Till the Casket Drops rchginger Summary:

Summary:

How far would you go to avenge someone you loved? When does the quest for revenge begin to turn you into something you don't recognize?

Fifteen years ago Balinor Lordson was convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Now his son is back where he grew up to make everyone responsible pay. But when Merlin falls for the son of the man he holds chiefly responsible for his fathers arrest and imprisonment, he'll have to choose between getting his revenge and losing the one he loves or having the one he loves and learning to forgive.

TILL THE CASKET DROPS

A Merlin Big Bang Story

Written for the 2012 Paperlegends Big Bang challenge

Written by: rchginger

Art by: Madnessisreal

Summary:

How far would you go to avenge someone you loved? When does the quest for revenge begin to turn you into something you don't recognize?

Fifteen years ago Balinor Lordson was convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Now his son is back where he grew up to make everyone responsible pay. But when Merlin falls for the son of the man he holds chiefly responsible for his fathers arrest and imprisonment, he'll have to choose between getting his revenge and losing the one he loves or having the one he loves and learning to forgive.

Disclaimer – Merlin and company are property of people who are not me...like the BBC and I am not the BBC unfortunately. Infringement is not intended.

Art - . Go and see….Like RIGHT NOW! GO! Don't forget to leave a comment.

Pairing: Merlin/Arthur and implied Arthur/Oc

Warning; Character Death (minor), m/m Sex,

Rating: NC-17 to be safe

Author Notes: So another Big Bang down so what do I have to say? I have to thank the muppet who awesome and understanding as I ran into a few problems in the last few days that kept me from posting on time. THANK YOU! Um, and I have to say I learned my lesson about writing more than one story for a Big Bang at a time, won't happen again.

This story came to me while watching Revenge, it is a Revenge AU type thing that was trying so very hard to run away from me and become like an epic 100,000 word thing or something but I didn't have the time for that. So, yeah.

My artist was madnessireal who got stuck with an Artist who did communicate and update very effectively, I'm sorry. RL kind of started getting in the way and so now I kind of hate RL, like a lot.

This story is 30,000 words if Word is to be believed and is one of my favorite I have ever written. I hope I've done well, I spent many hours going over and over the plot before even writing the first sentence. Hopefully you dear readers well enjoy! Comments are lovely by the way, they're like cookies – you can never have too many.

Tygermine provided a beta, THANK YOU, any mistakes are my own.

Now Enjoy!

Title taken from ZZ Ward

Preface

He imagines he can hear the crowds outside roaring loudly, calling for his head. Can almost see the large, brightly painted signs - picketing him. Death to magic users – Fire to the Freaks. The same signs that had appeared all around their home in the days approaching his father's trial and became a steady presence through the duration. He wonders if there's a stack of hate mail filling a dusty room of the courthouse - like bones in a mausoleum, just as pale and lifeless but morbid nonetheless.

The collar around his neck is a heavy weight around his throat and bites into his skin anytime he moves. He can feel his magic where it's cordoned off - where he can't access it. It thrashes against the walls of its invisible cage, like an angry cat. The more he tries to reach for it, the farther it moves away, teasing him – close enough so that he can brush up against it but not enough to allow him to grab hold.

He's shackled as well, wrist and ankles. Mage metal encircles his limbs, seamless and unbreakable. There's a team of ten escorting him, five on each side with a sharp shooter nearby and a state licensed warlock trailing behind them. Twelve altogether. He feels like a particularly dangerous animal, which only makes sense as he's sure that's how the public sees him. A feral animal needing to be put down. He wonders if his father had felt like this – being led down this same hallway nearly twenty years ago, being led by a leash like a fucking dog.

Merlin nearly snarled at the thought.

Sound echoed. Bouncing off the marble floor and stone walls, weaving through the pillars and disappearing into the vaulted ceiling. The sound of his pants legs dragging on the floor is unusually loud, as is the clomping of the tactical boots the Royal Guardsmen are wearing. Everything loud and pounding in his ears, even above his heartbeat swelling against his eardrums. So the abrupt silence of the courtroom is jarring.

Every eye was turned to him as he was led through the heavy, wood carved double doors. Every seat filled, cameras set up along the edges of the room angled in such a way to get the best angle of the witness stand.

He's simultaneously expecting everything and nothing at all – but the sight of Arthur sitting in the front, smartly put together in a three piece suit – hair perfectly slicked in place, is a surprise. His brows are pinched and his mouth is in a firm line. To anyone else he'd look fine, maybe a little annoyed, but Merlin can see the tense line of his shoulders and the way he taps his knee with the tip of his index finger on his right hand. He's brimming with anger and it's threatening to boil over, barely contained behind his eyes that shine brightly with heat when he gazes at Merlin.

And it's that – not the threat of being put to death for magic use, or facing life in prison for murder – that causes his insides to quiver. The betrayal, unbridled rage, and the soldering embers of grief, mingled with something that Merlin can't quite put a name to in Arthur's eyes that causes a shudder to run through him.

It's the sight of Arthur that makes him realize how much he fucked up. And no matter how much he protested the fact, he was in love with the overbearing prat.

Merlin chuckled inwardly.

He always did have crap timing when it came to the emotional stuff.

CHAPTER ONE

A house of glass is surely meant to be shattered.

The destruction of everything he loved wasn't preceded by a storm. There was no thunder; no lightening; no brimstone falling from the sky, though all those things would have been appropriate. Like everything horrible in life, it started small; a child's laugh over-laid by the sound of tires screeching over stone. The sky clear and sun shining bright on an ordinary Wednesday that became fodder for his nightmares, and the reason behind his ever growing therapy bills.

He wondered if they knew the kind of damage they were doing to his psyche when they forcibly dragged his father away in front of him. Binding collar firmly placed around his neck, hands cuffed behind his back.

He remembers vividly the smell of lavender and rose water wafting in his nostrils, as his mom ran pass, the grey and white pebbles that lined the walkway undulating beneath her feet in waves as she ran. He remembers her choked sobs and hoarse yells as she was forcibly pushed away and onto her knees, her husband, his father, placed in the black van that bore the two-twined swords crest of the Royal Guard.

A dozen citizens were killed on a targeted attack on the metro-line, an act that the radical group known as the DRUIDS, led by Balinor Lordson, has taken credit for.

…After the detailed testimony of Uther Pendragon that told the true, shocking depth of Balinor Lordson's treason and his deprived usage of illegal magic, the jury spent only five minutes deliberating before returning with a guilty verdict…

With a disgusted snort, Merlin paused the DVD, pushing the button with a little more force than was strictly necessary before tossing the remote to the side, the slim silver device bouncing off the carpeted floor before settling- the back piece and batteries scattered.

"Why are you showing me this?" Merlin asked, glancing over his shoulder at the lanky blond man that was leaning against a battered table end whose better days had come and gone.

"He was innocent," Abbott said.

"Abbott," Merlin began but Abbott didn't give him a chance to voice his protest.

"No. Don't," Will Abbot said, shaking his head and rounding the curve of the sofa, opting to take a seat on the coffee table placed in front of it instead of the empty space next to Merlin.

Merlin had only known Will Abbott for the past two weeks, and most of that time was spent communicating over the phone and through email. What he knew of the man he had found through internet searches. Born with no magical ability to speak of, he was twenty-five and the CEO of one of the world's largest software companies. Apparently he had been a friend of Balinor's.

"He was innocent." Abbott said.

Merlin snorted and started to look any, pausing when Will reached out to grab his arm.

"He was." He insisted.

"And how do you know? Hm," Merlin questioned.

"I knew your father." Abbott told him.

The information floored him. He had know his father had, had friends before his imprisonment but none of them had attended the funeral – not that Merlin had either, his mother's death too fresh in his mind for him to mourn the man he had blamed for her death. Whatever friends Balinor had, he had certainly lost them – there had been no one that came to Balinor's defense save Hunith.

If Balinor had been innocent then why had no one stood for him? Why had no one spoken up? The only time Balinor Lordson was spoken of it was in the negative, naming him a serial killer and terrorist and painting him as an abhorrent of nature.

"I don't think anyone knew that man. Not really." Merlin said after long moments of silence that had proceeded Abbott''s declaration of friendship, all the while the other man had looked at Merlin with wide pleading eyes.

"I did," Abbott insisted. "He was the only one who ever believed in me."

"So what? Now you're paying him back by holding onto false hope that he was innocent." Merlin said.

Abbott sighed, leaned to the side and dug out his laptop from the messenger bag leaning against the side of the table. He moved, standing so that he could place the laptop on the table in front of Merlin.

"Just watch." Abbott said. "That's all I ask. After that, well what comes next will be up to you."

….

Three Years Later

The Pendragon Manor was beautiful in its obnoxiousness. Sand-stone terracotta arched across acres of lush greenery and proud oaks that stood tall at the edges. High walls and large windows gave the manor a look of sophisticated elegance while not being overstated. An array of colorful geraniums spilled like miniature cascading waterfalls from window boxes and a wrought iron balcony circled the top of the house.

The carefully manicured lawn rolled over the hillside with cheery abandon and hugged the winding lane of the driveway that was paved with polished stones in shades of green and silver that sparkled beneath the beams of the car's headlights as it rolled along, the pebbles crunching beneath its tires. The drive snaked its way over the lawn to circle around a large fountain, which spewed water that glistened in the moonlight, and curved to a halt in front of the wide staircase.

Merlin couldn't help but admire the sight it made with the moon hanging full and heavy in the background; the driveway lined with vehicles whose price tag could only be described as exorbitant, and their owners draped in clothing of the same substantial cost. He glanced down at the half mask of silk and lace that rested in his lap, running a finger over it before reaching up and putting it on just as the car rolled to a stop at the foot of the staircase. Catching the eye of his driver in the rearview mirror he allowed a small smirk to curve his lips in answer to one he could see reflected back at him.

"Don't have too much fun," Percival said.

"Me?" Merlin quipped. "Never."

The silver door handle was cool beneath his touch and easy to maneuver, he could hear the click of the door unlatching and pushed open the door with a gentle shove.

Stepping out, he straightened his jacket before closing the car door behind him. He waited until the black Audi had rolled down the drive out of sight, before sighing and taking a glance at his wristwatch before starting up the stairs.

The doors were pulled open for him by a young, lean brunette in a suit that, while fitted, was obviously off the rack. Merlin inclined his head in acknowledgement and stepped inside. The heels of his loafers tapped in a 'click-click' rhythm on the marble floors of the entry way.

The sounds of a grand piano filled the house, bouncing off the walls and disappearing up into the high cathedral ceilings that lent themselves to the look of understated elegance of the place, creating more space than there actually was, and seeing as how there was a hell of a lot of space in the first place, that was saying something. Large airy rooms set off the spiral staircase that was centralized in manner that spoke of being done on purpose, so that it was on display.

Merlin followed the path of the marble floor until he reached the door to the ballroom, the music having grown steadily louder until it was pleasant ringing in his ears. People mingled about dressed in different shades of green and black with tall, fragile champagne glasses in their hands.

Merlin took stock of the room, eyeing the grey-haired man with a rapidly receding hairline standing next to the gleaming piano, with a stunning brunette poured into a pool of emerald silk that creased and hugged her body in a way that drew his eyes even from the other side of the room.

Merlin skirted the edges of the room, snagging a flute of champagne, rolling the thin stem between his fingers in thought and strolling aimlessly, until he came to a stop before the large rectangular window that overlooked the lawn and the pond a few yards away. He didn't know anyone here; his invitation didn't exactly come by mail.

SIX MONTHS EARLIER

Merlin didn't really need to look at the picture he held between loose fingers in front of his face. Studying had always been his forte; his brain soaked up information like a sponge.

"Are you sure about this?"

Merlin looked away from the photo to find Will Abbott standing in the doorway to his study.

"Don't tell me your going soft on me already Abbott?"

"I'm just making sure,"

Merlin raised an eyebrow,

"I thought this is what you wanted."

"I wanted you to know the truth about your father."

"And what did you think I would do once I knew the truth? That I'd do nothing; just go on with my life knowing that the people who ruined his life where out there?"

"Mer-"

"Don't you dare." Merlin growled.

"Merlin," Abbott said, his southern accent weighing down the letters to put an unnatural emphasis on it. "I just wanted to make sure that you're, well, sure."

"I'm sure they need to pay," Merlin said. "I'm sure I'm not going to stop until their lives are nothing but rubble and ash."

Present

Becoming lost in his thoughts was something Merlin thought he'd gotten out of the habit of doing; but he found himself doing just that. Allowing them to consume him in a way that would have garnered Gaius's disappointment; so lost in his thoughts as he was, he didn't hear the man approaching him, and the slight touch on his arm startled him so much that he jumped. Spinning around, he lost his balance and his flute fell from his grasp, its contents splashing onto wool so soft, that Merlin half-expected it to dissipate beneath his palm that had landed on a very muscular arm when he reached out to stop himself from falling.

Startling cool-blue eyes flashed into his field of view, framed by a black mask, and he was struck with the image of blond hair that was highlighted in such a way that Merlin couldn't figure out whether it was natural or a really good dye job.

"Oh shit," Merlin said, taking his emerald handkerchief from his front pocket and using it to dab at the rapidly spreading dark stain.

"Don't worry about it," the man said, waving off the apology. "I'm Arthur."

Merlin already knew that. Meeting Arthur was the reason Merlin had bothered to come.

Arthur Pendragon – graduated top of his class from Harvard University with a major in economics that'd eventually led to law school where he'd graduated in the top five percentile of his class, all by the time he was twenty-three. A junior partner with Le'Fey –Dre'Goon he was on the fast track to senior partner and getting a buy in.

He was also the son of newly elected Prime Minster Uther Pendragon. His whole life was etched in Merlin's mind.

"Um," Merlin said, eloquently as always. "Merlin. Merlin Emrys."

"Nice to meet you, Merlin," Arthur said. "Do you always introduce yourself by spilling your drink on people or am I special."

"Oh shut up," Merlin said bemused. "Besides, you startled me. You should never startle a clumsy person who's holding anything in their hands; it'll always turn out badly."

"So you're clumsy?" Arthur asked.

"Terribly," Merlin said. "Trip over my own two feet most of the time."

"At least you admit it."

"Why bother trying to deny the obvious.'' Merlin said.

Arthur snagged two nicely filled champagne flutes from the tray of a passing waiter, handing one to Merlin.

"So, Merlin. Merlin Emrys, I haven't seen you attending one of my parents functions before. And believe I would've remembered if I'd seen you."

"Oh really?"

"Yes, your ears are enormous; I would recognize them anywhere," Arthur said, smiling rather flirtatiously at Merlin."

"Well, we couldn't all be copied out of the pages of GQ."

"Oh don't be ridiculous," Arthur said. "I'm obviously the Adonis reincarnated."

"So modest too."

"Why thank you. Some people have this idea of me being cocky."

"No!" Merlin gasped in mock outrage.

"I know!"

…..

"Nimueh Brighton, was then a small reporter on channel five when your father first went to jail. A no body reporting shite that nobody cared about. Now she's an legal analyst and has her own show. She made her career,"

"Off my father's trial." Merlin said, not needing Abbott to finish.

Abbott nodded.

"She knew shit Merlin, reported it before anyone else, had everyone buzzing – how did a tidbit reporter know so damn much. Was even questioned by the Guard, though nothing came out of it."

"She was in on it," He reached out and trailed the tip of his index finger on the screen of the computer, tracing the shape of the woman who was shown there, his mind already soaking in every little detail about her. She was beautiful, Merlin would give her that. Dark hair and wide blue eyes and a figure that said she actually ate instead of trying to look like a pre-pubescent child like everyone else did these days.

And she had magic. Merlin just knew she did.

The sound of papers rustling whistled by his ear and he looked down to see several sheets placed in front of him.

"What's this?"

"I have my resources," Abbott said. "Seems that Ms. Brighton came into a substantial windfall around the time your father's trial began. Twenty-million."

Merlin whistled and leafed through the pages, committing everything he read to memory.

"Someone didn't want her to talk." Abbott said.

"Or they wanted her to talk – just about what they told her to," Merlin said. "Did you find out who the money was from?"

"An unknown Swiss account. The Swiss wouldn't give up shit and their systems are top notch. Don't worry though, I have someone on it."

"Hmm, it would be good to know for sure. To have it in ink on paper."

"But you think you already know."

"Who else but Uther would have twenty-million to toss away? Besides, she's his mistress. Or was, at least."

"What? How do you know?"

"See her bracelet."

"It's gold so."

"Gold with a ruby, the Pendragon colors. And it's in the shape of a dragon. So gauche, not something she would usually own," Merlin said. "It's from him. She was sleeping with him and he got her to report all his lies for him and in return she became rich and made a career."

"So what are you going to do?"

"Nothing much," Merlin said, standing and idly moving to the mini bar behind the large sofa, he opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Pierre. "I'm going to ruin her career; she made her name off telling lies and I'm going to destroy it by giving truth to her lies. If she did it once, then she probably did it again. People like that don't have any boundaries."

She was a beautiful woman, Merlin would give her that. Clad in a form fitting black gown that swept the tops of her sandals and swirled around the columns of her legs as she walked, the spilt giving tantalizing peek-a-boos at them, she drew the eye.

Nimueh Brighton had been an intricate part of dismantling his father's name. While she might not have been involved in the actual framing of Balinor, and Merlin wasn't sure whether she knew about the jury tampering or the bribing of the magistrate, she had taken money and knowingly reported false information. Defacing his father and making his mother a cast out in society who everyone, friends and family both, had turned away from.

