[personal profile] new_kate
Title: Arcane Asylum
Fandom: Merlin BBC
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin
Rating: NC-17
Warnings for this part: smut!
Summary: Modern AU. For the last twenty two years Uther Pendragon had been waging war on magic. Now his son Arthur has been framed for a magical crime and sent to the prison for magic users. Arthur is instantly targeted by the inmates, but mysterious top dog Merlin takes him under his wing. They form a bond, and Merlin decides to help Arthur clear his name.
Originally written for this prompt at [livejournal.com profile] kinkme_merlin
Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] devikun and [livejournal.com profile] ghost_guessed for betaing!
Word count: 6K for this part.

Many, many huge flaily thanks to everyone who's been reading this as a WiP! Your comments and support were so precious to me. You guys are awesome <3


First part
Chapter index

Asylum 16: Isle of the Blessed




"Arthur. Arthur, wake up."

Arthur stirred and let out a grumpy moan. He was warm and content in a deep, all-encompassing way, in every bit of his soul and down to his bones. He didn't want to break out of this cosy bliss.

But Merlin was rubbing his shoulder and pushing his buzzing phone into his hand, and Arthur took it and peeled his eyes open.

"It's your father," Merlin said. "You should answer."

Arthur dragged his thumb down the screen and made a cheerful grunting noise into the phone, over Uther's agitated voice.

"Dad," he mumbled through a yawn. "I know, I said I'd call. I fell asleep, sorry."

Uther was quiet for a moment.

"I see," he said then. "Son, I know you've been exhausted since you came back. But it can't be safe to sleep there."

"I slept here for a week, you know," Arthur said, and clearly imagined his father's face darkening with guilt and sadness. He'd seen that a lot over the past few days. Sometimes he couldn't resist reminding him, just to satisfy the steady burn of anger he'd been living with. He wanted to blame Uther for so many things, wanted to throw everything he'd seen and learned in his father's face. Everything Merlin had been through, and Morgana leaving home, and all these people twisted into ugly, heartless creatures by fear and pain. Gwen and Lancelot and countless others made into criminals just for wanting to help those in need. So much of all this was Uther's fault. But he still loved his father, with the same fierce devotion as always. He was doing this for Uther as much as he was doing this for Merlin and Morgana, and Lance and Gwen. This was the only way out: make amends, admit the mistakes, repair the damage. It had be done now, while Uther was still in power, before the decision was taken out of his hands.

"Dad, it's okay, really," he said soothingly. "I'm just powernapping while they're discussing the offer. It's going very well."

He curled up again, discovering Merlin's familiar body everywhere, underneath him and over him. He tucked his head against Merlin's chest to breath in his scent on every inhale, and folded his legs so they pressed against Merlin's calves and thighs and ankles.

"Good, that's good," Uther said. "I still worry for you. You should come outside, Arthur. It's been hours."

"I'm safe," said Arthur. "They respect my diplomatic status, such as it is. And... I'm Merlin's boyfriend."

Since he’d returned home he'd talked in the past tense about Merlin. Except about their relationship, because that wasn't over, even if Merlin was gone. It was all silly semantics but right now he was glad and proud, as if he'd passed some arbitrary test set up for him by fate.

"He could protect you while he was there, but now..."

"That’s not how they see it, Dad. Look, I'm going to spend the night. There is still a lot to do, I want to keep up the momentum. They're about to agree to disband their terrorist groups if we stop enforcing the sections right now."

"Arthur, I'd rather you... They still have active cells?"

"Apparently. Maybe it's a bluff, I don't fancy calling it, personally. Oh, and..."

He was going to keep Morgana's secret, but it was needlessly cruel. He knew that Uther missed Morgana maybe even more than he had, and his father deserved a bit of good news after all the compromises he'd made.

"Dad, they say they have information that can be of personal interest to us. It concerns someone we know. They don't want anything for that, they'd just tell us. Should I ask?"

Uther was silent for a long time, and Arthur knew that meant his father understood his hints.

"No details," Uther said. "Nothing is official yet. I still need deniability. I only want to know if she's alive and safe. Just that. If she needs help, then..."

