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A blip on the radar

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Someone was following him.

The stalker in question - skinny, looked like a bit like a weasel - was currently leaning against the wall near the entrance to the gents’ loos nursing a pint that he had ordered nearly two hours ago and he was watching Merlin closely whilst trying to look as though he wasn’t looking.

Merlin had seen the same guy in the corner shop the day before yesterday and later seen him walking behind him as he made his way to work. Yesterday he’d been in Merlin’s carriage on the tube and a couple of hours later he’d been attempting to casually sit on a bench in the uni grounds. Merlin didn’t believe in coincidences on such a scale, especially when he’d then seen him that morning as he’d been leaving Arthur’s.

Not only was weasel-face terrible at stalking, he must think Merlin to be an idiot if he thought he wouldn’t notice. Merlin had had enough.

“I’ve just seen someone I know,” Merlin said to Gilli during the next lull. “Cover for me for a few minutes?”

Gilli rolled his eyes but didn’t complain. Merlin did a limbo under the bar hatch and moved around the side of the crowd, heading for the door. As soon as he was outside he slipped into the doorway of the tiny wool shop next door, making sure he was in shadow, and waited. Sure enough, less that thirty seconds later, weasel-face came flying out of the door and looked left then right and when he didn’t see his quarry his shoulders slumped and he kicked out at thin air with a curse.

“I’m over here.”

He whipped around and Merlin enjoyed the look of shocked surprise on his face when he realised he’d been made as Merlin stepped out of the shadow.

Merlin grinned brightly at him. “Why are you following me?” he asked, jumping down the step and moving closer to his stalker, who seemed to be frozen to the spot staring at Merlin.

Merlin raised an eyebrow. Weasel-face gave a whimper of distress and fled.

Merlin stared after him as he disappeared into the nearest side road, running as though there was a medal waiting for him at the end. If he was starting wish that Arthur was coming to meet him from work tonight then no one ever needed to know; specifically Arthur himself. Arthur’s protectiveness over Merlin was both endearing and unnecessary. Merlin and his superpowers could take care of themselves.

Only, well, Arthur didn’t know about the whole magic thing. There just never seemed a right time to tell him, not when everything had happened so fast between them as something Merlin had assumed would just be a one off became more. At least it was more to Merlin. It had been less than three months and now Merlin struggled to imagine a life without Arthur in it. That was scarier than any stalker.

x(:)x

Arthur stood at his father’s side and tried to stare straight ahead towards the exit. It was, however, impossible to ignore the sobbing man kneeling at Uther’s feet with a gun pointed at his temple.

“Please… I won’t interfere again, I swear. Please…”

“It’s a little too late for your promises don’t you think?” Uther said, the chill in his voice all too familiar to Arthur’s ears. The begging man was already dead. “You thought you could take what’s mine. Let these be the last words you hear, you piece of shit; nobody takes what’s mine.”

“No! Please, I-”

Uther nodded at the man holding the gun, his most loyal henchmen, George, and Cenred North fell sideways to the old carpet tiles that covered the floor of the abandoned call centre.

The bile rose in Arthur’s throat and he had to physically fight with himself not to retch as the blood spurted from the tiny hole in North’s temple and dyed the faded grey carpet tiles crimson. Uther, George, and the other three lackeys present behind Arthur all began to walk towards the exit, stepping around the body. It would be left there as a sign to anyone else who dared to challenge Uther’s position.

Arthur followed, wrenching his gaze away from the dead man and concentrating on his father’s retreating figure. When they made it outside, one of the men was holding a car door open for Arthur to get in beside Uther, and the moment the door closed behind him the car moved smoothly away.

Arthur turned to stare out of the window into the pitch darkness of the outside. It wasn’t the first execution he had witnessed and it was unlikely to be the last. Uther gave orders but he never pulled the trigger himself, at least not anymore.

“Morgana is joining me for dinner at the house on Sunday,” Uther said after a long silence, as though he hadn’t just had a man killed. As though it hadn’t been ten years since he’d seen his estranged daughter. “I think she’s ready to return to build bridges. I expect you to be there.”

