definewisdom: (Default)
[personal profile] definewisdom
part 4

-


“Why aren’t they following us?” Arthur asked as they scrambled into the car.

“They’re thralls,” Merlin said, as though that explained everything.

“Meaning?”

“They follow orders. And that’s all they do. They weren’t sent there for us, they were sent there for the stone and Freya. As long as we’re not in their way, then we won’t be part of their plan.”

“That’s good.”

“We’ll still have to ditch the car,” Merlin said. “They’ll report back, and they’ll have the number plate. We’re only safe until they get back to whoever’s controlling them, then we’re next on the list.”

“They had guns,” Gwaine said.

“Yes,” Arthur agreed, looking at Gwaine curiously. He wasn’t the sort of person to go into shock. “I noticed that while they were shooting at me.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Gwaine said. “I meant that they had guns. Guns kill people with bullets, they don’t rip them apart and paint their blood on the ceiling. Could one of the thralls be using that kind of magic?”

“No,” Merlin said with certainty. “They’re just drones. Magic requires a certain amount of independence.”

“Then they weren’t the people who went after Nimueh,” Gwaine said.

“Or my father,” Arthur added. He frowned. “But why send the thralls after Freya and go after the other two personally?”

“The girl could change into a panther,” Gwaine pointed out. “I wouldn’t want to go up against that.”

“Nimueh could kill you with a smile,” Merlin said. “Compared to her, Freya’s… Freya’s an easy target.” Arthur watched him swallow. “It’s got to be something else.”

“Maybe they’re busy,” Gwaine suggested.

“Busy? Doing what?” Arthur asked.

“Who knows. But I’m willing to bet it’s not good.”

*

“I understand the complications, Sir,” Morgause Treherne was saying as Gwen knocked on the open door of Uther’s office. “But this was a targeted trap.” She waved Gwen in. “If the agents involved had been slightly slower to act, then there wouldn’t be anything left of them. You appointed me because I know more about this department than anyone else you could have appointed. The last time something like this happened, the Avalon Council was behind it.”

Gwen walked up to the desk and dropped the papers onto it with a smile. Morgause smiled back blankly.

“It’s precisely because Uther Pendragon’s dead that I think this is so important. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence. Either whoever killed him, his son or whoever else it turns out to be, was working with some other organisation, or news of his death has reached people who are taking advantage of the situation. It’s imperative that we take action to prevent this from becoming a national crisis. I want to declare a state of emergency.

“Yes, sir, I know what that will mean. But I need access to those resources if I’m going to control this situation.” Morgause lifted a hand to gesture Gwen back from the door.

“Yes, sir, I understand.

“Of course,” There was a pause and Morgause hung up. She looked up at Gwen, frowning.

“The events of today are unprecedented,” Morgause said. “One hell of a first day, hm?” Gwen nodded.

“Did you want something?”

“There are forms I need to sign to declare a state of emergency.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Gwen agreed.

“Could you get them for me? I’m afraid there are no other options.”

“Certainly.”

Gwen reached the door when Morgause’s mobile phone rang. She snatched it up.

“Tell me you have good news…

“Who?”

Gwen hurried out of the door and shut it behind her, taking a deep breath.

A state of emergency. There hadn’t been one of those in all the time she had worked at the Department. There were rumours that there had only ever been one in the whole history of the Department, after the death of Ygraine Pendragon. If Morgause was declaring a state of emergency, then things were more serious than she had ever imagined.

She walked back to her desk, to print off the forms.

*

“We shouldn’t be stealing a car,” Arthur said, not looking behind him at where a combination of Merlin’s magic and Gwaine’s less than legal skills were hotwiring a car.

“What else do you suggest we do?” Gwaine asked. “Walk into a car rental place and present our identification? In case you’d forgotten, we’re not being hunted down for tea and crumpets.”

“We could take public transport,” Arthur suggested.

“Really, because your stitches burst during our little scuffle earlier, and the blood’s soaking through your shirt,” Gwaine told him. “Someone might just notice that.”

The engine revved into life.

“Just because we’re being called criminals, doesn’t mean we need to act like them.”

“Nothing wrong with being a criminal,” Gwaine told him as Arthur turned around to look at their new car. At least, he thought bleakly, it didn’t look like as much of a death trap as Merlin’s had. “I’ll have you know that before I bumped into you and Merlin I was a very successful one.”

“I don’t want to know,” Arthur said.

“Really? I’ve got some brilliant stories…”

“Gwaine, stop upsetting Arthur’s world view. You know he can’t see the difference between legal and moral.”

“I can see the difference, I just don’t see how anyone could be proud of being a criminal.”

“Ah,” Gwaine said, “but I was a very good criminal.”

They climbed into the car, Gwaine taking the passenger seat, forcing Arthur into the back.

“You couldn’t have stolen a car with more leg space?” he asked.

“If you wanted a say in what sort of car we got, you could have helped.”

“Now,” Merlin said, cutting in with a tone of forced optimism. Arthur could tell that he was trying not to think of Freya. “Let’s get back home.”

*

“Gwen,” Leon said, walking into the main office of the Department. It was a huge, open plan room, all sleek shining desks and the newest computers. It looked like something out of a sci-fi show from his childhood, and in the middle of it all was Gwen, listening to something over her headset and her fingers typing themselves into a blur across the keyboard.

She smiled at him in acknowledgement.

“Yes sir, that’s understood,” she told whoever was on the other end of the line. “I’m sure that we’ll get that to you as soon as possible.”

Leon sat down in a free chair, feeling less comfortable in this room than he ever had. On the other side of the room he could see the investigators poring over files, some of them giving him distinctly suspicious looks over their shoulders. He ignored them as best he could and waited for Gwen to finish.

As she hung up the call, she stood.

“I’ve just got to fetch something from the records room,” she said apologetically. “Can we walk and talk?” Leon shot a glance over to the investigators and nodded briefly. “Brilliant, thanks.”

