Title: I Will Follow
Summary: When Arthur meets Merlin, his new priority in life is to keep him safe.
Warnings (if any): None.
Total word count: 3,467
Author's/artist's notes (if any): Latin translator Latin is not necessarily correct! I just realised I forgot to repost this.
Beta(s): Thanks to singlemomsummer for the beta.
Arthur's at the market buying fruit when he sees her. She's out of place in the small town market where Arthur's made it his business to know everyone's face - from the pub landlord to the old lady who always says hello to him as she walks her dog as Arthur's taking his morning run. This woman stands out from the locals in her expensively cut trouser suit that's too formal for Saturday morning in the middle of Kinbridge; and it's the way she's so casually standing there, it's too casual.
Arthur's senses switch to red alert. Slowly he puts down the kiwi fruit he was about to buy, smiling at the stallholder with a small shake of his head, and walks slowly in the opposite direction to the woman, desperately hoping she's alone and not with a team of others. He stops once or twice to say hello to one of the locals who address him, knowing that to ignore their greetings or to pick up his pace might draw the attention of the stranger.
When he reaches the edge of the market, he walks to the café on the corner, orders a coffee, pays for it, and whilst Sally's busy making it, he follows the sign for the bathrooms. Instead of going in, he heads for the back entrance, which he knows is always wide open in the summer because of the stifling heat, and he exits. Only then does he chance a look behind him, and seeing the way is clear – no one behind him - he springs the fence into the alleyway behind - and runs.
It's not too far to their cottage, but when he gets there, Merlin's nowhere to be seen. "Merlin!" he hisses, as though the stranger can hear him from wherever she is. He can sense from the stillness in the house that Merlin's not in, but he calls out anyway. "Merlin – we've got to go!"
There's no time to waste now, every second he dawdles is a second closer to discovery.
He takes the stairs two at a time, yanks two backpacks out of the cupboard on the landing, and enters the bedroom. He starts throwing the scant contents of their wardrobe and drawers inside as his heart is pounding in fear. He can't give in to it. Merlin won't have gone far; today is a rare day off for both of them and they had planned to spend it together.
He pulls a box out from under the bed, opens it to check it's full of the money he's saved, and stuffs it into a one of the bags.
Grabbing the straps of the backpacks, Arthur runs back downstairs, tugs the car keys off the hook by the back door and heads outside to throw the bags in the boot. Not for the first time he wishes they had mobile phones, but even pay-as-you-go ones are too risky when you're wanted by the authorities.
When he hears a footstep – a scrape against the floor behind him - for a moment he freezes in fear, until a voice says, "Arthur – is it happening again?" Arthur exhales in relief, turning around and pulling Merlin into an urgent embrace, kissing the top of his head tenderly.
"Get in the car, and put the hat on," he instructs, pushing Merlin towards to the old Ford Focus they've been using. "I've got all we need. We have to go."
"Fuck," Merlin says, and Arthur hears his voice waver. "I like it here." Even as he's speaking he's climbing into the passenger seat, pulling on his seatbelt and grabbing his beanie hat from the glove box. He yanks it on and turns to watch Arthur as he locks the back door to the cottage that's been their home for the last three months and posts the keys through the letterbox.
Arthur joins Merlin in the car, fastening his seatbelt and squeezing Merlin's hand reassuringly before starting the car. He wants to accelerate and drive out of the village at ninety miles an hour, but he knows that if the stranger is still on the lookout, he's just going to draw attention to them. He sticks to the speed limit, avoids the town square, and once he's sure no one's following them and the sign saying 'Welcome to Kinbridge' is just a speck in the rear view mirror, he puts his foot down.
"Get the map," he says to Merlin, who's pulled his knees up to his chest with the side of his head resting on his knees, staring out of the window as the countryside whizzes past. "Find us a new place to live."
As Merlin reaches behind the passenger seat for the road map, Arthur's primary thought is, 'thank God – Merlin is safe'.
