It had been two years. Almost exactly two years. Because his twentieth birthday was last week and it was about a week after his eighteenth that his father had caught him with Gareth and promptly thrown him out of the house with the clothes on his back, a hundred quid in his pocket and instructions to never contact Uther (or any newspapers) ever again.
Arthur wasn't even sure he was gay. He'd just been curious. An only child, hopelessly spoiled and indulged by a father who was barely there. He hadn't known what would happen. He'd experimented with alcohol, drugs, getting arrested and his father hadn't batted an eyelash. Why would he this time?
The first few weeks had been the worst of his life, he'd been sleeping rough. Arthur Pendragon, heir to the Pendragon business empire's billions, sleeping rough on the streets of London. The hundred quid had gone quickly and he'd still been thinking that he was going to wake up and he'd be sleeping in his own king-size bed, in his room and his life would be back to normal. He hadn't woken up.
The night was wet and cold, which meant business wasn't going to be good. But he had rent to pay next week, his trainers were leaking and his supply of dry pasta and bread had run out the day before yesterday so he seriously needed the money. Shrugging on a thin button-down shirt and battered jeans Arthur used the dusty window glass as a mirror. He didn't particularly like what he saw; he'd lost weight and muscle mass through two years of having too bloody little to eat, the clothes he had from two years ago hung off him now, his hair was longer than he liked it (no money for a haircut and no idea of how to go about cutting his own hair) and his razor had broken this morning so he was still itchily stubbly. Not exactly an attractive prospect but he might as well try.
He'd been scraping a living by selling his body for just under two years now. He'd slept on the streets for nearly a month after being thrown out, getting progressively hungrier and hungrier. Then he'd been loitering around the corner of an ally by a restaurant, hoping to nick some leftovers from the bins out back - oh how the mighty Arthur Pendragon had fallen - when he'd been approached and offered fifty quid to blow a guy. The man had been drunk and not at all nice and Arthur really had no experience of giving blowjobs, more used to receiving them, but he hadn't bitten the guy and had had a few notes thrown at him. He'd been stupid with his newly found wealth, staying overnight at the cheapest B&B he could find but that had still eaten up most of the funds - although he had gotten a large breakfast out of it. It had taken him the better part of two more weeks to turn enough tricks to get the money for rent on a dingy, one bedroom flat about half the size of his former wardrobe. He'd been living here ever since. Barely living. Existing.
Having grown up in a home where the cleaning, washing, cooking and everything had been taken care of by staff Arthur had had absolutely no idea of how to take care of himself. So he'd been living off cheap rubbery pasta, bread with a consistency of cotton wool and tap water with a light flavouring of iron for the last eighteen months. The flat didn't actually have a washing machine and when he'd stumbled upon a laundrette he'd honestly had no clue how to use it. Fortunately there had been a somewhat portly middle aged woman there who'd clucked over him, showed him how to use the washing machines and then given him her box of washing powder when it became obvious he didn't have any.
Arthur left his worn jacket inside, pocketed the key and left the flat. He'd be drenched by the time he got to the street he usually worked, but in the absence of having anything more revealing having a shirt moulded to him by the rain would have to do. Besides, on a night as shitty at this, what business other than selling their body would someone have out here?
Merlin had known who and what he was since he was seven (he was always the first to remember). He'd also known the need for secrecy, passed down through many lives and reincarnations, he didn't even tell his mother - Hunith never remembered, whatever happened. Fortunately by then he and Gwen had been friends since age five (they were often drawn together fairly early on), although he hadn't told her she'd remembered when they were fourteen and she'd caught him doing magic. she'd berated him for not telling her earlier but she'd been hugging him at the time so it hadn't really worked.
Will, Gaius and Morgana hadn't turned up until last year; Morgana was doing something to do with fashion (Merlin didn't know exactly what) at University of the Arts, London, which was where Gwen was studying Design. Gwen had introduced them one afternoon when Merlin had come over for tea, and to complain about his course load at Imperial College. Morgana had always been the quickest (after Merlin) to remember and so, instead of spending the evening whining about their respective course loads, they'd spent the rest of the evening talking about previous lives and the all important topic - where Arthur was. Morgana's parents were both fine and completely alive and, though she vaguely recalled her father having something to do with the Pendragon business empire, she'd never met Uther or Arthur. Will owned Merlin's local pub and they occasionally went out together, whenever neither of them had anything better to do. Gaius, on the other hand, turned out to be one of Merlin's professors and, since Gaius rarely remembered without direct intervention from Merlin, the odd looks he'd been giving Merlin were somewhat suspect.
