It was early evening and although the intense cold of winter was still some months off, there was still enough of a chill in the air to cause Merlin to pull his warm coat tighter around himself as he walked home in the fading light.
He had been to the salon, where at least he was amongst friends. Plenty of pretentious show-offs as well, but he and Arthur had their particular literary circle, and those people hadn’t forsaken him. The small, close group gathered round him sympathetically, never actually uttering the words, but he knew he had their understanding. When he read out his latest works they were especially kind. Such good friends.
Friends, and somebody else was there as well. One of them was their betrayer, though Merlin had no idea who. Whoever it was had reported Arthur’s interest in men, his secret liaisons. They hadn’t reported Merlin, just Arthur. Almost as if they’d wanted to separate them. They’d done a good job if that was their aim. It was probably one of the other writers, jealous at the small amount of success Merlin and Arthur’s joint novel was having. There was no way of knowing who it was. Probably he would never know.
It wasn’t the same at the salon without Arthur. There was nobody he could really bounce his ideas off, nobody he felt he could collaborate with, nobody who understood him like Arthur did. Mordred kept trying, but Merlin didn’t want him. He’d told him as much that evening. He only wanted Arthur.
He was trying not to think of Arthur, and yet it was the only thing on his mind. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else had ever mattered like Arthur did. And now he was gone.
It was a crime, or so people said, for two men to love each other. Unnatural, wrong. It didn’t feel unnatural or wrong. It felt like the most perfect and right thing in the world. Arthur had said so too, that last night before he’d been arrested. Merlin knew it to be true.
It would be three years before Arthur was freed. Three long years. He’d sent word to Merlin that Merlin was not to give himself up, that the one thing keeping Arthur going was the thought that his love was out there, safe. And although Merlin had hated doing so, he’d kept away from the trial like Arthur wanted, laid low until it was safe again. He felt like a coward. But Arthur had insisted. Arthur’s name and his father’s connections would help him a little, at least as far as length of sentence was concerned. If Uther had found out who Merlin was, he’d probably have ensured he was hung. He probably still would.
There were footsteps behind him, unusual in the secluded street at that hour. Merlin walked a little faster. He had nothing in the way of money, but the coat had been a gift from Arthur and no thief would understand that Merlin didn’t have the wealth that the garment promised.
The footsteps were getting closer. Merlin glanced back and saw three men, all thick-set and scarred from a lifetime of fighting. There was no question of what they were after. All three were looking right at him, their faces stern and determined.
He couldn’t possibly outfight them. Even Arthur would have had problems. But Merlin was quick and slender and he broke into a run, racing down the alley, hoping to reach the busy street beyond. Arthur had always told him not to use the alleyway as a shortcut, he’d lectured him on it time and again. Over and over Merlin had promised that he wouldn’t. But it wasn’t quite dark, and that way had been quicker, and he hadn’t been thinking…
The men were slow and he could hear their laboured breathing as they thundered along behind him. If he kept going, he was sure he could make it. Just a few more yards…
Someone stepped out of the shadows, blocking his way. Mordred, pale and cold, looking at him with the same hateful expression he’d had when Merlin had rejected him earlier. No need to look any further for the person who’d betrayed Arthur, Merlin realised. But there was no time for recriminations. Merlin ducked and twisted, trying to get past, but it was to no avail. Mordred tripped him, and just those few moments delay were enough for the men to catch up, bringing him down, kicking and stamping on him.
When he finally blacked out it was a mercy.
Merlin sat up carefully, wincing at the pain in his leg as he did so. He felt as if he were bruised from head to toe, and the marks he could see just on his arms were enough to testify that it was probably the case. But his leg was agony. He didn’t even try to get up. He could see how it was twisted out of shape, obviously broken.
Trying to think through the pain, Merlin looked around. He was no longer in the alley, instead he was in a small room. It looked familiar, and after a moment he realised it was Arthur’s study. He’d only been there a few times, but there was a painting of Arthur on one wall and Merlin recalled admiring it. It was nothing compared to the original, of course.
The drapes were drawn across the window, and the door was closed. This had been Arthur’s end of the house, Merlin recalled. Arthur’s sitting room was next door, and up the fine staircase in the main hall was Arthur’s bedroom. He knew that bedroom well, having slept there whenever Arthur’s father was away. They’d not done much of the writing that Arthur had supposedly brought him home to help with. They’d thought Arthur’s father would never find out. Evidently, if Merlin was inside Camelot House at that moment, they were wrong.
Sir Uther de Bois was a frightening man.
Merlin had never met him, but he’d heard the rumours of the things he was capable of. He’d also heard everything Uther’s son Arthur had to say on the subject, which had been considerable.
Merlin wiped away the tears that rolled down his face from the pain and frustration he was feeling. It wouldn’t do to face Uther like that. Arthur wouldn’t have wanted him to. But then, Arthur had tried to do everything he could to keep Merlin safe. Arthur was in prison now because he wanted to keep Merlin safe. And he’d failed, because it seemed that Uther had found him anyway. Soon enough, Merlin knew, he’d be joining Arthur in that prison.
The constables… the new police force, they’d be there soon to take him away. Well, he thought, at least they’d be together. Though Merlin guessed Sir Uther would do everything he could to ensure that they weren’t. And Merlin knew that with the injuries he’d sustained, his chances of survival in prison were going to be poor.
It wasn’t the worst thing. The worst thing had been losing Arthur. In some ways Merlin thought this was justice, sharing his lover’s punishment. And then, when they were both free again, if by some miracle Merlin survived prison, then they’d flee the country, head for the new world and live out their lives there, somewhere far away. They had already planned to do that as soon as Arthur was free.
But first, they would have to be free again.
The door to the study opened, and Merlin found himself face to face with Arthur’s father.
Sir Uther de Bois paused for just a moment to fix Merlin with a steely glare, then turned and closed the door behind him. Merlin knew that there was no chance of making a run for it, not with the state his leg was in. But he really, really wanted to get out of there.
“Sir Uther.” Merlin paused, then begged even though it would do little good. “Let me go, please. Arthur wouldn’t want you to do this.” Not that he could be sure what ‘this’ was going to turn out to be, but he knew it couldn’t be good.
Uther regarded him coldly. “Do not speak to me of my son. You have corrupted him, ruined him. He languishes in a prison now because of the depravity you introduced into his life. It is you who should be there, not my son.”
“So that’s what you’re going to do,” Merlin stated. “Have me thrown in prison too. Fine. Do it. At least I’ll be with Arthur again.”
“Oh no, you mistake me,” Uther told him. He still looked as cold and distant as ever. “I can’t risk you meeting my son again, not even in those circumstances. No, I have something quite different in mind for you.”
Merlin felt a sudden chill run down his spine at the look in Uther’s eyes. He looked down at his twisted leg again, and knew that he was completely at Uther’s mercy.
Merlin doubted the man would actually have any.
Camelot House must have been impressive in its day. A Palladian mansion, built in the mid-1700s with 56 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding it, the paperwork said. It wasn’t so impressive now.
Arthur stood at the gates, trying to see through all the overgrown weeds tangled around them to the grounds and the house down in the valley beyond. His house now.
His uncle Agravaine, a man Arthur had never known, had recently passed away. With no other living relatives he had left his only nephew a sizeable estate. He had no children of his own, but had never shown any interest in even meeting Arthur and hadn’t bothered to contact his sister, Arthur’s mother Ygraine, in years. Arthur’s parents were comfortable but they weren’t amazingly rich. His uncle, however, had been pretty well off. Agravaine had argued with Arthur’s father soon after Ygraine and Uther married, and had avoided them ever since. Arthur hadn’t realised quite how well off his uncle was until Agravaine’s solicitor had given him the final figure.
“Don’t waste it,” his father had advised. “Invest.”
But his father doted on his mother so much that he’d never spent much time building up a vast fortune for himself, preferring to spend time with her and their son. He’d done fairly well in his career, but his life was driven by more important considerations than work. So, much as Arthur loved his father, he didn’t think Uther was the best person to be handing out business advice. Anyway, there was something else to consider. Along with the money, Arthur had also been left Camelot House, and if he didn’t restore it within five years then that part of the inheritance would go to some charity instead. Agravaine had left a long letter about how he could develop and grow along with it, and how he could learn to love the place like his great, great, great, great grandfather had. Apparently everyone since then had disliked living there.
“Rubbish,” said his father when he heard about the development idea. “It’s a financial millstone around your neck. Let the charity have it. You’ve got a sizeable sum of money, don’t waste it.”
But Arthur didn’t feel the money was really his. This was just a project, something for himself and his friends to do. And now that he’d seen the place for himself, he was itching to start work.
His mother hadn’t said anything, waiting to see the place for herself. But then, his parents always agreed. They were almost sickening in their unity. His only hope was that his mother would be won over, the house having been on her side of the family. She had always been very interested in family history, and wanted to see the place as soon as it became Arthur’s.
There was a lot of interest in it, in fact. Not only did his parents want to see it, but several of his friends came along too. Some of them were hoping for work out of it, others were just nosey. Gwaine, who had heard it was haunted, just wanted to spend the night there so that he could make up supernatural experiences and write about it in his ridiculous blog. He’d been going on about it for weeks.
The gate creaked as Arthur opened it, rusty with lack of use. Beyond it stretched the remains of the driveway, leading down a hillside to the house itself which sat at the bottom of a small valley.
“I suppose the cars can get down there?” his father mused, looking at the driveway. “That’s going to play hell with the suspension.”
“You can always walk, dear,” his mother pointed out, heading back to their car. “We’ll see you down there.”
Arthur quite liked the idea of walking down the first time, though he reluctantly admitted he could see a certain benefit in them driving back up the hill later. So he followed his mother back to the cars, and was soon leading the small convoy down through the grounds, parking in the area outside the main entrance.
The entrance itself looked amazing, despite being in need of repair. Six columns supported the triangular pediment, with a grand stone staircase on either side leading up to the door. The main block of the house was typical Palladian, with tall windows on the ground floor and a row of smaller windows on the floor above. There were two long wings flanking it, both again with the taller windows on the ground floor and square windows above. Several had been broken. The stone parapet around the roof had crumbled away in places, and a large chunk of it was lying in the grass near the west wing.
It was magnificent, somehow more beautiful because it was ruined yet still majestic. Arthur felt an instant pull towards the place, as if he belonged there. And he did, he supposed, because it was his now.
Arthur looked around at his companions. He could see Gwaine was gazing at the place far too enthusiastically, and could guess what his reaction was going to be. Gwaine’s partner, Leon, was looking slightly worried though.
“Are you sure about this, Arthur? It looks pretty run down.”
“You could make it into a theme park,” Gwaine told him, predictably. “Haunted house. Put rides in the grounds.” Lance was nodding agreement, but then as he was a qualified electrician he probably could see himself having a lifetime’s employment if Arthur did that.
“I like the idea of a hotel,” Gwen piped up. She was Lance’s new girlfriend, and they were inseparable already. “It must have been beautiful once. You could restore it, then set it up with a theme…”
“Ghosts!” Gwaine exclaimed. “Brilliant idea.”
“I was thinking stately home,” Gwen continued, and suddenly Arthur saw his mother’s face light up with interest. He almost hugged Gwen for that alone. “Cash in on the Downton Abbey thing. Have all the staff in early 1900s servant uniforms.”
“Oh yes, I like that idea. And a butler could be there to answer the door,” his mother agreed. “Banquets in the evening.”
Gwen smiled at her, both of them warming to it. “Balls.”
“Got that right,” Gwaine muttered.
“It would be wonderful to see it restored,” Ygraine told him, ignoring Gwaine. “I can remember coming here as a child once or twice. It was already very run-down, and when Agravaine inherited it he more or less abandoned it.”
“You’ll need a gardener if you’re going to do this,” his father pointed out, having satisfied himself that his precious car hadn’t been damaged coming down the pothole-ridden driveway. Arthur was faintly amused to see that as usual he only needed to have one of them on his side for the other to cave as well. “I’ll talk to Gaius, I think he said something about that charity case nephew of his needing work.”
It was going to need a lot more than a single gardener, Arthur thought as he walked up the steps. The grounds alone would take a long time to restore and a lot of work. The house would take much longer. But there was something about the tired, broken old place that was already making him want to reach out and heal it. The shattered windows, the overwhelming neglect…
“We need to take before and after pictures,” Gwen announced. She was proving an unexpected and useful boon. “When it’s finished you can put up a website showing the whole project.”
“Not a bad idea,” his father agreed. “Put it up during development, drum up interest.”
