. "If we try to hide, he'll send you mad."
"Can we get out of the building?" Merlin pushed himself to his feet and staggered a couple steps. His brain felt like Uther had taken a shovel to it, even from afar.
"We can try," Arthur agreed.
Merlin hurried past him to examine the door. "What did you do to this? Never mind, I have it. Come on."
Arthur followed him out the door and down the corridor. Merlin stopped at the junction between shop and corridor. "Back way or out in the crowds?" he asked.
"Big a crowd as we can," Arthur answered mechanically.
Merlin had an urge to shake him. "Don't give up before we've tried. Your father can't just take you away. I've escaped him before."
"And you will again," Arthur said. "Move faster."
They slipped back out and into the crowd of oblivious shoppers. Merlin wound his fingers into Arthur's shirt to keep up with him. They were nearly to the escalators when every warning instinct Merlin had began screaming.
A step later he collided with Arthur's broad back as Arthur stopped dead.
Merlin stepped up to Arthur's side, heart in his throat. Uther Pendragon looked larger than life, even standing there amongst the shoppers carrying off their tea cosies and underthings. Lancelot stood next to him, stern and ominous.
This moment had been the stuff of nightmares for most of Merlin's life. It was hard to imagine how a man like Uther had produced the Arthur Merlin had gotten to know in the last several hours. Uther was capable of anything, and the urge to protect Arthur rapidly overcame Merlin's terror, as well as his good sense.
"He can't make you do anything." Merlin pitched his voice loud enough for Uther to hear, reminding himself that there was little Uther could do to them in such a busy public place. "You're stronger than him now."
"Merlin, you idiot, shut up!" Arthur hissed.
Uther only smiled. "I am most pleased to hear of his strength, as that was the purpose of this ordeal. As for the rest, I have never forced my son to do anything. His own honor is what compels him."
He could see Arthur's throat work and realized that as much as this was Merlin's personal nightmare, it was just as much Arthur's. Merlin touched his arm and concentrated on meeting Arthur's thoughts. It was not a push, only a whisper into his mind. You're brave. You're the bravest person I've ever met.
Arthur's eyes flicked to him in a moment of surprise. Merlin was surprised himself to realize how much he meant it.
Then Arthur's jaw tightened and he took a single step towards his father. "It is my honor that compels me to stand against you for the things that you have done."
"Arthur," Uther said on a long sigh. His disappointment settled around them, an invisible but unmistakable presence. "I can see that this is going to be more difficult than I had hoped."
Uther ignored him. A stout ginger woman was hurrying past with an armful of bags. Uther looked at her. She stopped in her tracks.
"Leave this place at once," he said, sounding almost conversational except for the underlying menace.
She turned around immediately and got on the escalator, bags rustling as she hurried down the steps. She was lost to view as other shoppers crowded onto the escalator behind her. Some of them had bags; some were still holding their unpurchased items.
Cold fear crept over Merlin again. The entire store was emptying around them. Uther had not pushed just the one woman; he'd pushed everyone in the building.
A woman went by pushing an empty pram. Merlin looked around frantically until he spotted her forgotten toddler weaving precariously among the stampeding adult feet.
He dashed forward and scooped her up. She struggled in his arms, still gripped by the compulsion that had overwritten everything else in her small mind. For lack of any better option, Merlin shoved her into the arms of a grandfatherly man. He did his best to push an image of the pram woman into the man's mind.
"Find her mum as soon as you get outside," Merlin told him before letting them go join the last of the departing masses.
"You should have taken her yourself," Arthur said in his ear as they watched the last people disappear.
As silence finally echoed around them, Merlin half wished that he could have. But this was his fight, too. He wasn't sure he could leave Arthur now if he wanted, and he wasn't sure he wanted to find out.
It seemed easier, somehow, to stand at Arthur's shoulder as he faced his father. Far below them, the doors to the street slammed shut behind the last person and locked of their own accord.
"Will you come home, Arthur?" Uther spoke idly, as though resuming an interrupted conversation at a cocktail party.
"No." Arthur clenched his fists at his sides and watched Lancelot warily.
Merlin also looked at Lancelot, heavy, significant looks that tried to convey the message that this would be an excellent time for Lancelot to snap out of obedient soldier mode and go stand by his friend. He winked and waggled his eyebrows, but Lancelot remained stoic at Uther's side.
