AN: Hello again to all you awesome returning readers. Welcome to the sequel of Legacies! For those of you who have not read Legacies, this fic CAN stand alone, but Legacies would provide some nice background for you, and if you enjoy my writing, it is 25 chapters and complete!
For your patience, I have written a particularly long chapter! As you may remember, I will be MIA for the next month, digging holes in the ground somewhere in a national park with no computer and no internet, so it may be some time in July when you get the next chapter, for which I apologize profusely.
One again, thank you for your patience, thank you for following my story, and I hope you're enjoying this story as much as I enjoy writing it!
Merlin's face scrunched up, and his mouth thinned into a line. If he never had to slosh through another puddle on the way to class again, it would be too soon. The water seeped in through his cloth sneakers and squelched unpleasantly between his toes with every step.
"Have you ever heard such a load of nonsense?" Arthur burst out as he fell in with his friend on the path. Merlin had to quicken his step to keep up with the blond's brisk, agitated pace. "Norway, Germany, Sweden—none of them have ever faced the problems we have with magic, and yet this Muirden fellow is preaching to us reconsidering our 'stringent policies'? His country didn't get torn apart by sorcerers. It's bad enough that he's discussing amnesty movements for his own country, but to suggest them for us? No one has even mentioned that here since MP Fox left. Who the hell does Muirden think he is?"
"It's just words, Arthur," Merlin said wearily. He never liked these discussions, even accustomed as he was to keeping his true thoughts deeply buried. "The protests have been happening off and on for the last three years. Nothing's going to come of this."
"Yeah? Well they certainly made a mess of the campus," Arthur grumbled shaking an abandoned cardboard protest sign off the sole of his shoe with an expression of distaste. That was true, Merlin reflected wryly. Mud and grass stained the sidewalk for a block past the field, and trash still littered the area where the protest had dispersed just hours before. "Whatever they're trying to achieve, nothing good can come of it," Arthur persisted in a harsh tone. "You remember what happened the year we finished secondary school." Merlin closed his eyes briefly. As if he could forget. Camelot had burned, and his best friend had died in the riots. There had been a period of quiet after Will's death, but people had never completely settled down since then. Protests were now a common sight, especially in big cities and on energetic university campuses like Oxford.
"The riots had nothing to do with sorcerers," Merlin said firmly. "It was Fox who stirred them up, and there hasn't been word of her since she fled the country."
"There were rumors that she was a sorcerer herself," Arthur pointed out.
"That's what people say about every politician they don't like. People have even suggested that your father has some history of dalliance in sorcery," Merlin retorted, slightly annoyed. "Look, this will blow over. People are just discussing the matter, and that's healthy. Public affairs like that should be talked over—especially sensitive ones."
"Not this one." Arthur's tone was clipped and brusque. Merlin fell silent and pulled up his hood as a fresh drizzle started. There was no point in discussing further right now. Arthur was being unusually stubborn. The blond could be intolerant when it came to magic, but usually he wasn't this uncompromising on the matter. Today, it seemed he'd put all lingering traces of doubt in the back of his mind.
"Arthur…" Merlin hesitated at the exit to the archway. Arthur hadn't even slackened pace, but this wasn't the way back to their flat. "Where are you going?" he asked slowly.
"To get a drink," Arthur said without turning around. A drink? Merlin groaned.
"Couldn't you settle for a coffee? The café's just…" He paused since Arthur was marching straight on and clearly not listening. "…across the street from us," he finished and followed after the blond with a resigned sigh. "Or you could get a cup of tea—at home… Alright… fine. Let's just freeze our feet off walking to the pub instead. Great idea," he continued, half to himself as he caught up with the blond. "What's this about anyways? You never drink on weekdays. You do know you still have class in the morning." Arthur shot him a narrow-eyed look—one that seemed to ask his usual question: do you ever shut up? Merlin tilted his head and quirked a smile. You know I don't. "Drowning your sorrows?" he offered. That got a response.
"What 'sorrows'?" Arthur scoffed, rolling his eyes at Merlin.
