Title: The Camelot Hotel is Proud to Present ... - posted January 23, 2009
Author: Lacey McBain
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur (pre-slash)
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~6100
Summary: In which there is toxic icing, a panic attack, and the beginning of something amazing in Vegas (modern AU)
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to the BBC; I'm just importing its characters for a bit of North American fun.

The Camelot Hotel is Proud to Present The Amazing Merlin, Magician Extraordinaire

Merlin sat on a set of concrete steps near the back loading dock of The Camelot Hotel trying to find a moment of calm solitude. It wasn’t easy. Between the back-up beeps of a delivery truck and the noise of some asshole taking a strip off an employee, Merlin was finding it hard to believe coming to Las Vegas had been a good decision.

Gwen had banished him from helping move equipment after she’d caught him floating boxes down a back hallway, and really, what good was his magic if he wasn’t even allowed to use it for practical things? Now he was sulking in the shadow of their hotel—home for the next six months at least—which looked vaguely like a medieval castle, although thankfully not as cartoonish as The Excalibur down the street, Uther Pendragon’s first foray into the hotel business.

Merlin had been looking for calm, some inner peace to focus his magic before starting this terrifyingly new experience of performing on stage in front of hundreds of people, and listening to some management wanna-be berate a woman already on the edge of tears wasn’t helping. Deciding there was no point in everyone being miserable, Merlin stuck his head around the staff exit, noted the woman with the wet cheeks and the blond-haired bully in the suit and tie, and decided chivalry wasn’t dead, and besides, he’d had all he could take for the day.

The blond was too busy being angry to even notice Merlin’s appearance in the narrow hallway. “Look, I don’t care if he’s drunk or a pedophile or if his best trick is juggling plastic cups, just find him and get him here! We’ve got fifty future customers whose sugar-high is about to wear off, and so help me God, Elaine, if you don’t find something or someone to entertain them in the next three minutes, I’m sending you in there. Alone. Have you seen what they did to my jacket?”

“Excuse me, friend.” Merlin’s mother had always taught him to at least try to diffuse a situation with gentleness and grace before resorting to anything else. “Whatever problem you have won’t be solved by making her cry.”

The man stared at him. “Do I know you?”

“No, I—”

“Yet you called me friend.”

“Yeah, that was my mistake. I’d never have a friend who could be such an ass.”

“Or I one who could be so stupid. Do you have any idea who I am?”

“No. Don’t care either.” The girl was scrubbing the tears off her face and making an alarmed shaking signal with her head.

“Obviously. And who did you say you were?”

“I didn’t. But I’m Merlin.” He extended his hand, but wasn’t entirely surprised when the other man didn’t meet him halfway. Considering the guy’s suit jacket appeared to be patchy with some kind of turquoise goo, Merlin wondered if maybe it was for the best.

The blond’s face changed from haughty to relieved. “Merlin? As in ‘Merlin the Magician’?”


“Oh, thank God. I don’t even care that you’re a total ass.” Before Merlin could say anything else, the blond man was dragging him down the hallway by the elbow, asking questions faster than Merlin could process them.

“Where’s the pointy hat? The cape? Aren’t you supposed to have a wand or something?”

“I have it on good authority the hat only makes my ears look ridiculous.” Merlin felt his face flush remembering that first show after which Gwen had sat him down and brutally disabused him of any illusions he’d had about the fashionableness of his wardrobe and the effectiveness of his performance style. They’d been friends ever since.

The blond took a good look at Merlin for the first time, seemed to nod in agreement, and as Merlin stumbled around a corner, he heard the man murmur “I can see why the cape wouldn’t be a great idea either.”

“Hey,” Merlin said, and the man had the decency to look slightly sheepish in spite of continuing to man-handle Merlin towards some unknown destination.

“Sorry, but look, you should have been here half an hour ago, and there’s a hoard of pint-sized devils with no patience and surprisingly accurate throwing arms—”

“I assume they’re usually called children—”

“Clearly, you haven’t met them. I’m not even certain they’re human, and they’re waiting for you in The Dungeon.”

Merlin stopped, and the ridiculously good-looking man who was dragging him through back corridors was forced to stop too.

“The Dungeon?”

“Sorry. It’s what we call the old storage room. We converted it for children’s parties, the law society, things like that. Anything where we might need to hose the whole place down afterwards. Here you are then. Have fun.”