“Why?” Arthur asked sharply, trying to get his annoyance at the summons into perspective in light of what he’d just witnessed. “I mean, why now?” Morgana had cut all ties with Uther at eighteen, as soon as she’d been legally old enough to get out of his grasp. She’d fled to her half-sister Morgause and Arthur hadn’t seen her since. He had been fourteen at the time and had been left hurt and confused by her departure. He hadn’t known then what he knew now. About Uther. About where the Pendragon wealth really came from.

“I don’t care why if she comes back to us.”

Morgana wasn’t coming back. That much Arthur knew for certain. At least not for a happy family reunion. Something else was going on.

“It’ll be nice to see her,” Arthur said, evasively, glancing over at his father’s stony face and wondering why he seemed to care so much about Morgana when there was a lump of ice where his heart should be. For Arthur’s part, he missed his sister, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about seeing her again after all these years - after all, she had left him behind, unsuspecting, in Uther’s lair.

“Undoubtedly,” Uther said, glancing sideways at Arthur. Even in the semi-darkness of the car Arthur could see the expression on Uther’s face shift slightly. “Now, tell me about the barman from The Rising Sun.”

Arthur’s heart stopped beating. He looked into the cold eyes of his father and the bile rose again. Knowing his father as he did, he knew very well that if he was bothering to mention Merlin to Arthur then he would already be well versed in the facts, so there was no point in lying just as there was no point asking how he knew.

“His name is Merlin,” Arthur said, without breaking eye contact, waiting for Uther’s next move. Yesterday Merlin had told Arthur that someone had been following him. Arthur had been furious that Merlin had confronted the man. If it turned out he was one of Uther’s men...

There wasn’t so much as a flicker in Uther’s expression as he said, “How much does he know?”

“He doesn’t know anything. Just that I work for the family hotel business.” The more time Arthur spent with Merlin the more guilty he felt for not telling him the truth about who he was, but the truth was he didn’t want Merlin to walk out of his life. How could he broach the subject anyway? Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but my father is a sociopath.

“I don’t care where you stick your dick, Arthur,” Uther said neutrally, as though he were talking about the weather. “I do care if you compromise the company. If this relationship-”

“You have nothing to worry about, Father. It’s just sex.” That would be something that Uther would understand, he was never short of company, male or female, in fact he was well known for his voracious sexual appetite.

On the face of things the business, Camelot Leisure, was a legitimate business and Arthur’s role was deputy CEO after his father. It was what went on behind the scenes that made the real money, the things that Uther was so good at he’d evaded the law for over a quarter of a century.

Arthur had known nothing about what his father really got up to until he’d turned twenty-two. From the age of seven he’d been packed away to an incredibly expensive boarding school and had spent most of his school holidays with his best friend Leon’s family, especially after Morgana left. From there he’d gone straight to university where he’d trained to be a teacher. He’d had no idea what lay ahead.

He should have walked away as Morgana had. He only wished it were that simple. Uther, it seemed, had learnt from his mistakes with Morgana and had bided his time, left Arthur in the dark until he’d deemed the time right to bring him on board with the family business.

“Arthur,” Uther said with a slight cough bringing Arthur out of his thoughts. “If this boy does mean something to you, if you love him, then, given the nature of our business, it might be safer to let him go.”

Arthur looked at Uther in shock. Could that really be compassion on the face of a man such as Uther? That was unexpected. A man who could look another in the eye as they begged for their life and see a bullet into his brain… Arthur blinked and the moment was gone, but Arthur was sure he hadn’t imagined it. Uther must’ve been thinking of Arthur’s mother, Ygraine, the only person that he had ever truly cared about and whose death had closed his heart off forever.

The car slid to a halt in front of Arthur’s house and as he made to open the car door Uther said, “Sweet dreams, Arthur.”

Arthur swallowed and looked back at Uther to say, “Goodnight, Father.”

He stood on the curb as the car drove away, his legs frozen beneath him. The last place he wanted to be right now was in that house, by himself, rerunning the evening’s events and Uther’s words, over and over until he went mad with it. If you love him, then, given the nature of our business, it might be safer to let him go. That could be taken as a warning or threat. Arthur suspected it might be both.

He needed to see Merlin.

As fortune would have it, a cab rounded the corner then, it’s ‘for hire’ sign lit and Arthur waved at it and as he climbed inside he gave Merlin’s address, knowing that given the time he would be home from work.

