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Faded expectations (trust no one)

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Sometimes Arthur wished he’d chosen to find his own path in life rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, as had always been expected of him. If one had asked him just over two years ago where he saw himself, never, not even as a joke, would he have ever imagined being relegated to the X-Files, with a partner who believed in aliens and government cover-ups.

Of course, even the most detailed plans in life can be derailed.

To most people, August 1991 marked the end of the failed Soviet coup and the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. For Special Agent Arthur Pendragon, August 1991 marked the end of his brilliant career in the FBI and the beginning of his new, alternate career in the X-files department.

He could remember it like it had happened just yesterday. One minute, he’d been on the fast track to becoming the new director of the FBI, just like his father before him, the next... Well, Arthur didn’t like to dwell on the ‘next’ part much, except when he got drunk and let his thoughts go over and over what had happened, in hopes of finding something to get him off the X-Files.

And to rub salt in the wound, he still couldn’t figure out what he had done wrong on that mission to deserve this punishment...

**

It was a typical North Western day, dank and dreary, and Arthur was soaked to the bone from the ghastly drizzle that had yet to see fit to stop. He shifted his weight to his other leg and rubbed his hands together, trying to force some heat and feeling back into his blue-tinged fingers. No such luck, he ran a hand through his damp hair to get it out of his eyes, which did nothing as the damp, limp strands just slid back into place. He was soaking and absolutely freezing and his partner was late.

He should have just called in sick, he thought as he checked his watch again only to see that it hadn’t even been five minutes since the last time he’d checked. He’d had a feeling that today was going to be a bad day the moment he woke up to find that there had been a power cut during the night and that his alarm had failed to go off. Fortunately, Arthur was a man of habit and had made it to work on time. Barely.

But Arthur knew that it wasn’t possible, taking a day off. There were some obvious advantages to being the son of the director of the FBI – he wouldn’t have made it this far otherwise, not yet anyway – but that didn’t mean that it was easy. Taking so much as a day off simply wasn’t an option. Arthur could have been dying and his father would have expected him at work all the same. In fact, Arthur had memories of working while hospitalised after being seriously injured during an intervention, much to the nurses’ despair.

Finally, a car pulled up next to his hiding spot and his uncle Agravaine, with whom Arthur has been paired for this mission, stepped out.

“Are they still there?” was the first thing he asked. Not even a “thanks for doing all the dirty work” – not that Arthur had been expecting one.

“Yes,” was all Arthur said in response. As if he’d still be there if they’d left.

Arthur still wasn’t sure who “they” were. All he knew was that they’d kidnapped a high-ranking FBI agent, known to Arthur as “Agent Smith” and that his father had put Agravaine and him in charge of extracting him if he was still alive.

Arthur had spent half the morning waiting for the captors to make a move and had spent the rest of the day following them around as they drove around town running various errands. Arthur hadn’t even had time to eat lunch. They were his only link to the missing agent and Arthur knew he couldn’t afford to lose them.

A few hours later, they’d finally made their way to a mansion in the middle of nowhere and Arthur had been waiting there ever since.

“All right, this is what we’ll do,” his uncle said. “You circle round and enter through the back door. I’ll make my way inside through the front. If any of them try to escape... well, you know what to do.”

Arthur nodded. Of course he knew what to do. It was one of the first lessons his father had taught him as a young impressionable child. Sometimes, you just had to shed a little blood for the greater good. Agravaine gave him a tight smile and clapped his shoulder before ushering him off towards the back of the mansion.

Arthur had managed to enter the mansion, tastefully decorated and reeking of old money, undetected – clearly the guards had learnt their job from watching too much TV – and was slowly but surely making his way to meet up with his uncle when he heard a shot be fired. Throwing caution to the wind, he ran in the direction of the shot, his gun, a standard issue SIG P228, in hand.

He collided with another person as he made his way round a corner, sending them both sprawling. Arthur was back on his feet almost immediately, years of training and experience having honed his reflexes, and had his gun aimed at the other person who was still on the floor where they’d landed. That was when Arthur noticed the blood, fresh blood spreading across a thread-bare shirt from a wound in his shoulder. A fresh gunshot wound, probably from the shot he’d just heard.

“Hey, are you all right?” he asked, kneeling down next to the other man but not letting up his guard.

The man turned his face towards Arthur sluggishly, his eyes bloodshot and unfocused. Arthur’s eyebrows shot up and his grip on his gun slackened slightly in shock and recognition.

There was no doubt that the man writhing in agony before him was the man they were looking for – Agent Smith. All they had to do now was get out of here alive. Maybe today wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Somehow, between the agent’s moans of pain, Arthur managed to get him up on his two legs, one arm slung over Arthur’s shoulders, and they slowly made their way back towards the unguarded back door.

Arthur could see his car, a typical nondescript black government car, so he slowed down, knowing for sure that they’d make it, so that Agent Smith could use his own two legs rather than be dragged along. It had been a long day and Arthur wasn’t really up to dragging even a waif like Agent Smith.

Being forced to use his two still-functional legs seemed to knock some consciousness back into the agent and Arthur found himself having to listen to him babble breathlessly on about a certain Project Albion, top secret and involving aliens.

“Will you please shut up!” Arthur hissed. The man was going to get them killed by going on about this nonsense taken straight from the FBI X-files and Arthur refused to have his death involve aliens. No, Arthur was either going to die at the peak of his career as head of the FBI or he was going to go out in a blaze of glory, making even his father proud. But not aliens, anything but aliens.

Arthur quickly gave up trying to make the agent shut up, he was clearly delirious with pain and Arthur couldn’t afford to wait until he passed out. He was only a few yards from his car, he already had his keys in his hand, when he heard another shot behind him. He tried to usher the agent towards his car faster but he wouldn’t move.

Arthur turned his head to give him a piece of his mind and that was when he noticed the gaping wound in the agent’s chest.

“Fuck!”

Arthur lowered him to the ground. Rationally, he knew that it was too late and that the mission was a bust but he couldn’t help himself from hoping that Agravaine had called for backup and that help was on the way. He didn’t want the man to die, no matter how annoying he’d found him in the few minutes he’d known him. He had no reason to want this man dead, and every reason to want him to stay alive.

“It’s going to be ok,” he murmured. “We’re going to get you out of here; you’re going to be fine.”

He wasn’t even sure whether he was trying to convince the agent or himself.

“Please… Please. E-Excalibur,” said the agent, in a voice so quiet that Arthur could barely hear him.

Arthur saw it, the moment life left the man’s eyes, the way they froze, distant and unfocused, never to see again. He froze, shocked to the core by what he’d seen. It never got any easier to witness someone’s last moments. In fact, Arthur was starting to suspect that it only got worse. Some people got used to it, but Arthur secretly hoped he never became so jaded.

Arthur shook his head to compose himself. Now wasn’t the time to worry about life and death and other philosophical concepts – he wasn’t out of this mess yet. He dragged the agent’s body to his car and stuffed him in the back seat. Sparing a quick glance to his surroundings to see if he couldn’t locate the shooter, Arthur quickly drove off as fast as he could. He had to get the fallen agent’s body to the closest morgue before it was too badly decomposed. Maybe the doctors would be able to find clues as to the shooter’s identity, anything that would help them close this case.

As he drove, the man’s last word resonated in his head. Excalibur. Why he’d said that was a mystery, one that Arthur would probably never solve. Still, he couldn’t quite shake the words from his mind as he drove to the morgue.

**

Arthur had expected things to go many ways after dropping the body off at the morgue but he certainly hadn’t expected to be called into his superior’s office to be shouted at. Sure, the mission was a complete failure and maybe he was being berated separately from his uncle, but surely it wasn’t bad enough to warrant suspension without pay. Was Agent Smith really that important?

His ears still ringing from the dressing down, Arthur had then stopped by the morgue to see if the doctors had found anything only to find that the body was ‘missing’. Arthur wasn’t stupid though, ‘missing’ could only mean one thing: someone didn’t want Arthur to find answers. Why anyone would want to cover up the death of an agent during a rescue operation, Arthur had no idea but he was now regretting not taking pictures of the agent’s wounds, or not getting his finger prints, or even just a picture of the agent himself. And with a name like ‘Smith’… Especially given that Arthur had a gut feeling that that probably wasn’t the man’s real name.

Finally, to give a horrible day a downer ender, Arthur was visited by his father at his flat late that night only to be informed of his relegation to the X-files department, effective as of the end of his suspension.

Oh, it wasn’t relegation per se – it was a transfer, Arthur still kept his rank and salary – but everyone knew that being sent to the X-Files only meant one thing: relegation. It meant he’d screwed up badly and was being put away.

On paper, the X-Files sounded no different from other departments. In theory, it was where files deemed unsolvable were sent – lack of evidence, lack of perpetrator, suicides under suspicious circumstances…

In practice, it was where all the ‘weird’ files were sent. Weird as in aliens, mysterious and strange creatures, supernatural powers.

Nobody in the FBI took the X-Files department seriously. It was a joke, it was a threat.

After that, the day probably hadn’t worsened, but Arthur had no idea because he’d downed half a bottle of gin before going to bed.

Later, Arthur would reflect on the mission – between official reports and investigations, as well as dressing downs from his father, he didn’t really have much of a choice – and wonder if that wasn’t where it had all gone wrong.

Maybe Agent Smith was meant to die from the beginning.

**

And now, Arthur was stuck dealing with X-files, of all things, with the FBI’s resident conspiracy theory specialist. Why did the department even exist? Why was a separate department created just to handle files deemed unsolvable?

And on top of all that, it was in the fucking basement, of all places. The basement. Put away, out of sight, out of mind.

He put his elbows on his desk and rubbed his temples, sighing heavily. His nutter of a partner, one special agent Lancelot Du Lac, had suddenly vanished two weeks ago, claiming to be onto something. As usual, Arthur thought darkly. No doubt he would reappear in a few days’ time, with ‘irrefutable proof’ of a government cover-up and that aliens were amongst them.

Wouldn’t be the first time. Last time, he’d brought ‘proof’ that a secret faction of government agents had been experimenting on an alien captured from a downed ship. Of course, the proof, three grainy photos, were proven to be fakes by the FBI’s photo lab. According to Lancelot, this was further proof of the cover up.

Lancelot really wasn’t that bad of a guy. In fact, outside of work, he was a really nice guy, funny, loyal, and as non-judgemental as they got. At work though… Suffice to that Arthur was starting to become very good at tuning him out.

Arthur looked up at the clock on the wall. Five minutes to go until his day ended. Good enough. He stood up, grabbed his coat, and left with four minutes and forty-five seconds to spare.

He would never even have thought of leaving early before. His whole life, he had strived to make his father proud, and to prove to others that he hadn’t made it this far just on his father’s name.

No, Arthur never left until he had finished his work, no matter how late it was. And when he was working a particularly tough case, it wasn’t uncommon to find him at his desk well into the early hours of the morning. And regardless of when he left, Arthur always took work home.

Now, it didn’t really matter, did it? He had very little hope of leaving this department, so why bother? Arthur still did his work diligently, but why do more?

**

It hadn’t really been his intention, but Arthur found himself at the gay bar he sometimes frequented.

Now, Arthur wasn’t gay. He wasn’t, he simply wasn’t. But sometimes, he got these urges to be with a man, and the Rising Sun was perfect for anonymous hook-ups. And there was nothing wrong with that.

He’d never seen a single person from work frequent it and it was far enough from where he worked and where he lived that it wasn’t dangerous for him to be there. No one would see, no one would know, no one would talk about it.

He’d found the bar a few years earlier when he’d been investigating a string of murders, possibly committed by a serial killer. All his victims had last been seen at the bar, but the MO varied slightly from victim to victim.

He hadn’t meant to come back, that first time. But it felt good to be able to be the person he could never be, not if he wanted his father’s approval. And after that, he’d kept coming back until, eventually, he found himself going about once a month, possibly less.

Arthur wasn’t really in the mood for sex, not tonight, so he went up to the bar and ordered a pint, making sure to avoid any eye contact.

He slowly sipped at his drink, soaking in the warm, quiet, smoky atmosphere of the bar, and letting himself relax.

By the time he’d finished his pint, he was in a much better mood. He hadn’t forgotten about his worries and problems, far from it, but he was in a good enough mood that they were in the background, like he could take care of them later.

The bartender placed another pint in front of him before Arthur had even considered ordering a second one.

“From the gentleman in the corner,” the bartender said with a nod. He also slid a folded piece of paper towards Arthur.

He was about to refuse, he didn’t feel up to being social, but the bartender added, “He insisted.”

Arthur took a quick glance at the corner but saw no one there. He sighed. He really wasn’t in the mood for games.

He considered the folded paper, nothing more than a piece torn from a notebook. Unfolding it, there was a short message written in clear letters: “Meet me outside in 5. I can help you.”

Well, it wasn’t quite the standard for a quickie out back, Arthur thought. He wanted to ignore the message, but there was something about it, something he couldn’t identify, that had him seriously considering meeting the person behind the note. He was curious, in a way he hadn’t been in ages.

Five minutes passed with Arthur trying to not check his watch every few seconds. He left his pint untouched, and a few notes to cover his tab.

To get out back, Arthur passed the pool tables, then the loos, before finally reaching the door. Not that Arthur had ever indulged in quickies at the bar – far too dangerous as he might be caught by a policeman on patrol – but he’d gone over the layout of the bar until he knew it by heart. He needed to know every single possible exit in case he needed to escape, and also to know which way the potential serial killer could take his victims.

The sun had long since set by the time Arthur opened the door. The night was cold and damp, the only light coming from a streetlight.

At first, he thought the alleyway was deserted and was about to head back in, slightly disappointed, when he heard a lighter click, and soon the acrid smell of cigarettes floated in the air.

“You came,” said the stranger, emerging from the shadows.

“You asked,” he replied. The man gave a brief nod.

The man in front of him was tall, of medium build, with grey-ish hair slicked down. He was wearing a long black coat over his suit. All in all, he didn’t really look like the kind of man who would solicit Arthur to have sex in public.

“You said you could help me,” Arthur said when it became obvious that the man was not going to initiate the conversation.

“I can,” he said. “I can help you get off the X-Files.”

Arthur’s heart started racing in excitement at the prospect. He couldn’t allow himself to get excited though, not without knowing for sure. He’d done that before, only to find that he would never leave the X-Files. It hurt, and so he had learnt to manage his expectations.

“How?”

“Your partner, agent Du Lac, was investigating a missing persons case before he left.”

It was hard not to roll his eyes, but really… If Lancelot’s cases were involved, it was unlikely that he’d be rehabilitated.

“He was investigating a doctor named Gaius,” the man continued, unaware of Arthur’s thoughts. “He lives and has a practice in Ealdor, Washington.”

“Ok,” Arthur said. He didn’t really know what to say. What could he say given how little information he’d been given so far?

“Your partner should have a file with all the information you need.”

“Wait, what?” This wasn’t how it worked. People came to him with information, to give him everything he needed to handle the case. This was… This was ridiculous.

“I gave him all the information I had,” the man said, as if he knew what Arthur was thinking. “I couldn’t keep any copies, it’s too dangerous.”

“Dangerous?”

“This case runs deeper than you think,” the man said in a low voice. He was starting to get fidgety, his eyes kept darting about, as if he was expecting to be overheard. “Do not trust anyone. Find the file, but don’t tell anybody about the case.”

Before Arthur could formulate a coherent response, the man turned and started walking away.

“Wait!” Arthur finally called.

The man stopped but didn’t turn to face him.

“Who are you?” he asked quietly, unsure. There was something about the man that exuded… not exactly power, but experience and influence. Why would such a man need Arthur’s help?

“Who I am is of no importance,” the man said.

“But how will I contact you?”

“You won’t. I’ll contact you.”

And with that, the man walked away, leaving Arthur nonplussed, not even sure what to think anymore.

**

The next morning, Arthur, for the first time in ages, arrived at work early.

It would have been so easy to dismiss last night’s encounter as nothing more than a joke, but there had been something about the man that had Arthur combing his partner’s desk for a file on a doctor named Gaius.

Whether that was the doctor’s first or last name, or if it was an alias, Arthur didn’t know. But that was all he had.

Unlike Arthur, Lancelot was a fairly tidy guy, so going through his files was easy. Or it would have been if Arthur had been able to find anything about the so-called Gaius.

He’d started with the obvious, files that started with ‘G’. Nothing. After that, he’d gone through each file individually, looking for anything that connected to the case. It had taken hours, and still nothing.

Arthur was close to giving up. It was obvious that the file wasn’t in Lance’s office. Which left two possibilities. Either he’d taken the file home, and Arthur was not going to break and enter just for a file of unknown worth, or he’d taken it with him, which, either way, meant that he was screwed.

Of course, there was a third possibility. Someone had gone through Lance’s files while Arthur wasn’t in the office and found it first.

There was a noise in the corridor leading to his office and Arthur jumped slightly. His hand knocked Lance’s expensive fountain pen and sent it rolling under the desk. He cursed – when had he become so paranoid? – and lowered himself to the floor, keeping an eye on the door to their office.

Arthur was feeling around under the desk for the pen when his hand brushed over a small, cool object. He grabbed it and brought it out so he could see it. It wasn’t Lance’s pen, it was a small, silver-coloured key. And Arthur knew exactly where it came from; he’d recognise that key anywhere. It was a key to a locker at Union Station.

Things were starting to look up.

**

Arthur reached Union Station at the peak of the rush hour. Perfect timing. There were so many people in the station that it would be hard for anyone to keep track of him, he would just blend into the crowd and hopefully go unnoticed.

Before heading to the lockers, Arthur had a quick walk around the station. Just in case. One of the many lessons that his father had taught him was that you could never be too careful.

He stopped to buy a coffee and danish. By the time he’d finished them as he checked the perimeter, he was reasonably sure that he was not being followed.

He quickly made his way to the lockers. The key in his hand had had its number scratched off. Instead, there was a neat ‘16’ in black ink. And Arthur knew, he knew he was onto something.

One evening, after work, and after a more than a few drinks, Lance had confided that with sensitive numbers, like locker numbers, for example, he had a system in place so that nobody could find the right number. And Arthur, of course, had retained every piece of information Lancelot had shared that night. He’d figured it might come in handy someday.

It was a pretty simple system, really. For even numbers, such as the ‘16’ on the key, he reversed the digits, divided the resulting number by two, took the integer and added five.

He stopped in front of locker number 35 and put the key in the lock. He turned the key and the locker unlocked itself. Arthur’s heart was beating fast with excitement. He’d missed the surge of adrenaline a good case brought.

The locker was tall and thin, but it only contained a single, beige folder, leaning against the wall. Arthur grabbed the file and put it in his briefcase, closed the locker, and quickly made his way out of the station. He couldn’t linger, not now that he had the file he’d been looking for.

He could have headed back to the Bureau to pick up his car and drive home. Instead, he decided to take the bus, making several detours just in case he was being followed.

Trust no one. That was what the man had said. Maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t a joke. And if so, Arthur was not going to let anyone get in between him and solving this case.