They were stopped in front of a solid wood door with gold gothic lettering that said The Castle Room, and the shrieks and cries emanating from behind the door made Merlin look hopefully back the way they’d just come. Maybe he could make a break for it; the guy holding his arm seemed pretty fit, but Merlin had an enormous amount of practice being wily.

“Oh, no, you don’t.” The blond’s grin was toothy and with the same spiteful glee that Merlin imagined the Romans would’ve shown when tossing Christians to starving lions.

“You can’t be serious,” Merlin murmured, trying to disengage from the man’s firm grip, fingers slipping in the blue liquid that was staining his suit. “You can’t make me go in there.”

“I’m pretty sure I can,” the blond said smugly, one hand on Merlin and the other on the doorknob.

Desperation made Merlin search his memory desperately for names that had been inked scrawls on a contract. He always let Gwen deal with that stuff; he just signed where she told him. “Who do you think you are, anyway? Uther Pendragon?”

“No, I’m his son. Arthur. Someone will let you out in an hour. Good luck.” With that, the blond man opened the door, and Merlin only had a moment to glimpse a sea of icing-covered fingers and faces before he was pushed in, the door closing and locking ominously behind him.


“I’m pretty sure locking fifty children in a room is a violation of the fire code,” Merlin said to Gwen as she checked over his stage clothes for the evening’s performance. They’d settled on black dress pants and a royal blue silk shirt—professional, but not too theatrical—and Gwen was wearing a fitted blue dress that matched.

“Obviously there was some misunderstanding,” Gwen said, attempting to shape Merlin’s shower-damp hair into something less suited to an anime character. “And honestly, I still don’t understand how you managed to get so much icing in your hair.”

“They had exceptionally good aim.”

“Yes, you said.” Gwen stepped back and sighed. “It’s going to have to do, Merlin. I’ve sent your clothes down to the laundry, but they weren’t sure they could get the blue out. At least if there’s any left in your hair, it will just look like highlights.”

Merlin dropped his head into his hands. “You should’ve just burned the clothes. I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to look at them again without residual trauma. At least I’ve got the satisfaction of knowing Arthur Pendragon will probably have to burn his expensive suit jacket. The kids had a go at him before they got to me apparently.”

“See? That’s the spirit,” Gwen said, pulling Merlin towards the door of his suite. “Your day wasn’t all bad. You can warm yourself with thoughts of Mr. Pendragon’s dry-cleaning bills.”

Merlin smiled, but as they stepped into the hall, he paused. It seemed like they were on the edge of something new, something that was about to change their lives forever, and he so desperately wanted this to succeed.

“Gwen, we’re in Las Vegas.”

“I know, Merlin.” She smiled up at him, her hand on his arm tightening slightly. “No panic attacks, okay?”

He nodded. “We’re really going to do this, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” she said with absolute faith and unwavering confidence, something he’d always been able to count on from her. “But only if we go right now. Unless, of course, you’d rather keep on doing children’s parties …”

Merlin grabbed her hand and together they ran for the elevator.


Merlin had hoped for a rehearsal in the afternoon, but given his impromptu appearance at The Camelot Hotel Board of Directors’ Annual Children’s Party, it simply hadn’t been possible. Of course, if he’d been any other magician—one who relied on props and lighting, mirrors and split-second timing—he would’ve been doomed.

But, of course, he wasn’t quite like any other magician, and as the curtain began to lift, Merlin raised his hands, felt the magic coursing through him, Gwen beautiful and confident at his side, and he knew somehow everything would be alright.


By the time Merlin had clawed his way to wakefulness the next day, the little message light on his phone was blinking like a tiny neon sun. An overly polite female voice informed him he had one new message.

“Merlin, it’s Arthur Pendragon. Good job with the party yesterday.” Merlin hadn’t known a smirk could be converted into digital sound, and yet, there it was in every word, and Merlin hated the guy just a little more. “You should swing by my office and collect your cheque. Suite 1989. I’ve calculated a bit extra for the, uh, unforeseen clothing expenditures.”

“Ha!” Merlin said to the phone as he returned it to the cradle. “Blue cupcake icing 1, Armani 0.” With a smile on his face and thoughts of revenge against Arthur Pendragon forming in his mind, he drifted back to sleep.