"Gwen," Merlin offered with a shrug.
"I am not upset over Gwen. That was weeks ago."
"And you haven't talked to each other in weeks," Merlin asserted.
"We don't have any classes together," Arthur said flatly.
"She lives next door to us."
"You mean Gwen is busy." The comment earned Merlin a glare from the blond.
"I wasn't even that serious about Gwen. We're just friends." Merlin nearly rolled his eyes in turn.
"You two have been on and off for the last three years. She's the only one you were ever serious about," the dark haired student scoffed.
"I've had other serious girlfriends," Arthur argued stubbornly. Merlin tilted his head.
"Really? Which one?" Arthur gave him a dark look which Merlin took as his cue to proceed. He made a show of considering the matter for a moment. "Let's see… there was Vivian who practically had to be chased out of the apartment with death threats. She still stalks you on the campus sometimes,"
"She does not!" Arthur's disconcerted look belied the protest. Merlin suppressed a smile and carried on, ignoring the interruption.
"And… let's see… Sophia. She was a real keeper—totaled your first car and dumped you right afterward, leaving you alone to endure the tirade from your father. Oh, and then Elena—"
"Elena does not count," Arthur cut in instantly. Merlin snorted.
"Sure. If you say so," he scoffed. Arthur resumed his sullen silence. "You still like her," Merlin added "It's bloody obvious. Why can't you just admit it?" He nearly ran into his companion and found himself standing still, now face to face with the blond. He took a step backwards, surprised, and looked back at Arthur, but there was no anger or annoyance in his friend's face—only a strange, conflicted expression.
"She's with Lance now," Arthur said bluntly. It was a testament to Arthur's real feelings that he didn't even ask which 'her' Merlin was referring to. They both knew. "It doesn't matter," he muttered. "Just drop it, Merlin."
"Alright," Merlin said quietly, holding his hands up in surrender. Arthur turned on his heel, and Merlin waited a beat before he couldn't help adding with a wicket grin, "I still have the picture." Arthur stopped again, now outside the door of the pub, and fixed his gaze on his flatmate. "You really ought to post it. The look on your face when Elena—"
"If the picture ever makes it onto the internet," Arthur interrupted in a low voice, "I will make your life a living hell."
"More than you already do?" Merlin quipped.
"Yes," Arthur growled. Merlin grinned unconcernedly.
"I'll think about deleting it if you buy me a drink." That earned him a sharp cuff over the ear which he failed to dodge.
"Shut up, Merlin," Arthur ordered him and pulled open the door of the pub.
It was noisy inside the pub—unusually so for a week night. The small space was crowded with noise and activity, everyone talking at once, some with raised voices, glassware clinking, ice at the bar rattling noisily, chairs scraping on the wood floor. If Merlin hadn't known better, he'd have assumed there was a football game to attract such a crowd. As it was, the number of people made him wary. Perhaps there was some sort of gathering going on here that he hadn't heard about. Arthur, ever the pragmatist, paid no heed to the other occupants and made straight for the bar, and Merlin followed. It would be nice, he reflected, if Arthur kept half an eye open for his own safety. What Arthur didn't know about Sophia was that she hadn't just been out for a joy-ride. Merlin had caught the girl trying to smuggle multiple cards out of his wallet. How he'd missed Arthur's car keys in the girl's pocket was another matter… Gold digging girls was the least of the blond's problems, though. As son of the nation's current leader, Arthur was subject to press attention and, of course threats from political activists and other lively, opinionated people. Kanen was the first of many, though most not as grave as his threat, and it wasn't very long since Arthur finally got free of his bodyguard and Leon was assigned to another post. Merlin was certain that if Arthur got himself in trouble now, he'd have a new bodyguard assigned in no time.
Resigned to his usual role of watchdog, Merlin took a seat at the far end of the bar and let his eye wander the room. Amidst the other voices one particularly loud one rose over the hubbub of the room, particularly noticeable for its casual lilt—an American. Merlin's interest sharpened a touch. It was rare to catch an American alone in Britain these days. They always seemed to come in packs and especially since the civil war. America was careful of her citizens, and Britain still suffered a less than stellar reputation after the civil unrest that had nearly torn the country apart in 2057.
