Chapter 1: Prologue
Pairings that are referenced or implied in this story can be found in the note at the end. Not all of these minor pairings are yet established.
Additional warning for this story:
There's a lot of bigotry and prejudice against Magicals (which is sort of the point). I don't intend any disrespect towards real existing struggles of minorities and marginalised groups, and I hope no one reads it that way. While the marginalisation of Magicals in this story, and conversations Arthur and Morgana have about it, are analogous to real existing struggles, and conversations I've had, I, in no way mean to imply that these fictional issues are based on one or even several specific groups in reality. Having said that, if you find any language or plot points that offend you or your identity, please let me know!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Arthur’s five and a chubby blond boy with rosy cheeks and brilliant blue eyes, his nurse, a woman in her forties named Alice, often takes him outside into the garden to play a game of catch and throw with him. They use a soft, red ball, and she throws it gently, and directly at Arthur so he’ll easily catch it. Arthur, in his childish excitement, throws it back as hard as he can, often missing her by a wide margin. He giggles every time she stretches or runs to catch it. The nurse laughs too, and patiently keeps playing with him for hours until Arthur finally loses interest and wants to go back inside to colour, or to hear a story.
One day, Uther calls the nurse into his office to tell her that while he supports regular exercise, he doesn’t pay her to get her workout done on the job.
“I expect you not to let Arthur win. Make him work for it. He needs to learn that he has to work for victory. Handing it to him won’t achieve anything.”
The nurse looks shocked, and if it weren’t for the fact that she needs the money to support her own daughter and grandchild, she’d tell Uther Pendragon exactly what she thinks of his approach to parenting. As it is, she decides that it’s better to keep her job, for Arthur’s sake as well. He needs someone who loves him in this house, and who’ll fill the hole where his mother was supposed to be.
From that day on, she doesn’t throw the ball directly at Arthur anymore. After the first couple of times, during which Arthur petulantly scowls, followed by him throwing the ball deliberately far away – or as far away as an angry five year old can throw anything that’s soft and light – he finally accepts his fate. A week later, he even enjoys running after the ball almost as much as making the nurse run.
On the day before eleven year old Arthur leaves for his first term at Tintagel, a prestigious boarding school for boys, his father sits him down and explains what an honour it is to receive an education at that school. It’s where he was Arthur’s age, and he’s certain that Arthur will enjoy his time there as well.
All Arthur wants to know is if they have a footie team he can join.
Uther scowls and tells Arthur to call it by its proper name instead of succumbing to shortening and trivialisation. “It’s a bad habit that destroys the English language. Your peers and instructors at Tintagel would laugh at you, and me, if they heard you speak like this.”
Arthur apologises, and nods. He repeats the question though, using the proper word this time.
His father sighs. “They do, but I want you to try out all the sports. You may play football this year, if you take up archery as well. I will look into what athletic disciplines they offer at Tintagel, and have a specialist draw up a plan for you. I encourage the exercise, you know that, Arthur. But I insist that you perfect more than one kind. It will strengthen your body, and you will learn different techniques and tactics from every new endeavour. If you are to spend so much of your free time… playing, I’d rather it had some educational value and variety.
All Arthur says is, “Yes, Father.”
The next day he leaves for school, and by the time he returns home for the Christmas holidays, he made it on the school’s Junior Football Team, and earned his first trophy in archery. He shows it to his father, who looks at it unimpressed.
“By the end of the school year I expect you to be able to achieve more than third place, son.”
Arthur never accepts anything less than first place after that.
Arthur’s captain of the junior football team for one year and could have gone on to play with the older boys after that. He has won numerous trophies in fencing and archery during the first two years at Tintagel as well, and his instructors urge him to continue with both sports.
Arthur, however, remembering his father’s insistence that he needs to learn as much as he could, moves on to cricket, tennis and swimming at the age of 13. After winning every match and prize he could in those sports, he quits all three, to give rugby and the track team a go in the last two years before sixth form.
The day he and his team win the national junior athlete championship in every category, Uther flies out of the country on a business trip, missing every single win his son achieves.
Arthur decides then, that for sixth form, he’ll go back to football and fencing, two sports he enjoyed and missed playing ever since he felt obligated to try out something new in year nine. He’ll also take up riding again, something he hadn’t done since before he had left for Tintagel. Maybe he could try out for the polo team during his last year if he improves enough.
When he tells his father at the beginning of the summer holidays, and shows him the medals and trophies he won during the last year, Uther only nods absentmindedly and sends Arthur away to get started on his required reading for the next school year.
“I expect the highest marks for your A-levels,” he tells his son. Arthur says “Yes, Father,” and goes to study.
The day school ends and Arthur’s due to leave Tintagel, Uther picks him up personally.
He uses the opportunity to talk at length to the teachers, the principal, and other parents picking up their children. He talks to most everyone, except Arthur, about how proud he is of his son for achieving top marks in all his subjects, becoming Head Boy, and his numerous athletic achievements. He never fails to mention that he went to this school himself as a boy, and what a fine institution it is, and that he donates large sums of money every year to ensure the education of future generations.
Arthur works hard not to scoff or roll his eyes. Uther hasn’t been interested in Arthur’s accomplishments for as long as Arthur can remember, and all the donations were tied to the condition that none of the money went into scholarships for students who were less fortunate. Uther has given Arthur the lecture about pedigree often enough that Arthur knows it by heart now. ‘You may socialise beneath your station, but always remember where you belong.’ It always makes Arthur gag. His father clearly has never talked to anyone of lower social standing than him. If he did he would have to realise that not only are they real people with needs, fears, and dreams, but that a lot of them - especially those with scholarships at Tintagel - are much, much smarter than most of the Members of Parliament that Uther works with on a daily basis.
“I’m incredibly proud of him,” Uther says for the hundredth time, putting his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur smiles automatically, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.
The only thing Uther ever does notice is when Arthur isn’t the best. As soon as his son meets, or even exceeds his expectations, Arthur becomes invisible. If it hadn’t been for his own pride and stubbornness, Arthur might have flunked all his classes just to make his father take notice for once in his life.
As it is, Arthur finally gets a reaction from Uther the moment someone asks him what he intends to study after school. Arthur sees his father open his mouth to reply for him, probably saying that Arthur will of course go into politics or economics, or another subject similarly appropriate, and something inside Arthur just snaps.
“Sport science,” Arthur says quickly before his father can answer. He smiles politely and elaborates on the appeal of the subject, and his hopes to have either a professional career in coaching or playing, maybe even both.
His father stands by, dumbfounded, with poorly hidden disapproval written all across his face. Arthur ignores him and explains how fascinating it will be to study the theory behind all the sports he’s enjoyed playing over the years, and how much he owes this decision to his father, really, who always encouraged him to try new sports and to push himself to go beyond his limits.
Uther doesn’t speak to Arthur all summer, and Arthur is more than fine with that.
Pairings: Arthur/Sophia ; Leon/Mithian ; Gwaine/Percival ; pre Gwen/Lance
Chapter 2: Part 1
It’s the perfect day to propose, Arthur thinks, grinning to himself.
Only a few days ago, he graduated from Avalon Sports College - with top marks of course.
The college is the only one in all of Albion with a focus on Sport Science, and every year, graduates go on to become professional players, coaches, advisors, managers, and even medics in their chosen fields of study. Arthur himself has various offers to come play football, rugby, and even polo for several renowned clubs. He has a few more offers to become tactical and/or coaching advisor in all of these sports, and then some more, including several national teams, and even for the olympic teams.
His best friends, Leon and Lance, graduated with honours as well. Leon specialised in Sports History and is going to go into research, while Lance focussed on dance and is running a fundraiser and kickstarter to open his own studio.
But, best of all, Arthur is going to propose to his girlfriend of two years tonight. Sophia, who is blonde, petite, beautiful, and funny, is everything Arthur could have ever wished for. They’ve been together for most of his time at Avalon, and things are going exceptionally well. Arthur doesn’t even care that they haven’t had sex yet. Sophia told him early on that she’s saving herself for marriage, and Arthur absolutely respects that. It has no bearing on his decision to propose tonight, but he’d be lying if he pretended not to look forward to sharing that with her as well.
He reserved a table at their favourite restaurant ( The Fairy Lagoon ), bought a new suit (midnight blue, which he knows looks great on him), got a haircut, and bought the most beautiful ring he (alright, Lance) could find. There’s nothing that could possibly go wrong tonight.
Even Lance and Leon send him supportive messages throughout the day, wishing him luck and a good evening. In the beginning, they were both sceptical of Sophia, often expressing worry that she seemed fake, but eventually accepted that Arthur loved her, and that she made him happy.
The only thing missing is his Uther’s blessing. He told him a few days ago that he intends to marry Sophia, and Uther had not only disapproved but outright forbidden it. When Arthur insisted that he was going to go through with it even if Uther disowned him, Uther had told Arthur to get out and not come back until he’s seen reason. Well.
Arthur still has no idea what will happen with Uther once Sophia and Arthur are engaged, but he hopes that Uther will calm down and welcome Sophia into the family after all.
For now, though, nothing could curb Arthur’s brilliant mood. Not even the sales assistant who makes a rude comment about “spoiled rich boys with daddy’s fortune to squander” when Arthur picks up the tailored suit he ordered – which, by the way, he paid for with the money he made co-coaching the city’s football team to help them reach first league, thank you very much.
At exactly seven o’clock, he checks his watch to make sure he’s on time – Sophia hates tardiness – and rings her doorbell.
She’s a vision in yellow satin, and Arthur almost pops the question right then and there. Instead he helps her into her dove grey coat (the one he gave her and that matches her eyes perfectly), and leads her outside to his car.
The drive to the Fairy Lagoon is short, and Sophia easily fills it with talk about her friend who just got engaged to a Camelot University graduate who’s running for Mayor of his city.
Arthur’s brimming with excitement and as soon as they’ve received their wine, Arthur clears his throat.
“Sophia,” he says, waiting for her to give him her full attention. She looks up and gives him a smile.
“Yes, Arthur?” she says, and damn, he loves how she says his name.
He smiles. “In a few weeks I’ll be busy with a new job and new challenges. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what my future will hold, but I’m sure about one thing.”
Arthur pulls out the box and opens it, showing Sophia the ring. She looks surprised and pulls her hand away to grab her wine glass.
“Sophia, you’re the constant in my life that I depend on, and I want us to be together forever. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
She takes a long sip of her wine, then sets down the glass. Her face holds an expression that Arthur hasn’t seen on her since the day she found out that her father had been accused of forgery, and convicted to several years in prison. The disgust and hatred for the prosecution looked as much out of place on her sweet features then as it does now.
“Marry you?” Sophia asks. Her voice, usually so gentle and soft sounds harsh and cold. “You? A man whose biceps is bigger than his brain, who’s not smart enough to get a real degree? A real job? I’d hoped you’d be growing out of this now that you’ve spent over twenty years playing. Didn’t you hear what I said earlier about my friend and her fiancé? That’s the kind of man I want, Arthur. Not a muscle head who’d rather stay in the shadows instead of making something of himself.”
Arthur’s jaw literally drops. This is not the Sophia he’s been dating for the last two years. This is a stranger who’s replaced his sweet girlfriend.
“What?” he croaks, disbelief showing clearly on his face.
“You heard me,” Sophia says still in that cold voice.
“But,” Arthur tries again. “I love you! Don’t you love me?”
She rolls her eyes, takes another sip of her wine, then picks the ring out of his hands and looks at it. She shrugs.
“I could’ve, I suppose. I mean, you’re hot, and rich, and we look amazing together. I really thought there could be something between us.”
She stands, pocketing the ring. “Maybe if you’d gone into law, or at least economics. Something valuable . But you’re probably not smart enough for that. Sport was your only option, wasn’t it?”
She walks away without looking back once, and Arthur is left staring at her empty chair while the other patrons whisper animatedly.
He orders the bill, pays, and drives himself home, all the while feeling numb and useless, and just as dim as Sophia says he is.
For about a week, all Arthur does is sleep, work out, and eat. He refuses to go out with Lance and Leon, he doesn’t think about any of the job offers he still receives on a daily basis, and he ignores all of Uther’s pointed looks.
It’s only when Lance and Leon bodily drag him out of the house and to the next pub, that Arthur breaks his routine.
Leon sets down a pint in front of Arthur, and Lance orders a plate of chips, and neither of them speaks about Sophia or relationships, or job offers. Instead, Lance talks about the progress with his studio, and Arthur watches the muted telly in the corner above the bar.
It takes him a few moments to realise that it’s a report about a court case against a Magical who allegedly used his powers to steal from the till at his local Boots.
Arthur frowns. The defence lawyer is a pale looking man with sallow skin. He’d probably benefit from a few smoothies and some protein shakes, along with some fresh air and light work out. There’s no strength to his body, his posture is terrible, and Arthur would bet anything that his voice is as weak as he looks. How a man like that hopes to convince a judge of anyone’s innocence is a mystery to Arthur. Arthur himself probably could do better than him, without any legal knowledge to back up his words.
He suddenly sits up straight, almost knocking over his glass. Leon and Lance both look at him with confusion.
“What?” Leon asks when Arthur gives no explanation.
Arthur keeps looking at the television. The report is ending, but Arthur’s mind is made up.
“I know what I have to do,” Arthur says.
The frowns on his friends’ faces only deepen. “About?” Lance asks warily.
“The things Sophia said. She said I wouldn’t be able to succeed in a line of study like economics, or law.” He stresses the last one especially.
“There’s a reason you didn’t go into any of these fields,” Leon reminds Arthur, and Arthur only nods vehemently.
“I know!” he says. “But Sophia doesn’t.”
“I don’t think there’s any point in explaining it to her now, even if you can find her” Lance says carefully. “Sophia made it pretty clear that she doesn’t think too highly of you.”
It’s like a stab to his heart to have Lance say it so bluntly, but Arthur knows he’s right. He can see now that Sophia didn’t truly care about him. Not only did she reject him in the most horrible way possible, she also took off with the ring he bought. When he went by her place the next day to ask if that meant that she wanted him after all, he discovered that she had already moved out. Calling her didn’t work because she changed her number, and that’s when Arthur realised that the sweet, gentle Sophia he had known for the better part of two years, was a fiction.
Lance and Leon had always been wary of her. They’d thought she seemed fake and insincere. But had Arthur listened? No. He’s been too dense to see through her facade.
With that realisation, Arthur truly begins to mope, because in that moment it felt like Sophia might have been right when she called him a muscle head.
“I know,” Arthur says at length. “But I can show her, and anyone else who ever thought I’m useless and thick that I’m not.”
Leon puts a hand on Arthur’s forearm. “You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, Arthur. You’ve pursued the career you wanted and that’s incredibly impressive in itself.”
Arthur shakes off Leon’s hand to pick up his pint.
“I will prove them wrong. All of them,” he says with even more conviction.
Lance and Leon exchange resigned glances and raise their glasses to clink them against Arthur’s. They know there’s no point in trying to convince Arthur otherwise if he’s made the decision.
“To law,” Lance says, and Arthur beams at him.
“To law,” both he and Lance echo.
It turns out that going into law is much harder than anticipated. Or rather, it’s exactly as hard as anticipated, and Arthur sort of thinks that maybe he made the wrong decision by not only aiming to read law, but to want to study at Camelot University, the most prestigious school in the country.
The tuition fees are high, and on top of that Arthur needs to pass an entrance exam with the highest marks to be granted a place. At least he has five A-level courses to show, thanks to Uther and his ridiculously high expectations of Arthur. Of course he passed all of them with an A, because Uther wouldn’t stand for anything else. Arthur would never have thought that there’d be a time when he’d be glad for it.
The tuition fees are not an issue either. Arthur could probably even get Uther to pay it for him – if Arthur were ready to accept anything more from him than he had to. Arthur had paid for his time at Avalon Sports College with the money his mother had left him, and there’s enough left for him to have a comfortable income on which to live for the next few years.
He’s going to pay for tuition and books, and anything else he might need for another four years at university with the money he made from summer jobs and advertising campaigns. Arthur might not be as wealthy as Uther, nor does he have the kind of reputable career he was supposed to have, according to Uther and Sophia. However, Arthur, as he keeps reminding himself, made smart choices, and so now he is, by any definition, rich.
That only leaves the entrance exam. It sounds easy enough. No in-depth knowledge of current law is required, and they won’t test his intelligence. All they’re looking to find out is if he can comprehend complex situations, and articulate himself well enough in an argument.
At least that’s what it says on their website.
Arthur downloads the simulator to practise and study for this test, but he gets so frustrated after the first few tries that he almost gives up entirely, coming back, over and over again, to the voice in his head that sounds like Sophia, telling him he’s a useless muscle head who’ll never amount to more than a glorified PE teacher.
Only thanks to Morgana, who heard about the whole thing from Leon, Arthur eventually makes it through one entire test paper without wanting to throw his laptop out the window even once.
From there, things improve. Morgana draws up a detailed plan for revision, complete with breaks for Arthur to work out so he won’t get antsy.
By the time Arthur has to take the actual test, he’s feeling prepared and confident about it, largely thanks to Morgana’s strict schedule and constant pestering.
After that, he only has to wait to hear from Camelot University on whether they accept his application or not. It proves to be the most nerve-wrecking time of his life so far - even worse than that time when helped coach the Albion Olympics football team and wasn’t sure if his contribution would make their chances better or worse during the Summer Games.
It takes six weeks before Arthur receives the envelope. It’s a thick, large envelope, and Arthur doesn’t even have to read the letter to know that he’s been accepted. He does anyway, several times, until he knows it by heart.
Dear Mr Pendragon,
we are pleased to inform you that you’ve been accepted at Camelot University to study Law, starting September 2016.
Enclosed you’ll find all necessary documents. Please send any relevant forms back on time to confirm your seat, and to apply for any necessary support or benefits.
Arthur whoops with joy and immediately calls Leon to share the good news. Within minutes he’s got Morgana, Leon, and Lance on the phone in a four way conference call.
Morgana congratulates him and lists things she expects in return for her excellent tutoring. Arthur agrees to everything.
Lance and Leon promise to help Arthur pick out a place to live, but Arthur says he’d rather apply for student housing and save money that way. He might need his mother’s funds for other things instead.
That makes Morgana grumble and take back most of what she demanded as payment for her help. Arthur smiles and promises to make sure she’ll be duly rewarded for all her effort and arse kicking.
But first they’ll all go out and have a proper celebration at the pub.
A few days before Arthur leaves to move into his flat near the CU campus, he visits Uther in his study. Arthur feels no obligation towards him, hasn’t for a long while, but he intends to be the bigger man and offer an olive branch.
Uther’s “Come in,” is as uninviting as ever, but Arthur pushes the door open and steps inside anyway.
“Father,” he greets as he steps closer to the desk. He ignores the uncomfortable chair that’s placed in front of it, preferring to stay standing in Uther’s presence.
Uther looks up from his papers.
“Is there something you need, Arthur?” Uther asks coolly. Arthur suppresses the urge to demand to know why Uther can’t just be happy to see him for once in his life.
“Not as such, no,” he says instead. “I came to tell you that in a few days my first term at Camelot University begins. I’ll be reading law.”
This at least has Uther pause in his writing for a moment before he finishes the sentence he’s been working on. He sets the fountain pen he’s been using aside, folds his hands and looks up at Arthur.
“So you’ve finally decided to pursue a proper career,” he says, no trace of pride or genuine pleasure in his voice, but Arthur is certain he can see triumph in Uther’s eyes nevertheless.
“I have a proper career,” Arthur argues. “Sports Science is a viable field of study. You know very well that I had my pick of job offers, all of them lucrative and prestigious within the field.”
Uther rolls his eyes. “Playing games is no career path,” he says, the old anger at his son’s defiance shining through once more.
They’ve had this argument numerous times over the years and Arthur knows exactly how it goes. He’ll say that professional athletes don’t play around, and Uther will point out how short-lived a career in sports is. Arthur will argue that there are many options and paths to follow afterwards, and Uther will scoff and grumble, and complain that this is not what he had intended for his only son. If he’s in an especially foul mood, Uther will bring up Arthur’s mother. That’s usually the point when Arthur prefers to leave and find a punching bag to torment for a couple of hours, else he’ll punch his own father in the face.
Today Arthur has no intention of going through the motions. He takes a deep breath and lets his anger go.
“Regardless of what you think, Father, I’m not doing this because of you. I’m doing this because I can. I will study law, and continue to be interested in sports, and prove to you and anyone else that I can do both. I’m not obtuse, nor am I your puppet. I came here out of courtesy, but I can see that it is wasted on you. I shall see you at Christmas.”
With that, Arthur turns around and leaves. He forces himself not to run from the room even though he is itching to find that punching bag after all.
The heavy oak door closes behind him (quietly, because Arthur hasn’t thrown a door shut since he was a child), and Arthur doesn’t stop walking until he has reached his car. He drives off, not even looking at the rear view mirror for another look back at his childhood home. This place hasn’t been his home in years, not since he went off to boarding school a decade ago, and even though he spent almost every Christmas and summer holidays here, he hasn’t been back for more than a night or two ever since he enrolled in Sports College. To him it’s a blessing that Camelot, and its university, are on the other side of the country. At least this way he won’t feel obligated to return “home” and visit a father who doesn’t want his disappointment of a son anywhere near him anyway.
Arthur turns up the radio and enjoys the catchy melodies of the latest Top 40 hits as he drives back to the flat he shares with Leon and Lance for a few more days.
Soon, he’ll start a new life, and Uther won’t be in it beyond obligatory dinners during holidays.
The thought makes him smile.
Arthur has a little flat with one bedroom, a kitchenette and a bathroom. It’s close to campus and thus not exactly cheap, even for student housing, but Arthur likes the location, likes the cosiness. Coming off living with Lance and Leon, Arthur is used to living in one room, mostly, and having limited kitchen and bathroom space to himself. All appliances are functioning, there’s unlimited hot water, and a smaller space means less furniture to buy as well.
He’s completely moved in within half a day, with the help from his friends, and a van they borrowed from someone’s family. One wall in his new flat is dedicated to shelf space. Arthur’s Sports Science books don’t even fill half of it, but Arthur suspects that he’ll run out of space eventually. The book list he received from Camelot is long, and he hasn’t even bought all of the titles yet, leaving the non-essential reading material to be picked up later.
The last days before classes start, Arthur is busy reading and making notes. He hadn’t intended to skip introduction week, but between moving, and catching up on reading, there was no time to meet any of his new classmates. Arthur only hopes he won’t be the odd one out come Monday morning.
As it turns out, he is the odd one out, and not just because he’s the only one who dressed properly (smart trousers, a pressed shirt, shined shoes, no tie). From what he can tell, it’s not even because he missed introduction week. Except for a few small groups of students, some of them younger than him, and some even older, most don’t talk to each other before class, or even sit particularly close to one another. Maybe this is just the Albionic mentality of minding your own business, but it leads Arthur to assume that he’s got a decent chance of making a friend or two.
This, as becomes evident after the first handful of rejections (right down to one guy who flat out ignored Arthur’s offered hand and greeting), is an erroneous assumption.
No one does more than say “hi” to him, most won’t even shake his hand, and the rest take it gingerly, as if they’re not sure what will happen if they touch Arthur. If Arthur moves to sit down next to someone, they will pick up their bag and move a seat further down the row. Eventually Arthur picks a seat near the wall.
He has no idea why no one will talk to him but maybe law school, and Camelot University, truly is just that different from Avalon where Arthur knew the names and preferred types of sport of almost all his fellow students, whether they were his year or not.
When class starts, the atmosphere becomes, if possible, even quieter and just a tad colder as well. Doctor Caerleon enters the room, a tall woman with long, light auburn hair, streaked with gray. Her face is stern and her eyes quickly scan the room, lingering only for brief moments on single students – one of them Arthur. For some reason, her gaze makes Arthur nervous, and he straightens up in his chair even more.
