Last chapter! It's been great guys :) I actually have two more fics in mind for Merlin, both I have already begun writing! :D


"Arthur," Gwen sobbed. "Arthur's he's not breathing."

"Quick, grab the scalpel!" Arthur shouted. He was surprised he had said that. The moment he had seen Merlin's slack face and limp body, Arthur's mind turned to mush. He wasn't breathing. Merlin wasn't breathing. That could've been Gwen too. Gwen could've been trapped inside a wall suffocating– dying. As soon as Gwen returned, holding out the scalpel with a shaky hand, Arthur's mouth inadvertently barked out orders again. (How his mouth was working while his brain wasn't made no sense to Arthur, but he didn't question it since apparently –at the current moment– Arthur's mouth was smarter than his brain.)

"Cut the ropes. I'll catch him," he heard his mouth promise.

Gwen nodded, reaching for Merlin. She was trembling at first, but as she continued sawing the ropes, Arthur noticed Gwen's shaking decrease until it stopped all together. She became more determined with each stroke of the blade. After an antagonizing wait –which felt like hours though Arthur was sure barely a minute went by– the ropes were severed and Merlin crumbled beneath his own weight, into Arthur's waiting arms. Picking up the boy's legs, Arthur carried Merlin bridal-style to the more capacious part of the room, the center, where he laid him down gently and began searching for a pulse frantically.

"Please, please, please, please," Gwen was whispering. Her hands were clasped in front of her lips in a prayer-like gesture.

Arthur nearly sobbed when he found it, palpitating at the base of Merlin's neck. It was weak, so very, very weak, but Arthur had found Merlin's pulse. He allowed himself to delay for one moment, looking up into Gwen's terrified brown eyes to convey everything he found, and felt, without the use of words (for Arthur knew that if he tried, he'd only choke on the bittersweet taste of He's alive, but I don't know for how much longer). Gwen nodded, discerning what Arthur's eyes were telling her instantaneously. Without wasting another second, Arthur began CPR, grateful that he actually paid attention during the class his father had forced him to go to.

One, two, three, four, five, six…

On the other side of her brother, Gwen collapsed onto her knees, unable to stand from the sheer weight of dread and apprehension, and reached for Merlin's hand. "Come on, come on," she whispered– begged.

twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty.

Arthur tilted Merlin's head back, pinched the pale nose closed, and pressed their lips together, breathing a mouthful of air into Merlin's lungs. He paused before forcing another breath of air down his friend's throat and going back to the motionless chest.

One, two, three, four…

"Come on, you idiot," Arthur muttered angrily. "Breathe."

twenty-nine, thirty.

Again, Arthur tilted Merlin's head back and blew in oxygen that Merlin's body so desperately needed. It occurred to Arthur how young Merlin looked. He was only a year younger, but right now, he looked years younger. More like a mere child of twelve or thirteen than a sarcastic, fiery seventeen-year old. Merlin had always been tall for his age (or so Arthur heard), but it was his face and lanky build that caused others to see Merlin as someone innocent and young, someone who needed to be protected. (And while Arthur does, discreetly, agree with this belief some of the time, he also knew Merlin could take care of himself and didn't need people doting over him all the time; albeit, Merlin wasn't very good at taking care of himself, but it was better than nothing.) The question still remained: how could anyone even think of hurting him? How could his father hurt him? Not just hurt, murder. Uther tried to murder Merlin and he seemed pleased at Merlin's potential demise. Gwen's too.

Tears stung Arthur's eyes, making everything blurry. His father tried to kill his own son's best friend and girlfriend. Thankfully, Arthur saved Gwen in time, but will Merlin be so lucky? He looked like death and Arthur was doing everything in his power not to collapse onto Merlin's skinny body, crying and holding his friend tightly.

That was why he hated showing his true feelings; Arthur wasn't in control of himself when he was extremely emotional, and without his stoic outer shell, Arthur felt weak and vulnerable. But this time, Arthur would gladly take feeling pathetic all the time over completely useless. Right now, he'd give anything to just see Merlin's chest rise and fall. With this in mind, Arthur went to do the second ventilation.

Then it happened.

