There were protests in the streets, and Arthur knew, soon they would be riots. He was holed away in his living room, lounging on the couch with his feet on the coffee table (thankfully, the maid wasn't here) and his laptop on his knees.
And the television tuned to the news.
Riots were only a stone's throw away (literally).
"It's amazing," the newscaster said. "These people actually want to remain sick, and they don't want to be cured!"
Father didn't understand, either.
As much as it pained Arthur, he did understand.
He looked down at the screen of his laptop, where the only other mutant he knew was writing something in the IM box. Shrugging it off, he went and read one of the more…wild blogs on the subject.
Mutants don't need a cure, it said. They need acceptance. I lost my best friend because he wasn't accepted. They are not sick, they are not abominations, they are people. They are human beings, and you can't cure a human of humanity.
But they weren't human.
He'd asked Father, once. He'd told Arthur not to worry, that the cure was well underway, then he'd changed the subject.
In the IM box, we don't need a cure Arthur, just popped up.
I don't care, he typed in. I want that cure. I want to be normal again.
We're fine the way we are, she said.
How do you know? How could anyone know? Maybe-
We are FINE. Stop this. Run away. Please. You know where I am, you can be safe. You'll be accepted. You'll be normal, here – I know a boy with a tail!
That's not actually reassuring, you know.
She sent a bunch of eye-rolling emoticons,
With a sigh, Arthur switched windows while she typed something and he read through his e-mails. In between the usual spam about penis enlargement (which he did not need, thank you very much!) and the digest updates from his news feeds, he found the one from his father saying he'd home for dinner, today.
Arthur looked back up to the news on the telly.
"The blogosphere has erupted with this news," the newscaster said. "It appears no one can actually agree on this. Many mutants are denouncing the cure, while many more say that while they do not believe in the need for a cure, they themselves wish to have one. Parliament is rumored to be on the verge of debate concerning this cure. At the moment, when the cures become available en masse, they will be optional and voluntary, but there is talk of making the cure mandatory for either all mutants, mutants with certain types of powers, or higher-classified mutants…"
Well, that last one wouldn't affect Arthur – he was only a Class I.
Biting his lip, he watched as the news turned to some fiasco at a celebrity wedding, and went back to his computer.
More spam. Really, spam filters were useless. And as much as he did not need penis enlargement (or breast enlargement, and how the hell did that get in there?), he needed weight loss gimmicks even less.
Just because he had wings didn't mean he had to go twink-mode or anything. He was the best football player at his school, with the body and muscles to match.
Even if no one ever saw them – after all, that would require taking his shirt off.
But right now, no one was home, and his back was sweating under the layers of wings he had currently pulled in close to his back and strapped in place. Maybe just for a little bit…
He shook his head. Assuming he wasn't held up again but some important business person, Father would be home, soon. The less Father saw his wings, the better.
Instead, he looked back down at his computer. That one blog which he really, really, really shouldn't read, but…
…stupid. He was going to be human, again. And this guy was a political whirlwind, a headache Arthur didn't need. He had tens of thousands of other readers, it wouldn't be any skin off his nose to lose Arthur. Except…
The post Arthur kept rereading was almost a month back in the archives.
Would if have mattered if my friend had been drunk and hit me with a car? It's stupid, and I hate that I've been hurt, but I don't hate him, certainly not because he's a mutant. People get hurt, and I'm man enough to deal with it and move on. I don't resent him, and I don't hate him. I just wish I'd told him that sooner.
I just wish I'd told him that sooner.
What kind of a friend could be hurt by a mutant and not hate them? That's what Arthur wanted to know.
He would never find out himself, of course – none of his friends even knew he was a mutant, and none of them would ever know. He would get rid of his wings and become human, again, become his father's son. He would be normal, and can finally play football shirtless and make the girls at school swoon (more than he already did) and make other boys jealous, and maybe even make a few of them swoon, too, like that attractive Colin bloke…maybe.
One advantage of being a mutant was that there was nothing worse. When Father'd found his stash of porn under the bed and found more than just an 'I was curious' amount of gay porn among it, he'd shaken his head and rolled his eyes and Arthur had been so relieved, though unsurprised – if his father could still love him as a mutant, he could accept him despite being gay.
(Though maybe there could be a cure for that, too?)
In the IM box, he read, we don't need a cure, because there's nothing to cure. We're Humans, like everyone else, and we need acceptance. You need acceptance, and love, not that reward-and-punishment cycle you get from your dad right now. You deserve better, Arthur, so much better.
Arthur frowned at some of the wording.
