"They're here," Leon announced jovially, knocking on Arthur's study door and poking his head round before Arthur could ask him to come in. "It's a good job the sun is shining, right boss?"
"It's an indoor shoot, in September," Arthur replied drily, shutting his laptop and getting to his feet. His stomach had plummeted into his knees. "I'll go and say hello and then get out of their way."
"Are you sure this was a good idea?” Leon was eying Arthur warily.
"It's a bit late to change my mind now that they've arrived.” A quick peek out of the window told Arthur than the crew had pulled up at the service entrance at the side of the house. "They're paying good money to shoot here and Camelot Castle needs the revenue if she's going to become self-sufficient. Anyway, it's not like they'll be using my private quarters and it beats letting the public in more than one Sunday a month.” The public were light-fingered, litter dropping nuisances.
"I'll go and get some tea on then,” Leon said amiably and as he left the room Arthur followed and headed outside to greet his visitors.
The person in charge of the whole thing was a familiar face in the form of his ex step-mother, Catrina. The first thing Catrina had said the first time she had visited the Camelot Castle for a family party many years ago was: "Why on earth do they call it a castle?" She had had a valid point - it was a stately home, not a castle in the traditional sense. The tone of her voice had almost made Arthur order her off the premises without letting her in through the front door and the house hadn't even been Arthur's at the time. It hadn't boded well for their relationship, but in actual fact, they had got on surprisingly well in the end. Catrina was quite the charmer, and she hadn't tried to take Uther to the cleaners when they’d split up four years ago, which said a lot in her favour. Still, she had left Uther for another man, and this meant that these next few days might be awkward, not least if Uther found out whom Arthur's first client was.
Arthur approached her with a polite smile plastered to his face, and the certainty that he was facing a long couple of days.
"Arthur!" she cooed when she caught sight of him, tottering over in her three-inch heels and air kissing both of his cheeks. "So good to see you again. How have you been?"
Amused, Arthur replied, "I'm doing well, thank you, Catrina. You look well yourself." Arthur had never had trouble seeing what Uther saw in Catrina – an ex-model who, even now at forty-seven, didn't look a day over thirty. Although Arthur suspected that was down to a little nip and tuck here and there, it didn't change the fact that she was an attractive woman and perfectly suited to her chosen profession.
"Thank you, Arthur," she said, and surprised him by taking his hand. Her brown eyes were sincere when she continued, "Look, I'm sorry I didn't get in
touch after I left. I didn't think Uther would appreciate it, but I did think of you. I grew very fond of you when I was with your father, and I missed you."
Arthur blinked, stuck for words. Catrina was being sincere, and he hadn't expected it. Instead of replying he pulled her into a hug, finally managing to say, "Thank you, that means a lot."
Over her shoulder he became aware of several people milling around a couple of Land Rovers a few metres away. "Are they the models?" he asked, pulling back and nodding towards them. There were three girls and three boys. He briefly wondered about their collective IQ, but he'd long ago learnt not to judge a book by its cover. A person could have both beauty and brains just as easily as they could have neither.
Catrina smiled. "They are indeed. All of my darlings are hot property. I never work with unknowns." The smile faded and she said, "I trust there will only be yourself in the house whilst we are here – some of the models won't be wearing very much and-"
"This is a fashion shoot, isn't it?" Arthur interrupted, realising that he had only assumed that before – what if this was some kind of pornographic thing? He wasn't having that in his home.
"What exactly are you implying, Arthur?" Catrina's expression became amused. "I assure you that there is nothing unsavoury on any of my commissions – everything is in perfectly good taste! This is a fashion shoot; magazine advertisements and a television commercial."
"Very well," Arthur conceded. "There are two other people in the house besides me – my assistant Leon and his wife Elena; she's the housekeeper and will be doing the catering. Both of them will keep out of your way as much as possible during the day. They live in one of the estate cottages."
"Hmm. You received my list of acceptable food, I hope? The models can't be eating anything greasy in the middle of a shoot as it can play havoc with their complexions."
"All in hand, I assure you," Arthur replied, starting to itch to get this over with so that he could go back into hiding in the house. "Leon and I are here to assist you whilst you are staying – ah, here he is now."
Arthur introduced Leon and, feeling only slightly guilty about it, made an immediate escape back to his office, promising Catrina they would catch up more over the next couple of days. Leon could handle it for now; he didn't have the memory of his father and Catrina acting all lovey-dovey seared into his eyelids.
The day passed quickly with Arthur hiding out in his office. When he ventured out again in the late afternoon and slipped into the back of the drawing room, he found himself watching two of the female models, a pouting blonde and a smiling red-head modelling alongside a tall skinny male model in tight jeans and an equally tight t-shirt that barely skimmed his hip bones. His skin was pale and smooth, the perfect foil for his dark hair and midnight blue eyes.
To Arthur's annoyance, he was instantly mesmerised.
"Beautiful, isn't he, Arthur?" Catrina whispered, noticing Arthur's presence just behind her. She knew all about Arthur's preferences. "Although my other two boys are probably more your type. Merlin there is more to Morgana's taste— Oh, God, Arthur, I'm sorry – I-"
Arthur stiffened. Morgana. "It's been over a year, Catrina, and it's fine if you talk about her." Catrina had sent her condolences at the time, but there had certainly been no love lost between the two women during Catrina's marriage to Uther. Not for a lack of effort on Catrina's part, Arthur had to admit; the animosity had been all Morgana's.
In the end, Morgana had broken both Arthur and his father's hearts.
He gave Catrina his best 'don't feel sorry for me' smile and with one last glance at the boy he now knew to be named Merlin, he turned to leave the room, but his escape was hampered by another male model – tall, longish dark hair and brown eyes that were looking Arthur up and down as though he was a particularly tasty snack.
"Hello there," model-boy two said with a slight leer, batting his huge brown eyes at Arthur. "Who do we have here?"
"Arthur Pendragon, your host," Arthur replied stiffly and fumbled around for the door handle. "Excuse me." He couldn't get away fast enough.
He heard the man mutter something under his breath as he made his escape, but he didn't hear what he had said and didn't care either.
The mention of Morgana's name always made him nauseous, and Catrina had certainly struck a blow into his day just by mentioning her. His half-sister had betrayed him and their father in the worst possible way. Uther hadn't been the same since, and the subsequent death of his daughter had hit him hard.
With thoughts of his father's mental health swimming in his head, Arthur headed back to his office to hide some more. This shoot couldn't be over quick enough; he already felt in the way in his own home, and it was not a pleasant feeling.
It was supposed to be a challenge. Arthur had inherited Camelot Castle from his Uncle Agravaine a few years ago and had left the corporate world behind without a second thought to make something of the place. He'd spent a lot of his childhood in this house. It was his mother's childhood home; it meant something. He had a plan, and the place could be self-sufficient within five years; opening it up for shoots like this and film crews was part of that.
He just wished he didn't resent their presence quite so much.
He hoped he might get some time to go wandering whilst he was here. They were going to be here for two nights, and there was no way he was spending all of his free time with Gwaine, whose efforts to get Merlin into bed were becoming decidedly tedious. Merlin supposed he should be flattered. Gwaine was gorgeous, funny and excellent company; he also slept with any man with a pulse who would have him.
"Merlin, keep your head up!" Myror instructed, and Merlin struck a pose. With his eyes directed forwards he caught sight of Gwaine just inside the doorway, one arm raised against the wall as he leant on it, his attention on the blond man Merlin had seen talking to Catrina a couple of minutes earlier. Blondie was out of place at the fashion shoot, wearing a rugby shirt and jeans but- okay, wow, he was still a rather gorgeous man if Merlin were honest – at least ten years older than he was, with slightly crooked teeth and an expression that read 'rabbit caught in the headlights'; Gwaine was obviously giving him his obligatory come on.