“Entering the world of law means that you will learn to question what you know, and to see the world around you in a different light. Law is reason, free from passion,” she says, and picks up a pointer (sturdy wood, red tip) to emphasise her words by flicking the tip of the pointer against the board behind her where the sentence is written. There’s a sharp thwack, and only years of training in controlling his body stop Arthur from flinching. Many of his fellow students do, though, and Professor Caerleon smiles in satisfaction.
“Reason free from passion, and thus shows no favouritism to anyone,” she continues after a moment, and as she says it, her eyes land again on Arthur.
Arthur swallows thickly.
“Who spoke these immortal words?” she asks, gesturing again to the sentence on the board.
A few people raise their hands, but Caerleon picks none of them. She zeros in on Arthur once more, and Arthur tenses, because he doesn’t know the answer.
“Arthur Pendragon,” Caerleon says.
Arthur clears his throat and only barely resists the urge to stand up, hands clasped behind his back like he had to do at Tintagel when he was a boy.
“I don’t know, Doctor,” he says evenly.
“You don’t know,” Caerleon repeats, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“No.” Arthur pushes down the self-doubt that’s crawling up his spine again. This is common knowledge, most likely, why didn’t he think to study more of that while preparing for this field?
Caerleon hums, and turns away from him, expression unreadable. A moment later she points at a blonde woman in the front row.
“What’s your name?” Caerleon asks.
“Vivian Adair, Doctor.”
“Well, Miss Adair, do you know whom I was quoting?” she asks, sounding just as sharp as when she asked Arthur, but she’s uncrossed her arms, and placed one hand on her hip.
“Yes, it was Aristotle,” Vivian says, smiling brightly.
“Are you sure?” Caerleon says, mouth twisting in amusement.
“Absolutely,” Vivian says, nodding along. Her expression is serious but Arthur can tell she’s suppressing a smug smile.
“And would you be willing to bet your life on it?” Caerleon asks after a moment, one finger on her chin as if in deep contemplation.
Vivian only hesitates a brief moment before nodding again, expression not wavering for even a second. “Yes, Doctor.”
“Interesting,” Caerleon says. She turns around and points at Arthur. “What about Mr Pendragon’s life?”
This time, Vivian outright smirks, and doesn’t hesitate at all. “Definitely,” she says. Arthur swallows his pride, and ignores her taunt. He doesn’t want to be biased, but what is it with petite blonde women and their disdain for him?
“Very well,” Caerleon concludes, and returns to stand in front of Arthur, now both hands on her hips.
“I suppose you thought it wasn’t necessary to do any reading before arriving, Mr Pendragon. Your father might be an influential man, but he has no power in my classroom. Your life is safe, but you will leave this room and only return when you’re sufficiently prepared for my class.”
Arthur stares at her in disbelief. He had done his reading. He’d done all his reading. This wasn’t even one of the subjects of her class, as such. All he didn’t know was whose quote she used in her introduction. Okay, so he needs to brush up on his common knowledge, but surely he didn’t deserve to be kicked out for this? It’s not like he deliberately refused to answer her, or committed a crime by not knowing every single thing Aristotle ever said.
But, he clenches his jaw, nods curtly, and then gathers his books and laptop into his bag. His hands don’t shake even though he’s angry and feels humiliated to the bone when he pushes his notepad into the bag as well. The whole situation reminds him of the humiliation of the rejection that brought him here in the first place, and he hates the feeling.
He stands up, picks up his jacket, and leaves the room, not giving any of them the satisfaction of letting any of his anger and disappointment show on his face.
Before the door closes he can hear Caerleon call on someone else in class to make note of Arthur’s tardiness and absence from class. “I have a strict three strike policy!” is the last thing Arthur hears before the door clicks shut behind him.
Outside the building, Arthur sets his bag down on a nearby bench. If he weren’t conscious of the very expensive laptop inside, he might have thrown it down in anger, but even so, he’d rather not make more of a scene in public than he’s already been subjected to.
He sits down and crosses his arms in front of his chest to keep from reaching for something else to throw, or to mess with his hair.
It only takes a few moments of quiet seething before someone taps him on the shoulder. Arthur’s about to snap at whoever it is, but he takes a deep breath and swallows his anger before turning his head.
“Yes?” he says, much harsher than he would have half an hour ago.
A tall, skinny man with dark hair that’s in dire need of a comb sits an arm’s length away, book open in his lap, and a half eaten apple in his other hand.
“I was just wondering if you’re alright?” the man says warily. “I mean, it’s obvious that something’s wrong, but I figured maybe you’d want to talk about it but didn’t have anyone, and then I realised that I’m someone, so, uh, do you want to talk about it?”
Arthur stares for several moments before deliberately relaxing his posture slightly.
“It’s nothing,” he forces himself to say. “It’s my first day and I failed to complete a requirement for one of my classes. I was asked to leave the class until I had completed the assignment.”
The man frowns. “How can you have homework when it’s only the first day?”
“I’m reading law,” Arthur clarifies. “I should have prepared better. Doctor Caer—” he clears his throat. “The teacher has high expectations, as they should at an elite school like this. It was my fault for not preparing myself more thoroughly.”
“Ah,” the man says, a small smile now tugging at his lips. “Doctor Caerleon is a tough cookie, that’s true. Very strict, but usually fair. What is it you didn’t know?”
Arthur clenches his jaw again before forcing himself to stop lest he end up with cramps and dental problems.
“I failed to identify the source of a quote,” Arthur replies.
“Right,” the man says slowly. “I’ve never heard of her expelling someone from her classroom for that. You must’ve done something else, something worse.”
“How could I?” Arthur snaps. “It’s my first day.”
The man raises his hands in defence. “Hey, mate, I don’t know. Maybe you passed her in the hall while making a rude comment, or maybe another blond adonis kicked her puppy.” He shrugs.
Arthur’s about to argue that he never makes rude comments, and that for someone who places such high value on the objectiveness of the law, Caerleon had better not vilify him for a transgression of another person, when it occurred to him that she had known his name without asking.
She’d asked Vivian her name, but not Arthur’s. She knew who he was before he introduced himself. She’d looked at him when she mentioned that sometimes people abused the law to play favourites.
He frowns and closes his mouth.
“Figured out what it was?” the man asks.
Arthur turns to look at him again. “Maybe,” he says. He holds out his hand a moment later. “I’m Arthur.”
The man takes his hand and shakes it. There’s no hesitancy, no reservation. The man’s grip is firm and warm and dry, and Arthur is glad that someone finally isn’t rejecting him.
“I’m Merlin. Nice to meet you.”
Arthur smiles, but before he can ask Merlin what he’s studying, his phone rings. He apologises for the interruption and pulls out his phone. It’s Morgana, doubtlessly calling to hear how his first day’s going. Arthur spares a moment to send a thank you to whatever deity is listening that Morgana hadn’t called any earlier, because even if he hadn’t been kicked out for his name, Caerleon definitely would’ve had him expelled from school for forgetting to turn off his mobile before class.
He excuses himself, picks up his bag and takes a few steps away before answering the call.
“Why are you calling me in the middle of my first class?” Arthur asks, feigning annoyance.
“Why are you answering your phone in the middle of your first class?” Morgana shoots back.
“I was kicked out,” he says, and because Morgana is his one true ally against Uther, he tells her the whole story, and then asks her to see if she can find anything to do with Uther and Doctor Caerleon. There must be a reason why Caerleon is ready to throw objectivity out the window for Arthur, and it sure as hell isn’t because of anything Arthur has done.
The next day, Arthur gets up early enough to go for a run in the nearby park. He would run on campus, and he does, partly, but the park also has a small workout area with bars and some other basic equipment where Arthur can do a bit of post-jog pull ups, push ups and sit ups before stretching.
He starts there as well, warming up first before he takes off. It’s not even half an hour later that he’s back, ready for some more exercise. Of course now there’s someone else there as well, and Arthur is going to have to share the space. The other man has long, brown hair that’s tied up in a messy bun at the back of his head. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie and burgundy track bottoms. He’s also got headphones in his ears and is singing along loudly (and badly) to Hard Day’s Night while he goes through what Arthur assumes are warm up stretches.
Arthur grins, and goes to one of the pull up bars to start with those. It brings him into the line of sight of the other man, who grins at him, and pulls out his headphones.
“Hey, there,” the man greets, and Arthur nods in return.
“I’m Gwaine,” the man says.
Arthur gives him a smile, then inspects the bar that’s the right height for him to make sure it’s safe.
“Arthur,” he says as he tests the bar by wrapping his hands around it, and then carefully raising his feet off the ground to see if the bar will hold his weight.
“Nice to meet you, Arthur. Come here often?” Gwaine asks, still cheerful. When Arthur puts his feet back on the ground and looks over, Gwaine is standing much closer than before, and no longer working on his stretches.
“Not yet,” Arthur replies. “Just started university yesterday.”
Gwaine whistles. “Smart and gorgeous. I must’ve been a good boy to be lucky enough to meet a handsome prince like you.”
That makes Arthur laugh. “Are you chatting me up?”
“Why, is it working?” Gwaine asks teasingly.
“Not really, no,” Arthur says, still smiling. He starts his first set of pull ups while Gwaine watches.
“Not into blokes, or not into me?” Gwaine asks while watching him with a mild leer that doesn’t bother Arthur too much.
“Just not looking for anything, or anyone, right now,” Arthur clarifies.
“Ugh,” Gwaine says with feeling. “Bad break up?”
Arthur doesn’t respond for three repetitions. “Yes,” he says finally.
“Fair enough,” Gwaine says. “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
“You didn’t,” Arthur says. He lands on his feet and lets go of the bar, stretching his hands. “Better luck with the next guy,” he says, nodding to the man who’s approaching them.
Gwaine turns around to look at the man, and then quickly turns back. He stuffs his headphones back into his ears and quickly goes down to do a set of push ups.
Arthur watches with confusion, then looks over at the newest member of their little impromptu workout club. He’s taller than him, broader too. He’s wearing a black hoodie and tracksuit bottoms, much like both him and Gwaine are, only that he cut off the sleeves of his hoodie. His arms are bare beneath, and Arthur figures that with arms that big, he likely just didn’t find clothes with sleeves that fit well enough.
Now that he’s closer, Arthur can see that he, too, is listening to something through earphones, and once he reaches the area, begins to stretch and warm up much like Arthur had earlier. He barely even glances at Gwaine, who’s still doing push ups, and only gives the smallest of nods to Arthur before starting his routine. Arthur doesn’t think anything of it, and finds a spot to do some crossover sit-ups in peace.
It isn’t until the sleeveless man has left for his jog that Gwaine stops his push ups, pulls out his earphones, and groans theatrically.
“Ex boyfriend?” Arthur asks conversationally before he changes the direction of his sit ups.
“I wish,” Gwaine says. “Never even got there.”
Arthur raises his eyebrows. “Not into blokes, or not into you?” he throws back Gwaine’s earlier question at him.
“Dunno,” Gwaine says. “He never gives me the chance to ask.”
“Ah,” Arthur says.
He finishes his sit ups, and moves on to the push ups. Gwaine has gone back to singing along to his playlist. They finish their work out at almost the same time and walk out of the park together.
“Will I see you tomorrow morning?” Gwaine asks before they part ways.
“Probably,” Arthur says. “Same time?”
Gwaine shrugs. “Sure. See you then, Prince Charming.”
Arthur laughs. “See you, Giacomo.”
“That’s Mr Casanova to you, young man,” Gwaine teases right back.
Arthur laughs only louder. He likes Gwaine.
Professor Aredian tells them right off that he will expect everyone to perform at 200% and bring their A game. Anyone who doesn’t achieve the level he expects from his students, will be cut from the class next year. It’s a lot of pressure just having that dangling over his head every day, and on top of that Aredian offers an internship to the top three students completing their second year.
Arthur, of course, wants that internship, even though there’s no point in getting worked up about it already. First he needs to do well in this class.
Which is why, when Aredian calls on him, he sits up straight, and immediately worries that he’ll be kicked out again for not knowing the origin of a quote.
Instead Aredian smiles at him (which honestly looks a bit creepy).
“How’s your father doing?” Aredian asks conversationally, and Arthur frowns in confusion.
“I’m assuming fine, er, Professor,” he says slowly.
“Good, good,” Aredian says, nodding to himself. “Send him my regards, will you?”
Arthur, not wanting to make an enemy of yet another one of his teachers within the first five minutes, nods and promises that he will. He doesn’t say that it’s most likely going to be a long while before he talks to Uther next. Aredian needn’t know that.
“Moving on,” Aredian announces. “Miss Adair, would you prefer a client who committed a crime malum magikus or malum profanus.”
“Malum profanus,” she says without hesitation. “They would have committed a regular crime, opposed to a magical crime for which the parameters aren’t clear cut and only few precedents exist.”
Aredian nods. “I’m sure all of us agree,” he says, and his voice is just so smug and superior, reminding Arthur of Uther, that he has his hand in the air to disagree on principal before he knows what he’s doing.
“Yes, Mr Pendragon?” Aredian asks.
“I think I’d like a malum magikus. Setting precedents and working out the kinks of the legal system of the country sounds like my kind of challenge.”
What follows is a shocked silence, and Arthur swears he can see Vivian literally fume with anger. He leans back in his seat, feeling incredibly pleased with himself for one-upping her. Even if it’s not the same, but it’s almost like he got one up over Sophia at the same time. It’s not a bad feeling.
The first weeks pass in a blur of classes, studying, homework, and working out. Arthur spends every free hour he has either running (exploring the campus as he does) or in the campus gym. Somehow he’s acquired a small fanclub of students (all women, all a year or two above him) who follow him around when he does this. It’s embarrassing and he’d really rather they didn’t because it somehow creates the image that he expects people to swoon over him – or at least that’s what he gathers when another guy at the gym makes fun of Arthur for never showing up without his fangirls.
However, when he asks the women to stop following him because it makes him uncomfortable and creates the wrong image, they all turn on him and act offended that he wants to deny them their eye candy. “After all,” one of them says, “Men are objectifying women all the time so why shouldn’t we be allowed to do the same?”
Arthur tries to have a sensible discussion about it with her, but he quickly realises that they don’t actually care about equal rights for all genders, and more about the right to freely ogle him and anyone else they want.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Not only is he disliked by his own classmates for being Uther Pendragon’s son – a fact that he tries to explain has had no bearing on his place at CU, nor his desire to go into law in the first place – but by a lot of other students from different courses as well.
He had no idea his face was this well known, and he begins to suspect that there was an email newsletter that everyone received except him, detailing his family history and all the terrible things Uther (apparently) did. Arthur resolves to look it all up as soon as he has the time to actually do so, or to phone Morgana to hear what she found out.
Either way, any student who has even the smallest ties to anyone with magic hates him on principle because of who his father is; most of the female students hate him because of his former gaggle of stalkers who spread the rumour that he’s a raging misogynist, and the rest of the male students just don’t want to get on the women’s bad side so they keep away from Arthur as well.
Basically, Arthur thinks, he’s fucked either way no matter which way he turns.
His loneliness only gets worse whenever he calls Lance or Leon. Leon got engaged to his longterm girlfriend Mithian only a few days ago, and now they’re planning their wedding. Apparently Mithian has specific expectations.
Lance, meanwhile, is teaching both of them to dance, and ostensibly despairing of Leon’s two left feet. How someone can be so good at fencing and have no talent for dancing will forever remain a mystery to Arthur.
They promise to send pictures soon, and by the time Arthur hangs up the phone he just wants to put on his workout clothes, go for a long run, and forget for a little while about all the coursework and all the hateful looks he receives on a daily basis.
Maybe Morgana will be able to come visit , he thinks, and before he leaves his room to go for that run, he texts her and asks if she’ll be free to drop by the next weekend.
The first thing Morgana does when she arrives at Arthur’s place a week later, is to hug him tight.
“You look awful,” she tells him, and Arthur laughs.
“Thanks, ‘Gana. I don’t know what I’ve been doing without your uplifting comments all this time.”
She rolls her eyes. “You know fully well that you look exhausted. Are you not getting enough sleep?”
He shrugs. “It’s enough. I have a lot of work to cover, and making time for some exercise isn’t always easy.”
Morgana clicks her tongue at him. “You could just go without your beloved workout routine for a little while and get some sleep instead.”
Arthur shakes his head. “I really can’t. I get antsy without exercise, you know that.”
“I do,” she sighs. “Very well, we’ll work on your time management.” She sets her suitcase down in the middle of his room. “This is… cosy,” she says after looking around the place.
Arthur smiles. “It is. You’ll have the bed, of course, I’ll have my air mattress.”
She throws him a look that clearly communicates that yes, naturally she would sleep in the bed, there was no need to tell her. It makes Arthur smile wider. He’s missed her.
“Alright,” Morgana says, clapping her hands. “Show me around campus and tell me everything about what you’ve been up to. Meet any cute people yet?”
Arthur puts on his coat and shoes, donning a beanie for good measure (it’s been getting cold these last few weeks), and then offers her his arm. She takes it, and together they leave the flat, and the building. While he shows her his favourite paths to and around campus, and tells her about what his classes are like, he also confesses that he’s been unable to make a single friend this whole time.
“It’s like they all took a vote and unanimously decided I was a worthless piece of shit beneath their notice,” he concludes.
She pats his arm gently. “Not to worry, dear. I’m here now. We’ll show them how valuable Arthur Pendragon can be.”
“This is what you’ve been wearing to class?” Morgana asks, staring at Arthur’s outfit aghast.
“Of course I have,” Arthur says. He looks down at his slacks and shirt and doesn’t understand the problem.
“You realise you’re not at boarding school anymore, yes? You don’t have to wear a uniform.”
“This is Camelot University. I’m studying law. I can’t just show up in jeans and a t-shirt like I did at Avalon.”
“Why not?” Morgana puts her hands on her hips and raises her brows at him. “Does everyone in your class break out the school uniform? Is there a dress code?”
Arthur thinks about it for a moment, frowning to himself. “No,” he says eventually. “I just figured I should look the part if I want to be taken seriously.”
“And have you been taken more seriously?” Morgana challenges.
“No,” Arthur admits. “No one talks to me.”
“Then why bother with dressing up? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in jeans?”
Arthur shrugs. “Probably.”
“Then change, for fuck’s sake,” Morgana snaps.
Arthur hesitates for another moment, but then nods, sets down his bag, and turns back to his closet to grab his casual clothes.
They make it in time for class with three minutes to spare, and when Arthur enters (without Morgana because non-students aren’t allowed in lectures), a quiet murmur spreads around the room like a cresting wave. Everyone looks at him, and Arthur, feeling more confident in clothes he enjoys wearing, quirks his lips in a smile and sits down.
The next day, they’re having coffee at a small coffee shop near his lecture hall. Arthur has been there only once before, during the first week of classes. He hadn’t felt welcome enough after that, and stayed away even though he had liked the coffee and pastry he’d bought there.
Today, he and Morgana are occupying a small table near the back wall. Morgana’s telling him about Lance’s dance studio, and Mithian’s wedding plans, and Arthur soaks it all up while trying not to be too jealous that he isn’t there himself to experience all of this with his friends.
“I see you’ve made a friend,” someone says suddenly, and Arthur looks up from the screen of Morgana’s phone to find Merlin standing by their table, coffee cup in hand.
“Er, not exactly,” Arthur says. “This is Morgana, my half-sister. She’s the one who called me the other day when we met.”
Morgana smiles at Merlin and holds out her hand. “Nice to meet you. Arthur has told me nothing about you.”
Arthur winces. “This is Merlin,” he says. “And that’s all I know about him. He was there when Caerleon kicked me out of class the first day.”
“Ah,” Morgana says. “I remember.”
Merlin smiles. “How has it been going with her class?”
Arthur shrugs. “Better. Maybe one of these days she’ll stop glaring at me whenever I raise my hand.” He smiles back at Merlin.
“Well, good luck with that. She’s a good teacher, really. I’m sure she’ll overcome whatever prejudice she has against you when she realises that you’re working hard,” Merlin says.
“That’s assuming that I’m working hard,” Arthur points out, still smiling.
Merlin laughs. “Well, you wouldn’t be at Camelot if you weren’t ambitious.”
The look Merlin gives him makes the tips of Arthur’s ears turn red, and he’s acutely aware of Morgana watching them. He clears his throat.
“Yes, well. It’s the best law school in the country. I wouldn’t have settled for anything less,” he says gruffly.
Merlin nods. “Course not. Well, I’m sure I’ll see you around.” He raises his cup in salute. “It was nice meeting you, Morgana.”
“Yes, it was,” Morgana says.
After Merlin has turned away, Morgana waits exactly long enough for Merlin to get out of earshot before she turns on Arthur and needles him with endless questions. No matter how much Arthur tries to explain that this is only the second time he’s ever spoken, or indeed seen Merlin, Morgana’s convinced that it must’ve been destiny that made Caerleon kick Arthur out that first day, just so he could meet Merlin.
Arthur disagrees, but he won’t deny that Merlin’s nice to look at, and clearly likes to flirt. Plus, Merlin made the choice to come and talk to Arthur when Arthur hadn’t even been aware that Merlin was at the coffee shop. That’s promising, right?
Another two days later sees Arthur and Morgana in the campus bookshop where Morgana keeps thrusting books about social sciences and history into his hands, all of which focus on the treatment of Magicals.
“It won’t hurt you to know more about these things. You’ll learn about things Uther has done, and you’ll learn to understand why Magicals especially seek to go into law and politics, and why there’s a whole equality movement for Magicals that’s intersecting with other equality struggles.”
Arthur nods dutifully. He’d heard a few lectures on the question of equality between Magicals and Commons with regards to fairness in sports and how a Magical’s abilities might elevate them above someone who has to rely on physical strength and ability alone. At the time, while definitely interested, Arthur hadn’t had the time to truly get into the subject beyond the paper he’d had to write for the class.
Now, he lets Morgana pay for all the books, because she’s not above taking Uther’s money to buy things she wants, and Arthur doesn’t mind accepting gifts from her when he knows they don’t actually cost her anything.
“I’d rather buy things for myself and others with the money than let him spend it on things that will hurt others,” she said once when Arthur asked her if she wouldn’t prefer to be financially independent. “Besides,” she’d added, “I have my own income, so should he ever decide to cut me off I won’t be penniless. It’s just that until then, I can save my own money and squander his at leisure.” She’d grinned and cheerfully hit the purchase button on a scandalous dress that cost a fortune and would be shipped from Japan.
Arthur couldn’t argue with the logic, but for Arthur it’s always been different. Taking Uther’s money came with the expectation that Arthur would do what Uther wanted in return, and Arthur just rather not feel obligated to do what Uther asked. He’d outgrown that the day he graduated from Tintagel.
Back at his flat, he happily puts all his new books on his shelf, relishing in the feeling of building his own library and making good use of the empty space.
It’s a week after Morgana arrived that the unthinkable happens in Doctor Caerleon’s class.
Caerleon has the habit of quizzing her students without warning (although she doesn’t ask about sources for semi-famous quotes anymore), and she especially enjoys asking Arthur at least one question every time. So far Arthur has always had the right answer, or at least enough of an answer to avoid being kicked out again, or earning another strike.
Today she goes around the room, picking students at random like she always does. A moment ago Vivian correctly answered a question about petty crimes and where one draws the line. Doctor Caerleon is nodding and smiling approvingly at Vivian for her eloquent answer while Vivian preens under the attention.
Arthur looks away and does not roll his eyes, no matter how much he wants to. Of course that’s when Doctor Caerleon, who must be finely attuned to when Arthur is being anything less than one hundred percent attentive to every single thing going on in the room, pounces on him.
“Mr Pendragon,” she says as contemptuously as she can without openly discriminating against him.
Arthur looks up and offers her a polite smile, awaiting her question.
“If you had a magical client who wanted to sue a pharmaceutical company because they didn’t put a warning in their patient information leaflet that this medication might cause severe side effects in Magicals, what would you tell them?” Annis asks, giving him a calculating look.
Arthur thinks it over for a moment, then nods to himself.
