Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Summary: AU. PI Arthur Pendragon is the best in the business – he has never found 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 – Once again, thanks for all of the lovely reviews and I'm sorry if I missed you while replying! I know this is moving a wee bit slow, but don't worry - there is a plan.
Also, sorry for the delay on this. A wild essay appeared. But I got le A on it, so everything's good. Next update will be up by next Monday.
ON WITH THE FIC.
Merlin was late.
Arthur wished that he could say that he was surprised. So when Merlin did come running in, Arthur didn't bother turning from the cork board that he'd set up.
Their small complex had three offices, a bathroom, and the small lobby area. They always told Lance the third, empty office was waiting and pining for him, but in reality Arthur would have been sad to lose it. He and Gwaine used it as a sort of brainstorming room, rolling in a wheeled corkboard to put notes and photos up on. At the moment, Arthur was pinning up pictures from the past two crime scenes.
"I was on time today, I swear, but I thought I'd bring in coffee for you and Arthur to say thanks for putting up with me," Merlin was saying to Gwaine, "And then there was a long line, and – I'm sorry that I'm late, but I brought coffee."
Merlin, it turned out, while terrible at making coffee, was spectacularly good at guessing people's coffee preferences. He brought Gwaine his frilly, caramel and whipped cream monstrosity that was made of sugar and, as Gwaine claimed, unicorn tears. Arthur thought that no grown man in his right mind should ever be seen drinking. Then again, Gwaine. Merlin also, it seemed, was also able to know when people didn't even drink coffee.
So when Arthur stuck his nose up in the air and declared that he only drank tea, Merlin gave him an odd look, said, "I know," and plunked the cup down in front of Arthur before wandering over to Gwaine's office and saying something that sent the other man guffawing in laughter.
Arthur popped the cover off of the cup and sniffed it carefully. This time, he didn't pour the tea out the window, even if he didn't drink it. He thought that it showed great strength of character.
And great strength of character he was going to need. Today was Merlin's first day alone in the office. Without Gwen. As far as Arthur was concerned, they were all doomed.
Gwaine walked into the spare office brainstorming room. He nodded at Arthur's untouched cup of tea. "Why haven't you drunk that?"
"I don't want it."
"Fine," said Gwaine, "Then why are you so mean to Merlin?"
"I am not mean to Merlin."
"You are!" Gwaine said, "Would it kill you to be nice, even if only for once?"
Someone cleared their throat from behind them. Gwaine and Arthur both turned to find Lance loitering in the doorway, one eyebrow raised in amusement.
"Merlin!" Arthur barked.
Merlin leaned out from his desk to peer around Lance.
"You're supposed to tell us when people are here!"
"Lance said not to."
"Lance doesn't employ you."
"Anyway," Gwaine cut in, "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Percival and I were in the neighborhood, thought we'd stop by," said Lancelot. "Anything new?"
"No," said Arthur, "We were just about to get started. You?"
"We still have nothing on the first body, Aglain," said Lance, "Have you had any luck?"
"Unfortunately, no," said Arthur. Still all any of them knew about the first victim was his name, his membership with the Druids, and the cause of his death. He had no place of residence that they could find, which wasn't uncommon among the Druids. They were nomadic in nature, moving from place to place mostly in groups. Arthur and Gwaine had been unable to establish any informers among their ranks, though not for any lack of trying. "What about the second one?"
Lance crossed his arms, and said, "We're still –"
"His name is Aulfric," said Percival, walking in, mobile in hand. "Surname Jones. Only family is a daughter named Sophia who lives over on the other side of town. He was reported missing a little less than a week ago."
"I don't suppose you fancy going and talking to her?" said Gwaine.
Lancelot pulled out a coin from his pocket. "Flip for it. You call it."
He flipped the coin, and Arthur called out, "Heads," as it spun through the air.
It wasn't heads.
"I call not me," said Gwaine, giving Arthur a sideways look.
"Fine," said Arthur.
Percival and Lance stayed for a little longer, the four of them bouncing ideas off of each other while Merlin, out in the lobby, alternately stared forlornly at the telephone and worked on 'subtly' scooting his chair closer so that he could hear what they were saying.
"We need more about Aglain," said Lancelot, "
"Druids?" Merlin said, giving up all pretenses and walking over. "Did you ask Gaius?"
Arthur sighed through his nose, and said, "Why would we ask Gaius?"
"Gaius knows everyone, doesn't he?" Merlin said, "And he used to be a fairly big deal with sorcerers, if what my mother says is anything to go by. And only two days ago, he had me run some bandages over to his place, because he was out, and helping out someone who ended up having a tattoo like the Druids have."
"I tried already, actually," said Percival, "He said it wasn't his place to be bothering them."
"I could talk to him," Merlin offered. "Maybe –"
"Don't you have a desk to be disorganizing?" Arthur snapped.
Merlin rolled his eyes and slouched away, sitting down in his chair with a huff. Arthur turned back to the board, but it was suspiciously quiet. He looked at the other three detectives, who were all staring at him, and said, "What?"
