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14 August 2011 @ 10:45 pm
PaperLegends: Tinker, Tailor, Wizard, Spy, Part 2, (R)  
part 1

-



There was blood everywhere. That was the first thing that Leon noticed. Blood splattered on the walls and ceiling, pooling on the floor in big sticky puddles. And in the middle of it all, with the skin of his chest peeled open, his ribs cracked and broken outwards, was Uther Pendragon, Head of the Department.

His face hadn’t been touched at all, left clear of blemish, staring sightlessly at the tracks of his own blood on the ceiling. Whoever had done this had not wanted the man’s identity to be in question.

Leon was proud that he managed to swallow the bile down before he was forced to vomit at the sight (and the smell – god the metallic stench of blood burning up his nostrils and clinging to the back of his throat).

“It seems that he and his son had one argument too many,” the dark-suited official told him. Leon had hated the man on sight. Cedric he had introduced himself as. Cedric the civil servant, a paper pusher or a spy, a man who went around in a pristine grey suit and a perfectly starched white shirt and left all the hard work to other people before taking the credit for it.

“Arthur wouldn’t do this.” Leon told him with utter certainty.

“His fingerprints are everywhere... even in the blood, sir,” Cedric told him, gesturing to a distinct set of bloody fingerprints on the table. “His gun was found on the table, and at preliminary examination, it matches the bullets removed from the body.”

“He was shot?” Leon asked in disbelief. Cedric gestured to Uther’s legs with a pencil.

“In the kneecaps, presumably to stop him from running away while the rest of the torture was administered.” Leon really, really wanted to leave right then. He had woken up to the insistent ringing of his phone, jerked from a rather pleasant dream and one of the best nights’ sleep he had had in ages, to be told that this had happened. He hadn’t had time to breathe, hardly.

Though he was grateful that he hadn’t had time for his coffee, because it was best that he had nothing in his stomach right now. And after that, he probably would never have been able to drink coffee again.

“ -and they had been heard to have an argument earlier in the evening.” Cedric was still talking and Leon forced himself to listen. More ridiculous evidence against Arthur of all people.

“They were family, they argued,” he said abruptly, before Cedric could frame Arthur for this further. “All I’ve heard from you so far is circumstantial evidence. Unless you have something more substantial than that.”

“Not all the blood appears to belong to the elder Mr Pendragon,” Cedric said with a sour, on-and-off smile, which slipped past more quickly than the rush of a river. “Some short blond hairs have been found on the body and there’s DNA under the fingernails…” they both looked down at Uther’s mangled hands, “…the fingernails that remain, anyway. We’ve sent it off to be examined, but I suspect that it belongs to Mr Arthur Pendragon.”

“You suspect,” Leon said with contempt. “Suspicions aren’t proof. Everything you’ve said so far just makes me wonder whether Arthur’s another victim.”

“He was seen leaving the building covered in blood.” Cedric said. His lips twitched in a smile that never quite made it to his face properly. It was clear that he’d been leaving that piece of evidence until last deliberately. “Alone.”

Leon paused, his mind coming up blank. He looked down at the body in front of him, slaughtered in what would have had to be a fit of rage. The Arthur he knew would never have...

It hadn’t been Arthur.

Next to him, seemingly unruffled by the carnage, Cedric lifted a file he had been holding and flipped it open.

“I also understand that the younger Mr Pendragon had recently been the subject of many reports of inappropriate conduct, a couple of drunk and disorderlies. He was on probation after beating up a fellow government agent...”

“That wasn’t –“ Leon started. He remembered the incident, remembered pulling Arthur off Valiant as he tried to pound the man’s face into the floor. “He was provoked.”

“Well, provoked or not, incidents like that might indicate an unstable personality.”

Leon couldn’t imagine anyone more stable than Arthur and he said as much. Cedric smiled again, on, off, easy and meaningless.

“I’m sure he was very charming, and I understand that you’d been working with the boy for a while, but we have to face facts – no matter how difficult it might be. Arthur Pendragon must be assumed as armed and dangerous and a traitor to the government and the organisation. Our priority at this point is to bring him in. To help him, you understand. The young man must be very disturbed.”