That night they stay in the car in a lay-by on a quiet country lane in the middle of nowhere, somewhere that is so far from a town that there is no orange glow in the sky. It's cold, but Arthur's not sure he entirely disapproves of Merlin's warm-up methods, not when Merlin's making Arthur hard again when he's only just come inside Merlin's mouth. Merlin's slowly licking him clean, long and languorous strokes make Arthur almost forget that he's in a car back seat with no home to go to.
They never had been able to keep their hands off one another, not since that first kiss.
Arthur's barely gotten his breath before Merlin's straddling him, his own cock straining towards Arthur's lips for a moment, and Arthur snakes out a tongue to taste the precome he's knows will be there. The taste of him sends the blood to fill him again.
Now, the last thing on Arthur's mind is the cold, or where they are. Just the slow drag of Merlin as he impales himself, and the dig of his fingers on Arthur's shoulders as he clutches him tight, his head grazing Arthur's forehead before he starts to move. Merlin takes it slow for a couple of minutes his breathing heavy as he moves above him. The swell of love and fear that assuages Arthur every time Merlin is near him combines to make Arthur's blood soar and his toes curl as his second orgasm slowly builds.
He senses when Merlin is close as he speeds up, his breath in Arthur's ear. It's so dark, barely a hint of moonlight, Arthur's relying on smell and touch and – God¬ – he wraps his hand around Merlin's cock and only needs three strokes before Merlin's coming, Arthur's name on his lips – and Arthur's ready, so ready, and he follows Merlin over, like he'd follow him anywhere, filling him up, making him his.
It's messy in the aftermath, but Arthur's glad they don't have to worry about condoms anymore because like this he feels closer to Merlin. It's his job to keep Merlin safe, and as they curl up together on the back seat, uncomfortable and sticky, Arthur says, "I love you."
Merlin wriggles closer as if that were possible in the tight space they're in. "Love you too," he says and Arthur's heart stutters. It's all he needs.
The small town Merlin's chosen by picking a page number and a co-ordinate is their fourth home in eleven months. Nowhere is ever really safe for long, not for persons suspected of being magic users and their lovers.
This has been their life for almost a year.
It's too risky to live in a house in the centre of town, they have to stick to the outskirts for an easier escape should they be discovered. This new place is a miniscule old miner's cottage, one bedroom and a small bathroom upstairs and a tiny open plan living area below. It's cheap, clean and furnished; all they need.
On their first night there Arthur lies awake and listens to the steady sound of Merlin breathing; he likes this time he has after Merlin's fallen asleep, usually after they've made love, when he can simply listen and reassure himself that Merlin's alive, he's safe in Arthur's arms, where he belongs.
This could so easily have been another story. If Merlin wasn't Arthur's first mission, if the case had been given to someone else… Arthur feels sick just thinking about the other potential outcomes.
He can't believe he's been so blind, so brainwashed- All he's ever wanted is to work for his country, to protect it, to be the best he can be – he's his father's son in that respect. Of course, it's only recently that he's found out the truth about what Uther Pendragon really does and it explains such a lot; like why Morgana left without a goodbye, why she turned on Uther so suddenly. It hadn't made sense at the time, Arthur had been eighteen and hurt that his big sister had left without him, but now it was as clear as day. Those dreams Morgana used to have, when she knewsomething was going to happen – if Uther had ever found out… Arthur wonders now if perhaps he had.
The British Government keeps magic outlawed; but worse than that is what they do to those who are found to possess it – something that the general public knows nothing of. If MI9 suspects that someone has magic, then there are two choices for that person. If they are proven to possess magical powers, and Arthur's been naïve to believe that things like this couldn't happen in 2011, it's run for your life or die. Oddly enough, the popular choice was to run, and that was assuming you had realised that there was even a choice before the gun was at your head. Nothing has changed since the Middle Ages, only now no one is baying for blood in the village square.
Arthur's first mission was Merlin Emrys; his first and last. He was supposed to befriend him, watch him closely, and if he showed any signs of being magical he was supposed to vanish him – his first mission and his first kill.