When he finally got home, Arthur opened the file, not even bothering to take off his shoes or coat. There wasn’t much inside the file, just a single typewritten sheet with very little information on it, barely more than a summary police report. Date disappeared, last known address, but nothing that explained why this case was so important.

It didn’t take Arthur long to memorise the information.

**

The following morning, before the sun had even started to rise and the city was still shrouded in thick shadows, Arthur called in sick at work. Stomach bug, probably from last night’s dinner, he said. The woman on the other side of the line wished him a prompt recovery in that same warm but impersonal tone people use when they’ve had to say the same thing hundreds of times before and have stopped caring, then hung up. He then called for a cab to take him to the airport.

By the time he reached the airport, the night was at its darkest, right before dawn. Arthur shoved a few notes at the driver and didn’t wait for his change. He always kept a fairly large amount of money in change in his safe precisely for times like these. If he’d used his card this morning, it would have given anyone at the Bureau that might have been keeping tabs on him the ability to see that something was happening. Keeping cash gave him a slight head start.

There were no queues at the ticket counters – most people flying at this time were blurry-eyed regulars who’d already purchased their ticket.

“One-way to Seattle, please,” he told the young blonde woman behind the counter. Her name tab read ‘Vivian’.

Vivian pressed a few buttons on her computer. “You’re in luck,” she said. “I can fit you on the next plane out, it’s boarding right now.”

That was perfect, Arthur thought. The less time he spent waiting around here, the less likely it was that he’d be found. He really was taking the man’s advice to trust no one to heart. If nothing else, it provided a bit of a thrill.

“Great, thanks,” he said.

The total for the flight appeared on the display, and Arthur carefully counted his notes. It was a carefully scripted act, trying to appear as normal as possible to not stick out. If he wasn’t careful with his money here, it was likely she’d remember him. And he couldn’t take that risk.

And of course, he absolutely could not, under any circumstance, pay using his card. Too easy to trace. And as for cheques… Well, he might as well call his father and wait to be picked up by the agents he would send out.

Vivian handed him his change while his ticket was printed, then gave it to him. Arthur said good-bye and headed off towards the gate.

**

By the time his plane had landed and Arthur had left the airport, it was early afternoon and he was starving.

Once he’d managed to rent a car and was on his way, he stopped at the first food place he found. It wasn’t anything great, but it was cheap and filling.

Before setting off again, Arthur took the time to check the map he’d just bought of the state. It looked like it would take him the better part of the afternoon to reach Ealdor.

It would have been much quicker to catch a connection at Seattle airport to get him closer to his destination. But Arthur felt safer doing it this way. Nobody could track him while he was in the car.

**

It was, in fact, well into the evening by the time Arthur reached the sleepy town of Ealdor. He’d driven through the town to get an idea, then continued down the road until he reached a motel.

All he wanted to do at this point was to crash for the night, but with the sun setting and the light growing dim, it was the perfect time to go snooping. And who knew how much time he had before his lie was discovered and was made to return to DC.

“Heading out already?” the owner of the motel, Gwaine, asked him, his English accent unexpected. He probably meant nothing by that – he probably said that to every tenant – but Arthur was a bit on edge, a combination of tiredness and too much coffee.

“That’s really none of your business,” Arthur replied a bit shortly.

“You’re right, of course,” Gwaine replied casually. “But I can give you an address or two if you’re looking for a good time. If you know what I mean.”

“Is that so?”

Gwaine’s friendly grin turned a bit naughty. “One of them’s my room, if you’re interested, Mr. … Dubois, was it?”

Dubois was Arthur’s mother’s maiden name. He always used it as his name when he went undercover.

He’d never known his mother. From what little his father had told him about her over the years, Arthur had found out that she’d died not long after giving birth to him. He’d seen a few pictures, and heard a few stories his father had told him after having just a bit too much to drink, but other than that, he knew very little.

He suspected, both from personal experience, and from the tales his father’s colleagues would tell when they thought he wasn’t listening, that his mother’s death had devastated him. And it was probably why Arthur had been sent to the best schools England had to offer as soon as he was old enough to attend.

Oh, Arthur knew that part of it was just his father showing off his wealth – an education in Europe, no matter how good or how bad always looked good. But Arthur had always thought that part of the reason his father had sent him away was because Arthur reminded him of his wife, of her death, of his loss.

“Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve got things to do,” he said, pushing the thoughts of his mother and of his past to the back of his mind. He had a job to do, he couldn’t let himself be distracted.

Gwaine just shrugged. “If you insist. Shame though. You know where to find me if you change your mind.”

**

Gaius’s surgery stood out amongst the houses on that street with its wild, overgrown front garden and closed shutters that were in desperate need of a coat of paint.

Arthur took a quick look around him to make sure nobody’s watching before making his way around back, where he was less likely to be noticed.

The back door was locked, just as Arthur had expected it to be. But if there was one thing Arthur was good at, it was picking locks. All that time he and his half-sister Morgana had spent breaking into Uther’s liquor cabinet during the holidays was definitely paying off, he thought with a wry smile. Morgana would have been so proud of him, using skills he’d learnt from Uther to go against him.

God he missed her, Arthur thought, chest clenching painfully. It had been almost two years since he’d last seen or heard from her. He’d never tell her, of course. She’d never let him live it down. But he really did miss her, even when she was at her most annoying and making Arthur face truths he’d rather ignore.

Gaius’s surgery was located at the front of the house, and it seemed that that was where the doctor also kept all his files. Arthur was relieved to notice that it didn’t seem like the house had been visited in some time, the thick layer of dust looking undisturbed. Hopefully not since Gaius had disappeared those four-or-so months ago.

All the doctor’s files were still in his filing cabinet, put away alphabetically, but for one file, open on the desk, gathering dust.

The last entry in the file was dated the day before Gaius had gone missing according to Lance’s file, a few notes hastily scribbled, nothing of much relevance.

Arthur closed the file to see the patient name. The file belonged to a certain M. Emrys. The name rang a bell, but he couldn’t quite place where he’d heard the name before.

He reopened the file, skimming through it. He noticed that this M. Emrys had been seen by the doctor many times in the weeks leading up to Gaius’s disappearance, sometimes even twice a week.

It was looking at the first date in the series of frequent visit that Arthur finally remembered where he’d heard the name before. Merlin Emrys, he’d seen his name in one of the files he’d gone through while looking for Lance’s file on Gaius.

The file had caught his eye, though he couldn’t say why. Merlin had disappeared briefly around the time of that first visit. A few days, nothing more, then he’d returned unscathed and unable to remember anything that had happened those last few days.

The local police department had thought nothing of it, attributing his disappearance and lack of memory to stress or drugs. It didn’t really surprise him that the file had landed in Lance’s lap.

The file also contained Merlin’s address, also in Ealdor. Arthur wanted to go and see him now, but it was getting late and Arthur was running on empty.

Arthur decided to head back to the motel and get some rest. He’d check on Merlin Emrys first thing the following morning. It was unlikely that anything would happen tonight. But just to make sure, he took Merlin’s file with him.

**

Arthur woke up early the following morning, feeling neither rested nor relaxed, but at least feeling less tired than last night. He fixed himself a cup of coffee, awful, drinking it as he got ready, before heading off. He gave Gwaine a polite nod as he headed out, but made sure to avoid getting stuck in a conversation with the man. For one, he wanted to see Merlin Emrys before it got much later, and secondly, Gwaine was very curious, if not downright nosey. And it was very hard to keep his undercover story straight when he hadn’t really had enough time to fine-tune it.

Merlin Emrys’s house was fairly easy to find on the map, located on the outskirts of town, just off the main street. The sun was barely starting to rise over the hills, painting the trees golden, when he rang the doorbell.

When, after a minute, no one had answered the door and Arthur couldn’t hear any noise coming from the house, he rang the doorbell again, hoping that Merlin wasn’t out. The sooner he saw him, the better.

He was about to ring again when the door was opened a crack, giving Arthur a glimpse of a young man, looking about the same age as Arthur, maybe a bit younger, with a pale face, striking blue eyes, prominent cheekbones and dark unruly curls. He had dark shadows under his eyes and a hint of a beard, looking like Arthur had just woke him up.

“It’s seven thirty, this had better be good,” Merlin grumbled, his generic English accent surprising Arthur. He certainly hadn’t expected that. Twice in a remote area, should he be worried?

“Mr Emrys?” Arthur asked.

“Um, who’s asking?” the young man answered, sounding cautious, nervous even. He’d clearly been expecting someone, someone who wasn’t Arthur.

“Special agent Pendragon, FBI,” Arthur said, holding up his badge. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Merlin frowned. “I’ve already talked to the FBI.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Arthur answered. “My partner, special agent Du Lac is investigating your case. Your name came up in a case I’m investigating.”

“Oh, where is agent Du Lac?” Merlin asked, curious and slightly less apprehensive. “Wouldn’t it be better for me to talk to him since he knows what happened to me?”

“Don’t worry, I’m up-to-date on the case.”

“Oh he’s told you about it? What can I do to help you?”

“Could I come in, maybe? It would be easier that way.”

But Merlin didn’t seem to want to let him in. The moment Arthur asked to come in, the young man turned nervous, looking anywhere but at Arthur. And that had him wondering. What exactly was Merlin hiding that he didn’t want him to come in?

“Why?” Merlin asked quietly.

“This may take a while, and I think we’d both rather not be overheard.”

Merlin took a deep breath to steady himself and opened the door fully.

Arthur couldn’t keep himself from gasping at the sight of the young man in front of him. Even though he looked tall and thin, his stomach was distended like he was… like he was…

“Shit, shit, oh my god!” He could hear Merlin panicking in the background. “You said you knew!”

“I didn’t say that I knew,” Arthur retorted, focusing on his surroundings rather than his thoughts, his voice loud with panic too. “I don’t know anything! What was I supposed to know?”

“You said you were up-to-date on the case!” Merlin almost shouted accusingly, starting to sound hysterical. He was pacing up and down the hall, one hand over his mouth or running through his dark hair, the other resting on his stomach, almost protectively. “Why don’t you know about this?”

“Let’s go inside,” Arthur offered, still reeling from the shock. “Then you can tell me all about it, Mr Emrys.”

Merlin stopped in his tracks for a moment, composing himself with a deep breath. He didn’t seem any less nervous or scared, but it had at least calmed down his hysterics. Hopefully none of the neighbours had heard the outburst. And if they had, hopefully Merlin would remain quiet long enough for them to stop caring.

“Right, I guess you can come in,” he conceded eventually.

Arthur closed the door behind him and followed Merlin into what he supposed was the living room. It was a fairly small room, almost cramped, with bookcases stuffed with books of all sizes and colours covering most of the walls. There was a faint smell of old musty books in the room that the cracked-open window couldn’t quite dispel. The window gave onto a small garden that had seen better days. Oh, sure, the lawn was mowed, but the flower beds were crawling with weeds.

Merlin sat down in a worn, comfortable-looking recliner, gesturing for Arthur to sit as well.

“Why are you here? Where’s Lancelot? It was his case! He promised he’d keep this quiet,” Merlin started again, still sounding on edge.

“What did Lancelot promise to keep quiet?” Arthur asked, forcing himself to sound warm and friendly, even though he was still in shock. Surely his eyes were playing tricks on him, Merlin couldn’t be… He just couldn’t. Right?

It took a while before Merlin spoke again, giving Arthur enough time to calm himself enough to at least sound professional.

“I’m pregnant,” Merlin finally admitted, in such a quiet voice that Arthur almost didn’t catch it.

But it made no sense! Merlin was a man, right? Men didn’t get pregnant. And yet… Here he was, faced with a man who had no reason whatsoever to be lying about his current status. And it certainly explained the secrecy and hysteria and everything.

“Men can’t get pregnant,” Arthur answered, his voice almost as quiet as Merlin’s.

“I had no idea,” Merlin scoffed, his hand coming up again to curl protectively around his stomach.

“But… How?”

“I realised I was pregnant a bit after I was abducted,” he said softly, looking anywhere but at Arthur.

“That doesn’t explain why you’re pregnant. And why you?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin started nervously. He paused, licked his lips, trying to compose himself, before continuing. “I have magic,” Merlin whispered. “I think that’s why they took me, because I have magic.”

Arthur heard him as clearly as if he had shouted it.

**

Monday morning found Arthur back at work, after taking a few days to recover from his trip to Ealdor. It wasn’t so much that he’d needed the rest physically, he’d needed it mentally. Between the disappointment, and learning that male pregnancy was even possible. And that Merlin Emrys had magic.

It was too much, it was all too much.

Arthur had been brought up to believe that magic users were all evil. His father always told him to not trust them. Or he’d have colleagues round, and they’d joke about all the horrible things they would do if they could get away with it.

It wasn’t that Arthur hadn’t formed his own opinions about magic and magic users over time. There were good ones, and there were bad ones. And in his line of work, he mostly ended up dealing with the bad ones. Which had skewed his perception on magic in the past years.

Who knew what kind of magic user Merlin was. But in that moment, he’d been overwhelmed, and he’d left Merlin sitting in that recliner.

It was unlikely that Merlin knew anything about Gaius’s disappearance. He’d asked, of course, it would have been silly to have come that far and not ask. But it had been a waste of a trip, and he’d been stupid to accept that case from that man at the bar.

And now he was back at work, carefully avoiding drawing attention to himself. His father probably wasn’t pleased that he’d taken so much time off.

After a long day of trying to focus on his own cases and avoiding his father, Arthur felt the need to relax. And so, five minutes before his shift was due to end, he grabbed his coat and briefcase and left the building.

He was definitely picking up some very bad habits these days. Arthur couldn’t quite bring himself to care (much).

Forty-five minutes later, he was at the Rising Sun, at the bar, waiting to order a drink. There weren’t many people yet, but Arthur was hopeful someone interesting would come along before he left.

Before Arthur could order anything, the bartender slid a pint his way with a scrap of torn paper.

“From the gentleman in the corner,” he said.

Arthur’s heart jumped a bit, excitement, maybe, at the prospect of having a good night. He discreetly turned to have a look at the corner the bartender had indicated only to find it empty. His heart sank and picked up the piece of paper. Outside was the only word scribbled on it, with none of the careful letters from last time.

Arthur was sorely tempted to ignore the piece of paper, enjoy his pint, and go home. But if the man from last time had managed to track him down to the Rising Sun, surely he would know where Arthur lived. After all, it wasn’t the kind of information he kept secret, the HR department at the FBI had his address on file. And who knew how many other people knew where he lived.

And so it was reluctantly that Arthur made his way out back, just like last time. And just like last time, the man was waiting for him, partly concealed by the shadows.

“I thought you were investigating the case I gave you,” the man started, no preamble, no greetings, straight down to business.

“How can I investigate the case if you won’t give me all the facts?” Arthur asked, a bit annoyed. “And what case, anyway? All I can see is a doctor gone missing, no evidence of foul play, and a man who claims to have been abducted and made pregnant.”

“I gave you everything I have.”

“Which is absolutely nothing,” Arthur continued, trying to keep his annoyance from seeping into his voice. “You could have at least told me what I was getting myself into.”

The man sighed. “It’s dangerous for me to give you too much information. They can trace it back to me. And you’re a good agent, I was hoping you’d find Mr Emrys on your own.”

“So you’re saying this Emrys is involved,” Arthur said. “How?”

The man pulled a folder from under his arm and handed it to Arthur. “This will probably be of use to you.”

“What is it?” Arthur asked.

“Another case, similar to Emrys’s. I’m sure you’ll find it of use.”

“I never said I’d investigate the case.”

The man smirked at him knowingly. “I’m sure you want to know just what’s going on. But remember, don’t trust anybody. They don’t want the truth to come to light and they’ll do anything to stop you.”

And with that, he turned and left. This time, Arthur didn’t even try to stop him, regardless of the cryptic sentence.

**

The following morning found Arthur once again at work early. There was something about this case that kept him coming back again and again against his better judgement. It wasn’t so much the prospect of his potential rehabilitation in the FBI, it was more that he didn’t like not knowing what was going on.

And then, there was Mr Emrys, Merlin. Even if Arthur thought the X-Files department was a load of bull, there was the fact that Merlin was, almost certainly, pregnant. Arthur didn’t know why he believed Merlin’s ludicrous story, but it was the only thing fuelling his desire to look into this case, see what monsters he would find at the end.

The file he had been given was short, very little information, just like the last one. But the details of the case were similar to Merlin’s – went missing for a few days, came back, went to the doctor’s. The ending was different though. Where Merlin was alive and well, the other victim, after a gap of a few months between entries on his file, had committed suicide.

There was a death certificate attached to the file. Arthur skimmed it, not expecting any useful information to be contained in it, so he almost missed the very end of the document.

The doctor’s name? Gaius.

It was like a light went on in his head. What the hell was going on here? It could be a coincidence, of course, but… Could it be that Gaius might not be the innocent missing victim he’d assumed he was until now? Is that why he was given this file?

Maybe there were more victims, he thought.

It took him the better part of the day, but by the time he was ready to go home, Arthur’s eyes were sore and he had compiled a list of names of people who had been involved in similar cases all over the country, spanning almost two decades.

He’d have to make another trip to Gaius’s surgery, to see if he could find them in his patient files. But for now, there was one man he wanted to track down.

Most of the victims in the files were either dead (usually suicide, at least according to the autopsy report). One had disappeared for good, one was locked up in a mental institution up in Massachusetts, but one man was alive and seemingly well.

An elementary school teacher by the name of Daegal Williams, who taught and lived in DC. It was almost too good to be true.

“Am I interrupting something?” came a voice from the door to his office.

Arthur looked up to see Gwen leaning against the frame, a small smile playing on her lips.

“No, not at all, I was just going through some files.”

Gwen took that as an invitation to come in, carefully avoiding the piles of files on the floor, where Arthur had relocated an hour into his search.

“That’s a lot of files. For a case?” she asked, kneeling down beside him.

Arthur nodded.

“Need a hand?”

Arthur hesitated for a minute, almost saying yes. There were few people he really trusted, but Gwen was one of them. They’d been friends for years, ever since she’d joined the FBI, and was one of the few people who hadn’t mocked him for being relegated to the X-Files. They’d been through so much together.

But he couldn’t ignore the man’s warnings, do not trust anyone, it’s dangerous…

“Can’t, sorry.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Gwen, because he did, unconditionally. But he didn’t want to drag her into this mess for two reasons. One, this wasn’t official FBI business, and he didn’t want to get her into trouble. Two, Arthur could defend himself. He’d been trained at the academy, and had honed his skills on the field. Gwen, however, while not helpless, was not a field agent, but worked in the FBI labs as a geneticist mainly.

Gwen nodded, understanding. “You know you can come to me anytime, right? I’ll always help you. If I can, of course. Not that you really need my help, you’re a good agent. But I will help you if you need help.”

Arthur smiled at her. “I know. Thank you, Gwen.”

Gwen smiled back. “Don’t worry, if you end up owing me, you can take me out for drinks and a meal.”

“I knew there was a reason you offered,” Arthur teased.

They were quiet for a moment, while Arthur tried to put some order to the mess he’d made.

“Have you heard anything from Lance?” Gwen asked eventually, her voice quiet and tentative.

