Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
Lady Paperclip
paperclipbitch

"From Where I Stand You're In My Sky", Merlin, Merlin/Arthur

Title: From Where I Stand You’re In My Sky
Fandom: Merlin
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur {past Merlin/Will, slight Arthur/Superman; it almost makes sense in context}
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 17,520
Genre: Slash
Copyright: Title is from Marys Of The Sea by Tori Amos.
Summary: AU. Arthur looks away from the terrified, accusing dark eyes of the man on the newspaper, and turns his attention to his breakfast.
Author’s Notes: Erm, I should say: contains minor character death. Ok, so the Teacup ‘verse was all Heroes-esque, while this story is considerably more Watchmen-esque (yes, so I keep reading it and going to see it although it gives me nightmares, shush). Because I really do like superheroes and everything :) Although I will confess I kind of slipped into the cliché of evil!Uther, which I have so endeavoured not to do before, because otherwise this universe wouldn’t work. And now I really will stop writing Merlin-characters-as-Superheroes stories, and try something else! For one thing, these stories always get much longer and more complicated than I mean them to be.



Staying won’t put these futures back together
All the perfect drugs and superheroes
Wouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero.

- Aimee Mann

One of Arthur’s earliest memories is of standing in the main square watching flames licking the sky.

His father stood at his side, gripping his hand just a little too tight, though Arthur could tell from his father’s expression that he shouldn’t say a word. There were people taking photographs, white flashbulbs stinging his eyes and making purple shapes leap across Arthur’s vision every time he blinked.

The press cuttings his father keeps have told Arthur this was the February before he turned four; he can still recall the bitter wind, the stinging heat of the bonfire.

“Here, Arthur,” his father said, letting go of him and pushing something into Arthur’s hands. A bundle of papers, a glossy cover; there were words Arthur couldn’t yet read, and a picture of a handsome, dark-haired man dressed in blue with a red cape. He frowned, looking up at his father. “Go on,” his father said, pushing him closer to the flames.

There were a lot of people shouting, throwing handfuls of the paper books onto the fire, pictures of men and women in capes and masks reduced to ash. Arthur stumbled forwards, and obediently threw the book onto the fire. When he glanced uncertainly back at his father, he was smiling.

There’s a photograph of Arthur throwing his copy of Superman onto the bonfire; headlines screaming Ten Thousand Comic Books Burned, news cuttings pasted into albums his father won’t look at but is proud of nonetheless.

Sometimes, Arthur wonders if he even remembers that day at all; or if it’s just his father’s justification for another photo opportunity.

=

There’s a sharp, almost vicious silence at the breakfast table. Arthur glances between his father and Morgana who are frostily ignoring each other, hidden behind the crisp morning papers.

“You’re not eating anything, Arthur,” his father observes calmly.

He hasn’t actually lowered his paper since Arthur sat down at the table and Arthur spends a moment wondering if this means he can actually see through it, before remembering that thinking like that is extremely dangerous.

Hurriedly, Arthur shoves some toast into his mouth. “I am,” he says incoherently.

Morgana lowers her newspaper enough to roll her eyes at him, before raising it again. Arthur glares at the headline, since he can’t glare at her, and then actually reads the words.

Dangerous Masked Vigilante Captured!

There are two pictures side by side under the headline; one is of a man in a black cape, a domino mask stuck to his face, teeth clearly gritted. The one beside it is of a man who could conceivably be the same one – their jawlines are certainly similar – but this man looks young and frightened, an ugly purple bruise covering his face and swelling one eye closed, arms cuffed tight behind him. He doesn’t look dangerous, but Arthur knows he must be.

That much has been drummed into him all his life; people who call themselves Heroes are not. They are dangerous and they get other people hurt and if every last one isn’t sought out and stopped then Camelot City and then the whole damn country will descend into chaos.

Arthur looks away from the terrified, accusing dark eyes of the man on the newspaper, and turns his attention to his breakfast.

=

Morgana is four years older than Arthur, and has lived with him and his father for the last ten years, since her own father died. Arthur isn’t entirely sure about all the details – he thinks Morgana’s father was a friend of his father’s; he knows better than to ask – but has come to see Morgana as his older sister. His older, increasingly distant, sister.

She’s sitting on the back steps smoking a cigarette when Arthur comes to find her.

“You’re the mayor’s disgraceful son,” she tells him without looking around. “Shouldn’t you be off doing something inappropriate for the gossip magazines?”

“The hookers and cocaine are arriving at six,” Arthur assures her, and is pleased when the corner of her mouth rises, just a little.

They sit in silence for a while, as Morgana blows a stream of grey smoke towards the overcast sky. Her posture is rigid; she looks tired.

“I hate him,” she says softly, “I hate him.”

Arthur thinks of half a dozen things he could say in his father’s defence, but there’s no point in saying them to Morgana.

“No one’s forcing you to stay,” he tells her instead.

Morgana turns a strange smile on him, stubbing her cigarette out on the stone step beside her.

“Right,” she says, voice sounding lost and far away, doubtful. “Of course.”

She picks the packet up from beside her and taps out another cigarette.

“You could get cancer,” Arthur says.

Morgana shakes her head. “I won’t.”

Now, she actually sounds certain.

=

Arthur’s mother died when he was just a year old; he has no memories of her and the only photographs are from the press cuttings his father thinks he has hidden in the safe in his office. She looks beautiful; golden haired and blue eyed and with a sweet, soft smile. The newspaper articles say more; about a fire on the street where he and his parents lived, about Nimueh, the costumed Hero who got Arthur out but could not get back in time to save his mother. There are photographs of her too; dressed in implausibly tight red leather, dark hair tumbling around her shoulders, eyes dangerously blue.

Three months after his wife’s death, Uther Pendragon began campaigning for Superheroes to be outlawed. He was just a councillor then, but his crusade to put an end to vigilante activities raised his profile immediately.

