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14 August 2011 @ 10:40 pm
PaperLegends: Tinker, Tailor, Wizard, Spy, Part 1, (R)  
Title: Tinker, Tailor, Wizard, Spy
Fandom: Merlin
Rating: R (for violence)
Pairing(s): Merlin/Arthur, Merlin/Gwaine, Gwen/Lancelot, Uther/Ygraine, Uther/Catrina
Warnings: Character death, violence, swearing, Pop culture references abound, Spoilers for Season 3 of Merlin,
Word Count: ~54,200
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin, I don't own any of its characters, I don't even own the title, really.
Author's Note: Written for paperlegends. Many thanks go to my beta and my long-suffering artist the_little_owl, who helped a tremendous amount. :) You were awesome, and I'm sorry for being such a flake. Please go over to the Master Art Post to see all the wonderful art that goes with this fic, and to comment on it. Images are also embedded in the fic at relevant points.

Summary: (Modern AU) The Department is a government organisation specifically created to investigate and deal with magic and the supernatural.

Until four years ago, Merlin Emrys was one of its agents, until he gave away his biggest secret and had to run away from his friends and his life.

Until last night, Uther Pendragon was in charge of it, until someone killed him, very messily.

Until last night, Arthur Pendragon was its second in command, until someone framed him for his father's murder.

Now Arthur's going to the only person left in the world who can help him, and Merlin's going to find himself dragged back into a world he had thought was behind him.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Uther's death and Arthur's alleged betrayal, Agent Leon Harris is determined that he's going to find out the truth, no matter what.



Tinker, Tailor, Wizard, Spy



It was past midnight when the knock came on the front door. At first Merlin thought it was just the wind battering it against the frame, but there was too much rhythm to it for that. It sounded, almost frantic. He froze for a moment, and cast a magical net out the door, trying to sense how many people were out there. Just the one. One person alone.

He cursed the paranoia, and forced his heart back to a reasonable rate, calming his breath in his throat. It had been four years and he still jumped at shadows. Just one person, not half a dozen agents from the Department to drag him down the research facilities. Not a death squad from the magical community come to make him pay for betraying them.

Just one person. But still, it was past midnight. No normal people would be banging on his door at this time of night. Five years ago he wouldn’t even have paused before going to answer it, in case it was someone who needed help. But becoming a wanted fugitive gave you reason to be more cautious. If it was a stranger looking for help they would move on soon enough.

The banging continued, though it seemed to be growing weaker. It must be someone looking for him in particular, then. He didn’t know many people who would need to see him in the middle of the night, and Gwaine would have phoned, unless he hadn’t been able to. Merlin told himself not to be stupid. It was probably something entirely normal. It had been years. If someone were going to find him, they would have done so by now.

He hadn’t made it upstairs to bed yet, glued to his computer in the study. The problem with the Internet, he mused, wincing at the dull burning of exhaustion behind his eyes, was that there was always something going on.

The knocking continued, but weaker than before.

“Coming,” he muttered, “I’m coming. It’s half past twelve – you can’t just expect me to...” he trailed off as he remembered that the person outside the door was almost certainly unable to hear him. “Whatever.”

He fumbled the lock the first time. Adrenalin coupled with exhaustion. He made sure that as many defensives spells from his repertoire (which, like his paranoia, had grown in the past five years) as possible were ready, if he needed them, then tried the latch again. It didn’t help that his fingers were tired from typing and slight cramp, but on the second attempt he managed to prise the door open.

It seemed heavier than usual, and he quickly realised why. He staggered back as the person outside fell on top of him, pushing the door out of the way. He made out a flash of blond hair and what looked, even just in the distant light of the street lamp, like thick, sticky blood.

“Merlin,” a voice said, muffled into his T-shirt. “About bloody time.”