He's your dad, too. No – he's my biological Father, but it ends there. My real dad was the man who actually loved my mum for more than a shag and loved me no matter my genes. If you had a real dad, he would too. But your father is an ass who doesn't deserve you.
No – he's my biological Father, but it ends there. My real dad was the man who actually loved my mum for more than a shag and loved me no matter my genes. If you had a real dad, he would too. But your father is an ass who doesn't deserve you.
He sighed. She was wrong. It was Arthur who didn't deserve Father. He was lucky Father still loved him, and was working so much on the cure for him.
But Morgana would never understand.
Instead, he said, It's getting late, Dad'll be home, soon. I should go before he sees me talking to you. Good night. Good luck with sleep. Thanks, but I don't need it anymore. There's a mutant here who can copy powers, we did mine, and we figured out a way for me to control them. He's cute, just your type. Another reason to come here.
Thanks, but I don't need it anymore. There's a mutant here who can copy powers, we did mine, and we figured out a way for me to control them. He's cute, just your type. Another reason to come here.Arthur fought the urge to roll his eyes at Morgana's words.
I don't need to travel across the country to get laid, that's just you. Good night. Good night, Arthur. Sweet dreams. And please – I'm still here for you. I know,
Good night, Arthur. Sweet dreams. And please – I'm still here for you.
I know,he said, and watched as she signed off.
After that, he signed off, and went back to sorting his e-mails and checking newsfeeds, before shutting down his laptop entirely and standing up, stretching his arms and legs, and pondered going into the bathroom to stretch his wings. They were getting cramped. It's been almost two days, already, since he last stretched them out, and he knew he was pushing it with keeping them in longer and longer, but-
Never mind. Father was home.
He turned around just as the front door opened to see Father walking in, an inexplicable smile on his face.
"Arthur! Have you been watching the news?"
"The bit about the 'Hollywood-Bollywood' wedding or the piece about the old lady who tried to rob a bank with knitting needles?" he asked sardonically.
Father laughed, shaking his head as he set down his briefcase and went over to the stove, where the cook has already left dinner waiting for them. Warming them up, he said, "No – the cure."
Arthur nodded. "Its…availability?"
Father nodded, leaving dinner to warm as he came over to Arthur side.
The news just looped back to the protests against the cure, and Father shook his head.
"I just don't understand them – why on earth would anyone want to remain sick?" he asked.
"I think it's just all those rumors about the cure, what it does to you," Arthur said with a shrug. It was all lies, but they were the only words his father would understand. "Once they see that the people who take them are fine, they'll come around."
"Some won't – far too many mutants have benefitted from having power over others that they don't deserve."
Arthur just nodded again.
"But you, Arthur…" Father came around and faced Arthur, clapping his hands on Arthur's shoulders. "You will be cured, soon. You won't be sick anymore."
Arthur made his face smile, even though he couldn't make himself smile. Cured. Human. Soon, that will be him. Soon.
He had to hold onto that.
Unsurprisingly, Gaius ended up needing to give a speech on the matter.
As everyone trudged down to the dining-hall-slash-auditorium, Merlin wondered, vaguely, what the man would say.
"Sit down, sit down, please," Gaius said, as the staff rounded up the rowdy students. Merlin saw Gwaine and Morgause somehow tag-teaming with Professors Alice, Algain, and Morgan to get some of the rowdier students to sit quietly. But for the most parts, the students already were, subdued in their own thoughts about the cure.
"Now," Gaius said, as soon as all the students were seated. For once, there was almost no whispering, as instead students listened, keen to know more about the cure. "I'm sure you've all heard that there is a professed 'cure' for mutantism, a serum to suppress the mutant gene. It is true – as well as it's known so far, the cure's creators say one injection will end mutantism in the patient it is given to, and so far this seems accurate."
There was a beat of silence as Gaius set the record straight, and a few students looked nervously at each other.
"The school will not shut down, no one will be mandated to get the cure, and no one will have the cure forced onto them," Gaius said.
He paused. "And while we call it a cure, please know that it is not a cure – for a cure would imply that there is something wrong with you, and there isn't. Each and every one of you is dear to me, and to this school. Mutantism is not an illness or malicious condition of any sort."
Merlin sighed and looked down at his hand, blinking into infrared vision and seeing the nervousness of the student body in the form of rising temperatures. He thought of his dad and his mum and Will and thought, well it definitely feels malicious.
He went on a little more, explaining the details about what he knew – which wasn't much – and about which students (the oldest) would be allowed to leave of their own volition to get the cure, but Merlin tuned him out, instead focusing his gaze on the students around him.