Merlin smirked as Blondie backed closer to the door and wrapped his fingers urgently around the handle. He turned, making his hasty escape. Merlin couldn't help it as his gaze dropped to the man's arse. Nice. He cocked his head slightly and licked his lips.
"That's it Merlin, that's hot – keep it up!"
Merlin turned his attention back to the camera.
"Yes, Merlin, you're on fire!"
Merlin grinned, unabashed. He loved his job.
To his horror he found himself sitting directly opposite to Merlin and between the redhead he'd seen in the shoot earlier, Sophia, and the man who'd tried to stall his escape with flirtation earlier who he now discovered went by the name of Gwaine.
Gwaine was very tactile, in that he had a hand on Arthur's leg before the starter was even served. Arthur pointedly picked up his hand and dropped it, trying to concentrate on the conversation around him. Catrina was flirting uncontrollably with the photographer, Myror. Her high pitched laughter catapulted Arthur back to the days of her being his step-mother; Catrina had always loved a party.
Catrina hadn't been wrong earlier; Merlin - tall and slender - was more of Morgana's tastes, his colouring similar to her boyfriend, Mordred. Arthur normally preferred something to hold on to like the man next to him, someone like Gwaine; but not today. Gwaine left him cold. Today he couldn't take his eyes off the cut-glass cheekbones and the scarlet red lips of the young man across the table. Young being the word there; Merlin couldn't be more than nineteen. Arthur was nearly thirty-four. The owner of the hand that had crept back onto his knee was a little less youthful looking, probably about twenty-five. That hand should have felt nice as it crept higher; instead, Arthur felt violated.
"Get – your – hand – off – me," he hissed out of the corner of his mouth to Gwaine, who held up both of his hands with a laugh.
"Calm down, Princess," he said, eyes dancing with amusement. "I'm just being friendly."
Arthur felt himself flush; he hated any kind of public display. He glanced around the table, but everyone seemed to be paying no attention to them; everyone except Merlin, who was glaring fiercely at Gwaine from across the table.
"Pack it in, Gwaine," he said in a low voice. Arthur was surprised that his accent had a Welsh lilt. He turned to Arthur and added, "Ignore him. He tries it on with everybody. He's an incorrigible flirt."
"Worked on you, didn't it?" Gwaine smirked, picking up his glass of red wine and holding it aloft as though he was toasting Merlin.
Merlin blushed, his neck mottling red before it reached his cheeks. His eyes widened and he glanced at Arthur before saying, "Pinning me against a wall underneath some mistletoe doesn't count.”
"If you say so," Gwaine said, raising an eyebrow and taking a swig of his wine.
Arthur sighed and turned to Sophia in an attempt to disguise his sudden desire to wrap his hands around Gwaine's neck and throttle the life out of him. Unfortunately, Sophia had the IQ of a cucumber and Arthur's evening took a decided turn for the worse.
Thank God he only had one more evening of this.
"How long have you owned this house, Mr Pendragon?"
Arthur's attention was drawn away from the redhead on his left and back across the table where a pair of deep blue eyes looked expectantly at him. Arthur was pleased to note that Gwaine's attention was being held by the stylist, Elyan, who was seated on his other side.
"Nearly three years. I inherited it from my uncle. It has been in my mother's family since it was built in 1638." Arthur always felt a sense of pride as he talked about his house. "And please, call me Arthur.”
Merlin grinned. "The only thing I ever inherited was a 1986 Austin Metro when my grandfather died."
Arthur couldn't help laughing. "A great year for Metros, I understand," he joked. "Do you still have it?"
Merlin shook his head. "I did use it for a few months when I passed my test, but then it broke down one day in the middle of a roundabout, and half of Swansea ground to a halt. Not one of my fonder memories!"
Arthur could just picture that. "That is unfortunate," he said, warming to Merlin. There was something about that smile; and here, in what were clearly his own clothes, he didn't look anything like a model, more an awkward teenager. Yes, awkward, gangly and still absolutely captivating. Arthur had to look away, pushing the remains of his model healthy frozen yoghurt around his bowl with the spoon.
"Do you mind if I explore the grounds a little while we're here?" Merlin asked, and Arthur looked up again to see Merlin's hopeful expression. "I've got my eye on that walled garden."
Arthur pushed down the memory of Morgana's dreamy plans for that garden, wondering what Merlin would say if he came over all lord-of-the-manor and
proclaimed that the garden was off limits. It was tempting to try, but those expressive eyes shone with such interest that Arthur didn't want to kill that. "Of course," he said, watching for Merlin's answering smile, adding, without any thought, "I can give you a tour of the grounds myself tomorrow if you have the time?"
As soon as the words were out he wanted to take them back. He was drawn to Merlin, to his smile, his openness and his obvious intelligence; his sharp hipbones, his bone structure and those eyes. That curiosity was not the result of someone with a low IQ. Yes, Arthur was attracted to him, and when that had happened exactly he wasn't sure, but it was fact. He could never act on it though; Merlin was far too young for him.
"Really?" Merlin asked excitedly, and Arthur's tummy flipped. "My first call tomorrow isn't until one o'clock."
Arthur shrugged, ignoring the heat pooling in his belly. "We'll set off after breakfast then – say – half eight?"
Arthur Pendragon was a real revelation. Once Merlin had managed to burrow a little beneath his hard standoffish exterior, he had found someone who intrigued him. There was definitely more to Arthur that a huge house and a questionable fashion sense. Merlin had been certain that someone who owned a house like this one had to be an utter knob, just like Merlin's shit of an ex, Cenred. It went with the territory, right? People like Merlin didn't move in these circles, where people were stupidly rich merely by accident of birth, unless they were being paraded as arm candy; something Merlin had learnt the hard way.
Of course, that was fine for the likes of Sophia. Her sole ambition in life was to marry a footballer, and she was currently dating some overpaid goalkeeper from one of the premier league teams whose name Merlin couldn't be bothered to remember.
Merlin's bedroom was in the main house, situated off a long picture lined gallery corridor that was like something straight out of a period drama. Yet, rather than hurrying, Merlin took the time to take in his surroundings as he was stared at from all angles by various blond-haired, blue-eyed portraits of people who were presumably Arthur Pendragon's ancestors.
This house had a lot of ghosts.
When he finally made it into his room, he nearly had a heart attack when he found someone in his bed. For a moment, just a teeny tiny millisecond, unexpected joy flooded him as he thought it might be Arthur Pendragon. Now, that would not have been unwelcome despite Merlin's lack of appetite for one night stands.
It wasn't Arthur though; of course it bloody wasn't. "Gwaine, what the sodding fuck?"
Gwaine raised himself on his elbows, the quilt falling down to reveal his naked chest. "You took your time," he said with an affected pout. Merlin sighed and glared at his uninvited guest.
"Do you ever take no for an answer?" he asked, suddenly feeling tired and wishing he'd stayed in the corridor with just the ghosts for company.
"I like to give people a second chance," Gwaine said, pushing down the covers further to reveal his flat stomach and his long hard cock. "Everyone deserves a second chance, don't you think, Merlin?"
Merlin swallowed. He couldn't deny that Gwaine made a very tempting picture lying there in his bed. Merlin could just sod it all and join him, and no doubt the experience would be extremely pleasurable. He could, but he wasn't going to.
Merlin glanced around hurriedly and spied Gwaine's jeans slung over one of the chairs. He made a grab for them, throwing them in the direction of the bed. "Here's your second chance – I said no, I meant no – now kindly leave and perhaps we'll still be friends in the morning." He had to keep it amicable as he and Gwaine worked for the same agency and were often on the same jobs together – and Merlin liked him when he wasn't behaving like a cock with legs.
Gwaine huffed, but didn't argue as he got out of Merlin's bed and shimmied into his jeans. Merlin stared at the spot just to the left of his head. There was no way he wanted to catch another glimpse of Gwaine's equipment. He wasn't sure he was strong enough to turn that down if Gwaine persisted. It had been
a long time since Cenred.
