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Story Title: Beside Me
Chapter: 1.1 - The Fall
Rating: R
Summary: X-Men AU: For many downtrodden mutants, rejected throughout a lifetime of unwelcome blood dictating their lives, Camelot Academy is not just a school - it's a home. But something dark is brewing, and Camelot is no longer as safe as it appears.
Word Count: 4400
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Merlin, Gwen, Lancelot, Morgana, Gwaine, Gaius, Hunith, Will, Uther, Nimueh, multiple others mentioned
Story Warnings/Content: violence (including scientific experimentation), sex (including references to forced intoxication and non-con), character deaths, self-harm, mentions of prostitution, torture
Chapter Warnings/Content: violence, some mentions of prostitution,
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] lasvegas_lights and [livejournal.com profile] arithilim
Notes: It wasn’t seen in the movies, but in the comics, ‘muties’ was often used as an insult or bigoted slur against mutants, and was incredibly derogatory in its use.

Chapter 1: School’s In Session
Part 1: Trust Me

Master Post

<< Previous Chapter

~*~


Merlin took a deep breath and slipped into the dingy pub.

He was immediately assaulted by the smells of cheap beer and lit fags and the dim lighting and the sound, the depressingly familiar smackWHAM of fists hitting flesh.

On instinct, he started backing away from the sound, wanting to avoid another pub brawl, but with a few blinks and a squint, he saw the fighting ring in the center, and the two men in it beating the hell out of each other.

That didn’t actually make Merlin feel much better, but it was enough to go order some food. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast, which had been a quarter past midnight, and right now it was a quarter to midnight. Though he was used to long periods of time without food, by now, that didn’t make the hunger any easier to bear.

In five minutes, Merlin was sitting at the bar, a small bowl of chips in front of him, and watching the two men leave the ring. One looked half beaten to death, the other looked almost completely unharmed. Scanning the pub, he saw several people looking him over curiously.

However, only a few people were looking at him with interest.

Tonight might be one of those rare nights where….

…damnit. He was hungry, and he really needed the money.

No…he could go a little longer without money, right?

His grumbling stomach begged to differ.

It was so rare to run into pubs where this was possible…seedy as the ones he entered all were, most of them were filled with straight men (or men who were deep enough in denial to refuse even him). But on the few occasions where he had run into someone like that…or gone into a gay pub of some kind…

He turned back around to eat the last of the chips, shutting his eyes for a brief moment of indulging comfort.

Money. Food. Maybe, just maybe, someplace warm.

Then, he unzipped the last of his jacket, lowered his jeans to barely hug his hips, loosened his scarf to reveal his neck and collarbones, mussed up his hair, and topped it all off by angling his bag's strap to tug a bit on the shirt to reveal some arm and a sliver of hip. When he turned around to the crowd, his eyelids were lowered in a sultry expression, and his lips were quirked in a seductive smile.

He hated this.

He focused his attention on two men in the back. They had shown interest in Merlin earlier, and their clothes suggested they would at least be not poor, and so Merlin would probably be able to make a fair amount of money off of them, even out here in the middle of nowhere.

Both of them were leering at Merlin as they came towards him, and Merlin managed to ignored the skin-crawling sensation it caused by focusing his thoughts on the hot meal these two could pay for. And possibly a night in a hostel.

“Hello, gents,” Merlin said languidly as they approached. It was rather on the despicable side that he could do this – and that he was getting good at it. (He hoped he’d never be good at it.)

“Hey there, boy,” the shorter-but-bulkier of the two said. Then each took a seat on each side of him, and Merlin internally sighed when they each slung an arm over his shoulders.

Well, at least they weren’t too ugly. They weren’t nice looking, and they’d have to scrub up big time to be handsome, but they weren’t vile. That usually made things more bearable.

But – Merlin was the one being paid. They wouldn’t scrub up for him.

“What’s with all the suggestive looks, boy?” the taller one asked.

“What do you think?” Merlin asked, voice low and professionally seductive.

“Interested?” the short one asked.

“For a price,” Merlin answered. Hot meal, hot meal – and with two men, maybe even a night in an inn, instead of the usual cold hostels.