Then his unexpected guest lost consciousness, and the only thing Merlin could think of to do was swear. He stared out past his uninvited house guest into the street, suspiciously, looking for shapes, bulky with body armour, or the glint of a streetlight on gunmetal. But there was nothing, and he could tell from where the man was draped over him, that he wasn’t dressed for a raid.

paperlegends


He had a suspicion he knew whose blood was soaking into his favourite t-shirt, though he had no idea what the blood, and its owner, were doing on his doorstep at all, let alone at this time of night. Merlin didn’t really know what to think about it. He had never expected to see Arthur Pendragon again, and he had always thought - known - that if he did, it would be at the head of the firing squad that had been tasked with taking him down as a dangerous magic user.

But now it seemed that he had been wrong, and he didn’t know what to make of it. The smell of blood was strong. This wasn’t a ruse. But that was no reason to stand on the doorstep, open to any prying eyes, curious or antagonistic.

“Arthur?” he said tentatively, shivering a little in a gust of cold wind that blew into the house. There was no response. “Arthur?” he tried again.

“You always did make me do the hard work,” he muttered.

It took more strength than Merlin really had to drag the resisting body of Arthur Pendragon into his hall and turn around to close the door with a shoulder. He might have let his grip slip a few times, and there was a slight incident involving Arthur’s head and the banister, but Merlin reasoned that whatever damage could possibly ever have been done to Arthur’s thick head had probably already been done by this time, if the blood was anything to go by. His shock had evaporated into irritation and anger that had been suppressed for years. What right did Arthur have, even drenched in his own blood, to turn up on his doorstep now, just when he was starting to settle down, starting not to see enemies round every corner? What right did Arthur have to come to him for help? How did Arthur even know where to find him?

And what right did Arthur have to still make him want to help?

So yes, Arthur’s head might have had a few more bruises by the time Merlin had finished moving him than it had had before, but, in Merlin’s opinion, that was what he got for being so inconsiderate.

Arthur would have been horrified by how ungainly his journey to the sofa in the front room was. Merlin managed to turn them around so that Arthur had his back to him, and then he dragged Arthur, arms hooked under his armpits, to the tiny living room.

By the time Arthur was on the sofa, with none of his limbs falling off (it wasn’t quite big enough for a small child to lie across, Arthur, at 6 foot, had his feet and calves lolling over one arm.

“Bugger.” Merlin said, looking at the long smear of blood that the trip had left over his carpet. That was more than he had thought. Head wounds tended to bleed a lot, but that...

Irritation ebbed for a moment, replaced by concern. He stared at Arthur’s face, frowning even in unconsciousness. He hadn’t seen that face in almost four years, and the last time he had, there hadn’t even been a flicker of emotion across it. The last time he had seen that mouth it had been shaping the words ‘leave or I will kill you.’

He didn’t think of going to a hospital. Arthur had come here for a reason, and whatever that reason was, good or bad, it seemed fairly certain that he wasn’t going to be happy to wake up and find Merlin had ditched him at a hospital and run. Not to mention that Merlin tended to avoid all government buildings these days.

And besides, Merlin didn’t owe Arthur a thing. He didn’t owe him anything at all.

Except for your life... his brain provided handily. Reminding him that that last time the pair of them had been this close, Arthur would have been within the law to shoot him dead then and there. In fact, it would have been expected of him. But Arthur had let him go, let him run.

But none of that mattered. None of that even came into the equation because this was Arthur and Merlin was never just going to leave him to clean up his own messes, was he? This was Arthur and they’d been through hell together and – the last time they had seen each other aside – they had always been willing to die for each other.

So he grabbed the towels, the bandages and a tub of hot water and started to try and help Arthur’s wounds. One to the head – Merlin couldn’t tell whether he had fallen on something or been hit, a slight wound across the back of one thigh – not deep enough to be serious, luckily – which Merlin immediately was from a knife, defensive wounds to the hands and lower arms, and a slight shallow cut to the abdomen, which again was lucky to have missed everything important.

“You always were a lucky bastard,” he said, trying to fill the unnatural silence of the early morning with some sort of noise. But the reply he half expected (It’s not luck, Merlin, it’s skill!) didn’t come.

Bandaged and mostly naked, Arthur looked more like the man Merlin remembered. And wasn’t that a trip down memory lane he really didn’t want to take.