Holding his shirt in one hand, Gwaine walked past Merlin, winked at him and disappeared through the door, closing it behind him with a soft click. Merlin felt all the tension leave him as he slumped back against it and with a twist of his hand, locked it.
"That's some impressive willpower," said a female voice from Merlin's left. For the second time in less than five minutes Merlin nearly succumbed to a coronary. "I'm not sure I could have turned him down."
Curled in the armchair near the window sat a young woman around Merlin's age with long dark hair and pale green eyes; eyes that were trained on Merlin with amusement. He closed his eyes and counted to five. When he opened them again, she was still there.
"What do you want?" He was going to have to accept that he wasn't going to look as fresh in the morning as he would have liked. He pinched the bridge of his nose and gave her a once-over. She was fresh – new – and he surmised that she hadn't been dead for very long.
Merlin had encountered several ghosts since arriving in this house; hell, old buildings like this had more than their fair share. Most of them happily drifted about from day to day doing whatever it was that they did. Sometimes they would talk to Merlin, but more often than not they preferred their routines. The more recently deceased were not so easy to ignore because it was exactly like it was on those cheesy American television shows; ghosts were spirits that hadn't 'crossed over'. Unfortunately though, this was reality, and Merlin could talk to ghosts, but the helping them move on trope? No, he preferred to leave that for fate to decide.
"You're not very welcoming," the ghost said, her eyes trailing him as he shook off his jacket and placed it over the chair that Gwaine's jeans had occupied earlier. "Starting to wish you'd taken him up on his offer?"
"Not really," Merlin replied, moving to sit in the armchair opposite his second uninvited guest of the night. "Who are you?"
She stared at him for a long minute, as if only now deciding that she was going to actually talk to him. "You're not as clever as I thought you were if you think I'll tell you that before I've gotten to know you a little."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Well, considering you're here, it means you want something from me, so why don't you just come out with it, I'll tell you if I can help, and then maybe I can get some sleep tonight."
"I need to be sure that I can trust you," she said, her eyes reflecting fear. Merlin felt himself soften towards her.
"Fair enough," he replied. "But I'm only here for a few days so you might want to hurry that on a little-"
Merlin stared at the empty space. "Fuck."
He was nervous. Of meeting Merlin – which was ridiculous; he was a thirty-three year old man who had given speeches in front of parliament! He could handle a teenage model.
"Morning!" Merlin said, appearing in the kitchen doorway with a piece of toast in one hand and a camera in the other, his face split with a huge grin. "Have you been waiting long?"
Arthur had been embarrassingly early. He shook his head. "No, I just got here." He couldn't help but look Merlin up and down, admiring his slender figure in low slung jeans and a plaid shirt and – Arthur couldn't help but smile – huge green wellington boots. "Did you sleep well?"
The smile fell off Merlin's face. "Not bad, once I had evicted a naked Gwaine from my bed."
Arthur felt his stomach sink. "Oh." What on earth was he expected to say about Merlin and Gwaine having had sex last night? It wasn't like this was a date; he had no right to feel this horrible feeling of murderous jealousy. "You and he-?"
"God – no!" Merlin spluttered, his face flushing. "I meant he was waiting for me when I got back; I kicked him out."
Arthur felt the weight lift. "He's a bit of a-"
"Tart?" Merlin finished. "He's okay really, he likes to try it on, but he never pushes it."
All the talk of naked men in Merlin's bed made Arthur feel uncomfortable. Changing the subject he said, "So you ready for the tour?"
"Looking forward to it," Merlin said and bit into his toast, licking a stray crumb off his top lip. Arthur hastily looked away. "Lead on."
Arthur was proud of the estate; the grounds were expansive, full of nooks and crannies and the self-indulgent follies of his ancestors. He had plans for outdoor theatre performances in the summer. His business adviser, Geoffrey, had suggested a music festival, but Arthur didn't want the disruption. Theatre events and classical concerts were his limit at the moment.
It was a cold, dull day with the smell of frost in the air. The sky was dark and looked full of rain. Arthur insisted that Merlin wear one of the fleece lined waterproofs that he had hanging in the service entrance, just in case. They walked in silence towards the first folly of Arthur's tour; by the time they reached the last – a grotto cave with a man-made faerie well in the corner, Merlin was taking numerous photos and chattering away, asking question after question that Arthur was enjoying answering.
Arthur was having a good time. He hadn't laughed like this in a long while.
He sat down on the stone bench that was hewn out of the wall of the cave, shifting over slightly when Merlin came to sit beside him. Merlin's leg was warm against Arthur's. It felt nice.
"Have you got other family?" Merlin asked suddenly, the change in topic jarring Arthur out of the warm bubble he was bumbling around in like a lovesick fool.
He never spoke about Morgana. He missed her; but her betrayal hurt and now it would never be made right. There was something about Merlin that made him want to open up. "My father is in the States at the moment on business; he likes to keep busy – and I had a half-sister." He fiddled with the zip on his jacket. "Morgana... died last year. She was murdered." That was only half of the story, but the truth wasn't in the public domain and he wasn't about to tell Merlin that secret. He hadn't told anybody. Only Uther and the police knew.
"I'm sorry. You must miss her."
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Merlin had probably picked up on his reticence to talk about Morgana. The silence was broken only by the sounds of their breathing.
"It gets easier," Merlin said, finally, covering Arthur's hand with his. "The pain, I mean."
"I'm fine!" Arthur spat with sudden anger, regretting it instantly when Merlin jumped to his feet, severing the contact between them.
"Look, I didn't mean to-"
Arthur stood as well. The light in the cave was dim, but he could see the light glinting off Merlin's eyes and the gentle heave of his shoulders as he breathed, and something snapped, all the anger leaving him as quickly as it had arrived. He reached out and closed his fingers around Merlin's wrist, pulling him in, and without further thought he tilted his head and kissed him. Merlin gasped in surprise and Arthur took that opportunity to gain entrance to the softness of his mouth. He didn't expect the sharp kick of desire to take hold as quickly as it did.
The feel of Merlin, responsive in his arms, his scent – God, Arthur's prick hardened faster than it had when he was a teenager. Merlin threaded his hands through Arthur's hair and slowly walked them backwards to the bench they had just vacated. When Arthur's legs hit the edge he folded into it and Merlin came down with him, straddling his lap.
From there it was bumped elbows and banged heads as they kissed, the discomfort a mere afterthought, Merlin's hands in Arthur's hair, Arthur's hands on Merlin's arse. Arthur couldn't get close enough to Merlin, their cocks grinding together through jeans and cumbersome waterproof jackets.
"God," Arthur managed as Merlin somehow managed to undo his jeans beneath all the layers and wrap his palm around his cock. "Yes – like that – oh-" He tipped his head back, the pain as it cracked against the rock face doing nothing to detract from the sheer pleasure of how Merlin was teasing him, and how much he wanted to do the same to Merlin.
Keeping one hand on Merlin's arse, he managed to push Merlin's jacket up and undo the top button, his hand shaking as he slipped it inside and curled his own fingers around Merlin's cock. Merlin leant back, his spare hand on Arthur's shoulder now as he stared down at where their hands were crossed at the wrist. "More," he said and bit his lip. He took his hand off Arthur's cock and drew them both together, red and obscene jutting out from their flies until they were aligned, grinding them together with a twist of his hips.
Arthur leant in for another kiss and this is how they both came, almost in time with one another, too perfect to be true, Arthur's tongue entwined with Merlin's as he gasped into his climax. He couldn't remember a time when he'd ever been this desperate.
"Wow," Merlin said as he tried to catch his breath. "That was some tour."
Merlin could feel a flush creeping up his neck.