“Yes, I suppose he must be,” Leon agreed. He didn’t doubt that Arthur had been there, and seeing your father like this, that would mess with anyone’s head.

“And given that this was an inside job – the knowledge of the codes to Mr Pendragon’s home and so on, I’m afraid we’ll have to assign someone from the outside to stand as Interim head of department.” Leon nodded dumbly before his mind caught up. An Interim Commander? As the most senior of the agents, with Arthur missing, the command should have fallen to him. He turned to look at Cedric, alarm bells ringing in his head.

“Who?”

“A Miss... Morgause, I believe. She’s being brought up to speed as we speak.”

*

The Department for the Investigation and Control of Magical Phenomena, almost always referred to simply as “The Department” to avoid alarm, ridicule and discovery was one of the British government’s best kept secrets.

Uther Pendragon had been its founding member and a legend in all parts of the government that knew of its existence. He had been a ranking official in the security services when he had come across definitive proof of the existence of magic just over twenty years ago, and he had been tasked to investigate and control its use since then. It had been a way of shutting him up back then, shoving him off into a side project that no one had expected to amount to anything. But he had made it more than that, built the Department from the ground up and, in the end, he had made them listen to him.

The Department had gradually grown from a couple of men in the basement of Thames House to an independent body with almost a hundred agents. Uther Pendragon had stayed at its head through its entire life. Its agents were brought from wherever they could be found. Some were civil servants that showed abilities that Uther thought might come in useful, others came, like he himself, from the security services, and others from organisations like the police force and the army

Leon Harris had been in the army for three years when he had encountered something that he had, at the time, been unable to categorise. His handling of the situation had drawn Uther’s attention and less than a month after the incident, Leon had found himself reporting to a building in the heart of London and being given a lecture on the existence of magic. He had found the place bizarre, but strangely brilliant to work in. The job was a curious mix of police, spy and soldier, which appealed to the five year old boy that lived somewhere in his head.

Not that they were just a sort of magical police force, The Department also had a large group of scientists on call, led by Gaius an old colleague of Uther’s. They tried to come up with scientific solutions to magical problems and investigated the magic that was discovered, trying to find ways to use it to help.

Once they had started looking for magic, it seemed to pop up around every corner. Groups of magic users popped up out of the shadows. They were mostly harmless, but some of them dangerous. And things had developed into a sort of equilibrium.

Everything had been fine, going on as usual, until just under four years ago when everything had gone to hell. But they had begun to calm down again, recently. Nothing would ever be quite the same, but different had been becoming normal.

And now Uther was dead, Arthur was on the run and Leon had no one to trust.

*

Arthur winced as he swung himself off the sofa. Sleeping there hadn’t done any good for his joints, and his injuries burnt like they’d been set alight.

He went looking for Merlin and came across something that made him wish he hadn’t woken up for another ten minutes.

Gwaine and Merlin were across the hall in a small study/dining room. The door was ajar, and Arthur followed the sound of murmured voices without understanding what they were saying.

He was already looking into the room, before he realised.

The moment was private, a gateway into somewhere that Arthur never wanted to go, and he never meant to. He pushed the door open a little more, and he could hear Gwaine and Merlin’s voices clearly, from where they stood by the opposite wall. Gwaine’s voice was soft and warm, and it made Arthur pause. He had never heard Gwaine like that before. He had only ever heard the bluster and the jokes, louder, brighter and brasher.

He could see them now, as well, standing too close – not that either of them had ever respected personal space. This was more than a casual arm around the shoulders though. They stood facing each other, so close that they must practically have been breathing each other’s breath.

“We don’t have to do this,” Gwaine was saying. “We could leave.”

“You don’t mean that,” Merlin replied, his voice just as soft, but affectionate and amused. And that was a tone of voice Arthur had heard before, directed at him. It made his heart leap a little in his chest to hear it used for someone else.

“I want you to know that you have the option.”

“You’re not going to leave Arthur in the lurch,” Merlin said. He sounded so certain of something Arthur doubted to the bottom of his soul.

