Recap: Reunion of Camelot's court – Arthur, Gwen, Merlin, Gaius, Leon, Gwaine, and Percival - accomplished in "Once and Future Destiny" just in time for Merlin to uncover a terrorist plot involving drones and bombs and a hacker named "Mordred". Arthur and the others must show trust and patience to Merlin - whose memories and magic are suppressed but struggling to emerge – in the days of investigation and the climactic stand against the terrorist threat.
Chapter 1: Outside Camelot's Boundaries
"Again?" Merlin said. "Is this really necessary?"
"Hold still, Merlin," his grandfather ordered. "The more you move, the more it will hurt."
Merlin squeezed his eyes shut, a bit of an old Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase movie playing in his mind, Goldie gasping out an explanation of defense against an attacker in her apartment – I stabbed him with the needles!
"Do you want me to hold your hand?" Arthur's tone was amused, condescending. The king of Camelot didn't turn an eyelash at the thought of needles. Merlin hated needles. He opened his eyes to glare at Arthur as Gaius tied a rubber ribbon impossibly tight around Merlin's upper arm. "Come on," the golden-haired king teased, "don't be such a girl."
Merlin clamped his jaw shut. And his eyes. Oh – narcotics, Brian Dennehy said, the epitome of a tough, jaded police detective. No – knitting, Goldie whined. The alcohol swab was cold and sudden against the inside of his elbow, and he couldn't help jumping. Arthur laughed softly, from his perch on the nearest of Gaius' lab tables. Merlin opened his eyes to send his friend another murderous look –
"Just a pinch," Gaius warned, and Merlin's whole body seized as the needle pierced his skin, entered his vein. Forgetting Arthur, he watched in sick fascination as his blood began to fill the clear plastic vial. Ye gods, sometimes he thought the field of medicine had gotten more barbaric in 1500 years, not less.
Although, he didn't have to clean Gaius' leech tank, anymore. That was a plus.
Merlin couldn't seem to look away from the red liquid as Gaius snapped off the vial and began to fill another one, but Arthur didn't find the process as riveting. He kicked his expensive shoes absently in Merlin's peripheral vision, then jumped down, crossed to the back counter, began to finger glassware. "Did the police ever get back to you on the break-in last week?" Arthur asked.
Gaius snorted. "Vandals, they said. A couple of young men enjoying meaningless destruction." Merlin felt his grandfather's glance, felt him wondering about Merlin's own past record. He didn't look up.
A moment later, Arthur cleared his throat and wandered away down the rows of glass-fronted cabinets containing lab equipment. "It was a mess," he agreed mildly. "Did you get everything replaced?"
"Yes, your father was very gracious about the expense," Gaius said, and Merlin glanced up at the old man's face, able to read his grandfather's feelings more closely than his words betrayed to the former king. "Unfortunately – and I do apologize, Merlin – the samples also need to be replaced."
"So what am I now, an experiment?" Merlin said, at the same time as Arthur remarked, "You make him sound like a science project."
Gaius grunted and snapped the third of three filled vials shut. He reached for a blob of cotton, sliding the needle from Merlin's arm while holding the cotton to the tiny insertion point in his skin. Though Merlin experienced immediate relief that the sharp foreign object was no longer under his skin – nothing compared to a Saxon's crossbow bolt, Merlin reminded himself, and the arrow nothing in comparison to a serket's stinger – he could do nothing for the dizziness and nausea. He unclamped his hands from the arms of the chair, leaving wet marks of sweat on the tan leather as Gaius wrapped a bit of purple sticky-tape around the piece of cotton. Merlin dried his hands on the legs of his jeans, and pulled down the sleeve of his dark blue sweater.
"What are you going to do with that?" Arthur asked, sauntering back to them with a smirk for Merlin's less-than-composed state.
Gaius fit the vials into a frame that held them vertical and pushed the tray to the back of the counter. "I did manage to run tests with the previous sample to see if the additional vaccines required by foreign travel may have any negative affect on Merlin – even ordinary people sometimes have adverse reactions to vaccines for yellow fever, typhoid, smallpox, and the like. If Agent Chance wants you to travel as he has mentioned – well, it's best to be prepared. Forewarned is forearmed, after all." Merlin opened his mouth to ask what the results of those tests were – of course he wouldn't be classified with normal people - and what else Gaius planned to do with the second round of blood samples.