The miracle both teenagers had been praying for.

Right as Arthur leaned in towards his apneic friend for the second time, a ragged gasp of air emitted from Merlin's mouth followed by what sounded like scratchy, chest-rattling coughs. Arthur pulled away, staring as his friend struggled to breathe. Relief washed over Arthur and left him feeling dizzy and weightless. If Arthur looked down and found himself floating, he wouldn't have been surprised; that's how light he felt.

He had done it. Merlin was breathing again.

"Merlin!" Gwen reached out to grasp her brother's shoulder, but Merlin was already making a feeble effort to turn towards her. As soon as he was on his side, Gwen's adoptive brother attempt to vomit, but because of his empty stomach, all the boy could do was dry heave, eventually bringing up bile. Gwen, though worried for Merlin, was thankful she was sitting closer to his hips, nowhere near his mouth.

In anxious silence, Gwen and Arthur waited until Merlin had finishing coughing and retching his stomach out. After a few minutes, Merlin gave an exhausted groan and rolled onto his back, unaware of his surroundings. His eyes never opened once, unless you counted the fluttering of his eyelids. Finally, Arthur couldn't take it anymore.

"Merlin? Merlin!" The blonde teen reached out to shake his friend's shoulder.

As a hand brushed his shoulder, Merlin's eyes flew open, sightless. He couldn't see anything; everything was pitch-black, but Merlin knew. He knew there were things in the darkness. Things that wanted to get to him; to hurt him, to kill him.

"N-no!" he shouted weakly. Merlin tried to scramble back from the touch, but only managed to collide into something that was both soft and firm. The shape and feel of the creature felt familiar, but Merlin was too terrified to understand that the shape was human, and he was feeling the fabric of his sister's favorite shirt. "Stay a-away!" he cried out, not realizing it was only Gwen. Merlin's voice never rose above a hoarse whisper, but the terror he expelled was painstakingly genuine. His eyes were wide with fear; his arms were shaking as they supported most of his weight. Again, he scrambled away from the human contact, his eyes seeing, but not comprehending. This time, as he backed into yet paradox mixture of soft and firm, the thing grabbed hold of Merlin and didn't let go.

"Merlin, you need to stop!"

"Let me go!" Merlin begged, his voice breaking. He tried to extract himself from the embrace, but he was too weak and disoriented to make much –or any– progress. "Please!"

Arthur clutched Merlin to his chest, circling his arms around the freighted boy. Without realizing, he began rocking back and forth. "Merlin, calm down," he whispered in Merlin's ear. "It's me. It's Arthur."

Even though Arthur couldn't see his face, he knew Merlin was crying. He could feel the tears fall onto his wrists; he could see the tears in Gwen's own eyes as she watched the struggle take place. She made no effort to help Arthur; she knew that no matter what she tried, it would only end up doing more damage than good. Merlin grabbed at Arthur's hands and arms, trying to pry them off his chest with the little strength he had.

"I don't wanna die," Merlin sobbed.

"You won't," Arthur insisted. "You're safe, Merlin. You're safe."

"…Safe…?"

Gradually, Merlin stopped grabbing at Arthur's hands, opting to rest his own trembling hands over the arm that was slung across his upper chest instead. They sat there for a minute, Merlin trying to pinpoint where exactly he's heard the voice before and why he felt reassured and impervious when hearing it. Finally, Merlin remembered.

"Ar-Arthur?" he asked, his voice hoarse.

"Yes," Arthur's voice cracked. "It's me; you're safe."

"Safe," Merlin echoed, realizing that, now that Arthur was here, he really was safe. Uther couldn't get to him if he was in Arthur's arms. Merlin closed his eyes and relaxed against his friend, his breathing finally evening out.

Gwen watched as she saw her boyfriend finally calm her brother. Merlin had been hyperventilating, looking every bit like a mouse caught in an owl's talons, but now his terrified visage morphed into one of immense mitigation. More tears spilled down Merlin's cheeks, but the small smile on his face told Gwen that her brother wasn't reliving constant terror anymore.

"Merlin?" Gwen asked, deciding that she's waited long enough and she wants to hold Merlin now.