"Okay. I'll do that. I'll see you tomorrow. Go home, Dad, please, get some rest. I'll get the perimeter patrols to drive me to the station."

He ended the call without waiting for reply and slid the phone back into his pocket. Then he pressed both palms to Merlin's sides, just to feel him like that, whole, breathing, thrumming with life.

"Smooth," Merlin said in a carefully level voice. "Can't believe he just... goes with it."

"He's different now," Arthur said into his shirt. "Everything is different."

They were on the roof. Arthur didn't remember moving from the bed – Merlin must have carried him here. Or, more likely, used magic. It was already dark, but the night was warm, the air still and gentle on his skin. He was cradled in Merlin's lap; he pulled back a little, without slipping out of loose circle of Merlin's arms, and turned onto his back to look upwards.

The sky above them was pitch black, clear and full of stars, and against that brilliant backdrop there was Merlin's face, beautiful and dear.

Merlin gave him a shy, lop-sided smile. He looked uncertain, wavering. He was waiting for Arthur to speak, and they had a lot to talk about. There was important information to share, plans to be made, and Arthur still wanted to do a lot of yelling. But the words wouldn't come. He lay there, silently looking at Merlin, feeling complete and calm in a way he had't known was possible. For as long as he could remember he’d always strived to become something: a good student, a strong athlete, a successful politician, a good man. Someone his father would be proud of, someone who would make a difference, leave a mark on the world. Now he simply was, and that was enough.

"Did you see your friend?" he asked, suddenly remembering, and Merlin's face spilt in a huge happy grin.

"Yes. We talked while you slept. He went home for now. He's just," Merlin laughed, waving his hands, too giddy to express himself with words alone. "He made me promise I'd visit. He just refuses to accept that I left to protect them, he's so..."

"You can now," said Arthur urgently, scrambling up to sit next to him. "You can see him, and your mother, it's okay even if someone finds out. Not reporting a warlock is no longer going to be a crime. We're getting rid of all the laws that target the non-magical people, the sympathisers. It's only a start, but... Where's my briefcase?"

"Downstairs, the guys are reading your papers. They explained to me what you're trying to do. Do you really think it's all going to happen?"

"It's happening. We got unofficial nods from all the right people, it will only take a few months to push everything through the Parliament. I'm pretty sure the Commission will stop arresting civilians as soon as we have some reassurance from the warlock community."

"I heard - in exchange for disbanding the cells, right?"

"Well, that I made up, obviously, but they'll go with it. Nobody wants to start paperwork on cases that might be dismissed. Wait, do you actually have terrorist cells?"

"Tauren has a few sleepers down south," Merlin said very casually. "I'll talk to him. Still, I can't believe - it's only been days, and we're already talking about legal changes. We thought it would take years."

"I was a bit surprised how easy it all was," Arthur said. "But it all makes sense now. It's all because of you."

"Me?"

"Yes. Because of the ritual. And we need to talk about that."

He shot out a hand and flicked Merlin on the ear. Merlin's mouth fell open in a grimace of pain and surprise; Arthur instantly felt sorry, but he was determined to be firm about this.

"You are a heartless selfish git," Arthur said with all the righteous anger he could muster.

"What?" Merlin yelped, looking betrayed. "Oh, because I sacrificed myself for others, I'm-"

"Heartless, selfish git with a messianic complex," Arthur amended. "How could you do that to me? And if you say you didn't think I'd care I'll punch you in the face. You know damn well how I feel about you. You knew what it would do to me, and you just let me think you died. Why the fuck didn't you tell me you're immortal?"

"I didn't even know myself," Merlin said testily, rubbing at his ear. "God, and you have the bollocks to call me selfish? By the time I'd found out I was going to bargain with Nimueh. Come on, Arthur, you know why I didn't tell you. If you thought I was going to be kept alive and captive, I knew you'd try to rescue me. Hell, for all you knew I was dead by the time you woke up, and you still went after me! I didn't - I wanted you safe. I thought it would be best that way."

"You need to stop thinking, Merlin, it never ends well," Arthur said. "But why didn't you tell me afterwards? There was plenty of time! Okay, fine, you didn't expect I'd have to watch you get shot, but still. You kind of supposed to tell your boyfriend if you're immortal, it's a big deal!"