"Speaking of Chance," Arthur said, shooting his cuff so he could check his watch, "we need to get going if we want to have time for lunch with Percival and Kathryn before our appointment. We'll be back in Camelot before five, I'm pretty sure."
"Give my regards to Percival and Kathryn," Gaius called after them as they left the lab, and Merlin waved to show he'd heard.
Outside, the October wind was cool enough to make stepping into the passenger seat of Arthur's Mustang a relief. The leaves were coming down, except for the oak leaves, which would hang grimly on until January, probably. Arthur pulled on to highway 295 north, and Merlin settled in for the fifty-minute drive.
"So – vandalism," Arthur said. He wasn't as subtle as he thought he was.
"Too bad," Merlin said.
Arthur looked at him. "It's something you have a little experience with, I hear," he remarked.
Merlin snorted. "Gaius told you that?"
"Well, what happened?"
He slouched further down in his seat til the belt pulled at his hips, and crossed his arms over his chest. He could refuse, and get away with it, he thought. Arthur wouldn't push for details – this Arthur wouldn't push for details. But he might always wonder. "Last day of school, eighth grade," he said. "We were in the art room, watching a movie til school let out. I was sitting in the back." I was always sitting in the back… "When the teacher turned the lights back on, every cabinet was open, every paint bottle emptied, every container of glitter overturned…" He gave Arthur a wide grin. "There was pink on the ceiling."
Arthur was silent for many minutes, just driving, eyes on the road. "You were as surprised as anyone, but no one believed you didn't do it," he guessed.
"Didn't matter much," Merlin shrugged. "There was no formal charges. Just spent the first month of my summer break cleaning the art room." And packing to move to a new foster family…
"What movie was it?" Arthur said.
"Don't remember," Merlin answered immediately. Arthur looked at him, hearing the lie, and Merlin reconsidered. He had promised himself not to lie to Arthur anymore. He said reluctantly, "It was Dragonheart."
Arthur made an ironic noise, shook his head. Merlin wrapped his arms more tightly around his ribs – Don't pity me, don't pity me… But Arthur said, returning to the core issue of discussion, "You don't think you could –"
"Help find who did it?" Merlin said. "No, I told Gaius that the first day." They'd stood in Dr. Gus' office, watching through the big glass window as workers in Hazmat suits cleaned up the broken glass and spilled liquids.
Arthur slid in a Linkin Park cd, which was fine with Merlin. He didn't feel like talking, anymore. Fifty-two minutes later, they pulled to a stop at the Reece Road main gate to show their drivers' licences and the vehicle registration and insurance. Getting a single-day permit, they drove to the Applebee's on the military post, and were only five minutes late to meet Percival and Kathryn for lunch.
They noticed Arthur and Merlin weaving toward them between tables and chairs, and both stood. Percival's digital-camo ACU's somehow made him look bigger than he usually did, and Kathryn glowed in dark jeans and a full-necked black sweater. Merlin looked at her again as she took Arthur's hand in greeting, the brunette smiling and happy and – glowing. There was something new about her, something Merlin could not quite place – though Gwen probably could, a new haircut or a handbag or something – but when Kathryn's hand touched his in greeting, her brown eyes sparkling, he knew.
"Good to see you, sire," Percival was saying to Arthur. "How's things in Camelot?"
Kathryn, already used to her husband's friends calling the one named Arthur sire, simply rolled her eyes at what she believed was a joke, a play on the coincidence of names. She resumed her seat, Percival assisting her before straddling his own chair. Merlin, still a little giddy from the touch of her hand, tripped over one of the legs of his own chair, before he managed to land more or less in his seat.
"Dr. Gus said to say hi," Arthur said, and launched into a description of the work he was doing with Leon and Gwaine in the new department he'd wrangled permission from his father to start.
The waitress stood behind Merlin to take their orders, and he managed to mumble something about Coke and a burger. Do not stare at Percival's wife, he told himself fiercely, ducking his head. But he couldn't help glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.