“I’m not going to leave you,” Gwaine said. His face was firm, seriousness etched into the line between his eyes.

Arthur wanted to step backwards, but he didn’t know whether the movement of closing the door would draw Gwaine’s attention, half turned towards it as he was. He was torn. A part of him didn’t want to watch this scene, intimate and stolen as it was, it hit too close to home, reminding him of what he lost. Another part of him, the part Arthur always tried to listen to, wanted to leave because he knew he shouldn’t listen to this. And a third (slightly masochistic, Arthur admitted to himself) part of him, needed to watch, just to see it all in its glory – Merlin and Gwaine.

“He needs us,” Merlin said, like it was that simple, like Arthur had never pointed a gun between his eyes.

“Alright then,” Gwaine said. He leaned closer and pressed a kiss to Merlin’s forehead, making Arthur swallow a breath, his hand jerking upwards slightly. “We’ll save the damsel in distress, then. I always fancied myself a knight in shining armour.” Merlin laughed, though Arthur could tell it was a bit forced.

“You’d be a crap knight,” he said. “You never liked rules.”

“I’d be a knight errant, and I’d be brilliant at it.”

Arthur backed up, as silently as he could, when Merlin’s hand came up to push at Gwaine’s shoulder. He walked back across the hall until he came to the bottom of the stairs, and then, making enough noise to be heard, he walked to the door again and pushed it open.

The space between Merlin and Gwaine had grown, and Merlin looked a little guilty, though Arthur couldn’t tell whether that was directed at him or Gwaine.

“Okay then,” he said. “Breakfast.”

*

If Gwaine was exactly like Arthur remembered him, Merlin was more so. He still had the strange look of confusion, the cheeky way of talking back and then opening his eyes wide in fake innocence. He still smiled too easily and too wide. He still made Arthur wish to turn time back just to try and make things between them better.

“I’m so sorry,” Merlin told him as Arthur gave a terse description of discovering his father’s body and what had happened next, the twist of confusion in his memory when he recalled the people who had been there, waiting for him. Merlin looked genuinely upset. “I wish I could have-”

“Well you couldn’t,” Arthur cut him off. “But they... they said that they’d make it seem like I did it.”

“Who?”

“If I knew, do you think I’d be in this mess?” Arthur asked, sarcasm coming more easily than explanations. He was too raw for this conversation. The image of his father was still in his mind and Merlin being so close and so earnest was too near to something he wanted. Something he’d thrown out of his own reach forever.

He glanced over to the door again. Gwaine seemed to have developed a thing for leaning against doorframes. He was propped there like a bloody bouncer, or a body guard, watching Arthur with barely contained suspicion.

“Were they wearing masks?” Merlin asked.

“No,” Arthur said, “some sort of magical cover, I could see their faces, I just couldn’t... it was like seeing someone you met once at a party, or someone you don’t know on a train. I couldn’t recognise them, even if I wanted to. Now I can’t even remember if they were male or female.”

“I know the spell,” Merlin agreed with a hum. Arthur almost asked him if he’d ever used it. Had he ever snuck in somewhere, magically anonymous? Had he used that particular trick to evade the Department’s security? He bit his tongue at the last moment.

“Do you remember how many of them there were, at least?” Gwaine asked.

“Three,” Arthur answered immediately. “Magic or not, I can still count.”

“Unless one of them was invisible.”

“I doubt it,” Merlin provided, not seeming to notice the tension. “That’s too difficult to hold for very long.”

“Right,” Gwaine said, suddenly nodding as though something had occurred to him, as though he remembered that fact. Arthur swallowed a surge of jealousy that Gwaine knew that, that he and Merlin were sharing a quick grin at some joint reminiscence. But that wasn’t his right anymore, was it? None of this was. He was nothing now but the interloper. He was the third person, stuck on the outside.

He wondered if he always had been. Had Gwaine known about the magic back before that incident four years ago? Had they laughed about it behind his back? It was something he had thought about before. Gwaine hadn’t been frozen by shock like the others. He’d stepped forward almost immediately. Was he just better at adapting to circumstances, or had he known? Arthur wanted to know the answer to that, it had plagued him, and at the same time he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want proof that he’d always been the third wheel.