Arthur shook his head. “Sorry, nothing,” he said sympathetically.

Before Lance had left-slash-gone missing (there was an open investigation, technically, though Arthur wasn’t involved), it had seemed to Arthur that Lance and Gwen were finally getting closer, to the point where he’d been expecting either one of them to announce that they were dating.

Having been friends with both of them for so long, he’d noticed how they’d sneak glances when they thought the other wasn’t looking, or how they would slowly, over the course of the evening, end up sitting closer and closer.

To Arthur, it was obvious that they fancied each other, and it was equal parts adorable and frustrating how close they’d gotten without ever asking each other out.

“Wanna go out for a drink?” Gwen asked.

“Not tonight, sorry,” Arthur answered. He wanted to talk to Deagal Williams as soon as possible. He was hoping that the teacher could shed some light on the case. Like what exactly was going on, because so far, Arthur had very little to go on.

“Case?” Gwen asked.

When Arthur neither confirmed it nor denied it, Gwen smiled. “I’ll see you soon, alright? Don’t do anything foolish.”

**

Deagal Williams was easy to track down, so Arthur was at his house, knocking on the door just before six. Hopefully, he’d be home from work by then.

A young man, probably no older than thirty, answered the door. Inside, he could hear children laughing and shouting like they were having the time of their lives.

“Mr Williams?” Arthur asked. “Deagal Williams?”

“That’s me,” Deagal answered.

“Special agent Pendragon, FBI. Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Sure, what about?”

“I have a few questions about your abduction, back in ‘88.”

Up until then, Deagal had appeared open, almost friendly, willing to help the FBI if he could. But the moment Arthur mentioned his abduction, he closed himself off immediately, colour draining from his face.

“There’s nothing to say about that, really. As I told the FBI back then, I just… needed a bit of time to myself. Tough times, you know? I needed to clear my head.”

Deagal rubbed his palms against his jeans nervously. Arthur knew he was holding something back, something that might be vital to his case, but he couldn’t push too hard or he’d lose him. He was one of the very few things he had to go on, he couldn’t afford to lose him. Not until he knew what he needed to know.

“Is everything alright, Mr Williams?” Arthur asked. “You seem nervous.”

“No, no, I’m fine,” Deagal answered. “Just having a hard time at work. You know how it is, all those papers and tests to grade, so little time.”

“Are you sure you don’t remember anything about your abduction?”

“I told you,” Deagal snapped before catching himself. “I was just going through a rough time. I’m sorry for all the worry I caused and I’m better now. Now you’ll have to excuse me, but it’s almost dinner time for the kids and my wife’s not feeling well, so…”

“Alright, thank you for your time, Mr Williams,” Arthur said. “Here’s my card, if you think of anything.”

To say that Arthur was disappointed was an understatement. He’d been expecting so much from this confrontation that to walk away with nothing was frustrating.

Well, almost nothing. Deagal Williams was hiding something, out of fear or because he was guilty, Arthur didn’t know. But he’d have to talk to him again.

**

Arthur’s second best hope was a man called George Foster, interned at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, and so he’d called to make an appointment to see him.

Unfortunately, as he was told over the phone, George Foster was in no condition to receive visitors outside of his immediate family, as it would interfere with his treatment, undo all the progress they’d made with him.

Arthur called bullshit. George Foster had been interned for ten years at this point – it was unlikely that Arthur’s visit would have changed anything.

Still, he hadn’t pressed the issue. They were keeping George Foster away from him, and pushing here would have showed that he knew something, even if he didn’t know what he knew at this point.

Trust no one.

Arthur didn’t really know what to do now that all his leads had dried up. He couldn’t do very much on what little he had managed to gather, and none of the few surviving victims wanted to talk to him.

He took a deep breath then released it slowly. God, this was so frustrating. He was so close to a breakthrough, he could feel it. But before him was a great big wall and he had no way of climbing it.

Just then, his phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered, a bit distracted. It was probably nothing anyway.

“Special agent Pendragon?” a nervous voice asked.

“Speaking.”

“Um, hi. It’s, um… It’s Deagal, Deagal Williams, we spoke earlier on?”

Arthur couldn’t quite believe it. His heart was beating with trepidation. Could it be that his luck was finally turning?

“Yes, I remember,” he replied. “Can I help you?”

“I… We can’t do this over the phone. Can I meet you?”

“Of course. When?”

“Tonight. I… I can’t go anywhere until my wife’s asleep. Make it eleven?”

“Eleven, sure. Where?”

“Behind the school. Come alone.”

The man hung up before Arthur could even confirm the place, or where they’d meet – the school wasn’t exactly small, and it would be dark. He glanced at the clock – half past seven. Too much time to wait, too little time to start anything.

**

Eleven o’clock found Arthur waiting behind the school where Deagal taught, hiding in the shadows. He could hear the traffic from the main road – not that there was much at this time of night, just a few vehicles, some stopped by the lights, some going straight past. The school yard was dark, and it was impossible to see anything beyond what little light the moon provided as it danced between the clouds.

This was dangerous, a part of Arthur was repeating as he waited. While the darkness hid him, it also meant he couldn’t see if anyone was spying on them. He didn’t like it, he was too vulnerable.

Deagal hadn’t arrived yet, Arthur was almost certain. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be long. Arthur hated standing around, waiting, especially meetings like this, secret, in the middle of the night, with a person he barely knew, in hopes of gleaning some information.

After a long five minutes of waiting, Arthur heard footsteps behind him and turned.

“Sorry I’m late, my wife had an asthma attack,” said Deagal in lieu of greeting, coming to stand in front of him. Arthur could barely make out his features in the dark. “I had to make sure she was alright.”

“Let’s cut to the chase, Mr Williams,” Arthur said, not sharp, but professional. “You wanted to talk.”

“Yes.”

“About 1988?”

“Yes.”

Deagal took a deep, shuddering breath, nervous. He didn’t want to do this, Arthur could tell. He let him take his time. Sometimes it paid to be patient, and this was one of those times. He needed to know, and he couldn’t afford to lose this one witness.

“It happened on October 31st – Halloween. I didn’t really want to go out, I was going to spend the evening with my new girlfriend. But her friends had invited her out, so when a friend invited me to a party, I didn’t say no.”

“He didn’t live far,” Deagal continued. “So I walked. Besides, it was pretty warm for that time of year. I was wearing my favourite jacket. I haven’t been able to wear it since – too many bad memories. So I came up to the main street, I was waiting at the lights to cross when a car came up to me fast. The brakes squealed as it came to a stop, right in front of me. I can remember that moment so well, it felt like things were moving in slow-mo. Before I knew it, I’d been pulled into the car. I didn’t even have time to see what kind of car it was, it happened so quickly.”

Deagal was quiet for a moment. “I don’t really remember anything after that, just a few flashes.” His voice was quiet when he resumed. “Like a very bright, white room. And people in white coats and masks, standing around me, looking, taking notes. And then I woke up in a graveyard, wearing the clothes I’d been wearing the night I was taken. I didn’t know where I was or what day it was. Nothing. The cops found me stumbling down the street in the middle of the night. I was so cold, that’s the main impression I keep of that time. Then I learned that it was Wednesday, early morning – I lost two days! I told everyone I’d just gone a bit mad, needed some time alone. I didn’t think they’d believe me. Even I could barely believe it.”

“Who do you think kidnapped you?” Arthur asked.

“I don’t really know,” Deagal said, voice still low. He looked around them briefly, almost paranoid, like he thought someone was listening. It put Arthur on edge too. He’d checked the perimeter, of course, but that wasn’t a guarantee that no one was listening to their conversation.

“That wasn’t the end of it,” Deagal continued, speaking faster, like he needed to get it off his chest as quickly as possible. “One of the cops who found me recommended a therapist, said he was real good with abduction victims. I didn’t know who else to call, so I did. He was great, I thought. I felt like I could trust him with my dirty secret, and he believed me! I couldn’t believe it! I felt so lucky! He put me on a course of experimental anti-depressants, said they were especially good with people who had been through what I’d been through.”

“Everything was fine for a few months – four, I want to say, maybe a bit less, maybe a bit more. Then, I started getting this weird feeling in my gut. I thought it was just gastric flu. Then something started growing in there, and I was so fucking scared. I thought it was cancer! I thought that it was related to the abduction so I told my therapist. He didn’t seem too pleased to hear that and he dismissed me.”

Deagal took a deep breath, probably to calm himself. “That night, I was alone at home. I was single then – it didn’t last with my girlfriend. There was a knock at the door at about ten. I thought it was weird and really late, but one of my friends had been having car trouble so I thought maybe he needed to use my phone to call a tow truck.”

“It wasn’t my friend,” he said in a shaky, panicked voice. Part of Arthur wanted to tell him that it was ok, that he was safe, that he didn’t have to put himself through this, but he needed to know what had happened. This was his only chance. “Some guys in black suits. They put a cloth to my face. When I woke up, I was in a cell. A nice cell – as nice as a cell can get, I suppose – with a bed and a blanket. They even gave me books. They kept me there for months. They treated me well, but I wasn’t allowed to leave. They only let me leave when it was all over.”

“What was all over?” Arthur asked. He suspected what the answer might be, but he needed Deagal to say it, to put it into words for him.

“I – The… Pregnant,” Deagal said. “It wasn’t a tumour, I was pregnant. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, all I know is I carried a child for months, they operated to take it out. I still have a scar, I have to pretend that it’s from appendicitis with complications. He kept tabs on me, my therapist. He was involved. I’d get regular visits, to see how it was doing, if anything needed to be done, if I was taking proper care of myself for its sake. I think it was from when I was abducted that first time. It must have been the government, the military. I don’t know! Who else could do something like that and suffer no consequences for it?”

“What happened after they removed the child?” Arthur asked. In the background, he could hear a loud car coming their way. He would have ignored it, like he had ignored all traffic, if not for something in the back of his mind telling him to be careful.

“They let me go. They gave me a new home, a new job. I was told I couldn’t tell anyone about it. It wasn’t an explicit threat, but I knew they’d kill me without hesitation. I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone from my past life. I don’t know what they were told, but they were told that I would never return. And I followed their instructions, until today.”

“Your therapist, what was his name?” Arthur asked.

Just as Deagal was about to answer, a two shots rang in the air, and Deagal collapsed to the ground, dead, one bullet straight to the head.

Arthur could hear footsteps running away, so he followed, running as fast as he could. He pulled his gun out the holster as he ran. He turned the corner of the building and suddenly, he could see. The streetlights were bathing the front yard in yellow-ish orange light.

Just a few yards from him was the killer. Arthur was catching up, slowly, but surely. Then he saw a dark-coloured car, waiting at the entrance to the school, on the pavement, one door open. There was a man in the driver’s seat and the engine was running, just waiting for the other man to jump in.

Arthur swore and pushed himself harder, blood pounding in his ears. He was going to fucking lose them, he couldn’t let the killer reach that car.

He was so close, so so close, but the killer dove into the car before Arthur could catch him. He barely caught a glimpse of the killer before the driver sped off, tires squealing against the asphalt, leaving Arthur panting on the pavement, watching them drive away.

“Fuck!”

**

A few hours later, Arthur was boarding a plane to Seattle, his gun in a closed case in his small carry-on bag. The last few hours had left him on edge, antsy. He couldn’t focus on the magazine he’d bought at the airport, instead going over his conversation with Deagal over and over again, to draw out any useful information whatsoever. He felt guilty for leaving his body where it had fallen, but he couldn’t wait any longer. They, whoever they were, were onto him. He didn’t have much time.

His shooting confirmed Gaius’s guilt in his mind. He was almost certain that the therapist Deagal had been seeing had been Gaius. Who else could it have been?

It was late afternoon, the sun setting above the hills, colouring everything in warm, golden light, when Arthur, in his rental car, drove into Ealdor.

Even though it was pretty late, and even though he wanted to keep a low profile, he was banging at Merlin’s front door, waiting for him to answer.

The door didn’t open, but Merlin called out. “Who is it?” sounding a bit worried.

“Special agent Pendragon, I need to speak to you immediately.”

This time, the door did open, and Merlin ushered him into the living room without asking any questions. There were pictures on the table, of a pre-pregnancy Merlin, skinny, with an infectious smile, and another man Arthur didn’t recognise.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“Is this the urgent matter?” Merlin asked, clearly unimpressed. He sighed then and sat down, gesturing for Arthur to sit down as well. “My boyfriend – ex-boyfriend now, I suppose – Will. We’d been together since freshman year. He left after I was… After I was abducted.”

“Sorry.”

Merlin shrugged. “It’s for the best, how the fuck am I supposed to explain my condition anyway?”

“Your condition, yes,” Arthur said, focusing on the job at hand. “Gaius, your doctor, how well do you know him?”

“Pretty well,” Merlin answered. “He’s my mum’s uncle, he’d come and visit us in England every year or so, he was really nice. Stern, but nice. Then when mum decided to leave England in protest after Thatcher brought up the poll tax, he helped us settle here. I’ve known him my whole life.”

Arthur thought that that was rather ironic – moving to the US, of all places, over that? – but he let it slide.

“Do you trust him?”

“As much as you can trust a person, I suppose.”

“After you were abducted, did he do anything strange?” Arthur asked, hoping that Merlin wouldn’t need directing towards the information Arthur wanted to hear.

“Like what?” Merlin asked. “I mean, he was there for me when I came back. I was so confused and scared, I didn’t know who or what to trust, or if my experience had actually happened or what. I had these nightmares, awful nightmares about being tested on by people in like hazmat suits. He believed me, unlike Will. Not that I blame Will – it was hard to be around me then. Gaius gave me this experimental treatment for PTSD, saying it worked really well and that I’d be feeling better soon enough. Then he disappeared, I found out that I was pregnant, and it’s been really hard since then.”

“How did you find out you were pregnant?”

“I... It was Gwaine’s idea, really. He thought it would be hilarious to buy me a pregnancy test, and it came back positive.”

“Wait, Gwaine? As in motel manager Gwaine?”

“Yes. I worked there as a receptionist one summer, we became friends. He’s a nice guy. So, after the first one came back positive, he decided to buy a few more and they all came back positive. The reason he’d bought them was because I was complaining of this strange feeling in my abdomen and he said I was acting really moody. It was a joke, it was supposed to make me feel better! He’s been a great help since.”

Arthur nodded.

“I can’t go out like this,” Merlin said, gesturing at his swollen belly. “He gets me groceries, takes care of the garden, you know, he helps out. Sometimes he’ll take me out for a drive at night, to somewhere secluded where I can get out for a walk. I miss being able to go out, I really do. But I can’t be seen like this. It’s a small town, everyone’ll know, I’ll be seen as a freak.”

“I’m sorry,” he said professionally, not sure what he could say to sympathise with Merlin. There were no words, really. What could you say when somebody’s life was being ruined by something beyond their control?

Merlin shrugged again. “’S not your fault.”

“You say you know Gaius well,” Arthur said, changing the topic abruptly. “Since you’ve been here, have you been to his house at all?”

“Yeah, he invites us over for dinner every once in a while, and I went to see him while he was helping me get through the abduction issues I had.”

“So you’d know if anything were amiss?”

“I guess,” Merlin replied. “I dunno, it’s been a while since I’ve been there. Are you still investigating his disappearance?”

“If I took you there now, would you be able to see if anything’s different?”

“Maybe? But I can’t go out, what if somebody sees me?”

“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. I can protect you.”

Merlin sighed. “I don’t need protecting. I need to look less like a beached whale.”

“You look fine,” Arthur said almost immediately, not even thinking before speaking.

Merlin raised an eyebrow at him, dubious. “I do not, I look ridiculous.”

“Fine, fine, if you say so,” Arthur said impatiently. Time was ticking. The longer he stayed here, the longer it gave the people he was up against time to arrive, kill Merlin, and destroy any evidence of this… conspiracy. “Listen, I need your help, and I don’t have much time. A man was killed last night, and I need to know if anything’s… different. And I need to get you away from here before they come and kill you. You’re the last witness I have, after this, the case goes cold, and whoever did this to you gets away. And I won’t let that happen, this just isn’t right.”

Arthur had let himself grow angry as he ranted. This was the most exciting, yet most frustrating case he’d ever handled. And Deagal was dead, because of him, because he’d talked to Arthur, because he’d wanted to help. He should have protected him, he should have paid attention to that stupid car, Deagal shouldn’t be dead.

Now all he had left was Merlin, and there was no way he would let Merlin end up like Deagal. Enough people had died because of this case, the people behind it, it had to come to an end.

Merlin was looking at him curiously. “You’re different from what I expected,” he said. “I thought you were a prat.”

Arthur huffed a laugh. Merlin hadn’t seen him at his best, that was certain. “Well, it’s better than being an idiot,” he retorted.

Merlin gave him this huge smile that lit up his face completely and for a moment, Arthur was completely stunned.

“I’ll go with you,” Merlin said. “It’s getting dark, and most people are still at work. Probably.”

He stood up with difficulty, both hands pushing up on the arm rests. Arthur had moved towards him, to help him up, but Merlin had glared at him. It seemed like they had that in common at least, stubborn and self-reliant.

Merlin grabbed a light blanket that was strewn over the back of the armchair.

“What are you doing?” Arthur asked.

Merlin smiled at him again, smaller, amused, and it went straight to Arthur’s heart. He could feel his cheeks grow warm, almost like he had a crush on Merlin, a man he barely knew.

“What I do when Gwaine takes me on my forbidden walks,” Merlin said, leaning forward and wrapping the blanket around his shoulders so that it hung lightly around his form, enough to hide his stomach from casual on-lookers.

**

They made it to Gaius’s without problems, concealed by the dimming light. Like last time, Arthur went round back, Merlin following right behind him. He kept his hand on his gun, not taking any chances after last night. The back door was locked, which Arthur had managed by finding a set of dusty keys on the bedside table. Therefore this time, there was no need for Arthur to show off his lock-picking skills. It was a bit of a shame, he was sure Merlin would have been impressed.

As far as Arthur could tell, no one had been here since Arthur last had visited. He relaxed a little and let his hand fall from his gun, but he remained alert, ready for anything.

“Are you sure we should be doing this, agent Pendragon?” Merlin whispered. He was still right behind Arthur and was hunched over, as if he was trying to make himself smaller, more discreet.

“Call me Arthur,” Arthur said. “Agent Pendragon reminds me of my father too much.”

He wasn’t sure why he’d revealed that information to Merlin, but he had. He felt… almost comfortable around him, as if they’d known each other for much, much longer than they actually had.

“He’s the director of the FBI, right?”

“So?” Arthur snapped. He’d worked hard to get where he was, he wasn’t going to let Merlin imply anything else, no matter what complicated feelings he might harbour towards him.

“Nothing. Just… Must be tough, you probably have a lot of expectations placed upon you,” Merlin said hesitantly.

Arthur relaxed. “I’m on official business, it’s fine,” Arthur replied to Merlin’s first question, changing the topic.

“But I’m not,” Merlin whispered, going along with the change of topic. “What if they call the cops?”

“It’s fine, Merlin, nobody’ll actually notice we’re in here anyway.”