"Gwen?" Merlin croaked out, sounding slightly confused, yet enormously relieved. He opened his eyes and tried to detach himself from Arthur's chest. Seeing he was struggling, Arthur helped Merlin sit up straight so he could look his sister in the eyes. "Y-you're alright."

He didn't say it as a question, but Gwen answered like it was one anyway. "Yeah," Gwen swallowed, trying to keep from completely falling apart. "I'm alright."

Gwen moved over to Merlin and Arthur. As soon as she got close enough, Merlin reached out for her, grabbing her neck and burying his head in it. She returned the hug, also wrapping her arms around his neck. Through her blurry vision, she could see the tears falling out of Arthur's eyes as well. She wasn't surprised when Arthur scotched closer to the embracing siblings and put his arms around both them. Gwen loved the feeling of Arthur's hands circling her back, comforting her. She remembered receiving hugs similar to this by her parents when she was younger. She and Elyan would be in the middle while her mum and dad were on the outskirts. They called it an Oreo Hug.

The three of them stayed there until the loud sound of rushing footsteps echoed throughout the house above them. The two teenagers felt Merlin stiffen between them. They heard shouts of "Look over there!" and "Check that room!" One man, sounding very close to the basement door, shouted, "Down here!"

As the basement door was slammed open, Merlin openly whimpered and shrank into Arthur's chest.

"It's okay, Merlin," Arthur soothed. He removed his hands from Gwen's back to Merlin's body, encircling the boy once again. "It's just the police."

Gwen, who was rubbing Merlin's arms, gave Arthur a questioning look. "Police?" she asked.

Nodding, Arthur explained how he had called 999 before running out into the woods. "Took them bloody long enough to find this place though," he grumbled.

When the police and ambulance showed up, it took a great deal of persuading to get Merlin to let go of Arthur. Gwen managed to get him to release Arthur, only to have Merlin latch onto her. Eventually, Arthur coaxed Merlin into going into the ambulance, promising Gwen could go with him and Arthur would catch up soon.

"What will you be doing?" Gwen asked.

"I'm pretty sure they're ganna question us," Arthur shrugged nonchalantly, but his eyes held a darker motive. "And I've got a few questions to ask them myself."

x~X~x

"What do you mean he's not there?!" Arthur demanded. He had just finished giving his statement not two minutes ago. He was ready to leave and be with Gwen and Merlin, but something just had to go wrong, didn't it?

The policewoman hardly seemed fazed by Arthur's outburst. "I mean exactly what I said. Uther's body was not in this house when we came in."

Arthur couldn't believe how composed she was. This wasn't the weather they were talking about! His father was still out there. Out in the world. The same world where Merlin and Gwen were currently in, riding to the hospital.

"How can you be so calm about this!?"

The policewoman smiled kindly at Arthur, as if she dealt with people who'd gone through "extreme emotional trauma just like you have."

"Arthur, it's okay. From the amount of blood on the floor, we can confidently say that your father is quite disoriented and perhaps very weak. Hitting a table's edge isn't exactly good for the brain, you know. He's probably wondering in the woods right now in a state of utter confusion; we'll find him soon enough."

Arthur was too exhausted to answer her, knowing that whatever would come out of his mouth would only spark an argument with Officer Clay. So Arthur simply nodded and asked if he could visit his friend now. He was given the green.

He wanted to leave immediately, go straight over to the hospital; but Arthur couldn't leave yet. How could he face his friends knowing their kidnapper was still out there? Spotting the one person who could help him, Arthur made an impromptu decision and walked over to the man in charge.

"Sherriff?" Arthur called out. The man turned around, and seeing who is was, gave Arthur his full attention.

Arthur explained to the Sherriff, who used to be a friend of his father, what exactly he wanted– to keep the fact that Uther was still out there under wraps. Arthur didn't want Merlin or Gwen worrying about their insane kidnapper (after today, Arthur no longer associated himself in any way with the insane mad who nearly murdered his friends). After wasting precious minutes –minutes Arthur could be using to go to Gwen and Merlin– trying to diplomatically persuade him, Arthur finally resorted to begging, which surprisingly did the trick.