"You lot should just take a leaf out of our book an' relax a little," the foreigner's voice intoned cheerfully. Merlin caught a glimpse of a broad-shouldered man with thick, dark hair, a scruffy beard along his jawline and a lively gleam in his brown eyes.
"And let those dogs rule our country again?" one of his listeners demanded.
"Let the man talk," another interrupted, leaning forward eagerly. "Is that what America's up to? Relaxing the laws?"
"Modifying them," the American amended. "For the benefit of the country." Merlin caught the murmur around him—a mixture of unease but also strong curiosity. A short, pale-haired student leaned forward, clearly dubious.
"But it's all talk, isn't it? Surely no one will actually pass a bill like that,"
"Oh it'll pass," The American said with utter confidence and a cheerful grin for his listeners. "Maybe not here in England. But the house is mostly Democrats right now. They're the progressives. They want t' see things change, y' know."
"Nothing's going to be changed here as long as Uther's in charge," the pale haired student's companion chimed in. Merlin couldn't see his face, but he imagined a scowl to match the tone of voice.
"Uther's a damned fool. It makes sense. Y'have less enemies if you make friends of them," the American replied. There was a ripple of murmured consent among his listeners though a scant few kept quiet, and Merlin could fairly sense their discomfort even from across the room. It made him squirm a little as well. Talking about Uther that way was a sure ticket for trouble. He got the impression that the bombastic American wasn't concerned about trouble, though.
"You can't make friends of a sorcerer." The comment was soft, meant for Merlin's ears alone. Merlin's head came about abruptly. Arthur was standing a foot to his left, one drink in either hand. His eyes lingered on the American at the distant table, alight with a familiar stubborn glint. Merlin pursed his lips.
"Don't pick an argument with a drunk man. You can't win," he advised, lifting his shoulders. Arthur snorted and turned to set the drinks on the bar, but they never made it. To all appearances, the woman he crossed paths with seemed to have appeared out of thin air with a tray on her hand. One of the drinks sloshed over Arthur's sleeve and hand, and the other clattered to the ground with the woman's tray and drinks, splashing Merlin's already soaked trainers with alcohol. He grimaced and moved his feet back, letting the glass roll away. Ah well. His shoes were already stained with mud.
"Oh… I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'll get you replacements," I'm sorry!" She was already on her knees, hurrying to pick everything up, head bowed. Merlin crouched down to help her. "Oh no. I'm so sorry," she repeated.
"It's alright. It'll wash out," Arthur said slowly, blinking and shaking his head. He had an odd expression on his face, as if he'd just emerged from deep water. His voice sounded a little odd, and Merlin looked up at him.
"Er… actually," The woman lifted her head as well to glance at Arthur, and Merlin caught a glimpse of what looked like unusually bright amber-yellow eyes. "I was talking to your friend here." She took the last glass out of Merlin's hand and met his eyes squarely. And no… they weren't amber. Not amber at all, but a deep, intense and equally unusual shade of blue. "Thank you," she added. Merlin blinked at her, baffled. He could have sworn—
"It was nothing." She offered him a brilliant smile in response. "I'll get you another with a refund."
"Oh—no need for that. It's not a big deal, honestly," Merlin tried weakly to protest, but she was already turning to go. But something in her gently angular face and the dark brown hair that framed it, even the brisk but graceful way she moved seemed vaguely familiar. And her eyes… "Hang on," he called after her, reaching out as if to catch at her sleeve and stop her. She paused and looked over her shoulder at him, bright eyes shining inquisitively. "Do I know you?" She tilted her head ever so slightly, and an enigmatic smile tugged at her lips.
"Do you want to?" Merlin felt his ears warming.
"Wh-I, uh—" But now she was gone, balancing the tray gracefully on one hand as she slipped behind the bar and into a back room. A long, strange silence followed, and Merlin reached out to hand Arthur a napkin for his still dripping sleeve, mildly concerned by the vacant, confused stare on his friend's face.