It was easier to breathe as soon as they were out of the room, and Gwen shook her head at him suddenly, her professional smile falling into a look of near anguish.

“This way,” she said, leading him down towards the records room, which was on a lower level. They stepped into the lift and, as soon as they were in there, she slid the sleeve of her jacket off and twisted a gem in her bracelet. All the colours of the lift suddenly seemed to turn sepia apart from him and Gwen, and the sensation of movement stopped.



“Gaius adapted it,” she said, by way of explanation. “It’s a prototype.”

“It stops time?” Leon asked.

“Yes,” she confirmed, “only for a short time and a short distance. Have you heard from Arthur?”

“He’s not stupid enough to contact me.” Leon lied. He didn’t want to, but as much as he trusted Gwen, he didn’t know if he trusted that device. Magic was tricky.

“He didn’t do it,” Gwen said with complete certainty. “I know he and Uther weren’t seeing eye to eye about things recently, not since Merlin, really. But he would never have…”

“I know,” Leon said, keeping his voice hushed, not quite trusting himself to magical technology. “I need you to look through the footage of that night and get it to me somehow.”

“They’ve locked off all the investigation into Uther’s death,” Gwen told him, her eyes dropping. “No one in the department’s supposed to go near it, to avoid conflict of interest.”

“Gwen,” Leon said. Her eyes snapped up to him and they held each other’s gaze. “I knew your father, and we went to school together. There’s nothing on a computer that you and your brother can’t find.”

“I’ll get it for you,” she said. “I might need Elyan’s help. But if it’ll help Arthur, then I’ll do it.”

“Good.”

“While we’re…” Gwen waved a hand at the strange sepia tone of the world. “Do you know this Aredian?”

“Never heard of him before.”

“There are others. Some man named Cedric insisted on having access to my workstation this morning, and there’s a woman whose name I didn’t catch. They say they’re from the security services and the government, but I’m not sure. They seem different somehow.”

“You think they might have something to do with all of this.”

“I don’t know what to think,” Gwen told him, letting out a deep breath. “I mean, Uther’s suite was the most heavily protected place in the country. No one could have got in there.”

“Apart from Arthur,” Leon said.

“But he wouldn’t,” Gwen repeated, shooting him a hard glance. “So someone got past the impassable security, and someone killed him.”

“They were making a point,” Leon said, remembering the sight of Uther’s face, above the mess of his body. “They wanted us to know that they could get to him and to any of us. They killed him, framed Arthur and they’re going to get away with it. It was a message.”

Gwen paused, as though she was going to say something she didn’t want to.

“They’re asking about Merlin, too. About him and Arthur. They say that it’s because that was the last big security breach but…”

There was a strange flickering, like dull strobe lighting.

“It’s wearing off,” Gwen said. “Before it goes completely – You should know, Morgause is declaring a state of emergency. I heard her on the phone.” Leon opened his mouth to reply, but there was one last flicker of light and the sepia faded away, leaving the world in its true colours again, the lift continuing to move as though it had never stopped.

They went down to the records room, Leon asking some rather inane questions regarding insignificant cases they were supposed to be investigating, Gwen making non-committal answers.

Then Leon walked out and left Gwen to deal with Geoffrey, the head of the records room and one of the more crotchety of the Department’s old guard.

*

They had barely been back in Merlin’s house for a few minutes before a buzzing noise began, like white noise. Arthur was in the kitchen, taking more pain medication, and Merlin ran in.

“We’ve got to go,” he said.

“Why?” Arthur asked.

“That’s the early warning system. Someone’s coming here.” Merlin had a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, and he was pulling his shoes on, hopping from one leg to the other. Arthur hadn’t taken his off yet.

“Where’s Gwaine?” he asked.

“He went to the shop down the road,” Merlin said, looking anxious. “We needed some food; I haven’t been shopping in a week.”

“How-“ Arthur started, “Why-” He gave up, spluttering into silence and headed for the back door, “We’ll pick him up on the way.”

“That’s the plan,” Merlin said, “Now - go.”

They were out of the back door in seconds and jumping over the fence into the garden of the next door neighbours. They sprinted over the next lawn and then scaled the next fence into the next garden.

Arthur was grateful he had had the time to take the new dose of painkillers. He knew that the running and the climbing must have been opening old wounds up again, but he couldn’t really feel them.

When they were four gardens away, they heard a shout from behind them.

“They know we’ve run for it,” Merlin said. “How could they know we’d just left?”

“The toaster,” Arthur said. “You had some bread I…” he stopped talking to concentrate on climbing the next fence, and risked a glance behind them, He could see the tops of heads in the back garden of Merlin’s house.

Three more gardens and they reached the end of the street. Arthur went over first, and he caught Merlin’s bag as he swung it over, and then almost ended up being squashed under Merlin himself as he catapulted himself over the fence.

“Where’s the shop?” Arthur asked. Merlin pointed and started walking, Arthur following.

They rounded the corner and came out by the shop. Arthur could see a huge car outside Merlin’s house, and several men outside. One of them had long brown hair.

“He’ll be in here,” Merlin said, indicating the shop. But Arthur held up a hand as he caught sight of something.

“I don’t think he will,” he said.

Two of the men half way down the street seemed to be struggling with something, and when they turned around, Arthur could see Gwaine between them, his arms caught. Just as Arthur caught sight of him, one of the other men, the one with the longer hair, caught sight of them and shouted, pointing.

The distraction was just what Gwaine needed to get away from the men holding him, Arthur saw one of them hit the ground.

“RUN!” Gwaine’s voice echoed up the street. Then he followed his own advice and ran, away from them, towards the other end of the street.

Arthur grabbed hold of Merlin, who seemed poised to start running in the wrong direction, and pulled him in the opposite direction, away from the men and Gwaine.