"I had intended to spare your life as thanks for saving my son." Uther was looking at him, Merlin realized abruptly, like he was a particularly stubborn cockroach. "But I fear you will only continue to cause me trouble. Kill him, Lancelot."
Merlin tensed, expecting to get blasted off his feet yet again. He tensed further when Lancelot reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. He leveled it at Merlin.
Instantly, Arthur leapt in front of Merlin, hands out in defensive posture. Lancelot did not pause as he brought the gun up higher over his head.
He let go of it. The gun kept rising until it had an angle on Merlin over Arthur's head. Arthur managed to get his hand up just as bullets rained down on them. Merlin added his power to Arthur's to create a thicker shield.
"Run," Arthur ground out. "You idiot, get the fuck out of here. Please."
"I can defend myself." Running had always been his specialty, but Arthur wasn't the only one who had changed his ways today. He couldn't move the gun, not when Lancelot's power held it fast, but bullets he could handle.
"Not against Lancelot. Not when he's like this. Trust me." Arthur spared a glance at Lancelot, who was reaching into his jacket again. "Damn. Hold off this one."
"This what?" Merlin asked, but suddenly the bullets were his sole responsibility.
Arthur was striding toward Lancelot. A flick of his wrist and the second gun Lancelot had been drawing flew to Arthur's hand.
Lancelot dived just as Arthur fired. The gun over Merlin's head snapped back into Lancelot's hand. He returned fire on Arthur as he slid across the floor.
Arthur took a dive of his own, and a second later one of the high chandeliers crashed down where he had been standing. Merlin grabbed it and sent it flying at Lancelot. He didn't want to hurt the man, just slow him down until they could find a way to immobilize him.
Lancelot was concentrating on Arthur. The chandelier took him by surprise and sent him head first into a display of fine china. Arthur followed up by hurling three large cabinets to bury Lancelot under a heap of shattered glass and splintered wood.
The whole mess exploded outward a second later. Merlin barely shielded himself in time to deflect the deadly rain of splinters and shards.
When he looked up, Lancelot had risen from the wreckage, bleeding from cuts over his face and hands. He looked angry.
Suddenly Arthur flew backwards until he was pinned at the juncture of wall and ceiling, clutching at his throat. He had lost his gun and was rapidly losing his strength. Between the illness, Nimueh, and the sex, Arthur had no more reserves to call on. Except Merlin.
"Lancelot!" Merlin searched the floor until he spotted Arthur's lost gun. "You don't want to do this. Arthur is your friend. You'll hate yourself if you hurt him."
Lancelot ignored him. With a deep reluctance, Merlin made the gun rise up and turn towards Lancelot. It wobbled in the air. Merlin didn't have much energy left himself, and his newfound control was suffering for it.
"Please, Lancelot, you're a better man than this," Merlin pleaded. He brought the gun right in front of Lancelot's face to make sure he didn't miss it. "Stop this."
"Why don't you stop it?"
Merlin's head jerked toward the voice to find Uther standing next to him. Uther lay one black-gloved hand kindly on Merlin's shoulder.
"Why don't you stop it?" he said again. "It's very simple, my boy. Just let Lancelot kill you and all of this unpleasantness will be over."
And suddenly Merlin understood everything. Enormous relief swept over him. All he had to do was walk over to Lancelot, let him put the gun to Merlin's head and shoot him. Then Arthur would be safe.
He smiled gratefully at Uther, who gave him another kindly pat on the shoulder. Filled with peace, Merlin turned and walked toward Lancelot.
"Merlin, no!" At the other end of the room, Arthur slid down the wall to the floor. Safe, just as Uther had promised. "Father, stop!"
But why would they stop? It all made such perfect sense.
Lancelot had plucked his gun from the air and stood waiting. Merlin stopped in front of him and beamed. "Thanks, mate."
The other man inclined his head graciously. "Of course," he said and raised the gun to Merlin's head.
Distantly, Merlin heard Arthur shouting again. "Stop! Let him live and I'll go with you."
"You'll go anyway," Uther replied.
Lancelot cocked the gun next to Merlin's ear.