"I told you he had a problem with Merlin," said Gwaine, looking over at Lance and Percival, "You two didn't believe me."
"Can we focus, please?" Arthur said, "Thank you."
Lance and Percival stayed for a short while longer, leaving about half of an hour after they'd come. Later, Arthur reached over and pulled his coat off of the coatrack, making for the door.
"You heading out to talk to the daughter?" Gwaine asked.
"Yes," answered Arthur, shrugging on his coat.
"You should take Merlin with you," Gwaine said, "Had him tag along with me to go tell some people that it was their brother who'd been stealing from them."
"You have to stop taking the office assistant out of the office, Gwaine," Arthur said, "His job is not to assist in the field, but, oh, I don't know, maybe in the actual office."
"The world is my office," said Gwaine, "And I still think that you should take Merlin with you. These people I were talking to, normally I'd be worried about them screaming in my face for a while, like it was my fault it was the brother. But after two minutes with Merlin and they were saying thank you. It was amazing."
"I'm not bringing Merlin," said Arthur, "Who will answer the phone?"
"I will," said Gwaine, "I've wrapped up my other cases. I can hold down the base."
"I am not," Arthur growled, "Bringing Merlin."
Really, Arthur didn't know how he got into these sorts of situations. Honestly. This was getting ridiculous. No, scratch that, this was ridiculous and out of hand, and he should've put a stop to it right at the beginning before Gwaine and Gwen had gotten so damn attached, because now it was too late and he was probably going to have to spend the rest of his life dealing with this sort of silly and stupid thing.
"Where are we going, again?" Merlin said, as they pulled up to the dingy building.
"Sophia Jones," said Arthur through his teeth. "Her father was Lance's body from yesterday."
"Oh," said Merlin, and then, after a moment, "Why am I here?"
"Hell if I know," Arthur growled, getting out of the car. Merlin hesitated a moment, and then followed him out of the car. "Here is how this is going to go. I'm going to do all of the talking, you aren't going to say anything. You're not going to obtrusive, you're not going to do anything but sit and listen."
"Should I take notes?" Merlin asked, halfheartedly pulling the small notebook from the day before out of his pocket, "Otherwise it's a bit weird that I'm here."
"Whatever. Just don't make a scene, that's all that I ask," said Arthur. He didn't bother to mention that it was 'a bit weird' that Merlin was there anyway, because he felt like it didn't need to be said, not really. Arthur strode up to the door of the building, and scanned the buttons for the one he was looking for.
A woman's voice, small and breathy, answered, "Yes?"
"My name is Arthur Pendragon, I'm working with the police on your father's case," Arthur said, "May I come up?"
There was a moment of hesitation, and then, "Yes."
The door buzzed open. Arthur pulled it open and walked in, Merlin on his heels. He regretted not telling the younger man to wait in the car. Then again, if Gwen or Gwaine ever got wind of it, they'd probably start yelling at Arthur about it and saying things like don't you know that Merlin could suffocate in there like Merlin wasn't a fully grown person who knew how to operate a car window.
Then again, Arthur thought, rapping on Sophia Jones' door maybe that was a legitimate concern. It was Merlin, after all.
The door creaked open. "Miss Jones?" Arthur asked. She nodded, opening the door wider. Sophia was around Arthur's age, with a round face and long, light brown hair. "I'm Arthur Pendragon, this is my...assistant."
She stood to the side so they could walk in. When Merlin walked past her, she startled slightly, narrowing her eyes at him. "What did you say your name was?" she asked.
"Er," said Merlin, "Merlin. Merlin Emrys."
She didn't move for several moments, and then, closing the door behind them, said, "You said you had questions about my father."
"Just a few," said Arthur, nodding at Merlin. He pulled out his notebook and shrugged slightly. "When was the last time you saw him?"
"Five days ago," she said.
"But he was only reported missing three days ago."
"He was going to call me Thursday night," she said, "But then he didn't."
"Did he say anything about any plans, any worries or concerns the last time you spoke with him?"
"The last I heard from him he was meeting someone for lunch about a job," said Sophia, "Work wasn't easy for him to find, you know."
"Do you know who?"
"A man named Valiant," she said, "I don't know if that was his first name or his last name."
"Your father was on the registry," said Arthur, "You are as well. Do you actively practice magic, Miss Jones?"
She frowned, her delicate eyebrows drawing together. "Is this a joke, Mr. Pendragon?"
"No," said Arthur, cocking his head slightly, "I only ask because –"
"Because of your grotesque curiosity, I imagine," she said, coldly, "Do you want to see it?"
"What do you –"
She rolled up her right sleeve. The gleaming metal of the cap reflected the light at them, a thin piece of iron that ran from her wrist to her elbow, disappearing beneath her skin at both ends. "I was not as fortunate as my father," she said, and even though she was speaking to Arthur, she was looking directly at Merlin. "He was able to find someone to remove his shortly after it was put on, though the process nearly killed him. They wouldn't take mine off. They said I was too young to survive the process. By the time I was old enough they'd moved on. Is there anything else, or is it time for you to be leaving?"