"Arthur, I've been looking for you all night," Nimueh said, throwing her arms out in wide arches, the ruby in her bracelet catching the light as she did so. "If I didn't know any better I'd think you were avoiding me."

Merlin caught Arthur's subtle eye-roll and the pull of his lips that could have been a sneer before the blond turned, allowing himself to be folded into a hug.

"Why would I ever want to avoid you?" Arthur asked, pulling back and stepping away, inching closer to Merlin.

"Yes, why would you," Nimueh said. Her eyes went to Merlin, sweeping over him, dissecting him. Her eyes lingered on his mask before moving back to Arthur. "Who's the kitten?"

Arthur frowned, just a miniature movement of his lips.

"Merlin Emrys. Merlin, this is Nimueh." Arthur said, introducing them if a little reluctantly.

"Not a kitten. A little bird," Nimueh said, she held out her hand demurely and Merlin took the limb in his own. "Haven't seen you around before birdie."

"Haven't been around before." Merlin said as he released her hand.

Her fingers curled inward slightly as she pulled her hand away. She studied him with serious eyes and for a moment Merlin was afraid that she had more than he had wanted her to, the she knew. The prospect was frightening to a man holding as many secrets in his deck as Merlin was.

"So what are you doing here now?" she asked.

Merlin looked over at Arthur before answering.

"Sightseeing." he said eyes still on Arthur. It was a little cheesy but it did the job if the softening of Arthur's face and the way his eyes focused on Merlin was anything to go by.

"Would you like to see more?" Arthur asked, taking Merlin's now empty champagne class from his limp grasp and proceeding to drag him away from Nimueh without so much as a goodbye and without waiting for Merlin's answer.

Merlin glanced over his shoulder to see Nimueh looking at their retreating forms with a calculating eye.

...

The halls of Pendragon Manor were as beautiful as its façade. The walls stretched for what seemed like miles in a creamy color, which gave the illusion that if he touched it, his fingers would sink into it.

The walls were the home to masterpieces that should have been resting in a museum somewhere and Arthur talked non-stop about them, displaying more knowledge about the artwork than Merlin would have figured he'd know. He listened with half an ear as Arthur rambled on, nodding where it was appropriate and using the tour as an opportunity to study the lay-out of the Manor.

"I'm boring you, aren't I?" Arthur said.

Merlin smiled at him.

"No," Arthur arched an eyebrow and Merlin chuckled. "Well I wasn't going to say anything."

"Shut up," Arthur said jokingly in reply to Merlin's teasing.

He smiled and Merlin's heart tumbled in his chest, he had to restrain himself from frowning outwardly at the unsettling feeling.

"What, you asked." Merlin said, deciding to focus on Arthur and accomplishing to do what he had come here tonight to do and not on the weird squeezing of his heart.

"Are you always like this?" Arthur asked, somehow his hand had ended up at the small of Merlin's back as they wounded their way through the halls.

"Like what?" Merlin asked.

"So – cheeky." Arthur said.

"Cheeky? Who says that?" Merlin asked in turned instead of answering.

"I do, obviously," Arthur said. "Don't make fun"

"Who me?" Merlin asked, with wide eyes and mock outrage. "I would never."

"Uh – huh."

"Besides," Merlin continued. "You'd be bored with me otherwise."

"Mmm," Arthur took Merlin's arm and stared him down another hall. "I have a feeling I could never be bored around you."

"Are you planning to be around me a lot then?" Merlin asked his eyes on Arthur.

Arthur cut his eyes to Merlin but kept his head forward as he pushed open a door and shuffled Merlin inside.

"Do you have a problem with that?" Arthur asked him as he crowded closer.

"If I did?" Merlin asked.

Arthur shrugged.

"I'd just have to change your mind." He said, placing his hands on Merlin's waist and pulling him closer. "There's something about you. Can't quite put my finger on it just yet, though."

"Then I guess you'll just have to have dinner with me." Merlin said and he allowed his body to be drawled against Arthur's.

"Are you asking me out on a date?" Arthur asked with a smile.

"Think of it as a research opportunity." Merlin said. "You did say you wanted to figure me out after all."

Arthur inclined his head forward an inch, his lips brushing over Merlin's cheek as he spoke.

"What if I want to do in-depth research?" Arthur asked, his lips grazing the shell of Merlin's ear.

Merlin smiled.

"That could be arranged." he said.

Arthur turned his head slightly and touched his lips to the corner of Merlin's mouth. A shiver shook Merlin as his body wreaked havoc on itself as lust shot through like a level 5 tornado, all the while his mind berated him and told him to remember why he was there. Merlin gasped and watched the flush that rose on Arthur's cheeks as Merlin's breath brushed over his mouth. They were so close that Merlin doubted they could slip a piece of paper between them.

The clearing of a throat tore them apart. Arthur's head snapped up and he took a sizable step away from Merlin until a respectable distance was between them.

"Father," Arthur said, his eyes focused over Merlin's left shoulder, his voice thick with unspent lust. "We didn't hear you enter."

"Obviously." Merlin could practically hear the sneer in the voice and turned to see the frame of Uther Pendragon standing in the doorway.

He was dressed in a black suit that was folded around his body in tailored perfection. His graying brown hair was parted at the side and comb over so that there were no wayward flyaway's. He didn't wear a mask so Merlin was able to see the way the skin around his eyes wrinkled as he narrowed his eyes when he looked at Merlin.

"Who's your companion?" Uther asked.

Though he had said companion Merlin had heard something very different. It was obvious that Uther didn't like him. Merlin smirked inwardly. If Uther didn't like him now he was going to hate him in the months to come. Will had been weary of Merlin taking this course to get to Uther but the newly elected Prime Minster was a very paranoid man – Merlin figured with as many skeletons he had stuffed in his closet he had reason to be – there was no other available option to get close to Uther. Will was worried. Merlin had told him not to be.

"This is Merlin. Merlin Emrys." Arthur said. "Merlin this is my father, Uther Pendragon."

"Nice to meet you sir," Merlin said, holding out a hand only to drop it a moment later, when Uther only glanced at it balefully before looking back to Arthur.

"Your absence has been noticed. Return to the party," he glanced at Merlin one more time, suspicion clouding his eyes, before turning and exiting what Merlin was just know realizing was a library.

"So, he's a charming man." Merlin said, turning back to face Arthur

"Yeah." Arthur said.

Removing his mask, Arthur scrubbed a hand over his face. Merlin knew what Arthur looked like, he had studied his picture until every curve and blemish was etched in Merlin's mind. But having the full force of Arthur Pendragon in front of him – for one, tiny second Merlin doubted his plan, doubted his ability to remain objective and unaffected. Then he looked at the portrait of Uther over the mantle and reminded himself he had no choice. Uther and the others had to pay for what they had done. No matter the cost.

"I'll walk you out." Arthur said.

"Oh no, you have a party to get back to. I'm perfectly capable of finding my own way out." Merlin said.

"Are you sure?" Arthur asked uncertain.

"I'm sure that your father might unlock the power of one's mind and prove that looks can kill if you stand here with me any longer," Merlin said. "I'm a big boy, I can find the front door without help."

"Fine, don't say I didn't warn you when you get lost." Arthur said with a smile.

"It's a house, Arthur, not a labyrinth."

Arthur laughed, ambling over to the doorway before pausing.

"So dinner tomorrow?" Arthur asked, his fingers trailing over the wood of the doorjamb, his eyes jumping from Merlin to the floor and back again.

Merlin went to him. Slipping his hand in Arthur's pocket he pulled out his phone and, after a moment of fumbling, entered his phone number. He slipped the phone back into the pocket.

"And, more in-depth research if you're up for it," Merlin said with a smirk as he moved around Arthur and out the door.

He went back up the hallway they had come down and ducked into a small alcove, hiding there until he heard Arthur's footsteps passing. He waited a moment until the sound of them faded away, before leaving the alcove and winding his way through the hall until he came to a door that Arthur had said was to his dad's study. It was no surprise that the door was locked. Merlin pulled on the magic that rested inside him, his magic was an extension of himself and he could feel as it slip through the key hole and the way curved edges of the lock as his magic worked to manipulate it was inside. Less than thirty seconds later he was inside.

He glanced at his watch; two and a half minutes until security would notice the breach, fifty seconds after that the guards would be arriving. He had to be gone before then.

He set to work, placing the camera's first, making sure to cover all angles and that the desk would be in view at all times. The bugs went next, one under the desk, the lamp shade on the bookend, it took him significantly longer to get the phone tapped and when he was done he only had sixty-five seconds left. The computer was already booted up, Merlin pushed in the drive and set about planting the sniffer virus Will had created.

Thirty-seconds. ….. Twenty…Ten

Merlin imagined he could hear the chatter of radios. The pounding of boots on the carpeted floor.

Five. He ejected the drive, slipped it between his sock and shoe and exited the room, rounding the corner and pressing himself into another alcove just as the three guards ran past with their guns drawn. Merlin straightened his suit and made sure he was presentable before leaving the alcove and starting down the hall. Taking a sharp left, he found himself back in the ballroom. Making sure that Arthur didn't spot him, he hurried out to the entry and down the stone staircase where Percival was waiting with the car.

"Have a good time sir?" Percival asked, holding open the door.

"The best."

…..

The cabin he was renting sprawled lazily over two acres of manicured lawn, with the lake stretching out behind it. Large windows were cut into the façade of the house providing a spectacular view from everyone room. It overlooked the valley the town was seated in and provided a perfect view of the mountains in the background. The leaves of heavy apple-thorn trees shaded the drive way and perfumed the air with the delicious scent of crisp apples. But the most important part, the reason he had decided that five-hundred thousand over the next three months would be a good use of his money, was not the house itself but the one across from it. Pendragon Manor.

The car rolled to a stop and Merlin exited the car leaving Percival to put it away. He took his time getting up the stairs, removing the irksome mask and loosening his tie as he went. When he didn't need to use his key to unlock the door, he knew that Abbott must be around. He sighed and pushed his way inside the house, the eighteen foot ceilings echoing the sound of his loafers on the tiled floor.

"Have a good evening darling?" Abbott called out in question. Merlin followed the sound of his voice until he was standing in the sitting the room.

"Well enough," Merlin said.

"And Pendragon?" Abbott asked.

"Uther was just cold and brash as was expected." Merlin said deliberately misunderstanding what Abbot was saying.

"Good to know." Abbott said. "But I was talking about the younger one."

Merlin shrugged, unbuttoning his cufflinks and tossing them onto one of the many sheets of paper that covered the coffee table.

"He was, interesting," Merlin said. He took of his lapel pin and handed it to Abbott. "Let me know what you get off that, yeah."

"'Course," Abbott said, plugging the drive into the laptop. The pin had been his design, a small micro-fiber camera he had thrown together just for Merlin. "So, interesting."

"What?" Merlin asked. This time his confusion wasn't faked. Sometimes, most of the time, the way Abbott's brain worked mystified Merlin.

"Arthur – he was interesting?" Abbott said, he leaned back against the cushioned back of the sofa and tilted his head back at an angle so that he was able to look up at Merlin.

"Yeah," Merlin shrugged out of his jacket. "So?"

"You like interesting," Abbott said. "You like him."

"That doesn't matter, now does it?" Merlin said

"Merlin-" Abbott began.

"It doesn't matter." Merlin said cutting him off.

He didn't wait for Abbott to respond - he turned and headed for the stairs taking them two at a time until he'd reached the landing. He left his clothes in a pile at the doorway to the bathroom. He ran the shower until it was blazing hot before stepping inside.

He scrubbed his body as his mind whirled, reminding him why he was here. Reminding him why it didn't matter how interesting he found Arthur Pendragon – he was just a means to the end, and for Merlin to complete his mission, Arthur would have to get hurt, there was no way around it. No matter how interesting he was.

…..

Merlin woke to a chorus of birds chirping. The sound of it threw him for a moment. He had lived in the city for as long as he could remember. There had been a lot to contribute to sound pollution, car horns, people yelling, and his neighbors TV blaring early Sunday morning cartoons. But never birds. Birds were different. The chirping was annoying and made him want to shoot something.

Groaning Merlin rolled onto his back and took a moment to just breathe, before getting to his feet and making his way into the bathroom where he took care of demanding body functions. He had a tooth brush in his mouth and a mouthful of suds when his phone rang. He tracked it back into his bedroom under the pile of clothes still sitting in his doorway. He dug it out and to a look at the screen.

Arthur.

He let the phone ring as he went back into the bathroom and took his time cleaning his teeth before answering.

'Hello?" he asked in answer as he brought he phone to his ear.

"Merlin?" Arthur asked sounding a little uncertain.

"Who's this?" He asked, manufactured confusion coloring his tone. He wiped his mouth with a wash cloth and debated on whether or not to shave before giving it up and returning to his room.

"Arthur," Arthur said, Merlin could hear the beginning of frustration coloring his tone.

"Who? Hello?"

There was a moment of silence.

"You think you're really funny don't you?" Arthur asked obviously having cotton on to what Merlin was doing.

Merlin shrugged even though Arthur couldn't see him.

"I do try," Merlin said.

"Hmm," Arthur said. "So about dinner."

"It's a bit early for dinner, don't you think?" Merlin said. Cradling the phone between his cheek and shoulder, Merlin pulled open a set of drawers taking out socks and pants, and wondering what would be best to wear.

Dressing for revenge was such a hardship.

"I was thinking lunch, dinner is so far away." Arthur said.

"Eager aren't we," Merlin said, he took out a pair of far too expensive designer jeans and a polo shirt, tossing them both onto the bed.

"What's wrong with being a little eager?" Arthur asked, Merlin could hear the sound of paper shuffling and couldn't help but wonder what Arthur was up to.

"Nothing I guess. As long as you aren't too eager." The innuendo was obvious, and a little cheesy.

Arthur didn't dignify it with an answer.

"So lunch?"

"Text me when and where," he said, pulling on his jeans. Going to his desk, he flicked the mouse of his desk top, forcing it from sleep and opening the email that was waiting for him.

"I will," Arthur said.

"Good," Merlin responded distracted. He brought up the window for the email, in the process minimizing the spreadsheet Abbott had created. The profile that had been attached already read and deleted, cleaned and removed from his drive.

"Good," Arthur said a moment before the line went dead.

Merlin hung up and finished dressing. He was just pulling his shirt over his head when Abbott made his presence known.

"If I didn't know any better I'd said you were happy," Abbott said, pushing away from the doorjamb and coming over to sit on Merlin's bed.

Merlin glared at him but continued dressing.

"What did you get off the tapes?" Merlin asked.

"Confirmed sightings on all targets," Will grimace, "Gah, I sound like a bad spy movie. That's your fault you know."

"What else?"

"Uther had quite an interesting conversation with Nimueh and was visited by his brother. Didn't look like a happy reunion to me." Abbott said.

"Agravine?" Merlin asked.

"Hmm,"

"Wasn't he supposed to be out of the country?" Merlin asked.

At least that was what all of Merlin's research into everything Pendragon and/or Pendragon related had turned up. He had wanted to cover all of his bases– he wasn't a big fan of surprises.

"Apparently he's come back to big brother the prime minster for help. They skipped around the issues, and used a lot of code words but I get the feeling that Agravine has skeletons in his closet that someone is threatening to bring to light." Abbott said. "Someone not you. Makes me wonder who else he's pissed off."

"And just what they have on him," Merlin said, pondering this turn of events. "What about the conversation with Nimueh?"

"I have it right here."

Merlin took the drive Abbott held out to him, holding it between his thumb and forefinger.

"Might want to wear headphones. Talking isn't all they do." Abbott said with a wink and a slightly scary leer.

"Hmm," Merlin said. "Where are you on the financials?"

"Making heed way." Abbott said. "I'll let you know when I have them. Until then stop asking, it's getting annoying."

"I'll stop asking when you've got them," He went to his closet and pulled out a leather jacket that showed its age. It had been his fathers at one time, one of the few things Merlin has that reminds him of his father – not the man the state had painted as a traitor. He sometimes imaged he could smell his father on it, yet he didn't remember what the man had smelled of but the tangy scent found his nose never less, a scent Merlin didn't recognize as his.

"Where are you going?" Abbott said.

"I've got to see a woman about a key."

…..

…..

Morgun Clearway had been born Morgause Vivien, a woman who had made being a thief, an art form. Forgery was what she was best at, now at least. When Merlin had met her, she had been crap at pick-pocketing and terrible at dime-store robberies, it was one botched robbery that had led to her being arrested when she was sixteen, after being caught by a uniform with a six bottles of soda in her book-pack and red vines in her pockets – all unpaid for. She had been sent to the young corrections center where Merlin had met her; his crime had been not caring enough about his own safety. Morgun had been the one to help with obtaining new paperwork and securing a paper trail that solidified his claim of being Merlin Emrys.

He met her two miles out of town at small diner that was hosted in an old railcar. He shrugged out of his jacket and threw it on the bench seat before sliding onto it himself. Morgun had, unsurprisingly, chosen the booth farthest in the back. She smiled, well, a twitch of lips and minute movement around her eyes that wrinkled the skin.

"Thanks for coming." Merlin said.

"For you Merlin, always." Morgun said.

A waitress came over a set a menu down in front of him and refilled Morgun's coffee cup. She took a sip and they both waited until the waitress had moved away.

"So, do you have it?" Merlin asked.

"Always straight forward with you."