It started with public burnings of comic books; box after box of Superman and Fantastic Four and Uncanny X-Men, destroyed before they could damage the apparently vulnerable minds of growing children. Then a bill was passed, banning the publication or importation of Superhero-related products in any form. Arthur tries not to remember his nanny trying to take away his Spiderman pyjamas when he was five; his father did it in the end, ripping them physically off Arthur’s body.

He burned them in the back garden, and made sure Arthur watched him do it.

It took ten years, but not only did Uther manage to make Superheroes and all related activities illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, but his campaign also won him the election. He runs Camelot now, and he keeps them all safe from those who would seek to disrupt the peace.

=

Three days later, Morgana isn’t at the breakfast table at all. Arthur eats his bacon and eggs and says nothing and reads the back of his father’s newspaper; the would-be Superhero apprehended a few days ago has been murdered before even making it to trial. When the phone rings and his father goes to answer it, Arthur hurriedly flicks through the pages until he finds the photographs; not of the body, but the blood-drenched cell walls tell an entirely clear story anyway.

He leaves the table before his father returns and goes to find Morgana.

She’s in her room in the west wing of the house; he knocks on the door a few times, but she doesn’t reply, and he pushes the door open worriedly. Morgana is in her en suite bathroom, and he can hear her retching. She glances up blearily at Arthur, dark hair framing her face, eyes red-rimmed like she’s been crying.

“Anything I can do?” Arthur asks.

Morgana shakes her head, reaching to flush the toilet, pushing herself to her feet. She looks unsteady, and Arthur helps her back to her bed. She curls herself up under the cover and despite his entreaties refuses to talk.

The Camelot Herald is spread across the dressing table, open to the story about the dead vigilante. Arthur can see the paper is wet and smudged from Morgana’s tears, and isn’t entirely sure what to make of that.

“He was dangerous,” he offers feebly.

Morgana makes a sound from beneath the duvet that sounds like a bitter, choked-off laugh.

He was called Lance Du Lacque,” she responds. “He saved the lives of more than fifty people, and he was torn to pieces in a concrete cell for it.”

Arthur scans his eyes over the article, and doesn’t find any of the three things Morgana has mentioned in it. His stomach tightens, and he opens his mouth to ask, and then closes it and leaves her alone.

=

It is becoming unbearable in the house; has been for the last few years. The mayor’s house is a big mansion on the edge of the city; acres of gardens, more rooms than they know what to do with, an appropriately sweeping staircase leading to a ballroom – all the usual and expected things. Arthur has lived here for the last nine years and it still isn’t quite home; his father is distant and quiet, becoming ever more fixated with stamping out every trace of the Superheroes that once lived quite happily in the city, and as for Morgana… Morgana seems to be drifting more every day.

Arthur once had dreams about university and getting the hell out of here but it’s not an option, not now. Now, he’s stuck in this city, in this house, making the front pages for tipping out drunk from bars and fucking blonde women in semi-public places. Part of him is a little bitter that that’s all anyone sees of him; the golden-haired little boy obediently burning comic books and the considerably-less-golden older boy doing inadvisable stupid things because his father has money and power and therefore Arthur doesn’t need to do anything, he just needs to be.

He doesn’t know what’s coming, but he knows it can’t go on like this for much longer.

=

Morgana appears to be surviving mainly on black coffee and cigarettes at the moment, and doesn’t tend to put in appearances outside her room unless she’s run out of either. Arthur is starting to get worried about her, and is even more worried because his father hasn’t commented on it once. He does seem to have noticed Morgana’s continued absence, but he hasn’t mentioned it. Arthur is reasonably certain that this isn’t a good sign.

Arthur is on page thirteen of the Camelot Herald this morning – a particularly unflattering shot of himself falling out of a nightclub – three pages ahead of the ‘enquiry’ into Lance Du Lacque – if that’s even his name – and his mysterious death. Arthur feels faintly uncomfortable about being more newsworthy than someone who’s actually been murdered, but he has no one to say that kind of thing to, so just tries to ignore it.

He’s dreadfully hungover and in a bad mood because Morgana seems to have barricaded herself in her room again so he doesn’t even have her to tell him just how pathetic he is, so Arthur makes his way down to the extensive kitchens. There are two different chefs down there preparing lunch – apparently his father has some people coming, Arthur has already decided he’s not going – and a nervous-looking young man washing plates in the corner. Arthur is pretty sure he hasn’t seen the man before, since he thinks he’d remember the ears, but his father is always hiring and firing people so it’s not a huge surprise.

“I need coffee,” he groans in an admittedly needlessly theatrical way, slumping against the gigantic silver fridge.

The dark-haired young man glances at him and then hurries to comply, dashing around the kitchen and then coming over to Arthur to hand him a white mug full of coffee. Arthur takes a sip; it’s not bad, but it’s not nearly strong enough, and the inadequate coffee adds itself to the list of Things That Are Crap About Arthur’s Life At The Moment.

“Fucking useless,” Arthur informs the man, pushing the coffee back at him and watching the dark liquid splash over his white coat. He sees the man’s jaw clench, but he doesn’t say anything, and instead returns to dashing around the kitchen, throwing things into a blender. The other two chefs don’t pay him much mind, in the way they aren’t really paying attention to Arthur – this is his father’s kitchen, after all, and Arthur can come down here and throw his weight around all he likes, they still know who actually wields the power – and Arthur sighs.

“I wanted fucking coffee,” he snaps.

The man doesn’t seem to hear – which, given the size of his ears, must be an impossibility – but switches on the blender. The grinding sound doesn’t help Arthur’s pounding head or his overall mood, and he looks suspiciously at the tall glass of yellow-y liquid he’s handed.

“You might as well try it,” the man tells him, his voice a soft lilt, gaze trained on the floor in a deferential way Arthur would probably find funny at any time not now.

Arthur obediently raises it to his lips, if only so he can have the pleasure of yelling at the guy about it, and finds the drink doesn’t actually taste as bad as he was expecting it to. He drains the lot, and finds a moment later that his headache is starting to abate. Huh.

He looks around to thank his Mystery Hangover Alleviater, and finds the guy has already disappeared.

