29 January 5193 (Earth Standard Date)
Merlin stood beside his mate, as Arthur watched the man who was the reincarnation of Uther Pendragon cooling his heels in the interrogation cell.
He hadn’t changed all that much. He was perhaps a little thinner, a little sharper, than the Uther he remembered. Still, he felt an undeniable shiver down his spine, and the irrational fear that seeing the former King of Albion engendered. Merlin very well remembered the terror of living under that man’s tyrannical rule, of hiding himself and his magic and living with the very real fact that his very existence was considered against the law in Uther’s reign.
Things had been so much better when Arthur had taken the throne. Magic had flourished, and he and Arthur had been happy together…up until the time Morgana had made her final assault against Albion. They’d had twelve good years before the end.
It was different now. Arthur had been reborn immortal, and a dragon, and Merlin had come back as the son of the Last Time Lord. They were truly happy, with a son of their own, and they’d been discussing adopting one of the dragon eggs that his mother had retrieved from various times in the past. They’d done so much good, rising above even the destinies that had been laid for them.
His mother had talked to him about being weighed down by his destiny. She’d been right, and Merlin had felt much better…until he’d been faced with the fact that the very enemy of magic had been reborn, and had created some sort of doomsday weapon.
Who’d joined HYDRA.
Who seemed to be as virulently anti-magic as he’d been in his first, remembered, life.
Who shouldn’t even be remembering that past anyway.
“This isn’t right,” Arthur muttered. “He shouldn’t be here.”
Phillip rested his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Let me go in first.”
Arthur looked relieved. “Thank you, Uncle Phillip.”
“I’d save you from this if I could…”
“I know. But if anyone can get information out of him, chances are it’s going to be me.”
The older immortal squeezed Arthur’s shoulder in sympathy, then left the room. Arthur only had eyes on the monitor as they watched Phillip enter the room on the screen, where Uther was sitting, looking mad enough to chew titanium.
“You want me to go in with you?” Merlin offered, even though he didn’t want to be within a hundred feet of Uther Pendragon.
“I appreciate it, but we all know how Uther felt about magic, and it’s pretty obvious now that you have it.” Arthur’s voice was wry, even as his gaze never left the screen.
“Have you given any thought to what I said the last time I was here?” Phillip enquired, sounding almost polite. His back was to the camera, so Merlin couldn’t make out his expression, although he was willing to bet his uncle was wearing the familiar, bland mask of Torchwood’s Director.
“If you think I’m simply going to give you what you want to know, you’re sadly mistaken.” It was definitely Uther’s voice, only there was a difference in the accent that made this whole thing seem even more surreal, if that was possible.
“We have our scientists looking into the nanotechnology you were trying to perfect, and they tell us it was never going to work. Is that why HYDRA decided to set you up to take the fall?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about the inherent instability of the nanobot matrix. Surely you had to have realised they would break down almost immediately upon being exposed to air.”
The camera had good enough resolution on it to make out Uther’s features, and Merlin could tell he wasn’t at all happy with what Phillip was intimating.
While Merlin wasn’t as much a scientist as Fitz and Simmons were, he did have a basic understanding of the technology involved. But it was the magic that had been infused within the microscopic robots that the wizard was much more familiar with.
He’d read the report, and what their magical theorist had come up with was true: the dark magic that had been used in the construction of the nanomachines were what was making them unstable.
The link between magic and science was fraught to begin with. Merlin knew this as well as he knew his own name. While he’d had quite a bit of success with such things as the personal translation devices that were now a staple of Torchwood’s mission to aid time and space displaced innocents, there were also certain things that magic simply wasn’t compatible with.
The nanobots that Phillip and the others had discovered at Persephone Corporation had been one such thing.
It really boggled his mind, though, that Uther, of all people, had been content with augmenting his technology with magic. Merlin had lived during Uther’s reign, and had seen the man’s rampant hatred toward magic first-hand. For him to have relied upon it when building his newest weapon was a bit beyond what Merlin had ever expected from the man. It was almost inconceivable that Uther Pendragon would fall back on magic in order to achieve his goals, not after what had happened in their previous lives.
Still, it hadn’t been magic that had been very strong to begin with. Nicole had shared her conclusions with him, and he had to agree with her. Taking Lucy Cole out of the equation had been the very best thing they could have done, if it meant that HYDRA didn’t have access to a powerful magic-user any longer.
