Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Summary: AU. PI Arthur Pendragon is the best in the business. He has never crossed a case he couldn't solve. But with someone attacking sorcerers and a new assistant who's keeping too many secrets, he may just have bitten off more than he can chew this time.
AN – Remember when I said I wasn't going to be writing any multi-chaptered fics? I, um, I hate to say that I lied, but, rather, it was more a lack of telling the truth. But this is an AU, so it doesn't really matter what canon says! This is my first stab at AU as well, so any criticism is welcome. Updates will be sporadic at best, but I'm aiming for every Thursday-ish. May be slightly more or slightly less frequent.
Also, I know there's basically no Merlin in this chapter, but trust me – he'll be in it more down the road.
HOW 'BOUT THAT SERIES PREMIERE? I think the writers found the fanfiction and are using it against us, I swear...
ON WITH THE FIC.
Arthur Pendragon was having a bad day.
And not even the usual sort of bad day. Not the sort where the coffee maker was broken and an alarm didn't go off. Not the sort where he got to the coffee shop on the way to work only to discover that he'd left his wallet at home. Not the sort where he went back to get his wallet just to discover that he'd had his wallet all along, and now was late, and was probably never going to hear the end of it sort of bad day.
Arthur was having the sort of bad day where he was almost blown up. Again. Not that he'd ever care to admit it.
This time, at least, it wasn't personal. Not like on the Simpson case. Arthur sometimes got the shivers just thinking about that one. The smell of gasoline still made him nervous, something Gwaine had picked up on and exploited completely. That was alright, though, because Arthur knew about Gwaine's deathly fear of spiders and had taken advantage of that more than once. Everything had escalated to a point where Gwen had stepped in, made Gwaine step away from the tank of gas in his hand and Arthur drop the rubber spider, and everyone moved on.
This time, Arthur was having a bad day because he'd been hired by a woman named Catrina to track her husband, Jonas. She thought he was cheating on her. He was, and things got a bit muddled, but it somehow ended with Catrina brandishing a firework and screaming before shooting it off at her adulterous husband. Who Arthur had happened to be standing next to at the time.
Thus the almost being blown up bit.
So it was that it was barely ten in the morning, and Arthur was already singed and covered with soot and in desperate need of new clothing. He staggered up the stairs to his office.
Camelot Private Detection Agency was up on the second floor of a building on the dodgy side of town. When Arthur and Gwaine had first set up shop, they got the usual sort of cases – cheating and untrusting spouses, stolen bikes, the usual. But soon they built a reputation. They'd even worked that international case, once. Camelot had even been featured in Newsweek and was known in the area as a force to be reckoned with.
They'd even been offered a television contract. Gwaine had actually been salivating at the offer, but Arthur turned it down. Gwaine had been surly and cranky for three days afterwards, but then got over it. Arthur sometimes thought he'd actually forgotten about it.
He paused at the door, wondering if it was too late to slink away and then call in sick. He could see Gwen's silhouette on the other side of the frosted glass of the door, moving around near her desk. What if she was wearing the red dress, today? Arthur always enjoyed when Gwen wore the red dress. Not that he'd ever admit it.
It was that thought that gave him the courage to open the door and walk in.
Gwen wasn't wearing the red dress. She was in a simple pair of black pants and a green top. Arthur still thought that she looked lovely, even if he'd deny it later. The secretary in question looked up as soon as he opened the door. He wondered if she'd throw herself at him, state that he was in, and offer to look after him and make him feel like a hero and not like an idiot who'd had a firework shot at his face.
She didn't do any of those things, which made sense seeing as she was Gwen and not a swooning movie heroine. In fact, the only expression to really cross her face seemed to be exasperation. "Oh, Arthur," sighed Gwen, "Did someone try and blow you up again?"
"I hardly think that the again is necessary," Arthur said. He tugged at his cuffs slightly.
"This is getting ridiculous," she said, "You really need to stop having this happen."
"For the love of –" Arthur cut off, running his hand through his hair, and then said, "It was only three times!"
"Four," called Gwaine from his office. A moment later he came rolling out on his office chair. He took one look at Arthur and said, "Five, by the state of you. Who's tried to explode you this time, Princess? Was it the wife or the husband?"
"A firework," said Arthur, and then remembered Gwaine's previous estimation on the amount of explosions he'd been the target of, "And, Gwaine, for the record it was only three times. And this time doesn't count, because she was quite clearly aiming for her husband."
"Four, then. Not three."