“You say that,” Merlin pointed out. “But you can’t be certain.”

“Will you just shut up?” Arthur whispered back.

He saw Merlin roll his eyes before turning away.

They made it to Gaius’s surgery, where everything, in Arthur’s opinion, was as he’d left it, dusty and disused. Merlin headed straight for the bookcase and Arthur let him be.

Arthur pulled out the list of victims he’d found at the FBI and started looking through Gaius’s files. At least he knew what he was looking for this time so it wouldn’t take too long to check his list against the files.

And there were a few, sure, mostly local, but the vast majority of victims were nowhere to be found amongst Gaius’s patients.

Arthur sighed. So much for that line of inquiry then. It was all just a big coincidence, and he was back at square one. No information, no clues, no idea what was going on, nothing.

“Merlin!” he called quietly. Merlin turned to look at him. “Have you seen anything that seems strange, out of place to you?” he asked, hoping that Merlin would have better news for him.

“You know, I was looking at his bookcase and it’s all medical journals or books, except for one,” Merlin said. “I noticed it because it’s the book I got him for his birthday a few years ago, Le Malade Imaginaire by Molière. I thought it would be funny, you know? Malade Imaginaire? Doctor?” Merlin laughed, like it was a particularly funny joke. “Also, for an old, fancy edition of it, it was pretty cheap,” he added.

Merlin went to grab Arthur’s hand and pulled him towards the bookcase. For a second, all that Arthur could focus on was the warmth of Merlin’s hand on his.

“See?” Merlin said, pointing at a hardcover book. “I mean, it could be that he just really likes it, but it doesn’t seem like it belongs.”

Arthur tried to pull the book out of the bookcase, to see if there was anything inside, anything hidden, but instead, the book triggered a mechanism. There was a quiet rumbling sound followed by the rug in the middle of the floor sagging over a newly uncovered hole.

Arthur looked at the rug, then back at Merlin. “Did you…?”

Merlin nodded slowly, keeping his eyes on the rug. “What the fuck is going on here?”

“I wish I could tell you.”

The hole turned out to give onto a flight of stairs, small and steep, in a cramped tunnel. Arthur went first, flashlight at the ready.

“Stay here,” he told Merlin. “It might not be safe.”

“Forget it,” Merlin replied. “I’m not staying up here to be caught breaking and entering by the police. I’m going with you.”

Arthur didn’t even try to argue. He was finding that Merlin was far too stubborn for his own good, and arguing would just waste precious time.

“Fine,” he said. “Just be careful, we don’t know what’s down there.”

At the bottom of the flight of stairs was a dark room. And when Arthur shone his flashlight over it, he found that it was almost like a second examination room, complete with machines, an examination table and, in the corner, a chest of drawers which, upon closer inspection, were full of the normal equipment found in an examination room – packs of needles, gauze, gloves, sanitiser… There was also a desk in the corner next to a filing cabinet.

This was exactly what Arthur had been hoping for. A breakthrough. There was no reason for Gaius to have a second examination room, especially such a well-hidden one. Not unless he was up to suspicious or illegal activities. For the first time in a long, long time, Arthur was feeling confident that he’d find something here, something that would shed some light on this whole case.

“It’s so fucking dark,” he heard Merlin mutter behind him. Then he heard him mutter a word he couldn’t comprehend and the room was filled with a soft light.

Arthur turned to look at Merlin who had a smug grin on his face.

“Magic,” he said proudly. “Pretty neat, huh?”

Arthur didn’t really know what to say so he just nodded dumbly, which only caused Merlin’s grin to grow smugger. And Arthur didn’t even find it annoying, instead, he found it sort of charming. He was doomed.

Arthur first headed for the filing cabinet. And sure enough, it was full of files whose names matched the names on Arthur’s list, and even more names that Arthur hadn’t even found during his search. So many people involved, so many people whose lives had been tampered with. So many dead victims.

He quickly found Merlin’s file. The best way to find out what exactly was going on was to compare it to something he knew, and something that another person could verify, i.e. Merlin himself.

It seemed to contain the same kind of information the file upstairs contained, only this file contained an entry dated two days ago scribbled hastily, with a series of measurements that certainly hadn’t been in Merlin’s other file.

“Merlin,” Arthur shout-whispered. “Come over here.”

“What?” Merlin whispered back. “Why are we whispering? I thought you said we wouldn’t be caught.”

“Shut up and look at this.”

He pushed the file towards Merlin and waited, watching him while he perused the page. Arthur knew when he reached the last entry because his eyes went wide and his hands were shaking.

“That’s… Fuck!” Merlin swore, voice trembling. “Arthur, how do they know all this? They’ve got my weight pretty much correct, like they’re off by a pound!”

Arthur put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder to ground him, to comfort him. “Are you sure?”

“Yes! I’ve been keeping track of things like my weight just to make sure nothing’s… nothing’s… Oh my god, Arthur, what the fuck is going on here?”

“Hey, it’s alright, it’s ok,” Arthur murmured gently. He put his hands on Merlin’s arms and rubbed them up and down comfortingly. “I’m here; nothing’s going to happen to you.”

“You can’t promise that,” Merlin replied. There were tears in his eyes and it physically hurt Arthur to see Merlin so scared. He just wanted to pull him close and shield him from the world and its horrors. “You said they killed someone last night! I’m next!”

“I promise I’ll protect you,” Arthur said in a soothing voice. “I’m an FBI agent, it’s what I’m good at.”

Merlin seemed to relax slightly, but Arthur didn’t let up his ministrations. Merlin was so warm, and under his soft sweater, he could feel his solid, trembling arms. It felt good, too good, and he really should stop before he went too far, before he stepped onto dangerous territory.

“Do you remember what you were doing two days ago?” Arthur asked.

“I was working on this translation – I’m a translator, I translate texts to and from Old English. It’s mostly for TV shows and novels and things like that, you know. It’s mostly rubbish but some of it is pretty cool. Gwaine came by at lunch time with chocolate ice cream. God, you have no idea how much I’ve been craving chocolate anything recently. It was like he heard my thoughts! But other than that, I was busy working on that translation. I gave it to Gwaine to put in the post yesterday. I… I remember watching TV, it was maybe seven in the evening? And then I must have fallen asleep because I woke up and it was eleven. I don’t think I felt weird or anything, I just woke up and saw it was late. Then I went to bed and that’s about it.”

“Did you notice anything strange? Maybe a car broken down outside? Someone looking for directions? Or even just someone you’d never seen before.”

Merlin shook his head. “No, nothing,” he said. “I don’t remember anything.”

“They must have done it between seven and eleven,” Arthur said.

He didn’t mention, of course, the fact that Gwaine, motel manager Gwaine, Merlin’s friend Gwaine, was a suspect in his mind. For Merlin’s sake, he hoped he wasn’t. The last thing he needed was another person to betray him, but he had turned up unannounced, unexpected on that very day. And he knew Merlin, probably knew Merlin’s house well too. It was all too suspicious, and Arthur would be damned if he was going to take this lightly.

“But how?”

“I have no idea,” Arthur replied. “But you’re not going back to your house after this, you’re staying with me. It’s not safe.”

Merlin nodded shakily.

“Don’t worry,” Arthur repeated gently, but firmly. “I’ll protect you.”

Merlin gave him a watery, hesitant smile, tugging at the corner of his mouth, before shaking his head and reaching up to rub his eyes. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to get all weepy on you. I guess it’s hormones. I mean, they do say that about pregnant women, right? I get these massive moodswings, like crying, or angry, or whatever for no reason.”

Arthur just nodded in understanding. Honestly, he couldn’t even blame Merlin for being emotional – it couldn’t be easy to be faced with the fact that you had been experimented on by someone you trusted deeply. He didn’t know what it was like to feel that way, not from personal experience, but he’d seen so many cases, so many people, over the years he’d worked at the Bureau that he’d developed some form of understanding. Some form of empathy.

They stood like that, in silence, facing each other, Arthur’s hands warm on Merlin’s arms. From close up, Arthur could see that Merlin’s eyes were so blue. He couldn’t look away, he was drawn to Merlin in a way he didn’t quite understand yet, but in a way he truly wanted to explore.

Maybe, just maybe, he was actually gay. And maybe it was alright, too.

And then, just as he started leaning forward and Merlin’s eyes fluttered closed, there came noise from upstairs. Two male voices, speaking quietly, coming closer.

The middle of a case was not the moment for personal revelations.

They jumped apart, and for one short moment, all Arthur could think of was how much he missed feeling Merlin under his hands.

“Arthur!” Merlin whispered, panicking, eyes wide open and wild. “What do we do now?”

Arthur wished he had a good answer to Merlin’s question. He didn’t. They were stuck in this underground room, with nowhere out without being seen by the two men upstairs.

All he could do was pull out his gun and hope he had the element of surprise in his favour. He wasn’t going down without a fight, and he certainly wasn’t going to let anyone get to Merlin. Two men, as far as he could tell – he’d faced worse odds.

“Arthur!” Merlin whispered again. Arthur was just about to brush him off, he couldn’t afford to be distracted right now. It was a matter of life or death. But Merlin continued anyway. “Look! In the corner there.”

And Arthur looked. There, hidden in the shadows where Merlin’s magic didn’t quite reach, was what looked like another door. Leading to where, neither of them knew, but what Arthur did know was that it was a much better option than standing there without cover.

“Come on,” Arthur said, pulling Merlin towards the door.

It opened easily. Arthur ushered Merlin through the door, before following him, closing the door behind them. The room was plunged into darkness once more and Arthur hoped that it would be enough to keep the two men from finding the door, finding them.

The door opened onto a corridor with a low ceiling. At the end was another flight of stairs that led to a trap door. The trap door, as they found out, opened onto the side of Gaius’s house. Arthur pulled Merlin towards a clump of low bushes, hoping the bushes, combined with the darkness of the night would keep them hidden from sight.

For a moment, everything was quiet and motionless. Arthur’s heart was pounding in his chest with nerves. He had his gun out, ready to shoot, and waiting like this was putting him on edge. Beside him, Merlin was faring no better. He was lying on his side to accommodate his stomach, and Arthur could hear his rapid, panicked breathing. He wanted to reach out to comfort him, but he couldn’t. He had to stay focused if he wanted to get them out of this situation alive.

Then the two men walked around the corner of the house, the hazy light from the moon dancing off the barrels of their guns.

“Y peuvent pas être loin,” said one of them. “Chuis sûr qu’ils étaient dans la pièce secrète du toubib.”

“Ferme-la et continue à chercher,” said the other. “On est dans la merde si on les retrouve pas, surtout le fils Pendragon.”

Arthur couldn’t understand what they were saying. Foreign languages had never been his strong point. But the men were coming closer to them, and the closer they got, the less certain Arthur became that the bushes would conceal them.

Then, suddenly, he didn’t quite know what happened, but Merlin must have moved because the branches of the bush were rustling, calling to the two men.

“Là ! Derrière le putain d’buisson,” shouted one of the men.

And shit, shit, they were coming their way. Arthur had his gun out, completely focused on the task at hand. For a moment, he was perfectly aware of his surroundings, the hazy moonlight, the smell of the grass and bushes, Merlin’s breathing, and the sound of footsteps in the grass. He waited with bated breath for them to come closer, and then, when they were close enough, he would shoot them. He had a very small margin of error, but Arthur was sure he could make the shots. They were going to make it.

What he didn’t count on was Merlin grabbing his arm to keep him still. Arthur turned to see what the hell Merlin was doing. Merlin’s eyes glowed golden as he whispered a word that Arthur, again, couldn’t make out.

The men were in front of the bushes, they made their way round them, and they didn’t stop.

“Putain, ça devait être un chat ou un truc dans l’genre,” said one of the men.

“Bordel,” said the other. “Y’s ont réussi à s’échapper alors. On est vraiment dans la merde là.”

And then they were walking away, back to the car that Arthur had only just noticed. He couldn’t be certain, but it looked like the same car that had been waiting the night Deagal was murdered.

He watched as they drove away and allowed himself a deep breath to calm down. They’d made it, they were both alive, and both still free.

He stood up and put his hand out to help Merlin up.

“How did you do that?” he asked as they walked back to Arthur’s car.

Arthur wasn’t stupid. This time, he hadn’t parked anywhere near Merlin’s house. He’d left the car by the church in the centre, between other, similar dark cars.

“It’s magic,” Merlin said. They walked under a streetlight and Arthur turned to look at Merlin. He was grinning at him mischievously, though he still looked tired and beside himself with worry. “I was born with it.”

**

Arthur drove them to Gwaine’s motel. It wasn’t the brightest idea he’d had, but he figured that this way, he could keep an eye on Gwaine. And if they stayed here, maybe they’d be taken in peacefully rather than gunned down by two unknown men.

He quickly smuggled Merlin into his room, closing the door behind them and locking it.

Merlin stood in the middle of the room, looking like he didn’t know what to do with himself. He was shivering, whether it was from the cold of the night or from nerves, Arthur couldn’t tell.

“Merlin, you’re shaking,” he said gently. “Go take a shower, you’ll feel better afterwards.”

But Merlin didn’t move, he just stood there, shaking. It hurt Arthur to see Merlin like that, he just wanted to hold him close and making the trembling stop.

“Hey,” Arthur murmured. He stood in front of Merlin, tilting Merlin’s face to look at him. He saw Merlin’s eyes focus on him and he smiled. “It’s alright, we’re fine. You saved us.”

“It was a fluke,” Merlin said, his voice so low Arthur could barely hear it. “My magic’s so unstable because of the baby. What if they come again? What if I can’t save us again?”

Arthur just gave in to his impulses and pulled Merlin close, pulling his head to nestle between his shoulder and neck. Merlin went willingly, his arms wrapping around Arthur’s waist. He rubbed Merlin’s back in slow, heavy strokes, up and down, up and down, until Merlin’s breathing settled and the tension started to drain from his body.

“It’s not your job to save us,” he said gently, never stopping rubbing Merlin’s back. “That’s my job.”

“But –” Merlin interjected.

“But nothing,” Arthur interrupted. “This is my job. I’m not going to say that I don’t appreciate what you did for us back there, because I do. I really do. You did save us. And if next time your magic doesn’t work, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them rather than let them take you.”

Merlin’s arms tightened around Arthur’s waist.

“You’re safe with me,” he said. “I promise I’ll protect you.”

Merlin lifted his head from Arthur’s shoulder. His eyes were a bit wet and he was looking at Arthur, both devastated and curious, and so, so dear.

Arthur leaned in and kissed him once, nothing more than a faint caress. Merlin let out a quiet, shuddering moan, and Arthur felt emboldened, kissing him again, more firmly. Merlin responded, bring his arms up to loop around Arthur’s neck.

Kissing one of the main and only witnesses and victims of his case was probably a really, really bad idea, but in that moment, Arthur really couldn’t bring himself to care.

**

The next morning, Arthur woke up feeling warm and contented for the first time in a long time, if not ever. The moment didn’t last because, almost immediately, he remembered the night before.

He shouldn’t have… With Merlin, he shouldn’t have. It was wrong, he was an FBI agent and Merlin was a victim he needed to protect. It went against every regulation and personal rule Arthur had set for himself. And Merlin, he probably wasn’t in the right mind after all that had happened. He’d said so himself, he was prone to moodswings. Maybe they’d affected his judgement.

As much as he wanted to be with Merlin, as much as it hurt him, he had to let him go.

Merlin started stirring, waking up slowly. He stretched languidly and opened his eyes, looking straight at Arthur, warm and fuzzy with sleep. Arthur could almost pretend that he didn’t mind letting Merlin go, that it was better because then he could protect Merlin.

“About last night,” Arthur started. And he saw it, he saw the moment the words registered with Merlin, because he saw him stiffen slightly and the warmth drain from his eyes.

“Don’t worry about it,” Merlin said coldly. “It was nothing.”

It wasn’t nothing, Arthur wanted to say. I wanted it. Instead, he got out of bed, ignoring how cold he felt as he slipped from Merlin’s side. “I’ll go and find some breakfast. Don’t open the door for anyone.”

**

When Arthur got back with a small bag of groceries and a few essentials, he found Gwaine waiting outside the management building. He decided to ignore him and get back to Merlin as fast as possible.

“Agent Pendragon!” Gwaine called when he saw that Arthur was just going to keep on walking. There was no trace of the usual easy, charming smile on his face. Instead, he looked serious and focused.

“How do you know my name?” Arthur hissed, looking around to make sure nobody had heard him.

Instead of answering, Gwaine just pulled out a badge. “MI5.”

“What’s an MI5 agent doing all the way out here?” Arthur asked, cautious. Gwaine was still, as far as Arthur was concerned, a possible threat. “Are you even allowed to operate in the United States?”

“I’d say I’m here looking for the same reason you are – Gaius.”

“What do you know about him?” Arthur asked.

“Not much, just that he’s involved in the disappearance of several people back in the UK. We suspect he’s involved in something much bigger, something that might pose a threat to us. Can’t really tell you more though, it’s all a bit classified.”

“Do you know why he’s targeting magic users?”

“I’m thinking that the magic and the pregnancies are connected.”

Arthur nodded. He’d been thinking the same. As far as he could tell, and that wasn’t very far at all at this point, all the abduction victims had had magic, and all of them had been made pregnant. He didn’t know why magic was needed for the forced pregnancies, but he was hoping Gwaine would know.

“How?”

Gwaine shrugged. “Looks like you know as much as I do,” he said. “But one thing I do know, agent Pendragon, is that Merlin is a really nice lad and doesn’t deserve any of this.”

“Don’t worry,” Arthur said. “I’ll protect him.”

“That’s not just what I mean,” Gwaine continued. “He’s scared, he’s out of his depth. He doesn’t just need an FBI agent to protect him, he needs a friend. He needs someone to see him as a person and not as a case.”

Arthur couldn’t really promise to be Merlin’s friend, especially not after last night.

“Listen,” Arthur said. “I have to get going.”

Which was the truth. He’d been gone far too long already, and he didn’t want to risk Merlin being found all on his own. It could all have been a delaying tactic, giving the two men from last night a chance to get to Merlin before he got back.

But still, following their conversation, it wasn’t that Arthur trusted Gwaine, but it did at least seem that he had Merlin’s best interests at heart. He was relying on his gut feeling a lot on this case, but so far, it had worked. So he was going to trust it once again, and hope that Gwaine really was on their side.

Opening the door to see Merlin still there, fully dressed and sitting on the bed, a bit sullen, reinforced the idea that maybe Gwaine wasn’t a threat, and maybe he’d found somewhat of an ally.

“I got donuts,” Arthur said. “And I didn’t know what you drink so I got you a hot chocolate.”

Merlin seemed to perk up at that. “It’s like you read my mind!”

Arthur went to sit next to him on the bed, handing him his drink and putting the box of donuts between them. It was nice, Arthur thought, sitting like this, almost comfortable. If only he could explain this to Merlin…

After a moment of comfortable silence, Merlin spoke up. “So how come you have an English accent?” he asked. “I didn’t think you could work at the FBI if you weren’t American?”

“Went to school in England,” Arthur answered. “That’s all there is to it.”