"Arthur?" He flicked the napkin at Arthur, and the blond shook himself again and squinted at Merlin.
"What… was that all about?" he asked slowly with a bewildered expression. The blue-eyed young woman chose that moment to reappear with their drinks.
"Sorry about that." She said, setting them on the bar. "Enjoy. They're on the house." She offered Merlin a last, brilliant smile and swept away again. Merlin slowly reached down to pick up his glass, and from underneath the smooth paper notes, he picked up the napkin she'd left between two fingers A little number was scrawled across the corner in neat, curly handwriting. A grin slowly crept across the warlock's face.
"You know, I was wrong. Coming here was a great idea." Arthur stared for a moment at the napkin, scowled, and picked up his own drink to take a swig. Merlin turned his attention to his own drink, chuckling.
"Well if it isn't the princeling himself, come down from on high to visit his subjects." The laughter died in Merlin's throat. The noise on the other side of the pub had died down and the American was nowhere to be seen—perhaps he'd left… Merlin hadn't heard the newcomer approaching. He bit his lip as he eyed the stocky, broad shouldered man who'd spoken. Don't pick an argument with a drunk man… Merlin slowly let go of his drink and stood up. Beside him, Arthur's fingers curled around his ale mug, and the knuckles paled.
"Maybe we should go," Merlin muttered close to his ear. The drinks were free anyways, and it wasn't worth a broken jaw, the inevitable reaction from Uther, and a new bodyguard assignment for Arthur to assert his right to stay. Arthur looked furious, but he slowly released his grip on the mug as well and stood up.
"I was just leaving," he said quietly.
"What, without finishing your drink? Is our humble fare not good enough for you, m'lord?" a second, a younger man with small, sharp eyes mocked, close by the side of the first.
"No. I've just lost my appetite is all," Arthur deadpanned, moving carefully past them with Merlin at his side. The pub remained eerily silent as they made their way through the crowd to the exit.
Merlin let out a soft breath when they made it out the door. He couldn't blame Athur for his annoyance. Uther was still highly unpopular among certain groups of people, and his reputation always landed squarely on the shoulders of his son when spotted in public.
"We'll get drinks for the flat on the way home, yeah?" he offered.
"Sure. Whatever," Arthur muttered, turning to go.
"Hang on. We were going to pay our respects to his highness." Merlin's heart sank. The stocky fellow, apparently the ringleader of this crew, had come through the door behind them, and he strolled forward to come around and face Arthur with a leering grin, and this time he wasn't alone. The beady-eyed little man from the bar was there along with a couple others. Students maybe, or some of the many unemployed members of the younger generation. Merlin didn't like the look of them, narrowed eyes and rigid stance, one or two clearly having a little more on board than strictly necessary, which meant lowered inhibitions. They seemed to be forming a line behind the first man, blocking Arthur's escape. His eyes darted from him to the others gathering at his back. What worried him the most was the way these men moved together, as if they knew each other, and the fact that some of them hadn't come out of the bar but emerged from the shadows like they'd been waiting. As if this was planned. Was it possible someone was tracking Arthur's movements? He didn't have time to consider that at the moment, though as they drew closer, and he placed himself at Arthur's side, feeling his insides twist with anxiety. He couldn't let them hurt Arthur, but he would be useless in a fight without a touch of magic to protect himself, let alone trying to protect Arthur at the same time… He raised a hand ever so slightly, tensing, fingers spread as he ran through the easiest tricks to play with his magic. Perhaps the drunk men would make this easier for him. How much would they trust their eyes right now anyways…
"Oh, let the princeling alone." Merlin flicked a glance to the side towards the lazy voice beside him, surprised to hear the American again. The man was leaning against the doorframe of the pub, watching the scene with mild interest as he took a drag at the lit cigarette in his mouth.
"Why? Worried for his pretty face?" the stocky man sneered.
"Nah," the American pushed himself off the wall and drew up to his full height, surprisingly steady and sharp for a man who'd appeared drunk just a few seconds ago. "I just don't like cowards. And," he flicked his half-used cigarette away lazily with a roguish grin. "I think I like our odds." He nodded to Arthur and Merlin.