The unconsciousness seemed to pass into a natural sleep after a little while, if the snores that were beginning to come were anything. So Merlin grabbed his phone and hit speed-dial.

“Gwaine?”

You do realise it’s 2 am, Merlin...” came the Irish voice down the line.

“Sorry, were you sleeping?” Merlin asked. His concern was met by a surprised laugh.

“Not even close... so, did you just miss my voice?”

“Arthur’s here.” Merlin said simply. There was a moment of silence.

“Can you get out?” Gwaine asked, suddenly completely alert. “Never mind, I’m coming-“

“It’s not like that,” Merlin cut in quickly, before Gwaine could plan their dramatic escape from the evil forces of the Pendragon private army. “I think- He looks like he’s in trouble.”

“What sort of trouble?”

“The sort of trouble where you get stabbed and then look up the last person anyone would ever think you’d contact so that you can hide out.”

“Ah... that sort of trouble.” There was a rustling from Gwaine’s end of the phone line and Merlin could hear the clink of keys. Gwaine somehow made it sound as though that type of trouble was nothing to worry about and utterly common place. But then, knowing Gwaine, it probably was – or had been.

“You don’t need to come.” Merlin said, with a sigh. Gwaine would make this real. And Merlin was sort of enjoying the slightly surreal edge to the situation.

“Pendragon turns up on your doorstep in that sort of trouble?” Gwaine said with a huff of laughter. “This isn’t something I’m planning on missing. Plus – that sort of trouble has a way of hunting people down. You might need help.”

Merlin considered protesting that he’d be fine for a moment, but he thought the better of it. He didn’t want to handle this alone, even if he could.

“Thanks.”

“What are friends for?”

“Taking incriminating pictures.”

“And I was hoping you’d forgotten that,” Gwaine said with a laugh. Merlin could hear the bang of a door. “I’ll be over in ten. Make sure Pendragon’s safe.”

“I didn’t think you cared if he lived or died.”

“I don’t,” Gwaine said, “I meant that you should tie him up.”

“He’s unconscious.”

“That’s what he wants you to think.”

“I’ll see you soon, okay,” Merlin said, cutting off the conversation. Gwaine sighed, but let it drop.

“Soon.”

There was a click down the line and Merlin hung up, casting another look over at Arthur where he was lying.

“I should have put some plastic bags down, shouldn’t I?” he said, seeing where the fabric of the sofa was being dyed dark brown with drying blood. “That’s going to cost me.” His first permanent(ish) home in years and Arthur had to come in a ruin the furniture. “It’s not even my sofa, it comes with the house. You’re worse than a pet dog, you know that?”

It was easier to talk to Arthur like that: just joke and pretend that nothing had ever gone wrong. In the time it had taken Merlin to clean him up, almost all of the anger had ebbed away, replaced by a strange feeling of calm resignation. This was happening and he was just going to have to deal with it.

He fetched his bag from upstairs, where it sat, permanently packed with some clothes, some money and some fake identification that Gwaine had managed to get for them. Merlin hadn’t asked where it had come from.

He dropped the bag in the hallway, ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice and then looked at Arthur.

Arthur mumbled something in his sleep, which made Merlin grin. Some things never changed.

“I wonder if you still dream about zombie ducks,” he said to the air.

*

Arthur ached all over. He could feel his fingertips and teeth throbbing. A spot on his scalp burned angrily and the skin of his hands felt tight.

Not to mention his feet appeared to have gone to sleep.

He opened his eyes slowly, trying to piece together the day before, trying to remember where the pain and the sudden swell of panic had come from.

The room he was in was small and the wall he was facing was covered in books mostly second hand and ratty, with a tiny television shoved in a corner, surrounded by so many books – piled on top and in front – that it was clearly never used except for special occasions.

The carpet was grubby and a strange shade of greenish brown, which might once have just been green. Arthur was just wondering how he had come to wake up somewhere like this when he realised there was someone else in the room, a dark figure in the corner of his eye.

Gwaine was leaning against the door frame, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. He looked almost identical to the last time Arthur had seen him, guarding Merlin’s escape.

