Summary: Sometimes you fall in love with the most unlikely person, at an unlikely time.
Warnings: Slight distopya, mention of past wounding
Word Count: 5,000 approx
Author's Notes: Dear aeris444, when I saw ypur prompt I was very happy and very worried. The latter was because Merlin falling for his divorce lawyer was a great plot and I kinda wanted to write an epic. Since a drabble it must be, I tried to write about how their feelings came about.I hope this works for you! Wishing you very happy holidays! (ii) Many many thanks go to my holiday champion of a beta, wanderlust48, who braved i-Pad woes to read this through! Much love to you!
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 dungeon
Arthur had known Merlin Emrys for years. They moved in the same circles. They had many of the same friends. He was thick with Arthur's sister. In short, his presence at a party Arthur was attending was nothing new. What was new, however, was the slump to his shoulders, the lack of a smile rounding his lips, the lines furrowing his forehead, the desolate way in which he moved from room to room.
“You've got to help him,” Morgana said, nearly startling him into spilling his beer.
Arthur wanted to, truly did. There was something wrong about Emrys wandering about without his standard happy-go-lucky expression. But for some reason he didn't say that. What he said instead was, “Morgana, thank you for thinking I have god-like powers, but I don't think I can improve his mood by the sole virtue of my presence.”
“Actually,” Morgana said, arching an eyebrow, “you're exactly what he needs.”
“Merlin's divorcing Freya.” Morgana sighed. “And he needs a lawyer.”
“I thought they were the loves of each other's lives,” Arthur said, studying Merlin, the bow of his head and the tightness of his mouth. Maybe there was some truth to what Morgana was saying. “I don't get it?”
“They were happy together,” Morgana said, following Merlin around with her gaze. “But they were also so, so young. I suppose all things come to an end.”
Arthur's head whipped round. “You sound as though you were particularly invested in them.”
“No.” Morgana rolled her eyes. “But I did think they'd last, that they'd be the magical couple that did make it work.”
Arthur took a sip of his beer. “Well, in my experience marriages don't last.”
“You're a divorce lawyer, Arthur. You're biased.”
Morgana said, “So are you going to help him?”
“He'd need to entrust me with it,” Arthur said. “But if he wants me to step in I will. Knowing the parties, it will be amicable.”
“Don't be so sure,” Morgana told him. “It's complicated.”
Arthur found Merlin in the kitchen, leaning against the fridge, looking vacantly at the bottle in his hand.
Arthur cleared his throat into his fist. “Morgana said...”
Emrys looked up out of pale, wounded eyes. “She told you.”
“Yes.” Arthur wanted to drop his gaze, feeling all the weight of his faux pas, but he made himself look into Merlin's eyes. “If you need any help with the legal side of it...”
Merlin shook his head and Arthur was about to retreat when he sighed and said, “Yes, yes. I need your help.”
Merlin sat on the chair opposite Arthur's desk, with his hands between his legs, fingers curled as if he was trying to make a grab for something. He started speaking in such a low voice Arthur at first didn't hear him. “It was a mutual decision.” Merlin looked up, eyes misty, lips bitten to the quick. “We agreed that we loved each other, but we couldn't...”
“Be together anymore,” Arthur found himself guessing. In his career he'd been witness to almost every conceivable divorce scenario, and had an inkling of how this went.
“Yes.” Merlin tilted his head up. His expression, Arthur felt, was meant to come across as determined, buoyant. It was, instead, lost. “Things have come between us. Things she can't accept.”
Arthur knew this probably wouldn't be of any use, at least legally, but he asked all the same. “What are these 'things'?”
“My role in the Magic Awareness Association,” Merlin said.
“You seem to have done good with it.” Arthur remembered what Morgana had to say about the association, what its campaigns had done on behalf of people like her. “I gather you're getting some positive results.”
“Yes, I'm very proud of what we've achieved. We're working towards acceptance among the general populace. We're striving to help magic users come forward despite the discrimination levelled at them.” Merlin's face darkened. “It's not been easy on a personal level though. I've had to give the association my all in the past few years.”
“To what your wife perceived was the detriment of your family?” Arthur asked, taking slow notes.