"I mean, it's kind of pervy really, seeing as you're what – eighteen? - and my brother is thirty-three, but the way you two were going at it-" She stopped and affected a cough. "Of course, I didn't stick around when I realised what you were doing because - yuck – Arthur's my brother, but still…"
Bloody hell, this was Morgana, he should have realised! But then, how could he have? He hadn't even known about her before that morning and he hadn't had time to Google her after leaving Arthur earlier.
"Gwen, how old do you think I am?" Merlin asked, trying not to think about
what Morgana's presence meant for Arthur, his eyes locked on Morgana's.
"Merlin, I know how old you are," Gwen said, putting her hands on either side of his head and forcing him to look forwards. "Keep your head straight."
"Yes, but if you didn't know me, how old would you say I was?"
"You still look about seventeen." Gwen met his eye in the mirror and winked.
"I'm twenty-one," Merlin announced for Morgana's benefit, shooting her a challenging look.
"All the same," Morgana said, expression smug. "That's still twelve years."
"I like an older man," Merlin said, forgetting himself for a moment.
Gwen stopped teasing his hair and rounded on him. "You do? Merlin, are you okay?" Her brows drew together and she placed a cool hand on his forehead.
"I'm fine. I was just talking out loud."
"Right. If you say so." She rolled her eyes and moved back behind him. "Do you know if Lance is seeing anyone?"
Merlin sighed in relief and glanced towards Morgana, but she'd vanished again. "I don't think so," he teased, glad for the change of subject. "At least, not since the last time you asked; yesterday."
"Shut up, you." Gwen tapped him on the head with the comb. "Lance is way out of my league."
Merlin rolled his eyes and went back to thinking about what had happened earlier with Arthur. He might just be a little bit smitten actually. Just a little bit. Okay, okay, a lot.
And now he had to find out what Arthur's dead sister wanted. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Morgana waylaid Merlin in his room as he redressed after his shower. "Please don't tell me you're going to Arthur's room?"
"What if I am?" He wasn't about to be cockblocked by a ghost, dead sister or not.
She tutted heavily and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Look, are you going to tell me what you want at any point because I've got a date." Merlin glanced at himself in the mirror and mussed his hair. "And you're making me late."
He must have had a worried look on his face because Morgana's expression softened. "I do love my brother you know, despite what he might have told you."
"I never said that you didn't, and he hasn't told me anything other than that you're dead."
"I need your help," she said after a long pause. "What happened to me wasn't how it looked, and I need you to help me set it all straight. You have to talk to Arthur."
Merlin closed his eyes. He'd expected something like this, but it didn't mean he had to like it. Well, that'd put the kibosh on their fling before it even started. He'd let himself pretend otherwise because the knot in his stomach when he thought about Arthur was something he'd never felt before, and he liked it. In his head, this was already way more than a fling.
"I'll help you, I promise, but can it wait until tomorrow?” Merlin sighed wearily. "If I'm going to hit Arthur with the fact that I can see ghosts, I'd rather do it after tonight, if you don't mind, because I've a feeling he won't be interested afterwards."
And that was the most depressing feeling in the world.
"Very well," she said with a hint of light sarcasm. "Far be it from me to come between true love; don't mind my being dead."
Merlin immediately felt guilty and not just because of Morgana. "Look, I'm sorry, I'm sorry that you died, but you have to understand that this particular 'talent' of mine is viewed with a high level of scepticism by most people and they either think I'm nuts or after their money – or both." Only his mum, Uncle Gaius and Will knew about his gift. Well, and the police, but that was something else entirely.
"I can't be the first person to ask this of you?" Morgana folded her arms across her chest and tried to stare through him.
No, she wasn't, but she was the first person related to someone he wanted to get to know better. He shook his head and asked, resigned, "So - what happened to you?"
Morgana rolled her eyes. "Oh - go forth and copulate will you? I'll find you in the morning. I've been dead for over a year; one more day won't kill me." She smirked at her own joke and nodded towards to the door. "Arthur hates being kept waiting."
Merlin hesitated. He felt guilty for leaving her, yet if she was making jokes about her own death, she'd hopefully come to terms with it.
Merlin nodded. "Okay. Thank you."
"Were you worried I'd changed my mind?” Merlin teased and yanked his t-shirt over his head and popped the button on his jeans as Arthur watched hungrily. Kicking off his shoes and socks he padded over to Arthur, wrapped a hand around his neck brought him in for a kiss. Arthur responded with a grunt, opening up to him and Merlin walked them back to the ornate four-poster that dominated the room.
It wasn't long before neither of them was wearing a stitch, the urgency in which they undressed one another picking up pace once all the clothes had been discarded. Merlin pushed Arthur back on the bed and straddled him before setting about slowly licking and nipping him all over, from his neck, along his shoulders to his collarbone, down across his smooth broad chest and into the hollow of his stomach, thumbs on hipbones and his nose in the crease of Arthur's thighs.
Arthur's cock lay flat and red against his stomach, and Merlin ignored it in favour of teasing Arthur's inner thighs with tiny kisses and bites. Arthur's heavy breathing, his hands in Merlin's hair and the way his hips bucked off the bed were all Merlin needed to feed his own desire. He slid his fingers behind Arthur's balls, ghosting over his hole, staring up at Arthur before taking the head of his cock into his mouth, teasing and sucking as he continued to circle with his finger.
He had Arthur in the palm of his hand, loving how he came undone beneath his hands. "Merlin, God-" Arthur was whimpering and Merlin grinned and swallowed Arthur down to the root. "Merlin!" The hand in his hair clenched and Arthur thrust upwards.
Merlin bobbed his head few times, staring up at Arthur's reaction. Sensing he was getting close, he sat back on his heels. "Where's the lube?"
When Arthur nodded at the pillow, Merlin leant over Arthur's prone body and reached underneath for the condoms and lube. He wanted to fuck Arthur…he wanted Arthur to fuck him. He just wanted.
In the end, the feel of Arthur's cock against his decided it for him and he took the lube, coating his fingers liberally and stretched upwards, reaching behind himself, his eyes locked with Arthur's. "Gonna ride you," he said as he breached his hole.
Arthur's hands clamped around Merlin's hipbones. "Hurry," he rasped, making Merlin glad he'd taken the time to ready himself in the shower earlier, desperately trying not to come as he'd imagined what was waiting for him.
"Patience!" Merlin grinned as he ripped open a condom wrapper and rolled it down Arthur's cock. He moved forward and aligned himself, sinking down slowly, biting his lip in concentration. It had been a long time. Arthur watched him through narrowed eyes until Merlin nodded at him. "I'm ready."
Arthur's grip on Merlin's hips tightened and he lifted him up. It was slow at first, but not for long, rapidly turning from gentle to urgent. With a groan, Arthur spun them around so that Merlin was on his back, pulling his legs over his shoulders as he desperately hammered into him, alternating between kissing him and watching the spot where they were joined with blown eyes.
Merlin held off on reaching for his own cock for as long as he could, wanting this to last forever. When he gave in it was nearly game over. A few rapid strokes and he was coming, crying Arthur's name into the shell of his ear, splattering them both with his come.
Arthur pulled back. He removed the condom, and Merlin's legs dropped to his sides as he wanked himself to completion over Merlin's stomach with a low growl. Merlin immediately curled into him, hoping it didn't turn awkward.
He fell asleep with his head in the crook of Arthur's arm and Arthur's fingers in his hair, gently caressing him.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd woken up with someone else in his bed; he hadn't met anyone in a long time that had been anything more than a quick fuck, and when that happened he never brought any of them home.