"A drunk, a pretty boy, and a scrawny runt? I think I like them too," the stocky man responded. Merlin thought he counted five men, but he couldn't confirm the number since all at once they were moving, and Merlin shifted to put himself protectively in front of Arthur, but he almost instantly lost track of the blond when one of their opponents closed on him with a scornful grin. Merlin, too busy trying to stay on his own feet as he ducked away from his attacker's grasping hands, abandoned his attempt to relocate Arthur for a moment. The second lunge he was not quite prepared for, and he twisted to free himself, lost his balance, and clumsily toppled to the hard ground. He hadn't used magic in so open a place for over two years, but now he turned his head as his eyes flickered gold as the man dove for him. From that angle, he easily used a surreptitious telekinetic push on the back of his attacker's knees and toppled him over then guided the man's fall so he tripped a second attacker behind him. For good measure Merlin stirred up a handful of dirt, trash, and gravel into their faces to keep them out of the way for a moment before he rolled over and pushed himself up on his hands and knees, eyes flitting back and forth in a quick, urgent search for his flatmate, but he hadn't gone far. Arthur had engaged the stocky man who'd first started harassing them, and he had the man's wrist and arm, and he twisted them neatly, bringing the man to his knees, face contorted with pain—an all too familiar move that Merlin had been on the receiving end of before. But behind Arthur, something instinctively drew Merlin's eye, and he felt a shock of ice-cold fear stab through his insides. Someone was approaching from behind Arthur, and small though it might be, the gleam of metal shone in the approaching assailant's hand.
"Arthur!" Merlin surged to his feet, eyes just lighting with the golden blaze of magic, not having enough time to reach Arthur, but another figure reached the back-stabbing assailant first. Merlin saw the shadow-shrouded figure catch the attacker's unarmed hand, and that was as much as he witnessed before he was flat on his back a second time and lay for a second, stunned by the impact of his head on the cold cement. It was all he could do to lift his hands and shield his face as a halfhearted attempt to grasp at his magic which was almost as rattled as his consciousness at the moment. A pair of hands grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and hauled him upright, limp and dazed, but the blow never came. He heard a strangled yell, sounds of the scuffle nearby, shoes scraping on the pavement, and an angry voice.
"What the hell did you do to him?"
"He got in the way!"
"Put the god-damned knife away you blundering idiot," the one holding Merlin shouted, sending a stab of pain searing through his throbbing head. He released Merlin and left him to crumple to the ground again.
"Get out of here before someone calls the cops!" Merlin suddenly felt sick. He rolled over unsteady as he was and blinked to clear his vision.
"Arthur?" he croaked, staggering to his feet.
"Go. Go!" Merlin caught a glimpse of the attackers vanishing into the shadows and around the corner of the pub and Arthur's hair, pale gold in the thin light of the pub window. His hunched shoulders were outlined in its glow, and Merlin's heart pounded in his throat as he tried to stumble over to his flatmate.
"Arthur!" Merlin gasped breathlessly, almost falling to his knees beside the blond, still dazed from the blow to his head. "Wh-you, are you—" he managed clumsily.
"Yeah, fine. I'm trying to…" Arthur lifted a hand and squinted at it in the dim light, and Merlin's throat tightened. His fingers were slick with blood. "Oh hell… Merlin—" The warlock hesitated a split second, recognizing the prone figure before Arthur and registering the fact that it wasn't Arthur's blood. He'd forgotten about their impromptu companion somewhere in the middle of the struggle. He shouldered the blond aside, already shrugging his coat off. "Call an ambulance," he instructed, using the clean inner lining of his coat to stem the blood flow. Arthur was quick to obey, fumbling with his phone between damp, smeared hands. Merlin bowed his head the moment Arthur was occupied with dialing the emergency number. He took a soft breath, fervently praying he'd remembered the spell right, and whispered the words under his breath, spreading the fingers of one hand over the wound with the coat shielding them from view. The man stirred and groaned softly. "Come on. You need to wake up, alright? I have to keep you conscious until help arrives," Merlin muttered half to himself, moving his hand away and putting pressure on the wound with his jacket.