"No, three," said Arthur. He looked at his reflection in the mirror they kept in one corner of the room. His face was covered with sooty ash. His hair was sticking up in all directions. His white button down was dirty and smudged, ripped down one side. He huffed, and stubbornly told himself that he did not look like a man who had almost been blasted to pieces. "The warehouse on the Simpson case, the refrigerator, and the pipe bomb. Three. Clearly."
"You're forgetting about last Easter," Gwaine pointed out.
"Last Easter was not aimed directly at me," said Arthur, turning on the sink with a vengeance, "Last Easter was an accidental gas leak that almost got you blown up as well. Last Easter doesn't count. Three times."
"The point is that there are a startling number of incidences where there is you, fire, and almost death involved," said Gwaine, "People like to blow you up."
"They do not," said Arthur.
"Fine," said Gwaine, rolling his eyes, "But explosions do tend to follow you about."
"It's only a coincidence."
"If that's true," said Gwaine, "Then why does our lovely Guinevere keep an Arthur Almost Got Blown Up kit behind her desk?"
"Gwen doesn't keep one of those," said Arthur, scrubbing at his face. "You're being ridiculous."
There was an awkward quiet. Arthur got a creeping sensation on the back of his neck. He turned and looked back out into their lobby. Gwaine looked like he was about to explode from glee, a large and toothy grin spread across his face. Gwen was frozen, standing behind her desk, her back to Arthur. The way her arms were bent, the way she was holding herself, made it clear that she was holding something.
"Gwen," said Arthur, low and a bit growling, "Turn around."
"I, um," she said, "I'd really rather not, thanks."
"Oh, fine," said Gwen, and she turned around. Clutched to her waist was a shoebox, with the words Arthur Almost Got Blown Up written in Gwen's neat and precise penmanship. She was blushing heavily, and had one hand in the box, searching around for something. She held up a bottle of pills and said, "Would you like a Tylenol?"
Arthur stomped across the room, snatched the bottle out of Gwen's hand. "Thank you," he said through gritted teeth, and stomped back to the bathroom and pulled the door shut behind him. He could hear Gwen's barely stifled giggles and Gwaine's raucous laughter spilling through the door. He continued his valiant efforts at washing his face.
Arthur eventually gave up trying to clean himself using nothing but tap water and hand soap. He marched back out and went up to Gwen. She looked up at him, blinking. "Guinevere," he said, "I would very much appreciate if you would lend me the use of your…kit."
Hiding a smile, she pulled the shoebox out once more and handed it to him. From Gwaine's office, the sound of his laughter filtered out. Arthur took the box from Gwen, their fingers brushing. She blushed and pulled her hand away, looking down and mumbling an apology.
"Thank you," said Arthur, ignoring the way that her hair caught the sunlight. No. Because he was not attracted to his secretary. Not in the slightest.
"You're welcome," she said, grinning slightly, "Do try and be careful, Arthur. Someday the almost might not be there and you will get blown up."
Had it been anyone else saying it, Arthur may have been annoyed. Seeing as it was Gwen, however, he merely plastered on a smile and walked into his office with the box. He refused to think about how that shirt Gwen was wearing hugged her in all the right places. He refused to be that guy, the one who fancied the secretary and spent months wallowing about it and wondering if he'd ever be able to make a move, because, damn it, he'd been shot at and almost blown up three (not four and not five) times and should be brave enough to ask a woman on a date and – no. No, he was not thinking about this, because it was not an issue.
Arthur went over to his file cabinet and opened the bottom drawer. He always, always, kept an extra set of clothes at the office, especially after last Easter. He stripped off his shirt and walked over to poke through the Arthur Almost Got Blown Up kit, and noticed for the first time that, in Gwaine's unmistakable scrawl, beneath the rest of the words was the word Again. That hadn't been there the first time that he'd seen Gwen's kit. He sighed, and found the pack of wet wipes at the bottom of the box.
Once he was somewhat clean and in his extra clothes, he spent a minute pawing at his hair, using his black mobile screen as a mirror. Finally, declaring it a lost cause, he settled behind his desk, cracked his neck, and picked up a pen. He had paperwork to do.
A moment later, Gwaine had managed to get Arthur's door open and was flicking paper triangles at his head while Gwen studiously looked unamused.
It was a slow week.
Arthur hated slow weeks.
It was the slow weeks where he cursed his past self for quitting the force.