“Not exactly,” Merlin said, shaking his head, before sighing and beginning again. “It's complicated. Freya and I are both magic users. So is Gwalchmei, our son. In the beginnning we agreed on a lot of things, Freya and I. We both wanted Gwalchmei to be happy with his--” Merlin's eyes flashed gold. “--powers. But things have changed.”
“In what way?”
“You must've read the papers,” Merlin said, eyeing the pile that sat on Arthur's desk. “You must know that our movement's successes have made the opposition even more vicious.”
Arthur couldn't say that he hadn't noticed the headlines. Thanks to the insitutional disinterest geared at everything magical, articles relating to the situation had been stuck on page six, but with a sister who was subject to discrimination, Arthur had read up all he could about it. “But how did that affect your family life?”
“They tried to kill me,” Merlin said, standing up and lifting his shirt to show Arthur the scar, from a bullet likely, that sat right above his heart.
“I—” Arthur's mouth dried. “That didn't make it to the papers.”
“No,” Merlin said, sitting back down. “It would have made a lot of noise and it was not what was best for the group.”
“Cynically, I'd say it could've won you sympathy points.”
“And a lot of return hatred.”
Arthur had to agree. He could see how that would work. “So the attack impacted your family life?”
“Utterly and completely,” Merlin said. “It changed Freya. Made her afraid of being who she is. I understand that. I fully understand. The panic, the fear.” Merlin grabbed the armrests tight. “But I can't live like that anymore. Hiding.”
“I see,” Arthur said, so as to jog Merlin to say more.
“She wants for Gwalchmei to hide his powers too.” Merlin's mouth pursed. “I lived with the pain of hiding as a child. I don't want that for him, Arhur.” Merlin was now pleading with him. “I don't want him to live with the notion he was somehow created wrong. Freya says being out is not prudent. But the stakes of hiding... I don't want that for him.”
“So that's the reason you're divorcing?”
Merlin nodded. “Opposing world views.”
“I suppose that implies,” Arthur said, “there's no hope of a reconciliation.”
“I loved her,” Merlin said with a little sob. “But we've grown apart.”
Arthur licked at his lips. “I see. Getting you a divorce won't be too hard.”
“I don't care about the ins and outs of that,” Merlin said, meeting Arthur's eyes. “I'm okay with everything. But I want joint custody.”
“We'll fight for that.”
They met the mediator at Freya's place. There were clear signs of someone having recently moved out, a free shelf in the corner, a few missing pictures from the wall, re-arranged furniture. Those were the gaps Merlin had left.
Freye's eyes went large when she saw Merlin; his went soft.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hello, Merlin.” She shook hands with Arthur. “Mr Pendragon.”
The started down the hall but before they could reach the lunge, a child barrelled right into Merlin's legs, shouting, “Da, da!”
Merlin went to his knees and picked him up. He swallowed and had tears in his eyes but put on a smile for the kid. “Hey,” he said, wetting his lips. “How have you been?”
The child wrapped his hands around Merlin's arms, bracing himself against him. “I've been good.” He leant closer to Merlin, whispered something Arthur caught the end tail of. “New magic. I can do it too now. Just like you.”
Merlin placed his hand on Gwalchmei's head and it spanned most of its crown. He ruffled his hair, then put him down. “You just be a good kid, all right?”
“If I promise to be good, will you come back home?” Gwalchmei asked, his eyes just like his father's, wet and full of hurt.
Merlin groaned, coughed into his fist. He went down on his knees and put a hand on the boy's frail shoulders. “I can't promise you that. We talked about it remember?”
“But I can promise I'll always be proud of you,” Merlin said, squeezing the boy's shoulder.
Arthur looked away, a knot in his throat.
They sat in the lunge, Freya in the sofa's corner, shoulders rounded. The mediator, Morgause, had a folder open on her knees.
Arthur and Merlin had the chairs opposite the sofa.
“I think we're all here because we want to reach an out of court settlement,” Arthur said, using an opener they could all agree on.
“Unfortunately that won't be possible,” Morgause said. “Ms Waters can't accept Mr Emrys' basic requests.”