It was almost two by the time he felt human again. The show was draining, and he wasn’t sure he could actually do two shows a day if that’s what they eventually wanted from him; it was going to be tough enough doing four shows every week. Thursday through Sunday. He and Gwen had been used to travelling a few days and performing on the weekends; settling into one place for an extended period of time and letting the audiences change around them was something entirely new. Merlin wasn’t sure yet if he’d like it or not. He’d always had a bit of a wandering spirit, felt like he was searching for a place to belong in the world, and he didn’t hold out hope that Las Vegas, land of glitz and gambling, was going to be that place. But he was willing to give it a chance.

It was late afternoon by the time he’d wound his way through the hotel—it was a little like living in a self-contained town—and Merlin kept getting distracted by things like knights in armour walking through the lobby and the fire-breathing animatronic dragon that did a show every hour on the hour. He raised his hand to knock on the half-open door of Suite 1989.


Merlin pushed through the thin opening and stepped into the largest office he’d ever been in. It wasn’t so much an office as it was an apartment centred around an office. To the west, Merlin could see a wall of windows and what would be a spectacular view of the setting sun and the lights of the strip. The furniture was all leather and wood, but was neither heavy nor dark, and Merlin couldn’t help but think that the butter-coloured sofas and the slender teak chairs were an appropriate reflection of the office’s resident.

Arthur Pendragon, hair shining golden in the late afternoon sun, looked up from his desk when Merlin entered. A suit jacket was casually draped over the back of the leather desk chair. When Arthur looked up at Merlin, the bright blue of his eyes seemed a perfect match for the shirt that was casually open at the collar. This time Arthur extended his hand as he came around the desk, and Merlin found his grip warm and firm.

“Merlin. I’m afraid we got off on the wrong foot. It’s just I was in a bit of a bind, and—”

“It’s okay,” Merlin found himself saying, although he didn’t know why. It wasn’t okay that he’d been hauled off to entertain a bunch of obnoxious preschoolers, nor was it okay that Arthur had presumed it was acceptable to use him like that. Merlin had had a speech prepared, one with a great deal of passion and indignation on behalf of employees specifically and the working class in general, but somehow the easy smile and the steady blue eyes made Merlin simply want to nod and smile back stupidly. He’d always had a weakness for blonds.

“Thanks,” Arthur said, as if it mattered to him that Merlin wasn’t protesting his shoddy treatment. “I’m normally not that—I mean, you really did catch me on a spectacularly bad day.”

“It’s fine,” Merlin heard himself say, waving his hand in some sort of placating gesture, and in his mind’s eye he could see Gwen standing with her hands on her hips, shaking her head as if she’d sent him out to sell a cow and he’d come home with magic beans instead.

Arthur was still talking. “I couldn’t find the original contract that Morgana had for the party, so I hope this is adequate.” He handed Merlin a cheque for $500, and Merlin remembered when he’d been happy to get fifty bucks and a hot meal to do a show. Mostly he’d been happy when people stopped looking at him suspiciously, and he’d learned quickly that stage shows meant people wouldn’t notice the golden shift in his eyes, nor the tell-tale crackle of electrical discharge that sometimes came with magical expenditure. It was generally just safer to keep people at a distance when practicing his magic, and as long as he did that, he could be himself—if only for a little while.

“I, um, wasn’t sure what to allow for clothing, but—well, that blue icing just doesn’t come out, apparently,” Arthur started, and Merlin nodded at him, grinning. He couldn’t seem to help himself.

“Speaking of the toxic icing, I’m actually kind of concerned about your kitchen staff. Have you thought about employing a food taster?”

It was easy to let the grin turn into a laugh, and Arthur’s shoulders seemed to relax and he shook his head. “Are you applying for the job? You did well with the kids yesterday. I’m sure food taster can’t be any more hazardous than what you’re used to.”

“Oh, well, I don’t normally—”

“Actually, I was surprised when the front desk told me they’d given you one of the suites. Normally casual staff just comes in when necessary, but I suppose you’ll be on your way now that the show’s done.” Arthur eased back to sit on the edge of the desk, and Merlin decided he liked this Arthur much better—calm, relaxed, even if Merlin didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

“The show’s not done. Well, the first one is over, but, um—unless you know something I don’t?” Merlin suddenly felt his knees weaken as it occurred to him that maybe he was being let go. Maybe his opening performance last night had been so profoundly terrible this was Arthur’s way of letting him down easy and sending him on his way. Oh God. How was he going to tell Gwen that he’d screwed it up, that the one thing he’d really wanted in his life, to be able to perform his magic in the open, was going to be taken away from him before he’d even had a chance to decide if this was the right thing?

