Hello, my fair Merlinions! Nice to see you up and about this fine Saturday! I've got a new story for you all here, so I hope you enjoy it!
Description: A modern AU where Merlin and Arthur are brothers. Their mother was killed in a mysterious "house fire" when Merlin was a baby, and their father, Uther, travels the country hunting witches and warlocks. And now, they're about to follow in his footsteps...
Disclaimer: Anything recognizable belongs either to BBC or to The CW.
Additional AN: The first part of this chapter is a flashback, and the rest takes place six years later. Most of this story, however, will take place in the modern day, when Merlin and Arthur are adults. Also, after the events of the flashback, the Pendragon family moved to America. There are reasons for this, which shall be explained in later chapters, but it's also so I can get away with using Americanisms (Ha!). Sorry if this bothers anyone, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask! :)
The Family Business
August 1, 1986
"Come on, Arthur," Ygraine Pendragon murmured to her eldest son as she led him by the hand into the nursery. "It's time to say goodnight to your brother."
Five-year-old Arthur beamed up at his mother with a gap-toothed smile before turning to peer into the crib. "G'night, Merls," he whispered, kissing his fingers and sliding his hand through the bars to rest on the baby's head. "Maybe when you wake up, you'll be big enough to play catch wif me!"
Ygraine smiled and laid a hand on Arthur's head, smoothing back his silky blond locks. "I'm afraid he won't be old enough for that for quite some time, Love. Maybe when he gets to be as big as you…"
Arthur giggled at that thought, shaking his head back and forth in denial. "Merlin's never gonna be as big as me, Mommy—I'm the big brother!"
"That's right. You are," Ygraine agreed softly, before her tone became more serious. "And that means it's your job to watch out for Merlin."
"I thought that was yours and Daddy's job," Arthur said, a small frown puckering his brow.
"It is," his mother replied. "But there will be times when we aren't there, and then we'll need you to look after him for us." She leaned forward and kissed her son on the forehead. "Can you do that, Arthur?"
The little boy nodded his head emphatically, looking pleased at being trusted to take care of something so important. "I promise," he said, his voice hushed as he crossed his hand over his heart.
"Good," Ygraine said, her eyes twinkling. "Now, let's get you off to bed…"
The pair entered Arthur's own bedroom, and Ygraine gently tucked him into his bed, placing a warm hand on his cheek. "I love you," she murmured. "You know that, right?"
"Yes, Mama," Arthur answered, staring up at his mother curiously. "I love you, too."
Ygraine smiled—though Arthur thought it looked rather sad—and then left the room without another word. Arthur frowned but decided he was only imagining things and settled down to sleep.
He had just begun to doze off when a loud crash from the nursery suddenly jolted him awake. Immediately, he leapt out of bed and ran to his brother's room, an unfamiliar feeling of fear welling up in his chest.
When he reached the open doorway, he froze. A strange man stood just inside, one arm outstretched towards Ygraine, who was standing protectively in front of Merlin's crib. Before Arthur could even blink, the man's eyes glowed yellow, and Ygraine was thrown against the far wall with a sickening thud.
Arthur opened his mouth to scream, but before he could do so, his father appeared behind him, pushing him out of the way and racing into the room. Uther Pendragon took one look at the scene before him and tackled the man who had attacked his wife.
"Arthur!" he called out, as the two wrestled on the floor. "Get your brother, and get out of here!"
The words spurring him into action, Arthur darted over to the crib, pulled down the side, and grabbed the baby who was—amazingly—still sleeping. With one last frightened glance at his father, Arthur gripped Merlin tightly in his arms and ran.
He didn't stop running when the room behind him burst into flames. He didn't stop running when he heard his father call out his mother's name in anguish. He didn't even stop running when smoke filled his lungs and he burst through the front door, coughing, choking, sobbing, and shivering so hard, he thought he would collapse.
He had promised his mother he would keep Merlin safe.
That was the only thing that mattered now.
Six years later…
"But Arthur," Merlin whimpered for the third time that morning, rubbing a hand across his dripping nose, "what if they don't like me?"
Arthur sighed and pulled a tissue from his pocket, holding it out to his younger brother. "Really, Merlin, who wouldn't like a snotty little squirt like you?"