Arthur toyed with his pen's push button. “May I ask why? I've handled many a divorce case and Mr Emrys' requests are pretty simple. He only wants to have joint custody.”
“That can't happen,” Freya said, wiping her hands along the length of her skirt.
“Frey, please,” Merlin said.
Arthur held a hand up, stopping him from talking further, then started talking on his behalf. “Ms Waters, Mr Emrys seems like a good father.”
“He is.” Freya looked up.
“Gwalchmei loves him,” Arthur said, smiling. “I'm sure guaranteeing that he gets to see his father is in the child's best interests.”
“I know he loves him,” said Freya, in a small, frail voice. “And it pains me to do this, but I have to.”
“Frey, please. You know I'd protect him.”
Freya turned on Merlin, her hands curled into fist. “Merlin, you nearly died yourself. You're oh so powerful, but you're not all powerful.”
“You can't promise me that he'll be fine if he follows in your footsteps.”
“We wanted the same things once.”
Freya sobbed. “In a perfect world, I'd hold onto my beliefs, Merlin. But I'm not as brave as you. I'm scared. I'm scared for my child.”
“Freya,” Merlin said, going to his knees at her feet. “I'm scared for him too, but I don't want him to grow up the way I did. It kills you inside.”
“But it won't kill you for real.” Freya mangled her lower lip with her teeth. “And that's all I can ask for until the world's a better place.”
That was how Arthur knew they'd have to take this to court.
They walked past a pub. Merlin said, “Do you mind if I...?”
Arthur stopped short, looked at the awning, at the pub's sign swinging in the wind. It was cold and late, but Arthur said, “It's on me.”
“Um, no, I still haven't paid the whole of your fee.”
“Never mind my fees,” Arthur said, pulling Merlin into the pub.
He bought him a pint and got one himself.
Merlin held the glass between his hands, staring into it and drinking desultorily. “You know,” he said, after long minutes spent in silence, “sometimes I wonder if she's right.”
Arthur didn't beat around the bush. “She has her reasons. And they make sense. But I saw how much that kid loves you. Separating him from you wouldn't be right.”
“I've thought about it.” Merlin rattled out a sigh. “What Freya said. I'm a danger. I've got a mark on my back that says target. I know that. But I can't step down.”
“My sister admires your politics,” Arthur said. What he didn't say was that he admired Merlin's courage in championing his cause in spite of what had been done to stop him. “You're doing good.”
“Perhaps.” Merlin nodded, licked lips wet with ale. “I don't know. What I know is that my father walked away when I was a kid.” Merlin's gaze got lost in the middle distance. “I grew up looking at men I didn't know, men who'd just turned the corner into my street, or that I'd brushed hands with, or that had climbed on the same train I was, wondering whether they were my dad.”
“That must have been tough,” Arthur said, picking his glass up without bringing it to his mouth. He just swirled the contents. “I'd have wondered too though.”
“When I was older my mother said my dad left because he was magical and wanted me to grow up without all the problems that brought about. But that's no way to live. I don't want to do to Gwalchmei what my father did to me.”
Arthur could see how that was. “My father was physically there, but as moral support he was completely absent. My mother's death threw him for a loop.”
Merlin covered Arthur's hand with his palm. He smiled a soft, gentle smile that made his eyes go small. “I'm sorry you had to go through that. Believe me, I understand and... I know how hard it is. Missing a parent... In more way than one.”
Arthur ignored the kick his heart gave against his ribcage and the lump that sat low in his throat. He swallowed against it and said, “He hates magic. My mother died while staging a protest in favour of magic users. Her best friend was one. Things got out of hand... and let's say we think friendly fire aimed at police did the job.”
Merlin squeezed Arthur's hand. “I don't... Oh my God. I'm so sorry.”
“It's been a while.”
“I don't understand how....” Merlin dropped his hand, bowed his head, then looked up. “I don't understand how you can find it in yourself to help me.”
Arthur shrugged, looked away, blood thumping in his ears. He wanted to say 'because you deserve it, because you're an upright man', but said instead, “My half-sister is like you. I've learnt to move past my own grievances.”
Merlin drank a draught of his beer. “That takes fortitude and courage.”
Arthur pushed off his stool. “Let me drive you home. You've had too much.”
