Hello, dear readers. If you've read Just Another Normal Day, welcome back. If you didn't, it might be a good idea to read that first.
Just Another Normal Operation
It was just another normal day in the life of Merlin, the now-not-so-very-secret-anymore warlock of Camelot. And that meant that he was on a hunt or, more accurately, Merlin was riding after Arthur while the king was trying to find some game he could shoot for his own amusement. Yes, of course they were on a hunt. They always went hunting when Arthur was fed up with the boring business of state and the even more boring nobles on the council – meaning: Lord Harold – and whenever he saw the chance, he would sneak out to spend some time out of doors, doing one of the things he loved best: shooting defenceless animals for his own fun, a pastime Ros Myers had rightly condemned as a "bloody waste of time when there are still bandits to be caught."
Much had changed in the last two months, the warlock pondered as he sat in the saddle, steering his horse after Arthur's, waiting for something to happen. Morgana had died eight weeks ago to the day and while Merlin still felt some grief and regret over the manner of her passing, he would have to admit that the long-term effects of working with the spooks were good. Morgana was no longer plaguing the kingdom, Agravaine had been dealt with and they had come out of it with the friendship of Section D.
But, like Lucas had once pointed out to Marlin, friendship was probably overrated. Strangely enough Arthur and Lucas himself seemed to be the only ones to have ended up with a permanent friendship, most likely because of the things they'd gone through together. The Senior Case Officer was still uneasy around Merlin though, but the feeling was mutual. Some things could not be forgotten so easily. And as much as the warlock regretted acting as he had, he also knew that Lucas was justified in behaving as he now did. As much as they'd want it, they could not make time turn back on itself and undo what had been done.
Relations with Ros of course were even more glacial, if that was even possible. As far as Merlin was aware, Lucas and Harry were the only ones who even tried to put up with her, although Arthur and Ros seemed to have agreed to tolerate each other's presence, again a result of the operation that had eventually led to Agravaine's execution and Morgana's death.
Merlin thought about the whole friendship thing and then changed his mind, because he himself had ended up in a strange kind of friendship with Jo Portman. He had gone over to London a few times to watch films, chat and acquaint himself better with the twenty-first century. He found he liked to spend time there and as long as George – and Arthur – didn't mind that the other manservant was taking over his duties occasionally, he could keep up those visits. London was an interesting place, very different from Camelot, but intriguing. These visits often involved staying over for the night, which had given both Arthur and Ros very wrong ideas. And the more Merlin and Jo tried to deny them, the more insistent the king and Section Chief became about it.
'You're quiet, Merlin,' Arthur observed. 'Missing Jo again?'
'No.' Too defensive, he knew immediately. 'I was thinking.'
Arthur's face lit up in a manner that reminded the warlock all too much of Ros Myers about to come up with a sarcastic put-down. The king of Camelot had spent all too much time in her company during the joined operation if he was now copying her habits. 'Well, don't think too hard,' he teased. 'I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself.'
Merlin grimaced, but he supposed he deserved that after having said the exact same thing to Arthur a few weeks ago after the Lamia incident. And how he wished they'd had Ros with them then. He had no doubt that the spy would just have shot the Lamia the moment she suspected something wasn't right and to hell with the consequences.
'Well, at least I can think,' he shot back. 'Because I, unlike you, am not a dollophead.'
'No, because you are a clotpole.' Arthur had definitely gotten better at this whole insulting game.
'That's my word!' Merlin protested.
'And it suits you perfectly,' the king finished with a smirk, winning this round of the game. But Merlin didn't mind; he'd get back at him sooner rather than later.
And besides, he was far too glad that they were bantering again like they had done before, because not that long ago it had seemed like that part of their friendship – or their entire friendship, for that matter – had been lost forever. But Arthur had kept his word about having an open conversation and two days after the feast they had locked themselves into Arthur's room for a lengthy discussion.
Merlin had been forced to confess a number of facts that he was not very proud of, Arthur had done an awful lot of shouting and, as time progressed, Merlin's temper had gotten the better of him as well. There had been a great number of objects – far too much – that had ended up on the other side of the room as a result – and some of them, to Merlin's great surprise, had been thrown by him – and by the end of the afternoon both king and servant had been rather hoarse, but the compromise was born and that more than made up for all the mess and the sore throat, in Merlin's opinion.