=

“You’re a brat,” Morgana tells him.

“I’m bored,” Arthur counters.

She sighs, spread out elegantly on their sofa. Arthur can still see how worn and tired she is, but mainly because he knows her so well; to a stranger, she’d probably look her normal slightly-too-pale self.

“That doesn’t mean you have to take it out on our staff,” Morgana replies.

Arthur is tempted to point out that he’s been taking everything out on the staff for at least the last ten years, but Morgana already knows that anyway.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says instead.

Morgana rolls her eyes. “There’s really no need to be obnoxious to the kitchen staff,” she says. “If you’re really that bored, find yourself a hobby besides binge drinking and casual sex, you don’t have to bully Merlin.”

Arthur frowns. “Who’s Merlin?”

She continues to look angry and unimpressed. “The young man in the kitchen you threw coffee all over.”

“I didn’t throw coffee all over anyone!” Arthur protests. “I may have splashed it a bit, but I didn’t throw it.” He scowls. “And who the hell is actually called Merlin?”

Morgana sighs. “There’s really no talking to you sometimes,” she snaps, and she storms off, slamming the door behind her.

Arthur sits in silence, and tries to work out what just happened.

=

Everyone knows that there are two types of so-called ‘Hero’; they learned about them at school (Owain, who sat next to Arthur in biology when he was fourteen, said he didn’t think it counted as actual science and had several words to say about the Nazis. Arthur hasn’t seen him since; apparently Owain’s family moved away from Camelot).

The first kind are ordinary people; ordinary people like Arthur and his father and apparently the sadly misguided Lance Du Lacque. People who are completely normal, except that there is something horribly broken in their heads. Arthur has no idea what would possess a sane person to dress up in a frankly ludicrous outfit and then go out onto the streets with nothing to defend themselves but a strong right hook. This kind of Hero is dangerous because they are quite plainly mad, masochistic, deluded; but they can be (and often are) stopped.

The second kind are the kind you really have to watch out for; they’re much more frightening. The second kind are born with unnatural, almost magical powers; they can pick up cars or fly or conjure fire with a click of their fingers. The second kind are not mad, just plain dangerous. The second kind of Superheroes are the ones who tend to end up locked in solitary confinement for their entire lives.

It’s been at least five years since a Type Two has been sighted. Arthur is on the point of giving them up as a myth, whipped up as negative propaganda by his father.

=

The young man apparently called Merlin is in the kitchen when Arthur makes his way down there. He’s doing the washing up, concentrating on his task, shoulders hunched under the spotless white jacket he wears. He could be the same age as Arthur, maybe a little younger, and Arthur is fairly sure he could have got a better job somewhere else.

When enough time has passed and Merlin still hasn’t noticed him, Arthur clears his throat. Merlin’s head snaps up and he drops a cup, which shatters on the floor.

Shit,” Merlin breathes, and then his eyes dart anxiously to Arthur. “Um, I mean, I didn’t, um…”

“Oh for God’s sake,” Arthur sighs. “I was going to ask for some coffee, but clearly I’ll have to do it myself.”

He does so; he pretends not to know his way around the kitchen, but he actually does (he did spend half his teenage years raiding the cupboards after football practice, after all). When Arthur turns around, Merlin has tidied away the broken bits of cup and the soap suds from the floor, and is standing a little anxiously beside the sink, plucking his lower lip between his teeth.

“You’re not terribly good at this, are you, Merlin?” Arthur asks with a smirk, though he knows it’s needlessly cruel and if Morgana ever finds out she will shout at him.

The boy blushes, and doesn’t look up.

=

Given that it’s a regular enough occurrence, Arthur would have thought that the paparazzi would have got bored of snapping him falling out of nightclubs, but apparently not. He’s still news-worthy, which is all kinds of depressing; his father sighs heavily whenever he opens his morning paper to find yet more photographs of his son vomiting into the gutter.

In an attempt to avoid the waiting photographers, Arthur takes the back way out of the club, stumbling drunkenly down the alley and then down another. It doesn’t take him long to get lost, and Arthur is just starting to think my father is going to kill me before he looks back to find three men following him and thinks or maybe they will. He swallows hard, remembering that in spite of his father’s best efforts the crime rate in Camelot is really too high. Oh, he’s an idiot, and he can’t believe he’d be this stupid.

Arthur is aware that he’s too drunk to fight, and from the moonlight glinting off metal he can tell that at least one of his would-be assailants has a knife. He’s trying desperately to think of a solution, but his thoughts are skittering loosely around his mind, and the men are closing in on him, eyes all wide and desperate. Arthur opens his mouth with no idea what the hell to say, when he sees a dark shape materialise behind the men.

The next minute and a half is completely confusing. Arthur stands, back pressed to a brick wall, and watches as the black-clad figure – it seems to be a man, dressed in a dark cloak – swiftly and competently incapacitates the three men. The man moves too fast, all fists and feet and elegant movement, and in barely any time at all there are three people groaning on the pavement, spitting teeth, and the stranger holds a gloved hand out to Arthur.

“Are you all right?” he asks, voice steady and clear. He doesn’t even sound breathless.

“Yes,” Arthur manages, and is pleased when his voice doesn’t crack.

Arthur knows that he shouldn’t, but he takes the warm, leather-encased hand anyway, and allows the stranger to lead him out onto a main road. Fear and shock have pushed away most of Arthur’s drunkenness, and as sobriety takes hold he begins to realise just what’s happening.

The man lets go of Arthur’s hand when they’re back to relative safety; they stand beneath a streetlight and stare at each other in the shaft of yellowish light. Arthur feels his mouth drop open; the man standing before him is dressed in what looks like skintight leather from head to toe, a silver belt cinched around his waist. His black cape flows down his back, coming up into a tight hood around his head, leaving only his face visible. A small black mask is stuck across the man’s face, and Arthur can’t tell if it’s a trick of the light or not, but his eyes are glowing gold.