"No point in beating about the bush, we both knows why we're here."

"There's this thing, you know, they call it small talk."

"Never heard of it." Merlin said. "So,"

She sighed then placed a thick folder on the table.

Merlin raised an eyebrow.

"The key's inside." Morgun said, she reached out and turned the folder towards her. Opening it she took out a paper and placed it so that anyone too curious wouldn't be able to see it. "They'll ask you for a signature, and seeing as how your forged signatures suck, I took the liberty of obtaining the paper and signing it for you. All you have to do is find an appropriate moment to make the switch. And not get caught."

"I don't get caught." Merlin said.

"Really? Is that how you ended up in the center then? Your penchant for not getting caught."

"Mm," Merlin stood, picking up his jacket and slinging it over his shoulder. He tossed a couple of dollars on the table. "It's on me."

"How kind of you." She said.

"Your money's waiting for you as always." He turned away, putting his arms through the sleeves of his jacket and walking away.

"Always a pleasure Merlin." Morgun called.

Merlin chose not to respond. His car, a silver Aston Martin DBS that was registered to one Martin Lee was waiting just where he had parked it, but now there was a thick business envelope stuck under one of the window wipers. He took the envelope, taking care with the wiper blade.

GOOD LUCK

Merlin smirked. His cell phone vibrated just as he was getting into the car, he pulled it out and glanced at the screen.

Arthur: Le' Bernardin. 12:00. Don't be late.

Merlin almost smiled, he dropped his phone into the vacant space on in the arm rest and put the car into drive. He had two hours. Plenty of time.

…..

Getting inside the bank was easy. Merlin took note of the four security guards, two on each side of the room, and the various security cameras scattered throughout the bank. Removing his sunglasses, Merlin wound his way through the security ropes until he reached the teller.

"How may I help you?" The pretty blond behind the counter asked, throwing Merlin a smile that bordered the edge of flirty.

"I would like to access my security box." Merlin said with a small smile.

"Name?" she asked.

"Cenred." Merlin said. "Cenred Notting."

Cenred Notting was a small, no name public defender when your father went to jail." Abbott said.

"He's the chief district attorney."

"Now he is. But back then, his career was going nowhere fast. He couldn't win a case to save his career. Honestly, the man had no reason to be an attorney. He was shite at it. Then, of course, came your father's case."

"He didn't win my father's case."

"That he didn't. That is why I found it odd that it was this case that began his ascent, when he should have been going the opposite direction."

"Uther."

"That would be my guess," Abbott said. "He went from public defender to a prime spot in the district attorneys office."

"Baby steps."

"Couldn't draw too much attention," Abbott clicked on a link and it brought up another picture of Cenred this time he was meeting with Uther. "There were claims of jury tampering. Nothing ever came of it."

"What else?" Merlin said. He had learned that with Abbott, there was always another shoe.

"He has a safety deposit box. And he's a smart man and if he's in business with Uther…"

"Then he would have some insurance stashed somewhere," Merlin said. "You think it's in the box?"

"That's what they're for, right?"

"Can you get in?"

Abbott shook his head.

"I can make it easier, but this is one you'll have to do."

"Guess it's time I called in some of those favors."

…..

"I'll need I.D of course."

Merlin smiled and reached inside his jacket pocket pulling out the newly made I.D.

Merlin handed it over and watched with anticipation and a smidgen of fear running through his veins. He wasn't used to no being in control. But this was relying on Abbott for it to work, Merlin's stomach rolled and he swallowed, the Tums tablet he had hidden under his tongue rolling down his throat.

"Thank you Mr. Notting. Sorry for the inconvenience. Security, you understand."

"That I do," Merlin assured her, taking back his I.D.

"If you'll come this way, please," She moved out from behind the partition and led the way with swinging hips and clicking heels, a folder clutched under her arm. She paused and handed Merlin the folder.

"If you could please sign this for me." She said, handing him a sheet of paper.

This was the tricky part and he had to time it perfectly. He placed the folder on a nearby table and bent over with the pen in hand as though to sign. His moment came when someone called the teller's name, Merlin shook out his left arm, the movement unsettling the signed paper that was tucked up under his jacket. At the same time he brushed the folder with his hand causing it to fall to the floor, he kneeled as the woman turned back to him, in the flutter of activity he slipped the sign paper into the folder and used his foot to push the other sheet beneath a low sitting sofa. He stood and handed over the folder, watching as the woman took the sheet to a nearby computer and scanned in the signature, matching it with one from Cenred.

"Thank you Mr. Notting." The woman handed off the folder to a man at her side.

He was lean with a swimmers build and wavy black hair. Merlin took no step in knowing his name, instead he watched the man closely, following him into the vault and handing over the key when prompted. The keys were inserted and the box was placed on the circular metal table in the center of the room.

"Let someone know when your ready to leave," The man said.

Merlin waited until he left before opening the box, inside where a few DVDs, a portable drive, and a thick, leather bound ledger. Merlin took it all out and stuff it in a blue bag that the bank had proved before leaving the vault and box open with the key inside.

"Did you find everything you need Mr. Notting." The woman from before asked as he left the vault.

"Yes. I believe I did." Merlin told her.

Merlin exited the bank and turned the corner, then other, when he was a good distance away he ducked into an alley and pulled of the wig and scratchy false bread, tossing them both into the dumpster. He made a point of scanning the street before leaving the alley and starting to his car.

His cell phone rung.

"Got it?" Abbott asked

"Yup."

"Good, get back here so we can see what you've got."

Merlin turned his wrist and glanced at his watch. 11:30.

"I have a lunch to get to first."

…..

Merlin was decidedly under dressed, but when one pulled up to a restaurant in an Aston Martin that cost more money then the wait staff combined would ever make, no one tended to fuss over the jeans and the absences of a sports coat. He tossed his keys to the valet and tipped him and the maitre'd both before being led to his table where Arthur was already waiting for him.

"You're early." Merlin said taking a seat.

Arthur shrugged

"I was in the area." Arthur said totally unbelievable.

"Le'Fey-Dre'Goon in on the other side of town." Merlin said in reminder.

"Maybe I wasn't at work." Arthur said, though Merlin knew that he had been the tracking enchantment he had cast on Arthur made sure Merlin knew where he was all the time.

"And maybe you were just eager to see me," Merlin said. "Don't worry; I think it's adorable how much you obviously like me."

"I'm starting to wonder why that is." Arthur said as Merlin took a seat across from him.

"Because I complete you, obviously."

"Yeah, I need you like I need a hole in the head."

Merlin faked outraged and ordered a glass of chardonnay when asked by the waiter who appeared and disappeared from their table side like a ghost.

"So what's good here?" Merlin asked.

"Never been?" Arthur asked.

"No," Merlin said. "So I guess I'll have to trust you to order for me."

"Living adventurously I see," Arthur said setting aside his menu. "I could order you anything."

Merlin smiled.

"Are you always such a prat?" he asked.

"Mostly," Arthur answered with a grin.

Lunch with Arthur turned into a walk along the shore with their shoes in hand and toes buried in the sand, and sitting under a tree when the light rain started as though they had entered a damn romantic comedy. Merlin heart tumbled funnily in the cavern of his chest and he fought the feeling away, his brain pounding with the thought that he could actually fall for Arthur Pendragon, not when he was planning on ruining the man's family. Arthur was a tool and Merlin had to remember that. He had to, because he was only two days into this and Arthur was digging his way into Merlin's heart, a place Merlin had thought as cold and desolate.

His thoughts must have showed on his face because Arthur stiffened beside him, he turned, his face a little too close to Merlin's.

"What's wrong?" Arthur asked.

"What? Nothing, why would you think something was wrong?"

"It's written all over your face Merlin," Arthur said. "I thought we were having fun."

"We were. We are," Merlin said, wanting to reassure Arthur. "I just – sometimes my mind wanders."

"Not a very happy place your mind wanders to, is it?" Arthur asked in concern.

"Guess not," Merlin said. He glanced at the sky and saw that the rain was tampering off. "I should go," he said, and made to stand, only to pause when he felt a hand grasping his wrist.

"Merlin," Arthur whispered, his ran his eyes over Merlin's face before settling on Merlin's lips.

"Art-" Merlin began, only to be cut off with Arthur's lips covering his own.

This kiss was awkward at first, a test of sorts that lasted a moment before Arthur settled his mouth more firmly over Merlin's, finding the right angle and deepening the kiss.

Dragging Merlin deeper into something he wasn't sure he would ever be able to claw his way out of.

…..

"Well don't you just look positively ravished?" Abbott said when Merlin entered the sitting room. His computer was set up on the coffee table as usual and he was dressed in khakis and unbutton green and blue window pan check shirt.

Merlin ignored his comment and instead handed over the bag with the contents of the security box inside.

"You know," Abbott said as he took out the items one by one, pausing to examine the drive. "I have a life."

"Really?" Merlin asked. "I hadn't noticed. Let me know when you get something." He took the ledger and turned away, heading for the stairs.

"You know, you could say thank you once in awhile!" Abbott called.

Merlin ignored him as he left the room and entered the hall, following its long line to the staircase. He took the stairs two at a time and hit the landing with both feet. A couple steps more and he was standing in the doorway to his room. He stood there for a moment eying his bed, it was unmade as he ha left it, before allowing his eyes to sweep over the rest of the room. Everything was in order. At least to his eyes. It took only a little prodding for his magic to flow from him and into the room, searching out every nook and cranny, looking for anything that was out of place. A heartbeat passed before his magic was drawing back inside him after finding nothing. With the all clear Merlin stepped inside and proceeded to undress, leaving his clothing in a trail as he went.

Dressed in sweat pants and an old t-shirt Merlin plugged in the drive and brought up last night's footage. The majority of it was boring and Merlin fast forwarded until he saw the figures of Nimueh and Uther entering the study.

"You shouldn't be here" Uther said, rounding on Nimueh.

The woman winced but didn't take a step back, in fact she inched forward.

"Did you honestly think I would stay away?" Nimueh said. "Besides, I don't see what the big deal is. It's not like she's here."

"That's not the point." Uther growled. "You have no right to be here."

"Excuse me!" Nimueh asked outraged. "I have no right? I have every right to be here, and much more. Does your wife know how you became Prime Minster? The real truth, not the bull you pandered during your campaign."

"Nimueh," Uther said in warning.

"The mighty Uther Pendragon who can't stand magic unless, of course, it's being used for his purposes, then its-"

Nimueh was cut off as she reeled back from the impact of the blow. Holding her cheek she glared with eyes that burned with fire even on camera.

"You are nothing without me," Uther seethed. "You'd do well to remember that."

"And without me you wouldn't hold your office," Nimueh said. "We have each other in choke holds." She went to Uther and entwined her arms around his neck. "Besides, I'm with child."

"What?" Uther asked obviously stunned.

"Yes." She smiled widely. "Aren't you excited?"

"I-"Uther began

Merlin clicked the small X in the corner, shutting off the video as the conversation turned into not conversation and there were some things that Merlin didn't need to see. He backed up the file and unplugged the drive. Moving to his bedside he knelt down and lifted the lose floor boards there, revealing the safe underneath. He typed in the code and placed the drive and ledger inside, next to his back up gun and the box his father had left him.

He had only opened the box once and was never tempted to again, it held too much that Merlin didn't want to dwell on for too long. He shut the door and replaced the floor board and strengthened the locking enchantment that prevented anyone who wasn't him from being able to pier open the floorboard, let alone be able to access the safe.

He used the edge of the bed to stand and left his room and made his way down stairs in search of Abbott who he found in the kitchen standing before the coffee pot where it rested on the marble counter top. He was chewing on a muffin and spewed out crumbs as he turned and greeted Merlin.

"So Nimueh has magic." It wasn't a question but a statement.

Abbott finished off the muffin, licking crumbs from his fingers as he retrieved two mugs from the cupboard.

Abbott poured out two cups of coffee putting cream and sugar in one and squeezing out honey in the other. He placed the one with honey in front of Merlin and took a seat at the island. The kitchen was bright and opens with the French doors open and the wind carrying the scent of the lake with it.

"Yeah." Merlin took a sip of his coffee. "And that's what we'll use to take them both down."

"Nimueh has unregistered magic." Abbott said, he sat with is hands cupped around the mug and the mouth of the mug only inches from his lips, tendrils of smoke curling in front of his face. He twitched his nose before bringing the mug to the edge of his lips and slurping at the hot caffeinated liquid.

"We're sure it's unregistered?" Merlin asked. Not that he didn't trust Abbott, the other man had never done anything to make Merlin doubted him, he had even submitted himself to Merlin as Merlin's magic had searched for any signs that Abbott was being dishonest with him when they had first met. But he had learned to guard his heart and suspicion was second nature to him now.

Abbott nodded.

"I checked and double check. Nimueh Brighton is not listened on the registry. Her magic is illegal." he said.

"And she's been using it to Uther's advantage." Merlin said, his mind working to put the picture together.

"Everyone has a weak point. Even the great dragon." Abbott said.

"Keep digging. I want to be certain that Uther won't be able to crawl his way out of this. We'll only have the one chance; we have to make it stick," Merlin said. "In the mean time let's go green."

….

When Merlin gave Abbott the green light, the guy didn't wait long to put everything in motion. The portable drive had been full of evidence of jury tampering and bribes to everyone from judges and witnesses to arresting officers. Merlin didn't ask about Abbott's resources. He didn't necessarily care as long as what needed to get done got done. The story went viral in over an hour and then it was the headline on the news cast when Merlin turned on the TV.

Everything that had been handed to Cenred as a reward for his part in Balinor's imprisonment was being taken away. And Merlin knew that he would eventually run to Uther looking for help.

….

A sudden rainstorm darkened the sky over head and the thick clouds released a bucket of icy water that worked quickly to drench him. The car that came to a stop in front of him, splashed up water from the growing puddle of water at the edge of the walkway. The backseat passenger window rolled down and the man in side sneered at him.

"I came." The man said.

"Can I -" he said making a vague gesture in the direction of the car.

"No." the man said abruptly. "Now tell me why I'm here."

The man grumbled and scuffed his toe on the sidewalk.

"You weren't answering my calls." He said. The man scoffed.

"Have you seen the news reports lately? If anyone got word that I've been talking to you after the scandal you've landed yourself in,"

"This is as much as your problem as it is mine," he said, interrupting whatever the other man was going to say.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," the man said.

"You can't," he began to say but was cut off as the other man spoke.

"Word of advice, keep you mouth shut. We wouldn't want you to end up like Lordson, now would we?"

…..

He had the dream again. The one that had chased him through all of his teen years and had only subsided when he learned to work himself into a state that he was so exhausted, his mind was too tired to dream.

It's the one where they drag his father away and no matter how hard he runs, he couldn't catch up.

He was grateful when his phone rang, pulling him from the dream with a gasp. He sat up in bed and blinked, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He grabbed his phone from where it was on the nightstand; sliding his thumb over the screen he brought it to his ear.

"Yeah," He grumbled, rubbing a hand over his face – arm heavy and sore, the tips of his fingers tingling as blood rushed back to his extremities.

"Did I wake you?"

Arthur.

"Hmm, yeah, but I appreciate it," Merlin said. With a sigh he sat up, leaning against the headboard. His brain took a moment to go from sleep to awake, his thoughts sluggish in the in-between.

"Bad dreams." It wasn't a question.

"I've had better." Merlin said, he pushed away his covers and stood with a stretch and a groan. "What's up?"

"I was wondering if you wanted to get breakfast," Arthur said, sound uncertain and hesitant.

"Sure. When and where?" Merlin asked.

"Here, at the Manor. In about an hour." Arthur said.

This explained the uncertainty.

"At the Manor?" Merlin asked.

"Yeah." Arthur said.

"Will your father be there?" Merlin asked. His mind was whirling, trying to catch up. Anticipation was beginning to brim under his skin. He wanted another look at Uther's study. He needed to get into the safe, the one Cenred's notebook had suggested was hidden beneath the desk.

If there was evidence linking Uther Pendragon to his father's framing it would be there, where Uther could keep watch of it. He was too paranoid a man to trust a bank with something like that. That same paranoia that had driven him to keep evidence in the first place, in case who ever he had been working with turned against him.

"And my mother, you didn't get to meet her. And Morgana." Arthur said.

"Your boss?" Merlin asked

"Yes, she's also my god sister." Arthur said

"That must be…"Merlin began to say

"Horrible," Arthur finished for him. "It has its moments. So, are you coming?"

"What? Like I would pass up the chance to have an awkward breakfast with your family? Never. Let me get dressed and I'll be right over." Merlin said.

"I'll make it worth your while." Arthur assured him.

"You better."

The rain began when he was leaving the cabin and quickly turned the unpaved road that wound between the two properties to a slick mess that occasionally splashed up to spot the windshield and windows. Thick cloud cover greedily hid the sun away and the tree lined road grew dark and ominous – rain pinging off the roof of the car and the wet mess of mud sloshing beneath its tires.

"Breakfast with the in-laws," Abbott muttered from his position next to Merlin, his sun burnt hair tussled and his tie askew. "How fun."

"What are you doing here?" Merlin asked.

He had been in the car when Merlin had slid inside the warm cavern and had been too slow to have Percival stop and let him out. Merlin was considering doing it now and having him walk back in the rain.

"It's not like you're going to be using the car anyway, what with breakfast with the Prime Minster and all," He smacked his lips. "My little Merlin's all grown up," He said with a fake sob.