That glow was so warm, so inviting, so comforting. It reminded him of sitting on his mother's lap while she talked on the phone to his father, far away… the way she smelled when he turned his face into her neck, the way her voice trembled with tears and her attempt to sound cheerful for the husband who was half a world away in a war zone. It reminded him of winter evenings huddled in a tiny drafty cottage, the firelight on Hunith's face, the wonder and pride in her eyes as he conjured dragons, horses, frogs from the flame – anything and everything to distract and amuse his first mother.
He reached into his satchel for his cell phone, snapped a pic before any of the others noticed him. He watched how Percival's attention was focused mostly on Arthur – not excluding his wife, just making Arthur's news and comments a priority for both of them for a time. She hasn't told him yet, Merlin realized.
He watched Kathryn enter into the conversation with the other two men, her face animated, teasing, concerned as she asked about Gwen and Gwen's brother Allen, at sea with the Navy in the Pacific.
She doesn't know yet. Merlin couldn't stop his smile, no matter how goofy it felt on his face.
Arthur noticed. "Enjoying your cheeseburger, Merlin?" he asked, amused.
Merlin hadn't even noticed their plates had been delivered. "Yes, it's excellent," he responded, picking it up to take his first bite. Not even Arthur's snide remarks could dim the brilliance of this unique secret.
"Well, some of us are now able to order from an adult menu," Arthur went on, indicating his mushroom-smothered sirloin, then Percival's oblong plateful of glazed ribs.
"Since last week," Merlin murmured in retaliation.
"Oh, stop it," Kathryn said, taking a bite of her salad and beaming. "Leave him alone for once, Arthur."
"If I did that, he'd worry something was wrong with me," Arthur protested.
Merlin nodded agreement, breaking his sandwich. "I really would," he said.
Arthur snapped his fingers, pointing at Merlin. "Aladdin," he said.
"What?" Percival asked.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Gw – ah, Gavin's latest game of Let's Compare," he said. "Last month it was superheroes. Now it's cartoon characters. Arthur is – obviously – Prince Charming, Gwen is Cinderella."
Kathryn giggled, where once she might have protested chauvinism on Gwen's behalf. She, of course, didn't know that Gwen actually had been a maid, and Arthur actually a prince. "Gavin is ridiculous," she said. "Who does he think he is, then?"
"Sinbad," Arthur answered. "He figures he 'rocks the whole rogue-pirate thing.'"
"Thinks he could get a goddess to fall for him," Merlin added. "Or at least outsmart her with his 'charm and heart of gold'."
"And – Aladdin?" Percival asked Arthur.
"The way he broke his bread reminded me," Arthur defended, but Merlin said, "Riff-raff, street rat."
"Oh, no!" Kathryn protested, still giggling.
"The way he always manages to come out on top," Arthur tried to explain. "He takes on a whole raft of guards…"
"Nah," Percival said. "If anything, he's probably the genie." There was a moment of silence. Merlin shivered. A tiny frown line appeared between Arthur's brows, and Percival looked like he wished he would have bitten his tongue.
"Oh, that's even worse," Kathryn said. "There's nothing big and blue about Merlin but his eyes."
Arthur snorted, Percival snickered, and Merlin felt his ears heat up. Percival said, "What about us, then? Me and Kathryn?"
Merlin blurted, "One hundred and one Dalmatians."
"What?" All three looked at him with surprise.
"You know, the parent Dalmatians, what were their names?" Merlin began to babble.
"Pongo and Perdita," Kathryn said. She wasn't laughing at him anymore.
"Yeah, with, like, ninety-nine kids." Now Merlin wanted to bite his own tongue. That glow of hers just reached out and captured him, made him a little punch-drunk on the miracle of life. "Percival – Peter – Perce – he's great with kids, you know, Gw – Gavin said he once saw him carry three kids –" He stumbled to a halt. That memory belonged to another lifetime.
"Merlin," Arthur said, a little too sharply for casual conversation.
"Yeah, Arthur?" Merlin winced.