“Merlin, are you okay? Maybe you should sit down a minute.” Arthur was right in front of him now, and Merlin was nodding, but he wasn’t moving and he wasn’t sure he was breathing. His whole life he’d lived with being different, being the weird kid, the freak, and he’d finally found a way to make it work for him, to let him use his gifts where people could see them, and now, now

“Do you have some kind of condition?” Arthur was asking, fumbling at Merlin’s wrist, checking for what Merlin wasn’t sure. One of those medic-alert bracelets, he supposed. “Are you having a seizure? Should I call the hotel physician?”

Merlin managed to shake his head, but he knew his face must be paler than usual, and he could feel the magic tingling in his veins as it always did when he felt terrified. Arthur guided him to one of the leather sofas that was as soft to the touch as it looked, and Merlin sunk down into the cushions and wished, not for the first time, that his face didn’t show everything he was feeling and thinking when things were important to him.

To Arthur’s credit, he just sat there with him, one warm hand on Merlin’s shoulder and the other still gripping his wrist, no doubt feeling the pulse racing beneath the thin pale skin. That Arthur didn’t seem to know what to do anymore than Merlin did was oddly comforting in its own strange way because it meant that this rich, good-looking guy wasn’t as confident or as together as he seemed either, and Merlin felt a surge of affection towards him that he hadn’t felt before. Merlin kept his eyes closed for fear they’d be golden when he opened them, but he could picture Arthur’s face—a mix of concern and confusion, and honestly, Merlin didn’t know why he’d expected this to turn out any differently. Nothing in his life had been easy so far. Nothing ever was.

Someone else came into the room then, a rush of cool air and a woman’s perfume, muted florals and something sharper, like sage or mint, and the hand on Merlin’s shoulder squeezed once and Arthur said, “I’ll be right back; don’t pass out or anything,” before Merlin heard two voices whispering angrily in the hallway, voices rising until the cadence of the argument had overwhelmed his terror at losing the job of a lifetime. He couldn’t help but listen.

“Arthur, you’ve always been dull, but I can’t believe you’re a complete idiot!”

“All Elaine told me—”

“Do you really want to bring up Elaine?” the woman’s voice said, and her tone was arctic. “She’s been with me for three years—three years, Arthur!—and in the two weeks I’ve been away, you’ve managed to reduce her to tears and push her to the verge of resigning.”

“Booking entertainment is not my job!”

“Yes, and plainly there’s a reason for that. You don’t know what you’re doing!”

“Look, this isn’t the time; I’ve got a guy in my office—”

“Like I care who you’re screwing this week—”

“Nice, Morgana. Classy. He’s the magician from the kids’ party. The magician you hired, I might add, and he’s having some kind of breakdown, so I should really—”

“The magician? I thought he cancelled. Last I heard we were letting them decorate cupcakes and play games.”

“No, he’s definitely a magician. Merlin something, and—”

“Oh my God, tell me you didn’t! Tell me you are not this stupid,” the woman practically screamed, and Merlin was staring at the door when it burst open and a tall, angular brunette marched into the office and pointed at him incredulously. “Arthur, do you have any idea who this is?”

Arthur, red-faced and angry, his chin thrust out imperiously, shouted back: “That’s Merlin, the magician. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, you stupid—”

The woman whirled around and slapped Arthur soundly across the face, his blue eyes wide with surprise, before she flew over to the couch and sat down beside Merlin, taking his one hand in both of hers. “Mr. Emrys, I am so sorry. Let me apologize for my half-wit brother.”

“That’s witty half-brother,” Arthur muttered from the doorway, and Merlin could tell it was an automatic response, an old family line thrown out between people who loved and hated each other with equal measure, although Merlin couldn’t see an ounce of family resemblance between the two of them, except perhaps the attitude and the temper. Definitely the temper.

She introduced herself as Morgana Le Fey and apologized some more, all the while switching between smiling at Merlin and shooting deathly glares over his shoulder at Arthur. It was more than a little disturbing, and Merlin swallowed meekly and finally found his voice again when she paused between calling Arthur an imbecile and asking if Merlin needed anything, anything at all.

“So does this mean I’m not sacked then?” Merlin croaked out, and Morgana made a horrified sound that caused Arthur to take a step back towards the hallway.

