Chapter 1: Day One
“Arthur come back to bed.” Merlin’s hand reached out and latched onto his belt. He poked his head out from under the duvet. “You’re dressed. It’s Sunday, why are you dressed?”
“I told you, my father’s in town, I have to go and see him.” Arthur batted his boyfriend’s hands away, laughing as he tried to finish dressing.
Merlin sat up looking delightfully dishevelled, hair sticking up like a soft black birdsnest, pillow marks on his cheek.
“But Uncle Gaius has invited us over this afternoon.” Merlin grabbed hold of Arthur’s waist and pulled him down onto the bed before curling around him like an octopus and resting his chin on Arthur’s shoulder.
“I’m only going over to Morgana’s.” Arthur turned his head to the side so he could rest it next to Merlin’s.
“I could come with you.” Merlin tightened his arms around Arthur so he couldn’t get up, and rested his head on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Trust me, you do not want to meet my father.” Arthur planted a kiss on the top of Merlin’s head as he extracted himself from his embrace. “I’ll be back.”
The sound of a child crying in the flat upstairs infiltrates his his jet-lag-induced, dead-to-the world sleep. Blinking himself into reality, he takes a moment to work out where the hell he is. A hundred pairs of blurry eyes are staring at him and reality starts to creep in. With a groan, he flops back down and pulls the duvet over his head.
Five more minutes won’t hurt.
About two seconds later, he sits up and grabs his phone. A completely blank screen stares back at him. Of course, plugging the damn thing in when he crawled to bed last night would have been too much to ask. Cursing, he drags himself out of bed and fumbles for his glasses, trying to ignore Morgana’s disturbing collection of antique dolls that suddenly come into focus – he actually prefered not being able to see those properly. He hadn’t bothered digging his pyjamas out of his suitcase last night and now he’s sure that the creepy-arsed dolls are all staring at his bits. It’s a miracle really that Morg hadn’t dragged him out of bed yet for the board meeting, but without his phone he has no idea what time it is, maybe it’s earlier than he thinks.
There is a short, baby pink, lacy, satin dressing gown hanging on the back of the door – Morgana’s taste must have seriously changed while he was away because he’s never known her to like anything pink. He pulls it on before he stumbles out into the kitchen, stubbing his toe on the leg of the table just out side his room. Morgana has left a note stuck to the fridge along with a keycard for the office. The note tells him he needs his beauty sleep, but there probably are not enough hours in the day, week or year to make him beautiful. Thanks for that, Morg.
The clock on the wall tells him it’s gone nine, he should probably head into the bank. He can’t find it within him to care, the main thing is she’s gone on without him. He can’t work out if that’s Morgana’s idea of being nice to him or if she’s trying to get one up on him. Then again, she left him coffee, she is clearly a saint.
Helping himself to breakfast, he takes his time reading the paper and generally trying to get his head around what time of day it is. Jet lag is a bitch.
Eventually, a long hot shower beckons. He should probably think about trying to get to this damned board meeting; the last thing he needs is Uther himself showing up at the door and dragging him there in this fetching pink dressing gown that barely covers anything.
Fortunately, his suit bag is hanging up on the cupboard door, so he doesn’t have to rummage around in his case for too much to find the stuff he needs. Once washed and dressed, he goes back into the bathroom to make sure he looks presentable. Sighing, he forces his contact lenses into his tired, gritty eyes. Uther made sure he knew a long time ago how much he doesn’t suit glasses, but wearing contacts now, when his eyes already feel too dry from the flight, is making him feel like someone replaced his eyes with red-hot coals.
Blinking to ease his stinging eyes, he walks back out and snags the keycard and a spare set of keys and puts them in his pocket. Then, he opens the door and his poor beleaguered eyes are attacked by the glaring sun.
Morgana’s flat is within easy distance of the First Camelot Bank, which is a good thing because driving would not have been a good idea today, to be honest, he’s probably going to have to find an office at some point for a sneaky nap. He stops off to buy more coffee on the way, even though the queue for the coffee shop is horrendous.
It’s well gone half past ten by the time the bank looms before him. Far from the huge glass skyscrapers that other banking institutions have moved into, the First Camelot is a forbidding early Victorian neo-classical building, with big stone columns and massive windows, and high-gleam marble interiors designed to make customers feel like insignificant little ants. Arthur hates it.
The first sight that catches his eye as he steps into the bank is not one he is prepared for. A face that’s been haunting his dreams, both asleep and awake, for the last five years.
Merlin still takes his breath away. His black hair is perhaps a little longer, forming into soft curls falling into his eyes as he stands leaning across the desk to show a customer something on a form. His face has filled out a little, making him less ethereal, but somehow even more beautiful; he’s finally grown into those amazing cheekbones and even more amazing ears. Arthur takes a split-second to admire his lean frame before remembering that it is no longer his place to admire Merlin.
What is Merlin even doing here, anyway? When had he moved from Wales? Why did no one tell Arthur?
At that moment, Merlin stands back upright, his eyes landing on Arthur as he does so. All the colour seems to flee his face and he moves as if to sit down.
Unfortunately for Merlin, he seems to be completely unaware that his chair rolled backwards when he stood up, and before Arthur can shout a warning or do anything, he is in a heap on the floor, knocking his cup of tea off the desk onto his lap. Arthur hopes it was not hot.
He rushes forward to help, but Merlin pushes him off with an angry, ‘leave me alone!’ as he clambers to his feet and and goes back to helping his, slightly bemused, customer. Merlin’s cheeks are now pink with embarrassment. Or possibly anger. Or both.
Sighing, Arthur spots one of his oldest friends by the counter and goes over to speak to him, colliding with a blonde woman as he does. He attempts to apologise, even though it really wasn’t his fault. All he gets for his trouble is a narrowing of her heavily kohl-rimmed eyes and a twist of her lips that suggests he’s something a dog left on the street, and he smells like it too.
“Arthur! Good to see you.” Leon claps him on the back, a huge grin on his face. “Morgana said you were back.”
“Yeah, I’m staying with her.” Arthur can’t quite keep his nose from wrinkling and instantly feels guilty. It is good of Morg to put him up, he shouldn’t be so ungrateful.
Leon must have caught the expression, however. “Oh god, you’re not in the room with the doll collection, are you?”
Arthur’s grimace must be all the answer Leon needs and he bursts out laughing.
“I’ll catch up with you later, yeah?” Arthur checks his watch. “I’d better get upstairs to this meeting, I’m already late.” He starts to move off, feeling in his pocket for the keycard Morgana had left for him. Discovering it’s not there, he realises it must still be stuck to the fridge. He turns back to Leon. “What’s the code for the door? I thought I picked up the keycard but it seems I didn’t.”
Leon, ever the sensible one, whispers the code in his ear so no one can overhear. “I’ll be up in a minute, yeah? I just have to sort something out here. Arthur nods and makes his way across the bank, smiling at a few people he knows as he passes. Merlin is gone from his desk, he can’t help but notice.
Cardiff. Why on earth did his father have to send him there? Or more precisely, why did he have to send Morgana there? Arthur, being in disgrace, had been sent off to be taught how to run a bank by his sister. Surely he could have learnt the banking trade better from London.
At least the branch itself was nicer. The main branch in London, built in the 1830s, always made Arthur very aware of where the money came from to build it, and the deep sense of familial shame that entails, although it is a family history Uther is happy to gloss over.
The branch in Cardiff was a genuinely old building, Tudor exterior adapted for use as a bank in the 1990s. A wonderful view of Cardiff Castle and a generally nice feel to the place made it feel very welcoming. The view inside the door was not bad either, as a lithe young man with short dark hair, exactly Arthur’s type, was carrying a tray of tea through the staff door to one side. The man, or boy rather, looked about eighteen, with the most stunning set of cheekbones Arthur had ever seen, and long dark lashes. He almost wondered if this boy was real, or some figment of his imagination, or perhaps one of the fae. At that moment, the boy looked up and the bluest eyes Arthur had ever seen met his.
And then, he was pulled back to reality as the door swung shut behind the boy, knocking his arm and sending the whole tea tray crashing to the ground.
Arthur couldn’t help himself, he threw his head back and laughed.
On impulse, he turns to go down the stairs towards the staff toilets rather than going straight up to the board meeting. Just as he had hoped, Merlin’s there, changing into a clean pair of trousers.
“I can’t believe you still have those pants.”
Merlin nearly falls over a second time, one leg in his trousers and one leg out. The underpants in question are ones Arthur always loved, with little Welsh dragons emblazoned on them. He tries not to laugh at the memory of a Christmas party where Merlin had got so drunk he’d started talking to the dragons in the gents loo of the local pub.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Merlin’s accent always did sound more Welsh when he was angry. He quickly starts to drag his trousers up his long legs.
Arthur doesn't know if 'here' refers to the staff loo, the bank or the country. “Board meeting,” is all he replies.
“That happens upstairs. Not perving around in the men’s toilet.” Merlin fastens his trousers, shoving his tea-stained ones into a locker and slamming it shut. Another little dragon, this time on a keyring, bounces up and down in the lock with the force of the slam. The new trousers don’t quite reach Merlin’s ankles. Arthur feels an unreasonable wave of jealousy grip him at the thought of Merlin wearing another man’s trousers.
“Merlin, I wanted to speak with you—”
“Well I don’t want to talk to you!” Merlin tries to walk past him.
"Merlin—” He puts his hand out and catches Merlin’s arm, guiltily loving that he finally has Merlin close enough to touch.
“Merlin?” A quiet voice speaks from behind Arthur. “Is everything alright?”
Arthur turns his head and notices a young man in a bank uniform wearing a badge with the word ‘trainee’ on it. He has dark curls and high cheekbones and could almost be a younger, shorter Merlin, although with large pale-blue eyes rather than the deep almost navy eyes that have been haunting Arthur’s dreams for the last five years.
“I’m fine, thank you, Mordred.” Merlin uses Arthur’s momentary distraction to yank his arm away. “Leave me alone, Arthur. Go to your meeting and then fuck off back to Sydney. We have nothing to say to each other.” He shoves his way past Arthur and out the door, Mordred giving Arthur a curious look before trailing after him like a baby duck.
Arthur rubs his eyes tiredly, wishing he could just go home and take out these damn contacts and fall back into bed and start the day again. It’s not even eleven yet and already he just wants today to be over. Sighing, he smoothes down his hair, straightens his tie, and makes his way back to the stairs to the board room. He can’t even take the lift without that keycard, he’ll have to walk all the way to the top floor and then beg someone to let him in. This day just could not get any worse.
On his way out of the staff room, he bumps into someone running up the stairs.
“Sorry, sorry!” he starts to say before getting a good look at the man. “Lance! How are you? God, I haven’t seen you since Uni, what, about seven years? I forgot you came to work here. Look, I’m supposed to be in a meeting, but let’s catch up after? When’s the wedding, by the way? I heard you and Gwen were getting married.”
Lance starts off looking a little wary but starts to relax as Arthur rambles. However, he tenses up again as soon Gwen is mentioned. “Uh, we broke up, actually.”
“Shit. I’m sorry, mate, I had no idea.” He and Lance used to be so close at uni, and they did keep in touch for a few years when he first moved to Australia, but they haven't even so much as emailed in ages and Arthur feels a stab of guilt at not keeping in touch with his friends.
Lance nods. “Yeah. Look, I really have to go, I’ll see you around, ok?”
And with that Lance disappears off up the stairs leaving Arthur feeling somewhat snubbed.
Arthur hates meetings like this. They always drag on for hours with things that could have been put in a few succinct bullet points in an email. And to make matters worse, he endured a twenty-three hour flight, not including three hours waiting around in Singapore airport, just for the privilege of being here, although it’s nice being back home away from the humidity of Sydney.
He resists the temptation to close his eyes as his uncle Agravaine drones on about profits and forecasting and how the US arm of the bank is doing so much better than the UK one, and definitely better than Arthur’s effort over in Australia. A small ball of paper hitting him on the forehead makes him jump. Morgana sticks her tongue out whilst father isn’t looking and mouths, ‘wake up’. From next to him, he hears Leon chuckle.
“Is something distracting you, Mr Kaye?” Uther’s steely glare is, as ever, enough to make all three of them sit up straight, and some of the other board members too.
“Not at all, Sir Uther, I simply wondered if we might take a short comfort break,” Leon replies with a completely straight face. “Maybe we could get some fresh coffee sent in.”
“I was rather hoping to finish this meeting this side of Christmas.” Uther’s face suggests Leon is the biggest waste of space he’s ever come across. It really had been too much to hope that his father would agree with Leon’s suggestion. Arthur resorts to pinching himself to try and stay awake as the meeting drones on.
Sometime later (maybe half an hour, maybe half a minute, Arthur isn’t sure, but he definitely did not fall asleep) the door to the meeting room opens with a resounding crash and a blonde woman walks in; it takes a moment for Arthur to place her as the woman who had bumped into him downstairs.
“Who are you?” Uther looks up from the list of figures he has in front of him. “How dare you just walk in here like this. How did you even get up here?”
Her eyes flash towards him and Arthur is shocked by the cold hatred he sees there. “Uther Pendragon, I need you to come with me. The rest of you can wait downstairs with everyone else.”
“I beg your pardon? You do not walk into my bank and give me orders. What is the meaning of this?”
The woman gives a sigh and then puts two fingers to her mouth, letting out a sharp whistle. Two men come into the room behind her wearing what appear to be knights helmets covering their faces. More worryingly, they each are carrying a large automatic gun. She raises her chin and gives them a smile that is far from nice. “Did I forget to mention? This is a bank robbery.”
For some reason, Arthur always assumed he would be more useful than this in the face of a robbery or other such life threatening occurrence. In his head, if anyone was stupid enough to try and rob a bank with one of the highest tech security systems in the world, he would have stood up to them and fought back, and then Merlin would have been suitably impressed and fallen into his arms.
As it is, he’s not even sure where Merlin is and all he does is meekly follow the rest of the board members down the stairs. It turns out, being brave when looking down the barrel of a gun is not so easy in real life as it looks in the movies.
Down in the public area of the bank, the staff and customers are all lying on the floor like a scene from every bank robbery movie he’s ever seen. He honestly can’t believe it could be this clichéd. Seriously, who even robs banks in person in this day and age anyway? Have these people never heard of the internet?
“You lot, get on the floor with the rest.” A masked goon waves a gun at them and Arthur and the other board members move to comply.
“You too, Princess, on the floor.” The idiot is looking straight at Morgana, who they brought down in the lift, and even though Arthur can’t see his face, he can almost feel him smirking at her. The man has a northern accent, Arthur notes, filing the information away in case he needs it later.
Before Arthur can defend Morgana, one of the bank’s security guards half stands from where he was lying on the floor. “What is your problem? Can’t you see the chair? How exactly do you think she’s supposed to get down on the floor?”
“Who the fuck asked you?” The man turns to him and waves the gun in his face. “Get back down, there’s a good boy.”
“She is not a threat to you! For fuck’s sake what is your problem?”
The gunman gets right up in the security guard’s face and points his gun at him. “Get. Back. On. The. Floor.” Then he hits him hard in the stomach so he falls to the floor. Then he rounds on Morgana again. “Do I have to tell you again too?”
It’s impossible to read the man’s expression behind the mask he wears but an air of malevolence radiates from him. One of the other bank robbers comes over, a giant of a man who makes Arthur feel short, despite being just shy of six foot. “Why are you threatening a girl in a wheelchair?” The man’s voice is strangely gentle. He probably doesn’t ever need to shout. “Come on, we need to get this lot secured.” He physically pulls the smaller gunman away from Morgana and the security guard.
The assailants systematically go round and fasten everyone’s hands with gaffer tape.
His father and uncle have already been dragged off somewhere, but everyone else is still here. He tries to do a quick head count. There are about fifteen people here, staff and customers, and at least five gunmen. A girl of about eleven is crying quietly into her mother’s shoulder. One of the customers, the elderly gentleman Merlin had been helping, is sporting a large bruise on his temple from where he’d clearly been struck, the boy Mordred is next to him trying to see if he is alright. Of Merlin himself, there is still no sign, which is worrying.
He catches Gwen’s eye across the room, she gives him a small watery smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.
It feels like they sit there for an eternity. Marble flooring may look pretty and shiny, but it is cold and hard to sit on and Arthur is pretty sure his bum went to sleep half an hour ago.
Eventually, two more masked men come in and speak to one of the men guarding them. Presumably they must have some sort of system for telling each other apart, because Arthur hasn’t got a clue.
Turning, they walk over and one of them grabs Arthur by the arm pulling him to his feet. The other takes hold of Morgana’s wheelchair and starts moving her to the exit.
“Hey! Where are your manners? You can’t just wheel me about without so much as a by your leave like I'm a sack of spuds in a wheelbarrow!” Typical Morgana, still playing lady of the manor. He’ll never tell her, but Arthur admires her a little. “If you free my hands, I can wheel my own chair.”
The security guard from before struggles to his feet. “Leave her alone, why can’t you pick on someone your own size!”
“Sit down!” one of the gunmen yells. “I won’t tell you again!” He sounds like the same one from before.
“Will, I’m alright, sit down.” Morgana has somehow regained her composure and if it weren’t for her bound hands you could easily believe she was the person in charge of the situation.
“No, they can’t treat people like this! I mean, I get the whole hating Pendragon thing.” The security guard turns a cold glare on Arthur, of all people, before looking back at Morgana. “But most of us are just doing a job.”
“I told you to sit down and shut up.” The gunman takes a menacing step forward, but the security guard has clearly labelled himself as defender of the people and won’t be deterred.
Morgana’s scream registers with Arthur before the sound of the gun or anything else. One minute the security guard is running his mouth off, the next he is lying on the floor, choking on his own blood.
The rest of the people in the room start to panic. Sound of sobbing increase, screams, shouts. Another of the gunmen, the one standing next to Arthur has to fire his gun towards the ceiling twice more before they quiet down.
“You deal with this,” he says to the others. Turning towards Morgana and Arthur, he gestures to the exit with his gun. “You two. It will be easier if you just do as you are told. And you'd better come with us.” The last is said to the man who shot the gun. As much as Arthur doesn't want to be in the same room as this maniac, at least he won't be shooting anyone else up here.
There are several different vaults in the First Camelot. There is the large vault upstairs that holds the money, and the slightly smaller vault, more of a strong room next to it that holds the safety deposit boxes for the ordinary people. Then there are several smaller rooms further along, where the more important clients keep the most valuable things, rooms where top-level clients can study the contents of their safety deposit boxes in peace.
These semi-public rooms are not where they currently are. They had to take the elevator down to the other vault at a level lower than everything except the dampener in the basement. This vault is not widely known of, only a select few of the most important people in the country, and those at the top level of the bank, know of its existence, let alone the contents within. This vault requires passwords and retina scans and thumb prints to open, lest the contents fall into the wrong hands.
The heavy door into the vault itself is still shut, thank goodness, although a wound on his father’s face shows that they had a good try at getting him to open it.
Uther is propped up on the floor, blood is streaming down his face from a cut near his left eye and he is clutching his left arm. Uncle Agravaine, on the other hand, is looking somewhat dishevelled, but otherwise unharmed. He’s not even sure what his uncle is doing there, as far as Arthur is aware he knows nothing about that vault. Two of the robbers are drilling in the side of the door to the vault; that will never work.
“What have you done to him?” Arthur tries to go over to his father but is held back by one of the gunmen. He speaks louder to be heard over the incessant noise of the drill. “Father, are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Arthur. Don’t let her talk you into anything!” Uther’s breathing sounds laboured, and Arthur really needs to go to him. “Don’t open that vault, whatever you do.”
“As sickeningly sweet as this all is, do shut up.” The blonde from the boardroom places a warning hand in the centre of Arthur’s chest as he tries to move forward again. “Not that way. Over there.” She shoves him to the opposite wall from his father and uncle, nearly making him fall over Morgana’s wheelchair in the process. He narrowly manages to avoid landing on her, careening heavily into the wall instead. His bound hands make him clumsy as he tries to catch himself, and his right wrist smacks into the wall with force making him cry out. Morgana reaches out to try and comfort him, but with her own hands bound in front of her, there is little she can do.
“You took your time.” She is talking to the two guards now, all but ignoring Arthur. “And will you two stop that for a moment, I can’t hear myself think!” That last is thrown over her shoulder to the men with the drill. The noise cuts out.
“Sorry, Morgause, there was a bit of an incident.” One of the men shifts uncomfortably. From his accent, Arthur is pretty sure it’s the same one who shot the security guard.
There is fire in the woman’s eyes as she stalks forward. “What have I told you about using names, Valiant?”
Beside him, Morgana lets out a small gasp. “Valiant? As in Babyface Valiant? You work for us! What the hell?”
The woman, this Morgause, ignores her. “What happened upstairs?”
The gunman raises and drops one shoulder. “One of them was causing trouble. I had to shoot him.”
Morgana turns in her chair and look at him aghast. “‘One of them’? You two worked security together, he was supposed to be your friend! How could you?”
“He was no bloody friend of mine! That bastard got the whole office calling me Babyface!”
“And that means he deserved to get shot?”
“I thought I said to keep the killing to a minimum?” Morgause is still ignoring Morgana, all her attention focused on Valiant.
“It was only one. He deserved it.” Valiant’s callousness makes Arthur want to throttle him.
“He was a non-magical?” Morgause waves her hand dismissively when Valiant nods. “Then he’s expendable.” Morgause is clearly no better than Valiant.
A cold shudder makes its way through Arthur. Expendable? For not having magic? Just like him and Morgana and his father and uncle, and most of the world for that matter.
Morgause finally turned her cold stare on Arthur and Morgana. “Daddy dearest is refusing to cooperate. I wonder if he might be more amenable if I kill one of you.” Yes, clearly expendable.
“Leave them be, your argument is with me.” Uther attempts to lever himself upright using Agravaine for support, but Agravaine makes no effort to help him as Uther doubles over in pain.
“Father, what’s wrong?” Morgana tries to move her hands, presumably so she can wheel herself over to Uther, but the tape around her wrists stops her.
“I’m fine, Morgana, stop fussing.” Uther’s face is a strange grey colour and has taken on a waxy sheen.
“There, he said he’s fine. Now, as wonderful as this little family reunion is, I really don’t see how it is helping us to get this vault open.” Morgause sounds bored, but there is a little twitch playing around her lips.
“He is clearly not fine! What have you done to him?” Arthur tries to move to him again, and yet again is pushed back. “Let me help him! Can’t you see he’s unwell!”
“Agravaine, does he have his pills?” Morgana asks.
Agravaine looks up at her and then back down at Uther. “I have no idea.”
“Well find out!” The outrage in Morgana’s voice makes Agravaine bend down and search Uther’s pockets, but he straightens up again, shaking his head.
“Wait, what pills?” Arthur is feeling a little out of the loop here.
Morgause rolls her eyes and tips her head to one side, examining Arthur and Morgana. “Which one of you would I have to kill to get daddy dearest to open that vault?” The words are said casually, like she’s asking if she should have soup or a sandwich for lunch, but loud enough so Uther can hear.
“I told you.” Uther spits the words out, his breathing heavy. “I can’t open the vault! It’s on a timer switch! If I try to open it now, it will lock down completely and a call will go straight to the police.”
“So how long will it take to open?” Morgause does not look happy, nor does she look like she entirely believes it, which is fair enough because Arthur knows for a fact that his father is lying.
“All access to that vault requires a twenty-four hour warning to set the system.” Uther pauses and draws a deep, shuddering breath. “All clients are warned of this, although few use this facility these days.”
“No, I don’t suppose they do. Why would anyone need to store magical artefacts when you people already have them all?” She sneers down at Uther like he’s something repugnant before grabbing hold of Agravaine’s collar and dragging him over to the door, barking at the two men with the drill as she goes. “You two, get on with your work. You.” She turns to the gunmen guarding Arthur and Morgana, stay here and keep an eye on them.” She speaks to the guards as though they were her personal slaves.
“Wait, where are you taking my uncle!” Arthur calls after her. He gets no response as the two disappear from the room.
“Father? Do you have your pills?” Morgana asks again as the noise from the drill resumes. She looks over at the two men with guns and raises her voice. “Well, which of you is going to free my hands?” When there is no response she sighs. “Listen to me, by keeping my hands tied you are breaching the civil rights of a disabled person – I need my hands to move my chair. My father is in difficulty, so untie my hands and let me go to him.”
The two guards share a look. One of them shrugs. “I’m not freeing her. She’s not supposed to be moving about anyway.” Valiant, of course.
The other looks over at Uther and then back at Morgana. “It’s not like she can run away or anything. And he really doesn’t look right.” There is something in the second man’s voice that Arthur is sure he recognises but he can’t place it, the helmet distorting it somewhat.
“What do you care? You hate the bastard.” Valiant shrugs. “Do what you like, but I’m having nothing to do with it. When the Ice Queen gets back, this is on you. And for the record, I said not to.”
The second guard hesitates a moment and then crosses to Morgana, crouching down in front of her to cut through the tape binding her wrists. “Please don’t make me regret this.” There it is again. Arthur is almost positive he knows this man.
Morgana takes a moment to rub some life back into her hands before steering her chair over to Uther. “Father? Have you got your pills?”
Arthur moves to follower her but Valiant puts a hand out to stop him.
“Let him, it’s easier to keep an eye on them if they are all together.” The other guard is clearly the weak link here, and Arthur should probably be trying to figure out who he is and using to his advantage, but he can’t think about that now, there are more important things to worry about.
“What pills?” He moves over and kneels down next to his father, his bound hands making it a little awkward.
“For his heart. He has angina.”
“Morgana…” Uther shoots her a warning look.
“Since when?” Arthur asks. He can’t believe they’ve kept something like this from him.
“Father, he needs to know!” Morgana levels a look at Arthur. “He had a mild heart attack last summer. He’s fine now, he just needs to look after himself. Not get stressed. He’s got pills for angina, he’s supposed to take them regularly, or when he feels an attack coming on.”
Uther pulls a face that tells Arthur everything. His father is playing this down. He’s having a damned heart attack and pretending he’s fine!
He turns to the guards, angling more towards the slightly shorter of the two. “We have to get him help, please!”
“Sorry, mate, it’s more than my life’s worth!” The man shakes his head and takes a step back, raising his hands helplessly as he speaks.
“I don’t know why you want to help that bastard anyway, I wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire.” Valiant is not someone that Arthur knows, but he’s quickly growing to hate him.
“That is my father you’re talking about, and he’s a far better man than some creep like you who robs his place of employment and shoots his friends!”
“Arthur, stop.” Morgana puts her hand on his arm. “This is not helping!”
Uther is clutching his arm more now, doubled over in pain, his face an ugly grey colour.
“Do something!” Arthur pleads to the guard that is not Valiant.
The guard takes one look at Uther and nods before making a move towards the exit.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” He can’t help but wonder if Morgause was standing outside listening. “I thought I told you to stay here?”
The man’s response is hard to make out from here with the helmet in the way, but he gestures back towards Uther.
Morgause sends a cold, disinterested look towards them. “I don’t believe he has a heart. This is probably all a scam, just like that crap about the timer on the vault. And what, exactly, were you planning on doing? Calling an ambulance? How do you see that working out? ‘Sorry, you can’t take him to hospital, we’re robbing the bank?’”
She comes into the room properly, dragging someone in behind her and pushing them to the floor. It’s not Agravaine, who she’d left the room with, but instead Arthur is shocked to see it is Gwen, her hair dishevelled, her shirt ripped and a bruise forming around her eye.
“Guinevere! What have you done to her?” Arthur tries to go to her but is again stopped by Valiant.
“Gwen, are you alright!” Morgana asks.
Morgause looks down at Arthur and Morgana, expression never changing. “Your little systems expert here didn’t seem to know anything about any timer switch.”
“I’m sorry, I tried.” Somehow, Gwen still manages to look almost regal, even like this. “I didn’t know what you’d told her.”
“You must know how to override this system.” Morgause crosses back over to Gwen and pulls her up to her knees. “I need you to get me into that vault.”
“I can’t, there is no override. Only a Pendragon can open the vault.” Gwen is speaking the truth, almost. MI5 has an emergency code somewhere. It’s never been used.
“Is that so?” Morgause lets go of Gwen, making her fall to the floor again, and instead tries to drag Uther to his feet.
Uther’s breathing is shallow, his eyes closed. Arthur is not even sure that he knows Morgause is back in the room.
“Leave him alone, can’t you see the state he’s in?” Morgana moves her chair forward like she’s planning on ramming Morgause.
“Why do you care? He’s hardly father of the year.” Morgause lets Uther go and turns to examine Morgana in a way Arthur doesn’t like.
“That doesn’t mean you can just leave him to die!” Arthur puts his hand on Morgana’s shoulder to stop her. Morgause still has a gun in her hand, and the last thing they want is for that to go off and kill someone else. “What have you done to my uncle? Where is he?” he asks Morgause.
“Hmm. I wouldn’t worry about him.” Morgause looks back down at Uther for a moment before returning her gaze to Morgana. “How about we strike a deal? Open the vault and I won’t kill the hostages upstairs? I’ll even let you go, and you can get daddy dearest to hospital, just as soon as you open that vault and let me get what I came for.”
Morgana looks down at Uther, clearly assessing her options. “And what are you planning on doing when you get whatever it is you came for?”
“That is none of your concern, unless you plan on helping me.” Morgause narrows her eyes. “One hostage every five minutes till one of you opens the vault, how does that sound?”
“I already told you, no.” Morgana folds her arms and stares Morgause down.
There is clearly something Arthur is missing here. He needs to talk to Morgana, but first, he has to get that safe open so they can try and get his father to hospital.
“I’ll do it.” Arthur isn’t sure of the best course of action himself, but he doesn’t want father or any of the other hostages to die. Maybe if he opens the vault, Morgause will let them go and they can get Uther to hospital in time.
“Arthur, no.” Morgana looks genuinely worried. “That is not what he wants! He—”
A commotion from the doorway stops her from saying more. One of Morgause’s men comes in, pushing a tall, skinny figure with a mop of black hair, wearing trousers that do not reach his ankles. “Merlin!” Arthur breaths the name, he’s not even sure if anyone else heard him over the sound of the drill.
“Found this one lurking about outside.” The voice from behind the mask is female, which probably shouldn’t surprise Arthur but does anyway. She pushes Merlin forward so he stumbles and ends up sprawled on the floor next to Gwen in typical graceful Merlin fashion.
Morgause frowns. “What was he doing?”
The guard shrugs her shoulders. “Listening, as far as I know.”
“Finally, the missing one. Did Alvarr say this was the last one?”
It is barely perceptible, but Arthur is sure he feels Morgana stiffen beside him at the mention on the name. He’ll have to ask her about that later. He returns his attention to Morgause.
“He ran the trace again, he’s pretty sure this is the only one we didn’t get before.”
“Good, maybe now he can get back to disabling that magic deadener.” Morgause bends down and peers at Merlin. “What did you think you were up to, hmm? As if a pathetic thing like you could have stopped me.”
She straightens, and looks back over at Arthur. “Very well, let’s get this damn vault open, and then you can save his life, if you must.”
Morgana reaches out and grabs hold of Arthur’s arm. “Arthur, are you sure we should be doing this?”
“We can’t just leave him on the floor to die, Morgana!”
Arthur stands and walks over to Morgause. “You’ll need to free my hands.”
“Arthur, don’t…” Merlin receives a vicious kick to the ribs from the woman in the mask and he lets out a stream of curses. That’s new, Merlin hardly ever used to curse. “You don’t understand, Arthur! The things in this vault, they should never fall into the hands of any of these people! The could be used for all sorts of evi—.” He gasps in pain as she kicks him again.
“We are wasting time, Stop them killing anyone and get father help now. Let’s just get on with this.” Arthur wants to stop her hurting Merlin, but he is also growing frustrated, if they don’t hurry up, Uther will die anyway. Hell, they might already be too late. “I’ll make a bargain with you. You send one of these goons up to my father’s office to retrieve his pills, and promise to let us go as soon as you have what you want, and I’ll open that safe for you.”
Morgause looks at him for a long moment then nods. “Very well.” She points to the shorter of the two men, the one who had nearly gone for help before. “You, go to the office and fetch the pills.”
“They’re in the desk drawer, on the right-hand side. You’ll need the key.” Morgana rummages in Uther’s jacket pocket, ignoring his feeble protests. Clearly she no longer intends to fight this.
The guard leaves quickly. Arthur turns to the vault with a grim face. Should he start now or wait for the pills? They have already delayed getting Uther help for so long, will the pills even work? But then, can he guarantee Morgause will let them fetch help once the safe is open?
“You assume, just because I happen to be robbing you, that I am evil.” Morgause is watching Morgana again, she keeps doing that. “People are not good or evil, they just have differing opinions and experiences to you.”
“Well some people still do some pretty fucked-up evil shit,” Merlin says from the floor clutching his ribs.
“Will you shut up!” For the first time, Morgause seems a bit rattled, finally losing the supercilious smirk she’s been wearing all day.
“Why? Don’t you like to hear the truth?” Merlin raises his chin defiantly.
“What would some pathetic little bank clerk know about the truth?” Morgause sneers at Merlin as she moves right up into his space. “What could some jumped up little dogsbody without a shred of magic to him understand about being repressed, degraded, subdued? What would you ever understand about having people turn away from you in fear and disgust just because you have magic? About wearing a tracer to track what magic you use? About coming into buildings like this one, and not being able to feel that magic? What the hell would someone like you understand about anything?”
It is a testament to Merlin that he does not flinch. Rather, he raises his chin defiantly. “I know that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about things. I know that threatening and hurting people won’t get you what you want.”
“Do you have any idea how long my people have been oppressed?” Morgause slams her hand against the wall. “Where has trying to be reasonable got us? All it has done is let people like that think they can control us! We are taking back control.”
Merlin lets out a hollow laugh and shakes his head. “Do you really think you are the first to think of that? All it does is make them hate you more, make them put more laws in place.”
“They would have no reason to fear us if they did not treat us so!”
“And how is proving yourself just as bad going to help? Be the bigger person, run for parliament, change the law!”
“I can’t run for parliament.” Morgause speaks very clearly, like she’s trying to get her message across to an imbecile. “I have magic and cannot be trusted. Just like I cannot hold a job in a bank in case I steal money, or as a lawyer in case I influence the outcome of a trial – even though all these institutions have these anti-magic shields on them. I might harm your kids, so I can’t be a teacher. I can’t be a sportsman in case I have an unfair advantage, or unless I get dragged into the underground magicals fighting league. I can’t even work in a hospital, despite the fact that magic could be used to save so many lives, because obviously I am up to no good! I basically can’t do anything except pick up rubbish and clean toilets and all the other jobs your sort don’t want!” By the time she’s finished her tirade, there is spittle flying into Merlin’s face.
“So your answer is to leave a man to die on the floor rather than helping him?” Arthur steps in to help Merlin. “Or to bully a girl in a wheelchair who has nothing to do with this? Or murder a security guard who was only doing his job?”
“All war has casualties.” The look of hatred in her eyes makes him take a step back. “I believe I said one hostage every five minutes? It’s been longer than that.” She nods to the guard who brought Merlin in and he instantly leaves the room.”
“No! I said I’d do it!” Arthur struggles in his bonds but can do nothing.
“And what of the casualties if we let you into that safe?” Morgana looks conflicted, which Arthur totally understands. Saving Uther means jeopardising the integrity of the bank and letting the contents of the vault fall into the hands of magicals.
“I would have thought you, of all people might have understood.” Morgana flinches at Morgause’s words and her eyes flicker towards Arthur. “Oh dear, are we worried of what he will say if he knows? What will happen to you then?”
“Shut up!” Morgana lifts her chin and stares Morgause down.
“Or what?” The smirk on Morgause’s face is pure evil now. “What will you do to me for letting daddy and baby brother know you have magic?”
Uther, all but forgotten for a moment, makes a strangled noise and reaches out to Morgana.
“I’m sorry.” She takes his hand and looks for a moment like she might cry, which would be the first time Arthur had seen her cry since her mother died when she was twelve. Uther pulls his hand from her and turns his face away, even as his breathing becomes more laboured.
“You see? This is the man you want to save?” Morgause is gloating now.
“I rather thought you were counting on us wanting to save him,” Arthur says, roughly. He’ll process this news about Morgana later, he can’t deal with it now. It’s probably not even true.
“Arthur?” Morgana starts to move her chair over to him.
“Not now, Morgana.” There is a part of him that is sure she is right, Uther himself did not want this. But he’s his father…
“I just want—” She tries again
“NOT NOW, Morgana.” He feels guilty for shouting at her, but he can’t back down.
“Do you see?” There is something oily about Morgause’s tone that makes his skin crawl. “These are the people who you give your loyalty to? Now they know, they’ll throw you to the dogs as soon as look at you.”
“For fuck’s sake, will you shut up?” He’s letting her get to him, he should know better.
“Join me, Morgana. We are alike. I can help you, teach you to use that magic that you are so afraid of. What have these men ever done to earn your loyalty?”
“Don’t listen to her, Morgana, she’s just manipulating you. She’s a witch, you can’t trust her.”
“Like me?” Morgana’s voice is small.
He turns and looks at her. “You are not a witch.”
“But I am, Arthur. I have magic, that makes me a witch, doesn’t it? Am I untrustworthy?”
He tries to ignore the way Morgause is smirking.
“That’s… that’s different.”
“Why? Because I grew up with you?"
Arthur gulps. He can’t think about this now, his father might be dying, the bank is being robbed… he can’t cope with this right now! He doesn’t know the right response to give.
“No.” He shakes his head. “You don’t do stuff like this. You don’t practise magic. You would never hurt anyone. Look at all the harm it does! It corrupts people.”
“Well that is me told then, isn’t it? I have magic, Arthur. I didn’t choose it.”
“But you don’t… you don’t use it? Right?”
She gives a hollow laugh and glances down to his bound wrists. “And if I asked you to just not use your hands?”
“Arthur.” Merlin is sitting on the floor, still clutching his ribs, giving Arthur a strange look he can’t decipher. “You used to be a better person than this. She’s your sister. Surely if you can forgive anyone…”
“I can’t do this now.” Arthur closes his eyes. “I can’t make all these decisions right now. My father is dying.”
“And what will you do then?” There is venom in Merlin’s voice. “What will you do without daddy to make all your decisions for you? No one to tell you where to go, what to do, what to think, who to marry?” This is not quite the Merlin Arthur remembers, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose much less wish anyone harm. “No wonder you can’t make decisions at the moment.”
“There shouldn’t be a decision to make! Arthur. I am your sister.” The hurt in Morgana’s voice is palpable. He refuses to look at her instead making the mistake of glancing over at Morgause. The look of triumph on her face makes him sick, he’s played right into her hands here.