“I need to find out who they were, I need to get them.” He said, in lieu of anything better to say.

“And how do you propose to do that?” Merlin asked and Arthur had to avoid his eyes, stare down at the floor, which was becoming an old friend. Arthur hadn’t really thought clearly when he went to Merlin’s. He had managed to hold it together long enough to use public transport, keeping the worst of the bleeding under control. The only thought in his mind had been ‘Merlin can help’. He knew that it had been a foolish thought. But back when he and Merlin had been on the same side – or when Arthur had thought they were on the same side – Merlin had always come through. Alone, scared and light headed from blood loss and shock, he had reverted to what his mind considered default. It wasn’t until he had woken up this morning that he had thought about how Merlin could make it better. And his answer hadn’t made him happy. He lifted his eyes to Merlin’s, guiltily. Though whether the guilt was directed at Merlin or his father, he couldn’t say.

“Oh, so now you want me to do magic? Four years ago I was the evil traitor, completely untrustworthy and a freak who had betrayed everything, and now you’re here begging me to help.”

The strangest thing about it, Arthur would always remember, was that there was no bite to Merlin’s words. They were amused rather than vindictive. Even as they echoed the things Arthur had said to him – the things he had had to say, to make Merlin run, to make him never look back. It was like Merlin didn’t even care anymore.

“This was a bad idea,” Arthur said, struggling to his feet and walking to the door, but Gwaine blocked his way.

“Apparently his highness has had another few knocks on the head in the past few years,” Gwaine commented over Arthur’s shoulder to Merlin.

“He always was an idiot,” Merlin said with a long suffering sigh. “Sit down, Arthur. You wouldn’t get half way down the street like that and you know it.”

“I’m more than capable of catching a bus, Merlin.”

“And you’re also more than capable of passing out in one,” Merlin said.

“Sit down,” Gwaine added, glaring Arthur down. His lips were quirking with amusement he was trying to hide.

“Get out of my way,” Arthur said.

“Make me.”

The scuffle lasted less than twenty seconds, and Arthur found himself breathing in that same carpet he had been staring at.

“You always did go down easily.”

“If I weren’t injured…” Arthur said, wincing at the pain that was stabbing through his chest.

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Gwaine said with a laugh, “if you weren’t injured you’d have kicked my arse all over the room. When you’re your old self again we’ll see about that, will we?”

“Fuck off,” Arthur muttered, bucking in an attempt to throw Gwaine off his back.

“Sorry, you’re just so comfortable,” Gwaine said, poking his knee into Arthur’s back a little more firmly for a second before slowly moving off and offering Arthur a hand to help him up.

Pride was one thing, but Arthur knew that he wouldn’t be able to stand up properly without help, so he took the offered hand and was lifted easily off the floor and then clapped firmly on the shoulder.

“You don’t change, do you?” Gwaine said, echoing Arthur’s own thoughts to exactly that he had to laugh.

The tension seemed to dissipate then, and Arthur almost felt as though the last four years had never happened. For a moment, it was just the three of them messing around.

Then Merlin broke the silence and everything came crashing back.

“So, first we need to get you healed up a bit more,” Merlin said. “Then we’ll have to work out who wanted your father dead.”

The words ‘who didn’t’ floated around in Arthur’s head, but they didn’t make it to his mouth.

“You can heal me with magic?” he asked. “Why didn’t you do that before?” Merlin stared at him as though he was crazy.

“Considering what you said the last time I did magic in front of you, I didn’t think that would be the best idea,” Merlin said. “They weren’t serious enough to kill you, you know. And… I’m not that good at healing magic.”

Arthur raised an eyebrow, trying to convey the fact that he thought that the idea of Merlin being ‘good’ at anything was unlikely. That earned him a glare from Merlin.

“Fine, well, you have my permission.”



*

The halls of the Department were virtually silent when Leon found his way back in, but they were still active. It was earlier than most people usually arrived in the mornings, other than the night shift, but it seemed that news had spread, and everyone had been brought in, or made their way in uninvited.

And by everyone, Leon really meant everyone.

