Merlin is wrestling with the shop's ancient and recalcitrant till the when he hears a polite cough behind him, effectively banishing all thoughts of fixing the bloody thing with a little bit of mojo straight out of his head. Getting caught would be careless, more so for something that trivial. Instead he pastes on a smile—he's been feeling off all day and can't quite muster much more—and turns to face the customer.
"Can I help you?" he says, only then taking a moment to appreciate the drop dead loveliness of the blond man who is watching him expectantly. Even though he is dressed casually, it's an expensive casualness that doesn't really fit in with the style of the shop's usual customers to who tend to be a little more—dare Merlin say?— Shabby.
The man glances around at the shop's interior, probably overwhelmed by the sheer overabundance of stuff. Merlin's mum, Hunith, has never been a believer in the less is more school of thought. The man's gaze narrows. "I was under the impression that this was a café?"
"This place is more of an 'emporium.' The café's upstairs and there's seating on the roof as well," Merlin tells him, gesturing towards the staircase in the corner next to the archway that leads through to the clothing section and the stairs to the basement where Will's treatment rooms are.
"Right. Thanks. I'll just—" Blondie motions towards the stairs and heads away from the counter.
"Just take a seat and I'll be right up," Merlin says to his retreating back and rather fine bottom. His magic soars and Merlin thinks, fuck, because the last time it reacted like that to someone else he'd been fifteen and it hadn't ended well—at all. Disturbed, he turns his attention towards the malfunctioning till, and after quickly checking that his customer has gone, he fixes it with a tiny wave of magic just as Freya appears from the adjoining room with her arms full of what look like vintage BIBA dresses, looking flustered. "I've fixed the till."
"Thanks, Merlin, you're a miracle worker." Freya drops the garments onto the counter and collapses onto the stool behind it. She smiles wearily at him and Merlin thinks to himself, if only you knew the half of it, smiles back and heads upstairs to the café.
Merlin finds the blond sitting in one of the window seats looking down at the busy street below. It's just a couple of weeks until Christmas everywhere is busy with shoppers even though it's only a Tuesday. He grabs his order pad and doesn't expect the kick of sudden nerves he gets as he approaches the table. He's not usually the nervous type.
The man really is gorgeous—and so far out of Merlin's league it's not even worth thinking about thinking about it. So he forcibly doesn't. He takes the order, smiles politely, and when he's collecting the empty plate from the table later he's taken by complete surprise when the man says, his blue eyes fixed on Merlin as though he's on the menu, "What time do you finish?"
Even more surprising is the crash of his own resolve crumbling when he replies, "Four."
He'd half expected that Arthur would leave the café and not return at four like he'd told Merlin he would. He'd told himself that would be for the best, because the way his magic reacted around the man could not bode well and magic was outlawed. Having the audacity to be born with magic running through his veins was the one thing guaranteed to get him locked away, permanently, or worse.
Arthur had returned and they'd slowly walked to Hyde Park and the Christmas Market there to enjoy a cup of Gluvein. Arthur was back in London after a few years in America, he'd told Merlin, but he was back for good now. When he'd told him that he'd pointedly held Merlin's gaze. Then he'd said, "Can I kiss you? It's all I've thought about since I first saw you earlier."
Merlin had nodded silently, caught in Arthur's desire fuelled gaze, and Arthur had palmed Merlin's cheek and leant in, not caring that they were in the middle of a crowd of shoppers.
Someone had jovially shouted, "Get a room!" and they'd broken apart, laughing.
"What do you say to that?" Arthur asked, gaze once more intent on Merlin.
"I say come back to mine."
They'd held hands on the tube journey to Islington and Merlin's internal monologue was going crazy. What the mother-loving fuckity fuck was he doing? He'd never been this reckless and he'd never been one for fucking around! He'd tried it once, had felt like shit about it afterwards, and since then there had only been Percival and he'd had to end that because as perfect as Percival had been, Merlin hadn't even come close to losing his heart while Percival had seemed to fall hard for him. It hadn't been fair.
So, whatever his reasons, nothing could have stopped him from taking Arthur home that evening.
Now it's morning, and there's a strong pair of arms twined around his waist and a very obvious erection pushing at his buttocks. God.
"I want you again," Arthur breathes, sending a shudder of pure want through Merlin.
