Prompt: Arthur/Merlin. Sherlock Holmes (cookies for Merlin as Sherlock, but play it the way you want)
How could I possibly say no to that, come on!
Title: A Study in Gold
Rating: PG like I mean it
Fandom: Merlin BBC / Sherlock Holmes with much apologies to both Arthurs
Warnings: Okay, Arthur/Merlin is like the opposite of Watson/Holmes. There are almost no parallels to be drawn. So I drew perpendiculars. Naturally. ~3500 words, brazenly unbetaed.
In autumn of the year 1880 I found myself back in Albion after years away from her blessed shores. Despite rather desperate circumstances of my return and the bleakness of my prospects for the future, my heart was full of joy. The air of home, grey and laden with fog, was to me sweeter than nectar, and I was determined not to languish in my misfortune, but to start life anew and serve my country and my people once more, in any way that would be open to me.
The Afgan campaign brought me my share of honours, and my military career seemed promising. I had the great fortune to serve under General Roberts and march at his side from Kabul to Kandahar. Bobs was an inspiration to me, as he was for all his men. To me, the man represented the very spirit of the British Army – fearsome to his enemies, he treated the locals with fairness and kindness; half-dead with fever, he would force himself upon his horse to lead us to the besieged city. His skill and cunning saved countless lives that day. Unfortunately, it's hardly a secret that not all our command staff shared his qualities. Under the circumstances that I shall not disclose here I was compelled to act in the fashion that wasn't looked upon kindly by my superiors, although to this day I can't regret my choices. If not for Bobs's intervention, I would have been court-marshalled. To suppress the scandal, and given the wounds I had suffered in the battle of Kandahar, I was quietly invalided out of the British Army, much to the chagrin of my father. He sent me a short letter informing that I was henceforth disowned, and so I was left to my own devices, as free as air.
Having somewhat recovered, I gravitated to London in the hope of rekindling the relationship with my childhood friend Morgana LeFay. Following the death of her parents, Morgana had been raised in our family home, under my father's care. Despite the undeniable fondness they had for each other the pair clashed with terrifying regularity and fervour. As soon as she came of age and claimed her modest inheritance, she left our estate in Wales and installed herself in the City. There she took an apartment with her trusted companion Guinevere and immersed herself in charitable work and arcane exploits of budding spiritual societies. Most called her wilful, insolent, meddlesome; that was all true, yet still she was and remains the most reasonable and admirable woman I have ever known.
She was following my exploits and, apparently, still remained in correspondence with my father, so the whole story was known to her. After a heartfelt reunion I was proclaimed thin as a latch, brown as a nut, stubborn as a mule and, to my considerable surprise, a hero to rival the knights of old. That rare display of sisterly affection left us both discomfited enough to quickly force the conversation onto more practical matters.
I needed lodgings; with my finances being in the sorriest state, my choice was severely restricted. As a child I was used to luxury, and though years of schooling and military campaign taught me to thrive in most Spartan of environments, it was precisely the reason why I now longed for as much comfort as I could get. But was it possible to find a comfortable room for a reasonable price?
“That's a strange thing!” Gwen exclaimed. “You're the second man to-day to use that expression to me.”
“And who was the first?” I asked.
“A boy who is working at the chemical laboratory at the hospital,” she said, blushing. I knew that her and Morgana had nursed the sick there twice a week. I thought it at first one of Morgana's fleeting fancies, but they both seemed to truly enjoy bringing relief and comfort to those in need. “Just this morning he was saying he needed to get someone to go halves with him on some nice rooms he had found.”
“Then I am the very man for him!” I cried. “I should prefer having a partner to being alone."
“Oh, but you don't know Merlin yet,” she said. “Perhaps you won't care for him as a constant companion.”
“Why, what's wrong with him?”
“Oh, no, he's lovely. Ah, I didn't mean that I find him especially lovely, it's just that he's very loveable. Not that I love him. Everyone does! As a friend, he's very friendly. But not untoward, just, friendly! No, there's nothing wrong with him, it's not him, it's you.”
I was used to her peculiar manner of speech, but couldn't resist teasing her a little. I raised my eyebrows in pretence dismay, and watched her stammer helplessly.
“No, I didn't mean something is wrong with you! It's just, you prefer to be friends with manly men like you, the rough tough save the world sort of men. Not that Merlin isn't manly, he's a man, certainly. But he's not like that. He's normal. Not that you're abnormal! He's just... very sweet and ordinary.”
“There's nothing ordinary about Merlin,” said Morgana with a shrewd smile. “But Gwen is right. You should meet with him.”
With her usual enterprising energy she immediately arranged a hansom and our little trio proceeded to the hospital to meet the mysterious Merlin.
The chemical laboratory was a lofty chamber, lined and littered with countless bottles. As we entered we were greeted by a loud din of numerous test-tubes and retorts juddering and clanking against the broad, low tables that were scattered about. The whole room was lit up by flickering, almost otherworldly light that seemed to emanate from the lone figure in the distant corner. Clearly, we were witness to some potent, perhaps dangerous scientific experiment. I stepped in front of the women, ready to shield them if necessary, and was about to call out when the noise and the light suddenly seized.
The man twirled about and faced us with a suspiciously guilty expression on his face, which dissipated instantly at the sight of my companions.
“Lieutenant Arthur Pendragon, Mr Merlin Emrys,” Morgana said, introducing us. “Now Merlin, I told you all about Arthur, but I think you should give him a chance nevertheless.”
“How are you?” he said cordially, though he was eyeing me somewhat warily, perhaps owing his reservations to whatever yarn she had spun about me. Morgana's tongue could, on occasion, be exceedingly wicked. He extended a hand toward me; his angular shoulders were tense, as if he half-expected the gesture to be refused.
To this day I'm not certain why would he had thought that. It was clear from his clothing and speech that we weren't of the same social standing, but that would hardly lead me to reject a hand of friendship even in my best days. Now, disowned and nearly disgraced, I had no grounds to look down upon anyone. I grasped his hand without hesitation and watched, almost transfixed, as a brilliant wide smile bloomed on his pale face.
He was still in the throes of the scientific zeal; his blue eyes fairly glittered. I fancied I could nearly see golden sparks dance about in them. I asked him about his experiment, but he demurred, dismissing it as overly technical and quite dull.
He seemed to be delighted at the idea of sharing his rooms with me. We had arranged to meet the very next day and inspected the lodgings that we had found, which indeed suited us down to the ground. That very evening I moved in my meagre belongings, and on the following morning Merlin followed me with a single portmanteau. It didn't take us long to unpack and arrange our possessions, and gradually we began to settle in and accommodate to our new surroundings – and to each other.
Merlin turned out to be nigh impossible to live with. He had no routine or regular habits; he would happily sleep till noon and then stay up in his bedroom into ungodly hours, muttering some strange nonsense to himself. That was often accompanied by loud crashing noises and, occasionally, by a tremor running though the whole house. I tried to summon my best manners and respect the man's privacy, but it didn't take long before I was bursting into his room in my nightclothes, yelling on top of my lungs and demanding him to stop performing experiments in our home. He would blink up at me dumbly, slowly returning from whatever theoretical plane he had been lost on, and promise to be more careful.
He set fire to his bedroom on the second week of our living there. Had I not woken up at the smell of smoke, he could have been severely injured. Worse, had the damage to the room been more extensive, our landlady surely would have stopped treating him with unaccountable indulgence and would have refused our custom. I told him all that, but reason seemed utterly lost on him.
When the working fit was upon him, nothing could exceed his energy, but outside of his passions he was incredibly lazy. For hours on end he would lie on the sofa in our living-room, perusing old leather-bound books, oblivious to the world. His very presence seemed to upset the equilibrium of the room, creating the most remarkable disarray all around him. His bedroom was a constant wreck, and the messiness gradually crept out, spreading like plague. He would reluctantly straighten it up at my insistence, yet when I suggested we should tighten our belts and hire a servant he bristled at the very idea and was decidedly sulky for days. Whenever we disagreed on the most mundane matters, he would be openly rude and quick to resort to schoolyard name-calling. During our first week together we nearly came to blows on a number of occasions.
Why, then, have I kept the rooms and made so little effort to reform him? The answer, simply put, was that the man fascinated me. His very appearance and the person were such as to strike attention of the most casual observer. In height he was over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were bright and clear, save during those intervals of scholarly excitement to which I have alluded, when they appeared to change colour and swim with shades of golden glow. His large ears gave his whole expression an air of childlike innocence and impish mischief. His mouth was lush and finely shaped, ever ready to curl into a sweet, genial smile. His long fingers possessed an extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating fragile pages of his old books.
There was nothing affected about him, yet I could constantly sense a mystery that hung around my companion. Too proud for direct enquiries and bored witless with the idleness imposed on me by my convalescence, I spent much time endeavouring to unravel it.
The books he studied were written in a script so ancient and obscure that I couldn't decipher a word. His room didn't house much chemical equipment, for he seemed to be performing his experiments on mundane household objects, chosen at random. Once he saw me mourning my last decent coat which I thought irreparably stained. He took it from my hands, retreated to his bedroom and minutes later presented me with the garment in pristine condition and smelling freshly of heather.
He received frequent callers from the most different classes of society, whom he referred to as his clients. All of them entered our rooms in considerable distress, and left after a short interview glowing with hope, or sobbing with relief. From time to time he would take long walks and return late after dark, often satisfied, sometimes visibly shaken, occasionally with mud on his clothes and blood on his face. I had a few outlandish theories about his nature and occupation, but nothing that would answer all the questions.
Yet for all his eccentricities, Merlin was undeniably welcome company. He was nearly as new to London and friendless as I was; Morgana and Gwen were our closest acquaintances, and we paid them frequent visits together. The women had more fondness for him than they had ever cared to show for me, and I had began to suspect that Gwen could be harbouring feelings of more tender nature. Merlin, however, shown no sign of reciprocating her attentions. If anything, he was more taken with Morgana, which was of no surprise – she was considered a great beauty, and was as exciting as she was often infuriating. They would have made a strikingly handsome couple, both tall, slim, dark and pale, with piercing blue eyes and strange, fey charm. And it would be utterly like Morgana to challenge the mores of society by marrying a man of humble beginnings. I couldn't approve of the match and was ready to interfere if necessary, but nothing ever came to pass.
Though I wouldn't admit to it openly, Merlin's natural cheerfulness and easy, friendly demeanour were soothing to me in those difficult times, and after smoothing away our differences a bond started to form between us. Soon enough my health had recovered and I took up boxing again. He helped me train with only a token complaint, and was there to cheer and assist me at the prize-fight, waiting in my corner with a towel and a sponge, ready to wipe sweat and blood off my brow. I made a tidy sum in winnings and was able to treat us to some small luxuries, which he accepted graciously and gratefully.
It was around that time when his night-time exploits became more frequent and more worrisome. One of those evenings, as he quietly slipped out of our rooms without a word to me, I waited a while and then followed him at a distance.
He walked briskly to Brixton Road and stopped at one of the empty houses. Its bleak melancholy windows were plastered over with “To Let”cards, and the small garden separating the house from the street was sickly and untended. After a short hesitation Merlin crept along the fence like a thief, tried the back door that resisted at first but slid open at a wave of his hand, and disappeared inside.
I followed suit, stepping lightly over the creaky floors. There was no light inside save for the distant glow of the street lamps, but the house wasn't deserted. Soon enough I heard voices from upstairs.
“You!” exclaimed a stranger angrily. Merlin's voice replied softly, and I couldn't discern words.
I hurried onward, and stumbled in the doorway to the drawing room, struggling to take in the strange sight. They room was empty save for an odd altar-like object in the middle and two men facing each other across it. Merlin's outstretched arm was trained on his opponent in a gesture that would be threatening, had he been holding any kind of weapon. The shadowed figure opposite him belonged to the man much larger than my slender friend, and was looming over him with an air of deadly menace.
The stranger uttered a string of meaningless sounds that were somehow unsettlingly familiar to my ears, and suddenly fire erupted from his hands, arcing toward Merlin. I saw brilliant blue sparks crackling between my friend's fingers, but there was no time to contemplate that. I drew my gun and pulled the trigger, aiming to shoot through the stranger's knee.
My shot rang in the empty room, and the bullet sunk into the wall. The man was gone, as was the fire he had conjured. There was only me and Merlin, who was staring at me in dismay. His eyes glowed brightly in he dark, and it wasn't a hollow reflected glimmer of a cat's eye. Tendrils of golden fire were swirling in his eyes, and the light was spilling forth, illuminating sharp angles of his face.
An explanation was certainly in order. I used the time it took us to walk home to thoroughly berate his dimwitted recklessness, and as soon as we settled in front of the fire and furnished ourselves with brandy, I demanded to hear his story.
He sighed with relief, smiling happily, as if he long waited to share his secret with me.
“I was born with the gift for magic,” he said. “You shouldn't think that I hadn't confided in you earlier because I didn't trust you. I'm used to keeping it to myself. It's not the Middle Ages, of course, but still it wouldn't do to go around admitting that I practice sorcery.”
“I understand completely,” I nodded, thinking of my own secret, the one that had caused the first rift between me and my father. The law which I was guilty of violating was rarely enforced outside of some personal vendetta, but still it was best to be cautious. “Though I would hardly call you gifted, given your obvious ineptitude.”
“I am extremely powerful!” he protested, pouting like a child. “I'm still honing my skills, granted, but...”
“You've nearly burned the house down. I think we'd both be much safer if you stopped trying to better yourself, Merlin.”
“I'm not going to bury my talents, all right? There is a reason why I was given these powers, and I'm going to use them to do good and help people.”
I gave him a sceptical glance, and he threw his arms up in agitation.
“Yes, Arthur, in fact, I already do! And more, we already depend on my magic for our bread and cheese. Where do you think my rent money is coming from?”
I indicated politely that a gentleman never asks. He scoffed and straightened proudly in his chair.
“I have a trade of my own,” he announced. “I suppose I am the only one in the world. I'm a warlock detective, if you can understand what that is.”
I laughed till my sides hurt, and he glared at me darkly, contemplating retaliation. Only when his eyes were consumed once again by the golden glow did I manage to calm myself, worried that he might ruin some furniture and get us in trouble with the landlady.
“Here in London,” he explained, “we have lots of Government agencies and lots of private ones. When they are out of their depths – which, by the way, is their normal state - they come to me. I use my magic to put them on the right scent. They never question my methods, and I'm making quite a name for myself with the Scotland Yard.”
“And those other people?”
“They're all in trouble about something. I help them when I can, and, well, Morgana told me I should be charging a fee, so I do, if they can afford it. They also don't ask how I do it, and those who have their suspicions are always discreet.”
“So what about that man in the empty house?”
“Some people use magic for evil,” he said reluctantly. “That is why we used to be hunted in the old days. So when I find that my adversary is a sorcerer, I don't turn them over to the Scotland Yard. Last thing I want is for the witch hunts to start again. Besides, the police couldn't handle them anyway.”
“And you can?”
“I can. So I deal with them myself. Naturally, I've made some enemies. That man is an old acquaintance. We stopped his ritual, but he'll be back. But, Arthur, I don't want you to worry, I won't let him hurt you.”
“Merlin,” I said with an indulgent chuckle. “I've been training to kill since birth. I've fought in a war, and I currently make my living as a prize-fighter. The idea that I need to be protected, by you of all people, is entirely too preposterous to contemplate. I should be offended, but I forgive you, because I know that you aren't very bright.”
The exchange that followed my remark isn't suitable for paper, with “prat” being perhaps the mildest of the chosen words.
“You must promise me you will no longer venture out alone to fight your criminals,” I said afterwards. “Next time I shall come with you.”
He protested, but I could tell he was pleased at the idea of us forming a crime-fighting outfit. He must have been lonely in his solitary pursuits of justice.
“You really don't have to, Arthur,” he said with a grateful, beautiful smile.
“Well, unless I'm training, I don't have anything better to do.”
And that's how it all started.