The taxi began to weave through the streets from Kentish Town to Islington and Arthur’s thoughts turned to Merlin. Since starting work for his father he’d always been careful not to get involved with anybody; his life was too dangerous. He had believed that one night with Merlin would be all he could have. Until he’d had the one night with Merlin. Then he’d needed another...and another. It was what it was. Merlin had hardly pushed Arthur away. They worked well together. Very well indeed. Now his worst fear was realised and Merlin was on Uther’s radar.

Arthur had reached a fork in the road and he had to decide which route to take and live with the consequences. He stared out of the window, seeing nothing but blurry lights and shapes, his head pounding, feeling impatient to get to his destination even though logically he knew it would only be another ten minutes at that time of night. After what Uther had just said to him Arthur just wanted to see Merlin, make sure he was still in once piece. If you love him. Did he love Merlin? How was he supposed to know? How did anyone know?

Did it matter now anyway?

Merlin’s flatmate, Gwaine, answered the door when Arthur rang the doorbell. Gwaine was attractive and cocky and Arthur had wanted to rip his head off with jealousy when he’d first seen him interact with Merlin, but he knew now they were just good friends and although Gwaine was a bit of a tart, he was a straight one. “Is Merlin here?” Arthur asked and Gwaine looked him up and down before holding the door open for him to pass. Arthur knew that if he looked anything like he felt he probably looked a sight.

“He went straight to his room when he got home. If he’s asleep, don’t wake him, yeah?” Gwaine then padded off in the direction of the sitting room, leaving Arthur to cross the tiny hallway towards Merlin’s bedroom. He pushed the door open and the sight that met him when he stepped inside made his heart skip an unwilling beat.

Merlin, fast asleep, sprawled out on his bed in pyjama bottoms and nothing else, surrounded by several large leather tomes, his closed laptop beside him as though he’d simply shut it and fallen straight to sleep, which he probably had. Arthur shrugged out of his coat and jumper, kicked off his shoes and grabbing the fleecy blanket from the end of the bed, pushed a couple of the books out of the way and crawled onto the bed next to Merlin. He didn’t expect to actually get any sleep, not with in his mind racing like it was, but the gentle rhythm of Merlin’s breathing relaxed him and the horrific events of that evening faded away as Arthur was lulled into sleep.

x(:)x

Merlin was woken by Arthur returning from the loo at some point during the night and with a pressing need to pee too he crept out of the room. When he returned Arthur was sitting on the edge of the bed looking delightfully sleep rumpled in the odd blue glow of Merlin’s battery powered reading light.

“S’good to wake up and find you here,” Merlin said as Arthur took his hand and pulled him in between his thighs. They settled back onto the bed, knocking a couple of heavy books to the floor as they did so. Arthur settled on top of Merlin, propping himself up on his elbows to stare down at him.

Merlin rolled his hips, his cock pressing into the hard line of Arthur’s beneath his pyjama bottoms. “Let me,” he said, giving Arthur a nudge and then rolling him onto his back to straddle him instead. Leaning to kiss Arthur he rummaged in his bedside drawer for supplies.

It was the middle of the night, they were both half asleep but Merlin needed Arthur like an addict needed a fix. He stood on his knees and wriggled out of his pyjama bottoms, throwing them to the floor, then, one handed he flipped open the lube and coated his fingers. No time for messing around he broke the kiss to sit up and reach behind himself, watching Arthur’s eyes darken as Merlin watched him follow the path of his hand before snapping his eyes up to meet Merlin’s, one hand reaching up to run his thumb over Merlin’s hipbones and down to the point where Merlin’s thighs met his own, tracing the sensitive skin there and drawing a low keening noise from Merlin. He hastened to stretch himself, wishing that it were something he could do magically to speed it along. Finally deciding he was ready he raised himself up, yanked Arthur’s trousers down to free his cock, slipping on the condom and lowering himself onto him with a desperate groan.

He needed this, needed Arthur, wondered how he’d been able to survive before him. He placed a hand on the flat plane of Arthur’s stomach to steady both of them and began to slowly ride him. Arthur tipped his head back and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ground himself Merlin knew. Then his hands moved to Merlin’s hips and he began to thrust up into him, slow for a moment then gathering momentum until something inside him seemed to snap and a torrent of filth spewed forth from his lips and he started to fuck up into Merlin with force, faster and faster. Merlin’s toes curled as he tried to stave off his orgasm, not wanting it to be over yet. Faster and harder and more and more magnificent, Arthur’s breathing heavy and a thin layer of sweat coating his skin and then he finally closed his hand around Merlin’s cock, bringing him off in time with his thrusts and Merlin couldn’t hold back any longer. His orgasm began to crash through him but Arthur beat him to it, “Fuck, Merlin, jeeeesus,” he gritted out as he came, going still to allow his climax to take him, and that was when Merlin erupted, painting Arthur’s chest with his release.