“I would tell them that according to the law, pharma companies are not required to put warnings like this in their leaflets or anywhere on their products,” Arthur begins. He can see that Dr Caerleon is about to turn away again, so he quickly continues with what he meant to say.
“However, I would also tell them that it’s high time that this regulation, or lack thereof, is challenged, because omitting this kind of information is potentially dangerous to a significant part of the country’s population. So, I would take them on and find out if we can’t set a precedence, and maybe effect some change.”
That earns him a raised eyebrow, and the twitch of a corner of Caerleon’s mouth.
“Do you know who made it so that pharmaceuticals don’t have to have this warning on their products?” she asks in a quiet voice that conveys just how much she hopes that he doesn’t know, just so she would get to be the one to tell him.
Arthur nods, though. “I do. It was my father while he was in office as party leader of the Conservative and Nationalist Party for Albion.”
Caerleon nods at him. “And you’d fight it anyway?”
Arthur looks her directly in the eyes. “Of course. I’d rather save lives with what I do than risk them just so someone else can cash a bigger paycheck.”
It’s something he’s known to be true all the time, but it’s in that moment that he realises for the first time - truly realises - that by becoming a lawyer, he might actually be able to make a difference. It puts a small but confident smile on his face.
The look that Dr Caerleon gives him at this is something that Arthur boldly reads as definitely impressed.
To celebrate Arthur’s victory in Caerleon’s class, Morgana drags him to a fancy dress party on Halloween. Morgana, of course, goes as a brain surgeon. She’s even taking a rubber brain along. Arthur figured that he might as well have fun with it, and ends up dressing up as a sexy nurse to accompany Morgana’s costume. Morgana finds him the perfect outfit in his size and express orders it online. (It’s shipped within twenty-four hours at an exceptionally high additional cost.)
When Arthur tries it on the next day – the day of the party – it’s absolutely perfect. The shorts are exactly right (short enough to show off his butt and legs, but not too short to end with accidental indecent exposure), and the crop top covers his pecs but exposes most of his stomach. He wears white trainers with it, and standing next to Morgana in front of the mirror he has to admit that they’re looking great.
“Remember,” Morgana tells him as they step out of the cab outside the building where the party’s held. “We’re here to have fun, ignore what anyone else says about you. You look great.”
He laughs. “Thanks for the pep talk, ‘Gana. I think I’ll be fine though.”
And he is. He receives a lot of attention for his costume, and not all of it is good, but whenever anyone asks him why he’s dressed like that he gets to go off on a tangent about how it’s utterly unfair that only women get to dress up as sexy versions of normal jobs and that it’s always been his dream to be a sexy nurse for a competent but slightly unhinged brain surgeon. That earns him a few laughs, and a handful of people even start a conversation about equal rights and the needless and offensive sexualisation of women with him.
As they head home, Arthur’s still riding the high of the victory in class the day before, now only made better by the fact that he’s managed to convince a few people that he’s not actually a horrible misogynist like some claim.
He and Morgana are mildly buzzed, neither of them having drunk enough to get properly pissed at the party because a drunk Arthur and Morgana in the same room always ends in a prank war that tends to get out of hand quickly.
Arthur is, however, thirsty and has a sudden craving for chocolate and crisps, which means that after they’ve paid the cabbie, Arthur gives Morgana the keys to his flat, so she can go on up while he quickly heads around the corner to the late night newsagent and pick up what he needs.
As he stands in line for the check out (and who’d have thought that there even would be a line at one in the morning?) someone behind him clears his throat and he turns around. Arthur’s still wearing his costume, and only his long coat over it. He hadn’t anticipated being outside for more than a minute and not even bothered to button his coat. Now, with his hands full of snacks, the coat opens and reveals his skimpy outfit to none other than Merlin.
Merlin doesn’t even blink as he takes in Arthur’s appearance. He raises a brow after giving Arthur a full once-over, and then smirks.
Arthur rolls his eyes, turns back around (because, thankfully, it’s his turn to pay), and grumbles “Shut up, Merlin.”
“I didn’t say a thing,” Merlin replies, smirk still audible in his voice. Arthur refuses to look at him again until he’s left the shop for fear that his face would be as red as it feels warm.
Once he’s outside in the cool night air, he looks back in, raises a hand (all his purchases now in a plastic bag dangling from his other hand), and waves at Merlin. He hopes he’s not imagining the appreciative look Merlin shoots back as Arthur’s crop top rides up even higher.
As he walks back the few paces to his flat, Arthur decides that Morgana will never hear of this.
They’re well into the second week of Morgana’s visit. Arthur is still riding the high of impressing Caerleon a few days before when he passes a group of women who’re loudly discussing the appearance of another woman who’s standing a few metres away.
As he walks past he hears what he knows is a terrible transmisogynistic slur, and it shocks Arthur enough to stop in his tracks and look back at the group of women. It turns out that they’re the same women who’ve harassed him at the beginning of the term, and Arthur wants so badly to go up to them and give them a piece of his mind. However, Morgana once explained to him at length that he, as a man, will only ever be an ally, and that his first priority should be to support and create spaces where others can defend themselves. Keeping that in mind, he takes a deep breath to let go of his frustration, and walks up the blonde woman.
“Hey,” he says, smiling at her.
She smiles back hesitantly, her face guarded as if expecting him to say something awful to her face, and Arthur, once again, has to suppress the urge to go back and actually do physical harm.
“I’m Arthur,” he says when she doesn’t respond. “I saw you in my history of law class and was wondering if you had any notes for last week’s class. I swear Doctor Monmouth makes the most interesting topics boring.”
She’s still looking at him as if he’s an alien with green skin and big horns, so he keeps smiling. “Sorry, I’m sure I should know your name, what with us having the same lecture every week but I can’t remember.”
That finally prompts her to react.
“Elena,” she says. “I’m Elena.”
Arthur’s smile softens. “Hi, Elena, good to meet you. So, about these notes?”
It takes Elena another five minutes to lose the wary look of disbelief, but then she relaxes and begins joking with Arthur about Doctor Geoffrey Monmouth who teaches History of Law, and who gave the lectures on Researching and Academic Writing at the beginning of the semester. Another ten minutes later, she and Arthur are on their way to the café where Arthur’s supposed to meet Morgana, and then all three of them spend the rest of the afternoon together. The next day, Elena sits down next to Arthur in class.
When Arthur tells Morgana all about it over dinner that evening (Morgana made lasagne), she tells him that she always knew he’d make friends easily if he put his mind to it.
On Saturday, Arthur lets Morgana sleep in while he goes for a run and some exercise in the park. He hasn’t kept up much with his workout routine during Morgana’s visit, but he’s been feeling antsy these last couple of days, and is glad for some time to himself.
Gwaine’s already there, but for once not singing along to pop songs. It immediately makes Arthur worry.
“What’s up,” he asks as soon as he’s close enough. Gwaine turns to him and offers him a smile. Given that it’s not his usual wide grin, Arthur only worries more.
“Eh, not much,” Gwaine replies with a shrug. “Tried talking to my ex yesterday. Eira? I think I’ve told you about her. I wanted to see if maybe she’d relinquish some of my stuff that I’ve left at her place when we broke up.”
“I take it you didn’t have much luck?”
“Nope.” Gwaine shrugs again, and kicks at the dirt on the ground. “She’s probably burnt it all by now. It’s been four months.”
“Sounds like a bad breakup,” Arthur says, unsure of what else to do. Maybe he should hug Gwaine, or at least squeeze his shoulder?
“She was cheating on me. We’d been together for three years, lived together as well, and then one day she came clean that she’d been seeing this other bloke and that she wants him to move in, so I’d have to move out.”
“Yikes,” Arthur says with feeling. “That’s horrible.”
“Yeap. Happens every day,” Gwaine says, and Arthur nods emphatically in agreement. His own bad breakup went a lot like this, after all. Of course, he channelled his anger and disappointment into a new career, and even as Arthur thinks about it, he notices that he hasn’t thought much about Sophia at all these last couple of weeks. The realisation almost makes him grin happily, but he stops himself before Gwaine starts to suspect that Arthur’s taking some kind of sadistic delight in his pain.
Gwaine, for his part, is smiling self-deprecatingly. “I crashed on a friend’s couch for a while, and now I’ve got my own place. I’m better off without her, honestly. But I want my stuff back. She’s only keeping it because she knows it has sentimental value to me.”
“Maybe I’ll be able to help,” Arthur says at length.
“Yeah?” Gwaine asks. “What are you gonna do about it?” He doesn’t sound like he’s got much faith in Arthur.
Arthur, however, grins at him. “Didn’t you know? I’m as good as a lawyer. I’m sure I can throw around enough legal jargon to scare her into returning your favourite cuddle blankie.”
Gwaine shoves him, but not too hard. “Watch it, Prince Charming, you’re not as cute as you think.”
That makes Arthur laugh. “You think it’s the hottest thing that I’m so smart.”
The snort that escapes Gwaine could be anything from vehement denial to confirmation. Arthur’s just glad he’s able to do something. Well, at least he hopes he will be.
Morgana’s been staying with him for almost three weeks. She’s going to go back home the next day, and Arthur intends to make the most of the last day with her. Morgana, however, has different plans.
She takes Arthur out to another café, somewhere away from campus where they’re not likely to run into any of Arthur’s fellow students. She’s serious and quiet all the way there, and it scares Arthur.
As soon as they’ve sat down he reaches for her hand.
“You can tell me anything, you know that, right?”
She looks at him and nods slowly, managing a weak smile. “I know.”
He squeezes her hand. “Then please, tell me what’s going on? I’m scared you’re going to tell me that you’re incurably sick.”
Her eyes widen. “No, fuck no, Arthur, of course not. I would’ve told you much sooner if that were the case.”
He breathes a sigh of relief. “Okay. Good. Then, whatever it is, it’ll be fine, yes?”
She gives him another smile. “I hope so, yes.”
The waitress interrupts them before Morgana can say more, and even though Arthur’s still worried and nervous about whatever it is that’s on Morgana’s mind, he orders a hot chocolate for himself (at worst he’ll have something for comfort), while Morgana orders an Irish coffee.
Arthur smiles warmly at her. “Drinking already?”
She shrugs. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
He shakes his head but laughs nevertheless. Morgana’s lips twitch into a brief smile, then she picks up one of the napkins on the table and begins to tear it into tiny pieces. Arthur doesn’t stop her but he’s glad when their drinks arrive and she’s got something else to keep in her hands.
“So,” he says after both of them have taken the first sip. “What’s eating you?”
She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, then nods to herself.
“I’m a seer,” she says matter-of-factly, looking directly at Arthur. “I can see the future, usually in my dreams, and I can do some magic, although I’m still learning how to control my abilities.”
Arthur stares at her for several long moments. “How long have you known?”
Morgana averts her eyes. “A while. I’ve suspected since I was about fifteen, but not truly until things I dreamt about had started to come true.” She grimaces. “I, uh, dreamt about you and Sophia. That she would hurt you.”
Arthur sets down his mug because he’s worried he’ll spill hot chocolate all over himself.
“That could have been a coincidence,” he says slowly but Morgana already shakes her head. “I dreamt about her before you met her.”
Arthur frowns. “Is that why you were so sceptical about her and me all this time?”
Arthur runs a hand through his hair. “And that wasn’t the only time, I take it.”
She shakes her head. “I’ve dreamt about things Uther would do long before he did them, and I have other visions about Leon, Lancelot. All of you.”
Arthur picks up his mug again for another fortifying sip.
“And you’ve been alone with this all this time?”
Morgana smiles sadly. “For the most part,” she admits. “The woman I met a while ago, Morgause? I told you about her. She’s given me this bracelet.” Morgana holds up her right wrist to show Arthur the elaborately engraved silver bracelet. “It’s a sleeping aid, to put it simply. It keeps the visions at bay so I can get proper sleep, and it inhibits my magic to the point where I can keep it under control.”
“How do you know it’s not dangerous?” Arthur asks, worry edging into his voice. “I don’t want to sound prejudiced but taking gifts from virtual strangers when you know next to nothing about them or the object? It sounds dangerous to me, Gana.”
She smiles at him, and Arthur can tell that she thinks he’s sweet for worrying about her.
“I can sense it,” she says simply. “It’s not something I can explain, but I can sense that there’s good magic in this bracelet. It won’t harm me.”
Arthur still looks at the bracelet dubiously but he’s willing to trust Morgana.
“Promise me you’ll find a, I don’t know, a support group, or something? Other people with magical abilities. Don’t just rely on that one person.”
She rolls her eyes. “You say that as if I haven’t already found a group back home. We meet every Wednesday night.”
Arthur can’t tell whether she’s serious or not, but he’s not going to press the issue right now. “Just be careful, is all I’m asking.”
“I’m always careful,” Morgana huffs, and Arthur shoots her a disbelieving look.
“You jumped off the swings at the highest point and almost broke your neck,” he points out.
“When I was eight,” Morgana argues. “I’ve learnt a great deal since then. At least I wasn’t too scared to do it.”
“You mean you were reckless and trying to show off,” he needles.
Morgana shoots his a haughty look and demonstratively picks up her mug to take a sip. It makes Arthur smile.
“Thank you,” he says after a moment. “For telling me. From the way you behaved earlier I’m guessing you weren't so sure how I’d react.” The thought stings but he supposes he can’t fault her for being worried. He is Uther Pendragon’s son, and no matter how progressive his views might be on other subjects, there’s no guarantee he’d be okay with a witch for a sister. A witch and a Seer. Bloody hell.
“I’m sorry,” she says, but Arthur shakes his head, and takes her hand again.
“Don’t be. I’ve been and still am incredibly oblivious about what life is like for Magicals. All I know is that Uther hates them and has done things to marginalise them even more. I get why you made me buy all these books though, and I promise I’ll keep reading up on all of it, and to learn more about what I can do to help.”
She smiles at him, happy and bright, the way he likes seeing her. “Thank you, Arthur.”
“You’re welcome,” he says, then clears his throat. “Now drink your coffee. I want to get some last minute sightseeing done before you leave tomorrow. Mocking tourists without you is just not as much fun.”
Morgana laughs, and picks up her mug, toasting Arthur with it before taking a long sip.
How she manages to drink hot coffee without burning her mouth is a mystery to Arthur. Or maybe , he thinks, and smiles to himself, maybe it’s just magic.
“‘Sorcerer’ was used in pre-Albion times,” Morgana explains over dinner after Arthur asked her why it’s considered a slur by the magical community. “Before the kingdoms were united and became Albion, it was used as a catch-all phrase for anyone using magic. Magic was banned during that time, and the term has turned into a slur. Anyone who uses it today and who isn’t a Magical themselves, means to insult someone.”
Arthur follows her thought with a nod. “That explains why Uther uses it all the time.”
“Exactly,” Morgana confirms, looking smug.
“Aren’t Magicals trying to reclaim it?” he asks curiously.
“Some, yes,” she says, then shrugs. “I don’t think it’ll catch on. It’s just too deeply ingrained, and it was never our term, so we wouldn’t be reclaiming it as much as claim it.”
“Makes sense,” Arthur says.
“So, we use ‘Magical’,” Morgana continues, “and ‘Common’.”
Arthur thinks about that for a moment.
"I think that works well, yes. Some might object to "Common" but those are the same people who'd call themselves 'normal', and who feel butt-hurt when someone refers to them as privileged."
Morgana grins. "Exactly. And not having magic is the most common trait. Despite what Uther and some other radical right wing believers want to make the people think, having magic is extremely rare. Only few people are born with magical abilities, and the rest have to actively learn how to do it. Not many choose it. Magicals only make up about point three per cent of the entire population of Albion."
Arthur cringes. He knows that number used to be higher even though it's unclear how many Magicals died before Albion was united. There was a small surge of interest in learning how to use magic, but then the CNPA made life for anyone using magic harder, and so most people lost interest in learning it. It didn’t help that learning and doing magic alters a person's biology enough to make them allergic to certain types of chemicals – which is why it's so harmful when pharma companies don't list whether their product is harmful to Magicals or not.
"I guess I'll be keeping an eye on using the right terminology from now on," Arthur says at length.
"And since you're not shy, you can also keep an ear open, and call out others when they use slurs," Morgana says, pointing her fork at him.
Arthur smiles. "And that, yes."
He raises his glass and holds it up so she can clink hers against it.
"To changing the world through language," he says, grinning at her. Morgana rolls her eyes, but she smiles and drinks to it anyway.
Arthur wishes he could avoid Christmas altogether, but he wants to see Morgana and all of his friends. Spending Christmas Eve with Uther in a tense “family” dinner is a price he’s willing to pay for that.
He spends the week leading up to Christmas catching up with Lance, Leon and Mithian.
Lance’s studio is looking amazing, and according to Leon (who’s much more willing to brag about Lance’s accomplishments than Lance himself), it’s going great.
“He gets new sign-ups practically every week. Most of them young women, of course.”
Lance smiles politely and says that he welcomes anyone who wants to learn.
Arthur exchanges meaningful looks with Leon. Both of them know that Lance would never date anyone who’s his student, below the age of eighteen, or both. He also would court them forever before finally kissing them. Lance is a terrible romantic like that, and Arthur envies him his naivety sometimes.
Leon and Mithian on the other hand, are looking at houses to buy, it would seem. They’ve got a lovely flat near the campus of Avalon Sports College, but Arthur knows that both of them want more space, a dog, and in due course, their first child.
Now that he’s got a place at the museum, Leon regularly brings home research papers, old books, and even more ancient weapons for which he needs space.
Mithian, on the other hand, just needs an office that is free of Leon. She’s just received a place with the Royal Avalon Theatre Company to choreograph their stage fights, and she needs a place to research and think without Leon’s curious hovering and “constructive commentary”.
Additionally, they’d have a garden at the back of the house where they could shoot their longbows and crossbows, and practise sword fighting in peace, because Arthur is certain that Mithian is going to try out all her choreographies on Leon first.
Arthur smiles as he pictures it. He hopes they’ll find something soon, and promises to do his best to help with moving, as long as they do it during term breaks or on a weekend.
After just a few days spent in the company of his closest friends, Arthur feels refreshed. He’s told them all about law school (“So different from sport”), his teachers (“Geoffrey’s boring, Aredian is a creep, and Caerleon’s a proper ball buster”), Gwaine and Percy (“I swear, if they only talked to each other…”), and Elena (“She’s the absolute sweetest girl, and with some encouragement will definitely punch those TERFs some day”).
It’s Leon and Lance’s turn to exchange meaningful looks, and Arthur knows exactly what they’re saying: Thank fuck he’s made some friends. His moping over the phone was becoming unbearable, and now we don’t have to worry anymore.
Arthur admits, at least to himself, that he’s glad, too, that they can stop worrying. He enjoys law school by now – more than he thought he would – and having at least two people there who like him and are willing to spend time with him is helping a lot. Maybe three, if he counts Merlin.
Thinking about Merlin reminds Arthur of the last time he saw him – the night of the Halloween party when Merlin was practically undressing Arthur with his eyes. Not that there was much left to the imagination. Arthur knows just how tight those shorts were, given how many people commented on it that night at the party.
He’s brought out of his thoughts when Lance comments on the blush rising to Arthur’s cheeks, and Arthur quickly picks up his pint and hides his face by taking a long sip from the glass.
It’s Christmas Eve the next day, and the only thing that helps him through it, and Christmas Day after that, is Morgana’s presence. The two of them spend most of their time in Morgana’s room where they talk about Morgana’s abilities, Morgause, Arthur’s coursework, and, to Arthur’s secret delight, Merlin.
Arthur still hasn’t told Morgana about meeting Merlin at the shop that night, and he’s sure he never will. In all likeliness, Morgana foresaw it in a dream and that’s why she bought him that outfit in the first place. The only reason why he doesn’t ask her if that’s actually the case is because he’s worried that it was pure coincidence and then he’d have to tell her about it anyway. Best not to risk it.
By the time the new year arrives, Arthur’s looking forward to returning to Camelot. Lectures won’t resume until the end of January, but Arthur needs to do some work, and he has every intention of spending some time in that coffee shop where he and Morgana met Merlin before. For the coffee and their muffins, of course, and definitely not because he hopes to meet a certain, big-eared someone. He does, however, intend to ask Elena and Gwaine out for a pub night some time.
He knows Elena went home to spend time with her father over the holidays, but he thinks she’ll be back in town soon. She’s confessed that her father is incredibly supportive of her, and that she loves him all the more for it. “But he smothers me in affection whenever I’m home,” she’s explained. “It’s great for about a week because he makes all my favourite foods and takes me out to the cinema or to go riding, or anything I want, really. But then it’s just too much, eventually. He’s very protective and he worries a lot over my safety. It’s sweet, honestly, it is. But I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself.”
So, Arthur concludes, she’ll probably return a week after him at the latest, most likely sooner. And Gwaine already lives in Camelot so he’ll definitely be there, hopefully already dating that big, muscly guy from the park. Arthur meant to goad him into making a new year’s resolution to that effect, but then got so caught up in pre-break homework and studying that he and Gwaine didn’t talk much during the few morning workouts they shared.
All the more reason to meet up with him and get him to make it now. As long as it’s January, it counts, Arthur concludes.
Arthur takes it as a sign that the new year is going to be excellent when he runs into Merlin only two days after returning to Camelot. It’s at the library where Arthur’s found the perfect spot to study and write his paper. It’s with his back to a wall, which means no one can surprise him from behind, and with a good view of the other desks. There’s a window that casts natural light, but it’s high enough that Arthur doesn’t get distracted while working. There’s no noticeable draft, nor is it too warm. In short, it’s ideal.
He’s got up from his desk to find another book he needs, and he’s so intent on reading the spines to find the one he’s looking for, that he walks straight into another person.
The person makes a disgruntled sound, and Arthur finds that he knocked over Merlin.
“Oh, shit, sorry!” Arthur apologises quickly and bends down to help Merlin back to his feet.
Merlin looks like he was ready to curse up a storm of swear words at the insensitive prick who walked right into him, but at the sight of Arthur he closes his mouth and actually smiles.
“Figures it would be you,” he says softly, and lets Arthur pull him back his feet.
Arthur rubs the back of his neck self-consciously. “Sorry,” he says again. “I was looking for something and didn’t watch where I was going.”
“I noticed,” Merlin teases. “Course work?”
He nods. “Monmouth has us writing about the history of legal procedures, and Caerleon wants something about the development of private law in Albion over the last fifty years.” Arthur grimaces. “Terribly dull things.”
Merlin chuckles softly. “The price you pay to become a lawyer, right?”
Arthur shrugs. “I don’t even know if I want to be a lawyer.”
“Oh?” Merlin asks. “Then what else are you doing studying law? Going into politics?”
The trepidation Arthur feels at the mere thought must be showing on his face because Merlin quickly holds his hands in a soothing gesture. “Sorry,” he says. “Didn’t mean to frighten you this badly.”
Arthur shakes his head. “It’s fine. Uth-, uh, my father is a politician, and I just had this horrible thought that I might become him one day after all. I’ve spent the last ten years not living up to his expectations, you know.”
“Ah,” Merlin says in understanding. “Well, you know, there’s no rule that you have to be the exact same kind of politician as your father. You could just oppose him.”
That makes Arthur chuckle. “I suppose you’re right.”
“I usually am,” Merlin teases. “Better get used to that.”
“I’ll do my best,” Arthur responds, smiling softly. He tries hard not to fidget with the hem of his jumper as they stand around awkwardly in silence. Arthur glances at Merlin who looks as if he’s trying to think of something to say as much as Arthur is. He takes it as a good sign that Merlin doesn’t appear too eager to walk away from the conversation.
Arthur finally thinks of something and asks about Merlin’s Christmas at the same time as Merlin opens his mouth to ask about Arthur’s holidays. They grin at each other, then Merlin makes a gesture to indicate that Arthur should go first. Arthur’s attention is caught by small dragon embroidered on the cuff of Merlin’s shirtsleeve.
“Did you enjoy the holidays?” Arthur asks slowly, dragging the words out as he keeps staring at Merlin’s shirt.