He’s an honest-to-God Superhero, and Arthur really doesn’t know what to do with that thought.

The Superhero seems to be equally stunned. “You’re Arthur Pendragon,” he says a little blankly.

Arthur is trying to come up with something sensible to say when the Superhero inclines his head in a curious gesture of politeness and disappears into the night.

=

Morgana makes an appearance at the breakfast table for once, dark hair piled up elegantly behind her head as she peruses the headlines. Arthur is tired and hungover and still trying to work out what exactly happened last night; apparently his life was saved by a Superhero, and just thinking that makes him feel as though he’s standing on the edge of a precipice.

Almost everything on the breakfast table is burnt; the toast is blackened and the sound of Morgana crunching it sets Arthur’s teeth on edge. Uther seems perfectly happy with his fried eggs and bacon, both of which look far too crispy, and Arthur is picking idly at food that is more charcoal than anything else. His tea is positively stewed, and for once Morgana is actually adding milk to her coffee to try and weaken it a little.

Arthur pushes food around his plate and tries to work out why he’s not saying father, there’s another Superhero loose on the streets; he knows that he should, that he should report the dangerous maniac as soon as possible, but for some reason he remains silent.

=

Under loose floorboards in his room, wrapped in tin foil and hidden beneath a stack of porn magazines, Arthur has one Superman comic left. He doesn’t know why he has it; he’s read it so many times that he knows the words off by heart. There’s harm in the fiction, he’s been told, and God knows that the Superheroes would have society in chaos if they were given the opportunity, but he’s had it for years now anyway. One last shred of teenage rebellion, or perhaps he’s always been drawn to the unsmiling but oh so certain beautiful blue-eyed man in the coloured cape.

Arthur lies on his back on the floor and reminds himself that trying to dig out the comic book from its hiding place will lead to too many problems, and tries not to think about the black-clad vigilante who saved his life. It’s been three days, and he’s still there behind Arthur’s eyes whenever he closes them. The warmth of his leather-encased fingers against Arthur’s skin, the way his cloak swirled even though there was no wind, the firm set of his jaw.

Superheroes are alive and well in Camelot, apparently. Arthur sighs, knowing he should warn his father, but he’s reluctant to. It doesn’t seem to be adequate thanks: oh, you saved my life, I’ll have you imprisoned for the privilege! Arthur finds himself wondering what exactly would constitute appropriate thanks; he doubts there’s a suitable floral arrangement.

He would tell Morgana about it, but he honestly doesn’t know what to say.

=

There are twenty-five people employed to keep the mansion running; Arthur knows some of them better than others, but he doesn’t know any of them all that well. He’s fully aware that Morgana knows all of them, remembers their dates of birth and how many children they have and all the little details about their lives that Arthur can never get the hang of.

The problem is, of course, that no one knows those little details about Arthur; Morgana knows him better than anyone but there are still all these parts of his personality that no one has ever seen. Over the years, Arthur has got used to no one giving a shit about him.

“I’m making you nervous, aren’t I?” he asks, deflecting, because he’s honestly not sure why he’s spending the afternoon in the kitchen eating his way through the fridge and annoying Merlin. He gets the feeling if he works out just why he’s doing this he won’t like the answer.

“Little bit,” Merlin admits, cheeks staining pink. He’s so pale that any blush tends to spread thickly right over his face, and Arthur has found a certain sadistic pleasure in embarrassing Merlin, though of course he won’t confess to it.

“Do you actually have as big a personality disorder as you seem to?” Arthur enquires curiously, suspecting he’s being a little too impolite.

Merlin shrugs, a smirk teasing his lips, and crouches down to inspect whatever it is he’s got cooking in the oven.

“My ex always said it’s an awkward teenage phase I’ve never matured enough to grow out of,” he says.

Arthur frowns. “She sounds like a bitch,” he says, before he reflects that he probably should be slightly less obnoxious around Merlin.

“He could be one, from time to time,” Merlin responds placidly, straightening up and not looking at Arthur.

…he? Arthur is saved from trying to formulate a sensible response by the arrival of their head cook, who gives Arthur a you’ve violated my sacred space and eaten an entire cheesecake while you were at it, go away or I won’t be responsible for my actions look.

As he slinks out, he pretends it’s not a relief.

=

There’s shouting coming from his father’s office; Arthur can hear Morgana’s voice, shrill and infuriated, though he can’t make out the words. Uther’s voice is lower, steadier, though Arthur doesn’t doubt that he’s equally angry. There’s no apparent reason for them to be having this fight, but then the relationship between Uther and Morgana has always been somewhat volatile.

Arthur gets the feeling his carefully constructed world is starting to crack around him, though he has no idea why.

Morgana shoves the door open and storms past Arthur, furious sobs shaking her body. Arthur stands in the hall, trying to work out whether he should follow her. He turns, to find his father standing in his study doorway, staring after Morgana, pure fury etched on his features.

It’s not an expression Arthur has ever seen on his father’s face before, and it makes his stomach clench.

=

Morgana is not at the breakfast table on the day the Camelot Herald publishes pictures of Arthur kissing another man in a nightclub. Uther is disapproving and silent and Arthur is hungover, pushing bits of porridge around his bowl.

Arthur is tempted to point out that if his father would just let him leave the city and go to university somewhere he would be able to do whatever he liked wherever he liked without any of it being printed with ugly, pithy headlines the next morning, but he suspects it won’t really help. He’s stuck in Camelot for better or for worse.

“You seem to take great delight in humiliating yourself,” Uther says eventually, in a voice of ice.

Arthur says nothing, and stares at the incriminating photographs spread across three different pages. He was drunk, and he isn’t sure exactly what he was doing, and he’s trying not to think that the random man he ended up snogging bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain lantern-jawed character wrapped in tinfoil beneath his floorboards.

“It’ll blow over,” he mutters, pushing his cooling porridge away. “It always does.”

=

It turns out that Morgana is having a cold in her room, which mainly seems to involve her insisting that Merlin dash around the house in order to bring her stuff. Arthur is sitting on the stairs hiding from his father and any further recriminations; he watches the other man taking pot after pot of tea upstairs.