Morgana looked frantic when Leon bumped into her, but she had always been conscious of her appearance and her mascara was still perfect, but the eyes behind it were wide and troubled. She plucked at the sleeve of his jacket with one hand, pulling him to one side of the corridor. He went without process. He hadn’t even thought of her, and he cursed himself that he had been so carried away with his own troubles that he hadn’t considered Morgana, who had just lost everything.

“Is it true?” she asked. “They’re saying that Arthur... that Arthur...”

Leon hadn’t been prepared for this when he came in. But then, he hadn’t been prepared to see his boss’s body splashed across the interior décor last night, so why he was expecting things to be like he expected, he didn’t know. But now he was faced with Morgana - and shouldn’t someone have been taking care of her? – asking him questions.

“Of course he didn’t,” Leon said. He was trying to be reassuring, but she didn’t look like he was helping. “That’s what they’re saying. But we both know that Arthur would never do anything like that.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Of course not,” Leon stared at her. She looked uncertain, which shook him severely. The idea that Morgana could possibly think Arthur capable of the vicious savagery that would have been necessary to do that to his own father, or anyone come to that, was almost more than he could take. His voice rose above the more appropriate whisper, and he saw faces turn towards them. He lowered his voice again quickly. “You know Arthur. You know that he loves – loved – Uther.”

“They were arguing so much recently,” Morgana said. Her hands twisted together.

“Families argue,” Leon said, echoing the words that are insistent in his head. She still didn’t look convinced. He wanted to point out that she herself had seldom been in a room with Uther for more than a few minutes without having an argument of some kind, or Arthur for that matter. It didn’t mean she didn’t love them. But he had enough piece of mind not to mention it.

“And Arthur was so... strange recently,” Morgana continued, “with the drinking. Sometimes he’d say things to me.” She looked around furtively, as though she was about to say something incriminating.

“Things like what?” Leon asked, copying her movement to look around and check that no one was listening. Morgana was clearly distraught, and nothing she said right now could be taken as evidence. But that didn’t mean that Internal Affairs, wherever they were, wouldn’t try.

“Like how much he hated Uther,” she said, slowly. The words dropped to a low murmur. In spite of that, they still hit Leon like a bullet, the shock chilling him to the core “How much he wanted to be free. What if this was how he did it?”

“Arthur would never,” Leon said. The icy feeling of shock began to wear away, replaced by burning anger. “He and Uther had their problems but Arthur would have sooner shot himself than kill his father. You know that, Morgana. Stop it!” She stared at him, clearly a little taken back, swallowing. She too glanced around, composing herself. He paused, realising what he’d just said and wanting to apologise at the same time as just wanting to get away. She paused to recompose herself and he took the moment to rein in his anger.

“You’re right, of course, Leon,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m being so silly.”

“You’re upset,” he said, more gently. “You just lost... It’s a difficult time. You should go home and get some rest. I can drive you if you want.” He put his hand into his pocket, checking his car keys were still there, but Morgana shook her head.

“No, no, it’s alright.” She leaned up to kiss his cheek. “I’ll find my own way. Thank you, for listening to me. I know I must sound like a terrible person.”

“It’s fine,” Leon assured her. “Any time.” She nodded, smiling a brittle smile and began to walk away. Leon turned to go himself but was stopped by Morgana’s voice calling him back.

“Leon.” He turned immediately, without even thinking about it. She was looking back at him, caught, as though she was about to say something she didn’t want to.

“Yes?”

“I know you’re Arthur’s friend,” she said slowly. “But we both know that he’s been different since… you know.” Leon nodded tightly, acknowledging the name that was very carefully not being spoken, as it hadn’t been spoken in the Department in four years. “Don’t let your loyalty to him get in the way of what you know is right. We need you.” Leon stared at her for a moment. He knew that his face must be showing his shock clearly, but he couldn’t help it. Morgana had known Arthur since they were children and the way she was speaking. She was practically asking him to help the witch hunt.

“You’re talking like you think Arthur did this,” Leon said, carefully. She didn’t deny it. “I won’t get in the way of the investigation,” he said, “but Arthur didn’t do this. I will prove that, even if I’m the only person on his side, I will fight his corner.”