Merlin puts his hands behind his back, and that finally snaps Arthur out of it. He looks up to find Merlin smiling at him.
“I spent it with my family. Nice and quiet. My brother introduced his boyfriend to us on Boxing Day, and my mum gave me the shirt I’m wearing.”
Arthur smiles sheepishly. “Sounds great. Much better than my holidays, in any case.”
“It was great,” Merlin confirms. “My mum’s got a knack for making things more beautiful. I’m lucky to have her. And Mordred’s boyfriend seems like a nice bloke, so that’s good.”
“What about you?” Arthur blurts out before he can think better of it. “Do you, uh, have someone?”
Merlin’s smile is teasing but happy. “No,” he says. “All by my lonesome.”
Arthur can’t hide the pleased look that’s crossing his face. He does, however, stop himself from telling Merlin that he thinks that’s great.
“So,” Merlin says at length. “How was your Christmas? I’m guessing less fun if you spent it with your politician father?”
Arthur sighs. “Yes. Uther insists that Morgana and I spend Christmas Eve and Day with him. That means we’ll take lunch and dinner together, and the rest of the time he stays in his office to work, while Morgana and I are bored out of our minds.”
“Sorry,” Merlin says with feeling. “Sounds awful, to be honest.”
Arthur shrugs. “I’m used to it, now. At least I get to spend the rest of the time with my friends.”
“Then your New Year’s Eve was better than Christmas itself?” Merlin inquires.
“Definitely,” Arthur says emphatically. “The best part was when my mate got drunk and composed a sonnet about his fiancées boobs. It was incredibly entertaining.”
Arthur grins at the memory, and then, in just that moment, spots the book he was looking for. He leans forward to pull it off the shelf. He miscalculated how close this would bring him to Merlin, and for a tense few seconds their faces are so close that Arthur can see the tiny gold flecks in Merlin’s otherwise incredibly blue eyes.
Arthur steps back, book safely in hand. “I, uh, need to get back to my papers,” he says, gesturing vaguely in the direction of his desk.
Merlin nods in understanding. “Sure. I’m sure I’ll see you around again. Good luck with the writing.”
Arthur raises the book, waving it back and forth a bit. “This’ll help,” he says confidently and turns to walk back to his workspace.
He wishes he had more time to talk to Merlin. He still has no idea what Merlin’s studying, or anything about him, really. Just when he’s decided to turn back and ask Merlin for his number, he can hear Merlin quietly answering his phone.
A minute later, when Arthur’s already back at his desk, he looks up in time to see Merlin running out of the library. Arthur hopes he didn’t receive any bad news and simply forgot that he left a window open at home, or something equally mundane and annoying, but not life-threatening.
In February, they discuss a case where a Magical got a restraining order against a stalker – a Common. The Magical, a man called Iseldir, was stalked relentlessly by an anti-magic activist whose name has been redacted from all public records. Arthur wants to argue the unfairness of this alone but he knows there’s no point in doing it here in class.
“But he could’ve just used his magic to defend himself against the stalker if it had come to that,” the awful pseudo-feminist says. Arthur found out a little while ago that her name is Nimueh, and that she’s a priestess of the Old Religion. Morgana explained that, historically, the Old Religion only chose cis women as priestesses because they believed that only women are pure of heart and soul. But, just because Arthur understands where Nimueh’s bias is rooted doesn’t mean he likes her any more, or that he’s willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. A trans-exclusive feminist is, regardless of her reasons, still a hateful bigot.
It’s doubly disappointing because Nimueh clearly cares about women’s rights – not even just privileged white women’s rights – but she can’t see past her own prejudice against men, or even just anyone who happened to be born with the “wrong” genitals.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise to Arthur that she’s more than willing to argue that a man, especially one who possesses magic, would use it as a weapon against someone else. Either she doesn’t have much faith in fellow Magicals, or her opinion of men in general is truly so low that she can’t imagine that one wouldn’t want to weaponise his abilities.
“Good point,” Aredian praises her. For someone who’s obviously biased against Magicals, Arthur observes, Aredian is more than willing to kiss up to Nimueh. He’s probably trying to cover all his bases, just in case.
Arthur raises his hand, and Aredian’s eyes light up. He’s probably expecting Arthur to agree as well.
“I’m just wondering,” Arthur says slowly, “if anyone who has a Swiss knife in their backpack, or a strong fist needs nothing else to protect them.”
Aredian frowns. “Explain what you mean.”
“Nimueh makes a good point that a Magical could use their powers to defend themselves, and therefore wouldn’t need the law to do it for them. But I wonder if that doesn’t mean that anyone who knows how to fist fight, or even is technically able to do it, isn’t protected by the law either. Just because I have the ability to knock someone out with a right hook doesn’t mean I should,” he argues. “And let’s be honest. The current political climate in Albion wouldn’t necessarily protect the Magical even if they used their abilities defensively. It’s much more likely that a judge would find them guilty of aggravated assault rather than self-defence. Frankly, it surprises me that Nimueh would even suggest that a Magical uses their powers to harm another person.”
Arthur looks at her challengingly. Nimueh’s expression morphs into pure disdain. Her forehead and nose are wrinkled, her mouth is drawn – it’s not a pretty sight by any means.
“I said no such thing,” she says coolly. She doesn’t explain what she meant to say instead, though.
“To sum it up,” Arthur says after waiting several seconds for her to reply, “I think the Magical did the only thing he could. And if not to protect all our people, what’s the law for?”
Aredian has his arms crossed in front of his chest, his face is stony. After a moment he nods. “I believe you’ve just won the case, Mr Pendragon.” He doesn’t sound happy as he says it.
Arthur grins, and decides to call Morgana later to tell her all about it.
He’s got his phone already in his hand as he makes his way out of the classroom half an hour later, when Aredian stops him.
“Mr Pendragon, a moment.”
Arthur sighs inwardly, but turns to him. “Yes, Professor?”
“Are you applying for the internship next year?”
“I was going to, yes.”
Aredian nods. “You should. You think on your feet, and you present your arguments well. I believe you’d do well in a courtroom with a little more guidance.”
Arthur could imagine only too well what kind of guidance Aredian had in mind.
“Do you have your resumé on you?” Aredian interrupts Arthur’s thoughts.
“I could email it to you later,” Arthur offers. He hasn’t written it yet but he can easily adapt the one he’s used to apply for his place at CU.
“See that you do,” Aredian says. “And give my best to your father,” he adds with something that looks eerily like he’s trying to smile, but the result is a lot more disturbing than Aredian probably realises.
“Yes, Professor. See you next week.”
Aredian’s already turned his attention to his papers, and Arthur leaves the room quietly, and as quickly as he can. Aredian makes him uncomfortable, but Arthur knows that this internship will do a lot for his experience, and his grade, and he can’t let the opportunity pass him by.
As he finally exits the building, he picks up his phone again and dials Morgana’s number. There’s a lot to tell her, and Arthur’s glad that this was his last class of the day, because now he gets to sit down in the café he likes, and talk to her about his day.
The rest of the second term passes uneventfully.
Arthur and Elena have become close friends, and Arthur bought her dinner the week she finally told Nimueh where exactly she could shove her prejudiced, elitist way of thinking. Okay, so that was a highlight.
As was the time when Arthur, Elena and Gwaine had gone out to the pub, and seen the big, muscly guy there. Arthur had promised to be Gwaine’s wingman (even though Gwaine swore he didn’t need one), and just as Arthur had gone up to the man to finally introduce himself, Gwaine had quietly snuck out through the backdoor.
At least Arthur now knows that the man’s name is Percy, and that he likes working out early in the morning because then he’ll be relaxed enough to face the day at the school for kids with ADD and ADHD, who need him to stay calm and focussed. Arthur had melted a little bit when he’d heard that, and he thinks he fell a little bit in love with Percy too that night.
He lorded the knowledge of Percy’s name and occupation over Gwaine for a week before Gwaine apologised for bailing, and also promised to pay for all of Arthur’s drinks next time they go out.
Since then, Percy always smiles, and gives a wave, when he arrives for his workout. Arthur smiles and waves back, while Gwaine usually does something awkward with his face that no one would mistake for a smile. He also almost falls over when he attempts to nod casually. Arthur finds it hilarious, but Percy clearly thinks that Gwaine is either drunk or concussed. That only makes Arthur laugh harder.
At the beginning of the third term, Arthur receives an interesting bit of news. Apparently Aredian’s law firm is swamped with cases, and because he’s just taken on a high profile case, he’s willing to take on first years as interns.
“He’s already picked them!” Elena says excitedly as she drags Arthur to the pinboard where they’ve been announced.
“Of course I got in,” Nimueh tells her gaggle of admirers. “Aredian practically eats out of my hand.”
Arthur wishes she’d shut up for even just five minutes. He doesn’t get his wish, but Vivian’s high-pitched squeal drowns out any other noise.
“I guess she got in too,” Arthur mumbles to Elena. Elena grins back at him. “Want me to use my elbows so we can get to the front?” she asks deceptively sweetly. Arthur laughs. “Sure, go right ahead.”
It’s less than a minute later that Arthur’s finally able to see the A4 sheet of paper pinned to the board.
Arthur stares at the sheet of paper. There’s his name, and Elena’s. He’d hoped, of course, but to actually see it happening is unbelievable. He lets out a loud whoop of joy, picks up Elena, and spins her around a few times. She laughs excitedly and holds on tightly to him. Once he sets her down, they each pull their phones out of their pockets. Elena’s already dialling her father’s number, and Arthur takes a few steps away from the crowd, hoping to have some peace and quiet when he calls Morgana.
He’s walked all the way outside before he’s ready to do it, though. His head’s still buzzing with the thought that he was picked for a high profile internship at a real law firm.
For a brief moment he considers calling Uther and telling him. Arthur’s already scrolling through his contacts but before he can actually hit the call button, he remembers that he isn’t doing this for Uther. He’s doing it for himself. He doesn’t need Uther’s approval anymore. All he wants now is to share his excitement with someone who’ll genuinely be happy for him.
Chapter 3: Part 2
Additional warning for this chapter: There's mention of threats of sexual assault and murder/violence, and homophobia. It's not more explicit than this warning, but please be cautious during Mordred's interviews.
Elena and Arthur arrive together on the first day of their internship. They stopped to get coffee and a pastry each, and Arthur just managed to get powdered sugar all over his face. He’s wearing a proper suit today, and Elena’s in a gorgeous black dress. They stop talking abruptly when they come face to face with Vivian in the hallway of Aredian’s law firm.
The three of them stare at each other for a moment. Elena offers Vivian a compliment, and Vivian gingerly accepts it. Just as it looks like Vivian’s about to say something in return, Nimueh comes walking up the hallway, neatly cutting between the three of them. Her dark red dress clings to her every curve, and the high heeled strappy sandals she’s wearing with it only accentuates her look.
She knows how to dress to impress, Arthur will give her that.
“I wonder if they taught her that in Priestess School,” Arthur says quietly when Nimueh’s out of earshot. Elena giggles, and Vivian snorts in her attempt to suppress a laugh. Arthur winks at her, and nods his head in the direction where Nimueh has gone. “Into the lion’s den,” he says, and leads the way to the conference room.
“We’re defending Mordred Emerson,” Aredian opens as soon as he enters the room. “He supposedly killed a man who, according to Emerson, was harassing him and his partner.”
“One of them magical?” Vivian asks immediately.
“Yes,” Aredian replies. “Emerson is a Magical, evidence suggests that the victim was killed with magic.”
Nimueh huffs. “Typical,” she says quietly.
“Is there something you have to offer, Miss Eilean?” Aredian asks.
“Nothing we don’t already know,” she says haughtily. “Men’s magic only knows how to destroy and kill. They’re not even powerful enough to do anything else with it. Their magic doesn’t come from Mother Earth like women’s magic, and thus they have no respect for life.”
Everyone stares at her. Aredian nods, almost looking approving.
“However that may be,” he says, sounding more detached than he looks, “it’s our task to defend Mr Emerson from the accusations, and create enough doubt that the charges will be dropped. There’s no hard evidence that he did it,” Aredian explains. “Magic leaves a trace, but it’s a fragment of a fingerprint at best in this case. That’s excellent news. However, Mr Emerson had motive, means, and opportunity to kill the victim. The magical trace on the body is the only evidence that supports the accusations against him.”
“How do we even know there was magic involved?” asks Elena, but before Aredian – or Nimueh – can answer, the door flies open and Merlin storms in.
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, Aredian, but if you’re using Mordred as a stepping stone, you’d better be afraid because I will hurt you,” he shouts.
“Mr Emerson,” Aredian says coolly, and everyone’s heads snap back to Aredian. “I’m in the middle of a meeting to determine how best to defend your brother,” Aredian goes on, unimpressed. “If you’d kindly leave your threats of violence for some other time?”
Merlin glares around the room, until his eyes land on Arthur. Something softens in his expression, and even though his hands are still clenched into tight fists, he nods, and takes a step back.
“He didn’t do it,” Merlin insists. “I know Mordred’s magic and it was nowhere near that prick Valiant.”
“Careful,” Aredian says. “Or someone might think you’re the one who did it.”
Something flashes in Merlin’s eyes, too quick to identify, but definitely there. Then Merlin takes a deep breath, turns around, and walks out of the room. The doors fly shut behind him without being touched.
“Well,” Aredian says. “That was Merlin Emerson, Mordred’s brother. The police occasionally consult him. He examines crime scenes and finds magical traces, if present, that will help determine the nature of the crime, or even the identity of the perpetrator.”
“Then why wasn’t he called in on this case?” Arthur asks.
“He was,” Aredian says. “He vehemently denied his brother’s guilt, but failed to provide sufficient information pertaining to the identity of another suspect. The police, and the prosecution, are of the opinion that his bias impacts his reliability on this occasion. His testimony is inadmissible in court.”
“As well it should be,” Nimueh says. Arthur deliberately doesn’t start a fight with her. There’s no point to it, and Aredian might kick him out if he causes too much trouble on the first day.
Arthur takes notes on the case on autopilot while he thinks about what he learned about Merlin today.
He had no idea that Merlin was working with the police. Is he hanging around campus for work all the time, then? Maybe he’s a guest lecturer for one of the magical courses offered at CU.
Arthur resolves to finally get around to asking Merlin next time he meets him.
“We’ll meet with the client tomorrow,” Aredian says, and it brings Arthur back to the present. “Meet me at Camlann Correctional Centre at nine in the morning. Be punctual. Until then, you’ve all been given a copy of the case file. Study it. Thoroughly. If any of you have any new angles, insights or thoughts about it, you’ll tell me straight away.”
He stands and looks around the table one more time. “Just don’t waste my time.”
And with that he turns around and walks out of the conference room. Arthur feels queasy. He’s got a bad feeling about this case that he hopes will go away.
He opens the file and starts reading.
Mordred Emerson is a young man of twenty-one. His hair is dark and falls in soft curls. His face is sweet, almost childlike. The bags under his eyes and the scared look on his face show how much this experience is taking out of him though.
Arthur knows that magical prisoners have to wear bracelets of cold iron around their ankles and wrists to prevent them from using magic to free themselves. Arthur wonders what it feels like to have a part of himself suppressed like this, to not even have an integral part of your identity to comfort you.
Arthur tries to see the resemblance to Merlin but apart from the hair and the pale skin, there’s not much there. Then again, he muses, he and Morgana don’t look much alike either.
“Tell us what happened,” Aredian prompts.
When Mordred speaks, his voice is lower and firmer than Arthur expected. No matter how much Mordred might suffer physically in prison, and under the accusations against him, his spirit is clearly strong. Arthur can’t help but admire that.
“Elyan and I were supposed to meet up after work. He had the late shift at the shop where he works, and I was staying late at the library to write an essay for school. We usually meet at the entrance of the park near where I live. I was there early, so I sat down and took out the book I’d brought. When I heard footsteps approaching I looked up. I thought it was Elyan, but it was Valiant. He’s been harassing Elyan and me for a while. Mostly me, though. He hates-” Mordred breaks off, winces. “Hated magic and anyone who uses it. He hated me because I didn’t need trinkets to do magic, like he did. He was jealous of my natural abilities, and he held a grudge against me for exposing him committing fraud. That I’m gay probably didn’t help either.”
“What makes you think that he was jealous?” Aredian interrupts.
“He said so,” Mordred says matter of factly. “He didn’t say he was jealous precisely, but he said that I don’t deserve to have any power because I wasn’t doing anything useful with it.”
“And why would he say that?” Aredian questions.
“He had fake glasses that were enchanted to expose people’s weaknesses. Emotional weaknesses. I could sense that he had no magical powers of his own, and he was using the glasses to read people so he could extort money from them. I reported him and he stood trial, but he was let off and put on probation instead of going to prison. He started harassing me after that. He already knew I had magic, but one day he saw me with Elyan, my boyfriend. I think before then, he was just looking for revenge because I made him lose money and get a criminal record. After he learned I’m gay, he began to threaten me in earnest.”
Arthur swallows thickly. There’s something fundamentally wrong with their juridical system when people like Valiant won’t be sent to prison despite hard evidence and witness accounts against them. The fact that he’s clearly homophobic and violence-prone only makes it worse.
“What kind of threats?” Aredian asks matter-of-factly.
Mordred looks pained at the question but forces himself to answer. “Threats of torture, physical and mental. He threatened to physically harm me, and my family.”
“Anything else?” Aredian prompts when Mordred doesn’t go on. It’s clear that Mordred’s uncomfortable. Arthur empathises with him. He wouldn’t want these things dredged up over and over again. However, as terrible as it is, knowing more about what Valiant did to Mordred will probably provide more arguments against a lifetime imprisonment for Mordred.
“He threatened to sexually assault me, Elyan, my brother. Even our mother.” Mordred closes his eyes and takes a moment to just breathe and calm himself down.
Elena and Vivian gasp softly, and Mordred turns to look at them. His expression doesn’t soften, exactly, but his eyes become less hard once he realises that the two women honestly sympathise with him.
Arthur for his part can’t imagine what it must be like to have such hatred directed at oneself. It’s despicable and awful, and no matter if Mordred did or didn’t kill Valiant, Valiant clearly had it coming.
“He said he’d murder us all after he was done with us,” Mordred continues, his voice just as steady as before.
“What happened the night he died?” Aredian asks, voice as cold and detached as ever. The only one who looks equally disinterested is Nimueh, but even she shows a glimmer of interest in what happened next.
“He was spewing the same kind of hate speech as before. Said he’d make me watch as he took revenge on every person I cared about. I said that I wouldn’t ever let him. I said I’d call the police and have him arrested. He laughed, of course. He knows the police can’t do anything as long as it’s his word against mine, and because he’s Common, they’d believe him over me.”
“And then what?” Aredian interrupts. It’s obvious that he’s getting impatient.
“Then he suddenly jerked forward. I was about to throw up a protective shield, but he wasn’t coming at me. He just… twitched and then fell to the ground. I reached out with my magic to find his heartbeat. I wasn’t going to go near him or touch him. I wasn’t sure he wasn’t using some kind of trick just to catch me off my guard. I couldn’t find a life-sign though. That’s when I called the police. When they arrived they didn’t even wait for a consultant. They said Valiant died of magical causes, and they immediately arrested me,” Mordred concludes, glaring at Aredian.
“So,” Aredian says after a moment, visibly unmoved by Mordred’s icy look. “Valiant Egbert dies, you’re present at the crime scene, a Magical yourself. You did nothing to help him, and the police could tell that magic was used to kill Mr Egbert. I have to say, it does look bad for you.”
“But I didn’t kill him!” Mordred protests. “If I was too afraid of calling the police because they’d believe him over me, even though I had sufficient reason to fear for my life and that of my family, why on earth would I kill him and risk a guaranteed imprisonment for life, complete with suppression of my very essence, my magic? Even if I had done it, why would I call the police and then wait at the crime scene ?”
“I don’t know,” Aredian says. “Maybe you wanted to distract from yourself.”
Mordred makes an outraged noise, and clenches his fists. Aredian raises a hand to stop him from saying anything else.
“I believe you,” Aredian says, sounding like he thinks the complete opposite. “But the judge might not, and neither will the jury. Is there any evidence that you can give to support your claim that Mr Egbert has been harassing you?”
“Elyan will confirm some of the things Valiant has said, as will my brother and my mother.”
Aredian shakes his hand and makes a dismissive hand gesture. “That won’t work. Statements by close family members are admissible, yes, but won’t sway the jury much. We need evidence. Recorded messages, letters, emails, anything of that kind.”
Mordred clenches his jaw and looks away. “No,” he says stiffly.
Arthur can tell that there’s something Mordred isn’t saying, and so does Aredian.
“Mr Emerson, if you you have any evidence against Mr Egbert, you need to show me, and we’ll need to present it in court. The likelihood that you’ll be let off all charges is slim. The best you can hope for is to reduce your sentence by proving that you acted in self-defense.”
“I didn’t kill him, and I have no evidence that I wish to present to anyone,” Mordred says coolly.
“Well,” Aredian says, picking up his briefcase. “I guess we’re done for today.”
He leaves the room, obviously expecting the rest of them to follow him.
Nimueh stalks out right after him, not even glancing in Mordred’s direction. Vivian and Elena get up slowly. Both smile at Mordred as they walk past, and Mordred smiles back and gives them a short nod.
Arthur is the last one in the room and he stops by Mordred’s chair.
“I believe you,” he says earnestly. “I know from my sister how hard it is for Magicals to be treated fairly by authorities, and you wouldn’t have risked it unless you were in real danger.”
Mordred looks at Arthur critically. “So you think I acted in self-defence?”
Arthur shakes his head. “No, I don’t think you killed him at all.”
“Why?” Mordred asks. “All evidence is against me.”
“Because I know your brother, and he said you didn’t do it. He’s a consultant with the police, isn’t he?”
“He is,” Mordred says slowly. “But they’re not admitting his testimony because we’re related.”
Arthur nods. “I know. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. I’ll do what I can to help you, Mordred.”
Mordred continues to look at Arthur for a long moment, then, slowly, a small smile forms on his lips. “You’re Arthur, aren’t you?”
Arthur’s taken aback by that. “I am,” he says hesitantly.
“Merlin’s talked about you.”
That surprises Arthur as much as it pleases him. Before he can ask what kind of things Merlin’s been saying about him, the prison guard takes Mordred by the elbow and leads him away.
“Thanks, Arthur,” Mordred calls back over his shoulder. “I know you’ll do your best.”
The smile that he gives Arthur is the first one that looks genuine. Arthur only hopes he didn’t promise too much.
Arthur’s still going over and over what he learned during Mordred’s interview the next morning, trying to figure out how best to represent that statement, or how to prove it. He doesn’t see Merlin hanging around outside the office building where Aredian’s law firm is situated, and startles when he suddenly bounds up to Arthur, staring at him with hard eyes as if he was trying to read Arthur’s mind.
“So,” Arthur says, feeling surprisingly comfortable under Merlin’s scrutiny. “You’re a consultant with the police.”
“I am,” Merlin says. “Mordred didn’t do it. The magical signature was all wrong, not just for his magic, but in general.”
Arthur frowns, not understanding what Merlin’s saying. “How do you mean?”
“It’s like no one cast the spell that killed Valiant. There was no personal note about the magic. That’s why I couldn’t point the police in the right direction. I have no idea what kind of Magical killed Valiant, let alone what their face looks like or even what gender they are,” Merlin explains surprisingly calmly. Arthur can tell Merlin wants him to believe him.
“So, magic really is dependent on gender, just like Nimueh claims?” Arthur asks, confused.
Merlin shakes his head. “Not the way Nimueh says, no. But a person’s magic is unique. Think of it as DNA, or a fingerprint, only more complex. It gives me a sense of the person, who they are, what they believe in, and so on.”
Arthur had no idea this was possible, or even that magic is this nuanced. He’d always assumed magic is a trade like any other and the only thing that makes it different from someone else’s magic is what they do with it.
“Have you encountered something like this before?” he asks, remembering that Merlin had said that there was nothing distinct about this magic at all.