“Feel free to tell her she’s a spoiled hypochondriac and to make her own damn tea,” Arthur suggests, the third time Merlin hurries past. Arthur is currently on eyelevel with his feet; the laces of Merlin’s hightops are trailing and he can foresee a horrible slapstick accident.

Merlin laughs. “Yes, because that won’t get me fired at all.”

Just for a moment, there’s the strangest feeling of camaraderie.

Fifteen minutes later, when Merlin has trailed back downstairs, Arthur decides he can’t stay hiding like a child much longer, and instead gets to his feet and sneaks into Morgana’s room. She’s lying on her bed looking even more deathly pale than usual, dark hair spread across the pillow in a way clearly designed to be aesthetically pleasing. The Camelot Herald and Arthur’s rather public indiscretions are spread out over the covers.

She sees him and makes a pathetic groaning sound. Arthur is not really inclined to be sympathetic; Morgana has got sick at exactly the time he needs her around to deflect his father’s anger.

“And you accuse me of abusing Merlin,” he says. “The poor sod has been running around for hours doing your bidding.”

Morgana shrugs, and croaks: “Yes, but Merlin likes me.”

She might have a point, but Arthur doesn’t want to think about it. Instead, he says: “Are you forcing him to shag you to cheer you up?”

Morgana rolls her eyes. “Fuck off, Little Gayboy Arthur.”

For a moment, she doesn’t sound sick at all.

Arthur deliberately slams the door on the way out, but he’s smiling. He nearly runs into Merlin, who is standing outside the door with his arms full of magazines and books and other things Morgana has undoubtedly ordered to amuse herself with while she’s sick.

“She’s not that sick,” Arthur says loudly, knowing his voice will carry. “Tell her to fetch her own fucking stuff.”

Merlin grins sheepishly. “I don’t think I will, if it’s all the same to you,” he says, and gently pushes past Arthur into the room.

=

“I’m Emrys,” says the black-clad Superhero who has just saved Arthur’s life (again).

Arthur wants to say something like that’s a really stupid name, but adrenalin has caught his tongue and he can’t do anything but blink. He takes a few shallow breaths.

“You can let go of me,” he says at last, pushing Emrys backwards. The Superhero doesn’t even stumble, and Arthur’s knees give way. Before he can blink, Emrys hauls Arthur upright again.

“You’re all right,” he murmurs, almost soothingly, gloved hands curled tight around Arthur’s upper arms.

He’s trembling too hard; he wasn’t even drunk, but that truck was driving way too fast and there was no way that Arthur was going to get out of the way in time, and then the caped Superhero swooped out of nowhere and got him to safety.

Arthur stares at Emrys for a while, trying to get his heart rate to slow down so he can think clearly. The Superhero’s eyes are still golden, glowing slightly.

“You’re a Type Two,” Arthur murmurs blankly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Emrys says calmly, his expression not even flickering.

“You flew,” Arthur insists. “You flew us both out of the way of that truck.”

“Yeah,” Emrys agrees. “You’re welcome.”

Arthur’s kneecaps have stopped feeling like they’ve been replaced with jelly, and he shoves the Superhero sharply, forcing him away from him.

“Don’t touch me,” he spits. “You’re a fucking… freak.”

Under the streetlight, he sees Emrys’ lips curl, just a little. “Goodnight, Arthur Pendragon,” he says, still placid, still collected. He bends his legs and then pushes off, gliding up into the night sky, cape swirling behind him.

Arthur stumbles a few steps, the memory of fear leaving his whole body tingling and weak, and realises that he has no fucking idea what to do.

=

“Cigarette?” Morgana offers when Arthur joins her on the back steps. He shakes his head and she shrugs, lighting the one already held between her lips.

They sit in silence for a while, as Morgana smokes and Arthur tries to look for anything other than quiet desperation in this situation. They’re both too tired these days.

“You may as well spit it out,” she says at last.

Arthur takes another minute to consider, and then says: “A Superhero has saved my life. Twice. He says his name is Emrys. He’s a Type Two.”

Morgana doesn’t look surprised, which nettles him.

“You haven’t told your father,” she observes neutrally.

Arthur waits for her to say more, but she doesn’t.

“I should,” Arthur says. “Type Twos need to be locked up for everyone’s safety. This… Emrys can’t be allowed to roam free.”

Morgana stubs out her cigarette and lights another one. “So why haven’t you told Uther?”

Arthur shrugs awkwardly. “It seemed kind of a shitty way to thank him, you know; he has saved my life twice, after all.”

Morgana thinks about this. “It’s how your father thanked Nimueh for saving you,” she points out. Her voice is flat, expressionless.

Arthur has never thought of it like that, and he immediately feels nauseous. Morgana doesn’t say anything more, and the two of them remain sitting on the stone steps, staring up at the colourless sky.

=

The kitchen is clean and peaceful and quiet, though Arthur tells himself he isn’t actually hiding down here. Merlin has made him a cup of coffee and is now wandering about putting things in drawers, back to Arthur, head bowed.

Arthur takes an experimental sip of his coffee. “I’m going to do this myself,” he says. “Your coffee is shit.”

There’s a soft sound, like Merlin is swallowing a laugh. “Sorry,” he offers, though he doesn’t sound it.

Arthur makes himself a drink to his satisfaction and perches on one of the spotless kitchen surfaces, trying not to think things like this is probably unhygienic because five million people in Camelot know he’s a selfish unobservant little bastard, and there’s no sense in being anything else.

Merlin’s hands are trembling, he notes. Arthur frowns. “Are you ok?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Merlin says, a little too quickly.

Arthur puts his mug down and slides off the sideboard, striding over to Merlin and spinning the other man around before he can react.

Shit,” he breathes. Merlin tries to pull away, but Arthur is stronger. “What the hell happened to you?”

The entire left side of Merlin’s face appears to be one huge bruise; his eye is ringed with black, his lip is split, and his cheek is purple, a shallow graze skimming his cheekbone.