“We’ve got to help him,” Merlin insisted, Arthur hauled him round the corner, practically lifting him off his feet.

There were gunshots.

“We need to get out of here.”

“Gwaine’s got the stone,” Merlin said.

Footsteps clattered on the pavement, and there was the distant sound of gunshots.

“He ran away from us for a reason,” Arthur said. “They were expecting him to go towards us. That gave him an extra second’s head start, and it split their forces. He doesn’t want us to go back for him.”

“But if they get him.” Merlin started moving on his own, but he was still looking behind them.

“Do you trust him?” Arthur asked. Merlin turned his face towards him, looking at Arthur for the first time since they had caught sight of Gwaine.

“Of course.”

“Then trust him to know what he’s doing,” Arthur said. “I don’t know him as well as you do, but if I know one thing about him, it’s that he’s about as good at getting himself out of trouble as he is at getting into it.”

We’re going to need a new car,” Merlin said after a moment, running properly.

“Two cars in one day.”

“You’re wanted for murder, Arthur,” Merlin pointed out, “what’s a little car theft added on to that?”

“You have a point.”

*

Aredian had his shark smile on again. Leon forced himself to smile back, as pleasantly as possible.

“Sit down, Agent Harris,” Aredian said. There was an edge to his voice that hadn’t been there before. He sounded smug, and Leon had to swallow back a moment of panic. Does he know? was the first question flashing through his brain. After what Gwen had said, it was possible that they had overheard that phone conversation.

“I prefer to stand,” he said lightly.

“Sit down, Agent Harris,” Aredian repeated, his face losing all trace of nicety. Leon sat as nonchalantly as he could manage and wondered whether they’d send him to the detention centre or to an ordinary prison, or maybe there wouldn’t be any prison at all. They weren’t exactly an official organisation in any traditional sense of the word. It would be easy for them to…

He pulled his brain away from the idea and back to the matter at hand.

“We have a few more questions about Agent Pendragon,” Aredian said, looking down at the sheet of paper in front of him, as though he didn’t know precisely what he was about to say. “Approximately four years ago, there was an incident, I believe.”

Leon had been prepared for that question and thanked Gwen for the heads up.

“One of our agents was discovered to be a magic user.”

“And he ran, with the aid of another of your agents, and he has not yet been discovered,” Aredian continued. “A Merlin Emrys, I believe.”

“Yes, sir,” Leon said calmly, choosing to stare at a spot on Aredian’s cheek rather than look him in the eyes. There was a certain mindset you could get in at times like these, it had been a mindset that had worked well when reporting failure to Uther, where you answered automatically and kept everything so deep down inside that it didn’t even shimmer on the surface. Arthur had never quite managed to get it down, his emotions had always been visible if you were looking hard enough.

“How did that affect Agent Pendragon?”

“He was understandably upset,” Leon replied.

“Of course,” Aredian said, smiling sharply. “Just as he is understandably upset by his father’s death.”

“Yes.”

“That wasn’t a question.” Aredian tapped his fingertips against the table in an arrhythmic beat which set Leon’s teeth on edge. “I can see that from his records, actually. Four years ago they take a distinct turn. Not for the worse, of course, he was always an exemplary agent. Dotted every i and crossed every t, so to speak. But there is a definite pattern. It appears that in the aftermath of the discovery of Mr Emrys’s deception, Agent Pendragon became more reckless.”

“It’s a dangerous job,” Leon said. “Sometimes you have to take risks.”

“He ended up in the hospital seventeen times in one year, and in the scientific research centre with unidentifiable magical injuries five times in the same period of time.”

“Arthur wasn’t afraid to lead from the front,” Leon tried to keep as much of the acid out of his voice as he could. “He didn’t sit back and let other people take the risks for him.”

“You call him Arthur,” Aredian said. “Why is that?”

“We’ve worked closely together for years. It would be strange to refer to him as ‘Agent Pendragon’ all the time.”

“Would you refer to him as a friend?” Aredian asked.

“I see most of my colleagues as friends. It’s difficult not to in this job.”

“A good answer, almost textbook, Agent Harris.”

“And a truthful one.”

“So, as his friend,” Aredian drew the word out like an insinuation, “did you ever have reason to worry about his attitude to his work in the past four years?”

“I-“ Leon looked down at the innocent looking papers in front of Aredian and knew, immediately, where this was going. “He was coping, and I never worried about having him protect my back.”

“Then why did you express concern to a colleague about his drinking? Did Agent Pendragon drink a lot?”

“He overindulged a couple of times, no more than anyone else in this department has done on other occasions.”

“And yet you’ve never mentioned the drinking habits of other colleagues. Would you say that Agent Pendragon had become, or was on his way to becoming an alcoholic?”

“No.”

“But you don’t deny that you expressed your concerns about this?”

“I may have made a comment, in confidence, to a colleague. I never made a formal statement to that effect.”

“So were you or were you not concerned about Agent Pendragon’s alcoholism.”

“He’s not an alcoholic.”

“Answer the question.”

“I-“ Leon drew in a breath. “I was not overly concerned.”

“But you were concerned,” Aredian continued.

“He was upset, of course I was concerned,” Leon snapped.

“Upset about Mr Emrys’s betrayal.”

“Yes.”

“More than anyone else in the department?”

“They worked together a lot. More than anyone else,” Leon clarified, trying to rein back his irritation and gain his calm façade again.

“So they were close?” Aredian’s eyebrow rose up his forehead.

“When you trust someone to keep you alive, you have to be close to them,” Leon said.

“How close would you say that Mr Emrys and Agent Pendragon were?”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t be coy, Agent Harris. I’m asking if you thought that they were lovers.”

“I don’t see what that question has to do with anything that you could be investigating?”

“Agent Pendragon has been erratic since Mr Emrys left. He’s been descending into alcoholism and suicidal tendencies.”