It was a snap decision that had been building for a long time, quitting like that. All of the Pendragons were involved, somehow, with the law. Arthur's father, Uther, was the police commissioner. His mother, before she died, had been the District Attorney of Albion. Arthur's half-sister, Morgana was a lawyer with a reputation for ruthlessness and winning cases. Arthur, who would've killed himself had he worked a desk job, attended the police academy. He graduated top of his class. By the time that he was twenty-five he had made detective. His father couldn't have been prouder.
That changed when Arthur abandoned the force. Arthur only spoke with the man on jobs now, really. Or through Morgana, on the rare event that Uther and she were actually communicating. Uther couldn't – wouldn't – understand why Arthur had left. But after that case…Arthur couldn't deal with official police work anymore.
He stared at his mobile mournfully. Maybe Lance would call, soon, hire the agency as a police consultant.
The phone didn't ring.
Another paper triangle bounced off of Arthur's forehead.
Right as Arthur was starting to plan his retaliation, he heard the phone ring out front and Gwen's pleasant voice say, "Camelot Private Detection Agency, this is Gwen. What can we do for you today?" There was a pause, and then, "One moment, please. I'll transfer you."
The phone on Arthur's desk rang once and he pounced on it. "Arthur Pendragon," he said.
"Arthur!" came Lance's voice, "How are you doing?"
"I'm wonderful," said Arthur, stretching his legs, "How about you? Still slaving away at the station?"
Lancelot laughed. It was a running joke, Arthur and Gwaine trying to poach Lance for their own agency. Well. Lance thought that it was a joke, but Gwaine and Arthur were perfectly serious. Or Arthur was serious. Gwaine was doing his best. Lancelot continued, "Where else would I be?"
"You could be here," said Arthur.
"Ah, but Percival would miss me," said Lancelot, "He's rubbish on his own, you know."
Percival was Lancelot's partner on the force. "Bring him with you, then," said Arthur. And then, as another paper triangle went whizzing past his head, added, "Better yet, we'll send Gwaine back to the force and Percival can take his place."
Lance snorted, "Like we'd take Gwaine back."
"If only," said Arthur. "Is there any particular reason that you've called?"
"Yes, actually," said Lance, his voice slipping into his business tone. "We've got a body we'd like you to take a look at. If you aren't too busy."
"I'm on my way," Arthur said, "Send me the location?"
"Morgue, actually," said Lance, "And I don't think that I'm going to be able to make it over. Just tell Gaius you need to see the one with the spirals."
"Right, then," said Arthur, "See you soon."
He hung up, and walked out of his office. "How's Lance?" Gwen asked, filing her fingernails behind her desk.
"Fine," said Arthur, maybe a little shortly. That was how he had met Gwen originally, after all – she had been Lance's girlfriend. She had also been friends with Morgana, but Arthur hadn't met her until Lance had introduced them. Not that Arthur cared about that. Not at all. Just like he hadn't taken note of when they'd broken up, no sir, not one bit.
"Does he have a case for you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "But don't tell Gwaine. He has other things he needs to be doing."
"Hey!" Gwaine squawked from his office.
Arthur snorted, and walked back out the door and down the stairs.
"Arthur!" Gaius said as Arthur walked through the door, "I haven't seen you in a while."
"Haven't had cases that involve your line of work, for a while," said Arthur, shaking Gaius's hand in greeting. Gaius, the police medical examiner and mortician, was an old man with long, grey hair and spectacles that permanently sat on his nose. He also had an eyebrow that had been known to reach orbit in its ability to rise upwards on Gaius's forehead. He had looked the same for as long as Arthur could remember.
"What brings you here today?" Gaius asked.
"Lance has a body," said Arthur, "He said something about spirals?"
"Ah, yes, it is quite strange," said Gaius, "If you'd come this way, please."
He pulled out a ring of keys and unlocked the door that led to where the bodies were kept. Arthur followed along.
"Now, let me see here," said Gaius, looking at the wall of drawers. "Ah! Yes, this one."
He pulled out the slab that the body was laid on. Gaius pulled off the sheet that was covering it. The man was tall, dark skinned. There were dark markings that looked more like some sort of writing than swirls covering his torso and arms. "What are those?" Arthur asked, gesturing at the marks.
"Runes of some kind, though none that I know of," said Gaius, "I have some books I could lend you."
"That would be excellent Gaius, thank you," said Arthur, "What do we know about him?"
"His name is Christopher Aglain," said Gaius, "He's forty-nine. Cause of death seems to be suffocation, but the burns –" Gaius gestured at the black runes that covered the man's body, "Are quite serious. If the lack of air hadn't killed him, these may have. He was reported missing six days ago, but he hasn't been dead any more than three."