“Would you believe me if I said I walked into a door?” Merlin asks, with an attempt at a smile that clearly hurts his mouth.

“No,” Arthur says firmly. “No, I wouldn’t.”

Merlin sighs, looking slightly amused in spite of everything. “I didn’t think you would.”

“You’re avoiding the question,” Arthur points out, “And you’re avoiding it badly.”

“It’s fine,” Merlin insists, finally managing to extricate his arm from Arthur’s grip. “I got into an argument and I was an idiot. It looks worse than it actually is.”

“Really?” Arthur asks. “Because it kind of looks like your face got slammed into a brick wall.”

Merlin’s shrug is really rather eloquent.

“God,” Arthur says, “You really are an idiot.”

Merlin laughs, then winces, raising a hand to his cut mouth. “It’s all right,” he insists. “Really.”

His gazes catches Arthur’s for a moment; it’s the first time Arthur has ever looked Merlin full in the face before. His eyes are breathtakingly blue; so blue that Arthur can’t think of anything to say until Merlin has turned away to carry on working, and then it’s far too late anyway.

=

Uther’s study has a huge board with photographs of Camelot’s Superheroes on it; one side has all the Heroes who have been apprehended, and the other has the ones known to be at large. There aren’t many on the ‘at large’ side, and Arthur notes that Emrys isn’t there.

“You wanted to tell me something?” Uther prompts. He’s good at feigning patience, but Arthur knows his father has a long list of things to do and he’s mentally tapping his foot.

Arthur is about to come clean (or, at least, he’s going to give his father an edited version of recent events) when, over his father’s shoulder, he catches sight of a photograph of Lance Du Lacque. The man’s scared eyes stare out of the picture, face bruised as fiercely as Merlin’s is, and Arthur’s nerve fails.

“I just think we should give Merlin a raise,” he finds himself saying instead. “He’s doing really good work.”

Uther raises an incredulous eyebrow at him, but Arthur simply gives his father a vague, spoilt-rich-boy smile, and turns to go.

“Oh God,” he breathes when the study door has closed behind him. “Oh God, tell me I did the right thing.”

Morgana is sitting at the top of the stairs, staring owlishly down at him.

“Did you tell him?” she asks.

Arthur shakes his head, and Morgana smiles.

=

A week later, the papers are full of blurry images of a new Superhero; a woman who dresses in deep yellow. The pictures are distinctly fuzzy, and his father hasn’t come to breakfast; he’s already in the town hall, yelling at people.

“It’s all rather Spiderman,” Morgana observes lightly.

Arthur always associates Spiderman with having his pyjamas burnt in the back garden, and he bites down the wave of helplessness that threatens to fall over him.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he says.

Morgana takes a sip of orange juice. “Spiderman was a superhero that no one could get a decent picture of,” she explains. “Then, his alter-ego, Peter Parker, decided an easy way to make money would be to get pictures of himself fighting crime and then sell them to a newspaper.”

“Do you think that will happen here?” Arthur asks doubtfully.

Morgana shrugs. “She won’t do that if she’s smart,” she says, indicating the fuzzy images of the woman. “Of course, she can’t be that smart, if she’s decided to set herself up as a Superhero here.”

Arthur smiles slightly, and wonders why he’s feeling relief that it’s not Emrys splashed across the Camelot Herald. After all, it’s not as though he actually cares.

=

It’s one of those never-ending Sunday afternoons; Arthur leaves a trail of empty mugs through the house, while Morgana sits on her balcony painting her toenails. Uther is conspicuously absent, spending another day in his office looking over the scraps of evidence they have, trying to look for the latest Superhero. The house is quieter with him gone, though Arthur is trying hard not to feel too relieved.

Merlin’s soft sighs drift through the rooms, as he patiently trails about picking up all the crockery Arthur has scattered about. Arthur himself is restless, wandering from room to room to room, unable to work out exactly what it is that he wants. He gets like this from time to time; it supposedly comes from getting everything that he’s ever wanted – that’s what his psychologist told him when he was eighteen, anyway – but there are plenty of things Arthur wants that he knows not to ask for.

One mug has left a round stain on the lid of the grand piano that no one plays, and Arthur watches Merlin tutting at it. He doesn’t feel a shred of remorse; this house feels like too damn much of a museum a lot of the time. Merlin has a tray with mugs on it – some empty, some of them only half-drunk, some still full – that he has collected, and when he glances up at Arthur his expression is unimpressed. The bruising has faded to an ugly green-yellow that makes him look as though he has some rare tropical skin disease.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Merlin accuses, lips curling softly.

Arthur shrugs, and won’t admit it. “It’s what you’re paid for,” he points out.

“Paid peanuts for,” Merlin corrects him mildly.

Arthur grins in spite of himself, walking across to join Merlin at the piano.

“Do you play?” he asks, knowing it’s a completely random question, but curious nonetheless. He’s found himself collecting little things on Merlin; he won’t admit to himself why. No good can come of it.

“No,” Merlin replies, rubbing at the drink stain on the piano’s glossy surface with his sleeve and only making it worse. “What about you?”

“My mother did,” Arthur says lightly. Merlin nods, understanding all he needs to. After all, Arthur’s family life has always been lived so very publicly.

“Do you miss her?” Merlin asks, voice soft, not looking at Arthur.

Arthur frowns. “I never knew her,” he replies.

“I know.” Merlin is still determinedly not looking at him. “But still; do you miss her?”

Yes, Arthur thinks. Yes, I do. But he can’t say it, can’t admit it aloud.

“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” he says.

Merlin nods, picking up his tray of mugs. “Fair enough.” He seems disappointed, and doesn’t look back at Arthur as he leaves.

=

A young woman is found brutally raped and beaten to death in a back alley; on her chest is a small square card with a picture of two entwined snakes on it.

“Like the Joker,” Morgana muses, though her eyes are a little swollen and she looks like she hasn’t slept in the longest time. She and Arthur pore over the newspaper together, trying to read between the lines of the article, through the propaganda to the truth. The headline is screaming Superhero Murders Woman, churning up the hysteria.