Arthur let them all carry on talking, planning what they all thought he should do. He welcomed their sudden wave of enthusiasm, but it was early days yet. For all they knew the house might only be fit to be condemned. Still, they had reached the front door, and Arthur had the ridiculously large key that the solicitor had given him.
“It’s probably infested with rats,” Leon grumbled as Arthur unlocked the door and pushed it open. The hinges creaked alarmingly, and they were immediately hit by the stale smell from inside.
“It’s a bit creepy,” Gwen ventured, looking around at the decay and neglect. The thick, musty smell didn’t help, hanging heavy in the air. Obviously nobody had ventured inside the house for years. Dust-laden drapes covered the windows, blocking out much of the light. Arthur tried to pull one back and it collapsed in a cloud of dust, barely missing him.
“Careful,” Ygraine urged.
Everything was probably rotten. Arthur thought he saw something scuttle away in the corner. Rats, like Leon said, most likely.
“I still say go for the haunted house theme,” Gwaine told them. “This place is brilliant! Perfect!” He wasn’t going to give that up, Arthur could tell. He guessed there were going to be a lot of stupid pranks from Gwaine over the coming months. He was dreading it already.
“It won’t be creepy once we’ve finished,” Arthur promised. He looked around again, eager to start exploring the place. It was going to be a huge, magnificent project. Now he’d seen the place he could hardly wait to get working on it. There was just something about it. He knew even then that he would never want to give it up.
By four weeks in they’d managed to restore a few of the rooms in the east wing to a state where they could move into them, even if it wasn’t the most comfortable of places to reside. Arthur, Gwaine and Leon all started by crashing on camp beds in one room, then as the habitable space increased others took up the offer of free accommodation.
Arthur had where possible recruited from his friends at first, as expected. Lance worked with another electrician, Leon was an architect and soon busy drawing up development plans for the place, Elyan was in the building trade and had brought in Percival, a fellow builder, while Gwaine had studied horticulture and swore he could manage the grounds for Arthur. Arthur had little choice but to let Gwen and his mother work on the internal décor, and his father had happily taken early retirement and got stuck into the business side of things. They recruited others, but Arthur had tried to keep people he knew and felt he could trust in charge of each area.
“You’re haemorrhaging money,” his father announced one evening over dinner.
Dinner was now in the restored kitchen that had presumably once been the servants’ domain. There was a huge pine table in the centre now, and it had become a focal point both for those working during the day, and those staying in the evening for meals. Leon grumbled mutinously every time Ygraine told him to clear off his plans because she needed to set the table for dinner.
“If you turned one of the wings into luxury apartments, and sold them, you’d recover a lot of your losses,” his father continued.
The flats would probably be a good idea. Arthur liked the idea of living in one himself, and told his father so.
“There’s no profit in that,” Uther pointed out. Since they’d started working on the renovations, his father seemed to be getting a bit obsessed with how much they could make out of the place, Arthur noticed. But he knew his mother would stop him going too far, she always did. Anyway, Arthur was free of it after dinner, his parents both went home every night and he was left with the house almost to himself.
His father was still full of business advice. Actually, although Arthur hated to admit it, much of it was quite good after all. In fact, he was largely leaving that side of things to his father, while Arthur only got involved when he had to. Arthur was more interested in the physical labour of putting the house and grounds back to their former glory. Specifically he liked working in the garden, or on some part of the house that overlooked the garden. He felt drawn to it, and was fascinated by the way Gwaine was managing to work out the original design from old plans and drawings, and restore it. He was talking about a maze that had been beyond the kitchen garden, and was starting to draw up a plan to restore that. The previous day they’d uncovered the remains of a little path that led out… well, Arthur didn’t know where it led, but as he was the one who was working on it, he was going to find out.
They needed more workers for the grounds. Gaius’ nephew had been due several days earlier then never turned up, which was a cause for concern because he’d left for Camelot House and now nobody knew where he was. They’d had the police round several times looking for him. Uther had commented that the boy had always been flaky and had run off before, it probably wasn’t cause for too much concern. So the nephew was a no-show, and the locals weren’t keen on going near the place.
“They say it’s haunted,” Gwaine had told Arthur gleefully, when Arthur had complained about the lack of local labour. “There’s a ghost of one of the earls, or his son or something. I told you the haunted house theme was a winner!”
Arthur had ignored him and kept on working. Obviously it wasn’t a winner as merely the silly belief was keeping most of the locals away. It would take time, but he was sure that once people saw the place up and running, once they saw it resurrected, they would change their minds. But Gwaine really wasn’t helping.
As far as Gwaine was concerned, working at Camelot House was the best job possible. Not only was he guaranteed employment for most of the coming year, longer if the hotel was the success they all expected it to be, he was also based in the perfect location for updating his blog.
Gwaine had been writing The Other Side for years. It didn’t have as huge a following as he’d hoped, but then people just didn’t appreciate ghosts and paranormal activity as much as they really should. Gwaine was fascinated by it. He could spend hours with his friends theorising about what might or might not have happened at any given location. Ghost stories were his favourite thing.
Camelot House seemed to have a lot of such stories.
Mostly Gwaine picked up the tales from the villagers on his numerous trips to the local pub. Leon would sit there rolling his eyes while Gwaine bribed yet another local with a pint of beer and the opportunity for ‘fame’. Possibly fame was stretching it – The Other Side had 385 followers, and four of those were from the village of Camelot anyway.
But Camelot House looked as if it should be haunted. It was so run-down, and there were so many different stories about unexplained phenomena, Gwaine was sure that not all of them could be fake. And he was sure that if he could prove it, then he’d be able to persuade Arthur to change his mind about the stupid Downton Abbey theme, and go for something truly innovative and exciting. They could have a theme park in the grounds, charge more for staying there, invite film crews in… the list was endless.
Still, he had his day job to do in the meantime and he enjoyed that too. He’d got Arthur helping out, which appealed no end – the boss working as an assistant gardener. But Arthur seemed to prefer working outside, and he didn’t get under the feet of the builders working on the house if he was out there being useful instead.
Gwaine was busy working out how to restore an original eighteenth century maze. He’d found plans, and even an old print had turned up in one of the rooms. He had the area roped off ready to start clearing it and planting fresh bushes. It would take a couple of years to grow to a decent height, but the garden was a long-term plan unless the place went bust. People would probably be able to see down into the maze from the hills surrounding the house, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It would probably help with lost children, he thought.
He laid down another marker, trying to get the exact layout of the original maze right. It had been a focal point in the garden once and he hoped to restore it to that again. He could just imagine people walking down the hillside and seeing it there in its full glory one day. Gwaine looked up towards the horizon, to a small group of trees on top of the hill visible behind the house. People would probably just about be able to see it even over there.
There was someone up there.
Gwaine squinted in the bright, low autumn sunlight, and looked again. There was no sign of anyone, but he could have sworn that there had been a figure standing up there a moment before. Whoever it was had gone, or perhaps it was just a trick of the light. Most likely it was one of the workers, although he only had a few working on the grounds so far. But it was more entertaining to think it was something supernatural.
Gwaine made a note for his blog, because it never hurt to put everything and anything in it, and carried on measuring out the maze.
It was a cool, clear night, and Arthur didn’t really feel much like sleeping. He’d just wanted a little time for himself. Leon and Gwaine were watching some noisy movie with a lot of car chases, and normally Arthur would have been up for that. Instead he retreated to the room he’d taken for himself, claiming he was going to have an early night.
He sat on the deep window ledge of his first floor room, looking out over the area at the back of the house that they’d been busy working on earlier that day. The moon was full and shone silver out over the grounds, down the hillside to the house at the bottom of the valley. They were too far out from the city for much light pollution, and the stars looked very bright over the hillsides. He gave a small, involuntary shiver at the sight, feeling how very little he amounted to against the enormity of the universe.
And yet he was there, and he was making a difference to Camelot House. He was making a difference to the people he was employing, giving them a job for a few months.
A flash of movement caught his eye, and he looked up at the path he’d been clearing earlier that day. There was someone there, walking along it, heading away from the house, up towards the hillside.
It was difficult to tell in the dark, but Arthur didn’t think it was one of their employees. They’d had some trouble with a small group of kids from the village a few nights back. Apparently visiting the haunted mansion was a popular dare (which explained a few of the broken windows) and the fact it was now occupied and being renovated wasn’t putting them off. It was almost a coming of age thing, an initiation into a gang. Arthur didn’t really care what it was, he didn’t want them breaking into the place.
It was a pity they didn’t have the same enthusiasm for working there, he thought as he headed downstairs. He could do with a few more general labourers. They obviously weren’t genuinely scared.
It had only appeared to be one person out there, and that did seem to be the pattern. One kid would come up, alone, their friends waiting back at the front gate until they’d done whatever challenge they’d been set, though they didn’t usually come round the back of the house and out of sight of their friends. That, apparently, was a bit too scary.
Gwaine and Leon’s noisy movie was still carrying on, and he decided not to bother them unless it turned out to be more than one intruder. Arthur grabbed a torch, then went out through the external kitchen door. The chill of the early autumn night hit him and he wished he’d thought to pull on a jacket. Still, this wasn’t likely to take long.
The kid was still there on the path where Arthur had seen him. He was just standing there, at the end of the area they’d cleared, looking out across the grounds, out at the overgrown area they hadn’t started on yet, looking out up towards the hill.
The kid didn’t turn around, just stayed there, his back to Arthur.
Cursing himself for not bothering with warmer clothes, Arthur jogged down the path, stopping just behind the kid. He could see now it was a young man, older than the kids the other day had been. He was still just standing there, and yet Arthur hadn’t been quiet in his approach.
“You shouldn’t be here, this is private property.”
The young man turned, slowly, looking a little dazed, and Arthur immediately guessed he was probably drunk or stoned. That would be another reason for coming out here, and again it wouldn’t be a first. Well, Arthur could just escort him off the property. He was definitely confused, staring at Arthur as if he was the very last thing he expected to see there.
“Come on, you need to leave,” Arthur took hold of the young man’s arm, trying to steer him, but he didn’t move.
The man swayed a little unsteadily on his feet, still gazing at Arthur as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
“Do I know you?” Not that Arthur would have minded knowing him, under other circumstances. He was exactly Arthur’s type, tall and slender, with a shock of dark hair and too pale skin. And there was something about him… something that was almost familiar. The blue eyes that stared back at him, wide and frightened, reminded him of something but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what.
“Merlin,” the young man gasped. “I’m Merlin.”
And then he fainted clean away at Arthur’s feet.
Merlin, it turned out, was Gaius’ nephew.
Nobody was quite sure how he’d suddenly appeared on the estate that evening, Merlin himself included. He’d travelled down from his mother’s house in Wales several days before, and could remember arriving at the small station in Camelot late the same day. He’d walked up to the house, because he didn’t have the money for a taxi and only about 3 buses a day ran out that way. By the time he’d reached the house it was dark. He could remember walking up the driveway and standing in front of the house… and nothing at all after that.
His stamped train ticket in his pocket backed up his story, as did the increasingly frantic messages from his mother once they recharged his phone and he could check it. Ygraine had already called her, as soon as they’d realised who Merlin was, while Uther had called the police and told them to call off their search. The police came round, of course, but Merlin couldn’t give them any useful answers. His backpack was missing, so he’d had to send home for more clothes. In the meantime he was wearing one of Arthur’s hoodies.
“Drugs, most likely,” Uther commented. “Looks the type.”
Arthur thought that was pretty unfair. Merlin had been admitted to A&E on that first night, and the staff there had done no end of tests. Any drug use would have shown up at that point. They’d declared that the fainting was nothing to worry about and that a couple of days rest and some proper food would sort it out. Merlin swore he’d never touched drugs, and Arthur believed him. But it was difficult to think of any other explanation. There was no sign of any injury, nothing to suggest Merlin had hit his head. Basically, he’d lost several days of his life and nobody had any idea why.
Gwaine, being in charge of the renovation of the grounds, was also going to be in charge of Merlin once he was fit to work. It worried Arthur a little, because Gwaine loved anything out of the ordinary, and Merlin not remembering anything about the past few days definitely fell into that category. He was sure that when he’d brought Merlin back into the house that first night and they’d realised he was Gaius’ missing nephew, Gwaine’s eyes had lit up with interest, just for a moment. Merlin really didn’t need to be interrogated for Gwaine’s foolish blog on the paranormal every few minutes. Arthur hadn’t been sure it was a good idea having him work there at all, Merlin looked as if a strong wind would blow him over, but Merlin had insisted he was a good worker, and that he wanted to stay. He also desperately needed a job.
“I suppose he could do the lighter work, paint fences and stuff,” Gwaine had allowed grudgingly.