“Bet you went to one of those posh public schools,” Merlin said, nudging him playfully. “You sound like that kind of person.”

“Sound like what kind of person, exactly?”

“A prat who went to a public school, what do you think?”

Usually, Arthur would have been offended at the kind of presumptions Merlin was bringing up, but Merlin had this warm, teasing smile on his face, like he didn’t mean any of it. And that was enough to quell the anger growing in him.

“Better than sounding like an idiot,” Arthur retorted. “A nosey idiot at that too.”

Merlin just laughed. “How old are you, three?”

Arthur was just about to retort something terribly witty in hopes of making Merlin laugh again when Merlin cringed and brought a hand up to his stomach.

“Are you alright?” he asked instead, concerned. He didn’t know anything about ‘normal’ pregnancies, he had no idea what he could do if something went wrong with Merlin’s.

“Fine, fine,” Merlin said. “It’s just woken up and wanted attention, I guess.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, it’s kicking right now. That’s pretty attention-demanding if you ask me.”

“What’s it like?”

Arthur was trying, really trying, not to be curious about this whole ‘male pregnancy’ thing because he didn’t know if Merlin wanted to talk about it. But it was really hard, especially when Merlin seemed to be in pain.

“Uncomfortable, a bit painful at times,” Merlin replied truthfully. “Here, give me your hand.”

Merlin took his hand and placed it against the curve of his stomach, under his T-shirt, right against his warm skin.

“Just give it a sec,” he said.

And then, there was the most strange sensation under his palm. Kicking?

“Oh wow,” Arthur said, at loss for words. It was strangely intimate to be sitting there, hand against Merlin’s stomach. It almost felt like they were… a couple. Something that Arthur really, really wanted to see happen.

Merlin was staring at him, amused and a bit fond. “That’s one way of putting it,” he said, like Arthur was a bit daft. And maybe he was.

“Does the baby do that a lot then?” Arthur asked. He hoped the baby would kick again.

“Yeah,” Merlin said. “Especially when I’m trying to sleep.”

“Must be tough.”

“Yeah,” Merlin said again. “It’s just so wrong, this whole pregnancy thing. But at the same time, I can’t blame the baby for all this. At least, I can’t. I dunno if others would. Are there others?”

“Lots,” Arthur replied.

“Shit.”

“I’m here to make it stop,” Arthur said. “I won’t let anyone else go through this.”

“Pity you couldn’t do that before it happened to me,” Merlin said wistfully.

But if I had, Arthur wanted to say, I would never have met you. Even though it made him feel guilty, he couldn’t help the way he felt.

“I wonder what it’ll look like,” Merlin said, a few moments later. “I keep on having these nightmares and it looks like this alien, covered in blood.”

And again, Arthur didn’t know what to say to make Merlin feel better. But he didn’t need to worry about that, because a few seconds later, his mobile phone started ringing.

Arthur got up and looked through his travel bag until he found it. He still wasn’t used to having a phone he could take with him everywhere he went. And he wasn’t sure he liked it, either. Sometimes, he just didn’t want to be contacted.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Arthur,” came the voice of Uther Pendragon on the other side. “I trust I’m not waking you?”

“Of course not, sir,” Arthur replied.

“Good, good. I suppose you’re wondering why I’m calling.”

“Yes.”

Why exactly was his father calling now? It could only mean bad news – was he about to be fired?

“I’ve been keeping an eye on you while you worked your current ‘case’,” Uther said, the quotation marks around case clearly audible. “You’ve been doing an excellent job despite the lack of concrete evidence.”

“Thank you, sir,” Arthur said, relaxing slightly. It didn’t sound like bad news at all. But why did his father know about this case?

“I think you’ve redeemed yourself from your mistake, son. I’ve decided to transfer you back to your original division, effective today.”

Arthur couldn’t quite believe his ears. Finally, his dream of leaving the X-Files was coming true, but at the worst possible time. He couldn’t leave, not yet. He had to protect Merlin, he had to find who had done this to him.

“Thank you, sir,” Arthur replied. “But –”

“Don’t worry about your current case,” Uther interrupted. “I’m sure agent Du Lac will be able to handle it once he returns. You can drop the case now, unless you don’t want to leave the X-Files?”

“No, of course not!” Arthur said.

“Good. I’ll expect you back to work on Monday morning, bright and early. Do not continue to investigate this case.”

And with that, Arthur’s father hung up.

“Who was that?” Merlin asked.

“My father,” Arthur said. “He wants me off the X-Files.”

“Oh so this,” Merlin said angrily, pointing at his bump, “is an X-File.”

“I don’t make the rules,” Arthur said, reasonable. “It doesn’t make you weird.”

“But I already am weird because of this,” Merlin countered.

Arthur sighed angrily. “I don’t understand what you’re going on about! Are you upset because you’re an X-File or not?”

“I don’t know!” Merlin shouted. “I didn’t ask for any of this, I just wanted to lead a normal life and now I can’t and I’m stuck with the son of the director of the FBI who’s about to leave me to deal with this huge mess on my own.”

“Wait, is that why you’re upset?” Arthur asked. “You think I’m going to leave you?”

“Well, your father wants you off the case, right?”

“If I obeyed everything my father said…” Arthur started. “I’m not going to leave you, I’m taking you with me back to DC. I promised I’d protect you, didn’t I?”

Arthur had his own reasons to not drop the case, but his father’s call was definitely strange. It wasn’t like him to interrupt a case like that. It almost felt like a warning, like Arthur was continuing at his own peril. Was he trying to hide something? If he was, Arthur was definitely going to find out. He wasn’t the kind of person to drop a case, not when he’d got this far, not when there was so much at stake.

**

Arthur drove them all the way back to DC. He would have taken the plane, but as Merlin had pointed out several times, it was impossible to do so without risking their cover. So he had driven for five days straight while Merlin sat beside him, chatting, singing along to the radio, or napping. At night, they’d stayed at various motels where Arthur refused to sleep without his gun under the pillow. They were at their most vulnerable then – Arthur needed to sleep and Merlin wasn’t trained to keep watch.

Finally, on Sunday, very early in the morning, Arthur parked his rental car in his allocated spot and helped Merlin up to his flat on the third floor.

“You take the bed,” Arthur said, closing the front door behind him.

“But it’s your flat,” Merlin protested.

“And that makes you the guest,” Arthur countered. “You’ll sleep in the bed.”

“You drove all the way from Washington!”

“You’re pregnant,” Arthur argued. “I don’t know much about pregnancies but I do know that your back is probably hurting. The couch isn’t comfortable so take the damn bed and get some sleep.”

“No need to be such an arse about it,” Merlin muttered before leaving Arthur alone.

There was another reason Arthur wasn’t mentioning. To get to the bedroom, any intruder would have to walk past the living room. And Arthur’s couch was positioned so that it faced the hall, making it impossible for anyone to get to Merlin without Arthur knowing.

Arthur only got a few hours of fitful sleep before the sun’s rays streaming through the window woke him up.

His first reflex was to check on Merlin – still asleep, curled up on one side, snoring softly. Once that was out of the way, Arthur went to the kitchen to see what he had to make breakfast.

Arthur always made sure to eat something for breakfast – there was no way of knowing whether a high-activity case would cross his path and the last thing he wanted was to have to worry about having enough energy to pursue it. Criminals didn’t wait till after lunch. That didn’t mean he was very creative about it – muesli, fruit, coffee and a glass of orange juice. Sometimes the supermarket had things like muffins (English muffins, that is), which made a nice change. But overall, he was a man of habit.

He was almost out of muesli, and in few days he’d been gone, the fruit had gone mouldy and the milk had soured. Fortunately, he had bacon and eggs in his fridge. That would more than do. Hopefully Merlin wouldn’t mind.

 

By the time Arthur had finished cooking breakfast, Merlin had joined him in the small kitchen, standing next to the open window and watching Arthur cook.

“Did you sleep alright?” Arthur asked as he placed two plates on the table, trying to dissolve the slightly awkward silence. Small talk wasn’t something he was very good at, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

Merlin sat down facing Arthur and started picking at his meal.

“Yeah, not bad,” he said. “Did my back wonders,” he added with a tentative smile.

“Good.”

Still, their short exchange did little to dismiss the awkward silence.

“I have to go into work today,” Arthur tried again.

“Oh?” Merlin said, fork half-way to his mouth.

“There are a few things I want to look into.”

“Okay. What about me?”

“You’re not going to like this,” Arthur started. “But I have a friend at work, Gwen. She’s a geneticist in our science labs. I want her to have a look at you, run a few tests.”

“You’re right,” Merlin agreed, crossing his arms defensively. “I don’t like this.”

This was something Arthur had thought about several times during the drive from Washington. He didn’t know what the tests would reveal, but he was hoping they would reveal something, another piece in this mess of a puzzle.

“You haven’t had any tests run since finding out, right?” Merlin nodded. “I trust Gwen, I know she’ll take good care of you.”

“But why tests?” Merlin asked. “What are you hoping to find?”

“More clues,” Arthur answered.

“Clues to what?” Merlin asked.

And he just had to keep on pushing. Arthur didn’t know whether to be annoyed or amused. Merlin was so stubborn, not unlike Arthur himself.

“Just clues,” Arthur said.

**

Gwen was, as Arthur had hoped, more than willing to come into work on her day off just because he’d asked nicely (and promised dinner).

There were very few people at the Bureau on Sunday which made it easy enough for Arthur to smuggle Merlin into the building without raising any suspicions.

Gwen closed the door to the lab behind them, locking it to make sure nobody randomly (or not-so-randomly) walked in on them.

“Gwen,” Arthur said. “This is Merlin, the guy I told you about on the phone. Merlin, this is Gwen, the best scientist at the FBI.”

“Don’t exaggerate, Arthur. Nice to meet you,” Gwen said, holding her hand out to shake Merlin’s. She was having a hard time figuring out where to look, torn between wanting to stare at Merlin’s baby bump and not wanting to be rude.

“Likewise,” Merlin replied.

“What exactly do you have in mind, Arthur?” Gwen asked. “Because you didn’t exactly tell me anything over the phone.”

“I was worried my phone line was being tapped,” Arthur argued. “I really can’t trust anyone other than you, Gwen.”

Gwen nodded.

“I don’t know what exactly is going on,” Arthur continued. “But I do know that Merlin was abducted and now he’s pregnant and I think the two events are linked.”

“What do you want me to do?” Gwen asked.

“Can you run some tests? On Merlin and the baby?”

“Um, sure,” she said. “But what am I looking for?”

“I don’t know, Gwen, I really don’t know. Anything, really. Anything abnormal.”

“You do realise that with a pregnant man, everything’s going to be abnormal, right?” Gwen teased.

“Thanks, Gwen,” Arthur said. “I really owe you one.”

“Yes you do,” Gwen replied. “I’m sure you’ll find a way of making amends.”

Arthur smiled at her before turning to Merlin. Merlin was standing off to one side, looking apprehensive and nervous.

“Hey,” Arthur said gently. “Alright?”

Merlin nodded. “Just a bit worried about the tests.”

“Don’t worry, I trust Gwen completely. You couldn’t be in better hands.”

Merlin gave him a small smile and Arthur smiled back.

“I promise I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Arthur said, taking both of Merlin’s hands in his and squeezing them comfortingly. “You’ll be safe here.”

“Okay,” Merlin said, squeezing back. Arthur wanted so badly to lean in and kiss him. Instead, he let go of his hands and made his way to the door.

“Call me if you find anything,” Arthur said as he unlocked the door.

“Will do,” Gwen said, closing and locking the door behind him.

**

Arthur then made his way to his office in the X-Files. It was still officially his until tomorrow, so he was going to make good use of it.

He switched his computer on, and while it booted, he made himself a pot of nice, strong coffee.

Soon, Arthur was going through the FBI archives, looking through decades of files relating to his father’s own career within the Bureau, looking for anything that would connect him to his current case.

There had to be something.

But after three hours and five cups of coffee, Arthur was forced to admit that there was nothing in his father’s files that suggested any involvement in this case. Absolutely nothing.

Arthur sighed and rubbed his eyes. He’d really been hoping to find something tangible in his father’s files. All that work, and nothing. It was so frustrating, all these paths that led to dead ends. He had been so sure that his father was involved! And despite the lack of evidence, he still believed that his father was in some way involved in this whole affair. But what more could he do?

Just then, his email pinged, notifying him of a new message.

It was just a series of numbers, but Arthur recognised them as coordinates and a time – someone wanted to meet up in… Arthur glanced at the clock. It was just after one, so in half an hour. The coordinates, he recognised as being those of the Rising Sun.

And attached to the email was a file, a picture. And when Arthur opened it, he almost gasped in shock. There, amongst a group of people posing for a black and white photo, were his father and Gaius, both looking much younger. His father was wearing a crisp suit, as he always did, and Gaius was wearing a doctor’s coat on top of a suit.

There was a date stamped on the picture – 10/22/1963. Quickly glancing through his father’s files for that year, he found a case report, heavily redacted, with next to no information to glean. But there was a list of names that did at least confirm one thing for Arthur – both his father and Gaius had worked on something secret back in 1963.

**

Arthur wasn’t surprised to see his unofficial informant waiting for him at the specified time behind the Red Sun.

“Were you followed?” the informant asked.

“No,” Arthur replied. He’d kept an eye out, of course, but he hadn’t found anyone tailing him. Or if they were, they were bloody good at their job, because Arthur hadn’t noticed.

“Good. I don’t have long, they’re on to me.”

The informant reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a floppy disk.

“This will help,” he said. “I can’t give you any more, they’ll know that I gave it to you.”

“If you’re concerned they’re on to you, I can help,” Arthur said, taking the disk. “I can protect you.”

The informant laughed, an ugly, bitter sound. “Protect me? No one can protect me from them, especially not you, young Pendragon. They’re everywhere and they’re above the law.”

“I can protect you,” Arthur repeated.

“You have no idea who you’re up against,” the informant said. “I suggest you go home and acquaint yourself with the contents of that disk before it’s too late.”

“Is that a threat?” Arthur asked.

“A warning,” the informant replied. “They are ruthless when dealing with those that get in their way. They’re aware of your investigation but they do not know how deep you’ve reached yet. You don’t have much of a head start so don’t let them catch up.”

Then, just as Arthur opened his mouth to ask more questions in hopes of gleaning even the smallest piece of information, two shots rang in the lazy afternoon silence. Before Arthur could even react, the informant was stumbling, barely able to keep himself up straight. Before he could even process what had happened, a dark stain started to grow on the man’s chest.

Not again, Arthur thought. He was about to help the informant into a stable position before calling an ambulance.

“Don’t,” the informant rasped. “You don’t have long. There is no hope left if they catch you.”

So Arthur turned and ran as fast as he could, once again leaving a man to die alone while he saved himself. But still, the only thought that coursed through his mind was of Merlin, whether he was safe, or was he too late?

**

The reality of what had just happened had yet to really sink into Arthur’s brain. It still felt like a dream, like a nightmare, more accurately. How he had managed to escape the shooter (or shooters, he didn’t know) without being detected, he didn’t know. But he was grateful, so grateful. Unless, of course, he was let go on purpose.

He didn’t know what to think. All he knew was that Gwen and Merlin were in danger and he had to save them both.

“Anything?” he asked after Gwen opened the door for him. His heart was still beating loudly in his chest. He looked around, searching for the familiar sight of Merlin, and only when he saw him sitting on a stool, swinging from side to side gently, one hand gently caressing his stomach, did Arthur let himself take a breath of relief. It would only be short lived – they couldn’t afford to stay here.

“I’ve run some blood tests, there’s something weird in his blood,” Gwen whispered, sneaking covert glances at Merlin. She needn’t have worried, Merlin seemed a bit out of it, staring into space.

“Weird? What do you mean, weird?” Arthur asked, keeping his voice low as well. It was as if Gwen didn’t want Merlin to know. He’d probably freak out if he knew, Arthur thought.

“I don’t know yet,” Gwen replied. “It’s some sort of drug, that’s all I can tell you. I’ve never seen it before and I can’t find it in any of the FBI databases. And it’s not in any of my books. It’s incredible. Well, not incredible because it sucks that we don’t know anything about it, but the fact that there’s a drug out there that’s not on any official record!”

“Do you think it’s linked to the pregnancy?”

“Could be,” Gwen replied. “I can’t really tell you without knowing what it is and what it does.”

“Anything else?” Arthur asked.

“Well, the baby’s healthy,” Gwen said in a louder voice, so that Merlin could hear. “She’s definitely human, before you ask. I’m testing the DNA to see if the other father can be traced but that’ll take a few more hours, at least. And that’s only because I’m prioritising it because it’s you.”

Arthur smiled. “Thanks, Gwen. I really owe you.”

“You do. Now, why don’t you take Merlin home and let me work in peace. I’ve taken all the samples I need.”

Merlin was quiet as they made their way back to Arthur’s car, almost sullen. Arthur didn’t worry about it too much, he was probably still tired and the tests probably hadn’t helped. He had bigger things on his mind to preoccupy him, the floppy heavy in the pocket of his hoodie. It wasn’t until they were a fair distance from the FBI building, almost back at Arthur’s flat, that he spoke up.

“I heard, you know,” Merlin said. “About the weird thing in my blood.”

Arthur didn’t even need to ask him what he’d heard, he knew. And he felt guilty, again.

“We were just trying to protect you,” Arthur said. “I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Well, you failed,” Merlin replied harshly.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur said eventually, after the conversation had trailed off.

Merlin sighed. “Don’t be,” he said in a tired voice. He reached out with one hand, placing it on top of Arthur’s and squeezing it gently. Arthur felt warm, so warm from the contact, it was flooding his body, helping him relax. “I know you meant well.”

Merlin withdrew his hand, the warmth never leaving Arthur’s hand. “At least I know it – sorry, she, now, is healthy.”

“Does that bother you?” Arthur asked.

Merlin made a non-committal noise. “I dunno, I just wish this were all over.”

They made it back to Arthur’s flat safely. It took them longer than it should have because Arthur wanted to be absolutely, positively certain that he wasn’t being followed before he went home, taking detour after detour until he was satisfied he wasn’t being followed.

Of course, it was entirely possible that it had all been for moot – what if there was someone waiting in his building? He could no longer assume that his identity was still hidden to whoever was trying to kill them, which meant that his flat was possibly compromised. But where else could he go with Merlin? And on a Sunday, no less.

Arthur locked the door and, just to be absolutely certain, took a quick tour of his flat, Merlin right behind him as he checked every room, every corner.

“Has anything happened?” Merlin asked once Arthur had finally determined that his flat was safe.

Arthur hesitated for a moment whether or not to tell Merlin what had happened in the few hours that he’d been gone.

“Something’s happened, hasn’t it?” Merlin said. “Don’t hide it from me. I want to know.”

“They’re on to us,” Arthur simply said. The less he said about the murder, the better.

And he felt like he was right when he saw Merlin go tense, eyes wide with fear. “What do you mean, on to us? Like on to us?”

“Like on to us,” Arthur confirmed. “I don’t know how close they are or what they think we know, but things are getting dangerous.”

“Oh my god,” Merlin said, his voice almost a whisper. “We’re fucked!”

