Summary:Merlin's bound and has been exposed as a sorcerer. Arthur's task is to divulge everything Merlin knows and his intentions.
Warnings:mentions of blood, weaponry and violence
Author's Notes:I'm currently in London and it's already New Years, but all my tired and struggling love goes to M, my lovely beta who carried me but still refuses to create an account anywhere on the web, but I know you're reading this.
And the rest of my love goes to simpleact who delivered a beautiful prompt that I ached to write. I apologise for how rough this is, but I honestly haven't posted any works since '09 and this prompt slowly eased me back into cramming writing into late nights and mugs of cold tea. It's been a joy to write and I hope it fits your prompt well enough.
Finally, a grand hurrah to all the lovely mods. What a blast it's been!
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Missions usually ended with a neat whiskey and an uncomfortable one-on-one with his father, so when Arthur steps into Uther's office after tracing and capturing a hostile in America, he's thrown off to find he's walked into an unusual scene.
"Nice of you to join us, Arthur. Have a seat."
There's an alarming amount of lab coats in the room, some of them in a semicircle by Uther's desk while others tinker with beakers and test tubes on a makeshift a table by the wall. It's odd to see the lab coats above floor twenty-nine, but they're shuffling about the office like it's familiar, and they speak to Uther in clipped pieces of information that has him nodding with approval. Arthur can't even remember the last time his father had looked at him with such satisfaction.
It's the man though, the centrepiece that is the most irregular; he's seated on a metal chair, handcuffs circling his wrists and pulling his arms behind him, ankles zip-tied together. Shakily, he inhales with a pinched expression. His shirt is soaked through with sweat. Lance stands beside the hostage, a grim look on his face, but his posture is perfect and he's solid like the bodyguard that Uther hired him to be.
Arthur feels his blood run cold when he realizes who exactly is tied to the chair. Merlin is sitting on that chair. Merlin, the clumsy lab coat who's constantly using the break room by Arthur's office because he says the espresso machine is better. Merlin, the daft man who smiles too wide and quips dumb retorts when Arthur insults him during their short elevator rides together. Merlin, the man whose hair is permanently tousled, whose eyes crinkle at the corners, and whose lips are a regular reminder to Arthur of why he misses kissing someone while sober.
Merlin, who stumbled into Arthur's life two years ago and has since then festered (like an untreated wound that Arthur doesn't want to get rid of.)
His father rises from his seat, the bustle within the room muting itself to the importance that emanates from him, and he takes slow steps around his desk and towards Merlin.
"This," Uther says, gesturing, "is your new assignment, Arthur.
I know you've just finished, but..."
It's like grade school all over again – Arthur biting his tongue because he knows the consequences of interrupting his father.
Merlin begins to struggle as he sees Uther approach, limbs fading purple from where they're tied. Arthur doesn't quite understand until he sees it: Merlin's eyes flashing a dim gold. Something sick unfurls in the pit of Arthur's stomach.
They're sat opposite to each other, Arthur on the couch and Merlin strapped to a dining room chair. The coffee table is pushed aside as if it's been replaced by a new piece of furniture – a hostage no less, in a flat that's regularly used for protective custody. It acts as a prison today.
The lab coats had assured Arthur that the hostile had been pumped with enough anesthetics to knock him out for an evening, but there Merlin was, clearly conscious with a sharp gaze.
Arthur averts his attention to the file in his lap, clearing his throat.
It's not lengthy, but the sheets in the folder are filled with numbers that Arthur can't comprehend and words that he wouldn't hope to find in a modern dictionary. He reads what little text he can understand.
Merlin Emrys, confirmed category seven hostile.
Known hostile affiliations: Balinor Emrys (father, deceased); Freya Scott (associate, whereabouts unknown)
Arthur chews his lip, eyes daring a glance up.
It shouldn't surprise him, it really shouldn't, but Merlin's glare softens around the edges with something that resembles forgiveness. Arthur can feel his heart almost miss a beat and god, it genuinely scares him now. It shakes him to his core knowing that he's been daydreaming about and yearning for the company of a sorcerer, someone who he should be calling a 'hostile.' But he can't bring himself to do it, because the two syllables of Merlin's name feels like honey on his tongue.
It's fucking overwhelming – so he pretends to scan the file again, carding a hand through his hair in frustration.