The two men shared a look over Merlin’s head.

Their hands tightened on his shoulders. “Let’s go, then,” the taller one said.

They pushed Merlin up, then stood as well, and Merlin added, “Half now, half on delivery.”

Now the men’s grins turned feral.

Merlin knew what that meant.

The short one’s hand slid down his shoulder to his arm and his grip tightened to a painful level.

Not good, not good, not good!

“Tell me, boy,” the tall one asked, his grip also painfully tight. “Why shouldn’t we just take your…services?”

Not good, really not good, but he couldn’t lose this head.

“I’m not defenseless,” Merlin said coldly. “Either pay up or I leave.”

The man clearly didn’t believe him, if the way he started marching Merlin towards the door was anything to go by, even as he struggled to back away from them, ready to use his telekinesis-

“Hey!”

They all turned to see the winner of the fight Merlin had walked in on striding up towards them, a tall muscly guy with long-ish brown hair. “Let him go.”

“We’re just having some fun…” the short one drawled. “What’s it to you?”

“Thank you,” Merlin said politely. “But I don’t need your help. You really don’t have any need to-”

“Shut up, kid,” the man said, focusing on the men. “This is no time to be brave.”

Merlin rolled his eyes, and watched the men’s eyes widened as the two table knives were floating in front of them, the tips pointing at their necks. They were staring between the knives and his eyes, flashing gold.

He smirked just a little vindictively. He was able to defend himself, but he met plenty of other people, other women, other kids, out on the streets, who could not. Every time he defended himself, it was for them.

People who were normal. Who weren’t runaway muties, who deserved protection more than he did.

Startled, the men holding him jumped back with a yelp, and Merlin stepped away from them.

“See?” he said semi-sarcastically to all three men.

The knight in no armor quirked an eyebrow at him, staring at the knife.

He raised his hand, and Merlin’s eyes widened upon seeing metal claws emanate from between his knuckles.

Mutant.

Three of them, they were all like blades, long and dangerous, and Merlin had no idea where they’d come from.

“They’re muties!” the short one cried out in shock, as the claws retracted, back into...back into his hand.

The tall one took that as his cue, launching himself at the walking hero complex. The man punched him out with his now-clawless hand, and was apparently ridiculously strong, as the tall guy slid across the floor, down two tables, and landed unconscious. The short guy threw himself at Merlin, who held him hovering a few inches in midair, and a punch from the guy who tried to save Merlin had him out, too.

Several other men in the pub were suddenly equally alert, and Merlin whirled around. He had no idea if he could take on this many people at once-

But he didn’t have to – the man right beside him held up both fists and released two sets of claws, a warning in his eyes as he glared at those around him.

Merlin could see the skin splitting where the claws were – they cut through his fist every single time.

It looked painful.

The other people in the pub shared a few hesitant looks before sitting down, and the people who hadn’t stood up in the first place went to help the two unconscious men.

The man beside him retracted his claws, before stalking over to a corner of the pub and grabbing a thick coat, donning it, and heading back in Merlin’s direction.

“Right, you – you’re coming with me.”

Merlin hesitated, but with a quick glance around the now hostile pub, he followed the man out the door and into the freezing cold.

~*~


The man led him through the thin snow and rapid winds to an old van, brown, beat up, but well kept.

He opened the passenger side door. “Get in.”

Merlin hesitated, and the man rolled his eyes. “You’re probably more powerful than me, kid. At least enough to run. Besides, you’ll freeze out here.”

Getting into a car with a clearly-dangerous man was an incredibly stupid idea. But, Merlin knew the man was right – he would freeze, or at least be more miserable than usual, and he’s done stupider things, anyway. If nothing else, this wouldn't be his first time getting into a car with a strange man he could feel was dangerous.

Keeping alert, Merlin clambered into the van, and put his seatbelt on as the man started the car.

“Where’re you headed?” the man asked.

“Um…North.”

The man nodded, pulled out of the car park, and turned northbound towards the motorway.

“…thank you,” Merlin said after a few moments. “Most blokes wouldn’t have done much, if anything at all.”

“Glad to help,” the man said. “A young kid like you shouldn’t be in a place like that, let alone doing the things you were.”