“No we’re not,” Arthur replied, switching his computer on. He needed to check the floppy while he still could. “I’m right here to protect you.”

“I’d just like to point out,” Merlin started, a hint of hysteria creeping into his voice, “that last time you tried to protect me by not telling me about the weird drug, you failed completely.”

“That was different,” Arthur said, not entirely focused on the conversation at hand. The floppy was a normal floppy, with a slightly torn label that just contained the words “Project Albion”. He inserted it in the drive and waited for it to boot.

Instead, a box came up, prompting a password.

“Dammit,” Arthur swore. This was perfect, just perfect. He was so, so close to a major breakthrough, one his informant had risked his life for, and here he was, stuck because said informant had failed to give him the fucking password to the fucking floppy.

“What’s the matter?” Merlin asked, peering over Arthur’s shoulder, curious. At least he no longer sounded on the verge of panic.

“Nothing,” Arthur said angrily. “Just another fucking hurdle.”

“Language!” Merlin interjected. “I won’t tolerate any swearing around the baby.”

“You don’t even care about the baby, I’ll swear all I fucking want,” Arthur barked.

“I might not care about the baby, but that doesn’t mean I’ll subject her to anything that would be bad for her,” Merlin said. “No need to be a prat about it.”

Arthur took a deep breath to calm himself down. “I’m not a prat,” he said.

“Then stop acting like one,” Merlin said reasonably. “Why don’t you let me try.”

Honestly, there were worse ideas than letting Merlin give it a try. It wasn’t as if he had any better leads anyway.

“Sure, why not,” Arthur said, moving aside to let Merlin sit down. “I’ll take you out for dinner if you can open it.”

“Was there anything on the floppy? Like writing, marks?” Merlin asked.

“It said ‘Project Albion’,” Arthur replied. “I didn’t see anything else.”

Merlin hmm’ed and started typing. Word after word, he was met with an “access denied” message, and even Arthur could tell that Merlin was starting to get frustrated.

“Who the fuck gave you this without giving you the password,” Merlin muttered. “Honestly.”

“Language, Merlin,” Arthur joked.

“Oh shut up,” Merlin retorted.

And then, suddenly, Merlin typed something, and instead of the “access denied” message, a folder opened, containing a few text files and a picture.

“Oh my god,” Merlin whispered, pointing at the screen. “I’m a genius! Looks like you owe me a meal!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Arthur said, crowding him to get a better look at the screen. “Not bad for an idiot.”

Merlin moved the cursor so that it was sitting on top of the button to close the window. “I can just let you figure it out, since you’re so smart,” Merlin said sarcastically. “I mean, since I’m only an idiot.”

Arthur ignored him. “What was the password anyway?”

“Excalibur,” Merlin said. “You know, Arthurian legends and all that? Bet you didn’t get teased as much as I did because of your name though.”

Excalibur. It made so much sense, Arthur thought. That was the last word Agent Smith had uttered, and it had etched itself in Arthur’s mind, just waiting for the right connection to come along.

Had he really been involved in this case for that long?

“Open the picture first,” he said.

“What am I, your servant?” Merlin muttered. “Do it yourself.”

Still, despite his muttering, Merlin double clicked on the picture.

It was similar to the picture Arthur had received earlier on, a group of young-ish men, posing. Some wore plain suits, others wore lab coats. The picture was dated from 1964, not much after the first picture.

And amongst them, Arthur recognised his father, Gaius, his uncle Agravaine, and, to his complete surprise, his informant. He couldn’t tell whether Agent Smith was amongst the men – the quality of the picture was pretty bad and Arthur could barely remember what he looked like anyway.

“Hey, that’s Gaius,” Merlin said, pointing at the man. “And isn’t that your father?”

Arthur took the mouse from Merlin, closing the picture and pushing him out of the way. Merlin huffed but let him.

He quickly scanned the file names of the three text files – report.txt, mission.txt and details.txt. He opened the report file first and almost gasped in surprise – it was the same file he’d encountered earlier, the heavily redacted, type-written file, only completely readable.

Date: 10/20/1963

On October 15th, 1963, we were called to the site of a crash in the Mojave Desert following normal procedure at coordinates 37°31′36″N 116°11′53″W. The information we had in our possession was that a civilian aircraft had crashed, and it was suspected that it had been shot down. Upon arrival at the crash site, we discovered that the object of the crash was not a civilian aircraft by any means, instead something that neither I nor my partner, Special Agent Pendragon, had ever encountered.

The aircraft in question, though badly damaged by the crash, had the shape of a long triangle, approximately 10 yards in length. The two occupants of the craft, one gravely injured, but alive, the other, dead, small gray-skinned biological entities, were taken into custody.

Special Agent Pendragon and I oversaw the clean-up effort and were instructed to transfer all pieces of the wreckage, as well as the biological entity, to Area 51 for further study.

Due to the location of the crash, there were no civilian witnesses. We continue to track activity in the region in case there were any witnesses and are prepared to intervene should such a situation occur.

Date: 10/20/1963 at: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA File #: XF-6309
By Special Agents: Kilgharrah, Pendragon Date dictated: 10/20/1963

Arthur couldn’t believe his eyes. This was it, this was the proof he had been looking for, that there was something deeper, more sinister to the abductions and forced pregnancies. He didn’t even try to deny that alien activity was involved in the case anymore. His father and special agent Kilgharrah, whoever he was, had discovered an alien ship and had proceeded to take it to a military base for research.

He then opened the mission file impatiently. He had a vague idea where this was heading, but he had to make sure. The file finally opened, too slow in Arthur’s opinion, and he started reading eagerly.

REPORT ON THE FINDINGS OF ALIEN CRAFT #X-001

Despite the damage sustained to both the ship and its occupants, my team and I were called in to examine the occupants to see whether we could find anything that would be of value to the government or the military. While the anatomy of the alien occupants is certainly different to ours, I do believe that we have come across a finding that will be of great use, especially in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy. As such, I am writing this letter to request more funds to pursue this line of investigation.

Opening the abdomen of the dead occupant revealed that, despite our differences in anatomy, the occupant could be classified as male. This was confirmed by operating on the other occupant, both of whom have quasi-identical genitalia.

However, another discovery we made was the existence of a small life form in gestation within the abdomen of the living occupant, completely unconnected to any organs within the entity’s body. We took samples of both the occupant and the small life form and discovered that the small life form had the exact same DNA as the occupant – in essence, a clone.

We then closed the occupant’s abdomen and allowed the gestation to continue naturally, keeping an eye on its vitals to the best of our ability. We found that as the gestation, much shorter than in humans, went on, the concentration a certain molecule in the occupant’s blood increased in its serum. This molecule was completely absent in the dead host’s serum. We therefore believe that this molecule is linked to the pregnancy’s viability in a male host.

Following the ‘birth’ of the small life form, we observed the two entities, how they interacted. It was clear almost immediately that the occupant was distressed and in pain, and several times attempted to communicate with us. Of course, as no one understood the language, it took us a long time to figure out what the entity wanted.

Finally, we seemed to understand that it wanted access to its technology. We allowed this, under heavy guard by the military. Once allowed to use its technology, the entity went straight for a device which we had no yet determined its use. Placing the device on the smaller life form and placing its hand on top of it, there was a loud buzzing following which the occupant collapsed. Upon inspection, we discovered it was deceased and took the small life form back to its holding cell.

Over the following weeks, we observed the life form, that was growing at an astounding rate, much faster than prior to contact with the device until it appeared to reach the same relative ‘age’ as the occupant, as far as we could tell, at which point, its growing ceased. We then proceeded to test it in several ways to see if we could find out what the device might have done.

It is our hypothesis that the device is some sort of cloning device as it soon became clear to my team and me that the small life form had inherited the memories, thoughts and behavioural habits of the deceased occupant, almost as if its brain itself had been cloned. We started with simple tests, much the same as those we had administered to the occupant, such as reactions to painful stimuli or the ability to solve a simple problem to receive food.

Despite having never been the recipient of our tests, the small life form’s was able to anticipate and react to the painful stimuli test (the ringing of a bell followed by an electric shock) in a way identical to the occupant previously.

We have started experimentation on human subjects, unsuccessful as of yet.

As was said in the introduction, I do believe that, if harnessed, this technology would undoubtedly prove most useful as it would allow us to save the people in the highest positions of power in the event of an assassination or other form of death. Imagine what we could have done had we known of this technology before President Kennedy’s assassination. The nation would not have had to mourn the death of such an influential person.

The document was signed in the bottom – Gaius. Again, Gaius. He was everywhere in this case, a case that run so much deeper than he had ever thought possible.

If he was reading things correctly, and Arthur couldn’t quite bring himself to believe that he was, the FBI and the military were both involved, a fucking conspiracy theory come true. His own father was involved. At the time, it probably hadn’t meant very much, but now, as the director of the FBI… Just how high up did this case go?

And those three pictures Lancelot had brought in a while back… Arthur couldn’t prove it, but he was almost certain they were related. Further proof that the FBI was involved and making evidence disappear.

He hated to admit it, but maybe Lancelot and all his conspiracy theories had been right. There really was something going on here, something that involved so many higher-ups. And if Lancelot was right, had he been ‘taken care of’, as they would say? Arthur could only hope that they’d tried to shake Lancelot off their scent, sending him in the wrong direction. He refused to think for a single moment that Lancelot was dead.

“Arthur, are you alright?” Merlin asked. He’d moved to sit on the couch while Arthur read the files and was looking at him, blue eyes full of concern.

He didn’t know what to say. Was he alright? Sure, he wasn’t the one whose body was being used against his will to create… clones? Had he read that right? Clones?

But why Merlin? The file specifically said that the clone had been of the pregnant person. And Merlin’s baby was a girl – that was what Gwen had said, right? That… just didn’t add up. There must have been new developments since the file was written, clearly not long after the craft had been recovered. They’d had almost thirty years to perfect the process, and so many victims.

“Arthur?” Merlin asked again.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “I’m fine.”

Merlin didn’t look convinced, but fortunately, he didn’t press the issue. Arthur was glad, he really didn’t want Merlin to know any more than he already knew. He didn’t know how Merlin would react, anger, fear, something else? He couldn’t know just how dangerous things were. It was part of his job, protecting Merlin, even from the truth if it was in his best interest. He knew how Merlin would react if he found out Arthur was hiding things from him, but the longer he could keep the true nature of the case from him, the better.

In his mind, he came to a decision.

This had to end, and it had to end now.

He got up.

How he was going to accomplish that, he didn’t know. But he would start with what he knew. And what he knew was that his father was involved.

He checked his watch.

Not even five. His father would definitely still be at work.

Before he even had time to make plans for how he would confront his father, there was a knock at his door.

Arthur tensed, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Merlin’s eyes open wide with fear.

“Go to the bedroom,” he hissed at Merlin. “Hurry!”

Merlin, thankfully, obeyed him and quietly made his way to the bedroom. Arthur could only hope that that would be enough to keep him safe. Because if whoever was on the other side of the door meant to kill them, it didn’t matter where Merlin went, they would find him.

There was another knock at the door. They meant business.

His heart was pounding in his chest and blood was roaring in his ears. He grabbed his gun, removed the safety while trying to compose himself.

He moved silently to the door, trying not to give anything away. He wanted the element of surprise to be on his side, he wanted those few extra micro-seconds to be his. Because sometimes, that meant the difference between life and death.

He glanced through the peephole to see who he was up against and let out a sigh of relief.

Gwen. Lovely Gwen.

He had never been so pleased to see her in his life.

He opened the door.

“Arthur, is everything alright?” she asked when she saw his face.

Arthur just ushered her in, closing and locking the door behind her.

“Everything’s fine,” Arthur said. “I thought you were someone else.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she replied, her eyes darting to the gun then back to Arthur.

“Why are you here?” Arthur asked.

“Oh, you know that DNA test I said I’d do for you?” Gwen asked. “The one to see if we could find the other father of the child?”

“You found something?” Arthur asked. “Go sit in the living room, I’ll go and get Merlin. He’ll probably want to hear this.”

Arthur found the door to his bedroom closed. Without thinking, he opened the door and was immediately met with a heavy pillow thrown straight in his face.

“Oh shit, Arthur!” Merlin said. “Sorry, I didn’t think it was you.”

“It’s fine, I’m alright,” Arthur replied, trying not to snap at Merlin. He didn’t want to discourage him from defending himself. Because maybe, sometime soon, Arthur wouldn’t be there to protect him. And really, could he blame him? Arthur probably would have reacted the same, especially with him telling Merlin to hide.

“Who was at the door?” Merlin asked, brushing Arthur’s hair off his face with a gesture so tender that it made his heart ache. It was so unfair that they’d met in these circumstances because, as Arthur was slowly starting to discover, Merlin was everything he wanted in a partner.

“Gwen,” Arthur replied, forcing himself to turn away from Merlin’s touch. “I think she knows who the other father is.”

“That’s assuming one of the fathers is me to begin with,” Merlin muttered, following Arthur back to the living room.

Arthur didn’t say anything, pretending he hadn’t heard Merlin. But secretly, he agreed. Given what they knew so far, there was no reason to simply believe that the child had anything to do with Merlin in the first place.

Gwen was sitting in one of the armchairs facing the couch, so Merlin and Arthur both sat in front of her.

“I’m not sure this is news you want to hear,” Gwen started as soon as they were seated. “I couldn’t believe it myself when I first got the results. I mean, what the hell? It’s just too big of a coincidence. But I checked again and it came back the same, so it must be true.”

“What result is that?” Arthur asked.

He was on edge. What kind of news was Gwen going to break to them that she thought Merlin didn’t want to hear it? Was it…

“Is it part alien then?” Merlin asked, sounding resigned.

“What?” Gwen said. “No, no, nothing like that. The DNA’s definitely human.”

“Then what?” Arthur asked.

“Well,” Gwen started, clearly stalling. “As suspected, Merlin is one of the fathers. That’s almost certain.”

“But…?” Arthur prompted when it became clear that Gwen wasn’t going to continue.

“But…” she finally said. “The other father is you, Arthur.”

The news hit Arthur like a tonne of bricks. How was that even possible? He hadn’t… He’d never…

“What?” he heard Merlin ask faintly.

“I’m sorry,” Gwen said. “But I’ve checked the results. You’re definitely the other father, Arthur.”

Arthur’s body sagged back against the couch cushions. He could hear Gwen and Merlin calling him, but all he could focus on was Gwen’s voice, repeating “the other father is you” over and over again. And no matter how many times he heard it, he still couldn’t believe it.

Fuck.

Then, there was a warm hand against his arm, slicing through the ice cold of panic.

“Arthur, are you alright?”

Merlin.

He blinked once, forcing himself to focus on the present, on Merlin’s warm hand.

“No,” he said weakly. “I’m not alright.”

Gwen gave him a sad smile. “I’m sorry, I wish I had better news.”

“It’s not your fault, Gwen.”

No, it was his father’s fault. His father and that fucking group who were messing with innocent people’s lives. He was so fucking angry, he felt like he would shoot them all if ever he found them.

But he couldn’t, a small part of him said, a small part that hadn’t been hardened by time and cases, a small part that still believed in justice.

What justice, Arthur wanted to snap. There would be no justice for men like his father. They were too powerful, too connected. Arthur was nothing to them, nothing more than a mosquito buzzing in their ears, annoying and tolerated to a certain point, but easily squashed.

And still, Arthur found himself agreeing. Death was too easy for those people. He would make sure that they paid for their crimes, that they would spend the rest of their days rotting in jail.

“I should go,” Gwen said, standing up. “Call me if you need my help again.”

“Thanks, Gwen,” Arthur said.

“Don’t get up,” Gwen said. “I’ll see myself out.”

Once the door closed behind her, Arthur and Merlin sat in silence for a long, tense moment, Merlin’s hand never moving from Arthur’s arm.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur said eventually, turning to look at Merlin.

Merlin jumped at the sudden sound of his voice, his hand dropping from Arthur’s arm leaving him feeling bereft.

“What?”

“The… you know,” Arthur said, awkwardly gesturing at Merlin’s stomach.

“Oh,” Merlin said, rubbing his belly gently. “It’s not your fault.”

“But –”

“But nothing,” Merlin interrupted, quiet but firm. “I know that you have nothing to do with this.”

“How can you be so sure?” Arthur asked. “You barely know me.”

Merlin gave him a small smile. “I know you enough to know that you’re not involved in this mess. You’re a good person, I’m sure you are.”

Arthur didn’t know what to say to that. It was so awkward to be on the receiving side of such a compliment – that Merlin thought he was a good person from what little time they’d spent together. And so, the silence returned, not as tense as before, but not comfortable either.

“You know what?” Merlin eventually said.

Arthur turned again, and saw Merlin looking up at him through his lashes, fragile and uncertain.

He took a deep breath before continuing. “I could really, really use a hug right now,” he said.

Arthur nodded and reached out, pulling Merlin closer to him, wrapping his arms around his warm body. Merlin went willingly, almost melting into Arthur, burying his face in the crook of Arthur’s neck.

He was shaking, Arthur realised. He ran his hand up and down his back, slowly, gently, hoping that he could get Merlin to relax a bit.

“Why did this happen to me?” Merlin whispered shakily.

Arthur just hugged Merlin tighter as he cried, sniffling softly every now and then.

They stayed like that for a long time, quiet but for the sounds of Merlin’s sniffling.

All Arthur could think of was how much he hated his father in that moment, for putting Merlin through this ordeal for his own gain. He didn’t know if he’d have the strength to arrest his father and not kill him.

But for Merlin, he thought, he’d do anything. And such a thought should have been scary, but more than anything, Arthur found it comforting.

Eventually, Merlin’s sniffles died down and they continued sitting there, holding each other close. It was like being in the eye of the storm, quiet before everything went to hell again. And Arthur wanted to drag it out as long as possible.

Merlin pulled back slightly, his hands sliding down to Arthur’s waist. His eyes were wet and red from crying, but he looked resolved.

“That night at the motel,” he started, rushing as if he needed to get the words out of him before he forgot. “It wasn’t nothing for me.”

Arthur took a deep breath. This was it, the conversation he had been dreading. He’d hoped Merlin wouldn’t bring it up, at least not until they’d solved the case. But clearly, that was not to be.

“It wasn’t nothing for me either,” he admitted in a quiet voice.

“What?” Merlin gasped.

Arthur let out a shaky laugh. “God, Merlin, you have no idea how much you mean to me. There’s something about you.”

“Then why…?”

“Because I can’t. You’re a victim, I’m the agent investigating the case, it’s wrong. I’d be taking advantage of you, you’re in a vulnerable state right now.”

“I know what I want,” Merlin replied. “I want you.”

“And if you weren’t the victim and I weren’t the investigating agent, it would be fine. Don’t make this harder for me.”

“It seems like you’re the one making it hard for yourself,” Merlin said, shrugging.

Merlin,” Arthur said, his tone warning him not to continue.

“Fine, whatever.”

He should have been glad that Merlin had dropped the issue. But really, what he wanted was for Merlin to argue, to convince him that it was ok.

**

Arthur was startled awake by the sound of the car door closing with a soft click, like someone was worried about being caught.