Merlin glared.

"Have you read the paper today?" Will asked, holding out a copy of the Sun –Trib.

On its front page was the picture of a handsome, if not oily man. One Cenred Notting. Chief District Attorney.

Defender needs defending – the headline read. Merlin took the paper from Will and turned to the according page. He snapped the paper before folding it in half and proceeded to read.

Chief Attorney Notting Arrested on Suspicion of Jury Tampering

By: John R Rushmen

Dragged out of his office shackled and collared like so many of those he'd prosecuted, Cenred Notting, Chief Attorney for the state, was arrested today on what is being reported as suspicion of jury tampering. Though officials have declined further comment at this point in time, there are rumors that Notting is also being investigated for illegal use of magic, as well as bribery and taking money during his junior years as a public defender.

"Not bad," Merlin said.

"Thank you," Abbott said.

"Now if only you could get those financials."

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Abbott grumbled. "I feel so unappreciated."

"I appreciate you," Merlin said with all honesty. "Would so more, if I had something to bury Pendragon with. Better yet to choke him, strangle him slowly, painfully."

Abbott gazed at him.

"You know, you're scary," He said just as the car turned onto the drive up to the Manor.

"Good," Merlin said. The car came to a stop. "You'd do well to remember that."

He exited the car, not watching as it pulled away. His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out, glancing at the ID. Abbott. He sent it to voice mail and shoved it back where it'd came from, his long strides carrying him up the staircase where the door was pulled open to reveal Arthur on the other side.

"You know," Arthur began, the beginnings of a smile starting to tug on his lips. "They have these amazing inventions now-a-days called umbrellas. Wonderful things, I assure you, used to keep rain from making you look like a drowned mouse."

Merlin glared half-heartedly.

"You're not nearly as funny as you think you are."

"Of course I am," Arthur said. "Now get in here before you catch your death and so that I can strip you naked."

"This was your plan wasn't it?'

"Oh, yes. You caught me. The spontaneous rain shower and your idiocy was all part of my plan to get you naked."

"You're such a devious creature Pendragon.'

"Fear it Emrys," Arthur said. "Now come on, I have something you can wear."

"Sure, like you have anything I can fit into."

Arthur smiled and guided him through the maze of the first floor up to the second, taking his hand once they'd reached the landing and entwining their fingers as he pulled him along, passed closed doors and windows that looked out over the view. Arthur paused for only a second to twist the doorknob of the last door on their left, stepping inside and bringing Merlin in along behind him.

Arthur's room – or so he supposed it to be. A massive four poster bed sat in the middle of the room, drawing the eye to the bright scarlet and gold bedding. Dragons captured in the midst of battle where carved into the headboard, rich, blood red curtains were snaked around the posts. It was the bed of the dragon prince. And Merlin was in his lair.

"Uther's not the only one to fear," Abbott said.

"I can handle Arthur," Merlin replied,

"Are you sure about that?"

No, he wasn't, not anymore. He wanted nothing more than to run away, to get as far from Arthur as he could. But he couldn't, not yet. He still needed Arthur, and if he was being honest with himself – something that for the past couple of years he had tried hard not to do – he didn't want to leave Arthur.

This was going to end messy with the Pendragon's broken, which was the plan. What he hadn't planned on was being broken along with them. ….

Merlin reminded himself that he had been in more awkward situations before, he had done nearly two years in youth correctional, and while not prison, it wasn't exactly a walk in the park either. He nearly swam in the clothes that Arthur had loan him, the hem of the pants folded up to his ankles so that they didn't trail beneath his feet when he walked, and shirt sleeves bunched up into the crooks of his elbows. Uther gazed at him with derision, sweeping his eyes over Merlin's form as he and Arthur entered the room.

"That's quite a wardrobe choice," Uther said after pleasant greetings where exchanged.

"I-" Merlin cleared his throat with a subtle, silent sound before proceeding. "I forgot my umbrella," Which is to say he left it intentionally on the backseat of the car. It was his hope that Uther would see him as a bit soft headed and while he would wonder why Arthur would want to date such a person, it was unlikely he would become suspicious of Merlin's true intentions. He was willing to play the fool if it meant keeping the dragon from realizing it had prey, or worst an enemy, in his midst.

Breakfast was served in the sun-room, an attachment that had been built onto the manor at Ygraine's urging. It sported high glass walls and a dome glass paneled ceiling, allowing the sun to bath the enclosure with it's warmth and light. In the center of the room sat a large oval table of distressed chestnut and worked iron with leafing snaking down each of the four legs. It's cushioned seats the resting place of the Pendragon family with Uther at the head and Ygraine at his elbow and Morgana Le'Feya a few chairs from them, her dark tresses piled atop her head in an artful display that came from laziness and convince more than hours in a salon.

Merlin took a seat in the chair Arthur pulled out for him, across from Arthur's own where he sat next to his mother and two seats down from Morgana Le'Feya. The dark haired woman was beautiful and looked at Merlin with speculation and curiosity, her gaze holding the bite of cold steel. Beneath her gaze Merlin began to feel the itch, an irritation beneath his skin that he could not scratch, no matter how much he wanted to, trailing over the lines of his shoulders and down his spine. It was a warning. Morgana Le'Feya had magic.

He ran the pad of his thumb over his ring finger and the metal band there, turning his shoulder to an angle so that his plate could be placed in front of him. He was thankful, as Morgana finally took her eyes from him and turned them to her plate and the omelet and small mound of what was no doubt freshly cut fruit that rested on its surface, that he had decided to put the ring on. The ring was mage made, the same as the binding collars and cuffs the Royal Guard used though on an obviously smaller scale. The ring hid his magic. And by the ringing in his ears and the low tempered headache Morgana's own magic was causing him, the woman had significant power of her own, more than enough to have recognized Merlin's. He was a little surprised by this revelation; nothing he had dug up on Morgana led him to believe she was anything but normal. He wondered how many people in Uther's life, the man who had made his political career on the backs of persecuted magic users, where magic users themselves,

"We were unsure as to what you would like for breakfast; Arthur assured me I could not go wrong with crepes. I hope he was not wrong."

The food looked delicious, two crepes in the center of his plate piled with sliced strawberries and bananas.

"You made these?" he asked Ygraine, not quite able to hold back his surprise.

"Yes, I love to cook."

Merlin cut off a small portion, making sure to scoop up slices of fruit, and ate his first bite.

"Delicious," he said after a moment, "Thank you Lady Pendragon,"

"Ygraine, please."

Merlin inclined his head, acknowledging his acumen.

"So Merlin," Morgana said her plate now half empty. "What is it that you do? Arthur hasn't said."

"I run a non-profit organization that's committed to building modernized and safe housing for battered and abused women, and providing them with the means of educating themselves and assist with helping them find employment."

"So you build shelters,"

"No," Merlin said, "There's more like boarding houses, each women gets to have a room to herself, and though they may not be large they are their own."

"What an idealistic idea." Uther said

Merlin shrugged.

"I don't believe a woman should have to pay for the mistakes of her husband, or significant other," Merlin said, "I have the money and means so why shouldn't I help. I majored in Architecture. Instead of building luxury hotels and high-rises that no one really needs, I do this."

"I think it's admirable," Arthur said.

"And how do you obtain the money for this admirable work?" Uther said, "Surely it can't all be out of pocket,"

"No, we host found raisers; I have a foundation that is committed to only raising funds for the organization. We've teamed up with museums and galleries and I.M.P," Merlin said. I.M.P was the news network that Nimueh worked for and Merlin could see that all at the table had made that connection with how the atmosphere grew stale, and tension nearly vibrated through the air "In fact I've been planning on asking Nimueh Brighton if she would be willing to get involved. She's a role model to so many of the women who end up in our houses."

Ygraine scowled; a minute movement that pulled on her face before it was quickly cleared away. Still the anger was reigning behind her eyes. Uther fidgeted in his seat and Arthur and Morgana were both looking anywhere but at the two married Pendragon's.

"Yes, well," Uther said and the table fell silent.

Breakfast was consumed with muted conversation and the heavy cloud of tension hung over the table, Merlin the only one not feeling its effects.

…..

From the second floor balcony that overlooked the gardens, he watched as his son locked arms with the lanky boy, their bodies simultaneously and subtly shifting to inch closer to one another. His eyes narrowed as the couple came to a stop beneath the blooms of a proud Honey Suckle. He turned away when Arthur proceeded to reach up to cup one of Merlin's cheeks in his palms, knowing what was to come after. He had learned to tolerate his sons proclivities, if not accept them – Ygraine had made it clear that Arthur was their son no matter the gender of his partners, and Uther had always harbored a healthy fear when it came to her. So it was not disgust that made him turn away, but suspicion that this romance would leave his son heartbroken.

He knew what they said about him, that he was a paranoid, proud bastard, it was okay, and he accepted the truth of those words. He didn't trust this Emrys boy for a second. He twirled the fork in his grasp, the plastic bag it was in crinkling as he did so.

"Sir," he hadn't heard the man approaching, but then again he never heard if Lancelot didn't want him to hear.

"Take this, have it tested, I want the results by the end of the day." He said, hanging over the fork.

"Yes sir,"

"And tell no one Lancelot. I would prefer if my son did not to find out."

"Yes sir," Lancelot said before departing.

Uther turned back around in time to see Arthur chasing Merlin through the maze of Ygraine's flowers.

He would find the truth about this boy, one way or another.

Lancelot paused just inside the doorway and dug out a silver phone from his inner jacket pocket. He typed out a quick message before continuing down the hall.

WE NEED TO MEET

….

The car park was deserted, located on the other side of the docks that housed old warehouses that were abandoned once the fishing factories relocated to pier three. A solitary black SUV was waiting when he pulled into the lot, the sun setting fast across the way. He exited his Audi with a click of the lock and a solid thud as he shut the door behind him. Pebbles were kicked up as he walked to the SUV, with no hesitation he opened the passenger door, leaving it propped open as perched on the edge of the seat.

"You're being reckless." The figure in the driver's seat said.

"I do my best work when I'm reckless." Merlin said in reply.

The other man snorted, holding out a folder. Merlin took it and flipped it open, finding his own face looking back at him.

"Money can't hide everything."

He snapped the folder closed, tossing his head to the side as his breath went harsh.

"Wh-"

"Uther's not an idiot. He's suspicious, so he had a DNA test done and ran your prints through the system. This is what he found, don't worry I intercepted it before he could see it."

"Thank you," Merlin said sincerely.

"You have to be more careful Merlin."

"I know," Merlin said.

He did know.

"You're my only hope for revenge as well."

"I know Lancelot. I know,"

Merlin gripped the folder tight enough to cause it to wrinkle and exited the car, causing the lot quickly and hurrying into his car. He took a moment to breathe, his mind playing out how things could have gone if the folder had fallen into Uther's hand – adrenaline buzzing through is system at a low hum that had his heart thudding against his rib cage. Forcing himself to breath slowly he tossed the folder into the passenger seat and pushed the car into gear.

His mind whirled as he drove, grateful for the lack of traffic as he wounded his way through the streets. People mingled about, shopping bags and cups of coffee in hand as shop owners set about hanging Christmas lights for the coming holiday. Merlin paid none of it attention as he drove, more on automatic pilot than with active thought. His mobile went off and he took a glance at the dash and the number that was displayed there as the call came through.

Arthur Pendragon,

Merlin ignored the call, feeling too raw to be able to speak with Arthur. Soon he was maneuvering his car onto the narrowed apple-thorn lined road and pulling to a stop in front of the Cabin. He shoved the geared into park and killed the engine, sighing he glanced over at the folder, mind still whirling, before grabbing it an exiting the car.

For once Abbot wasn't there. Tossing he coat carelessly in the directions of the railing of the staircase he made his way to kitchen grabbing a beer from the fridge before making a u-turn a heading to the sitting room that had a fire soldering in the hearth. Merlin fed the fire with a push of magic so that it blazed with hunger, flames licking at the stone.

He stood there, beer mostly forgotten as he stared into the fire, the folder held loosely in his grasp. He debated with himself, knowing what he should do but reluctant to do so. Long moments passed without him coming to a decision and silence engulfed him, the only sound being that of the wood crackling as the fire consumed it. It was broken by the sound of the front door opening. Startled Merlin whirled around, the fire dying behind him with a gust of wind, to find Abbott shaking snowflakes from his hair. The other man paused, smiling uncertainly.

"Everything okay Merlin,"

Merlin glanced at the folder he still held in his hand.

"Yeah, of course it is."

Chapter Two

Month Three

There was no news report when Balinor died, no headlines and press coverage and media calling day and night for quotes. It was as though after the trial, he had become nothing more than trash – thrown away to be forgotten about while everyone still talked about his supposed victims and mourned each year on that day. When he had been younger and naïve, thinking that if his father had gone to jail it was because he was guilty – if twelve people were convinced of his crime enough to send him to jail then he must have been guilty for the crimes they said he'd done – Merlin had tried to forget about him like everyone else.

For years Merlin had hated his father for leaving them, blamed him for his mother dying, even though he knew that even if Balinor had been with them, the cancer would have still taken her. But maybe she would have been surrounded by love and affection and not scorn and hate. Maybe someone other than Merlin would have cared and cried at her funeral – his heart breaking as he watched the casket lowered into the ground, only to form disfigured and unfeeling so that when he learned of Balinor's death all he felt was dissatisfaction. It wasn't until Will Abbott entered his life with a briefcase full of secrets that Merlin began to feel again and then it was only hate. Hate so strong it was like fire that roared so steady and bright through him that sometimes he was afraid of its intensity.

And then there was Arthur, Arthur who was a Pendragon. Arthur who was only a tool but was slowly becoming more. Arthur, who no matter what Merlin felt for him it would never be enough to stop what was already in motion and Arthur would be hurt in the end. A part of Merlin railed at that, clawing at the cage Merlin had boxed it in, only to be let out when Arthur was near and shoved away when he was not.

The months passed and dinners with the Pendragon's became a regular occurrence, and Arthur became more of a presence in his life. Merlin could see the depths of Arthur's feelings for him and it breathed life into the small part of him while simultaneously making it cringe from the light that was Arthur.

"Having second thoughts?" Merlin wasn't surprised to see Abbott standing in the doorway to his bed room. The man was at the cabin more than Merlin was, so much so that Merlin thought he was secretly living there. He frowned as he took in Merlin sitting in the seat beneath the bay window doing a valiant impression of a recluse. His eyes narrowed sharply when they reached Merlin's hands, or more importantly the key that dangled from his fingers.

"Tell me that's not what I think it is?" Abbott said.

"Well, if you think it's a key to Arthur's condo, then,"

"For heaven sakes Merlin," Abbott shouted.

"I'm not the one who asked me to move in, so I don't know why you're yelling at me."

"Because I can't rightly go and yell at him, now can I?" Abbott said. "Because you should have cut this off at the knees a long time ago."

Merlin glared at the other man and pushed up out of his seat, capturing the collar of his jacket thrown lazily over the back of a nearby chair. Merlin pulled it on as he strode out of the room.

"You can't run away from this." Abbott said following after him.

"Who's running?" Merlin asked.

"Merlin-" Abbott began

"I don't remember asking your opinion." Merlin said interrupting him.

"Well someone needs to talk some sense into you." Abbott said.

"I know what I'm doing." Merlin insisted.

"No, I don't think you do," Abbott said, managing to keep pace with Merlin as he exited the house and rounded the side to where the stables where. "I think you've fallen arse over face for Pendragon, and now you have no bloody idea what you're doing. I think that you're going to get the both of us arrested playing this damn game of yours."

Merlin rounded on him with his features pinched tight with fury and a finger thrust into Will's chest.

"You're the one who came to me. Not the other way around."

"Yes, I did. But you came up with the plan. You're the one who decided that you needed Arthur."

"Arthur was the safest way to Uther."

"Obviously not. Not with the way you're acting, as though you'r-"

"Leave it."

"In love with him," Will managed to gasp out around a groan of pain as he suddenly found himself slammed into the side of the stable. He looked up at Merlin and watched as the gold slowly receded from his iris.

Merlin gaped at him in horror, taking a step towards him before hesitating and retreating instead.

"Merlin," Will called out. Merlin ignored him, heading for the nearest horse and mounting him in a practiced motion that was nearly perfect.

"Merlin!"

But the horse and rider were both already galloping away.

…..

Merlin and the horse were winded when Merlin finally let up on the reigns and the horse slowed to a trot. He looked out at the lake, the tide rolling in to splash up at the horse who Merlin hadn't taken the time to name. The horse shook but continued along, following the path of the water until Merlin pulled her to a stop. The sound of a dog barking made him raise his head from where he was watching the path his hand took as it stroked the fine hairs of the horses mane. The Akita bound across the rocky shore, its fur glossy and bleeding from a rich cinnamon to a smooth brown and finally cresting into a snow white. Merlin was sure there had to be many of the same dog running around with its tongue lolling out the side of its mouth as it chased after a yellow Frisbee that went sailing through the air. But Merlin knew this dog. Of course he'd been only a puppy then, one who had taken obvious pleasure in chewing on Merlin's pants leg, now the dog had to be at least fifty-nine kilograms and standing at seventy-one centimeters. He had grown.

"Hey," the sound of the voice calling out startled him, as well as his horse, and Merlin found himself on his ass looking up at the sky with sharp pebbles poking into his back.