Arthur had excelled in his training, and had been handpicked for MI9, a division of the secret services he'd never heard of before, and he'd felt so honoured that he'd let himself be blinded. He'd thought he was capable of being that person, of being the man his father wanted him to be – the man Arthur had thought he wanted to be.
Maybe he could have been that man, one who could kill for Queen and country, but when they'd sent him on that first mission and end the life of the man who had welcomed him into his life with open arms, Arthur hadn't been able to go through with it, had never even come close. What had that skinny scrap ever done to hurt anyone?
It was supposed to be a cut and dried case.
The moment Arthur first met those clear blue eyes he should have known that he would never be able do it, but he'd mistaken the butterflies for nerves. The moment he'd first kissed Merlin he knew that he would never be able to go through with it. He hadn't expected to fall in love, he hadn't realised that he knew what love was.
They'd run together in the end; Arthur was taking too long with the mission, Aredian was being sent in to deal with the case, and he was a man notorious for seeing things that weren't there just to get a job done faster. Arthur had thought that telling Merlin what he really was would be the end anyway, that Merlin would choose to run without him.
Arthur had already been at the point that life without Merlin was inconceivable.
Sometimes when Arthur closes his eyes he sees things that never happened but so nearly could have been and he feels sick. Merlin, the light in his eyes snuffed out by his own hand. A world without Merlin in it.
He turns onto his side and snuggles into Merlin, wrapping an arm around him, making sure it's rested over his chest so he can feel his heart beating. Tonight they are safe.
"You don't have to do this you know," Merlin says a few days later, his blue eyes damp with emotion; Arthur knows he's been working himself up to this for days. "You don't have to live in a dump like this. It's me they want; if it hadn't been you to come for me, it would've been someone else."
Arthur goes cold. "Don't say things like that," he says sharply. "I have to be here because I love you. Where else would I be?" He stops stirring the stew he's cooking them for dinner and walks over to where Merlin is leaning against the bannister, chewing his lip nervously. He brushes the back of his hand along Merlin's cheekbone and leans forward to kiss him.
When he pulls back and rests his forehead against Merlin's and he feels the racing of his own heart. Sometimes he is genuinely scared that one day he'll come back from whatever job he's working that week to find Merlin has gone.
"Arthur, you're working in a call centre. This time last year you were one step away from being James Bond!" Merlin steps backwards, pushing long pale fingers through his dark hair. "Someone like you shouldn't have to answer petty customer complaints for a living!"
"I'm sorry, Arthur, I just don't think I can keep doing this!" Merlin's voice cracks. "I'm sick of running." Before Arthur reacts Merlin has grabbed his hoody off the hook by the front door and has slammed out of it, leaving Arthur staring after him with an awful churning feeling in his stomach.
Swallowing thickly he turns his attention back to the hob when the stew starts hissing as the contents burn on the bottom. He grabs the pot and upends it into the bin and turns of the gas. He's lost his appetite.
What the hell had just happened?
He doesn't know how to get it through to Merlin that he doesn't care that he works in a call centre and that in the last town he worked in a warehouse. He doesn't care about any of it. What he cares about is coming home to Merlin.
He glares at the door and flops down onto the sofa to wait Merlin out; Arthur knows that when Merlin needs to be alone he'll walk up to the top of the tor until the cobwebs have blown away. He'll be back when he's ready.
Arthur's not leaving this spot until Merlin's back home, safe.
When Arthur wakes up he's got a stiff cricked neck and he's cold. He's on the sofa, curled up at an uncomfortable angle and it's dark outside. He checks his watch to find its two o'clock in the morning.
He knows Merlin hasn't come home yet; he can't have done, because if he had Arthur would have woken up. Nevertheless he takes the stairs two by two up to the bedroom and throws open the door. The curtains are open with bright moonlight streaming in, and the bed is still made.
Arthur tries not to panic. With all of his he has to be logical. Nothing prepared him for how this might feel, for Merlin to be missing and out of the safety of Arthur's protection. It never occurred to him when Merlin stormed out earlier that Merlin might have left him for good and that that was his last chance – he could have followed Merlin and he hadn't because he'd assumed he just needed some time alone.