“Your loyalty is commendable,” Morgana said, her expression tightening in some indefinable way. “I hope it doesn’t lead you into trouble.”

A young woman Leon didn’t recognise caught hold of his arm.

“Excuse me, Agent Harris?” she said. “You’re expected in interview room 4. Mr Aredian would like to speak with you.”

“I’ll be right there,” he said, turning back to say a last few words to Morgana, but when he looked up, she had gone. Leon sighed and turned back to the woman with as much of a smile as he could muster. She looked a little scared. He wondered what he must look like, with barely an hour of sleep under his belt, and worry settling with discomfort on his shoulders.

“Interview room four,” he said, she nodded mutely then half ran off, back into the main office room. Leon turned in the opposite direction, to go to Interview Room Four. There was no need to ask what this would be about. He’d heard the name Aredian before. Internal Affairs. They were worse than vultures.

*

Merlin hadn’t been lying about not being that good at healing. The wounds closed up a little, as though they were a few days older, enough that Arthur could move normally, but the pain was still intense, and Merlin had to send Gwaine to fish around in his medicine cabinet for the strongest painkillers he had available. Arthur swallowed a couple followed by a glass of water and sat, feeling a little light-headed at the table.

Breakfast was passed in near silence, the tension returning and making everything strained. Arthur didn’t know how to start a conversation. There didn’t seem to be anything available to say. Merlin, across from him would open his mouth and then shut it again, thinking the better of whatever it was he wanted to say. Gwaine seemed to have devoted his entire body to eating Merlin out of house and home. Not that there was much of a home. The furniture was all old, clearly having come with the house. The few possessions Merlin had were either in the bag by the door, or in boxes, apart from the books in the front room and Merlin’s computer. They seemed to be his only pretences at normality. But then, Arthur didn’t suppose that normal had come close to how Merlin had been living in the past few years.

Finally, after Merlin had looked up for the fortieth time, opening his mouth, only to close it and look away when Arthur waited for him to speak, Arthur’s patience ran out.

“Spit it out, Merlin,” he said.

“Uh,” Merlin said, eloquent as ever. “I was just thinking we should decide who wanted your father dead. If we’re going to work out who killed him, we’re going to need some suspects aren’t we?”

Arthur froze, food half way to his mouth. He had a horrific moment where all he could smell was blood, and all he could see was his father’s face. Shit, shit, shit. He had thought he was handling it. He forced a deep breath of air into his lungs, and concentrated on his heart beat, which seemed to be echoing though his entire body.

He knew that Merlin and Gwaine were watching him with concern and it pricked at his pride. He wasn’t going to fall apart.

“Right,” he said. “Suspects. Rogue magic users, I suppose.”

“Right,” Merlin said slowly, looking unconvinced. He flicked a finger, almost absently, and a piece of paper and a pen flew onto the table, dropping down in front of him. “You know there aren’t as many of them as you think, don’t you?”

“It had to be someone magical,” Arthur said, remembering the gore. “You said yourself that the memory problem I’m having is a spell. And what they did…” he paused.

“Okay,” Merlin said. “I was just saying. This seems personal, you know. Killing him and framing you.” Gwaine nodded and hummed his agreement. Arthur felt a little sick for a moment. Personal. Someone he knew had done this.

“Well, do you have any suggestions?” Arthur asked, a little more bitterly than he had intended.

“It needs to be someone who could get into your father’s suite without being flagged by security,” Merlin pointed out.

“Couldn’t they have got in magically?” Arthur asked. Merlin flushed and Gwaine chuckled slightly. Arthur glanced between them.

“You used to live with your father,” Gwaine said, smirking.

“Yes,” Arthur agreed. In the first few years of working at the Department, he had lived with Uther. It had been easier than looking for his own place. But what that had to do with people magically entering the flat he had no idea.

“I might have… put up some precautions,” Merlin said. His eyes met Arthur’s tentatively.

“Magical precautions?” Arthur asked.

“Yes.”