Even without using his telepathy, Merlin knew which students wanted to go right away, which ones resented the cure – and which ones resented being too young to be allowed to make that decision. While the students of Camelot were given a nearly alarming amount of independence for a boarding school, that didn't change the fact that so many of them were just kids.
Merlin wanted to get this cure. He…he could just go to London, get in line, and-
After the little speech, as the staff herded the kids towards classes, Gaius gestured Merlin over and together, they slipped past the throng of nervous – scared – students, up the increasingly empty floors, and into Gaius's office.
"I want the cure," Merlin blurted.
Gaius sighed Merlin. "I'm sorry, Merlin, but-"
"You can't forbid us from it," Merlin said desperately, clutching desperately at his knees. "I-I just want to – I can get a train to London and some medicine and then I can be normal and-"
"Merlin," Gaius said sharply. Merlin quieted. He knew whatever it was Gaius was going to say wouldn't be good news. "You're right, you're not forbidden from it. But – the cure has been shown to have different effects based on your class. The exact nature of the cure changes based on your gene class, and where you might fall into it, and just which broad spectrum your powers fall into."
"…what does this mean?" Merlin asked.
Gaius sighed. "It means that I don't have to forbid you from getting the cure because there is no cure for you, Merlin – at least, not one that we know is safe. And…at the moment, it's assumed there are no more Class V's left in the world. If word got out about you – I fear for your safety, cure or no cure. And even if you could get to the clinic and they decided to try…they have no concrete data. The last Class V's died just a few years after your own birth, long before research into the cure truly started. They would be shooting in the dark, if they tried to cure you at all, and it is far more likely you would end up hurt or dead in the end, than cured."
Merlin stared. "But…you said – what if I didn't take it, just brought some back? Y-you could study it and-"
"…I will try," Gaius said. "But right now, my main focus will be trying to understand the cure, at all. I've been following various online medical journals carefully, especially since the cure was announced, and it's a bit of an open secret that there are a lot of underhanded dealing and goings-on beneath the table, with the way Pendragon Inc has been able to keep their mouths shut so tightly." Gaius shook his head almost ruefully. "Uther is a powerful man and not one to be trifled with."
"You sound as if you know him," Merlin accused.
"…there was a time when Uther's views on mutants were…very different, Merlin. We both worked in researching mutant DNA. Your father used to work for him, Merlin."
"So you did know him," Merlin asked, staring in disbelief. It was hard to imagine someone as warm and caring as Gaius even being in the same room as that cold and hateful man.
"The past is in the past, Merlin, let us leave it there." Merlin opened his mouth to rebuke, but while Gaius' tone had been soft, he also clearly would not argue or reveal any more than what he's already said. "I am truly sorry about this, Merlin, but you cannot go. It is too risky for you."
Merlin shut his eyes, and firmly pretended he was trying not to cry.
"You can't get the cure!"
"I can too!"
"No, you can't, you can't turn your back on us-"
"I'm not, I'm helping myself! I hate being a mutant-"
"No, you hate people treating you like a mutant-"
"Same difference, for me! I'm not like you, I can't just pretend to be human when I look like this!"
"You are human!"
And round and round it went. Merlin stiffly in the blue and bronze 'Ravenclaw' lounge and watched as Morgana argued with another boy, Alvarr, who had glass-looking skin and powers involving crystals.
"He has a point," Merlin said, somewhat darkly, to Morgana. "We can pass. He can't."
"We shouldn't have to pass!" Morgana snapped, turning her latest temper on him.
"You're right, we shouldn't, but we do," Alvarr said. "What was it like for you before you came?"
"Oh, you have no idea," she hissed. "My father – he's…well, let's just say he has strong opinions against mutants. I had to listen every day as he railed against mutants, without knowing he was railing against his daughter. A daughter he wouldn't even acknowledged was his until-"
"At least you were never attacked for being a mutant," Merlin said. "It's not fun, not being able to leave your house for fear of assault."
"It's not fun having to go home for fear of-"
"Enough," Lance said, stepping in between them carefully. "It's…it's his decision. And ours. We can each make our own decision about this cure."
"What about you, Lance?" Morgana sniped, dropping into an armchair once Alvarr left to go pack his things. "Are you going to get the cure?"
"No – I can live with my power, and hide it. But regardless – it's my problem, not yours."
Morgana looked to the rest.
"I'm keeping mine," Gwen said.
"I…" Merlin looked down at his lap. "Gaius told me – my powers are too unstable. He thinks I'd get hurt if I tried to get the cure. We…we can't even figure out what gene class I'm in, and we already know that the exact cure you get depends on which class you are in."