"Besides," Sherriff Leon said with confidence, "I'm sure he'll be apprehended shortly. And where he's going, he might as well be dead."

Arthur flashed him a smile of pure gratitude. Leon –everybody called him by his first name– was about ten years older than Arthur and had always been a friend. In fact, Leon's whole family used to have dinner quite often in the Pendragon estate, not so much after Leon's father had passed away (Leon's father had been very close to Uther) and after Leon was promoted to Sherriff about three years ago, the dinners more or less ceased for good.

Hailing a taxi, Arthur headed over to the General Hospital. The twenty-two minutes it took was agonizing. When Arthur finally arrived, he'd been told that Merlin and Gwen had already given their statements and were in a private room; the nurses warned Arthur not to mention the kidnapping at all since they'd prefer it if their patient didn't have any nightmares. From the way their eyes kept sneaking glances toward room 471, Arthur got the feeling the nurses were sporting a small crush on his friend. There was no way Arthur was going to share this; Merlin's ears were big enough without adding hot air to inflate them even wider.

Honestly, the warning was completely redundant. Arthur had no intentions of mentioning their previous endeavor for as long as all three of them lived. Some psychologist even had the nerve to give Arthur his card, saying if he ever wanted to talk about his father to just call. Arthur had said a curt "Thank you" before stuffing the card into his back pocket, intending to never pull it out again. (Two weeks later found Arthur calling that number after much insisting from Gwen and Merlin, who both said that Arthur had to talk about it and it was helping both of them begin to 'move on,' which Arthur found out to be pleasantly true.)

Sitting on Merlin's hospital bed, with her back towards Arthur, was Gwen. Her clothes were rumbled and dirty and from the way she held her shoulders, Arthur knew she was exhausted, but Arthur still thought she looked gorgeous. The strength and courage she displayed down in the basement brought a smile to Arthur's face; he really loved that girl. After a moment, Arthur continued walking into the hospital room and sat on the other side of Gwen. Merlin's hospital bed gave a creak as he sat down, but Arthur ignored it, choosing to pat Merlin's knee and grin.

"I just gave him a sedative," an older nurse said. Her scrubs were plain, nut her smile was kind. "You should be asleep soon," she informed Merlin before quietly walking out the room, giving the three friends the space they needed.

Merlin looked upon him with sleepy eyes. "They wanna keep me. Just for the night," he said, his voice slurring slightly.

Arthur nodded his understanding. "And tomorrow, we'll all three go out to Adventure Island. My treat." He had thought about it during his entire ride.

Merlin's eyes widened. "Really?" he asked, sounding just like a little kid on Christmas. Arthur nodded once again, grinning at Merlin's enthusiasm. "You're the best, Arthur!" Arthur was sure that, had it not been for the fact that Merlin was exhausted and wired to a heart monitor, he would've lunged at Arthur, giving him the biggest, and girliest, hug in the history of male-kind.

"Of course I'm the best," Arthur said, using what Merlin calls his "prat voice." (After what they'd been through, Arthur was pretty sure he wouldn't have minded receiving a massive, bone-crushing hug –even if it was girly– from his conscious friend.)

Merlin's lips twitched in what Arthur assumed was meant to be a grin. He barely managed to mumble, "Don't be such a prat," before the sedatives finally took its course and dragged Merlin into a blissful sleep.

Arthur looked over to Gwen, who was watching him carefully. "Adventure Island? In Essex?"

"The very one."

"But Arthur, you can't do that."

Arthur frowned, "Why not? It's not like I'm going to go broke. There a ton of money in the bank, and that's just what my fath- what's been saved for me since my birth."

Gwen looked at him with big eyes, "Arthur you don't have to do-"

"Yes I do, Gwen," Arthur interrupted. "Not just for Merlin, but for you and for me." Arthur grabbed hold of Gwen's hands, looking her in the eyes, "Gwen, I have to get away for a while. Staying here… it would be too much. And I don't want to go alone. I already know Merlin wants to come and you are most certainly invited, but if you really don't want to go to Adventure Island in Essex, I'll be fine with just Merlin around. Though he's not really the pleasant company you are."