Arthur stared at him for a long moment before blinking in disbelief. He had known that Merlin’s grasp of survival was tenuous at best, but surely there must have been some things that he knew were tantamount to suicide.

“You cast magic on Uther Pendragon’s personal flat?” he asked, incredulous. Merlin shrugged.

“Do you have any idea what would have happened if you’d-“ Arthur began, then stopped. He heaved in as much air as he could, making his injuries complain, even through the haze of painkiller. “How stupid are you?” he asked.

“There were threats,” Merlin said. He didn’t even look concerned. “Someone warned me that I couldn’t watch you every second of the day. So I had to do something.” Arthur didn’t miss that ‘Someone’. He wondered who it had been. He didn’t imagine that it had been a friendly someone. And setting up protection? How long had Merlin been saving his life with magic, without Arthur even knowing?

“You could have warned me,” Arthur suggested. “Unless you felt I was incapable of taking care of myself.”

“She was a very powerful sorceress,” Merlin said. Arthur sighed, before turning to Gwaine.

“And you knew about this?” he demanded. Gwaine held up his hands in a placating way.

“Only after we’d already left,” he said. “I asked him how he thought he was going to save your life from all the way out here, and he said that he’d taken certain measures.”

Arthur wanted to yell at them both, but he couldn’t think of a reason to, not really, and he subsided, settling back into the uncomfortable kitchen chair.

“So,” he said after a moment, “if you’re so well informed about who wants to kill me, then perhaps you’d better start the list then. That sorceress, I suppose she’d better go on there.”

“Nimueh,” Merlin agreed, scribbling down the name.

“Anyone else who threatened to kill me that you ‘forgot’ to mention at the time?” Arthur asked. Merlin gave him his best innocent smile, but he wasn’t even vaguely fooled.

As it was, there had been. In the end they had a rather lengthy list, to be honest. He couldn’t quite stop his jaw from dropping open as Merlin listed name after name of people, half of whom Arthur had never even heard of, until the list was covering both sides of the notepaper.

“That’s a lot of names,” Arthur said mildly.

“Don’t forget the Russians,” Gwaine said. Arthur turned to stare at him, Merlin mirroring his movement.

“The Russians?” he asked after a moment.

“Gwaine always blames the Russians,” Merlin said.

“Why?”

“It’s always the Russians,” Gwaine replied. “Something I learnt from watching James Bond.”

“I did wonder where your obsession with blowing things up came from,” Arthur commented wryly. The grin that spread over Gwaine’s face was a sight from another era.

“C4 and alcohol,” Gwaine said. “My two favourite things.”

“So, no ‘the butler did it’?” Arthur asked.

“Did your father have a butler?” Gwaine asked, seemingly taking the suggestion entirely seriously. Arthur shook his head. Gwaine spread his hands wide as though everything was self-evident. “Must have been the Russians then.”

“Gwaine’s Ian Fleming induced racism aside,” Merlin said, casually cutting in. “We should cross-reference with those who could get in there, and who are powerful enough to cast a charm to blur them like you said. Or have the means to get someone else to do it for them.”

“How could any of them have access to my father’s home?” he asked. “It’s not like we hand out the door codes to anyone who asks for them. And the security guards would stop anyone they didn’t recognise. That’s what they’re there for.”

“They could change their appearance to get past the security guards,” Merlin said with a shrug. “That’s easy enough. I’ve done it before.”

Arthur opened his mouth to ask when and where, but thought better of it.

“The codes are more difficult,” Gwaine said. “You made those alarms magic resistant yourself, and I’ve seen that security system. You’d have to be an expert to crack it. So we’re down to magic users more powerful than you and people who had the codes.”

“Right,” Merlin went through the list, crossing people off arbitrarily. Arthur watched him curiously until the paper was mostly lines and Merlin was looking over the few names left with interest.

“Okay,” he said. “We’re down to Nimueh, Mordred, Myror and Catrina,” he said.

“Catrina?” Arthur asked, incredulous. “My father’s ex-wife, Catrina?”

“Yes,” Merlin said, shifting uncomfortably.

“Why is my father’s ex-wife on the list, Merlin?” Arthur asked, trying to keep his voice level and calm. “She wasn’t a magic user.”