They would keep his magic a secret for a while longer from everyone except Gwen – who had fortunately taken it rather well – and everyone who already knew about it anyway. Hopefully this would be a temporary thing, though, because Arthur was launching an experiment. He allowed the Druids to return to Camelot and abolished the death penalty for those who practised magic, with the exception that they could still be executed if their magic had endangered or threatened what Arthur now, in true spooks fashion, called national security. The normal punishment for practising magic was now a fine or a number of days in the dungeons, depending on how serious the magic had been.
It would be a test, Arthur had said, to see if magic truly could be used for good and not just for evil, as the king had seen for most of his life. Especially the return of the Druids, the only group of people who were now officially allowed to do magic – the announcement of this had made quite a number of noble jaws drop – was important for this. And Arthur needed the reassurance, because of his bad experiences with it. Merlin understood this, but he could not escape the feeling that this was not what he had really hoped for, although it was undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Fortunately he was allowed to use his magic to save Arthur's backside and to do his chores, as long as he kept it out of sight, which was second nature to him anyway.
'Well, being a dollophead is worse than being a clotpole,' he shot back at Arthur, happy to continue the banter.
Arthur snorted. 'And how would you know, Merlin?'
But this time he had a retort ready and there was no way he could see that the king could wriggle his way out of this one. 'I invented the words,' he pointed out with a brilliant smile.
And true to expectations Arthur Pendragon reacted with his best fish-on-dry-land imitation, temporary lost for words. It would not last long, Merlin knew, but for just a few minutes he had the pleasure of seeing his king search for a retort that would shut his servant well and truly up, but he came up with absolutely nothing.
But Arthur did not have the time to think of something. They had been distracted from their surroundings by their game of witticisms, the hunt all but forgotten, not that there would be much game left in this area after their loud voices had disturbed the peace. And that was a mistake, because Merlin should have known by now that nothing good ever came from a hunt. There was always something that went wrong, whether it were magical beasts, vengeful sorcerers or just plain old bandits.
Today it was the last category. A group of about a dozen bandits jumped out of the trees, crying wordless battle cries as they charged.
Merlin cursed, but did not lose his nerve. He had lived through too many attacks to start panicking in such situations. He could deal with this, especially now that he had Arthur's permission to use his magic in the case of an emergency and this surely would count as one. So he threw his hand forward and flung three of their attackers backwards in one go, even as Arthur's crossbow took out a fourth.
It had of course rather dented Arthur's ego when he had first realised he had not killed quite as many bandits and magical creatures as he had previously thought, but Merlin believed him to be more or less over it now. And they did work well together. Merlin himself felt better too now he didn't have to pretend to be the useless one any longer.
He had hardly finished that thought when something hard came into contact with the back of his head. The warlock only remembered that they had been surrounded and that he really ought to have watched his back a bit more when the ground already rushed up to meet him and his horse had somehow disappeared from under him.
He fell hard on the ground. Oh, he did not think he would have broken anything, but he would have a few nasty bruises if he came out of this again. And he had hit his head quite hard as well, so that for a few moments he was too confused to do anything. He didn't think he could have done something anyway, because there were all kinds of stars swimming over his vision and it was far too difficult to see anything other than that.
But Arthur was still there, alone and heavily outnumbered. And although Arthur himself might hate it with a passion that he had a kind of glorified magical bodyguard, he had one and said glorified bodyguard was not allowed to sit back and do nothing while his protégé was in danger. And so he forced himself to see something, anything at all, by sheer willpower.
True to expectations the king had gotten himself into quite a tight spot. He was surrounded by five bandits and, in true Arthurian fashion, was trying to fight all five of them at once. Arthur was quite possibly the best swordsman in all the five kingdoms, but even he was not invincible and could not hold out against five heavily armed bandits – why did they always have to be so heavily armed anyway? – indefinitely.
Merlin moaned in exasperation and forced himself to get to his feet to prevent anyone from killing off the king he had fought so hard to protect for years now, only to find that someone beat him to it.