The boy sniffed and looked up at him with huge blue eyes. "Arthur," he whined, his lower lip beginning to tremble. Arthur sighed again.
"Look, Merlin," he said, crouching down and starting to button up his brother's coat. "This is the fourth school you've been to since you started kindergarten—everyone always likes you!"
"But what if these ones don't?"
Arthur finished tying Merlin's scarf and ruffled the boy's hair. "Then they'll have me to deal with. Now, come on—we're gonna be late!"
Fifteen minutes later, Arthur ushered his little brother through the door of the first grade classroom. Merlin gazed at everything without blinking, his tiny hand wrapped tightly around Arthur's own.
The teacher walked over to them, a friendly smile on her face, and Arthur pretended not to notice when Merlin sniffled and pressed even closer to him.
"Hello!" the woman cooed brightly. "Who do we have here?"
"Arthur Pendragon, ma'am," the blond boy replied. "And this is my brother, Merlin."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Merlin," the teacher said softly, bending over so she was at eye-level with the six-year-old. "My name is Miss Jensen, and we're going to have a wonderful time together this year!"
Merlin smiled shyly at her before looking back down at his feet. Arthur rolled his eyes affectionately and gave his brother's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"I have to go now, Squirt," he murmured, sounding regretful, "but I'll be right back here to pick you up as soon as school's out, okay?"
"Okay," Merlin agreed quietly.
"Good," Arthur said with a grin. "Now, go make your big brother proud!"
Merlin nodded solemnly and—with one last nervous glance back—made his way over to his new desk. Arthur watched him get settled for a few moments, then turned and headed off to his own class.
"It was 'mazing, Arthur!" Merlin told his brother happily as the two walked home from school that afternoon. "Miss Jensen taught us 'bout tens tables, an' then we colored pictures an' Nicholas let me borrow his crayons!"
Arthur grinned at the little boy's excitement, having to move quickly to keep up, even with his much longer stride.
"Didn't I tell you it'd be alright?" he asked teasingly. "Now, do I even want to know how many new friends you made today?"
Merlin frowned thoughtfully and began to tick them off on his fingers. "There's Nicholas an' Katie an' Brayden an' Cody an' Wyatt an' Lindsey an'–"
Arthur shook his head and held up a hand to stop the list of names. "I'm sorry I asked," he said with a slightly rueful smile. Then he stopped walking and turned to his brother with a mock-worried expression. "None of them are cooler than me, though, right?"
Merlin looked at him with a serious expression of his own. "Never," he declared firmly.
The next few weeks passed by in a blur as the two boys settled into their new school—Merlin with the same energy and enthusiasm he brought to everything. He'd already made friends with everyone in his class and was now starting on some of the other grades, as well. Arthur was actually beginning to let himself hope that this year might be different, when it happened.
Miss Jensen called him into her classroom after school.
Telling his brother to wait outside—right outside and nottowanderoffunderanycircum stancesImeanitMerlin—Arthur walked over to the teacher and sat down in a chair by her desk.
The woman appeared to study him for several long seconds. Arthur was careful to keep his face neutral and resisted the urge to fidget. Finally, Miss Jensen broke the silence.
"I tried calling your father," she said, searching his face for a reaction, "but no one answered."
"He's working," Arthur replied, the words automatic after years of practice. "But if you want, I can give him a message for you."
Miss Jensen slowly blew air out through her nose. "Does your father work most of the time?"
Arthur quirked one eyebrow up just shy of mockingly. "He's got to have some way of buying us food."
"Who looks after you and your brother while he's at work?"
"No one—I can take care of us both."
"What about your mother?"
"She died a long time ago," Arthur said with a scowl. "Is there a point to this meeting?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sorry," Miss Jensen replied, looking slightly flustered. "I wanted to talk to your father about Merlin, but seeing as he's not here…"
"What about Merlin?" Arthur asked, a hint of a warning slipping into his tone.
The teacher chewed her lip for a moment, as if searching for the right words. "He… He's a very bright young man…"
"But he seems to have trouble distinguishing between reality and his imagination."