“Superheroes kill people, Morgana,” Arthur tells her savagely. He knows none of this is her fault, but he’s allowed his judgement to be swayed by the death of Lance Du Lacque and by Emrys and his fucking gold eyes, and he’s angry with himself for forgetting the true nature of these so-called Heroes.

“Superheroes don’t kill people,” Morgana snaps back, “Supervillains do.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Oh, like there’s actually a difference.”

“There is,” Morgana insists, “There is a big difference.”

Arthur narrows his eyes suspiciously. “Just where do you get all this information from, Morgana?” he asks.

She arches an eyebrow, and does her very best scathing look. “Not all of us spent our childhoods burning books, Arthur,” she tells him.

Arthur scowls. “Well, maybe you should have done,” he snaps.

Morgana’s face closes down, her mouth thinning. “Get out of my room,” she tells him coldly. “Get out right now.”

Arthur does so, slamming the door as hard as he can behind him.

=

Uther is on the news, looking grave and sad and promising that he will find the person responsible for this crime and that they will be punished.

“Someone else to be ripped to pieces in a prison cell,” Morgana mutters. She’s smoking in the living room because Uther isn’t home, using a crystal wineglass as an ashtray.

Things are still tense between them after two days, though they’re tolerating being together because they’re both smart enough to realise that all they actually have is each other.

“What do you mean?” Arthur asks.

Morgana glares at him. “Lance’s murder wasn’t a tragic accident,” she spits, “Uther organised it. The same way all Superheroes captured in the last five years have supposedly gone ‘missing’.”

“You’re lying,” Arthur tells her.

“Are you sure?” Morgana enquires, glaring.

Arthur can’t do this, he can’t be thinking what he’s thinking, he can’t know what Morgana has just told him. He can’t.

“You’re lying,” he insists through his teeth.

“And you’re hopelessly naïve,” Morgana responds. She sounds sad.

=

The lovely sparkling clean kitchen has no newspapers, no television, no accusing looks from Morgana or furious looks from his father. Arthur makes his own coffee and sips it sitting alone in the big, sunlight-filled room, relieved that no one else is around because he’s pretty sure he’s being desperately unstable and very unhappy and, contrary to whatever the general population believe, it’s not something he needs an audience for.

Arthur finds a chocolate cake in the fridge and after a couple of slices, he finally starts feeling more solid. He’s pretty sure that the cook is going to give him death glares when he gets back, but it doesn’t really matter.

Merlin looks like he hasn’t slept in several days when he walks in, dark hair a mess and clothing rumpled. He offers Arthur a small smile, then wanders over to the sink; there’s a pile of plates and Arthur doesn’t know why they haven’t invested in a dishwasher.

“Need a hand?” Arthur asks.

Merlin glances over his shoulder and gives Arthur an incredulous look. Arthur shrugs and slips off the sideboard he’s sitting on, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt.

“And I thought today couldn’t get weirder,” Merlin murmurs, shuffling over to make room for him.

They work in silence for a while, as Arthur tries to work out if he trusts Merlin enough to ask him a question like do you think my father has Superheroes killed? He doesn’t even trust himself enough to ask that question in the privacy of his own mind, though, so he stays quiet.

Merlin offers him a smile, and he has soap suds in his hair where he brushed his fringe back with a wet hand, and the bruising has healed leaving him looking vague and a little fey but no longer vulnerable. Arthur notices for the first time that they’re actually the same height; Merlin spends so much time being deferential that Arthur’s always assumed Merlin was shorter than him. Before he can stop himself, he’s reaching out with one damp hand to catch Merlin’s sleeve, and leaning a little closer. Merlin’s lips are just slightly open, like an invitation, but Arthur sees something flash through those blue eyes. It’s only there for a moment before it’s gone, but there’s no mistaking it: fear. Actual fear.

Arthur lets go of Merlin’s arm like he’s been burnt, and takes a step away. He tries to find words to say, but the realisation that Merlin is afraid of him has stopped his heart in his chest.

Merlin is staring at the soap bubbles, head bowed, and he doesn’t look at Arthur.

=

It wasn’t really a rejection because there was fucking nothing to reject, but it still stings. There is altogether too much shit in Arthur’s life at the moment, and he and Morgana are barely capable of being civil to each other, so he deals with it all in his usual fashion: going out and getting as drunk as he can.

The waiting paparazzi get some lovely photographs of him puking in a gutter, and Arthur thinks, well, at least he’ll provide a distraction from the current headlines of death and destruction and Hero-hating.

No one thinks to call a car for him and Arthur makes his way home mostly by crawling, head aching, vision blurring. His father is not going to thank him for this but then his father is hardly ever home, so it won’t really matter in the scheme of things.

There’s a man dressed all in silver standing beneath a streetlight; his teeth glint and Arthur has enough time to think oh fucking hell before he’s dragged sideways, thick strong fingers curling around Arthur’s upper arms tight enough to bruise. The Superhero is laughing, a cold sharp sound, and his head begins to clear a little as adrenalin rushes through his veins.

“Leave him alone.” Arthur recognises the voice and he knows that Superheroes are fucking psychopaths so he shouldn’t feel relief that Emrys had arrived. But he does, even if the black-clad Hero looks too slender when compared to the one currently pinning Arthur to the wall. “Valiant, let go of him.”

Emrys,” the Superhero spits. “I’m sending a fucking message to Uther Pendragon, don’t get in my way.”

Let go of him,” Emrys insists, voice cold and hard and leaving no room at all for negotiation.

Valiant does so, and Arthur crumples in a heap to the pavement. He decides not to get to his feet as Emrys rushes straight at Valiant, moving so fast that his feet can’t be touching the ground, punching the silver-clad Superhero so hard his head snaps back. Valiant growls a mouthful of expletives and spits a tooth, moving to attack Emrys. The smaller Superhero ducks, side-stepping him easily, landing more swift punches, preventing Valiant from fighting back.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Emrys orders, his foot connecting with Valiant’s jaw in a way that looks really damn painful.