He checked his watch, angling it so it caught the light from the streetlight.

Almost two in the morning.

He’d been sat there, waiting in the car for almost four hours now, waiting to see what his father would do next.

He’d tailed him after work to a small house in a small town outside DC, a house that Arthur had no knowledge of whatsoever. Which, ignoring the circumstances, was rather strange as Uther liked to host dinner functions in his lavish properties, functions that Arthur was expected to attend. As such, Arthur had thought he’d had a pretty good idea of what his father owned.

Clearly not.

So he’d waited, on stake-out, with only Merlin and horrible lukewarm coffee for company. And then Merlin had drifted off, leaving Arthur with only his thoughts and no coffee.

Merlin…

Arthur turned his head and saw Merlin trying to get comfortable again.

“Sorry,” he said, shifting against the backrest. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Last he remembered, Merlin had been sleeping fitfully in the passenger seat as Arthur kept on watching the house for any activity.

How long had he been asleep?

“Don’t worry,” Merlin said. “They’re still there, I just checked.”

“What do you mean, just checked?” Arthur snapped. Was he hearing things right? Surely Merlin wouldn’t have been so stupid.

“I peeked in the window with the lights on and your father was still there and so was Gaius.”

“You idiot,” Arthur hissed. “You can’t just go out there to go checking on suspects! They could be armed and dangerous! And you have no training! This isn’t your job.”

“You’re right,” Merlin snapped back. “It’s your job. But you were asleep. You looked like you needed it so I went to check.”

“You can’t go around pretending to be an FBI agent, Merlin!”

“I didn’t, ok, I was careful,” Merlin said. “Look, I used my magic to keep them from seeing me and it all went fine.”

All went fine,” Arthur argued. “You said the pregnancy was negatively affecting your magic! What if it hadn’t worked? What if they’d found you? They’re probably looking for you right now.”

“Just calm down, ok?” Merlin said. “My magic worked fine, nobody saw me, you can calm down. I’m fine, the baby’s fine, if overactive for this time of night, and your suspects are still in the house.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down,” Arthur snapped.

Of course, in response to his outburst, Merlin just rolled his eyes in annoyance.

“Fine, don’t calm down,” Merlin said, crossing his arms over his chest. “See if I care.”

And Arthur, furious at the dismissal, couldn’t find anything to say so he just seethed in silence.

Time went by slowly, and Arthur’s anger gradually seeped out of him, leaving him feeling tired and guilty. Merlin was right, of course. This was his job, he’d messed up. He shouldn’t have snapped at Merlin.

Merlin gasped, a hand coming up to cup his stomach.

“Merlin, are you alright?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah,” Merlin moaned. “Just a twinge, nothing serious.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, yes, she probably just kicked the wrong organ or something.”

“She’s kicking?” Arthur asked, curious, maybe even a bit excited. “Right now?”

“When isn’t she?” Merlin muttered before continuing in his normal voice. “She’s more active at night than during the day. Probably enjoys knowing that I can’t sleep.”

“That… sucks,” Arthur said, not really knowing what to say.

“Yeah, but what are you going to do about it?” Merlin said. “There’s nothing to do but wait till she’s born now.”

They were quiet for a moment, before Merlin spoke up. “Do you… want to feel her kick?” he asked. “You don’t have to, it’s just… you seem curious. About it.”

Did he? He shouldn’t, he knew he shouldn’t. This wasn’t a normal pregnancy, it wasn’t wanted, and all it was doing was causing Merlin problems. But something in his brain must have clicked, probably when Gwen told him that he was the other father. Because now, he wanted to know the baby inside Merlin, he wanted to connect with her. Almost like she was his child. Which she was, technically. But not.

It was all far too complicated.

“Can I?” he asked, his heart beating faster with anticipation.

“I wouldn’t have asked otherwise,” Merlin replied gently.

And then, Merlin grabbed his right hand and pressed it against the firm, warm curve of his stomach.

“Oh wow, she really is moving a lot,” Arthur said, completely amazed.

Merlin smiled fondly. “Try sleeping with that going on inside you. It’s a real nuisance.”

“I can imagine,” Arthur said.

Merlin’s smile turned a bit sad, wistful. “No, you can’t,” he said in a soft voice. “You’re lucky.”

Just as Arthur was about to reply, a car pulled up on the other side of the street.

He’d seen that car before, he knew he had. And when the occupants of the vehicle came out, it finally came to him.

The two men, from when Deagal had been killed, from when they’d found Gaius’s secret room, wearing the dark blue uniform of police officers.

And they weren’t alone. Between them, they seemed to be half-carrying, half-dragging a man who could barely stand on his own too legs.

Another victim?

Arthur swore under his breath. He wasn’t about to let that happen, not this time.

“Stay here,” he told Merlin, opening the car door.

“No way,” Merlin said. “You need a partner, someone to watch your back.”

Arthur sighed in annoyance. “Yes, well, I’m the only FBI agent here so I’m going to have to go on my own.”

“You’re not going without me,” Merlin argued.

God dammit, of all the times Merlin chose to argue!

“Now really isn’t the time, Merlin,” Arthur snapped.

“I’ll be careful,” Merlin said. “Besides, I’ve got magic, we could use that to our advantage.”

“And what if it doesn’t work?”

Merlin shrugged. “You’ve got your gun, right?”

Arthur sighed. “Fine, come on,” he finally said. “But you do exactly as I tell you and you don’t go looking for trouble.”

By the time they’d sorted out their argument, the two men had already gone in through the front door, closing it behind them, probably locking it too.

That left going in through the back. Hopefully it was unguarded. Hopefully they didn’t know Arthur had tailed them here, not yet.

The back of the house was plunged in darkness, with nothing more than the moon to guide their steps. They quickly found the back door, locked of course.

“Let me,” Merlin whispered, pushing Arthur out of the way.

He whispered a word, and Arthur heard the door unlock. He could almost understand why his father hated magic – it was so powerful, he feared what he could not use himself. But to Arthur, who had witnessed Merlin use magic several times already, it was nothing short of amazing.

Merlin opened the door and went in, the door opening onto the kitchen. “Come on,” he said.

“Oi, just a second,” Arthur whispered. “I’m the one in charge, I give the orders.”

“Fine,” Merlin sighed, moving out of the way so Arthur could come in too. “Are you coming then?”

Merlin,” Arthur warned. But Merlin just grinned cheekily.

They checked the entire ground floor as well of the first. Despite Merlin assuring Arthur that Gaius and Uther had still been there when he’d checked, neither of them had found any trace of them.

In a way, that was good, because it gave Arthur a bit longer before he had to confront his father.

“I guess that leaves the basement,” Merlin said.

They’d found the door to the basement almost immediately as it was located in the kitchen. But Arthur had wanted to check the rest of the house first since the basement seemed quiet and empty.

Merlin was right, of course. It was time to check the basement.

The basement was like any other basement in a house like this, small, low ceilings, dark, and smelly faintly musty.

Unlike any other basement, one wall had a metallic door, harsh and out of place, with no window and no handle.

“I guess that counts as something,” Merlin said quietly.

But how did they proceed from there? There was no obvious way of opening the door.

Still, Arthur approached it, apprehensive. He was in the enemy’s lair now. They could be watching Arthur and Merlin, they could be waiting behind the door, ready to kill them.

There was a small yellow rectangle on the floor in front of the door. When Arthur stood on it, a metallic voice said “enter password” loud enough to make them both jump.

“Password?” Arthur whispered.

“I don’t know,” Merlin whispered back.

“Fuck,” Arthur swore.

“Access denied,” the voice said.

Arthur rolled his eyes.

Suddenly, from somewhere deep inside him, came the word “Excalibur”. The word the dying man had begged him to remember, the password to the floppy disk. “Excalibur”. It had to be.

“Excalibur,” Arthur said loud and clear.

“Access granted,” the voice said and the door swung open to reveal a long white corridor, brightly lit with harsh fluorescent bulbs.

“How the fuck did they manage to build this here without anyone noticing?” Merlin whispered, following Arthur closely.

Arthur shrugged. The surrounding houses were probably owned by other people involved in this conspiracy. And it had seemed to him, from what little he’d made out in the dark, that the back yard was huge. It was the only thought that made sense.

Arthur opened the first door to his right. It was almost dark and full of glass cylindrical containers filled with a greenish liquid. And in each one…

“Is that what I think it is?” Merlin asked.

Arthur could only nod.

In each one was a body, silent and unmoving, eyes closed and curled up in foetal position. There were so many of them – Arthur counted at least twenty of them.

Looking closer at one of them, he was shocked to recognise his uncle Agravaine.

It was just… horrible.

The scale of this conspiracy was simply mind-blowing! It was one thing to know abstractly from all the files he’d found, but to actually see it…

The containers were hooked up to wires that led to a console which seemed to be monitoring them. But Arthur couldn’t make out anything on the screen, just numbers and codes, nothing to help him make any sense of them.

He couldn’t stay here any longer. It was unnerving to be around all those tubes, all those bodies in suspended animation, just waiting for the day they became useful. No independence, no life of their own.

“Let’s go,” Arthur said, putting his hand on the small of Merlin’s back to guide him out.

They continued down the corridor, checking each door. But they found nothing, most rooms were empty with just a few tables, a few screens. It almost seemed like the rooms weren’t supposed to be empty, that the contents had been moved.

Like they knew Arthur was on to them.

For the first time, he could see some progress. He was getting close, close enough that he was starting to worry the people in on this, his father, his uncle, everyone.

But it also meant he had to hurry, before all the evidence was taken away to a place they’d make sure Arthur never reached.

The last door, all the way at the end of the corridor, was locked. Arthur didn’t even have to ask, Merlin stepped up and unlocked the door with his magic.

Before Arthur even had a chance to get a look at the room, he heard shouts.

“Hep, le voilà !” shouted one of the men, the man who had killed Deagal Williams.

“Qu’est c’que t’attends ? Tire, putain !” the other man shouted, pulling out his gun and shooting at Arthur and Merlin.

Arthur pushed Merlin behind a van – a loading area, they were in a loading area. He pulled out his gun, peeked out from behind the van and shot, shooting the first man in the neck. A lucky shot. The man fell to the ground, blood spurting from his wound.

That left one man. He’d stopped shooting, probably reconsidering his choices now that he was alone.

Arthur crept out from behind the van, going from vehicle to vehicle, looking for the last man.

He had two-three vehicles left to check when the man jumped from behind one of them and shot at Arthur, the bullet grazing his cheek with a sharp sting, a second shot right behind it.

Time seemed to slow down. Arthur could see the bullet come towards him, and he knew that no matter what he did, he couldn’t avoid it. It was too late.

Merlin, he thought, wanting his last thought on Earth to be of the man he’d come to care about as more than a victim, more than a friend.

“Arthur!” he heard Merlin shout.

But it was too late, any second now…

He heard Merlin shout his name again, louder, overpowering. And then, the bullet stopped. It just… stopped. Right where it was.

For a second, the bullet just hung there, suspended in mid-air. Then it fell to the ground, metal clanging against asphalt.

The man was standing there, frozen. He looked… scared? Like he’d witnessed something amazing but awful at the same time. Merlin? His magic?

Arthur didn’t even hesitate, he pulled the trigger and shot the man in the head, killing him immediately.

For a moment, Arthur just stood there panting, his arms shaking from fear, from adrenaline.

So close. Too fucking close, he thought.

He walked back to the van the men had been standing by before opening fire. In it was the man they’d been dragging in, unconscious, slouching forward. He checked his pulse just to be sure, but his heart was still beating. He had to take him to the hospital, who knew what those men had used on him?

Just then, Merlin let out a loud moan of pain. Arthur’s heart almost stopped and it felt like a bucket of ice had been dumped in his gut. Had one of the bullets hit him?

“Merlin!” Arthur shouted, running towards him. No matter how hard he pushed himself, every step seemed to take forever. He couldn’t get to him fast enough.

He found Merlin where he’d left him, sitting on the floor, back against the side of the van. He was pale, too pale and when Arthur took his hand, it felt clammy.

“Merlin, are you alright?” he asked, completely panicked. “Did they hit you?”

Merlin moaned again, his face scrunching up as he tried to fight the pain. His shaky hands were on his stomach, one of them caressing it gently.

“N-No,” he managed. There were tears of pain in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. “I don’t – I think the baby’s ready to be born.”

“What?”

Merlin grabbed Arthur’s hand and squeezed hard as he moaned in pain again. “I think I’m having contractions.”

Arthur didn’t let go of Merlin’s hand. “We’ll get you out of here, I promise.”

“I’m scared, Arthur,” Merlin said shakily. “I’m not ready! I still have at least two weeks before she’s due. I counted! It’s not fair!”

“Everything’s going to be alright,” Arthur promised, pulling Merlin to his feet.

“You can’t promise that!”

They had to get to a hospital immediately. It didn’t matter what the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff thought of Merlin’s condition, the baby was on its way and it had nowhere to go.

He let Merlin lean against him and helped him to the van where the unconscious man was still sitting. They didn’t have time to get to Arthur’s car, not if he wanted to save both Merlin and the unconscious man.

He helped Merlin into the passenger’s seat and buckled the seatbelt for him.

“Just hold on,” Arthur said. “I’m taking you to the hospital. You’re going to be fine.”

Fortunately, the keys to the van were in the ignition, so Arthur didn’t need to ask Merlin to use his magic in his condition.

The drive to the hospital was quick enough as there was no traffic at that time of night, but to Arthur, it seemed interminable. Every time Merlin moaned in pain, his heart clenched a little.

Finally, though, they made it to the hospital. Arthur parked the van, not caring that he was taking up three spaces. He let Merlin get out of the car himself while he got the unconscious man out, carrying him in his arms.

He stormed into the reception, closely followed by Merlin, curled in on himself with pain.

“FBI!” he shouted. “These two need immediate medical attention.”

A nurse quickly brought a stretcher and whisked the unconscious man away to be taken care of. Another nurse appeared to take care of Merlin.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked, not knowing what to make of Merlin or his condition.

“He’s pregnant,” Arthur said.

“This isn’t the time for jokes,” the nurse snapped.

Arthur just pulled out his badge. “I’m an FBI agent, what I’m telling you is the truth. I can’t tell you much because this is an open case, but this man is a victim of human experimentation and needs immediate medical care.”

The nurse didn’t look convinced, but she took one good look at Arthur’s badge before going to get a wheelchair and helping Merlin into it. Thank goodness. He didn’t have time to argue his case.

She could, of course, be in on the conspiracy. But Arthur forced that thought down. It was too late, he didn’t have a choice anymore. Merlin had to be treated here, because who knew what would happen if they delayed it any longer.

“Let’s get him to the ob/gyn,” she said. “The doctor can have a look at him there.”

The nurse wheeled Merlin onto the lift, Arthur following. “Is doctor Le Fay on call tonight?”

Despite the fact that he had neither seen nor heard from his half-sister in almost two years, she was still the only doctor he felt he could entrust with Merlin’s care.

They made it to a small, individual room – probably curtesy of Arthur’s FBI badge – and the nurse was helping Merlin into the bed.

“Yes,” the nurse said. “Do you want me to call her?”

“Please.”

Merlin looked awful. He looked exhausted, ashen, with dark shadows under his eyes. His face was contorted in a constant expression of pain. Arthur took his hand and gently stroked his thumb over his knuckles. His hands felt so cold, clammy.

“Who’s doctor Le Fay?” Merlin asked.

“My half-sister, Morgana,” Arthur replied.

“Do you trust her?”

“I do,” Arthur said.

“That’s good then,” Merlin murmured before groaning as another wave of pain hit him.

The contractions were getting closer and closer and they still had no idea how they’d get the baby out of Merlin, if it was even possible without alien technology. After all, it was alien technology that had put Merlin in this situation, it made sense to assume that alien technology would get him out of it too.

Arthur forced himself not to think about it. He had to remain calm and focused, for Merlin’s sake.

There was a sharp knock on the door and in stepped Morgana. She looked almost the same as when he’d last seen her, long dark hair, intelligent green eyes, and painfully stylish despite the lab coat.

“Arthur,” she said, nodding curtly at him.

“This is Merlin,” he said. “You have to help him.”

“Mithian says he’s pregnant?” she asked. “Human experimentation?”

“I can’t go into details,” Arthur said. “But you’ve got to believe me.”

Morgana didn’t reply, instead she pulled the ultrasound machine closer.

“This will be a bit cold,” she said, pushing Merlin’s shirt up and applying gel to his belly.

She pressed the wand to Merlin’s stomach and let out a quiet gasp.

“It’s true,” she said, sounding amazed. “There really is a foetus in there.”

“Not for long,” Merlin said quietly. “She wants to get out.”

“I need to run a few tests before we do anything,” Morgana said. “Just wait there. Arthur, if you would follow me?”

“I’ll be right back,” Arthur said, squeezing Merlin’s hand.

Morgana closed the door behind them, leaving Merlin alone. It felt so strange to be apart from him, given all the time they had spent together in the last few days.

“It’s good to see you,” Arthur said.

“Don’t start,” Morgana said in return. “Now really isn’t the time. Besides, I’m still seeing Morgause, and that was one of your conditions, wasn’t it?”

“I was stupid,” Arthur said.

“I know,” Morgana replied. “I need to take some blood from Merlin and assess his general health and figure out how to get that baby out of there. Why don’t you go and get some coffee in the meantime. You look like shit.”

“I can’t just leave him,” Arthur said. “He’s in danger.”

“Just go,” Morgana said, in her ‘don’t argue with me’ tone that was so familiar. “He’ll be fine.”

**

The hospital’s coffee could not be described as even remotely good by even the most charitable of souls, but the warmth and familiar scent had helped calm Arthur’s nerves.

He’d taken his time, letting Morgana and her team work on Merlin. He did feel a bit guilty leaving Merlin on his own in the hands of people he didn’t know, but there was nothing he could do there, only get in the way.

Merlin will be just fine, he repeated to himself from time to time, when the guilt got a little bit too much to bear.

It had been almost an hour, and Arthur decided it was time to start pestering Morgana for answers.

He didn’t rush back to Merlin’s side. Not because he wasn’t worried, but because he wanted to prove to himself that he hadn’t fallen hard for Merlin. After all, if he really had, he wouldn’t even have left his side when Morgana had told him to, right?

He opened the door to find the room empty. His heartbeat quickened with worry, fear in response, but he didn’t let it get to him. Wrong room, probably.

He closed the door and checked the number. 3. So not the wrong room then.

He let himself worry a bit. They’d probably just moved him, but he didn’t like this. He didn’t like it at all.

“Where’s Merlin?” he asked a bit too harshly.

The passing nurse flinched at his tone before speaking up. “Room 3, sir.”

“He’s not in room 3.”

“Let me just check then, they’ve probably just moved him to another room.”

It was good to hear someone voice his reasons out loud. Everything would be just fine.

The nurse quickly leafed through a piled of papers, then another, then another. After the fourth pile, Arthur started to grow very, very concerned.

This wasn’t right. Something was wrong – something had gone wrong while he was busy pretending not to like Merlin. What an idiot he was.