He turned his head at the sound of footsteps nearing him and came face-to-toe with a pair of hard leather work boots, the laces twisted and tied around the ankles. He followed the long columns of legs to an abdomen clothed in a white T beneath a leather jacket that was weathered with age, up the length of a stubble riddled throat to deep blue eyes of a gorgeous face.

Dark wavy hair. Olive skin. Gwaine.

Gwaine had been his first friend – his only friend in fact – way back when he had a father and before his last name became that of a traitor. Gwaine had been the first person he'd told about his magic, the one who told him what that meant and that Merlin was an idiot and to never tell anyone ever again. Gwaine had also been the first boy he'd had a crush on and his realization that he wouldn't be growing out of the girls are icky phase. The last time he saw Gwaine, Mrs. Lestrade, Gwaine's mother, had been pulling him away, looking at Merlin and his mother with scorn and forbidding Gwaine from ever speaking to Merlin again.

Gwaine was also the reason he learned that friendship was fickle and that he couldn't trust anyone else.

When Merlin thought about it – Gwaine Lestrade had been a part of the most important parts of Merlin's life.

"Sorry," Gwaine said, reaching down and giving Merlin a hand to his feet. "Didn't mean to startle you, just wanted to say hello."

"Well, you certainly make a first impression." Merlin said, dusting himself off.

Fisher bound over to them, tail wagging, and tongue lolling, the Akita barreled into Merlin much like he had the first time Merlin had met the pair. The heavy weight of the canine toppled Merlin over and he was once again on his back, Fisher standing over him, muzzling close to Merlin's face. At first Merlin thought he was being attacked but then the dog let out a low woof and proceeded to lick his face.

"Fisher," Gwaine said, sighing with embarrassment – it jarred him into a flash back when Gwaine had been all sharp elbows and pointy knees and cork screw curls.

"Why name him Fisher?" Merlin asked.

"Cause he reckons he's a fisherman." Gwaine had answered the empty spot where his front tooth was missing.

"Sorry," Gwaine said, bending over and taking hold of Fisher's collar. Once he had pulled the dog to the side, Merlin stood and brushed himself off once again.

"It's okay," Merlin assured him.

"He likes you," Gwaine said, his grasp going slack enough so that dog could escape and get to Merlin again. This time Merlin knelt down so that he could rub at the dog, Fisher took it as the compromise it was and refrained from pushing Merlin over.

"I like him too." Merlin said.

"He never likes anyone." Gwaine said.

Merlin shrugged.

"Guess I'm special." Merlin said.

'Guess you are." Gwaine said. "The names Gwaine."

"Merlin," they shook hands.

"Haven't seen you around these parts before Merlin."

"I just moved out here a couple months ago, haven't had the time to get around and see the town."

"Well if you ever need a tour guide, I'd be happy to help. And if you're in need of a drink, I know just the place."

"Oh, really?" Merlin asked.

"The SSD" Gwaine said.

"The what?" Merlin asked. "Isn't that a sexual disorder?"

Gwaine chuckled.

"The Sparkle Speck Deck bar down on the pier. I own the place, first drinks on me." Gwaine said.

"Just the first?" Merlin said, and he was flirting, he knew he was and he also knew it was a bad idea.

Gwaine shot him a smile, all devilish charm and white teeth.

"Well if you're good." Gwaine started.

"Merlin!"

The sound of his name being called startled him; he didn't have to turn around to see the man dismounting from his own horse to know that it was Arthur.

"Arthur? What are you-" Merlin started, confused.

"Came looking for you." Arthur said. "Lestrade,"

"Pendragon," Gwaine said in greeting.

"Emrys," Merlin mocked. "You do know that you both have first names right. You can use them. No one will arrest you for it."

The both looked at him but said nothing.

"I have to go," Gwaine said after a moment. "See you later Merlin, yeah?"

Merlin nodded and Gwaine let out a loud whistle that pulled Fisher from Merlin's side and had the Akita bounding over to its master.

"What were you doing with Lestrade?" Arthur asked once Gwaine and Fisher were out of sight.

"Talking. You know that thing you do when you open your mouth and words come out," Merlin said. "What? I'm not allowed to talk to people anymore?"

"Did you come here to meet him?" Arthur asked, rounding on Merlin.

"What? Arthur – I just met him, today, like ten minutes ago. Where's this coming from?" Merlin asked confused.

"I've been talking to my dad-" Arthur began to say.

"Ah, makes sense now." Merlin said.

"He's concerned." Arthur said in automatic defense of his father.

"Paranoid." Merlin said, not making any attempt to lower his voice.

Arthur glared at him.

"He's my dad, he worries about me," He said.

"And I have no problem with that. But what does that have to do with you not trusting me?" Merlin asked.

"You're right. Sorry." Arthur said, he rubbed his hands down Merlin's arms, drawing him in closer.

"Hmm," Merlin said. "I guess I forgive you."

"So kind of you." Arthur said, leaning forward and placing a kiss on Merlin's lips.

"I know," Merlin murmured against Arthur's lips. "So what are you doing out here?"

"Looking for you. I went by the cabin to see you; Will said you'd left in a huff on horseback." Arthur said.

"I did not leave in a huff. I don't huff." Merlin said in protest.

Arthur smiled.

"Sure. Of course not." He said.

Merlin glared.

"Everything's alright isn't? With you and me?" Arthur asked.

"Of course it is. Abbott needs to learn how to mind his own." Merlin said.

"He has a first name you know; you're allowed to use it. No one will arrest you." Arthur said, teasing Merlin.

Merlin smirked.

"Ha, you're so not funny." Merlin said.

"I most certainly am." Arthur said.

"Sure. Of course you are," Merlin said placating. "Now get me out of this forest, I've had enough of nature today."

….

Winter rolled in on a frigid wind that swept through the valley sending a chill through anyone it touched. On the outskirts of town tucked into the foothills of the mountains sat a Victorian manor with the first layer of fallen snow clinging to its shingles and the weathered rail of the warp around porch. The manor arched gracefully over the ground, blending in smoothly with the rocky wall of the mountain behind it.

Seated in front of a fireplace on the first floor was a man with cropped black hair, a phone tucked between a cheek and shoulder as he scribbled furiously in notebook that rested on his knees.

"This is your problem too," the man said, pausing to listen as the person spoke. "Yes, it's a threat. I'll talk, I'll tell everything."

The answer was dissatisfactory and the man pressed the end button angrily, ending the call and tossing the offending device across the room. With a heavy sigh he pushed himself up out of the chair and stormed out of the room, making his way up the staircase tucked into a corner of the house.

"While officials will not commit, this reporter has heard that the Royal Guards are investigating the claims of corruption in the Chief District Attorney's office and there are rumors that charges will soon be leveled against Chief District Attorney Cenred Notting is the days to come. This is Nimueh Brighton, make sure to tune into I.M.P news for breaking reports."

Angrily he turned off the TV before crossing the room and entering his walk-in closet, pushing aside suits and prying loose the separated drywall panel to gain access to the safe hidden there. He entered the code and twisted the handle, straining slightly to pull open the weighted door. Inside was a stack of money and a metal briefcase, taking the handle of the case in hand he pulled it out and rested it on the floor. Flicking open the locks he lifted the top, five thick folders rested in its confines each bearing a name on its tag.

Uther Pendragon was printed in bold on the tag of the first one. Taking his mobile from his pocket he brought up the camera application and carefully took pictures of each page in each folder. Replacing the case in the safe he locked it up. Wandering into the bathroom and throwing water unto his face, dabbing it with a towel as he walked back into his bedroom.

He came to an abrupt stop, the towel falling from his suddenly loose fingers as his gaze snapped up to the figure standing tucked in the far corner of the room beside the window and the leather loveseat pushed up against the wall and chest of drawers. Green eyes peeked at him from out of the shadows, glowing unnaturally in the slivers of moonlight that made its way through the partially open curtains.

"Hello Cenred,"

….

Snow was falling in fluffy, cold flakes, covering the walk of the Sparkle Spock in a fine dusting that billowed out around his feet as he went. Flakes fell from his shoulders, littering the hardwood floor when he pushed through the door and shook out his coat as he looked around.

Gwaine Masterson was behind the bar, long dark hair pulled back from his face with a few tendrils hanging over his forehead and the sleeves of his white button down rolled up beneath the bend of his elbows. He was nothing like the little boy that Merlin had known way back when in a life gone by. As much as he tried Merlin couldn't find a trace of that boy in Gwaine's features. His skin gone dark from the unforgiving sun and the unapologetic harshness of winters – his face etched with lines earned through the witness of lose and hard times. He was a man now and Merlin wasn't quite sure what to make of him. He was also a variable Merlin hadn't counted on. The life he led now, the one he had crafted from thin air and the help of hundreds of dollars was so far removed from what he had been that there had never been any thought that someone from his past would show up. And yet there was Gwaine.

And Will.

He was seated at the bar; hair tussled in spikes on his head and Pea coat hanging on the back of his chair so that his outrageous pink shirt was visible. It rose to show a hint of skin as he leaned forward and engaged Gwaine in conversation, causing a large smile to break out on the other man's face.

Merlin frowned as he watched the scene, shrugging his shoulders and displacing the few remaining snow flakes that hadn't yet melted. Allowing the door to shut behind him, he stepped further into the warm enclosure of the bar, breathing in the scent of sweet liquor and salty foods as he wounded his way through the maze of tables that crowded the room until he was standing beside Will.

"Hey Merlin," Gwaine said, noticing him first.

"Hey Gwaine," Merlin said in greeting before turning his eyes to Will.

Will turned, smiling when he saw Merlin standing there.

"Merlin,"

"What are you doing here?" Merlin asked, skirting around the pleasantries. He saw the questioning look Gwaine shot him, but chose not to comment on it.

"Nice to see you to Merlin," Will said, "I was just having a chat with Gwaine, we found comminatory in your clumsiness."

And somewhere along the way Will had stopped being Abbott and started to become Will who just might have been a friend.

Apparently he was breaking all his rules – don't become attached. Merlin snorted, that's all he was doing and he felt that it was going to blow up in his face in the end.

Merlin smiled, sliding onto the barstool beside Will, grateful when a patron a few seats down grabbed Gwaine's attention and the man wandered over with a small wave and an unnecessary apology.

"He's certainly something to look at, isn't he," Will said, twirling the abandoned tumbler of whiskey that had turned into a watery mess with condensation sliding down the sides.

"Leave him out of this," Merlin warned.

"But you like him. Wonder what Pendragon thinks of that." Will said with mischief gleaming in his eyes.

"Will," Merlin gritted out his first name in warning – the only time he actually addressed Will by his proper name.

"What? I haven't done anything, it's a free world – I'm allowed to visit a bar."

"Not this one," Merlin said. "Gwaine has nothing to do with any of this, and I'm going to keep it that way."

"Hmm," Will hummed but Merlin could see his acceptance. "So, I have interesting news."

"What?" Merlin asked, he took up Will's abandoned tumbler and down the contents in a single gulp.

Will glanced around, everyone was paying attention to things other than the two men sitting at the bar, and still Will leaned in an inch closer as he spoke.

"Cenred's dead." he whispered.

Merlin hadn't been expecting that.

"What?"

"Yeah, was found in his home early this morning. Apparently it was a botched robbery. Apparently," Will said, his tone conveying how much he believed the official story. Merlin had his doubts as well. Cenred's death was hell of a lot more than some robbery.

"Why didn't I hear about this?" Merlin asked.

"Because you live under a rock and never answer your phone." Will said.

"I was busy," Merlin said, barely able to stop the blush that wanted to develop as he thought over how his words could sound – how they might've been interrupted.

"Of course you were," Will said, "How's Pendragon anyway?"

"I wasn't with Arthur."

At least he hadn't been for most of the day – not that it was any of Will's business in the first place.

"Then what were you doing?" Will asked.

"I was taking care of Nimueh." Merlin said.

"How's that going?" Will asked, he signaled to Gwaine for another drink and Merlin frowned reflexively. He didn't like the thought of Will and Gwaine being in the same space as each other, let alone actually speaking to one another.

"Fine," Merlin said. He watched as Gwaine moved, eying the way his shirt lifted to show a hint of skin at his waist as he reached for a bottle of high-end bourbon on the top shelf. "We're on schedule."

He trailed off as Gwaine approached drink in one hand a dish rag in the other hand that he used to wipe his hands after passing Will his drink before tossing it over his shoulder. He smiled at Merlin, leaning against the bar.

"Can I get you something Merlin?" Gwaine asked. Merlin had the distinct feeling that he wasn't talking about alcohol.

Merlin opened his mouth to respond when his mobile began to ring. He retrieved it from the pocket of his coat, flipping it in his hand before he was able to read the name displayed on the face

Arthur Pendragon.

"Ah," he looked up at Gwaine and smiled sheepishly in apology.

"I understand." Gwaine said, a little sad but understanding.

Merlin felt the need to say something but clamped his mouth shut. Gwaine couldn't be apart of his life now. Maybe not ever.

….

"Oh no," Will said as he caught sight of the look on Merlin's face. "You have that look."

"What look?"

"The look like your about to do something extremely stupid."

Merlin smiled.

"No,"

"You haven't even heard it yet."

"No, Merlin, just no."

"You'll like it. I promised."

…..

"You're an absolute lie, you know that?" Will's thoughts were loud his mind, the spell Merlin had cast only moments ago allowing them to communicate without having to speak out loud in case Merlin was wrong and their was someone waiting inside Cenred's cabin, he didn't want to give himself away. I'm going to make you pay the bill if I have to go to the hospital for frost bite; Will continued to bitch from his position outside the house. He was in the car but to not give them away he was sitting without the engine on.

Yeah, yeah

He was inside with a push of his magic and he took a moment to let it run throughout the house doing a cursory search. Finding nothing he entered, he started with the first floor and the main room, searching sofa cushions and under the rug ruffling through drawers and allowing his magic to search for anything hidden. Nothing. The kitchen held nothing but moldy bread and the only thing Merlin found in Cenred's study was off BDSM porn that made Merlin feel like he needed to wash just from accidentally having touched it.

He made his way up stairs and found nothing in the bedroom. He was about to give up when his magic alerted him to something in the bedroom, it was an itch at the back of his neck that grew as he went back into the bedroom. Merlin searched until he was standing in the shower stall in the bathroom, running his hands along the wall. He finally found what he was looking for above the shower head. He pressed on that portion of the ceiling and it caved in, crumbling under Merlin's hands. He reached into the hole and pulled out a thick file.

Got it. Merlin told will as he turned and made his way out of the house, folder in hand.

What is it?

Not sure, but whatever it was Cenred didn't want anyone to find it.

…..

When Nimueh fell it was swift and was the shot that finally made Uther flinch. From his room he listened as Uther scrambled, calling his lawyers and cutting all ties he ever had with the woman. He even got in touch with someone concerning paternity testing and what it would take to have the results altered.

"He's scared," Abbott said.

"Nervous maybe, but not scared, not yet," Merlin said, "But he will be."

When Merlin was through Uther would feel the terror Merlin was sure his father had felt. He would experience losing everything, including your name, and being put into a cage like an animal.

"And Arthur?" Abbott asked. It was a valid question.

Merlin sighed, pushing up and moving away. He knew it was cowardly - he tried not to lie to himself seeing as how now a days everything he said to everyone else was a lie in one way or another - but he didn't want to talk about Arthur, mainly because he didn't know what he was going to do about his growing feelings for the Pendragon heir.

"Running away again?" Abbott asked, following after him.

Merlin glared.

"It…" he began

"It's okay to have feelings you know." Abbott said.

"Shut up," Merlin grumbled as he went down the stairs and wandered into the sitting room.

"Merlin," Abbott said following him.

"I don't what to talk about Arthur, okay." Merlin said as he went about gathering his things.

"You're having second thoughts?" Abbot said

"No, I – I'm just realizing that Uther won't be the only one hurt if…" Merlin said, briefcase in hand he headed for the door.
"If?" Abbot said.

"When this all comes out. I'll be putting Ygraine in the same position Uther put me and my mom in when he framed my father," Merlin said. "I'm just…"

"Having second thoughts?" Abbott asked.

Merlin frowned.

"It doesn't matter." Merlin said.

It couldn't matter.

"Balinor's dead," Abbott said after a moment.

"Thanks. I hadn't noticed," Merlin said.

"He's dead but Arthur's not." Abbott said.

"You have a point to make?" Merlin asked.

"You're willing to lose Arthur over a dead man?" Abbott countered.

"If I have to," Merlin said, he turned to open the door, conversation over as far as he was concerned.

"Merlin," Abbott said, reaching out to grab hold of Merlin's arm.

Merlin glanced down at his hand.

"I have no choice." Merlin said voice low.

"Yes you do. You don't have to let this need for revenge rule you." Abbott said, nearly pleaded.

Merlin went quiet.

"Merlin,"

"You know I never cried when he died. Not once. I heard the news and I felt nothing – no that's not true. I felt relief. Relief that he was dead, can you believe that? I thought that with him dead, I had the chance to be someone other than his son." Merlin said. "That if he was dead, then maybe people would stop looking at me as if I was tainted. I harbored so much resentment and hate towards him that when he died I was happy about it. But he was innocent and not only did I live most of my life without him, I spent it hating him. And for nothing. He was innocent."

"You can't make it up to him, you know that. In fact he never held any ill will towards you." Abbot told him.

"That doesn't make me feel any better." Merlin said.

"So you're willing to lose Arthur so that you can assuage your guilt over how you treated your father?" Abbott asked, brows pinched in concern.

"You don't have to help me." Merlin said.