Gwen blushed at Arthur's words. "I… Well… I'll have to ask my parents…"

Arthur wanted to point out that since she was eighteen, she didn't need to ask for permission, but he didn't. He knew Gwen would feel better asking for permission, and he was pretty sure her parents wouldn't say no anyway.

"Alright," Arthur said, grinning. "Tell them we'll be gone for the week. And don't worry about expenses. I've got it."

At first, Gwen looked like she was about to argue, but then she sighed, leaned over and kissed him. Arthur began kissing back and soon, the world around them melted and it was just them. They broke apart minutes later, when Arthur couldn't contain his laughter.

"What?" Gwen asked, her pupils still wide from their kissing.

Arthur shook his head. "I must be exhausted," he said, trying –and failing– to contain his laughter. "All I could think about was Merlin complaining about how we're snogging right above him without considering that fact that maybe he doesn't want to see us getting it on."

Gwen looked quite affronted, but the façade only lasted for a moment before she, too, was laughing.

"I think we're both exhausted," she said, her eyes watering.

x~X~x

Arthur and Gwen were ushered out of Merlin's room by the nurses for fear of "waking the poor boy." Leaving Gwen's parents to keep watch over Merlin, Arthur and Gwen went to the Lyonesse household to shower, change, and get a good night's sleep. Much to Arthur's displeasure, they arrived bright and early the next morning, already packed –Arthur packed for Merlin, with Gwen keeping a watchful eye on what he put in the bag– for the week ahead of them. It was well into the afternoon when the hospital finally released Merlin.

"What took so long?" Arthur had complained.

Merlin smirked, "The nurses kept doting over me. It was quite nice, actually."

Then Arthur had ruffled Merlin's hair saying the nurses were only fawning over him because he looked so much like a child, while Merlin kept insisting on his manliness. Gwen only laughed as she hailed a taxi to get them to the airport. Her boys were back.

x~X~x

Twelve Years Later…

"Merlin, care to explain something to me?"

"Mhmm?" Merlin asked, spooning another mouthful of Gwen's wonderful homemade soup.

"You've got a job, right? History professor or something, right?" Arthur sat on the opposite side of Merlin, glowering at him over the table.

"Yes, and you're a fencing instructor. What's your point?"

Arthur huffed. "My point is you're twenty-nine and still living in my house!"

"It's Gwen's house too," Merlin pointed out, scooping more soup into his mouth.

"That's the point, Merlin. This is Arthur and Gwen's house. Not Arthur, Gwen, and Merlin's house."

Merlin shrugged, "Gwen doesn't seem to mind."

"Of course she doesn't! She's kind like that."

"So you're saying you're not kind?" Merlin asked, trying to hide his sly smile by eating more soup.

"Of course I'm kind, Merlin. I'm one of the kindest people out there."

"Good. Then I guess I'll stay."

Arthur's mouth hung agape for a second before he groaned and rubbed the side of his face. "I can't believe I walked into that one."

"I can," Merlin snorted.

"Oh, shut up, will you?" came the automatic response. Merlin snickered before schooling his face as Arthur looked up to glare at him. Soon, they were both laughing so hard, Merlin actually fell out of his chair, which caused more laughter to erupt from the man sitting opposite him. The mirth weaned down slowly, taking about ten minutes for the two friends to finally stop breaking out in fits of giggles. They both exhaled, grinning like madmen at each other. After a moment, they forced themselves to look away before they began tittering like underage school girls again. They looked around the house, finding something –anything– to distract them.

"Exactly what is it about this place that you just find so appealing, Merlin?" Arthur mused aloud. It wasn't a very spacious house, but it was enough for two. Of course, since there were three people living inside it, it was a bit cramped. Not by much, but not as roomy as Arthur would've liked.

"You mean besides the free rent?" Merlin asked with the familiar impish glint in his eyes.

"Don't tempt me," Arthur threatened, but it was only in jest and Merlin –unfortunately– knew that. If Arthur tried to get Merlin to pay rent, he wouldn't hear the end of it from Gwen. She'd be going on and on about how Merlin's Arthur's best friend and his brother-in-law and it's not like Merlin would take up much room and Arthur just didn't want to hear it.