Merlin shakes his head. “Never. Every person who has magic, or uses magic, leaves a trace. Sometimes it’s faint but it’s always there. For someone not to leave any trace… that’s either magic more powerful than my own, or some form of deeply occult powers I’ve never even heard of before. But that, again, would require a lot more power than I have, or some sort of enormous blood sacrifice.” He shudders visibly at the very thought.
“Well,” Arthur says, trying to appease Merlin, “Maybe it just was someone with more power than you.”
Instead of any kind of agreement from Merlin, Merlin’s expression turns equally sheepish and regretful.
“What?” Arthur asks curiously. “You’re not trying to tell me that there can’t be anyone more powerful than you, are you?” He laughs at the mere idea.
“Actually,” Merlin says slowly, “I kind of am?”
Arthur abruptly stops laughing. “You’re kidding, right?”
Merlin shakes his head, and shrugs as if in apology. “I’m sort of the most powerful wizard of our age. As in, no one has had more power than me in over a thousand years, probably since Albion was united.”
Arthur’s jaw literally drops and he stares at Merlin in disbelief.
Merlin watches him, forehead wrinkled in worry, and Arthur finally closes his mouth, swallows, and then exhales slowly.
“Alright. So, there’s no chance someone more powerful than you killed Valiant, and I’m trusting that you didn’t do it either,” he says carefully.
Merlin looks as if he’s about to throw a fit at the mere idea that he might kill anyone, and Arthur quickly holds up a hand to stop him.
“I know you didn’t do it, Merlin, and neither did Mordred. You know what the political climate is like. Killing a Common with magic is only going to strengthen the bias against magicals, and it would give the CNPA more ammunition in the next election.” He shakes his head. “You’re too smart. If you had wanted to kill Valiant, you would’ve found a way to make him disappear without anyone being the wiser.”
Merlin raises a brow. “You think highly of me, don’t you?” he says, but his tone is teasing and the corner of his mouth is tilting upwards.
Arthur shrugs. “I just think you’re smarter than to let yourself, or your brother, get caught if you really were intent on murder. Mordred himself said it best yesterday. If he had killed Valiant, he wouldn’t have stuck around the crime scene, let alone called the police.”
Merlin nods. “Mordred’s still a little naive about our government. He really thought that he was doing the right thing by waiting for the police to arrive so he could give them all the information he had. If it had happened to me I would’ve called in an anonymous tip after I’d got far away from the crime scene.”
“We’ll do what we can to prove that he’s innocent,” Arthur promises. He grabs Merlin’s shoulders and squeezes it. “ I’ll do everything I can.”
Merlin smiles at him, and nods. “Thanks, Arthur. I know you will.”
The look of trust in Merlin’s eyes sets of a swarm of butterflies in Arthur’s stomach and he slowly takes his hand away from Merlin’s shoulder. Arthur decides then and there that he will do anything to get to the bottom of this. And he’ll have to start by talking to Mordred again.
“I’ve got to go inside or Aredian will fire me for being late. Can’t help your family if I’m barred from working the case,” he explains.
“Of course,” Merlin says. “Can we maybe meet up later? To talk more?”
Arthur nods. He hastily pulls out a pen and grabs Merlin’s hand. He writes down his phone number on the back of it, trying not to get caught up in the way his skin tingles where he’s touching Merlin’s.
“Text me, and we’ll set something up,” he says.
Merlin smiles a soft smile that Arthur wants to see more of, and nods. “Okay. Go and defend my family’s honour.”
Arthur laughs, but lets go of Merlin’s hand. He’s already decided that he will do anything within his power to help Mordred. He’ll have to start by talking to Mordred again, find out if he really doesn’t have any kind of hard evidence against Valiant.
Before Arthur’s even made it all the way inside the building, his phone vibrates in his pocket. He pulls it out and finds a message from Merlin.
Arthur puts his phone back into his pocket, and can’t stop grinning all the way up to the tenth floor where Aredian’s offices are. Only his resolve to help Mordred keeps his mind on task instead of on Merlin.
Much to his surprise, Arthur finds himself at a loose end much earlier in the day than anticipated. Aredian got called away on another case, and so Arthur and the rest of the interns are told to go home as there’s nothing else they can do for the moment.
For a moment, Arthur debates calling Merlin right away for that coffee. In the end, he calls a cab and heads back to Camlann to talk to Mordred instead.
It’s a bleak building, grey asphalt, high, barbed fences, guards everywhere. Well, it is a prison, after all. Still, the place makes Arthur shiver unpleasantly, and the only thing keeping him going is his determination.
He signs in as Mordred’s cousin, Wart Pen. After a thorough search (and an even longer lecture of what he is and isn’t allowed to do while meeting with the prisoner) he’s finally led to a small room. It’s furnished with several tables and chairs that are all bolted to the floor. Some tables are occupied by prisoners and their visitors, and Arthur sits down at one of the few empty ones, next to a window that’s hidden behind thick wire.
Mordred’s led in a few minutes later. His eyes widen as he recognises Arthur, and then his mouth turns up in a small smile.
“Is that really necessary?” Arthur asks when the guard cuffs Mordred to the table after Mordred sits down.
“Protocol,” the guard says gruffly, and Arthur sighs in resignation.
“It’s not like he can do anything to me. You’ve already shackled him with anti magic chains,” he argues nevertheless. “And I’m pretty sure I can take him in hand-to-hand combat.”
“It’s fine,” Mordred says. “The guard’s just doing his job.”
Arthur lets it go and leans forward as much as he’s allowed. There’s a thick white line drawn across the middle of the table. He knows he’s not allowed to cross it with any part of his body, another rule that Arthur finds unbearable. Prisoners aren’t even allowed to hold the hands of their loved ones during a visit. A short hug to say hello and goodbye is all that’s allowed.
“What brings you here?” Mordred asks, dragging Arthur’s mind back on topic.
“Can’t a man visit his cousin?” Arthur says, smiling at Mordred.
Mordred snorts a laugh. “Sure.” He leans forward and continues more quietly, “if you were actually my cousin.”
Arthur winks at him. “Let’s not tell the nice guard, eh?”
Mordred chuckles. “I won’t if you won’t.”
“Then we’re agreed.”
“Agreed,” Mordred confirms. “Did Aredian send you?”
“No,” Arthur says, shaking his head. “Neither did Merlin or anyone else. I’m here because I wanted to talk to you myself.”
“If you’ve come to ask me about dating advice then I’m going to tell you to turn around. If you don’t know how to date my brother I’m not helping you.”
“What? No!” Arthur splutters. “I’m not here for that,” he says. “Besides, it would mean dating my cousin ,” he hisses to remind Mordred of their feeble cover story.
Mordred rolls his eyes. “You forget, cousin , that Merlin and I aren’t related by blood. We’re both adopted.”
“Oh,” Arthur says, completely taken by surprise. “I didn’t. I mean, really? Are you sure?”
“More than,” Mordred says. “Mum took me in when I was eight, Merlin’s been with her for two years already by then.”
“Oh,” Arthur repeats.
“Anyway,” Mordred continues undeterred, “if you’re not here about Merlin, why did you come?”
Arthur shakes his head slightly to get back on track. He leans forward again, stopping right before he’d cross the white line. “I know you have some kind of hard evidence against Valiant,” he says quietly.
Mordred’s eyes narrow and his brows furrow. “What makes you say that?”
“I’ve got good instincts,” Arthur replies simply. “And I could tell by the way you reacted when Aredian asked you about it yesterday. You’ve got something to prove that Valiant was harassing you, and even though I believe that you didn’t kill him, the judge and the jury might not, and at least this way we could argue that it was self-defense.”
Mordred’s shaking his head. “I can’t use the evidence,” he says.
“Mordred,” Arthur says urgently. “We’re talking about your life here. This could make the difference between a life-sentence in prison, and just a few years, possibly most of them on probation.”
Even before Arthur finishes speaking Mordred is shaking his head again. He leans forward, stopping at the appropriate distance so as not to draw attention to them, but close enough that he can speak quietly and only be heard by Arthur.
“I’d rather spend the next twenty-five years in prison than expose Elyan and myself to the kind of humiliation and ridicule, or all the pity, that would inevitably follow.”
“It can’t possibly be that bad,” Arthur argues.
“It can,” Mordred says. He looks around and leans in closer still.
“Valiant filmed Elyan and me. At Elyan’s place. It was our anniversary and we were-” Mordred swallows and looks down onto the table before visibly steeling himself. His shoulders stiffen and he takes a deep breath. When he looks back up at Arthur his eyes are colder than before, and it sends a shiver down Arthur’s spine to see Mordred this detached.
“We were shagging,” Mordred says with put-on calm.
“Bloody hell,” Arthur curses.
“Yeah,” Mordred agrees. “He filmed us, and he made sure we knew exactly what he thought of us and what he would do to us once he got his hands on us. He even turned the camera on himself at the end to show us the knife he’d use to cut off our genitals before he’d kill us.” Mordred’s voice has gone ice-cold, and Arthur thinks the temperature in the room just dropped several degrees.
“It’s not just the sex, though. Elyan and I could probably live with the stigma of being outed, and having one of our most private moments on public display. To have people look at us and know what we look like when we’re together like that.” Mordred shakes his head minutely. “But there was light magical bondage involved, and that’s why we can’t use it.“
He’s visibly forcing the words out, now. His jaw is clenched, and his hands are balled into fists again. Arthur wants to tell him that he can stop talking now, that he’s heard enough but he feels like his own lips are fused shut.
“The public doesn’t take well to kink, especially not between gay men, and even less when magic is part of it. Anyone who chose to see it that way would think I forced myself on Elyan, that the evil sorcerer abused his power over a Common, and made him do things he didn’t want to do.”
Arthur finally finds his voice again. “You’d rather be convicted for murder than rape,” he says barely loud enough for Mordred to hear. Mordred nods, though, signalling that he heard Arthur.
“At least this way I can keep some of my dignity, and protect Elyan’s at the same time. Better for him to be pitied for being the ex-boyfriend of a convicted murderer than a victim of sexual assault. That’s a stigma he’d never lose.”
Bile rises in Arthur’s throat and he takes a few moments to swallow, and just breathe. Mordred is right. He can’t use that video. Ever. Elyan’s testament wouldn’t do anything either because people would think that Mordred enchanted him. There’s no way out of this. No matter the outcome, Mordred’s life is ruined.
Arthur looks at him, and he can see in Mordred’s eyes that he’s right.
“I’ll do everything in my power to clear your name,” he promises. “I’ll find a way to prove that it wasn’t you who killed Valiant.”
Mordred gives him a sad, tired smile. “You sound like Merlin. He comes to see me every day, and he keeps promising the same thing.”
“Does he know?” Arthur asks. “About the video and what it shows?”
Mordred nods. “He does.”
Arthur nods, then, without thinking he reaches for Mordred’s hand and clasps it between his. “I promise, Mordred. Everything in my power.”
“No touching!” the guard booms, and Arthur quickly lets go of Mordred’s hand. In the next moment, Mordred’s uncuffed and dragged up and away from the table. The guard is searching him, and checking that his anti-magic shackles are still in place.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur says. He’s got the feeling that Mordred will be subjected to a thorough strip search.
Mordred smiles back. “Thanks, Wart. Tell my brother I said ‘hi’.”
Arthur nods. “I will. Look after yourself.”
“I will,” Mordred promises, then he’s dragged away by the guard. Another one shows up to lead Arthur away.
He feels sick to his stomach, and is glad once he’s back outside to gulp down the fresh spring air. He needs to talk to Merlin, and they need to come up with a plan.
His phone is in his hand before he knows it, and he’s calling Merlin.
“Hey,” Merlin says, sounding happy to hear from Arthur.
“Hey,” Arthur says back, unable to keep the edge out of his voice. “I, uh, just spoke to Mordred.”
There’s a weighty silence at the other end.
“He told me about the video,” Arthur says quietly. He’s not actually giving anything away by saying this, but he’d rather keep it quiet nevertheless.
“He can’t use it,” Merlin says tersely.
“I know,” Arthur says. “I agree. It would be worse than what he’s facing already.”
“Yes,” Merlin says.
“Without the real killer, we’ll never get him off the charges,” Arthur explains. “Right now, the best we can hope for is to appeal to the jury and make as strong a case as we can on Mordred’s statement, and anyone else who’s willing to testify that Valiant’s been harassing him.”
“But he didn’t do it!” Merlin says, anger making him raise his voice.
“I know,” Arthur says, trying to stay calm. “I know that, Merlin, but there is no other suspect and he’s got a better chance of pleading guilty and having his sentenced reduced on account of self-defense than pleading not guilty and having to work that much harder to convince the jury that he didn’t do it.”
Merlin makes a frustrated, angry sound, and Arthur can hear something shatter.
“Merlin?” he asks, worried now. “Are you okay?”
There’s nothing but harsh breathing for a few moments. “Yeah,” Merlin says eventually. “Just broke my favourite mug.”
“Sorry,” Arthur says. “Can you fix it?”
A mirthless chuckle escapes Merlin. “Probably not. My magic sort of tore it into a thousand pieces, and there’s no coming back from that.”
“I’m sorry,” Arthur says again. “For everything. I wish I had better news. Do you, uhm—” He breaks off, unsure if this is the right moment for it.
“What?” Merlin asks, sounding genuinely curious.
“Do you still want to meet up with me?”
There’s a stunned little silence on Merlin’s end, and then, with what sounds like a genuine smile, Merlin says: “Yes, I do. Meet you at the coffee shop in half an hour?”
Arthur has flagged down a cab before Merlin has finished the sentence.
The next day at the office, Aredian takes him aside.
“I got a call from the Correction Centre this morning. It would seem our client had a visit from his cousin, a Wart Penn. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
Arthur clears his throat. “Actually, yes, I do. It was me, I went to visit Mordre—, I mean, Mr Emerson.”
“And why would you do that?”
“I wanted to ask him if he maybe changed his mind on the evidence.”
Aredian nods. “And did he?”
“No,” Arthur says earnestly. “He has no evidence that would help his case.” It’s not even a lie. It wouldn’t help Mordred. Arthur was already convinced of that after he left the prison, but talking to Merlin about it over coffee yesterday made it truly sink in how utterly fucked Mordred’s situation is.
“Too bad,” Aredian says, and his face shows just how disappointed he is by Arthur’s inability to deliver what he wanted. “Nothing to be done.”
“No,” Arthur agrees because there’s nothing else for him to do.
Aredian dismisses him and sends him ahead to the conference room. Once Arthur enters it, he finds Nimueh, Elena, and Vivian already there.
“And where have you been yesterday?” Nimueh asks with a wicked look in her eyes.
“Working the case,” Arthur replies simply.
“It’s no use to talk to the sorcerer ,” Nimueh goes on, surprising Arthur with her choice of words. It would seem that Nimueh’s disdain for men goes as far as using anti-Magical slurs. “He most likely did it. He deserves to be punished,” she says haughtily.
Arthur frowns. “How do you know I went to see Mordred?”
Nimueh’s mouth draws into a smirk. “I have my methods.”
With a lot of effort Arthur manages not to betray how worried he is over how much Nimueh knows. She’s radical in her opinions, and, unfortunately, the embodiment of the men-hating feminist cliché. She would have no qualms about exposing Mordred and Elyan.
“She doesn’t know anything useful,” says a voice from behind Arthur, and he has rarely been happier to hear it.
He turns around to find Merlin glaring at Nimueh. Arthur takes a step back to get out from directly between the two. He has no desire to end up in the firing line if they decide to have a magical duel, or something like that.
“And what would you know, Emrys ?” Nimueh hisses.
“A great many things,” Merlin replies, tone icy cold but otherwise calm. “I know, for example, that you’re a skillful scry, but all you can do is see , not hear.”
Nimueh looks about ready to throw a spell in Merlin’s direction when Aredian enters the room.
“Mr Emerson, back again?” he asks, looking anything but happy to see Merlin in his office again.
“Yes,” Merlin says. “I came to see if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“Unfortunately, no,” Aredian says. “Your statement is not admissible in court, and any evidence or line of inquiry we wish to pursue needs to be, ah, untempered by you so as not to lessen your brother’s chances. You could, however, try to explain why your brother’s partner didn’t show up for his interview this morning.”
Merlin’s face takes on a worried expression.
“I don’t know. I could go and check on him, and bring him back here?” he offers.
Aredian pinches the bridge of his nose. “I won’t have time to see him later.”
“I could go with him,” Arthur offers. “Get Elyan’s statement, come back here afterwards and present my findings.”
Aredian lets out an exasperated sigh. “Very well, you may go. Ask him about evidence of Mr Egbert’s harassment.”
“I will,” Arthur promises, this time smoothly lying without the slightest hesitation.
He nods at Merlin, then the door, and together they leave the conference room. Arthur can feel Nimueh’s hateful glare following them all the way outside.
“Are you sure she won’t have heard anything I talked about with you or Mordred?” Arthur asks after he and Merlin got on the right bus to Elyan’s place.
“Absolutely sure,” Merlin says. “Scrying is dead useful when you want to see what’s happening, but you have no audio.”
Arthur leans back in his seat and exhales. “Good. I’d hate for her to have that kind of knowledge, that kind of power over Mordred. It’s clear she already hates him.”
“Yeah,” Merlin says slowly. “It’s not entirely her fault that she’s like this,” he adds a few moments later.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, the sisterhood of the priestesses of the Old Religion have very strict, and very archaic rules. A thousand and more years ago, when the world was more clearly divided, they made more sense. The priestesses had to protect themselves, and other women, from men who would plunder their sacred shrines and take what they want – including women. Some of the soldiers would disguise themselves in dresses, and shave their beards and chests to appear more feminine so they could sneak into temples of the Old Religion where they would then rape and slaughter any woman they could find.”
Merlin looks indeterminately sad as he tells Arthur this, and Arthur’s stomach roils from imagining it. He imagines Morgana as one of these priestesses, and it’s a near thing that he doesn’t get sick right there and then.
“Since then the priestesses were forced to test every woman seeking entrance to their sanctuaries, and of course, them not knowing any better all those centuries ago, they did it by stripping them naked and checking their genitalia.”
He tips his head back to look up at the ceiling of the bus.
“I’m not saying they have a right to still be this discriminate in this day and age. They really should know better, honestly, but something as ingrained into the priestesses blood as this … I can’t entirely fault Nimueh for mistrusting men so entirely.”
He looks over at Arthur, who’s watching him with interest.
“She’s wrong to hate trans women because of something despicable men did over a thousand years ago,” Merlin insists, showing that he’s much more observant than he lets on at first glance if he’s noticed how Nimueh treats Elena from the two times he’s seen them in the same room together. Or maybe he just saw Nimueh treat Elena or another trans woman poorly before.
“But I can’t just cast her as the evil witch either,” Merlin concludes after a moment. “Her entire belief system tells her that male magic is different from female magic. She thinks that women receive their power from the Earth, the nurturing mother. Men, so she thinks, have little to no power, and whatever they have, they draw it from their own life force or that of others. In her mind, the more powerful a man is, the more occult his magic. And, in accordance with that, all magic wielded by men can only destroy, kill and maim.”
Arthur frowns, and leans in so he won’t be overheard. “But you said you’re the most powerful Magical in centuries,” he says quietly.
Merlin smiles with amusement. “I am,” he whispers back. “Just because I know what Nimueh believes doesn’t mean she’s right. Naturally, she thinks I’m the evillest of them all.”
Arthur nods. “Is that why she called you Emrys? Is that some kind of, I don’t know, slur?”
Merlin huffs a laugh. “No,” he says. “That’s just my druid name.”
“Your … druid name,” Arthur repeats slowly.
“Yes,” Merlin says. “It means Immortal One.” He watches Arthur’s reaction to that piece of news.
“Right,” Arthur says carefully. “Does that mean you can’t die, or what?”
“I think…” Merlin says, then stops. Arthur can almost see the debate going on inside his mind.
“It’s fine,” he says. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“No,” Merlin says. “It’s just that I don’t usually have to explain because anyone who knows that name already knows about me.”
He offers Arthur a smile. “From what I understand, it means that my life energy, the magic that makes me me , is immortal, and will return to earth, and to life again and again, always creating a new life once another one has ended.”
Arthur thinks this over for a moment.
“So, what you’re saying is, you’re being reincarnated over and over again until the end of time?” he concludes finally.
Merlin shrugs. “Yeah, I guess that’s about right.”
It astonishes Arthur how blasé Merlin can be about this. “And it’s been going on for a while?” he asks tentatively.
Merlin exhales slowly. “From what I can tell, yeah. A few centuries, maybe a millennium, maybe more.” The way he looks at Arthur is nothing if not worried. Arthur wonders if Merlin’s worried that Arthur’s going to have him committed.
Arthur exhales audibly. “Okay,” he says finally, cracking a smile. “And here I thought we were the same age.”
That makes Merlin laugh. “We are the same age, I think. I’m still human in this lifetime. I age like any other person. One day I’ll die and then be reborn, is all.”
“Do you remember anything about your previous lives?” Arthur asks curiously, but Merlin shakes his head. “Nothing specific. Sometimes I’ll have a feeling of déjà vu, and I had no issue figuring out how exactly to use my magic, and how much power I have once I was old enough, but apart from that, no, nothing.”
“Do you wish you did know more about before?”
Merlin shakes his head again. “No,” he says. “I think it would hurt too much to remember all the lives I’ve lived, the people I’ve met and loved before, you know? Remembering them when I can’t ever see them again, it would be a burden. I’d rather not know.”
Arthur nods. “I understand.” He grins and bumps his shoulder against Merlin.“You’re almost a little wise, you know that?”
Merlin laughs. “Thanks, Arthur. I was hoping you’d notice.” He winks, and it sets off a swarm of butterflies in Arthur’s stomach.
Elyan, when Arthur finally meets him, is in a solemn mood, and completely unaware of the fact that he had an interview today.
“The invitation must’ve got lost,” he muses.
“It’s fine,” Arthur says. “We’re here now.”
Elyan makes them tea, and Arthur and Merlin take a seat on the couch. The flat is small, just enough for one person to live comfortably, and there are pictures of landscapes and people alike adorning the walls and several shelves.
“Elyan’s a photographer,” Merlin supplies without needing to be asked.
Arthur nods. “He’s good.”
Merlin grins proudly as if Arthur had complimented him instead of his foster brother’s boyfriend.
Elyan returns with three mugs of steaming tea, and sets them down on the coffee table.
“What do you want to know?” he asks after he’s taken the first fortifying sip.
Arthur realises he probably should’ve prepared questions. He pulls a notepad and pen out of his bag, writes “Elyan” on the top of the page, then looks up.
“Let’s start with your personal information. Last name?”
The whole interview only takes an hour, and at the end Arthur’s not any closer to a solution than he was before – but at least he’s got confirmation of everything he already knows.
Valiant had been harassing Mordred for several weeks, mostly when no one else was around. Mordred has shown Elyan the video, and while Elyan isn’t so much worried about his own reputation, he agrees that it would only make things worse for Mordred.
They’re back to square one. Actually, they’ve never moved from square one. If anything, they’ve been kicked off the board entirely more than a few times by now.
Arthur sighs, and finishes his tea.
“I’m not sure how well it’s going to go for Mordred,” he says honestly. “We need to convince the jury that he’s not a murderer, and failing that, that any acts he might have committed were self-defence.”
Elyan nods tensely, and Merlin clutches his mug like it’s a lifeline.
“We’re not out of stones yet,” Arthur says confidently.
“You follow curling?” Elyan looks up at him with surprise clearly written across his face. Arthur has to admit that it was an obscure reference, which makes it all the more astonishing that Elyan got it.
Arthur smiles at him. “Not exactly. I don’t not follow it, though. It was invented in the north of Albion, a few hundred years ago, did you know?”
Elyan’s brows are furrowed in confusion and Arthur takes pity on him.
“I studied Sports Science at Avalon Sports College, focussing on team sports. I took a course on sports history, and it came up. I’ve been loosely following it since then. I’m better with ball sports.” He winks at Elyan, who breaks into a real smile.