Merlin closed his eyes and hung his head.

"I didn't want you to know," he said quietly. "I was hoping maybe you'd never find out."

"Fuck, Merlin, why?"

"Well, it's a bit creepy, isn't it?"

Arthur stared at him in disbelief till Merlin tired of the pause and met his eyes again.

"You put me through an absolute hell," Arthur said slowly, hoping that the words would penetrate Merlin's bizarre mind. "Because you thought it would be a bit creepy to tell me the truth. I have no words for you right now."

"Well, it's unnatural, isn't it? Everything alive is mortal. Except me. I didn't want you to think I'm some kind of... weird creature."

"I knew you were a weird creature when I first laid eyes on you," Arthur said. Merlin's face scrunched up in misery, and Arthur carried on. "No, technically, when I first saw you, I just thought you were a regular warlock. But when you took me to your room and said you'd protect me from your friends and ask for nothing in return, that's when I thought: what a weird, weird creature with zero common sense. And my opinion of you hasn't changed a bit since. Oh, and by the way, right then, in that cell, I also thought: crap, I'll probably have to watch this kid get killed in front of me. And look! I was right again!"

"Oh yeah, I remember that day," Merlin said with a chuckle, brightening up. "I also formed my opinion about you right then. When you told me not to protect you because I might get in trouble, I thought: oh god. What a complete dollophead. And I was spot on!"

"So the feeling was mutual at first sight, then," said Arthur sentimentally.

"Pretty much, yeah," Merlin rose on his knees and pressed against Arthur in a tight, warm hug. "Yeah."

Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin's back and held him close, and for some reason felt like crying again even though he wasn't sad at all.

"All right, I guess I should have told you," whispered Merlin, dragging his lips along Arthur's hairline, dropping small kisses on his forehead.

"That's right, and you should be sorry," Arthur said gruffly. "Next time you think you know what would be best, run your plan by me before doing anything, all right?"

Merlin shifted against him in a way that could be a nod, or could be anything. Arthur stroked his hands down Merlin's back and tried to picture all the ways in which he was different, beyond human: his every cell shimmering with strange energy, his life tethered to something huge and eternal. Merlin felt perfectly normal, well-known and right under his palms, and everywhere they touched Merlin's body radiated wonderful, tingly heat into Arthur's skin.

"This is, come to think of it, the only way we can have a normal, functional relationship," Arthur said. "Since we met - in the space of two weeks – I’ve watched you nearly die about five times. You're a menace to yourself, Merlin. I can only keep my sanity if I know you're indestructible."

Merlin sighed into his hair, curling his fingers over Arthur's collar.

"I don't even know how I'm going to age," he said. "Or, if. Nobody's sure what's going to happen."

"Hmm," Arthur said, lecherously groping Merlin's skinny arse. "So there's a possibility that when I'm old and gross I'll still have a sexy twink in my bed?"

"Yes, theoretically, there is that possibility," Merlin said with a little laugh and kissed Arthur's jaw. "Oh, you'll be such a hot silver fox. Quite looking forward to that."

Arthur caught his lips and kissed him with abandon, thinking about years and decades ahead, and Merlin, always there, always his. It was a bit premature, he knew. But Merlin had beaten death, changed the world; they'd defeat whatever relationship troubles could be lying in wait. They were invincible.

"Okay, I'm going to tell you a secret," Merlin said, pulling back. "You want me to be honest with you, right?"

"Right," mumbled Arthur, chasing his mouth for another kiss.

"So, I think you should know this, it's really important. But.. don't tell anyone. Not yet."

"Yeah, okay," Arthur said, and felt giddy, shivery warmth pooling in his stomach, because this could only be one thing. Merlin was going to tell him what he hadn't told him before, what he only put into words in his letter to Will, the words Arthur stopped himself from reading. But Arthur knew what it was, he was certain. Merlin loved him, and he was going to tell him that, right now. And Arthur - Arthur was going to tell him, too, even though he was never a fan of soppy confessions. It was already obvious, they both knew it, they didn't have to say it. But maybe it was all about the gesture: laying themselves bare like that in ultimate surrender, opening their hearts to the possibility of the cruellest pain, throwing themselves at each other's mercy, in faith and hope.

