A/N: Arthur's POV of Euphoria. Beta'd by the lovely Jusmine.
Turning down another wrong-feeling turn, Arthur pulled over along a fairly deserted street, cars only driving by every few minutes or so. On his phone, he pulled up the contacts, selected 'Valentine,' and hit call.
Just one ring, if that. Arthur paid good money for a reason.
"Val Yant, here," the man answered.
"Don't you have caller ID?" Arthur asked, before sighing. "Weird PI, you are. Listen, I'm pretty sure I just passed by fucking Soho, so-"
"You're in the right direction, then," Val said, tiredly, yawning. Well, Arthur supposed, it was around two in the morning. But when you regularly worked in the middle of the night and people halfway across the world, day and night and people's normal boundaries of time tended to lose meaning, after a while. "I know it hurts, but this Emrys friend of yours, well, he's not in a good way. The address I gave you is right – your long lost friend or whatever is there. Though, seriously, he's pretty fucking young – with all the crap you were giving me about him, I'd have expected him to be much older."
"You'd be surprised," Arthur said, dryly.
He's older than you can possibly imagine.
"Sorry for calling so late," Arthur said. "Go back to sleep, and thank you."
"No pro'lem," Val said, and promptly hung up.
Hanging up and setting down his own phone in the car charger, Arthur sighed. He took another look at the address and directions before continuing on his path.
When he got there, Arthur stared in disbelief at the building Val had given him directions to.
It was a fucking flophouse. And literally, not just the exaggeration Arthur is prone to, but an actual, home-to-drug-addicts-and-hookers-and-all-the-other-dregs-of-society flophouse.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped out of the car and onto the curb, locking it up thoroughly, and shooting a searing warning look towards a few thugs down the street, before he headed for the building's front door.
"Hello?" Arthur called out, in some kind of dingy hallway with a few chairs – probably serving as a lobby of some kind.
A well-groomed man with dirty-blond hair, looking fairly incongruous in this rundown place, stepped out from a room, and eyed him carefully. "Who are you?" he asked without prompt.
"Someone," Arthur answered cryptically. "Drake, right?" Val had managed to get quite a bit on the man. He was a drug dealer, and owned this build-no, flophouse.
"Who wants to know?" Drake said, in a manner that screamed, yes.
"I'm looking for an old friend of mine," Arthur said. "Merlin? Merlin Emrys?"
Drake just grew more suspicious. "As far as I know, he doesn't have any friends – said so, himself."
"Yes, well, he would believe that – listen, I just need to find him, all right?"
"To help him," Arthur said, succinctly.
"Well, he isn't here. And I respect his privacy so you're not finding him from me. Now get out of my building."
Arthur just scowled, and proceeded to push past this man, intent on finding Merlin.
"Oi!" Drake yelled, grabbing Arthur's arm.
Almost purely on instinct, Arthur whirled around, arm at just the right angle that in one smooth move, Drake was crying out again as he was pressed up against the wall, arm twisted up behind his back.
Arthur smirked. Fifteen hundred years of learning multiple martial arts, aided tremendously by his sports and hobbies now – he could be a human weapon if he wanted.
"Let go of me!" Drake yelled.
"I have a friend to look for," Arthur said, releasing Drake and walking straight for the stairs at the end of the hall, heading upstairs instantly.
When he saw the first room from the staircase, his heart sank at the idea Merlin was living in one of these. These rooms were barely bigger than an average walk-in closet (let alone his), only big enough for some sleeping bags or sleeping pallets on the ground, and a few worldly possessions.
Many rooms didn't even have that.
"Merlin!" he called out. At first, he'd knocked on all the doors, but quickly found that it was much easier to just open them, himself – the doors didn't have locks, and the people inside were usually too doped up to react, or even care.
Finding nothing on the first floor, he tried the second – nothing. No Merlin.
It was the third floor he found Merlin. After yelling out, "Merlin!" and not really expecting a response, he went down the hall, opening doors, and froze in the doorway of one room halfway down the corridor.
"Oh, god… Merlin!"
As the man's head turned to him, all Arthur could think was, Merlin's a wreck. Mussed up clothes, pasty skin, matted hair, and white something on his face that Arthur did not want to think about.
The worst were his eyes, not quite deadened, but in a haze, as if he were looking right through Arthur, right through the world, not truly seeing it before him.
"Huh?" Merlin said, after a moment.
His sluggish movements were almost suspicious, and it's all far too heartbreaking, but Arthur was still relieved at least to find him, after years of searching, and breathed out, "Merlin," and stepped forward.
He could swear his heart literally shattered when Merlin pushed himself away as he moved, which is impossible, because Arthur could feel the magic pulling them together.
"Go away," Merlin mumbled, and Arthur is shocked and horrified and… and… and-
"Merlin," he said again, reaching out for Merlin, and then freezing his hand in the air when Merlin flinched from it. What had happened to him? "Please, you know me." Merlin couldn't be that far gone, could he?
"Exa'ly," Merlin slurred out. "So go away."
This was wrong, Merlin telling him to go away.
What the hell was Merlin even on? He couldn't tell, but at least he could tell-
"I… we… you're high!" Because it was wrong, all of this, Merlin should have come when he was supposed to, make them remember when he was supposed to…
Merlin nodded, laughing, and it was just disturbing. "Yup!"
"And you're…" he stared at the white glob of something on Merlin's face, and remembering Val's comments, realized what it was: cum.
Merlin was a drugwhore, and that realization made what was left of the pieces of Arthur's heart sink.