Fucking hell. “I think you just broke me.” Merlin managed to disengage and collapsed forward onto the bed beside Arthur, burrowing into his side contentedly.

Arthur made a sort of grunting noise, pulled off the condom, chucked it to the floor and pulled the blanket up over them both. Merlin smiled to himself and fell asleep.

When Merlin woke up again he was alone in the bed and he could hear voices coming from the living room beyond his bedroom door. Pulling on some pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt he shuffled out of the door and straight into the loo to pee before emerging, still feeling half-asleep, to find Arthur and Gwaine sitting at opposing ends of the sofa with cups of tea and plates piled with toast on the coffee table. “Morning,” Merlin mumbled and sank onto the sofa between them.

“Nice of you to join us,” Gwaine teased before getting up and taking the three steps it took to reach their kitchenette. He poured a third cup of tea from Merlin’s teapot and brought it back over for him.

Merlin took the cup gratefully. “Cheers mate,” he said. He turned to smile a hello at Arthur but found he was staring down into his own teacup. Sighing, Merlin took a sip of his tea and said, “What’re your plans today, Gwaine?”

Gwaine, always enjoying being the centre of attention, launched into his schedule for the day. Merlin was only half listening, the focus of his attention on the tension that was emanating from Arthur. When Gwaine said, “Anyway, I’d better go, I’ll be late,” and stood, Merlin had no idea where he was going so gave him smile and a wave and watched him collect his coat from the hooks by the front door and leave.

Now that they were alone the tension was even more palpable. Arthur didn’t speak and Merlin found himself searching for words. It felt as though he and Arthur had just enjoyed a one night stand and neither knew how to make the break. It hadn’t even felt like this after they’d first fucked that night when Merlin had been closing up the pub by himself and Arthur had been waiting at the bar for him to finish work.

Hating the silence Merlin fished around for something to say but that was when Arthur’s phone started to ring and Arthur dug it out of his pocket, glared at it and said, “I’ve got to take this,” before standing and heading into the bedroom and closing the door.

Merlin didn’t even make an attempt to eavesdrop. He took a swig of his tea and rubbing his face tiredly, went into the bathroom to take a shower.

When he came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but his towel the flat was silent and Arthur was gone. On the back of an envelope on the coffee table was a note that read, been called into work. Merlin balled it up and threw it in the general direction of the bin.

Something was very very off. The desperation in which they’d reached for each other this morning had turned into… Into what? Merlin couldn’t even begin to describe what felt wrong.

x(:)x

Morgana hadn’t changed much in ten years, something that Arthur found oddly comforting. “You have to get out, Arthur, and you have to do it soon.” She took a sip of her wine and watched Arthur over the rim of the glass.

Arthur wasn’t sure what he had expected from Morgana’s visit, but it hadn’t been that. They’d eaten dinner amidst awkward small talk and afterwards they had retired to Uther’s drawing room. Uther had just answered a phone call and gone to his study to talk to whoever it was and here they were.

“And you had to tell me this here, today? I’m not in hiding, you could find me anytime.”

Morgana glanced towards the door then back at Arthur and said, “He’s had you under surveillance since the day you turned finished university. Surely you at least suspected?”

Arthur nodded. He’d had his suspicions, of course he had, but Uther knowing all about Merlin had more or less confirmed it. “Why now then?”

“The serious crime squad are getting close, soon they will have enough to take him down. You’ll go down with him if you don’t get out.” Morgana put her glass on the table beside her and leant forward. “Arthur, this is serious.”

Arthur didn’t bother to ask how Morgana came to be in possession of this information, he already knew that it was the truth but still he thought he might be quietly panicking. He knew the consequences of making the break. Uther had made those more than clear from the start. Uther’s exact words had been. ‘Fuck with me, son or not, and you’ll be endangering the lives of those you hold dear.” Leon and his family. Percival. Merlin. There was a reason he’d steered clear of relationships all these years, why he’d only ever intended for Merlin to be another one night stand, someone who would only be a blip on Uther’s radar.