"Of course I do, and I will, I just don't want this to be something else you regret."

"Too late," Merlin said beneath his breath.

It's not the first time they've had sex – he refuses to call it love making – it's better. The first time was too hurried and new with the destination being more important than the journey. He's had Arthur inside him for nearly an hour now, moving from position to position until he ended up on his belly with his ass angled in the air and Arthur behind him. The slide of Arthur inside him is perfection, the tip of his cock nudging Merlin's prostate before being withdrawn only to come back with blinding pleasure.

The air had gone sticky a while ago, and now it's like syrup as he tries to draw enough air into his lungs as his fingers twist in the sheets and his toes curl, the base of his spine heating and tingling as his balls draw tightly against his body.

Arthur fucks harder, recognizing the signs for what they are, rearranging Merlin until he's pushing even deeper inside Merlin's pliable body, sending shockwave after shockwave crashing through Merlin until it builds into an uncontainable swell. The sound of skin meeting skin fills the room, just managing to be heard over the grunts Arthur emits as he pushes his cock harder and deeper into Merlin and the whimpers neither Merlin nor the pillow can contain when he withdraws.

Arthur nips at the back of his neck, not hard enough though, not yet. And Merlin whines, a high, needy sound that collects in the back of his throat, almost loud enough to drown out the words Arthur whispers in his ear – almost.

"I love you," Arthur says. For the first time ever, his words sinking into Merlin's skin a second before his teeth does and Merlin's gone after that, lost to pleasure at the dulling sensation of his heart breaking and swelling at the same time.

He doesn't mean to, he doesn't, because Arthur's going to be hurt at the end of this and he doesn't want that. Then again, Arthur's going to be hurt and nothing he does now will prevent that.

"I love you too," the words slip out before he can stop them, the truth ringing in the cavern of his chest where his heart is stuttering, uncertain.

The pillow is his confidant later when Arthur falls asleep beside him, one arm draped about Merlin's waist, soaking up tears that spill. This time from regret and heartbreak.

...

He doesn't talk about their mutual confessions of love with Arthur the next day. He's a jerk for it, but he's gone before Arthur wakes, leaving him sprawled out on the king-sized mattress, his legs entwined in the sheets and the top of his head just visible through the mound of pillows he's borrowed in. Merlin tells himself that he'll call later and leaves with his shirt half-way unbuttoned and his jacket thrown over his arm. He locks up behind himself and takes a moment to stare at the key dangling from his fingers before tucking it away in his back pocket. Pulling out his cell phone, he steps into the lift and takes it down to the lobby, ignoring the looks a slightly older couple keeps throwing him. He finds his car in the underground car park and takes no time getting in and pulling out, putting distance between him and Arthur. His mobile rings just as he's pulling out into a birch lined street, at this hour of the day with the sun just beginning to peek over the mountain tops, the streets are nearly empty with light early bird traffic coursing along the blacktop.

" 'Bout time you answered your damn phone," Abbott said in greeting. "I'm guessing you and Arthur had a good time last night?"

"Did you call for a reason?" Merlin asked, navigating his car around those going too slow for him. He turned onto an on ramp and opened the car up once he reached the freeway.

"Where are you?"

"Not there,"

"You know, you don't always have to be a smart ass."

"I'm going to hang up if you don't get to the point soon."

"Nimueh Brighton's in the hospital."

"What? Why?"

"Conflicting reports on that, but the gist of it is that she seems to have tried to kill herself."

"You believe that?"

"Not really. She doesn't see like the suicidal type, homicidal maybe."

"Hmm, you think Uther had something to do with it?"

"She was threatening to go public with the pregnancy and she's been talking with the new chief district attorney."

"She was going to turn in evidence on Uther,"

"Seems like it. And Uther isn't the type to just take that lying down."

"Why don't you call our knight, I want a meet."

"If you're sure,"

"I'm sure."

Merlin ended the call and guided the car over to the far lane of traffic, twisting the wheel and pulling onto an off ramp. He took South St and headed to hospital.

Finding a parking space was harder than finding Nimueh's room, a slight nudge of his magic had the nurse giving him to number freely. He took the lift up to the sixth floor, observation ward, and passed the nurses station at a steady pace; he'd learned that if you act as though you belong most people won't stop you. He stopped outside room six-fifteen, just out of view, hesitating at the sound of hurried voices coming from the room.

"All I want is ten minutes, that's all." Nimueh said, fatigue evident in her voice.

"That's not going to happen," A male voice said in reply.

"He owes me-"

"Nothing," the man said, "Did you really think he would come here, with the press watching? How would he explain that, hmm?"

"I don't care I need to see him, Leon."

"That's not going to happen," Leon said once more.

"I'm pregnant with his child."

"Not anymore." Leon said, voice cold – sending a chill through Merlin.

"Wh- what?"'

"You were pregnant, yes and the baby might have been Uther's but we'll never know for certain. Unfortunately it seems that, while you made it through your fall, the baby did not."

"You're lying." Nimueh's voice was broken.

"No, I'm not."

"I'll talk. I swear it I'll talk; I'll destroy Uther for this."

"And who will listen to you? Now that you've tried to kill yourself, it's obvious you're unstable."

Nimueh choked out a sob.

"No, please,"

"How did you think this would end? Did you think he would leave her?"

"I'll destroy you all."

"How?"

"I have more power than you will ever know,"

"You magic belongs to Uther, or did you forget that," Leon said, footsteps neared the door, "Get some rest, apparently you're lucky to be alive."

Merlin moved, busying himself and keeping him out of Leon's sight. He had met the captain of Uther's personal guard on more than a few visits to the manor, there was no doubt that he would recognize Merlin. He watched until the doors of the lift swallowed Leon, taking him down to the lobby. Merlin dropped the abandoned paper he had picked up and entered Nimueh's room, closing the door behind him.

Nimueh tilted her head towards the door, watching with suspicion as the door closed.

"The little bird," Nimueh said; her pretty face red and puff with a gauze bandage wrapped around her temples. Tear tracks stained the skin of her cheeks and her eyes were red. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought we could talk, maybe even help each other."

"How can you help me?"

Merlin smiled and let his magic flow to the surface, allowing it to peak out behind his eyes with a gold glow.

Nimueh gazed at him in shock before letting a smile spread her lips.

"And what's to stop me from going to Uther, I think he'd be really interested in finding out what he's son really shacking up with."

"Me," he said, the threat obvious.

"Hmm," Nimueh sniffed. "I think we could probably work out something."

….

Elyan had been Uther Pendragon's personal assistant for the past four years. He has watched the older man like a scientist studying a fascinatingly ugly bug. He has learned everything he could about Uther, even more than the other man could ever suspect. He has seen the other man in all kinds of moods, anger holding the reigning crown. But Elyan had never seen him like this, his shoulders hunched inward as he stood at the largest window in his office, the one that over looked the lake in the back, he appeared contemplative but at ease – the way he jumped when Elyan entered the office though gave Elyan the impression that the might Pendragon was afraid. Elyan couldn't help but wonder of what.

"Ah, Elyan, about time you got here." Uther said with his back still mostly turned towards Elyan.

Elyan inched across the room until he was looking at Uther from his profile, he could see that Uther was holding a wooden box tucked in the corner of his elbow.

"Sir?" Elyan asked in question.

"I need you to do something for me. I can trust you, can't I?" Uther asked and turned to face Elyan, the features of his face where pulled into a very uncharacteristic vulnerable expression.

"Of course you can." Elyan told him, his eyes locked with the icy grey of Uther's.

"Good, good." Uther said, he stepped forward and held out the box that he was holding for Elyan to take. "I need you to destroy this for me. Don't open. Just get rid of it."

Elyan took it from him gingerly, his eyes leaving Uther's briefly to take in the box. It was a beautiful chestnut brown with flowers carved into the top and both sides. Elyan petted the top of the box, feeling the fine grain of the wood beneath the pads of his fingers.

He lifted his eyes and met Uther's once more.

"Of course sir," he said.

After that he was dismissed and he left Uther's office, closing the door behind him. Tucking the box under his arm he trudged through house towards the front door, cleaning staff looked up as he passed but no one said anything, use to Elyan being about at all hours of the day as they were.

He had just exited the house, the heavy wood door closing with a solid thump behind him, and was going down the stairs when his phone rang.

"Yeah," he said in greeting.

"He wants a meet." Elyan came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs.

He drew in a deep breath and glanced around before answering.

"When?"

"Now, I'll text you the address."

….

"Merlin," Elyan greeted him as he approached with his hands tucked into his jacket that had been perfect for last night but was losing the battle with the temperature that was steadily dropping.

Merlin stopped a few feet away, his eyes snagging on the box Elyan held.

Merlin gasped,

"Elyan where'd you get that?"

"This thing," Elyan said, glancing down at the box in confusion. "From Uther, he wants me to get rid of it. Why? What is it?"

"Well," Merlin began as he took a step closer. "If I'm not mistaken that's an inheritance. Those who have magic use it to pass their abilities down to the next generation. It also holds memories. It's a magic user's whole life wrapped up neatly." Merlin said.

Merlin had Balinor's, the box tucked away in his safe. He had only opened it once and once only.

"Can I?" he asked, indicating he was talking about the box with a nod of his head and a wave of his hands in that direction.

"Of course," Elyan said handing it out to him. "I was going to give it to you anyway."

Merlin took the box and ran his fingers over the surface, he could feel the magic it held in his bones; strong magic but nothing in comparison to his own.

"Will it be of any use to you?" Elyan asked.

"I think so." He looked up at Elyan. "If this is what I think it is, then we well soon have what we've been hoping for Elyan." he looked back down at the box. "It think this holds the end of Uther Pendragon."

And probably, Merlin thought, the end of him and Arthur.

….

It was nearing noon when he pulled into a parking space at the pier. He shoved the gear into park and cut the engine just as his mobile began to ring – Arthur – Merlin sent it to voicemail, feeling a twinge of guilt and shoved out of the car, locking it and hunching his shoulders as he crossed the lot to the log cabin at the landing of the pier. He pulled open the door and stepped inside, taking a moment to shake off the chill from outside. He caught sight of Gwaine behind the bar, serving out plates of food with his shirt sleeves rolled up and his apron wrapped around his waist, hair pulled back from his face.

It didn't take long for Gwaine to notice him; he inclined his head in acknowledgment in recognition to Merlin's presences. He stood in the doorway, reluctant to enter the bar further, knowing that he shouldn't be there at all. Gwaine wasn't part of this life he had created, he couldn't be no matter how much the other man pushed. He also wasn't an answer to Merlin's problems with Arthur, so he really shouldn't be here because anything he did with Gwaine, he would eventually regret. He wishes things were different, that he had fallen for Gwaine, if being with Gwaine wouldn't put the other man in danger but there was no hope for it, he was irrevocably in love with Arthur – freaking –Pendragon. So he shouldn't be standing in the Speckle Spock Deck with anticipation curling in his stomach as Gwaine neared – then again, he wasn't known for making smart decisions.

"Hey," Gwaine said, stopping just outside of Merlin's personal space.

Gwaine's attraction to him was obvious; it showed on his face and blazed in his eyes. The fact that Gwaine made no attempt at hiding his feelings was the reason Arthur was so jealous.

"Hey," Merlin said, inching just that much closer to Gwaine even as his mind screamed at him not too.

He knew what he was doing, he wanted, needed to push Arthur away and he was going to use Gwaine to do it. He was a bastard for it.

"Hungry?"

"Uh, can we go for a walk?" Merlin asked,

"Sure, let me grab my coat."

Merlin waited for Gwaine outside and led the other man to a bench on the other side of the pier when he came out.

"Merlin," Gwaine started after they had been sitting with only the sounds of the lake for company.

"Yeah?"

"You okay?"

"Sure, do me a favor,"

"Of course,"

"Kiss me,"

"Merlin,"

"Please don't ask, just kiss me."

Gwaine watched him carefully for a long moment before coming to a decision and leaning forward.

It wasn't a bad kiss, Merlin thought.

Then again he was fairly certain that Gwaine could never give a bad kiss. The scent of seduction nearly bled from his pores.

The kiss went on for a moment, then a moment more. Merlin felt his heart tumble as disappointment surged through him. Kissing Gwaine did nothing for him, there was only a token twitch of his cock, a reflexive action caused by the small stimulation of Gwaine's lips upon his.

He allowed the kiss to proceeded, rubbing his lips over Gwaine's and letting out a small gasp as Gwaine's tough darted out to tease the sensitive flesh of Merlin's lips. But ultimately he felt nothing. He was equal part disappointed and relieved at the revelation. Disappointed because finding something with Gwaine would give Merlin the reason he need to pull away from Arthur, something he sorely doubted he would be able to do if left to his own devices. And relieved because discovering uncovered feelings from his former friend would complicate Merlin's life in ways that he didn't need.

Minutes had passed before Merlin pulled his mouth away from Gwaine's. He inched back, putting space between them and gazing up at Gwaine with wide eyes that shone clearly with regret.

"I'm sorry," Merlin blurted out. "I shouldn't have done that."

He watched as Gwaine's face fell and guilt swelled up inside him like a flood threatening to consume him. The expression only lasted a moment, but while it was there it was clear for Merlin to see. Before that moment Merlin was almost certain he hadn't felt as low as he did just did in that moment as Gwaine looked at him with hurt clouding his eyes.

He was angry with himself, how could he have used Gwaine in such a way?

Gwaine who probably thought of him as the cute, if clumsy, boy he had met by the river's edge – the boy his grouch of a dog had liked on first meeting. He didn't know who Merlin really was. He didn't know that Merlin knew of the summers he spent at a cabin tucked in the foot hills of the mountains, fishing and building forts and promising he would marry his best friends because even Gwaine had gone through a 'girls are icky' phase. He didn't know that Merlin knew because he had been there with Gwaine, crying as the older boy cleaned out a wound on his knee and bandaged it up even though he teased Merlin for the rest of the day 'only babies cry'.

Gwaine was innocent in the shit storm that was Merlin's life now and Merlin wanted to keep it that way – he only wished that it hadn't come to this.

"Hmm," Gwaine hummed as his eyes slid pass Merlin looking off into the distance

"Gwaine," Merlin began.

"At least I got to kiss you." Gwaine said, his eyes back on Merlin, face pulling into his best leer.

"As though kissing me is all that,"

"Don't sell yourself short. You're not to bad, though you could do to use a little chap-stick yeah, I think sandpaper is softer."

"Shut it," and just like that the awkwardness was gone.

"I'm just saying, I don't know how Pendragon puts up with it." Gwaine said, and then seeming to have realized what he had said he clamped his mouth shut, looking as though he had swallowed his tongue. "Gah, don't look so guilty."

Did he? Look guilty. It would make sense seeing as how throat had tightened at the mention of Arthur's name and the though of what would happen if Arthur were to find out about the kiss that had meant nothing to Merlin other than to prove irrevocably to himself that he had cocked up and fallen ass over heels for Arthur Pendragon – and now he had no idea what to do.

"I'm sorry. Really, I shouldn't have done that. I needed to figure something's out,"

"Things about Arthur?"

"Maybe," Merlin conceded.

Gwaine frowned, "I don't like being used Merlin,"

"I know. I'm sorry." Merlin said.

"Hmm, well it seems to me that you need to figure out some things, yeah?"

"Yeah," Merlin sighed.

He needed to figure out things fast.

…..

"So you're willing to lose Arthur so that you can assuage your guilt over how you treated your father?"

Will had asked the question and in that moment the answer had been obvious. But now – now he wasn't so sure. His love for Arthur was a heavy noose around his neck and a pleasant weight that filled his heart. He wanted Arthur, that he knew, the thought the he might lose the first person he had ever allowed himself to love terrified him, but he wasn't sure that he could breakaway from the path that he had set himself on.

His eyes rose to the sun visor that laid flight against the roof of his car, or more importantly they took in the picture that was tacked there.

Gwen. She had been the love of Lancelot's life. Before Will there had been Gwen, who had literally pulled him out of the rotting toilets in a run down club. She had set him on a path that was less likely to get him killed than the one he had been on. She had stuck with him as he got himself clean of all the shit he had got himself hooked on the months after being released from the youth center.

Magic hadn't run in Gwen's blood, but that had been of no consequence when she had been accused of harboring unregistered magic and using that power to terrorize the public.

Gwen had been innocent of the charges brought against her by the parents of two teenage girls who had bullied Gwen through school and had resorted to the lie to escape punishment of their own. The parent's were well to do and Gwen's pleas had fallen on deaf ears. It had been Uther Pendragon, in his junior years at the Chief Attorney's Office, who had prosecuted the case and had recommended a punishment far too severe than the crime that Gwen had been accused of.

She had been sentenced to have magic she did not posses bound. The spell had gone horribly wrong and Gwen had slipped into a coma, the likes of which she had been trapped in for the past seven years.

Lancelot hated Uther. He blamed Uther for what had happen to Gwen. It was Gwaine who had come to him, a year before Will had searched him out, telling Merlin that he believed Uther to be the force behind what had happen to his father. He had pleaded to Merlin for his help and Merlin had turned him down.

It was Lancelot who Merlin had turned to a year later when, in light of the fact of his father having been innocent, for help in following through with his plan.

Merlin was doing this for Lancelot as well as for his father. So how could he possibly throw away their plan, even if it was for Arthur?

He had apparently blanked out because the next thing he knew his car was pulling to a stop in front of the Cabin. Thank the goddess for his magic, he knew without it he would have probably run into something.

