By the time Arthur, Gwen and Morgana got to the estate, Merlin and the others were out of sight. Frowning, Arthur's grip tightened on the rubber-wrapped handle of his cricket bat and he stepped carefully into the open; onto a cracked path next to a rubbish covered playground. Before him, a block of flats rose in a tower of grey filth.
Suppressing the disdain and disgust rising in him that he'd been conditioned to feel by his father for as long as he could remember; Arthur replaced it with an image of Merlin, and thoughts of all the injustice that was going on in Ryderton alone. He heard Morgana and Gwen step out from behind him, taking in their surroundings; behind them to their left was an old garage – the door was shut, rusting and covered in graffiti, none of them paid it much attention. Beyond that, a path stretched on besides a handful of sickly looking trees; birch and ash mostly, to another part of the estate.
Gwen sighed, eyes scanning the dozens of doors in front of them, utterly unperturbed by her surroundings. It surprised Arthur, till he remembered what she'd said about her father and realized she'd probably grown up somewhere much like this.
"We don't even know where to start; she could be in any of these, and if the boys are in a fight then we don't have much time…"
Next to them, Morgana took a deep breath, and then she started walking towards the stairs that led to the next level of flats. Gwen blinked in surprise and Arthur frowned, jogging a little to catch up with his sister.
"Morgana? What are you doing? You don't know where you're going."
"Yes, I do." Morgana sounded sure and stubborn; rarely a good thing, and her blue-green eyes were hard as arctic ice.
Feeling like he was lecturing a toddler, Arthur raised his eyes heavenwards. "No, you don't. Look, I know you're all loved up with Merlin, but I know you've never been here before, and if you haven't, you don't know which flat belongs to Merlin's Mum."
"You're wrong. Look, Arthur, just trust me." Morgana sounded irritated, her voice was urgent, and already she was trying to pull away, head towards the stairs. Gwen stood between the siblings, confusion fixed on her features as she bit her lip.
"On what grounds, Morgana? Look, we're wasting time." The worry for his friends was eating away at Arthur's gut like some sort of creature or sickness, and he wished for once his sister would just cooperate. Morgana's jaw tensed, and then she took a deep breath, staring hard into his eyes.
"I'm your sister. Trust me. You know I'm not going to mess this up. Not when it concerns Merlin. Just…trust me. I know what I'm doing." Her gaze flickered away, and while Arthur took in her words, she pulled her arm out of his grip, going up the stairs two at a time. After a second, Gwen followed her, glancing back at Arthur on her way.
Heaving a sigh, Arthur shook his head, setting off to follow them. "You better be right Morgana."
She didn't reply.
Morgana hoped she was right; this was one of the first times she personally had taken action on her dreams. But she kept Merlin: his smile and his eyes, fixed in her mind as she walked along the balcony, reaching number 14 at last. Taking a deep breath, and trying to ignore the flutterings of unease in her stomach, she reached up to knock on the door.
As she did, it swung inwards, and she found herself confronted with a tall, brown haired man. He was stout, middle aged; with a friendly smile and light brown eyes. He wasn't Merlin's mother. He wasn't the woman she'd Seen.
Feeling a sick wash of disappointment, Morgana slumped, shaking her head, opening her mouth to apologise for disturbing him when a woman came to the doorway.
She was quite small: shorter than Morgana, with dark wavy hair, light blue eyes and pale skin. It wasn't easy to pin any feature that she and her son shared, but he was there, written all over her face: Merlin.
Morgana beamed, holding out a hand to the bewildered looking woman; pretending not to notice the bags under her eyes, the unhealthy sallow shade of her skin. ", it's a pleasure to meet you."
The woman paused before taking Morgana's hand in hers; it was rough, warm and calloused and she smiled tentatively when Arthur and Gwen came into view behind the seer. "Hunith is fine; are you…friends of Merlin's?"
Nodding, Morgana went to reply when Arthur beat her to it. "Pleasure to meet you Hunith; I'm Arthur Pendragon and this is Guinevere, though she prefers Gwen, you've met my sister Morgana. We're all friends of Merlin's, have you seen him?"
Hunith bit her lip, eyes flickering to the garage, her forehead creasing in a mess of worry. She nodded, wordlessly, looking to the brown haired man beside her. Arthur, Morgana and Gwen all noticed the badge he wore this time; it was red, with a white heart, and read 'Gerald Barker. HEART UK.'
"Apparently, your friend's got himself in a bit of trouble. Hunith called abut five minutes ago, luckily I wasn't far off, but I didn't want to leave her by herself. A suspicious looking figure dragged this Merlin and his friends into that garage over there." Gerald nodded to it, mouth twisting as he continued. "I wanted to help, but I couldn't leave her here by herself. I tried the police, but as soon as they learned I was CLP, and that it was on the estate, they told me to stop wasting their time."
Arthur groaned in exasperation, knuckles whitening on the grip of his cricket bat. "Alright, thanks Mr. Barker. If we're not back in a few minutes, tell them Uther Pendragon's twins need some help. That should force them to get a move on." Gerald's eyes widened when Arthur revealed who he and Morgana were, he opened his mouth to say something, but by that point the prat was already jogging back along the balcony, heading for the stairs, eyes fixed on the garage. Morgana was hot on his heels, and Gwen only paused to give them an apologetic smile.
"Be right back."
Worried, Hunith and Gerald watched from her doorway as the children made their way to the garage. Hunith put a hand to her mouth, and Gerald gave her a pat on the back, brown eyes narrowed in concern and something else. "It's alright . It'll be alright."
In the garage, Merlin blinked blearily awake. The first thing he saw was a tray of vials and syringes. His heart began thumping wildly, and his eyes burned gold. In a second, everything exploded in a shatter of glass and plastic. A handful of the black-clad men and women made sounds of shock and surprise, flinching back, and Mori's cold laugh echoed in his ear. Merlin turned his head, taking stock of the fact his hands were bound, searching out Gwaine and Lancelot; tied up in a corner but unharmed from what he could see.
A rough semi-circle of their attackers stood in front of him, staring at him from the safety of their balaclavas as he got to his feet with surprising ease; he'd had a lot of practice getting up with his hands bound. Mori turned to his followers and Merlin continued to take in his surroundings, awkwardly rolling his shoulders to get rid of the cramp.
"Do you see what this means? If we could control this boy and his power, put it to good use, the party would be near unstoppable."
Merlin raised his eyebrows, and he wasn't the only one who looked unconvinced. One of the other men gestured casually to the tray of broken vials with a solid looking handgun. "That could have been a fluke; you don't know how 'powerful' he is, or if he can control it."
"You want proof?" There was a smile in Mori's voice, his long black hair swung as he surveyed the other's masked faces, meeting their eyes. A woman towards the back shrugged.
"Well, it'd be a start Mori. Especially if you want us risking so much."
Mori turned to Merlin, a thin, cruel smile pulling his pale face into a grotesque sort of mask, twisting the silver scar under his left eye. "Well, you heard them boy, show them what you can do."
"Um…no." Merlin replied, frowning. He knew Mori could hurt him, but he wasn't afraid of him. He'd been hurt worse. Bravely, he stared into the eyes of the older man, waiting for his next move.
He didn't have to wait long, in a movement that was almost blindingly fast, Mori whipped out a knife, going to slam it into Merlin's side and puncture his lung. Merlin's eyes widened, going gold and slowing time so he could swerve out of the way.
Time sped back to normal and Merlin strained against his hand ties, breathing fast. Mori laughed, but there were still a few cynics who needed 'convincing.'
"Could have been a fluke."
Mori grinned, titling his head to the side; his greasy black hair swung past his corpse-pale face. "You heard them Merlin." He lunged again, going for Merlin's heart. The boy took a precious second to look behind him and realize he had nowhere to go; only concrete wall. Panicked, he shouted "Téann shiúl!" His eyes went gold again as Mori flew back through the air, crashing into a group of the others.
By this time, Gwaine and Lancelot had woken up and were struggling to their feet. Gwaine grinned, stepping out of the way as another of their captors fell down, whistling. "Woo! Go Merlin!"
Someone punched him in the face, and Merlin frowned, but Gwaine just stuck his tongue out at his attacker. It earned him another punch, but it was enough to reassure Merlin that he was alright.
Extricating himself from the pile of men and women getting back to their feet, Mori grinned. "You see now? You see what he could do?"
Those still standing, and those getting to their feet, nodded enthusiastically. Mori turned to Merlin, the smile not leaving his face as he withdrew a syringe from his pocket.
"Now then, since you've so kindly got them on our side, do me a favor and don't struggle. I've been going through the notes of a friend of yours: the name Nimueh ring a bell?"
Merlin caught his breath, staring wide eyed at the translucent yellow liquid in the syringe. Most of the poisons Nimueh had tried blurred together in his memory, a web of pain and sickness. But this one…he remembered this one. It'd been hard for him to breathe for days; made him cough blood. He couldn't stand, he shook endlessly, he got cold, so very cold. And, most importantly, no matter what he tried, he couldn't touch his power: his magic. Instead he'd throw up, and pain would pound through his skull.
Stumbling back into the wall, Merlin shook his head, trying to call on his power; use it to knock the syringe out of Mori's hand, push him away. It did nothing. He wasn't in full control yet, and unless he could get past the fear building in his veins, he'd be powerless. Vaguely, he was aware of himself pleading, frantically, whilst the sea of people in black watched him: cold curiosity the only emotion in their eyes. Behind them, Lancelot and Gwaine were frowning, struggling against the bonds that had them bound to a pipe, worry and fear evident on their faces.
"P-please, please not that…you don't understand, I…please, I won't use my magic, just don't use that."
All the time he was speaking, Merlin was forcing himself to calm down. By now, Mori had turned him around, slipping up the sleeve of his jumper, exposing his wrist. Merlin took another deep breath, and reached for the thread of his magic. There was another crash, and the hand on his arm disappeared. Merlin grinned, turning round to see Mori getting to his feet with a snarl, syringe still gripped tightly in his hand. Gwaine laughed, and Mori turned to him and Lancelot.
"Someone, get a gun to their heads."
Two men broke off from the main group, one of them the man who'd spoke earlier. Grabbing Gwaine and Lancelot's arms both withdrew heavy looking shotguns from their jackets. They flicked off the safety catches in quick succession, pressing the barrels of the weapons to Gwaine and Lancelot's foreheads. Silence fell in the room, and the boys tensed.
Sensing he had the upper hand once more, Mori smiled. "Now then, Merlin, you're going to stay still, and I'm going to pour the contents of this little syringe into your veins, and then you're going to come with us."
Unable to see a way out of this, his magic well out of reach thanks to his worry for his friends, Merlin nodded, once, jaw tense, goosebumps rising on his skin as Mori approached.
The faint scratch of the needle was nothing to the sensation of the poison running into his veins. Merlin choked, screwing his eyes shut in agony and doubling over as it rushed through his blood; burning and aching, suffocating, shutting away some vital part of him. Already his face and fingers felt numb, like the blood had been cut off, and his vision was blurred. Vaguely, he was aware of Gwaine shouting, some sort of banging, gun shot, a scuffle. He hardly noticed Mori letting go of him, falling to his knees in what felt like slow motion. There was a crash, and a wash of light, and then he lost the little strength that was left to him, and lay on the ground, face pressed against concrete he could only assume was freezing; he felt nothing.
When Merlin woke up, he was home. Not Gaius', or Elizabeth House. He was in a flat, his mother's. A soft blanket had been pulled over him, and there was a murmur of voices coming from a direction he assumed was the kitchen.
Gritting his teeth, he went to sit up; trying to ignore by sheer force of will the lack of strength in his limbs, the pounding in his head and the vomit rising in his throat. A cool, slender hand rested on his forehead and mentally Merlin felt a little relief; at least feeling was returning. That was probably a good sign.
He frowned when Morgana's face came into view: wondering if he was hallucinating. She shouldn't be there. But she was. She smiled at him gently, shaking her head and opening her lips to speak. Her voice sounded far away, like he was underwater.
"You need to rest. We don't know what was in that syringe, and until we do you're not going anywhere. You'll just make yourself sick."
Reluctantly Merlin nodded, collecting his thoughts. Suddenly, two faces swam into his mind. "Lance…? Gwaine?"
Morgana beamed, and Merlin felt a small smile tug at his own mouth in instinctive response. "They're fine, typical that that's the first thing you're worried about. You're too good you know? And before you ask; Mori and the rest are gone. We took care of them easily enough."
"We?" Merlin felt like someone had stuffed a bumper pack of cotton wool down his throat, but his hearing was starting to get a little clearer, and the headache was fading. Tentatively, he took the water Morgana was offering as she explained.
"Gwen, Arthur and I. Honestly, you lot are so stubborn; you should have just asked for our help, you know we'd have given it willingly."
"Gwen?" Merlin heard the surprise coloring his hoarse voice and Morgana giggled.
"Trust me, you should see that girl with a can of pepper spray."
Merlin laughed, though it wasn't long before that turned into a coughing fit. Blood spattered over his hand and Morgana stood, horror on her features. He could hear her calling for someone; her voice sounded urgent, but once again his hearing had faded to giving him little more than noise.
In a few moments, his mother was there, crouched before him. Gently, she brushed a hand over his forehead, a frown forming over her eyes. Merlin stared into them as the darkness took him back.
The second time Merlin woke he felt significantly better. Blinking slowly, his vision sharpened almost immediately, his hearing following not long after. He still had a headache, and felt a little shaky, but compared to before it was nothing…Gingerly sitting up, he noticed someone sitting next to him. Gaius. The elderly man sat forwards, putting a hand to Merlin's forehead before taking his pulse.
He beamed at his foster son, and tentatively Merlin smiled back. Gingerly, Merlin rolled his shoulders, putting a hand to his head. Gaius held out some paracetamol, and Merlin took them gratefully, raising his eyebrows.
"I still don't believe them, but I'll make an exception for you, that was some nasty stuff they gave you." Gaius' wrinkled face became solemn, and he glanced at Hunith's coffee table, where there sat a small, dark purple jar of something that Merlin had little doubt had been forced down his throat. "Just as well I had something that would make a suitable antidote."
Merlin pulled a face, before he remembered the blood on his hand; the coughing, the pain. Then he just smiled. "Thankyou Gaius."
Gaius beamed, helping Merlin to his feet. "Any time my boy." Together, they made their way to the kitchen. Squashed in there, sitting on counters, standing, even, in Gwaine's case, sitting on the floor; were all of Merlin's friends from Pendragon College. Arthur, Gwen, Lancelot, Gwaine and Morgana. Hunith was bustling about making tea, and she beamed when Merlin came in, throwing her arms around him, followed not long after by a hug and a kiss from Morgana, and then another hug from Gwen, and Gwaine. Arthur rolled his eyes at their antics, and Lancelot just smiled, clapping Merlin gently on the back as he walked past.
"Good to have you back mate." Merlin grinned, shrugging and reaching up to a cupboard behind Arthur's head.
"Good to be back."
He pulled open the door, searching for another mug, pushing aside a box of tea bags to check one hadn't got lost. His fingers brushed something plastic, and he frowned, peering in. A small, black device, covered in wires and what looked like blue tack sat, almost innocently next to the mugs and boxes. In the bottom right hand corner, like on Miss Claire's radio, there was the emblem of the CLP, smiling up at him.
A small timer with a red LCD read 00:15. 00:14. 00:13.
Merlin's eyes widened, and he flung out an arm, pushing Arthur and Lancelot off the counter.
He spun, grabbing his mother and Morgana, glancing up to see Gwen and Gaius getting to the ground, shocked, Arthur turning to him, the 'prince's blue eyes glancing up to the cupboard, widening in fear as he launched himself at Guinevere, throwing his arms around her.
Merlin reached out for Morgana, wrapping his arms tightly around her, pressing his face into her hair, reaching deep inside himself, feeling the magic there, in his blood; gold and hot, still hindered by the poison in his body.
Desperately he pulled at it, kissing Morgana's hair, taking his Mother's hand, meeting Gaius' eyes, trying to tell him thankyou, thankyou and sorry and thankyou, for everything you've done.
The power began to rise in him, and Merlin's eyes flew open, his skin crackling. Morgana raised her head to meet his eyes, hers widening when she saw the gold in them. A bubble of blue light flickered up around them all…
Merlin was the first to open his eyes. Blinking slowly, he coughed a little as he drew in a full breath of smoke. Around them, the faint remnants of the shield, scraps of blue light, were caught and torn away in the wind. Where it had been; over Arthur, Gwaine, Lancelot, Gwen, Gaius, Hunith, Morgana and himself, the kitchen's linoleum tiles and a fragment of counter were almost comically untouched. The fragments of a cup of tea she'd been holding lay forlorn next to Hunith's hand as she sat up, shaking.
Wind howled past them, biting at their skin. Lancelot and Gwaine sat up. "Careful!" Gwaine's voice made Merlin glance up in time to see his friend stop Lancelot from falling off the edge of the floor on which they sat. It was balanced in midair; this tiny concrete island, barely supported by a naked pillar of iron, covered in a few scabs of concrete. All that was left of the flats was a skeletal, blackened framework. About 15 feet below them, a sea of rubble had buried the playground, washed up against the battered old door of the garage.
If you looked hard enough, you could see things other than concrete in the rubble; scraps of fabric, white, hard things that weren't stone, splashes of crimson, hair…Merlin grimaced and looked away. All his friends were staring at him, shock over their faces, none showing it more vividly than Arthur and Morgana, on either side of him. From the distance, the sound of sirens was growing closer.
Merlin took a deep breath. First things first. "It was the CLP. The bomb; it had a CLP flag on it. They're behind the bombings."
Hunith and Lancelot shook their heads, it was Merlin's mother who spoke. "N-no, it can't be. They want to help us. What about Heart?"
Meeting her eyes steadily, Merlin asked her a question, his voice level and calm, in spite of their position. "Who was the last person in that cupboard, other than yourself? Because I know none of this lot even knew there were cups in there. It would have to have been a guest, someone you were familiar with."
Horror and realization dawned on Hunith's face, and one of her hands slipped off the edge of the concrete. Gaius quickly wrapped an arm around her. Blinking away a tear, Hunith managed to speak. "It...it was Gerald. He got the mugs down; when you were in that garage, after your friends had gone to help you. Oh- God…his briefcase. He left it on the counter. I thought it was unusual but I put it in the lounge. And he. He said he had somewhere to be. He left before I could give it to him. Oh God…"
Merlin nodded at Gaius, who gently rubbed Hunith's back as she started to cry, hiding her face, unable to look at the devastation. Gwen, too, was crying, quietly. Arthur kept his arm around her, but he, like his sister was still staring hard at Merlin.
"Mer…your eyes…they…they were gold…and now…we shouldn't have survived." Morgana sounded confused, and very, very young. Merlin took a deep breath, reaching out to put a hand on the side of her face. She clung to it, staring at him, her beautiful blue-green eyes swimming with questions and fear.
"Look…Morgana. You know the Arthurian Legends?" Frowning, Morgana nodded, and Merlin tried a small, gentle smile. "We're them. We're…as far as I'm aware…we're the reincarnations of them; I'm Merlin…I'm magic. I saved us with…magic."
"Why didn't you tell me?" There was hurt in her voice now, and the anger Merlin had been afraid off. No disbelief though, not with Morgana, not with her dreams. He chewed the inside of his cheek, forcing himself to meet her eyes.
"Because I was scared. Because I didn't know how. Because Nimueh tortured me for this. Because I didn't know what 'this' was till recently. Because I didn't want to lose you." For a second, Morgana stared at him, her black hair waving in the wind, and then she nodded, seeming appeased. That was, until another thought occurred to her, and disgust and horror made her mouth fall open.
"But…if we're the reincarnations…then I…I'm evil." Before she'd finished the sentence, Merlin was shaking his head, pulling her toward him, stroking her hair and her back, ignoring her resistance at first.
"No no no no no you're not. No. Last time…not all of us have our memories back; Gwaine probably has the most." Out of the corner of his eyes, Merlin saw the others stare at Gwaine, who nodded solemnly. "But listen, Morgana, what I remember, of you…you were broken. But you could always have been good. You still can be. I've told you before, there is so much beauty in you; and kindness, and loyalty and just goodness. I…don't think you'll remember your last life; I don't know why, but I think it was so you could have a fresh start; of all of us. And I promise I'm going to keep you on the right track, ok? If you'll let me."
Merlin bit his lip, feeling naked and vulnerable, hoping against hope that she'd let him help her. After a second, Morgana pulled back to look at him, and then she nodded, once, her blue-green eyes soft and bright with hope. She smiled, slowly. "So…I guess if old you brought me back, in spite of whatever I'd done…I guess you loved me even then." Merlin beamed.
"For more than a thousand years." He leant forward to kiss her and she responded whole heartedly, both of them ignoring Arthur's noise of disgust and Gwaine's wolf whistle. Once they broke apart, Merlin looked to Arthur. "You ok?"
The blonde shrugged, raising his eyebrows. "I'm the once and future king?" Merlin nodded. "You're a wizard?"
He winced. "Warlock." Arthur rolled his eyes, smiling a little before becoming serious again.
"There's going to be a war?" Lancelot, Gwaine and the others looked to Merlin. He nodded again. "We're going to fight?" Merlin nodded. "We're in it together?"
"You couldn't keep me away." Gwaine said, grinning.
Lancelot nodded. "Nor me." He met Arthur's gaze, looking past Gwen and then to Merlin. "I will do right by you." None of them added what he left unspoken, this time.
Gwen kissed Arthur on the cheek, wiping away her tears as a flotilla of ambulances and police vehicles arrived at the bomb site; along with a sleek, incongruous black jaguar. "Forever."
Morgana shrugged, holding Merlin's hand tight in hers. "Where Merlin goes, I go."
For once, Arthur gave no reaction. Instead he turned at last to his friend; the warlock, meeting his pale blue eyes. Merlin grinned. "What do you think, prat?"
An hour later, they'd all been brought down, tuning out the remarks of the service men and women about their miraculous survival. Instead, they huddled under the blankets provided for them, keeping close together. It had begun to snow.
A man in a sharp suit, with grey hair pulled into a comb over and clever green eyes came over to them, surveying their faces before settling onto Arthur, holding out his hand. Suspicious, Arthur took it while the others watched.
", I presume?" The man's voice was rich and cultured, British. Arthur sighed.
"You've been sent by my father, I presume?"
The suited stranger chuckled, withdrawing something from his pocket; a small leather wallet, which he opened to reveal to Arthur, Merlin and the rest of them. "No, actually, I'm from MI5. You can call me Butler. We have a…proposition, for you, concerning the CLP."
All of them looked up and Butler smiled, pleased to have their attention, before looking past them to the framework that had been the flats, gaze fixing on the one slab that had been left untouched, which stuck out like a sore thumb. He smiled at Arthur.
"But first, why don't we have a little chat about your miraculous survival." His gaze slid past Arthur to settle on Merlin, who had deliberately averted his gaze. Feeling eyes on him, the young warlock looked up into Butler's face, that somehow, in spite of the fact it was utterly straight, managed to look like he was laughing.
"Your thoughts, ?"