“I’m not innocent in all of this. There’s blood on my hands.”

“Arthur-” Whatever Morgana had been about to say was cut off as their father entered the room again. Morgana shot him a warning look and picked up her glass again.

Arthur felt sick.

His thoughts slid to Merlin, as they so frequently did these days. He hadn’t been in touch with him since leaving him that note yesterday. The intention had been to not contact him again. They’d made no promises, their ‘relationship’ was something they had drifted into on the back of physical compatibility.

None of that mattered now. He knew what he had to do.

x(:)x

Gaius sighed and removed his glasses. “Merlin, are you even listening to me?”

Merlin started, dragging his attention away from a droplet of water that was making its way down the window behind his tutor. “No, sorry,” he said, rubbing his face tiredly. “Is there any chance we can do this another time? I just-”

Gaius’ expression softened. “Your mind hasn’t been on task for a while, Merlin. You’re lucky that this comes naturally to you. Is there anything you’d like to talk about? You know I’m always here if you need me, and I don’t mean as your tutor.”

Merlin shook his head. Gaius was his great uncle and the reason Merlin had chosen to study at Avalon University. It wasn’t as though the course he was taking was widely advertised, it was recommendation only. A BGSc in Magical Studies. “I’m fine, Gaius. I promise.”

Gaius gave Merlin a long stare before nodding and saying, “Alright, Merlin. Same time next week then unless I see you beforehand.”

“Thanks, Gaius,” Merlin said, getting to his feet, his hand sliding into his pocket automatically so that he could check his phone for messages from Arthur. It was pretty pathetic really. It was only Monday, just over forty-eight hours since he’d last seen Arthur. They’d gone longer than that before. Only the last time it hadn’t been all tense and weird before they had parted.

He left Gaius’ office and headed straight for the nearest exit off campus, checking his phone as he went. There were no messages from Arthur. He was so distracted by his phone he didn’t see the person step into his path until it was too late and he had careened straight into him. “Sor-” he began, but got no further as he was bundled into the back seat of a black car the was parked at the curb. The man that climbed in beside him was his weasel-faced stalker from the other night.

“I wouldn’t advise trying to escape,” he said as the car pulled away into the traffic. “My name is DS Cedric Raven. We just need to talk to you.”

Merlin glared at the man, both fuming and afraid. What the fuck had just happened? All that magic at his fingertips and he hadn’t seen that coming or had time to react, his head had been too full of Arthur. Worse still, the police had been following him?

“Am I under arrest?” He’d never been in trouble with the law in his life. Okay, so some of his teenage magical antics with Will had skated pretty close to the edge but that hadn’t been anything dangerous or immoral.

DS Raven didn’t answer, turning to look out of the window instead. Merlin gritted his teeth and decided to bide his time. Now that his wits had found him again he could easily make his escape if he needed to and he had to admit he was curious to find out why the police - if that was who they really were - wanted him.

Before long the car pulled into an underground car park and drew to a halt. DS Raven climbed out and opened the door for Merlin. “Follow me please,” he said, gesturing for Merlin to get out of the car and to pass through the door a stern faced older man was holding open.

Merlin’s magic simmered beneath his skin and his palms itched but he knew better than to show his hand. He walked through the door as he’d been instructed and DS Raven placed a hand in the small of his back, making his magic want to explode out of him in protest, and guided him down a poorly lit corridor and into a lift, pressing the button for the seventh floor.

Once they had made it out of the lift DS Raven stopped at another door, rapped on it twice and gave Merlin a tiny shove inside when it opened with a teeth jarring creak.

For a moment Merlin felt as though he must have walked onto the set of a really bad police drama. The room he found himself in was lit by a stark strip light and held a small oblong desk and four chairs, one of which was occupied by an extremely good looking man with curly dark hair who was looking at Merlin with interest.

“Sit down, Mr Emrys,” he said without taking his eyes off Merlin. “I’m DI Lancelot DuLac.”

DS Raven took the seat beside DI DuLac and smiled coldly at Merlin.

Merlin sat in the chair indicated and folded his arms. “I’ll ask you again. Am I under arrest?” He glared at DS Raven who shot a glance at his superior officer.