Arthur hated the way that Merlin gave Gwaine such a huge, grateful smile for that. “I’ll add you to the payroll then,” he put in quickly, wanting to remind Merlin just who it was that he should be grateful to.
After that first evening, which he spent in A&E, Merlin had been staying at the house. He’d returned from the hospital rehydrated but tired. Arthur had given up his own bed for a few nights while Merlin recovered, and crashed on one of the camp beds that the workers had been using.
Merlin, Arthur soon discovered, didn’t sleep very well.
He liked to have the door left open, otherwise he would get quite agitated. Arthur had wandered off to clean his teeth the first night he shared with Merlin, closed the door behind him, and set off a small panic attack. He didn’t make that mistake twice. And Arthur could put up with an open door, he’d spent a couple of days on a camp bed in a room with Gwaine and Leon, both of whom snored like trains going up a hill. After that he had believed he could sleep through anything.
That didn’t prove to be the case.
Merlin talked in his sleep. Arthur assumed it was sleep, anyway, Merlin tossed and turned and cried out. Sometimes, Arthur was sure he heard his own name. Twice he woke up to what he thought was the sound of Merlin crying, but when he went over he found that Merlin was asleep, peaceful for once. The crying sound had stopped as soon as Arthur had crossed the floor to Merlin’s side.When Arthur returned to the camp bed, and lay back down, he thought he could faintly hear it again.
It was probably the wind outside, wailing around the windows. Arthur snuggled further under the covers, trying to convince himself that was all it was.
Across the room, fast asleep, Merlin started muttering to himself again. Merlin might be cute, but he was a pain to share a room with.
Arthur pulled the covers over his head and tried to sleep.
Merlin, once he’d recovered, was a surprisingly good worker.
He cheerfully took the scythe Gwaine had given him and cut his way through the long, tall, overgrown grasses that covered the grounds. Gwaine had set him to work on the areas that couldn’t just be dug over by machine because there was too much history under all the weeds and it needed to be cleared with care. He was tireless, and Arthur often looked up from his own work to see Merlin nearby, cutting and clearing, or wheeling barrow loads of waste down to the compost area. He always seemed to be nearby, never straying very far from Arthur. One particular day was unseasonably warm and Merlin was working shirtless. Arthur couldn’t help sneaking the odd glance at the lean, toned body.
Arthur, for his part, was getting on well with the path. It was far beyond the point where he had found Merlin that night, the paving dug out, a thick layer of cover put down, and then the stones re-laid. It looked good, and people were already using it. It gave Arthur a real sense of accomplishment. He couldn’t tell where it was going, though the old plans Gwaine had been using showed that it looped all around the grounds and eventually back to the house again. The house was already a good distance away now, and the path was starting to go uphill.
“You’re doing a grand job!” Gwaine yelled as he rode past on the garden tractor. Gwaine didn’t ever seem to be doing any work with the tractor, but used it to ride around the estate making sure everyone else was busy. Merlin had asked to use it several times for some of the tougher areas, but it was Gwaine’s baby and he wasn’t giving it up.
“Lucky someone is,” Arthur grumbled back but Gwaine just waved at him, whistled at Merlin, and drove off.
Merlin rolled his eyes, and carried on hacking at the long grass. It was all hot, tiring work, and Arthur called him over a few minutes later for a break. As they sat on the path, drinking the now slightly warm water they’d brought out that morning, Merlin gazed over at the unexcavated portion of the path, stretching off into the undergrowth and up the hill.
“I might clear that next. Then you can see where you’re going.”
Arthur sort of liked the mystery of not knowing, but Merlin looked so eager to help that he couldn’t say no.
“Just to the top of the hill,” Arthur agreed. Anything further would take Merlin out of sight, and Arthur liked having him near. They’d grown close very quickly. Arthur knew his father didn’t approve, was worried it was going to develop into something more than just friendship, but Arthur was an adult and there wasn’t a lot his father could do about it. For his part, Arthur knew he was falling for Merlin, knew he was getting as sappy as his father was over his mother. He should have moved Merlin out of the room they shared days ago, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to. He liked having Merlin there. And if he was still in Arthur’s bed then that was just fine. The only thing wrong with it was that Arthur wasn’t in there too.
“What?” Merlin asked, and Arthur realised he must have been staring, watching Merlin’s lips around the water bottle.
He couldn’t go there. Merlin was vulnerable, troubled, he’d be taking advantage.
“I just like this,” Arthur admitted instead. “Working out here, with you. I had an office job, it was hard work but you never really felt like you were doing anything. Here… We’re creating something. And when it’s done, there’ll be jobs for people. The old place is going to be alive again. I really want to make this work.”
“Jobs…” Merlin looked away, out towards the top of the hill. “You’ll be keeping people on?”
“I’ll be keeping you on,” Arthur promised. “I’ll need good groundsmen.”
Merlin turned a beaming smile on him, and then to Arthur’s horror started to cry, still half-smiling at the same time. “Sorry!”
“Working for me’s not that bad, surely?” Arthur asked. He wanted to put a comforting arm around Merlin’s shoulders, but the whole Merlin being shirtless thing made that a bad and wrong idea.
“No! No, I love working here. But… you know I have problems. You know… you sleep in the same room so you know. I get confused sometimes… the doctors say it’s schizophrenia, but I can’t help it and I just want to work and live like everyone else, and I didn’t think anyone would ever give me a chance and you do, and… it’s a happy cry, Arthur. Happy cry.”
And the tearful, smiling face that was just inches from his own was exactly why Arthur was so fucked when it came to Merlin. Anyone else, and he would have leaned in and claimed those lips he was staring at a moment before. But he couldn’t, for all the reasons Merlin had just unwittingly listed. Merlin needed to be here, and Arthur couldn’t screw that up for him.
“Well don’t let my mother or Gwen see,” Arthur said gently. “You know they both dote on you, and they won’t believe it’s a happy cry. They’ll think I’ve beaten you or something.”
Merlin sniffed and roughly wiped the tears away. “Sorry.” He got up and picked up the scythe again. “And thanks for this, Arthur. I won’t let you down.”
Arthur watched him go back to work. Merlin had pulled his t-shirt back on when he got up and it clung to his shoulders and back, soaked in sweat, outlining every ridge and curve of his torso. Arthur looked away. He knew Merlin wouldn’t let him down. He just hoped he could be as honourable in return.
That night Merlin seemed more restless than usual, tossing and turning. He’d insisted on taking the camp bed, unwilling to make Arthur give up his bed any longer. The trouble was, he had insisted on doing that at the very last minute, and so the sheets hadn’t been changed. Arthur could very faintly smell Merlin when he put his head down on the pillow. It was frustrating, especially with Merlin right there on the other side of the room. Arthur wasn’t sleeping too well himself as a result, and it wasn’t helped by the muttering and whimpering across the room. It took a long time for Arthur to fall asleep.
He seemed to have only been asleep for a moment when he woke with a start, certain he could hear someone calling his name.
It was Merlin’s voice. Arthur sat up, and looked across the room. The camp bed was empty, the bedding pushed aside. Merlin was nowhere to be seen.
It was faint, like the crying had been, and difficult to locate. It sounded as if it was coming from the walls themselves, though that was impossible. It would be Merlin, of course, he’d probably found something interesting and was calling to Arthur to come and see. Though Merlin wouldn’t do that if Arthur was asleep.
“Merlin?” he called softly. “Is that you?”
“Arthur…” It sounded desperate, pleading almost.
Arthur got up, pulled a hoodie over his head, pushed his feet into the nearest pair of trainers, and headed out through the open door in search of Merlin.
“Merlin?” He didn’t want to wake the others, so didn’t call too loudly. It was strange, because Merlin’s voice didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Arthur headed for the kitchen, hoping he’d just gone for a glass of water, but it was deserted. Worse, the back door was standing ajar and the cold night air was seeping in.
Arthur sighed, guessing Merlin had gone outside. He picked up a torch and headed after him.
It didn’t take long to find him. Merlin was standing on the path again, although much further along it because of how much more was cleared. He’d gone past the area Arthur was working on and up the hill, nearly to the top, as far as he’d cleared himself. And there he had stopped, standing there looking further up the hill. He was dressed only in the pair of sweat pants he slept in. He had to be freezing.
“Merlin!” Arthur shouted as he ran up after him. “Merlin!”
As before, Merlin didn’t respond. But as Arthur approached he could see Merlin was not only shirtless but didn’t even have any shoes on. Arthur slowed as he drew near, realising from Merlin’s lack of reaction that he might be sleepwalking.
“Merlin,” he said more gently. “Merlin, can you hear me?”
There was no response, Merlin was still looking up at the top of the hill. Arthur was already getting cold even with his hoodie, and he didn’t want to leave Merlin out there barely dressed any longer than was necessary. He moved to stand in front of Merlin, unsettled by the open eyes, vacant stare. It certainly wasn’t like the cartoon stereotype. This wasn’t funny at all.
“Merlin, you need to wake up,” he told him. “You need to go back to the house.”
“I’m in the house,” Merlin murmured. “I’m always in the house.”
“Yes, and we need to go back.”
That was a good sign, and for a moment Arthur started to hope that Merlin was waking up.
“Yes, yes it’s Arthur. And it’s cold out here, I want to get back to the house, come on.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” Merlin told him. “I never want to leave you.”
Merlin was still asleep, so Arthur tried not to read too much into that, no matter how much he wanted to. He reached out and batted Merlin softly on the cheek.
“You don’t have to. You work here with me. Come on, Merlin, wake up. You’re sleepwalking. Wake up.”
Finally, just as Arthur thought he was going to have to slap him, Merlin blinked and looked dazedly around.
“You were sleepwalking. Questions later, you need to get back to the house, you’re freezing.”
Merlin was already starting to shiver, and Arthur knew he needed to get him back fast.
“How did I get out here?”
“Walked.” Impulsively, Arthur pulled off his hoodie and almost immediately regretted it. “Jesus! Here, put this on and let’s get back before we both freeze!”
It had to be a measure of just how cold Merlin was that he didn’t even argue, just pulled it on and started to walk. Arthur could see from the little winces he was giving that his bare feet were hurting. There was only one thing for it.
“You’d better be as light as you look,” Arthur grumbled. “And if you tell Gwaine I did this I’ll kill you. Hold on.” He lifted Merlin up and carried him down the path.
Merlin was not light, and Arthur had to put him down as soon as they were on the newly paved part. It was easier to walk on than the stony, uneven area still waiting for Arthur to work on it. He wondered if he should run in and get Merlin’s shoes, but he was afraid to leave him out there. It took far too long to get back inside. Several times Arthur carried Merlin, and the final time he pretty much dropped him on the kitchen floor and hurriedly shut the door.
Leon and Gwaine came into the kitchen almost immediately, looking as though they’d both just crawled out of bed.
“What’s going on?” Leon demanded. “What’s all the noise? I was asleep.”
“I was sleepwalking,” Merlin explained through chattering teeth.
Gwaine immediately ran back to his room, grabbed a couple of blankets and brought them back for Merlin and Arthur. Arthur was shivering himself, but he hadn’t noticed in his concern for Merlin.
“Get to bed,” Leon advised. “I’ll make you some hot drinks. Gwaine, find the first aid kit for Merlin’s feet, he’s bleeding.”
Merlin looked down, and saw the bloodied marks he was leaving on the tiles.
“Don’t worry about that, I’ll clean it,” Leon promised. “Bed. Now. Gwaine, put a couple of the heaters in Arthur’s room.”
Gwaine muttered something mutinous about what might have killed Leon’s last slave, but did as he was told. When they reached the bedroom, Merlin moved towards the camp bed, but Arthur steered him away.
“No. It’s a big bed, Merlin, and you’re freezing. We’re sharing.”
Gwaine raised an eyebrow, then must have seen Arthur’s expression because he didn’t say a word for once and busied himself turning on the heater while Merlin and Arthur buried themselves under the covers and snuggled close.
Leon appeared with steaming hot chocolate, and Arthur accepted it gratefully. He hadn’t had as long as Merlin to get cold, and was warming up quickly. That wasn’t a bad thing, he knew his body heat would help Merlin warm up too. Though that would mean Merlin would move away, and Arthur was already recovered enough to like having him cuddling close for warmth.
Gwaine left the first aid kit on the bedside table for Arthur to use when Merlin had warmed up, then both he and Leon left them to it.
“Call us if you need anything,” Leon ordered. “And if Merlin ever sleepwalks again, let one of us know before you run out there after him.” He looked at Merlin, dozing in Arthur’s arms. “Don’t let him go to sleep just yet. We’ll check on you in half an hour, call if you think you’re getting sleepy before that.”