“No, no, no! You are definitely not sacked, and if my brother gave you that impression, I am so very sorry. Elaine said your show last night was amazing, just amazing, and I know from what I witnessed in Reno that you’re certainly the best I’ve ever seen. No, Mr. Emrys, The Camelot Hotel is hoping that you’re going to be a fixture here for a long, long time.”

The fact that she was saying everything twice seemed somewhat reassuring, and Merlin felt so stupidly relieved that it was a bit horrifying to realize how much he’d been counting on this opportunity to change things for him. Arthur was still looking confused, and Morgana, looking a little too much like she was about to challenge Arthur over Merlin’s honour, said, “Oh for God’s sake, Arthur, don’t you pay any attention to what goes on in this hotel beyond the casino and your goddamn jousting tournaments? This is Merlin Emrys. The Amazing Merlin?”

Arthur shook his head, and Merlin gave him an apologetic smile in return. “It’s okay, really. It was an honest mistake, and the kids weren’t that bad.”

Morgana looked as if she was about to breathe fire in Arthur’s direction, and Merlin could finally start to believe that the show would, apparently, go on.


Merlin and Gwen toasted their success with a complimentary bottle of champagne after their second show. Gwen grabbed a handful of grapes from the gigantic fruit basket perched on the small table. “Did you know there are chocolates in there? French truffles! And candied fruit, and a whole dish of cashews, and—”

“And all it took was the trauma of a children’s party and a life-threatening panic attack.”

“It’s a small price to pay for truffles, Merlin,” Gwen said seriously, extracting a small silver tin and peeking inside.

“Arthur thought I was having some sort of seizure on his very expensive couch.”

“Arthur, huh?”

“What, you’d rather I call him Mr. Pendragon? Who does that?”

“I just think it’s interesting how yesterday he was, and I quote, ‘an egomaniacal bully who clearly gets off on pushing people around’—”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You totally did, and today he’s Arthur with the lovely soft couches and gentle hands.”

“I never said he had gentle hands!”

Gwen giggled and ate a truffle. “You didn’t have to.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him. “The last time you had a panic attack you came home with that lovely blond paramedic. What was his name?”


“You do seem to have a thing for men who rescue you.”

“He didn’t rescue me from anything! In fact, he’s the one who induced the panic attack making me think—” Merlin didn’t finish the sentence; he didn’t have to. He’d gone over it once with Gwen already, and he didn’t want to do it a second time. The thought of not being able to do this, to be himself on stage—and the irony of that wasn’t completely lost on him—was just too much to dwell on.

Gwen reached over and hugged him. “I know. I’m sorry. You know I’m just teasing. Besides, who could imagine you and Arthur Pendragon, most eligible bachelor in Vegas?”

“Believe me, Gwen, I’m pretty sure Arthur’s happy to not have to deal with me anymore. Now that Morgana’s back, I’m not sure she’d let Arthur in to see the show if he wanted. I doubt I’ll even see him again.”

Merlin snagged one of the truffles from Gwen and sipped his champagne. Their immediate future was secure if the enthusiastic crowds and Morgana’s praise were anything to go by, and he told himself he didn’t even feel the tiniest twinge of regret at the possibility of not seeing Arthur again.

(Of course, he'd never been a very good liar--not even to himself.)


The days took on a certain routine after that. Merlin and Gwen performed four nights a week—four nights on which Merlin’s heart came alive on-stage—and then after he’d come down from the thrill of it, he’d find himself soul-weary, exhausted, and alone. It wasn’t that Gwen wasn’t there for him—she was—but the show wasn’t the same for her as it was for him, and really, she was there to distract the audience, or at least give the appearance that distraction was necessary. Most times it wasn’t.

The fact was Merlin had tried to be an honest-to-goodness magician, the kind with card tricks and contraptions and carefully concealed pockets, but more often than not he’d ended up with his hand caught in his own sleeve, or getting pitched out of rentals for keeping rabbits. He was simply a terrible magician—except when it came to real magic, old magic, the kind that few people could learn and fewer still were born with. His mentor, Gaius the Great, legendary teacher who’d worked with the likes of Copperfield and Blackwell, hadn’t even been able to teach Merlin to do a properly executed disappearing woman trick.

“It’s perfectly simple, Merlin,” Gaius would say, explaining again how the false compartment worked, how the latches were secured, where the mirrors were placed. Merlin understood the logic of it all, but he didn’t see the need when he could simply concentrate and transport the woman to the back of the stage, or the top of the balcony, or wherever he wanted her to be for the next thirty seconds until she was required back in the box.