“The praise was sincere.” Merlin smacked his lips. “Not alcohol fuelled.”
“Be that as it may.”
“You should learn to accept compliments,” Merlin said, moving to stand.
“Just let me drive you home,” Arthur said, touching Merlin's flank so as to shepherd him towards the exit. “I'm your laywer. I shouldn't put you in harm's way.”
“It's doctors who swear that,” Merlin said, laughing easily.
The following Monday Arthur applied for a child arrangement order on Merlin's behalf together with a specific issue order asking the child be allowed to grow up in a magical environment. With ideas skewed against magic users at a societal level, Arthur had known he would have to contain his hopes and told his client as much. What he hadn't expected was that the Directions Hearing would run so long, that the judge wouldn't even try and get Merlin and Freya to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement and that he'd lean on Freya's side so openly. He kept maintaining that magic was indeed problematic and that children were best kept away from it till they reached an age compatible with a true understanding of its implications.
He appointed a second meeting between parents and a mediator and ordered Merlin to go on a course called a ‘Separated Parents Information Programme'. There would be no second hearing until Merlin had finished it.
Outside the courthouse Merlin told Arthur, “The judge doesn't like me, does he?”
Arthur didn't know how to hedge. “We'll talk about that when you're not so stressed from the hearing.”
Merlin stopped on the steps. “I'm right, aren't I?”
Arthur let out a prolonged sigh. “I think it's not so much you as the politics of your situation.”
“But the short of it is I'm going to get the shaft, isn't it?”
“We'd better talk about it before a steaming cup of coffee,” Arthur said, guiding Merlin to his car.
The dregs of their coffees muddied the bottom of their cups. “I want you to see why magic is not to be feared.”
Arthur pushed the cup aside. “Morgana's already explained it to me. I get why discrimination is wrong.”
“No, you don't,” Merlin said, standing up.
He showed Arthur his bare palms and Arthur shook his head, nonplussed.
“I don't know if you liked fireworks as a kid, but I think you're going to enjoy this.” Blue flames, pale like winter lights, danced on his palm. They bloomed into fiery flowers, rose up in the air and fell down in a shower. They brightened the room with the dazzle of eldritch magic.
“This is what magic is,” Merlin said, dropping his hands. “It's beauty and love.”
Arthur's lungs filled till he felt light-headed, his heart scalded with burns Merlin had put there with a gentle smile and the lights painting the room with the colours of magic. “Yes.”
Charcoal thunder clouds knit overhead in a pall that hovered low in the sky. Then rain started coming down, pelleting the square with big fat droplets as cold as ice.
Despite this, clumps of magic users gathered around the stage, heads tilted up, waiting for the speech. Packs of anti-magic traditionalists bullied them away with glares, harsh insults, and offensive signs painted in blood red splashes.
Police loitered in the background, leaning against their cars, hands at their belts. They were doing absolutely nothing to ensure the peaceful unfolding of the event.
Though he had no bodyguards, Merlin stepped onto stage and took the mic. “Today,” he said, clothes sticking to his body they were so waterlogged, “I want to talk about acceptance. I want to talk about community.”
By the time Merlin was finished, Arthur's palms smarted from clapping so hard.
The day Arthur saw the Cafcass report, he knocked on Merlin's door. “I'm taking you out.”
Merlin wrapped his jumper around him, his fingers barely poking out of too long sleeves. “What? Why?”
“Just because.” Arthur flattened himself by the door, gesturing for Merlin to following him.
Arthur took Merlin to the conservatory. The building itself shone white from afar. It was made of metal and glass so fine light cut through it as through a diamond. Inside shafts of it danced like a perpetual aurora borealis in veils of green and purple and shimmering orange. They coated the length of boughs and swirled around the canopy of plants. They moved around in swarm formations, new constellations, that lighted up the conservatory with the soft glow of a second sun.
“It's a magic winter garden,” Merlin said, wandering around with his nose up in the air.
“Yes.” Arthur strode alongside Merlin. “My mother's friend cast a spell on what had been designed as a normal conservatory. I think it was a birthday present or some such. My mother loved it so much my father hadn't the guts to dismantle it after...”