“I bet you are. Do you play anything?”
“Football, rugby, cricket – you name it. I’ve dabbled in most everything. Haven’t played in a while though. Law school is keeping me pretty busy.”
Elyan nods in understanding. “But you’d be up for it?”
“Of course, if I can make it work with my schedule, and if anyone wants me to play.”
“When this is over,” Elyan says after just a moment’s hesitation. “I’ll set up something.”
Arthur nods. “Deal.”
When he looks over at Merlin, he notices that some of the tension has gone out of him, and he’s smiling softly into his mug. Arthur finds it endearing, and if all it takes for Merlin to smile like that is to distract one of his friends for a few minutes from the harsh reality, then Arthur is more than happy to provide that distraction times and again.
“So,” Merlin says as they’re riding the bus back to campus. “Sports science, eh?”
Arthur shrugs. “Had to do something after school.”
“Yeah, but your father is Uther Pendragon. I’m surprised you didn’t go into politics, or economics, or law, actually.”
“I didn’t want to study any of those subjects then.” He thinks it’s best not to go into why he came to law school after all. “I enjoyed playing sport and learning more about it, so I went to ASC for it.”
“I’m sure your father was thrilled,” Merlin teases.
Arthur snorts. “He took it about as well as you’re thinking. Probably worse, honestly.”
“But you went through with it.”
“Yes, I did. It’s what I wanted to do, and by the time I graduated from school I’d already seen through the illusion that Uther would ever take me seriously, or love me for me.”
“Arthur,” Merlin starts, reaching for Arthur’s hand. Arthur takes it and smiles over at Merlin.
“It’s fine,” he says. “I’m not too bitter about it. Like with you and Nimueh, I sort of know why he’s like that.”
“Your mother?” Merlin asks carefully.
It’s common knowledge that Ygraine died in childbirth, and that Arthur was born of magic, and that Uther began his crusade against all Magicals after his wife’s death.
“Yes,” Arthur says. “In part, at least. I think that in the beginning he knew that not all Magicals were to blame. It was only about those who practised occult magic. But the lines got blurred for him and he couldn’t differentiate between good magic and evil magic anymore, and so he assumed that magic corrupts.”
Arthur traces the lines of Merlin’s palm with his finger.
“And in the middle of all of that he had a child to raise even though he was wholly unprepared for it. He thought he was doing me a favour when he hired nannies and governesses and tutors. He thought he was doing what was best for me by keeping me at arm’s length so I wouldn’t get sucked into his … mania.”
Arthur vaguely remembers a nanny who would play ball with him, and how the game had changed one day from being fun to being competitive. In hindsight, he’s sure Uther told her to stop letting him win.
“Uther’s not the kind of loving parent I wanted, and neither am I the son he had hoped for. But we only had each other amongst a barrage of staff. To be honest, it’s thanks to him that I enjoy so many sports. He forced me to play different types when I went to school, and I got to find out that I enjoyed most of them, and was good at all of them.”
Merlin chuckles. “So modest.”
Arthur laughs softly. “Well, it’s not bragging when it’s true, right?”
Merlin laughs some more, and Arthur can’t stop smiling to himself.
“The point is. Uther is a hard man, and his beliefs about magicals are entirely incorrect, unfair, and plainly offensive, much like Nimueh’s beliefs about anyone who isn’t a cis woman,” Arthur concludes. “But because I know Uther’s history, and because I could’ve easily become him, I can’t hate him, no matter how much I would like to.”
Merlin reaches over with his free hand and squeezes Arthur’s forearm. “That’s okay, Arthur. You’re allowed to love your father. You see his faults and you don’t make excuses for him, but he’s still your dad and that means something to you.” He gently rubs Arthur’s arm now. “But I refuse to believe that you could’ve ever become like him. The fact that you haven’t is more than enough proof of that.”
Arthur smiles at him, warm and affectionate, and the thought hits him that he wants to kiss Merlin. Badly.
When the urge doesn’t go away, and when he fails to come up with any reason why he shouldn’t, Arthur leans in and brushes his lips ever so lightly against Merlin’s.
They’re just as soft as he imagined they would be. Arthur presses in closer, and even though Merlin doesn’t move away, or gives any other sign of not wanting this, Arthur pulls back to ask quietly, “This okay?”
Merlin smiles softly, and gives him a short nod, so Arthur moves back in, and this time Merlin smiles against his lips, and scoots closer. That definitely tells Arthur that kissing him was the right move to make.
It’s a slow slide of lips against lips. Arthur’s hand on Merlin’s jaw, and Merlin’s hand gripping Arthur’s thigh to steady himself. Merlin’s the one who coaxes Arthur’s mouth open with a lick to his upper lip, and Arthur can taste the coffee they’d both had at Elyan’s in Merlin’s mouth. Merlin puts far too much sugar and milk in his coffee, but Arthur savours the flavour anyway.
They only break apart when it’s time to get off the bus, and then linger at the station for several more minutes, lost in the slide of mouths and hands gripping tightly onto each other.
Eventually Arthur pulls away and takes a step back. “I should get home and polish the notes from Elyan’s interview. The trial starts soon and we can’t afford to slack off.”
Merlin nods in understanding. “Of course,” he says. “Maybe you’d like to call me later, though? Either to talk about the trial, or just, you know, to talk to me?”
Arthur smiles at him. “Maybe I’ll call you for both,” he says.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Merlin says, winking at Arthur, and bloody hell, Arthur wants nothing more than to pull Merlin close again and kiss him some more.
Instead, he contents himself with a peck to Merlin’s cheek. “I’ll talk to you later.”
And with that, he somehow finds the resolve to turn around and walk away towards his flat.
Arthur’s sitting in an empty corner office at Aredian’s firm going over his notes and the case file for the millionth time the next day. He keeps starting over because he gets distracted by thoughts of Merlin.
When, eventually, Vivian walks in and asks if he still needs them, he closes the file and holds it out to her.
“I think I’ve got them memorised by now,” he says, sighing. “And still I keep hoping I’ll suddenly find something that will solve it all and get Mordred off the charges.”
“There’s still time,” she says. She hugs the file to her chest.
“I overheard you talking to Professor Aredian yesterday,” she says after a moment’s hesitation.
Arthur tenses. “Yes?”
“I think you’re doing the right thing by protecting the client.”
“What makes you think I’m protecting him?”
“Oh, please. You got all defensive and cold as soon as Professor Aredian tried to pressure you into giving you information about the evidence the client has. I’ve attended enough dinner parties with my father to read any tone of voice.”
Arthur frowns at her. “You’re Olaf Adair’s daughter, aren’t you?”
She tosses her hair back. “I am,” she says. “And you’re Uther Pendragon’s son. If your father hadn’t ruined his political reputation, my father would’ve sought to have you and me married at least two years ago.”
Arthur grimaces. “I highly doubt that. I’m not a big fan of arranged marriages.”
She rolls her eyes. “As if I would want to marry you .”
That makes Arthur smile. “Fair enough. So, we dodged that bullet because Uther has questionable political beliefs. The fact that I failed to live up to his expectations is of no consequence, then?”
“Not really,” she says, shrugging. “You would’ve made a good trophy husband.”
That makes him laugh. “I would’ve been the best kind of trophy husband, and you know it.”
Vivian laughs. “You’re right. And hey, who knows, you still might be,” she teases. She holds up the file in greeting and leaves him alone to continue working on their line of questioning.
The first day of the trial dawns grey and windy. Arthur thinks it’s only right that the weather should fit the mood.
He’s found a seat in the first row, Elena and Vivian on one side, and Merlin on his other. He offers Merlin a small smile which Merlin returns. They haven’t seen each other since they went to talk to Elyan, but they’ve spoken on the phone a few times these last couple of days. Arthur wants to lean over and kiss Merlin again, find out if he’d hat tea or coffee for breakfast, but it’s neither the right time nor the right place. It will have to wait until later.
Today, the prosecution will question witnesses and make their statement. Since there’s no one person to charge Mordred, the state is doing it on the victim’s behalf. As such, state-assigned lawyer Sarrum Amata will lead the prosecution. Arthur knows of him even if he hasn’t met the man. Amata is an ally of Uther’s. Both of them hate Magicals and want to see them extinct.
Arthur thinks they couldn’t have found a worse prosecutor if they had tried.
The only saving grace is the fact that their judge will be Aglain Forest. He’s a Magical himself, albeit of relatively low power. Arthur would be glad to have the counterbalance against Amata, but Forest is known to be entirely objective and fair. He will judge the case as presented by the evidence, and consider the jury’s judgement seriously.
All in all, conditions could’ve been much, much worse, Arthur thinks.
The first witness called is Daegal Stewart, a young man with brown hair and big eyes. He, allegedly, is an eye witness. Arthur has a feeling this is not going to help them much.
“And what did you see the defendant do, Mr Stewart?” Sarrum asks.
“The defendant,” Daegal begins quietly, then clears his throat. “He was using magic on the victim, I saw him raise his hands and something like electricity shot from his palms at Mr Egbert. He crumpled to the floor and didn’t move anymore.”
“Why didn’t you call the police?”
“I wanted to, but the sorcerer was already doing it. I was scared he would hurt me if he knew I was there.”
Arthur clenches his fist. He doesn’t trust this man, and he’s sure he’s lying. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prove it. Arthur takes Merlin’s hand in his and pulls it into his lap. He begins to caress Merlin’s knuckles, both to calm himself down and to reassure Merlin.
Daegal is finally done after describing exactly what Mordred had been wearing that night, and next up is Helios Hunter, a character witness for Mordred. He’s dark skinned, handsome, and utterly charming. Arthur thinks he looks familiar, but since he can’t place him right away he lets it go for the moment.
And then he claims to be Mordred’s ex.
Arthur shoots Mordred a quick look, and Mordred shakes his head wildly, a panicked look on his face. Arthur makes a gesture with his hand to tell Mordred to stay calm, and Mordred nods and visibly forces himself to stay relaxed and quiet.
Merlin squeezes Arthur’s hand and leans in to whisper a quiet “Thank you” into his ear. Arthur nods curtly, his eyes never leaving Helios after this. He needs to hear this so they can figure out how to defend against it.
“He’ll deny it now,” Helios says smoothly, “but Mor and I used to be lovers. He’s got a, uh, fetish for black guys.”
Arthur feels a cold shiver run down his spine. He’s got an increasingly bad feeling about this.
“And how would you describe your relationship with the defendant?” Sarrum asks.
Helios, apparently an excellent actor, is affecting a look of discomfort that will convey to the jury that he’d prefer not to go into too much detail because whatever he’s about to say will be humiliating.
“Mordred is, well, it’s not his fault, you see. Sometimes he gets angry, is all. And then his powers just, sort of, get out of control?”
Merlin tenses beside Arthur, and Arthur moves his hand to be able to run his thumb over the inside of Merlin’s wrist in soothing circles.
“Out of control, how?” Sarrum asks relentlessly. Helios, in response cringes visibly. Arthur has to give him credit for his acting abilities. Every single jury member is looking stricken.
“It would lunge for me and cause pain. Not enough to really damage me,” Helios says quickly, and if he didn’t sound like he was scared of Mordred’s reaction, it would’ve been a helpful alleviation. “It was just so unpredictable and I didn’t feel safe with him anymore after a while, so I left.”
“Thank you, Mr Hunter. I know this can’t have been easy for you to admit,” Sarrum says, utterly failing at sounding sympathetic at all.
Merlin is sitting stiff as a board on his chair, his jaw clenched, mouth a thin line, and eyes locked onto Helios as if Merlin’s the one about to lose his temper and show Helios exactly what it’s like when someone’s attacked by magic.
Arthur leans in to say quietly: “Don’t be rash, Merlin. It won’t help your brother if you attack this man. We’ll find a way to expose his lies.”
Merlin stays still for a few more seconds before he forcibly exhales. “Okay,” he grits out between clenched teeth.
“Does Mordred know him at all?” Arthur whispers, and he doesn’t have to look to know that Merlin’s shaking his head, jaw still tense and eyes burning with anger.
Arthur bumps his shoulder against Merlin’s for reassurance. The tension in Merlin’s entire body is obvious from this small touch, if not from the way he keeps his hands balled into fists so hard that his knuckles are going wide.
When Arthur looks back over to Mordred, and nods to him, smiling as reassuringly as he knows how, Mordred only looks scared and small. Arthur wishes he could do more to show his support. A hand to the shoulder, ruffling his hair, even a hug - any of the tried and proven methods he’s learned in all his years of playing sports would give more comfort than what he’s allowed to do: Nod, smile, gesture.
Helios is lead from the stand, and then Judge Forest declares the first day over. They’ll return for the defence’s turn the next morning at nine.
Arthur gently pulls Merlin to his feet and leads him over to Mordred to say goodbye. “I have to go talk to Aredian,” he says quietly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Merlin nods, and Arthur brushes a light kiss on Merlin’s cheek before leaving the room to catch up with Aredian and his peers. There’ll be a debriefing, of sorts, and assignments for the next day. Arthur only hopes Aredian already has a strategy to deal with Helios at the very least. There’s not much they can do about Daegal for the moment.
It’s way past dinner time when his doorbell rings. Arthur surfaces from reading statistics of Magical-on-Common crime – and anything else he can find that’s even vaguely related to the case. He’s done all of this already in the last week leading up to the trial, and yet he hopes he’ll find a new angle to present to Aredian, and thus the judge and jury.
When he got home he went straight to work. Aredian gave him a box full of files that “might help, might not. Either way, best to check them, there’s a good lad.”
Arthur had only shrugged out of his jacket and taken off his shoes before he got to work.
By now his tie hangs loosely around his neck, his shirt’s top buttons are undone, his socks ended up discarded haphazardly on the floor somewhere, and his slacks might never recover from Arthur sitting on his rough carpet in various cross-legged or otherwise more or less comfortable positions all day.
He rubs his eyes and blinks a few times to get rid of the gritty feeling, and finally gets up when the doorbell rings again.
“Who is it?” he asks the intercom, and then remembers that he has to push the button to be heard on the other side. He pushes it and asks again.
“Merlin,” the crackly speaker announces, and Arthur buzzes the door open without another thought. A minute later Merlin’s standing in Arthur’s tiny entrance hall, taking off his shoes and jacket.
“I brought dinner,” he says, and Arthur eyes the plastic bag suspiciously.
“It’s curry,” Merlin explains. “I assumed you haven’t eaten anything since this morning.”
Now that Merlin’s mentioned it, Arthur’s stomach gives a loud growl. Merlin smiles fondly and nods. “Thought as much. Come on, let’s eat, yeah?”
Arthur shows him to the kitchen and helps Merlin dish out rice and meat and delicious smelling curry. They eat at Arthur’s tiny kitchen table and Arthur eyes the leftovers of Merlin’s own portion hopefully until Merlin laughs and pushes his plate over. Arthur finishes it off within minutes, then leans back.
“Thanks,” he says. “I needed that.”
Merlin smiles. “I thought as much. I haven’t known you long, but I could tell you’d be the kind of guy who forgets to take care of himself while working to help someone else. It’s part of why I like you so much.” He winks and gets up to clear the table.
“I’ve been going over all kinds of statistics and reports and scientific essays but nothing really proves one way or another that Magicals are more or less criminal than Commons, or that they can lose control of their magic like Helios claims.”
“That’s because magic is like any other attribute in a person,” Merlin says. “Someone who’s physically strong is not more likely to beat their spouse just because they can . Anyone who wants to abuse another person will do it, regardless of physical strength, or magical abilities. There are hundreds of cases where the physically weaker person abuses the physically stronger one in a relationship. They can still harm, both emotionally and bodily. Having magic doesn’t make you more or less likely to hurt someone any more than having big muscles does.”
“Well,” Arthur says, “as much as that’s the case, it doesn’t help us right now. If anything I’d have hoped to find proof that magic users are much less likely to abuse partners.” He sighs. “I mean, the numbers of criminal Magicals, especially physically violent Magicals, are lower than that of Commons, but in percentage it’s about the same? The only difference is that Magicals usually only commit crimes against other Magicals. It’s as if you all follow a certain code of conduct that only you know.”
“That’s because we do,” Merlin points out as he loads Arthur’s small dishwasher. Arthur thinks faintly that he should object to letting Merlin do that but he actually rather likes the sheer domesticity of it.
“Sorry, what?” Arthur asks, catching up to what Merlin just said.
“We do have a code of conduct, of sorts. It’s nothing set in stone, and it’s not like we get sat down and get the talk on Magical-Common relationships, but yeah, it’s something we each learn early on, either through contact with other Magicals, or by observation of society. Magicals don’t hurt Commons by using magic, or at all, if possible. Having magic is an unfair advantage and even those who use their magic in other criminal ways would never actually harm a Common. Well, almost never. There are a few exceptions.”
“Like Valiant?” Arthur asks, and Merlin snorts.
“No,” he says. “Valiant wasn’t magical himself, he only used enchanted objects, which is a whole other branch of how Commons hurt other Commons with the use of magic.”
“Right,” Arthur says slowly. “So, there are rare cases when Magicals have used their magic to harm Commons? Why haven’t I read about those?”
“Probably because they’re from a time before Albion was united under Queen Guinevere in the sixth century,” Merlin says. “She lifted the ban on magic and started trade and diplomatic relationships with the druids and other magical peoples. Legend says that it was her husband, whose name was lost in history, who won deciding battles that finally united the lands and brought peace, but to be honest, even if he did, it’s much more thanks to Queen Guinevere that the land prospered after her royal hubby kicked the bucket in some battle that no one even remembers.”
Arthur nods. He remembers some of this from history lessons at Tintagel.
“So, after Albion united, Magicals stopped fighting Commons and vice versa?” Arthur reiterates.
“Pretty much, yeah. There has been no documented, or even rumoured, case where someone with magic knowingly used their powers against a Common. That’s part of why Mordred’s case is so important.”
“Right,” Arthur says, mouth suddenly dry. “I should get back to work,” he says, standing quickly. “Thank you for dinner.”
He runs a hand through his hair, looking over the mess of files, papers and notes on his living room floor. He has no idea where to start. It’s all good and well that there’s no known case of Magical-on-Common violence in the history of the United Kingdom of Albion, but he still has to prove that Mordred didn’t break a 1400-year-old streak, or at least give enough evidence to create reasonable doubt.
Arms wrap around him from behind and Merlin tucks his chin over Arthur’s shoulder.
“Do you really think you’ll discover anything new tonight? You’ve already been over all of this a hundred times, I bet.”
Arthur nods. “I have. But if I don’t do anything, what good am I to your brother?”
Merlin lifts his head and tugs on Arthur’s arm until he turns around to face him.
“You’ve done everything you can for now. Overworking yourself is only going to make you tired and grumpy tomorrow, and then you might miss something really important during witness reports. You need rest, and to not think about the case for a little bit. I know I do.”
Arthur licks his lips. He’s torn between insisting that he needs to work harder, and just giving in to Merlin.
In the end, Merlin makes the decision for him by kissing him.
Arthur grabs onto him, wrapping an arm around Merlin’s waist to pull him closer and cupping the back of his head with the other. Merlin still has his arms around Arthur’s waist and makes quick work of pulling his shirt out of his trousers and pushing his hands underneath to lay flat against the skin of Arthur’s back.
“Where’s your bed?” Merlin asks between kisses, and Arthur pulls away long enough to look around for the door to his bedroom. He nods in the direction, and a moment later, Merlin’s hands leave Arthur’s back. Arthur’s about to protest when Merlin disentangles himself from him, but then Merlin takes Arthur’s hand and tugs him towards the door with a sly smile.
Arthur doesn’t hesitate. He follows immediately, and as soon as the door’s closed behind them, he grabs the back of Merlin’s head once more to kiss him again. He crushes their mouths together, wanting to lose himself in the feel of Merlin’s soft lips, in the way Merlin’s tongue caresses his.
Merlin makes quick work of Arthur’s shirt before Arthur even remembers that they were going to do more than just snog the daylights out of each other. Then, before Arthur has the chance to do it himself, Merlin’s pulled off his own t-shirt as well. He’s a lot more muscled than Arthur would’ve expected. Merlin’s chest is well defined, the dark hairs a lovely contrast to his pale skin, but what truly entices Arthur is the V of his hipbones disappearing into Merlin’s baggy jeans, and the trail of fine hair that leads from his belly button beneath the waistband.
Arthur’s mouth goes dry. Merlin’s a vision if he’s ever seen one. Somehow he looks so much more elegant naked. It’s a bit of a revelation, all things told, because never in a million years would Arthur have expected that Merlin could look like that. Not after he saw him trip over his own feet while standing still.
But, here he is. Half-naked, not even a little bit shy or self-conscious, and utterly gorgeous.
Merlin steps close again, reaching for Arthur’s fly, and if Arthur’s mouth didn’t feel like sandpaper, he’d argue that he should be doing some of the undressing too. Instead, it’s Merlin who opens Arthur’s trousers and reaches inside, massaging him through his pants.
Of course Arthur’s hard. There was never any question about getting there the moment Merlin started kissing him. If that hadn’t been enough, Merlin’s warm, large palm would’ve got him there. What Arthur wants is Merlin’s hand on him without the barrier between them, but what he wants even more is to have his hands on Merlin in return.
He undoes Merlin’s jeans as quickly as he can, cursing under his breath when the zipper catches and won’t pull down all the way at first. Merlin, instead of teasing him like Arthur expected, helps him quietly, then takes Arthur’s hand and puts it on his cock.
Arthur’s brain short-circuits a little bit. Between breaking up with Sophia, and applying and then studying at university, Arthur hasn’t exactly had time to miss sex. Now that he’s got his hand on Merlin, though, he remembers how much he loves doing this with another a person. And not just any person, either. A person he cares about.
When Arthur looks up at Merlin, he finds that Merlin’s staring right back at him, pupils blown wide, and lips parted. Arthur just has to lean forward and catch him in another kiss, nipping lightly at Merlin’s full bottom lip.
It’s the little hitch of Merlin’s breath that makes Arthur moan, and then Merlin’s hand is back on Arthur, stroking him through the fabric.
Arthur swallows thickly. “Clothes off,” he says, voice barely louder than a whisper. “Now.”
Merlin nods, but it still take several more seconds before they both take a step back so they can step out of their trousers and pants, making sure to get rid of their socks along the way as well.
The tantalising trail of fine hair that Arthur admired earlier draws his eyes down, and fuck. Merlin’s lower half is just as gorgeous as the upper. Arthur licks his lips, and only raises his eyes when he registers Merlin’s low moan.
Merlin’s looking back at Arthur, watching him watch Merlin. Arthur’s smile turns just the smallest bit wicked, and he stands up straighter, never taking his eyes off Merlin’s face as his gaze slowly drops away from Arthur’s eyes to his chest, down to his stomach, and then lower still.
It’s Arthur’s turn to moan at the look of sheer want on Merlin’s face, and he flexes his hands at his sides to keep from reaching for his cock and stroking himself while Merlin watches.
Merlin seems to read his mind (while still staring at Arthur’s cock no less, which, to be fair, is where all of Arthur’s brain power is at the moment anyway), because he smirks, and then moves back towards the bed, making himself comfortable right in the middle of it, and beckoning to Arthur with a single finger.
Arthur goes as if Merlin was pulling him on a string, and covers Merlin’s body with his own the moment he reaches him, enjoying the feeling of pushing Merlin down against the sheets, of knowing that Merlin wants to be there.
Merlin’s still smiling up at him with parted lips. Arthur can feel Merlin’s chest rising against his with every shallow breath he takes, and then Arthur’s leaning down and making sure to kiss Merlin breathless.
They’re so close, Merlin’s arms slung around Arthur’s neck, and Arthur’s hips nestled in against Merlin’s. He could come like this, gently rocking against Merlin, watching him, listening to the soft gasps he makes as he slowly gets closer and closer until he finally falls apart.
But there’s something else Arthur wants even more. Something he’s been thinking about whenever he’s had the time to indulge the fantasy, usually late at night when his mind was keeping him up.