“And what if you get caught?” Gaius said with one white eyebrow raised in concern.

Merlin stared at him and shrugged. “Get caught doing what? Magic? I’m a magician, Gaius. Everyone knows magicians never reveal their secrets—so even if someone thinks I’m doing real magic, what harm can it possibly do? Besides, the only people likely to suspect it’s real are people who have some magic of their own; I could do with meeting a few of those.”

Gaius shook his head. “Don’t be so sure. And there are those in the trade who would consider what you’re doing to be cheating, or worse.”

“How can it possibly be cheating when it’s real? Surely, the ones who have to come up with hidden compartments and invisible wires are the ones who are cheating!”

“Just be careful, Merlin,” Gaius cautioned. “Practitioners of magic—whether trained or born to it—are a small and suspicious group. You’ll not likely find many friends among them.”

“I never said I was looking for friends,” Merlin muttered, but Gaius gripped his shoulder in a way that said he understood perfectly all the things Merlin never said: about why he’d left England, his mother, and home; about why learning to blend in was so important to him. Merlin ached with a need to belong somewhere, anywhere, but he was beginning to think there was no such place for him.

“Merlin, my boy.” Gaius sighed. “Magic is a complicated art, old as the earth, and it always demands a price. You can use it in this way—to entertain, to amuse—but there will still be a cost to you.”

“I’ve been doing this long enough, Gaius. I know all about how much energy it takes.”

“And what of the times when your energy wanes, your concentration fails? What about the illusionist who notices there are no safety catches on the inside of your water casket? What then?” Gaius rapped him gently on the arm. “It’s important to understand the basics of what you’re doing, Merlin. It might just keep you out of trouble.”

“Fine,” Merlin said, not believing at all what Gaius was saying. “Show me the trick again.”

Now, at the end of four straight days of conjuring and concocting and pulling objects out of thin air, Merlin wondered if maybe Gaius hadn’t been a little bit right and a whole lot wise. It took enormous energy to perform, and even with Gwen doing a lot of the talking and drawing attention away from him, the pure energy of the act still came from him: literally and physically from within him. He could feel the core of himself depleted like something elemental, and he had no earthly idea how to replenish that part of himself.


“What are you doing here?”

Merlin turned to see Arthur, silhouetted by the light from the doorway and looking at him with something between surprise and puzzlement.

“Oh, hey, Arthur, it’s you.”

“Merlin? How’d you get up here?”

Here was the roof of the western tower of The Camelot Hotel. It was quiet and had a spectacular view. In the few times he’d been up here, Merlin had never encountered anyone else, which was why it was quickly becoming his favourite spot in the entire hotel. Here he could feel the wind in his hair, smell the currents of air drifting in from the desert; here he could imagine he was the only person on earth.

“I came up the stairs,” Merlin answered cheerfully. “Beautiful view, isn’t it?”

“Spectacular. Now, seriously, how’d you get in?” Arthur moved to where Merlin was standing, looking him over with speculative eyes.


“Merlin, this area isn’t open to the public. It isn’t even open to staff.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t see the signs that say ‘strictly no admittance’ and ‘no visitors or staff beyond this point’?”

“No.” Truthfully, Merlin didn’t tend to notice things like locked doors and signs; he supposed he should probably pay more attention.

“You can read, can’t you? I mean—”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Yes, Arthur, I can read. Someone must have left the door open.”

“I’m the only one who comes up here, and the doors are always locked.”

“Well, you must have forgotten.”

Arthur stared at him as if he were trying to solve a mystery. “Three separate security doors—one with a key, one with a passcode, and the other with fingerprint recognition software.”

Merlin just shrugged non-commitally and tried to look innocent. “There isn’t even anything up here.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Arthur leaned on the parapet beside Merlin, and stroked his hands over the smooth stone of the wall. “This place is worth more than anything.”

Merlin nodded in understanding. “Somewhere you can be alone. Somewhere no one can find you.”

“No cell phones, no email, no staff, no family. Just me.” Arthur looked at him strangely. “And apparently you. You still haven’t explained how you—”

“I’m an excellent magician,” Merlin said, and it seemed as if Arthur really wasn’t angry about having him there, so Merlin hoped that would be enough. The truth was, Merlin didn’t really know anyone else in Vegas, aside from Gwen, and even if Arthur could be intimidating and pushy, he was familiar and there was something comforting in that right now. Merlin felt himself relaxing, felt the natural energies in his body start to hum quietly under his skin.