Merlin managed to finish his lunch without saying another word, except goodbye to Percival and Kathryn, as sweet as ever. Arthur said nothing to him as they drove to the NSA building, and the glow faded.
They were ushered along a raised hallway that ran the length of one wall, separated by a handrail from the rest of the room, an open floor plan checkered with desks and workstations, almost all of which contained either a flurry of busyness or a grim-faced individual motionless before one or more computer screens. Merlin felt his blood stir. Any one of those people might benefit from his skills, his – magic. Any one of them might be closing in on a threat or eliminating suspicion from someone innocent – and he could help. He could –
He gripped the strap of his messenger bag, forcing his eyes back to the heels of Arthur's shoes in front of him. Nothing had changed in 1500 years. He could help, yes. But he had to prioritize. He had to use his gift with caution. He had to admit that most, if not all, of these people would resent his help. His skill. His magic. They would resent his youth, his unorthodox methods. And if they suspected the truth – hate and fear. Last lifetime – and this.
He was so busy trying to avoid catching the attention of anyone working on the office floor that he stopped two seconds too late to avoid treading on Arthur's heels and bumping into his back. "Sorry," he muttered swiftly, stepping back in embarrassment, but this Arthur simply cleared his throat pointedly, and didn't make any rude comments about Merlin's clumsiness or inattention.
"Gibson," said the low-level flunky assigned to walk them to Chance's office. "Arthur Drake and Marvin Caroban."
"Come on in," Chance's voice came from the interior of the office.
Merlin tried to catch the flunky's eyes to smile a thank-you for the service he'd shown, but the man simply turned on his heel without a second glance for either young man from Camelot, as though they were beneath his notice. Merlin slipped through the door behind Arthur, who was shaking Agent Chance's hand. "Good to see you again, Arthur," the older man said, his demeanor, as always, very serious.
"Likewise," Arthur responded.
Chance's gaze moved over Arthur's shoulder to linger curiously on Merlin, who avoided him and perched uncomfortably on the guest-chair furthest away from Chance's desk. It wasn't that he disliked Gibson Chance – no, the man was a professional, very good at what he did, but without an ounce of arrogance. He was just too – curious, for Merlin's comfort. He reminded Merlin, in a little way, of Aredian. The Witchfinder. His eyes said he guessed more than expected, and suspected more than was healthy. You have secrets, his eyes said. There would be no chains, no torture, no threats – no exposure to a lethal monarch… but no indication of what he would do with such knowledge, either. The uncertainty made Merlin uneasy.
"As you know, we've had the hacker known as Mordred in custody for several months now," Chance began, turning away from Merlin to turn on the small tv on the top shelf of his bookcase, at right angles to the desk. He picked up the remote and backed up to lean on the desk, the navy blue suit jacket that matched his trousers falling open from his white shirt casually. Arthur took the other guest-chair, closer to the tv and a little in front of Merlin. The screen looked down on a small, bare room where a skinny man with bulging eyes and an orange jumpsuit twitched at the cuffs connecting him loosely to his chair.
Chance hit Pause on the remote and turned back to them. "We've been interrogating him on the identity of his co-conspirators," he explained. "We're confident that we've caught most of the terrorists involved in your drone plot, but Mordred is vain – he's proud of his work. He wants to be admired, wants to brag. So we let him brag, lead him on – then do our best to sift fact from fiction."
Merlin stared at the screen instead of the NSA agent. Mordred's head was down, his hair shaved just about off, his skull showing pink and vulnerable. His hands were small, almost delicate, his nose crooked and too large for his face. He could have been twenty-two, or forty-two. His ugliness made it hard to tell.
There had been similarities between him and the original Mordred. Just a twist of time and place might have had Merlin running from the guards, desperate and alone and scared. Growing up in the forest, always hungry, always moving camp, always fearing the next raid – allying himself with scum to stay alive, ready to spew illogical hate at those who hurt him. Ready to betray – and murder.