There was a little colour in Merlin’s cheeks by then, and Arthur thought he would probably be fine. Leon knew better than to shut the door, but he did pull it to so that the heat stayed in as much as possible. Merlin twitched, then settled again.
“It’s not shut,” Arthur told him, and Merlin relaxed a little against him.
Later, when he was warmed, his feet cleaned up and the hot chocolate drained to the bottom of the mug, he curled up next to Arthur.
“Can’t sleep yet,” Arthur reminded him. “Leon’s going to check again soon. So, tell me what happened? Do you remember anything?”
Merlin shook his head. “I couldn’t get to sleep. And then I suppose I did get to sleep, and next thing I knew I was out there on the hillside freezing cold. If you hadn’t found me I’d have been out there all night. Probably died.”
Arthur was aware of that. “I thought I heard you calling me,” he admitted. “That was what woke me. It was probably just the back door opening though.”
Merlin looked at him sadly. “You know what Gwaine says about the house…”
“Gwaine’s an idiot,” Arthur said, more harshly than he intended. “Don’t listen to him. It’s just an old house. They all make noises.”
Merlin nodded, but he didn’t look convinced. In fact, he looked quite sad, hurt. “I’m a problem, aren’t I? You probably want me to go.”
Arthur didn’t want him to go anywhere, especially not now that he’d got Merlin exactly where he wanted him. “You make life interesting,” he admitted. “Don’t worry about it.”
Merlin looked at him sometimes as if Arthur had hung the moon and the stars out just for Merlin’s pleasure. It was that look he was getting now. And Arthur was tired, and he’d almost lost Merlin, and he was fed up with doing the right thing, not taking advantage of someone vulnerable. He deserved to be happy as much as the next person, and despite all his problems, Merlin was the one who would make Arthur happy. He knew it. And so he leaned in and kissed him, enjoying the little pleased squeak Merlin gave as he did so.
Several long, delicious minutes later, Arthur heard Gwaine give a cheeky whistle from the other side of the room, and the distinct sound of Leon bundling him back out again.
“We’ll… uh… leave you in peace,” Leon called.
“Good way to get warm!” Gwaine yelled, and there was a loud thump that was probably Leon smacking him.
Arthur didn’t look back, gazing down at Merlin and seeing a smile that probably mirrored his own. They were going to be just fine, he was sure of it.
The next day Arthur made sure Merlin just rested. His feet weren’t cut as badly as Arthur had feared, but still needed a little time to heal, and anyway it had rained early that morning and the ground was damp and muddy. Instead, Arthur went out to work alone. Merlin had cleared enough of the path that he could easily fill a day working on it. He missed Merlin’s company, the work seemed a lot harder without Merlin there to distract him.
He was ready for a break when Leon came up the path with lunch. It was unusual to see his friend away from the house, Leon had been drawing and measuring for weeks. He’d long since finished the east wing, and was pretty much done with the main part of the house. The west wing was still largely unexplored. It was the most run-down, with several windows boarded up and signs that it had been the first part of the house to run into decline.
“Thanks for your help last night,” Arthur said as they sat down on the path and ate lunch.
Leon nodded. “No problem. Merlin’s a good worker, I suppose he can’t help being the way he is.” He took a bite of one of the sandwiches he’d brought up for them, chewing it thoughtfully. “He’s quite troubled, though, isn’t he?”
Arthur suddenly realised why he was having Leon’s unexpected company.
“Yes he is. And he deserves a chance.”
“Nobody’s denying that. But you’re getting involved with him, Arthur. Is that wise?”
“How many of them decided you were the one who was going to come and talk to me about this?” Arthur asked. He could imagine it, all his friends talking together, persuading sensible, dependable Leon that he would be the best one to voice their concerns to Arthur. He and Leon had been friends the longest, after all.
“Everyone,” Leon admitted. “Well… your father, mostly. But Merlin’s got problems. We can hear him, because you have to leave the door open for him, we hear the talking and crying. And how are you ever going to be able to do more than just kiss him, when you can’t even close the door or he panics? Because I don’t want to hear you having sex, I really don’t!”
“Get some earplugs!” Arthur growled. “I don’t want to discuss this, Leon. It’s nobody’s business but mine and Merlin’s. If that’s all you’ve come out here for, I’d rather eat lunch alone.”
Leon held up his hands defensively. “Okay, I’ll stop. I like Merlin, I really do. But if it was the other way round, don’t tell me you wouldn’t be having this same talk with me. Because if the answer to that is no then you’d not be much of a friend. Okay? So I’m here, if it all goes wrong and you need a friend. That’s it, that’s all I’m saying on the subject.”
Leon ducked his head slightly, taking another bite of the sandwich. He was right, of course, but Arthur had already considered those things for himself, and decided Merlin was worth it.
“How’s the west wing going?” Arthur asked, wanting to change the subject. Leon latched onto it immediately, gratefully.
“Interesting,” Leon said, looking back at the house. “Most of it hasn’t seen the light of day in years. It’s a real mess. And there’s something not quite right. Look at the extensions. The central part’s Palladian, but the two wings on either side have been added on later.”
It all just looked old to Arthur, but he nodded. Leon had studied architecture, after all, he was a professional and knew what he was talking about.
“Look on the west wing. It’s identical to the east, yes?”
Leon hummed to himself, in that way he had when he was thinking. “I need to look at the older floor plans again. But I don’t think it matches. The internal measurements I did showed the west wing was about 20 square metres smaller than the east. But outside it isn’t. The GIA doesn’t match the GEA… not that it would, but it’s more than just walls. These old places were built to be symmetrical, even the extensions.”
Arthur had no idea what GIA and GEA were, but he let Leon carry on.
“You’ve got a window missing as well, near the end of the wing on the ground floor. See how they don’t match? Eight on the east wing, seven on the west? It’s been bricked up, and it’s a pretty neat job but you can still see the outline there. We’ll have to make it match if we’re to do a proper restoration here. That’s going to cost.”
Arthur knew his father would complain about that. Probably already had. But he wasn’t feeling particularly charitable towards his father at that moment. “What’s it like inside? Does it need the window?”
Leon shrugged. “That’s the strange thing, it’s just a corridor, no sign of the missing window. The wall’s smooth where it should be.” He sighed. “And then I made the mistake of mentioning it to Gwaine last night, and he started going on about haunted houses again, because of course that’s what it would be, not the window tax or anything.”
“Gwaine doesn’t do logical explanations,” Arthur reminded him.
“Yeah. He’s been making a pest of himself all morning. He’s down there tapping the walls in the corridor because he thinks there’s a hidden room. The corridor was probably just widened or the room shortened or something, but he won’t have it. I needed to get away.”
Arthur could well imagine it. Gwaine was a good laugh, but he sometimes didn’t know when to stop. And there was something a bit creepy about that bricked up window. Arthur looked down the hill at it, and felt an inexplicable shiver run down his spine.
“Cold?” Leon asked.
“No,” Arthur gave a short, slightly embarrassed laugh. “I think Gwaine’s stupid ideas are getting to me.”
But it wasn’t just Gwaine. There was Merlin’s odd behaviour, and although he knew some of it had been going on for years, there were still those few weeks where nobody had known where he was. That still hadn’t been explained, and Arthur still wondered about it. After Merlin’s wanderings the previous night, he was afraid it might happen again. And as long as they had no idea where he’d been there was always the risk they wouldn’t find him. The nights were colder now, and anything could happen.
“Just be glad you don’t have to listen to Gwaine’s nonsense all the time,” Leon told him. “I nearly slept in the kitchen last night, he wouldn’t shut up.”
Arthur smiled, never really quite sure why Leon put up with Gwaine. Perhaps it was true that opposites attracted? “He really isn’t taking to the stately home theme, is he?”
“Not unless it’s Count Dracula’s stately home, no,” Leon agreed, laughing. He took the last bite of his sandwich, and looked further up the hill, to where the path vanished into the undergrowth. “I’m still not ready to hear more of it. Want to take a walk, see if we can actually follow this thing round the estate like we’re supposed to be able to? Or have you already done that?”
“Only parts, mostly at the other end to check it was still there.” Arthur got up, welcoming the distraction from going back to work. “Come on then, let’s look. Might get some more ideas for developing the grounds too.”
Up as far as Merlin had cleared was easy enough to follow, but after that the path was almost impossible to find. He wondered how Merlin managed to locate it but supposed that if he cut the growth in the vague area then the path would show up. Merlin always seemed drawn to it.
“Perhaps we could put a safety gate in to stop Merlin wandering up here at night once the hotel’s running?” Leon suggested with a grin as they climbed the hill. “I mean, it’s a great view and all, but not worth coming out in the cold for!”
“There’s something about this path,” Arthur told him. “When Merlin sleepwalked, he headed for it. It was where I found him that first night too, just staring up the hill. He always works just ahead of me, clearing it. I have to remind him to go back and do the land on either side.”
“Almost as if there was something there, something he’s heading towards,” Leon mused.
“Yes.” Arthur had thought that too, but hadn’t wanted to voice it, thinking he would sound silly. Merlin was troubled, they all knew that. It couldn’t be anything else. “But there’s nothing up there, I’ve looked on the plans. Just a sundial, much further along, a summer house that’s fallen apart and is just a pile of rotten wood now, a pond that’s more of a swamp… nothing interesting.”
“Lucky he didn’t get as far as the pond,” Leon commented.
Arthur hadn’t thought of the possibilities of that. But Leon was right, in his dazed state Merlin could just wander into the pond and drown. Arthur was determined to keep a closer eye on him. At least now they were sharing a bed Arthur would be more likely to notice the moment Merlin got up.
They reached the top of the hill, pausing near an old oak that had probably been there before the house was built. The grounds stretched on ahead of them, wild and unkempt, until the lower gardens where Gwaine had actually started work. Much of that was earth, dug over, but Arthur could see distinct walls and borders down there, the start of the planned maze. It was going to look amazing when it was finished.
Leon started to walk down towards it, but Arthur called him back. “Hang on a minute.”
There was something just beyond the tree, almost hidden from view by the thick undergrowth. It looked at first glance like a rock, but then Arthur had looked again and saw that it wasn’t. He made his way up to it, and pushed some of the weeds out of the way so that he could get a better look.
“That’s a grave,” Leon pointed out needlessly, because they could both see what it was.
The stone was very badly worn and faded, cracked all across and difficult to read. “Arth Du B,” Arthur made out. “de Bois, presumably. Arthur de Bois? I’ve never heard of another Arthur in the family.”
“Why isn’t he in the family plot if he’s a de Bois?” Leon asked. “Or do you think he was a servant or a pet or something? Maybe it’s a pet cemetery. What else does it say?”
There was a date, 18-something, but that was all. Everything else had been obliterated by the elements over time.
“Mum might know,” Arthur realised. “She’s done a lot of studying of our family history over the years. I’ll ask her.”
“Okay. But can we not tell Gwaine yet, I’ll never hear the last of it,” Leon told him, already turning to head back for the house.
Arthur nodded, not really listening. He was thinking of Merlin the previous night, and how he’d stood looking up to the brow of the hill, and the voice he’d thought he had heard calling his name. Or calling for an Arthur anyway.
He shivered again, and hurried after Leon.
Gwaine was a little bit in love with Camelot House.
It was exactly the sort of place he’d wanted to go as a child, ancient and crumbling, full of stories and spirits. Well, at least in his head. In reality these things had always turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, always had a rational explanation no matter how much he wanted it to be otherwise. There was often an owner with hidden speakers, spooky lightshows or, in one particularly pathetic case, dressed in a sheet. No, Gwaine had lived with disappointment in his love of haunted houses for most of his life.
Camelot House though, still had unexplored parts, still had an air of mystery. Plus he’d been to the village pub quite a few times, and all the locals were completely convinced it was haunted. And then Leon had told him about the mysterious bricked-up window at the back of the west wing, and Gwaine had barely been able to sleep for thinking about it. He was down there first thing, and had spent most of the morning shadowing Elyan and Percival, who were planning out the work they were going to do. He’d been outside twice, counted the footsteps to the door at the far end of the wing, then counted the footsteps back again inside the house. The window was definitely two thirds of the way down the corridor, and although there was a large room next to it, that didn’t extend as far as the bricked up window. And better still, there was another room on the other side that also didn’t extend far enough.
But the corridor wall was smooth and unblemished, and Elyan wasn’t very interested in listening to Gwaine’s theory.
“It’s the window tax,” Elyan told him. “They did this in old houses. It probably made the end of that larger room really dark, so it’s been bricked in. Nothing sinister.”
“But you’ll open it, right?” Gwaine asked eagerly. “That window has to be restored, Leon was telling me. So you’ll have to open up the hidden room?”
Elyan rolled his eyes. “Yes, Gwaine, we’ll restore it.”
Gwaine’s grin stretched from ear to ear. “I want to be there. You might find anything.”
“What we’ll find is rubbish,” Elyan told him. “Anything of value will be gone. The air will probably stink, if it’s not completely solid. There’s not even a trace of a door there, it’s old work. They weren’t careful in those days. Don’t get your hopes up.”
Percival wasn’t much better, even though he claimed the place gave him the creeps. He was never very talkative anyway. That day he was busy clearing out the rubbish and the old furniture, taking it to an outhouse ready for disposal, keeping away from Gwaine and his theories. The things he was carrying out were mostly unsalvageable, though an antique dealer was going to have a look at it and see if there was anything worth restoring.
“There might be some more in that room,” Gwaine ventured, still trying to persuade Elyan. “Good stuff, sealed in. Might be worth opening it up now, before the dealer comes.”
“Well… just knock down the wall.”
“In this really old house? I don’t think Arthur’s going to appreciate it if the whole place caves in.”
The trouble was, Gwaine thought, they were all much too sensible. And there had to be something, some trace. He’d seen films where, if you pulled a book out of a bookcase it would trigger a secret mechanism and the wall would swing round and uncover a secret lair. And others where if you touched the wall in just the right spot a secret door would open up.
Elyan would just laugh at him if they heard that, he knew. And all the books were rotting and falling to pieces. He knew, he’d already looked to see if one hid a secret lever. So instead he went back out into the corridor to have yet another look.
It was colder out there than he remembered it being earlier. But then, Percival had the door open at the very end of the wing because he liked the fresh air, and it was probably just a draught from that. There was no electricity at that end of the house yet and with the corridor running the length of the wing there was no natural light even though it was midday. That didn’t bother Gwaine, he liked the creepy atmosphere, and just used the torch app on his phone to look around.
This time he felt his way along the wall, trying to find something different. He started at the point where the larger room ended, and worked his way along, carefully. Behind him he heard Elyan and Percival noisily carrying out another load of debris from the room they were working on, but he didn’t turn round. Their voices echoed down the corridor.
“Who you gonna call?” Elyan yelled at him, and Percival laughed a little but Gwaine ignored them. He was used to the jibes and mockery. There was something here, he was sure of it. And if he was right then he was finally going to have something concrete to upload to The Other Side. Maybe Arthur would even listen to him about the haunted house theme.
He heard the outer door bang as they went through it and finally he was left in peace.
It was very cold in that corridor, and it seemed to be getting worse. That was a good sign, Gwaine knew. So many reports from people who’d seen ghosts said there had been a temperature drop too. He carried on working his way along the wall, tapping and feeling the surface, trying to find something different. All the other rooms opened up onto the corridor, this one had to have done as well at one stage. And to take out a frame and brick it all up, there would have to be some sign, no matter how well it was done.
There was something.
The sound echoing back at him when he tapped suddenly became less hollow, less of an echo. Quickly, excitedly, he started to explore the area, leaving marks to guide him (well, they were going to redecorate anyway, it didn’t matter). Rapidly the more solid area revealed the outline of what had to have once been a doorway.
“Gotcha!” Gwaine breathed.
He turned off the torch briefly to take a few shots with the camera app. The darkness didn’t bother him, he’d sat overnight with friends in plenty of supposedly haunted houses in his time.
“Take me to Arthur.”
Gwaine almost jumped out of his skin. There was Merlin, a few feet away, pale and wan.
“Fuck, Merlin, that’s not funny!”
Merlin stood there, gazing at him pleadingly.
“Take me to Arthur,” he repeated.
It was very, very cold now, Gwaine noted. He could see his breath in front of him. And Merlin was standing in the dark corridor, yet clearly visible, looking as if he were almost giving off a faint, pale glow. Glowing, so that Gwaine could see his hair was longer, his clothes… his clothes were like something out of a Victorian painting, all tight britches and billowing white shirt.
“Take me to Arthur.”
There was a loud rattling noise at the far end of the corridor. Gwaine tore his gaze away just for a moment, looked back and Merlin was gone. It wasn’t freezing cold any more either.
“What did you lock the door for?” Elyan called. “We’re here to work, Gwaine!”
Gwaine looked at him for a moment, then back at the spot where Merlin had been, then at the vague outline of a door on the wall.
And then he turned and ran. He didn’t stop running until he was right over in the east wing, where everything was bright and warm and freshly painted, and where there were people and…
Merlin was there in the kitchen with Gwen and Leon, rolling out pastry on the table, covered in flour. Judging by the state of him he’d been there for hours. He looked up when Gwaine skidded in, and just for a moment Gwaine thought he could see that pleading face again. But then the moment was gone, and Merlin was just smiling at him, open and friendly.
“What’s the rush?”
Gwaine ignored him, because there was really something strange about Merlin. Instead, he turned to Gwen, who was making coffee for Leon.
“Has he been here all the time?”
Gwen frowned at him, then at Leon. “Leon just came in with Arthur.”
“No. Him,” he thumbed over his shoulder at Merlin. “Has Merlin been here all the time? Tell me!”
Leon walked over to him, concern etched into his features. “Gwaine? What’s wrong?”
“Tell me!” he demanded of Gwen.
“Well… yes, Merlin’s been helping me all morning. He’s making pies for dinner.”
“Mum’s recipe,” Merlin offered, but Gwaine just glared at him.
“You were out in the west wing, I saw you! That was you, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it!”
“Gwaine,” Leon had hold of him now, turning him gently away from Merlin who was looking puzzled and a bit hurt. “Merlin’s been here for ages. Now what’s the matter? What’s going on?”
Gwaine looked at Leon’s earnest, concerned face and his heart sank. Leon wasn’t going to be believe him. He’d laugh, probably, and then explain it away with something rational. There wasn’t anything rational, and Gwaine knew it.
“You won’t believe me.”
“Try me. You’re shaking, I want to know what’s happened.”
Merlin was standing there too, watching him, his face all concerned as well. Gwen was behind Leon, looking worried too. Gwaine didn’t think he could stand it when they all laughed, like he knew they were going to when they found out.
He saw it immediately, the change in Leon’s face that Leon quickly tried to hide, and knew there was going to be no support.
“Down in the west wing. Yes.”
“I found the door, marked out where it is.”
“Oh,” Leon looked a little surprised. “Well that’s useful. Thanks Gwaine. I’ll have a look with Elyan, see if we can open it up.” He gave Gwaine a kind smile. “See, you might get to see your mysterious room after all.”
“No!” Gwaine gasped. “Don’t. There’s something there. I saw it!” He paused just for a moment, then let it all out in a rush. “The door was locked, and they couldn’t get in and it was all cold and then he showed up and started talking to me!”
“What?” Gwen asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Slow down, Gwaine,” Leon urged. “That didn’t make any sense.”
“Has he been drinking?” Gwen whispered, but Gwaine heard her.
“No I haven’t been bloody drinking, but that sounds like a great idea, thanks. Large scotch, hold the rocks!” He looked back at Leon, waiting for the disbelief there, but there was only concern. “I’m not lying. I saw it.”
“Okay, okay, I believe you, okay?”
“Yes. Whatever you saw, I believe you. Now calm down and tell me properly. Sit,” Leon guided him towards one of the kitchen chairs. It was right by the table, which meant that Merlin was there, staring at him. Gwaine looked away. Leon was crouching in front of him. Gwaine didn’t think he’d ever seen his boyfriend look so concerned about him. Not even that time he’d nearly had to be hospitalised after a really heavy drinking session. “Now tell me. Slowly.”
Gwaine told him, as slowly as he could. Partway through, Gwen handed him the glass of scotch he’d requested and he downed it gratefully, holding out the empty glass in a silent request for a refill. Leon was frowning by the end of his tale, but he wasn’t dismissing it out of hand, as Gwaine had been expecting him to do.
“I left Elyan and Percival down there,” Gwaine realised. “I didn’t even warn them.”
“You said it had gone,” Gwen pointed out. She had her arms wrapped around herself, as if she were cold. “And El would have just laughed at you anyway.”
“Take me to Arthur,” Merlin whispered.
“That’s not funny, Merlin,” Leon snapped. He glanced up, and then froze. Gwaine looked around.
Merlin’s face had gone slack.
“Take me to Arthur.”
“Oh shit!” Gwaine leapt to his feet. “It was like that.” He ran his hand through his hair worriedly. “He’s off again. It was just like that, but…” he waved towards Merlin’s t-shirt. “He was dressed like something out of some historical drama. And his hair was different. Longer. Shit! We should get Arthur. The other one wanted Arthur too.”
“Yeah…” Leon looked down for a moment, then back at Gwaine. “About that. We… sort of found Arthur. A different Arthur. A…uh…” he glanced over at Merlin, who was shaking his head confusedly, seemingly back to himself again. “A dead Arthur.”
“Okay, you’re scaring me now,” Gwen told them. “If this is a joke, I swear I’ll kill all three of you.”
“Did I just space out again?” Merlin asked in a small voice. “I did, didn’t I?”
Gwaine couldn’t even bring himself to look at him when he said that. “You’d better have done,” he growled. He could see Gwen walking round, looking sympathetic, probably to comfort Merlin. That was the trouble, they all liked him. Even Gwaine did, despite what he’d just seen. But he wasn’t sure any more just what Merlin was. That man in the corridor had looked so much like Merlin. What was he doing? Possessing this one? And where had Merlin been during those missing weeks? They didn’t really know anything about him. He concentrated on Leon instead, solid, dependable Leon.
“What did you say about Arthur?”
“There’s a grave up on the hill. Arthur de Bois, one of our Arthur’s ancestors, maybe. Arthur’s gone up there now with his mum to have a proper look.”
Up on the hill. The one where Merlin kept going when he started sleepwalking. Gwaine looked round at him then, saw how frightened he looked and how Gwen was hugging him, comforting him. She wasn’t afraid of him. But then, she hadn’t spent her life looking into the paranormal like Gwaine had. Possession wasn’t unheard of. Yet that man in the corridor had looked so solid, so real…
He was going to get over this. It was what he’d been looking for, hoping for. He was going to go back down there, just as soon as he stopped shaking, and have another look. Maybe not by himself this time though. He looked at Leon’s concerned face, gazing back at him. No, and he wasn’t going to let Leon go down alone either. He’d go with him. Or follow him.
But he’d do it after another glass of scotch. Or two.
Ygraine had wanted to look at the grave immediately. Arthur had long known of her fascination with family history, but never realised quite how obsessed she was with it. She’d almost managed to race him back up the hill despite being a good foot shorter than Arthur.
“It’s just there,” Arthur pointed to the spot just past the tree.
“Oh!” his mother hurried forward, then crouched down to examine the stone more closely. “You really have found Arthur! How wonderful! We’ve always wondered where he was.”
Arthur looked down at the gravestone of his namesake, then at his mother, who seemed far too delighted with the slightly grim discovery. “Arthur?”
“Yes!” she stood up, still smiling. “Actually, and don’t tell your father, but I named you after him. He was my favourite out of all our ancestors.”
“You’ve never mentioned him,” Arthur pointed out suspiciously.
“Well… I did, just not by name,” Ygraine admitted a little sheepishly. “You know your father wasn’t completely happy when you announced you were gay… he probably would have been even less happy if he knew I’d named you after…”
“After the great, great however many times uncle who went to prison for being gay, and wouldn’t give up his lover.” Arthur remembered the story well. Ygraine had claimed at the time she couldn’t recall his name but then her support of Arthur had prompted huge rows with Uther at the time so Arthur couldn’t really blame her for it. And she’d talked his father round eventually, he was okay with it now.
“That’s right. But his lover ran off while Arthur was in prison, vanished without a trace. It was a fearful thing, being gay in those days. The poor lad was probably just frightened. But it broke Arthur’s heart. Arthur had protected him, during the trial, wouldn’t reveal his name. Then when Arthur was released and came home, there was no sign of his love, not even a note to say where he'd gone. Arthur searched for months but there was no trace. And then he came home again, all hope gone, nothing to carry on living for and… well, here he’s been ever since.”
Arthur gazed down at the crumbling stone, the overgrown plot. He encountered prejudice sometimes, but it was nothing compared to what this man had gone through. “But there’s a de Bois family plot,” he said. “Over by the north gate. Why isn’t he there?”
Ygraine was still looking down at the sad little plot. “His father was ashamed of him. Suicide was a sinful, shameful thing, and combined with the homosexuality as well I suppose he put him out here so that he wouldn’t contaminate the family further. Poor Arthur,” she crouched down again and made an attempt to clear away a few more of the weeds. “I want to clean this up, give him a proper headstone, poor boy. No mother, she died giving birth to him, and then a father like that. He was only 29, not much older than you are now. Oh, hold on. What’s this?” Ygraine lifted up a sodden, dark thing that had been lying in the grass beyond the headstone. “Someone’s been up here.”
It was a backpack. Arthur had a feeling even before they opened it that it was going to turn out to be Merlin’s, and he was quickly proved right. It had been lying on top of a crumpled and soggy sleeping bag. Arthur regarded both items in horrified disgust.
“He was sleeping up here?”
“Well, I suppose we know where he was for some of the time he was missing,” Ygraine commented. “He’s an unusual boy, Arthur.”
“Please don’t you start trying to warn me off him as well.” He’d thought his mother would be better than that.
“No, no. You choose your own partner, Arthur. I’ll always stick by your decisions, you know that. But this is… quite strange behaviour.”
Arthur peered inside the backpack, at Merlin’s possessions. There was a notebook, soaked through, all the ink run across the pages. His clothes, at least, would be okay after they’d been washed.
“We should get this to him,” Arthur decided. “Come on, let’s get back to the house.”
Ygraine stroked her hand gently over the earth before getting to her feet. “We’ll be back soon,” she promised softly. “You won’t be forgotten ever again.”
Gwaine was sitting in the kitchen with Merlin and Gwen. Unusually for him, he was quietly helping with the dinner, preparing a large bowl of potatoes. Arthur didn’t think he’d ever seen him help with anything domestic, ever.
“Peeling vegetables, Gwaine? What happened to your ghost hunt?”
Gwaine stopped peeling the potatoes and looked up at him. He looked hunted, fearful, just for a moment. Then he looked down at the potatoes and carried on peeling. He was, Arthur noticed, doing a very poor job, not concentrating at all.
“I’m just helping out here.” His voice didn’t sound as cocky as usual.
“Gwaine saw a ghost,” Gwen told him.
“He says it was me,” Merlin added.
“Leon and Elyan have gone down to take a look,” Gwen continued. “Gwaine found that hidden door he’s been insisting is there. They’re going to see if he’s right, and if it can be reopened.”
“A ghost?” Arthur repeated, not having got much past that part. “Seriously, Gwaine?”
Gwaine didn’t answer, which was strange in itself. Instead Arthur looked to Merlin for an explanation as he seemed to be involved in some way. “Did you play a trick on him?”
Merlin shook his head. He looked quite miserable too, and Arthur hoped for Gwaine’s sake that this wasn’t some kind of wind up.
“Leon said you’d found another Arthur,” Gwaine said, still in that not as cocky as usual voice. “Is that right?”
Arthur glanced at Merlin. He hadn’t wanted to reveal what they’d found just yet, given the way Merlin was so easily disturbed, but apparently Merlin already knew. “Yes. Up on top of the hill. There’s a grave up there. He was a great great uncle or something I suppose. We… um… found your things too, Merlin. Mum’s trying to wash your sleeping bag, but she doesn’t want to go through your pack in case of personal things. Could you go and help her? She’s out in the utility room.”
Merlin looked worried. “What, you found it up there by the grave? Is that what you mean?”
“Yeah. It’s definitely yours, there was a photo of you and some other people in the front pocket.”
“Why would it be up there?” Merlin asked in a small voice. Arthur’s heart went out to him, he sounded so frightened. “I never went up there.”
“We don’t know where you went,” Gwaine pointed out. “Even you don’t know that, or so you claim.”
“Gwaine,” Arthur warned, but his friend just shrugged.
“Well he doesn’t.”
“Why don’t you go and find mum, help her sort out your things?” Arthur suggested to Merlin. “Don’t worry about Gwaine.”
“I really don’t remember,” Merlin told him earnestly.
“I know. Go.”
Merlin hurried off, looking troubled. As soon as he was gone, Gwaine ran across and closed the door. Arthur almost stopped him, then realised Merlin was shut out, not in. It was small spaces he had problems with. There had been a panic attack a few days back when he’d been collecting tools from the outhouse and the door had swung shut in the breeze. Arthur didn’t want a repetition of that. His father was still muttering about it.
“He’s possessed!” Gwaine announced as soon as the door was closed. “That’s what the sleepwalking is. That Arthur you’ve found, he’s probably a troubled spirit and he’s latched onto Merlin. Merlin keeps asking for him, talking to Arthur, doesn’t he? It’s not you, however much you want to think it is. It’s the Arthur up there on the hill.”
That was ridiculous. Stupid Gwaine with his belief in the paranormal. He’d probably call up all his strange friends and they’d be holding a vigil in the west wing that night or something. Just as long as they didn’t start bothering Merlin. Arthur glared at Gwaine, angry just at the idea of it.
“You’d better not have said that to Merlin. He’s upset enough about what’s happening here.”
“Yeah?” Gwaine sniffed. “I bet. Let me tell you what I just saw.”
“Oh no,” Gwen groaned. “I really don’t want to hear this again, it’s creepy. I’m going to help Merlin and Ygraine. Call me when Gwaine’s finished.”
“See? Creepy!” Gwaine said as Gwen hurried out and closed the door behind her. “You just don’t want to hear it because you’re shagging him!”
“I’m not shagging him,” Arthur protested. Fat chance with the bedroom door needing to be open all the time or Merlin got panicked.
“But you want to, and you’ve got him in your bed already. What’s the matter, need some pointers? You know…”
“Shut up,” Arthur growled.
“Touchy. Or maybe not and that’s the problem. Come on, Arthur, you can see there’s something not right here.”
“It’s nothing to do with Merlin, even if there is. He suffers from schizophrenia, he can’t help his behaviour.”
“Maybe. What if he doesn’t, what if that’s just what the doctors think it is because there’s no other explanation? What if this has been with him his entire life, not just the time he’s been here?”
Gwaine had watched the Exorcist and its kin far too many times, Arthur thought. “That’s ridiculous. And if you think I’m letting you and your weird friends do any sort of ritual on him, you can think again. Even if… and I’m not saying I believe you, but even if you were right and he’s… affected in some way by something here, why would you think it’s a lifelong thing?”
Gwaine nodded to himself, then started again. “Because I saw Merlin. Down by the blocked up room. ‘Cept it wasn’t him, it was some sort of spirit. Looked like him, all thin and pale, but his hair was longer and his clothes weren’t anything our Merlin would wear.”
“You were seeing things. Projecting. I bet the others conveniently missed it.”
“It locked them out,” Gwaine admitted.
“Convenient, like I said.”
“And impossible. And what about the sleepwalking then, Arthur? Why’s he heading for the grave? Why have you just found his stuff up there with it? Where was he for those missing days?” He gave a little growl of frustration, running his hand through his hair. It always fell back just right. “Dammit, Arthur, I like Merlin! I’m not going to make up crap just for the fun of it, I know he’s got problems. God, we all know he’s got problems. But what if it is something possessing him? What if he could be cured, Arthur? He got taken over again right here in front of me and Gwen, when I got back. And Leon. Leon was here and he thinks there might be something in it. He believes me. He’s gone down with Elyan to have a look, he texted me a few minutes ago to say they’re going to see if they can open it up. Leon, who’s so straight and sensible, if he can believe me why can’t you?”
Arthur didn’t have an answer to that. And the worst thing was that Arthur himself believed it, just a little. It was the earnestness in Gwaine’s face, the fear that had been there earlier.
“What, you believe me?”
“No. But I’m willing to go down and have a look. And then when there’s nothing to be found, you can leave Merlin alone. Agreed?”
“Come on then.” Arthur turned to go, then realised Gwaine wasn’t following. “Now what?”
Gwaine shuffled a little uncomfortably. “I… um… Maybe if we go later?”
“Why?” Arthur regarded him suspiciously, then suddenly realised. “Oh don’t tell me Ghostbuster Gwaine’s actually scared? Seriously? After all the ghost watches and haunted houses and everything you’ve done over the years! That time you and your mate spent the night sitting in a graveyard?”
“This was a real one,” Gwaine admitted. “It… I’ll come down, just maybe not right now.”
And he really was scared, Arthur could see it. The fear was back the moment it was suggested he go down and face his fear. Somehow that frightened Arthur more than anything else.
“Fine. But I want to see for myself if they’re going to open this room up. Don’t let Merlin follow me though. You’ve probably already frightened him so much he’ll probably start seeing things too.”
And that was something Arthur didn’t want to have happen. Because Merlin was so sensitive he probably would just imagine he was seeing something, or his illness would have him doing it. The sooner they got that room reopened and proved there was nothing sinister about it the better as far as Arthur was concerned.
He headed off for the west wing, but it was only a few moments before he heard someone running behind him and Merlin’s voice call his name.
To be fair, he realised Merlin probably hadn’t even been anywhere near the kitchen and Gwaine hadn’t had a chance to stop him, but he still felt annoyed as he stopped and waited for Merlin to catch up.
“I’m heading for the west wing, Merlin. You know what Gwaine’s been saying about it. Best if you stay here.”
“I want to come with you. Are you going to open it up?”
“They’re doing that right now,” Arthur told him reluctantly.
“I knew it! I want to be there.”
Merlin jutted his chin out defiantly, his stance almost daring Arthur to refuse him. “I want answers. It’s me this is happening to, and if Gwaine’s right…”
“Gwaine’s talking rubbish, you’re not possessed. I’ve seen enough of his stupid films over the years. When you’re possessed your head spins round and you spew green luminous vomit.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “You know that’s not how it works.”
Arthur sighed. He’d had little hope Merlin was going to fall for that. “I just don’t want you upset or hurt.”
“I’ll be fine,” Merlin assured him, taking his hand. It gave Arthur a warm feeling inside. He knew he was already so far gone on Merlin. “I’ll be with you. I’m always okay when you’re there.”
Arthur hoped that was going to be true.
Elyan and Percival had brought in a circular saw by the time Arthur and Merlin arrived and were preparing to cut into the wall. The doorway was clearly marked out now, although Arthur could see no difference in the surface of the wall. It was a smooth finish.
“We’re opening it up,” Leon told him. “We can get at that window from this side, bring a bit of light in, it’ll make working in the area easier.” He looked past Arthur and Merlin. “Gwaine not with you? I texted him, I thought he’d want to see this after all the fuss he’s made.”
“Not right now,” Arthur said shortly.
“Still shaken up?”
Arthur didn’t miss the glance Leon gave Merlin when he asked that, and squeezed his boyfriend’s hand reassuringly. “Yeah. I don’t know what it was he thought he was eventually going to find if he carried on with his lifelong haunted house fixation. Fluffy bunnies or something?”
Leon nodded, watching Elyan line up the saw ready to cut into the wall. “I think it was fun, an excuse to go out and get plastered while waiting around for something he didn’t really believe existed. And he loves writing that wretched blog of his, coming up with conspiracy theories and tracking how many new followers he’s got. He didn’t count on anything like this.”
“You really do believe him, don’t you?” Arthur realised.
Leon shrugged. “I know him better than you do, Arthur. He’s really shaken up. Maybe he’s imagined it, maybe it was a trick of the light.”
“A trick of the light that locked me and Elyan out,” Percival put in. “I don’t like it down here, Arthur. I got a creepy feeling every time I go down this corridor, and now I know why.”
Elyan shook his head disbelievingly. Arthur supposed he was probably rolling his eyes as well, but Elyan was facing the wall so he couldn’t tell.
“There’s going to be a lot of dust when I start,” Elyan warned. “Grab a mask and stand well back. Not a lot of fresh air till we unblock that window.”
Merlin showed no sign of moving. Leon went off to the next room and came back a moment later with a bunch of dust masks and ear defenders, and handed them out.
“We should stand back a bit,” Arthur suggested as he fitted the mask over Merlin’s face. This was a bad idea, he was sure of it. Merlin was staring at the wall in fear, and barely reacted to Arthur speaking to him. Only when Arthur actually pushed him did he move, and even then he looked at Arthur in a bit of a daze.
“Maybe we should leave and come back when they’re finished?” Arthur suggested. Elyan switched on the saw, and the noise from that drowned out anything Merlin might have said. But it was clear enough, Merlin shook his head determinedly. He was staying put, which meant Arthur would be as well. Arthur put on his ear defenders, made sure Merlin did the same, and waited.
The dust rose up quite quickly, and Arthur managed to get Merlin to stand a little further back. It looked as if Merlin was saying something under the mask, but there was no chance of making out what it was. The work was going to take a while, although Elyan seemed to be cutting out a chunk at a time rather than the entire door. Which, Arthur supposed, made sense. If there was anything of interest inside then they wouldn’t want an entire brick ‘door’ falling on it.
Merlin gripped his arm suddenly, almost painfully. Arthur turned, and Merlin’s eyes were wide, staring. His mouth was definitely moving. He was, Arthur knew, having another one of his strange turns. Arthur tried to get him to walk with him, but Merlin’ wouldn’t move. In the end Arthur tried to pick him up. Arthur was pretty strong, and had carried Merlin before. This time though, it was as if he were glued to the floor.
The sawing stopped, and Arthur ripped off his ear defenders.
“…to Arthur. Take me to Arthur. Take me…”
“Merlin!” Arthur shook him, trying to get him to snap out of it. Merlin didn’t respond at all, just kept repeating the same phrase, over and over.
“Get him to shut up,” Percival growled. He and Elyan were easing out the first block. “This place is creepy enough without listening to that.”
Arthur tried again, trying to move Merlin, to get him to acknowledge Arthur was there, anything. But he kept on repeating the same thing in the same quiet, breathy voice.
“Merlin!” Arthur shook him again.
“Slap him?” Leon suggested.
“I’ll do it if he doesn’t shut up,” Percival added grumpily.
That would probably break Merlin’s jaw. Arthur really didn’t want to hurt him, but Merlin wasn’t coming out of this one as quickly as he usually did. And Percival was right, it was creepy in the dimly lit corridor.
“I’m really sorry,” Arthur told him, and then slapped Merlin across the face.
It worked. Merlin looked dazed and confused, and held his hand up gingerly against the spot where Arthur had just hit him.
“Sorry,” Arthur said again, pulling Merlin into his arms. “You weren’t coming out of it, I had to do something.”
Merlin didn’t say anything, just held him back, his face pressed into Arthur’s neck. After a moment his shoulders started to shake, and Arthur realised he was crying.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. “You can’t help it, I know.”
Merlin clung to him tighter, as if frightened he’d pull away. People probably did, Arthur realised. He dropped a kiss on top of Merlin’s head, the only place he could reach.
There was a loud creak from the direction of the wall. Elyan and Percival were removing the first block that they’d cut out.
“It’s coming,” Elyan warned. “Got it, Perce?”
The only response was a grunt as Percival took most of the weight of the block and lowered it to the floor. Elyan immediately peered into the opening, then pulled back almost as fast, pulling a disgusted face.
“That needs airing out.” He looked up at Leon. “But there’s definitely a room behind there. Gwaine was right. Give me a torch.”
Leon passed over his phone, because there wasn’t anything better to hand. Elyan grabbed it and held it through the opening, which was just about big enough for him to put his head and shoulders through.
“There’s still furniture in here,” Elyan reported. “Better preserved than anything else in the house by the look of it. Papers and everything, it’s like a time capsule.”
“Let me see,” Leon crouched down and the pair of them awkwardly huddled together, peering through the small space. “We need a better torch.”
“Mmmm,” Elyan glanced back. “Can you get one, Perce?”
The big man hurried off, and Arthur thought perhaps a little eagerly. Percival made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t enjoying this particular job at all.
The dank, fusty smell from the room floated back towards Arthur. It just smelled stale and a little damp. He wondered how long it had been bricked up for. He wanted to go and look for himself, but he couldn’t with Merlin clinging onto him like a lifeline. He would really have liked to move Merlin away from the scene, but he still wouldn’t budge.
“Maybe we should go back to the kitchen and leave them to it?” Arthur suggested, but Merlin shook his head.
“There’s a massive desk in there,” Leon called back. “We need to get that dealer in, it’s probably worth a fortune.
“Couple of paintings on the wall, can’t really see… Where’s that proper torch, Perce?” Elyan called.
Arthur shivered, inexplicably, and Merlin raised his tear-stained face to look at him. “Can you feel it too?” he whispered. “It’s so cold.”
It was colder than it had been when they started. Arthur looked around, half-expecting to see Gwaine’s ghost. But there was nothing. Percival was coming back up the corridor holding a large torch. He didn’t look at all happy to be there, and shoved the torch at Elyan when he reached them.
“Thanks,” Elyan manoeuvred the torch into the gap and switched it on. Arthur could see the increased light even from several metres away, though not a lot else as Leon and Elyan were still blocking it in their eagerness to see what was in the room. “Oh, that is one nice desk. You’ll get a bit for that, Arthur. And those candlesticks…”
“Look like silver,” Leon agreed. “Whole shelves full of books in here. That cabinet looks like it might be a Chippendale.”
“It’s not stripping!” Elyan replied, laughing, and Leon elbowed him for the poor joke.
“Arthur, you ought to take a look,” Leon called back. “It’s fascinating.”
“In a minute,” Arthur told him, then whispered down to Merlin. “Did you want to have a look? It sounds interesting.”
Merlin didn’t answer, and Arthur had a horrible feeling there was about to be another session of the strange begging.
“What’s that?” Leon asked suddenly. “Down on the floor behind the desk, over to the left. No, give me the torch.”
Arthur felt Merlin freeze against him, and knew, just knew that they’d found what they hadn’t even realised they were looking for. He stroked Merlin’s back reassuringly, trying to calm him.
“There!” Leon continued. “Is that…?”
“Oh God,” Elyan breathed. “Shit!”
“What?” Percival demanded.
Leon sat back, and looked up at the three of them wearily. “There’s a body in there.”
Arthur stared at the solid wall, and thought of the window bricked up just as securely. He felt Merlin give a little sob, but at least he hadn’t started chanting again. “This was covering up a murder.”
“Yeah. No more work here today. We’ll have to call the police, I suppose, even after all this time. Elyan,” he pulled the builder back. “Leave it for now, we can’t touch anything.”
“I’ll do it.” Percival announced and immediately headed off up the corridor in the direction of the main part of the house. Arthur didn’t blame him and was half-tempted to follow. He really wanted to see for himself, but Merlin was clinging on like a limpet.
“Leon,” he said, trying to gently free himself from Merlin’s grip. “Could you just look after Merlin for a moment?” He extricated himself, and took Merlin’s face in his hands, forcing Merlin to look at him. “I just need to see for myself. There’re going to be a lot of questions, and I just want one quick look before the police are all over it.” He couldn’t even explain why, but he felt as if he needed to see inside that room. Merlin, to Arthur’s relief, just nodded.
He wasn’t, and Arthur knew it. But this was a chance for them, if Gwaine was right and there really was something here, controlling Merlin, then maybe there was a way to stop it. A restless spirit, cut down before its time. What had his mother said about Arthur de Bois’ missing lover? He’d never been found.
Arthur crouched down, took the torch and peered into the room. It really was like a little time capsule, everything just as it would have been when the room was sealed up. There was an enormous wooden desk in the middle of the room, covered in books and papers. And on the floor, lying behind it, Arthur could see the skeleton Elyan and Leon had discovered.
He could only see the skull and upper torso, and it was impossible to tell how the person had been killed. That would be a job for the police, later, when they came to investigate a murder that they would never be able to charge anyone with because whoever did it was long since dead themselves. But the skeleton was curled up, its hands just visible close to the face. Arthur felt his stomach twist at the thought that whoever it was might have known what was happening to them, that this might not have been a quick death.
He looked up at the sound of his name. It had come from within the room. He was standing there beside the body, the man Gwaine had seen. Arthur almost backed out and away, and he didn’t blame Gwaine for doing so. But the man looked so much like Merlin. Thinner, if that were possible, paler, almost consumptive. And there was the faint glow around him, the way Arthur could just make out the cabinet on the other side. Not quite real. He’d never laugh at Gwaine and his ghosts ever again.
“Take me to Arthur.”
Arthur nodded. “I promise,” he said. “I’ll make sure you’re taken to your Arthur. But please, please leave Merlin alone.”
There was a noise behind him and Arthur glanced back to check Merlin was okay. When he peered into the room again the apparition was gone.
Elyan narrowed his eyes, obviously wondering why Arthur had been talking, but wisely didn’t comment.
Outside, faintly, he could hear police sirens. Leon rolled his eyes.
“I’m sure that’s necessary. If they hurry maybe they’ll catch the killer,” he commented.
Merlin was looking down at the opening into the room. Arthur was sure of one thing, and that was that he did not want Merlin looking in there.
“It’s a skeleton, a very old one,” he told him. “You don’t need to see. Come on, let’s go get a drink, I could do with one.”
Merlin hesitated, still looking down at the opening to the room. He swayed slightly, then looked at Arthur with the now-familiar glazed expression he got. So much for leaving Merlin alone, Arthur thought. His gentle boyfriend was apparently just too easy a target.
“Keep your promise, take me to Arthur,” Merlin whispered. “Take me to Arthur.”
“It’s hardly the most auspicious of starts,” Uther commented, watching as yet another police car drove up. At least they’d stopped using the siren. “You could still just let the charity have the place and cut your losses. Nobody’s going to want to come here after this.”
“People are ghouls,” Arthur told him. His father snorted disgustedly, but didn’t argue. He probably realised that Arthur was right. There were already journalists hanging around, trying to find out more about the dead man. A centuries-old murder was something that always sold. “If I turned the murder room into a bedroom I could probably charge double to anyone who wanted to stay there.”
Of course, as Gwaine had already proved, they probably wouldn’t want to stay a second night once they met the original occupant. Maybe he’d preserve it as a shrine to the lovers.
Most of the workers had been sent home for the day, but Arthur and his close friends and family were sitting in the kitchen after dinner, waiting for the police to finish. Ygraine had needed to give them a copy of all her family history records, and Arthur knew that once the full story of his namesake came out that the journalists were going to just eat it up.
The dead man’s name was Merlin Balinor, and as Arthur had already guessed, he was Arthur de Bois’ lost love. Ygraine had never found much information on him, other than Arthur’s heartbreak at his loss. Until now, she hadn’t even been sure of his name. But there were notes, whole essays written by the doomed man in his last days, detailing exactly what had happened and who the guilty party was.
Uther de Bois had been a monster.
Homophobia had been rife in the 1800s, and it was hardly surprising that he had been angry and ashamed over his son’s conviction. But if the accounts were correct then he’d hunted down his son’s lover, walled him up and left him to die a slow and frightening death. By the time Arthur de Bois had returned from prison, broken and confused, any redecoration would have been in place for several years. As all Arthur’s ‘indiscretions’ had taken place as a result of his literary liaisons, it would hardly have been a shock to find his study gone. He could never have imagined what secrets it held.
There were letters, many of them written over the days Merlin had been imprisoned there. They detailed what had happened, how Uther de Bois’ men had crippled him and then walled him in, left him to die. Arthur felt sick reading them, and more than once had to stop. But the last of them, short and scrawled, less elegant than the others, tore at his heart.
My Dearest Arthur,
The last of the candles is burning low now, and I fear this room will be the last thing I see.
Know that I would have waited until the ends of the earth for you, and that I never left you. I never would. You are my one and only love and always will be.
Perhaps without me you will go on to achieve the greatness I know you are capable of, my brave, sweet love. Live long and be happy, and if you ever think of me then always believe that my love remained true to the end.
Farewell my love,
It made Arthur sick to the stomach just thinking about it. Small wonder the spirit was restless.
And his namesake as well, dying believing that Balinor had abandoned him. That was terrible too. As soon as the body was released, Arthur had already started making arrangements to give them both a proper funeral. A new headstone would mark where they lay together permanently. His mother was considering what the wording and design might be.
“It’s strange, isn’t it?” his father said, still watching the police. He’d taken up residence at the window. The discovery had upset him too, and Arthur had a feeling he knew why. “The way you and Gaius’ nephew have the same names as these two. And you two pairing up just the same. And that boy carrying on so if you so much as shut a door in his face.”
Arthur didn’t want to discuss Gwaine’s theory with his father. “He’s sensitive,” was all he said.
“Doesn’t like me though, does he?”
“Oh, he doesn’t know you, dear,” Ygraine told him, going to his side and slipping her arm around him. “He’s just nervous. You can be quite intimidating when people don’t know you.”
“Hmm,” Uther took a sip from the large glass of scotch he was nursing. “Or perhaps I remind him of Uther de Bois? I haven’t exactly welcomed his relationship with our son. Perhaps he’s hiding in their room now because he thinks I’ll brick him up in the cellar or somewhere first chance I get, yes?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ygraine said, but Arthur didn’t miss the way she glanced back worriedly in his direction, or the way she nodded quickly at him, obviously trying to get him to back her up with what she was telling his father. “It’s a coincidence.”
