Title: Second End
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Morgana
Summary: There was word on the street. The word was, Merlin was back.
Word Count: 992
Prompt: Whispers in the Night
Author's Notes: Beta'd by keire_ke
There was word on the street.
It was nothing you could hear in the pubs he normally frequented, oh no. But Arthur Pendragon knew other places – other people – and in those shady bars in the worst part of town, when the murky business took place, he heard voices.
There was nothing but whispers, feeble and uncertain. But there was definitely something there, lurking just under the surface – and Arthur was certain.
The word was, Merlin was back.
He gave her the news over lunch. Morgana raised one dark eyebrow at him.
‘Are you sure?’ she asked dubiously.
‘That could be just a rumour,’ she said, and Arthur huffed at her, impatient.
‘Trust me, I am certain,’ he said.
‘Well then.’ She straightened her skirt. ‘You should alert someone.’
He stared at her, open-mouthed and slightly hurt, but she just tossed back her hair and gave him a tight-lipped smirk.
‘Don’t look at me like that, brother dear. You know you can’t think rationally when it comes to Merlin.’
‘I’m perfectly capable—‘ He stopped. Then he drummed his fingers on the plastic table of the small café they were in and resisted the urge to pull out a cigarette. ‘Merlin,’ he gritted out the name, ‘is my concern. And nobody else’s.’
‘Your failure, you meant to say,’ she corrected smugly, no doubt relishing his flinch.
‘Yes,’ said Arthur heavily. ‘My failure.’
He let her bask in the knowledge that she had made Arthur Pendragon admit defeat. She smiled like a cat faced with a bowl of terribly expensive, and quite possibly somebody else’s, cream. Then he said, ‘Which is why I need your help.’
‘Why would I help you?’ she asked lazily.
‘Because you owe me.’
That had her narrowing her eyes. Friendly amusement was gone from her face.
‘I didn’t take you for that kind of person, Arthur Pendragon,’ she said.
‘This one time and we’ll be even,’ he said. ‘I promise.’
‘You sound like Uther,’ he shot back, knowing full well what a low blow that was.
She leaned over the table, till all he could see was her face, pale with rage, framed by dark curls.
‘How you have fallen, Arthur,’ she hissed. ‘And all for the sake of wounded pride. I will help you,’ she said in a more level tone, sitting back. ‘But this is the last time.’
That night, when he was closing the door of his flat, he heard a string of whispered words.
He toed off his shoes and hanged the damp coat. His old-fashioned revolver was secure at his belt – Arthur was a hopeless traditionalist. He made sure it was within easy reach and walked into the living room.
‘Tea?’ asked Merlin, cheerfully.
He had made himself at home before Arthur’s fireplace and was now singing the flames into existence, careless and child-like. Tea was laid out on the coffee table – two cups, milk and sugar. He had also thoughtfully brought cones – Arthur’s favourite, no less.
‘Something stronger, if you don’t mind,’ Arthur said.
Merlin just smiled at him brightly and waved his hand. A glass of brandy floated through mid-air and presented itself before Arthur.
‘Thanks,’ Arthur said.
Merlin stood up. He hadn’t changed much – the same tall, skinny body and angular pretty face. His haircut was just as hopeless as his fanned-out ears. His smile was the same, too – soft, sweet, and deceptively genuine.
‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’ Arthur asked.
‘Well, it’s been a while,’ said Merlin. ‘I missed you.’
Arthur shot him a disbelieving look. For the first time, Merlin seemed uneasy.
‘Look, I know we didn’t part in the best circumstances—‘
‘That’s putting it mildly.’ The Special Forces squad had come armed and prepared to subdue a bunch of angry warlocks. Instead they discovered Arthur, tied-up and half-naked.
‘I didn’t mean that.’ Merlin walked over and was standing in Arthur’s space. He was slightly taller; his eyes were incredibly blue.
Arthur’s heart picked up a faster pace. Merlin did things to him, especially when he was so close, so open and vulnerable. That was all a show, of course, but it was a damn good one. It already had him fooled, once.
‘Then what did you mean?’ he asked.
Merlin kissed him.
‘That doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?’ he asked after a while, eyes half-lidded. He was licking his lips. ‘One more time? For old times’ sake?’
Arthur simply nodded.
Arthur woke up.
He didn’t even need to open his eyes to know that the other side of the bed was empty. He rolled over, into the residual warmth of Merlin’s body and the lingering scent of him. For a while he just breathed in and buried himself in memories.
Then he heard another curse from outside the bedroom – much like the one that had him woken up in the first place. Unhurriedly, he pulled on his clothes and went to the kitchen to fix himself coffee.
Then he went to the hall.
Merlin was trashing wildly like an animal, trapped in the magical cage Morgana had erected. His eyes were blazing gold and so were the symbols on the floor and the walls.
Arthur sipped his coffee and pulled out a phone.
‘I didn’t actually expect it to work,’ he admitted, punching in the number.
Merlin whipped around. The very air around him was cracking with electrical currents.
‘Let me go,’ he said.
‘Don’t be an idiot, Merlin,’ Arthur said. ‘Why would I do that?’
‘Payback is a bitch, isn’t it?’ He held Merlin’s gaze as he explained the situation to the officer; he owed him that much.
‘Shut up,’ he said. ‘Just—shut up.’
There would be more rumours, Arthur realized, when he was watching them take Merlin away. More whispers. That Merlin was defeated; that it was him, Arthur Pendragon, who achieved it.
He couldn’t even bring himself to smile.