"Take me then," Merlin says, thrusting his bottom back against Arthur, enjoying the frustrated huff followed by a curse that Arthur heaves as he attempts to reach for a condom and knocks the bedside lamp to the floor. It only delays things for a short moment though, then Merlin senses Arthur rolling a condom on before he's pushing for entrance at Merlin's hole. It'll be tight, Merlin knows that, but he's still loose from their middle of the night coupling, and he so turned on he's doesn't care about anything else.
Arthur pushes in and Merlin can't help the groan that escapes him, then, from nowhere, "Make it hard."
"I knew you'd be bossy," Arthur hissed as he bottomed out. "I just didn't know I'd like it so much."
"My father believes in starting at the bottom and working your way up. That's what I'm doing at the moment, in the HR department." Arthur pulls on his jeans and looks down at them with a snort. "I'd better go home and change before I go in though."
Merlin grins. "I don't know. I rather like the shirtless cowboy look you've got going on there." He has to duck the sock Arthur throws at him.
"Do you have a lecture today?" Arthur pulls on his jumper and attempts to get his hair to lie flat, without much success.
"Nope. I've finished for Christmas. I'm working at mum's place later this morning."
"How does a student who works part-time for his mum in a vegetarian café afford a place like this in London?" Arthur sits on the edge of the bed and bends to tie the laces on his Converse.
Merlin's not ashamed of the answer. "The father I never even knew left it to me a couple of years ago." He laughed. "Mum says it makes up for eighteen years of no child maintenance. Threatened to disown me if I refused to take it."
"She sounds like a real protective lioness, your mum," Arthur says.
Merlin thinks of Hunith and grins. "She's that alright. She and Uncle Gaius are all I have. And Will and Freya, but don't tell Will I said so." He sobers then as he thinks of Arthur meeting the four people who mean the most to him. "Will I see you again?"
Arthur's fully dressed now. He climbs onto the bed and straddles Merlin, leaning down to kiss him softly, the kiss soon turning heated. Merlin's whimpering and pushing his hardness into Arthur—how the hell he can be hard again after the weekend they've just had he can only marvel at—when Arthur pulls back and says, "I have to work late tonight, but I could be here by half nine?"
Merlin beams and pulls Arthur back down for a final kiss before releasing him. "Don't be late."
"I won't be." Arthur runs his thumb along the plumpness of Merlin's lower lip, suddenly completely sober. He shakes his head slightly. "What have you done to me, Merlin Emrys?"
Merlin has no clue. All he knows is that nothing has ever felt so right before. He also knows that he's not showing Arthur the real truth about him, not even close, and he doubts he ever can and it's a sour feeling.
The door closes behind Arthur and Merlin waits for the slam of the front door downstairs before he truly relaxes and the clothes strewn around on the floor begin to fly into the hamper. When he slowly climbs out of bed the sheets remove themselves into the hamper too and clean ones fly from the drawers nearby to make up the bed.
To Merlin the magic he's using for the household chores is but a tiny fraction of his capabilities. He could do something, could make a difference to the world, but this was real life, not some comic book where he'd be required to wear his pants outside his trousers and don a mask, and the reality wasn't that colourful. So for now he's a student of Environmental Geography at UCL and he works for his mum to pay his bills. He hides in plain sight.
Seeing Arthur again is dangerous but he knows it's a risk he's going to take. He's already in too deep.
It's Saturday and they hadn't been apart for one night since the previous Saturday. Arthur had arrived on Wednesday night with a bag of clothes so he didn't have to rush home to change in the mornings.
To say that Merlin was a goner was an understatement. Arthur made him feel safe, cherished—and loved. How was that possible in such a short period of time? He'd been lost that first night if he was completely honest with himself.
Merlin sits up and mojos the TV off without thinking, cursing himself for being so slack about it with Arthur in the house. The magic is starting to feel like the albatross must have felt to the ancient mariner. Outside in the hall he hears Arthur raise his voice, "I just need a few more days. We have to be sure. Yes. YES. Fine. Goodbye." Silence rings out and it's a couple of long minutes before Arthur re-enters the room and says, "Sorry about that. Now, where were we?"
Before Merlin can move Arthur has him pinned back against the sofa and is working the button of Merlin's fly and then all thoughts evacuate his head as Arthur peels off Merlin's clothes and Merlin lets himself be arranged on Arthur's still clothed lap and impaled on the cock that stands proud from Arthur's suit trousers. Fuck. Arthur looks so hot in that suit, but with his cock jutting out like that, the man is…he's everything and somewhere amidst the building pleasure Merlin's awareness that this is more than just being a 'goner', this is love.