He felt Arthur's eyes on him, but didn't meet his friend's gaze. He was not, after all, that much different from this Mordred either, was he? It could have been him, hacking into Camelot's files and records and programs, stealing information for his own gain…
Chance's voice interrupted his thoughts, "No luck identifying him by fingerprints, DNA, or dental records," he declared, a note of regret apparent. "We assume that he-"
"Those records are easy enough to hack," Merlin mumbled, and Chance's eyes were on him again.
The agent nodded. "Yes – he would have erased himself from the system quite thoroughly, wouldn't he?" The words seemed, to Merlin, to hold a double meaning, and he flinched from the man's piercing gaze, wishing he'd finished what he started, two years ago in Seattle, hacking into the database to erase himself. Wondering if it wasn't still worth doing, sooner rather than later. "He's given evidence on each of the six terrorist teams," Chance continued. "Enough for complete confirmation of our suspicions – though not a man of any arrested at the sites is saying word one."
"So you got what you needed," Arthur said, sounding pleased. Agent Chance nodded. "Then – why is our presence here necessary today? I was under the impression that we would be allowed to question him also, face to face?"
Chance hesitated a fraction of a second. "We decided that would be unwise," he said. "Mordred has developed quite an antipathy toward Marvin." They both looked at Merlin, who couldn't stop a sardonic smile. Of course Mordred had an antipathy toward Merlin. That feeling was entirely mutual. Mordred's rogue drone had almost taken Arthur's life.
"We?" Arthur asked, over a light knock sounding on the door.
"Come," Chance said, and they all looked up as another suited agent stepped through the door – thirty-ish, just as golden-haired as Arthur, with an air of arrogance to rival the former prince – Merlin couldn't help thinking, do you know how to walk on your knees? "This is one of the members of my team, Royce Frederick," Chance introduced them. Frederick, instead of extending a welcoming hand, simply nodded at both of them, kept his attention on Chance, dismissing their importance relative to the older man. "He handled much of the questioning of the subject. For the moment, just watch," Chance instructed. He glanced down at the remote to locate the Play button, then raised his eyes to the screen.
Within seconds, it became clear that the video of this interrogation session was muted. The three of them sat in silence and studied Mordred's body language. Without thinking, Merlin began to whistle quietly between his teeth, as a random habit he'd acquired to help focus concentration.
Moon River, wider than a mile/ I'm crossing you in style… someday… Two drifters, off to see the world/ There's such a lot of world… to see…
"He's not –" Arthur said slowly. "He's not… a leader. He's not… clever, intuitive…he's reacting to the questions, not anticipating… he's not … brilliant enough to think of this on his own." Royce Frederick snorted, but said nothing.
We're after the same… rainbow's end… waiting round the bend… Merlin slipped his laptop from his satchel, opened it to a word processor program, and began typing, his eyes on the television screen.
"He's socially awkward," Arthur continued, as if he was talking to himself – or just to Merlin – speaking his thoughts aloud before they were assembled in coherent order. "He's not comfortable with another person in the room with him… He wouldn't have the connections necessary, he wouldn't inspire the trust necessary… for hard-core terrorists."
My huckleberry friend… Merlin watched Mordred's hands dance nervously on the table in front of him, fingers tapping, raggedly-bitten nails flashing…
"He's a tool. He's an employee," Arthur said. "He's working for someone else – can you rewind that last bit? With the sound? He just said –"
Agent Chance wordlessly complied, and Mordred's voice flooded into the room, reedy, sneering, "Came-lot Industries? Yeah, of course… I know all about them."
"He never heard of us before," Arthur said, over onscreen Frederick's next question. "They way he said Camelot – came lot… then why would he choose to be known as Mordred…"
"Thomas Drake," Mordred hissed, onscreen, thick eyelids dropping over bulbous eyes. "Thomas Drake… yeah. Anything to bring him down. I've heard stories –" He shut his teeth with a snap.
"He refused to say anything after that," Frederick commented, as Chance found the Stop button on the remote.
"Let it play," Merlin interrupted. "Is there any more footage after this – let it play." The image sprang back to life – "Rewind a moment, please?" The image reversed motion, then picked up again… "I've heard stories…" Merlin watched closely, three more seconds. Mordred glanced up at the camera in the corner of the room, clutched his manacled hands together, then hid them beneath the edge of the table. Frederick's shoulder partially obscured the line of sight, then Mordred was freed from the chair, and escorted out.