“Want to suck you,” Arthur murmurs into Merlin’s ear, then nips the lobe gently.
“Yes,” Merlin gasps, and hitches his hips up against Arthur.
Arthur spends another moment nuzzling against Merlin’s neck, gently nipping the sensitive skin there because the sounds Merlin makes in response are delicious. Small gasps and tiny moans that Arthur wants to hear more of, and wants to find out what other noises Merlin will make and if he’s going to stay quiet or become loud.
He finally pulls away far enough to be able to open the bedside drawer where he keeps the condoms. He takes his time opening the packet and rolling it onto Merlin, all for the sake of watching Merlin’s flushed cheeks and heavy lidded eyes.
By the time Arthur finally takes Merlin into his mouth, they’re both more than desperate to come. Arthur has a feeling it won’t take much for Merlin at this point, not with how charged the air is between them and how much the muscles in Merlin’s thighs are quivering, but Arthur intends to make this the best bloody blowjob of Merlin’s life regardless.
He must be doing something right, because Merlin comes within less than two minutes, grabbing Arthur’s hair, and crying out something that vaguely resembles Arthur’s name. Arthur pulls off after just a moment longer, and nuzzles Merlin’s groin, placing light kisses along the crease of his thigh until Merlin loosens his grip on him and smiles down sheepishly.
“Sorry,” Merlin murmurs while Arthur kisses his way up his chest, stopping a moment to lick Merlin’s belly button. It makes Merlin laugh, and that, in turn, makes Arthur smile, and the tension leaves Merlin’s face.
Arthur kisses him then, tasting of latex, and regretting not knowing what Merlin tastes like. Maybe, if things kept developing from here, he’d have the chance to find out. He’d like that, he realises. More time with Merlin. More time, and more quiet. No court trial that has the potential to condemn Merlin’s brother to a lifetime in prison.
Arthur grips Merlin’s side tightly, probably leaving finger shaped bruises, and deepens the kiss. He’s putting all his determination, and all his promises to do his absolute best into it. Merlin must understand because Merlin’s hand wraps around him, and when Arthur breaks away from the kiss to groan against the side of Merlin’s neck instead, Merlin puts his free hand in Arthur’s hair, and whispers to him: “It’s okay, Arthur. You can let go. I’ll take care of you.”
As if all he needed was Merlin’s promise, all it takes takes is a few more thrusts into Merlin’s tight fist, and Arthur’s spilling between, breath caught on a soundless moan.
Merlin’s voice soothes him through the aftershocks, and then, when Arthur threatens to collapse and truly crush Merlin under his body weight, Merlin gently nudges him to lie on his side beside him while Merlin cleans them up. Arthur’s dimly aware that he should do something to help. This is his flat, after all, and Merlin’s his guest. But his limbs are too heavy, his mind too fuzzy to truly register when Merlin returns to bed and pulls the duvet over them. The last thing Arthur notices before falling asleep is a soft golden glow that envelops them both, and a warm, safe feeling wrapping around him as Merlin settles in against Arthur’s chest.
Arthur’s waiting outside the courthouse for Elena and Vivian to arrive. He’s clutching his travel mug and sipping coffee, trying not to smile too brightly lest anyone thinks he’s enjoying murder trials more than he should when, in truth, he’s just remembering the warm, happy feeling he had when he woke up next to Merlin earlier.
“… I’ll be back in a couple of days, darling. I’m taking care of some business, and as soon as it’s done I’m coming home, I promise.”
Arthur looks around to see Helios not three feet away, talking on the phone.
“No, Sefa, sweetling, it’s nothing you need to worry about. Concentrate on your match. I’ll be watching, I promise,” Helios says, sounding doting and affectionate.
“Would I lie to my favourite wife?” he says a moment later, then laughs and admits that yes, she’s his only wife.
If Arthur’s life was a cartoon, a lightbulb, or possible an entire chandelier would switch on above his head, and he quickly heads inside to find Aredian.
“Professor,” he says urgently when he finds him. “Professor, I can prove that Helios is lying about Mordred!”
Aredian eyes him speculatively. “And how would you do that? There are no witnesses from that time in Mr Emerson’s life, nor from Mr Hunter’s. It’s his word against our client’s.”
Arthur shakes his head. “No, but Helios is married .”
An unimpressed eyebrow rises. “It’s not against the law to get married after one leaves a bad relationship.”
“No, and even though cheating on your spouse isn’t either, Helios is still guilty of that, at least,” Arthur says excitedly. Aredian still looks entirely unimpressed.
“He got married to a football player in a regional women’s league five years ago,” Arthur elaborates. “I remember because a friend of mine at school cried about it for a week because she was his celebrity crush. Mordred was only, what, just about sixteen five years ago? And the relationship between him and Helios would’ve had to have ended before then.”
Aredian’s face turns thoughtful and Arthur presses on.
“I doubt Helios would’ve risked dating a minor when he himself was already over twenty at the time. And even if he did, we can easily flip the table and accuse him of taking advantage of Mordred.” Arthur grins. “But I think we’ll be able to find out the truth and that he wasn’t actually dating Mordred at all. Even if he was, he would’ve been cheating on his wife, and that,” Arthur concludes triumphantly, “would discredit him before the judge and the jury at the very least, and probably also give Mordred plausible cause as act of passion if he truly did accidentally hurt Helios with his magic. You know, when he found out that he’s been the other man all this time.”
Aredian furrows his brow and looks as if he’s thinking this over.
“You may question Mr Hunter to see if he’ll admit to either lying about his relationship with our client, or to cheating on his wife. If you don’t succeed you will no longer be allowed to work on this case.”
Arthur swallows, but nods. “Deal.”
“Mr Hunter,” Aredian starts his own line of questioning half an hour later. Arthur’s sitting next to Mordred, waiting for his cue.
“Do you have any proof for the abuse you allegedly suffered at Mr Emerson’s magic? Any friends, family members that you’ve told about it, any pictures you took with the intention to go to the police? Any doctors who’ll confirm treating you for injuries?”
Helios shakes his head. “No. I was too afraid of telling anyone at the time. I was scared Mor might read my mind using his magic, and do more.”
“Mind reading is not possible between Magicals and Commons, Mr Hunter,” Aredian refutes. “And if your baseless accusations are the only thing you have to offer, I’ve no more questions for you.”
He turns away and walks back to the table. Helios is about to be released from the stand, and Arthur hasn’t had the chance to ask any questions yet. Aredian hasn’t called on him.
Arthur decides to ignore propriety, and stands up. “I have some questions,” he announces.
The judge looks to Aredian. “Who’s this?”
Aredian looks at Arthur, then back at Judge Forest. “This is my student, Arthur Pendragon. He would like to ask the witness a few more questions. With your permission, Your Honour, I will be supervising.”
Judge Forest inclines his head. “Proceed.”
Arthur straightens his tie and buttons his suit jacket as he steps around the table and in front of the witness stand.
“Where did you and Mr Emerson get together?” Arthur asks, fixing Helios with a scrutinising stare.
“At a party,” Helios answers smoothly.
“What kind of party?”
“Someone’s birthday party, I forget whose.”
“And how long ago was that?”
“And you’ve been married for how long?”
“Five years,” Helios answers before he can properly process the question.
“Right,” Arthur says, grinning.
The sparse audience in the courtroom gives a collective gasp of surprise.
Judge Forest calls the audience to order, and Helios tries desperately to take back what he said.
“I was confused!” he calls. “I thought you said something else.”
“So you’re not married to football player Sefa Ruadan? If we check your phone and the last numbers you called, she won’t answer and confirm that you’ve been married for five years?”
Helios squirms, then sighs. “No, you’re right, she’s my wife.”
“And does she know that you cheated on her with Mr Emerson? Maybe we really should give her a call and ask her?”
“Objection!” Sarrum cries. “This student is blackmailing the witness!”
“Overruled,” Judge Forest says. “But, Mr Pendragon, keep your line of question professional or you will be held in contempt and the statement stricken from the transcript.”
“Yes, Your Honour,” Arthur says, bowing his head. The last thing he wants is to get fined.
“Please answer the question, Mr Hunter, and tell us if you’ve been cheating on your wife or we will be forced to invite her to take the stand as well.”
Helios visibly pales.
“She doesn’t know,” he says. “It didn’t happen. I made it up. I never dated the defendant, I’ve never even seen the man before yesterday.”
“Why were you lying?” Arthur asks.
“I got a phone call. Someone gave me instructions, said they’d expose my criminal record to Sefa if I don’t.” Helios shrugs helplessly. “I’ve led a clean life since we started dating, she’s no idea what kind of person I used to be before I met her.”
Arthur half turns away from him to face more towards the jury.
“And instead you’d condemn someone else to imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit, and further marginalise a group of people that’s already dealing with harmful stereotypes directed at them?”
“Objection!” Sarrum shouts again. “Now he’s putting words in the witness’ mouth!”
“Sustained. Mr Pendragon, last warning.”
Arthur nods. “Yes, Your Honour. I apologise.”
“Mr Hunter, if I understand correctly, someone blackmailed you into lying on the stand to ensure that Mr Emerson’s character was thoroughly discredited in front of the honourable Judge Forest, and the jury. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Helios says.
“Who?” Arthur keeps pressing.
“I don’t know. The voice was distorted,” Helios says, looking absolutely miserable.
“No further questions, Your Honour.”
“Thank you, Mr Pendragon. Mr Hunter, you’ll be escorted from court by the police and taken to be charged with perjury, and await further questioning.”
Helios hangs his head in defeat, and Arthur sits down next to Mordred, accepting a fist bump under the table. He turns to look at Merlin who beams at him. Arthur smiles back, feeling relieved and hopeful that they can win this case for the first time since he met Mordred.
Arthur rides the high the rest of the day. Court ends shortly after Helios has left, to be reconvened after the weekend. Arthur looks forward to celebrating their small win with Merlin by taking him out to dinner, and then back to his place.
First, though, there’s a debriefing at Aredian’s office, and once that’s done, Arthur’s busy finishing up some paperwork. He’s about to head out with just a small amount of files he intends to reread before they return to court on Monday, when Vivian stops him. She’s got her arms full of binders and loose pages, clearly struggling to keep them all in place.
“Aredian’s asked to see you,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“What does he want now?” Arthur asks, checking his watch.
“I’ve no idea,” she says. “Possibly make you sign a non-disclosure contract to make sure he can claim all the credit for your rapid fire questioning trick.” She smirks at him.
Arthur grins back. “Possibly, yeah. Do you need help with those files?”
“Of course not. And if I do, I’ll ask someone prettier than you to help me so I can actually get something out of their help.”
Arthur laughs and lets her go, not waiting around to see her complain to Elena how heavy the binders are, as he’s sure she will.
He knocks on Aredian’s office and is called inside just a moment later.
Aredian’s perching on his desk when Arthur steps inside.
“Ah, Arthur, come, take a seat.”
Arthur puts down the files and his bag on the coffee table and perches on the edge of one of the armchairs. He’d rather not get too comfortable around Aredian.
“You showed that you have good instincts today,” Aredian says. “Exposing Hunter as a liar was a big step towards winning this case for our client.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Arthur says politely. “And thank you for giving me the opportunity.”
“You’re welcome. Now, I must say, you’ve taken a lot of initiative on this case. You went and found out more about our client and why he refuses to use the hard evidence I’m sure he has.”
“I’m still not—” Arthur begins but Aredian holds up a hand and speaks over him.
“I know, and I respect that. You gained the client’s trust and you’ve kept it. That makes a great lawyer. If you manage to check your language in court so the testimonies you manage to win won’t be stricken from the record, you’ve got the makings of an excellent lawyer.”
Aredian walks over to sit in a chair opposite Arthur.
“Thank you, Professor. It means a lot hearing this from someone who’s already established in the field, and with so much experience,” Arthur says graciously.
“I think,” Aredian says, waving away the thank you as if he didn’t need it, “it’s time for you to think about your career. Have you thought about where you’d like to intern over the summer?”
“Not really, yet, no. It’s competitive, I’m sure, and I’d like to look for—” Arthur says, thinking of how he wants to look for law firms that specialise in defending Magicals in court, but Aredian interrupts him once again.
“I don’t think it’s all that competitive for someone of your calibre,” he says.
Arthur frowns. “What do you mean?”
“Well, Arthur, with your good name, the influence your father offers, and the wealth that comes with all of that, you’ll have plenty of offers. I’d like to throw my hat into the ring, as it were. An extended association with the Pendragon family, with your father, especially, could only ever be mutually beneficial, I’m sure. At least, that’s what he said when he called to ask me to make sure you’d receive a spot in the intern programme.”
Arthur actually draws back physically.
“Are you saying you only took me as an intern because my father requested it?”
“Not exclusively, no. Think of what we can achieve together! This case is only the beginning. Once it’s over and the client’s been convicted, we’ll have laid the groundwork on which to act from here on out.”
It’s like a punch to the gut that, for Aredian, this is an open and shut case. He expects to lose. He probably never even intended to win it.
The bile’s rising in Arthur’s throat, and he stands, grabbing his bag. “So, everything you just said about me having good instincts and doing what it takes, was just to butter me up so I’ll do what you and Uther want from me?”
Aredian shrugs. “What can I say? I know a good opportunity when I see it.”
“Yeah,” Arthur says, face drawn in disgust, “so do I. I quit.”
He leaves the room as quickly as he can without running, ignoring Aredian’s shouts of “Don’t be stupid, Arthur! I promised your father I’d look after you. You’ll never make it on your own!” and stabbing the lift button viciously in the hope of making it arrive faster.
He steps in a few moments later, hand still balled into a fist, and his entire body shaking with suppressed rage. The doors of the lift are gliding shut and Arthur’s already thinking ahead to when he can leave this building, leave this damn school, probably even the city, when a handbag prevents the doors from closing completely. They draw open again, and Vivian stands on the other side, face a mask of rage.
“So you are just daddy’s little pawn,” she says coolly.
“What?” Arthur asks, heart sinking.
“I’d almost begun to believe that you actually wanted to become a lawyer and do some good in the world, but I guess making connections and riding on the back of daddy’s political career is all that you’re good for after all.”
The doors close again, and this time neither of them stops them. Arthur gulps in breaths, concentrating on filling his lungs properly and exhaling slowly before he’s reached the ground floor so that once he steps out of the lift his breathing’s calmed down again.
In the lobby he meets Elena who greets him with a big smile.
“Hey! The man of the hour.”
“Don’t,” Arthur says curtly. “I’ve quit.”
“What?” she asks, shock clear writ across her face. “Why?”
“Coming to Camelot, getting into the law programme, this internship. It was all a big mistake,” he says angrily.
“Why would you say that? Look at what you’ve achieved today. What you’ve achieved during your first year already!”
“I haven’t achieved anything! I got lucky with the internship because I’m a Pendragon and Aredian wants to crawl up Uther’s arse and live there. He said as much just now in his office when he told me that Uther asked him personally to give me this job.”
“He did what?” Elena asks, incredulous.
Arthur swallows, then looks at her, forcing a smile. “It’s fine. I knew people would probably think that I’m Uther’s pawn. I’d just hoped that for once in my life I could prove them wrong. I should’ve just stayed in Avalon and trained the national football team like they wanted me to. At least I’m a good athlete thanks to my own hard work and abilities.”
“You’ve worked hard for this too! We’ve been studying together these last two terms, or have you already forgotten that? Your father’s name doesn’t make you magically be good at something, even if it might offer you more opportunities than others. It’s down to you what you make of them.”
Arthur knows, logically, that Elena’s right, but he’s shaking his head anyway.
“Call me if you ever visit Avalon, yeah? I’ll introduce you to the rest of my friends.”
He hugs her briefly, then turns away and heads for the exit.
“But what about Merlin?” she calls after him. “What about Mordred ?”
Arthur closes his eyes and hesitates only for a short moment before pushing the door open and leaving.
He walks briskly all the way home. It takes him half an hour, and by the time he’s arrived, his ears and nose are frozen, and he knows he should get a hot shower and take it easy for the rest of the night. What he does instead is pull out his phone and dial Uther’s mobile.
“Arthur,” Uther greets. “What a surprise.”
“Is it?” Arthur snaps. “I thought you’d rather have expected me to call earlier.”
“Speak plainly, son, you know how I hate pussyfooting,” Uther says, sounding impatient already.
“You called my professor at CU and made him take me on as an intern,” Arthur says as calmly as he can.
“Yes, of course I did,” Uther says, clearly not understanding the problem. “I had to make sure you’d get the best education.”
“And you didn’t think I could get that on my own?” Arthur says, voice tempered. He will not shout, it would only give Uther more ammunition.
“Of course not,” Uther scoffs. “You wouldn’t even be reading law if it weren’t for me.”
“I didn’t enroll because of you!” Arthur protests, voice rising after all.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Arthur. Of course you did. You were throwing your life away, I had to do something. Paying off your so-called girlfriend to make sure she’d leave you and ensure that you’d do something useful with your life was ridiculously easy. She even said that she’s only been dating you to get at the family fortune. Did you truly think she wanted to wait until marriage to sleep with you?”
Uther sounds cruel and terrifyingly smug, and Arthur’s stomach drops.
“What?” he says weakly.
“She was conning you, Arthur. She’s a grifter, wanted by almost every country in Europe. I suppose she’s moved on to the States now. I assured her I wouldn’t press charges as long as she kept to her part of the contract.”
Arthur hangs up before Uther can gloat any more.
When Elena first met Arthur, she wasn’t sure what to make of him. It was several days after Nimueh and her hanger-ons were throwing slurs her way that Elena found the courage to ask why Arthur decided to talk to her. She’d been braced for pity, or even for Arthur’s admission that he’d only done it to do the opposite of whatever Nimueh was doing.
(Elena was a lot more observant than people gave her credit for. She knew fully well that there was already bad blood between Arthur and Nimueh.)
Arthur took her by surprise though. He explained that his sister, Morgana, made sure that he’d attend as many lectures about feminism, interculturalism, and inter-religious co-existence she could find. He talked about how much he learned about his own privilege, and that often, the only thing he can do to help marginalised groups or people be heard or feel safe, is to support them by giving them space to talk and to explore their own options.
When Elena asked what that had to do with what he did for her, he said that he could’ve easily gone up to Nimueh and explained to her how misogynistic her comments were, ultimately, but something he remembered from one of those lectures stuck with him.
“By engaging the bigot, nothing will change. The bigot won’t change their mind, I’ll only get unnecessarily angry, and the target of the bigot will, most likely, feel uncomfortable for being made the centre of a massive scene. And once that lecturer pointed that out, it was so obvious to me that that’s exactly what would happen. So she said that instead of speaking on behalf of the targeted person, we should go up to them and engage them in conversation, if they’re receptive to it. This way, we become a shield between them and the bigot, and simultaneously distract them from whatever hate speech is thrown at them. Best case scenario, the bigot stops because insulting someone who’s clearly not listening is no fun. Worst case scenario, the bigot keeps going and becomes louder, and then we can ask the target if they’d like us to act in their defence or not.” He shrugged. “I just remembered that when I heard what Nimueh was saying about you. I figured you don’t need me to be your knight in shining armour – although I’ll happily be that if you want it – but rather maybe a friend who could act as a buffer and give you some space to breathe.”
She’d hugged him for that, and bought him a pint later that night at the pub where Arthur introduced her to Gwaine.
From there on out, Elena had learned more and more about Arthur’s strong moral compass, his sense of honour and justice. They’ve discussed details and consequences of specific court rulings that often set precedence, or were well on the way of doing so.
That’s why she’s so shocked that Arthur would quit defending Mordred, a man that Arthur’s convinced is innocent, and whose brother he’s just started dating – more or less. Arthur hasn’t said anything directly about it to her, but, as already established, Elena is a lot more observant than people think.
Elena and Vivian are meeting outside the Camelot Correctional Centre to talk to Mordred. It’s Saturday, and the trial won’t resume until Monday morning, but Aredian has sent them to talk to Mordred about the strategy for the next week. Originally, Elena was supposed to go with Arthur, but Vivian’s the next best thing. Definitely leagues better than having to work with Nimueh.
Neither of them mentions Arthur, even though they both know why they’re here together this early in the day. Vivian looks grumpy and not fully caffeinated. Normally they’d already be flirting by now but today a tense silence stretches between them.
Mordred waits for them at his usual table, handcuffed to it, as ever. Elena and Vivian sit down, and Mordred immediately looks worried.
“Where’s Arthur? I thought he was going to come with you this morning.”
Elena takes a deep breath, and is about to explain to Mordred what happened, when Vivian beats her to it.
“The little daddy’s boy got found out,” she says, disdain dripping from every word. “He’s probably in some starlet’s bed getting a nice morning blowjob for his trouble.”
Mordred frowns. “What are you talking about?” He looks to Elena for help.
“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Elena says coolly. Vivian shoots her a pitying look that Elena deeply resents.
“Aredian told Arthur last night that the only reason Arthur was taken on as an intern is because his father personally called Aredian to ensure Arthur’s place. When Arthur found out, he quit because he didn’t want anyone to think he was getting by on free rides all his life. He’s doubting his own ability to be of any help to your case, and that’s why he left.”
Vivian looks not entirely convinced, but Mordred’s face is pale and his eyes shining with unhappiness.
“But he’s the only one who believes me,” he pleads.
Elena offers him a smile. “He’s not the only one,” she promises. “I believe you, and so does Vivian.”
She kicks Vivian under the table and Vivian quickly agrees. “I do, I swear.”
“But my lawyer doesn’t,” Mordred points out, leaning back as much as he can with his hands tied to the table.
“Maybe there’s something we can do about that,” Elena says thoughtfully. She looks over at Vivian who’s clearly not catching on yet. Elena’s not worried though. Her plan’s brilliant.
His doorbell rings for solid five minutes, and then his neighbours start banging against the walls. Arthur finally has to admit defeat, get up, and answer the door.
“What?” he snaps at the intercom.
“It’s me,” Merlin says.
Arthur buzzes him in. Merlin’s probably here to bite his head off for abandoning Mordred – as well he should be. Arthur’s pride got the better of him and he walked out on someone who needed him. He still doubts he was going to be of any more help to Mordred, but at least he should’ve been there for moral support.
He can’t go back now, no matter how much he regrets it. The mere thought of grovelling at Aredian’s feet makes him physically sick.
Arthur leaves the door to his flat ajar and returns to the living room where he’s begun to put his books in boxes. He can hear Merlin enter and close the door only seconds later.
“So,” Merlin says. “You’ve quit.”
“Yes.” Arthur pulls another volume of law history off the shelf.
“I wish I could say I understand, but I honestly don’t.”
“I was being selfish,” Arthur admits slowly.
“No,” Merlin says, and Arthur looks over to catch him shaking his head. “You were butthurt and you acted out like a teen just hitting puberty.”
Arthur winces, but nods. That’s disturbingly accurate.
“I’m sorry,” he offers, and turns back to the shelf.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Merlin says, sounding softer now. “But running from the problem is not going to make up for it.”
“What else can I do? Aredian didn’t hire me for my skills, he hired me for my name. Everything has been tainted by that, all my life. I had hoped that by coming here I could escape Uther’s influence while doing something useful after all. More useful than teaching rugby to a bunch of high schoolers, anyway.”
“First of all, fuck you,” Merlin says angrily, causing Arthur’s head to snap back around again.
“I didn’t shag you because of your last name,” he says, brows furrowed and eyes narrowed in anger. “If anything, it should’ve been a turn off. But, guess what, I took the time to get to know you, Arthur, and I liked what I saw.”
Arthur’s cheeks turn a faint red. He knows Merlin is speaking mostly figuratively but Halloween pops into his head unbidden anyway. Maybe it does for Merlin too, because Merlin’s mouth turns upward in a smirk.
“And secondly,” Merlin says, calmer now, “ you convinced Dr Caerleon that you’re more than your last name. You’ve convinced dozens of people actually. You delivered the crucial information to break Helios’ statement yesterday. Your father had nothing to do with any of that, so don’t give me this horse shite about him being the one responsible for any of it. His name might’ve opened a door that otherwise would’ve stayed closed to you, but you’re the one who jumped through it and made the best out of what lay behind it.”