“Arthur’s not suicidal.” But Aredian ignored Leon’s words as though they had never even occurred.

“Our records show that his relationship with his father was rapidly deteriorating as well. If Mr Emrys was his lover then that would explain several things.”

Leon looked Aredian in the eye for the first time since walking in. There wasn’t anything there but reflective, blank blue. He remembered Arthur and Merlin. They had barely been apart and of course, he had wondered. He had always wondered, especially in the years afterwards, when it had been his unofficial job to scrape Arthur off bars and pavements and carry him back to his flat as he murmured Merlin’s name mingled with curses and pleas.

He remembered the way Arthur had used to kick out at Merlin’s office chair, sending him spinning across the room, the way, one week when nothing much was happening, Merlin had built a catapult out of rulers, pencils and elastic bands, just to fire Maltesers at Arthur’s head.

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Right,” Aredian said. “You said earlier that you would refer to all your colleagues as friends. Would you also have referred to Mr Emrys as such?”

“Yes,” Leon said, without even pausing.

“And yet you have no idea whether two of your friends – people you trusted to watch your back, people you trusted with your life – were in a relationship? I thought you were supposed to be observant, Agent Harris.” Leon dragged his eyes away from Aredian’s and studied a spot on the far wall as closely as he could.

“You had a lucky escape this morning,” Aredian said, changing tack again, making Leon’s eyes dart back to him in surprise for a split second before he could regain composure. “I understand that you saved the lives of both Agent Smith and my own colleague.”

“It was a close call.”

“How did that work, exactly?” Aredian asked. His voice sounded light and interested, but in the same way that the tide went out before a tsunami hit.

“I followed procedure.”

“Ah, procedure,” Aredian said. “My colleague says that ‘procedure’ involved extensive equipment and what seemed, from his point of view, to be an enormous amount of luck.” Leon thought about Cedric, who had been still been gibbering a little when he had left him. “But I’ve looked through the books of procedure, and what you were on appeared to be nothing more than a small anomaly in the electro-magnetic fields. Standard procedure calls for no more technical equipment than a handheld magic detection device. Yet you deliberately chose not to touch the infected house. Why is that?”

“It was too quiet,” Leon said slowly. “I’ve been doing this job for almost twelve years. You learn to trust your instincts.”

“Your instincts are clearly finely tuned… about these sorts of things, if not others.”

“Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. It never hurts to take precautions.”

“You knew to hide behind the car, you knew not to touch the door,” Aredian went on, “some people would balk at calling that luck, or instinct. Some people might think that your instincts were based on information.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just pointing out that such good luck seems rather unlikely, wouldn’t you agree.”

“You’re saying that something’s wrong because I’m good at my job.”

“If anyone else had been sent out to that house this morning do you think they would have come back alive?” Aredian asked.

“So I’m being interrogated because I’m alive?”

“Did you have information about that house this morning?”

“You think I had something to do with it? If I had had anything to do with that trap, why would I have gone myself? Surely if I had laid a trap like that I would have done it for some other reason than to almost kill myself?”

“Perhaps you didn’t realise that it was a trap until you were told.”

“Told by who?”

“My colleague reported that you had a phone call just before you instinctively decided to take extra precautions. Who was that phone call from?”

“A contact, about another case entirely.”

“No name?”

“Informants names are protected, for their own safety, and for the safety of our information network,” Leon said. “Just the same as with the police. You can’t ask me to give up my sources. You don’t have that level of clearance.”

“No. But I am allowed to make my own conclusions based on the evidence at hand, and that evidence is pointing a rather large finger at you.”

“Sir?” Leon felt as though the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. He breathed through his nose as steadily as he could and tried to stop his alarm from showing on his face. He watched as Aredian slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out an evidence bag with something small and gold in the bottom, a pin in the shape of a dragon.

“I believe this pin is given to Agents for serving in the department for ten years,” Aredian said, dropping it onto the table. Leon’s fingers when automatically to the breast pocket of his jacket, but he only felt the hole where the pin had gone. “There are seven agents who have one of these. Arthur Pendragon was not one of them, though I believe he wears the silver pin for five years service. All the others have accounted for theirs. Yours, however, seems to be missing.”

Leon reached out for the bag. Aredian didn’t stop him, so he picked it up. The dragon was definitely his, the tip of the wing had been bent back six months ago when it had fallen on the floor and he had stood on it accidentally. It was exactly as he remembered it being, apart from a pattern of dark brown specks across it.

“Where did you find this?” he asked, trying to remember when he last knew that he had had it.

“It was on the floor, five feet from Uther Pendragon’s body.”

“I was there this morning, it could have fallen then.”

“The marks on it are blood, Uther Pendragon’s blood,” Aredian told him, “they’re consistent with high velocity spatter our experts assure me.”

“I had nothing to do with Uther’s death. This proves nothing. I wear this on my jacket, and I leave my jacket places all the time. It could have been taken from me by anyone.”

“By Arthur, perhaps?” Leon just glared at him, his fingers brushing round the badge, tracing over its lines for some form of comfort. It didn’t give him any. “You’re right, of course, we can’t arrest you for murder based on a badge. Your jacket has no signs of blood on it, after all, and you could have lost it at any time. But combined with other factors – your close friendship with Arthur Pendragon, your detailed knowledge of this morning’s attack, you understand that we can’t allow you to continue working here unchecked.”

“You’re firing me?”

“For the time being you are suspended indefinitely and without pay, until an investigation into your activities can be completed. You will be monitored.”


“I’m being suspended for being too good at my job,” Leon said in disbelief.

“Please hand over your gun and your pass-card for this building. You will be escorted home by one of my colleagues.”

“I know my way home, thanks.”

“The escort is not optional,” Aredian stood up, prompting Leon to do the same, if only so that he could have the slight advantage in height, if nothing else. “Your gun and your pass-card, please.”