“No, Mr Emrys, you are not under arrest,” DI DuLac said, almost kindly, and Merlin decided that he was probably playing ‘good cop’. “We just have some questions about your relationship with Arthur Pendragon.”

Merlin reeled in shock. “My relationship with Arthur Pendragon.” He narrowed his eyes and looked from one man to the other. “Is none of your business.” What the actual fuck was going on?

“Are you aware of who Arthur is?”

Underneath it all Merlin was quite aware that he should probably be talking to the nice policemen with some modicum of respect but his natural instinct leant into sarcasm. “He’s the bloke I’ve been shagging for the last couple of months.”

“How nice for you,” DI DuLac replied almost sweetly. “But I am referring to the fact that your boyfriend-”

“He’s not-”

“That your boyfriend is the son of Uther Pendragon.”

Merlin shrugged. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

“Let me put this in terms you might understand.” DS Raven leant forward and fixed Merlin with his gaze. “Uther Pendragon is your friendly neighbourhood gangster, and by that I mean people trafficking, drug dealing, people killing - you get the picture?”

Merlin felt a lead weight sink into the pit of his stomach. Arthur was not involved. He couldn’t be. He wouldn’t. He dropped the nonchalance and said, “What- Why are you telling me this?”

DI Lancelot leant back in his chair and regarded Merlin somberly over steepled fingers for what felt like an age. Finally he sighed and said, “We have reason to believe Mr Pendragon has a hit out on you.”

x(:)x

Merlin wasn’t answering his phone and after another sleepless night Arthur went to his flat.

“I haven’t seen him for a couple of days, I thought he was at yours,” Gwaine said when he answered the door to Arthur.

“I haven’t seen Merlin since Saturday.”

Gwaine’s brows drew together. “Merlin sent me a text yesterday telling me he was staying with you for a couple of days.”

Arthur’s heart began to thump wildly in his chest. “Can I see the text?”

Gwaine pulled a smart phone from his jeans pocket and scrolled quickly, handing it to Arthur and saying, “Did you have an argument or something?”

“No we didn’t,” Arthur said, reading the text, which said exactly what Gwaine had stated. He handed the phone back. “Thanks.” He began to back towards the door.

“Maybe he’s gone to his mum’s for a couple of days,” Gwaine offered, looking concerned.

“Yeah, maybe,” Arthur said, knowing that wasn’t the case. It was too much of a coincidence. Given recent events, Arthur was was certain something was wrong.

He went back to the lift, jabbing the button impatiently, his mind whirring. What the hell was he supposed to do now? Once inside the lift he dropped his head back against the wall as it descended and closed his eyes. The blood was pounding so loudly behind his ears that he didn’t hear his lift doors open again, only becoming aware that someone had entered when a voice said, “Hello, Arthur.”

Arthur recognised the voice without having to look at the source. In fact, it was almost as though he had conjured it up, for second to Merlin, this was the person he most needed to speak to.

“Lancelot! What the hell are you doing here? Uther has eyes on me.” Arthur took a deep breath and turned towards his visitor. “I can’t do this anymore. I know I said I could stick it out but I can’t. Things have changed.” Please don’t let him succumb to a panic attack, not now.

DI Lancelot DuLac smiled. “You don’t have to, Arthur. It’s over. We arrested your father and most of his crew two hours ago.”

Arthur’s stomach flipped. “But- I think he has Merlin!” Arthur grabbed the front of Lancelot’s coat. “Tell me you haven’t found another body-”

“Merlin is safe,” Lancelot said kindly. Arthur had always thought he was too much of a genuinely nice bloke to be a policeman. “It was the chatter surrounding him that forced us to act. Your father had ordered George Goodenough to dispose of him.”

Arthur felt himself both relax at the news that Merlin was safe and his anger boil at Lancelot’s words about his father disposing of Merlin. So much for the compassion Arthur thought he’d glimpsed the other day. “I’ll help you put that bastard away for the rest of his wretched life, I swear.” He swiped his hand across his eyes to catch the tears that were welling there. His father was in custody. Thank fuck. Thank fuck.

He’d quite possibly been living in hell these last few years. His father had expected him to just step up and join the family business, which even when Arthur thought it was just the hotels, hadn’t been what Arthur wanted to do. Arthur had always wanted to be an English teacher and had just finished his QTS when Uther had struck. It had been the first Arthur had heard of Uther’s plans for him.