“Where is he?” he asked again.

“I’m sorry, I can’t find anything that says where he’s been moved.”

“Then where is he?” he repeated.

The nurse looked like she was about to cry. He was being too harsh with her when she wasn’t the one in charge of the ward or of Merlin’s care. But he didn’t have time to be nice, he needed to find Merlin before it was too late.

“I don’t know, I’m really sorry,” she stammered. “I’ll go and get doctor Le Fay.”

She walked away as fast as her legs could carry her without running, probably glad to move away from Arthur’s furious focus.

Arthur paced anxiously, checking every room, every area partitioned off with thick curtains, the bathroom. Nothing. Not a trace of Merlin.

He’d failed him, he’d promised to protect him, and now Merlin was gone. If he was lucky, maybe they’d let him find Merlin’s body somewhere remote, months after his disappearance.

“Arthur!” Morgana called.

He was getting ahead of himself. He had to focus.

There was still time. He could still save Merlin.

He wouldn’t allow himself to fail.

“Where is he?” he asked again, sounding weary and worried this time.

“I didn’t have him moved.”

“So now what?” Arthur asked.

Morgana started walking down a corridor, expecting Arthur to follow her.

“Now, we check the security footage. Nobody can get in or out of this hospital without being filmed.”

Arthur certainly hoped so. It would be a first in this whole mission.

The security monitors were kept in a small room with a single security guard for over twenty screens displaying grainy pictures. It was no wonder they’d managed to take Merlin – he’d seen better security in libraries.

The security guard followed Morgana’s orders, back an hour, fast forward.

And there, about twenty-five minutes in, there was a man opening the door to Merlin’s room, looking all around him before entering – shifty.

And Arthur would recognise that man anywhere.

Agravaine…

“That’s the nurse I asked to administer a pain killer,” Morgana said.

“What?” Arthur said. He couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. She hadn’t… right?

“I said –” Morgana started, annoyed. Probably because Arthur had questioned her actions, something she never put up with.

“He’s not a nurse!” Arthur snapped. “How could you just give a random man access to Merlin, after everything I told you!”

“How was I supposed to know he wasn’t a nurse?”

“Had you even ever seen him before tonight?” Arthur asked angrily.

“No,” Morgana replied, icy cold.

“And you just let him go near Merlin! You told me he’d be fine!”

“I’m so sorry I lead a busy department,” Morgana replied in an angry tone, never breaking her calm disposition. “It’s not the first time I’ve had new faces appear on my ward, and it won’t be the last time. I can’t be expected to keep track of the staff of the whole hospital, I have enough on my hands as it is.”

Arthur sighed. There was no point in wasting time arguing with Morgana. They’d deal with it later, like the reasonable adults they were supposed to be.

“So what now?” Arthur asked.

“We follow him using the time stamps on the videos,” Morgana said. “Isn’t this basic FBI stuff? Your job?”

“Shut up,” Arthur said. He wasn’t in his right mind and he had a very good excuse too.

They followed Agravaine through the videos – replacing one of the bags of IV fluids with another, waiting for Merlin to pass out, pushing him on a stretcher towards the back exit, putting him in a waiting ambulance and driving away.

It was all very good to have all that information, but it still didn’t answer the most pressing question.

Where was Merlin? And was he alright?

They were at a dead-end, no clues, no information, nothing. Again.

Arthur didn’t like not knowing. It was his job to know, and he liked to think he was good at it.

“Now what?” Morgana asked, sounding nicer than earlier, concerned even.

“I don’t know,” Arthur was forced to admit in a low voice.

Merlin

And then, just as hopelessness was starting to creep through his body, his phone rang.

“Hello?” Arthur answered, his mind repeating please, please, please over and over again. He was desperate for even the slightest hint.

“Arthur?” came the voice on the other end of the line. “It’s me, Lance. I think I have some very important information that you’ll want to hear.”

**

Merlin woke up feeling both completely disoriented and in a lot of pain.

Where was he? This definitely wasn’t the hospital room Arthur had left him in. It was poorly lit and cold and his arms…

He couldn’t move his arms or his legs, something was restraining them, keeping them in place. Straps dug into his skin every time he tried to move.

Arthur…

“Arthur?” he called weakly, his throat dry and scratchy.

“Merlin?” came a voice that most definitely was not Arthur. It sounded so familiar, but his head was so muzzy, he just couldn’t place it.

“Where am I?” he asked, trying to move his wrists again. “Who’s there?”

There was movement in the corner of the room and a man came to sit next to him. And suddenly it came to him.

Gaius.

There were so many things he wanted to ask him, what was going on, why him, how could he? But he couldn’t put any of them into words.

“Gaius,” he said.

Gaius appeared to be checking the machines Merlin supposed he was hooked up to, jotting down numbers in the file he was holding.

Merlin moaned as another wave of pain hit him, his abdomen feeling like it was being torn apart.

Still pregnant, then.

Merlin sighed and lay back against the thin, lumpy pillow they’d deigned give him.

If this is it, he thought, why can’t they just get over with it?

Gaius sat down in the chair next to his bed.

“Merlin, my dear boy,” he started before hesitating slightly. “I never wanted this to happen to you.”

“Why me, Gaius?” he asked weakly.

“I’m sorry, Merlin,” Gaius said. “I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice, Gaius,” Merlin said.

Gaius sighed sadly. “I know, my boy, I know.”

“I don’t want to die, Gaius,” Merlin whispered, overcome with emotion. It was all too much for him, too much for a single human to handle.

It wasn’t fair.

Gaius stood up, and for a moment, Merlin was overcome with loneliness and excruciating grief. He was going to die all on his own.

He tried to summon his magic, to make it undo his bonds, to set him free, but nothing came.

It felt so wrong. Even when the pregnancy was at its worst, it only hampered his magic ability. It never left him bereft.

Before he could even bring himself to truly think about it, Gaius was fiddling with the straps, undoing them.

“We don’t have long,” Gaius murmured. “You’re going to make it, Merlin.”

Just then, the door opened, flooding the room with light. Merlin could barely make out the silhouette of a man, tall, broad, his eyes too used to the quasi-darkness.

“Gaius, are you ready?” the man asked, stepping into the room.

“Lancelot!” Merlin whispered.

He couldn’t believe his eyes! His inner strength came flooding back to him, chasing away the self-pitying and dejection.

He was going to make it.

As Gaius helped him off the bed, he was hit with another contraction and he groaned in pain. His hand came to rest on his stomach, rubbing it gently.

Just a little longer, he thought to the child inside him. We’re almost there.

Lancelot wrapped an arm around Merlin’s waist and let him lean his weight on him, helping him down the unbearably long corridor as he was hit by another contraction. Gaius was on his other side, following them as they hurried towards the exit.

“How did you find me?” Merlin asked.

“Later, Merlin, later,” Lancelot whispered. “We don’t have much time.”

They’d made it down two floors relatively quickly, despite Merlin’s frequent contractions, and were half-way down another corridor when a loud bang was heard behind them and Gaius fell to the floor.

For a moment, Merlin didn’t understand what was going on and time seemed to slow down to a trickle. Why had Gaius fallen? They really didn’t have time for this.

Then Lancelot turned swirled around, putting himself in front of Merlin, his gun out and aiming at an older man at the end of the corridor.

Merlin glanced down at Gaius, lying face down on the floor, a large blood red stain spreading on his back.

Shot, his mind finally supplied. Gaius had been shot.

It all came crashing into Merlin, fear, adrenaline, the need to run. He started trembling, unable to help it.

Then another shot rang in the air and Lancelot fell to his side, clutching his knee, his gun going flying towards the other man. Another shot, and Lancelot collapsed on the ground, a red spot growing on his shoulder.

The other man was coming closer, and Merlin couldn’t make himself move. He was wearing a cold, cruel smile, and his eyes wouldn’t leave Merlin. Beside him, he could hear Lancelot’s grunts of pain, hear Gaius’s raspy, uneven breathing, and still he couldn’t move.

“Did you really think I’d let you escape?” the man said.

Merlin finally recognised him – Uther Pendragon, Director of the FBI and Arthur’s father.

Merlin stood up straighter, closed his eyes and tried, once again, to summon his magic. He wasn’t going to let Uther just get away with shooting Lancelot and Gaius, and he most certainly wasn’t going to let him have the child he was bearing, something he thought with a deep fierceness and protectiveness he’d never thought he’d feel towards the child.

Again, nothing.

Uther laughed, cool, cruel.

“Aliens are amazing, are they not?” he started. “We have learnt so much from them.” He nodded at Merlin. “Take that bracelet, for example. It completely absorbs the wearer’s magic, leaving him or her unable to use it.”

That certainly explained things. Merlin grabbed at the bracelet, trying to pull it off, only to receive a powerful electric shock.

“Magic users cannot remove it without seriously hurting themselves,” Uther continued calmly. “Ingenious, isn’t it?”

Uther came forward, keeping his gun aimed at Merlin, so close that Merlin could reach out and touch him if he wanted.

“The things we have learnt from them,” Uther said. “Of course, that wasn’t the end. In fact, it was just the beginning. Take your pregnancy, for example.”

“It took us years to get the technology to work on humans. It was almost by accident. Gaius used a magic user as a test subject, something that was strictly forbidden. After all, magic users are dangerous, we didn’t want our results to be corrupted by magic.”

“Results?” Merlin asked. The longer Uther spoke, the longer it gave Merlin to come up with a plan, something. He wasn’t going to let anyone die, not if he could avoid it. He didn’t have his magic, but he couldn’t let that stop him.

Besides, he knew, deep inside him, that Arthur was looking for him. He just had to keep Uther talking until Arthur found him.

Clones,” Uther said. “No longer would we need to worry about important figures being killed, we can just replace them with a body that looks the same, acts the same and thinks the same.”

“It wasn’t easy,” Uther continued. “Even once we realised that the technology worked only with magic users, we still had to figure out how to make the clone not be that of the magic user. Who would want more of them? Again, we spent years testing and modifying the technology until we reached our goal – clones of important figures carried by magic users whom nobody would regret.”

“It seems like the clone you are carrying is ready to come out.”

“But why does it have Arthur’s DNA? He’s not involved in this case.”

“The clone is mine, Mr Emrys. I have a rare genetic disorder that is incompatible with the cloning process. I had no choice but to use my son’s DNA to create my own clone. One day, he’ll understand that we are doing this for the greater good.”

“This is the end, Mr Emrys. I say end as, in order for the clone to become functional, you need to die. This only happens with the strongest of magic users, you should be flattered.”

Merlin had tuned him out as he spoke, focusing on getting even the slightest flicker of his magic to respond. But he could still hear enough to hear him say that Merlin needed to die.

Something deep inside him, ancient, powerful, responded to those words, his magic coming crashing through his body as it freed itself from the bracelet. So much power, Merlin couldn’t contain it all.

Without even thinking about it, he sent Uther flying backwards, his hand banging against the wall and dropping his weapon. Merlin focused on it and sent it flying through the window to the sound of breaking glass.

“Magic,” Uther said. “Impossible, the bracelet –”

Merlin had heard enough. With his magic, he pulled Uther up until his feet no longer touched the ground, keeping him pressed against the wall, tendrils of magic around his arms, legs, neck, pressing to make breathing harder.

“Merlin!” he heard Lancelot call, weak beneath the pounding of his magic.

But it was too late. He couldn’t be stopped. He was going to avenge the magic users who had been used against their will, he was going to take his own revenge against the man who had ruined his life and tried to kill Lancelot and Gaius.

Uther held his stare, defiant till the end. Merlin’s magic pushed harder and harder against his throat, and still Uther wouldn’t look away.

“Merlin!” came a voice, sharp and clear, cutting through the haze of violent revenge.

Arthur!

“Arthur?” Merlin called, unable to turn away from Uther, searching for him with his magic.

“I’m right here,” Arthur said, putting his hand on Merlin’s outstretched arm, warm and solid. “It’s going to be ok.”

“I have to finish,” Merlin said. “I can’t let him get away with it.”

“No, you don’t,” Arthur said softly, gently pushing Merlin’s arm down. Uther fell to the ground in an undignified heap. “You’re not a killer, Merlin.”

“You don’t know me,” Merlin argued.

“I know you’re not a killer,” Arthur said.

“I can’t let him get away with it.”

“He’s not getting away with anything,” Arthur said. “Trust me.”

Arthur let him go. Two men he hadn’t noticed before went to Uther’s side, pulling him up none-too-gently.

“Uther Pendragon,” Arthur said. “I’m placing you under arrest. Leon, Elyan, read him his rights.”

As Uther was being taken away, another contraction hit Merlin, so hard and so painful, Merlin thought he was going to black out.

He fell to his knees with a groan of pain.

“Merlin!” he heard Arthur shout.

“We need to get him to a hospital,” he heard someone say. Doctor Le Fay, maybe? What was she doing here?

“It’s going to be alright, Merlin,” Arthur said, and it was the last thing he heard before unconsciousness claimed him.

**

Merlin woke up in a quiet room, light and comfortable, feeling like he’d been hit by a lorry. Two even.

“You’re awake,” he heard Arthur say.

He turned his head to his left to find Arthur sitting by the bed. He looked worn, tired. Merlin wanted to reach out, tell him that everything was ok, but everything hurt.

“Can I get you anything?” Arthur asked.

Merlin shook his head once.

Arthur was quiet for a moment, looking conflicted, as if he wanted to tell Merlin something.

“What?” Merlin croaked, his throat painfully dry.

“I don’t know if you want to hear this,” Arthur started. “But you gave birth via caesarean. Morgana did that.”

Merlin nodded once, weakly.

“It was…” Arthur started hesitantly, an uncommon sight. “She’s beautiful, Merlin.”

“Can I see her?” Merlin rasped.

Arthur looked shocked. Merlin couldn’t imagine why. Surely he’d told Merlin that she was beautiful in hopes that he’d say that.

“Do you want to?” Arthur asked.

Merlin nodded.

“I won’t be long,” Arthur said, getting up.

He came back a minute later carefully holding a tiny bundle in his arms. He sat back down on the chair, making sure Merlin could see the bundle.

Merlin sat up to get a better look.

“She looks just like you,” Merlin said, his throat still dry, but gradually remembering how to speak.

Arthur nodded, a hint of pride in his eyes.

“No wonder you said that she’s beautiful,” Merlin joked.

Arthur looked affronted, but relaxed when he saw Merlin was joking.

“She’s got your eyes though,” Arthur said.

“That’s nice,” Merlin said, as exhaustion got the better of him.

“What are you going to do about her?” Arthur asked, after a long moment of quiet as they both watched the baby, their daughter sleep.

Merlin settled back into bed, tired and achy and needing to sleep a thousand years.

“Sleep,” he said.

He’d figure it all out later.

**

Later, as it turned out, was a huge mess of high-profile arrests, constant news reports, and public unease at the thought of such a cover-up.

For Arthur, newly appointed to the head of a task force comprising himself, Lancelot, Leon and Elyan (as well as Gwaine and new boyfriend Percival, unofficially), his days were filled with paperwork, interrogations, more paperwork and even more awful coffee. The case reached so deep that every new element they found brought up a whole new branch of investigations to carry out. He didn’t know if they’d ever be done.

A lot of the evidence had conveniently disappeared, making it hard for Arthur and his team to collect enough proof to hold suspects, but Arthur had been thorough in his original investigation, they still had enough to go on.

And Gaius, the man who had set things in motion, had readily cooperated with the FBI in exchange for a lighter sentence.

It was amazing, frustrating, angering at times, but mostly, it was exactly what had made Arthur join the FBI in the first place.

His days were also filled with something new, concern, even affection, for not just one, but two people.

It had taken Merlin almost a month of hesitating, of changing his mind back and forth, before coming to the decision that he would care for the being that had finally become his daughter.

It wasn’t easy, what with all the trauma Merlin had endured. No, it wasn’t easy at all. He was in therapy and was being treated for a combination of PTSD, depression and anxiety, all of which made him particularly moody and hard to be around at times.

But Arthur tried. And Merlin tried. And together, they were starting to make progress. Finally, Arthur was seeing Merlin smile more often. It warmed him to the core to know that Merlin was starting to recover.

Despite being busier than he had been in years, Arthur still made the time to visit Merlin regularly. After all, Lizzy – Elisabeth Ygraine Emrys – was also Arthur’s daughter, and one of the biggest reasons Merlin had decided to take her in was because Arthur had promised to help.

Currently, he was at Merlin’s new flat in DC, sitting on the couch with him, the TV on low in the background as he watched Lizzy play with her toys.

Merlin’s arms were wrapped around his waist and his head was a warm, pleasant weight on Arthur’s shoulder.

Their relationship was still on shaky ground – they still argued a lot, though always when Lizzy couldn’t hear, but between Arthur’s work and Merlin’s therapy, things were getting better.

A picture of Uther appeared on screen, with a box with the words “Breaking News”. Arthur turned up the volume a bit.

“We have just learned that disgraced Director of the FBI, Uther Pendragon, has escaped from prison,” said the newscaster.

Arthur felt Merlin tense next to him. Arthur’s father was still a source of stress for Merlin, which was understandable given that Uther was to blame for Merlin’s trauma.

Arthur pulled Merlin closer and started rubbing his hand up and down Merlin’s arm to comfort him.

To be honest, Arthur wasn’t really surprised that his father had escaped. Angry? Yes. Annoyed? Definitely. But surprised? No. A man with the power and connections of Uther Pendragon did not simply stay in prison.

Lizzy seemed to sense that something was up. She dropped her octopus plushie, waved her arms as she bounced and started making “da da da” sounds.

Merlin reached out to brush his hand through her dark curls. “It’s ok, Lizzy,” he said gently. “Everything’s ok.”

“Da!” she said and tried to push herself up.

She’d been doing that a lot recently, and both Arthur and Merlin were expecting her to start walking any time soon.

Tonight was going to be that night, it seemed, as Lizzy pushed herself to her feet and let out a triumphant “da!”.

“Oh my god, Lizzy!” Merlin almost shouted. “Arthur, did you see that?”

“Clever girl,” Arthur said, letting go of Merlin to hold his arms open for his daughter.

Lizzy tried to take a step forward, but fell back down. That didn’t seem to stop her, because she immediately got back up on her feet.

“Oh my god, Arthur,” Merlin said, sounding like the proud, doting parent he was. “She’s standing up!”

Arthur’s face hurt from grinning so hard.

Yes, parenthood was tough, more so given the origins of their own parenthood, but moments like this? Well they more than made up for it.

Arthur grabbed Lizzy by the waist and pulled her into his lap. Merlin immediately brushed his hand through her hair again.

“Who’s a clever girl?” Merlin cooed. “You are!”

“Da!” Lizzy agreed.

Arthur looked at Merlin, then at Lizzy, then back at Merlin, and couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips.

Sometimes Arthur wished he’d chosen to find his own path in life rather than follow in his father’s footsteps.

But then, if he had chosen his own path in life, he probably wouldn’t have met Merlin, and he wouldn’t have met Lizzy. No matter how hard it may have been at times, Arthur did not regret anything because his life with Merlin and Lizzy more than made up for it.