Arthur shrugs helplessly. “I’m sorry. I know, logically, that you’re right. But I truly can’t go back to working for Aredian.”
Merlin sighs. “I know, because Mordred fired him.”
“He did what?” Arthur all but shouts. “Why on earth would he do that?”
“Because Mordred never trusted Aredian. The only reason he kept him is because Aredian promised to help him for free. At least that was his only reason. Then you showed up with your ridiculously sincerity and trustworthiness.” Merlin smiles fondly while Arthur shakes his head in disbelief.
“But who’s representing him now? Wait, I can pay for another lawyer. I’ll even use Uther’s money for it, that’s gonna annoy him to no end.”
Merlin’s shaking his head. “There’s no need for that.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. What else would Mordred do? Not have any representation?”
“Well, you see, that’s kind of up to you,” Merlin says, taking a few steps closer. “Mordred says he’ll only accept you as his lawyer now, or no one at all.”
“He can’t do that.”
“He’s the client, he really, really can.” Merlin’s smiling.
“No, I mean, I’m only a law student. I haven’t even sat all my first year exams yet. I’m not qualified to defend him in the eyes of the law,” Arthur says urgently. “I’m not legally allowed to defend him in court.”
“Right,” Merlin says. “That’s what Elena and Vivian said too.”
“Then why the fuck didn’t your brother listen?”
“Because they also said that as long as you have a certified lawyer supervising you, you’ll be allowed. Pretty much like what you did yesterday, actually.”
Arthur sits down in the middle of his living room and hides his face in his hands.
“You’re all out of your mind,” he complains, voice muffled by his palms.
“Maybe,” Merlin says. “But I honestly don’t think that Mordred’s chances of winning are any worse for losing Aredian. That man wasn’t doing anything to help Mordred win the case anyway.”
Arthur drags his hands up into his hair, so he can stare at the floor.
“I suppose I can ask Dr Caerleon. I doubt Professor Monmouth’s license is still active, but Caerleon’s is, I’m sure,” he muses.
“That’s the spirit,” Merlin says much too cheerfully for Arthur’s liking.
“But if she says no, I have no other option, and Mordred will have to stay without legal defence, or accept my money to pay for another one.” He looks up at Merlin.
Merlin nods. “He’s fully aware of that. I told you, he’d rather have no lawyer than Aredian, at this point. And he’d much rather have you representing him than either of the other options.”
Arthur sighs. “You’re terrible, the lot of you.”
The grin that breaks over Merlin’s face is almost blinding, and Arthur can’t help but return it.
“He can’t do this!” Sarrum cries angrily after Arthur presents the relevant paragraph in the legal code of Albion that allows him to represent Mordred despite not being certified.
“But I can,” Arthur says, smiling politely.
“Counsellors, approach the bench,” Judge Forest calls, summoning them with a motion of his hand. Arthur starts towards the judge but Sarrum tries to hold him back.
“You’re not going up there.”
Arthur shakes off his hand and continues to smile politely, barely even a hint of iciness entering his look.
“Yes, I am,” he says evenly, and before Sarrum can protest again, the judge is calling for them once more.
Arthur walks up to the bench, followed by Dr Caerleon, and Sarrum.
The legal code is still opened to the relevant page from where Arthur cited the paragraph earlier, and he sets the book down in front of Judge Forest.
“You Honour, Albion’s law clearly allows me to represent Mordred Emerson if the client wishes it,” Arthur says politely.
He hands over a signed note from Mordred that states that yes, he does indeed want Arthur Caliburnus Pendragon to represent him in court.
Judge Forest ignores the book, and instead looks over the rim of his glasses directly at Arthur. “The law also states that you need a certified lawyer who’ll supervise you.”
“Yes, Your Honour,” Arthur agrees. “Dr Caerleon agreed to be my supervisor.”
Forest looks past Arthur, and Arthur doesn’t need to turn around to see her nod. “Mr Pendragon speaks the truth,” she says. Arthur swallows so he won’t break into a grin.
“Very well,” the judge says and gives Arthur back his book. He keeps the note, though. “You may proceed.”
“Thank you, Your Honour.”
Arthur turns away and walks over to the table where Mordred’s sitting. Both Mordred and Merlin give him excited thumbs up. Arthur smiles back, and takes a moment to look around the room. The trial isn’t public, and not many people have come to watch. He’s glad for that small mercy at least. The outcome will become public knowledge the moment it’s all over anyway, but until then, Arthur doesn’t have to worry too much about the press or protesters making things harder.
A sketch artist sits in the front row, already working on a piece. Aredian sits towards the back on Sarrum’s half of the room. Arthur doesn’t believe for one moment that this is a coincidence.
Mordred and Merlin’s mother isn’t present. Merlin explained that they didn’t want her to see any of the trial because it would upset her too much. Instead, their uncle Gaius is sitting in the first row behind the barrier.
Arthur hadn’t noticed him during the first two days, and now he wonders how he could’ve missed a man who looks like he’s disapproving of everything happening in front of him. He gives Arthur a nod though, and Arthur returns it.
Elyan wasn’t allowed to watch because he has no legal relation to either Mordred nor Valiant. It’s a ridiculous rule, used to further isolate Mordred from support but there’s nothing they could do against it.
Vivian and Elena are there, though, and Arthur’s glad to have them around. Elena believes in him, and Vivian will kick his arse if he fucks this up. Both prospects provide much needed support.
Arthur clears his throat and sits down so they can begin.
First, Daegal is called back to the stand so Arthur can question him himself. There’s something shifty about Daegal. He’s not exactly nervous, Arthur thinks, but it’s as if he’s unhappy to be here.
“Mr Stewart,” Arthur says. “Tell us again what you saw.”
Daegal looks around uncertainly, then takes a breath.
“He used magic to kill this man,” is all he says.
Arthur steps closer, affecting a sympathetic look.
“I know it must have been a traumatic experience to watch a murder happening, Mr Stewart, and I’m sorry for this, but I need you to be more specific.”
Daegal looks at him, mouth an unhappy line.
“The defendant raised his hand and a blue light shot towards the victim. The victim fell to the floor, and the defendant just stood there and watched.”
“Have you seen other people use magic before?”
“Sometimes, yes,” Daegal says, looking confused.
“And was the actual magic, the power they’re using for whatever it is they’re creating, ever visible during those times?”
Daegal furrows his brow, then shakes his head.
“If you could state it out loud, please, Mr Stewart,” Arthur prompts gently.
“No,” Daegal says.
Arthur smiles. “Your Honour,” he says, turning to Judge Forest. “I believe you have magic yourself.”
“I do,” Forest says.
“Would you confirm that the magical power doesn’t manifest itself in a visible way, unless it’s specifically used to create an object?” Arthur asks.
“I’m not one of your witnesses, Mr Pendragon,” the judge reminds him.
Arthur nods, looking chastised. “I beg your pardon, Your Honour. I’m aware that you’re not, but you’re the one objective source of information we have available right now. I’d be happy to apply for a delay in the proceedings until I have gathered enough empirical data to either prove or disprove the statement.”
For a moment Arthur thinks Judge Forest is going to demand exactly that, but then his mouth twitches into a barely there smile, and he nods. “In my experience magic is not visible unless the user wishes it to be.”
Arthur inclines his head. “Thank you, Your Honour. I will restrict my questions to the witnesses from here on out.”
“See that you do,” Judge Forest says, and returns to his neutral expression.
“Mr Stewart,” Arthur says, turning back to Daegal, who looks visibly uncomfortable again. “How long had you been standing there, watching Mr Emerson and Mr Egbert?”
“Not long,” Daegal says. “I only arrived in time to see the blue light.”
“And you couldn’t hear anything that was said before or during that time?”
“No,” Daegal agrees.
“But you were close enough to hear Mr Emerson call the police, yes? That’s why you didn’t do it?”
“Objection. He’s leading the witness,” Sarrum complains, and Arthur immediately rephrases.
“Is it true that you didn’t call the police because you heard my client call them himself?”
Daegal looks to the jury, then back at Arthur. “Yes.”
“So, you arrived just when Mr Emerson was raising his hand, you didn’t hear anything that was said before or during the incident, but you could definitely hear him call the police.”
“Yes,” Daegal repeats. “That’s right.”
“And the reason why you didn’t hear anything before the incident is because you’d only just arrived.”
“Yes,” Daegal says, sounding more confident with every repetition.
“So, something happened to lead up to the incident but you didn’t hear it because you weren’t there to witness it because you hadn’t arrived yet at the scene, and only saw what happened,” Arthur trails off, realising he’s going round in circles. He shoots a look at the jury, then at Daegal who all look equally bewildered. He makes himself finish the sentence. “After you arrived?”
“Yeah,” comes the reply from Daegal. “I’d been taking a walk.”
There’s a quiet titter from some of the jurors, and definitely from Sarrum. Arthur’s sure that if he turns towards the audience room, Aredian will be grinning or smirking, or both.
He turns back to the table instead, opening and closing the file he’s been holding, then looking up at Annis, silently pleading for help. She gives him a curt nod and a look that clearly says “Well, go on, you can do this.”
Arthur huffs. “Mr Stewart, what had you been doing earlier that evening?”
“I went to dinner with my sister, then we saw a film at The Palace. It was Classics Week and we both love black and white cinema. The movie ended at half past eleven, then I walked home.”
Something clicks inside Arthur and he turns back to Daegal, smiling.
“Where you came across Mr Emerson just as he was raising his hand towards Mr Egbert, but too late to hear anything that’s been said?”
He misses the annoyed eye-roll from Sarrum, but Arthur wouldn’t have cared anyway.
“I believe the witness has stated to our satisfaction that he had arrived just in time to see the incident,” Judge Forest says gently.
“Of course, Your Honour,” Arthur says, inclining his head.
“Mr Stewart, do you work out?”
Daegal looks taken aback.
“No, I’ve got asthma,” Daegal says.
Arthur has to fight hard to suppress a triumphant shout. “That wouldn’t technically stop you from working out, but I take your point.”
He turns towards the jury.
“You know, when I was studying at ASC, I had a friend who was part of the track team. He trained hard every day, and his dream was to break the world record in sprinting.” Arthur smiles, remembering Owain’s determination to be the best even if it would take him years to achieve his goal.
“Objection,” Sarrum says. “What’s the point to all of this?”
Arthur looks towards Judge Forest. “I have a point, I promise.”
The judge looks over the rims of his glasses at him. “Make it, Mr Pendragon.”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
He turns back to Daegal.
“Daegal, when you walk longer distances, do you have to pace yourself and walk slowly because of your condition?” Arthur asks, putting on a friendly smile.
Daegal’s face is getting paler by the second.
“Yes,” he says quietly.
“Hm, I thought so. And do you know what the world record for running a distance of 1500 metres is?”
Daegal swallows visibly. “No.”
“It’s just under three and a half minutes, and hasn’t been broken since 1998,” Arthur says, making an impressed face at both Daegal and the jury. “Set by a man called Pellinore Arimathea. Now, if I’m not wrong, depending on where exactly Mr Emerson was waiting for his boyfriend at the night in question, The Palace Cinema is between one and two kilometres away from any given entrance of that park. I know, because I’ve checked the walking distance when my sister was visiting me last year.”
He looks at Daegal. “I find it hard to imagine that you managed to walk from the cinema to the park in less than five minutes when you’re untrained and clearly reluctant to strain yourself because of your asthma. Unless you are a closet sprinter?”
Daegal shakes his head mutely, and Arthur gives him a soft smile. “I didn’t think so. So, Daegal, considering that forensics, with impressive accuracy I’d like to add, has estimated Mr Egberts time of death between 11:15 and 11:35 p.m., I find it hard to believe that you were able to witness it if you’ve really been at the cinema with your sister like you said. And if you weren’t, if you’d been at the scene of the crime earlier, you’d have heard all the things that Valiant and Mordred said before Valiant died, wouldn’t you? And if you had arrived only in time to watch the crime in progress, then where were you that you’d have to lie about it in court?”
The look on Daegal’s face turns into a grimace as he starts to cry. “I didn’t see anything!” he sobs. “I was at the cinema, and I went home, but I didn’t even come by the park. Mister Aredian called me the day after it happened and offered to pay all my debts and then some if I said I’d seen it all.”
The jury is in uproar, Sarrum is shouting objections, and Judge Forest is calling for silence and order.
“Do you even have a sister?” Arthur asks once the tumult has died down.
Daegal shakes his head. “No.”
“I have no further questions, Your Honour,” Arthur says, and walks back to his table.
“Thank you, Mr Pendragon. Constable, take the witness into custody. He’ll be charged with perjury and subjected to a thorough investigation,” Forest declares while Arthur sits down, and Annis nods at him approvingly.
“Charles Aredian,” Judge Forest calls.
Arthur turns around in time to see Aredian standing up slowly. “Yes, Your Honour,” he replies, sounding meek. Arthur has to admit that he likes the sound of it.
“You’ll be taken into custody under suspicion of witness tampering, and possible involvement in the murder of Valiant Egbert,” Judge Forest declares. “I order a thorough investigation into your involvement with this case.”
For a moment, Arthur thinks Aredian is going to bolt, but then his shoulders slump and he lets another Police Constable lead him away without a word.
Arthur turns his attention back to the front, and is about to ask Dr Caerleon what to do next, when she stands up, and clears her throat noisily. “Your Honour, in the light of this new development, I move to drop all charges and Mr Emerson be free to go.”
The judge thinks about it for a moment, then nods slowly. “Your request is granted. Mr Emerson, you’re free to go. The prosecution may reapply for a trial when they have new evidence to present to the court.” He knocks his hammer to make it so, and yet it takes Arthur until he feels Caerleon’s hand on his shoulder to understand that this means that they’ve won.
In his mind there’s no doubt that once the investigation has begun, they’ll find all kinds of evidence proving that Aredian is a supremacist Magical hater. It might not be enough to prove that he had anything to do with Valiant’s death, but Arthur trusts that it’ll be enough to prove that he sought to frame Mordred for personal and political gain, at which point Mordred would be able to press charges against Aredian for defamation.
Arthur exhales slowly, and turns to look at Mordred to share the relief with him. He finds him hugging his brother across the barrier, both of them crying tears of joy.
All too soon, Forest calls for order again, giving both Elena and Vivian stern looks, because they cheered loud enough to threaten Arthur’s eardrum. It’s a wonder they haven’t been kicked out of the room.
It takes a few more minutes of legal formalities to be completed, and then, finally, the court’s dismissed, and Elena and Vivian are ushering him, Mordred and Merlin out of the courthouse through the back exit and into Vivian’s convertible.
When they stop outside Elyan’s place to drop off Mordred, Arthur realises he’s spent the entire ride in a daze, going over what just happened again and again in his mind. It’s not until Merlin laces their fingers together that Arthur’s train of thought is broken. He looks up to find Merlin smiling at him. He’s got his phone pressed to his ear, and is saying “Yes, mum,” and “Of course, mum,” in irregular intervals.
Once Vivian’s comes to an abrupt halt in front of Arthur’s building, Arthur uses the fact that Merlin’s still holding his hand to tug him out of the car. He isn’t sure if Merlin doesn’t prefer to go home and be with his family, but he trusts that Merlin would protest if he did. Given that Merlin has hung up a minute earlier, and isn’t complaining in the slightest, Arthur’s pretty sure he’s not doing anything unwanted.
His worry is entirely lifted as soon as Merlin kisses him the moment the door to Arthur’s flat falls shut. It’s just a light press of lips, barely enough to truly count as a kiss, but it’s all that Arthur needed to know. To be sure that Merlin wants to be here.
“You were amazing,” Merlin says against his mouth. “Like a knight in shining armour defeating the great, big evil.”
Arthur smiles. “Are all Magicals such sappy romantics and prone to hyperbole?” he teases.
“No,” Merlin laughs. “That’s just me.”
Merlin’s been steadily steering Arthur towards his bedroom as they kiss, but Arthur stops just inside the room.
“I don’t want you to think you have to reward me with sex for winning the case,” Arthur says earnestly.
“You’re such a prat,” Merlin says with fond exasperation. “One, who said we’re going to have sex?”
Arthur raises a brow at him, then deliberately drags his eyes down to Merlin’s crotch where there’s already a bulge in his trousers.
Merlin smirks. “Two, I always knew you’d win.”
“Your faith in me is astounding,” Arthur says, softly smiling, as he pulls Merlin close again.
“And three,” Merlin says, nudging Arthur towards the bedroom, “I’m not rewarding you with sex, I’m simply initiating something I’ve been thinking about a lot since last week.”
Arthur grins, and quickly takes off his jacket and tie. “You make a compelling argument.”
Merlin doesn’t respond verbally, but he does take the last few steps into the bedroom, and once Arthur has followed him there, Merlin opens his trousers - slowly - and then starts undoing the buttons on his shirt.
Arthur wants to watch this striptease, doesn’t want to miss a single moment of it. He deserves an award for multitasking under stress, because undoing his shirt buttons and opening his trousers is a lot more complicated when Arthur’s cock is hard, and his hands want to reach for Merlin more than they want to comply with tiny shirt buttons.
Finally, they’re both naked, and this time Arthur sits on the bed first making himself comfortable against the headboard. He crooks a finger at Merlin, beckoning him closer while stroking himself with his free hand, almost like Merlin had a few days ago.
“You know, you look lovely like that,” Merlin comments, grinning in a way that tells Arthur he remembers being the one doing the beckoning as well. Merlin climbs onto the bed, and then sits on his heels, just watching Arthur touch himself. Arthur’s more than happy to put on a bit of a show, and so he rubs the thumb over the cockhead, watching intently as Merlin’s cock twitches in response.
“I could be doing this to you,” Arthur points out in his best sultry voice. First, it earns him only a grin, and then a lapful of Merlin.
They’re kissing again, much more slowly this time. Arthur delights in tugging at Merlin’s lower lip with his teeth, and coaxing little grunts out of him. In turn, Merlin nibbles on Arthur’s upper lip every chance he gets. Neither of them can stop smiling through any of it.
It’s Arthur who reaches for the lube and condoms.
“Later, I want to know if you’re into topping,” Arthur says as he drops some lube into the tip of the condom. “Because if you are, next time I want you inside me.” He rolls the condom on, then prepares another one the same way. “But for now,” he murmurs, and puts the condom on Merlin, making his grip tight as he strokes down his length, “I want to stay like this.”
Arthur leans forward and trails open-mouthed kisses along Merlin’s jaw, sucking lightly on the soft skin. Merlin moans deliciously, and only becomes louder once Arthur wraps his hand around both of them and begins to stroke.
Soon, Merlin’s rocking into Arthur’s hand, adding to the slow drag and friction on both of them. Arthur’s moved to Merlin’s neck, nipping and kissing the pale skin, careful not to leave any bruises.
Merlin’s got an arm around Arthur’s neck, holding onto him tightly, hips still hitching in the same slow rhythm that Arthur’s hand is setting. Arthur pulls back just far enough to look at him. His lips are parted and his eyes shut tightly. Arthur takes Merlin’s free hand and brings it down, lacing their fingers, and stroking both of them together. His breath hitches as soon as Merlin’s eyes open. His pupils are blown wide and the little bit of his blue iris still visible is flecked with gold.
“You’re fucking gorgeous,” Arthur breathes, and Merlin leans forward for another kiss. It’s sloppy and there’s too much teeth but Arthur couldn’t care less.
“I think I could love you,” Merlin murmurs against Arthur’s lips, eyes shut tightly again. Arthur already misses the sight of them and he nudges his nose against Merlin’s to get him to look at him again.
“I think I could love you too,” Arthur says, keeping his eyes fixed on Merlin’s.
“Good,” Merlin says, a smile dragging slowly at the corners of his mouth. Arthur can’t help himself and quickly brings their mouths back together. Merlin coaxes him into stroking them fast, adjusting his own thrusts quickly, and then, without warning, Arthur’s hips buck and the pleasure’s breaking over him in a hot wave, Merlin’s name on his lips.
Merlin’s still stroking them, urging the last tendrils of ecstasy from Arthur before Merlin’s entire body goes taut in Arthur’s arm, and a loud groan escapes his lips. Arthur thinks he’ll never get tired of the sounds Merlin makes.
They lean their foreheads together as they catch their breaths, fingers still laced, caught between their chests now.
Arthur’s the first to move so he can kiss Merlin softly, almost chastely with a light press of mouth against mouth. “How about we order some food, watch some telly, and then later we can see about that sex talk.”
Merlin smiles in response. “Sounds perfect, actually.”
Chapter 4: Epilogue
Camelot University, Graduation Day, 2019
Arthur, graduates with first class honours, of course - did anyone expect anything else? At the following celebration at their favourite student pub in Camelot, a place called The Rising Sun that’s stuffed with medieval decor and always poorly lit, everyone Arthur has come to care about in the last couple of years is present.
Mithian surprises him with the news that she’s pregnant, and Leon doesn’t surprise him with his inability to stop smiling at his wife. Not that he ever could. Not that Arthur was ever able to blame him.
Morgana and Morgause show up wearing matching dresses and carrying an aura of mystery with them. That is, until Morgause hears that Leon specialises in medieval combat, and promptly challenges him to a duel.
Mordred and Elyan are as happy as ever, and got engaged only a few months ago. They spend the night, like so many, arguing about wedding arrangements.
Meanwhile, Gwaine tries to drink Morgana under the table. Arthur knows he’s going to fail, and he also knows that Percy will sigh in defeat, and then smile fondly before carrying his boyfriend home.
Vivian and Elena are inseparable, as ever. Arthur suspects they’re scheming on how to best kill him without leaving any evidence behind, just so that they’ll be the two highest ranking graduates of their year. He resolves to ask Merlin about some kind of protective charm or spell.
Lancelot, the poor sod, has fallen head over heels for Elyan’s sister, Gwen, whom he met half an hour ago when they all met up at the pub. Luckily for him, Gwen seems equally smitten with him. From their soulful stares into each other’s eyes, Arthur bets it’s not going to take long until the group will celebrate another engagement.
After all, it’s the perfect day to propose…
This also happened
Aredian cracked during questioning and admitted to hiring a professional assassin to have Valiant Egbert killed and Mordred framed. He said he did it to show the world the dangers of magic before the sorcerers themselves would act out. The assassin still hasn’t been found. His name is Myror and Interpol has been looking for him for a long time.
Elena and Vivian have been together for a little over a year after they finally completed the mating dance at the end of their second year at Camelot. The two of them, and Arthur have been inseperable at CU since Mordred’s trial.
Nimueh quit at the end of her first year and went back to the Isle of the Blessed where she’s still a practising priestess of the Old Religion. Morgana and Morgause joined her last year, and are slowly but surely reforming her way of thinking.
Percy and Gwaine recently moved in together and adopted a Great Dane, and named her Caliburnus, after Arthur’s middle name.
Arthur’s going to work for Annis Caerleon, until he’s ready to open his own law firm. It will be called Round Table Consulting, that much Arthur has already decided, and he’s going to defend Magicals and other minorities in court. With any luck, Elena and Vivian will join him. (Unless they’ve succeeded in killing him. In that case they’ll be founding the firm and carry out his legacy.)
Arthur also intends to run for a seat in parliament to help bring about the change that Albion needs to become the home anyone who has magic deserves.
Uther Pendragon’s party was disbanded after parliament put a ban on all political parties that actively promote fascist ideology. He hasn’t spoken to his son in six months, ever since Arthur announced his plans to go into politics to undo all the damage Uther did fifteen years ago.
Merlin was hired by MI5 and has now more jurisdiction and power than anyone working for the police. He’s been able to help identify a lot of magical fraud cases, and a few legitimate Magical on Magical crimes, but it’s all terribly hush hush, so he isn’t allowed to tell anyone. Well, except maybe Arthur, whom he’d tell anyway…
… He intends to propose tonight, not knowing that Arthur has the exact same plan.