"Thank you for your time," Arthur said, giving Merlin a look and standing. Merlin did the same. "If there's anything else you think may be important, don't hesitate to call."
She didn't say anything, and simply stared at them. They showed themselves out.
"It doesn't seem right, does it?" Merlin said, once they were back in Arthur's car.
"What doesn't?" Arthur said.
"Capping," said Merlin.
"Anyone who's been capped has done something that is against the law," said Arthur, the words stale and overused as they left his mouth, "If they won't use their magic for good, then they don't deserve to have it. Like with weapons."
"I still don't think it is right," Merlin muttered. He crossed his arms and slumped low in his seat, staring aimlessly out of the window. Arthur had thought that silence from Merlin would be a blessing. Instead, he found that it grated on his nerves and made him more annoyed than when the idiot was talking. He pulled away from the curb and drove down the road.
Arthur was no fan of the practice of capping. He never had been. Like Merlin seemed to think, it was something that had always felt fundamentally wrong to him. Twenty years ago, when it was first developed, Uther had been one of the leading voices supporting it. Most days, Arthur had convinced himself that it was only residual rebellion from his teenage days that gave him the distaste for it.
Then came that last case on the force. Freya Nivian's case.
"I'm not saying that it is," said Arthur, pushing the thought away. "But it's how things are, so that's all there is to it."
He regretted saying anything as Merlin perked up and looked at him curiously. "You think it's wrong too, then."
"I didn't say that," Arthur said, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
"Then you think that it's right."
"Then what –"
"I think that it's necessary," Arthur snapped, "But like anything else, it isn't a perfect solution."
Merlin quieted again, but it wasn't the sullen quiet of before. He kept sending twitching, nervous glances in Arthur's direction. Arthur, for his part, mentally kicked himself for saying anything at all.
He hadn't realized how late it was until the two of them got back to the offices to find the windows closed and shut up. That meant – surprise, surprise – that Gwaine had slunk off earlier than he was supposed to, seeing as he had been "holding down the base". Typical. Arthur wished that he could say he was surprised.
"Arthur Pendragon?" she called. She had long dark hair and a pale face, and Arthur was struck with familiarity, but couldn't place her face.
"That's me," he said, cautiously. "What can I help you with?"
Her eyes twitched to Merlin, who was hovering behind Arthur uncertainly. Arthur, meanwhile, his mouth going a little dry, noticed the way that the woman had her hand in her pocket, the strange lump of something there.
"Merlin, go upstairs," said Arthur.
"Are you sure?" Merlin asked, "I could –"
"Go inside. Now," said Arthur. Merlin did, giving the woman a wide berth as he walked around her. He cast a hard, lingering glance at her over his shoulder, and then the door shut behind him. Arthur looked at the woman for a long moment, and then said, "Why did you need to speak with me, and why do you feel the need to keep a gun in your pocket?"
She pulled out the weapon, pointing it at Arthur. "Pity you sent your friend upstairs," she said, "I'll have to go and take care of him after, won't I?"
Arthur heard the gun fire. The gun that was pointed right at him. He was going to die. He was going to die, shot at point blank range, and the last thing that he was ever going to hear was that sound of a gun exploding and the last thing he was going to see was this stupid street and no one would find him until morning and then he'd be the next body on Lance's caseload and –
And he was suddenly flat on the ground. Someone was on the ground next to him. Arthur didn't question how this had happened, pulled out his own weapon, and shot at the woman. She let out a small shriek and fled.
He looked over to the mysterious person who had pushed him out of the way.
Merlin blinked back at him.
"What are you doing here, Merlin?" Arthur growled.
He sat up. Merlin lolled on the ground for a while longer and then followed suit, leaning against the wall. "Saving your life, apparently," he said, sounding shaky and a little bit giddy.
"I told you to go inside!"
"Good thing I didn't listen, isn't it?" Merlin snapped back, "I only stopped you from getting shot in the face. A thank you wouldn't be too far out of line, you know. Also, Gwaine's not lying dead in his own blood 'cause she went after him first. Just so you know."
Arthur, in a rare moment, bit back the angry response that was rising in his throat, and instead said, "Thank you."
"What was that all about?" Merlin said, waving his hand a little spastically at the end of the ally where the shooter had disappeared.
"I don't know," said Arthur, honestly. At least she hadn't tried to blow him up, he thought. He would have never heard the end of it. "I'll find out, eventually."
"That's very…mellow of you," said Merlin, "Seeing as she tried to shoot you and all."
"Part of my job, unfortunately," said Arthur.
They sat on the asphalt for a moment longer. Then, Merlin flopped his head over to look at Arthur. "Want to go and get a drink?" he asked.
Arthur thought about how not too long ago he was considering ways to never see Merlin again. He thought about how someone had tried to kill him, and how he should probably call Lance or someone and report it. He thought about all the work he had to get done in the morning, and he thought about his plans for a relaxing evening watching television and going over the last handful of crime scenes. He thought about how he should just say no and leave.
"Sure," he said instead, "Alcohol sounds good right about now."