Arthur was waiting for him, sitting on the stone steps, head bowed. He looked up as Merlin exited the car and the glare Arthur shot him swept the smile that was beginning to form from his lips and nearly pinned him to the car.

Arthur was pissed. For a moment Merlin's heart hammered as fear that Arthur somehow knew about his kiss with Gwaine raced through him. But he couldn't. Could he?

"Arthur," Merlin said as he closed the distance between the two of them.

"You kissed him." Arthur said, eyes stormy with betrayal. "Why?"

"I- " Merlin started. "How-"

"How could you? That's what I would like to know." Arthur said. "But if you meant how I knew, I saw you."

"Arthur," Merlin said.

"Please tell me, how you left my bed and went to another man. Explain that." Arthur said.

"Did you follow me?"

"Don't change the subject." Arthur said, though the tips of his ears redden.

That was a yes then. Which begged the question, what would Arthur follow him? Did he suspect something.

Merlin's stomach rolled.

"Arthur," he said.

"Why Merlin?" Arthur demanded as he pushed up to his feet.

"Fuck Arthur, I don't know. I was scared." Merlin said honestly.

"Scared?" Arthur asked, the skin between his eyebrows pinching together in confusion. "Of what?"

"Of you." Merlin said. "Of what I feel for you. I've never felt like this for anyone else and it scares me how fast it happened. How strong my feelings are for you. So I - I did something stupid to try to push you away." Merlin said.

"It worked." Arthur said, though he inched closer to Merlin.

"Yeah," Merlin said, looking down and kicking at the pebbles that lined the drive way.

Silence lapsed between them, heavy with things gone unsaid. Merlin scrubbed at the back of his neck and looked anywhere but at Arthur.

"It didn't mean anything?" Arthur asked suddenly.

"No." Merlin said shaking his head, wanting more than anything for Arthur to believe him and hating the fact that he cared so much. "Nothing."

Arthur nodded and looked off towards the distance.

"You promise?" he asked.

"Yes," Merlin said and pressed in closer, resting his hands on Arthur's waist. "I don't want anyone else but you."

Even if it meant dealing with the heartbreak that was sure to come.

For once Abbott wasn't taking up space in his home when he and Arthur entered, the door closing with a resounding thump that echoed through the halls.

He kept hold of Arthur's hand and drew him behind him to the kitchen. Everything wasn't settled between them but Merlin figured when everything came to light him kissing Gwaine would be the least of his sins.

"Lunch?" Merlin asked.

"What's on the menu?" Arthur asked as he, reluctantly, let go of Merlin's hand and allowed him to move off to the refrigerator.

"Cold cuts and chips?" Merlin asked. He was seriously lacking for anything else.

"Yeah, sure." Arthur said in agreement with a shrug. "Bathroom."

Merlin pointed off towards his left as he ruffled through the fridge for the required items.

Arthur wandered off and Merlin gazed after him. It was baffling seeing Arthur here, in his home how ever temporary it was. He had spent more time than he had counted on when he had first started this venture in Arthur's space, but this was different, this was merging both of Merlin's worlds and he was finding it a little surreal.

He had sandwiches plated along with crisp chips.

Moments ticked by and Merlin waited for Arthur to reappear as he chewed on a chip. After five minutes he went to make sure Arthur hadn't left. The first floor was clear.

"Okay, I know your sense of direction is shit, but this is ridiculous, you getting lost on the way to the bathroom. What are you doing?" Merlin asked, stopping in the doorway to his bedroom.

He propped himself up with a shoulder as he leaned against the doorjamb.

Arthur stood beside his bed, the floorboards visible on top of the duvet in the midst of the photographs of the Pendragon's, Cenred's ledger, Nimueh's financials, and everything Merlin had gathered. His whole truth was laid bare for Arthur to see. Cradled in Arthur's arms was Balinor's chest.

Merlin thought his heart stopped – in that moment he was sure it had stopped altogether. Had he no idea how Arthur had gotten into the safe, how his magic had allowed it or how Arthur had known the code.

His heart lurched – apparently it wasn't stopped after all – if Arthur was able to even approach his bedroom without his magic alerting him it was because his magic was so use to Arthur that it did not consider Arthur to be a threat. Which meant Merlin was well and truly fucked.

"I'm trying not to think the worst," Arthur said.

"Arthur." Merlin said a little breathless as he took cautious steps into his room and towards Arthur.

"But it's kind of hard not to,"

"Arthur, please," Merlin said. He came to a stop at the edge of the bed, only a few feet away from Arthur. His magic was lying in wait, curled like a cobra ready to strike at any moment.

"You were suppose to be different," Arthur said, fingers curling tighter around the chest so that Merlin could see his knuckles whitening. "What the hell is all of this? Hmm, Merlin?" Arthur demanded.

"It's not what you think," Merlin told him.

Arthur laughed humorlessly.

"You don't know what I'm thinking." Arthur said.

Merlin took another step closer.

"I'm pretty sure whatever it is can't be anywhere close to the truth." Merlin said.

"Try me," Arthur said in challenge. Merlin let out a breath as he sat the box on the bed. "Tell me."

Merlin drew in a breath.

"Well first off my name isn't Merlin, at least its not the name was I given at birth." Merlin said.

"Of –fucking –course." Arthur said. "Then what is your name."

"Mordred Lordson, my father was Balinor Lordson and you're father killed him."

….

Little Mordred Lordson had grown use to the sound of his mother crying in the next room, her choke sobs his lullaby as he fell asleep on his dinosaur sheets stretched out across his narrow bed. He knew why she cried, his daddy was gone –had been taken away from them by the bad men. She had told him that he wouldn't be coming back -"when's papa coming home?"

"He won't be coming back baby, I'm sorry."

"But has too, he just has too."

Mordred hadn't believed her, but by the time he had grown out of the little stage and began entering the lanky stage of being a teenager he had realized that his mom had been right and his dad was never coming home, once he started to hear whatever one said about him (and in extension about him and his mother) Mordred didn't want him to come home any longer.

He was fifteen when his mother's crying became too much for him to bare and he turned to the little blue pills his not-quiet-and friend and guy he was getting off with kept trying to push on him. When Hunith died a year later he turned to the bottle and ended up in the Youth Correctional Facility after one two many runs in with the law.

The Correctional Facility was situated in the middle of the country side and he could smell cow shite on the wind as the van drove through the empty streets, eventually coming upon the three large pale beige square buildings that made up the facility seated on nearly three acres of land with a high eighteen foot chain link fence surrounding it. It was where he spent nearly five years of his life, where he had heard the news of his father's death and where he had met the boy that would be so important to his future.

Merlin Emrys was a skinny boy of bones and flesh and big purple bruises under his eyes constantly. He was a tweaker – skittish as hell and unpredictable – and Mordred's 'roommate'. Their resemblance to each other was obvious the moment they met, both dark hair and lacking any muscle mass of any kind. Mordred was taller, only just so, and he wasn't suffering from the withdraw of whatever shit Merlin had been on before being locked up, but other than that they could have been twines.

They had stuck together, protecting each other through daily life at the center – Mordred even going so far as too use his magic to defend Merlin against a guard who had taken a little too much interest in the young boy.

When Mordred got out he didn't spear little Merlin Emrys, the boy who called him brother, another thought until Will Abbott came knocking.

He had only gone back to the center that one time to see Merlin, to ask for his help. Merlin had readily agreed, he was tired of being Merlin Emrys he wanted to be someone else, being Mordred Lordson had to be better than being himself.

Two weeks later Merlin Emrys had boarded a plan bound for the Pendragon's and Mordred Lordson was a tweaked out kid living on Europe's streets.

They sat in the sitting room with the fireplace providing the only light and the crackle of the burning wood the only sound other than the rush of air living their lungs as they sat side by side on the sofa looking out through the window towards the mountains with their white peeks as snow steadily fell.

"So," Arthur said after minutes had ticked by without either of them saying anything – neither of them daring to even look at one another.

The desire was still there simmering beneath the surface with a blanket of love both buried beneath the mound of hurt and anger and distrust that had been thrown on top of it suddenly.

"So," Arthur said once more, clearing his throat and turning his head just slightly so that Merlin was able to see Arthur looking at him from the corner of his eye before he turned away again. "Should I call you Mordred now?"

The question surprised Merlin, it implied that Arthur would have need to say his name later on – it implied there would be a later on for them. He didn't know what to do with that, so he shook his head and focused on answering the question.

"No," Merlin said. "No, I haven't been Mordred Lordson for a long time now. I'm not sure I would know how to be him,"

Arthur nodded as though he understood.

"And this?" Arthur asked. "Us? Was this all a lie to get to my father?"

Merlin closed his eyes at the hurt he could hear in Arthur's voice.

"Arthur,"

"Please Merlin, I need to know if all I ever was to you was a way for you to get to my father."

He should say yes – he should tell Arthur that he felt nothing for him, that to Merlin he was a tool that had lost it's value. That's what he should say because it would save them so much hurt, and yet….and yet they were both hurting so much already and he didn't think he could do that to Arthur.

Merlin didn't want to lie anymore.

"No," Merlin said. "No, that's not all that you are to me. God Arthur, you're so much more than that."

He turned to look at Arthur, the blond was looking at his with tears in his eyes and his love for Merlin displayed so openly on his face that Merlin's own heart squeezed with empathy. He reached out across the small distance separating them and trailed the tips of his fingers down the back of Arthur's hand. Arthur flinched and pulled his hand away and Merlin tried to tell himself that his heart wasn't actually breaking at the moment.

"Arthur,"

"I'm not sure that makes it better." Arthur said, curling his fingers inward in a fist. He sighed. "Actually pretty fucking positive it makes it worst because if you care about me as much as you say you do then you should have told me the truth earlier, but you didn't. Tell me, Merlin, would you have told me the truth if I hadn't found out or would you have just walked away when all the shite hit the fan and left me heart broken." Arthur choked out a laugh. "Not that I'm not heartbroken now,"

"None of this was ever about you," Merlin said. Pleaded. He needed Arthur to understand.

"You made it about me the moment you allowed me to take you to my bed, the moment you allowed me to fuck you, the moment when you said that you loved me!" Arthur said he was nearly shouting. "Don't tell me that none of this was about me because where I'm standing it all was."

"Arthur,"

"I have to go," Arthur said as he stood and headed for the exit.

"How – what was I suppose to do? Just stop? How could I do that?" Merlin asked as he stood to follow.

"How could you not," Arthur roared as he rounded on Merlin. "If you love me as you say you do then how could you not."

Merlin swallowed. Arthur was close, before that would have made Merlin happy, now not so much. His eyes bore into Merlin, feeling him with guilt and the sense of lost. Arthur was lost to him even as he stood right in front of Merlin.

"He was my father," Merlin said.

"He's dead."

"Because of your father, because of what he did to him."

"You hated your father Merlin. For most of your life you hated him," Arthur said.

It stung.

It was true, but it still hurt to hear.

"Your father,"

"It shouldn't have been about my father if you loved me like you claimed to." Arthur said. "If you loved me you wouldn't have let a dead man in his casket come between us."

"Arthur," Merlin pleaded.

"Goodbye Mordred."

Merlin flinched at the sound of that name on Arthur's lips. He watched as Arthur left, listening to the sound of his feet trailing over the marble floor as they carried him farther from Merlin. All the while hoping that he would turn back, that he would come to Merlin and understand why Merlin did what he did, and that Merlin hadn't had much other choice.

He didn't give up that hope until he heard the door closing behind Arthur and the roar of an engine springing to life.

….

Going to Gwaine probably wasn't the smartest move he had ever made, but then again Merlin hadn't been making very smart decisions recently. He consoled himself with the fact that he was going to the bar and he couldn't help it if Gwaine was also there.

He sat at a table in the back of the bar with a bottle Heineken, a bottle of Bourbon, and a shot glass. He downed another shot and gazed across the way at Gwaine who was busy flittering with a group of co-ed from the nearby university.

When he had first entered the bar nearly half-an-hour ago Gwaine had taken one look at him and proceeded to drag him to his current table where he then placed the beer and Bourbon in front of Merlin and told him that if Merlin wanted to drunk than Merlin was free to do so as he lived right upstairs and of course Merlin was always welcome to stay. Merlin had taken him up on the drinking but hadn't answered about staying with him. He poured out another shot as he thought about what he and Gwaine would get up to if he did take him up on the offer and ignored the guilty feeling the thought of having sex with Gwaine ignited in him.

He didn't owe anything to Arthur; Arthur had ended things leaving Merlin free to fuck who he wanted. Right?

Right.

Gwaine approached with a small smile having somehow disentangled himself of barely legal college girls. He took a seat across from Merlin and picked up Merlin's ignored beer and took a healthy swig before setting the bottle back on the table.

"So let me guess, it's Pendragon that has you in such a state." Gwaine said. Merlin scowled. "Hey," Gwaine laughed, lifting his hands in surrender. "I'm not going to ask questions if you don't want me to.
"I don't." Merlin said. "I don't want to talk about Arthur."

"Then we won't" Gwaine assured him. "But maybe you'd like to go somewhere quieter, my shift just ended and I'm free."

Merlin should say no, he should go home and start packing so that he won't be around when the Royal Guard came after Arthur told Uther who he really was and what he had been up to. He should call Will and warn him that they were blown and that he should take off and Merlin would catch up with him later, because will had been a good friend and the last thing Merlin wanted was for him to end up in prison because Merlin was too stupid to keep away from Arthur.

That's what he should do. What he did was smile slow and seductive at Gwaine.

"Yeah sure," he said. "I could use some quiet."

Merlin wasn't sure whether he was disappointed or relieved when instead of taking Merlin to his bedroom, Gwaine pushed him down onto the couch and left him there to trot into the kitchen. He figured he was a little bit of both honestly. So he sat there on the couch and kept quiet when Gwaine came back, handing him a beer before taking a seat next to Merlin

"You sure you don't want to talk about it?" Gwaine asked as he twisted the cap off his beer and threw it in the direction of the coffee table –he missed, the cap ended up on the floor though Gwaine paid it no mind.

"I'm sure," Merlin said.

"Merlin,"

Suddenly Merlin surged forward before his mind could stop catch up to what he was doing and took Gwaine's lips in a forceful kiss. For all of a second Gwaine kissed him back before he was pulling away and back peddling away from the sofa.

"Merlin," Gwaine said. "We can't."

"What? I thought-"

"I brought you up here to talk," Gwaine said. "To actually talk. You're my friend and you're obviously hurting, I just wanted to make sure that you were okay."

"Oh," Merlin said. "Oh my god. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay," Gwaine assured him.

"I should go," Merlin said standing; he made sure to keep respectable space between them as he passed Gwaine on his way out.

"No, Merlin you don't have to go."

"I really do," Merlin insisted. "before I fuck up another relationship."

He pulled open the door.

"Merlin,"

"I'll call, yeah," he said before leaving.

Wind rushed in through the open windows, creating a wind tunnel that whistled through the cabin, feeling Merlin's ears and drowning out the low hum of his cell phone vibrating where it rested in the passenger seat. He tapped out a tune on the steering wheel as he nudged the car along the narrow path that led to the drive of the cabin. The scent of the apple trees became thick the closer he neared the house. The buzz of the beer was wearing off leaving him weary and exhausted, the hurt and regret of what had happen with Arthur still weighing heavily on his heart.

He pulled the car to a stop before the house and looked at it in puzzlement. The front door was standing wide open. He frowned. That was odd, he was sure he had shut the door when he left and even if Will had come by he wouldn't have left the door standing open.

Merlin only took a moment to reach into the glove compartment for his gun before pushing out of the car, crossing the drive with even steps and taking the stairs at pace. He left the door open and stepped into the darkened entryway. All the lights were off, with only the slivers of moonlight that managed to fight their way through the thick brush of the surrounding trees to find the windows. He went through each room of the first floor, flicking on the lights with his gun at the ready until he had cleared each. Finding nothing out of place he headed to the first floor, his foot slipping when he reached the landing. After a moment of searching he found the hall light switched and pressed until the two bulbs in the chandelier glowed with a sedated light, illuminating the hall and the faint red trail that was smeared over the hardwood floor.

Knowing that it was a stupid move, he followed the trail to the door of his bed room and pushed it open with a twist of the knob. His hand came away wet when he searched along the wall for the light switch and he was unsurprised to see the blood on his palms and fingers. Nor did the body on the floor cause him much of a shock.

He searched the room and the adjoining bath, finding nothing he turned to the body. The surprise came when he turned the body over to look into the face of Uther Pendragon. The Prime Minster looked up at him with dead eyes in a blue face and a bullet hole in his sternum.

Merlin took a moment to let it sink in, let the shock and grief rush through him – not at Uther's death, his feelings on the man hadn't changed with Uther's death – but for Arthur, who loved his father no matter the fact that the man didn't deserve that love. He turned away when a thought shook him and scrambled through the pool of slowly drying blood to his bed side. With the tips of his fingers he pried up the floorboard and looked down into the tiny cavern and twisted the knob of the safe this way and that until it popped open with a click, he reached in and his fingers curled around the barrel of his gun, but he found nothing else.

"You should have finished checking the rest of the house."

Merlin turned to find Abbott standing in the doorway, the chest Merlin's father had left him in his hands.

"Ah, yes, I found your little box here. Though you did protect it well, took me a while to figure out the combination was the date of the attack. Then again, maybe it was obvious seeing as how you have the date listed as your birthday on your licenses."