Slowly he turned, dragging his sleep-hazed eyes along the sleeping form of the man beside him. Merlin's wild, dark hair was mussed, his lashes long and sharp where they rested on his cheeks; and the cheekbones, God- Arthur couldn't help raising a hand and tracing his thumb along the sculpted lines of Merlin's face. Catrina had not been wrong when she'd described this young man as 'beautiful', but he was more than that. There was something so special about him that Arthur felt momentarily overwhelmed. He tore his hand away and let his eyes move lower, over a pale slender frame, a hairless chest, to a flat stomach with a smattering of dark hair that led downwards beneath the unfortunately placed duvet.
Arthur's cock stirred in response to what he was seeing and to Merlin's proximity. He gave a short laugh as the word 'smitten' floated into his head. He was thirty-fucking-three years old and he was feeling like a teenager. Merlin looked like a teenager, though Arthur now knew he wasn't. He'd made a point of telling Arthur emphatically over dinner the night before that he was twenty-one!
What the hell was he doing? Sex was good, who wouldn't agree with that, but waking up with someone, in his own home – what was he thinking? Merlin was a bloody model for Christ's sake. In Arthur's experience that lifestyle was a pretty free one; hell, look at Gwaine's behaviour; it was clearly normal for Gwaine to flit around from bed to bed when the opportunity occurred.
What if this was just another notch on Merlin's bedpost? He was clearly way past being a blushing virgin. He knew what he was doing.
A lot of people wanted to fuck Arthur Pendragon. After all, he was stupidly rich and relatively easy on the eye; he was a good catch.
Was that what Merlin saw in him? Merlin had told him about his upbringing during their walk yesterday, and it was pretty much the polar opposite of Arthur's apart from them both only having one parent, growing up. Arthur had grown up in Belgravia with a nanny and a butler. He'd gone to private schools, Harvard Business School, and then straight into working for his father. Merlin had grown up in a small Welsh village, left school at sixteen and started work in a shop and done his A Levels at night class so he could pay his way and help his mother out. That had all changed when he'd been 'spotted' by a model scout at eighteen. Money was important to Merlin in a way it never would be for Arthur, because he'd never had to worry about it and probably never would.
Merlin had had to scrape for every penny. If he became involved with Arthur he would never have to work again if he chose not to.
As the cold feeling crept through Arthur's soul, Merlin snuffled and gradually opened his eyes to meet Arthur's narrowed gaze. "G'mornin," he said, stretching his body with a groan and adding teasingly, "Wanna go again?"
Arthur's heart clenched. This boy already had a hold of him, and that was not acceptable. Arthur should never have let that happen; he should have met him in Merlin's room, fucked his brains out and left. Instead he was stuck here, Merlin's sleep-warm body beside him suddenly unwelcome, and he didn't like the feeling; he didn't like it at all.
When Arthur didn't reply to his invitation, Merlin seemed to deflate. "Fair enough," he said, turning his gaze away from Arthur's and staring at the ceiling before twisting out of Arthur's proximity and to his feet beside the bed. "I have to be on set in an hour anyway." He searched around for his clothes, ducking down to pick something up and yanking it over his head. Arthur couldn't look, because if he did he might end up telling him not to go, and then he'd be back where he started.
He heard Merlin get dressed, followed by his footsteps as they moved towards the door, then hesitated. "See you later then," Merlin said, and the door clicked as it closed behind Merlin.
Arthur counted to five and said into the thin air, "Fuck."
He'd been well and truly blown off by Arthur Pendragon that morning. After a night of what had honestly been the best sex he'd ever had, he'd been certain that it had to be the start of something more.
He'd never wanted to take things to the next step as much with anyone before; but no one had ever made him feel like Arthur Pendragon had been starting to make him feel.
"Come on, Merlin, snap out of it!" Myror ordered when Merlin didn't hear his first set of instructions to move positions and had remained where he was.
"Sorry," Merlin muttered and moved over to sit on the chaise lounge beside Gwaine. The shot was deliberately homoerotic; the fashion house they were working for were more than aware that a huge portion of their market share came from the 'pink pound' and weren't afraid to play up to that with strategically placed advertisements in certain magazines. Merlin had to look lovingly at Gwaine, whilst Lance sat on the floor at their feet with both of their hands threaded into his hair.
It looked like a prelude to a very satisfying threesome.
"Excellent!" Myror called. Merlin looked up for direction and saw Arthur framed in the doorway, watching. His face was completely blank, and beside him stood Morgana. Right. He had made her a promise he needed to fulfil before he left that afternoon.
Left this house.
Perhaps Arthur's coldness this morning was a good thing. At least now when Merlin told Arthur whatever Morgana had to say that wouldn't be the thing that tore them apart.
He shot Morgana a look that implied they would talk straight after this, and she nodded and vaporised. Merlin looked back at Arthur, his heart almost
exploding in his chest with the hurt, and he had to look away when he saw that Arthur's expression had changed, but not into anything positive. He was looking at Merlin as though he wanted Merlin as far away from him as possible.
Merlin had thought that Arthur was different. Merlin didn't understand how people could be like this; last night had been perfect and now it was just nothing? He wasn't naïve; he knew how it worked, but never for him. He didn't do that. He'd only slept with two other people before; he'd been with Will for two years until they'd had to admit that they were more friends than anything else, best friends, and that is what they had gone back to – and then the huge mistake that had been Cenred. He'd been stupid, fancied himself in love for a while; but his feelings for Cenred melted to nothing in the light of what he had started to feel for Arthur after just one day.
Sex with Will had been boring, both of them inexperienced and unsure, learning from their mistakes and from watching porn in Merlin's bedroom when his Mum was at work. With Cenred it had been fantastic, but still, nothing like last night had been with Arthur.
No, Merlin didn't understand how people could sleep around, because for him, sex meant something. Last night had meant something and it was really out of character for him to even have done what he'd done with Arthur on such a short acquaintance – twice as well! It had taken Cenred over a month of wooing before Merlin had succumbed.
Maybe he really was stupidly naïve.
Looking at Arthur now, Merlin searched his face for something, some sign that it hadn't all been in his head. He found nothing.
He didn't want to think about Arthur and he certainly did not want to get involved in this situation with Morgana – but – how could he not?
When she told him her story he was glad he hadn't just walked away. Arthur needed to know the truth, and so did the police.
Merlin's heart went out to her. She'd been robbed of her life, the person responsible was at large and her much loved older brother and father believed she had betrayed them.
There was no way that he could not help her; and this was how he found himself searching out Arthur with just an hour to go before they were due to leave, hating himself for the curl of anticipation in his belly that was nothing at all to do with what he was about to tell him, but everything to do with how much he longed to see Arthur one more time. It was like he was some kind of masochist, searching out that which could hurt him the most just to feel alive.
There was no sign of Arthur though, and when Merlin saw Gwaine coming down the stairs with his backpack, he asked, "Have you seen Arthur Pendragon anywhere, Gwaine?"
Gwaine rolled his eyes. "I just saw Princess Pendragon brooding by the lake from my window." He moved to walk past Merlin, stopping just as he reached him to say, "You and him, huh?" He hissed out a breath and shook his head, laughing to himself as he passed. Merlin was certain he heard him mutter, 'typical' but he didn't have time to linger over Gwaine; he had to find Arthur. Time was running out.
He made his way outside and soon found Arthur heading towards him from the lakeside with forceful strides. "Thank God," Arthur began, sounding out of breath. "I was just coming to find you; I was worried I might have missed you."
He crowded in on Merlin, one hand brushing through his hair, and Merlin felt the coldness that had been filling his blood abate at Arthur's touch. "I thought-"
"I'm an idiot," Arthur said. "I panicked. When we woke up together I didn't know what to do, I thought- All I do know is that I don't want you to go without knowing I'll see you again."
Merlin felt joy at Arthur's words. That was what he wanted too. He didn't know if this thing between them was real, he wasn't in love with Arthur, it was too soon for that, but he wanted nothing more than the chance to find out if they could be more.