It occurs to him then that someone might have taken Merlin; it's the reason they never stay in one place for long, the thing that Arthur fears the most – they wouldn't be interested in Arthur now, at least he wouldn't be their first concern. They'd take Merlin and they'd end his life for daring to possess magic.
His head spins and his sinks down onto the bed with his head in his hands. What should he do first? He's never felt this before he doesn't know what to do. If Merlin's left him, at least he's alive – Arthur can find him and persuade him that this is something worth fighting for-
He hears the front door crash open and he's downstairs catching a stumbling Merlin in his arms before he even realises that he's moved. Merlin smells of stale ale and vaguely of cigarette smoke.
"Arter," he slurs, and giggles. "I sand karaoke." He wraps an arm around Arthur's neck, the sudden burden of his weight almost pulling Arthur over.
Arthur doesn't know whether to shake or kiss him. "You've been in the pub?" he accuses instead. He thinks about saying something about his concerns that Merlin had left him, but he bites his tongue. "Merlin-"
"I know, I know," Merlin says, sounding suddenly sober. "'M sorry."
Arthur pulls him close. "Come on. Let's get you to bed."
Merlin allows Arthur to manhandle him up the stairs and remove his clothes. Once Merlin is under the covers Arthur yanks off his own clothing and joins him, wrapping his arms tightly around him and pulling him close. Merlin is safe.
That's all that matters.
It's the following evening before Arthur addresses it again. He has to get this off his chest. "Don't do that to me again," he says to Merlin after they've eaten their evening meal and they're on their tiny sofa, Merlin's head in Arthur's lap, his legs dangling over the end. He doesn't have to say anything more because Merlin knows.
Merlin shakes his head and says, "I just miss my Mum, y'know? Uncle Gaius, Will…Freya. I can't even call them. It's not you Arthur it's the situation we're in. I miss having a proper home. I want us to be able to settle in one place and never have to worry that they'll find us. Maybe if we stayed in one place there'd be a way to contact Mum…"
Arthur's heart aches and he finally admits to himself he's being selfish. There is one possible solution he has ignored before now because it hurts him too much, but when has this been about him alone? It's about the two of them.
Morgana is his sister and when she left Arthur had almost gone off the rails with grief, but that was eight years ago, and he doesn't blame her anymore, not now he knows what he knows. He's not his father, and he had loved her, he does love her.
She might be able to help them. Her name is on the wanted MI9 list – dead or alive – Uther Pendragon's daughter or not.
"I think we should find Morgana," he says, knowing it's the only real option open to them now.
"It's been eight years," Merlin points out gently. "She could be anywhere-
"I think I know a way to find her," Arthur says, and the realisation crashes through him like wild magic – and perhaps it is, perhaps the key wasneeding to find his sister. "I think I've always known."
Merlin pushes himself up to a sitting position. "How?"
Arthur raises his left hand and waggles his index finger. "She gave me this ring for my eighteenth birthday. She said that for as long as I wore it I'd never forget her. Two weeks later she was gone." He takes it off and holds it up for Merlin's benefit. "There's an inscription. 'Per basium ego mos servo vos tutus'."
Merlin takes the ring and re-reads the words etched inside. "It's old Latin. It means 'With a kiss I will keep you safe'." His face splits into a huge grin and he raises an eyebrow. "I'm guessing you need to kiss it?" He hands it back to Arthur.
"If this works, I don't know what will lie in store for us," Arthur says, staring at the ring before he turns his head to look at Merlin. "What if-"
"I think she meant for you to find her one day. She would never have given you that if she didn't. But-" Merlin's grin widens and he moves to straddle Arthur, lifting off his t-shirt as he does so. He leans forward and nibbles Arthur's ear. "Let's just have one last night here – alone - first."
Arthur puts the ring back on and reaches round to cup Merlin's arse, pulling him closer. "Okay," he says and lets Merlin part his lips for a hungry kiss. He doesn't know what might happen when he kisses the ring, but he knows that whatever it is, it's one step closer to keeping Merlin safe – and that is all that has mattered to Arthur since Merlin entered his life.