"No I-"

Merlin's jaw ticked but he remained silent.

"Just couldn't help yourself could you?" Abbott said. "That date is near and dear to your heart after all. The day your father was taken from you. Won't expect such sentiment from you, then again all of this is a lie, isn't it. Wonder what your dear Arthur will think when he finds out."

"Why?"

"Who, what, when?" Abbott mimicked. "Really, Merlin, such an unimaginative question," He sighed dramatically, "But I guess it will have to do. Why? Well isn't it obvious?"

"Not particularly."

"Hmm, I really thought you were smarter than this," Abbott said. "Because you were getting too close."

"To what?"

"The truth," Abbott shouted. "You weren't satisfied with just bringing Uther down, no, you kept digging. And that couldn't be allowed to happen, so here we are. This," he pointed at Merlin, "is your fault."

"Yes, obviously," Merlin drawled, "So what now?"

"Now you go to jail. You murdered the Prime Minster after all."

"You think this is enough to have me arrested?"

Abbot shrugged.

"We got your father convicted on less," He smiled, an unpleasant sneer. "He wasn't even in the same state as the attack, and yet looks where he ended up. In a casket six feet deep. That wasn't even part of the plan, not at the beginning, but like father like son. Uther just couldn't let things alone."

"You killed my father?"
"Not me personally, but yes, we made it happen."

Merlin could feel his magic swelling inside him, pulsing at his skin.

"Your gold is showing,"

"You said he was your friend."

"And I didn't lie," For a moment his face dropped and remorse peeked out from behind his eyes before being washed away under the malicious and content. "He was my friend, but I never said I was his."

"He helped you, or was that a lie."

"No. It wasn't. And I appreciated everything he did for me, but sentiment has no place in this game."

"Game?"

Lights flashed over the walls followed closely by the echo of approaching cop cars.

"Aw, looks like our time is up."

"You really think I'll allow them to take me in?"

"Yes, because despite the rough exterior you present, you're all soft and gooey inside. You would never use your gift to hurt anyone else," Abbot made a slight 'tsking' sound. "Such a waste really," he sighed, "Can't be helped I guess."

"And I'll be taking this with me, of course," Abbott drummed his fingers on the lid of the chest. "Can't let this fall into the wrong hands now can we?"

Doors slammed and heavy booted feet pounded up the stairs loud enough for Merlin to hear

"Goodbye Merlin."

Abbott turned away, tilted his head at an angle so that Merlin could see the inky black lines running up the column of his neck. Like vines they curved around the edge of his jaw, disappearing into his hairline. As Merlin watched, they pulsed and he could see little lumps following the lines.

Maggots. Sorcery. Meaning someone else was calling the shots here, using Abbott like a meat puppet. It was a neat, if nasty trick that had the side affect of leaving the victim mentally ill. Merlin had never used maggots before; he had no need for them.

"PUPA maledicam." Merlin hissed, flinging out a hand and swinging it until his palm was facing the nearest wall – Abbott's body followed.

A hoarse laughed escaped the other man.

"The vines right?" The man, the one using Abbott as his toy, sighed the sound escaping Abbott on a breath. "No matter how much I try I just can't find a way to have the maggots work properly without leaving them."

"Who are you?"

"Back to the unimaginative question again, is we."

"I'll find you."

"No, you won't," Abbott's head turned to face the door, his body still pinned in place. "They're coming. I've won."

"You think so do you?"

"No, I know so." And Merlin will admit to being surprised when Abbott spontaneously burst into flames, his screams ripping the air apart as he was thrust into the forefront of his mind once again.

Merlin jumped back and he felt his magic surge to the surface in the face of the perceived threat. And that's how they found him, eyes glowing and hand out as water snaked from the bathroom plumbing to dose Abbott.

The worst thing about getting arrested was that Arthur was there standing in the arms of his mother as he was led away, shackled with mage metal. He looked at Merlin with haunted eyes that swiveled to the doorway when the body bag on the stretcher appeared.

He wanted to tell Arthur he hadn't done the things they said he had, he wanted to call out and plead for Arthur to believe him but the collar around his throat made that impossible so he watched as Arthur looked back at him with tears running down his cheeks and hurt in his eyes as he held his mother to him, her face pressed in the crook of his neck as she sobbed out tears.

He had wanted the Pendragon's to feel what he and his mom had felt, funnily enough though he wasn't basking in having accomplished that.

….

Arthur hadn't known it was possible to hate and love someone so much as the same time. That's how he felt about Merlin. Though, there were moments when the love won out and his heart wrenched at thought of Merlin being locked away and then he would remember why Merlin was there and the hate would reignite.

If the hate Merlin had held towards Uther was half as fiery as his hate towards Merlin then Arthur could possibly see why he had risked everything for revenge. The hate was consuming, chipping away at his love for Merlin until it was sore and raw.

He stood in the cemetery watching as his father's casket was lowered into the ground with the rain falling and his mother crying and a dozen people he didn't even known and who probably hadn't known much about Uther whispering among themselves.

He stood there wishing that Merlin was there with him and hoping that he met the same fate as his father until the guilt at that thought swelled up and then the cycle would start over.

By the time the service was finished he felt raw and as though he could sleep for a solid week. He turned to face his mother, opening his mouth to ask if she was ready to go when he caught sight of Will Abbott standing beside his car with his eyes locked on Arthur.

"Will you excuse me mother, there's someone that I have to speak to." Arthur said

Will kept his eyes on him until he was standing next to him.

"What are you doing here?" Arthur asked with his jaw clenched as he tried to keep his anger in check. The last thing he wanted to do was cause a scene at his father's funeral, not with the cameras about. They had agreed to allow the service to be broadcast as Uther had been the Prime Minster, didn't mean Ygraine nor Arthur had to like it.

"I'm here to talk to you." Will said. "I thought that would've been obvious."

"I'm not in the mood for this," Arthur said and started to turn away only to stop at the touch of a hand on his arm.

"He needs our help; they'll kill him if we don't get him out." Will said, nearly pleading

Merlin. Of course.

"You say that as though I care."

"You do, and you and I both know it." Will said.

"I can't help you." Arthur said after a moment, turning away.

"He'll die! Is that what you want?"

Arthur stopped and closed his eyes.

"He killed my father,"

"No he didn't," Will said. "Come on, you know Merlin, he could never kill anyone."

Arthur laughed.

"Know him? Until a couple of days ago I didn't even know that his name was Merlin."

"You know everything about him that's important to know." Will insisted. "You know that he loves you and I'm letting you know that if you don't help me help him he will die."

Arthur felt like punching something. Why couldn't Will just leave him be."

"Here," Will said and Arthur turned at the insisted nudging at his arm. He looked down to see that Will was holding out a folder towards him.

"What is it?" Arthur said but took the folder anyway.

"Merlin didn't kill your father but someone did, the same someone who killed his dad." Will nodded towards the folder. "I don't know who yet but that gives evidence that someone other than Uther has been pulling the strings."

"You think giving me this will make me help you?" Arthur asked.

Will shook his head.

"No," he dug into the messenger bag he had slung over his shoulder. "But maybe this will," he said and withdrew a small wooden box from inside the bag.

"I've seen that before." It had been inside Merlin's safe along with photo's of Arthur and his family and a whole bunch of other things that had apparently been research. Seeing it all had made him feel stupid, he'd been telling Merlin about himself when all along Merlin had known his whole life story.

"No," Will said, "You haven't, the one you saw was Balinor's, this one is Merlin's its his inheritance. Its suppose to go to his next of kin but seeing as how he doesn't have any I thought I should give it to you."

"Why me?"

"Because he loves you and maybe that will be enough for it to work. Because eventually, after he's gone, you're going to want something to remember him by." Will said holding the box out to Arthur.

Arthur took it from his hands gingerly.

He looked up and Will was gone.

…..

He imagines he can hear the crowds outside roaring loudly, calling for his head. Can almost see the large, brightly painted signs - picketing him. Death to magic users – Fire to the Freaks. The same signs that had appeared all around their home in the days approaching his father's trial and became a steady presence through the duration. He wonders if there's a stack of hate mail filling a dusty room of the courthouse - like bones in a mausoleum, just as pale and lifeless but morbid nonetheless.

The collar around his neck is a heavy weight around his throat and bites into his skin anytime he moves. He can feel his magic where it's cordoned off - where he can't access it. It thrashes against the walls of its invisible cage, like an angry cat. The more he tries to reach for it, the farther it moves away, teasing him – close enough so that he can brush up against it but not enough to allow him to grab hold.

He's shackled as well, wrist and ankles. Mage metal encircles his limbs, seamless and unbreakable. There's a team of ten escorting him, five on each side with a sharp shooter nearby and a state licensed warlock trailing behind them. Twelve altogether. He feels like a particularly dangerous animal, which only makes sense as he's sure that's how the public sees him. A feral animal needing to be put down. He wonders if his father had felt like this – being led down this same hallway nearly twenty years ago, being led by a leash like a fucking dog.

Merlin nearly snarled at the thought.

Sound echoed. Bouncing off the marble floor and stone walls, weaving through the pillars and disappearing into the vaulted ceiling. The sound of his pants legs dragging on the floor is unusually loud, as is the clomping of the tactical boots the Royal Guardsmen are wearing. Everything loud and pounding in his ears, even above his heartbeat swelling against his eardrums. So the abrupt silence of the courtroom is jarring.

Every eye was turned to him as he was led through the heavy, wood carved double doors. Every seat filled, cameras set up along the edges of the room angled in such a way to get the best angle of the witness stand.

He's simultaneously expecting everything and nothing at all – but the sight of Arthur sitting in the front, smartly put together in a three piece suit – hair perfectly slicked in place, is a surprise. His brows are pinched and his mouth is in a firm line. To anyone else he'd look fine, maybe a little annoyed, but Merlin can see the tense line of his shoulders and the way he taps his knee with the tip of his index finger on his right hand. He's brimming with anger and it's threatening to boil over, barely contained behind his eyes that shine brightly with heat when he gazes at Merlin.

And it's that – not the threat of being put to death for magic use, or facing life in prison for murder – that causes his insides to quiver. The betrayal, unbridled rage, and the soldering embers of grief, mingled with something that Merlin can't quite put a name to.

It's the sight of Arthur that makes him realize how much he fucked up. And no matter how much he protested the fact, he was in love with the overbearing prat.

Merlin chuckled inwardly.

He always did have crap timing when it came to the emotional stuff.

...

He had read the file Will had given him and then read it again unable to believe that so many acts of crime could have been committed without anyone connecting the thoughts. Though apparently someone had, Cenred had documented everything before his death.

By the time he had finished reading he had come to the conclusion that he was going to help Will save Merlin, he wasn't sure that he had forgiven the other man as of yet but he was now sure that Merlin would in fact be convicted of Uther's death and more than likely sentence to death for it even though he had obviously not done it.

It had taken weeks to plan and in those weeks Arthur came to the realization that most of the people Uther had trusted- his head of security, his personal assistant - had been involved in the plan to destroy him. He was most surprised to see Nimueh at one of their Save Merlin meetings as he was sure she had loved his father but when she told him of what had happen and how Uther had had her pregnancy terminated he thought she of all had the most reason to hate Uther. He had his suspicious that maybe she had killed Uther but Nimueh claimed that if she had done it she would have never allowed anyone else to take the credit for it.

It was Will who came up with the plan, having known Merlin the longest he knew the most about Merlin about what he was capable of doing.

"Merlin can do most of the legwork really, but we'll have to get the binding collar off him first."

"Let me take care of that," Nimueh had said with a smile that had frankly scared Arthur.

He hadn't been sure that he was ready to see Merlin when Will had said that Arthur would have to be the one to carry out this portion of the plan. He was after all a Pendragon and Merlin was accused of having killed his father, if Arthur wanted to punch the freak who had killed the best Prime Minster this country had seen in a while than the Royal Guardsmen weren't going to stop him. So now Arthur was sitting here in the courtroom with picketers outside and a room full of people he had never seen before all of them hold viscous signs that horrified him. Even though Merlin had lied to him Arthur couldn't see him deserving off the death threats that were being obviously displayed. They made his protective urges roar to the surface. He wanted nothing more than to take Merlin away from all of this.

Merlin was two steps away and Arthur stood, he could feel the eyes as they swiveled towards him. He caught Merlin's eyes and tried to convey what was going to happen, but he had the feeling that Merlin didn't get that as his eyes swung to the floor and his shoulders dropped. No bother. Merlin didn't have to be an active participant during this part anyway.

Arthur made his move as Merlin became parallel to him, the forward Guard having dropped back so they would all be able to fit through the bar that divided the courtroom, Arthur had chosen his seat in hopes of precisely that happening. He reached into his jacket pocket an uncapped the small vial that Nimueh had given him and palmed it in his had and he barreled towards Merlin, tackling him and making a show of smacking him around as he poured the contents of the vial on the collard and restraints.

The result was instantaneous, Merlin's eyes went wide and golden as the collar snapped."

"What did you do?" he asked Arthur is a whisper.

"I saved you, thought that was kind of obvious."

"You've been hanging around Will too much," Merlin said.

Arthur nearly smiled.

"Tell me about it."

Then he was being hauled to his feet and away from Merlin, the crowd around him gasped as they saw that Merlin no longer wore his collar, the Guardsmen becoming taunt as they eyed Merlin like he was a practically dangers animal just set free. And maybe Merlin was because he looked like it in that moment. His eyes glowed fiercely and the restraints fell away, people stood and began to scramble away, then there was nothing. No movement. No sound. Everything came to a stop.

Arthur looked at Merlin in awe, then around the room and the bodies frozen.

"Did you do this?" Arthur asked.

Merlin smiled sheepishly.

"It's easy to do really."

"Easy to do, he says." Arthur said a bit stunned. "Yes, cause we all know freezing time is nothing."

Merlin shrugged and blushed.

"Shouldn't we be going?" Merlin asked.

"What?"

"There is another step to this plan of yours isn't there? Are was this all it?"

Arthur scowled at him.

" 'course there's more to it. Besides, it wasn't my plan now was it, it was Will's?"

"Will? Then he's okay then?" Merlin asked excitedly, worry plastered on his face.

"Yeah, why wouldn't he be? Did something happen?" Arthur asked.

Merlin shook his head.

"I'll tell you later." he said.

"But you will tell me,"

"Yes Arthur, I've learned my lesson about keeping shite from you."

"Better have." Arthur said. "Let's go then."

Just as they moved people started to drop, falling to the floor in seizers. Arthur looked at Merlin but he provided no answers as he looked about in confusion. People were bleeding from every orifice upon their face, until one by one they stopped moving altoghter.

"Oh shite," Merlin said.

"Are they – are they dead?" Arthur asked though he was afraid of the answer, he was afraid of what it meant because if Merlin hadn't been the cause then that meant there was another magic user laying in wait.

"We have to go Arthur." Merlin said, taking Arthur's arm and pulling him towards the door.

"But they're all dead Merlin."

"Yes and we're not. You and I, the warlock you just helped escape custody."

"Oh shite," Arthur said in echo of Merlin's early statement.

"Exactly."

"But you didn't," Arthur said not meaning it to come out as the question it did.

"No," Merlin said as they made their way through the suddenly empty hallways of the courthouse.

"Then who did?'

"Probably the same person who killed your father and mine. The same person who used Will as their puppet." He said the last part in anger through his clenched teeth as they pushed out through a door they led them to the under car park.

"What?"

"Nothing, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that someone just set us up big time." Merlin said as he head towards the first car he came upon. He placed his hand on the hood of the car and a moment later it roared to life.

They hurried around the car, Arthur to the driver side and Merlin to the passenger.

"What now?" he asked Merlin as he put the car into drive. He nearly wrecked as Merlin took him by the back of the neck and dragged him into a kiss.

Arthur pulled back and looked into Merlin's eyes.

So yeah, the love had definitely won out. He was okay with that.

"I'm sor –hmph," Arthur smothered out his apologizes with another kiss that lingered until they heard they approaching sounds of sirens blaring.

"What now?" Arthur asked again with his mouth only inches from Merlin's.

"Now? Well now we hunt down those bastards that killed our fathers, after that I'd like to apologize for lying to you and see where the two of us stand."

"You mean if we don't get killed first." Arthur said as he turned and shoved the car into drive.

"Scared Princess?" Merlin asked. "Stick with me, I'll keep you safe."

Notes:

Author Notes: So another Big Bang down so what do I have to say? I have to thank the muppet who awesome and understanding as I ran into a few problems in the last few days that kept me from posting on time. THANK YOU! Um, and I have to say I learned my lesson about writing more than one story for a Big Bang at a time, won't happen again.

This story came to me while watching Revenge, it is a Revenge AU type thing that was trying so very hard to run away from me and become like an epic 100,000 word thing or something but I didn't have the time for that. So, yeah.

My artist was madnessireal who got stuck with an Artist who did communicate and update very effectively, I'm sorry. RL kind of started getting in the way and so now I kind of hate RL, like a lot.

This story is 30,000 words if Word is to be believed and is one of my favorite I have ever written. I hope I've done well, I spent many hours going over and over the plot before even writing the first sentence. Hopefully you dear readers well enjoy! Comments are lovely by the way, they're like cookies – you can never have too many.

Tygermine provided a beta, THANK YOU, any mistakes are my own.

Now Enjoy!

Title taken from ZZ Ward

Series this work belongs to:

Part 1 of the Till The Casket Drops series