He allowed Arthur to pull him into his arms, accepted the semi-chaste kiss to his lips, Arthur pulling back and scanning his face for a reaction – but then Merlin saw her, over Arthur's shoulder – Morgana – and the look on her face was one of such pain that Merlin knew he couldn't hold it back any longer. He owed her that; and if he and Arthur were ever going to go anywhere, he would need to know about Merlin's other 'talents'.
He leant back in and kissed Arthur back, one hand in fisting in his hair, desperate and longing. This could be goodbye.
"I want to see you again too, Arthur," he said, his eyes locked on the wide blue gaze he was fixed with. "But there's something I need to tell you first."
He had not seen it coming.
Merlin was obviously out to play him for financial gain. Wasn't that always what people wanted from him? Merlin had merely tried a new angle. Arthur didn't know how Merlin knew what he did about Morgana. Uther had pulled some strings; there was a super injunction in place to stop the media covering the full story.
Merlin obviously had some friends in the right places.
"I can communicate with spirits," Merlin had said, watching him closely.
Arthur had felt a sinking feeling in his chest at Merlin's words. How many crazies had spun him similar lines in the past and claimed they had made contact with his mother? His father had been taken in by such a person, who had played on his grief and vulnerability after Ygraine's death, and it had cost him a small fortune before he finally came to his senses and realised the woman was a fraud.
He had stepped back from Merlin and sneered, "I suppose you have my mother with you, and she loves me and is proud of me and misses me?"
Something had flashed in Merlin's eyes; a light going out. "No. Not your mother, Arthur. Your sister Morgana."
Arthur had instantly seen red at the mention of Morgana's name. "Don't you dare." His head started spinning and he was certain his heart had snapped into two. He'd grabbed hold of Merlin's arm and begun to walk back to the house. "I want you out of here. I want you to leave and never come back. If you do, I'll have you arrested so fast that your feet won't touch the ground."
"Arthur, please – listen to me."
"I know your kind, Merlin, and you're not sucking me into your web. You'll never see a penny of my money." They reached the house. On the front drive, the crew were packing their things away and looked almost ready to leave. Arthur stopped, and, letting go of Merlin's arm, pushed him towards the gathering.
Merlin stumbled but did not fall. "I don't want your money!" he hissed.
Arthur had already turned away, bitter disappointment thrumming through his veins. He had thought- He had been wrong. Evidently. He ignored Merlin's protest and continued back towards the house and the sanctuary of his office.
The tone of Merlin's voice was so desperate that Arthur stilled, dragging in a heavy breath. He didn't turn around. "Enough!" he shouted, his anger peaking. "Get out of here, Merlin, and don't ever come back!" He didn't pause to hear if Merlin replied as he stormed back into the house and headed for his bedroom, where he locked himself in and threw himself down on the bed.
He stayed there until the crew had left, until the light began to dim on the horizon and day became night. He felt betrayed all over again. He'd felt something for Merlin, something right, and to discover it was all a ruse, well. It hurt.
When he finally ventured out again, he found a note hastily shoved under his office door. It read:
I'm not lying.
Morgana has something she needs you to know.
PS. If I don't hear from you in one month I will have to tell what I know to the police.
There was a phone number at the bottom.
Arthur balled it up and hurled it at the waste bin. If anyone was going to the police, it was going to be him!
He wasn't sure what grieved him more in that moment: Morgana's betrayal or Merlin's.
The pitch dark outside of his window taunted him, images whirling in his head, Merlin, Morgana, his father- What would Uther have to say about this? Would he listen to Merlin?
Merlin had said 'I don't want your money' and Arthur had been too angry to listen. Yet- people couldn't talk to the dead, that was just bullshit!
Still, something niggled. What if it was true? Morgana was his baby sister. He'd protected her from older bullies when she was small, taught her how to ride a bike, teased her mercilessly, covered for her with Uther, been there for her whole life. He'd been jealous when she'd found Morgause. He hadn't considered that perhaps she'd needed someone else, someone easier to talk to than he was, someone female – she'd just been a teenager, going through stuff and who wanted to talk to their big brother about all of that? It had seemed, though, that even Morgause's grasp on Morgana had been temporary and his sister had been swayed by love, spending more and more time with Mordred. Mordred was Morgause's cousin on her father's side, which was how Morgana had met him. She'd been besotted with him and both Arthur and Uther had been worried at the intensity of their attachment.
He thought of Merlin and squeezed his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose.
He'd felt something for Merlin from the moment he'd laid eyes on him, and getting to know him a little over the course of his stay hadn't changed that. Maybe he should trust in his gut instincts more.
What if Merlin was telling the truth?
He sat there for an age, before getting slowly to his feet and leaving the room.
It was time he checked in with his other business interests. Leon could cope here for a couple of weeks. Arthur had to get away.
It had been three weeks and Merlin hadn't heard from Arthur. He had never felt more lonely than he did right now.
"Cheer up, Merlin," Mithian teased as Merlin huddled into the padded jacket provided for him. "Or does the prospect of drinks with the gang later really fill you with such dread?"
Merlin forced a smile. He liked Mithian, he'd only met her that morning before the shoot began, but she was friendly to everyone alike with a warmth about her that made him want to smile back. This was a shoot for one of the glossies, six pages for the December edition, of him and Mithian looking pale and interesting with Central Park as a backdrop.
"No, I'm looking forward to later," he replied, and he was, he really was. He'd come to New York after a week of silence from Arthur and had worked a couple of other jobs whilst here. The silence was louder than the horrible thunder in his heart when he thought about Arthur. It was ridiculous really, that he missed him so much when he had only known him for two days – but he did. A night out with Mithian and the crew before he flew home tomorrow afternoon was just what he needed, along with lots of beer. He'd booked a couple of weeks off after today and he hadn't allowed himself an alcoholic drink in weeks. A few drinks would drown out thoughts of Arthur.
"All right," Mithian said, giggling and pushing him to his feet. "Bed for you now."
Merlin didn't remember much after that, not leaving the club, not being shoved into a taxi and certainly not getting back to his hotel room. He woke up with a stiff neck and pins and needles in his hand from where he had laid upon it. Slowly, he opened his eyes to find he was curled up in the armchair near the window with the distant drone of the city traffic several floors below him. Mithian was sprawled on the bed, fully dressed with one shoe on, lightly snoring.
They'd had a good night then.
"Ughh," Merlin groaned and tried to think where he had packed his paracetamol. He attempted to stand and fell back into the chair. "Uggnh." He was never drinking again.
"Your phone keeps beeping," Mithian grumbled from the bed. "Make it stop."
The phone was on the floor beside the bed and Merlin rolled himself out of the chair and crawled over to retrieve it. He had five texts: two from Gwaine, one from Gwen, and another from Will and – one from Arthur. It read, 'I'll listen'.
Merlin stared at it, suddenly nervous. Morgana hadn't bothered him here in New York, but she had made an appearance at his flat in London, asking him to keep trying, saying that Arthur was stubborn but he would come around eventually. Now it seemed as if this was his chance.
"Are you okay, Merlin? Is it bad news?" Mithian was peering down over the side of the bed at him.
"I don't know," Merlin said, biting his lip. "It's from someone I didn't think I'd hear from again." He tapped a quick reply: 'Saturday, 1pm, Tate Modern'. "There. Now I'm meeting him on Saturday."
"We'd better get up then," Mithian said, amused. "Our flight is in four hours."
He'd Googled 'medium' and then 'clairvoyant' and had only ended up more confused than he'd started. Then Derren Brown got in on the act and pretty much proved that it was all clever reading of people and sleight of hand tricks and he convinced himself that of course Merlin was playing him, that he'd obviously pegged him for an easy target. He must have shown some obvious vulnerability during their first day together. Merlin had crept his way in and before Arthur knew it he was telling him about Morgana.
He was probably a con man's dream.