Merlin chuckled. "I just find it amusing, that's all."

"…Find what amusing?" Arthur asked, not sure he really wanted to know the answer.

Merlin smirked and Arthur knew he wasn't going to like the answer. "You remember Jordan and Jackie, the twins I tutor?" Arthur nodded. "Well, their aunt, you remember their aunt, right? Redhead, green eyes, legs that go on for miles? Twenty-six, twenty-seven I think?"

"Get on with it already," Arthur interrupted exasperated, but a small smile proved that he was –somewhat– happy for his friend. Merlin's finally got himself interested in a girl.

Sticking out his tongue, Merlin continued with a smirk still on his face, "Well, she finds it simply adorable that my precious parents allow their penniless son to live with them."

Arthur's eyebrows shot up so far, they disappeared beneath his bangs. "What?"

"Apparently, she finds that hot. And she's always commenting on you and Gwen, calling you Mr. and Mrs. Evens." A big cheeky grin is plastered all over Merlin's face, "You two never even realized."

"What?" Arthur repeated, still in shock.

"It makes my day every Thursday," Merlin smirked. "And so do her short dresses."

"MERLIN!" Arthur shouted, standing up so quickly the chair fell backwards. "And you never thought to correct her?!"

"Well, I didn't realize what she was saying until much later." Merlin at least had the decency to look a little embarrassed at that.

Arthur sighed and shook his head. "You're such an idiot, you know that?"

"And you're a prat," Merlin quipped automatically. "But you can't really blame Andria. The first time she saw you, you were half-asleep and hadn't shaved in days, wearing a sweatshirt and your grandpa pants."

Gritting his teeth, Arthur ignored the 'grandpa pants' bits. They were not grandpa pants. They were comfortableand Arthur had been sick that day; that gives him some entitlement to wear whatever he wanted, especially since he was in his own house. "Oh, so this is my fault?" Arthur asked instead.

"You say 'fault' like there's something wrong. I see nothing wrong."

Arthur just stared at Merlin, giving him the biggest 'you-are-such-an-idiot' face Merlin has ever seen.

"What?" Merlin asked.

"Oh just… Go teach your classes. Or something."

Merlin grinned and went to dump his bowl in the sink. Coming around to Arthur, he gave his brother-in-law a kiss on the check. "See ya later, dad."

Merlin risked staying a moment to wink at Arthur, but he still managed to escape out the door before the sputtering Arthur could gather his wits. Even outside, Merlin could hear the outraged –yet slightly amused– voice of Arthur screeching, "MERLIN!"

The named man grinned.

As he walked to the Underground entrance, Merlin felt the familiar sensation of being watched. Like usual, he looked around, but saw no one near him. Merlin shrugged it off like he normally did. After all, there was no reason for anyone to be following him. Uther was dead. Arthur had said so and that meant there was no need to worry about him.

Tossing a few pounds into the empty guitar case, Merlin smiled and said "Cheers," at the homeless musician who always played on this street. Wendell always smiled back.

Merlin never realized that someone actually was watching him. Watching and waiting. The man in the shadows was always waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike, to bring down his enemy. But he could never find the opportunity. He used look-a-likes to settle his sanguinary fantasies, but they never fully worked. He wanted to feel their blood on his hands and to see their eyes as the life drained out of them. He didn't care about the doppelgängers, who sometimes only vaguely resembled the objects of his rage. But what he wanted most was to see his son smile at him. Just once. Just once he wants to see his son's smile. He would do anything to see Arthur look at him and grin.

The man watched as the black-haired boy –who was now a man– disappeared in an entrance to the Underground.

Next time, he always told himself. Next time I'd get them.

But he never did. He only watched. Watched as his son lived the life he wanted, with his pathetic girlfriend-now-wife, Gwen, and the sorry excuse for a man, Merlin. He watched as his son was happy. Arthur was happy without him, and that caused the man to feel as though he were drowning. Try as he might, he could never reach the surface, never reach freedom. He was suffocating with all the hurt and anger he felt. He was nowhere near water, yet he felt as though he were drowning on the very air he breathed.