"I'm working all day today anyway," he says, the day ahead suddenly weighing heavily upon him without the prospect of seeing Arthur at the end of it. "I'll only be good for chilling in front of the telly tonight I expect."
Arthur rolls over and kisses him chastely on the lips before springing out of bed.
By the end of the day Merlin thinks he's at risk of zapping the next person who shows the slightest hint of Christmas cheer with his eyes and damning the consequences.
When he gets the text from Arthur just as he's leaving work that says, finished the work… my place? Followed by another text with an address in Kensington, Merlin's the one with the sudden abundance of Christmas cheer and a skip in his step that he will never admit to.
Arthur's place is just as he pictured it. Sleek, modern and totally unlived in. When he steps out of the lift he finds Arthur silhouetted in the window with the city's skyline as his backdrop. He's still in his suit and there's a tension to his shoulders that Merlin hasn't seen before.
At Merlin's arrival Arthur turns and the tension seems to melt away. "How is it that I've only known you a week yet I spent the whole day missing you?" Arthur says, scanning Merlin from head to toe. "I feel like I've known you forever yet I don’t think I've even scratched the surface have I?"
Merlin steps into the room and drops his bag by the large cream leather sofa that dominates. As he makes his way across the room his heart is in his throat. He should tell Arthur the truth about himself now. Let him beneath the surface. He should. Instead he pushes Arthur back against the window and drops to his knees, staring up and locking his gaze with Arthur's as he loosens his belt, pops a button and slides a hand inside. His magic is soaring, pushing for an outlet. It loves Arthur as much Merlin does.
"I missed you too," he says and pulls Arthur's cock from his trousers. He can't give an answer to the second question. Not yet.
He has his hand on the door knob when a voice that's not Arthur's rises and Merlin hears, "I expected more from you, Arthur. You've trained for this. Everyone has a first time. Even me."
Merlin pressed his ear to the door to hear Arthur's response, his heart in his throat.
"Merlin's no danger to anyone," Arthur say almost too quietly for Merlin to hear. "I won't pull that trigger. I can't."
Merlin's magic went wild. It roared beneath his skin at the betrayal. Arthur worked for them. Merlin had heard rumours of their existence, the people that came for magic users, but in a world where magic was illegal he didn't know anyone else like him, didn't know if there were others who were born like he was, didn't know if the whispers were true. He trusted no one other than his mum, Uncle Gaius and Will with the truth.
Their meeting had been deliberate and Arthur's attraction to him a ruse. Merlin had fallen for it like the stupid fuck that he was. Arthur was supposed to kill him.
"You go in there now and do the job you were sent to do and we will say no more about this. You're young. He's pretty. I've been tempted myself over the years. Do it now, Arthur. Or I will."
Merlin backs away from the door, his clothes gathering themselves from where they'd landed the night before and appearing on his body. They're sixteen floors high. This had to be the real reason Arthur invited him here instead of coming to Merlin's yesterday. Somehow they knew about him. They can't know the extent of it though. Sixteen floors won't stop him. Nothing can.
He angrily swipes away the tears that have formed at Arthur's betrayal. At his duplicity. He closes his eyes and pictures his kitchen at his flat. All he feels is a flutter in his stomach and he's there. Thank fuck that worked, he hasn't done that since he was a child when he'd realised he could—and his mum had made him swear never to do it again because it was too dangerous and he was too precious to her. Merlin was certain she'd forgive him this time.
It doesn't take him long to pack, not with magical help. He doesn't have much that he needs. He takes the sim out of his phone and watches it burn in the sink. Then he closes his eyes and hopes that his mum won't have left for work yet.
He surprises her in her slip and bra, applying her mascara. She jumps and draws a pattern down her cheek. "What the hell— Merlin, what's going on?"
"They've found me, Mum. They've come to kill me." He falls into her arms, the sobs coming unbidden now. "I couldn't just go without saying goodbye."
Hunith's tears join his. "Oh, Merlin."
"Tell Gaius and Will for me. I can't risk going to them now."
"My darling boy," she says, stroking his cheek. "My Merlin."
"I love you, Mum," he says, hugging her tightly. "I'll do my best to let you know I'm okay."
He has no idea where to go, he just knows that if he stays in the life he's always had his days—hours—are numbered and he's not ready to die.