Yet Merlin had said he didn't want Arthur's money, and he'd mentioned the police… What did he know? Or was that just another way of trying to gain Arthur's trust?
All he knew was that he had to see him again, and that it was a double edged sword. He'd spent a lot of time by the lake that last day back in Shropshire, before Merlin's 'revelation', and he'd come to the conclusion that he wanted Merlin in his life. That he wanted to see where it went. Arthur was older than him – so what? They'd hit it off, the sex had been fantastic and Merlin made him feel - alive. So he'd made a decision to stop hiding, and look where that had gotten him. Precisely nowhere, that was where; but it changed nothing. He wanted to give Merlin a chance to explain himself – because if there was any truth to it and Morgana needed him, then he had to know – and because he wanted Merlin to be telling the truth so that they could see if there really was something between them.
This whole situation was a complete mess.
So now he hovered in the Turbine Hall feeling ridiculously nervous. And slightly sick.
Arthur turned his attention away from the whatever-it-was in the middle of the hall this month and found Merlin beside him, all dark curls and pale skin and no, time hadn't lessened the impact of his presence. He still made Arthur's breath catch when he looked at him.
"Merlin," Arthur replied. His eyes were locked on Merlin's and for a long few moments they stared at one another, unblinking. Arthur itched to touch him, maybe lean in and kiss him.
Merlin broke the silence. "Walk with me," he said, nodding towards the exit, and they did, back out into the fresh air down to the river. Merlin leaned over the railing and looked down into the water below. "Is it okay if we talk here, or do you want to go somewhere else?"
Arthur stood next to Merlin with his back to the river. "Here's fine."
"Why'd you change your mind?" Merlin continued to stare at the water.
"Honestly," Arthur said. "I don't know." That was the truth wasn't it? Even now he wasn't sure this was the right decision. He didn't want to get drawn into a web of deceit just because he was half in love with Merlin.
"I understand why you wouldn't believe me," Merlin said in a rush of words, like he'd been waiting to say this for some time. "My 'gift' is not something I advertise. I don't use it to make money. Sometimes spirits talk to me; sometimes I have to pass on a message because they won't leave me alone until I do – that's it. It's a normal part of my life. I am who I am and I can't help that. So if you don't want to hear any more, then I'll go and you never have to see me again – I just wanted to tell you that I'm not here to con you."
Arthur stared at his feet, unsure how to respond.
Merlin sighed and said, "For what it's worth – I sometimes help the police. I'm on their consultant database. Sometimes when a spirit seeks me out, they have information that can help an enquiry." He straightened up and turned so his hip was resting against the railing and he was looking at Arthur.
Arthur lifted his head and stared back at him. "Tell me about my sister then. Something only I would know."
Merlin smiled sadly. "She told me you'd ask this.” He took Arthur's hand and traced the contour of the silver ring on his forefinger. "This ring. Morgana bought it for you for your thirtieth birthday. Inside it reads, in Latin, 'You can't escape your destiny'.
Arthur never took that ring off, even to shower. The destiny thing was his and Morgana's private joke from her early teens when she'd been obsessed with Tarot cards. If only she'd seen what was in her own future, maybe she could have averted it. There was no way Merlin could have guessed what was inscribed inside it. Could it really be that Merlin was telling the truth? Either way, he had to hear what Merlin had to say.
"What does she want you to tell me?"
Arthur was expecting it to be a 'sorry'. What else could it be? She'd been dead a year. She'd been found in the cellar at Morgause's, with Morgause long gone along with the ransom Uther had paid for her safe return. Apparently she'd been killed in a struggle. What broke Arthur's heart, and his father's, had been finding out that Morgana had been in on it the whole time. That the kidnapping was a set up to get money out of Uther.
"Your sister wasn't killed by her half-sister – she had nothing to do with it. The reason Morgause hasn't handed herself in for questioning is because she's afraid no one will believe her. It's all been a perfect set-up from the start." Merlin paused, watching Arthur intently. "Shall I carry on?"
Arthur could only nod, his mind whirring from the implications of what Merlin was telling him.
"Okay, well, it was her boyfriend, Mordred. He's a nasty piece of work, from what Morgana tells me. If you wondered why you barely saw Morgana after she got together with him? It's because by the sound of it, Mordred was a prime manipulator. He wanted Morgana, but more, he wanted access to your family's money. So he concocted a scheme. A kidnapping. Morgana was in on it, Arthur, but only because he threatened to harm you and Morgause." He took a deep breath and continued, "She was killed when she tried to leave him. Mordred announced that just because your father had paid the ransom didn't mean she could go home. He said that she was his and as long as you and Uther knew she was with him and not the 'kidnappers' you would be happy."
God, if this was true, he'd let his sister down more than he'd realised. He hadn't protected her. He'd been so busy wallowing in his own self-pity at what he'd thought she'd done – then when she'd died, his own grief – and all along-
"Mordred had always set it up to lead back to Morgause if it went wrong."
"I need to sit down," he said and pushed away from the railings to head for the nearest bench. He sensed Merlin following him. He slumped onto the cold metal bench and dropped his head into his hands.
"Arthur, are you okay? Can I get you something – a tea or coffee maybe? There's a café back in the gallery if you want something."
Arthur shook his head. "You mentioned the police." He stared up at Merlin who was jiggling on the spot in front of him with his hands tucked firmly in his pockets. "Will they listen to you?"
Merlin nodded. "Mordred won't get away with this."
It was in that moment Arthur knew that Merlin was telling the truth. He had to look away. The guilt was unbearable. His little sister in the hands of a monster and he hadn't done a thing to stop it! He hadn't liked Mordred, but Morgana had been besotted and she'd been over eighteen; she could do what she liked.
"Is- Is she here? Morgana?"
He heard Merlin swallow and looked up again to see him lick his lips and nod. "She is."
"Tell her I'm sorry," he said.
"She says she's the one who is sorry and that you don't have to be."
"Tell him he's the best big brother a girl could have wished for."
By the time this conversation neared a close Merlin was close to tears himself. Watching Arthur's grief was heart-breaking and he just wanted to sit down beside him and comfort him; but he didn't have the right.
"Tell him that he's found his destiny," Morgana said eventually.
"Tell him, please."
"She says you've found your destiny."
Arthur's eyes flooded with tears and he laughed, a short sharp bark of disbelief.
"Look after him, Merlin," Morgana said quietly, and disappeared.
"She's gone," Merlin whispered. "She may come back some time, I don't know." These things were unpredictable.
Arthur wiped away his tears with the back of his hand and said, "Can you make the call to the police?"
"I'll contact my liaison, yes," Merlin agreed. "They'll take this seriously."
"Good." Arthur ran a ragged hand through his hair, "I think I'll take that cup of tea now, if the offer is still open."
"Of course." Merlin stepped back. "Sugar?"
"A bucketful, please."
"I'll be right back," Merlin said with a tight smile and headed back to the Tate. He was glad to get away for a moment because that had been an emotional rollercoaster for him as well as for Arthur and Morgana. His heart broke for Arthur but he had to know the truth. Mordred had to be made to pay for what he had done.
He knew that this was the end for him and Arthur now. Who wanted a relationship with someone like him, once they knew the truth? Especially when that person had been the conduit to something so personal to them. Before Merlin had blurted out that he needed to tell him something, back in Shropshire all those weeks ago, Arthur had been ready to give them a chance. Merlin had thought of little else since.
It came as no surprise that when he got back to the bench Arthur had been sitting on, Arthur was gone.
Merlin walked home along the river, over the Millennium Bridge, the paper cup of unwanted tea clutched in his hands like a lifeline. When he got back he called Inspector Alator at the Yard and arranged to go in and see him the following day.
Once that was over he texted Arthur to tell him, but heard nothing back.