Merlin took his hand, fitted his fingers around his, his palm against his, warm and solid. “It was a beautiful gift. You can tell the magic that went into doing this was strong and burned with the fire of friendship. It'll keep for a long time.”
Arthur opened his mouth, shook his head. A smile stretched his lips. “I never thought of it like that. That feelings could be tangible.”
Merlin let go of his hand, started walking backwards ahead of him. “It's one of the beauties of magic.”
“Only one,” Arthur said.
Merlin dropped by his office on a cold morning that looked like night. His smile brightened up the room. Arthur put his pen down. “I have no news for you.” “
No, I know.” Merlin sank into the armchair opposite Arthur's desk and deposited an object on it. “I just wanted to give you this.”
Arthur leant forward and picked it up. It was a snow globe. Inside firs and palms wrestled for space Even though Arthur hadn't upended it, snow fell on the tops of the trees and drifted round and round. Arthur gave a cough of a laugh. “It's been enchanted.”
“I can't do an entire conservatory,” Merlin said, his shoulders going up, “mostly for lack of one, but I thought you should have your own enchanted garden.”
Arthur's throat tightened and blood rushed to his face. He put the snow globe back down. “I should thank you.”
“It's nothing really.”
Arthur looked up from the roundness of the glass globe. “Merlin, you owe me nothing. I'm just doing my job here.”
“I know.” Merlin pushed the snow globe forward till their fingers met. “I know that.”
“You look thoughtful,” Morgana said, putting her mug down on the floor. “You're not even paying attention to the rugby match.”
“I was thinking about my job,” Arthur said, making an effort to make out what was going on on the screen to show Morgana he could still efficiently multi-task.
“Yeah, I've been thinking,” Arthur said, scratching a leg with his foot before placing it back on the coffee table, “that I should be doing more of this.” He waved his hand. “Represent magic users in divorce cases.”
Morgana laughed. “Oh, Arthur.”
“Oh, Arthur, what?” Arthur squinted at her.
“Merlin had quite the impact.”
Arthur had no time to reply because the rugby match was interrupted by an anchorman breaking news. “The attack took place earlier today in Leicester, where the leader of the Action for Magic movement was giving a speech.”
Arthur's lungs froze in his chest. “I've got to go.”
He made for the door.
“Arthur, your jacket!”
Arthur was already down the stairs.
Arthur ran more red lights than he ever had since being given a driving licence and surely broke the speed limits at several points during his journey over to Leicester. But he didn't care. He was ready to pay all the fines that would rain his way as long as he got to see Merlin, ascertain he was still alive.
The mere thought he might be too late made him floor the accelerator.
He found Merlin in a hospital bed. The side of his face was bruised black and blue, the most prominent splotches around his temple and under his eyes. When he saw Arthur, he smiled and sat up. “Hello, Arthur,” he said, raising the hand that was hooked to a drip and wincing.
Arthur strode over to him. “What the hell happened?”
Merlin made a face. “Some idiot thought he'd shut me up by pelting me with rotten veggies. Hint: aubergines hurt.”
Arthur released a breath. “Well, I thought you looked a bit pale and wan, but this is going to the other extreme.”
“I could always say I'm trying for a part in Rocky or something.”
Arthur brought a chair forwards and sat at Merlin's bedside. “I'm sure you could.”
Merlin lost his smile and fiddled with the hem of his covers. “I worry though.”
“If you think you're in danger here,” Arthur started but Merlin shook his head.
“I'm afraid about what this means for my court case,” Merlin said, his expression forlorn. “Maybe Freya's right after all. Maybe I should stay away from my son.”
“No.” Arthur shooks his head, lips compressed. “You're a great dad and your kid deserves to have you by your side.”
“Look, leave it to me,” Arthur said, pushing Merlin against the pillows he was leaning away from in an attempt to sit up. “That's my job. You just sit up and rest.”
Though it was shaking and somewhat embarrasingly damp, Arthur put his hand on top of Merlin's. “Sleep, Merlin. Everything will be well.”
Freya opened the door on the third knock. “Mr Pendragon.”
“Please, call me Arthur.”
“I was about to drive to Leicester,” Freya said, shifting her weight from foot to foot.