It had also occurred to him that they’d taken Lisa because they’d known she was Morgana, and that Morgana had been a very power sorceress in her own right. How were they going to react when they realised that Lisa didn’t have any magic? Would that put her at more risk than she already was in? And would they take things out on Rhys?
It was a genuine worry, one that he knew his mate shared.
“I have it on excellent authority that the technology and the dark magic you were trying to combine would never have worked,” Phillip continued. “Did your cronies in HYDRA know, Mr Anthony? Did they plot to see you out of their hair because of this catastrophic failure?”
Their prisoner said nothing. There really wasn’t anything to say to Phillip’s accusations.
“You were set up, Mr Anthony. Or should I call you Uther Pendragon? Which would you prefer?”
At that question, Arthur left the room. Merlin wanted nothing more than to go with him, but he’d only be a distraction to the verbal spell that was being woven in that room.
Even in the slightly lower resolution of the security feed, Merlin could tell that Uther had gone pale, but not with fear…but with rage, the muscle in his jaw jumping and his hands clenched on the tabletop as if he wanted to reach across and punch his interrogator in the face. Phillip was pressing all of the necessary buttons to get their prisoner to lose control, and it was working quite well.
As Merlin watched, the door opened, and Arthur stepped into the interrogation room.
Uther’s head snapped upward, and a sneer wiped away the anger he’d been experiencing. His eyes narrowed as he took in the man who’d once been his son, but he didn’t seem overly surprised to see Arthur.
A hand landed on Merlin’s shoulder, and the wizard jumped a little before realising it was his own father, trying to offer some measure of comfort. “He’ll do well,” the Doctor reassured.
Merlin couldn’t help the tiny smile that curved his lips upward. “I know. I pity Uther, actually.”
That earned him a small, near silent laugh.
“Will you excuse us please, Uncle Phillip?” Arthur’s voice was clear over the speakers.
That question earned him a scoffing noise from Uther.
While Merlin couldn’t make out Phillip’s face, the immortal was relaxed as he gave Arthur a nod. “Of course, Arthur.” Then he stood and vacated the room, leaving Arthur alone with the reincarnation of the man who’d once been his father.
“I’ve been expecting you, Arthur,” Uther commented as Arthur took the seat that Phillip had been using. “I thought they might attempt to use our emotional connection against me.”
It was a low blow. Arthur had loved his father, back during that first, remembered, life, even though he’d fully understood that Uther had been a despot and cruel to an extreme. He’d been hurt when Uther had been murdered, and had mourned the only parental figure he’d ever known.
“We have no emotional connection,” Arthur denied quietly.
It was a lie. Merlin knew it. Uther might not have been his father in this life, but he had been before, and Arthur had truly loved him. Seeing him there, now, and knowing he was working with HYDRA had been a blow that had damaged the good memories he did have of his time with Uther Pendragon.
Uther looked as if Arthur had just slapped him. “How can you say that? I’m your father – “
“No. My father was a man my mother met on Farpoint Station. My mother is Anwyn Harkness-Jones, the oldest child of Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones. They have been my family for so many times longer than you were. And I’ve become one of the very things you so despised back in your time as King of Camelot: a dragon, a magical creature, and do not pretend that you wouldn’t see me dead if you could.”
Uther’s sneer returned, and Merlin knew his mate’s heart had to be breaking at the sight of the superior expression. “You’re right. You’ve become a traitor everything I’ve ever stood for. You are a part of the problem that HYDRA is trying to solve, and nothing you can do will stand in our way.”
There it was, on record, of Anthony’s involvement with HYDRA. Arthur had managed to make Uther mad enough to admit it under official surveillance.
This had to be wrecking his mate. Yes, it had been so very long since there’d been any sort of familial affection between the two, and yet there once had been, and Merlin wanted more than anything to be in there to support his mate.