The remaining bandits were flown through the air and landed on the ground. They did not get up again and Merlin might have believed them dead if he had not seen their chests rise and fall with their breathing. But at least the threat had been removed and that was what counted. And after having been on the receiving end of so many bandit attacks, he had quite lost the ability to feel sorry for them.
But who had done this? Both Merlin and Arthur turned their heads simultaneously to see to whom they owed that timely interference. The warlock saw a young man with a kind smile and dark hair underneath the trees at the edge of the clearing in which they had been ambushed. And Merlin's heart stopped. He knew that face, even though it had been years since he had last seen it. But it was him, of that he was certain. And his presence here could not in any way bode well for Arthur or Camelot. I shall never forgive this, Emrys, and I shall never forget.
The king himself had recognised their rescuer as well and reacted with the same amount of shock as his servant, albeit for completely different reasons. 'Mordred,' he whispered.
It was just another day in the life of Ros Myers, Section Chief of Section D, MI-5. And that meant that she was busy trying to prevent some UN special negotiator by the name of Claude Denizet, an arrogant bastard who at some point during his life must be wrongfully informed that the world revolved around him, from getting a bullet embedded in his brain. What was unusual though was that Section D was supposed to keep him safe from an MI-6 renegade and that she had to give in to bloody blackmail to ensure a satisfactory outcome for most people involved. And everyone who knew her could tell that this turn of events did not put her in the best of moods.
And how had this even ended up being such a mess? Of course it had all started off with the Israelis and Palestinians being at each other's throat again because of the umpteenth attack the one had launched on the other and the endless retaliations that followed such attacks. That had resulted in the emergency peace conference, here in London, that everyone with a tiny bit of common sense could tell right away was doomed to fail before it had even begun. But fine, if the Foreign Secretary wanted MI-5 to see to the safety of the participants, including the esspecially flown in UN negotiator who seemed to be under the impression that he was God's gift to mankind, then that was okay with her. She would make sure no terrorists would bomb the place or would assassinate any of the delegates and they would be left to tear each other, preferably verbally, to shreds to their heart's content.
She should have known by now that things had gone far too smoothly. Ros was just starting to feel pleased with how well it all went when Malcolm alerted her to the fact that some piece of highly classified military equipment was being sold on the internet. The seller was a kid of sixteen years old by the name of Dean Mitchell, living alone with his mother, who had absolutely no right to even know about such weaponry, never mind that he had it in his possession. Malcolm had named it an assassin's best friend, the kind of gun you had to point at a moving vehicle and all the electronics would fail.
Ros had grown rather nervous at that, even though she would never be heard to admit to such a thing out loud. But such a device did not coincidentally turn up in the public domain only days before a highly sensitive summit in the same city, especially not when aforementioned summit was trying to bring together two countries who were more likely remove the other from the face of the earth rather than to talk peace. Coincidence was up there with Santa Claus: it didn't exist.
Angrily she sent Lucas to buy the thing back and sincerely hoped that was the end of it. Of course it wasn't. In the following hours she learned that Dean Mitchell had stolen the thing from a rogue MI-6 operative Michael Sands, who had spent too many years in the Middle East and who was having a solution of his own in mind as to how this summit was to be successful, namely by killing Claude Denizet, whom the Palestinians apparently didn't trust. Mr Sands had listened in to every single bloody phone call they made and had, so they learned, already used the weapon the kid had stolen to assassinate a photographer who had probably shot pictures of something he wasn't supposed to see.
The truth of that assumption was proven when they found the cd with photos he had carried on his person. Unfortunately the cd was damaged and the files on it were only half complete, showing only the left part of the one picture Malcolm had been able to retrieve, which featured a very pissed off Claude Denizet.
Jo's little trip to the hotel the pictures had been taken from and Malcolm's unsurpassed skills in hacking into systems he wasn't supposed to hack into made sure that they found out that the room Claude Denizet had been in had been booked by a Mr Michael Smith, also known as Sands.
'Stephen Fitzmaurice was killed, because he witnessed Sands threatening Denizet,' Ros realised.