"What do you mean?" Arthur asked, leaning forward and frowning in confusion.
"Well," Miss Jensen said slowly. "Today in class, I asked him about his mother, and he told me that she was killed." She paused and took a deep breath. "By a man with yellow eyes."
Arthur felt his own eyes widen as his insides suddenly turned to ice. How could Merlin possibly…?
"And that's not all," Miss Jensen continued, seemingly unaware of Arthur's distress. "He also told me that your father leaves you two at home alone—sometimes for days at a time—and goes off to hunt sorcerers!"
Arthur swallowed his shock and hastily rearranged his features into what he hoped was a bored expression. After all, he'd faced worse situations that this before—this was just like that nosy CPS agent in Minnesota.
Arthur cleared his throat. "He's lying," he declared flatly. "He just has an overactive imagination."
"Well, yes, of course," the teacher said hastily. "But I don't think he knows that it isn't true."
"So what?" Arthur asked, masking his worry with annoyance. "He's only six!"
"Yes, but Arthur—he honestly seems to believe that you and your father are some kind of monster-hunting superheroes! It's not healthy!"
Angry, Arthur stood up and began walking towards the door. "Ma'am," he said softly, pausing at the threshold, "when I was his age, I didn't even believe in Santa Claus anymore." He glanced back at her, the look in his eyes that of someone far older.
"Let him keep his heroes."
The walk home that afternoon was much quieter than normal. Arthur was absorbed in his own thoughts, and Merlin seemed to understand that the older boy wasn't in the mood for his usual chattering.
It wasn't until they'd arrived at their house and Arthur had sat down on the couch that Merlin broke the silence.
"Are you mad at me?" he asked abruptly, his blue eyes wide with worry. Arthur looked up at his brother in surprise.
"Why would you think that?"
"'Cuz Miss Jensen was talking to you about me," Merlin said, glancing at Arthur out of the corners of his eyes and seeming inexplicably nervous. "Is it 'cuz I'm a freak?" he asked quietly.
Arthur shot up so fast, his head swam. He quickly shook off the dizziness and grabbed onto Merlin's shoulders, staring into his eyes.
"Where did you hear that word?" he demanded, a surge of irrational anger flowing through him. Merlin bit his lip, avoiding his brother's gaze.
"A big kid called me one today," he muttered. "I don't know what it means."
"It doesn't matter," Arthur replied brusquely. "You are not a freak. You understand?"
"Do you understand me, Merlin?" he repeated, his grip tightening slightly as he tried to drill in the importance of his words.
"Yes, Arthur," Merlin replied, still looking shocked by his sudden intensity.
Satisfied, Arthur sank back into the couch, sighing and scrubbing a hand across his face. To be honest, he was also a little surprised at the violence of his reaction. Too many years of being called a freak himself, he supposed—his baby brother was not going to suffer through the same thing.
As if sensing that Arthur was still upset—he had always been good at reading his brother's moods—and to apologize for his part in it, Merlin climbed up onto the sofa and snuggled into the older boy's side, reassuringly solid against the turmoil of Arthur's thoughts.
Arthur sighed again, an odd sound filled with both affection and resignation, and wrapped an arm around his brother. Very soon, they would have to have a talk about magic and monsters, and Merlin would find out that the world was a whole lot scarier than he believed.
But for now, Arthur would let him keep his innocence, protecting him from the harsh truth, just like he did with everything else.
It was, after all, his job.
Alright. Well. This turned out waaaaaaaay differently than I had originally planned. When I first started writing this fic, it was just going to be about Merlin and Arthur as brothers and about Arthur looking after Merlin because their dad was away a lot. But then I realized how perfectly everything fit, and, well, THIS happened.
I'm still rather unsure about this story, so if you liked it and want to see more, please tell me! Feedback is amazing and encourages me to write more quickly! ;)
Also, I have another Merlin story (a collection of humorous one-shots, two-shots, red-shots, and blue-shots) that just reached its one year anniversary! If you haven't already, feel free to check it out! :)
Until next time,
P.S. Oh, and no disrespect meant to CPS agents or to Child Protective Services in general. They have a very important job, and I'm proud of what they do for our nation's youth.