“Sir.” Leon pulled his gun from its holster and placed it onto the table carefully. He unclipped his pass-card from his shirt pocket and placed that down next to it.

“Will you require anything from your desk?” Aredian asked.

“Do I have a choice?”

“Nothing that belongs to the department,” Aredian told him, “but your personal effects, of course.”

“Then no, there’s nothing in my desk.”

The walk from the interrogation room through the heart of the department was both longer and shorter than he had ever seen it before. He passed people on the way out who watched him with huge, shocked eyes. He tried not to look at them, concentrating on the back of the man in front of him – his own personal guard. But what little glimpses he caught out of the side of his eyes, gave him the impression that his departure was causing more worry than suspicion.

They had reached the front desk when Gwen came flying towards them, trying to combine speed and professionalism and succeeding after a fashion. He smiled at her as she caught up.

“Leon!” she said, catching hold of his arm. “I just heard…” She looked at the man next to him bitterly. “I can’t believe that they’d ever think that you…” Gwen trailed off and sighed, shaking her head. Then she did the unexpected and flung her arms around his neck. He tried not to look too surprised and tentatively hugged her back. Then, as she pulled back, he felt something drop into his jacket pocket and he caught her eye. “Be careful,” she said, before turning to walk away.

He didn’t put his hands into his pockets immediately. He didn’t even let his finger twitch in that direction, though his curiosity was on edge. He cast one long glance back at Gwen’s retreating back as she walked towards the lifts, and then turned as his guard coughed impatiently.

*

The drive back was uncomfortable and awkward. The guard didn’t speak more than three words the whole time, two of which were ‘seat belt’ and the other was a muttered curse as another driver cut in front of him. Leon sat in the back, trying to pretend that made it more like being in a taxi, than being in a police car.

He got out without waiting for permission when they pulled up outside his house, and he glanced around the street. There were at least three people watching the place, he could see without even trying. He ignored the weight of their gazes as best as he could, and unlocked the door, walking in and picking up his junk mail from the doormat.

There was no one for him to talk to at home, which was a blessing. He didn’t think he could handle explanations at this point.

He walked into the living room and flopped back onto the sofa, hyperaware that whoever was watching him had more than enough money and time to have bugged his entire house.

He slipped his hand into his pocket experimentally and felt it close around three things. A slip of folded paper, a mobile phone and something strange, rounded shapes that moved like a chain.

He frowned, fiddling with the mystery item. His fingers slid over smooth hemispheres and then dipped into gaps. He finally reached an end, which had some sort of moving part which he could pull back with a fingernail and which snapped back into place, as though spring-loaded.

It came to him in a flash of inspiration. Gwen’s bracelet. He sat up a little straighter without meaning to, before remembering the surveillance, which must have been why she had given it to him in the first place. There was no point in passing on a secret message if it would be monitored immediately.

He found each of the hemispheres again – gems he knew now – and pushed at them slightly until he found the one which gave way. He turned it and watched the colours fade into sepia again, memorising his exact position before pulling the paper and the mobile out of his pocket.

The paper had a mobile number written on it in Gwen’s precise handwriting. Leon dialled it immediately, knowing instinctively that the phone was more secure than any other phone he could use. All he could hear for a few seconds was dial tone, and he wondered whether the effects of the bracelet would wear off before he finished the phone call. Then it finally began to ring and he heaved a sigh of relief, though one eye was on the window out of some sort of nervousness.

The phone at the other end of the line was answered and a familiar voice said.

“Gwen, what’s happened?”

“Lancelot?” Leon said, unable to keep the incredulity out of his voice. He knew that Gwen and Lancelot had been close. But Lancelot had left the Department almost four years ago, in the aftermath of Merlin’s escape. Why would Gwen want him to contact Lancelot, of all people?

“Leon?” Lancelot said, echoing him in disbelief. “How did you get this number? Is Gwen okay?”

“She’s fine,” Leon assured him down the line, “it’s me that’s in trouble. She gave me this number.”

“Is this about Uther?”

“You know about that?”

“Everyone who knows anything about magic knows about that.”

“Someone’s set Arthur up,” Leon said, “and the Internal Affairs people are on some kind of witch hunt. I’m on suspension pending investigation. They think I’m a traitor.”

“Can you get away unseen?”

“I don’t think so,” Leon admitted.

“That’s more difficult,” Lancelot told him, “but if you still live at the same address I think we can get to you. Is that okay?”

“That sounds like a good idea. I don’t… I don’t trust Internal Affairs,” Leon admitted out loud for the first time. They’re certain that Arthur did it and the interim director she’s… She’s magical.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive.”

“We’ll get to you as soon as we can,” Lancelot told him. “Try and act normal.”

“I’m not sure what ‘normal’ is in this situation.” That earned him a ragged laugh from the other end.

“Fair point. See you shortly.” Lancelot hung up, just in time, as the sepia began to shimmer.

Leon stuffed the phone and paper back into his pocket and resumed his position as carefully as he could.

The world faded into colour again and he propped his feet up on the table. His mind spun with questions. Why had Gwen given him Lance’s number? Who were the ‘we’ that Lance was talking about? And the bigger questions, about the department and its new director, about who the men outside his house were working for, about who had taken his ten year service badge and worn it to kill Uther Pendragon.

He dropped his head back against the sofa and closed his eyes, groaning.

*

Arthur opened the passenger side door of the car and threw Merlin into the passenger seat, grabbing the keys from his pocket. There were some shots after them, and one of their pursuers made it to the car door. Merlin’s shield was the only thing that prevented Arthur from having his brains blown out at close range, but it didn’t stop the car window from shattering into a thousand sharp, shimmering pieces.

A wave of Merlin’s hand and the ignition was turning and the car flared into life.

“Useful,” Arthur muttered, but he didn’t get a response.