Morgause’s henchman finally comes back with Uther’s pills and a bottle of water.
“How many does he take?” Arthur still can’t look at Morgana, this is too much to process. He’s been brought up his whole life to believe that magic corrupts, that people who practise magic are evil, he can’t level that up in his head with his sister. He holds his hands out to the man who brought the pills so he can cut his bonds; a deal is a deal, he'll have to open the vault now.
“Two.” She takes the pills and water but when she tries to give them to Uther, he turns his head away.
Arthur tries to rub a little life back into his hands now they are free. “Give them to me. He probably thinks you are trying to kill him.” Arthur moves over and snatches the pills from Morgana’s hand, ignoring the small whimper she gives. And yes, she deserves better, but he can only cope with so much, and his father has to take priority. He’ll make it up to her.
He presses the pills to his father’s lips and then makes sure he swallows them with water. He tries to kid himself that he can see the colour starting to return, but he has a horrible feeling they’ve left this too late.
“What do you plan to do with the artifacts?” There is a slight tremble to Morgana’s voice, but she holds Morgause’s gaze steadily.
“They will be kept safe by the people they actually belong to, rather than the people who have stolen them. We will use them to return magic to the world, and to return magic users to their rightful place in it. There will be no more hiding in the shadows, or bending knee to those who are inferior. Uther Pendragon has had his way for far too long. This ends today.”
Morgana nods almost to herself.
“We are going to make the world a better place, Morgana. I told you, the Sisterhood needs you, join us and we can make everything right. Put magic back where it belongs, at the heart of the world!” Morgause looks a little unhinged to Arthur. How unstable is she? He knows magic is dangerous, it rots the brain, makes magic users incapable of rational thought. She is clearly not rational, or why would she be doing any of this.
“Are you going to hurt people?” He’s not sure if Morgana is just playing for time, or if she’s actually considering Morgause’s words. “I don’t want to start a war.”
“Of course she’s going to hurt people, can’t you see that she’s insane? This is what magic does.” Before the words are fully out of his mouth, Arthur realises he sounds exactly like his father, something he always swore he’d never be.
“Arthur!” The very fact that the reprimand comes from Gwen makes him feel like the lowest of the low. He knows there is no proof to these claims. He can only blame the stress of the situation for apparently turning him into his father.
“We are going to lead the people,” Morgause says, curling her lip at Arthur in a way that shows him exactly what she thinks of him. “We will create a new world order, show them a better way.”
“Brainwash them with magic, in other words?” Merlin spits the words out like they might poison him.
“A deal is a deal.” Morgause looks over at Arthur, ignoring Merlin.
“Give me a minute!”
“I think I have given you quite long enough. You seem to forget who is in charge here.”
Arthur squeezes his father’s hand and moves to stand. Morgana, however, beats him to it. “I’ll do it.”
“Morg, you don’t have to.” Arthur’s fucked up again and he knows it. Morgana’s always been rash when her feelings are hurt.
“I don’t mind which of you does it.” Morgause sounds almost bored.
Morgana glares over at Arthur. “Arthur neglected to tell you, but the system needs a palmprint and retina scan from two Pendragons. Just one will alert the police.”
“Really?” Morgause turns that cold gaze on Arthur too. “How sneaky.”
Morgana calmly moves over to the panel on the wall. She places her hand on the scanner and looks into the screen to confirm the retina scan.
“Morgana, don’t do this!” Merlin attempts to get up but is quickly pushed back down by Valiant. “I know you’re upset, but this is pure stupidity! You know what is in that vault. You know what she will do!”
“How many times do you have to be told to shut up?” Morgause snaps at him. She turns to look at Arthur. “Your turn, boy wonder.”
He can feel Uther weakly pull on his hand, he knows his father doesn’t want him to do this but she’s right, a deal is a deal. He staggers to his feet and silently holds his wrists out for his bindings to be cut.
“Arthur, don’t!” Merlin succeeds in stumbling to his feet this time and manages to take a few steps toward Arthur. “Please don’t.”
“I will not tell you again!” Morgause advances on Merlin and throws him back down on the floor. “Carry on,” she tells Arthur.
With a sinking feeling in his gut, Arthur crosses the room and he, too, submits his palm print and retina scan. With a hissing noise followed by a series of clunks, the vault starts to unlock.
“About time.” Morgause and her henchmen move forward into the vault, Arthur and the others all but forgotten.
“Father?” Arthur really should take this opportunity to make a run for it and call the police, but he has a feeling there will be more goons outside waiting for him. Uther’s condition does not seem to have improved, in fact, he is now completely unresponsive, although Arthur can still detect a faint pulse. “Father…”
He vaguely registers that Merlin has followed Morgause into the vault. He can hear a scuffle over the sound of the robbers hacking into the safety deposit boxes inside.
“You can’t do this, I won’t let you!”
“How are you going to stop me? You are nothing but a pathetic little boy!”
“NO! You can’t take that! No!”
“Get off me!”
Merlin suddenly stumbles backwards out of the vault.
“Arthu—” Merlin’s voice sounds odd and is broken off by coughing. He slumps to the floor, his face is paler than ever – no mean feat for someone who’s face colour starts at chalk.
Letting go of Uther’s hand, Arthur crosses over to Merlin. He hasn’t quite forgiven Merlin for his little outburst just now, but he really doesn’t have it in him to care anymore, there has been too much going on today. “What’s wrong?”
“You have to stop them, Arthur. The things in that vault can’t be allowed to fall into the wrong hands!” Merlin’s words are stilted, his breathing sounds worse than Uther’s, with a strange sort of bubbly quality to it.
“Merlin, what did she do to you?”
Merlin gives him that funny little smile of his that used to mean he’d done something daft, and lifts his hand, grimacing as he does. Arthur is shocked to see blood, under his hand, lots of blood, welling up out of a deep-looking wound. “She had Excalibur.” Merlin’s words are slurred and Arthur suddenly notices there is blood on his lips.
“Merlin?” He tries to put his own hand over the wound to stem the flow. With his other hand he reaches out and touches Merlin’s cheek but gets no response. “Merlin, please, please don’t leave me!” He tries to feel for a pulse but gets nothing. “Merlin!”
Morgana is at his side, pulling him away and trying to find a pulse herself. “I’m sorry, Arthur.” She puts a hand on his arm and shakes her head, biting her lip.
“Merlin, no, please… Merlin I love you I always did, please Merlin, I’m sorry, please, you can’t die, Merlin…” The words are coming out of his mouth as a babble now.
From the corner of his eye, he sees Morgause coming out of the vault, a triumphant smile on her face as she examines a large gold-coloured pocket watch.
“Happy now, are you?” Arthur is on his feet before he knows it, shoving Morgause against the wall. “Got what you want? Was it worth it? What did he ever do to you?”
Morgause drops the watch in surprise and it lands next to Merlin. Arthur bends and snatches it up out of the pool of blood. However, the second his hand closes on the watch it springs open showing the internal clockwork with some sort of quartz at the centre. The clock starts ticking even though the time on the front is still showing one. He vaguely registers a strange glow from the crystal inside the workings as a brilliant white light fills the room and everything stops.
Chapter 2: Day Two
“That was impressive, do you do juggling acts too?”
Those dark blue eyes glared up at him from the shards of crockery on the floor. “Maybe it would be nice to help me clear this up, rather than standing there mocking me like some posh, smug, English git.”
Arthur was taken aback. As a general rule of thumb, people did not talk to him like that. Particularly not people whose salaries were paid by his father. “Now hang on a minute, there’s no need to be rude!”
“I’m the one being rude?” The young man stood up and put his hands on his hips. Arthur was disconcerted to realise the boy was slightly taller than him. “You walk in here, make fun of a total stranger, and I am the one being rude?”
“I…” Arthur didn’t know what to say, but he was quite inappropriately attracted to those flashing blue eyes and te frankly sexy as hell Welsh accent.
“Oh bloody hell, Merlin! Does your brain cell ever get lonely?” Morgana’s voice behind them made them both jump. She was staring at the mess of tea and broken crockery on the the previously pristine floor of the bank with a look that Arthur could describe as horror. “How many times have I told you you can’t carry that many cups through the door at once?”
“I… er… I was just cleaning it up. I’ll, er, I’ll get the dustpan” Merlin, turned to go back the way he’d come.
“I see you’ve already met my brother, Arthur. Arthur, welcome to Wales. This is Merlin, he’ll be showing you the ropes today. After you’ve both cleaned up that mess.” Morgana shook her head, muttering under her breath.
“Oh joy.” Arthur rolled his eyes and glanced over at this ‘Merlin’ with the scowl on his face and the tea on his trousers.
“Merlin, I’ve got Arthur a set up on the system, so if you could show him the training videos and then get him started on the counter, that would be wonderful,” Morgana carried on, ignoring Arthur.
“Hang on, what do you mean, on the counter? I’m supposed to be learning management, not how to be a cashier!” Did he really spend all that time doing his degree to become a bank teller?
“You’ll start at the bottom, Arthur. The same as I did. You can’t just leap into management with no experience of how a bank is run.” Morgana rolled her eyes.
“I have a first in ecconomics from Oxford!”
Morgana grinned at him. “Me too, brother dear, me too.”
His secondment to the Cardiff branch couldn’t go fast enough.
The sound of a child crying in the flat upstairs jars him awake. Blinking his eyes open, he takes a moment to orientate himself. The evil eyes of Morgana’s china dolls are staring at him. How did he get here? He doesn’t remember going to bed, he doesn’t remember anything after… He sits up and grabs his glasses from the bedside table.
Merlin. Merlin’s dead. How can the world keep going without Merlin in it? He can’t breathe. Merlin’s dead, Merlin’s dead. It plays around in his head like a mantra.
His father. The bank…
He swings his legs out of the bed, desperately trying to drag air into his lungs as the events of yesterday swarm into his head.
Morgana… he needs to speak to Morgana.
He drags on the awful dressing gown for the sake of decency and cautiously steps out of the room.
“Morg?” She’s not in the kitchen or main room. He assumes it was her who brought him back here yesterday, even after how he’d treated her.
How he’d treated her… Morgana has magic…
Why had she never told him? ‘Because she knew you’d treat her exactly like you did’ a voice that sounds like Merlin says in his head.
Oh god, Merlin. He sits heavily down on Morgana’s posh sofa. He should apologise to Morgana, he should find out how his father is… he can’t remember anything after Merlin.
Merlin, the best friend he’s ever had. Merlin, the man he had wronged. Merlin, the love of his life.
Merlin’s dead. He can’t even process. Before yesterday, he hadn’t seen Merlin in five years, but just the knowledge that he was out there somewhere in the world was better than this terrible void of no Merlin. The world with Merlin does not make sense.
‘Come on, Arthur, he occupies your every thought. The other day you got all dewy-eyed over Bronwyn’s accent, and don’t think I haven’t seen the way you perk up every time a skinny man with dark hair walks by. You’re still in love with Merlin, you always will be.’
Mithain’s words play around in his head as he sits and stares into space for what might be hours. She was right, of course. He just thought Merlin would always be there, that someday… well. Yeah. His chest feels tight, and there is a pain in his throat, like all the pain and emotion is desperate to well up out of him.
You’re still in love with Merlin, you always will be…
Tentatively, he crosses over and knocks on Morgana’s door. “Morg, are you in there? Are you alright?”
He slowly turns the handle and opens the door only to find the room empty. She’s not here. Was she hurt too? Did she not come back last night? Surely if she just wasn’t speaking to him, and he couldn’t blame her, he would be in a hotel? This is her flat, after all, why would she be the one to leave?
He can feel himself start to panic a little. Had he lost everyone? His father, Morgana, Merlin…
You’re still in love with Merlin…
He closes his eyes and rests his head against the cold paintwork of the doorframe, telling himself to breath slowly – in, out, in, out.
He has to find Morgana. He finds himself calling her name as he does a quick circuit of the flat, which is frankly ridiculous – the flat is not big enough to hide in.
He should call someone. Who though? After yesterday?
Going back into his own room, he grabs his phone, only to discover he still didn’t remember to plug it in to charge. Taking a deep breath, he goes back into the living room to check the news on the TV instead.
Nothing. There is nothing. He was so sure the news would be full of the robbery, but no, nothing. How can there be nothing? Surely this is major – the main branch of a big bank being taken over by magical terrorists? Dangerous magical artifacts falling into the wrong hands. Why is this not on the news? He goes back into the other room and turns on the telly. Nothing. He flicks through all the channels several times over and nothing.
He picks up Morgana’s house phone and dials Leon’s number. He curses angrily when the answerphone cuts in almost immediately.
He’s surprised to find Merlin’s number stored on Morgana’s phone. They are colleagues, sure, and clearly Morgana thinks highly enough of him to have made him one of the staff she brought with her when she left Cardiff, but he wouldn’t have said they were ever friends. His finger hovers over Merlin’s name, tempted to dial the number in the hopes of hearing his voice on the answer phone.
You’re still in love…
He tries Gwen.
“Hello?” How can her voice be so cheery?
“Gwen? It’s Arthur.”
“Oh! Hi Arthur! Please tell me you are coming in today, your father’s here specially for your meeting and he’s already been giving both Leon and Morgana a hard time because you’re not in yet!”
“My father? Is he ok?”
“As far as I know? Should he not be?” She sounds puzzled, like she expects Uther to just soldier on after a heart attack. He knows Uther is made of stern stuff and in all likelihood will be back to work as soon as possible, but Gwen is a tender-hearted soul, and he’d have expected her to show more concern.
“And the bank is open today?” He asks, biting his tongue so he doesn’t say something he’ll regret.
“Well, yes, it usually is open on a friday…” Gwen sounds more confused than ever.
“Er, ok, I’ll be in soon?” Friday. Is it friday or saturday? He thought it was saturday, but he lost a day in travel, so maybe it is friday?
“Ok, I’m in the middle of sorting out a computer glitch, I’ll speak to you later!”
And she hangs up.
Like nothing’s happened.
Feeling befuddled, Arthur rubs his forehead. He can’t face breakfast, but it sounds like everyone is expecting him to go in today.
From their point of view, he probably should. It’s not like any of them knew how he felt about Merlin. ‘Whose fault is that?’ Merlin’s voice whispers in his head.
He goes into the bathroom and has a quick shower. He must have washed last night, because he had Merlin’s blood on him, he knows he did, but there is no trace now. He’ll have to find something to wear, his suit must be ruined. He closes his eyes trying to blot out the image of Merlin, dying in his arms, his blood everywhere.
It isn’t helping. Towelling himself off as he goes into his room, he is surprised to see his suit is hanging on the wardrobe door in exactly the same place as yesterday, looking clean and pressed. There doesn’t seem to be a single blood stain on it.
Bemused, he pulls his suit on rather than rummage through his case for something else. It feels wrong. These are the clothes he wore when Merlin died. He’d held him in his arms as the light went out of those brilliant blue eyes…
Part of him wants to claw the material from his body, but another part stays his hand. This suit is his last connection to Merlin… how dare someone have it cleaned! He’s being stupid, he knows he is. But still, no trace of Merlin is left.
Sighing, he goes back into the bathroom to put in his contact lenses and comb his hair. Grabbing the keycard, which is still stuck on the front of the fridge, and Morgana’s spare keys, he squares his shoulders to face the world.
Outside, the day seems almost identical to the previous day, like all the terrible things had never happened in between. He skips the coffee shop today, which still has a huge queue out the door, even though he also skipped breakfast. He doesn’t think he could keep anything down. He gets to the bank by just after half ten once more, and almost forgets to breath as he glances up at its austere façade. How could it just stand there, like nothing had happened? Everyone around is just going about their day, same as any other day. It hurts his heart and it hurts his brain.
He shakes his head and forces himself to walk up to the entrance.
Just inside the door, he stops. The only thing he can hear is his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. What’s going on? He rubs his hand across his eyes. He’s going mad, he’s hallucinating, he must be, it’s the most logical explanation.
Standing there, like nothing had happened, like he hadn’t died, showing a customer how to fill something out on a form, is Merlin. Arthur drinks in the sight of him, not daring to move in case this is a mirage that will disappear like smoke.
Merlin is dead, Arthur knows this. He died in Arthur's arms. Merlin’s life-blood had been all over Arthur’s hands… Could this all just be stress? Should he go and see a doctor perhaps?
He takes a step forward, and rather than disappearing, Merlin straightens up and looks right at Arthur.
It’s like déjà vu. Merlin looks right at him, and the colour drains from his face. He moves to sit down, not noticing that his chair has rolled backwards…
This time, he can’t seem to force his feet to move forward as Merlin lands in a heap on the floor. Once again, Merlin jumps to his feet, trying to wipe the tea from his trousers, his cheeks pink with embarrassment.
How is Merlin alive? Why is there no sign of the robbery? What is going on? He rubs his head again, the niggling headache that’s been threatening all morning finally making itself known. He glances up at the wall. Fifteenth of September. That is still yesterday’s date. And Gwen had said it was friday… Had he just had a really vivid dream? But how, he didn’t even know Merlin had moved from Wales!
Once Merlin has finished serving his customer, he turns to talk to the man beside him, Mordred, Arthur’s brain supplies, the trainee.
Another man comes over and passes something, a key possibly, to Merlin, who throws him a massive smile. Merlin then hurries off, presumably to the staff toilets again to change. Perhaps falling off his chair is a daily occurrence for Merlin? He always was clumsy.
The other man turns to talk to Mordred, and Arthur is surprised to recognise Will – the security guard who was shot. And seeing him now in a different situation, he realises he knows him. Will’s Merlin’s best friend, he used to work in their local pub back in Cardiff.
He crosses the room to follow Merlin downstairs. On the way he bumps into a customer and then stops in his tracks. Morgause. He turns and stares after her. Surely it can’t be… He needs to talk to Merlin. He pats down his pocket and groans as he realises that once again he has forgotten the keycard – he was so sure he’d put it in his pocket. On a hunch, he tries the same code to get in as the one Leon had given him either yesterday or in his dream, whichever it had been. It works.
Merlin is in the downstairs staff room, exactly the same as before.
Once again, he is confronted with the not-unpleasant sight of Merlin in his Welsh dragon-emblazoned underpants, he’s caught him slightly earlier this time and he is still changing out of his wet trousers. He crosses to a locker and takes out a spare pair, Arthur fondly notices the hole in the heel of one of his socks. Now would be a good time to confront him, whilst he can’t easily run away.
Merlin visibly jumps before he spins around and glowers at Arthur.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Merlin’s asks, just as he had yesterday.
“Board meeting,” Arthur replies.
“That happens upstairs. Not perving around in the men’s toilet!” Merlin slams the locker shut and shakes out the trousers.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Well I don’t want to talk to you!” He starts to drag the trousers on, no doubt so he can once more get as far away from Arthur as possible.
“It’s important, Merlin! I had this dream—”
“How wonderful for you. Did it involve your wonderful wife and children?” There is so much bitterness in Merlin’s voice, bitterness that Arthur put there.
“We don’t have children. We— look, this is beside the point! I had this dream, or I think it was a dream, except that most of today has gone exactly the same way as it did in the dream…”
Merlin pauses with his trousers half done up and looks interested in what Arthur has to say for the first time. “What the hell are you going on about?”
“In my dream, this woman and a bunch of thugs robbed the bank.” He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the moment when Merlin decides he’s gone insane. “And I just saw her outside.”
He opens his eyes again when Merlin fails to respond. “She’s here, Merlin. It’s all going to happen again.”
A strange little frown crosses Merlin’s brow before he shakes his head and finishes fastening his trousers. “It was just a dream, Arthur. Maybe you’d seen her before somewhere.”
“Was it? It didn’t feel like a dream, Merlin. I didn’t even know you were working here, and yet I woke up this morning convinced you were dead. I saw her kill you!”
Merlin gasps and Arthur feels guilty for blurting it out like that. “I thought… no.” He shakes his head like he’s trying to dislodge a spider from his hair.
“She got into the vault, the special one, downstairs, you know? No, you probably don’t, most people don’t.” Arthur rubs a hand over his face. Merlin is probably going to get him committed for this. “My father had a heart attack, and his pills were in his office. She would only fetch his pills if I agreed to open the vault. And you tried to stop her…” He gulps for air, closing his eyes as he feels the tears well up.
“You weren’t even supposed to be there, you must have been down here still rather than out front when it happened, but they caught you and brought you down to the vault. And she killed you. Stabbed you through with a great big sword.”
“Arthur.” Merlin takes a step forward and puts a comforting hand on Arthur’s arm. “I—”
“Merlin?” A quiet voice speaks from behind Arthur. “Is everything alright?”
Arthur turns his head. Of course, Mordred turned up about now, he’d forgotten that.
“I’m fine, thank you, Mordred. I’m just coming.” Merlin crosses the room and puts his tea-soaked trousers in his locker. “Arthur, this is Mordred, Aunty Cerys’s boy, my protégé. Mordred, you remember Arthur.” Arthur notices that he get no further introduction, which means Mordred does indeed know him, probably as the man who broke his cousin’s heart. Come to think of it, he does remember a twelve-year-old cousin who used to follow Merlin around a lot back in Cardiff, constantly trying to stare Arthur down with those intense blue eyes. He shakes himself. This is not important right now.
“I’m sure it was just a dream, Arthur.” Merlin’s hand lingers briefly on Arthur’s arm, then he is gone. Mordred give one last intense stare before, following Merlin up the stairs.
With a sinking heart, Arthur turns to trudge up the stairs to the boardroom. He smiles at Lance as he nearly bumps into him on the stairs, just like yesterday. He still doesn’t have his keycard, so can’t get into his father’s office to look for the pills. Assuming his father has pills. Assuming Arthur isn’t just going mad. Except… everyone is in the boardroom in exactly the same seats. Just to make things different, he takes his seat next to Morgana rather than opposite her.
This time, when Morgause comes in, he is not surprised. There is still nothing he can do to stop it and once again he finds himself herded out into the lobby with everyone else.
“You too, Princess, on the floor.” Arthur is snapped out of his reverie at the words and he glances over at Will who is in the process of levering himself off the floor.
“Leave her alone.” He says it quickly, before Will has the chance. Maybe if he can change just one thing… maybe if he can save Will, then he can save his father, and Merlin…
“Who asked you?” Valiant, he’s sure that’s who it is, waves the gun in his face.
“She’s in a wheelchair, she can’t get up, you wazzock.” Then again, maybe he’s just trying to end this by getting himself killed.
“I’m pretty sure this means you don’t get to talk to me like that.” Valiant waves the gun at him again.
Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur can see Will move. He tries again. “Look, I would love nothing better than for my sister to be able to leap out of that wheelchair, but let’s be honest, she’s not going to do that, is she? So how about you cut her some slack?”
Fortunately, the other guard, the absurdly tall one, comes over. “Why are you threatening a girl in a wheelchair?” He’s probably not the sort of person people argue with – Arthur would certainly think twice. “Come on, we need to get this lot secured.”
Again their hands are tied and they all end up sitting on the floor waiting. Arthur closes his eyes. He doesn’t understand what the hell is going on. Did he have some bizarrely accurate prophetic dream last night, or is he somehow reliving exactly the same day? Either way it makes no bloody sense!
By the time the guards come to take them down to the vault, he is almost ready for them, just to interrupt the confused thoughts running about in his head.
And then, of course, he is distracted when Morgana snaps at Valiant for pushing her chair and before he knows it, Will is on his feet giving them a mouthful.
“No, wait, leave him alone!” Arthur tries as Valiant points his gun at Will. “He’s going to sit down now, aren’t you?”
Will gives him a look that says they will have words later as he sits down. He remembers that look well from when he dated Merlin.
Then, just as Valiant turns away, Will is suddenly on his feet again trying to tackle the gun from Valiant’s hands.
Arthur’s own shout rings out across the bank this time as the gun goes off. No. No, this can’t happen again! He was supposed to have changed this, if for nothing else then for Merlin.
Will’s lifeless body looks back at him mockingly from the floor.
Everything. Absolutely everything is the same. Not a thing out of place.
Right up to the point that Merlin is shoved into the room, hands tied in front of him, and ends up sprawled on the floor. Again. Except it is earlier this time. Morgause is still not in the room, having dragged Agravaine off to goodness only knew where, and Arthur has just been trying to persuade the guards to fetch Uther’s medication.
Merlin looks right at Arthur and grins.
This is not the same.
Then, before any of the guards can stop him, he manages to wriggle his hands round to his pocket and pull something out, which he throws Arthur. Unfortunately, Arthur’s hands are also still bound, so he has to scrabble on the floor for it before one of the guards can get there.
The words ‘Uther Pendragon’ and ‘prescription medicine’ are printed on the bottle.
“I think your father must have dropped this outside.” Merlin cocks an eyebrow at him and suddenly it sinks in. Merlin listened, earlier, in the locker room. He listened and believed what Arthur said enough to apparently break into his father’s office and take his pills.
Merlin is trying to save his father’s life.
Merlin hates Uther.
Which can only mean that Merlin is doing this for him.
Hope wells in Arthur’s heart. Finally, something has not gone the way it did before. This can go differently.
“He needs water.” Morgana is looking at the guard that is not Valiant, clearly having also figured out which of the two is more likely to do her bidding. Sure enough, the shorter of the two nods and goes to the water cooler in the corridor.
A feeling of guilt washes over Arthur as he watches Morgana demand her hands be untied so she can help Uther. His sister can be demanding and proud, but she has a good heart. He treated her abysmally yesterday. He should try and talk to her, about the magic. She hadn’t looked happy, maybe it was something she didn’t want?
He still doesn’t know what to think about this – it seems to contradict everything he thought he did know. At the moment, she doesn’t even know he knows. He has to try and make her see that he won’t hold it against her. It’s not like she goes around openly doing magic or anything.
He shakes his head to clear his thoughts and when he looks up, he finds Merlin watching him, head cocked to one side like a spaniel. Arthur attempts a smile.
“What is going on in here?” Morgause steps into the room dragging Gwen behind her and looks about her with a frown before focusing on Merlin. “Where did he come from? And what are they doing over there? Who untied her?” She indicates Morgana as she pushes Gwen roughly to the floor.
The two guards shift awkwardly. “He wasn’t well,” the shorter one offers, nodding at Uther. “They had to give him his medication.”
Morgause rolls her eyes. “And him?” She points to Merlin. “Where did he come from?”
“I found him prowling about in the corridor outside,” the female goon says, sounding rather pleased with herself.
“Alvarr didn’t say we were missing anyone. Where did he come from?”
Once again, Arthur notices that Morgana flinched at the mention of the name Alvarr.
“I can only assume it has something to do with this magical-deadener on the building,” the female goon is saying, shrugging her shoulders. “He ran the trace from outside, linked it in with heat sensor technology. It should have picked everyone up, but it seems to have missed this one.”
Morgause bends down and tilts her head to the side, studying Merlin like he’s some sort of strange specimen, grasping his chin between her fingers. “Why did the trace miss you, I wonder?” Although she is looking at Merlin as she speaks, the words are more to herself than him.
“Nevermind.” She crosses the room and crouches down in front of Uther. “Your little systems expert here doesn’t seem to know anything about this timelock. Why is that, do you think?”
Uther pushes himself up slightly. “Why would I open the vault for a psychotic scinlace like you?” Is the colour of his face looking a little better? Or does Arthur just want to think that to make himself feel better?
“Father!” Morgana looks horrified. Uther has never been shy about sharing his view of magic users, but even the most stalwart Anti-Magic protester tries not to be more politically correct than that – scinlace, lyeblack, hag, and many others, are all words not used in polite society.
“Maybe because I will kill your son and heir?” Morgause glances over at Arthur with a smirk and then looks back at Uther.
Uther’s eyes turn to Arthur then – a cold, dismissive stare. “Go ahead.” Uther never breaks eye contact. “He was always a disappointment.”
His father is bluffing. Arthur knows this, pretending not to care so Morgause won’t shoot him. He must be.
And then for a second, just a second, Uther’s eyes slide over to Merlin and his upper lip curls into a sneer, and Arthur swears his heart stops beating.
His father knows about Merlin. He’s not bluffing. He knows. He knows Geraint wasn’t just a phase at Uni, hell, he probably even knows about that thing with Owain when he was fifteen. He probably even knows that Arthur and Mithian have never slept together. Fuck. What is Merlin even doing working here if his father knows? Perhaps Uther is trying to keep an eye on him. Does Merlin know that Uther knows?
Uther is watching him again, as is Morgause and Merlin and everyone else in that damn room. They all know. He is a let down, a massive disappointment, a queer. No wonder his father was so keen for him to move to Sydney, as far away as possible. He can’t breathe.
“Arthur?” There is a hand on his arm. Morgana is looking at him, eyes all big and concerned in what he likes to call her ‘supportive sister’ face. And isn’t that ironic, that she is the one being nice to him when he had not been so nice to her when her magic was revealed.
He manages a weak smile. “It’s fine, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.” He looks back up at Morgause, lifting his chin in what he hopes looks like defiance. “Go on, shoot the disappointment. That’s not going to get you into the vault.” He wished he felt as brave as his words.
“How touching. An obvious bluff, but nice try. What about Daddy’s little princess then?” Morgause looks between Uther and Morgana. “Will you open the vault if I threaten her?” She runs a hand over Morgana’s hair.
“Get off me!” Morgana attempts to pull away but Morgause’s grip on her hair tightens.
“Don’t you touch her!” Uther ties to push himself away from the wall.
“Father, you need to stay calm.” Despite himself, Arthur finds he still gives a damn about his father.
Uther shoots him a filthy glare before turning it on Morgause. “Get your filthy lyeblack hands off my daughter.”
A look of pure hatred crosses Morgause’s face as the insult flies out of Uther’s mouth and her hand tightens in Morgana’s hair making her cry out. “Tell me how to open the safe.”
“She has magic!”
All eyes in the room turn to Merlin, who has his eyes closed. “You wouldn’t want to hurt a fellow magic user.”
“Merlin!” The tears in Morgana’s eyes are not just from Morgause’s grip on her hair, her face screams betrayal.
Arthur can’t believe Merlin just said that. He’s outed Morgana. Surely Merlin doesn’t share his father’s opinion on magic users? Merlin isn’t like that! He ignores the little voice in his head that says he’s spouted some of his father’s hateful opinions himself in the past. Not recently though, not since before he went to Cardiff. And he never really meant them, he hadn’t even knowingly met a magic-user until yesterday. Or today.
“How dare you.” Uther’s voice is low, making the hairs on Arthur’s arms stand up. This was always when his father was at his most dangerous. Not when he’s shouting the odds and throwing his weight around, although he does plenty of that, but when he goes all quiet and deadly like this. That’s how he’s always got Arthur to comply in the past. That and the disappointment factor.
“It’s true.” Merlin raises his chin defiantly, a look Arthur’s seen on him so many times. “Ask her.”
Morgana’s face has lost all colour. “Merlin, how could you?”
Merlin looks at her, and his expression is surprisingly soft. “Because I don’t want you to die. She won't kill a magical. Tell them. Tell them you have magic. That you were high on Amantia when you had your accident. That your boyfriend ran off and left you because he couldn’t risk getting caught, and the doctor said nothing because he’s Gwen’s brother and he covered for you.”
“Is this true?” Uther’s voice is still low. Arthur’s not sure that Merlin has saved Morgana so much as damned her.
Morgana raises her head and looks him in the eye. “I didn’t choose this. I never asked to be different. I never asked for the dreams. But yes. I have magic. Yes, I’ve done things I shouldn’t have. Does that make me a bad person?”
Uther wrinkles his nose. “You are no daughter of mine.” His eyes slide over to Arthur and he sneers again. “You can kill them both for all I care.”
Morgana finally looks away. Again, Arthur would like to believe that Uther is bluffing, Morgana has always been his favourite after all, surely he can’t just give up on her that quickly. But then he remembers yesterday, or the other today, or whenever, when Uther had refused to even take his medication from her. He also remembers his own reaction though, so there is a chance Uther will still come round.
Speaking of his own reaction, he’s still not sure how he feels about the whole magic thing. He’s never seen any good come of magic in his life, and according to what Merlin just said (and he really must find out how Merlin knows so much) magic is at least partly to blame for Morgana being in a wheelchair. He owes it to her though, to stand by her. She stood by him, after all – she always has. Plus, he’s seen what happens when he doesn’t…
Quietly, he moves his bound hands to Morgana’s shoulder and gives it a small squeeze. She looks up at him, eyes red but hopeful and he nods and attempts a smile.
“Well, this is getting me nowhere.” Morgause whirls around and points her gun at them. Of course, Morgause already knew about Morgana’s magic, she doesn’t care. Merlin has outed her to Uther for nothing. “Let’s show Daddy Dearest that we’re serious. Eeny meeny.”
Arthur hears the gun go off and he looks down at Morgana to check she’s not hurt. Except… he’s looking up at her from the ground. And suddenly, Merlin is hovering over him, pressing something against his leg, yelling at Morgause – and holy fuck the bitch actually shot him! And it fucking hurts.
Morgause is smirking down at him, like he’s some sort of interesting specimen in a lab. She looks over at Uther. “So, are you going to do what I ask, or shall I shoot the other one?” And she holds the gun to Morgana’s head.
“Get the fuck a-away f-from my sis—ter. Merlin, get off me, you bastard!”
“Trying to stop you bleeding to death, clotpole. Will someone please free my hands so I can make a tourniquet?” Merlin pushes Arthur’s own hands down to cover the wound while he tries to take off his tie with his bound and bloody hands. One of the guards steps forwards to help, but is quelled by a single look from Morgause, leaving Merlin to deal with Arthur alone. It is not the best tourniquet in the world, and probably will not stop him from bleeding to death, but at least Merlin still cares enough to try.
Morgause turns back to Uther. “I’m waiting.” There is an audible click as she cocks the gun. “Or maybe I should just start shooting the hostages upstairs? How many lives do you want on your conscience?”
“Do as you will. I won’t let you into that vault.” Uther turns his head away.
“Father!” Arthur attempts to stand, holding on to Merlin for support, but with both their hands tied they don’t get far.
Uther glances over at him, then at Merlin next to him and sneers. “You are weak and pathetic and perverted. She is a heretic Scinlace. You are no children of mine. If all I have to leave to the world is this business, I’ll leave it with its integrity intact.”
Morgana says nothing, she’s just staring into space, a faraway look in her eyes. “I’ll do it.” Her voice is distant and she won't look at any of them.
“What?” Merlin looks panicked. Arthur really must find out why Merlin is so invested in the outcome of this. “Morgana, you can’t!”
“I can, any Pendragon will do. Arthur needs to go to hospital. And as much as I shouldn’t still care, my father needs treatment.”
Morgause looks at her for a moment and then down at Gwen. “Is that true?” Gwen nods, not giving him away, of course. “Fine, I don’t care who opens it.”
Against his own better judgement, Arthur tries to stand. His head spins and he nearly retches as he sinks back down, clutching onto Merlin with his still-bound hands. “Holy fuck.”
“Please, Morgana, don’t do this!” Merlin grabs hold of Arthur and tries once again to apply pressure to the wound.
“I have to.” There are tears running down Morgana's face, but her mind is clearly made up.
“No, wait you don—” Whatever Merlin had been about to say is interrupted by Valiant with a swift kick to the gut.
“Leave him alone or I’m not opening the vault.” Morgana is speaking to Valiant, but she doesn’t bother looking at him, looking instead at Morgause, the organ grinder.
Valiant also looks over at Morgause, who shrugs. Morgana silently makes her way to the console and submits her prints.
“What do you plan to do with the artifacts?” Arthur closes his eyes at Morgana’s question. Too late.
“They will be kept safe by the people they actually belong to, rather than the people who have stolen them.” Morgause looks proud, almost regal. “We will use them to return magic to the world, and to return magic users to their rightful place in it. There will be no more hiding in the shadows, or bending knee to those who are inferior. Uther Pendragon has had his way for far too long. This ends today.”
“Morgana…” He has to stop her, but his brain is not coming up with anything to say.
“I’m sorry, Arthur. You tell me you are on my side, but to be honest, this is the first I’ve heard of it. You’ve followed Uther’s beliefs the whole way until today. Why is that? Do you even mean it? Surely if you did believe it, then what she says makes sense? Why should we live in fear? This is for the best, those artifacts belong with the druids.” She finishes the opening sequence and the blots start to slide backwards.
“What makes you think she’s on the side of the Druids?” Merlin pipes up. “The druids are peaceful, they do not carry guns.”
“And that is why they have lived as second-class citizens for centuries.” Morgause walks over to him. “Sometimes violence is the only thing people like this understand.”
“So what do you intend to do? Murder anyone without magic? Use those artifacts to inflict your will on the world? How does that make you any better than Uther?”
“What would you know? I don’t have to explain myself to worthless scum like you." Morgause pulls her hand back and strikes Merlin across the face so hard his head snaps backwards. "My people will be free, everyone else will have nothing to worry about. So long as they don’t stand in my way.” She straightens and signals for her men to follow her into the vault.
Arthur tries to hold Merlin back to stop him going into the vault, ignoring the black spots starting to dance in front of his eyes. He’s cold. And light-headed. Suddenly, he’s not holding onto Merlin to stop him going into the vault, he’s holding onto Merlin like a lifeline, the only thing holding him up, keeping him grounded.
“Arthur?” Merlin’s voice sounds strange. “Arthur, stay with me. Damn it.”
He can feel Merlin's tie being tightened around the top of his leg. ‘Too late’, he thinks idly.
He can sense people leaving. Morgana’s voice.
Merlin’s voice. “…an artery. For fuck’s sake, Arthur, don’t leave me, not again, not yet. Stay with me.”
“I didn’t want to watch you die.” His words come out slurred. He tries again but it’s no better.
Merlin’s face is all funny and blurry. Did he forget to put his lenses in this morning?
“Love you,” he mumbles. He’s not sure if Merlin hears him.
Chapter 3: Day Three
“How long are you going to let him control you, Arthur?” Merlin pulled his arm away from Arthur. “You are twenty-four, you have a degree, you don’t have to do everything your father tells you.”
“You don’t understand what he’s like, Merlin! He manipulates people into doing what he wants, into being who he wants. Do you really think I haven’t tried to break away from him?”
“All I’ve ever seen is you jumping to obey his every command.”
“It was my twenty-first, Arthur! I wanted my boyfriend there, as my boyfriend, not as some bloke from work I pretend not to like!”
“I’m sorry, okay? I’ve said I’m sorry. Please, Merlin. I love you.”
Merlin turned to face him, tears in his eyes. “What did you just say?”
Arthur stilled for a moment, not because he regretted saying it, but because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t said it before. “I said I love you.”
“I love you too, clotpole.” Merlin kissed him briefly before pulling back and putting his hand to his temple.
“Merlin, are you alright?” A flare of concern burned through Arthur.