Arthur tries to push himself to his feet again but his vision is starting to swim, and he realises that he is actually about to sodding faint. The last thing he sees before he loses consciousness is Valiant climbing up the nearest wall like a silver spider, muttering invectives beneath his breath.

=

When Arthur claws his way back to consciousness, he finds he’s sitting propped against a wall. Emrys is crouched beside him, golden eyes full of concern.

“Are you all right?” he asks quietly, one gloved hand reaching out to cup Arthur’s cheek. Arthur flinches away.

Don’t touch me.”

The curl of Emrys’ lips is a little sad, though he obediently drops his hand.

“You should be more careful,” he says, straightening up.

Arthur’s head aches and his body feels like it doesn’t belong to him. Looking around, he realises he’s sitting against one of the outer walls surrounding the mansion, though how he got home is a mystery to him.

“I flew you here,” Emrys says, as though reading Arthur’s mind. “I know you’ll be less than happy with me, but it’s dangerous for you to be out until I find Valiant.”

Arthur thinks about the giant who attacked him, and swallows. “Is he the one who…” he trails off, unable to say it.

“Raped and killed that young woman?” Emrys suggests. “Yes, he was. I’ve been tailing him for days.”

A horrible realisation unfolds in Arthur’s mind. “Was he going to…” He wants to be sick. He wants to be sick.

Emrys doesn’t turn to face him, but his tone is gentle when he murmurs: “Yes. Yes, he probably was.”

“Oh God.” Arthur struggles for a moment, then manages to whisper: “Thank you.”

There’s silence for a moment, and then Emrys turns around, the softest of smiles gracing his mouth. “Are you going to let me help you get up?”

Arthur nods, and Emrys bends down, hoisting Arthur to his feet with ease. Arthur sways, curling his hands against the smooth warmth of Emrys’ costume before he even really thinks about it.

“Ok?” Emrys asks.

“Yeah,” Arthur nods. The Superhero lets go of him, and Arthur remains standing, which is both a surprise and a relief. “Really… thanks.”

Emrys smiles a little wider, and this time when his hand curls under Arthur’s jaw, tilting his head up, Arthur doesn’t pull away.

“You need to be careful,” Emrys murmurs, “I won’t always be around to protect you.”

And then, without any hesitation, without any sort of preamble, he leans forward and kisses Arthur. Without meaning to, Arthur opens his mouth and kisses him back.

After a long moment, Emrys pulls away and walks away into the night without turning back. Arthur raises a hand to his tingling lips, uncertain what the hell to think, and then realises, with a shock of bemusement, that Emrys seems to know exactly where the security camera blindspot is.

=

The next morning, the newspapers are full of the news that a Superhero has been found; a man dressed in skintight silver, and a pocket in his belt revealed a set of cards decorated with snakes. The Hero, calling himself Valiant, was found with his neck broken outside the police station.

Arthur hides a smile, digging into his breakfast with gusto. Morgana also seems cheerful, and for once the silence between them is easy, almost friendly. Arthur throwing up inelegantly is on page seventeen, and Morgana spends a while mocking him in a good-natured sort of way.

Uther is, of course, down at the police station for publicity.

After breakfast, Arthur goes down to the kitchen to apologise to Merlin. He knows he’s overstepped some kind of line, even if he’s not sure why, and he doesn’t want to lose one of his only friends.

“Are we ok?” he asks.

“We’re ok,” Merlin replies, with a sweet smile that sort of stings. He reaches for a stack of plates, and winces.

Arthur is at his side in a moment. “What’s the matter?” he demands urgently.

Merlin seems amused by his protective attitude. “I went out and got pissed last night,” he replies. “I was an idiot and fell over a few too many times; I’ve cracked a couple of ribs. It’s no big deal.”

“You are the most accident prone person I know,” Arthur tells him firmly, pushing Merlin backwards. “Go and sit there, I’ll finish this.”

Merlin protests for a while, but Arthur ignores him and gets on with the washing up.

=

Three days later, Morgana doesn’t turn up to lunch. Since she was only sipping coffee at breakfast, Arthur is concerned about her, and goes to find out what the problem is. She doesn’t respond when he knocks on the door, but he’s worried enough to go in uninvited.

Morgana is knelt on the floor surrounded by photographs and press cuttings. She looks up at Arthur when he walks in, her eyes wide, and her expression goes from shock to guilt. She starts to gather the papers together quickly, but Arthur is too fast for her, dropping to the floor beside her and pulling a few photographs towards him.

“Arthur, don’t-” Morgana begins anxiously.

Arthur isn’t sure what he’s seeing at first; the pictures show a young Superhero, a girl with dark hair dressed all in purple. He knows that some people didn’t mind their children joining in with their so-called crime fighting; bad parents, of course, who placed their kids in unnecessary danger. This girl can’t be more than fourteen, and there are various shots of her, both alone and with another girl, this one dressed in deep yellow.

Deep yellow like the outfit the Superhero the papers still can’t find wears.

“Arthur, it’s not…” Morgana trails off, and Arthur realises that the purple-wearing Superhero is Morgana. He was ten when the ban against Superheroes went through, so Morgana would have been around fourteen then. Old enough.

The photographs fall from his suddenly limp fingers. “No,” he breathes, “No, Morgana, no.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I couldn’t tell you.”

Arthur pushes himself to his feet. “You’re one of them,” he spits, “You’re a fucking psychopath too.”

Tears have sprung to Morgana’s eyes, but he can’t look at her like his older sister right now. “Arthur, please,” she begs, her voice cracking.

“Stay the hell away from me,” he snarls.

“Arthur!” she screams desperately, but Arthur ignores her, and walks away.

=
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Tags: character: arthur pendragon, character: gwen, character: merlin, character: morgana, character: uther, pairing: merlin/arthur pendragon, pairing: merlin/will, tv show: merlin, type: slash
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