“I needed the money,” Merlin said simply. The man sighed and didn’t respond. “What’s your name, by the way?”

“…Wyvern.”

Merlin nodded. “Am I safe in assuming that’s not your real name? Or were your parents really that interesting?”

“I wish my parents had been that interesting,” Wyvern said wryly. “So – what should I call you by?”

“Warlock,” Merlin answered, using the moniker he’d taken up on the streets. A real name could be dangerous, especially now that he was a registered mutant.

Wyvern smiled at that. “You still haven’t told me where you’re headed, you know.”

Merlin paused, before reaching into his bag and retrieving his print-outs from the Internet cafe he'd managed to spend a whole day in, now creased and crumpled after weeks of abuse on the road. Normally, he wouldn't share this kind of information. But this guy was a mutant, too. That didn't make him anymore trustworthy, but it meant they had similar fears, and they could get similar goals.

“Camelot Academy,” he said. It was a cheesy name, but also oddly reassuring.

“Isn’t that some mutant school or something?” Wyvern asked.

“Yeah,” Merlin said. “I’ve heard about it, once, a long time ago – it was attacked, so it went kind of underground. But it’s still there, actually, and…I have to try. I’ve nowhere else to go.”

Wyvern nodded. “Where is it?”

“North Scotland,” Merlin replied automatically, holding up the choppy map in the man’s peripheral vision. “West of Aberdeen and south of Inverness. That's all I really know. They keep the location hard to find for people who don't go there or have family there. Finding out about the school at all had been an accident for me."

“Not too far from here, then,” Wyvern said. “We can drive and be there by tomorrow night, if we only stop for petrol.”

“Yeah,” Merlin said. Maybe this could turn out good…

“You sound relieved.”

“I’ve been traveling for a while, now,” Merlin said.

“Where from?”

“Cornwall.”

“How long?”

“Since mid-September.”

Wyvern whistled. “That’s over a month, now. It’s a long way, but…”

Merlin nodded. “I only recently found out about the school, a bit more than two weeks ago – I was still in Bristol, then. And I can't always hitchhike – so I’ve mostly been on foot, taking a train when I can, when I get enough money.” Though he usually spent it on food and a night in an inn when he got any. “And I’ve been set back a few times.”

“…‘set back’?” Wyvern asked.

“Yeah – once almost halfway down the entire country in one night.”

Another whistle, with a raised eyebrow for elaboration, from Wyvern.

“I was…left unconscious, on a southbound train.”

“You were ‘left unconscious’?” he asked dubiously.

Well, he wanted to know.

“Drugged,” Merlin said bluntly. “I was knocked out in Glasgow, woke up in an A&E in Manchester. I had to sneak out before they could ask me anything, and make that entire distance all over again.” And hadn’t that been a delightful experience?

“Why were you drugged?” Wyvern asked, eyes narrowing. Merlin wondered whether it was out of concern or suspicion.

He wondered what it said about him that after only a month on the streets, he could no longer tell the difference.

“Some bloke didn’t have enough money to pay me for…to pay me. So he…robbed me, instead.”

“You mean raped you,” Wyvern said, voice suddenly tight. Upset about the rape of a whore – a real knight in shining armor, this one.

“Occupational hazard,” Merlin replied stiffly.

“You are far too young for this kind of ‘occupational hazard’.”

Merlin laughed. “Probably. But it’s an easy way to earn fast money. Besides, my age usually works in my favor – good advertising and all.”

“How old are you, exactly?”

“…I turn seventeen in December. I’m in my last year of school.”

Wyvern hissed lowly when he heard that. “Fucking hell.”

“Yeah,” Merlin said bitterly. “Being a mutant means never being too young for anything.”

Wyvern slowly nodded. You’d have to live under a rock to not know what mutants feared, especially as he was a mutant. Once upon a time, even children could vanish into the night. It wasn’t as bad, now, as it was back then. But it was still a cloud over mutants, a fear in limbo, and on the edge of becoming that bad again.

And Merlin was no longer a child.

“So,” Wyvern said, conversationally. “If you’ve been traveling a month, how’d you find out about the school just a week or two ago?"