"So you're a mole for the hostiles?" Arthur's voice sounds gruff in his own ears, like he's eaten dirt. His mouth certainly feels dry enough.
Merlin's eyes open wide, almost comically.
"I'm not a mole, you stupid prat," Merlin spits, eyes glaring once again.
Arthur clicks his tongue, tries to appear disapproving (when all he really wants to do is ask Merlin to the New Years staff party and feel him up against the walls of an empty corridor.)
"The entire point of our government department is to extinguish magic. Now tell me, hostile, why would a sorcerer would be a part of this program?"
Humming underneath Arthur's skin is an anger that he's too afraid to explain. He feels it in waves and pretends that it isn't because he's hurt, pretends that it has nothing to do with the fact that he feels betrayed.
Merlin shifts uncomfortably.
His reply is short, but it's said slowly and carefully, with the same amount of care that Arthur would invest into a room of tripwires.
"To sabotage it."
Feigning disinterest, Arthur pulls the bottle of pills from his pocket and holds it up to Merlin, gripping the back of his neck and forcing him to helplessly look at the unlabelled container.
"You helped create this. What kind of hostile helps to create a cripple for their own kind?" He curls his fingers through Merlin's hair but doesn't dare pull (and Merlin's hair is a lot like holding a piece of the night sky; it's infinitely dark and makes his heart throb heavily with emptiness.)
It's quiet and uncertain when Arthur asks, "What game are you playing at?"
They're close now, their noses nearly touching, and it's hazily familiar.
Arthur vaguely remembers the last staff Christmas party, and how the mistletoe had spun above his and Merlin's heads. Their colleagues had laughed and jeered, encouraging them to do it, but Arthur had nervously shook his head at the crowd, a sad attempt of getting them to walk away. Merlin hadn't been embarrassed though, hadn't flushed scarlet like Arthur. It's a blur from the drinks, but Arthur recalls Merlin's hands on his hips and Arthur comfortably inhaling Merlin's exhale. But they hadn't kissed that night; Merlin had just quickly pecked Arthur's nose before swiftly walking away, hardly even glancing behind his shoulder, leaving Arthur behind with a booing crowd.
Despite the fact that Merlin could not walk away now, he still holds Arthur's gaze, secure and silent.
It's the straight line of his lips that gives Merlin away.
"You're not telling me something."
He sets the bottle down, the contents rattling.
"Merlin, what are you not telling me?" he asks again, more urgent.
"Why would I tell you?" Merlin snaps.
The question hangs heavy in the air. Simply put, Arthur doesn't know how to answer.
His mission is to interrogate the hostile, to retrieve as much information as possible before the disposal, but Arthur just wants to know. There's just so much he hasn't learned about Merlin; his fingers itch to unearth and unfold every cavern and corner of the man, to smooth over every layer like he would Merlin's alabaster skin. He finds it too easy the way that Merlin could change Arthur's disposition, like a twig within a hurricane.
And usually, Arthur is articulate with words. He chooses them precisely and is sure not to fumble them – but Merlin's always broken Arthur's rules.
(And his china. Merlin had once snapped the handle off an antique teacup during Arthur's annual dinner party. There were profuse apologies from Merlin and half-hearted attempts at being angry from Arthur, but the incident had ultimately left an empty spot in Arthur's china cabinet.
Until his thirtieth birthday, three months after the loss of a three hundred euro teacup, when a sheepish Merlin had placed a lopsided piece of glass on Arthur's desk.
"It was my mum's," Merlin had said, eyes wandering everywhere but Arthur. He silently exited before Arthur could protest. Arthur had cradled the ugly thing home that day and filled the empty spot with it.
It was a treacherous looking thing, but Arthur's heart had still hammered.)
"You can trust me," Arthur rushes out. He winces at how tacky it sounds but ploughs on. "You know you can, Merlin. Please."
What Arthur is expects is spit in the face, or even a string of obscenities that would force him to gag Merlin. The expected isn't delivered.
"You're telling me to trust you?" Merlin snorts. "You've got me tied to a bloody chair and I'm supposed to trust you?"
Within a second, Merlin's face drops and he's sneering at Arthur.
"Your father force fed me pills that suppress my magic, but never mind that detail, I'll just fucking confide in you, am I right?"
Arthur's head is spinning.
"I'm supposed to ignore the fact that you're willingly keeping me here? To ignore how suffocated I am? How the pills are choking my magic? I'm just supposed to bend and break for you, aren't I?"
They're five stories up, and Arthur is positive that the floor isn't meant to shift while they're five stories up. He's quite sure that the floor is never meant to shift, but his mind is racing and things aren't aligning right.
"Well here's the thing, you prick," Merlin snaps, stomping his bounded feet, "we've danced around this stupid tension for two years, and I honestly thought that we had something. But now I'm just a hostile to you, so I don't owe you jack shit, and I definitely don't owe you an ounce of trust. It's clear your loyalties lie with your father."
Merlin's panting from his winding rant, but Arthur doesn't miss the small words that slip between each ragged breath.
"So just leave me be until morning and let me die."
The room is quiet enough to echo the noise of traffic from outside the window; headlights flicker past the curtains. They can hear the pipes from the tenant upstairs.
"Then you clearly don't know me," Arthur says, holding his breath. Merlin admits defeat to the restraints and stops wriggling about; he sits back, legs splayed, as if surrendering himself to what he thinks will be his impending fate.
Arthur falls to his knees and feels the cement that's beneath the carpet. He's tentative to touch Merlin, but he reaches a hand out anyways, testing his right hand on Merlin's knee. An apprehensive expression crosses Merlin's features. There's a swelling in Arthur's heart when he doesn't pull away.
"There's a resignation letter saved in my drafts on my email. I was planning on sending it to my father during the new year," Arthur explains. "I'm done with this life. I'm finished with the tracking and killing."
Cautiously, Arthur waits for a reaction. He becomes increasingly queasy as Merlin's lips slowly develop a frown.
"Well that's not a very safe place to store a resignation letter."
Arthur's baffled, really, his mouth open but unable to create words.
"I thought you'd know better, Arthur," Merlin continues. "You should be careful with such an important document."
"Merlin," Arthur pleads. He comprehends it as another misguided joke by Merlin. "Don't you understand? I don't want to do this to you."
"Of course I understand," Merlin says sharply, nearly clipping off the end of Arthur's sentence. "But your father would never approve. He would rather kill you than let you leave. What will you do then?"
And Arthur can feel himself smiling sadly because yes, he understands the repercussions that will nip the back of his heels when he leaves. He understands that it won't be a clean break from the department.
"I have an alternate passport and more than enough money. I'll lay low for a few years, somewhere suburban and quiet. It'll be nice having a regular life."
"So what, you're just going to leave me here and start pretending to be some regular Joe?" The words don't sound as harsh as Arthur thinks Merlin intended, but it still makes him clench where his hand is placed on Merlin's thigh.
"Well I hope you have fun. Be sure to write and send postcards to my grave, you absolu–"
"I'll take you with me."
And god, Arthur knows it's a risk. He's prepared for Merlin to laugh the offer right back into his face. He's ready for rejection in a way that would have been helpful for football season before Arthur had hit his growth spurt.
Merlin's eyes turn fraught, desperate.
"You can't just fuck with me like this," he begs Arthur. "Not like this, not now."
But Arthur's moved his hands; they're twisting into Merlin's shirt, clutching like it's a lifeline.
"We'd move to the countryside."
"Please, Arthur. Don't do this."
"I want to wake up wrapped up in you."
"I have things to do, Arthur. Stop."
"I want to kiss you every time the sun rises, morning breath and all."
They must look ridiculous, Arthur thinks, with him pressing his face into Merlin's shirt, hands still stretching the fabric. And with Merlin, whose limbs
were still stuck and who's been reduced to writhing in an effort to shake Arthur off.
"There's a reason why I was working in that lab, Arthur. I have unfinished business."
"Then tell me. Let me help you. We'll finish what we have to and then leave."
Merlin freezes, and with an ear so close to his torso, Arthur can hear the sharp intake of breath. Arthur reels back just in time to see Merlin's eyes water and the contortion of his mouth. He only manages to get out, "what's wro–"
"So this was just a rouse," Merlin says slowly, words paced. Arthur's fingers uncurl from Merlin's shirt, gazing up in confusion.
"Make up a story, play on my emotions," Merlin seethes, shoulders slumped and face toward the ground. "Do whatever it fucking takes to get information from the hostile."
The penny drops – and Arthur's hands are on Merlin again.
"No, no, this has nothing to do with that. I could care less about that stuff, Merlin!"
Arthur doesn't receive a reply, but he feels it stirring in the air. It's like the hours before a thunderstorm, when the air crackles and every hair stands on end.
"I should warn you, Arthur, that you've forgotten my meds, " Merlin says, pitched low. It sounds mocking and disembodied.
The restraints all click open and Merlin slowly extends each limb, stretching what hasn't shifted for hours. Arthur backs up to the sofa, hand on his gun. Everything's wrong and distorted like a carnival funhouse. He's shaking, partly because he's never dealt with a category seven hostile before, but mostly because he's doesn't want this. He wants Merlin safe on the sofa with him while reruns play on the television, and they would kiss each other while tasting like Chinese takeout and red wine.
Instead, Arthur is shrivelled on the sofa while Merlin's knees crack from straightening his legs. Merlin raises his head so their eyes can meet.
Quivering, Arthur pulls out his gun and aims between the golden eyes, exactly how his training had taught him.
"I could kill you before you pulled that trigger," warns Merlin, tilting his head mechanically.
There's a crackle from Arthur's watch, a second of static before his father's voice chimes in.
"Arthur, we're reading high levels of magic at your location. Is your hostile contained?"
He keeps his gun trained on his target.
A deep chuckle rumbles in Merlin's chest. "Yeah Arthur, is your hostile contained?"
"Arthur?" his father pipes in again, voice unprofessionally distraught this time. "Can you hear me?"
"You should answer daddy before he gets worried," Merlin laughs. He flexes his fingers and raises a palm to Arthur. There's a light, a flickering
reminiscent of fire, at the palm of his hand. "Your hostile is contained after all. Am I right, daddy's boy?"
Arthur's lost. He's spun and his head is pulsing, and he's not sure of what to do.
So he does the only thing that he can think of, doesn't even muse on it twice.
"I meant it," Arthur croaks. "I meant it when I said that I'd take you with me."
A growl grows from the back of Merlin's throat.
"You can stop lying to me."
Arthur's quick to retort, "I never started."
It could just be a trick of the eye, but Arthur swears on his life that Merlin's eyes momentarily turn blue – and that means hope. That means that
foolish lab coat Merlin is still there, and it's good enough for Arthur.
He lowers his gun, much to Merlin's surprise.
"Giving up?" Merlin scorns. Arthur notices the gentle falter in Merlin's words but neither of them acknowledge it.
He strides to Merlin, stands toe-to-toe with the man. He notices how chilly it is around Merlin, how he burns cold while his eyes flame yellow. Gently, Arthur lifts his hands to cradle Merlin's cheeks, feeling the contours of his face and watching as the steel of his gun touches Merlin's face. Shock overwhelms Merlin; he stares at Arthur as if he's an idiot, and it nudges a line of familiarity.
Arthur presses his lips to Merlin's, and it takes a while, because Arthur feels the temperature around them gradually warm, but soon there's a pressure pushing back, determined and intense.
This is what they missed that one night under the mistletoe. It's what their short elevator rides together missed. The coffee breaks together, and the broken china, and the nights when Arthur returned home after a mission, calling everyone out for a drink but only Merlin showed up – it's what they all missed. Their first kiss.
Merlin's the one to pull away, but Arthur ducks up, just to kiss him quickly before either of them can open their eyes. And when they do open them, Arthur's relieved to see a pair of blue eyes looking back at him.
However, the relief is short-lived.
"It hurts," Merlin rasps, grabbing onto Arthur for balance. He heaves once, eyes tearing up and face flushing red.
Arthur shushes him, tried to hold him close and kisses his forehead (because he can.)
"I know. I'm sorry. It's the side effects." Arthur presses another kiss to the top of Merlin's head. He kisses the infinitely dark hair that's becoming damp with sweat.
Arthur holds Merlin as he continues to squirm, gasping and sweating with pain. When a bout of dry heaving erupts, Arthur leans Merlin against the sofa before standing to fetch a bottle of water. Just as he's on his feet, the door slams open and off its hinges.
Arthur's worn the uniform before, remembers how it was too tight around the shoulders and too baggy around the legs. But there's four of them rushing into the flat, all sporting guns that are triple the size of Arthur's pistol.
"Sir, the hostile is unrestrained, but he appears to be on the ground and injured."
A second uniform says into the radio that's clipped onto his chest, "and your son is okay. I repeat, Arthur Pendragon is safe."
Merlin would have looked more terrified if he wasn't in such immense pain, but the fear expressed on Arthur's face was enough for the both of them.
"Good," Arthur hears his father reply. It's shoddy audio quality, but the next words are clear for the entire room. "Kill the boy and bring my son back."
A total of five guns are raised at once: four from the uniforms, and one from Arthur. The uniforms each have their weapon directed at Merlin, though unlike Arthur's training, they've each aimed it at different points of Merlin's torso, meant to tear his body to shreds with bullets. Arthur's weapon, however, is pointed at the four men.
From behind the masks, Arthur can see them exchange glances.
"Mr. Pendragon, place your weapon down," one of them commands. But Arthur shifts his shoulder, swings his aim down to the man's knee.
"Put your weapons down, men. This man is not a hostile."
"Are we right in believing that you're protecting a hostile, sir?" a uniform chances.
"I repeat – he is not a hostile!" Arthur shouts this time. His throat hurts.
A uniform clears his throat before nodding to another member of his team. Together, with a fluid and synchronized turn, they aim their guns at Arthur. A rage settles in his chest as Arthur lifts his gun back up.
"You know," a uniform with his gun on Arthur says, too casually while turning his radio off, "I've been wanting to shoot you for an extremely long time."
The second uniform with a gun trained on Arthur chuckles.
"Yeah, you arrogant fucker. Constantly strolling around with your nose in the air, daddy's little boy."
"You're done now."
"You and the hostile."
"Any last words, you pompous prick?"
There's no time to reply because soon the room is flooded by a blinding pink light. It stings Arthur's eyes, but he reaches around his him, tries to feel out Merlin. It must've been thirty seconds before his vision rushes back, but even then, the edges are all a bit blurry. The first thing he notices – the only thing to notice, is the sudden absence of the four uniforms.
He hears a shaky exhale from somewhere by his feet.
"Only I get to call him pompous," Merlin snaps, albeit weakly.
He looks dazed, and his nose is bleeding, but Merlin's in one piece and that's more than enough for Arthur.
"We need to go," Arthur says as he hooks Merlin's arm around his own neck. Barely staggering to his feet, Merlin prepares to state something else, but it promptly cut off when Arthur hushes a, "we haven't got the time, Merlin."
"Arthur," he groans, shaking his head. "You're taking me away, remember? A regular Joe life in the countryside. We've got plenty of time."
The vowels are all slurred and the consonants don't sound like they fit in Merlin's mouth but the sentence still sends Arthur's heart off like a jackrabbit.
In reality, they honestly haven't got the time, so they're in a car and driving out of London in under twenty minutes. Merlin's breathing has evened into something that isn't nerve-wracking, the bleeding from his nose gone, and the radio's tuned onto some tinny '50s music. Arthur still can't help but nervously squeeze the stolen car's steering wheel; he's sure his prints will be embedded into the leather as soon as he's done with it.
"Arthur," Merlin says. His voice isn't so weak now, isn't as sloppy, but there's still a rasp somewhere in his throat. "About what I was doing in the lab."
"You don't have to tell me, Merlin, really."
"No, you insufferable prick," he huffs impatiently. "I created the pill because they were too close to something else."
Arthur could feel Merlin's gaze drilling into the side of his head. The radio continues to croon.
"How big?" Arthur hesitantly inquires.
Trees race by on both sides of the car, the only thing in front of them being the headlights. The roads are empty and everything is eerily monotonous for London.
He can hear Merlin's hesitation, the way he tries different words in his mouth as if they're vintage wines. Merlin clears his throat.
Arthur whips his head over to Merlin; he feels his cheeks blanch.
"The labs are only a few steps away from learning how to permanently remove the ability of magic from somebody."
"And that's your unfinished business? Stopping them?"
Merlin nods firmly, a look of resolve etched onto his face.
"Then we'll do it together," Arthur states, looking straightforward.
His left hand is lifted off the steering wheel and clasped into Merlin's hold. Arthur's chest beats out an odd rhythm; it's weighty but quick, and he's almost certain that his heart is about to leap out and splatter onto the dashboard of the car.
"And then we'll run to our regular Joe life," Merlin says, tracing his fingers over the back of Arthur's hand.
"Yeah," Arthur grins, raising their joined hands and pressing a kiss. "Our regular Joe life."
And they will, but not just yet.