"Any signs of a struggle?" Arthur asked.
"Some," said Gaius, "The skin on his wrists and ankles, as you can see, shows signs that he was bound and struggled to get away, quite fiercely, I should think."
"Did someone come and identify him?" Arthur asked, "Is that how you knew his name?"
"No," said Gaius, and pointed to a blue tattoo on the man's shoulder that Arthur had originally thought to be another burn, "This is a symbol commonly used by the gang who refers to themselves as the Druids. I ran his picture through the registry on a whim."
"Sorcerer?" Arthur said. Magic users weren't rare, per se, but they tended to keep to themselves. They were all required to identify themselves, of course, for safety reasons. All of those names were listed in the registry, and were open for the public to view. Arthur knew for a fact that Gaius's name was there, though the old man hadn't practiced actively for years. At least, that's what he claimed. Arthur sometimes had his doubts.
"Yes," said Gaius, "I don't know if it's important or not, but –"
"No, anything could be important," said Arthur. "I think that's all I need for now, Gaius, thank you. Call me if you find anything else, would you?"
"Yes. Oh, while I have you here, I've been meaning to ask you," said the medical examiner, rolling and closing the drawer, following Arthur out to the door of the morgue. "My godson has just moved to town and is looking for a job. I remember you mentioning that you were in need of a second assistant so that Guinevere could have some extra time off?"
"Hm?" Arthur said, "Oh. Right. Yes, well, send him over whenever, or have him call."
"Thank you. I really do appreciate this, Arthur."
"I'm not making any promises," said Arthur, because he rather liked having Gwen there day in and day out. "But I'll be happy to talk to him."
Gaius waved a hand. "He's a good boy. You two will get along splendidly, I think."
Arthur nodded and waved as he walked out the door. His car still smelt vaguely of gunpowder from that morning. He rolled his eyes and pulled out his mobile and dialed.
"You've reached Detective Lancelot du Lac," came Lancelot's recorded voicemail, "I'm away from my desk right now, but if you leave your name, number, and reason for calling, I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
After the beep, Arthur said, "Lance, Arthur. I took a look at the body, but I'm not sure about it. I'll get back to you –"
Someone wrenched up the phone, and said, "Arthur?"
"Oh, Percival," said Arthur, "Hello. I was just calling about that body Lance wanted me to –"
"Yes, yes, whatever," said Percival, "Did you really almost get blown up again this morning?"
Arthur hung up the phone without another word. He seethed the entire way back to the office, stormed up the stairs and threw open the door. "I'll be in my office," he said to Gwen, not even looking at her. He didn't notice the fact that there was someone sitting in one of the lobby chairs. He slammed his office door shut behind him.
"Mr. Pendragon," Gwen said, knocking on his door. Arthur straightened immediately in his chair. Gwen only knocked and called him Mr. Pendragon when there was a client in the offices.
"Yes?" he called back, patting down his hair.
"There's someone here to see you," she said, opening the door slightly, "He says that Gaius sent him over?"
Oh. Right. The godson.
Damn, but that old man moved quickly for someone his age.
"Oh, um," said Arthur, "Send him in, I suppose."
Gaius's godson was tall, lanky, and had ears that seemed to stick out for miles. He had dark hair that was messy and looked like it was in desperate need of a cut. He didn't look much older than nineteen. "Hello," he said, sticking out a hand towards Arthur, "My name's Merlin Emrys. Gaius sent me?"
Arthur shook Merlin's hand, and sat, gesturing for Merlin to do the same. He'd talk to him for a while and send him on his way. Gaius would be pleased, Arthur would have not shirked on his promise, and Merlin would be free to search for work elsewhere. Except, it turned out, Merlin had been speaking with Gwen and Gwaine before Arthur had arrived, because five minutes into their talk Gwaine came marching in.
"Gwen and I have decided," he said, clapping Merlin on the shoulder, "And we are keeping him."
"My door was closed for a reason, Gwaine," said Arthur, rubbing the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, Gwen was hovering behind Gwaine, looking a little nervous but determined.
"And now it's open for a reason," said Gwaine, and then frowned down at Gaius's godson. "What was your name again?"
The skinny man looked like he was uncomfortable with all of the attention that was suddenly being focused on him. "Merlin," he said.
"We'd really like it if we hired him, Arthur," said Gwen, "I would really appreciate the help."
And it was not because of that sentence, not at all, that Arthur agreed to hire Merlin Emrys. Not even in the slightest.