“Just a headache. I think I have another migraine coming on.”
A child is crying in the flat upstairs.
Arthur sits up with a start. Back in Morgana’s – no, that’s not right…
He puts on his glasses, grabs his phone to check the date. It’s still not working. No no, not again, please not again.
He goes into the living room, not even bothering with clothing, and turns on the TV.
Friday 15 September.
It’s happening again.
Please don’t let it be happening again.
With a sinking feeling, he drags himself into the bathroom and starts the shower going. Maybe he’ll just stay here all day, or at least till the water runs cold…
Can he do that? Stay away, let them all die without him? It’ll probably all happen again tomorrow anyway.
What if it doesn’t? This is his chance, surely. Make a difference, get it right…
What if he does nothing, and they all die, and tomorrow is saturday, just like it should be…
He quickly switches off the shower and goes back to his room, pulling his suit on, getting ready to go. At the last minute, he remembers to pull the keycard from the fridge, a slight sense of déjà vu once again.
He’s earlier this time. The last two times he did this he took his time, the first time suffering with jet lag, the second not realising what was going on and thinking both Merlin and his father were dead, and hadn’t arrived there till nearly ten. Now, it is just gone quarter past nine.
Hurrying up to the bank, he nearly knocks into someone. “Sorry!” He puts out a hand to steady them and finds himself looking straight into Merlin’s eyes.
“Arthur?” Merlin pulls his earphones out and raises one eyebrow in a style reminiscent of his uncle.
He will never get tired of the way Merlin says his name. His accent was never strong, but it’s still musical and Welsh and wonderful. And yeah, ok, maybe Mith has a point, maybe he does have a thing for Welsh accents, so sue him.
“What are you doing here?” Of course, he prefers the sound of Merlin’s voice when it doesn’t sound hostile, like he hates Arthur and wishes him far away.
“Board meeting. You’re late.”
“Whatever.” Merlin moves past him to hurry into the bank.
“No, wait!” Arthur puts his hand out to grab hold of Merlin’s arm. “I need to talk to you.”
“Arthur, if you wanted to talk, we should have talked five years ago. You know, before you moved to the other side of the fucking world.” Merlin rubs a hand across his eyes and shakes his head like he’s trying to dislodge something.
“Seriously, Merlin? You are actually going with that? From what I remember, it wasn’t me who went into hiding and refused to talk about it!” He can’t believe they are still having the same argument after all this time.
“Well it wasn’t me that had a secret wife!” Merlin’s words come out as a low hiss, like the hurt just happened yesterday.
“It wasn’t me that went off with Gwaine!” Arthur’s words are less controlled, and yeah, maybe Merlin has a point, maybe it does still fucking hurt.
“Fuck you.” Merlin pushes his way past him and into the bank.
Arthur curses himself. Looking through the door, he sees Mordred hand Merlin his cup of tea just as a customer comes up to the desk. Cursing more, he realises he just missed his chance to talk to Merlin, which means today will go exactly like it did the first time. He can’t let that happen. In fact, Merlin’s already seen him, so the surprise won’t make him spill tea over himself and Arthur won’t be able to corner him in the staff room.
Perhaps he should try talking to Morgana instead?
His eyes light on the fire alarm. Could it be that easy? Get everyone out and call the police before it all goes wrong?
Before he has the chance to over-think it, Arthur walks over and smashes the glass.
Within half a second a shrill siren rings out through the whole bank and the security screens fly up. Staff and customers alike make a panicked scramble for the exit. It is only then he remembers the flaw in his plan. The lift will automatically lock itself in the event of a fire. Everyone will be able to get down the stairs or the fire escape, they should all be fine. Everyone except Morgana. Cursing himself, he runs over to the staff door, pulling his keycard out of his pocket, and lets himself in.
Running up the stairs, he makes his way to the executive offices on the top floor, because really, if you are going to give an office to someone in a wheelchair, why not make it on the top floor? He can’t remember which one is his sister’s office so he does a quick circuit, calling out her name as he goes. They are all empty, he should have expected that, it’s not like Morgana would have just sat there waiting to be rescued.
Hurrying out, he makes his way down to the next floor to check the boardroom. To his surprise, he runs into Leon and Will, wearing high-vis jackets and checking all the rooms.
“Arthur? What are you doing up here, can you not hear the fire alarm?” Leon runs his finger down a list on a clipboard and tuts as he looks back up at Arthur.
“I’m looking for Morgana, have you seen her?”
“Morgana’s outside already, we do have systems in place you know, it’s not like we’d have just left her up here without you to save her.” Will clearly has not changed, he’s still the gobby bastard he always was when he used to threaten Arthur with what he would do to him if he ever hurt Merlin. Arthur refrains from rubbing his jaw at the memory of that punch.
“She’s fine, Arthur.” Leon shakes his head at Will, sending a half-raised eyebrow in his direction.
“I’d better go to her.” Arthur turns to leave.
“Have you seen anyone else?” Leon asks.
“No, top floor’s empty,” Arthur shouts over his shoulder.
“Merlin’s fine, by the way, thanks for asking.” He ignores Will’s jibe as he runs back down the stairs, just as he ignores Leon telling him not to run.
The problem is, once he gets outside, Morgana is nowhere to be seen, and neither is his father.
“Has anyone seen Morgana?” He calls into the crowd, but gets no response. “Morgana?”
A fire engine pulls up outside and moments later a police van arrives behind it – that seems a little excessive for a fire alarm, but with a bank like this, a safety measure he’s glad of. He feels momentarily guilty at wasting the fire brigade’s time, it would have been better if he could have reached the security alarm, but there is nothing he can do about that now. Instead, he runs over to the police van.
Two police officers are getting out in full riot gear – protective helmets, bulletproof vests, shields and batons. One, male, skinny, with a slightly hawkish face, the other female with blonde hair and a scowl.
“My name is Arthur Pendragon, I have reason to believe someone is trying to rob this bank. Also, my father, Uther Pendragon, head of the bank, and my sister, Morgana Pendragon, the Manager, appear to be missing.
“And how might you have come by this information, sir?” the male officer asks, flipping open his notebook. There is something about the cocky expression on the man’s face that Arthur doesn’t like.
“I…” He stops. He can hardly tell them he’d already lived through this day twice before. “There was an anonymous tip-off.”
The female officer lifts her visor and smiles at him. “Perhaps if you could wait over there, sir, someone will be along to take your statement soon.”
Arthur wants to protest, tell them that they have to go and find Morgana now, but she has already pulled the male PC away and they seem to be arguing between themselves. Instead he grits his teeth and stands back to let them do their job. He starts scanning the crowd, trying to find Morgana. Instead what he sees makes his blood boil. Merlin is over by the road, chatting with one of the firemen. That is nothing out of the ordinary, Merlin has always been friendly. No, what makes Arthur want to punch something, or rather someone is the fact that it’s Gwaine. Long-haired, gorgeous, Irish, sexy as fuck Gwaine. The man Merlin left him for.
Arthur clenches his hand into a fist, feeling his nails digging into the flesh of his palm.
Arthur resumes scanning the crowd for Morgana. Catching sight of Leon talking to one of the firemen, he makes his way over.
“Leon, did you say Morgana was out here? I can’t find her.”
“Could there be someone still inside?” The fire officer asks, looking concerned.
Leon shakes his head. “We checked upstairs thoroughly, and the whole of the main floor. Will went down to check the vaults, he should be back any minute.”
“You let him go on his own?” The fireman’s head snaps up.
Leon shakes his head again. “Valiant went with him. And in answer to your question, Arthur, yes, Val made sure Morgana got down here safely.
Arthur swears there is a buzzing in his ears. Valiant. Shit. “Valiant? You entrusted my sister to Valiant?”
“Yes, he’s one of the security guards.”
“He’s fucking well in on it!”
“In on what?”
“Wait… what robbery?”
“The bank’s being robbed, Leon, and now they’ve got Morgana! Where the hell is my father? Or my uncle?”
“Arthur, calm down. It was just a fire alarm, and it appears to be a false alarm at that. I don’t know where Sir Uther or Morgana are, but I’m sure I saw Agravaine just now talking to a police officer.”
“I’m serious, Leon. Where was Agravaine talking to the police?” He can’t find them in the crowd. “I have to go and find her.”
He moves to go back into the bank, but he’s stopped by Gwaine. “Lovely to see you, princess, but you can’t go in there, we haven’t cleared it yet.”
“Oh for fu— look, there is no fire, ok? I set off the alarm, I had to get everyone out of the building. The bank is being robbed!”
Gwaine raises his eyebrows. “Wasting the time of the fire brigade is—”
“Gwaine,” Leon chips in from behind Arthur. “I don’t think he’s trying to waste our time, he sounds pretty serious to me.”
“Of course I’m serious, why would I make this up?”
“Have you told the police?”
“Yes, there were two of them here just now. I don’t know where they went, Leon said they were talking to my uncle.”
“They haven’t coordinated with me.” The other fireman, the one who seems to be in charge, frowns down at his clipboard. “I haven’t been made aware of any police on the scene at all.”
“Well their van is just over there.” Arthur points to it.
“Hang on a moment.” Gwaine lifts his radio and talks into it. “Control, I’m at the First Camelot call out. Have you liaised with any police?”
“I can get Police on route to you asap?” The voice on the other end of the radio sounds tinny.
“Yeah, good plan. There’s a bloke here seems to think the bank is being robbed, and we seem to have a police van and no police.”
Rather than listening to the rest of this pointless conversation, Arthur turns and heads into the bank.
“Arthur, wait!” Leon runs after him and grabs hold of his arm.
“They have Morg, Leon,” Arthur says as he tries, unsuccessfully, to shake off Leon’s grip. “I’m sure of it. She’s not here.”
“And what exactly are you going to do about it? Wait for the police, Arthur!” Leon’s hand tightens on his arm, not letting him through the doors.
"Wait, did you say they have Morgana?" Gwaine comes up the steps behind Leon, apparently forgetting his official duties there.
“I already spoke to the police!” Arthur gives one hard yank and pulls himself free. "They are as good as useless!"
“Fine, come on then.” Leon holds his hands up like a surrender before heading inside himself.
“What are you doing?” In a reversal of position, Arthur catches hold of Leon’s elbow just inside the main foyer.
“Coming with you. If I can’t beat you, I might as well join you.” Leon has that defiant look on his face, like the time they were eight and Arthur had tried to take the blame for breaking Leon’s mother’s vase and Leon hadn’t let him.
“We're coming too.” Merlin and Gwaine burst through the doorway, clearly having heard everything.
“None of you are coming!”
“Morgana is our friend, we’re coming.” Merlin pushes past him and goes over to the staff door, punching the code in before Arthur can stop him.
They can hear raised voices from the top of the second flight of stairs.
They find Will at the entrance to the first vault. He looks almost peaceful, lying there. If you ignore the pool of blood. Merlin’s breath hitches and Arthur can sense him start to tremble. Without really thinking, he grabs Merlin’s hand. “It’s ok, Merls, you don’t have to come down with us.
A shout can be heard from downstairs and then a gunshot. Morgana is screaming and Arthur’s feet are moving before he is even aware of it. He is distantly aware of someone running beside him, he thinks it might be Gwaine, while Leon and Merlin are just behind.
Down in the vault, they find Uther clutching his arm. This time it’s not his heart, although Arthur would be surprised if that wasn’t a factor too, but from the red spreading across his suit, he has been shot. The two police officers from outside are standing next to his uncle, and Arthur is pretty sure they are not there to help.
“You won’t get away with this.” Well, that sounds cliché even to Arthur. One of the guards moves towards him, probably Valiant, but another puts his hand out to stop him. Gwaine ducks past and nearly manages to reach Morgana before he is stopped.
“Hmm, are you sure about that?” Morgause looks at him and smirks. "I don't see you stopping me."
Arthur glances at the two police standing over by Uther. “Yes, I’m sure. Real police are on their way.”
“Hmm, pity. I suppose we’ll just have to resort to the quick and noisy way of doing this then.” She signals to one of the men doing something to the door of the vault. “Blow the doors off this thing.”
Uther lets out a hollow laugh from the floor. “Oh please, these vaults have been made to withstand explosives. The most you’ll manage is to bring the whole bank down on top of us.”
“Well then, maybe you should just open the vault for us.”
A great big thug-like robber runs into the room. “Police,” is all he says.
Morgause swears under her breath. She looks annoyed, but Arthur can tell from her face that she doesn’t plan on giving up so easily. She nods once at the men by the vault.
“Armed police. Put your weapons on the floor and step away.” The shout comes from outside the room.
“Do it,” Morgause says. “Get us into that vault and the police won’t be able to stop us.
The force of the explosion does indeed rock the entire building, just as Uther had predicted.
The last thing Arthur remembers thinking as a piece of masonry knocks him to the floor, is that the Vault is still shut tight.
Chapter 4: Day Four
It took him a moment to realise his father’s lips were moving. He pulled out his earphones. “Huh?”
“I said we have to go to A+E. Hurry up.”
“What’s happened?” Arthur hastily put his laptop down and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“Get a damned move on, Arthur. We can talk in the car.” That was the closest to swearing his father had ever got in front of his kids. Arthur quickly pulled on a pair of trainers; fortunately he was still wearing his jeans and t-shirt from earlier.
“What’s happened?” He followed his father down the stairs, talking to the back of his greying head and getting no response. “Are you hurt? Do you want me to drive?” He hadn't actually passed his test yet, but so long as his father was in the car with him he'd be fine.
Uther pressed a button to open the garage door and unlocked the Bentley. “Get in.”
Ok, so Arthur wasn't driving, there was no way he'd be allowed to drive the Bentley. He opened the passenger door and climbed in.
His father drove off without a word, seemingly heading for the motorway. Arthur couldn’t bear the suspense.
“Tell me. Please.”
Uther was silent for a moment, appearing to concentrate on the traffic, although at just gone midnight, there wasn’t much about. “I don’t know the details. She was found unconscious at the bottom of some stairs in the university.”
Arthur was suddenly finding it hard to breath. “Morgana?”
Uther didn’t respond. He didn’t need to. They drove the rest of the way to Oxford in silence, every worst-case scenario playing around in Arthur’s head the whole way.
At the hospital, Arthur followed his father to the main desk. Eventually they were ushered into a side room, and a doctor, a young doctor, not much older than Morgana herself, came in to talk to them.
“My name is Dr Smith, I’m the specialist with the spinal injuries team, I’ll be taking over Morgana’s case. We are not sure what happened at the moment, the police are looking into it. What I can tell you is that Morgana was found at the bottom of a flight of stairs near her rooms at Magdalen College. She didn’t appear to be accompanied by anyone. She is suffering from severe concussion. I don’t wish to alarm you, but we have reason to believe she has fractured her lower spine.”
“Will she be ok?” Arthur blurted out.
“Can she walk?” Uther asked at the same time
The doctor shook his head. “It’s too early to say. She’s been for a scan, but there is a lot of swelling. All we can do at the moment is wait and see.”
“You mean she could be paralysed?”
“We know nothing at this stage, Mr Pendragon. Your daughter is young and healthy, the odds are in her favour. Even if there is a fracture, there is every chance she will walk again. All we can do at this stage is wait. I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything more.”
If he had hoped that Morgause not getting into the vault last time would be the end to this, he’d have been wrong.
It’s Friday 15 September again. It’s all happening again.
Well, there is one very simple solution he hasn’t tried yet. He picks up the house phone and dials 999. He hangs up before he can press call.
Those two police yesterday – they had badges, and a car, they seemed pretty real. Which can only mean one thing. The police may well be compromised.
He needs to talk to Morgana.
Getting washed and dressed in record time, Arthur practically runs from the flat.
He is earlier again today and Merlin is not yet at his desk. Arthur quickly makes his way up to the top floor and is relieved to find Morgana in her office.
“Arthur! I didn’t expect you to be in this early. Meeting’s not till eleven.” The smile on her face is genuine and Arthur feels a flood of warmth run through him. He misses the closeness of their relationship, Skype calls are not the same, no matter what anyone says, and not including this repeated day and the night she'd picked him up from Heathrow, he hadn't really seen his sister for three years since she'd visited him in Sydney.
Arthur just shrugs. This is not a conversation he even knows how to start. He practised things he could say the whole way here, but even so – he going to sound insane.
He takes a breath. “Why is Merlin here?” Ok, that wasn’t what he planned to say at all.
Morgana quirks an eyebrow at him and her lips form into a funny half-smirk. “He’s good at his job, and the customers love him.”
“Seriously? You had to bring him all the way from Cardiff for that? Like there is no one in London who could do that?” Arthur folds his arms across his chest and tries not to look petulant.
“He wanted a change, and a challenge. You don’t think he deserved the chance?”
“Why him? Out of all of them, why him?” He knows really that Merlin was never bad at his job, but putting him down as always been Arthur's instinctive defensive reaction to hide how much he cares about him. He also knows that this is a habit he should try to break, but he can never seem to stop it, even after all this time.
She shrugged. “Why not him?”
“He… he’s lazy!” He’s amazing. “He’s never at work on time.” I miss him. “He slacks off.” I need him. “He’s cheeky…” I love him.
“He makes up any hours he misses, he always did. And you’d be surprised at the amount of work he does while making it look like he doesn’t. He’s one of our best workers.”
“Merlin wouldn’t know work if it jumped up and bit him.” He knows he sounds petulant, he knows he's being unfair. He doesn’t care.
“He’s my friend too, Arthur. I wasn’t about to just give up on him because you left. But no, that is not why he got the job – he’s here because he deserves it. He’s one of the best account advisors I’ve ever worked with. And who knows, in a different life, where my brother pulled his head out of his arse and didn’t do everything our father ever wanted, Merlin could have been my brother-in-law.”
Arthur’s head snaps up. She’s still watching him, that annoying little smirk of hers playing about her mouth.
“Oh come on, Arthur, if father told you to piss against the wall you’d ask how high.” A raised eyebrow joins the smirk. “You didn’t really think I didn’t know, did you? About you and Merlin? We shared a flat, how could I not know! You weren’t exactly quiet.”
“Was it you who told father?”
Her face morphs from confusion to outrage to insulted in a matter of seconds. “Fuck you, Arthur. I’ve always kept your secrets, haven’t I? Do you really think that little of me? I was glad to see you happy. I think it might be the only time I have since you were about ten. Yes, Father told me to keep an eye on you when he sent you to Cardiff, but I wouldn’t have told him anything! I like Merlin. You two were good together.”
He rubs a hand across his face. “I’m sorry. I know that. Of course you wouldn’t.” Morgana has always been his confidant, she was the only person he ever told when he kissed the head boy, Owain, behind the school boatshed at boarding school when he was fifteen, and she knew about his relationship with Geraint at uni for a long time before Uther walked in on them. He pauses and looks up at her. “I wouldn’t tell him about you either, you know that, don’t you?”
She looks a little unsettled now. “About me?”
“About the magic. I wouldn’t tell him.” He needs her to understand that he’s not like Uther. He needs her to be on his side.
“Did Merlin tell you?”
“No. Well, sort of. Not really, someone else did first. How did Merlin know, anyway?”
“he just… does. So who did tell you?”
“It’s complicated.” Should he tell her about the whole déjà bloody vu thing? Probably.
“Do you hate me?” Her voice is small and he’s never seen Morgana look so unsure of herself, not even in the hospital when she found out she’d broken her back.
He sighs and closes his eyes. “Of course I don’t hate you. You’re my sister, I love you. And it’s not like you go around deliberately using it or anything.”
“But you don’t accept me either.” It’s a statement, not a question. “You only put up with it because I’m your sister?”
He doesn’t know what to say. He still hasn’t got his head around it, and it’s hard to equate his sister with the image he’s been brought up with of witches as evil, debauched, drunk and drug-addled. People with magic are not people you associate with, the magic rots both their brains and their bodies. Morgana is sharp and clever and health-conscious. Yes, she’s in a wheelchair, but that is because she broke her back, not because magic has withered her limbs as he was taught at Sunday School.
“You are my sister,” he repeats. “You always have been and you always will be. I may not understand this magic thing, but I won’t give up on you.”
She nods, not looking entirely happy. “So long as I don’t actually use magic? So long as I keep it hidden?”
“I didn’t… No! That’s not what I meant!.”
Arthur shakes his head and changes the subject before he puts his foot even further into his own mouth.
“Morg, how do you know someone called Alvarr?”
She pales and shakes her head, pushing her chair back from the desk slightly. “Where did you hear that name?”
“I asked first.”
She looks down at her hands, visibly shaking. “He was my boyfriend at university.”
“I’ve never heard you mention him. Or any boyfriend for that matter.”
“We met at magic soc., I was hardly going to broadcast that, was I?”
“You went to magic soc.?” He asks in surprise. At the look she gives him, he quickly moves on. “He has magic too?”
She nods. “He was helping me get it under control. I was having nightmares. I still do.”
“So what happened?”
“He was older than me. Dangerous type, very hot. He was into all sorts. He gave me this drug, amantia, it’s like mushrooms, but a stronger strain, it would probably kill non-magics – it works with your magic to give you this amazing high. And it helped, the dreams stopped.”
“And… one night I had a bad dose. I was so out of it, I— I’m not really sure what happened. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in hospital and Dr Elyan was there in a white coat talking about CT scans and naming vertebrae.”
“Ran off and left me. I haven’t seen him since.” She’s clearly trying to be casual about that and failing, her lower lip held between her teeth and her eyes downturned.
“I’m sorry.” He really is. What sort of a shite brother is he that he never knew any of this about her? Why did she never confide any of this? It's not like he never asked her what happened. They’ve always told each other everything, he thought. She knows his every dark secret.
“It’s fine, I got over him a long time ago.” She gives him a funny little wobbly smile.
“If a bloke leaves at the first sign of trouble, he’s probably not worth it.” He attempts a smile, but he knows it’s not convincing.
“You mean like you did to Merlin?” There is a bitter bite to her voice.
Arthur sighs and closes his eyes. Of course she would be on Merlin’s side, she always had a soft spot for defenseless baby animals. “It wasn’t just me, you know, Morg. He pushed me away.”
“No, seriously. I know finding out about Mith threw him for a loop, but I’d have given it all up for him, and he knew that. He left me for someone else.”
"Morg." He looks at his watch. He’s wasting precious time reminiscing like this, and a change of subject would be much needed about now. “If I tell you something, do you promise not to laugh?”
“I’m not sure I can keep that promise, but go on.”
“What would you say if I told you I’d lived today three times already?”
She frowns. “I’d say what on earth are you talking about?”
“I’m serious. In less than an hour, a blonde woman called Morgause is going to burst into the board meeting and threaten us all with guns. They want to get into the protected vault at any cost, regardless of who gets killed.”
Morgana's head snaps up and her eyes suddenly seem to bore into him. "Wears a lot of eye make-up, a bit scary?"
"You know her?" He'd suspected as much.
Morgana shrugs and deflects. "And this has happened three times?”
Arthur lets it go, for now. “More or less. Slightly different each time, depending on what I do to try and stop it. Then every morning I wake up and it’s the same day again. And no one else remembers but me.”
“OK, I’m definitely not laughing, that sounds like powerful magic.”
“I don’t know what happened. They were in the vault, stealing the artifacts. She… she killed Merlin.” He stops, afraid his voice will start cracking at the memory of losing Merlin.
“Shit, Arthur, this is massive.” Morgana reaches across the desk and squeezes his hand. “But I guess with the reliving the day, we can save him? Right?” She pauses, clearly considering something. “There is a fairly strong belief in the magical community that we should have back the magical artifacts the Magicless stole from us. Maybe if we just gave them back, no one would get killed.”
“But is this Morgause the right person to have these artifacts? Merlin doesn’t seem to think so.” Arthur starts fiddling with the Newton’s Cradle on her desk to hide the emotions he’s pretty sure are still playing on his face at the memory of Merlin dying.
Morgana pulls the toy out of his reach. “I don’t know. I’ve heard of her.” She turns and looks at him. “She tried to recruit me.”
“What!” Arthur sits up straighter. “Were you tempted?”
She is silent for a moment and then nods. “Yes. Yes, of course I was. They call themselves the Sisterhood, or Priestesses of the Old Religion. The things they know, Arthur… the things they could do.”
“Do?” He doesn’t like the look on her face. She’s in awe of these people, she respects them.
“To change things, to make the world better. Make it so people like me an— people like me don’t have to hide any more. Make it so that people who are already in the system aren’t repressed! It’s time the world moved on, and these really might be the people to do it.”
“So you are with them?”
She looks down at a picture on her desk. Arthur knows what it is, a picture of the three of them, himself, Morgana and Uther, taken at Morgana’s graduation. She was in a wheelchair by then, her degree having been interrupted by the accident, and Uther is looking so proud of her. Uther hadn’t come to Arthur’s graduation, the affair with Geraint having come to light so recently, but back then, at Morgana’s graduation, they’d still been a tight family unit.
“He might not be the best father in the world, he’s certainly not the best man, but he’s done so much for me especially after my accident.”
Arthur manages a wry smile. “You always were his favourite.”
She gives him an unconvincing smile in return. “Of course I was, he was hardly going to pick the Milkybar Kid, was he?” Arthur knows her well enough by now to know the smile is forced and to see the strain behind her eyes. The way Uther is with Arthur is evidence enough for how he’d treat her if he ever found out about the magic.
“So you don’t want to join Morgause?” He’s not sure when he sat forward, all alert and tense, waiting for her response.
She goes quiet again. “You know how it is, Arthur, hiding your true self. No one should have to live like that.”
Yeah, he knows. Point to Morgana. “You could have spoken to me. I mean, I always told you everything.”
“And what? You’d have been disgusted and run off to tell daddy?” Her words are bitter, but he’s pretty sure he can hear fear underneath.
“Of course not! I might have been able to help.” How? How exactly was he planning on doing that? He doesn’t know the first thing about magic!
“Help how?” Morgana practically echoes his thoughts. “Help me hide it? Help me not use it? Help me feel ashamed?”
“I… well. I wouldn’t have told a soul, I swear! And yes, what is wrong with keeping it hidden?”
“Like you? Marrying Mithian so you could hide in the closet forever and pretend to the world you are straight? How is that working out for you, Arthur? Are you happy?”
“That is not the same thing!”
“Yes it is! We both hide who we are for the sake of Father and the sake of society. I am so tired of hiding, Arthur. I’ve been hiding for most of my life. Going to university, joining the magic society, meeting other people like me – it was one of the best times of my life. They helped me to control my magic, to understand my skills.”
“By giving you illegal drugs?”
She raises an eyebrow at him, then ignores him. “Merlin gives me someone to talk to, he keeps me sane, him and Gwen.”
“Gwen knows?” Everyone but him, it would seem.
“She’s my best friend.”
“And I’m your brother.” Does he sound hurt? Why shouldn’t he, she should bloody well trust him!
“You wouldn’t have understood.” That is so unfair, is he not doing his very best right now to show her he understands? Even if he doesn’t!
“You could have made me understand! The only experience I have of magic is what Father told us – it’s hardly fair to expect me to know anything about something I have no experience of!” She could trust him. She could just bloody well trust him. Ok, so this magic thing has thrown him for a loop, but she could have tried talking to him.
“You could have educated yourself, Arthur! Rather than blindly following everything Father tells you. Read the paper, form your own opinions! What happened to the Arthur that was going to be the first gay Prime Minister and change the world? When did he become his father’s lap dog?” He’d honestly forgotten just how much of a bitch Morgana can be when she wants to.
“That is not fair! I am very well up on most current affairs, and you know it. I didn’t even know this was an issue I needed to look into, how could I? It’s not exactly spoken of in polite society, and it certainly doesn’t get into the papers much. Magical issues are kept under the radar, and I, along with most of the world, know nothing about it.” He’s trying his best here.
“Then maybe it needs to be in the papers, and let’s be honest, if Morgause steals those artefacts, magical issues are suddenly going to be centre stage. Every ‘issue’ means something to someone, Arthur.” She starts tugging on her hair, the way she does when people really irritate her. “Maybe you need to grow up before you try the whole politics thing again.”
“Hey! When did this all become a personal attack on me?” No, seriously, he’s trying to be all understanding here, and she suddenly seems to hate him, what has he done?
Morgana goes quiet again. Then, suddenly, like she just decided something, she flicks her hair back over her shoulder. “Morgause has plans. She’s going to change things, make it better. And I’m sorry, Arthur, but I want that. I might not have been able to betray father and help her, but I want to be able to be me without being shunned. I want to be able to use magic openly, to talk about it, to share it with my friends.”
“So the only thing stopping you is Father?” He frowns. Will that be enough? At least until Uther turns his back on her when he finds out? But what then? Maybe he should be talking to Uther instead, get him not to reject her? That would be easier said than done.
She nods. “He’s… look, he didn’t want me to tell you this, but he’s been having heart problems. Probably all those years of smoking finally catching up. He’s on medication for angina.”
“How? He was adamant you were not to be told.” Morgana looks affronted, she probably liked being the only one in the know; the trusted offspring.
“He had a heart attack, down in the vault.”
“A heart attack?”
“Well, I think it was a heart attack, could have been angina, I’m not a medic and I honestly don't know the difference. Morgause wouldn’t let us get him help.” Surely, surely he can make her see that this Morgause is not to be trusted. But then, she saw Morgause do that with her own eyes and still sided with her.
Morgana seems to be lost in her own thoughts. “He’s not always right though, Arthur. Some of the things he says and does, some of his opinions – they are terrible. He’s the most awful bigot about anyone who isn’t like him – non-English, non-christian, non-white, non-tory, female, gay, magic. He’s my father and he’s done so much for me, and I do love him, but he’s really hard to like.”
Well, yes. Arthur knows that, doesn’t he? Uther loves his children, in his own way, and would do anything for them, even Arthur, but in the real world? He is racist, sexist, bigoted. His views are archaic, and Arthur has been embarrassed by them so many times in his life. It’s only now that he’s starting to realise that rather than simply being embarrassed he should have tried to do something about it. He might not be able to change his father, but surely he could make a difference to others?
Arthur distinctly remembers Morgana fighting to get her best friend a job at Camelot, and despite Gwen’s truly excellent qualifications, far better than any other candidate, Uther had still had doubts about giving the job to ‘that little coloured girl’, just as he’d had issues with letting Gwen’s brother treat Morgana when she broke her back. And even now, despite both Gwen and Elyan proving Uther wrong many times over, he would never view them as equals.
As for the way he treated Arthur himself. He has no idea what Uther said or did to Geraint, but he never got in touch with Arthur again – it’s only because he’s occasionally in touch with Lance and Leon that Arthur knows he’s alright.
And yes, Uther’s opinion on magic and magic users has always been well known in their house, even to the point where most fairy tales were banned when they were kids and Arthur and Morgana used to watch films in secret. Uther would have flipped if he ever discovered that Arthur used to call Morgana Wednesday after a character in a film he should never have been watching.
But agree with what she says or not, Arthur can’t allow Morgana to side with Morgause, he has to make her see that this is wrong. “Merlin seems to think it would be a terrible thing if they get their hands on those artifacts.”
“Merlin knows?” Morgana looks interested now, maybe he should have started with that.
Arthur nods. “He was there.”
“Merlin’s not always right, you know. He just likes to think he is.” There is a little frown marring her face though, like she has more trust in Merlin than she’s pretending. Why she puts so much faith in Merlin’s opinion he has no idea, although Arthur himself would probably follow Merlin to the depths of hell.
“I know.” And he does know, Merlin is definitely not always right. He’s also nothing like as stupid as he pretends to be.
Morgana is frowning, her eyebrows drawn deep together in thought. The phone starts ringing but she ignores it. “What actually happened, Arthur? I need to know.”
“They took us down to the vault after murdering one of the security guards, Merlin’s friend Will. Father was taken ill, and rather than getting him help they used that to get us to open the vault. Merlin somehow evaded them, but he got caught and was in the room. And she killed him. And there was this old pocket watch. When I touched it there was a sort of bright light and when it cleared I was in bed and the day had started again.”
“So it was the watch that triggered it?”
“Uh.” He can feel his face colour as he realises he hasn’t actually thought about what might have caused this whole thing, concentrating more on how to stop it. “I’m not sure.”
“Well it sounds likely to me, does it not to you?”
Morgana is wearing that expression she is so good at that says Arthur is stupid.
“Now you mention it, yes, of course. Have you heard of such an artifact?”
Morgana shakes her head. “No, I don’t know much about any of the artefacts. Uh…” She bites her lip, looking unsure if she should say what she is about to say. “Merlin is probably the best person to ask. His Uncle Geoffrey back in Cardiff knows quite a lot about that sort of thing.”
Arthur nods, he remembers Merlin’s eccentric uncles well, Gaius and Geoffrey are a mine of useless information.
“You know,” Morgana says, rubbing her forehead like she’s trying to rub out the wrinkles she made from frowning so hard. “Maybe it would all go better if we just opened the vault to begin with? Just give in now, tell them we’ll do it and no one needs to get hurt.”
“Father would never forgive us. He already told her he would rather she kill all of us than open the vault.”
“I’m pretty sure he was bluffing.”
“Well, let’s hope you are right. And what did he say about me?”
“Hmm?” Arthur lifts his eyebrows and plays stupid. Damn it, he’d really been hoping to avoid this one, so he evades it. “I don’t think the vault is supposed to be opened, Morg. Every time so far it gets opened and every time I start the day again.”
“Maybe it’s just the way it gets opened," she suggests, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Maybe it’s people getting hurt and killed that is not supposed to happen. If I tell Morgause from the start that I’m willing to help, then no one gets hurt.”
“So we let that woman, who is prepared to just kill anyone who gets in her way, get her hands on all those artifacts?" Arthur can feel this slipping away from him. "We don’t know what she’ll do with them!"
“Exactly, we don’t know. Maybe killing people isn’t actually part of her agenda here, you don’t understand how desperate the magical community is. Perhaps if we just give her what she wants then she can make the world a better place.”
“But thing are getting better. Surely?” Arthur asks. Because honestly, things are surely so much better than they were.
The laugh Morgana gives contains no humour what so ever. “Well if that statement doesn’t scream rich over-privileged white boy, I don’t know what does.” The phone on Morgana’s desk starts ringing again but she picks it up and drops it back into it’s cradle without answering.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he asks indignantly.
“The world just pretends to be better. Just like you are trying to pretend you are fine with magic. People say what they think they should. Try saying things are better to the mother starving herself so she can feed her children, to the little boy who wishes the world would stop insisting he is a girl, to the people trying to live their lives while bombs fall on their cities, to the kids who get shot at by police because of the colour of their skin, the disabled people getting bullied not only on the street but by the government, the women getting groped and belittled every day, the magic users who can’t so much as breathe without getting arrested—”
“Alright, alright, I get the picture!”
“You don’t though, do you? These are just words to you, statistics. They don’t affect you.”
“Hey, gay man here, remember?”
“Standing up to be counted now, are you? Last I heard you ran away to a wonderful heteronormative life as far away as possible.”
“That’s the problem really though, isn’t it? You don’t want anything to change – you just want everything to carry on just like it always did.”
“Can’t you see that if things were left to people like you, we’d still be living in the dark ages and people like me would be getting burnt at the stake just for existing? Assuming of course that I hadn’t just been left to die at the foot of those stairs because hey, who wants a cripple cluttering up the place?” The fury in her eyes suddenly makes him realise that she’s been bottling this up for years. The phone starts ringing again and she takes hold of the cord and rips it out. “But you wouldn’t have known, because you’d probably have been hanged already as a sodomite. Progress is a thing, Arthur, otherwise we just stagnate.”
“It’s not like that!”
“Really? Then tell me, what exactly did father do when he learnt about me having magic? I’m assuming if you knew, he did too.”
Arthur closes his eyes. “What do you think he did? What did he do when he caught me with Geraint? He went all cold and funny and wouldn’t acknowledge you. I dare say, give him a few days and he’ll be pretending it never happened, so long as you agree to sign your life away by doing whatever he wants.”
“Then maybe it's time we stood up to him? Maybe it's time we tried to actually make a difference rather than just doing everything he wants? ”
"How do you mean?"
"Oh come on. You used to have so much drive, so much ambition. When you were a teenager, when you were at Uni, even whilst you were still in Cardiff, when you were with Merlin, you could see the world needed saving. Father has corroded your sense of justice until you’ve just accepted the status quo, no questions asked. I miss you, Arthur. The old Arthur, not this shadow man who just puts his head down and drifts through life without touching it.” Morgana’s mobile starts to ring, no doubt their father trying to find out why they are not in the meeting. They both ignore it.
“Thanks for that, Morgana.” Arthur stands up and walks over to the door. “I’ll just sort out this whole mess by myself, shall I? We were supposed to be in the boardroom half an hour ago.”
“Why, so you can run me down a bit more? I’m sorry if I’m not the perfect brother, Morgana, but I am trying my best. I told you I’m here, I’m on your side, what more can I do? There is no need to drag the complete fucking mess I’ve made of my life into this.”
“Oh Arthur.” The expression on her face softens. “I wasn’t trying to have a go at you. I just need you to understand."
“So what? You are going against me and siding with Morgause?” He ignores the feeling welling up at the back of his throat that feels like he might cry. Morgana sided with Morgause before, but that was heat of the moment. This time he has tried to be on her side, and yet she is still siding against him. She’s given up on him.
The smile dims. “Not against you, no. Against father, maybe. You are not the only one he has manipulated; I have done nothing but hide in this crumbling bank ever since my accident, doing exactly what father wanted because I was so damn grateful for all he did for me. Before that, when I knew Alvarr, we were going to change the world too. But I am only thirty-two, and I can still do that.”
“By opening that vault.”
“Artie, yes. Have you not listened to a word I said? Let’s make things happen! Let’s open that vault now, before anyone gets killed over it, and let’s see what the future holds.”
“What’s that supposed to m—”
The shrill blare of the fire alarm stops him short. He glances down at his watch in confusion. Still fifteen minutes to go before Morgause should come into the meeting, and the fire alarm has never gone off before. Moments later, Valiant bursts into the office.
Chapter 5: Day Five
If there was one thing Arthur was going to miss after Uni, it was his boyfriend’s talented mouth. Perhaps he could persuade him to make a booty call down from Edinburgh, where Geraint was doing his PhD, to London, where Arthur had secured an internship with the Lib Dems.
He groaned and tipped his head back, gripping the headboard with one hand as Geraint’s lubed fingers slipped in at the same time as he took Arthur’s cock as far into his mouth as he could.
Somewhere, in his about-to-come-haze, Arthur registered the door opening. He lifted his head to tell Lance or Leon or whoever it was to fuck off, and was met with the sight of his father’s furious face.
That went well.
Arthur isn’t sure how many more times he can watch Merlin die. Or even Will, for that matter, but definitely not Merlin. They’d killed some of the hostages, even with Morgana trying to cooperate. They’d killed Leon, who’d gone back in looking for them after the fire alarm.
Going by Morgana’s face, she blamed herself for failing to stop their deaths when she had been so sure her course of action would win. He can’t risk trying to talk to her again, not if it has the same result. He can’t let Morgause get into that vault again.
Is Morgana right? Things probably do need to change, and yes, he’s probably had his head stuck comfortably in the sand, or up his own arse, according to Morgana, for far too long in the knowledge that as long as things were not affecting him then they were someone else’s problem. But it would seem Merlin was right too – Morgause is not the person to effect that change. Perhaps Morgana herself would be better.
He squares his shoulders and raises his hand to knock on the office door. Come on, Arthur, you can do this, you can not buckle under that cold iron stare. He knocks.
“Father?” Even now, at the grand old age of twenty-nine, coming into this office makes him feel like a naughty schoolboy about to get told off for failing GCSE maths, or a recent graduate about to find out his life would be going the way his father wanted after all.
Uther looks up from his work and blinks at Arthur a moment before beckoning him in. “Arthur, I didn’t expect to see you here so early. The meeting doesn’t start for another half an hour yet.” He looks Arthur over and frowns. "I do wish you wouldn't wear glasses, Arthur, they don't suit you and they make you look weak."
Arthur sighs and shuts the door behind him. He knows his father hates him wearing glasses, he's told him so often enough, but it had seemed like a good way to save time this morning. He'd be more careful in future. He takes the seat in front of the desk. He’s not a naughty schoolboy anymore, he won’t stand in disgrace. Uther carries on tapping away at his computer. Arthur tries to choose his words carefully. “What would you say if I told you I had magic?”
Uther’s fingers stop in mid-tap and he looks at him coldly a moment. “Don’t be so ridiculous, Arthur.”
“No, I’m serious.”
Uther’s face twists into an ugly sneer. “Have you not disappointed me enough, Arthur? Why would you pursue something as evil as magic?”
“Why are you so sure magic is evil?”
“Magic is evil. Magic killed your mother, unless you forgot. Magic rots your brain, corrupts your soul. Is this what being in Sydney has led you to? I sent you there to correct your faults, not to breed new ones.”
“Correct my faults? It might have escaped your notice, Father, but Australia stopped being a penal colony even longer ago than homosexuality stopped being a crime.” He’s not sure where this bravado is coming from, maybe the fact that he is pretty sure that this day will play over again tomorrow, or maybe Morgana’s words yesterday had more effect than he’d thought.
“You will not talk to me like that.” Uther’s face is going a funny red colour.
Somewhere in the back of Arthur’s brain he’s trying to tell himself to remember his father’s heart, but it’s too late, his mouth is on a roll and is spouting off all the things he wished he’d said seven years ago.
“Why, are you going to disinherit me? Go ahead. I’m getting a divorce, by the way. Maybe I’ll move back to the UK and become a big gay magical activist.” That little part of his brain is telling him to shut the fuck up, he did not come here to pick a fight with his father, but the part that is in control of his mouth is having far too much fun.
“You most certainly will not! Would you destroy everything the company has going with Nemeth PLC over some silly argument with your wife? Our reputation would be in tatters, and what about our business interests in Australia and New Zealand? Do you think of no one but yourself?”
“Is business all you care about? I’m miserable, Father! I thought you might at least give a damn about that. And no, it’s not some silly argument. It’s a fundamental incompatibility.”
“What about your wife in all this? Do you have no respect for her feelings?” Uther is reigning his emotions back in, Arthur’s seen this before. He loses his control very rarely, but his cold exterior always returns quickly.
“It is because I respect her that I am doing this. And by the way, she actually has a name, you know.” Arthur lifts his chin, Uther may have calmed down, but Arthur is not going to let him think he’s won. “I should never have married Mithian in the first place.”
“This is about that boy, isn’t it?” Uther narrows his eyes, Arthur can almost see the cogs whirring in his brain.
“What boy?” His heart is suddenly beating too fast. He’d suspected the other day that his father knew about Merlin, even though they’d been so sure they’d been discreet, but it’s not always nice to discover you are right.
“Don’t be stupid, you know who I mean.” Uther remains calm, but he’s moved onto his ‘I may look calm but I’m about to ruin your life’ face – otherwise known as Calm No.4. Arthur is an expert in the finer points of his father’s facial expressions and even has scales for different levels of calm, busy, disdainful or pissed off. “I’ve had him background checked. He mixes with magic users – his Uncle Gaius is a notorious trouble maker, and several of his friends are toad lickers. The boy is dangerous and I want you to have nothing to do with him.”
“I haven’t been in touch with Merlin since I left.” There is no point in carrying on trying to pretend he doesn’t know who Uther means, that will only anger him further. “But then, I’m assuming you probably already knew that, didn’t you? You must have been keeping tabs on me since Oxford to have known about Merlin, you probably know every email I’ve sent and every phone call I’ve made. What I can’t quite work out, is what the hell is he doing working here?”
Uther manages to look completely unruffled. “I have him where I can keep an eye on him.”
Arthur, despite what his father always let him believe, is not stupid. Uther let Morgana keep Merlin around so he would have a bargaining chip next time Arthur stepped out of line.
“Right. So go on then, what happens to Merlin if I don’t behave?”
“Arthur.” Uther draws out the name so it becomes a long-suffering sigh. “You and I both know you are not stupid enough to dabble in magic. I’m not entirely sure what this little charade is about but enough is enough. We have the board meeting to get to, and when it’s over you will go home to your wife and we will forget this ever happened.”
“Good to know.” Why did he expect anything else?
Arthur sits back and takes off his glasses to rub his eyes. How had they even got into this in the first place? Arthur’s never had anything to do with magic in his entire life, and yet here he is, trying to get himself disowned for something he hasn’t done rather than trying to fix this great big mess he’s in.
“Look,” he says, putting his glasses back on. “I didn’t actually come here to argue with you. I have information about a threat to the bank. Someone is going to make an attempt of the vault. The Protected Vault.”
Uther sits up straighter, his attention suddenly focused on Arthur rather than the computer in front of him. “When?”
Arthur checks his watch. “In about an hour and a half .”
“How did you come by this information?” Uther’s hand is automatically reaching out to the phone. “And why didn’t you say something sooner rather than wasting my time with all that nonsense?”
Arthur quickly puts his hand on the phone too to stop his father lifting the receiver.
“I got a tip off. But they have inside people with the police, we can’t call it in.”
Uther frowns, but takes his hand away. “So what do you propose to do?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I came to you.”
“Is this your doing? Does it have something to do with Merlin?”
“No, of course not!”
A knock at the door prevents Arthur from answering further.
Agravaine pokes his head into the room. “Uther? The board members are all waiting for the meeting to start. Oh, Arthur, I didn’t realise you were here.”
“Uncle.” Arthur gives him a tight smile and beckons him in. “Please come in, have a seat. Uncle Agravaine, a woman called Morgause is about to try and rob this bank.”
Agravaine’s face goes pale. “Well, shouldn’t we get out of the building then?”
Uther gives him disdainful look No.2 and picks up the phone.
“The police are compromised,” Arthur hurriedly reminds him. “We can’t call them.”
Uther ignores him and dials anyway. “Chief Commissioner, please. It’s Uther Pendragon.”
Out in the hall, the fire alarm starts to sound.
Chapter 6: Day Six
“… and then he told his teacher that Father was a bank robber!” Morgana barely got the last word out before she started giggling again.
“What Wednesday here failed to inform you, is that she’s the one who told me that in the first place! I was a very impressionable child, and she was every bit as evil then as she is now.”
“Wednesday?” Merlin wondered out loud from across the table. He’d been avoiding Arthur since the drink-dropping incident, but Morgana had organised ‘getting to know you’ drinks for Friday night.
“Addams Family.” Arthur took a drink of his Guinness to hide his smirk.
“Doesn’t that make you Pugsley?” Merlin asked, far too innocently.
Morgana snorted so hard Arthur could swear her drink nearly came out of her nose. “Arthur was a chubby little blond boy with big round glasses, he was the Milkybar Kid, of course.”
“My round!” Arthur said, standing up quickly.
“Milkybars are on Arthur!” Gilli quipped from next to Merlin and everyone started snickering again.
“Right, arsenic for Morgana and Gilli, what’s everyone else having?”
He was surprised when Merlin followed him up to the bar.
“Thought you might need a hand,” Merlin said with a shrug when Arthur raised an eyebrow.
They stood in silence for a moment.
“Don’t take it personally, we’re all pretty informal here,” Merlin said after a bit. “If you just go with it, they’ll all probably like you a lot better.”
“They don’t like me?”
Merlin shrugged again. “I wouldn’t say don’t like you, as such. You just have a bit of a stick up your arse. And just for the record, no one here really gives a damn if you got your degree from Oxford or Oxfam, so maybe stop banging on about it, yeah?”
Arthur opened his mouth, more than a little stunned at how rude this man was.
“What can I get you?” the barman asked.
Merlin put his hand on Arthur’s chin and pushed his mouth shut. “Catching flies there, mate.”
“Evening, Merlin!” Of course Merlin would know the bartender. “This the new boyfriend?”
“Will! Shut up, this is the boss’s son!” A rosy hue stole across Merlin’s cheeks. The look rather suited him, Arthur wouldn’t say no to seeing Merlin look flushed in a more private setting. No, damn it, bad thoughts!
“Good evening, Arthur Pendragon, pleasure to meet you.” He held his hand out for Will to shake.
Will stopped what he was doing and gave Arthur a long, appraising look, very deliberately not shaking Arthur’s hand. “Posh sort, int he?”
Arthur did his best to muster a ‘not bothered’ face as he reeled off his drinks order.
“You coming to the game tomorrow, Merls?” Will started pouring the Guinness first, Arthur was pleased to note.
Merlin wrinkled his nose. “I don’t think I can make it, I have plans to sleep off my hangover.”
“Kick-off’s not till three!” Will moved onto the other beers while he waited for the Guinness to settle.
“Yeah, exactly, I still plan to be sleeping at three.” Merlin shrugged. “Can I get a packet of crisps? Salt and Vinegar.”
“What team?” Arthur asked.
“City, of course! What other team is there?” Will looked indignant as he pushed the drinks towards Arthur.
“Cardiff?” Arthur took his credit card out of his wallet to pay for the drinks. “My mates Leon and Lance are coming down from London, we thought we might go to the game. We could see you there?”
“Hmm, maybe.” Will’s look was slightly less hostile; clearly liking footie raised Arthur’s standing a little.
“Well, I suppose I might be able to make it too.” Merlin carefully didn’t look at Arthur or Will. “Make sure you posho English types don’t get beaten up or something.” He picked up some drinks and started to make his way back to the table.
“You must be special, mate. Merlin won’t go to watch football for just anyone,” Will said as he took handed Arthur’s card back. “Just see you don’t hurt him, yeah? Or Welsh fans will be the least of your worries.”
This time, he waits outside of the building. Sure enough at about quarter past nine, fifteen minutes late for work, Merlin shows up.
“Merlin!” He puts his hand out to catch his attention.
“Arthur?” Merlin pulls the earphones out. He doesn’t exactly look surprised to see him, but a wary look comes over his face and Arthur is almost sure Merlin is checking down the street behind him. He looks over his shoulder but there is nothing there, and when he looks back Merlin is wearing a scowl once again. “What are you doing here?”
“I need to talk to you.” Arthur pushes his glasses up his nose, having kept them on rather than putting in his contact lenses in an attempt to save time this morning.
“I, er… um, I can't talk to you.” Merlin stops, frowns and shakes his head, before making as if to walk past and Arthur quickly catches hold of his sleeve.
Merlin turns back and raises one skeptical eyebrow, a trick he learnt from his uncle. He says nothing, simply waiting for Arthur to continue.
Arthur looks about them, conscious of the fact that they could be being watched. “Look, come back to Morgana’s with me?”
Merlin lets out a nervous sounding laugh and looks about him again. “What, fancy a quick hook-up while the Mrs is safely on the other side of the world?” He curls his lip into a sneer that doesn’t sit right on his face and looks down at Arthur’s hand on his arm. “Sorry, darling, I have work.”
Damn it, Arthur wishes he didn't remember so clearly when endearments like that weren't said sarcastically.
“What? No! I—” Arthur drops Merlin’s sleeve like it’s a funnelweb spider.
Merlin looks almost sad as he shakes his head. “Look, I’m late, alright? Leave me alone.”
“Please.” Arthur hates how pathetically needy his voice sounds, and he must look desperate because Merlin seems to relent a little.
“What‘s this about?”
“Not here. Please, come back to Morgana’s and I’ll explain everything. I’ll even make tea.” Because let’s be honest, tea has always been the way to Merlin’s heart. “I’ll clear the late thing with Morgana.”
Merlin doesn’t look convinced, but he nods and gestures for Arthur to lead the way. “Let’s get this over with.”
There was a time when Merlin needed no convincing to bunk off and spend time with Arthur, and Arthur can pile all the blame onto his father and Merlin and Gwaine all he likes, but he knows it’s all his own doing.
Merlin seems to know his way around Morgana’s flat pretty well, going by the way he drops his bag down flings himself straight into the comfortable chair. “So, I was promised tea?”
Arthur can’t help the small smile that twitches at his lips. “Give me a chance to stick the kettle on, will you? White one sugar?”
“I’m impressed you remembered, you never did when we were dating, if you could call it dating. Maybe ‘shagging about behind your wife’s back’ would be a better description.” Ouch.
Arthur makes the tea quickly and takes it through, placing himself in on the sofa opposite Merlin.
They sit in tense silence and sip their too-hot tea, while Arthur tries to think of the best way to tell Merlin what is going on.
“As much fun as it is, sitting in silence watching my ex drink tea, did you actually have a reason for bringing me here?” Merlin asks eventually, effecting a bored tone.
“I…” Arthur puts his tea down with a sigh and stares up at the ceiling for guidance. “Look, there is no way of saying this without sounding completely bonkers.”
“The bank is about to be robbed.” He looks back down at Merlin just in time to see him spill hot tea down his front.
“What?” Merlin looks panicked and quickly puts his cup down, sans coaster, on Morgana’s pristine coffee table, wiping his hands off on his work trousers. “How do you… wait, what? How do you know that?”
“This is the…” he stops and thinks a moment, “… sixth time I’m living today. And no matter what I do, people die and the vault gets robbed.”
“You remember all this happening before?”
“Not quite this, no. This is the first time I’ve tried talking to you before you get into work. The other times I tried were down in the staff room.”
“I spilt tea.”
“What?” Does Merlin remember too?
Merlin gestures to his shirt front.
“Oh, right. I’ll get you a towel.” Arthur jumps up and goes into the kitchen, returning with a clean teatowel.
“Right then.” Merlin pats ineffectually at the wet patch on his shirt. “Tell me everything.”
“So, Morgana thinks the watch might have caused all this?” Merlin pulls a notebook out of his pocket and starts jotting stuff down. Arthur doesn’t have the heart to remind him that there is no point, the book will revert back to the way it was at the start of the day, as will Merlin.
“Yes, she thought we should ask Uncle Geoffrey if he knows anything.” It occurs belatedly that Arthur no longer has the right to refer to Merlin’s uncles as though they were his own. The thought saddens him, the two old men, and Merlin’s mum, had welcomed him into the family without question, and had taught him for the first time in his life that being gay was perfectly normal.
“Good idea. What did it look like?” Merlin didn’t seem to notice Arthur’s slip.
“Um, like a an old gentleman’s fob watch?” Arthur wrinkles his nose, unsure of what Merlin wants him to say.
“Wow, your skills of description really astound me, well done.” Merlin scribbles something else down that looks suspiciously like ‘gents fob watch’.
“Well, you know, fairly big, goldy sort of – brass, possibly, little knob on top. Fancy dial with a swirly thing in the middle.”
“Hmm. So you opened it?” Merlin had his smartphone out and was busy tapping away.
“Well, it opened when I picked it up, showed all the workings. Hey, important stuff going on here, can’t you check your email later?”
“Sorry, just texting Gaius so he can ask Geoffrey – Uncle Geoffrey doesn’t believe in mobile phones, he only does Scrype when Gaius is there.”
“Skype.” Arthur tries not to laugh – honestly, Merlin’s really not much better than his uncles when it comes to technology.
“Hmm?” Merlin barely looks up from his text.
“It’s Skype, not Scrype.”
“Oh! Uh yeah… whatever.” Merlin wrinkles his nose and gives a little laugh. “So, you can’t tell me anything else?”
Arthur takes off his glasses and rubs at his eyes. “Look, my father was dying, my sister had just betrayed me, and the love of my life was dying in my arms, excuse me if I didn’t notice the exact details about a lump of rock!”
“The love of your life?” Merlin nearly drops his phone. “Who might that be?”
“I… Shut up, you know damn well who I mean. And that’s not the point.” He puts his glasses back on just in time to see that faint twinkle in Merlin’s eyes, the twinkle that is no longer Arthur’s to enjoy.
“How did I die?” Merlin could almost have been asking if it was raining out.
“She took some sort of sword from the vault.” Arthur can hear his own voice wobble.
“From the vault?” Merlin repeats.
“Yeah, I think you’d taken the watch from her, and she stabbed you. That’s how I ended up picking it up. You dropped it, you… I’m sorry.” He rubs his eyes tiredly.
“Did I actually die?”
Arthur looks down at his shoes, not wanting to meet Merlin’s eyes.
“Arthur, this is important. Did I actually die? Or did I just nearly die?”
Arthur closes his eyes and nods. “I’m sorry. I tried… there was so much blood.”
“So… you had my blood on your hands when you picked up the watch?”
“What? Merlin… what are you blethering on about?”
Merlin shrugs. “Doesn’t matter.” He’s wearing an expression that Arthur had become familiar with towards the end of their relationship, lips pursed, one eyebrow ever so slightly raised. It’s a look that, in Arthur’s experience, says there something Merlin is not telling him, and no amount of cajoling is going to make him.
Arthur suddenly feels drained. “I know you love your little secrets, but just for once do you not think you could trust me? I am the only person who will remember this tomorrow, so you not telling me is pretty pointless!”
Merlin closes his eyes, his eyebrows pinching together like he’s in pain. “I hardly think you are in a position to lecture me about keeping secrets, do you?”
Arthur grits his teeth. Merlin won’t say another word on the subject, he knows that.
What was Mithian doing there? She was supposed to be in Oxford working on her thesis, not in Cardiff!
He quickly made his way across the bank towards her, but he was too late, too late to stop it, too late to do anything, too late to do what he should have done months ago and tell Merlin…
“Good afternoon, welcome to Camelot Bank, how may I help you?” He knew that was what Merlin would be saying without having to actually hear it, that was the accepted spiel.
“I’m looking for Arthur, Arthur Pendragon.” The smile on Mithian’s face was so genuine, so open. She didn’t have a clue that she was about to ruin Arthur’s life.
Arthur was close enough by now to hear Merlin’s reply. “Oh, are you a friend of his?”
But he wasn’t close enough to stop her laughing and replying. “You could say that. I’m his wife.”
Merlin looked up, just as Arthur reached them. Betrayal, his expression screamed.
And there was nothing Arthur could do.
They are back outside the bank, and they still don’t have a plan. So basically they have wasted the whole morning and probably don’t even have enough time to go and retrieve his father’s pills.
He knows he’s being unfair, he can’t expect Merlin to take all this in and come up with a brilliant plan at short notice any more than he could expect Morgana to, although they had both taken to the idea of his strange repeated day problem quite well.
“Right then.” Merlin eyes the building like a brilliant idea might suddenly leap out of it and into his head. “If we hide they find us?”
“You. They find you.” Arthur tiredly rubs his hand over his eyes. He’s not sure he can cope with doing all this again. “I never tried hiding.”
“Fair enough.” Merlin doesn’t seem too concerned about any of this. “The only reason I can think of for hiding would be to find out what was going on in that room, and we already know that.”
“I suppose there is the advantage of not being out in the lobby with the rest of the staff and customers.”
“True. So, I still need to get caught.” Arthur doesn’t want to agree with Merlin’s crazy ideas, what he actually wants is to wrap Merlin up in cotton wool and hide him in a cupboard till all the bad men go away, but unfortunately he has a point – if things are going to be different, Merlin needs to be in that room.
“You could bring Father’s pills again.”
Merlin looks at him from the side of his eye. “Are you sure?”
“I’m going to pretend you never said that, Merlin.” Because yeah, his father is an arse, and yeah, he hates pretty much all of his opinions, but he’s still his father.
“So what do you suggest?” Merlin folds his arms and taps his food. “We sneak in the back door wait for Morgause to leave the vault, and jump the guards?”
“Ah yes, the back door.” Arthur makes sure to inject as much sarcasm into his voice as he can. “Because all banks have conveniently unlocked backdoors that people can just sneak into unnoticed.” Yeah yeah, lowest form of wit, whatever.
Merlin rolls his eyes. “Pardon me for trying to actually come up with a plan rather than just standing there like a big posh pillock.”
Ok, so he probably deserved that. “I think they have some sort of tracer, I’m assuming magical, so they know where people are in the building. Morgause seemed surprised that Alvarr hadn’t noticed you. I get the impression he’s somewhere outside the building, so he could actually be watching us right now.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” Merlin looks about them again, like he’s been doing all day. “And you’re only telling me this now because?”
“Because, like I said, banks are not designed for people to be able to sneak in and out of, so what difference does it make. All doors except the main ones are alarmed, so it’s this way or no way.”
Merlin wrinkles his nose again. “What about the delivery door?”
“I doubt Morgause is stupid enough not to have that covered. And it is alarmed when not in use. Same goes for the fire exits.” This is just frustrating, they are getting nowhere and running out of time. “Maybe we should split up?”
“And here was me thinking we’d done that five years ago.” Merlin really can be a swine when he wants to be.
“I meant, we should go in separately, so if one of us gets caught, the other can still do something.”
“I have no idea. But I don’t think you are on their radar, so you might be able to do something once you get inside now you know what is going on.”
“Come on then, let’s try that.”
“That’s it? That is all the plan we’re going with?”
“Arthur, we can’t stand here pontificating all day, let’s just do something.”
“Great. Fabulous. Thank you so much for all your help, Merlin.”
“Look, just go in and pretend you don’t know what is going on. That should be easy for you.”
“Where will you be?”
“I’ll have a scout around, see what I can find out.”
“Merlin, we’ve been through this. You won’t remember tomorrow what you find out today.”
“Fine, I’ll report back to you.” Merlin flashes him a big grin and turned towards the bank. “See you on the other side!”
Arthur glances at his watch. Six minutes to twelve. The fire alarm should be be going off soon, he’d better get inside.
There is no sign of Merlin as he enters the foyer. Arthur has no idea how he managed to disappear so quickly, Morgause’s men must be watching the whole place by now, so the chances of Merlin slipping by unnoticed are slim. Indeed, as he makes his way over to the staff entrance, one of the security guards steps into his path. Valient.
“Sorry, Mr Pendragon, I can’t let you up there, we’re about to test the fire alarms.” there is some sort of triumphant gleam in his eye and Arthur would love nothing better than to punch him.
“I just need to speak with my sister.” He tries to push past but Valiant is built like a brick shithouse.
“Well, she’ll be down in a moment, won’t she? Now, if you’ll just wait here, I’ll fetch her.”
The idea of Valiant’s hands anywhere near his sister makes Arthur’s skin crawl. “I’ll go.”
“No.” Valiant’s voice is firm. “You’ll stay here.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur sees someone shut the doors to the bank. He turns to try and stop them and the next thing he knows the floor is coming up to meet him as pain blossoms in his skull and he feels his glasses break as everything goes dark.
“Merlin, talk to me.”
“Go away, Arthur.”
“Let me explain!”
“What is there to explain? You’re married, a fact you conveniently forgot to mention.”
“It’s not as simple as that!”
“Of course it is! ‘Merlin, I’m married.’ There you go, piece of piss.”
Merlin started to walk away but turned back, anger burning in his eyes. “You know, I actually thought we had something, Arthur! Why d’you let me think that? Why not just tell me you were a tourist making the most of being away from the missus?”
“Fuck you, Arthur.”
He’s already tied up next to his father down in the vault when he wakes. His head is throbbing, and the sound of the drill is not helping.
“Good of you to join us, Sleeping Beauty.” Morgana is clearly trying for her usual brand of dry humour, but Arthur recognises the sound of her voice when she’s been crying. Uther’s breathing is heavy beside him.
“Father?” He feels a bit muddled and he glances up at Morgana, unsure of what to say. He’s not supposed to know what’s going on, but he’s never been the best liar so it might be best to say nothing.
“Arthur, the bank’s being robbed.” Morgana’s voice cracks in a display of emotion that is unlike her. But then, this is hardly a normal situation, even if it is becoming the norm for Arthur.
He tries to sit up, not easy with your hands tied behind your back. His head spins unpleasantly and for a moment he’s sure he’s going to be sick. He waits for an overwhelming feeling of nausea to pass and wonders if Valiant fractured his skull. “What happened?” He’s pretty sure the words come out as a mumble.
“There’s this woman, Morgause. She’s been trying to get me to join her for months and I didn’t say anything, this is all my fault.” Morgana is saying more than she probably should, he can only assume that seeing him unconscious like that has scared her pretty badly. “She took Agravaine somewhere, I don’t know what she’s done to him.”
“It’s not your fault…” He tries to make the words clear, he’s not completely sure he succeeds.
“No, you don’t understand!”
“I know you have magic, Morg.” He feels Uther stir beside him but ignores it. “And I’m assuming that is why she tried to get you on side. But I’m also going to assume from the fact that you are tied up here with us that you turned her down.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
He turns his face to her and does his best to focus on her, which between his lack of glasses and his woozy head is no mean feat. “You are my sister and I love you. We were brought up to believe magic is evil, but I know you are not evil, so I guess I need to change my view on magic.” Should there really be two of her? And would they both please stop dancing up and down like that. He closes his eyes again hoping the feeling of nausea will go away.
“Really?” Morgana’s voice sounds wrong, forcing Arthur to open his eyes again.
Strangely enough, it was not Morgana who spoke. The blurry figure of Merlin is standing in the doorway, bold as brass, any element of surprise he might have been going for completely ruined as he stares at Arthur like he just grew a second head.
Surely Merlin doesn’t hate magic too? He can’t give up his sister, not even for Merlin. The drilling stops as the four bank robbers in the room aim their guns at Merlin. He cheekily holds up his hands and grins at them.
“Don’t mind me, I’m just bringing Sir Uther his pills.” Merlin wiggles his right hand to rattle the pill bottle he’s holding before throwing it to Morgana.
“Merlin!” Morgana sounds stunned yet relieved as she looks at the bottle in her lap. She turns to the guards. “He’ll need water. And I’ll need someone to untie my hands.”
The guard, Arthur is pretty sure it’s the same one that tries to help each time, goes out to the water cooler. He gives Uther the pills himself rather than untying Morgana’s hands, perhaps he is disquieted by Merlin’s sudden appearance.
“How did you know to bring those?” Morgana narrows her eyes at Merlin. “Are you working with them? Oh my god, you are, aren’t you? They approached you too!”
Merlin frowns and tries to take a step forward before he is stopped by Valiant. “No, of course I’m not with them, why would you think that?”
“Oh, I don’t know, let’s see – you seem to be walking around free, you seem to know that my father needed those pills, you…
“Morgana!” There is a warning note in Merlin’s voice and he is looking at Arthur rather than Morgana. “I can’t believe you think I’d work with those people, you know my views on this!”
“Merlin?” Arthur isn’t quite sure how to form the words. What if Merlin isn’t the person he thinks? Merlin couldn’t change that much, surely? What if he never really knew him. His head is still feeling far too woozy for this.
There is still a wary look in Merlin’s eye and he doesn’t answer, simply waiting for Arthur to go on.
“Are you…” Damn this is hard. Merlin is one of the most tolerant people Arthur knows, he can’t be like that. Arthur forces his eyes to focus on the blurry blob that is Merlin. “You’re not one of these UKAMP wankers are you?”
“What?” Both Merlin and Morgana are looking at him like he’s grown a second head. Uther is also making discontented noises, but that probably has more to do with the fact that he is a fully paid up member of the UK Anti-Magic Party.
“I can’t believe that you two spent all that time shagging and then another five years pining after each other, and you still know nothing about each other.” Morgana shakes her head, an air of disbelief painted on the pained twist of her mouth. “Merlin is about as likely to be in the UK Anti-Magic Party as Father is to become a Druid!”
“Morg, please don’t…” Merlin is twisting his hands in agitation, a nervous habit Arthur remembers of old.
“Just tell him already.” Morgana throws her hands up in irritation. “Ok, let’s all stop hiding or pretending. Father, Arthur, I have magic, I always have had. I used to just have dreams, and the occasional random, uncontrolled burst of magic. I started learning how to use it properly at university to help me gain control. I never registered as having magic, which means I’m breaking the law. And yes, Morgause approached me to join her and I turned her down. Your turn.” She looks at Merlin.
Arthur isn’t sure how he feels about the way this is going. There can only be one thing that Merlin is so afraid to tell him, even now.
“I have ma— magic.” Merlin’s voice cracks on the last word. He is only looking at Arthur, like no one else’s opinion matters.
The disappointment is crushing to Arthur, he suddenly feels like he can’t breathe, even though part of him knew what Merlin was going to say.
Merlin’s face, fuzzy as it looks to Arthur, sort of crumples before he looks away. “Fuck.”
“Do you really think so little of me?” Arthur is ashamed of how small and pathetic his voice sounds.
Merlin looks up, his brow wrinkled in confusion. “What?”
Morgana is also looking unsure at his reaction.
“I loved you more than anything, Merlin. You couldn’t tell me?”
“Like you told me you were married?” Merlin’s voice is rough and low.
“That is not the same! I didn’t mention that because it didn’t matter.”
Merlin gives a hollow laugh. “Didn’t matter? Just a small tiny little detail, by the way, I’m married to someone else.”
“It’s just a piece of paper! We got married because Father shamed me into it, and her father had pancreatic cancer and she wanted to make him happy. We’re both gay – we never even slept together! But you – both of you! Two of the people I love most in the world, and neither of you came to me with this! What did you think I was going to do?”
“You’ve always been Father’s little lap dog, going along with what he says.” Morgana’s voice is bitter. “How could I have come to you when you would have gone running to him?”
“I am still here, you know.” Uther’s voice is weak, but his expression is full of disgust.
“You knew all my secrets.” Arthur ignores his father, unable to deal with him right now. “That time I snogged Owain behind the boatshed at school when I was fifteen? You were the only person I told. I was so scared, and you made it all okay. Who listened to my woes about Geraint when I was at Oxford? Who comforted me when father found out? When he bullied me into working in the bank and getting married? And you didn’t come to me at all!” He’s getting into his stride now, all the hurt he’s been bottling up, but at the same time his head is spinning and there might be more than one Morgana he’s shouting at.
“It’s hardly the same! If you’d gone to Father I’d have been disowned and put on the magical register!”
“I would never have done that! How could you even think it? And you!” He jabs his finger viciously at Merlin, or at least, at a Merlin. “Do you have any idea how much I loved you? I was prepared to give up everything for you!” He closes his eyes so there aren’t multiples of everyone. The dark is nice. Maybe he should just sleep.
“And yet you are still married, and living in Australia.”
“You pushed me away! You went off with bloody Gwaine, not even giving me a chance to explain.” Arthur’s words are mumbled. He’ll just keep resting his eyes a moment, that’ll help.
“What on earth is going on here?” He cracks open an eye to see Morgause standing in the doorway. Once again, she has Gwen’s arm in a tight grip before she pushes her to the floor.
In other circumstances it might be funny how her henchmen jump to attention and all their helmeted heads turn towards her, but there is nothing funny about this room.
“This one just walked in out of nowhere!” Arthur is pretty sure that one is Valiant. He closes his eyes again and rests his aching head against the wall.
Morgause ignores him and addresses Merlin, who has rushed forward to help Gwen. “And who might you be?”
“Oh, nobody, I’m nobody.” He can tell from Merlin’s voice that he is giving her his best disarming smile, the one he never seems to realise makes him look as guilty as hell.
“He has magic.” Fucking Valiant, sucking up to the boss.
Arthur opens his eyes in time to see Morgause cross the room and peer at Merlin like he was an insect pinned to a board.
“Is that so?” She somehow manages to look down on Merlin, even though Merlin towers over her. Merlin has always excelled at fading into the background and making himself appear smaller than he is.
For all his height advantage, Merlin is currently looking rather like Bambi caught in a car’s headlights. “Er… only a little bit?” He holds up two fingers barely a millimetre apart.
“Hmm.” Morgause cocks her head to one side, her eyes never leaving Merlin. “Clearly enough to hide you from my surveillance team, despite the magical deadener on the bank.”
Merlin opens his mouth and then closes it again, looking slightly like a goldfish. Arthur has to wonder just how powerful Merlin might be to overcome the deadener and to earn this level of interest from Morgause. “Perhaps there is simply a glitch in your system?” Merlin says at last.
“Hmm.” Morgause does not look convinced. “Perhaps.” She crouches down and takes Uther’s face between her fingers. “Your little systems expert here didn’t seem to know anything about this time lock you claim is on the vault.”
“I’m sorry, I tried.” Gwen is clutching onto Merlin and Arthur isn’t sure who is supporting who.
“You must know how to override this system. I need you to get me into that vault.” Morgause straightens and turns her glare back towards Gwen and Merlin.
“I can’t, there is no override. Only a Pendragon can open the vault,” Gwen says, just as she has said on all the previous occasions Arthur has had to listen to this conversation.
“Well then, isn’t it just as well I have three of them here?” Morgause turns back to them and Arthur can feel everything else going exactly the way it always does.
“We’re not going to open that vault for you, you psychotic bitch.” Arthur would almost have thought the words came from him, except that sounded more like Morgana. He cracks open an eye to check. He doesn’t even remember closing them.
“Still playing the traitor I see, Morgana?” Morgause sneers at her. “Does your wonderful family, that you are so loyal to, know about your magic?”
“Yes, actually.” Arthur prys his eyes open so he can square up to Morgana properly. “Couldn’t be more proud of her.”
She smirks at him but carries on speaking to Morgana. “And what about Daddy dearest? Is he proud of his daughter’s achievements? He should be.”
Uther steadfastly refuses to look at any of them, despite Arthur being sure his pills must be kicking in by now.
“Aww, come on, Uther. Surely you are proud of how well Morgana has done, despite being infected by magic? Or is she about to be sent as far away as possible? That’s what you do to your children when they are a massive disappointment to you, isn’t it, Uther? I’m guessing Sydney isn’t quite far enough away, perhaps Camelot has a branch in Antarctica you could send her to?”
“I have no children.” The words are quiet, but they cut deep. Arthur has been aware of his father’s feelings about him for a long time, even on his wedding day he knew it wasn’t enough to earn him Uther’s approval, but Morgana has always been the perfect one. He looks over at her, but her head is down, hair covering her face.
“It’s just as well Morgana and I have each other then.” He doesn’t bother trying to keep the venom from his voice any more, he’s spent too many years of his life trying to keep his father happy, and it’s got him nowhere. “I hear old age can be very lonely, Uther.” He deliberately does not call him ‘Father’, if Uther doesn’t want to know them, that can work both ways.
As always, Morgause looks like she is enjoying this far too much and Arthur really wishes he could learn not to air their problems in front of her. Morgana, however, has finally looked up and is watching him with an expression he cannot read.
“She has friends too.” Gwen is watching Morgana with a small smile on her face, and Arthur can’t help feeling jealous again that she already knew and he didn’t.
“How utterly sickening.” Morgause’s mouth is twisted up into a small moue of disgust. “Perhaps, as you are all so wonderfully close, you will do as you are told.”
Once again she pulls out a gun and this time she points it at Morgana. “Now, I don’t care which of you opens that vault, but I want it open in the next five minutes, or she gets a bullet in the brain.”
“I don’t believe you’d actually do that.” Merlin has his arms folded across his chest, one eyebrow slightly raised. “After all, she is your sister.”
“What?” Arthur isn’t sure how he’s lived this day so many times and yet he’s still getting surprised. And furthermore, why did Merlin not tell him any of this earlier! He’s pretty sure he can feel blood dribbling out of his ear. Or, if he’s lucky, it might just be his brain.
“Hmm, did she forget to mention?” The only word for Merlin’s expression now is smug. “They share a mother.”
Uther shifts beside them. “So you’re the abomination? I told Vivienne to get rid of you when you displayed the signs as a child.”
“Yes, and thank you so much for that. I grew up in an orphanage for unwanted magical children where the staff hated us and made sure we knew it.” Morgause looks down at Morgana. “You see? This is the man you devoted your life to. And if you had shown ‘the signs’ at an early age, he’d have done the same to you.”
“And what will you do?” Merlin asked. “Will you change everyone’s minds overnight? Will you lock up the non-magical kids? Will you take away free will? Freedom of speech?”
“Don’t you see? This is the ingrained level of hatred against us, that even one of our own automatically assumes such things!”
“Yeah, or maybe I just know what is in that vault. I know there is nothing good you can possibly want with any of it, and there is no way on earth you are the right person to take care of it.”
“I am a Priestess of the Old Religion, who could possibly be a better person than me?”
“You are nothing of the sort! You are nothing but play acting – people like you don’t even know what the old religion really was, let alone what being a priestess entailed!”
“And you do? I assure you, the sisterhood has been kept going for generations!”
“Bollocks. The Sisterhood died out centuries ago, you are nothing but a bunch of children. The current ‘sisterhood’ started in a university in America in the 1960s, and is far more about romanticism than reality.”
“How can you be so sure? What would you know about anything?”
“Because I was bloody well there!” Merlin’s face is red from shouting, and he looks about him suddenly like he just realised what he said.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Morgause looks far too interested in Merlin now.
“Nothing, it means nothing. I looked it up in the library, that’s all.” Merlin has actually always been the most horrible liar, even though he apparently pulled the wool over Arthur’s eyes about the magic. But right now, even a newborn would be able to tell he was lying.
“What are you planning to do with the artifacts?” It’s Morgana who speaks, possibly trying to detract from Merlin, or knowing Morgana, wanting to get out of there. She never did like to be confined.
“We are going to make the world a better place, Morgana,” Morgause says. “I told you, the Sisterhood needs you, join us and we can make everything right! Put magic back where it belongs, at the heart of the world!”
“How are you going to do that? Brainwash people with magic? How is that going to prove to them that they were wrong about us?” Merlin still looks angry. “Can’t you see how wrong that is?”
“What would you prefer?” Morgause turns on Merlin. “Carry on living in the shadows? How long have you been doing that for, Emrys?”
Merlin jerks his head back like he’s been slapped. “My name is Merlin.”
“Hmm. Like the legendary wizard. But there were other stories, were there not, of a sorcerer even greater than Merlin, who went by the name of Emrys? Who has walked these lands for over a thousand years. Some say Emrys and Merlin were the same man.”
Merlin gives a hollow laugh. “If I were that powerful, why on earth would I be working in a bank?”
“I don’t know, you tell me?” Why is Morgause suddenly so interested in Merlin? Clearly Merlin is not some old wizard of legend, so what is her point?
“Maybe I’m just waiting here for you? If you really believe I’m that powerful, why aren’t you running away?”
“If you were Emrys, you could join us! You could help us set magic free!”
Merlin smiles a very strange smile and looks over at Arthur. “Perhaps I could.”
“Merlin!” Arthur mumbles. Surely Merlin doesn’t mean it!
Merlin raises one hand towards the vault, his gaze never leaving Arthur’s. Then he laughs and looks back over at Morgause. “But I am not Emrys, Emrys died a long time ago, I am just a boy from the Valleys. There is nothing I can do.”
“Very well, perhaps Arthur here will open the vault if I shoot you?” Morgause, clearly not one for varying her tactics too much, points her gun at Merlin. “Or shall I just start killing the hostages? Gwen here wasn’t the only one, afterall.”
«I need you to open the vault»
Arthur jumps. No one else seems to have heard, Merlin’s voice was just right there, in his head. Merlin is watching him intently. Arthur starts to shake his head but the movement makes a shooting agony rip through his skull. He can’t let her shoot Merlin.
“Ahhh! Fuck.” He closes his eyes, wishing his hands weren’t tied so he could cradle his poor aching head.
“Arthur? Stay with us, please!” Morgana’s voice sounds too far away
“I— I’ll do it.” He can’t seem to make the words come out right. “I’ll open it. Untie my hands.” He’s almost positive he’s going to puke any second now.
“Arthur, no.” Well, that’s new, Morgana doesn’t seem to be on Morgause’s side today.
“No, don’t do it, Arthur,” Merlin says out loud. He is still watching Arthur, however.
‹‹trust me, Arthur››
Perhaps Merlin is just counting on the day resetting itself again. One of the guards cuts the tape from Arthur’s wrists and helps him to stand. The room seems to swim before his eyes. With the guard’s help, he crosses over to the console, praying that whatever Merlin is planning will work.
Hands shaking, Arthur triggers the process to open the vault. At least if Morgana or his father don’t also trigger it, the alarm will go straight to the police. He feels himself slide back to the ground. “Stay awake, Arthur, please.” There is a familiar voice buzzing around near him and he doesn’t know who it is but he obeys it anyway. A helmeted head is looking down at him. He closes his eyes.
He’s floating above the room now. It’s such a strange sensation, he’s not sure how to get down. Morgause and her men are ransacking the boxes within the vault. And just as before, almost as though Arthur had never told him the outcome, Merlin follows them in, only to come staggering out covered in blood, the fob watch clutched in his hand. He collapses beside Arthur, gazing down at his prize.
Arthur hopes it was worth it, as he is finally sucked into blackness.
Chapter 7: Day Seven
“Merlin’s a bit busy.” The man in Merlin’s flat was gorgeous. Long brown hair, designer stubble, Irish accent.
“Gwaine, who is it?” Merlin’s voice called through from the back.
Merlin walked into view, clad only in a towel, and Arthur’s heart nearly stopped.
“Oh, it’s you.” Merlin’s look was so cold, so full of hate and anger. “Go away, Arthur. I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Merlin, I just…”
“Is this the arse you were telling me about, Babe?” Gwaine asked, looping his arms around Merlin’s waist and looking Arthur right in the eye, smirking.
Merlin nodded, still glaring at Arthur.
“Forget him,” Gwaine murmured, pressing a kiss to Merlin’s cheek. “Come back to bed.”
They slammed the door in his face.
The child is crying.
Arthur groans and pulls the duvet up over his head.
He can’t do this day again, he just can’t. Nothing he does changes anything. Morgause still gets into the vault, people still get hurt. People still die.
He’s nothing but a failure. Every. Single. Time.
Merlin has magic. Merlin has magic and he never bloody bothered to tell him.
He should stay away. Maybe that is the key. If he had just stayed in Sydney, maybe none of this would have happened.
Okay, not going in. He burrows down into the the bed and tries to hide his thoughts from the world.
Images keep playing around his head.
He shouldn’t care about his father. He can’t help it.
He sits up and grabs his phone, calling an anonymous tip-off to the police that a bank robbery is about to take place at the First Camelot. Then he pulls the duvet back over his head.
Now the images are different.
Morgause is taking over the world. She’s making all the non-magic users suffer, letting all the magic users out of prison – and yes, Arthur can admit that a lot of them don’t deserve to be there. But some of them do. Some of them are dangerous. Fire and pain and misery.
He crawls out of bed and makes his way over to Morgana’s booze cabinet. Vodka. He can always rely on Morgana to have vodka.
He doesn’t bother with a glass.
At some point, when he’s flicking over the TV channels, he sees the bank on the news. There are armed police outside the building, death tolls running across the bottom of the screen. A picture of Will. A picture of Morgana, of Gwen, of Leon. Uther Pendragon, the biggest picture of all.
His bottle of vodka is empty.
Morgana’s bound to have whisky somewhere.
Chapter 8: Day Eight
“Arthur? Mind if I come in?” He was never entirely sure why Morgana bothered asking questions like that when she always had every intention of coming in anyway.
Arthur grunted a response that could be taken any way, but at least gave him a semblance of having a say. Morgana kicked off her ridiculously high heels that father would have had a fit if he’d seen her wearing, and gracefully arranged herself cross-legged on his bed.
“So…” she said, artlessly twirling one raven tress around her finger. “Care to tell me his name?”
“Wu— what?” Arthur’s chair spun around from the computer so fast that the back of it banged into the desk. “Whose name?”
“Don’t try to be coy with me, Arthur. You’ve been going around looking like even more of a smug git than normal, which I’m pretty sure can only mean you’re getting some. So who is he?” She leant back against the headboard and stretched her long legs out in front of her.
“First, I am not a smug git! Second, you have absolutely no reason to assume I’m seeing anyone. Third, why on earth would it have to be a he?”
“Hmm, I might have led with that one.” She sat up slightly and gave him one of those intense looks that freaked everyone out. “So who is he? Who do I have to give the ‘hurt my baby brother and die’ speech to?”
“It’s alright, you know.” She was still watching him with those cat-like eyes. “Father’s away this weekend, he won’t overhear us. And I won’t tell him you like boys.”
“I don’t like boys!” And yeah, even he could tell that response was too quick.
“Oh my god, does that mean he’s a man? He’s not one of your teachers, is he?”
“For fuck’s sake!” He could feel the heat flaming in his cheeks – he did not want to have this conversation.
“Look.” She moved to the edge of the bed and put one hand over the knee he hadn’t even noticed he was jiggling up and down. “I’m your sister, and I love you, although if you ever tell anyone I said that I will garrote you with your own shoelaces. It doesn’t bother me if you’re gay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, this is the twenty-first century for Christ’s sake.”
Arthur tore his gaze away and looked down at her perfectly manicured hand still sitting on his knee. “Try telling Father that.”
“Father is not always right, although he likes to think he is.” She pulled her hand away and sat up. “You mustn’t let him control your life, you know. And hey, your big sis is always here for you.”
Arthur was silent for a bit. He could feel her watching him. “I’m not letting him control my life. I’ve decided, I’m going to change the world, Morg. I’ve been looking into Uni courses, I want to do history and politics. I know he wants me to do economics, but look at the course details, it sounds so good.” He passed the university prospectus over to her. “I could really make a difference to the world rather than just running a bank! Did you know that bank was built with compensation money from the slave trade? I want nothing to do with it, I—”
“This is wonderful, Arthur. I think you’d make a good MP, I’d vote for you. But you are changing the subject. Unless you are telling me you are going to be the first openly gay Prime Minister?”
Arthur felt his face heat up. No one knew except him and Owain, he hadn’t told a soul. “He’s just a boy from school. He’s in my chem class.” He looked up to find his sister with a strange sort of proud smile on her face.
“There. That wasn’t so hard now, was it? So, is he your boyfriend? How far have you gone?”
Arthur could feel the blush suddenly stain his cheeks. “We’ve just kissed. Not that that is any of your business, harpy.”
Enough of your self-pity, Pendragon. Everyone still died, so not going in was a stupid idea. It’s up to you to change things, it must be, no one else is any use.
He’s in the shower, trying to scrub off the hangover he doesn’t actually have but knows he should.
He dresses quickly, opting for contacts this time so he doesn't have to deal with his glasses breaking again, and doesn’t bother with breakfast, simply grabbing the keycard off the fridge and a set of house keys on his way out the door.
Once more, he waits outside of the bank.
“Merlin!” He catches his attention, just as before.
“Arthur! What happened to you yesterday?”
“Yesterday, I waited for you, you never showed up.”
“Merlin, what on earth are you talking about?”
Merlin suddenly looks a bit guilty. “Ah. Yeah. We should talk.”
“Talk? What about?”
“Um, look, let’s go back to my place and I’ll fill you in.”
Merlin’s flat is in the opposite direction to Morgana’s, and is considerably less posh. The mess of shoes and coats in the hallway suggest he doesn’t live here alone, but Arthur is too afraid of the answer to ask if he is with someone or if he just has a flatmate.
“Ok. What’s going on?” Arthur asks the moment the front door shuts behind them.
Merlin shifts awkwardly from one foot to the other before pushing past Arthur into the kitchen.
“The watch. I think Morgana was probably right, it’s an extremely powerful magical artifact.” Merlin says as he fills the kettle and grabs two mugs from the tree. “I can only assume that when you touched it with the blood of a powerful warlock on your hands…” He finally looks at Arthur and raises his own hands.
“OK. Didn’t we already know that?” Arthur can’t help feeling like he just somehow missed half the conversation. How does Merlin even remember any of this?
“Well, I spent most of yesterday trying to find out about it, although I’d really like to get my hands on it properly so I could study it. I’ve got Gaius and Geoffrey looking into it, but obviously I’ll have to keep telling them what they found out, because they won’t remember any of this tomorrow.”
“Hang on, back up a minute. How do you remember any of this?” Arthur still feels like he’s missing something and Merlin is just steamrollering on at a million miles an hour.
“Ah, yeah. Um. Well, uh…” Merlin shrugs and looks a little shifty. “I sort of figured that repeating the scenario might reset things, or at the very least it might get me stuck on the same loop you are.” Merlin won’t quite meet Arthur’s eye, which means there is still something he’s not being told.
“So, do we just go around in an indefinite loop with no way out, or is there a specific outcome the watch needs to happen, and if so, what?”
“Well,” Merlin continues. “So, I figure Morgause is probably not meant to get her hands on something in that vault – which could be pretty much anything, that stuff is locked away for a reason. But this is all conjecture at the moment, and it could just as easily be something else. Who knows, maybe I am not meant to die before you or something.”
“Not meant to die before me, what does that mean?”
Arthur is sitting in Merlin’s kitchen sipping on a too-hot cup of coffee while Merlin powers up a beat-up old Macbook. A dragon sticker curls around the Apple logo on the front making it look suspiciously like the same laptop he had back in Wales. Arthur always felt that the dragon was in a slightly different position every time he looked at it, and sometimes even that the dragon was looking back.
“Does the company not pay you enough for a new computer?”
Merlin glares at him over the top of the screen and puts his hands over the dragon’s head like he is covering it’s ears. “Don’t say that, you’ll hurt Kilgharrah’s feelings!”
Arthur snorts and shakes his head. “I forgot you named your laptop.”
“Of course, they work much better if you are polite to them.” The sad part is, Merlin isn’t even joking, he’s always talked to it like he think’s it’s Siri or something.
“That thing is so old, I’m surprised it works at all.”
“This thing has been modified in ways that you can’t even imagine and as such it’s far more useful than any fancy-schmancy expensive laptop you have ever owned.” Merlin carries on tapping away at the laptop.
Of course, the massive white elephant in the room – Merlin has magic. Arthur distracts himself from that line of thought by gazing around the kitchen, his eyes naturally falling on the pictures stuck to the fridge. Merlin and Will covered in mud at Glastonbury, Merlin and Will with a blonde girl, just Will and the blonde, Merlin with his arm slung round a scruffy bloke… it’s Gwaine. Is Merlin still with Gwaine? It would explain why the reprobate seems to have followed him to London.
“So,” Arthur says, not wanting to be stuck with his own thoughts. “Are we actually going to be working together here, or is this just going to involve me sitting watching you work? Because, you know, that suits me fine, Merlin watching always was a favourite hobby of mine.”
Merlin’s hand jerks, hot tea starts to slop over the rim of the mug in his left hand, and, as Arthur watches, the tea suddenly seems to jump back into the mug a fraction of a second before it hits Merlin’s hand. He blinks, it happened so fast he must have imagined it. And then he looks up to find Merlin’s eyes on him, a little wary, a little assessing.
Merlin just did that with magic. Holy shit. Ok, so he knew theoretically that Merlin had magic, but this? This is proof! For all that magic is legal, sort of, it is still frowned upon and treated with mistrust, and therefore that might be the first time in Arthur’s life that someone has so casually done magic in front of him like that – most people do not do magic in front of Uther Pendragon’s son.
Merlin is still staring at him and Arthur suddenly realises he has just been sitting there with his mouth open for an inordinately long time. Or possibly just for a few seconds, who knows. He snaps his mouth shut and attempts to look like he’s cool with this, leaning back in the chair and taking a sip of his coffee, which is still hot, damn it! He winces and pretends he didn’t just burn his tongue.
Merlin’s eyes flash golden for a moment and ripples suddenly appear on Arthur’s coffee, like someone is blowing it cool. Arthur nearly jerks again but manages to keep his hand steady, lifting the cup to his lips and taking a sip, never taking his eyes off Merlin’s, which now have little crinkles around the corners as a small smile appears on his mouth, but he shakes his head anyway. Arthur takes this to mean he’s done something wrong that amuses Merlin as opposed to something wrong that angers him.
He clears his throat. “So, we have Morgause, Valiant and Alvarr. Do we know anything about any of them?”
Merlin nods, not really paying attention. “Babyface is one of the bank’s security guards.”
“Valiant. Will’s phone always tries to correct it to Babyface for some reason, the name stuck. Do you think he’s the only insider?”
“How do you mean?
“Well,” Merlin gives one of those little eyerolls he does so well. “Did they have any other help? I’m mean Bab— Valiant is as thick as pigshit, and I really can’t see him giving much in the way of helpful info about the vault, or anything else. So who else is on the inside. Who gave them information about the security set up, who told them about the magical vault in the first place? Who’s the rat?”
Arthur shakes his head. “I don’t think anyone would do that.”
“What about Agravaine?”
“Agravaine? My uncle?”
“How many other Agravaines do you know?”
“Why on earth would my uncle betray us? And what proof do you even have?”
“Just… call it a hunch. I don’t trust him. And isn’t it a bit weird that he’s always the only one unharmed? And Morgause takes him away for a little private chat?”
Arthur shakes his head again. He does not want to hear this, his uncle wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t. “You’re talking out of your arse, Merlin.”
“I know he’s your uncle, but you have to be objective about this!”
“Really? How would you feel if I accused your cousin? Mordred, was it? Maybe he’s the traitor.”
Merlin’s head snaps up. “What makes you say that?”
“Well… no, nothing really. Just, well, you were accusing my family, so…”
Merlin rolls his eyes, then shrugs and moves on. “Mordred’s fine, I’ve been keeping an eye on him. He’s been helping me with research. Speaking of which, we did some research into Morgause yesterday.” He hits a couple of keys and the ancient printer in the corner groans into life. “I’m still trying to find out about this Alvarr – is there anything you could tell me?”
Arthur thinks for a minute. “He was Morgana’s boyfriend at Oxford, but I don’t think she’s been in touch with him since the accident. I think he may have had something to do with it. They were in some sort of magic society together.”
Merlin nods and carries on typing. “Morgana was at Magdalen, right? Was Alvarr?”
“She didn’t say, but yes, she was, so I suppose he might have been. But I guess the magic society could span colleges, so I don’t know.”
“You didn’t meet him yourself?”
“I’d never even heard of him before now. I was home for the easter in the first year of my A-Levels when she had her accident, she was in her final year at Oxford, just about to take her exams. By the time I started at Balliol, he was no longer on the scene.”
Merlin nods as he pushes his chair backwards with a hideous screeching noise and grabs the paper off the printer. “This is what I found out about Morgause.” He hands the paper to Arthur and drags the chair back to the table.
Arthur takes the sheaf of papers and scans them quickly.
“She’s probably what people in the modern world, would call a druid,” Merlin says. “All the actual Druids I’ve ever met would weep at the association.”
“Real druids? Druids you’ve met? They are still around?”
Merlin merely nods like there is nothing odd in that statement. “Yes, they are actually very peaceful, and whilst they would obviously prefer that the artifacts were under their own protection, for the most part they consider them safe in the vault.”
“So the Druids don’t want to get their hands on our artifacts?”
Merlin looks at him sharply. “They are not your artifacts, Arthur. And yes, I’m sure the Druids would love to have them back, but they would only use them when strictly necessary, because being Druids they understand the power of such items and the consequences of using them. Understand, Arthur, I am not talking about prats who dress up in robes and dance around Stonehenge calling themselves druids, I’m talking about Druids, real actual Druids with magic and history.”
“How do you know so much about this?”
“Perhaps I’m not quite the idiot you always like to think I am.” Merlin almost mutters that, and Arthur can’t quite shake off the feeling once again that Merlin is not who he thought in any respect. Does the person he thinks he’s in love with even exist?
Merlin, seemingly unaware of Arthur’s inner turmoil, carries on. “Morgause actually calls herself a High Priestess of the Old Religion, because yes, she really is that self-important and pretentious. In a previous life she was actually able to claim that title, but in the modern world the Old Religion barely exists enough to have a priestess, and she is not half the Sorceress she used to be. She is with a faction called The Priestesses of the Triple Goddess, not the nicest of people. They are all female, so I’m not sure where Alvarr et al fit in.”
“I think she tried to recruit Morgana.”
Merlin nods. “Yes, she did. Fortunately, I can learn from my past mistakes, and in this life Morgana has friends she can rely on and talk to, she does not need the likes of Morgause.”
Arthur opens his mouth to ask about these ‘past mistakes’, but quickly changes his mind figuring that he is probably one of them. Instead he says, “But Morgana does keep going with Morgause in several of the versions of today I’ve lived.”
Merlin nods. “Yes, we basically need to talk her round first.”
“I already tried that.” Arthur shakes his head. “If anything it just made her more determined.”
“Hence the ‘we’, not ‘you’.” Merlin raises a challenging eyebrow because he knows Arthur is not going to let that lie.
“That’s not fair!” No, Arthur is not going to disappoint Merlin here, he will argue, he did his best to get her on side!. “I was completely understanding and reasonable, I tried my best to show her that I wouldn’t let it come between us. She just decided that if Morgause got what she wanted then no one would die!”
“And was she right?” Merlin is tapping away at his keyboard again, not really paying attention.
“No! You died. And Gwen. Not to mention Will. No, she was not fucking right.”
“Ok, so we need to go back and tell her that.” Merlin looks up and lightly taps his fingers on the table as he thinks. “If I’m there, she has someone else with a magical background to give her perspective. And I know you mean well, Arthur, but you are actually trying too hard with the whole magic thing, and at the same time not hard enough.”
“Well that is clear as mud, thanks.”
Merlin shrugs. “This is not normal for you, when you see me doing magic you are allowed to react, you are allowed to be angry with me – I lied to you for the whole of our relationship. You sit there and pretend to be all fine with it and I know you’re not, and I bet Morgana knew too. At the same time, you don’t really understand what magic is, and you’ve made no real effort to.”
“I am fine with it!”
“No. You’re not. Just saying you are fine with it does not actually make you fine with it. You want to be fine with it, and that is good, although your reasons are so that Morgana will do as you want rather than so you can actually understand it. But every time you lie about how you feel about it, it makes me feel that you are not being honest about any of it.”
“I am! I—”
“The other day, in the vault, you were genuinely upset, and not about the magic so much as the fact that we’d all been lying to you. And you were honest in your reaction, probably due to the concussion, and still you never condemned us for actually having magic. That’s why Morgana stayed with us, she believed in you.”
“I bet when you went to talk to her you were exactly how you’ve been with me today, all stiff smiles and pretending not to be bothered. Of course you are bothered!”
“Ok, fine! Yes, I’m bothered! How could you not tell me?”
“Not telling people you have magic is an ingrained thing because of the usual way people react. Look, sixty years ago, we’d have had the same problem with telling people we’re gay, well, still do sometimes – I bet no one you work with knows, do they? And some people, when they find out, they’re outright awful. But others, they pretend they’re fine, and they try really hard to be, but you know it’s just a big act, don’t you? That is what you’re doing with magic.”
Arthur is silent for a bit. Yes, there were people at Uni who’d found out about him and Geraint, people he’d thought were his friends, who’d said they didn’t have a problem and had then avoided him like he had the plague. Is that really how he was with Morgana?
“Yes, seeing your eyes glow like that freaks me out, I’m sorry but it does.” There, if Merlin wants honesty, he can have honesty. “I’ve been told my whole life that golden eyes are what happens when a sorcerer’s brain is addled from magic, when they go mad and can’t control it. I was taught to stay away from anyone whose eyes did that or they’d kill me. I can’t just shake that over night!”
“Exactly! That’s what I’m trying to say – stop pretending this doesn’t freak you out. Look.”
Merlin removes his keys from his pocket and unhooks the little dragon keyring. He takes Arthur’s hand in his own and places the keyring in his palm. Arthur nearly screams in shock as they keyring erupts into a tiny ball of flame, but after a second he realises that although his hand should be badly burnt, it is not even hot, more like a warm, almost friendly tingle.
As he watches, the ball of flame uncurls itself into a little flaming dragon and shakes out a tiny pair of wings. The dragon sits up on its hind legs and seems for all the world to be looking at him before it takes off and flies up to land on the curtain rail.
Merlin reaches out with his other hand and pushes Arthur’s mouth shut, a small smirk playing about his own lips.
“Magic is not just a weapon of destruction,” Merlin says quietly, watching as the tiny dragon tries in vain to prove him wrong and set fire to the curtain. “Although it certainly can be that too. But I do understand that that is what you’ve been taught, and I don’t expect you to just be able to deal with it in one go.”
Arthur nods, taking a moment to form his words in his head. “I do know what my father’s like. Over the years I’ve come to see that I don’t agree with his view on so many things, but I have managed to live nearly thirty years without actually meeting many magic users, let alone seeing real magic. Every fairy story I was ever told as a child, the witch’s eyes glowed just before she pushed the children into the oven, or poisoned the apple, or cursed the spinning wheel.”
Merlin snorts. “Well, apart from the children I regularly eat for breakfast, those are just stories made to frighten children. Real people have done some terrible things with magic over the centuries. But you know, real people have done some terrible things without magic too – if people want to do bad things, they will, with or without magic. And no, magic doesn’t corrupt your soul or your brain. I mean, I’m fairly sure I’m not mad, unless you count spending far too much time with my ex.”
Arthur bites his lip, worried that Merlin might take what he is about to say badly. “I know in my head that you and Morgana are good people, that you are not insane or evil, that my father must be wrong. And yet I cringe when your eyes glow golden, or I see magic being used. I’m sorry, I can’t help it.”
“You know, they used to consider homosexuality a mental illness? When people don’t understand things, they throw words at it and hope some stick. Calling magic users mad is damaging both to the people with magic and the people with mental health problems. You need to form your own judgement, Arthur. Don’t listen to the likes of Uther Pendragon.”
“I know that! That is not what I meant and you know it.” Arthur is quiet for a moment, trying to get his thoughts in order. “When you have been told something your whole life, well, it’s hard not to believe it. And yes, before you say it, I know that lies like that have been used as a means of controlling people for centuries.”
“So why believe them now?”
Arthur shrugs helplessly. “I have never met a magic person before this. Or rather, I haven’t knowingly met one. I had nothing to base an opinion on, and some lies are so insidious you don’t even realise you’ve taken them on board.”
Merlin closes his eyes for a moment, and when he opens them again, they are such a bright and brilliant gold that Arthur almost feels they must burn, just like the dragon should have. Slowly, the kitchen table and chairs start to rise off the floor, including the chairs Arthur and Merlin are sitting in. Arthur hears himself swear as he clutches onto the chair for dear life, his cup of coffee sliding away across the table and crashing to the floor.
“Magic could be used for so much good, Arthur, if it was only used properly.” Merlin’s eyes are still glowing as he talks and Arthur has to admit there is something rather beautiful about them.
“Despite what people think,” Merlin continues. “You can’t bring someone back from the dead, or save a life that is simply not meant to be saved, or rather, you can, but not without dire consequences. But, with a proper knowledge of medicine, you can use it to aid in the saving of a life. Imagine the delicate operations that could be enhanced with proper use of magic, or the hearts that could be kept beating long enough to be helped. Imagine if we had paramedics with magic! But that can never happen, because magic users are not allowed to study or work in medicine. Imagine firefighters using magic to get people out of burning buildings, to extinguish the flames, imagine magic used to warm people’s homes, to improve crops, to ease suffering. There is so much we could do!”
The furniture returns to the ground with a bump, but Merlin’s eyes continue to glow. The shards of Arthur’s coffee cup pick themselves up off the floor and reassemble to form a cup whilst the mop swoops out of the cupboard to wipe up the mess. The kettle switches itself on and another mug floats down and is met by spoonful of instant coffee. Finally, the fresh cup of coffee makes its wobbly journey back over to the table where it lands in front of Arthur with only a little spillage.
Arthur takes one look at it and stands up, knocking the table again as he does so and spilling the coffee once more. “Uh, where’s your lavatory?”
Merlin rolls his eyes, now back to their usual dark blue. “Last door at the end.”
Arthur bolts for the safety of the loo. He takes a few deep breaths, his own overly-wide eyes staring back at him in the mirror. Merlin’s right, actual real magic all close-up and personal like this is more than he can handle. He thought he could do this, but he’s not ready. Every line he’s ever been fed in his life plays around his head. Magic is evil. Magic corrupts.
He splashes cold water on his face and tries to force his breathing to return to normal, focussing his mind on Merlin’s sunny smile. Merlin is not evil, Merlin is so far from evil he probably has little baby animals following him if he ventures into the countryside. Morgana. Morgana is not evil, or she is, but not like that. She’s his sister, he loves her.
They used to torture witches. Hang them. Burn them alive as heretics. Would they have done that to Merlin? To Morgana? Could he have stood and watched as the people he loved burned? As their skin blistered and peeled, as they screamed for mercy? Sweet, kind, ridiculous Merlin? Intelligent, witty, secretly-caring Morgana?
Before he knows it, he is kneeling in front of the toilet retching. He wipes his mouth and sits back on the floor.
It was just a small display of magic, Merlin wouldn’t have hurt him. If anything, it was amazing, he was actually flying for a moment there!
All Merlin’s words about doctors and emergency services come back to him. Could they have done more for Morgana with the aid of magic? Could they have saved his mother’s life? Would his father have been a different person if she had lived? Would Arthur?
He passes two bedrooms on the way back to the kitchen, Merlin’s is clearly the messy one with the model dragons. The other one, covered in football posters – Cardiff City – has to be Will’s.
Arthur eyes the cup a little warily and then looks back at Merlin. “Have you ever thought about investing in a coffee machine?”
Merlin rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “You’re doing it again! Let’s ignore the display of magic right in front of you and nitpick the little details.”
“It’s not a little detail, this is not just instant coffee, it’s truly horrible instant coffee!”
“No one who lives here drinks coffee, we were hardly going to buy an expensive coffee maker just in case you decide to pop by once every five years.”
Arthur inadvertently takes a sip of the horrible coffee and burns his tongue. “We?” he croaks out, pushing the mug away from him.
“Me and Will. And Gwaine.”
Arthur nods and tries to pretend he’s ok with that. Merlin and Gwaine, why does it always come back to Gwaine? And Arthur can’t help but remember that there were only two bedrooms he passed in the hall.
“So,” he says, making a manful attempt to change the subject. “What’s the plan?
“Hi Arthur!” Mithian smiled as she made her way over to the table.
Arthur was still not sure how he let Uther railroad him into this, but none of it was Mithian’s fault. He stood up and pulled her chair out for her.
“Wow, what a gentleman!” Her words were only mildly mocking and he didn’t take them to heart. Morgana would have been far more blunt about a woman being perfectly capable of moving her own chair.
Mithian, of course, turned out to be good company and he found himself having a really good evening. Right up till the point they left the restaurant and he wondered what on earth he was supposed to do next. Were they meant to just go their separate ways, or was he supposed to ask if she wanted to go somewhere else? Should he invite her back to his? Except ‘back to his’ was his childhood bedroom in the same house as Uther. And then what? He liked her well enough, but he didn’t want to have sex with her!
To his surprise, Mithian starts laughing. “Geez, stop thinking so hard will ya? Come on, let’s go to the pub.” And she dragged him down the road and into the White Hart pub.
Arthur got as far as the bar before a realisation hit him and he stopped. “Mith!” he whispered as quietly as he could whilst still being heard. “This is a gay bar!”
She shrugged, completely unbothered, and ordered them both a beer. “Sounds like it’s probably the best place for both of us to be honest.”
“We need to switch the deadener off.”
“We need to what now?” He can’t have heard that right. The deadener is what magic users call the dampener – a high-powered electrical device down below the vaults that stops people being able to use magic in or near the bank.
“We need to get in and switch the deadener off,” Merlin repeats.
“Yes, ok, heard,” Arthur says, taking off his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose. “Why on earth would we want to do that? Assuming we even could. The dampener is the only thing stopping Morgause from using magic to get into that vault.”
“So I can use magic, of course.”
“Yes,” Arthur says slowly, so Merlin can understand him, because the obvious is clearly not obvious enough. “But then so can they.”
“Which is why we have to do it without them knowing.”
“Look, they can’t do anything with the deadener in place, they won’t even bother trying, why should they? They brought guns and everything. We’ll still have the element of surprise. Even better if we could just turn the volume down, so to speak.”
“Merlin, that is just nuts! If they figured out what we’d done, we’d suddenly have a bank full of magic users creating havoc!”
“Well then maybe we could just time it right, switch it off for just long enough to stop Morgause.”
“It’s not that easy! Interfering with that dampener could set off an electromagnetic pulse that could knock out the electrics to the whole of London! Not to mention that I’m pretty sure we would need my father’s retina scan to switch it off, and once it is down it could take hours to get it back up and running, leaving the whole bank completely vulnerable.”
Merlin shrugs. “Just as well we know the very clever woman who maintains the whole system then, isn’t it?”
“No.” Arthur knows exactly who he means. “You are not getting Gwen involved in this!”
“Why not? We need her, Arthur. Anyway, she’s already involved, remember?”
Yes, Arthur does remember. He remembers Morgause dragging Gwen into the vault room, pushing her to the floor, dragging information from her.
He closes his eyes. “That thing could kill her.”
“I’m not asking Gwen to go in! I’ll go in! I just need her to tell me what to do.”
“No!” Even Arthur is surprised by the force of his response. “It’ll kill you too, Merlin. I thought the whole point of this was to keep you alive.”
“The whole point is to keep Morgause from getting her hands on the artifacts.” Merlin seems remarkably unbothered by his potential death.
“Yes, but if you are dead, who will use magic to stop her? The whole thing would be completely pointless.”
“It might not kill me that quickly. Anyway, there’s always Morgana. Or Mordred.”
“Merlin… for fuck’s sake! You being dead at the end of this is not an acceptable outcome!”
“No! This is not up for discussion. If there is one thing the last five years have taught me, it’s that my life is not worth living without you in it.”
Merlin sits and blinks at him. “I’m sure your wife would be delighted to hear that.”
Arthur laughs. “Mithian has never been under any delusions about where my affections lie. She’s always known I love you.”
Merlin looks down at his keyboard and continues blinking before pretending Arthur hadn’t spoken. “This is a worst case scenario, Gwen must have system overrides, they switch it off once every six months for maintenance, no one dies of radiation poisoning then.”
“That would only happen with Father’s cooperation. I can absolutely promise you that my father will not switch off that dampener so that you can practise magic in his bank.”
“That is why we need to talk to Gwen.” This conversation is just going around in maddening circles.
“Fine, so shall we go into the bank now and talk to her?” Arthur looks at his watch. “It’s quarter past eleven, by the time we get there and find her, we’d have about half an hour to talk to her.”
Merlin shakes his head. “I think we’d be better off finding out as much as we can today and going in to talk to her tomorrow.”
“So what? We just don’t go in? Leave them all to die?”
“Didn’t seem to worry you yesterday.” Merlin wrinkles his nose and goes back to tapping his keyboard.
“Yesterday I had enough vodka and whisky to pickle my liver!” Arthur slams his hand down on the desk in frustration. “And yes, it did bother me.”
“Arthur.” Merlin puts a calming hand over Arthur’s. “If we do more research we can come up with a proper plan.”
“What else could we possibly need to research?” Arthur looks down at Merlin’s long fingers covering his and fights the urge to turn his palm up.
Merlin sighs. “You are so bloody Harry Potter, just rushing headlong into things without thinking anything through!”
“Well I’d rather be Harry than Hermione.” He’d read those books at Uni in an act of rebellion against his father, who’d banned them for being pro-magic.
“Fuck off, I am not Hermione, she’s a pain in the bum know-it-all – you’d make a better Hermione. I’d rather be Neville.” Merlin smiles to himself as he continues to tap away at his keyboard and for a brief moment it’s almost like five years never happened and they are still sitting in his flat in Cardiff having the same old arguments.
“How can I be Hermione, you just said I was Harry! A bit of consistency, please, Merlin.” Arthur can’t help the small smile on his own face, even though he knows they shouldn’t be wasting time like this.
“Fine, you’re just a Gryffindor then, how about that?” He’s missed seeing the laughter in Merlin’s eyes like this and he’s momentarily stunned by just how beautiful Merlin is. He’s always loved the way Merlin’s eyes crease up at the corners like that when he smiles.
“Pretty sure I’m a muggle,” Arthur manages to say, his voice almost even. Hopefully Merlin didn’t notice Arthur’s infatuation rearing it’s head.
“So, do you know anything else about any of the other bank robbers?” Merlin asks, putting his serious face back on.
Pulled abruptly back to reality, Arthur shakes his head. “There's a really tall guy, even taller than Leon, who stopped Valiant attacking Will and Morgana. And there is one bloke who seems familiar, but I don’t know why. His voice, maybe. I think he might be a weak link, he’s the one who tried to help my father during his angina attack.”
Merlin nods. “Yeah, I know the one you mean, I thought I recognised him too. Are you sure he’s not this Alvarr?”
Arthur shakes his head. “I don’t even know what Alvarr looks like, I’ve just heard his name mentioned, but this other bloke was in the room when they were implying Alvarr was somewhere outside running a trace. As far as I know, there is only one female, apart from Morgause. I think I saw her and one of the men dressed as police one time, but every other time she’s been in all black and wearing a helmet, just like the rest.”
“What did she look like, assuming it was her?”
“Curly Reddish-blonde hair, dark eyes.”
“Could this be her?” Merlin swung the laptop around to show a picture of a young woman with intelligent eyes. Her arms were around the waist of a thin, rat-faced man with a scraggly beard.
“Yes, actually that’s both of them. The pretend police, I mean.”
Merlin nods like that is what he already expected. “They were real police, both have managed to avoid the register. Her name is Enmyria, and the man next to her is her boyfriend, Alvarr.”
Arthur looks at the picture again and can’t stop his top lip from curling up in disdain. “So that is the fucker who left my sister for dead at the bottom of the stairs?”
“Enmyria too, most likely. They were all at Oxford together, she probably knows Morgana.”
Arthur fights the urge to break something. How could they? How could they just leave her like that? They didn’t even call an ambulance, they just left her!
The feeling of Merlin’s hand enclosing his pulls him back into the room and he does his best to muster a smile.
“We’ll get them, Arthur. I promise.”
Morgana’s face looked horribly pale against the white walls and white hospital sheets. Big dark circles around her eyes made them seem to have sunk in on themselves.
“Thank you for your help, Dr Smith, but I’ll be taking my daughter to a private hospital from here.” Uther was looking at Morgana like he saw a ghost, his own face suddenly looking so much older.
“Daddy…” Morgana’s voice was quiet, but the whole room stopped when she spoke.
“Morgana,” Uther crossed to the bed and took her hand “How are you feeling? Can I get you anything?” For Uther, this was panic mode. “Don’t worry, we are going private. I don’t care how much I have to pay, my daughter will walk again.”
“Father, stop!” It was possibly the first time in all his seventeen years that Arthur had ever stood up to his father, but he’d seen Morgana’s face when Uther started his rant. He squeezed his sister’s hand. Uther looked over at him, shock registering on his face. Then he seemed to notice that Morgana was crying.
“You are a Pendragon,” Uther said, almost gently. “You will get through this. Nothing is going to keep you down.”
“How? How can I do anything now? I’ve ruined everything. What if I can’t walk? I… I can’t feel my legs…”
“Then we will deal with that.”
“I could get us in.”
Arthur looks at him wondering if he heard right. “You could get us in? How exactly do you plan on doing that?”
Merlin shrugs. “You could just try trusting me.”
“And why exactly should I do that?” Arthur wants to punch himself in the face the moment the words are out of his mouth. He trusts Merlin more than anyone, even after the whole Gwaine thing, that is why he went to Merlin with this in the first place.
“Have I told you recently what a complete wanker you are?”
He can’t help the small smile that comes to his face. “Not recently, no. I’ve missed it.”
Merlin almost smiles back. “Look, it can’t hurt to try, right? If nothing else, we learn how well guarded the door is and we’ll know what to do or not do next time.”
Arthur sighs and scrubs his hand through his hair before reaching for the second-to-last slice of pizza. They’ve been at this all day, Researching everything they can think of on Merlin’s weird old laptop which apparently is connected to certain parts of the internet only magic users can access. They guiltily ordered pizza and avoided looking at the news, not wanting to acknowledge that their day spent doing research had meant leaving their friends to face Morgause alone.
“Which door were you thinking?”
Merlin’s hand makes an aborted, but almost involuntary move towards Arthur’s hair, no doubt to try and flatten it down like he always used to. “I was thinking the Queen’s Door?”
Arthur nearly chokes on his pizza. It is always so easy to underestimate Merlin, with his guileless smiles and big blue eyes. “You are not even supposed to know about the Queen’s Door.”
Merlin flashes one of those smiles at him now and doesn’t answer.
“I mean, I know, Morgana does, Father… and the head of security… oh bloody hell, it was Will, wasn’t it?”
Merlin snaffles the last slice and shrugs.
“Who else has he told? If he’s been blabbing left right and centre about it, they’ll be watching for us!”
“Oh for— he might have just mentioned it, just to me, ok? Possibly. And only me.” Merlin says through a mouthful of pizza. “During that little pity party you had yesterday, Mordred and I did some research. The plans for the building are in a safe in your father’s office.”
“You went sneaking about in Father’s office?” Arthur can’t believe Merlin could be so brazen. “You went in his safe? And you told your cousin? You can’t do that!”
“Oh, sorry, should I have just sat about getting pissed instead like you did?” Merlin’s smirk is neither sweet nor innocent.
“I… that’s not fair. You’ve only had to deal with this for a couple of days, I’ve been watching you die and dealing with this on my own for a week now.”
Merlin is quiet for a moment, then he sighs and nods. “Yeah, I know.”
Arthur stares down at his plate, searching for something to say. “What about the rest of the security staff, do they know? Does Valiant?”
“No, I don’t think anyone does. Look, I know you and him never got on, but Will is actually good at his job.”
“He told you.”
“I’m his best friend, he wasn’t gossiping about it in the staff room. He didn’t tell me where it is or anything like that, just that there is a supposed hidden way into the bank.”
Arthur huffs to himself and shoves the rest of his slice of pizza into his mouth. He’s never actually seen the Queen’s door; it was blocked up decades before he was born, probably decades even before his father was born, and he’s still not entirely sure how they are going to find it, let alone get in. But he does trust Merlin. He trusts him with his life.
“I guess I should go.” It’s half ten, and the idea of walking back to Morgana’s flat, knowing she won’t be there, and waiting to fall asleep just so he can do this whole day yet again is not appealing.
“You can stay if you like.” Merlin has his hands shoved into the pockets of his trousers trying to look casual. “I mean, I have a sofa. I’m not asking you to cheat on your wife or anything.”
Arthur snorts. “You are quite dense sometimes, Merlin,” he says fondly. “Mithian is probably at home cheating on me right now with the woman she’s leaving me for.”
Merlin frowns and looks at him in askance.
“I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t hear me out. Mithian and I were never a couple, not really.”
“We were, Arthur. You didn’t even tell me about her!”
“She was just a friend, that’s all she’s ever been. We got together to keep Uther off my back and because, well, the business world is not an easy place to be openly gay, for either of us. Then, her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He wanted to be sure she’d be looked after when he was gone, and so we got married to keep him happy, even though she is more than capable of looking after herself. She just wanted him to be at peace.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” The hurt that was on Merlin’s face all those years ago is still there.
“I tried.” It’s a poor excuse even to Arthur’s own ears.
“You could have tried harder.” It doesn’t seem to matter what colour Merlin’s eyes are, they can still devastate Arthur. Big and blue and full of pain.
“Oh.” Merlin looks down and does that thing he does where he twists his fingers.
“I suppose he’ll be home soon.” It’s a low blow and Arthur knows it.
Merlin’s face takes on a pained expression and he jumps up and starts clearing away the mugs from all the many cups of tea they’ve had today. Arthur plays back what he just said and realises what a dick he’s been. It’s not Gwaine that Merlin’s worried about not coming home. It’s not Gwaine that keeps getting shot by Valiant.
“Shit. I meant Gwaine. I’m sorry, I didn’t think.” Arthur jumps up and put his hand on Merlin’s arm. “We’ll save him, Merls. We’ll save Will. We’ll save them all.” Arthur tentatively pulls Merlin to him, expecting the whole time for Merlin to push him away and pleasantly surprised when he doesn’t.
“What if we can’t?” Merlin mumbles into his shoulder. “What if we fix whatever it is that we’re supposed to fix and the people who die stay dead? He’s been my best friend since we were seven and he got detention for kicking a football at my head and knocking me out. I keep losing him.”
Arthur says nothing, what can he say? He’s tried to save Will, but no matter what he does, the stupid sod keeps getting himself killed. Arthur has never been a very tactile person, but with Merlin it’s different. There is just something about him that screams ‘I need a hug’, and Arthur pulls him in tighter.
“You’re squashing the cups,” Merlin’s muffled voice says, although he makes no immediate effort to move.
“I know, I can feel cold tea soaking through my shirt.”
“Actually, you can’t sleep on the sofa.” Merlin breaks out of the hug and takes the mugs over to the sink.
“Oh.” Arthur pushes away the disappointment. They broke up years ago, but it’s still not fair to expect Merlin to forgive him so quickly.
Merlin starts clearing away his laptop and all the notes they’d made, not looking at Arthur as he speaks. “You can stop in my room, if you want.”
Arthur can tell from the way Merlin’s jaw twitches that it cost him a lot to say that. “Won’t Gwaine mind?”
Merlin bites his lip a moment then shrugs. “I think he probably would, yes. You’re not exactly his favourite person. But it’s really none of his business, and as you say, he’ll be home soon, I think he’d object more if you slept on the sofa.”
Arthur frowns. “Why?”
“Because that’s where he sleeps. His girlfriend’s got her brother staying. They don’t get on, so Gwaine’s on our sofa for a few days.”
“Girlfriend.” It’s not a question, simply a word Arthur can’t stop himself from repeating. “I didn’t really think girls were his thing.”
Merlin laughs. “Anyone with a pulse could be considered Gwaine’s thing.” He grins and then looks guilty. “I mean, he’s a great bloke though, very loyal, and I’m pretty sure he would do anything for her. She could do so much worse.”
“Gwaine’s girlfriend,” Merlin says earnestly. “They’re great together.”
“That’s… nice?” Why on earth does it feel like Merlin is trying to sell Gwaine to him?
Merlin nods enthusiastically. “Yes, I’m sure they would get on really well if they just gave each other a chance.”
“Ok… so, are we going to stand here singing Gwaine’s praises all night?” Arthur can’t, he just can’t. Gwaine might not be with Merlin now, but that wasn’t true then.
“Um, no. Are you staying? I’m not suggesting we shag or anything. I just wouldn’t say no to the company, you know?” Merlin looks down at his shoes, unsure in a way that looks so odd on someone with so much power.
Arthur nods. “I know. Company sounds good.”
“Great, I’ll get you a towel and a toothbrush. You could borrow a pair of my pyjamas if you want.” Merlin turns to leave the room, but stops in the doorway, deliberately not looking at Arthur. "I never slept with him, you know." He raises his eyes and looks straight at Arthur. "You hurt me, I was trying to hurt you back. But I never slept with him." And then he's gone.
Later, as they lie in Merlin’s bed, soft dark hair tickling his nose, it almost feels again like the previous five years never happened, and he is back where he should be, with Merlin in his arms.
Chapter 9: Day Nine
“Shush, you’ll wake Morgana!” They were both giggling as they tried to cross over to Arthur’s bed as quietly as possible.
There was a crash as Merlin backed him into a table, causing most of Morgana’s creepy doll collection to topple to the floor. Arthur was giggling so hard by now that he couldn’t even help Merlin pick them up.
“Why does she have these creepy things anyway?” Merlin asked in a loud whisper, carefully arranging the dolls so they have their backs to the room.
“I don’t know, I think they were her mum’s. Why are you doing that, she’ll notice!” Arthur moved to put the dolls back facing the right way.
“No leave them!” Merlin grabbed his hand. “If you think I’m shagging you with them watching me you are very wrong.”
“Who says you are shagging me?” Arthur pulled his hand away from the dolls. Merlin had a good point after all.
Merlin grinned. “I was rather hoping you’d be flexible.”
“Oh, I can show you just how flexible I am.” Arthur crowded into Merlin’s space, backing him up against the wall. “Next time we are doing this at your place, though. I’m never going to be able to look Morgana in the eye again.”
“So long as you don’t mind sitting down to breakfast with me mam.” Merlin shrugged, ignoring the fact that mentioning mothers was something of a mood killer. But then, so were sisters.
“You still live with your mum?” Arthur was about to mock when he had a sudden moment of panic. “Oh my god, please tell me you’re legal?”
“Calm down, yes, I’m twenty.” Merlin was laughing again, and damn if that laugh wasn’t infectious. “And you can’t talk, you live with your sister.”
“That’s hardly the same, I…” Arthur’s words were cut short by Merlin’s mouth on his and he suddenly remembered what they came back here for. He kissed back hungrily.
Merlin’s lips tasted of lemon from the tequila slammers they did just before they left the pub. Arthur pushed his tongue further into Merlin’s mouth to see if he tasted of tequila too. Merlin gave a little noise that Arthur took to be approval by the way he was trying to get his hands under Arthur’s waistband.
Arthur broke away and quickly pulled his t-shirt over his head, fumbling with his own belt as he toed off his shoes. Merlin did the same till it almost became a competition to see who could undress the fastest.
Arthur wasn’t even sure how they got here. He started out the evening thinking Merlin hated him, then they almost called a truce at the bar, and finally they were standing naked in his sister’s spare room, openly sizing each other up.
“So, I thought you were going to shag me?” Arthur said, attempting to show bravado.
“Oh, that I am.” Merlin pushed him backwards onto the bed and smirked down at him.
He was definitely not going to be able to look Morgana in the eye tomorrow.
Waking up alone in the guest bed in Morgana’s flat with all the china dolls staring at him and the child crying upstairs is jarring. He swears he can still feel Merlin pressed up against him, still smell him on his skin.
Shaking himself, he gets up. They have no time to lose, he has to meet Merlin outside the bank as soon as possible to see if they can find the Queen’s door. He has a quick shower to wake himself up, and grabs a coffee and a couple of digestive biscuits to eat as he dresses.
He makes his way to the bank via the back streets, just in case Morgause and her crew are watching, and slips up a small alley around the back where the big bins are kept.
It’s really not that noticeable when they find it. The passage was allegedly commissioned by Queen Victoria, although Arthur finds that hard to believe, and was intended as a private entrance to the bank to bring in the magical artifacts. It is well concealed from prying eyes. The arch shape from the original door way is just about visible, and the stones filling it are a slightly different colour and shape, but you’d definitely walk past it without thinking too much of it.
“Slight flaw in the plan, Merls, we are never going to get in there.” Arthur lays his hand against the rough stone just to confirm to himself and Merlin that it is perfectly solid.
“Hmm.” Merlin is also running his hands across the arch, but down the sides rather than across the middle. “Do you want to know something interesting about this door? It was never filled in.”
Arthur slaps his hand against the stone again for emphasis. “I think you’ll find it was.”
Merlin shakes his head, still pushing at the arch. “I’ve seen the original plans. The Queen’s Door was always a secret entrance, it always looked like this.”
“I suppose that was when you broke into my father’s office.”
“I did nothing of the sort.” Merlin looks smug. “That was friday afternoon, it’s still only friday morning.”
“Have I ever told you that you have slightly dubious morals?”
“Says the guy who drank himself into oblivion rather than doing something useful.”
“Are you going to keep dragging that up? Maybe I was sick of watching you die every day, it’s not exactly a picnic.”
“Really? Really, Arthur?” Merlin whirls around, hands on his hips, eyes blazing. “Try watching the man you love die over and over again and rather than getting him back the next day you have to carry on living, for years and years and decades and centuries until the next time he comes back to you and then bloody well dies all over again! Try watching that and knowing you don’t get a do over, you just fucked up and you didn’t save him and he’s gone, and it’s all your fault he’s dead, and there is nothing you can do about it!”
Arthur slowly becomes aware that he is just standing there, staring at Merlin after his sudden outburst. “What on earth are you going on about?”
Merlin closes his eyes, breathing heavily after his little rant. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t fucking matter, let’s get on with this. I need to disable any security first.”
Arthur watches as Merlin runs his hand down the brickwork again, muttering something under his breath that Arthur suspects may be a spell. Moments later, there is a creaking groaning noise, followed by the sound of scraping stone. Merlin quickly utters something that Arthur doesn’t understand and his eyes flash a brilliant gold, all sound around them stopping instantly.
“How did you do that?” Arthur asks. Or rather, he tries to ask, except no sound comes out of his mouth.
Merlin casts him a long-suffering look and gestures him forward into the dark opening he created in the wall.
Arthur stares into the small dark space ahead. He hates small dark spaces. He blames it on Morgana, who locked him in a wardrobe when he was a child (yes, he’d been looking for Narnia, and yes, his nanny got sacked for reading those books to him, and yes, Morgana still teases him about being stuck in the closet).
He squares his shoulders and moves into the gloom, which becomes completely pitch black a moment later as Merlin seals the door behind them. For a second, their combined breathing and the warmth from Merlin’s body next to him is all he is aware of in the crushing oppressive darkness and the absolute silence that still holds.
He nearly jumps out of his skin as the darkness is broken by Merlin’s glowing eyes. A brighter, whiter light suddenly appears like an orb above Merlin’s hands. The ghostly light emphasises Merlin’s high cheekbones and fine features making him look ethereal and otherworldly. Every lecture his father ever gave him about magic users being malevolent, depraved and unstable is playing around in Arthur’s head, at war with a warm feeling flushing up his body from the fire deep in his gut that screams attraction. Merlin has always been the most beautiful person Arthur ever laid eyes on, but now, like this, he practically screams power even in this soundless tunnel.
Merlin makes a gesture and the ball of light moves upwards, shedding light a small way around them. The tunnel, more of a passageway or corridor really, has obviously been unused for a long time if the cobwebs are anything to go by, but it is perfectly dry inside, with smart black and white tiles on the floor and dark green tiles up the walls. Perhaps there is truth to the story that Queen Victoria and her advisors used this entrance to the bank, but he still doubts it.
Merlin starts moving forward and Arthur quickly follows him to make sure he stays with the light and doesn’t get left in the dark on his own. Merlin would no doubt laugh his head off if he knew how disturbed Arthur was by this experience, but he could swear the walls were closing in on him and if he lets Merlin get too far away, he will be in danger of having a panic attack.
The passage slopes gently downwards, presumably heading towards the vaults. Arthur can’t understand how anyone could deliberately build such an obvious weak point into the very foundations of a bank such as Camelot, or how no one has taken advantage of it in the past.
The sudden sound of footsteps makes Arthur nearly trip, and he reaches out to grab Merlin’s shoulder to steady himself. It’s only as the sound of footstep also stumbles that he realises Merlin’s spell has ended and sound around them has resumed, allowing him to hear his own footfalls. Somehow, the added sense of hearing makes the tunnel seem slightly less awful.
“Magical deadener,” Merlin mutters, and Arthur realises they must be under the bank proper now for the magic blockers on the building to take effect. Although, for a deadener as strong as the one on the First Camelot, Merlin should not have been able to perform magic anywhere near it, and yet somehow the light has not gone out.
“I… Just how powerful are you?”
“What? Why would you ask that?” Merlin looks uncomfortable, even in the semi-gloom.
“Magic. You shouldn’t able to do it, not so close to the bank. That’s why Morgause had Alvarr in a police van running security surveillance from down the street.”
Merlin goes very quiet and looks down at the floor, the magical light flickers slightly. “Does it upset you?”
“Um…” Arthur wonders if Merlin can see him blushing in the semi-dark. “I wouldn’t say it upset me, no. It’s a bit of a turn on, if I’m honest.”
“This is hardly the time, Arthur.” Merlin’s head is turned away from him, but Arthur can hear the smile in his voice.
He reaches out and catches hold of Merlin’s hand making him look back at him. He runs his thumb over Merlin’s cheekbones, just to make sure he’s real.
“So, how powerful are you?” The urge to kiss him is almost overwhelming.
Merlin shrugs, but doesn’t pull away from Arthur’s touch. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Merlin,” Arthur says, trying to keep his voice steady. “As much as I don’t want to be thrown back into darkness, have you even realised your light is still there? That is pretty out of the ordinary.”
Almost as soon as the words leave his mouth, the light winks out leaving them staring into the blackness again.
“Too late, Merlin.” Arthur fakes a big sigh. “Any chance of getting that back? Please?” He’s aiming for light and jovial, but he can’t quite keep the slight desperation out of his voice.
The light flickers back into existence, revealing Merlin with a rather sheepish expression on his face. “We’ll talk about it later, alright?”
Arthur nods. “I will hold you to that.”
There is a slight tension in Merlin’s shoulders as he leads the way down the narrow corridor.
Arthur gets it, he does. Uther’s opinion on magic is well known, he’s a prominent and vocal member of the United Kingdom Anti-Magic Party, a political party behind maintaining most of the outdated bans on magic, and he raised his children to follow the same way of thinking. But UKAMP are not just anti magic, they are anti everything not upper class white and male – anti immigration, anti gay marriage, anti female bishops – and neither Arthur or Morgana has ever bought into their doctrine. To be fair, neither has publicly gone against Uther either, but he’d hoped Merlin might have a better opinion of him than that.
He can’t focus on this now, however much he may want to. A large door is looming up ahead of them, dark and forbidding.
“Do you have any idea where this comes out?” Arthur asks as they approach the door with caution.
“Storeroom.” Merlin runs his hands over the door just like he’d done with the hidden door back on the street.
“Let me guess, you broke in yesterday?”
“Day before. Or, today, or not yet – depending on how you look at it.” The globe of light that Merlin has been maintaining with magic winks out, plunging them back into darkness and Merlin begins muttering things at the door.
Merlin suddenly leaps back from the door. “Shit shit, ow, bastard!” The words come out mumbled and the light flickers back into being as he attempts to stick his left hand in his mouth.
“What happened?” Arthur steps forward and gently takes Merlin’s hand to inspect it. Sure enough, there is an angry red welt across his palm. He resists the urge to try and kiss it better.
Merlin belatedly snatches his hand back. “Must be some sort of anti-magical tampering device on the door, it sent my own magic back at me.”
Arthur puts his own hand to the door, just as Merlin had.
“Careful!” Merlin says behind him.
“It’s ok, I have no magic for it to send back at me. Although, technically, with the dampener in place, neither should you."
Merlin simply sticks his wounded hand under his arm and glowers at Arthur.
Arthur sighs and shakes his head. “So, is there supposed to be some sort of trigger mechanism on this door?” He carefull runs his hands around the sides of the door, hoping to find something, but the wood is smooth and solid. Instead, he starts pressing at the door, but has an equally poor result. “Which bit were you touching when it burnt you?”
“Down at the side there.” Merlin gestures with his good hand.
Arthur runs his hand back over the place where Merlin indicated but can feel nothing to differentiate it from the rest of the door. He slams his hand against it in annoyance, but unsurprisingly it still won’t budge. “What did your research tell you? It must have said something about how to open the door!”
Merlin mutters something under his breath.
“What was that?”
“It has to be opened from the other side.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me this until now?” Arthur is tempted to bang his head against the door in frustration, but knowing his luck he’d end up with a welt on his forehead like the one on Merlin’s palm.
“I thought I could open it with magic.” Even in the semi-gloom, Merlin looks petulant.
“Fuck.” Arthur kicks the door to absolutely no effect. “Well this was a complete waste of time then, wasn’t it, Merlin? We are basically stuck in this fucking tunnel rather than doing anything useful.” Calm down, he tries to tell himself, it’s not Merlin’s fault, he doesn’t know you have thing about confined spaces.
“Oh, I’m sorry, clearly I knew it would turn out like this but I thought it would be fun to waste time down here.” He strongly suspects Merlin is far more pissed off at himself than anything.
He calms his breathing down and tries to be practical. “Do you have your phone? We could call someone to come and open the door.”
“We don’t know who we can trust.” Merlin sounds defeated. Merlin should never sound defeated.
“We can trust Morgana.” He’s pretty sure they can.
Merlin just looks at him. And yeah, ok, so Morgana has sided with Morgause more times than not. He still doesn’t like the implication behind that look.
“Fine, what about Gwen, then?” Gwen is a safe pair of hands, and they need to talk to her anyway about the dampener.
“Or Mordred. Or Will!” Merlin sounds hopeful, and Arthur can see exactly what he’s thinking. It’s a good idea, except Morgause and her crew will notice anything out of the ordinary, like the head of security suddenly disappearing.
“Will would be noticed leaving the main floor,” he says gently. “Gwen is always buzzing about everywhere fixing stuff. And before you say it, I would trust Gwen with my life. And we need to get her down here anyway to ask about the dampener.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything, Gwen is the most reliable person I know.” Merlin pulls his phone out. “We could get all of them?”
“You can’t guarantee that you can save him, Merlin.” He’s not trying to be mean, he’s really not, but he can’t let Merlin get his hopes up.
“I know.” Merlin’s voice is low. “But I can try.”
Arthur could say again about it looking suspicious if the head of security disappears off the shop floor, especially once the fire alarm kicks in, but he can’t do that to Merlin.
“No signal.” Merlin is waving his phone around by the door.
Arthur is about to start swearing when the light briefly goes out and Merlin’s eyes flash gold once more. He dials Gwen’s number.
“Hi, Gwen, it’s Merlin. I’m having trouble with the number pad on the door to the downstairs staff room. Yeah. No, it won’t let me in. Ok, see you in a minute.” He ends the call.
“What was the point of that, genius? She can’t do much from the downstairs staff room!”
“No, she can’t. She also won’t be overheard when she calls back in a minute to find out why I’m not there.” Merlin taps at his phone again. “Will! It’s Merlin, can you meet me down in the staff room? Yeah, now. Just come, will you? Oh, and bring Mordred.” Merlin hangs up and then they wait in the near-dark.
Sure enough, the phone rings again about a minute later.
“Gwen? Hi. Um, yeah, about that – we’re down in the storeroom on the vault floor. We need your help. Is Will there? Yeah? Yeah. Me and Arthur. Ha ha, very funny. Not now, Gwen, yeah?” He waits a bit, Arthur can only assume Gwen and Will are making their way down the stairs.
“Ok, if you go down the corridor, last door to the end is the storeroom, Yeah, we’re in here, sort of. If you go behind the shelves at the end. Yeah. Yep, that’s right. We’re on the other side and can’t get the door open…”
Arthur can faintly hear rustling on the other side of the door. Beside him, Merlin’s eyes glow gold again as the globe of light winks out once more, this time staying out and leaving them in darkness.
“… no, there’s a key on the top shelf to the right. Oh, shit, sorry, Um, there are some library steps in the next aisle.”
Arthur is growing unsettled at how many times Merlin’s eyes glow like the deadener doesn’t exist. He reaches out and touches Merlin’s arm. Well, it’s probably Merlin’s arm. “How did you get the key?” he mutters under his breath.
“It was locked in a safe in Uther’s office.”
“And you just magicked it here? Despite the security and the dampener and everything?”
The solid clunk of a key turning saves Merlin from having to answer.
The bright striplighting of the storeroom is almost painful as the door screeches open on hinges that haven’t been used in a long time. Merlin flips his phone off and engulfs Gwen in a massive hug. “Thank you!” He looks around. “Where’s Will and Mordred?”
“They got waylaid by Babyface, said to tell you he’d be down in a minute.” Gwen looking between them, bemused smile on her face and not a clue why Will getting stopped is a bad thing.
Arthur quickly follows Merlin out of the passage, refusing to admit that his legs are shaking as he grabs hold of a shelf for support. Why, of all things, did this have to involve dark confined spaces?
“Babyface – you mean Valiant?” That is worse than he thought, Will has been stopped by Valiant. He instinctively puts his hand to his skull where Valiant hit him before, even though it is fine now.
“Yes, he’s one of the security guards. I’m quite impressed you managed to get a signal down here.” Gwen frowns down at her phone which is presumably no longer working. “So, what’s going on? How did you two get stuck in there?”
“Um, we just sort of went in to see what was in there and the door swung shut.” It’s not a good excuse, but Merlin’s looks like Will already died and Arthur has to say something.
Gwen looks sceptical. “Then why was the key on the top shelf?”
Merlin sighs. “Ok, fine. We were testing to see how easy it is to get into the bank via the Queen’s door.”
Gwens eyes flicker to the door, clearly taking in the age of it. “That’s the Queen’s door? And you got in from the street?”
Merlin nods. “Don’t worry though, it took some pretty powerful magic to get the door open at the other end, I don’t think any old person could walk in off the street.”
“Magic? You have magic?” Gwen looks surprised and Arthur is a little bit glad that he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know. “What about the dampener? Nobody should have been able to do magic that close to the bank! Do we need to upgrade it? And we are going to have to put better security on this door, I don’t care what you say. It wasn’t even alarmed!” Gwen is getting into full-blown panic mode – she’s brilliant, she really is, but sometimes she just needs to stop and draw breath.
Merlin mutters something Arthur doesn’t catch.
“What was that?” Gwen stops her attack of verbal diarrhea to send a horrified look at Merlin.
“I said I disabled the alarms.” He’s a little louder now, but somewhat shamefaced.
“You disabled them? Why? Did you disable the dampener too?” Now her initial panic is over, Gwen is slipping into her practical ‘sort this shit out’ mode.
“Actually, I wanted to ask you about that.” Merlin gives her a winning smile that Arthur knows for a fact gets him out of trouble a lot. “How would I go about doing it?”
“Disabling the dampener? Um… I’m really not sure I should tell you that. I’m starting to think you two are planning a robbery!” Gwen starts laughing but quickly stops when she realises the other two are not. “Oh my god, you’re not planning a robbery, are you?”
“No! Not us. But someone is, they are in the building as we speak and we need to stop them.”
“But surely disabling the dampener is a bad thing? It stops people using magic to rob us.” Gwen looks aghast.
“That is what I keep telling him.” Arthur is glad to finally talk to someone without Merlin’s twisted sense of logic.
“The deadener stops them using magic, but it also stops me using magic to stop them.”
“It didn’t stop you using magic to get in the Queen’s door!”
Merlin looks guilty. “I can only do very small things within the bank itself though.”
“You shouldn’t be able to do anything, either in the bank or that close outside it!” Gwen is getting irritated now, and Arthur really doesn’t blame her, Merlin is being evasive and it’s as annoying as hell.
Merlin shrugs and attempts to look humble. Arthur dearly wants to know just how powerful he is.
“So, you are saying that if you could access all of your magic, you could stop this?” he asks.
Merlin nods. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Only think so?” Gwen folds her arms and taps her foot in a way that suggests she’s not going to help them disable the dampener for anything less than certainty.
Merlin levels a look at Arthur that he clearly thinks is meaningful and then pointedly glances at Gwen before looking back at Arthur. He is not as subtle as he likes to think he is. “Well, if it doesn’t work we’ll just have to try again, won’t we?”
Arthur shakes his head and tries not to laugh, while Gwen is sending rather perplexed looks between the pair of them.
“I think we’ve roped poor Gwen in this far, Merlin, we’re going to have to tell her what’s going on.”
“Yes, I think telling me what’s going on would be an excellent idea.” Gwen folds her arms and waits, glaring between the pair of them.
Arthur begins. “So, Merlin has magic, the bank is getting robbed, I’ve lived this day, uh… eight… nine… times already, and Merlin here is on about day three, and we are trying to stop it but nothing seems to be working so far. Got it?”
Gwen opens her mouth, closes it again, shakes her head and then brings her hand up to rub at her temples. “Run that by me again?”
“There are people from a magical activist group who want to rob the deep vault,” Merlin says, rolling his eyes at Arthur.
“The deep vault? The one with all the, um, artifacts?” Gwen asks, looking between them like she’s wondering how much they know. So far, the super-secret magical vault might just be the worst-kept secret ever. “Oh, stop looking so shocked, Arthur, I’m the head of IT, who do you think keeps the security systems up to date?”
Arthur doesn’t answer. He knew that, of course he did, and he’s seen Gwen dragged in by Morgause to answer questions about getting the vault open enough times, he’s just spent so much of his life being told that you don’t talk about what is in that vault that he can’t help but feel awkward every time someone does.
Merlin nods at her. “Yeah, they want to ‘reclaim’ all the artifacts, but knowing what we know about this Morgause woman, they probably aren’t wanting to use them for the ‘greater good’.”
“Ok, so we need to stop them getting the magical artefacts and basically starting world war three?”
“Pretty much.” Merlin nods at Gwen’s assessment. “What Arthur didn’t tell you is that I apparently died several times, and the first time that happened he cleverly managed to get my blood all over a certain artifact that contains part of a very powerful crystal, which seems to have got him caught in a loop where he relives the same day over and over.”
Gwen looks at Arthur and back at Merlin. “Are you two pulling my leg? Is this all some elaborate set up and Ant and Dec are about to come running out? Because so help me if they do I’m going to deck the pair of them.”
“No!” Merlin holds up his hands like he thinks that will prove his innocence. “I swear this is real, Gwen. I’ve, er, I’ve managed to get myself caught in the loop too, so we can try and fix this.”
Gwen nods. “And you think magic is the answer?”
“You seem to be taking this all remarkably well.” Arthur has been away for so long, he’d forgotten what a sensible, calming influence Gwen can be.
“Well, panicking never got anyone anywhere, did it now?” Typical Gwen, always practical – so long as she’s not the one panicking.
“Where did that come from?” Merlin asks, pointing to a big sack hidden behind the door. “That wasn’t there yesterday.”
“Well no, it wouldn’t be,” Gwen replies with a confused frown. “Lance only delivered it this morning.”
“Lance? Lance doesn’t work here any more.” Merin cocks his head to the side with a confused frown of his own.
“He doesn’t? I saw him a couple of days ago — or, um, before, whenever.” Arthur awkwardly rubs the back of his neck, still unsure as to how he should refer to the previous times he’s lived through the same day.
“Lance left about a year ago,” Merlin says slowly, crossing over and peering down at the bag..
“Yes.” Gwen nods. “But he’s working for FedEx now.”
“Why on earth would he go and work for FedEx when he has a first class honours from Oxford and he had a good job here?” Arthur asks confused. “And why did I not know? We’re supposed to be friends!”
“Try asking your father,” Merlin says with a dark look.
“What? Why? What happened?” Why does no one talk to him any more?
“They had a bit of a falling out.” Gwen looks down at her shoes. “So did we.”
“Why did you let him bring the package downstairs unsupervised?” Merlin asks.
“Well, it’s Lance.” Gwen gives a small twitch of the shoulder.
“That bag is not there by this afternoon.” Merlin pushes the mail sack with his foot. A replica knight’s helmet falls out with a plasticy clang.
“What on earth is that?” Gwen picks the helmet up and turns it over in her hands. “Is he into re enactments or something?”
“Or something.” Merlin’s voice is strange, and his face says he might be about to cry. Merlin never was good at controlling his oh-so-expressive face, which often blurted out all the secrets he thought he was keeping. Although apparently there was no facial expression for, ‘by the way, I have magic!’.
“These are the helmets the robbers use.” Arthur feels numb. He considers Lance a friend. Or he used to.
“No, Lance wouldn’t…” Gwen hastily drops the the helmet back on top of the bag and backs away like she thinks it might explode.
Without a word, Arthur reaches out and pulls her into a hug. Gwen’s been Morgana’s best friend ever since the accident – her brother had been Morgana’s consultant and the two had been inseparable ever since, so Arthur knows her pretty well too.
“I’m sure there must be a good explanation,” he tells her. “Lance is a good guy.”
“He was a good guy.” If Arthur hadn’t been standing so close to her, he’s not sure he’d have heard.
“How do you mean?” He stands back a little so he can look at her. “What happened with you two anyway?”
She shakes her head and offers him a watery smile. “It doesn’t matter. Don’t we have more important things to deal with? Like this dampener?”
Arthur glances at Merlin over the top of Gwen’s head and gets a mouthed ‘later’ in response.
“Ok, let’s go and take a look at the deadener.” Merlin opens the door and does a quick check of the corridor before indicating with his head for them to follow.
They use Arthur’s keycard to take the lift down to the restricted vault levels. At the end of the corridor by the main vault is a fire exit.
“This is the only way down,” Gwen says. “There is a ladder on the other side, goes past the other two vaults.”
“Nice and easy to get to then.” Merlin steps forward and reaches for the handle.
“That will set off the alarm if we open it.” Arthur puts his hand out to stop Merlin opening the door.
Merlin frowns. “We have to get down there. I’ll see if I can disable it.” He closes his eyes and puts his hand on the door.
“No, stop!” Gwen looks over her shoulder when she realises how loudly she just spoke, but the corridor is still clear. She lowers her voice. “The alarm system is set to go off if any form of magic tampering is detected.”
“So what, we just give up?” Merlin folds his arms and frowns.
Arthur checks his watch. “No, we wait.”
“For what, the machine to stop working of old age?” Merlin can be a sarky bastard when he wants to.
“No.” Arthur smirks to show Merlin he’s thought of something the genius hasn’t. “We wait for about half an hour. Without my keycard to let them in, Morgause will set the fire alarm off at about midday. Once the alarm is already going, we can open the door.”
Merlin opens his mouth and then closes it again. “I guess that’s not the worst idea you ever had,” he says somewhat grudgingly.
“Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.” Gwen nods.
“You could tell us all about the deadener while we wait.”
The door almost looks like the door to a prison cell – massive, solid metal with big rivets holding it together. A low humming noise is coming from inside. Arthur knows it’s futile even before he puts his hand out and rattles the handle.
Behind him, he hears Gwen sigh just before she pushes him aside and opens a latch on the left revealing a keypad. She quickly types in 1811. Eighteenth of November. His mother's birthday. The door creaks open.
“I thought it might be more difficult than that,” he says as he steps through. “I mean, the vault upstairs needs retina scans and thumbprints.”
“It does,” Gwen replies. “It needs those to switch it off, and only Uther’s will do.”
A thud behind them makes them turn around. Merlin is leaning back against the door, a heavy sweat breaking out on his forehead.
“Merlin!” Arthur rushes forward and loops his arm around Merlin before he completes his downward slide to the floor. “What’s wrong?”
Gwen puts her hand on Merlin’s head. “He’s burning up.”
“Could it be the dampener? Cutting him off from his magic and all that?”
“Hmm, could be. It doesn’t seem to affect most people, but Merlin’s magic seems to be strong. I know one of the girls on the shop floor passed out once, about a year ago, when a power surge increased the level of emission to higher than is considered safe. Uther sacked her for it, of course. Publically humiliated her, made sure her magical status was known, probably made sure she never worked again.”
Uther was actually not only within his right to fire the girl, he was actually legally obliged to – magic users are not allowed to work in financial institutions by law. But Arthur is starting to disagree with both his father and the law quite intensely. Instead, he concentrates on dragging Merlin away from the door.
“We’ll have to disable it without him, he’s not going to be any use to anyone like this.” Arthur props Merlin up further down the corridor and shakes him, but he is completely out of it now and won’t wake up. “Do you want to stay here with him while I go and see what I can do to the deadener?” He’s finally seeing how much more appropriate that name is.
“Wouldn’t that make more sense the other way around? I’m the one who knows about it.” She does this little thing that is just so Gwen, where she slightly tilts her head to the side and widens her eyes in a way that just says ‘duh’.
Feeling bad about abandoning Merlin, Arthur follows Gwen back down to the room, scooping Merlin’s keys off the ground where they must have fallen – the little dragon keyring is wooden once more, rather than the little fiery creature he’d last seen perched on top of the curtain rail.
Inside the room is a large machine that almost looks like one of those old-fashioned top-loading washing machines, except it is much bigger. What had been a low hum when the door was shut is now more like a loud buzzing inside his skull as the movement of the dampener makes the whole room shake.
“How do we switch it off?” he has to shout, even though Gwen is standing right beside him. He can feel his teeth vibrating as he speaks, and his eyes are starting to blur from the shaking.
“Ordinarily we would need a retina scan from your father,” she shouts back. “But there is a failsafe built in just in case it has to be shut down and Uther is not available.”
He knows this, of course, Gwen had explained it upstairs while they were waiting for the alarm to go off. The vibrations make it hard to think straight. They have to fool the machine into an almost critical meltdown so that Gwen can activate the override and shut it down. How they are going to achieve that without Merlin is another matter.
Gwen goes over to the console and starts tapping away at the keys. Arthur doesn’t even attempt to interfere, this is her area of expertise and he’s happy to leave her to it. He inspects the dampener itself instead.
Merlin had been going to feed magic into the machine, thus encouraging it to work overtime to eliminate the threat. But without Merlin’s magic, it would be up to Arthur.
Attempting to vandalise the machine wouldn’t work, built in fail-safes meant any form of tampering would result in the device sending off an electromagnetic pulse that would wipe out all electricals for miles around whilst keeping the dampener active, which would probably mean the vaults would seal shut, which might be a bonus, but there was a chance it would unlock them all too, as well as killing anyone with a pacemaker in the vicinity .
“How do you feel about climbing up there?” Gwen doesn’t even drag her eyes away from the screen in front of her.
“I suppose I could.” Arthur dubiously eyes the side of the machine. There’s a series of rungs to the right, a bit like a ladder, presumably for maintenance. However, the machine is probably switched off when the maintenance crew are in in, rather than buzzing from side to side like a big angry bumblebee.
He tests out the handholds, pulling himself up the side, grateful he never gave up on his visits to the gym.
Up at the top, he has a strange feeling like he is being both pulled towards the centre of and pushed away at the same time, the vibrations of the machine not helping at all.
The hole in the top that he had thought made it look like a washing machine is emitting some sort of pulse, if he looks closely he is sure he can see it, in the same way you can see heat coming off the top of a fire, bending the air above it, and the sides sweep down towards it.
“See if you can find a switch inside the funnel!” Gwen yells from below. “Apparently there should be a safety switch there for the maintenance crew.”
Arthur leans over, steadying himself on the side. A person falling into the device would almost certainly count as tampering. Just under the rim is a small switch. He leans down further, he can almost reach it.
Stretching his arm down, his fingers brush the button. And then, almost in slow motion, the magnetic pull from the deadener drags Merlin’s keys out of his pocket. All Arthur can do is watch as the keys are sucked down, dragon key ring and all. There is a grinding sound as the machine shudders to a halt. Arthur pulls himself upright and looks down at Gwen. Could it really have been that easy? Then, a sound like a roar can be heard from deep within the deadener. Arthur looks round as something, he could almost swear it looks like a reptile, but that would be impossible, in the form of a massive flame erupts from the opening, knocking him down to the ground. A huge mouth opens above him, breathing fire. The last thing he remembers thinking just before he and Gwen are engulfed in flames, is that Merlin’s dragon seems to have grown a lot bigger.
Chapter 10: Day Ten
“I know you are proud of being Welsh, Merlin, but do you actually have to have dragons on everything?” Arthur picked up Merlin’s keys and examined the little dragon on the keyring. It was actually a really nice carving, made out of some sort of red wood, almost warm to the touch. “I mean, don’t think I didn’t spot the dragons on your pants.”
Merlin plucked the keys out of his fingers, turning the dragon over in his long elegant fingers like he was making sure Arthur hadn’t hurt it. “Well I’m fucking a Pendragon, aren’t I? It must be an obsession or something.”
Arthur looked over his shoulder quickly to make sure none of the other staff had overheard, but the rest of the cashiers were busy listening to Morgana tear strips off poor Gilli for accidentally setting off the security screen yet again – “No, please, waste our time some more, Gilli! In what world did that seem like a sensible thing to do? I hope for your sake some old duck hasn’t just had a heart attack on the other side of the screen when that went up. Now, screen safety procedure, again. I could explain this in words you’d understand, but I have neither the time nor the crayons.”
He looked back to find Merlin raising one eyebrow at him and felt himself blush. “Sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry.” Merlin gave him a funny little quirke of the lips. “I shouldn’t have said that at work. I didn’t think.” Trust Merlin to know what had been going through his head. Anyone would think they’d known each other all their lives rather than just a couple of months.
“It’s just my father. He’d stop me seeing you if he found out, and I couldn’t bear that.” He looked down at his keyboard to avoid looking at Merlin.
“My Da made it for me,” Merlin said, completely randomly. Arthur looked up to find him still fiddling with the dragon keyring. “Not long before he died. It’s the only thing of his I have.”
Arthur glanced round again to make sure no one was looking, then briefly squeezed Merlin’s hand in his just as the security screen started to slide back down into place.
“Hello Lance.” Arthur steps out of the shadows of the storeroom and pushes the door shut behind Lance.
Lance jumps and nearly drops the bag of plastic helmets he came in to collect. “Arthur! What are you doing down here?” Lance attempts a smile, but his eyes drift towards the door.
“I could ask the same. Seeing as I’ve been informed you no longer work here.”
Lance opens his mouth to respond but then his eyes drift to just behind Arthur. “Gwen?”
“Please tell me they are wrong, Lance.” It almost hurts Arthur to hear Gwen plead. This is her environment, she is confident, capable Gwen, but unlike Merlin and Arthur she has had no time to come to terms with the possibility that Lance is working with Morgause. They’ve just had to tell the whole story to her again this morning, and she is not taking the Lance thing half as well as the ‘living the whole day again’ and ‘bank robbery!’ things.
“I…” Lance looks between them all, clearly trying to come up with a good excuse. The trouble is, despite his current predicament, Lance is one of the most honest people Arthur has ever met, and coming up with excuses is not his strong point.
“We know, Lance.” Merlin’s voice is quiet, but it seems to fill the room. “We know what Morgause is planning, we know all the people involved. Including you.”
Lance shakes his head. “I… you don’t understand!”
“Try us.” Arthur is far calmer than he thought he’d be. Lance is supposed to be one of his best friends, has been ever since uni, he should be raging and screaming at this betrayal, but instead he just feels weary.
“I have to go back, or she’ll miss me.”
“You know we’re not letting you out of here without an explanation.” Arthur folds his arms across his chest and tries to look stern like his father.
Lance looks down at his shoes for a moment and Arthur almost wonders if he is going to cry.
“Does she have something on you? Is she blackmailing you?” He knows he shouldn’t be putting words into Lance’s mouth, giving him an out, but he so desperately wants there to be a good reason.
Lance looks at him, and this time there is fire in his eyes. “That would suit you, wouldn’t it?”
Arthur is taken aback. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Has it even occurred to you that Morgause might be right? That your precious father might be the monster here?”
“Now just hang on a minute!” Uther might not be a saint, but he is hardly a monster! Arthur ignores the nagging little voice in his head that reminds him of how his father treated Morgana when he found out about her magic.
“No, Arthur! Open your eyes. Those artifacts do not belong to him, he has no right to keep them. He has no right to treat people like vermin just because they have magic! Do you have any idea what it’s like? They can’t work, even if they want to – no one will employ someone who has magic, not even the people who are allowed to!”
“That is the law, it is hardly my father’s fault.”
“Who pushes for these laws? Everyone knows your father and his money and all his bigoted cronies in UKAMP are the real power behind the Tory government. Magical restrictions are worse now than they have ever been!”
“But…” Arthur can’t think of a single line of defence for his father. “Do you have magic?” Does everyone have magic?
“Sometimes it is actually possible to believe in something you are not part of. Surely you can’t agree with your father? Surely you don’t believe people should be subjugated like this just for having magic?”
Arthur is unsure how he is suddenly the one in the wrong here and he wishes he could contradict Lance. The trouble is, he’s been avoiding the whole magic debate for years, and whilst it didn’t affect him he could do that quite happily. But now? Now he knows about Merlin and Morgana? Now he’s been forced to see the results close up? No, he can’t honestly say he agrees with his father’s stance on magic.
“So do you have magic, Lance?” Merlin repeats Arthur question.
Lance is quiet for a moment. “No, not me.”
“Freya.” Gwen’s voice is quiet. “It’s Freya, isn’t it? You two were always close.”
Lance’s head snaps up. “What makes you say that?”
Gwen shrugs. “You left not long after Uther fired her. Both the bank and me. You left me for Freya.”
Lance shakes his head. “Uther didn’t just fire her. He made her life unbearable!” He takes a step towards Gwen but stops when she retreats. He turns his big brown eyes on her, pleading. “She couldn’t get work, people shunned her in the street, she was physically attacked and the police did nothing. Uther Pendragon is the reason she hanged herself.”
Gwen gasps. “When?”
Lance bites his lip, a frown line running between his eyes. “About six months ago. She’d been talking to Morgause and things were starting to look better for her, and then she was attacked. He told people what she was, they were afraid of her. I’m doing this for her, I’m making things better for Freya.”
“So you were in love with her?” Gwen’s voice wobbles slightly but she holds it together.
Lance looks at her and gives a small, sad smile. “She was my sister. Well, my foster sister. My family took her in when she was a kid. So yes, I loved her. But not like that.”
“You never told me you had a sister.” If she sounds suspicious, who could blame her.
“Her decision. See, Freya didn’t really have magic. She was suffering under a curse. My mother was very pro-magic rights and used to take in children from magical families where the parents had been arrested, or where the child had been thrown out for having magic. Mostly they didn't stick around for long. Freya was cursed to be a bastet. She had to be locked away in the cellar every night and her family had abandoned her down there. So mum took her in, and she stayed.”
“But she didn’t want to acknowledge you?”
Lance shakes his head. “No, she didn’t want us to acknowledge her. She didn’t want the stigma of association for us, even though she kept a low profile.”
“But surely you could have told me?” Gwen still looks hurt, but then Arthur knows how it feels to discover the love of your life has been lying to you.
“I’m sorry, I was trying to respect her wishes.” Typical Lance, so bloody noble.
“I get why you quit working at the bank, but why did you leave me, Lance? I’d have understood!”
“It was for your own good.” Lance makes another aborted move towards Gwen, stopping this time before she even gets the chance to retreat. “I didn’t want to get you involved. I was trying to take care of Freya, and Morgause wanted to help, but she wanted my help in return. Me being involved in this is one thing, but if I’d still been with you then you’d have been compromised too.”
“I get that you are doing this for your sister,” Arthur cuts in. “But surely there is a better way than this? Where no one gets killed?”
“No one is going to get killed, we are a peaceful organisation, we just want equality!”
He hears Merlin sigh behind him. “That is what you want, Lance. I very much doubt that is what Morgause wants. Or Valiant. I’ve looked into her background, she doesn’t want equality, she wants control, and she will use these artifacts to get it. Morgause means to make every non-magic person in the country pay for centuries of oppression, the few who die today will be nothing compared to the numbers to follow.”
“Very good, you clearly did your homework, I’m actually quite impressed.” The door behind Lance swings open to reveal Morgause, gun at her hip, scowl on her face. “I wondered what was taking so long.”
“Morgause, how lovely to see you.” Arthur shakes his head. They’ve taken too long. They should have got here earlier.
“Arthur Pendragon, if I’m not mistaken? Funny, my people never saw you come in. And who might you be?” She turns her attention to Merlin, all but ignoring Gwen.
Merlin sneers at her. “Someone who doesn’t buy into your bullshit.”
“Of course not, you don’t have magic, how could you possibly understand what it is like to be put down, repressed, reviled, all for something you can’t help?” There is a condescending smile on her face that makes Arthur’s hand itch to slap her.
“I understand that it isn’t worth killing innocent people!”
“Killing innocent people? Like his father did to Lee’s sister?”
“Lance, his name is Lance!” Arthur can’t believe this woman, she doesn’t even know the names of the people helping her!
Morgause shrugs dismissively.
“Right.” There is a bitter note to Merlin’s voice. “Why would you care what he’s called, he doesn’t have magic so he’s expendable.”
“There will be a new world order. Those with magic will be at the top, as it should be. Why should we have all this power and yet be at the bottom of the pile? So yes, perhaps the lives of those without magic should be held as cheap as the lives of magic users currently are! Do you know how many magic users die every year in police custody? Or how many die out on the street because no one will rent us a flat or give us a job? Why shouldn’t they suffer the same treatment?” There are little bits of spittle flying out of her mouth as she rages. This is only the second time Arthur has seen her not be completely calm and collected and it is somewhat unsettling. For all they are wanting to disarm the deadener, he is very glad for its being on right now.
“But Lance is trying to help you!” Gwen is standing with her hands on her hips in a way that should actually scare Morgause – Arthur has seen Uther back down from Gwen when she’s like this, back in the days when he used to insist on second opinions from the doctors who said Morgana would never walk, and little nineteen-year-old Gwen had stood up to him and told him in no uncertain terms that he was harming his daughter’s recovery. Morgause, on the other hand, seems uncowed.
“I’m sure he will be adequately rewarded.”
“I do understand,” Merlin says. “Better than you might think. But this is not the way to do it. Surely you can see that? Magicals and non-magicals should be working together to make things right, the longer we fight against each other, the longer things don’t work!”
“So what, some soft approach, is that your idea? Like anyone would listen to us.”
“You are going to end up with outright war on your hands. Yes, you will have the artifacts and you will be able to fight back, but they have armies and weapons and god knows what other resources. All you will do is prove to them all that they were right all along, and then they will do everything in their power to bring you down. And all the people like Lance and Gwen and Arthur, who might have been on your side, will suddenly see you as something to fear, something that needs to be dealt with.”
“I am something to fear, they should fear me.”
“And the six-year-old kid in the playground who suddenly displays magical ability? The homeless person who gets attacked by a group of vigilantes? Magic has been bred out of the population for centuries, most people do not have the levels of magical abilities to pose any sort of a threat, you will be exposing them to fear and hatred, just like Uther did to Freya.”
“Don’t you dare compare me to that man!”
“Then stop acting like him!”
Morgause’s gun is suddenly in Merlin’s face so fast that Arthur barely sees her move.
“Uther Pendragon is a monster, I am nothing like him!” Strangely, her voice has gone back to the level calmness that Arthur had previously associated with her. She turns and gestures her gun at Lance. “You. Help me get these to the vault. She reaches over and takes the keycard out of Arthur’s top pocket.”
“No.” Lance is shaking his head. “This is not what I signed up for. We were just supposed to be liberating the artifacts, giving them back to the magical community. No one said anything about starting a war!”
“Are you actually defying me?” Morgause cocks her gun, but rather than pointing it at Lance or back at Merlin, she holds it against Gwen’s head. “I believe I gave you an order.” She is still speaking to Lance, like Gwen isn’t an actual person.
“Leave her alone, this has nothing to do with her!” The colour has gone from Lance’s face and suddenly Arthur gets it, he really does love Gwen, and he did leave her to try and keep her safe, and now that plan has spectacularly backfired
“Fine, fine, we’re all going to the vault.” Arthur has seen Morgause in action before and he knows she is not bluffing. He shakes his head at Lance, trying to warn him off as he opens his mouth to protest.
Morgause pulls out a mobile as she gestures for them all to walk out in front of her. “Meet me down in the by the lift asap, we have a situation.”
Another of Morgause’s co-conspirators meets them at the lift, going from the short stature, Arthur would guess at Enmyria, although as they are still unsure of just how many of them there are, he can’t be sure. Morgause uses Arthur’s security keycard to take them down the last few floors to the vault.
The all too familiar sight of the vault room makes Arthur’s stomach churn. This was not how today was supposed to go. He is shoved to the floor, his arms tied behind his back, someone else secured to him. Lance is also shoved to the ground and tied to Gwen in a similar fashion. That can only mean the warm solid presence behind him is Merlin, and somehow Arthur finds that reassuring, even though he should want Merlin to be free.
“There, you lot can all stay here out of my way.” Morgause gives a satisfied smirk and sweeps out of the room.
Enmyria, still assuming that’s who their guard is, remains. Arthur has no idea about her. Whereas he always felt a certain sympathy emanating from Lance, and downright stupidity from Valiant, Enmyria seems to be unshakable. This woman, along with Alvarr, left Morgana for dead all those years ago, in Arthur’s book that makes her cold and dangerous.
When Morgause returns, she has Uther and Agravaine in tow.
“Arthur?” It is almost gratifying to see the flash of worry cross Uther’s face. Sometimes Arthur can’t help but wonder if his father actually gives a damn about anyone. “What’s going on? What have you done to my son?”
Uther is struggling to get away from the guard holding him but is simply cuffed round the head for his efforts. Agravaine, on the other hand, is looking scared out of his wits.
“Leave my fucking father alone, you bastard!” Because for some reason, no matter what Uther has done, Arthur doesn’t want to see him hurt, and he’s pretty sure his face is already starting to look that funny grey colour.
“Look, this has nothing to do with me! I’m not even a Pendragon, I have no access to the vaults!” Agravaine gives a silly little half-laugh, all the while looking like he is about to piss himself.
“Arthur, are you alright?” Uther ignores his brother-in-law – a trick he’s been perfecting for the last forty years
“I’m fine, Father. How about you? Do you need your pills?” Damn it, he hadn’t got around to getting the pills.
“I told Morgana not to tell you about that.” Uther’s words are complaining, but his voice doesn’t have the strength to uphold them.
“Look,” Arthur says to Morgause. “My father is not well. Let him go and I’ll do whatever you want.
“Arthur!” Uther still looks a little unwell, but the expression on his face says cold fury and he manages to put enough strength into that one word to say everything.
Arthur is too used to hearing his name said in rage and disappointment by his father, it barely works on him anymore, and he is almost past caring at this point – he just wants today over and done with. Let Morgause have her way, she can go into the vault, take what she wants, they can just do this whole thing again tomorrow.
“They won’t get far.”
Morgause smirks at him, she clearly thinks Arthur is too stupid to realise the ramifications of opening that particular vault to someone like her.
He can feel Merlin shifting behind him and waits to see if he is going to say anything. Merlin, however, stays silent for what must be the first time in his life.
The same can’t be said of Uther. “You can’t do this, Arthur, you are putting the reputation of the bank on the line.”
Morgause’s phone suddenly bleeps from her pocket. “Go on,” she says into the receiver. “Who? Is he dead? Just a random security guard? Ok. Get the body moved out of the way. And send someone down here to help with carrying.” She ends the call and turns back to Arthur. “I need you to open that vault for me. Quickly.”
“Fine. Just take my father back up to his office first.”
She comes over and cups the side of his face, almost like a caress. “Just so you know, if you betray me, I will kill your little boyfriend here.” Morgause straightens and clicks her fingers at Enmyria. “Take them back upstairs.”
Merlin shifts again and mutters something at Arthur.
“What was that?” Morgause spins around.
Merlin sighs. “I said don’t send Agravaine with him.”
A slight frown creases Morgause’s face. “Why? His snivelling is already getting on my nerves.”
“Oh come on!” Merlin tries to turn and look at her, half pulling Arthur the other way as he does. “Do you really expect us to believe that piece of shit isn’t working with you?”
“Merlin…” Why is Merlin so insistent that Agravaine is a traitor!
Morgause lets out a dry humourless laugh. “Why on earth would I be working with such a spineless worm as that? He clearly has no power in this organisation, he works abroad, and he would likely as not sell me out to the highest bidder. He is of no use to me.”
Agravaine’s face goes a funny blotchy colour and he seems to be unsure as to being offended at not being good enough, or being offended that Merlin accused him. In the end he gives up and just stands there looking sulky until Enmyria pushes him and Uther out of the room, Uther protesting the whole way.
“All right, I’ve done as you asked. Now, if you don’t mind, it’s time for your side of the bargain.”
“You’ll have to untie me from this idiot first.”
“Hey!” Merlin mutters from behind him, but there is no heat in the words, if anything Arthur is sure he felt him chuckle first.
One of the remaining masked men bends down and cuts the tape tying Arthur’s hands to Merlin’s. They both take a moment to work the circulation back and then Arthur staggers to his feet, using Merlin’s shoulder to lever himself up and taking a moment to draw strength from that.
This is the right thing to do, he keeps telling himself as the retina scan burns across his eyeball. It doesn’t matter, we can do it right tomorrow.
There is a sickening clunk as he completes the security questions and the vault begins to open.
This is the right thing to do…
What if tomorrow doesn’t reset? Perhaps this is what the fates, or the Pagan Gods or whoever it is that is doing this, wants.
Arthur just stands there feeling completely powerless as Morgause motions her men forward. Another guard chooses that moment to come into the room.
“You sent for me, Boss?” The man is huge, probably even taller than Leon and twice the width – all muscle.
“Grab a bag and start loading, we’re taking as much as we can carry. Alvarr will bring the van round to the front.” Morgause throws a hessian sack at him from a pile in the corner.
The robber catches the bag one-handed and walks into the room. He stops short when he sees Lance on the floor and suddenly pulls off his helmet, revealing a much younger face than Arthur was expecting..
“Lance? What’s going on?” He looks over at Morgause.
“It seems your friend here is a traitor to our cause.”
“Perce, don’t listen to her. She’s not the person Freya thought she was.” Lance has clearly realised too late that Merlin was right about Morgause. He struggles in his bonds on the floor, pointlessly trying to break free. Gwen curses quietly next to him and he stops.”
“Oh will you stop your bleating!” Morgause turns on him. “Your friend here has helped, no one got hurt, did they?”
The giant of a man, Perce, looks over at her and frowns. “Apart from that security guard upstairs that bloody Valiant just shot!”
Merlin makes a funny little squeaking noise from the floor at the mention of Will. Arthur refrains from going over to him, wanting to draw as little attention as possible.
“He won’t be the only one by the time she’s finished. She’s going to wipe us all out, everyone without magic.” Poor Lance must wonder why he’s the only one trying here, whilst Merlin and Arthur are just waiting to try again tomorrow.
“I told you to shut your noise.” It is so fast Arthur barely even sees Morgause lift the gun, let alone pull the trigger. Lance cries out and slumps forward. At first Arthur thinks it might not be too bad, Lance is clearly injured, but he is still moving, they might be able to get him some help in time. Then he hears the funny wailing noise Merlin is making. He looks behind Lance and realises Gwen is slumped over to the side, making a sickening gurgling sound as blood pours out of her neck. The bullet has passed straight through.
“No!” He’s shouting before he even realises it. “No one was supposed to get hurt!”
Arthur tries to move but is held in place by Valiant. He can see Merlin struggling against one of the other robbers.
Percy quickly moves to Gwen's side, trying to press his hands against the wound, but they can all see it's too late, all except poor Lance, who is still tied to her and is desperately trying to look over his shoulder despite the bullet wound in his own shoulder.
Morgause simply looks at him and shrugs dismissively. “She didn’t have magic. Now, help me loads this stuff up, and I’ll try not to kill anyone else, I believe there are other hostages upstairs.” She throws bags at Arthur and Merlin, who catch them on instinct with shaking hands, and indicates them into the vault. Her arrogance is astounding.
“For fuck’s sake, are you not even going to untie them?” Arthur honestly can’t believe this woman, she’s just killed his friend and badly injured another and not only does she not seem to care, she’s leaving them tied together!
Morgause casually aims the gun back at Lance. “I can put him out of his misery if you like. Or you can shut up and get on with it.”
Merlin exchanges a brief look with Arthur and they follow her into the vault itself.
He hasn’t actually been inside the magic vault before. For some reason, his imagination had decided it looked like Smaug’s cave in The Hobbit or the Room of Requirement out of Harry Potter, so he was a little disappointed to see the same neat rows of safety deposit boxes as in the second vault upstairs.
Morgause moves forward and pulls a key out of her pocket. With a start, Arthur realises it is the master key from his father’s office, the one that will open any of these boxes and should be locked away in the safe. Arthur can only assume Lance told her about that, and after all, the combination for that safe is also Morgana’s birthday, not too hard to guess. He inwardly curses Uther for such a lack of judgement.
Morgause starts unlocking the boxes one by one, rooting through them as though she is looking for something. There aren’t as many as in the vault upstairs, but still enough for it to take a while. Behind her, the other robbers start filling their bags with the artifacts, just tipping them in like they were any old thing and not highly dangerous items. “You two, get filling those bags.”
Arthur sees Morgause pick the heavy gold watch out of one of the boxes and flinches. This must be the point where Merlin usually marches into the room and gets killed. Morgause dismissively drops the watch back into the box and moves onto the next one, from which she takes a long claymore-type sword. Behind him, Merlin suddenly moves forward and starts emptying the boxes into a bag too. If Arthur had not been watching, he might not have seen Merlin slip the watch into his pocket.
They don’t get everything. The lack of verification from a second Pendragon when opening the vault means the police arrive pretty quickly. They don’t get into the bank at once, however, and Morgause and her men do manage to get away with quite a fair amount. Morgause takes what looks like a small ornament out of the vault and Arthur can only assume it enhances magical power, because suddenly she is using magic, despite the still active dampener.
The battle to get out of the bank is short and fierce, but Morgause has magic on her side as well as guns and that sword, and there is little the police can do. And now Arthur can see Merlin’s point – a group of magicals robbing the bank and killing people will do nothing to further their cause.
It seems to take forever for the police to come and take their statements, and when they finally let them go it’s late.
They’ve never got this far before, usually one or both of them is dead and the day restarts. What if this means it won’t restart, and Arthur’s let Morgause get away with all those items, and Gwen and Will are dead and it’s all his fault?
As though he knows what Arthur is thinking, Merlin silently takes his hand.
They go back to Merlin’s flat without even thinking about it. If he were a good brother, Arthur would have gone back to Morgana’s flat, checked she is ok, checked on his Father. He doesn’t do that though, he just follows Merlin home. All he wants to do is fall into bed beside him and restart today.
Back in the flat, Merlin pulls the watch out of his pocket. How on earth he got that past the police, Arthur can’t even begin to imagine. Actually, he’s not sure he wants to know.
“Did you notice the time on it before?” Merlin says, turning the watch over in his hand. There is a trident etched onto the back of it, and a strange swirly pattern in the centre of the clock face.
“I don’t know, oneish? Whenever it was the robbery happened?” Arthur doesn’t really care, what does it matter? Why does Merlin always have to obsess over the little details like this?
“It was later than oneish by the time the vault was opened.” Merlin sounds distracted. “And it was more like six when I remember seeing it.”
“All right, maybe it was six then, I don’t really remember. Does it matter? I doubt it still works, that thing must have been in the vault for ages.”
Merlin shows him the clock face again. It says ten o’clock. “It doesn’t work, it’s been on ten since I picked it up.”
“Ok. Is there a point to this?”
Merlin shakes his head, distracted.
“Shall we go to bed?”
“You go along, I’ll join you soon.”
Chapter 11: Day Eleven
Merlin wasn’t talking to him.
He wasn’t even sure what he’d done. He’d been making an effort lately, being nice to Merlin in front of the others, not jumping every time someone caught them talking together, spending more time with him. They’d avoided mentioning his father so they hadn’t even argued about that.
And yet… it was almost like he could feel Merlin pulling away from him. He was often quiet and subdued, almost like Arthur was boring him. He used the ‘headache’ excuse far more than seemed plausible and he kept making excuses not to meet up with him.
Arthur didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to lose Merlin. But he couldn’t make him stay.
There is a phone ringing.
Arthur sits up, disorientated. This is not how the day begins. For a horrible moment he thinks this is a brand new day, and he’s failed and Gwen is dead and it’s all his fault. Then he realises, there are china dolls staring at him. He’s back in Morgana’s flat – if it was a new day he’d still be at Merlin’s. He drags himself out of bed and goes to answer the landline phone.
“Arthur? It’s Merlin.” Like he wouldn’t recognise Merlin’s voice anywhere.
“Merlin?” Arthur rubs a hand across his face, which stares blurrily back at him in the hall mirror, his glasses still by the bed.
“Yeah, you know, tall, devastatingly handsome, Welsh.” Merlin sounds far too awake for so early.
“Ha ha, very funny.” Arthur needs coffee.
“What you don’t think I’m devastatingly handsome?” Merlin jokes. "Because I assure you, I'm definitely Welsh."
Arthur stumbles into the kitchen and fumbles around with the coffee machine. Fortunately, Morgana left coffee. Making coffee half asleep with no glasses and no clothes on could have been a disaster. “You know I do. Stop fishing.”
“Well now that you’re awake, put some clothes on.” He can hear the smirk in Merlin’s voice and jumps guiltily, looking over his shoulder. Is Merlin using magic to spy on him? How else could he know Arthur is standing stark bollock naked in the middle of his sister’s flat?
There is laughter on the other end of the line. “You forget, Pendragon, I know you. You always did prefer to sleep in the nip. Now, get your backside over here. I need to talk to you.”
Yeah. He did used to do that, back in the days before he moved in with his wife. But then, there was never much point in wearing clothes to bed when he lived with Merlin, and he didn’t think Mithian would be too impressed – even though they had a much better climate for sleeping nude.
Arthur groans and peers at the blurry clock on the wall. It’s half past eight, Morgana has left for work already. “Fine, give me half an hour.”
“I’ll provide breakfast, now hurry up.” And Merlin hangs up. Just like that.
Arthur had waited ages for him last night, finally falling asleep in Merlin’s bed alone. He was at least owed an apology. It wasn’t like he was expecting anything, to happen, Merlin’s pushed him away enough times for him not to get his hopes up about them getting back together, he just wanted Merlin’s company last night. Every night.
Grumbling to himself, he goes back into the bathroom and turns on the shower, once again stealing Morgana’s expensive shampoo and shower gel.
He actually manages to be on Merlin’s doorstep, fully clothed, by nine o'clock, which is fairly impressive considering he’s not actually been awake yet all the the other times he’s lived this day.
Merlin opens the door and beckons him in, phone cradled between his cheek and shoulder. “Yesterday you said you traced it down to the stuff in the dining room. Yeah. No, Geoffrey was going through those. Uh huh.”
Arthur finds himself ushered into the kitchen as Merlin continues his phone conversation. He decides to make himself useful and puts water in the kettle, putting tea bags in two mugs rather than subjecting himself to Merlin’s horrible instant coffee again.
That is one thing he will definitely miss about Sydney, the coffee shops. He stops suddenly. When had he definitely decided to leave Sydney? Sure, he they’d talked about a divorce, but he hadn’t really planned on moving back under his father’s thumb. Not until he saw Merlin again, perhaps the first time he lived this day.
“Yeah, they were in the pile on the right.” Merlin is still talking on the phone, Arthur is guessing it’s his Uncle Gaius on the other end. “No, the one under the window, where Aithusa’s charger is plugged in. Yes. Yes, that’s right. Yeah, Basil. Basil Fisher. Ok, so can I scrype you in about ten minutes? Yeah, I just need to talk to Arthur first. Yes, that Arthur. No, we’re not back together. Uncle Gaius, we talked about this! No. Yes, Uncle Gaius. Yes he knows. No, not that. Ok, talk to you soon.”
Merlin ends the call and flashes Arthur a brief smile that reaches his eyes if not his cheekbones.
“How is Gaius? And Geoffrey, of course.” Arthur has a bit of a soft spot for Merlin’s eccentric Uncle Gaius and his even more eccentric life partner, Geoffrey.
“They’re fine,” Merlin answers with a wry grin. “They keep asking when we are getting back together, even though you are married and living on the other side of the world, but hey ho.” That sentence doesn’t carry the bitterness that it would have done a few days ago, even though they’ve yet to have that conversation.
“What if I weren’t?” Arthur fiddles with his mug, not quite looking at Merlin.
“What if I weren’t.” He looks up to find Merlin trying to chew his own lip off. “What if I weren’t married. Or living on the other side of the world?”
Merlin closes his eyes. “Don’t, Arthur. Please.”
“I’m getting a divorce.” Because he has to keep going, or else Merlin will never let them talk about this.
Merlin just looks at him, those deep blue eyes swirling between hope and pain and denial.
“She met someone else. A lovely girl called Elena.”
Merlin still doesn’t say anything, Arthur is starting to feel stupid here. Did he read it wrong? Again? Merlin pushed him away last time, maybe he just really didn’t want to be with Arthur.
He decides to plough on anyway. “I have no reason to stand in her way. I told you the other night – we never had a romantic relationship, neither of us are exactly the other’s type.” He lets out a nervous laugh, somewhat unsettled by Merlin’s complete lack of response. “Please say something.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“We got married straight out of Uni. Father had just walked in on me and a very nice chap called Geraint, and Mith’s father had just had a relapse and well… I tried to tell you all this years ago…” And Merlin hadn’t listened. He hadn’t wanted to know. He probably still doesn’t.
“We don’t have time for this now, Arthur.” If Merlin’s voice had been cold and uncaring, Arthur might have let it go – well, he might have gone and hidden in the loo first, but then he’d have let it go. But Merlin’s voice is dry and scratchy, and it cracks halfway through his name, and Arthur is sure, just like he should have been sure five years ago when he accepted the job in Sydney, that this is where he belongs – right here, wherever Merlin is.
“But we do. We have all the time in the world – today is just going to go round and round till we get it right, so what better time to finally have this conversation? We’ve waited five years, Merlin!”
“No, you don’t understand. We don’t have time. We have two days.”
“Merlin? It’s Geoffrey!”
“Yes, Uncle, I can see you.”
Well, to be more precise, they could see Geoffrey’s beard and they could hear Gaius somewhere in the background.
“No, Geoff, you don’t have to sit that close, Aithusa is a computer not a telephone.” Then the picture adjusts to reveal the two men in their house in Cardiff, surrounded by books and piles of paper, as always.
“Arthur, my boy, good to see you!” Gaius hasn’t really changed much, although his face is perhaps slightly more lined, his hair perhaps slightly longer at the back and thinner at the front.
“Hi Gaius, hi Geoffrey.” Arthur waves, a small smile forming at the sight of them.
Gaius smiles back, but Geoffrey simply glowers at him from under those formidable eyebrows.
“So, you wanted to know about Basil Fisher? Very obscure, Merlin, very obscure. However did you come across him?” Gaius says, seemingly oblivious to Geoffrey’s glaring. “What did I do with my glasses? Geoffrey, have you seen my glasses?”
“They’re on your nose you silly old fool,” Geoffrey replies, rolling his eyes. If Arthur didn’t know these two, he’d swear they hated each other sometimes.
“Ah yes, so they are.” Gaius never seems to be upset by Geoffrey’s gruffness, but perhaps when two people have been together that long, they know what to take personally and what not to.
“I knew him, a little.” Merlin seems keen to get back on subject. He grins at Arthur. “I’ve lived through this conversation several times already. Today we have new info though, I hadn’t connected it to Basil before.”
“You knew Fisher?” Gaius looks surprised.
Merlin nods. “Or, we met, at least. He was arrested on charges of sorcery, but nothing ever happened due to his age.”
Gaius nods. “Yes, 1873, arrested for disturbing the peace, inciting others to commit sorcery, committing sorcery himself. He was 113 at the time, although he was on official records as 83. He died nearly a year later.”
“Wait.” Arthur hates to admit when he’s confused, but he’s confused. “1873? That’s over a hundred years before you were even born! How on earth could you have known him?”
Merlin looks down at his hands and sighs. “I’ll tell you later, Arthur, I promise.” He looks back up and meets Arthur’s eyes.
Arthur doesn’t want to let this go now, but he can wait till Gaius and Geoffrey aren’t watching and listening, even though he’s pretty sure the two men already know all the things Merlin isn’t telling him. “Ok. Fine. So this Fisher had the watch?”
Geoffrey takes over again, reading from a sheaf of paper. “Yes, he was a horologist, and an expert on magical artifacts. You were right, Merlin, one of the items taken by the government when he was arrested was a large gold pocket watch, with a triskelion pattern engraved onto the face. No one seemed to be able to open it or get it working. More importantly though, Fisher was also in possession of an old cup, which he claimed to be the holy grail but we believe may have been the cup of life, some sort of magical trident, and a large crystal, which could well be the crystal of Neahtid.”
Merlin nods. “When I met him, he was interested in time travel, as a matter of fact he was an early influence on H.G. Wells. I was trying to track down the crystal, but he was already in police custody by the time I found him. He was convinced he could use the crystal with the clockwork technology.”
“So he made the watch?” Arthur asks, if for no other reason than to be part of the conversation rather than just sitting there like one of Morgana’s china dolls.
“Yes, I believe so. And it doesn’t count hours, it counts days. I don’t think it works quite the way he expected.” Merlin almost seems excited by all this, like he’s forgetting this is reality, their reality, and not just some fascinating artifact to chat about with his uncles.
“No, don’t suppose it did.” Gaius is every bit as bad. “The crystal can show you the future, but it deals more with possibilities of a future, rather than a hard and fast place you can travel to. Therefore, rather than enabling time travel, the watch simply forces the person who set it off to relive the same day over and over.”
Geoffrey joins in. “But the clockwork restricted it, you’ll only get twelve chances. Yesterday, you said the display was on ten o’clock, which means you have two left, including today. Whatever happens tomorrow, that’s it, that’ll be back to reality and time should continue to flow.”
“So why can Merlin remember too when no one else can? Shouldn’t he have more days left? He touched the crystal after I did?” Arthur hates this, clearly everyone else knows something he doesn’t and they’re not telling him.
“Merlin is, uh, a special case.” Gaius looks every bit as shifty as Merlin.
“Later, Arthur, I promise.” Merlin puts his hand on Arthur’s forearm and gives it a quick squeeze. Arthur meets his eyes and nods. He’s not letting this drop, Merlin had better know that.
“So shouldn’t we be at the bank now, rather than wasting time?” Arthur can still feel Merlin’s hand on his arm, and he tells himself that is the reason he doesn’t move.
“No, it means we have one last chance to plan this out properly today. We can’t afford to mess this up anymore, Arthur.” Merlin still doesn’t move his hand. It’s very distracting. “Anything that goes wrong tomorrow stays wrong. Anyone who dies, stays dead. We have to get it right.”
“And you’re sure? It’s not some weird notion about Merlin dying before me, or Morgause getting her hands on the crystal, it’s just about clockwork and when the hands get back to twelve, it’s over?”
Merlin wrinkles his nose a moment then shrugs. “Well, how about we make sure Morgause doesn’t get into the vault and I don’t die, and no one else dies either, for that matter. And then whatever the reason behind all this is, hopefully we won’t have to live this sodding day again.”
Arthur can’t help the small grin. “Sounds good to me.”
“Right, well my boys, We’ll get on with researching this watch and leave you to it, I think. It sounds like you have a lot to be getting on with.”
“Yes, don’t let us keep you from your books,” Merlin replies with a laugh.
“Actually, Geoffrey has been converting the archive to microfiche, we are going new age!”
Merlin laughs out loud. “Yes, Uncle, if you say so! Speak to you later.”
They are rewarded with another close up of Geoffrey’s beard before the connection is cut.
“So, new age, eh?” Arthur’s attempt at levity falls flat before it even leaves his mouth.
Merlin gives him a small smile and stands to refill the kettle. “Yes, microfiche, they are stampeding into the twentieth century.”
“So… apparently you knew this Basil chap? In 1873?”
Merlin’s shoulders tense up, even though he must have been expecting questions. He doesn’t answer and carries on making tea.
“Fine, how about this one then. Why can you still do magic even with the dampener switched on? Because Camelot has one of the highest level dampener systems available, and that really shouldn’t be possible.”
Merlin puts two cups of tea on the table with shaking hands but doesn’t sit down. He looks Arthur in the eye. “Have you ever heard the legend of Emrys?”
Arthur snorts. “The ancient old wizard of legend? Otherwise known as Merlin? I believe Morgause mentioned it. You’re not going to tell me you really are him are you?”
The smile dies off his face as Merlin doesn’t answer.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Merlin! How stupid do you think I am? That is just a made up story, you are no more that Merlin than I’m that Arthur Pendragon!”
Merlin still doesn’t answer.
“So what, I’m supposed to believe that you’ve been around for a few millennia and decided to cool your heels working in a bank?” Arthur stands up and goes to stand in front of Merlin.
“Emrys means immortal.”
“No.” He takes Merlin’s hand in his, noticing how the cool long fingers are trembling slightly. “No, your name is Merlin Ambrose, you are a twenty-seven-year-old bank clerk from Cardiff, I’ve met your mum, I’ve met your uncles. You are not some ancient old wizard from a fairy tale!”
“Do you believe in reincarnation?” Merlin’s voice has a wobble to it too.
“I… no. No, this is bullshit, Merlin. Tell me what is really going on.”
“I’m Emrys.” Merlin looks him straight in the eye, presumably to prove he’s not bluffing. “I’m the most powerful sorcerer alive – the most powerful that ever lived. I’m immortal, after a fashion. I have died, several times, but I always come back.”
“And you just never thought to mention this before?” Arthur folds his arms and sticks his chin out. Merlin is clearly trying to play him for a fool.
Merlin bites his lip. “I don’t usually remember at first. Most of you never remember at all, but I always do in the end. Usually when I meet you.”
“Usually when…” Arthur stands up abruptly and walks over to the sink, staring out the window, back to Merlin. “How many times are we supposed to have done this?”
He hears Merlin’s chair scrape back and footsteps come over to him. “Oh, a fair few. I’ve watched you die, let’s see, eight times. Not including this little interlude. You die first every single time, no matter what I do.” Merlin is standing right behind him now, but he can’t make himself turn.
“Oh thanks, that makes me feel so much better.”
“I figured that maybe it’s my fault, that without me in your life, you might live. So this time, when the memories started coming back, I tried to push you away.”
At some point, Arthur realises, he’s started to believe Merlin. However bizarre this tale sounds, Merlin believes it. He turns around and looks at him. “You couldn’t have told me?”
Merlin looks distressed, unhappy. “You’d have stayed. When I found out about Mithian, I was so hurt, and it gave me such a good excuse to push you away, so I let you think I was sleeping with Gwaine – and really, I couldn’t have pushed you much further away unless you'd gone to the bloody moon. But you came back. Why did you have to come back, Arthur? If you die tomorrow, I’ll have lost you again, and I’ll have to go on without you, again!”
“You were without me anyway, Merlin! What difference does it make if I die here or I die on the other side of the world?”
“Because I wouldn’t have to see it happen!” There are actual tears running down Merlin’s cheeks now and Arthur just wants to wipe them away. “I’d know that you were out there, alive, living a long and happy life, with your wife and your kids. Without me. Alive.”
“I’m not happy.” Arthur gives in and runs his thumbs along Merlin’s prominent cheekbones to wipe away the tears. “Being without you is hard. And it’s horrible. And I don’t want to do it. I’m miserable without you, Merlin. I’d rather have had a few years with you than potentially lots of them without.”
Merlin suddenly presses his lips to Arthur’s. “Don’t die, Arthur. Not this time. Not yet.”
“Are you sure this will work?” Arthur sits up and stretches his back, his body protesting at Merlin’s rickety kitchen chairs. They’ve been planning for hours, only stopping briefly for food, yet more pizza boxes littering the table. He can’t help wondering if the calories from all this pizza count or if they are reset each time the day is. He’s pretty sure they don’t count, but it would be just his luck.
“Of course I’m not sure.” Merlin tiredly scrubs a hand through his already-birdnest hair. “All we can do now is try our best. At any rate, it has to go better than before! We have so much more information now than we did that first day. And hopefully I won’t be spilling any tea on my trousers.”
Arthur starts to laugh then stops and looks at Merlin. “You remember that? I thought you only remembered after you touched the watch?”
Merlin bites his lip and looks guilty. “Ah, yes, about that… that was sort of bollocks.”
“Right.” Arthur folds his arms and waits.
Merlin gives a big exaggerated sigh. “I told you, I remember my past lives, right? I think this is a bit like that. I started to remember before I staged the whole thing with the watch. Not completely at first, it was just a bit odd where I knew what was going to happen before it did. And then when I realised what was happening, I needed an excuse to tell you I remembered.”
“I see.” Arthur takes off his glasses, not having bothered with contacts this morning, and rubs a hand over his face. “Merlin, do me a favour, yeah? In our next lives, just tell me. Don’t keep hiding everything.”
Merlin nods, a small smile playing about his mouth. “Ok, fine. Just so long as you promise to make old bones in this one.” He reaches out and threads his fingers through Arthurs.
“I will if you will.” Arthur puts his glasses back on his nose with his free hand so he can look at Merlin properly.
They sit there for a moment, Arthur can’t seem to break his eyes away from Merlin’s. He’s changed in the last five years – his face is still angular, his cheekbones still prominent, but he seems to have grown into them. He no longer looks like a boy.
Merlin was always pretty, Arthur was basically doomed from the moment he saw him drop all those cups on his first day in Cardiff, but now he is beautiful. His hair is slightly too long and starting to curl, and Arthur completely loves it like that. When he still lived at home, his mum used to cut his hair, always short so it showed off his magnificent ears, but the way it is now… Arthur just has this need to drag his fingers through it.
Those dark blue eyes crinkle around the edges, like Merlin knows exactly what Arthur is thinking. “I always did like you in glasses, you know. You look like a sexy professor.”
Arthur feels himself blush. He’s always hated himself in glasses, and his father has never lost an opportunity to tell him how much he doesn't suit them, but Merlin always did profess to like them. “I’ll just clear these away.” He pulls his hand away from Merlin’s and jumps up to move the pizza boxes off the table.
“Arthur, leave them.”
Arthur ignores him as he concentrates on reminding himself that Merlin is not his.
“Arthur.” Merlin’s hand on his arm makes him jump, nearly dropping the cold pizza on the floor. “Leave them. They won’t still be here in the morning anyway.”
“I, um. I should go.” Arthur can’t meet Merlin’s eyes again, can’t get sucked into whatever magic he’s working on him. Instead he stares down at those long fingers circling his lower arm. And then his treacherous hindbrain starts thinking of all the other things Merlin’s been known to do with those fingers and he can feel a blush working up past his collar.
Stay. Stay and spend one more night with Merlin wrapped around him, pretending to be fine with platonic, willing himself not to get hard.
Don’t stay. What if Merlin dies again? There will be no coming back this time. What if Arthur dies?
“Stay with me, Arthur. Stay with me. Don’t go back to Sydney, don’t leave me again. Stay here. Take me to bed and make love to me.” And then Merlin is kissing him. Just a brief touching of lips and Arthur is too surprised or too stupid to reciprocate. He steps back again and Arthur can read the uncertainty in his eyes.
He can’t let Merlin look like that, he should surely know how Arthur feels about him, how he’s always felt? Merlin is his very soul, his whole world. His arms are moving before his brain has even kicked into gear, pulling Merlin to him before he can get away, crushing their mouths together so hard their teeth clack, and he doesn’t care, this is Merlin, he has to taste him, feel him, hold him. Take him to bed and make love to him.
“Stay with me,” Merlin says again, breathing the words against Arthur’s lips. “Stay with me.” And finally Arthur gets it.
“I will if you will.”
Chapter 12: Day Twelve
“This isn’t working, is it?” There was something almost sad in Mithian’s words.
“What isn’t?” Arthur replied, somewhat distracted with looking up the football results from back home.
Mithian tutted and took the mobile out of his hand. “Don’t forget to charge this before your flight, you’ve hardly got any battery left.” She smiled fondly at him, reaching out to ruffle his hair like she was his big sister – not Morgana, mind you, Morgana would have let his phone run flat and told him he shouldn’t have been so stupid.
“What isn’t working?” Arthur asked again, taking back his mobile.
Arthur’s fingers paused on the screen, all of his attention finally on his wife. “Us?” he repeats, his mouth gone dry.
“Yes, what are you, a parrot? Look, we both did this to keep our fathers happy, but do you know what my dad told me before he died? He said, you are a lovely boy and he couldn’t have asked for a better son-in-law.”
Arthur frowned. “Right?” He really couldn’t see a problem with that.
Mithian’s smile wobbled. “Then he told me he’d been expecting a daughter-in-law, and he hoped we hadn’t got married just for his sake. That he loved me regardless of sexuality and he was sorry he’d never told me that before. Apparently he was waiting for me to come to him, and he’d finally run out of time.”
Arthur looked blankly down at the phone screen. “I thought you said he wanted you to get married?”
“I thought he did. He’d just been told the cancer had come back, and he kept telling me he wanted me to be happy. I thought that meant he wanted me settled down with a husband and kids. Turns out he was trying to get me to come out to him.”
Arthur looked up and meets her eyes. “Kids? I’m pretty sure that was never going to happen on its own.” He didn’t mean to, but he let out a small laugh, not the most appropriate response when she was talking about her late father.
Mithian let out a small snort too. “The stork brings babies to good parents, right?”
Arthur shook his head. “How the hell did Uther get me and Morg then?”
“He probably shot the stork and stole the babies.”
Arthur smiled sadly at her. “I’ll miss you, Mith.”
“Don’t you mean you’ll Mith me?” she joked. She took his hand. “I’ll miss you too. But you were never happy here, Arthur. You spend most of your time complaining about the heat like the whinging Pom you are, and the rest of the time mooning over a certain Welshman.”
“I do not!”
“Come on, Arthur, he occupies your every thought. The other day you got all dewy-eyed over Bronwyn’s accent, and don’t think I haven’t seen the way you perk up every time a skinny man with dark hair walks by. You’re still in love with Merlin, you always will be.”
“My job is still here,” he stubbornly replied.
“Arthur, you hate that job and you always have. You are nearly thirty, surely it’s about time you stopped letting your father control your life?”
Funny, that’s exactly what Merlin used to say.
It must be arse o’clock. What the hell is Merlin is doing up so early? Arthur is absolutely positive that it’s him banging on the door – after all, Merlin and Arthur are the only variables in this situation.
Swearing he rolls out of bed, ignoring the stupid dolls staring at his cock for once. Scenes from last night play around his head. He can still remember the feel of Merlin pressed against him, the taste of his mouth, the smell of his skin. The way Merlin arches his back, the sounds he makes, how tight he is around him. These are all things he never thought he'd have again. To be so close to him, to worship him. To make love to him.
He opens the bedroom door, fully intent on greeting Merlin completely nude.
A scream quickly sends him scurrying back into his room.
“For fuck’s sake, Arthur! Put some bloody clothes on!” Damn, it, how early is it? Morgana hasn’t left yet.
“Sorry!” he calls through the door, mortified. And of course, this time the day won’t repeat! Poor Morg will have that image burned onto her retinas forever. Arthur wants to curl up and die in embarrassment, but they don’t have time for that.
He quickly drags the pink satin dressing gown off the back of the door and pulls it on as Morgana goes to let Merlin in. For once, he puts his glasses on and has a quick look in the mirror to make sure everything is now covered before he ventures back out into the living room.
The look Merlin gives him as he rakes his eyes up and down Arthur’s bare legs is utterly filthy.
“That is only slightly better than what you had on just now.” Morgana makes a big show of putting her hand over her eyes. “I think maybe we’d better not let Gwaine’s sister know you wore her dressing gown. And by the way, I am here, you know, so if you two wouldn’t mind leaving the whole eye sex thing until after I leave? Even though this is actually my flat.”
Merlin snaps his eyes back to Morgana. “Actually, it was you I came to see, Morg. Arthur can go and put some clothes on if he wants.” He grins at Arthur, eyes twinkling and Arthur knows that Merlin will spend the rest of their lives reminding him of the time he flashed his sister and then wore a skimpy girly dressing gown.
“Fine.” Arthur stalks out of the room with as much dignity as he can muster. What the hell is Gwaine’s sister’s dressing gown doing in Morgana’s flat anyway?
He considers taking a long time out of spite, but Morgana must have used up most of the hot water because the shower is lukewarm at best. The more the cold water hits him, the more it wakes him up and he remembers how important today is and he needs to hurry up.
Exiting the shower quickly and dressing once again in his suit, Arthur goes back into the living room to find a hot fresh cup of proper coffee waiting for him. Quickly assessing which of the two people before him would be more likely to make him a coffee, he drops a quick kiss on his sister’s cheek.
As the caffeine works it’s way into his system, he becomes aware of the unnatural silence in the room. Awkwardly, he looks between the two. “Please, don’t stop talking on my account.”
“It’s ok, Morgana, Arthur knows.”
“How much?” It’s quite unsettling, Morgana, his super-confident, brilliant older sister, looks like she’s about to cry.
“Everything,” is all Merlin replies.
“Everything? Even about me?” Merlin nods. “You had no right!” She angrily slaps her hand down on the table.
“I didn’t. We’ve been through a lot these last few days. He’s found things out for himself.”
“Morg.” Arthur goes over and sits next to her so he can look her in the eye. “I’m not father. I’ll admit that in the past I’ve maybe been too ready to listen to his opinions, and when I first found out I freaked out a bit. But it turns out the two people I love most have magic, so I guess it’s not all bad.”
“Is that your ringing endorsement? Not all bad?” She tries to smile but it’s ruined by sniffing.
He grins at her. “Well, Merlin spilt my coffee with magic, so some of it must still be a bit bad.”
“Hey!” Merlin takes a swat at him but he dodges out of the way.
“Merlin spilling drinks is a cornerstone of your relationship.” Morgana sneakily swats at him too before he can move. “I’m glad to see you two back together.”
“I thought you said Merlin was too good for me?”
“Oh, he is, but now you can move in with him instead of living in my spare room, and my cowardly boyfriend can move home.”
“Boyfriend? What boyfriend? Wait…” Conversations play back in his head. His sister’s dressing gown in the spare room. Sleeping on Merlin’s sofa because he doesn’t get on with his girlfriend’s brother… no! “Please no!” Arthur looks between the two of them, both wearing identical smirks. “Please tell me it’s not Gwaine!”
“So, do you think Morgana’s going to side with us?”
He swears he can feel Merlin’s sidelong look in the darkness of the tunnel.
“I’m only asking!” He holds up his hands even though he knows Merlin can’t see him. “It’s not like she hasn’t gone with Morgause in the past.”
“We’ve been honest with her.” Merlin sounds so certain. Arthur wishes he could sound like that. “We’ve told her everything we know. If she does side with Morgause then we’re sunk, but that is the risk we had to take. We need Morgana with us, or we’re sunk anyway. We all need to work together.”
“I just…” Arthur stops. Expressing his feelings is not something he has much experience, it’s difficult. “My father worked a lot when we were kids. I know she’s only my half-sister, and she’s three years older than me, but we were all the family we had as kids; we were pretty close. I’d like to think we still are, I need her to be on my side.” He has a feeling his voice has gone a bit whiny and pitiful, but he can’t help it. The darkness almost seems to make it easier to talk, although it also makes him feel like the walls are closing in on him.
Merlin’s hand reaches out in the dark and fumbles for his. Arthur squeezes back, Merlin’s presence anchoring him in the dark. He wishes they could have the strange light back, but Merlin doesn’t want to freak out Gwen when she opens the door.
There is a solid clunking sound as the key turns in the lock making Arthur jump. Merlin squeezes his hand tighter before letting go.
A stab of relief rushes through him as the door opens. It’s just Morgana on the other side, so it’s just as well Merlin had spelled the key to be on a lower shelf beside the door rather than up on the top shelf like the first time.
“No Gwen?” Merlin peers round her like he thinks Gwen might be hiding behind the wheelchair.
“No, we thought she should be out front when Lance comes in because she’s the person most likely to let him in without asking questions. She follow him down with Mordred and Will.”
“True, she’s the one he always goes to.” Arthur pushes the door shut behind him and locks it before trying to pull the shelves back in front to hide it. Merlin rolls his eyes and flicks his hand, the shelves moving back on their own as he does.
“I knew you were powerful, Merlin,” Morgana says, shaking her head. “But you do realise using magic this close to the deadener should be impossible, don’t you?” Morgana is looking a little unsettled. She never did like not being the best at something, she probably secretly hates that Merlin is more powerful than her.
“Yeah, I’ve been told.” Merlin gives her his best sunny grin just before he flips the lightswitch and plunges them back into semi-gloom. “So, how did Gwen take it all?”
“I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet. I doubt she’ll believe it about Lance till she hears it from him.” Morgana moves her chair towards the door but over to one side so Lance won’t immediately see her when he comes in.
“You don’t seem to be having trouble believing any of this.” Merlin says, going to stand beside her.
“I’m not in love with him.”
“You think she’s still in love with him?” Arthur’s surprised, Lance didn’t exactly treat Gwen well.
Morgana just gives him a look that clearly says ‘how stupid are you?’ and turns back to Merlin. “I’ve been in touch with Morgause before, and I must admit I’m a little swayed by her arguments. Actually…” she bites her lip for a moment. “Actually, I think it’s my fault she’s doing this.”
“How do you mean?” Merlin asks, frowning.
Morgana looks down at her hands. “You two have levelled with me, so here goes. I think I let slip about all the artifacts in the deep vault. I’ve been attending these meetings, like-minded people trying to get better rights for magic users. She was at some of the meetings, we got talking.”
“It sounds to me more like she probably targeted you, you shouldn’t blame yourself,” Arthur says gently. Typical Morgana, she’s probably been beating herself up about this all morning.
“She’s quite extreme in her beliefs, she wants the complete overthrow of non-magics and a new world order. But other things she says make sense, and in moderation I can sort of see where she’s coming from.”
“So you agree with her?” Arthur can feel everything suddenly about to go wrong.
“I didn’t say that!” Morgana is frowning, and biting her lip again – a bad habit she must have picked up from Merlin. “I said I can see where she’s coming from. Things do need to change, Arthur. It’s alright for you, you don’t have to hide who you are or risk everything. Merlin and I do, if we ever got found out as magic users, we’d be out of a job and up on charges of magical deception. Things can’t go on like this, people shouldn’t be victimised for things they can’t help. Something has to be done.”
“So let’s do something! There’s no point in waiting for someone else to do it.” He’s been thinking about this, they could do something, surely they could?
“Oh brilliant idea, Arthur. And what exactly do you suggest?” Morgana folds her arms in front of her and raises a challenging eyebrow.
“Run for parliament.” And why not? He’d meant it back at the start when he suggested it to Morgause, and he means it now. Kick up a stink, make it news, get it into parliament. And yes, they’d probably get laughed out of town to begin with, but if the likes of Wilberforce and Pankhurst had stopped at the first set back then nothing would ever have changed for them either.
“I can’t. They do thorough checks, they’d find out I have magic in a second and I’d be arrested.”
“I can.” The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them, but it only takes a second or two to realise he doesn’t want to stop them. “Why not. I’ve always been interested in politics but Father stopped me studying it at Uni, and then he stopped me following it as a career path. But why not, I mean, I’ve as good a chance as anyone, right?”
“You’d do that?” Morgana blinks at him. Just that. She sits there and blinks at him, like she has something in her eye.
“Well, no offence, Morg, I know you like working here, but if I have to spend the rest of my life in this fucking bank, I might as well kill myself now – and I can’t do that because I sort of made a promise to Merlin about not dying.”
Once again, they are back in front of the vault and Arthur is tied back to back with Merlin, their wrists bound together.
The guards standing behind them look like Valiant and Lance, as usual, by now Arthur has learnt to recognise slight differences in the helmets, and Morgause is standing over Uther trying to persuade him to unlock the vault.
What she hasn’t realised yet is that Merlin did a little spell earlier to remove all the bullets in the guns Lance brought down earlier. Unfortunately, the gun in Morgause’s own hand does not look like one of them and Merlin is trying not to be obvious in front of Morgause about still having access to some magic. The magical vault is only one floor above the deadener, and apparently his magic is unpredictable this close and as likely to turn the gun into a sudden bunch of flowers as anything, and Merlin would have to be standing close.
“You won’t get away with this, you know.” Uther is wearing patented Pissed Off Face No.3, the one in Arthur’s experience that is the most deadly. No.1 is just his general ‘I’m surrounded by idiots’ face that he wears most of the time, No.2 is ‘my stupid son has let me down again’. No.3 is his outwardly calm ‘I’m going to end you’ face – that is the face that had Arthur agreeing to study economics at university when he hated maths and had wanted to do history and politics, the face that made him marry Mithian when Uther found out about Geraint, and the face that made him move to Australia after everything went tits up in Wales.
Morgause, however, is apparently blissfully unaware of Pissed Off Face No.3, either that or she just doesn’t give a shit, because she makes the monumental mistake of ignoring Uther Pendragon. “Start drilling, what are you waiting for?” she says to the two men by the vault door. Merlin didn’t bother hexing the drill, they’ve never seen this be a successful tactic in all the time they’ve been doing this, so they figured they might as well let the robbers waste their time with it. As the noise starts up, however, Arthur begins to wish they’d never decided that.
“The police will have been called, there are security measures in place.” Uther deliberately does not look at either of his children. In a misguided attempt to get him on side earlier, they’d tried to talk to him, as well as getting him to take his pills. At least now Arthur can say Morgana is no longer the favourite; apparently gay disappointment son turning his back on the company narrowly beats magical disappointment daughter. Uther clearly has no idea who it is that has been actually running his precious bank for the the last several years.
“She has people in the police.” Arthur watches Morgause as he says this, but his words do not seem to faze her. “No one will be coming.”
“That is just the sort of defeatist attitude I’ve come to expect from you.” Uther’s top lip curls as he finally acknowledges his son’s existence.
“Far better to sit there and wait for someone else to come and save you.” Morgana’s sneer matches Uther’s completely, father and daughter to the bitter end
One of the robbers comes in at that moment, Arthur is guessing it’s Enmyria, and gestures to attract Morgause’s attention. Arthur really wishes the two men with the drill would stop making so much noise so he could hear what they were saying. Lip reading turns out to be much more difficult than people in films make it out to be – impossible, in fact, when one of the speakers has her face covered.
“What do you mean she’s missing too?” Morgause helpfully raises her voice. "Has anyone seen either of them at all today?” There is more mumbling then, “It was your job to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be, and yet you wait till now to tell me that the head of IT and the head of security are missing? Why am I surrounded by incompetents?”
To Arthur’s shock, Morgause shoves Enmyria so she staggers back against the wall. The next moment the girl is ripping the helmet off her head and snarling into Morgause’s face. “Don’t you push me! You might be able to bully the others, but I’m not scared of you.”
“Why’s that, is your little boyfriend going to come and save you?” There is real spite in Morgause’s words, even though she is showing her usual outward calm.
“Do I really look like someone who needs to rely on a man to save her?” Enmyria shows no such calm, Arthur could almost swear he can see sparks flashing in her eyes. He has no idea if she has magic or is just a magic sympathiser, but he’s pretty sure she definitely needs no one to save her.
“No.” Morgause smirks. “You look like someone who would leave a friend to die after falling down a flight of stairs whilst you run off with her man. Have you said hi to Morgana yet?”
Morgause shoves Enmyria again, this time into the room and towards Morgana. The girl’s eyes go wide and she tries to back away only to find the way blocked by Morgause. “Morgana! It wasn’t like that, honestly! We would have called an ambulance, but with the Amantia in your system… we’d have all been arrested.”
“You could have told someone! I was found by the porter after lying there for over an hour! And you never came to see me. I was in hospital for months, and not a word. By the time I went back to Oxford, you’d both gone. You were supposed to be my friends.”
“We don’t have the connections you do! Clearly your father bought off the police, we wouldn’t have been that lucky.”
“I assure you I did no such thing, this is the first I’ve heard of Morgana taking any sort of illegal substance, and had I known I would have made sure she learnt the consequences of her actions.” Uther’s mouth curls up at the corner as he looks at Enmyria.
“Learn the consequences? Do you not think I did that?” Morgana turns on Uther, her face appalled. “I made one mistake, one! All I was trying to do was stop the nightmares, understand what was happening, and somehow you think breaking my back wasn’t punishment enough?”
Uther ignores Morgana, eyes still fixed, full of disgust, on Enmyria. “I would, however, have had you and your boyfriend arrested on sight, you’d never have seen the outside of a prison cell again. Just like you won’t after today.” Uther’s words are cold, and Arthur finds himself suppressing a small shudder. He’s not sure who scares him most, Enmyria, Morgause or his own father.
“How sweet, daddy is defending his daughter.” Morgause’s face is serene, but her words are spiteful. “Did you know the specific strain of Amantia they were using is highly toxic to non-magicals? It’s just as well it didn’t seem to affect Morgana in that regard.”
Uther stiffens, his face closing off. He hasn’t had time yet to process Morgana’s magic, and Arthur has no idea what he will do when he does, but right now it is still too raw, and that means Uther could say something stupid.
“I see he didn’t know.” Morgause smiles down at Morgana. “Such a shame. You know, if people like him didn’t keep magic users down, we probably would have been able to help you. You’d probably be walking now.”
“I learnt to stop worrying about ifs and maybes a long time ago.” Morgana meets Morgause’s eye. “I assure you, I don’t waste my life bemoaning the fact I can’t walk. I am more than a match for you, him, any of you, wheelchair or no wheelchair.”
“I could help you, Morgana. If you join me, I could teach you to harness your power.”
“Why would I want help from the likes of you?” Morgana makes an impressive display of rolling her eyes. She’s doing a remarkable job of keeping her cool considering the amount of things she’s learnt only this morning. “I have control, I don’t need you.”
Behind him, Merlin shifts. “At last.”
“I’m your sister, did you know that?” Morgause seems unaware that Merlin has spoken. “We share the same mother. She gave me up for adoption when I was born. Wouldn’t you like to learn from your own flesh and blood?”
“Flesh and blood like you, I can do without.” Morgana looks over at Merlin and subtly nods. They must have disabled the deadener. “Where were you when my father died? When I was growing up with magic, alone and scared? Where were you all those years? You don’t give a damn about me, you just want to use me.”
Morgause snorts. “Oh Morgana, he wasn’t your father.”
“Save your breath, Morgause.” Morgana flicks back her hair and looks Morgause in the eye. “I’ve known for years that Uther is my real father. And my father and my brother already know I have magic, sorry to spoil your little shit-stirring spree.”
“Still Daddy’s little princess then, are we?” Morgause crosses the room and grabs Morgana by the chin. “How well do you think it’ll go down when I tell the press what a hypocrite he is, hmm? Letting his magical daughter work in his bank, I should imagine you’d go out of business.”
“Get your hands off my daughter.”
Morgause looks up at Uther and a nasty smile plays across her face. “Or what? I tell you what. Open the vault, and I’ll leave her alone.” She takes the gun out of her pocket and points it straight at Morgana’s head. “Or maybe I’ll just kill her now.”
“So much for me being your fucking sister.”
It’s strange really, how people can completely discount someone in a wheelchair, even someone as formidable as Morgana. Morgause certainly doesn’t see her as a threat until the moment the footplate of the wheelchair hits her shins, knocking her to the floor and making her cry out in pain. The gun goes off, the noise deafening in the echoey vault, and it’s only then that Arthur realises the drilling has stopped as the two men operating it watch events unfold. Morgana seems unhurt and he can only assume that Morgause missed.
Morgause tries to get up, clutching at her shin and aiming her gun once more at Morgana. “I’m going to make you pay for that, you bitch.”
Merlin rises to his feet, the ties binding his and Arthur’s wrists dropping to the floor like they were nothing. Arthur can feel the electricity flying around him as a wind seems to have picked up from nowhere. Merlin’s eyes are glowing a bright and hot gold, far stronger than anything Arthur has seen him do so far.
“I think we’ve heard just about enough from you.” His eyes flash brighter still and Morgause is thrown back against the wall and just sort of stays there. Her lips are moving, but no sound is coming out and this time Arthur is glad he can’t lipread as her hands move up to her throat.
“Let her down.” Valiant aims his gun at Merlin, who spares him one glance and a derisive laugh. This clearly enrages Valiant, who pulls the trigger only to discover there are no bullets in the chamber. The masked man standing beside Valiant flicks his hand and Valiant’s gun does indeed turn into a bunch of flowers. The robber pulls off his helmet to reveal not Lance, but Mordred’s grinning face. He flicks his hand again and the roll of tape on the floor flies up and starts binding Valiant’s hands.
“Arthur!” Morgana’s voice is shrill, not like her usual tones. She wheels her chair forward and Arthur looks over to see where she’s going.
Uther. Uther is lying, unmoving on the floor in a pool of blood. “Father!” Arthur crosses the room without actually realising he’s even moved. There is a bullet wound in Uther’s side. The stray bullet that missed Morgana. He his hands over the wound, trying to stem the bleed.
“Is he dead?” Morgana’s voice is trembling.
“Merlin! Merlin, you have to save my Father, please.”
Merlin is looking wide eyed at Uther, but when Arthur speaks he lets Morgause fall to the floor unconscious and hurries over, slipping in the blood pooling on the floor as he does. He puts his long fingers to the other side of Uther’s neck, searching for a pulse.
“He—” Merlin’s voice cracks, and in other circumstances it might seem funny for someone who just displayed so much power to be incapable of finishing a sentence, but Arthur is not sure he will ever find anything funny again. “He has a pulse. Arthur, you need to keep pressure on the wound.”
“Can’t you save him?” Arthur's hands are already pressed over the wound in his father's side, and Uther himself seems to have slipped into unconsciousness. So much blood. Despite everything Uther has said and done, Arthur can’t let him die now, not now. They were supposed to be saving everyone.
“I can’t bring a man back to life,” Merlin says, his voice shaky. We have to keep him alive till the paramedics get here.
“What about in there?” Arthur gestures towards the vault. “There must be something in there that you could use? You said the Cup of Life was in there, I heard you.”
“If we could find the cup in time, we might be able to save him.” Merlin is shaking his head, not even considering it. “But the Cup cannot be used to bring someone back from the dead.”
“He’s my Father, Merlin…”
“I’m sorry, Arthur. I’m so sorry. We just have to trust in the paramedics.” Arthur is shocked to suddenly realise that there are tears running down Merlin’s face.
“I can try.” Mordred moves forward and kneels down beside Merlin. “Uncle Gaius taught me some healing spells. I was always better at that sort of thing than Merlin.”
“Can you heal him?” Morgana asks, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
Mordred looks up at her. “I could try to maintain his heartbeat till help arrives. I don’t have that much experience. Using magic like this is considered as GBH, your Father could well have me arrested for saving his life.”
“We won’t let that happen.” Arthur can feel his father’s blood seeping between his fingers. “I promise you, Mordred. None of us will tell anyone what you do here. And when all this is done, we will fight to change the laws.”
Mordred nods and moves Arthur’s hands from Uther’s side so he can replace them with his own. He closes his eyes and Arthur can almost swear he can feel the hum of magic coming from the boy.
Behind them, there is a click. Arthur turns around and realises that, although Mordred had taken care of Valiant and the two men by the vault door, and Merlin still has Morgause trapped against the wall, they had all forgotten about Enmyria, who has now picked up Morgause’s gun.
“So, who is going to open this vault?”
“For fuck’s sake, you heartless bitch, our Father is dying.” Morgana flings out her hand and the gun disintegrates in Enmyria’s hand, sending Enmyria herself stumbling backwards.
Enmyria blinks a couple of times and opens her mouth to say something when she suddenly crumples to the ground.
“Um… I’m not sure I meant to hit her quite that hard…” Gwen is standing in the doorway holding what appears to be a spanner looking rather shocked at Enmyria lying on the floor.
Lance and Will walk in behind her, taking in the scene before them.
“What the hell happened here?” Will asks, looking around and shaking his head. “Honestly, Merlin, I leave you alone for a few minutes and it’s carnage
“Has anyone called an ambulance?” Morgana has mascara tracks running down her face despite all the times she has fought with Uther over the years.
“Don’t they have the emergency services tracked?” Mordred asks. There is a line of concentration marking his brow and Arthur suddenly realises the strain it must be putting on him, acting as Uther’s life support.
“No.” Merlin pulls out his mobile. “Hi, Gwaine? Yeah, the threat in the vault has been neutralised. No, Uther’s been shot, we need an ambulance. Yeah. Lance’s friend has hopefully got that under control. Ok, see you soon.” He looks up. “Emergency services should be on their way, Gwaine’s with the fire service, he knows people in the police he’s pretty sure he can trust, I asked him to get people on standby.”
The paramedics arrive in a matter of minutes, Gwaine apparently deciding the fire service might be needed too comes in with them.
“Morgana, are you alright?” He runs over to her as soon as he enters the room. “And, uh, everyone else, of course.”
The paramedics bustle everyone out of the way so they can get to Uther. Poor Mordred looks fit to drop, the strain of keeping Uther’s heart beating us clearly taking its toll and he gladly gives up his life-saving duties to the professionals.
Arthur almost feels bad when Morgause is placed in cold-iron handcuffs, he has to keep reminding himself that she is responsible for all of this, for his father being shot, but he can’t deny the reasons behind what she’s done, however much he may disagree with her methods. He feels no sympathy at all for Valiant.
As Uther is stretchered off to the lifts, everyone else makes their way upstairs.
Up in the foyer, everything seems surprisingly calm. Leon appears to be in charge of the situation, and the giant of a man that is Lance’s friend, Percy, seems to have the other bank robbers tied up on the floor by the welcome podium.
“Nice job!” Will says, looking around him. He grins over at Percy. “Don’t suppose you want a job? I suddenly seem to have a vacancy in security.”
Arthur says nothing, in theory this man is every bit as much a criminal as Valiant, although he was mostly there to support Lance and because his family need the money. At the end of the day, both Lance and Percy have been instrumental in saving the day – without Lance the dampener might still be active and without Percy the few remaining hostages, including Leon, might have been in danger.
They step outside into the fresh air. The crowd of people is staggering, almost as though the whole of London has turned out to witness a bank robbery, including every newspaper and television crew imaginable.
Merlin’s hand momentarily catches hold of Arthur’s before quickly letting go. Arthur looks over to see Merlin looking a little unsure. Unsure of his place with Arthur.
To hell with that. Arthur reclaims Merlin’s hand and pulls him to his side. “I love you, Merlin Ambrose. And I don’t care who knows. I don’t want to lose you again.” He leans in and puts his lips to Merlin’s.
Merlin stills a moment, and Arthur briefly worries he might have misread the situation, but then he feels Merlin smile against his lips and kiss him back properly. And he really doesn’t care who knows, even though part of him is aware of the flashing bulbs of the press cameras.
“Arthur Pendragon!” They pull apart as the voice seems to cut over all the rest. And that is when Arthur realises that for all their careful planning, they forgot Alvarr. He is walking towards them, still in his police uniform, and he doesn’t appear to be carrying any form of weapon. He doesn’t need one. His hand is outstretched and his eyes are glowing gold, because damn it all, they switched the dampener off.
“You will pay for this, Pendragon! Those artifacts do not belong to you!”
Arthur is rooted to the spot as a ball of red light shoots out of Alvarr’s hand and comes straight for him.
“No!” Merlin moves in front of him, his own hand outstretched, but there is no time, and even as Merlin’s own spell sends Alvarr flying backwards, the red light hits Merlin square in the chest and he drops like a stone.
“Merlin?” Arthur sinks to his knees. This can’t be happening, not now, not when they’d just won!
Merlin is motionless, lying on the steps into the bank. There is a dreadful smell of burning smoke is rising from his chest. Arthur puts his hand to Merlin’s neck, desperately searching for a pulse. It’s there, a weak flutter.
“Merlin!” Morgana calls, making her way down the ramp out of the side door. “Is he alright?”
“He’s breathing, he has a pulse.” Arthur is not sure he’s breathing himself.
One of the paramedics comes running over to assess Merlin, as does Mordred, tired as he looks, and Arthur finds himself moved out of the way as they try to resuscitate him.
Arthur travels to the hospital in the second ambulance, refusing to let go of Merlin’s hand the whole way.
They seem to sit in the relatives waiting room for an eternity, as the hospital staff try to save both Merlin and Uther.
There is no replay. This is it, he can’t try again tomorrow, if Merlin, or Uther, dies, then Arthur has lost them forever. He sits there, staring blankly at the wall, Morgana’s hand in his the only thing anchoring him, that and the two giant boulders that seem to be lodged on his chest so he can’t breath.
The door opens and the doctor comes in. Arthur braces himself for bad news.
“Your father should make a full recovery.” The smaller of the two boulders lifts and a little air starts to make it’s way into his lungs.
“Merlin really needs to learn how to block a pitiful attack like that.” Merlin’s voice sounds tired.
How had Arthur missed him coming in behind the doctor. His face is pale, there are large black circles around his eyes, and a massive scorch mark on the front of his shirt, which is open to reveal bandages, but he is smiling.
“Merlin!” Arthur breaths the name, almost like a prayer as he crosses over to make sure Merlin is real, that he did not dream him up in desperation.
“Ah, gentle, you oaf!” Merlin laughs as he holds Arthur back when he goes to hug him. “I did just use myself as a human shield, you know!”
“But you are going to be alright?” Arthur takes Merlin’s hand again, needing to be near, needing to touch him.
“Bed rest for a few days and he’ll be fine,” the doctor says. “We wanted to keep him in overnight, but he’s insisting on going home.”
“I’ll take care of him.” Arthur squeezes Merlin’s hand tighter. “He’ll be fine with me.”
This is not Morgana’s flat.
There is dark hair tickling his nose.
Arthur looks around.
He’s in Merlin’s bed. He sits up, careful not to jostle the patient. There is still a bandage wrapped around Merlin’s chest, but Merlin assures him that he has a very fast healing rate that would only have confused the doctors if he had stayed.
The clock on the wall says it’s half eight in the morning.
They have plans to make. Plans to make and a world to change.
He gets up and goes to have a shower. Then wrapping a towel around his waist to stop Will having a fit, he goes out to make some tea.
There is a newspaper on the mat, and just to make absolutely sure, despite the fact that it is clearly not the same day, he checks the date on the top.
Saturday 16 September.
The front page is full of the attempted robbery, the main picture being him kissing Merlin on the steps of the bank, followed by smaller pictures of the magical showdown between Merlin and Alvarr. The headline reads, ‘The Pendragon Heir and the Sorcerer!’
It doesn’t matter. He isn't planning on hiding any more.
THE DAILY HERALD
Saturday, 16 September 2017
THE PENDRAGON HEIR AND THE SORCERER!
Arthur Pendragon and Sorcerer, Merlin Ambrose
An attempted robbery was stopped yesterday at the First Camelot Bank. Witnesses say that an extremist pro-magic group known as the Priestesses attempted to break into the vault to steal a number of magical artefacts. Bank CEO, Sir Uther Pendragon (58) was seriously wounded in the attack. The robbery was brought to an end by Sir Uther's children, Morgana Pendragon (33) and Arthur Pendragon (29) with the help of several employees. The attempted robbery also brought to light the the relationship between Arthur Pendragon and magic user Merlin Ambrose (27). Mr Ambrose is said to be one of the employees who helped to foil the attack on the bank, and was later injured himself when one of the robbers made an attempt on Arthur Pendragon's life. Both Sir Uther and Mr Ambrose are said to be recovering in hospital.
Newspaper created using this CSS workskin by La_Temperanza
Chapter 14: Epilogue
“We’ve got as good a chance as any.” Merlin’s smile is bright and hopeful.
They’ve worked towards this for so long, faced all the naysayers and opposition, all the setbacks and ridicule, and everything hinges on this night. Of course, they won’t be stopped, they can keep fighting, and try again in four years. But he can see the lines around Merlin’s eyes that didn’t used to be there, the grey at his temples. They need this, now, tonight. This is their time.
“Better than some.” His own returning smile is tight, but no less heartfelt. “We are even ahead in a few of the exit polls.”
“Prime Minister Pendragon has a good ring to it.” Merlin kisses him, brief, they are not alone, but full of promise of more.
“That’ll be Prime Minister Ambrose-Pendragon, thank you very much.” Arthur pushes his glasses up his nose a little self-consciously.
“I got you something, for when you win.” Merlin reaches in his pocket and draws a out a box.
“We haven’t won yet.” Arthur puts his hand over the box, not wanting to jinx the results by celebrating too early.
“Morgana has a good feeling about it this time.” Merlin’s grin is bright, his eyes laughing. “And you know Morgana’s good feelings mean something. Open it.”
There is no arguing with Merlin when he’s like this. Arthur gives an exaggerated sigh and opens the box.
His heart nearly beats rights out of his chest. A large golden fob watch is nestled in the box and it takes him straight back all those years to the vault, and Merlin lying dead in his arms. After a moment he remembers that when Fisher’s watch had been retrieved from the vault the face had been shattered from where the piece of the Neahtid crystal had burned out.
This watch does not bear a triskelion, instead a large dragon is curled around inside the dial, apparently sleeping. As Arthur watches, a large golden eye opens and the dragon appears to wink at him.
“Arthur?” Leon’s voice makes him start. He waves him over from across the room where the big screens are showing the election coverage. “The results are starting to come in.”
Arthur reaches for Merlin once more, his arm circling around his waist. “Thank you.” He whispers into Merlin’s hair. “For everything.”