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14 August 2011 @ 11:03 pm
PaperLegends: Tinker, Tailor, Wizard, Spy, Part 6, (R)  
part 5

-



The knock at the door was unexpected and it startled Leon, not that he had been doing anything to be interrupted. Since he had ended the conversation with Lancelot on the phone all Leon had managed to do was pace from one room to the next. He had turned the TV on and then off again, unable to summon the concentration to watch the rubbish that was on. His brain was buzzing, going round and round in circles, his conversation with Aredian repeating until he wasn't sure what was actual memory and what was wishful thinking.I should have said this, he thought, rewriting his own part until it was a muddled confusion.

There had been nothing he could have done, Leon told himself firmly, standing up from the kitchen table and stalking out of the room again, leaving a half brewed pot off coffee behind him. He couldn't have said or done anything that would have kept him his job. He had done the best he could with the information he had and-

Then the knock interrupted his thoughts and he jumped a little, turning in alarm.

His mind went to the worst place first, a vague idea of some faceless person coming for him, but then he reminded himself that they had already got him out of the way, why would they send someone after him now? He was hardly a threat.

He opened the door, half expecting one of Aredian’s guards to be standing there with a warrant for his arrest, but it was a man with a collection tin instead. He was taller than Leon himself and built like a Rugby player. He held out the collecting tin with a hint of a smile.

“Support your local hospital,” the stranger said. His mouth twisted a little, like he was amused and Leon knew there was something strange going on. The box looked authentic, though, and none of the surveillance team on the street seemed to be paying him any mind.

"Sure," Leon said, reaching into his pocket for some spare change. “Do you just do this street or…?”

“Next one down, too," the man said. Leon's coins clinked into the bottom of the tin and the man produced a leaflet from his pocket. "Here," he said, handing it over. "See where your money’s going.”

Leon nodded and watched the man walk back down his front path and on to the next house. He continued watching as he knocked at Mrs Edgecombe’s door and gave his rather sparse sales pitch.

Leon caught the eye of one of the men in the car across the street and hurriedly walked inside again, shutting the door behind him. He was jumping at shadows. Staring after the poor man like he was going to come back and break the door down. If he wasn’t careful some innocent charity collector would be dragged off to Aredian’s desk and interrogated.

He flipped the leaflet open, looking for something, anything to do, and started as he saw a post-it note stuck on the inside.

‘Round the back, three minutes. Bring anything you can't do without.’

He was careful not to react as he pocketed the note and dropped the leaflet onto the top of his junk mail pile. Then he gathered together a few things and headed for kitchen, where the back door was.

It was strange to simulate the motions of making a cup of coffee. He forgot which order it was supposed to be done in twice, too busy thinking of making it look realistic to remember what realistic was.

Minutes seemed longer somehow, now that he was waiting for something to happen, they stretched on and on. He knew that he was checking the wall clock too often to look casual about it, knew that he was making the worst cup of coffee in history (it would help if he remembered the coffee) but the restlessness that had settled over him suddenly had a purpose to it.

When the clock ticked to the right time, he set the coffee mug down and strolled to the back door as normally as he could. Opening it up and walking down the tiny yard and to the back gate. He hadn't even reached it when it swung open and he saw Lancelot standing there, looking a bit anxious.

“We weren’t sure you’d find the note in time,” Lance said, turning back to the car.

“We’re not being watched?” Leon asked, looking around, but he couldn’t see anyone suspicious looking at all. There was just Lance’s car sitting in the back road behind the houses.

“We're okay for now," Lance said, opening the driver's side door. “But we’ve only got a minute or so before they’re back. Get in.” Leon didn’t even question the order and they were driving away within seconds.

“How much do you know?" Lancelot asked, when they were two blocks away, though his eyes were flicking nervously to the rear view mirror every few seconds.

“Uther's dead," Leon started. "Arthur's been framed and someone's trying to stop the Department from doing anything about it."

“Do you know where Arthur is?” Lancelot asked.

“No,” Leon said honestly. Lancelot swore. It was the first time Leon had ever heard him curse. What he remembered of Lance was a man who was unfailingly polite, even in the face of prejudice and verbal abuse. He thought frantically for a second, staring out of the window at the shops they were passing. Lancelot had left a year after what had happened with Merlin, unable to continue working in the Department when he saw no honour in the way they worked. He had been almost painfully earnest in his last few days of work, trying to explain to Leon why he felt the need to leave, and Leon had understood, and so had Arthur.

“I know who he's with, though."

Lancelot turned to look at him, forgetting the rear view mirror for a minute and staring at him as though that comment is some kind of code. Leon ignored him, continuing to look out of the window, uncomfortable. He felt like he was betraying a confidence, though he hadn’t said anything incriminating.

“Could you get in touch with him again?” Lance asked.

“Maybe.”

“Good,” Lance said turning back to the road completely again, some of the tension falling from his shoulders. “We’re going to need his help.”

When Lancelot led Leon down the darkened stairway, Leon didn’t know what he was expecting. He might have had some half formed images, taken from a life watching the wrong sort of films. A strange conglomerate of The Matrix and Terminator.

The door swung open, though, and suddenly everything was light. A neat, cleanly decorated room, a large glass topped table in the centre of the room, and leather-looking chairs surrounding it. It almost looked like something out of a magazine.