Merlin Arthur’s thoughts caught on the name suddenly. Merlin. He had gone to see Merlin. That was where he was; he had run, bleeding, and he had gone to Merlin because Merlin was the only person he trusted.

And Merlin must have called Gwaine because Gwaine was the only person he trusted.

“Where’s Merlin?” Arthur asked, trying to pull himself upright. Gwaine gave a little huff of irritation – or amusement, it had always been difficult to tell with him.

“Upstairs, catching up on the rest he missed last night stopping you from becoming a pretty corpse,” Gwaine said.

“I...” Arthur looked down at the bandages half covering him. “I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Perhaps to someone you didn’t betray and threaten to kill? Could have been a start,” Gwaine suggested, swinging himself up from his leaning position to walk over. His walk was the same too, swagger and dangerous, perfectly balanced, but seemingly a little drunken.

“There’s no one left I can trust.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gwaine asked. “Finally worked out that all those willing minions of yours were just in it for themselves.”

Arthur paused, gritting his teeth together. He had not expected to bump into Gwaine and he had no desire to go over this with him. The man had been a liability before, when his drinking, gambling and flirting had vied with his love of risks to make him one of the most temperamental agents Arthur had ever had the displeasure of working with, but now, as a civilian, he was worse. And he had an axe to grind with Arthur personally.

But Arthur would need whatever help he could find and Gwaine was brave, and loyal to a fault. Even if looking at him reminded Arthur of what he should have been, rather than what he was.

He pushed the guilt for things long past out of his head. Arthur couldn’t have done what Gwaine did, just running off on the spur of the moment. He had had other obligations.

Which brought him to his reason for being here. He took a rushed breath in and set his face as blankly as possible before he opened his mouth.

“My father is dead,” he said quietly.

“Long live the King.” Gwaine’s voice had sarcasm oozing out of every syllable. “Thank you for delivering the good news yourself. Did you bring some champagne, because Merlin and me don’t really have the funds… one issue of being wanted fugitives.”

“He was murdered.” Arthur said, a little louder. “My father was murdered yesterday and... they think I did it.” Gwaine blinked, his mouth opening slightly, and his brow crinkling, but he adapted well and didn’t bother to fill the air with platitudes they would have both known to be lies.

“Who thinks you did it?” He asked instead, cutting straight to the point. Arthur was grateful for the lack of preamble. It was easier to handle questions than sympathy.

“Everyone.” Arthur stared down at the green-brown floor, it swam for a moment, and his throat hurt with how tight it had become. He forced the feelings down, he had no time for that. He wasn’t free to grieve or fear. He needed to sort this out, as soon as possible.

“Did you?” Gwaine asked.

“Did I what?” Arthur asked.

“Kill Uther. I wouldn’t blame you for it. Might even make me like you a little more.” Gwaine’s grin made Arthur want to punch him in the jaw, more than he’d wanted to punch anyone in a long time.

“I didn’t kill my father!” Arthur said, his voice rising in indignation. He struggled to his feet as best he could. “Say that again and I’ll have your life.”

Gwaine chuckled, walking forward a little further to take Arthur’s arm and push him back down to the sofa. Even the light touch made Arthur wince a little, and he knew that he couldn’t put up a fight right then

“In your current state, I doubt you could best a small child. You don’t want to try me right now. Maybe when you’re better I’ll show you who’s really the better man.”

“In your dreams,” Arthur muttered.

“Go to sleep,” Gwaine told him shortly, with a half grin that might, just might, have been the beginnings of forgiveness.

Alternatively, it could have been the beginnings of revenge. Gwaine always was difficult to read.

But revenge or forgiveness, Arthur lowered himself, still aching, back onto the sofa and slid into the sort of exhaustion that caught up with you quickly. By the time he woke up again, Merlin and Gwaine were nowhere to be seen and he lay alone in the morning sun.

*

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Part 2

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Agent Inspector Ivy the March Warden: estel angelicscrsconfuzed on January 18th, 2015 07:22 pm (UTC)
A most intriguing beginning. Will read more once I've fed my massively growling gut.