Arthur shook his head. The way he was sitting, his face wasn’t visible to the camera, but Merlin just knew there was disappointment there. “HYDRA has betrayed you, but your own arrogance won’t allow you to see it.” He leaned forward. “They have arranged the murder of my aunt, Sabrina. They have set you up to take the fall for it. And yet, you’re sitting here, giving them your loyalty blindly. They are not coming for you. They don’t care one whit about you. You have lost your usefulness, the moment it became apparent that your doomsday weapon wouldn’t work. Uncle Phillip has pointed this out to you, and yet you won’t see it.” He then sighed. “That’s always been your weakness, Uther…your blindness. You were blind to the fact that it wasn’t magic that killed Ygraine…it was you. You who made the deal with the witch in order to conceive an heir. And, when she died, you refused to take responsibility for what you’d done and, instead, blamed innocent men, women, and children and had hundreds put to death.”
Uther was suddenly on his feet, looming over Arthur, who looked perfectly relaxed from his seated position. “You lie,” he hissed. “Magic killed your mother, and it needed to be wiped out! And now it’s back, due to that damned mate of yours, and Torchwood, and you! You support aliens and Inhumans and you don’t care for your own race any longer! You were supposed to be the Once and Future King, and that meant you should have protected your own. And you failed, Arthur. You failed, and now it’s up to HYDRA to fix what you’ve done!”
“He really is a sick bastard,” Clint murmured, faint horror in his words.
Merlin couldn’t disagree.
The thing was, Uther didn’t know what it meant for Arthur to be known by that ridiculous title. It had meant that his mate carried around a destiny that was as heavy as Merlin’s own. It had meant suspicion when the people in power had found out just who Arthur Harkness-Jones was. Arthur had very nearly been denied control of Torchwood in the beginning, and had had to reassure the Imperial Throne that he didn’t mean to force a coup and take control of the Empire. The only reason Arthur had decided to take back the Pendragon name was so that no one could connect him back to the Jack Harkness that had run Torchwood for so very long, not wanting to wreck the timelines or draw attention to just who and what the infamous immortal leader of the Torchwood Institute truly was: Time Agent Boe, the renegade, the man who’d run with the Time Lord known as the Doctor and had become something more than just a conman.
Yes, eventually he’d been able to admit all of that, once it was past his grandfather’s time with the Time Agency. But, by then, his identity was too well known, as both a mythical figure and as a Star Dragon, and Arthur had had to live with the consequences of his wide-spread fame.
Merlin wanted nothing more than to go into that room and set Uther Pendragon straight, but he had to trust his mate to take care of business.
And he could tell that Arthur wasn’t reacting to Uther’s tirade. He simply sat there, his head tilted upward so he could look into the fierce expression that was directed at him.
“You don’t understand, Uther. I have been protecting my own. Whether you like it or not, back in that first life I was born of magic. I might not have had any of my own, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t affected me in ways no one could have foreseen. From the moment I was born, I had a destiny to help bring magic back into the world…and then, when I was reborn, into the universe. This is what you don’t understand…magic has always meant to be here. Your attempt to destroy it failed because magic is as elemental as the air; it’s a part of life itself. It only took me realising my true path to figure that out. But, you never will. You can’t see beyond your own prejudices and hate. And see where it got you?” Arthur’s arms went out, as if he was embracing the room around them. “You’re a prisoner. You’re going to spend the rest of your life in a cell somewhere, simply because you wouldn’t recognise the truth if it stood in front of you and shouted your name. HYDRA somehow awoke your previous memories and indoctrinated you into their circle, and then dumped you the moment you ceased to be useful to them.” He paused, cocking his head slightly. “You know, this sounds very familiar. I wonder where I’ve seen that before…Father.”
Uther sat back down, hard. It was as if Arthur saying this to him struck a chord where Phillip’s words hadn’t. But then, that was understandable; Arthur had been Uther’s son. They’d had a bond, despite their distance now.
And Arthur was right about Uther. He’d used magic, until it was no longer useful to him, and then he’d tried to eradicate it. He’d used Balinor to summon the dragons, and then attempted to murder Merlin’s former father when the dragons were gone.
No wonder HYDRA had found Derek Anthony, and brought Uther Pendragon back to the surface. They’d had a use for him…and then, as both Arthur and Phillip had pointed out, they’d set him aside when the plans they’d had for him had fallen through.
They still had no idea how HYDRA managed that, and Merlin was positive that Uther wouldn’t have cared. Still, it was something they’d need to figure out at some point, in order to keep it from happening again.