“Sorry about the mess,” Lance said, as though that was really the most important thing when Leon had just slipped the watch of government agents and they seemed to be fighting some sort of conspiracy. “We’ve been a little busy in the past few days.”

There wasn’t any mess, not really. The place had a few books out of place, and some papers (which looked strangely like the blueprints for the Department HQ) on the table, being pored over by a young woman with blonde hair, half of which seemed to be falling out of a messy bun, falling around her face. She glanced up as Leon entered, offering him a wide eyed smile. She looked familiar, like an actor on the TV whose name you never caught, but who seemed to be in everything.

“Hello,” she said cheerily. “You must be Leon.”

“Uh… yes. And you are?” Leon asked, already sort of regretting the question.

“Elena,” she said with the exact same chipper tone of voice. “Lovely to meet you.” She offered a hand, which Leon took, a little bemused, and when he shook it, he winced as she gripped it a little too hard and pumped it up and down enthusiastically.

“Lance?” he asked, rubbing his hand.

“We think someone’s trying to take over the world,” Lance said, with a sympathetic smile. “It’s… complicated.

“It’s not that complicated,” Elena said, rolling her eyes. “There’s this collection of things, and if a magic user can get them all together they get some sort of power boost, or something, meaning that they become pretty much the most powerful person in the universe, and someone’s going after them. Only we don’t know who, and we don’t know how many they’ve got. Simple really.” She smiled again and went back to the blueprints. “We know they got one from Uther before they killed him, or after they killed him. And there’s one in the Department too. We just don’t know how they’re going to get it out. I’ve been looking for faults in the security, but I can’t see any. You know, you guys really worked hard at making this impenetrable.”

“Elena’s a…” Lance paused. “She’s good with things like this.”

“What he means to say,” Elena provided, stretching her arms over her head. One of them caught on the light shade, catching her sleeve in it so she had to try and shake it out. Leon waited patiently as she shook it and then remembered that she had been in the middle of a sentence. “What Lance means to say is that I’m a thief. Not that Daddy approves.”

“You’ve probably seen her father,” Lance provided. Leon thought about it for a moment, trying to put Elena’s face in context. He had seen her before, but where. She had looked less rumpled then, more-- the answer struck.

“The former prime minister?” Leon asked, eyes widening.

“Yes, that’s him.” Elena agreed. “Very useful. People don’t mind letting me into most places. Means I can case places without it ever seeming strange.” She nodded again. “But, as I was saying, I just can’t see a decent way to steal from the Department vaults. I could probably get in, but getting out would be a nightmare. Admittedly, they will have magic on their side, but you’ve thought of that as well.” She shrugged before sagging back into a seat in a highly unladylike manner.

“That is the idea of a vault,” Leon pointed out.

“Well, obviously,” she said, before leaning forward to look at the plans again. “It’s just so irritating. Usually I’m good at this.”

Leon decided that the best thing for his sanity would probably be to leave her to it, so he did, following Lance into a seat on the other end of the table.

“Our real problem is that we don’t know who we’re looking for,” Lance said. “Elena brought us the information, sort of. Someone asked her to steal something, but she knew something was up. She remembered me from when we had that scare at Downing Street, though God knows how she found me. I’ve found that it’s better not to ask. They contacted her anonymously. Apparently that’s the way these things are done. So that’s no good

“We’ve managed to find three thefts so far, where one of the items stolen matches what we’re looking for, but no one’s even got a description of the thieves. I thought, after Uther’s death, that we might be able to work with you but…” Lance sighed again scowling at the table top. “I don’t like to ask Gwen, now. If they’ve already got rid of you without us even communicating, then putting her in that position. It would be dangerous.”

Leon didn’t know what to say to that, he shoved a hand into his pocket, wrapping it around the small plastic cuboid he found.

What was that? He wondered, trying to identify it by touch alone. He couldn’t remember having put anything in his pockets that day. Only Gwen had…

He sat up straight as he remembered. The talk with Aredian and his subsequent suspension had pushed everything out of his mind. But, before he had gone in there, there had been a conversation with Gwen, and she had given him something.

“You want information about the night Uther was killed,” he said, looking at Lance. A smile spread across his face, and he couldn’t quite hold it back.

“You have some?” Lance straightened up again, and even Elena glanced up with an inquisitive expression.

“How would the CCTV footage from that night be?” he asked. “I had Gwen get it for me before everything happened.” Leon pulled the flash drive from his pocket and held it up over the table, flipping it around and around between his thumb and forefinger. Lance looked at it in astonishment, honest joy spreading across his face.

“I’ll get my laptop,” he said, hurrying out of the room so fast that he almost tripped over his own feet.

Elena beamed at him and Leon felt himself smile back, trying to forget that she was a thief and a stranger.

The footage wasn’t exactly good.

“Magical interference,” Lance said, huffing out a deep breath in disappointment. All they could make out really were blurry grey figures crossing the screen. They didn’t seem to be trying to hide. “Of course, they’d know about the cameras.”

Every frame seemed to be the same, watching the three of them go up and into Uther’s suite. The three of them watched the door open and Uther turn in astonishment, mouth half open to call for his guards. Then there was a brief flicker where the picture cleared up for barely a moment before everything went dark.