He hit the accelerator and drove as fast and as far as he could. As he looked in the mirror he saw a man staring after them with more purpose than any of the others had had. He didn’t hold himself like a zombie or a puppet. He had long dark hair but that was all Arthur could really see. He didn’t stick around long enough to see more.

“We can’t go back to your house,” Arthur said. “And we’ll have to ditch the car. We’ll have to find some way to contact Gwaine though.”

He refused to believe that Gwaine was dead. The idea didn’t fit into his brain. For all his insanity and risk taking, Gwaine had always seemed strangely invincible. The idea of him shot dead just didn’t work, not even a little bit.

“He’ll know where I’ll go,” Merlin said. “We have back up plans, and stuff.”

“What do you mean?” Arthur asked. He couldn’t stop checking his rear view mirror, convinced that they were being followed, though it would take their pursuers too long to get back to their vehicle and come after them.

“There’s a travel lodge,” Merlin said. “We should check in there with the name ‘Mr Bristow’.”

“You have a contingency plan for if you can’t go back to your own house?” Arthur asked. He knew he worked for a secret government organisation, but he’d never heard anything quite so ridiculously James Bond in his life.

“We’re on the run from the government,” Merlin said, “it was always going to be a possibility.” He didn’t manage to put the humour into that sentence that Arthur would have expected, and when Arthur stopped his obsessive mirror checking long enough to glance over at him, he saw that Merlin looked broken.

“They’ll be fine,” Arthur said. “Gwaine’s run away from more men with guns than anyone else I know, and he’s never even been shot.”

Merlin nodded, but he didn’t say anything.

*

They made it to the travel lodge all right, and the woman at the desk didn’t even bat an eyelid when she looked at them. Arthur’s photograph either hadn’t been circulated, or she didn’t watch the news.

They walked up to the room in silence, eyeing everyone who passed them with concern and suspicion. It wasn’t until the door of their room had closed behind them that Arthur let his shoulders relax even a little. But Merlin was still wound up. He sat on the end of the bed, bolt upright. Arthur took the desk chair. He was starting to ache again, and he knew that if he sat anywhere comfortable then he’d never get back up.

“Gwaine should be here by now,” Merlin said, pacing the room again. Arthur glared at his legs from the desk chair. It was all he could see without raising his head, and he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to make eye contact, not right now. The flow of hope that Merlin had managed to bring about that morning had ebbed away second by second, leaving him in no doubt that this nightmare would never end.

“He probably got distracted by some alcohol, or a girl,” Arthur managed to say, though there was no energy in the words.

“He wouldn’t do that,” Merlin said. "I know what you think of him, but he's not like that."

“He’s never exactly shown signs of professionalism, Merlin,” Arthur said. "When we first met him he was half naked in a bar."

“Then it’s a good thing he’s not working in a professional capacity right now then, isn’t it?” Merlin's tone dragged Arthur’s eyes to meet his. "Believe me when I say that there is nothing Gwaine wouldn't do for his friends."

“You mean there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you."

Merlin stared back at him, clearly insulted by something in his tone or affronted by the words themselves. He didn't understand why, Gwaine had always made it clear where his loyalties lay, hadn't he?

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m pretty much the only friend he’s got,” Merlin snapped back, though as soon as the words were out of his mouth his face spasmed with guilt for a moment. “And he’s pretty much the only friend I’ve got as well.”

“Yes, I've heard that betrayal can be lonely," Arthur said. There was a strange, vicious sort of glee that stabbed through him when he saw Merlin flinch back, as though struck. Good, he thought, feel guilty, and underneath that, quieter, more brokenly: you left me.

“I never –“ Merlin began, but then he threw up his arms in exasperation. "You really want to do this now? In the middle of all this you want to have this conversation? Because we will, if you want."

“I-“ Arthur started, but apparently Merlin was more interested in a monologue than a conversation, because he kept going as though Arthur hadn’t even spoken.

“I’m magic. I’m a sorcerer. No I didn’t tell you. Surprise!” Sparks flew from Merlin's hands, forming a small gold Pegasus that flew between them. Arthur's mouth stayed open, jaw relaxing as no words came. “Is that what you wanted me to say? When would have been the best time, do you think? While we were tracking down dangerous magical killers? While we were running for our lives? While we were filling in reports recommending that people be remanded in detention for the rest of their lives? While we were standing in front of your father as he told us that we needed to 'strike down harder on the magical menace'?"

“He never used the phrase magical menace in his life,” Arthur said. It was inappropriate and completely out of line, but it was enough to steal the next words from Merlin's mouth. "How about telling me when we were chatting over beers? When we got coffee on a break in between all-nighters. When I fell asleep on your floor? When you fell asleep on my sofa and snored like a warthog... when you woke up in my bed the first time, or -- Fuck Merlin! -- maybe the night before that when we... You had chances. Don't act like you didn't have chances."

“And if I’d said it then,” Merlin asked, standing his ground with more composure than Arthur thought he had ever seen on the man’s face before. “If I had said that, then, what would have happened next?”

Arthur opened his mouth to say something comforting, something like 'exactly what happened next when you didn't' or 'I wouldn't have cared'. But the words weren't true. He didn't know what he would have done. He brought down his fist on the fake wood of the desktop, the bang resounding through the room like a gunshot.

“That’s what I thought,” Merlin said. His voice was quiet now.

“I wish you’d told me,” Arthur replied. Though he knew that was a lie too. He was selfishly glad that it hadn’t happened that way, that he hadn’t been forced to make that decision. “I wish I knew.” He didn’t mean about the magic that time though. He wished he knew what he would have done if Merlin had told him. He wished that he could have had Gwaine's courage and stood up and sided with Merlin, to hell with the consequences. He wished he had that much freedom in his actions.

“You couldn’t have stayed,” he said into the rather hollow silence. “Even if I hadn’t,” pointed a gun at you and threatened your life, “you couldn’t have stayed. They all saw.”