"But if you could get the cure, would you?" Morgana asked.
The others all stared at him, and he sighed. "I just want to be normal. Average, normal, Merlin, nothing special. Get into a nice art school, and spend my life making the world look a little better."
"Look a little better to hide all its ugliness," Morgana sneered, getting up and storming out of the room.
Gwen gave Merlin an apologetic look and ran after Morgana, and Lance moved so he was sitting on the sofa right next to Merlin.
"I…I hope, Merlin, you'll come to see yourself for the great person you are," he said. But he looked sad, worn, and Merlin had one of those inexplicable moments where he wondered what Lance's story was. "But…it's your body. Your DNA. Your choice."
"…thanks," Merlin said, looking out the door the girls had just gone through. "I just wish…I don't know what, to be honest. I just hate all this…all this fear and resentment flying around."
"It's okay," Lance said, floating up a little to grab a remote from a bookshelf. "These are tough times. So it's a good thing we're tough people."
Merlin nodded, though it didn't help much – and he could see Lance knew it.
He honestly wasn't even surprised when Leon crawled into his lap and wrapped his arms around him and held on tight. He just held on tight, and thought thank you.
Leon didn't think in words, instead thinking of fireplaces and blankets and other comfy things, and Merlin smiled as he let the little boy's care wash over him.
They were packing up and setting off for London, tomorrow. Arthur had already said good bye to his friends, saying it was another treatment, that soon, they could see him with his shirt off.
(Several of them took one look at their girlfriends' faces and told Arthur to take his time on that, and Arthur laughed. Really, truly- he'd forgotten how easy it could be to laugh about himself.)
In the city, he wouldn't be able to fly, too many eyes and lights all the time. But out here, well…
He stood on the roof, having flown out of his window before shooting up a few dozen meters, then drifting down here. He'd always had to jump from something or off something to fly, but he'd never actually just flown right off the ground. Before he lost his wings, he wanted to see if he could.
But right now, he was getting tired, having flapped his wings futilely for the last ten minutes, getting nothing in return. He fell down to sitting on the roof, leaning back against the slanted titles as he stared up at the sky, the shining moon and twinkling stars, so clear out here away from all the light pollution of the city.
He was going to be human, soon.
Arthur wondered if this was one of those weird anti-climaxes he kept reading about in books and novels, expecting something drastic and feeling nothing. Maybe once he get rid of his wings, things would be better?
With the sigh, he pushed himself up and tried again, half-crouching a bit as he moved his wings, more for lack of anything better-
Except he was still getting the same lift as when he had been standing full upright.
He thought, carefully, back to just about any stupid wildlife documentary he'd ever watched about birds.
Most of them seemed to need a little jump, too.
He swallowed, crouching full, but low, as he pushed himself, his wings, harder, harder, and-
He gasped and nearly fell again when, his jump coinciding exactly with a downward flap, he lifted up off the roof, past the tiles and the chimneys and the trees and into the sky itself.
He laughed in disbelief as he realized, yes, he could, he could just fly right off the ground.
On impulse, he flew straight up, higher, past the trees that sheltered his home, over the reaching branches, and for a few moments just stayed that in that little bubble, not rising but not falling.
He never went much higher than this.
But he'd never get the chance to try again.
With a few deep, determined breaths, Arthur added more power to his downstrokes, and curved his upstrokes so the air slipped around his wings instead of bringing him down, and quickly rose higher, higher, and even higher, until he looked around and realized there was nothing around him, nothing blocking his view, nothing, and that he was more than a hundred meters off the ground.
As he rose even higher, could feel the beginnings of cold, cold moisture on the back of his neck, and wings started to feel lighter. And even though he could feel his ears pop slightly from the airpressure, his lungs and his body didn't feel deprived of oxygen in the slightest. For a few moments he frowned as he realized his flaps were changing, before realizing up here this was easier, and oh god he was listening to his instincts, and he was certain he could go up into the clouds and disappear-
-he stopped flapping, stretching out his wings and feeling his muscles stretch as he let the air balloon under them, letting him drift to the ground. Close to the earth, he glided onto the roof, before landing. When he did, he looked up and stared at the height he'd gone to.
He probably could disappear into the clouds. But he won't, because he was going to London and getting the cure and becoming human again, and then, he was never going into the air ever again. At least not without the great big metal shelves of an airplane.
He spent the entire climb back down into his room reminding himself that this was a good thing.
It had to be.
A/N: Sorry about the long wait! Just started school and kind of sick at the moment, so life's been a little hectic for me.
Next Chapter: The problem with having wings is they make you want to fly.