"Just go away," Merlin moaned, looking pained. "I've had enough."
And whatever it was, Merlin wasn't getting out of it! He was going to sober the idiot up and get an explanation for this, because no matter what he's been through, one way or another, Merlin has always come through for Arthur and the others and brought them back their memories. Always.
He wasn't letting Merlin slip through his fingers just yet.
Reaching out for Merlin again, ignoring the flinch, he grabbed Merlin's arm and gasped at the feel of energy flowing between them, making up for two and a half decades apart.
Merlin tried to pull his arm away, movements feeble, but Arthur's grip is tight around his arm, and he refused to let go.
"You idiot," Arthur murmurs, falling back on old patterns and insults and rhythms between them. Over the last thousand and a half years, and some things never changed.
"Please, Arthur," he said, tone begging. "I don't… I can't do this, again."
He swallowed at Merlin's dopey, pleading eyes, which Arthur never could easily resist.
But this was a time far from easy.
"Let's get you clean, first," because Arthur didn't know how much longer he could stand watching Merlin be like this. "Then we'll worry about what you can and can't do."
Merlin moaned, a sound that went straight to the ruins of Arthur's heart. "Please, no, I can't watch you live and die again, watch you age again, without me, I can't…I can't…I c-can't…"
Arthur stared in shock as Merlin babbled on, and shushed him, "Sh…" because that was the only thing he could do, feeling helpless in the face of this Merlin.
Logically, he knew it wasn't the first time Merlin had sunken into something so serious. But the clearest lifetimes were always this one and Camelot, so the ones in between are hazy, and Arthur's chest tightened as he feels like this is the first time he's meeting his soul mate, and said soul mate is… is…
Merlin was dry sobbing, now, and desperately, futilely trying to push Arthur away. He's so numb, he lets go, and Merlin falls, landing on his back on the pallet.
He looked around the room. There wasn't really anything in it. Some leftover syringes in the corner, bits of food here and there, all of it half-eaten, and a few articles of clothing, though they didn't look like they'd been worn anytime recently. Otherwise, nothing.
The room was empty.
He sighed and pulled his keys out of his pocket, before reaching down and putting one arm under Merlin's shoulders and the other under Merlin's knees and lifting him up.
It terrified Arthur how easy it was to lift Merlin up. He was strong – years spent between multiple sports and his hours on the gym equipment at home made sure of it – but lifting another full-grown person should've taken more effort. Instead, he felt like he was lifting a young teenager at the most, or even a child, as he carried Merlin out the door.
Merlin tried again to feebly push away, but by now even Arthur could feel how half-hearted the efforts were. The moron was finally relenting to Arthur, letting himself be taken away.
Arthur was torn – half of him was glad that Merlin was no longer resisting, but the other half was grieving at the thought of Merlin, so strong-willed and stubborn, giving in to anything so easily.
"You're all skin and bones… even worse than that famine in… what was it, 15th century?"
God, that'd been a nightmare. But at least it was a legitimate reason. They'd all been starved, especially when they had magic to support them and ended up giving food to others in their village at the time. But this… this…
Merlin just tiredly leaned his head into Arthur's shoulder. Arthur felt the storm of emotions flood his veins as he yet again spotted the dried cum on Merlin's face, but it spurred on his thousand-and-a-half-years-old protective instincts, and he cradled Merlin closer to his chest for it as he headed towards leaving the building.
"Hey!" Arthur turned to see Drake coming out from the room from earlier. "Where are you taking him?"
"Somewhere safe, decent, and civilized," Arthur said, feeling nothing but contempt for the drug dealer. "And no, he's never coming back."
"Don't you dare-"
"What, you care? Or are you just sorry to lose a client?" Arthur sneered. God, he had to get Merlin out of here, now – every moment spent here just felt more wrong, and made the necessity to leave feel more urgent.
"You take another step, and I will run you through with a chair leg. I've been in rugby since I was five, so don't think I can't." And looking at the chair, thinking it would splinter easily, he probably would, too. He isn't much of a violent man in this life time, except when a script would require it in front of a camera, but he's willing to use his skills, honed for over fifteen hundred years, to get Merlin out of here as fast as possible.
Drake stared for a moment, weighing his options, before he seemed to take in the absolute ease Arthur held Merlin with, and said, "Just get the fuck out of here."
Merlin turned his head towards Drake one last time, and the way Drake stared at the cum on Merlin's cheek made Arthur sick, and his gut clench, at the realization that the semen was his.
Drake turned and went back towards the room he came out of it.
Immediately, Arthur carried Merlin right out the door, not caring what it looked like as he headed towards his car. He got Merlin to stand long enough to open the door, and then really felt like Merlin was a child with the way he could just gently push the pliable Merlin into the seat and buckle the half-gone warlock into the seat. The other half, though, the not-gone part, watched every movement Arthur made, blinking dopily at him and squinting at him at times in the dim streetlight.
"It's okay, Merlin," Arthur murmured to him once he was safely behind the wheel. "Go to sleep. You're safe, now."
Merlin smiled, nodded, and mumbled, "Bloody noble prat." Arthur's heart soared, that Merlin could still remember this, remember something so true and be able to shoot his banter back at Arthur even in his state.
He tried to come up with a retort as he started the car, but found he couldn't, so he said simply, "I know."
And eventually, he smiled in relief as Merlin drifted off to sleep.
He was bringing Merlin home.
A/N:Before you people ask - no, I'm not expanding on this. This is a one-shot. If I do ever expand on this, it will be after Euphoria's finished, if that.