When it became apparent what working for the family business really entailed he’d tried to back away, but with that attempted retreat had come the threats and Arthur had given in, still largely in the dark as to the true nature of the business.

A couple of months in, one of Uther’s enemies, Odin, had sent someone to kill Arthur in retaliation for Uther killing his son. In the ensuing battle with Odin’s representative, a man named Myror Masters, it had been Myror dead with a bullet in him and Arthur with the blood on his hands. Uther had been so proud of Arthur for killing a man, even if only in self-defence but Arthur had been sick as a pig at what he had done. He wasn’t a killer. Maybe he would have been more bloodthirsty if Uther had actually brought him up, who knows, but between nannies when he was very young, his teachers and the calming influence of Leon’s mother who had treated him like her own, he had grown up, in his own opinion, someone with a strong moral compass.

With Leon’s help, because Arthur sensed he was being watched and knew that spending time with his best friend wouldn’t raise alarms to Uther, Arthur had managed to contact the police. He’d confessed what had happened with Myror, but there was no body, no missing person’s report - the man named Myror Masters apparently didn’t exist - and DI DuLac had persuaded Arthur to help the police and thus Arthur had become an informant, helping build a case against Uther and his team of thugs. Inform, Lancelot had said, but do not intervene as that would raise suspicion.

“I want to see Merlin,” Arthur said now, the need to feast his eyes on him suddenly so intense that Arthur’s chest felt tight. “Can you take me to him?”

Lancelot looked guilty. “Merlin is in protective custody at the moment. I can’t just-”

An awful swooping sensation nearly felled Arthur on the spot and he didn’t hear the rest of Lancelot’s words. Protective custody. What must Merlin be going through right now? This was all Arthur’s fault. He should never have gotten involved with Merlin. Arthur knew the deal now. Uther and his crew might be in custody, but Uther had contacts on the outside. Once he realised Arthur was the key witness people would be coming for him. For Merlin. Hell, they’d already got a price on Merlin’s head and that was before this had happened.

“You promised me witness protection,” Arthur said, drawing himself up to his full height and staring down at Lancelot. “I’m going nowhere without Merlin.”

Lancelot’s lips twitched. “I thought you might say that.”

x(:)x

The ‘safe house’ wasn’t exactly cosy. It was clean enough, functional Merlin supposed, but smelled strongly of damp and disinfectant. The sitting room held a blue three seater sofa, a cheap Ikea coffee table and had a flat screen television on the wall above the ugly seventies fireplace. It had two bedrooms, both with double beds and a chest of drawers each. Apparently lampshades were considered to be a luxury as all of the bulbs hung unadorned and far too bright for Merlin’s tastes.

As soon as his ‘guard’ had explained how all of the alarms worked and left Merlin alone in the house he had turned out all of the lights and created his own light source in the corner of the room with a flick of his wrist, lay down on the sofa that was more comfortable than it looked and had turned on the television.

There was nothing on the news about Uther Pendragon, but DI DuLac had told him that they hadn’t released it out to the media yet so that was no surprise. Merlin flipped the channel, settled on ‘Pointless’ and cursed the fact that he’d had his phone taken from him - they can use it to track you - and hadn’t been allowed back to his flat to get any of his things. He didn’t care about his clothes but his laptop and his books were almost part of him. Gwaine would have no idea where he was, he’d missed his shift at the pub and yet another tutorial. Would he ever be able to return to uni or see Gwaine again?

The television droned on in the background, the quiz show turning into the evening news and then into ‘The One Show’ but it might as well be showing cartoons in Norwegian for all Merlin cared. None of it mattered, not really. Not work, not uni, not Gwaine, certainly not whatever was on the television. All Merlin could think about was Arthur. Your boyfriend is the son of Uther Pendragon… your friendly neighbourhood gangster.

DI DuLac had been called away and DS Raven had taken great pleasure in explaining in further detail just exactly what was meant by ‘gangster’, finally ending with, “You don’t think that Arthur can be that closely involved and not have blood on his hands do you?”