Chance stopped the video, reached to turn off the television. "I had the same impressions," Chance told Arthur mildly. He glanced at Frederick and his lips twitched in a tiny smile. "Though it is a minority opinion." Frederick huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, but did not contradict the man Merlin assumed to be his superior. Chance continued, "I don't believe Mordred is the mastermind of the attack. Someone else is responsible. Someone with funding and connections…"
"Sir, I must respectfully reiterate, there is absolutely no hard evidence –" Frederick said with a martyr's air, chopping the air in front of him with one hand.
"Someone," Arthur realized, interrupting the younger agent, "whose enemy is not Camelot, but Thomas Drake. Someone who might have told him to use the alias Mordred." Merlin glanced up, startled, as Arthur and Gibson Chance shared a look.
"Do you know of any personal enemies your father might have? might have made over the years?" Chance said. Frederick rolled his eyes, and Merlin decided that the younger agent reminded him of Agravaine.
Arthur shook his head slowly. "No, he never discussed – those kinds of problems."
"Xander," Merlin said, and all three men looked at him. It gave him a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach that two such men should listen to him – and conversely, that someone like Royce Frederick should immediately scoff. He flexed his fingers in midair, mimicking the action of the hacker's hands. "He was typing."
"Typing," Frederick said derisively.
"Typing," Chance repeated, while Arthur turned a small proud smile on Merlin. "What did he say – er, write?" the agent asked.
"I'm sorry I'm sorry," Merlin said, glancing at the screen of his laptop, where he'd duplicated Mordred's phantom keystrokes. "I failed you I'm sorry – some more self-recrimination, begging for forgiveness – there at the end it's but Xander…" He glanced up warily at the others. If they wanted to see the whole thing, they'd see the threats Mordred made against Camelot's own computer wizard. "That's all."
Arthur clapped his hand on Merlin's knee just below the laptop, making him jump. "Well done, Merlin."
Even Frederick's silent, mockingly-mouthed repetition of the phrase could not dampen the rush of joy Merlin felt at his sovereign's praise. Just like that. After four months… and ten years.
"Xander," Chance said, taking Arthur's attention away from Merlin, who couldn't quite stifle a sigh. And so it goes… and so it goes…
"Do you know who that is?" Arthur said. "Can you find out?"
"That would be a waste of agency resources," Frederick protested. "Chasing illusions based on the word of a –" He flapped his hand in Merlin's direction, evidently not sure what label to give him.
"Yes, unfortunately, it would take some time and effort to get clearance for someone to work on that. And it depends on whether Xander is a last name, or a first name," Agent Chance murmured thoughtfully, ignoring his fellow agent, slapping the remote in his hand. "Or an alias." He glanced at the now-blank tv screen.
"Like Mordred," Arthur said. There was silence for the space of time it took for the same idea to occur to both men. They turned and simultaneously looked at Merlin.
"Could you find Xander?" Arthur asked him, as though Chance was no longer in the room. And Frederick wasn't, either, opening the door to exit, disgruntled.
"I can try," Merlin said, feeling a pinch of anxiety that stemmed from an inordinate desire to succeed and please his king, his friend, and an utterly irrational fear that he would fail. He looked away from Arthur and repeated, more grimly, "I can try."
A/N: Ok, so here's the first chapter of the sequel that some have requested. I intend 15 or so chapters, again, not sure yet as to chapter length or update time. I think every other day is probably an insane expectation (I put upon myself) so maybe 3-4 days? Also I will switch between Merlin's POV and Arthur's, which will be a change from Once and Future Destiny – hopefully everyone is okay with that. I hesitated because Merlin just thinks so much more than Arthur, I wasn't sure I could get it right… I guess we'll see?...
Also, here are the name changes, just to remind you:
Gaius (Dr. Augustus "Gus" Sagesse); Merlin (Marvin Caroban); Percival (Peter Spiers); Gwaine (Gavin Kraft); Elyan (Allen Bell); Uther (Thomas Drake); Gwen Bell and Arthur Drake.