“Go back,” Leon said, leaning forward. Lance was already doing so, even as the words left Leon’s mouth, going back frame by frame, or as closely as he could.

Darkness, darkness, and then, one single shot in clear colour, barely noticeable when the video played properly.

“They must have had to drop the spell to blur the image, to cast the one to take the cameras out,” Lance said, but Leon was barely listening. Of the three people besides Uther in the room, two of them were turned away from the camera, just dark heads of hair and anonymous looking back. But one of the figures was caught turning away from the camera, her face captured.

“Morgause,” Leon said. His heart began to pound. “That’s Morgause.”

“Who?” Elena asked.

“The new temporary head of the department,” Leon explained. “That’s her.”

“You mean they have someone on the inside?” Elena stared, her mouth hanging open a little. She gaped for a long moment before her shoulders sagged in utter defeat and her face became devastated. “That changes everything! She could take it any time. She could have already taken it.”

“Clearance would take a while to go through,” Leon said, a little optimistically. Then he remembered something. “Shit. She’s getting them to declare a state of emergency. She’ll have access to everything, the vaults, the research department, the detention centre. Everything. That’s what this morning was about. She didn’t even care about killing people, she just wanted to make it seem like we were under attack.”

“We took too long,” Lance said. Leon could tell from the clench of his jaw that he was cursing internally, but he kept it inside and nodded. “We’ve lost that one.”

“Not necessarily,” Elena told him. “If she’s working there then she might not have had a chance to take it out of the building yet. It’s probably still on her, or in her office.”

“But we can’t get in there to check,” Lance said.

“Gwen could,” Leon said, hating himself even as he said the words. Lance turned to him angrily, losing some of that iron control and optimism.

“We can’t ask that of her!” he snapped. “It’s too dangerous. If Morgause found her then… after what she did to Uther.”

“We don’t know that was her, there were two other people with her,” Elena provided helpfully. Lance glared at her as well.

“No.”

“I’d be happy to do it myself,” Elena said with a shrug. “But someone’s bound to notice me if I go poking around the head of department’s office. Gwen’s already on the inside. She’s got a reason to be there. There have got to be files in there that Morgause doesn’t know about. She’d just have to pretend to…”

“This isn’t up for discussion-” Lance said.

“She’d say yes,” Leon said, because someone had to. “If it would help, she’d say yes.”

“We could ask Elyan,” Lance suggested. “He’s just as likely to be-“

“No he isn’t,” Leon said. “You know as well as I do, we only go into offices when we’re called in. If he’s found in there on his own, then there’ll be questions.”

“And there won’t be with Gwen?”

“Not as many,” Elena said. “I’ve pretended to be in admin loads of times. No one really notices you if you’re looking through filing cabinets… or computers. It’s easy.”

“I’m not going to put her into that sort of danger,” Lance said. “This is all based on a guess anyway.”

“I know you’re trying to protect her,” Elena said, sounding oddly thoughtful, “but I don’t think I’d like to find out later that there was something I could have done to stop something terrible from happening, and someone stopped me from being able to do it just because they wanted to protect me.”

Lance stared at her for a long moment and Leon just waited. He had always known that there had been something between Gwen and Lance, way back from the first time Lancelot had come into the Department, earnest and far too kindly spoken for an agent, really. And apparently they had kept in touch after Lance had left the Department. It wasn’t that surprising, not really. Lance hadn’t left under a cloud of betrayal and outrage, like Merlin and Gwaine. He had resigned quite officially, and left through the front door with his head held high.

Though he did associate with thieves these days, apparently.

“Fine,” Lance said, deflating. “I’ll ask her.”

The three of them froze as they heard steps on the stairs outside. Leon reached for a gun he no longer had. Elena’s hand went inside her jacket, and Leon saw a flash of metal that was most likely a knife.

Lance just stood up, but Leon could tell from his stance that he was ready to grab anything at hand if necessary.

There was a heavy, banging knock on the door, that made the table rattle a little and Elena sighed with relief as the tension left Lance’s shoulders.

“It’s Percival,” she said by way of explanation. “He always knocks like that. He doesn’t really know that he’s doing it.”

“Percival?” Leon asked, watching as Lance went to slide the door bolts back.

“The charity collector,” Lance said with a quirk of a smile.

“Right,” Leon said with a nod, just as the door swung open again and, just as Lance had said, the charity collector from earlier walked in.

“Sorry,” Percival said, “They watched me go down another two streets after that. And then they seemed to realise that he’d gone, so they stopped.”

“They didn’t realise you had anything to do with it?” Leon asked, a little concerned.

“No.” Percival said. He didn’t elaborate further.

*

Leon watched Lance make the call to Gwen, feeling guilty even as he did so. He knew the moment that she picked up. He could hear the faint sound of her voice from the receiver.

Lance set it all out clearly, emphasising the danger and that it wasn’t one hundred percent necessary that Gwen do this. She said yes, as Leon had known she would, and then she said yes again when Lance asked if she was sure and yes again when he asked her again. By the time Lance hung up, Gwen, even muffled and tinny, sounded more irritated at him than worried about risking life and limb.

He didn’t say anything after Lance put the phone down. He didn’t really think there was anything he could say.