“Uh…” Merlin said, which really answered that question.

“And you didn’t think that I should know that?” Arthur asked, amazed. His father and Catrina had been married for three years, torturous years by Arthur’s count. She had been thoroughly unpleasant, just as soon as they were married, but he had never suspected her of being anything more than the gold digging bitch she appeared. But then, he’d never thought of Merlin as more than the hapless idiot who tripped over his own shoelaces. He was beginning to wonder if he’d spent his earlier years in some sort of oblivion bubble.

“I did,” Merlin said. “But she knew that I was a magic user too, and if I told you about her then she’d tell you about me and no one would have believed me over her.”

“And, in order to be on the list, she’d have to want to kill my father too. Doesn’t that seem like something you should have told me as well?”

“I managed to convince her to go away,” Merlin said. “She wanted you and Uther for a spell, but I gave her an alternative and she agreed to leave you alone.”

“And you believed her?”

“I-“ Merlin sighed. Arthur remembered something, his brain catching on a detail.

He could remember going to his father’s that night. It had been freezing outside, and he had had his coat pulled as tightly around him as he could. The street had been full of cars, and he’d almost been run over by one as he’d crossed the road. He’d been moving too fast, trying to keep himself warm, and he hadn’t looked properly. The car had roared barely half a foot in front of him and he had glared after it. The registration number had rung a bell in his head, but he hadn’t realised. It had been so long since he’d seen that car, and he’d thought that it was one of his colleagues, or someone who lived nearby, and that was why he had known it. But it hadn’t been that.

“She was there,” Arthur said.

“Catrina?” Gwaine asked. “You’re sure?”

“Her car. I saw her car,” Arthur supplied.

“Going in or coming away?” Merlin asked, leaning forward over the table.

“I don’t know,” Arthur said with a shrug. “But it can’t have been her, can it?” he said. “She almost ran me over. My father was dead before I got in there and whoever did it was waiting for me.”

“If she almost ran you over then she definitely knew that you were there,” Merlin said slowly. Maybe she went back in to kill two birds with one stone.”

The three of them stared at the list.

“Whether she did it or not, she’s the best lead we’ve got,” Gwaine said.

“Then we’d better go and talk to her,” Arthur said, standing up.

“Brilliant,” Gwaine said, slinging an arm around Merlin’s shoulders and grinning. “Road trip, then. It’ll be like old times… except without the snazzy uniforms.”

“The Department doesn’t have uniforms,” Arthur pointed out. It was a clumsy attempt at light hearted conversation, but Gwaine was always good at soothing those over.

“Exactly like old times, then.”

“Apart from the bit where my father’s dead, I’m running for my life, suspected of his murder and we’re on our way to see someone you think wants to kill me,” Arthur tried to keep his voice flat, and it mostly worked. Thinking of things as a joke was always a good ploy to keep the demons down.

“Definitely more exciting than old times,” Gwaine said as Merlin elbowed him in the side.

“You’re just mad I interrupted that brawl you tried to get in last Thursday,” Merlin said mildly.

“I’ve missed a good brawl,” Gwaine admitted. “The problem with living under the radar is that you never get to have any fun.”

“Gwaine’s been having difficulty not getting arrested,” Merlin commented to Arthur, like that was just a fact of life.

“You should have just left him to the police,” Arthur said. There was a moment of silence as the other two stared at him. Arthur scanned his words for a moment, but couldn’t find why they seemed to think the comment so horrendous.

“The Department monitors police traffic,” Merlin pointed out, “and they have our prints, DNA and pictures on file.” He left unsaid what would happen when Gwaine’s identity was found. None of them needed that spelling out. Uther had been very clear over the years in his treatment of ‘dangerous’ magic users and Arthur had heard his tirades against the ‘traitors’ hiding in their midst. Dead or alive would have been the order, and no one would have cared about the state of the bodies.

“Ah,” Arthur said and awkward silence fell again. He almost opened his mouth to apologise, but then closed it again when he recalled, almost uncomfortably, that he had nothing to apologise for. They were the traitors, the liars and the fugitives.

*


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part 3

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