Arthur never told his father how the new information came about, citing an 'anonymous tip-off'. Uther may have been suspicious but he didn't question it. He, too, was grieving again. Both of them were glad that the truth was out there and that Mordred would pay. No one knew where Morgause had gone, but Uther lifted the super-injunction and the papers went wild with the story – Morgause would know soon enough that it was safe to return from wherever she was hiding. Arthur felt bad for her; it must've been terrible knowing that you were the prime suspect in your sister's murder.
Arthur didn't contact Merlin. He'd received the text saying that Merlin had told the police everything and heard nothing else. He felt guilty that he'd just left Merlin that day, but it had suddenly all become too much for him and he'd had to get away.
Eventually, he sent a text saying, 'Mordred arrested. Thank you for everything.' Merlin's reply was a few hours in coming and it read, 'Just doing what was right.'
Arthur wasn't sure what he had hoped for, but those five words left him empty. It was just awkward and uncomfortable, how things had been left. He'd rejected Merlin, changed his mind, rejected him again – ousted him from his property! – and then the next time they met hadn't been about them and now here he was. Alone.
He'd come back to Shropshire after a couple of weeks, needing to be there to organise the upcoming Christmas open day, wanting the comfort of the house he now called home.
He was poring over a spread sheet, trying to concentrate and getting nowhere when Elena bustled in with a tray of coffee. "Seeing as you've turned into a recluse, I thought I'd come to you." She laid out the coffee on the desk in front of him and produced a wad of magazines and newspapers from under her arm. "I thought you'd like to see these –they've got the advert in from the fashion shoot." She held out an armful of magazines for Arthur to take before sighing and saying, "Arthur, you know, if something's bothering you-"
"I'm fine, Elena, thanks for the concern." He flashed her his brightest smile. "I'll take a look at these whilst I drink my coffee."
She rolled her eyes but left anyway. Arthur moved his laptop out of the way and began to flick through the first magazine.
Two hours later, he'd been through each publication cover to cover and was
feeling nauseous. He'd found the ads – and traced a finger over Merlin's profile, making a decision there and then that he was being ridiculous. He was bloody crazy about Merlin; it had been weeks and the feelings hadn't faded, and all this sitting around feeling sorry for himself wasn't any good for anyone.
Until he saw the other pictures. Ones in Heat magazine of Merlin leaving a nightclub with model and actress Mithian Nemeth, and the following morning leaving a hotel with her, hand in hand. It was dated a few days before Arthur had met up with him at the Tate. Mithian was quite the gossip magnet as the only daughter and sole heir of one of Uther's contemporaries, Rod Nemeth. After finding that, Arthur found more pictures of them together, heads bent close or holding hands. The final one was of them outside a cafe at Spitalfields Market on a Sunday morning, hands clasped tightly together, an unguarded expression on Merlin's face as he stared at her.
So Arthur was too late. He'd been too late the last time they had met and now the ship had well and truly sailed.
His chest hurt. He wanted to throw something.
He did nothing.
"Mithian!" Merlin hissed, glancing around them to make sure no one was listening. "I don't care how big Percy's-" he waved a hand in the air, "-is because I'm not interested in him like that."
Mithian held her stomach as she collapsed into giggles. "You're such a prude! It's brilliant." She leant forward and whispered into his ear. "Cock, cock, cock, cock, cock!"
Merlin elbowed her, feeling his face flame. He wasn't a prude, God, he just didn't want to think about Percy's or anyone else's cock. He was still hung up on Arthur bloody Pendragon, the arse, and until that longing went away – and he really hoped it would – then he was going to be a very celibate boy. Percy, an actor Mithian had met on the set of a BBC drama she was appearing in, was playing her love interest – she'd brought him to the pub and had been most put out when he'd made a play for Merlin and not her!
"Is it Arthur again?" she asked, calming down and holding his hand. She did that a lot. Merlin liked it; it was comforting.
He shrugged. Of course it was Arthur. The man had tied him up in knots and just left him hanging. He understood why Arthur didn't want to know, but he didn't have to like it.
"Right, that's it," she said. "We're going to that damned Christmas thing he's holding next week at his country pile, no discussion."
Merlin had received a plus one invite last week. For a moment he'd let his hopes climb, but a few minutes later he'd had a text from Gwaine, who it transpired also had an invite. Merlin soon realised that all of the models from that shoot had one. It was probably sent by Arthur's assistant.
"I'm not going to that."
Mithian raised an eyebrow. "Yes, you are."
It was all very informal, designed to raise the house's profile as a venue for both concerts, theatre and as a set – hence his inviting Catrina and the models who had been here with her before. Merlin was on that list but Arthur didn't expect that he would show up. Why would he?
Arthur recognised Lance and Gwen walking hand in hand with besotted expressions on their faces. Even that menace, Gwaine, had made an appearance. As the day progressed, his hope of seeing Merlin slowly died, and then he saw her, Mithian Nemeth, talking with one of his father's friends. He scanned the sea of people for Merlin but didn't see him anywhere. He had to be there. Mithian hadn't been on the guest list, which meant she had to be Merlin's plus one, and despite how much that hurt, he couldn't pass up this chance to see him; to at least make things okay between them.
He was about to give in and approach Mithian himself when he thought that maybe… The grotto had been closed off to the visitors, but Merlin knew of its existence.
And that was where Arthur found him, sitting sideways on the rock bench where they had first got together, eyes closed and head leaning back against the rock.
"Merlin," Arthur said, the butterflies in his stomach almost taking flight. "Are you hiding?"
Merlin didn't open his eyes. "Yes."
"Why? It’s freezing in here."
"I didn't want to come."
"Oh." Well that said it all, didn't it? "So why did you?"
Merlin opened his eyes and glared at Arthur. "Mithian made me."
"Right. Well, be sure to thank her for me." He ignored the disappointment at Merlin's words. "I was hoping you'd come."
Merlin's eyes widened. "You were?"
Arthur saw no point in hiding the truth. "You don't think honestly wanted to see Gwaine again do you? I only really needed to invite Catrina. I didn't want you to think you were being singled out."
Merlin bit the corner of his lip, an action that had Arthur shoving his hands into his pockets. "You wanted to see me-"
"I wanted to apologise for the way I treated you. I said some cruel things."
Merlin dipped his head, his expression closing. "'s fine." He fiddled with the hem of his jacket. "Telling you I could talk to ghosts was a bit out there. I'm just glad that it got sorted in the end. Mordred deserves everything he gets."
Arthur pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and took a couple of steps towards Merlin. Taking a deep breath he said, "Someone proclaiming to be a medium took advantage of my father after my mother's death. It nearly broke him."
Merlin's head shot up in surprise. "Oh. I see." he glanced back down at his hands for a second before returning his gaze to Arthur's. "No wonder you reacted like you did."
"I wish it hadn't happened. I blew my chance with you and I regret that the most," Arthur said, deciding he had to be completely honest. "I actually think that this talent of yours is pretty amazing now that I’ve got my head around it."
Merlin seemed to brighten. "You… Really?"
"I've seen the photos in the press of you and Mithian Nemeth,” Arthur blurted to his own surprise. "She makes you happy?"
"Yes, but- We're not together."
Merlin unfurled his long legs and stood so that he was looking Arthur in the eye. The expression in his eyes was unexpected. "You didn't blow your chance," Merlin said, searching Arthur's eyes. "Well – maybe slightly – but I'm the generous sort. I'll give you a second chance…" His tone turned to teasing and he shifted closer.
Just at that moment, violins began to play. Arthur thought he must have been going mad that dramatic music would explode around them just as they were figuring things out. However, he wasn't so far under Merlin’s spell that he didn't realise it was just the first choir, the Ludlow Youth Choir. Their timing was just perfect.
Arthur took Merlin's hand. "I'd love a second chance. Please." He leant in and pressed his lips to Merlin's, instantly sparking the need for more and now.
The fervour in which Merlin returned Arthur's kiss was answer enough.