All this had no bearing on the fact he was driving around winding back streets of London on a feeling. Well, on a little more than that, his magic had been getting...well itchy was the only word Merlin could really use. The day before yesterday he'd walked to the nearest Costa while half-asleep to buy his morning cup of (exorbitantly expensive) coffee and ended up walking somewhere completely different for ten minutes before he noticed. His magic obviously wanted him to do something or meet somebody. So, with Gwen and Morgana out, Merlin had taken his car and followed his magic's directions. For the past few streets he'd seen people, albeit very few, men and women dressed in tight, revealing clothing and obviously soliciting. What on earth was he thinking, being here? With a sigh Merlin decided he was going to turn his car around and head home.
It was right then he saw him. Shaggy blond hair plastered to his head from the rain, button-down shirt sticking to his frame - which was skinnier than it ought to be -, jeans and trainers which looked to be falling apart. From somewhere inside him his magic was singing. Arthur.
Arthur's night had been boring and wet and he was rather worried he'd come down with a cold - that would damage his business, nobody wanted to fuck someone who was sniffling, sneezing and coughing. He didn't have the money for cold medicine anyway. Still, he needed to make sure there was nobody around before he left for home: a broken heater, a scratchy towel and some scratchier blankets. Even a couple of extra quid would help.
There was an Audi TT Coupe meandering slowly down the street, the driver appeared to be distracted so it was a good thing the streets were deserted. He was either lost or this was his first time soliciting a street walker. Whichever that might be Arthur approached the car and the window rolled down, Arthur found himself staring into the bluest pair of eyes he'd ever seen and they looked oddly familiar.
"You want something?" Arthur asked, the dark haired guy in the car looked awkward - definitely a first timer then.
Merlin was dumbfounded for a minute, this was Arthur and he was a prostitute. Why oh why was Arthur always the one who took the longest to remember? This would have been so much easier if, like Morgana, they'd just looked at each other and Arthur had remembered. But then again Arthur was always a stubborn prat.
"Yeah" Merlin said, although it was more like croaked because his throat had gone dry when he'd seen Arthur.
Arthur couldn't say he was surprised but at least he'd get out of this infernal rain (the problem with having no TV and no paper was he never knew what the weather was doing). He walked around to the passenger side of the car and got in, if this guy minded getting his car's seats wet then he wouldn't have picked up a wet hooker.
"I'm Merlin" Arthur snorted, both at the name (although somewhere inside him it rang a bell) and at the fact one of his tricks was trying to make small talk. Although he was grateful when Merlin turned the heater on, he hadn't been able to feel his hands or most of his extremities.
Merlin was actually having a full on inner panic attack; he had Arthur in his car, he had Arthur who hadn't remembered who he was in his car, Arthur who was working as a prostitute and thought Merlin was his next...customer. The thought of anyone but him touching Arthur in that way pissed Merlin off - but that was something to sort out later.
"Why are you doing this?" Merlin asked gently, he couldn't help wanting to know everything about Arthur in every incarnation.
"What, turning tricks?" Arthur snapped bitterly "how the fuck else am I supposed to survive?" Suddenly Arthur couldn't stop himself from ranting "thrown out by my father, dropped out of college, no CV to speak of. What the fuck else is there to do?" Merlin gripped the steering wheel tighter and fought down the urge to go out and stop whatever or whoever was hurting Arthur. Even if that happened to be Uther. Arthur was still speaking, now sounding slightly hysterical "I'm Arthur fucking Pendragon, this wasn't supposed to happen. I was just fucking curious, just messing around. I didn't know father would react like that." Now all Merlin wanted to do was hug Arthur to him and protect him from the world.