Arthur was standing. “I seriously doubt you’ll tell us anything. You’re in too deep. But know this: we’re going to stop them. We’re going to war against HYDRA, me and my family. If HYDRA promised you they’d get rid of magic, they lied. I’ve seen the proof of it. They’ve already attempted to steal the most powerful book of dark magic in the multiverse, but they failed. The reincarnation of Morgause Gorlois is working for them; did you know that? And now we know they also have Morgana. I’m quite certain you remember your own daughter. What do you think they’re going to be doing with all that magic?”
Merlin noticed that Arthur didn’t mention that Morgana – Lisa – didn’t, in fact, have any magic this time around, but chances were Uther wasn’t aware of that.
“They have a magical assassin, one that gladly gave you up to us. Think about it.” Arthur rose. “I don’t believe we’ll ever see each other again. And you can trust me when I say, your next life won’t remember this one. Which can only be a good thing.”
Uther was silent. His face was stony in its outrage…or was it even anger? Had Arthur’s comments made any sort of difference?
Merlin doubted if, or if it had that it would be enough to sway Uther into divulging his secrets. He was stubborn, and blinkered, and refused to see the bigger picture.
And now, he was going to be spending the rest of his life in prison, and not in the company that he’d run until HYDRA had brought back all those hidden memories of Camelot and misguided visions of what he’d believed would be the perfect kingdom.
Arthur was halfway to the door before he turned back to Uther. “It’s a shame, in a way. I think I would have liked to have gotten to know you in this life. I would have liked for you to have met my family. You could have been a part of something so much bigger, but you bought into HYDRA and their lies. You’ll never meet my son, and he’ll never know the reincarnation of the man who could have been another grandfather to him. Not that I think you would have accepted Rory as family. After all, he’s a wizard…just like Merlin is, and a dragon…like I am now. It’s sad that your narrow-mindedness wouldn’t allow you to see the universe for what it is. Good-bye, Uther. I hope you rot.”
With those parting words, Arthur left the interrogation room.
“I had no idea I could be so proud of anyone not my own son,” the Doctor said, admiringly.
“That was very well done,” Phillip agreed.
“He’s almost as good as you are, Agent,” Stark put in.
The door to the suite opened, and Arthur stepped through. Merlin was next to him like a shot, his arms around his mate, pride and sadness warring within him. Arthur embraced him back, his face buried against Merlin’s neck, and he could feel him breathing deeply, as if trying to gain control of his emotions.
Arthur was a proud person. He didn’t like seeming to be vulnerable. Yet, in that moment, he was accepting the comfort that Merlin was offering, which spoke more deeply of his state of mind than anything else.
Then he broke away, but he took Merlin’s hand, his mate’s heat against his palm. “I’m sorry he didn’t give us anything,” Arthur said, his voice soft and sad.
“Don’t worry about it,” Phillip assured him. “You’ve given Uther something to think about, and it’s only a matter of letting him digest things. Stark has given us permission to take him with us when we go, as long as we keep him updated on our progress. The security forces have been tasked with questioning all of Persephone’s employees. They’re also taking the company mainframe apart for any sort of clue the Central Computer might have missed…although, that doesn’t seem likely. Stark is very good at what he does. They’ll also data mine the dedicated server for any other information that wasn’t sent on to Torchwood.”
“You know it,” the living computer said. “I’ll let you know if I find anything.”
“Thank you, Stark,” Phillip said gratefully.
“It’s not a problem. It’s been kinda nice getting a chunk of the gang back together. And I’ll keep on making my own enquiries. I need to make sure that HYDRA doesn’t have anyone else on my planet.”
“I think we’re done here,” the Doctor said. “We can transfer Uther to the TARDIS, and then to Stormcage. Perhaps he’ll decide he’ll want to speak to us, but until then we’re going to need to find some new leads to follow.”
“That’s about what I was thinking,” the immortal assented. “We should be getting back to Ddraig Llyn, anyway, and back near the centre of the action. Things are happening, and I just get the feeling we need to be home.”
Merlin nodded. While he wasn’t anything close to a precog - although there were spells for that, he’d never been any good at them – his own instincts were telling him the same thing.
They might have stopped this one plan, but there had to have been others at play.
And it was high time this family took the offensive.
They just needed to know what offensive to take.