He ends up in a motel style room behind a pub in a village in Wales that he once visited with Uncle Gaius as a child. He turns down an evening meal in favour of retreating to his room and finally allowing himself to breakdown.
In the space of less than twenty-four hours he's gone from being the happiest he's ever been to cast out, alone and broken hearted. Arthur. If that was even his real name. Sent to kill him. It doesn't matter that he'd been saying he couldn't do it. He'd entered Merlin's life, entered his bed and his heart and all along he had an agenda. He was the enemy, the hunter.
Oh God, Merlin was the hunted.
What was he going to do? Where?
He lies on the lumpy double bed and stares up at the coving around the light fitting, wonders how many other people have done the same over the years. He's not going to cry. He won't. He can't.
In the end he falls asleep like that and wakes cold and uncomfortable in the middle of the night to the sound of the door clicking open and a man's frame silhouetted in the faint light from outside. It's the fear that does it, closes in around the shadowy figure and pins the man back against the door he's just closed, the magic wrapping around him and holding him there.
"How did you find me?" Merlin asks, glad that he never bothered to get undressed when he'd collapsed onto the bed hours before. All that is missing is his shoes.
"Tracker chip," Arthur replies, his voice hoarse. "Don't worry, only I have the signal."
"Oh, why would I be worried?" Merlin sneers. "Changed your mind about pulling that trigger have you?"
"No!" Arthur's response is instantaneous. "Merlin— I couldn't. Wouldn't."
"Why not, Arthur?" Merlin can hear the pounding of his own heart above all else. His magic has Arthur pinned back against the door but it isn't a good feeling. Such violence doesn't sit comfortably with him at all. So he lets go and Arthur takes a grateful gasp of air. Merlin turns away and retreats to the window on the far side of the small room. He affects a baby voice, "Did you develop feelings for me is that it? Did you fall in love?" His voice probably drips with bitterness but he doesn't care. He's been hunted, played, and it's pain like he's never known before.
"Yes," Arthur said softly. "I fell in love." He steps away from the door into the room, half his face in shadow.
Merlin can't speak, can't fucking breathe. Arthur comes closer until he's almost toe to toe with Merlin. Finally Merlin manages, "You're a liar."
"Yes, but not about this. I lied to my father about you, told him I had no proof about you, but I did. I put a camera in your bedroom, saw the things that you do when you think no one is looking. It was already too late by then." Arthur palms Merlin's cheek. "I think I was lost the first time I kissed you."
Merlin wants to believe him. But, "I'm just one of many. You hunt and kill people like me. People who just want to live their lives in peace. I can't— We can't— You're a monster."
Arthur shakes his head. "No, Merlin, no. You were my first assignment and because I can't go through with it, you're also the last. I thought I wanted to be just like my father. I was wrong."
He kisses Merlin then, hot and heavy, and Merlin threads his fingers into the soft strands of Arthur's golden hair, is ready to put his faith where his instincts are telling him trust. The sound of glass smashing nearby springs them apart, breathing heavy, hair mussed.
Arthur rushes to the door and peers through the peephole. "Do you think you can trust me?" he asks, turning back to Merlin and holding out a hand. "Because they're coming, and you either go alone—or we go together."
Merlin stares at Arthur's outstretched hand, his magic screaming in his veins for him to take it.
"Merlin!" Arthur says, snapping Merlin out of the half-daze he's sliding into. He spreads his fingers. "What's it to be?"
"Merlin, please— There's no time! Just know I love you. Will you take my hand?"
Merlin steps forward and laces his fingers with Arthur's just as the door crashes open and all hell breaks loose. He closes his eyes and thinks of the beach at Woody's Bay, another past holiday destination, hopes that his ability to teleport will work for two people, he feels the fluttery sensation in his stomach as the room around them vanishes.
The next thing he is aware of is the spray from the sea on his face and the feel of Arthur's hand in his and he knows they've escaped—this time.
The sun is starting to rise, the days will start to get longer again and Christmas is two days away. He looks at Arthur, Arthur looks back at him, the spray from the sea already blotting his hair against his scalp. Arthur smiles, Merlin's magic sings. He returns the smile and Arthur squeezes his hand.
"Never walk away from me again," Arthur says loudly over the sound of the waves on the rocks.
Merlin takes a step closer and replies, "Well, technically I didn't walk, you know," he waggled the fingers of his spare hand and grinned sheepishly.
Arthur rolls his eyes and pulls Merlin into a kiss.