It was Connie who asked the million dollar question. 'So, why go after Dean Mitchell?' Lucas had been on the run with the kid and his mother, because there was a hell of a lot more interest in that gun than was healthy for anyone. Her colleague was off the map, trying to keep a low profile while they worked out what to do. All this made Ros's skin crawl and set her teeth on edge.
'Because Dean Mitchell witnessed the assassination,' Ros replied. Lucas had somehow gotten that information out of young Mr Mitchell and had alerted them to it. And then after witnessing a crime, he had been as stupid as to make off with the murder weapon, which he had then sold on the internet. Ros was torn between admiring him and thinking him the biggest fool to ever walk the earth. He had no idea what he had gotten into and just how far these people were willing to go.
'But he couldn't possibly know what it meant,' Ben said. And he had a point with that. Because yes, the kid had witnessed a murder and stolen a gun, but this unhealthy interest in the kid's living or dying was too exaggerated for just that. And Ros may not like Ben very much, but he was right.
I wish Harry was here. The though sneaked into her head before she could stop it. But Harry had disappeared off to some meeting or other he didn't want to tell her about, like he had done on regular intervals since the market bombings and Ros did not like it one bit. He usually told her everything and that he didn't do so now was cause for serious – strictly professional of course – concern.
Stop wallowing, Myers! she snapped at herself. Focus! She may not like the situation, but that didn't mean she could slack in her duties. But she could not deny either that with both Harry and Lucas gone, she felt a bit forlorn.
She pressed the mental mute button on it and forced herself to start thinking. 'Unless Dean Mitchell has something else we don't know about, some other evidence,' she said thoughtfully.
'The full photograph,' Connie realised and the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
It turned out that there had been a memory stick in the rucksack the gun had been in. The rucksack however had been dumped by the kid in some scrap yard, so Ros sent Lucas and Dean on a mission to retrieve it, which they did. They got the stick, only by the skin of their teeth, but they lost the mother, who got kidnapped by Michael Sands to pressure Ros, whom he had just threatened, to give up the kid.
By the time Ros finally laid eyes on the full photograph, including the Foreign Secretary in the ploy, she was ready to explode. The Foreign Secretary however proved to not know what Sands's idea of a solution really was and seemed to think that he meant blackmail by reasonable pressure to get Denizet out of the way. Ros resisted the urge to snap at her that reasonable did not exist with people like Sands, who never thought the word solution without the word violent in front of it. The realisation was dawning on the Foreign Secretary now, but it was too late to call Sands off, even if she had known how to contact him.
Bloody politicians. Lucas on the run with a kid, the kid's mother taken hostage by Sands, Denizet about to be assassinated at the summit by way of a "permanent solution." At least Harry was back on the Grid and between them they managed to work out a solution of their own. They saved Claude Denizet at the last possible second, forced him to resign – which he did not feel too uncomfortable about having just had a gun pointed at his head – and encrypted the memory stick again – so that no one would ever find out it had been opened in the first place – which Ros then returned to Sands in exchange for Sarah Mitchell, Dean's mother. It was the best outcome she could have hoped for, but it still felt ridiculously like giving in and that did not sit well with her.
So the following morning she was waiting with Jo as Denizet pulled a very distressed looking Sarah out of the car. Ros would instantly admit that she was not the kindest woman to walk the earth, but the state of the kid's mother made her want to throttle the man who had abducted her with her bare hands, if not for that, then for a number of other reasons.
'Don't try anything,' Sands said. 'I have guns pointed at her head from three different windows.' Sarah whimpered at hearing that. Ros merely glared at the speaker, although he might not see that through the sunglasses she was wearing, put on especially for the purpose of keeping that man from reading her like a book.
Fortunately Jo, who was much better suited to deal with people, took care of the woman and guided her into the car, leaving only Sands and Ros to talk. She had no doubt that the guns he had mentioned would now be pointed at her head, but she could not care less. If he shot her, he would have Harry after him and that was a thing best avoided. Although only heaven knows what Harry is after now, a voice in the back of her head commented. He had gone off to one of his mysterious meetings, again, and left Ros in charge. What the hell is he up to?
But this was neither the time nor the place. 'Your road to peace proved to be somewhat unorthodox,' she commented casually, suppressing the rage she felt. That would not help her here.