“Actually it’s not a coincidence,” Arthur told him. “Mum says she named me after that Arthur, so really that part’s not strange at all. And… uh, she said she did it because of the whole similar names thing with you too, so again it’s nothing sinister. She didn’t know he was like that.”
“And you’d never be anything like that monster,” Ygraine continued. “You have me, and I’d never put up with you being even a fraction as callous!”
No, Arthur realised, his mother never would. And perhaps they were all linked in some way. His mother had gone through a difficult time during Arthur’s birth, the complications would probably have killed her in a less technically advanced age. He had learned enough about his namesake to know that Arthur de Bois’ mother had died giving birth to him. His father wasn’t the warmest of men, but would he really have ever turned into someone capable of such an appalling crime? Arthur decided he didn’t want to know.
He watched his father’s worried expression fade as he smiled down at the woman beside him, always so much in love with her. Arthur turned away quickly, because they were probably about to start kissing and that was always something he felt he didn’t need to see.
Merlin grew worse over the next few days.
Arthur had half-expected it, given what he’d seen, what he now completely believed to be true. It didn’t make it any easier to deal with. Half the time Merlin didn’t seem to know who Arthur was and the rest of the time he was just frightened that he was about to lose control again.
He stayed in their room as much as possible, and Arthur tried to keep everyone else out. Merlin was ashamed of what was happening to him, even though he couldn’t possibly help it. He told Arthur that he thought it must be some kind of mental weakness.
Gwaine was difficult to keep out. He’d recovered from the shock of actually seeing a ghost, and was asking lots of questions. He’d even ventured into the hidden room once the body had been removed, and The Other Side was full of photos. Gwaine himself was full of suggestions, trying to be helpful but often just succeeding in worrying Merlin more and winding Arthur up.
On the fourth day Gwaine had strolled into their room with a stack of printed articles on funerals that doubled as exorcisms. He hadn’t vetted them properly, and the first one Merlin pulled from the pile to look at described a complete failure that had resulted in the permanent maiming of the person being possessed.
“Well,” Gwaine offered, gathering the pile up quickly and heading for the door, pieces of paper dropping all around him. “She wasn’t possessed any more, that was a good thing, right?”
Arthur threw a shoe at him, and Gwaine made a run for it.
“I’m going to kill him,” Arthur growled, settling down on the edge of the bed.
“Oh don’t even joke about that,” Merlin pleaded. He was sitting on the floor, still reading a couple of the articles that Gwaine hadn’t managed to snatch back. Arthur peered over his shoulder, trying to read them in case there was another one with a less than happy ending. “Not after what happened.”
Arthur wanted to make a joke about being haunted by Gwaine, but that just didn’t seem funny now. Instead he leaned forward, running his hand through Merlin’s hair. Merlin had been okay for a couple of hours now and Arthur was preparing himself for the next attack. Merlin was rarely left alone for long now. “Don’t read those. They’re probably fakes anyway, most of these things are.”
Merlin twisted round to look up at him, raising an eyebrow. “You still think that?”
“Yes.” And he did. “Just because there’s something strange happened here, it doesn’t instantly mean that every story that’s ever been written about the paranormal is true. Most of them are just as fake as we always thought they would be.”
“Mmm,” Merlin dropped the papers and leaned back against the side of the bed, resting the side of his head against Arthur’s leg. “You know, if all this stops when you bury him…”
“When all this stops,” Arthur corrected. “It will.”
“You don’t know.”
“It has to, Merlin. I’ve read all the papers Mum managed to claim from the police as next of kin.”
“She’s not his next of kin.”
“It was Arthur de Bois’ study. She and I are his surviving next of kin. Or close enough. The police are accepting it anyway and say anything in that room is legally ours.”
“Merlin’s body isn’t.”
“No. But the guy in charge isn’t heartless. He’s never going to believe us about the haunting, but he does agree that we can bury him with Arthur. What were you going to say about when this is over?”
Merlin gave a little shrug. “Just that people will say the same thing about us. That any stories about this place being haunted were made up. Gwaine will peddle his blog, your mum will probably write that book she’s been talking about. People will come and stay here, look at the room where we found him. They’ll claim they’ve seen things, they’ll make things up. Maybe they really will see something, maybe he’ll never go away. But mostly people will just say what you did about those other stories, that it wasn’t real and that we just made it up.”
“Does it matter? They’ll know the history, know about the murder. There’s a sort of justice in that. Isn’t that enough?”
Merlin didn’t answer, and Arthur could feel him starting to tense up.
“Oh no,” Arthur breathed. “Not again.”
“Arthur,” Merlin began, his voice low and hoarse. “Take me to Arthur.”
Arthur wanted to, of course he did. But the police had no interest in releasing a nearly two hundred year old body in a hurry, and Arthur knew that if he tried to tell them why he wanted to bury it he would probably get sectioned.
There were tests and some sort of autopsy being done on the remains. It didn’t tell them anything new, just confirmed what Merlin Balinor’s writings had stated. His leg was clearly broken, and the condition of his bones did nothing to suggest he hadn’t died of a combination of pain and complications from the injury, and dehydration.
Arthur felt a huge amount of sympathy for him. The man, according to the few records they’d found, appeared to be a gentle soul who certainly didn’t deserve his fate. But his own Merlin was suffering, regularly begging him to take him to Arthur, even though his own Arthur was right there in front of him. He didn’t deserve that either.
“Arthur…” Merlin said again.
Arthur sat holding Merlin, both of them, and waited for it to pass.
“It’ll be over soon,” he promised, even though he had learned that there was no point in responding. “For both of you.”
Merlin stared past him, sightlessly, and said nothing.
The funeral, finally, was on a Friday nearly two weeks after they’d uncovered Merlin Balinor’s body.
Ygraine had told the reporters it was scheduled for the Saturday, trying to throw them off the scent, but a few had found out the truth and were hanging around. A few of the police officers had come along as well, moved by what they’d discovered during the investigation. One, Arthur noticed, was watching proceedings very warily. He wondered if the man had seen the same apparition Arthur and Gwaine had, and was making sure the funeral took place.
Arthur stood with Merlin throughout the short ceremony. Elena Gawant, a minister from a neighbouring parish, had read about the tragic lovers in the papers and asked if she could conduct the funeral. They’d accepted gratefully. Elena and Ygraine had spent days planning it all out.
Opening Arthur’s grave had been difficult. The roots from the oak tree had spread over the years and needed to be cut through. But the gravediggers from Elena’s church had managed. It was, Arthur realised, probably just another grave to them.
The service was a simple affair. Elena gave a sermon on love, understanding and tolerance, while Ygraine read a eulogy based on what she’d learned of the two men. It was as much a service of remembrance for Arthur de Bois as it was for Merlin. They’d all agreed that it was unlikely that Arthur had been given much of a send-off years ago, and wanted to put that right. Elena had added in an excerpt from an Adrienne Rich poem. Originally written about women, the few lines seemed fitting for the two lovers.
Finally, Arthur read some short passages from the writings that had been found in the study. One was Arthur’s work, another was Merlin’s, and the third was a passage from the book they had apparently written together. It was a love story, of course. Ygraine was trying to get it re-published.
“What is death, but a new beginning? What is a beginning, when the end is already written? What is love, but a circle that makes us whole? We are two sides of the same coin, you and I, and one cannot exist without the other. We should never try.”
There was a brief silence, then Elena began to read the committal while the coffin was lowered into the ground. Merlin edged closer again now that Arthur had finished his part, and Arthur put his arm around his boyfriend. He was worried. Anything could still happen.
“I ask all who wish to, to now to come forward and take this soil in your hand and bless Merlin and Arthur’s final resting place,” Elena continued.
Ygraine stepped forward and threw the first handful of soil into the grave. Arthur followed her, releasing Merlin briefly whilst they both reached down to take a handful of the soil and drop it on the coffin.
Merlin stood at the edge of the grave for a moment, looking down into it. He was still holding the dirt in his hand.
“You need to throw it in,” Arthur prompted quietly. He could see one of the reporters was taking photographs of them and knew there would probably be some stupid story run about the ‘other’ Arthur and Merlin if they’d realised.
“Arthur,” Merlin breathed, and Arthur caught hold of him, recognising the now familiar sign of the other Merlin’s presence.
“Please let him go,” Arthur whispered. “He’s mine.”
There was a sudden rush of wind, rustling through the leaves of the huge oak above them as if something were passing through. It almost sounded like human voices, talking and laughing. Almost.
Merlin gasped, and fainted dead away.
Merlin had slept most of the afternoon and evening, far more peacefully than Arthur had ever seen him do before. It did actually seem as if the spirit had released him. Arthur had stayed with him for a while, but Merlin had appeared to be not only perfectly okay but also catching up on all the sleep he’d been missing out on. So Arthur had left him to it, checking every hour just in case, not wanting to risk disturbing him.
He could see something was wrong as soon as he approached. The door, which he’d left jammed open in case someone shut it by mistake, was closed. Arthur raced up to it and flung it open, cursing himself for leaving Merlin alone.
“Merlin!” He rushed over to the bed and was about to pull the covers back when there was a groan from the lump lying there. Merlin sat up, rubbing his eyes sleepily. His hair was standing up on end adorably.
There was no trace of anything in his voice other than natural sleepy confusion on first wakening, and Arthur belatedly realised that he’d crashed into the room quite noisily. But Merlin always panicked so much if he was left in a small room with a closed door.
“Someone shut the door, I was worried.”
“That was me.”
“You? You hate being shut in.” Arthur sat down on the edge of the bed, initial panic over.
“Yeah… I think maybe that wasn’t me. Everyone kept walking past, waking me up, so I thought I’d try it.” He shrugged. “It didn’t make me want to panic or anything. Then I fell asleep.”
Arthur glanced at the door, then back at Merlin. “That’s good though, isn’t it?”
Merlin nodded, smiling. “Yeah, I think so. And I just feel better, somehow, ever since I came round this afternoon. I feel completely different. I feel cleansed, alive. It’s like I’m just me now, and I never was before. Never. If… and I know that maybe this is stupid… but if Gwaine was right about the whole me being possessed idea then I think that fainting thing earlier might have been the ghost finally letting me go.”
“I don’t ever like to say Gwaine’s right about anything,” Arthur grinned. “But maybe this once. Just don’t tell him I said so.”
Merlin gazed at him happily. Arthur didn’t think he’d ever seen Merlin look so happy. “I really think he is, this time. And he was so shaken up by what he saw, I know he’s pretending he’s got over it but I think maybe he still needs people supporting him right now too.”
“I’ll talk to him, make sure he’s okay,” Arthur promised. “Leon’s taken him out to get hammered though, it’ll have to wait until the morning.”
“Okay. And one other thing, Arthur. Do you know why it was me? I didn’t even live here, and it was always there in the background, almost as if it was haunting me, but I’d never been anywhere near the place. It’s gone now, I can feel it. I know you were Arthur’s relation, but it wasn’t you that was affected. So why me? We have the same names as they did. Gwaine said he thought we were Merlin and Arthur reborn again, and that we’d found each other.”
Gwaine said altogether too much, and Arthur suspected that as soon as he’d fully recovered from his shock his friend would be completely unbearable. He was already building up the fact that he’d seen an actual haunting, after all. But Gwaine’s idea of them being the star-crossed lovers was appealing.
“We could believe that, if you like,” Arthur told him. “It makes them losing each other a little less unbearable.”
Merlin beamed at him. Arthur loved it when he smiled at him like that, as if he’d done or said something amazingly clever or wonderful.
“You can shut the door again if you want to,” Merlin said, wriggling back down into the bed, never taking his eyes from Arthur.
“You want me to go?” Arthur couldn’t help the disappointment in his voice. The wriggling alone was making him want to stay.
Merlin shook his head, still grinning. “If Gwaine’s right then we have nearly 200 years of shagging to catch up on. We owe it to the other Merlin and Arthur. It’s our duty,” he added solemnly.
“Well, if you put it like that…” Arthur leaned down to kiss him. There was, after all, a great benefit to being able to shut himself away in private with Merlin now. Arthur intended taking every advantage, and judging by the enthusiastic way Merlin was kissing him back, there would be no objections. Merlin looked so happy that it almost seemed as if his eyes were glowing, just for a moment.
And there must have been a draught, because the door closed behind them, very gently, all by itself.
I should miss you more than any other
living being from this earth…
Yes, our work is one,
we are one in aim and sympathy
and we should be together…
Adrienne Rich, Culture and Anarchy.