“Merlin's fine. I just saw him,” Arthur said, eyeying the interior of the flat. “This will only take a moment.”
Freya made way for him.
Arthur was slapping a slice of cheese onto one of bread when the doorbell rang. Barefoot, he padded to the door.
Merlin stood on the other side, shifting on the spot. “I need to talk to you,” he said, instead of hi or how do you do.
“You should be in hospital.”
“I checked myself out.” Merlin waved that aside with a flap of his hand. “Freya called me.”
Of all the things Arthur had expected Freya to do that wasn't it. “Come in.”
Merlin followed him into the living room, looked around with big eyes, did some more shuffling.
“You can take a seat you know,” Arthur said, getting nervous because of Merlin's fidgeting.
Merlin sat, then sprang upright. “She said you came round and persuaded her to change her mind.”
Arthur opened his mouth. “I didn't think she'd mention that to you.”
Merlin took a few steps towards him. “She has. She is okay with me having joint custody as long as I hire bodyguards when Gwalchmei's around.”
“That seems like a good solution,” Arthur said, summoning a smile he wasn't sure he felt. “Things are smoothing themselves out.”
“And I'm happy.” Merlin's eyes danced. “You don't know what boulder that took off my chest. Thank you.”
“You don't have to thank me,” Arthur mumbled, lowering his gaze to the floor. “It was all part of my job.”
“About that...” Merlin took a big breath. “Freya thinks what you said was very moving.”
“I, um, appreciate it.”
“No.” Merlin sealed his lips together, his upper one atop his lower one, and shook his head. “About me. She told me you said moving things about me.”
Arthur looked away, his heart getting torn in his chest. “I do think you are a role model for magic users.”
“No. She believes your words were motivated by your feelings.” Merlin stumbled over his next words. “For me. She thinks you... That you have feelings for me.”
Arthur couldn't spin round; his legs were rooted to the spot and fully unresponsive. His belly voided and somersaulted. “I'm your lawyer.”
“That doesn't change things.”
Arthur had to agree. It changed nothing. “Now that you're over your differences, you'll want to get back with Freya.”
“We are not children, Frey and I,” Merlin said. “We're not divorcing for a lark. We're divorcing because we're not the kids we were at eighteen.”
Arthur slowly turned his head. At more than one reprise he tried speaking, but couldn't.
“I represent you.” It was almost like a life line, that statement. It stood before him and a free fall.
Merlin slowly bobbed his head. Sighed. “I know how important your job is to you. And I won't ask you to do something that you feel is not right. But I want you to know, regardless of whether Freya is right and you do, you know.” Merlin cracked a smile that was shaky but could probably move the earth and get the sky to crumble. “That I feel something for you too. I didn't know that was possible anymore. Falling in love. I thought I'd felt too much and suffered too much and that I couldn't. But you do make me hope and want and that's brilliant. Whether you return it or not I just want you to know that you've changed me for the better and...” Merlin dropped his hands; they slapped his sides. “Thank you for that.”
Arthur's heart balled tight in his chest. His world slowed down.
“Well, now that I've had my say,” Merlin said with a half-hearted chuckle, eyes not entirely dry, “I'll get going.”
Before Merlin could bypass him, Arthur grabbed his wrist. “Don't go.”
Merlin tilted his chin up with a flaring of hope in his eyes that changed its colour, morphed his face into something free of worry lines, something quite beautiful. Arthur couldn't help it; he pulled him to him and caught the edges of Merlin's mouth with his. A gasp followed. Arthur wasn't sure if it had come out of his mouth or Merlin's and it didn't much matter. Arthur cupped Merlin's neck, centred their kiss, softened it with his tongue and with the slide of his lips on Merlin's.
His heart opened like a flower and warmed his chest to burning and it was nearly unbearable but it was also good.
Merlin stepped back and smiled.
Gwalchmei ran along the shore, waves lapping at his bare feet. His laughter tinkled across the bay.
Merlin called out after him, told him to watch out.
“Will do!” Gwalchmei screeched back.
Merlin slipped his hand in Arthur's and the two of them walked along the dunes, leaving deep footprints in their wake.