Sands seemed wholly unconcerned. 'It seemed to achieve its goal,' he said. 'I understand Claude Denizet will resign later today.'
'Well, a voluntary resignation,' Ros pointed out, although it wasn't entirely voluntary. But Sands didn't need to know that and Ros was not in the mood to share any more information with him than she strictly needed to. 'Slightly more elegant than a bullet in the brain.'
'Without the threat of one, we would never have achieved the other,' Sands countered. 'It's the Middle East way.'
This made all her alarm bells go off. This felt like a threat and even though protocol dictated that officers of the Service did not make decisions based on intuition, experience had taught her that dismissing intuition was often the most fatal mistake an officer could make. Dean was not safe, not yet, and they needed to get the boy out of the country as soon as possible.
'You're taking credit for this?' She had to work hard not to snap.
'We should both take credit for this.' The bloody man was even smiling. 'The perfect team.' The worst thing about this was that he was completely sincere. He really meant what he said. Narcissist, violent dreamer, Harry had called him. It seemed to sum Sands up to perfection.
The Section Chief was tempted to vomit on his shoes. 'Well, much as the idea thrills me, I think our business is done,' she said dismissively. If she couldn't strangle him, she at least wanted him gone, preferably before he could make good on that unspoken threat to kill Dean Mitchell anyway. He had shown his intent towards the kid more than enough when he sent hit squad after hit squad after Dean and Lucas. Thank goodness her colleague was such an expert in the field or this may have ended very differently.
'A pleasure working with you, officer Myers.' He walked back to his own car and then turned just as he was about to get in. 'We've always been absolutely honest with each other, haven't we?'
He got in the car and drove away as the dread settled comfortably in Ros's stomach. He knows. He knows he's been lied to.
Strangely enough this also reminded her also of Harry's strange behaviour of late. He had not been completely honest either, had evaded her questions about what meetings he was going to, about why he disappeared at the most inopportune moments. Her resolve strengthened. As soon as they got Sarah and Dean Mitchell out of the country, she would take Lucas with her to her boss's office and demand some answers.
Her sense of dread was proven right, but in the most disastrous way possible. Dean Mitchell was shot as he was struggling with Lucas, because he didn't want to leave a country and had tried to make a run for it. Ros tried to block out his mother's keening wails as she gathered her son's dead body up in her arms, trying to look anywhere but there. She had failed and she knew it.
So, she did what she did best. She glanced around the station from they had been meaning to make the small family take a train towards the airport and from there out of Britain. Her gaze lingered on the escalator across the hall, where a very familiar figure was standing with a bag on his shoulder that could contain only one thing. Michael bloody Sands. He turned around and then nodded at her respectfully. Ros's fists clenched in frustration, knowing he'd be long gone by the time she'd get where he was now. She might never even get to him.
This needn't have happened if she had gotten a hold of Harry. She'd have been more comfortable if they'd had some security people to help out, given the fact that Sands was still after the boy, but Harry had not been able to authorise it because he had gone off to God only knows where and she hadn't dared to take the risk of waiting any longer, choosing speed over safety. Dean had paid the price for that. Where the hell is Harry?
Lucas came to stand next to her. He looked devastated, even though he tried to hide it and Ros suspected he had come closer to this operation than he should have. But she was not going to comment on it when she herself may have been guilty of doing just that. And they would need to focus on what was the matter with their boss. The way he'd been acting led her to believe that he was in deep trouble somehow.
'What do we do now, boss?' he asked softly as the medics and police people started to flood the place. Ros had the good grace not to notice the somewhat forlorn expression on his face he was trying his hardest not to show.
Find Sands, kill him and then move on. She should have known better than to trust a man who did not believe in peaceful solutions. Someone had to die and Dean Mitchell had been the victim, simply because he knew too much. It happened all the time in their job, but that boy had not been in this line of work. Even for all his thieving and lying, he had been an innocent. Ros knew people who deserved death, but this kid had not been one of them.
She suppressed the by now very strong urge to go after Sands and turned to Lucas. Their job was done now anyway. 'We are going to Harry,' she told him. 'And we're going to get some answers.'