Well now he was stuffed. He'd just opened himself up to a world of mockery because who didn't recognize the surname Pendragon? Plus he'd just had a slight hysterical breakdown in his trick's car, which was never a good thing, but Merlin hadn't said anything and when Arthur darted a glance at him through his overly long hair Merlin was looking at him not with disgust but with care. That was a very weird feeling, someone caring about him. Arthur supposed his father had cared about him (he didn't want to speculate on whether Uther still cared about him) but from the amount of time Uther had spent away from him and the emotionally detached way he'd given into Arthur's every mercenary request Arthur realised his father hadn't ever been...well...fatherly.
Arthur was jerked out of his introspection when they jolted to a stop as Merlin parked. He was led, in total silence, up a few flights of stairs and to a locked door which Merlin preceded to open. Christ, the man had brought him to his flat, how insane was this guy? Without conscious decision Arthur reverted to the rather brusque business manner he had developed over the past eighteen months.
"What do you..." he was interrupted by his stomach giving a loud growl; Merlin snorted and tried to cover it with a hand, Arthur flushed a dull red.
"You want something to eat?" Merlin offered,
"Yes!" This had to be the weirdest night ever but Arthur hadn't eaten in two days so he wasn't about to turn down free food.
Five minutes later Arthur was sitting on the slightly battered sofa eating a couple of slices of toast while Merlin cooked - Merlin had said something about his mother being sick for a while and having to learn to cook. The bread was obviously home-made, Arthur had spotted a bread-maker in the kitchen, and slathered in butter; God, he hadn't had butter in about a year, maybe longer. Although he was aware he was being terribly bad mannered Arthur honestly couldn't bring himself to care.
Two hours after that Arthur felt full and replete, now lying down and stretched over the entire sofa, half asleep. His survival instinct, honed after the last two years, was telling him that this was too good to last and Merlin had to be doing this for a reason but something even stronger inside of him was saying that everything was fine and that he could trust Merlin. The second feeling felt like nothing Arthur had ever felt before, it felt old and familiar and like home. It was contemplating just exactly what that feeling was that he fell asleep.
With a start Arthur jerked into wakefulness, throwing the thick blankets half off him awkwardly, looking around wildly at this foreign living room (usually when he woke up in strange places the places were beds and there was someone else there) before remembering the crazy events of last night. He'd barely gotten used to his new surroundings when Merlin wandered in
"Sleep well?" Merlin asked, still oddly caring
"Yes" Arthur said suspiciously
"Want breakfast?" Merlin checked his watch "Well...lunch?"
After lunch Arthur had his first hot shower in months, he'd been washing with a flannel and cold water so the invitation to use a hot shower and some decent shampoo couldn't be turned down. By the time he'd dried off and changed into some of Merlin's clothes Arthur was thoroughly confused; he didn't understand why on earth some complete stranger would be this kind for no reason. Arthur hated being confused.
"Why are you doing this?" Merlin was sitting in the lounge looking over papers which looked complicated when Arthur strode in, hair still damp from the shower and demanding an answer.
"Doing what?" Merlin looked up, all wide blue eyes and innocence. His eyes caught on Arthur wearing his clothes because, throughout nearly all of their lives, Merlin had been the skinny one. The tee-shirt Arthur was wearing shouldn't hang off him. That led Merlin to looking at Arthur properly, yes he was definitely Arthur but he looked pale, worn and haggard, both his hair and his eyes had lost their usual healthy sheen. This wasn't right. The desire to protect Arthur from everything flared in his chest. He was going to make this right.
"Being nice, I'm nobody to you." Arthur turned away from the measuring look Merlin was giving him but caught his shoulder on a shelf, sending an ornament tumbling, he turned back in time to see Merlin's eyes, still focused on him, flash gold and the ornament slowed down until it landed softly on the carpet. Unbroken. Right then, with the gold still fading from Merlin's eyes, everything clicked into place and Arthur remembered. Who he was. Who he had been.
"Oh God." Was all he said, stumbling towards Merlin to collapse on the sofa beside him, shocked. He was King Arthur. He always had been. But now he remembered Merlin properly. His friend. His sorcerer. His councillor. His lover. Well there was the question about why Merlin was being nice answered.
"Thank you." He knew Merlin would know what he meant, thank you for finding me, making me remember.
"It's alright, it's not often I get to be your knight in shining armour." Merlin joked, because right then it was either joke or jump on Arthur.
"More like my knight in a shining Audi." Arthur riposted.
And somehow, both of them knew everything was going to be okay.