"If you kill him, I'll fight you every day until one of us is dead. Let him go, and I'll be your perfect, obedient soldier. Everything you ever wanted in a son. And I'll help you make a thousand more of me--I know how to save people from the drug now."
Uther lifted his hand. Lancelot paused with his finger on the trigger.
"I swear it, Father. On my life."
"It is his life on which you are swearing."
"Yes, I know."
Merlin waited peaceably to see what would happen. Finally, Uther sighed.
"I should not have to strike bargains with my own son. However, in the interests of efficiency, your terms are acceptable. Drop the gun, Lancelot."
The gun clattered to the floor next to Merlin's foot. He felt a vague sense of disappointment. He had been so close to ensuring Arthur's safety forever.
As Uther swept past toward the lifts, his voice slipped into Merlin's mind reassuringly. You still can. When we are gone, pick up the gun and shoot yourself. All will be well.
Merlin smiled happily. And all would have been well, except that Arthur touched his shoulder as he passed to join his father and Lancelot in the lift.
Arthur did not have the power to overwhelm or erase his father's brainwashing. But not so long ago, he had been welcome in Merlin's mind and Merlin in his. Merlin had submitted his will to Arthur's passionately, joyfully. It was that memory that allowed Arthur to slip one small, unobtrusive push in beneath the monolith of Uther's command.
Do nothing. Don't move a muscle until your mind is your own again. Do nothing.
Then the lift doors closed and Arthur was gone.
Merlin stood motionless in the empty department store until his own mental defenses finally snapped free from the monstrous smothering of Uther's will. His knees gave way, and he collapsed to the floor in a jumble of limbs like an abandoned plaything.
Only then did he understand what had actually happened. He doubled over and screamed in rage.
As a physical edifice, Division had none of the ornate Westminster grandeur of normal government departments.
Merlin stood in front of the massive stone building, looking up at the plain façade. Inside, he knew the corridors were the same endless dull gray. He had seen himself walking up and down them until he knew them well.
In the months since his one memorable day with Arthur, Merlin had relearned the art of laying low. Confining himself to a single room far away from his old flat, he had also relearned all the powers he had suppressed before he met Arthur.
He hadn't needed to leave the room. His psychic push quickly grew strong enough to make anyone outside bring him what he needed. Soon he could pay them in scraps of newspaper and tin foil that wouldn't lose their disguise as notes and coins until long after they left their new owner's possession.
He Watched. He saw Gwen, trapped at Division, unhappy but safe enough under Morgana's protection. He saw Arthur, stony and obedient as sworn, trying and failing to heal his comrades as they thrashed and burned and died from Nimueh's drug. Arthur, for all his powers, was still not naturally born to them.
When Merlin had gained enough of the potential power that had so terrified his mother, he left his room, bought a suit, and came here.
There didn't seem to be a doorbell. He supposed he should knock.
A wave of his hand opened the heavy front doors, revealing the dingy vestibule that stood between Division and the outside world. Merlin was glad to see that it was Lancelot who stood sentry before the inner doors.
A flash of guilt-ridden relief passed over Lancelot's face, replaced quickly with disbelieving anger. "Merlin, what in God's name are you doing here? Get out, before Lord Pendragon finds out you're alive, never mind on his doorstep."
Merlin grinned with happiness at seeing the true Lancelot he had liked so much. "Actually, I was hoping you'd announce me."
The other man's jaw went slack with shock. "Did he send you mad? Morgana said you were well, but--"
"You can tell Lord Pendragon that I am here to serve his family. He'll find me much more useful than he previously thought. You might mention in particular that if he wants any more of his super soldiers, killing me would be very unwise."
Lancelot closed his mouth, but it twitched with unhappiness. "Merlin, are you sure? You don't owe Arthur anything more than you've already given."
Merlin stepped closer and whispered, half in his ear, half in his mind. "I've seen everything change, Lancelot. I've seen us take down Uther, take apart Division from within and make it something better. It's Arthur who owes it to me."
When he stepped back, Lancelot studied him for another minute, then stood aside. The inner door swung open. Merlin smiled again, imagining all the Watchers in the world going mad at once.
Except one, of course. Just inside the doorway, Morgana stood and smiled at him. "I've been expecting you," she said.
"I know," Merlin replied and stepped forward into his destiny.