"I spend time in Internet cafes," Merlin said. "When I get enough money."

"No friends or family?" Wyvern asked curiously, but with a tone that said he knew this could be a dangerous topic.

Merlin wondered how much he should reveal to the man. The man made him feel safe, but he already knew better than to trust that feeling. However, he also severely doubted the man could use vague knowledge of his family against him anytime soon.

"...I lived with my mum, but when my powers became public where we lived...I had to be pulled out of school, she lost her job...and my best friend...I hurt him."

"On purpose?"

"...I was drunk," Merlin said, caught between wanting to not say a word and wanting to spill his soul out. Wyvern was really easy to talk to, but that could turn out to bite him in the arse if it went wrong. "We'd just gotten some results in, and were celebrating - he knew I was a mutant - and I lost control, threw him into a wall. That's how people knew. I ran before anything else could happen to them because of me."

Apparently, spilling out his soul was winning. Damn. He was supposed to be stronger than this.

"What did she have to say about it?" Wyvern asked. “Your mum? Mums aren’t usually too happy about their kids running off into the middle of the night like this and selling their bodies for meals.”

"I didn't tell her, just ran away in the night," Merlin said, trying to hide his regret. He got a bad feeling he didn't succeed. "And she couldn't send anyone to find me, obviously, anti-mutant shit and all. I've only talked to her once since then."

"And?" Wyvern asked. Merlin gave him a suspicious look, but Wyvern just returned it with an amused glance. "I'm not a spy - the mutantism I just showed you isn't something you can fake. I'm just curious. You seem like a good kid, and I can't help but wonder how and why you ended up turning tricks in seedy pubs in the middle of nowhere."

Merlin sighed. "I'm not that good," he said.

There was a long pause, before Wyvern said, "Either you can elaborate on that, or tell me what your mum said."

"I don't have to say anything," Merlin said. But then, this bloke was the one driving.

"I know."

"...I told her about the academy, that I was going there," Merlin said. "She told me to be safe. And...then she just went on about her usual education importance bollocks - I think she was trying to pretend things were normal." He paused. “I may or may not have given her the impression I…that my life is better than it is. She has enough problems as it is. I just want to get to that school.”

Rolling his eyes, the man said, “Well hopefully you can get some proper classes in this Camelot place.”

“That’s what I’m hoping for.”

“I’ll take you there.”

Merlin looked at Wyvern sharply. “All the way there?”

“Yeah.”

“…for what?”

If it was one thing he learned on the streets, it was this – nothing came for free.

Wyvern laughed. “Not for any of your services. No, I’m just interested in this Camelot place. If it’s a safe place for mutants…”

Merlin nodded carefully. He doubted the man would really do this for free, but at least he seemed to genuinely plan to take Merlin there, for his own purpose if nothing else.

He had a random thought that Will would be proud of him, by now – he always said Merlin was too good-hearted and trusting by half, believing in the goodness of people.

His outing as a mutant and his time on the streets has changed that. He'd become a much harder person, better able to face the world and everything he knew it was going to throw at him. He didn't like the person he'd turned into, but that person was the only way he'd survive.

When they stopped at a petrol station, Wyvern took a good look at Merlin, looking for injuries of some kind, and when he saw something he didn’t seem to like, he reached over and-

“No!” Merlin shouted, pulling away, staring up at Wyvern’s hand fearfully.

Wyvern frowned but pulled sharply away. “What?”

Merlin shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and said, “Bad things happen when I touch other mutants. I have to be careful – why I’m still so covered up, and the gloves and stuff.”

Wyvern’s eyes narrowed, but he slowly nodded. “Fine, kid, fine.”

When the tank was filled and paid for and they had gotten some food, he said simply, “Let’s go.”

And they headed off in the home stretch towards Camelot.

~*~

Next Chapter >>

Master Post


A/N: I’m fairly certain that if Rogue had been able to touch people, she probably would have resorted to prostitution, too (then yay for Logan rescuing her! :P *is a total fan of their almost-father/daughter awesomeness*. So in that instance it was probably a good thing that she couldn't touch people without killing them. o.O

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