"Hmm?" The American blinked dazedly. "Wasn' asleep," he mumbled. slowly. Merlin's shoulders relaxed. It seemed to have worked. Even the bleeding had slowed somewhat. The threat of blood-loss would at least be staved off for now, though a cut as deep as this one would certainly need stitches. "Hell. Didn' know that kid had a knife on him," the American commented through his teeth. Merlin pursed his lips.
"Me neither," he said regretfully. "You didn't have to get involved." The American shrugged and smiled—though it turned into more of a grimace.
"Neither did you," he said. For a second, all Merlin could hear was Arthur's voice as he spoke to the emergency responders, then, "What's your name, then?" the American asked.
"Merlin." Merlin smiled back wearily. "Yours?"
"Don't sit up," Merlin said quickly when the man shifted, trying to raise an arm, and he pressed his makeshift bandage firmly over the gash, wincing when the man hissed at the pressure. "I'll shake your hand when I'm not trying to save your life, yeah?" Gwaine chuckled breathlessly.
"The ambulance will be here in about three minutes," Arthur said, coming to kneel beside Merlin. "How is he?"
"He can talk," Gwaine responded dryly, squinting up at the blond. "I don't have money for medical bills, you know, mate."
"I'll pay them," Arthur said instantly. The America grinned.
"Alright then," he said. Arthur opened his mouth and blinked at him, clearly having expected an argument, and Merlin couldn't help a snort of laughter at his expression.
"Actually," Gwaine added, "I don't have any money. Spent the last of it in there."
"I'll give you enough for the cab fare then," Arthur allowed. "How far is your place?"
"Don' have a place."
"What?" Gwaine slowly blinked open his eyes.
"My old man decided I was having a bit too much fun here 'n… cut me off." Gwaine closed his eyes for a moment, face creased with lines of pain. "Got evicted yesterday." Merlin exchanged a slightly bewildered look with his flatmate.
"Well… if it wasn't for you, I'd be the one getting stitches… if not worse." Arthur sighed. "You can stay at our flat for now. We'll find you a place tomorrow." The American grinned widely then grimaced again, coughed, and reached a hand up to his face. Merlin winced. It looked like he'd taken a decent hook to the cheek.
"Here." Merlin found a napkin in his pocket and handed it to Gwaine and was bewildered when the roguish grin returned to the American's face and he batted Merlin's hand away.
"Can't use that, Merlin mate. You'll be wanting to call the girl back," he said, wiping the trickle of blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. Merlin held the napkin up to the light and blinked.
"It doesn't make any sense," Arthur cut in, scowling across the American's head at Merlin. "What is it about you? The lost puppy expression?" Merlin lifted his shoulders.
"You just don't appreciate good taste when you see it."
"Oh, yeah. I'm sure it's your dashing good looks, Merlin. You and your ridiculous ears and those feet you're always tripping over," Arthur scoffed.
"Come on, Arthur, I never said I was all that handsome," Merlin responded with a smirk. "There's just not much of a competition. It's either me or an arrogant prat with the face of a toad." Arthur's eyes widened, but Gwaine chuckled.
"Relax, princess," he said, giving the blond a clumsy pat on the arm. "You're still pretty. You just weren't her type." He cringed and tried to reach a hand down to the still-bleeding gash.
"Lie still. I've got it," Merlin said quietly with a sympathetic grimace. Arthur squeezed his shoulder briefly, but his eyes narrowed at Merlin.
"I do not have the face of a toad," he muttered at last. Merlin tilted his head and scrutinized Arthur carefully.
"No. You're right," he said solemnly. "I should leave the poor toads out of it." Arthur opened his mouth, blinked, and stared at his flatmate for a moment, apparently unable to think of a satisfactory comeback, and as the blue-and-red lights of the emergency vehicles spilled across the street, Gwaine let his head rest back on the cement and laughed.