Perhaps Arthur would have been able to say something and make it not sound like a useless platitude. Perhaps Merlin would have been able to say something optimistic and make it sound like it might come true. Gwaine would have said something hideously inappropriate and somehow made it sound utterly acceptable.

Leon just nodded and watched as Lance nodded back, looking closer to broken than Leon had ever seen him.

Then Elena dropped a coffee mug onto the table and the shattering sound made them all jump worse than if it had been a gunshot.

*

No one noticed Gwen these days, especially not when things were this busy. Uther dead and a state of emergency declared meant that everyone was very busy – or trying to look very busy. They said ‘hi’ but no one looked at her twice. She was just a part of the furniture, moving around the offices, picking up files. She wasn’t even sure that most of the people who worked in the Department knew what her job was. They accepted her wherever she went because they assumed that was where she was supposed to be. She’d never been more thankful for her strange invisibility.

Uther’s office – Morgause’s office now, she supposed – was in the centre of the building, through the maze of rooms and offices that housed the rest of the Department. She’d been there thousands of times before, to pick things up, drop things off and sit in meetings. Uther had always kept it startlingly crisp and clean, with no personal touches. Most of the others in the building had photographs on their desk, or something to make it seem like home, but Uther simply had his papers, his computer and his stationery. There was a bookcase covering the back wall, but the only books on it were texts on magic and legend.

She drew a deep breath and opened the door, trying to look as though she was supposed to be there.

Morgause hadn’t had time to change much around. It still looked like Gwen remembered it, though a little rougher around the edges. Some of the books had obviously been taken out and put back again – they were no longer in strictly regimented lines, but a little uneven – and there was a curious statue on the desk, like a woman with her hands raised up to the sky. It had no features or detail to it, but something about it unsettled Gwen.

It felt as though the thing was watching her, although it had no eyes, and the posture. Gwen was certain that if it had been given a mouth, it would have been screaming.

She shook off the feeling and headed over to the desk, walking around it cautiously. She had never been on this side of it before. Uther had always had his office clearly delineated. He was on this side, you were on the other.

It felt intrusive, walking into his side, more intrusive than opening the door and coming in. Even if Morgause had already been sitting in his chair and reading through his books, it felt wrong for Gwen to do the same thing.

She frowned at the chair for a second, before electing to kneel instead, going straight for the drawers. The bottom one was still filled with files, nothing unusual, the second one was stationery, and the top drawer… Gwen tugged at it, but it didn’t budge. Locked. She frowned momentarily, before standing up and grabbing a paperclip from the desk-tidy. The lock wasn’t exactly complicated, and she had always wanted to try this.

It took longer than she had anticipated, longer than it ever seemed to take in films, and every second that the clock on the wall ticked out made her feel that little bit more desperate, and every footstep outside made her freeze and wait, breathless.

But, probably more through luck than anything else, the lock finally clicked into place and she was able to pull the drawer open. Gwen drew it out and looked at what she found in confusion.

The stone she was looking for wasn’t there, instead there were what looked like technical diagrams, annotated in Gaius’ almost illegible handwriting. She looked at them for a long moment, but she couldn’t make out a word of what they said, or what they showed. She felt around into every corner of the drawer carefully, but there was nothing there.

She shut the drawer, and began to look around the rest of the room. She crossed to the filing cabinet, but the drawers opened easily and there was nothing in there but files. She was running out of places to look, and time was ticking past. She needed to get out of here.

She stood up.

“Looking for something?” a voice asked from behind her.

Gwen froze, not quite trusting herself to turn around. She couldn’t afford to look guilty.

“The Framwell file, from last week,” she said, hoping that her voice wasn’t shaking as much as she thought it was.

“And you needed it so badly that you came into my office without permission?” Morgause asked.

“I’m sorry, Ms Treherne. Mr Pendragon never minded if I came in here to get files.”

“I’m not Mr Pendragon,” Morgause said. “And I don’t appreciate people spying on me.”

“I’m not spying on you,” Gwen said quickly. “I was just looking for a file. I knew that you were busy, and I… didn’t want to bother you.” She finally gathered up the courage to turn around. Morgause looked like a different person from the cool, pleasant person who had introduced herself to the employees earlier. Her eyes were hard and cold. Gwen smiled as calmly as she could, but there was something about that glare that seemed to cut right through her.

“Have you found it?” Morgause asked. Gwen opened the second drawer of the cabinet and made a show of getting the right file.

“Right here,” Gwen said. “I’ll be going then, shall I?” she asked.

“That might be a good idea,” Morgause said, her voice as ice cold as her eyes. “And next time, ask.”

“Yes, Ms Treherne,” Gwen said before hurrying out of the door, struggling to keep her breath under control and her legs from shaking too badly for her to walk.

She closed the door behind her and walked as quickly as she could back to her own desk. The whole way she felt the prickle of being watched on the back of her neck

When she got to her desk one of the lights on her phone was blinking. She glanced at it out of habit rather than curiosity. The name next to the light was Uther. His office phone.

Gwen paused half way to sitting down. She remembered Lance’s voice on the other end of the phone, sounding so earnest. Morgause had killed Uther, she had killed him and then she had taken his job, and she was trying to do something worse than that.

Gwen sat down properly and picked up the phone, hitting the button that would connect her to that conversation.