Arthur nodded, still looking out at the lights of the city, and to the darkness and the desert beyond. “You don’t have a criminal record I need to know about, do you? Lock-picking, alarm by-passing, that sort of thing?”

“That’s me—criminal mastermind.”

Arthur looked at Merlin’s goofy grin and laughed, apparently unable to picture Merlin as a diabolical villain. Merlin couldn’t really blame him. It was mostly the ears that made him look harmless.

“Okay, okay, don’t tell me how you did it, Mr. Wizard.”

“A magician never reveals his secrets.”

Arthur leaned on the edge of the building, and Merlin was struck by the notion of a king surveying his lands. He supposed it was true in a way; Arthur was heir to a financial empire, Paris Hilton without the Gucci bags or the Internet sex scandals—at least not that Merlin had heard about. Arthur seemed intense and interested in the business; or maybe he was just the kind of person who put his best into everything he did.

“I thought you people didn’t actually like that term?” Arthur leaned on the wall, and shot a sideways look at Merlin.

“You people?”

“You know, magicians and such. Like David Copperfield—he insisted on being billed as an illusionist.”

“Well, that’s kind of his thing, making people see what isn’t there. Or not seeing what is there.”

“And Criss Angel has all those crazy death-defying stunts.”

“Technically, he’s an escapologist. Like Houdini—except there really wasn’t anyone like Houdini.”

“That where you learned the trick of getting through locked, alarmed doors?” Clearly Arthur liked being able to figure things out, and this was going to drive him crazy; Merlin couldn’t say he minded the thought of Arthur trying to figure him out. It had been a while since anyone had made the effort, and there was something about Arthur that made Merlin want to push his buttons … just a little.

“Something like that.”

“What about David Blaine?”

“Endurance artist.”

“What about those two guys? The little one never talks?”

“Penn and Teller? Mostly sleight-of-hand stuff, but they do a bit of everything. Most performers do.” Merlin reached out and pretended to pull something from behind Arthur’s ear. He almost lost his hold on the palmed casino chip when his fingers touched the soft blond hair, but he held the gold coin with the Pendragon crest on it up with two fingers in front of Arthur’s face. “Very simple really. Prestidigitation.”

Arthur took the coin and looked at it, a smile spreading out across his face. “Presto-what?”

Merlin grinned. “Prestidigitation.” He waggled his fingers at Arthur. “It means quick fingers.”

“I bet.” Arthur’s voice was low, and Merlin swallowed around the lump in his throat and thought it would be best if he just wouldn’t stumble into these things with all the grace of a water buffalo. After all, if he wanted to push Arthur’s buttons, he should be prepared for Arthur to push back. It was an interesting thought.

“And I do magic, so I’m a magician,” Merlin said, as if Arthur wasn’t a step closer than he’d been a moment ago. As if the wild pounding of his heart had nothing to do with the man standing across from him, or the fact that he wanted desperately to tell Arthur the whole and utter truth of who and what he was.

“So you’re magic,” Arthur murmured, looking right into Merlin’s eyes, and Merlin couldn’t remember if he’d left the coloured contacts in to hide the gold of his magic, and honestly, he didn’t know if the tiny bit he’d used to conjure the casino chip would be enough to show in his eyes. For the longest time, he hadn’t even known his eyes changed when he did magic—it was his mother who’d made him get the contacts after the other kids started making fun of him and his oddly-changing eyes. He took a step back, then regretted it when he caught the flicker of disappointment on Arthur’s now passive face.

“There’s definitely something about you, Merlin. I just can’t put my finger on it,” Arthur said, moving towards the door. “I’ve got to get back to the casino and check in, but you can stay as long as you’d like.” He turned to go.

“Arthur? I didn’t mean to intrude on your privacy. I won’t come back if—”

“It’s okay, Merlin. Everyone needs a place to get away; I don’t actually mind sharing.”

Something in Merlin felt warm and happy, the energy of his magic singing in his veins. “So, maybe I should get a key or something from you?”

Arthur’s laughter floated through the door. “You seem to be doing fine without one,” Arthur called back at him. Merlin grinned and for the first time since he’d arrived in Vegas he found himself feeling at home.


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