Merlin didn’t want to believe it. Any of it. Arthur involved in drug dealing, money laundering, protection rackets and people trafficking. Arthur wielding a gun and killing someone. None of it rang true of what he knew of Arthur Pendragon, but then, did he even know him at all? He had only known him a couple of months and they’d spent most of their time together in bed. He’d never known physical attraction like that which he felt for Arthur. Yet, he’d thought it was more than that. There had been conversation and laughter too, getting to know each other. At least that was what Merlin had assumed.

Merlin blinked the television off, suddenly annoyed with its inane chatter, and rolled onto his back to stare at the ceiling. What was he even doing staying there? He could get himself out of there with little more than a wave of his hand if he wanted, he could give himself a new face and walk past the police stationed in the car outside and disappear forever. He could go. He could.

If he left then he’d never see Arthur again. Never get the explanation he needed. Merlin closed his eyes then and he knew for certain, deep inside his soul, that regardless of what DS Raven would have him believe about Arthur, that Arthur was one of the good guys. Just because his father was a monster it didn’t follow that Arthur would be too.

When the key sounded in the back door Merlin didn’t get up to see who it was. It could be one of Uther’s rogue henchmen come to finish him off, and if it was then Merlin was ready, his magic burning beneath his fingertips. He heard the visitor move through the empty dining room in the middle of the house and push the door of the sitting room open. The person framed in the doorway was no henchman, unless Merlin had been wrong all along, for it was Arthur, lit only by the dim light of Merlin’s magic that was still glowing in the corner of the room.

Merlin sat up immediately, swinging his legs to the floor and looking up at Arthur as he pushed out of the doorway and came to stand before Merlin. He looked tired, the shadows beneath his eyes were dark and there was a look of desperation on his face that Merlin wished away immediately. They stared at one another wordlessly, both of them seemingly struck dumb, then Arthur dropped to his knees in front of Merlin so that they were on a level. Instinctively Merlin opened his arms and Arthur fell into them.

Merlin knew then that they’d sort this thing out, that Arthur was nothing like his father. After they’d got what they needed from one another here and now, explanations would be made, understanding would be reached. Arthur wasn’t the only one with a secret after all. They would make it.

x(:)x

For something so simple, the magic behind it was exceedingly complicated. Arthur and Merlin Pendragon, when seen written on paper or screen, would read to all except the two of them and a few select friends, as Andrew and Matthew Pearce. When they addressed one another in public as Arthur or Merlin, other people would hear the names Andrew and Matthew.

Andrew was a high school teacher who loved his job and was loved by his students. Matthew ran a small independent record and bookshop with a cafe attached that was popular for open mic nights, poetry evenings and the local Wiccan group. They adopted a husky dog and called him Garrah.

Uther Pendragon was serving life without hope of parole and neither of his children ever visited him in prison. His old patch had been taken over by one of his old nemeses, Hengist, a man who had made it clear that he’d pay good money for Arthur’s head on a stick now that he couldn’t get to Uther. Thus the identities Arthur and Merlin had taken on when they’d gone into witness protection three years before had taken on a permanency the same as their relationship.

Arthur came home from work that Friday night and Merlin was on him before he could get his coat off. He’d been thinking about it all afternoon when he should’ve been studying - he was still doing his uni course with Gaius by correspondence - but when he’d read the same page of text for the umpteenth time he’d given up and gone back to fantasising. He’d planned to run Arthur a bath and order in their favourite takeaway before they enjoyed a movie together… Plans were made to be broken and it was their first wedding anniversary.

Merlin thought, as he pushed Arthur back against it, that their front door had probably seen more action than any other spot in the house outside of the bedroom. He liked it best when Arthur lifted him up and Merlin could wrap his legs around his waist, the door banging behind them in time to their antics, but not today. Today was for long slow kisses and walking backwards into the sitting room to collapse together on the sofa, for exploring one another’s bodies in the shadows formed from the lights on the Christmas tree they had decorated together the previous weekend. It was for satiating themselves in one another and covering up with the fluffy throw that lived on the sofa, for finding an excited puppy launching himself onto them and feeding one another chocolates floated magically from the tub one of Arthur’s pupils had given him for Christmas.

There were no secrets between them any more. Well, none except Merlin hadn’t told Arthur that Morgana was coming to stay for Christmas. As they lay there, contented, Merlin decided that perhaps that was a secret that could wait until morning.

They were safe, they were happy and they were loved. Nothing else was required.