“And you’re sure it’s them?” Morgause’s voice asked.

“Positive.” Gwen froze. She knew that voice. But… it couldn’t be. Perhaps this was an innocent conversation. Perhaps- her thoughts were cut off by what came next. “I recognise Merlin’s magic from when he left. He isn’t even trying to hide it. Arthur will be with him and they’ll have the final stone.”

Gwen gasped out loud, her voice making a noise that her brain couldn’t form into words.

Morgana.

“What was that?” Morgana asked. Gwen clasped a hand over her mouth, trying to stop even breathing.

“What was what?” Morgause asked.

“I thought I heard something.”

“Probably interference on the line,” Morgause answered.

Gwen could hear her heart thudding in her chest, she wondered if Morgana would hear that as well.

“Take the thralls,” Morgause said, “get the stone. Kill anyone who tries to stop you, even if it’s Pendragon or his little warlock. Not that I imagine you’ll have a problem doing that.”

“No, it’ll be my pleasure,” Morgana said. Gwen wanted to make another noise again, she could feel it, rising like a bubble up her throat.

“Call me when you have it,” Morgause said. “Good luck, sister.”

Sister? Gwen thought dazed. She was so thrown that she didn’t even hear Morgana hang up, but she was suddenly aware that it was just her and Morgause on the line.

“Morgana?” Morgause asked. “Are you still there?”

Gwen put the receiver down as quietly as possible, then took a deep breath. She had to find a way to tell Lancelot, and a way to warn Arthur and Merlin.

*

The phone call came back an hour later, and Lance leapt for the receiver before it had completed a single ring.

Leon watched Lancelot’s face as he listened to Gwen’s report.

“It wasn’t there?” Lancelot asked. Leon let his head thud back onto the seat. He could see Percival, opposite him frowning just as much. Elena sagged forward and sighed deeply, her breath sending the flyaway tendrils of her hair up in small waves.

“What? You shouldn’t have done that, it’s too much of a… What? You’re sure?

“But she’s – right, I understand. I’ll tell Leon, he might be able to contact them. Do you think she suspects you?

“Get out of there. Get Elyan and get out of there.

“I love you, too. I’ll see you tonight.” He pulled the phone away from his ear and hung up, taking a moment to compose himself before turning to the three people who were trying very hard to look like they hadn’t been listening to that last bit. At least, Leon was trying that, the other two didn’t seem to care much.

“She couldn’t find the stone, but I suppose you heard that bit,” Lancelot said. They nodded. “But she overheard a conversation between Morgause and one of her accomplices.” He hesitated and Leon waited as patiently as he could, leaning forwards in his seat. “It was… It was Morgana.”

“Morgana?” Leon asked. Of all the things he had been expecting to hear, it hadn’t been that. “You’re sure. It was Morgana.”

“Morgause called her by name,” Lancelot said. He sounded a little shell-shocked himself. Both Elena and Percival were looking between them with confusion.

“Who’s Morgana?” Elena asked.

“Uther’s adopted daughter, she sort of works for the Department,” Leon said. “She grew up with Arthur.” He turned to Lancelot again. “But the Interim head of the Department might have an entirely innocent reason for calling Morgana.”

“The conversation Gwen overheard wasn’t innocent,” Lancelot said. “You said earlier that you might be able to contact Arthur. Were you telling the truth?”

“I think I can, why?”

“Because you need to warn him that Morgana’s coming to take the stone. And she’s going to kill him, Merlin and anyone else who gets in her way.”

*

A phone began to ring.

“Merlin, get that, would you?” Arthur said, trying to find a way to lie on the bed that didn’t make his injuries burn.

“It’s your phone,” Merlin said sleepily. “You get it.”

“It’s not my phone,” Arthur said with a frown, “you fried my phone, for my own good, remember.” There was a satisfied chuckle from Gwaine where he lay on the sofa. “Shut up.”

“If it’s not your phone, why’s it coming from your trousers?” Merlin asked.

“It’s not…” Arthur paused, patting his trouser pocket. “It is coming from my trousers.”

“Told you,” Merlin replied.

Arthur pulled the phone out of his trousers, confused. It wasn’t his, then whose was it? He dangled it above his face for a moment, trying to focus.

As soon as he saw it, he sat bolt upright. He looked over at Gwaine, who was staring at him with just as much amazement.

“That’s Freya’s,” Gwaine said. “Who’s calling?” Arthur looked down at the display. He didn’t recognise the number, so he shrugged. “Do you think we should answer it? It might be… them.”

“If it is, then I can convince them to try and get the stone,” Arthur said with a pause. “We can lead them into a trap.”

“Or you could tell them how to find us, so they could kill us all,” Gwaine pointed out.

“It could be Freya,” Merlin said. “She might have got away.” Neither Arthur nor Gwaine answered that, Arthur didn’t even dare look away from the phone, in case he said something.

“We’ve got to answer it,” Arthur said, after a moment. “It’s all we can do.”

“Wai-” Merlin said, but Arthur was already answering, lifting the phone to his ear.

“Hello?” he said.

“Arthur?” Leon’s voice asked.

“Leon!” Arthur breathed a sigh of relief, but in the pit of his stomach, he felt a stab of disappointment. “Are you all right? What’s happening? What happened with the address I gave you?”

“We don’t have time for that. Arthur… I’m sorry, I really am. It’s Morgana.” Leon sounded shaky, though Arthur couldn’t imagine anything ever shaking the man.

“What about Morgana? Has something happened to her? Leon?” he asked. He saw Merlin staring at him, looking almost guilty.

“It was her, and Morgause, and some other guy we don’t know.” Arthur replayed the sentence in his head, but he still couldn’t make out any more than before.

“What was her?” Arthur asked.

“Your father, Arthur, Morgana was one of the people who killed your father.”

Arthur needed to sit down. He might have said that out loud, because Merlin was telling him that he was sitting down, like it was something really obvious, when clearly it wasn’t.

“She can’t have been…” Arthur said.

“Arthur, we’re sure about this,” Leon said. And Arthur could place his tone now. Apologetic. That was it.

“You’re wrong.”

“We’re not wrong, Arthur. Gwen heard Morgause talking to her.” Leon said.

“Who’s Morgause?” Arthur demanded. He caught sight of Merlin’s face turning deathly pale. “Leon… it can’t have been her. I was there, I would remember… if it was Morgana I would remember. I would remember.”

“Arthur, there’s no time,” Leon said. “She’s coming for the stone, and for you. She’s going to kill you. You have to get out of there. You and Merlin. Where are you? We’ll come and pick you up.”

“Who’s we?” Arthur asked.

“Lancelot, and some others. Just tell me where you are.” Arthur gave their location, feeling numb. “Good, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Turn right out of the hotel, we’ll meet you along that road somewhere.”

Whatever else Leon had to say was cut off as the fire alarm went off, and suddenly every other sound was drowned out. Arthur didn’t bother to say goodbye, he just hit the button to end the call and turned to Merlin, who was standing up.

“Who’s Morgause?” he asked. Merlin frowned at him.

“Just someone I met once. We need to go, Arthur. This fire alarm isn’t a coincidence. It’s designed to get everyone out of the building. Someone’s trying to smoke us out.”

“Guys,” Gwaine said. But Arthur didn’t look at him, and Merlin was too busy staring back at Arthur.

“Tell me who she is, Merlin!” Arthur demanded.

“She’s Morgana’s sister, her half sister.” Merlin admitted reluctantly.

“And she’s a witch?”

“Yes.”

“Powerful?”

“Yes, they both are.”

“Guys,” Gwaine said again, ignored once more.

“And she’s not on our list because?” Arthur demanded. Had Merlin been protecting her?

“Because I didn’t think she had that much against your father,” Merlin said. “When I met her she was angry, but she wasn’t trying to kill anyone. She just wanted…”

Arthur! Merlin!

“What, Merlin? What did she want?” Arthur demanded.

“Power, she wanted power… and Morgana.”

“Another thing you kept from me for my own good?” Arthur asked. Merlin frowned, but nodded. “And what about Morgana?”

Seriously. You two!

“She’s a witch. But I didn’t know she was capable of this, I swear to you Arthur. She’d barely realised she had magic when I left. I thought that it would be all right. I thought she’d cope.”

“You think that Leon’s right, don’t you?” Arthur said. “You think she was there when my father died.”

“I think…” Merlin said. “I think she might have been the one who did it.”

“Clever, Merlin,” a new voice said. Arthur and Merlin turned to see Morgana standing in the doorway, smiling serenely. Arthur caught her gaze for a second and had to look away. That wasn’t his sister. There was something broken there. “I always liked you.”

Arthur looked at Gwaine, who was standing held at gun point by three of the same sort of men as earlier, with the same glazed expressions.

“I was trying to say, there were footsteps, in the corridor… heading away from the fire escape.” Gwaine said. “I think it might be someone trying to kill us.” Arthur stared.

“I liked you too,” Merlin said softly. “But I think I’m over that now.”

“Ah, an attempt at bravado,” Morgana said. “Almost sweet.” She looked around the room and her eyes fell on the bedside table where the stone lay. Arthur followed her gaze and lunged for it, but before he could get half the way a thrall stepped in front of him and threw him back into the wall. He watched as Morgana walked over to it and picked it up. “Sorry, but I think that belongs to me.”

“It belongs to Freya,” Merlin said. Morgana raised an eyebrow.

“The Bastet?” Morgana asked. “It used to belong to her, when she was alive. Now it’s finder’s keepers.”

Arthur didn’t think he had ever seen Merlin look angrier than at that moment. His eyes glowed gold, but Morgana just looked at him.

“Magic doesn’t work on the stones,” she said, “it can’t affect them at all. So you can’t snatch it out of my hands. And before you try to be clever and hit me instead, I suggest you look at your friends. If anything happens to me the thralls will shoot and they will die.”

“You’re going to kill us anyway,” Gwaine said. “We all know that.”

“Oh yes,” Morgana agreed. “It’s nice that you understand that. Uther didn’t get it until the very end. He still thought that I was too naïve to do it. He thought he could talk me out of it. He’d spent all my life telling me how evil I was and torturing my kind, and then he expected me to have mercy. He expected mercy.”

“Well, I definitely don’t expect that,” Gwaine said. Morgana looked at him.

“What do you expect?” she asked.

“Well, I always wanted to go out with a bang,” Gwaine said, hefting his bag on his shoulder.

*

Arthur had forgotten that Gwaine did this.

No, that wasn’t right.

Arthur had remembered that Gwaine did this. He had remembered it as an anecdote no one ever talked about, an amusing list of stories that he could have brought up down the pub, if there had ever been anyone down the pub other than him and the alcohol (and Leon, but Leon only ever turned up when the alcohol was too sunk in for Arthur to remember how to tell stories at all). He didn't remember how it felt to live through Gwaine doing this.

His back was so hot, almost scorching, and the only reason he hadn't stop dropped and rolled to put out the fire that must have caught hold of his jacket (Gwaine's jacket really, which was just as well, because if Gwaine's fondness for fireworks had ruined any of Arthur's clothes he might have had to kill the man) was because his desire to die in a fire slightly exceeded his desire to be crushed to death by falling masonry or to fall into the hands of the people (Morgana, his mind provided, repeating it over and over again to hammer it home) who were coming after them.

Somewhere on his right, Gwaine was running just as fast. He started to pull ahead and Arthur sped up accordingly. Damned if he was going to die being shown up by bloody Gwaine.

To his left, Merlin was yelling something that couldn’t be heard over the roar of the explosion and the fire, still ringing in his ears. He couldn’t look for long, but Merlin had his 'are you just stupid?' look on his face.

Suddenly Merlin was grabbing him, dragging Arthur’s left arm back and pulling him off balance so that he teetered on one foot for a moment. Arthur grabbed Gwaine by reflex and the three of them jolted to a sudden stop.

“Are you crazy?” Arthur yelled over the sound from behind them, rapidly going closer. “You’re going to kill us all.”

“No. I’m not,” Merlin said, yanking Arthur closer, then reaching out to pull Gwaine close too. There must be some suicidal in joke or pact that Arthur had missed in the past four years, because Gwaine, as soon as Merlin touched him, just moved, seemingly unworried by the falling building and the death that was almost close enough to touch.

Arthur could see the fire coming towards them, moving treacle-slow, like Merlin had slowed down time, or something, which was an insane idea; no magic user could do that. Arthur knew the limitations of magic as well as he knew the back of his hand. They'd been hammered into his head throughout his life.

‘No magic is irreversible. Magic works around the laws of physics, it does not break them. Magic cannot undo the past.’

Time was out of bounds for magic. You could step outside of it for a minute or two, but you couldn’t affect the flow of the world.

But the fire should have hit them by now, Arthur knew. The explosion had gone on too long, and the fire was creeping along. They should have been swallowed by the flames before they even made it to the first door.

He glanced at Merlin, who was holding out a hand and saying words that Arthur couldn’t hear. He glanced at Gwaine, who just nodded back to Merlin with a sure look. Trust him, Arthur could almost hear.

Then, all at once, the fire sped up again and as it was about to hit them it... didn’t.

It flowed around the three of them like they were encased in a giant bubble, rippling blue where it seemed to hit the bubble’s edge.

“What the-?” Arthur asked, only the realising that the sound had been cut off at all.

“Magic,” Merlin said, exasperated. “I thought we’d covered that.”

“It does come in useful from time to time,” Gwaine said.

“But you just...” Arthur didn’t say it, didn’t let himself put the words onto his tongue. "Right, magic. You know, one day that excuse is going to get old."

“Arthur,” Merlin said. His voice was low and soft, almost liquid, and Arthur knew that tone too well for comfort. It was the tone used for early morning confidences and those times, long past, when it was just the two of them with the world shut out. It was Merlin's pillow talk voice, his cajoling voice, his touchy-feely voice.

“Yes, Merlin?” he said back, keeping his own voice abrupt. "Was there something you needed to say?"

“Well,” Merlin looked wary when he caught Arthur's eye, but he was not quite willing to keep his opinions to himself. "It was just that... It was Morgana."

“I can recognise my own step-sister when I see her, thank you." Gwaine was being mercifully silence, showing some of the tact that he so rarely used. Arthur couldn't bring himself to look at him though. There might be sympathy in his expression, and sympathy from Gwaine would be too great an insult to be borne. “What about her?”

“Are you alright?” Merlin hazarded.

“I’m fine, Merlin,” Arthur lied. “We already knew it was someone who could get inside information. It's not that big a leap." Apart from how it was, because it was Morgana, who had just looked at him with such hatred and who had just confessed to ripping his father to pieces.

“But she is your-”

“We're not going to talk about this,” Arthur said, clapping Merlin on the shoulder and straightening up. Because they weren’t, not ever again. This conversation was never going to happen. Even if they killed Morgana and stood in a pool of her blood, they were not going to talk about it. They weren’t going to talk about the fact that he had ever trusted her, or that she was family, because he was not about to cry into Merlin's shoulder about it. “And if you do talk about it, I will make your life a living hell. Do you understand me, Merlin?"

“Uh... yes?”

“Good. Now, in case you hadn't noticed, it seems to be a little safer out there, and we should probably get going before someone's sent in here to look for us. Don't you think?"

They left the building in uncomfortable silence. Well, Arthur did. Gwaine left the building whistling a little under his breath and commenting on how a good fire always made things look simpler, didn’t you think?