Merlin shuffled back and sat on his heels. He looked at Arthur, solemn and serious, and then said:

"I don't think the ritual worked."

"What?" Arthur asked, feeling horribly cheated. "What the.. That doesn't even make sense! Of course it worked! Everyone feels their magic got stronger, they told me that!"

"Yeah, that's the placebo effect. Magic is like that. The majority of warlocks will never tap into their full potential, but it's only their mind holding them back. If they believe they suddenly can access more power, most of them will be able to."

"But, no! The tide of the war has turned, like they said it would! Merlin, come on, you said it yourself. It's unbelievable how everything changed in just days. The party wants to rethink the policy on warlocks, the opposition supports that. The Commission wants to narrow its operation to cases that pose actual public threat. All my suggestions get the green light, everything goes right to the top of the queue, and my father is leading this initiative! It has to be because of the ritual! There's no other explanation!"

"There is," Merlin said. He was looking at Arthur with an affectionate, proud smile, as if he had no doubt Arthur would figure it out.

"Well," Arthur said. "Fair enough, some of it is down to the right timing. There is a lot of pressure from the civil rights groups. The opposition's whole platform is based on rolling back the laws that limit public freedoms. For the party to do this now – we're stealing their thunder, the next election is ours. And the opposition can't be against it, not after all their campaigning against the police state. So it is politically prudent, everyone agrees when I put it like that."

Merlin was nodding along, and Arthur continued:

"And, of course, what happened to me shook up a lot of people. If warlocks could set up the son of Uther Pendragon, nobody is safe. Now people want due process and careful investigation. It was a bit of a wake up call. I told the Prime Minister: sir, imagine your daughter Vivian dragged through the system on a fake accusation, and he just went white. So, maybe... No, Merlin, it's magic. It has to be because of your magic."

It had to be, Arthur wanted it to be because of magic. The magnitude of the work ahead would be terrifying, if he didn't believe that magic would help them. If they had that benevolent ineffable force on their side, if their cause was blessed by the power of Emrys and the land itself - then they would succeed. They just had to keep at it.

"Everything's changed," Arthur said adamantly. "My father has changed. He brings me into every meeting as a consultant, he listens to everything I say. I came out to him, properly, I told him everything. And yes, initially he flipped out like I'd expected. But just this morning at breakfast he asked if I'd still consider having biological children by a surrogate mother, after I'd married the man of my dreams. How odd is that? And we hug now! He hugs me!"

"Come on, Arthur," Merlin said. "Do you really think your father wants to hug you because of the ancient blood magic ritual? He missed you. He nearly lost you. Of course he's different now. That's nothing to do with magic. You can't chalk everything up to one spell."

"It was a spell powered by your blood," Arthur reminded him. "For that kind of price I expect everything and then some."

"No, it's just you, Arthur. It's all just you. I knew you'd do it, you'd turn things around, you'd make peace. And you are. People listen to you, because you're you. You didn't need any magic to help you. And I need you to know this. Right now everyone thinks the world has changed and the war is already won. But it's not. There's still many battles ahead. We won't be accepted as equals overnight, and the blood between us won't be forgotten. The euphoria will wear off and my people will start questioning just how blessed they are. And they'll tell you that whatever you do is too little too late, and there will be hate and violence again. It won't be all magically better. But you can make things right. You will. Just believe in yourself. Even though you're just a student, even though..."

"I won't be just a student for much longer. The Prime Minister is appointing me to the new committee to deal with the legal transitions," Arthur said proudly. "I'll have some clout of my own."

He expected Merlin's eyes to light up even more at the news, and he expected congratulations and celebratory snogging. Instead Merlin squinted at him in disbelief and said:

"What, already? At twenty-two, straight out of school? It's really all about nepotism in politics, isn't it?"

"Hey, I deserve this job! I'm perfectly qualified! What happened to 'it's all because I'm me'?"

"I was just being supportive," Merlin said distractedly, chewing on his thumbnail. "Maybe the ritual did work - Arthur, listen, I should tell you this. Nimueh wanted you to witness it. She sent Mordred to track you down while we were still together, so you'd be there when it happened."

"Yes, she wanted me to watch and suffer," Arthur shrugged. "Obviously."

"I suppose there was that. But I spoke to her before she put me in the tree. I told her about you, what kind of man you are, why I'd give my life for you. And then she said she might have made a mistake back in the Eighties. She rushed into things and sided with the wrong Pendragon."

Arthur flinched, trying to grasp all the possible implications of that. He didn't think he'd got through to Nimueh when they'd spoken, and he wasn't sure if he even wanted her support. He definitely didn't want to be tangled up in an ancient prophecy. He already had more than enough on his plate.

"I agreed to the ritual because I thought it would help my people," Merlin continued. "I thought that was the purpose of Emrys, to give my magic back to them. But with Morgause, Mordred and the soldiers there, I was afraid they'd do something to you if I refused. So I kind of did it for you. And I kind of have your fealty, right?"

"Well, I am your boyfriend," Arthur said. "I wouldn't call that fealty, exactly."

"Doesn't matter. Rituals work with technicalities and symbols. Nimueh staged it all so the grace would spread onto you, as well. So, if it worked... Even though you don't have magic, now you are blessed with luck and great power. Use it wisely, okay?"

"Oh," Arthur said. "Um. Thanks for that."

Handy as that sounded, it was a bit too much responsibility than he was ready to shoulder. This might mean his decisions would be accepted and supported even if they were ultimately dumb and would lead to disasters. If the world would allow him to do as he pleased, then he couldn't make mistakes. Whatever he would set out to do had to be right.

He was going to need a truly kick-ass team of advisers.

"Eh, maybe the ritual didn't work after all," Arthur said. "Why did you think it hadn't worked?"

"It was supposed to drain me. My magic was meant to spread over the land, and I'd be diminished. But... I don't feel less. I feel a lot stronger."

Merlin lifted his hands and let his power glow, just like Arthur seen him do many times before. But now it wasn't just shining through his eyes. The light was seeping through his skin, everywhere, haloing him against the black sky. His fingers were ten incandescent golden rays, and every time he moved them Arthur almost felt the fabric of the world swirl and shift in tiny ripples, accommodating Merlin's will.

"Oh wow," he breathed and dived into that light, grabbed Merlin and pressed against him, moaning as the power washed over him and whispered over and under his skin. And then a terrible thought occurred to him, and he dug his fingers into Merlin's glowing shoulders and shook him hard, making the light blink out in surprise.

"So you power up every time you die," Arthur said. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And if you ever - ever! - even think to experiment with that, forget it right now. I absolutely forbid you. You don't know, maybe you have limited number of lives! Or what if you end up with permanent brain damage? Have you thought of that?"

"What?" Merlin asked. "Are you serious? Do you have any idea how much it hurts to die? How scary it is? Fuck that, no. Never again."

"Let me see," Arthur said, hastily unbuttoning Merlin's shirts.

"There's nothing. No scars."

"Let me see that there's nothing," said Arthur stubbornly and pushed the fabric away. Merlin's chest was smooth and flawless, just like it used to be, and he ran his fingers over the soft skin, over and over, relishing its texture.

"Morgause told Edwin I was already breathing in the morgue. Nobody noticed because I was still in the body bag when she took me. All the wounds had closed by the time she brought me here. Edwin opened them up to remove the scar tissue," Merlin said, staring down at Arthur's hand on his chest, speaking detachedly like all of that had happened to someone else. He'd only been awake for a couple of hours, and perhaps none of it had sunk in yet. But for now Arthur could hope that the experience truly wouldn't leave any scars, and they could just forget it ever happened. "So my heart is good as new. In case you thought I needed to take it easy or something."

"That's good to know," Arthur said, lightly thumbing Merlin's hardening nipple, and then ducked down to mouth at it. Merlin gasped and writhed against him, pushing his jacket off his shoulders, pulling his tie loose. Arthur kept kissing his chest, imagining Merlin's heart beating under his lips, whole and strong, indestructible.

Merlin groaned in frustration, clawing at Arthur's belt buckle, and Arthur helped him, pushed his trousers down together with his boxers and wrestled Merlin's jeans off his harrow hips. They kissed again, kneeling together on the gritty roof surface, clothes half-off, hard cocks sticking out, rubbing against each other clumsily. And then they couldn't stop kissing, couldn't tear their mouths apart. Merlin pushed closer and wrapped his long fingers around both their shafts, stroking and squeezing frantically, without any rhythm. Arthur would have put his hand over his, made him slow down, made it better, dragged it out. But he was too busy groping Merlin everywhere he could reach and kissing his lips, messily and desperately like there was no tomorrow. Except there was tomorrow, and countless days after, and they'd get to do this so many times yet. They'd get to do everything.

He wrestled Merlin down and braced over him, fucking into his tight fist, their cocks sliding together. Merlin's free hand was carding through Arthur's hair, gently, and he was muttering something into Arthur's mouth as they kissed: incoherent promises, silly endearments, small spells that tingled down Arthur's spine and crackled between them. Merlin came first, his mouth going slack under Arthur's, breath stuttering sweetly, his heels drumming against the roof. He kept stroking Arthur as he came down, slowly and steadily now, his hand slick with his come, every twist of his hand sure and perfect. Arthur was close, so close, right on the edge; for one awful moment he felt like he was too tired, too wrecked by the last few days. He wouldn't be able to push through it, wouldn't be able to come, would just hang there, desperate and wanting - and then Merlin swiftly rolled them over and slid down, and closed his lips over Arthur's straining cock. He sucked greedily, lapping up his own come, glancing up at Arthur with golden sparks in his eyes. New, sharp bliss rolled through Arthur's body, making his head swim, and then he was coming, spilling into Merlin's wet mouth, feeling the last of the pain and darkness fall off his soul like old skin.

He barely felt it when Merlin crawled back up to nestle in his arms, still dizzy and weak from the force of his release. Then he licked a stray splash of come off Merlin's cheek and pillowed his head on Merlin's shoulder.

"We should go to bed," Merlin said after a while, and only then Arthur realised he’d begun to doze off. "Morgana told me you've not slept for days, you should rest."

"No," said Arthur petulantly. He wasn't ready for the night to be over.

"Don't need to get up, I'll magic us back there..."

"I don't want to go back in that cell."

"Okay," agreed Merlin easily. "Well, next time you see it, it will be really nice. I'll redecorate. What's your favourite colour?"

"Red," Arthur mumbled and nuzzled at Merlin's neck. "Or salmon. Hey, listen. I'm not really angry at Mordred, now that you're alive. He's just a boy, he's confused and scared and he's out there somewhere, all alone. We need to find him."

"Oh, I'll find him," said Merlin, and the tone of his voice confirmed Arthur's worst suspicions.

"Merlin, no. We can still bring him back. It's not his fault. Shitty things happened to him too early in life, he's messed up. And he knew you wouldn't die, didn't he? He didn't mean you permanent harm. He was just lashing out."

"Arthur, I told you about the prophecy. He will destroy that which I love the most, unless I kill him," Merlin said, awfully calm, as if he wasn't talking about murdering a child. "It was funny when there was nothing I cared about. Well, I loved Mum and Will but I left that life behind, I didn't think he'd ever harm them. But now there's you. And he already wants you dead. He left the Facility right after we did and he sought Nimueh out. She told me that. She said he told her he could track you down, so she could take her revenge despite my meddling. Maybe he thinks without you it would be just like it used to be. I'd mope in my cell, without any hope or purpose in my life, and he'd be my only friend. Maybe he just wants to hurt me for leaving him, for choosing you. I need to stop him."

"We can stop him without killing him," Arthur insisted. "He's a nice kid, really. I think we almost connected. He'll come around. We'll get him help, therapy, whatever. We can't do this by halves. If we want peace, we'll have to forgive our enemies."

"God," Merlin said and reverently kissed Arthur's eyelids. "You. How are you even real? This is a bad idea, Arthur. But, fine. I'll think about it."

It wasn't enough of a reassurance, but it would do for now. The prophecy was awfully vague, after all. Maybe they couldn't prevent all that from happening. But even so - perhaps they could put it off, delay it for years, decades. It could be seventy years before the seer's words would come to pass.

Arthur imagined himself at the ripe age of ninety-two, frail and grey, playing chess with a futuristic robot butler in the back garden of their summer house in Devon. Then he pictured angry octogenarian Mordred bounding the hedge with the help of his hover-zimmer and advancing on him, and future Merlin, looking exactly as he did now, bursting out of the conservatory doors with a deadly spell at the ready. However that played out, it was the kind of tragic destiny he could live with.

"So, moving on, I have a shitload of early meetings scheduled this week," Arthur said. "I'll come over on Thursday to discuss our progress, and I'll smuggle you a phone so you can text me every day like you wanted. But I won't be able to spend the night till Saturday - fuck, I can't believe I'm jonesing to spend another night in prison."

"We don't have to, you know," said Merlin, trailing lazy kisses over Arthur's face. "We can go somewhere else. Remember that B'n'B in the West Midlands where we didn't stop over? We totally should go back there."

"Could do," Arthur agreed. "Once I get the enchanted guards out of the Wales Facility, we'll be going there a lot. We'll need the women's council. And I kind of love their castle. I'll ask Morgana to hold that room for me."

"Yes, I like that room," Merlin smiled.

"And we should go back to the lakes sometime," said Arthur. "Have a picnic on an island. And we should go out with Lance and Gwen, make it a double date. And - you know what? Merlin, you're officially dead now. You're out of the system. I'll make sure your file is properly sealed, and your picture and prints won't flash up anywhere. Your real identity would be clean. You could go home. You can have a last name again, go back to school, be with your mother..."

Merlin stiffened in his arms and squeezed his eyes shut. Arthur ruffled his hair comfortingly and continued:

"Actually, you're way too old to live with your mum. And it's time I got my own place, too. We could..."

He trailed off, staring at Merlin's face as it slowly lit up with a smile, and then they laughed together, huddled against each other, shivering a little at the night's chill and the magnitude of the possibilities.

"No, it's too soon," Merlin said.

"It's not."

"Not for us, I don't mean that. Arthur, I'm needed here. I can't leave my people. When they can live free, then..."

"You told me once I was all you wanted," Arthur said. It was a shaky ground to tread, but he'd imagined it now: their own little flat in London, waking up together every morning - he couldn't give that up so easily. "What if I asked you to give this up and walk away and just-"

"You wouldn't, though," Merlin said confidently. "That's not you. Listen, I have one last secret to tell you. I don't become stronger when I die, that's nothing to do with it. I’ve finally figured it out. My power's been growing since we've been together."

"So it's all down to sex magic?" Arthur asked eagerly. "I strongly encourage you to experiment with that!"

"Haha, no. Well, maybe, definitely worth experimenting, yeah. But, really - it's like all my life I've been trying not to be who I am. I had to hide my magic, like it was something wrong and shameful, till I believed that's what it was. And then there was the riot, and I felt all that, all our rage and bloodlust, and I thought we really were monsters, like everyone always said. I didn't think anything could ever change, and my power was useless. Even with the barrier - it wasn't doing anything good. It was only stopping more horrible things from happening. But then there was you, and even though I couldn't save myself or my people I could at least help you. Except you didn't want to stop there. You - okay, this will sound stupid."

"Like that's a new thing for you," Arthur scoffed and got kneed in a thigh.

"Okay, fine," Merlin said gruffly. "You made me believe in a just and fair world. I believe now that it's possible. So... I'm growing into my power. I didn't want it, and it was waiting for me, but I'm finally ready. I can do great things with it, I know that now. I'm becoming who I'm meant to be."

Arthur felt a little bit like that, too. When he'd thought about the future before it was always very ambitious and very hazy. He was going to make his father proud, change the world for the better, find a worthy cause to fight for. And somewhere along the way he was going to find love. Now all of that was within reach, right here. He'd arrived at the beginning of his journey. His path was clear; his life was about to unfold like a story in a book, and he was looking forward to living through each twist and turn of it.

"Ugh. We've got to get up soon. I'm really hungry, and my arse is naked and cold," Merlin muttered against his cheek, not making any attempt to move. "And yet I'm so fucking happy right now, it's untrue."

"Yeah," Arthur said and hugged him tighter, and kissed him.



the end

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new_kate

April 2012

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