“I know,” Merlin said. Arthur watched him fall back onto the hotel bed with a huff of a sigh. He watched the bounce of his knees against the mattress. “I know. But I wish it hadn’t ended like that.”

“I’m glad,” Arthur began, uncertain how to voice the words. He didn’t want to voice them, not even a little bit. “I’m glad you had someone." He couldn't quite bring himself to say Gwaine as though the name would make it more tangible somehow.

“So am I."

The room felt broken. Arthur sitting by the desk, Merlin thrown down on the bed. The bland expanse of functional hotel carpet between them. There were cars rushing past outside and Arthur wondered how he hadn't noticed that they were facing the road until then. He noticed things like that. It was his job to notice things like that. The traffic noises seemed to grow louder second by second.

“I should have told you,” Merlin said. He sounded as uncomfortable as Arthur felt.

“I know why you didn’t,” Arthur said, almost without wanting to.

“I still should have told you. I should have trusted you,” Merlin shrugged.

“Did Gwaine know?” Arthur asked. It wasn’t the question he wanted to ask, but it was safer than ‘did you miss me?’ and ‘do you still want me?’ which were both threatening to run off his tongue. “Before, I mean.”

“No,” Merlin said immediately and without hesitation. “It was as much of a surprise to him that day as it was to you.”

Arthur doubted that that was true. He doubted that anyone had ever been as surprised as he had been that day when he had gritted his teeth and screwed his eyes shut, expecting to be crushed only to find himself protected, and his boyfriend with one hand extended and his eyes bright gold.

“Lancelot knew,” Merlin said, after a moment. “I didn’t tell him, he found out.”

Arthur wanted to be annoyed about that, but he found that he couldn’t, not really. Lancelot was the sort of person who knew things like that, and he hadn’t threatened Merlin’s life. He had even stood in Merlin’s corner.

“He quit, you know,” Arthur said after a moment. “I think it was in protest for what happened to you, but he never said. But he left.”

“He’s a good man,” Merlin said with a half smile.

Arthur didn’t know whether to agree with that or not. There was the definite implication behind the words ‘you’re not’. He didn’t think that Merlin meant it like that, but it was undeniable. Gwaine and Lancelot, they had both stood up for their friend in their own ways. They had dared to fight for him, but Arthur hadn’t. Arthur had stayed and fallen apart. He’d gone out and got drunk, and then he’d picked himself up and wobbled on for another few months before repeating the process. He swallowed down his pride and opened his mouth, the apology rising steadily up his throat. But nothing came

"He'll be fine," Arthur said, after seconds oozed into minutes. "He always is, remember."

Merlin shot him a momentary, dazzling grin, before his face fell slack again.

“I know,” he said. “He can take care of himself. But I always feel responsible. You were right when you said he left for me. He came with me and I've done nothing but-"

“He can also make his own decisions,” Arthur pointed out. "Though I don't know which idea is worse: Gwaine on his own, or Gwaine with help from your rather inept brain cells.”

“Hey!” Merlin’s arm reached out to grab a pillow and lob it at him. Arthur caught it easily. "I thought you were apologising for being an enormous git.”

“If either of us was apologising, Merlin, it was you." The pillow was thrown back, hitting Merlin quite satisfyingly in the face, muffling his cry of outrage.

Feeling brave, Arthur stood up and crossed the fissure in the room until his knee was less than ten centimetres from Merlin’s. Merlin, face still hidden beneath the pillow (which he was spectacularly failing to get off his face with bizarre arm flails) didn’t even notice.

“I’m actually surprised either of you lasted this long,” Arthur said as airily as he could. “You have no idea how easy you were to track down when I started looking.”

The pillow finally lost the fight, flung across the room by a flick of magic (and why hadn’t Merlin just done that in the first place?) Merlin started when he saw Arthur so close and shrugged, a movement that looked a lot stranger on someone lying down, the duvet bunching around him.

“We were stealthy," he complained, "we were really stealthy."

“You don’t even know the meaning of the word,” Arthur told him, “and Gwaine's idea of stealth is just not blowing up anything bigger than a car." Merlin chuckled a little.

“Your fake name is the name of your imaginary pet dog," Arthur said after another moment. Merlin shrugged again, his t-shirt riding up as he did so, and refusing to go back down.

“Only you would have known that!" Merlin protested. "I only ever told you and Will."

“You don’t seem to have grasped the mechanics of the situation very well,” Arthur said, speaking a little more slowly just to hammer his point home. “I was the person you were hiding from. Leaving clues that I could see through in a heartbeat was hardly the best idea.”

“I wasn’t hiding from you,” Merlin said. He was looking at Arthur with a gaze that saw right through him.

“I could have told my father,” Arthur said. “I could have hunted you down and killed you. I could have sent rabid wyverns after you – we have some you know, in the research centre.”

“You didn't,” Merlin said. His grin was smug and Arthur sighed in infuriation at his ridiculous faith.

“How are you even alive?” he asked.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Merlin retorted. “You were always useless without me. The number of times I saved your neck from being broken, or your heart from being ripped out of your chest, or your head from being eaten, or your skin from being flayed from your bones."

“I got myself out of tho-“ Arthur started, before noticing Merlin’s rather gleeful grin. “You? You and your meddling?"

“Thank you, Merlin, for saving my arse repeatedly without any reward."

You?” Arthur asked again, aghast. “Seriously, you?”

“You’ve had four years to work it out and you’re really only now getting to this bit?” Merlin asked, reaching up to wrap his knuckles lightly against Arthur’s forehead, making Arthur dimly aware that he must have sat down on the edge of the bed at some point. “And you tell me I’m slow.”

“You are.”

“Well, you’re slower.”

“Any slower than you and I’d be going through my life backwards,” Arthur retorted, Making Merlin look smug. “No, not like that. I didn’t mean. Just… fuck. You saved my life.”

“And you threatened to kill me."

“I didn’t know,” Arthur said. “I didn’t know.”