“You two do realise that this means they have all of the stones,” Gwaine said after a minute.

“It had crossed my mind,” Arthur agreed, wondering when people were going to stop pointing out the bleeding obvious.

“So essentially, from here on in it’s not so much a question of if we die, as a question of when.”

“You’re welcome to run for the hills,” Arthur said. “Save your own skin. I’m sure we can handle it.”

“You know your problem, Arthur," Gwaine said, swinging an arm round Arthur's shoulders. "You just don't have the imagination. Why on earth would I leave now, just when it’s getting interesting?"

“We're all crazy," Merlin said, sounding surprisingly okay for someone who had just almost been burnt to a crisp. "We're all mad, and we're going to die."

“But at least we’ll go down together,” Gwaine said, raising his hand as if holding a drink. “One for all, and all that.”

“We’re not the three buggering musketeers," Arthur said, shrugging Gwaine's arm off.

“Pity,” Gwaine called out behind him. “I mean, I’ve never been a great fan of muskets, but the buggery I could really get behind... if you know what I mean."

“Deaf Australian Wallabies would know what you meant!" Arthur said, turning. Gwaine just smirked back at him, hands stuck in his pockets, not blushing a little bit. Merlin, meanwhile, was biting his lips together to stop himself from laughing. "You know your problem, Gwaine?”

“Enlighten me.”

“You're just not funny."

“And you don’t have a sense of humour.”

“And you think everything’s a bloody joke.”

“Life’s easier when you’re laughing...” Gwaine said, surprisingly serious. “You should try it some time. Might get rid of those frown lines you're wearing into your pretty face."

“I laugh when things are funny," Arthur said. Gwaine patted him on the shoulder in mock sympathy as he went by. "I do... and I don't have wrinkles. He glared at Merlin who was smiling inanely (and inappropriately). "I don't."

“Just a few," Merlin said with a shrug, "but they're very distinguished." Then he walked past too, and Arthur gaped at the burnt out shell of a building they had just come from, unable to quite come up with the words.

“How did I end up stuck with you?” he asked.

“I think I should be asking that," Merlin said. "After all, one of you just followed me home one day, and the other turned up on my doorstep."

“You must have done something very good, to deserve a reward like that," Gwaine commented. "Well, and then done something very bad, to deserve Arthur."

“If I did something that bad I’m sure you had something to do with it.”

Arthur couldn't deal with it anymore. The banter, the cheer, the thrice damned way they looked at each other, smiling and looking and smiling.

“Does anyone actually have an idea of where we’re going?” he asked, making them both turn around to look at him for a change.

“Uh... I'm just following Gwaine," Merlin said, helpfully.

“I was just walking away from the giant bomb site,” Gwaine said with a shrug. "You went first," he gestured at Arthur.

“I -" don't have a clue, Arthur was about to say, but the words dried up on his tongue. "This way," he said, pointing down a side street. "Definitely this way." He remembered Leon telling him which way to go, but he couldn’t remember anymore. It was lost in thoughts of Morgana and his father. But it was always best to be decisive, even if you were being decisively wrong.

“And you’re sure about that?” Merlin asked.

“Of course I’m sure.” Arthur snapped.

“Realising of course, that now would be a rubbish time to get lost, really, as we're going to have to work out where Morgana's taken the stones, and work out how to get there and how to stop her and we might need to get there really quite fast,” Merlin continued, as though Arthur hadn’t just said that he was sure, one hundred percent sure (if you rounded up a little).

“No Merlin, I hadn't considered any of that. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, otherwise the end of the world and our imminent deaths would surely have slipped my mind."

“Just checking,” Merlin said. “Sometimes you do forget the important things.”

“Shut up, Merlin.”

“Oh, it is lovely to have the old team back together again,” Gwaine said, flipping his hair out of his eyes in a way that was far more annoying than attractive, Arthur was sure. Definitely more annoying. "Just like old times."

“Remember that time when I shot you in the foot?” Arthur asked. Gwaine winced and nodded. "Good."

They had barely walked half a block before a car pulled up next to them.

Gwaine stepped away, his hand going to the small of his back, where Arthur could see a suspicious looking lump. That answered the question of what else had been in that bag then. Not just the explosives.

Merlin’s hand was already extending when the window wound down and Arthur found himself face to face with Leon, who had never looked quite that relieved in all the time Arthur had known him.

“Get in,” Leon said and on his other side, Arthur could see Lancelot behind the wheel. “Quickly.”

Arthur, Merlin and Gwaine climbed into the back. Pleasantries of some sort were exchanged, though Arthur couldn’t have said what, even under threat of death. His mind switched off, because Leon and Lancelot were here, looking professional, and like they knew what they were doing, and they knew where they were going. So Arthur wasn’t stumbling around blindly anymore.

He let his head drop back against the head rest, staring out of the window, and let his mind drift.

*

-

part 7

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kattale: Gwaine2kattale on August 15th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)
Not even finished yet, and I have to love you forever for the post-explosion banter. And the implied missing sex scene, for which I plan to beg and plead on my knees. More when I've finished - this is riveting!
Tama-abi: colin islandtama_abi on August 16th, 2011 01:56 am (UTC)
Lady, I expect to read this scene where Arthur parts way with his trousers very soon!!!!

Loving it so far! Thank you!