“You learnt about my magic after I used it to stop a falling building from crushing you to death. What did you think I was using it for the rest of the time?"

“I didn’t know.” Arthur wondered if he should say the rest, tell Merlin the ‘I had to’ because if he hadn’t then maybe Merlin would have been stupid enough not to run. Arthur had had to take away any reason he had to stay.

“It’s okay,” Merlin told him, “you don’t need brains. Just get by on your good looks and rippling muscles. I’ll be the brains for both of us.”

Arthur took in Merlin’s rather scarily wide grin and his bright blue eyed gaze and groaned.

“We’re doomed,” he said.

"And that,” Merlin said, triumphantly, “is exactly why I make the plans. It’s all in the attitude.”

Arthur realised that the back of his hand was somehow pressed up against Merlin’s thigh, rough denim rubbing against it as Merlin squirmed to get more comfortable. He lifted it up, startled, and Merlin froze.

They looked at each other, suddenly awkward again, and Arthur slowly lowered his hand back down so that his fingers were resting on Merlin’s thigh.

It was probably for the best, Arthur decided, that they heard the key card slide into the door lock then, and Arthur was reaching for a weapon he no longer had and Merlin was suddenly sitting up, hand splayed at the door in a motion that would have looked ridiculous to anyone who hadn't known Merlin could stop bullets with a thought.

The door opened and Gwaine walked in carrying a heavy looking bag. He smiled rather serenely at the agitation on their faces. And, to Arthur’s irrational annoyance, he looked none the worse for wear for all his adventure.

“You couldn’t have knocked," Arthur said, his voice dropping to a low growl.

“Didn’t interrupt anything, did I?” Gwaine asked cheerily. Merlin shook his head and Arthur just continued glaring. "Really - I’m out risking my life for you two layabouts and you’re-“ The pillow hit him full force in the face. “Emrys.”

“You’re not dead,” Merlin announced to the world as though this was a new piece of information and not something that was blatantly obvious from Gwaine’s appearance in the room. He was on his feet in a second and Arthur watched the pair of them hug in a way that had none of the awkwardness Arthur had never managed to get rid of. "Brilliant. Do you still have it?"

“You're going to start doubting me now?” Gwaine asked, pulling away, but leaving his hand on Merlin’s shoulder, like it was…

Arthur cut off the thought. He cut off the whole part of his brain that was thinking it and then he looked at Gwaine's face rather than his hand and reminded himself that his world was falling apart and that had nothing to do with where Gwaine put his hands.

“Do you?” Arthur asked, raising an eyebrow and ignoring Gwaine’s knowing little smirk.

“Of course, your highness.” He pulled away from Merlin and bowed a deep, extremely mocking bow, complete with little flourishes of his hand and a swish of his hair, all of which made another chuckle burst from Merlin, though he tried his very hardest to look innocent when Arthur glanced at him. As he straightened up he reached into his pocket and withdrew a small, rather innocent looking stone from his pocket that might, possibly, have been called egg shaped if the person looking at it hadn't ever seen an egg.

Ever.

“That’s it?” he asked. Though the item resting in Gwaine's palm was vaguely familiar.

“Can’t you taste it?” Merlin asked, his mouth twisting in disgust. “It’s in the air, like metal and ash.”

“Yeah, not the nicest flavour in the world,” Gwaine agreed. Arthur looked between them, blinking in astonishment.

“You can taste magic?” he asked.

“Taste, smell," Merlin said with a shrug. "Most people can, at least a little. Can't you?"

“Apparently not,” Arthur said, straightening up.

“Really, because I thought-“ Merlin said. “Leon always could. Didn’t you know?”

Leon can do this?” Arthur said.

“Uh yes… I mean, I think so,” Merlin told him. “He’d look at me sometimes, after I’d done magic, but I always managed to be by something magical, so I don’t think he ever really made the connection.”

"Don't worry about it, Prince Charming," Gwaine said, nodding at Arthur in what was probably meant to be a reassuring way. "Can't be perfect at everything, now, can we? Or anything, to be honest."

“Like you can talk." Arthur reached out to pick the rock out of Gwaine's hand. It was warm to the touch, and he didn't think it was only from Gwaine's body heat. "This seems familiar somehow."

“Have you seen one before?" Merlin asked. Arthur looked up from the stone to see the other two both watching him curiously.

“No, I don't think so." He glanced down again. "So what do we do with it?"

“Well,” Arthur said, “I think they know we have it now.”

“No,” Gwaine agreed, “that seems pretty undeniable.”

“So we can still find out who’s behind this, we don’t really need the stone anymore.”

“You think we should destroy it?” Merlin asked, looking down at the misshapen blob. Arthur hesitated. There was a part of him that wanted to know what it did. He wanted to know just what his father had died for.

“I think, if Freya was right, that we have to,” he said.

“All right then, let’s have a go.”

They tried everything: crushing it, burning it, magical spells of all sorts and types. Merlin must have spent a good couple of hours just staring at it, muttering spells that did nothing but accidentally set fire to the heavily starched hotel sheets.

“It’s no good,” Merlin said, throwing up his hands. “I’ve tried everything I can think of and I can’t even scratch it.”

“Are you sure you’ve tried everything?” Arthur asked. Merlin didn’t even glance at him, though Arthur would have expected a snappy come back of some sort.

“Everything. I’m out of ideas.” Arthur looked at him, and at the stone, and he sighed. He had to admit, he’d already known it would end up like this for the last hour or so, but he’d let Merlin keep on at it. He needed something to do.

“Then we’ll just have to do our best to keep it away from them,” he said. It didn’t sound like a good plan.

*

-

part 6
From:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

Profile

definewisdom: (Default)
definewisdom

February 2012

S M T W T F S
   1234
567891011
12 131415161718
19202122232425
26272829   

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 23rd, 2017 02:37 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios