It felt as if his world was in acute danger of collapsing, Arthur thought. Yes, he had known that someone on the Grid was betraying them even as they worked to find out who it was, but Arthur had just done his level best not to think of it. The thought of having to face yet another betrayal was enough to cripple him. Or maybe it just would have him yelling and screaming in frustration when he thought of it. He had seen too many betrayals in his life, Morgana, Agravaine. Even his own father had lied to him. How much more could he really take before he collapsed?
But he was still standing, even if he did not exactly know how. Ros's whispered announcement that Harry was the mole, that he had confessed it to her and that she did not think he was lying had sent his head reeling. Harry was the steady rock of the team, the one he would expect to always be there, like Gaius would always be in Camelot, no matter how bad things were. He wasn't the type of person to betray what he believed in. But Ros, who knew the Section Head far better than Arthur did, had believed it. Who was he to question her judgement in this case?
He would however not deny that he had been relieved when Merlin came running onto the Grid to tell them that Harry was in fact not the traitor. He had been equal parts relieved and shocked when he found out that the traitor was in fact Connie, the intelligence analyst of the section.
But that did not make sense either and he wanted to go and deny it right away. The only thing stopping him from making good on that intention was Merlin's announcement that Lucas had been the one to discover this. Apparently he also had photographic proof of it and that was something that would be hard to argue with. And Lucas had never once led them astray. They may have believed that he did, but that had been their mistake, not Lucas's.
And Malcolm's little trip into the digital archive only confirmed Merlin's words. Connie was the traitor. The very woman he had turned to for advice since the first time he had stepped foot on the Grid had been a traitor all along. She had been a traitor for thirty years. How could he not have noticed that?
I've been such a fool. The thought wriggled its way into his head and took up residence there. How could he not have noticed? How was it possible that every time he was being betrayed, he was the last to know? Why did he keep putting his faith in the wrong people? Were other people betrayed as often as he was? He didn't think so. It kept happening to him, to no one else. And he knew that this may not be meant to hurt him personally – this treachery pre-dated his coming to London by decades – but it hurt all the same. He had considered the analyst a dear friend.
And he had trusted her too. She was a mother-like figure, even though she would hate to be called that. She was the one who always stopped to explain things to him, so that he would not feel like a complete failure in this day and age. She was always kind to him, in her own way of course, but kind nonetheless. To even think of her as a traitor felt like treason.
But he could not argue with the evidence. It was there, on that screen, for everyone to see. To deny it would be foolish, childish even. But he could not help it. He felt it. He felt angry. Merlin would have called it hurt probably, if he had been paying attention. Fortunately he wasn't. He was looking at the screen. Even though he had been the one to deliver the news, he looked shell-shocked, as if could hardly believe it himself.
The same was true for Malcolm, but not for Ros. She was not moving, but Arthur had seen that facial expression before. She was angry. Very angry.
So when Richard Dolby came marching into the office, looking every bit the cat that ate the canary, it was not a mystery on whom that anger would be taken out. All she waited for was a legitimate excuse to explode. With Dolby here, there was bound to be a good excuse sooner rather than later.
'It doesn't matter what you're trying,' he said, looking like he was a king and they were stupid peasants who had tried and failed to go behind his back, not something Arthur was very used to. 'I've got the names of Harry's assets and I've already passed them on to a trustworthy officer. Within twenty minutes they'll all be on their way to tell us what they know.' He gave every impression of expecting a pat on the shoulders for a job well done.
But he was not going to get it from Arthur. Something about his tone of voice had made him feel uneasy. 'Who is the officer?' he demanded. An altogether frightening idea had just popped up into his head. Dolby had not given the impression to trust anyone in this section farther than he could throw them, except for one. Connie had spent a lot of time in this office today. Of course, Ros had sent her to make nice with Dolby on their behalf and when asked about it, Connie herself had reacted with a wry 'Sometimes we have to sup with the devil in order to get some work done.' What if those visits were not all they seemed?
'I can't tell that to you,' Dolby said haughtily.
'It's Connie, isn't it?' Arthur asked sharply.
Dolby's facial expression was all the confirmation they needed.
'You are a fool,' Ros said. The words sounded as if they were coming from between clenched teeth, as if she was forcing herself not to explode instantly. 'I know why Harry wanted to see me. Connie James was turned during Operation Renaissance. I suggest you seal the building and arrest her for treason.' She demonstratively turned her back on a very flabbergasted Dolby and addressed the three of them. 'You, with me.'
Arthur didn't dare protest and so he followed her out and to the meeting room. Jo had disappeared and Ben was not back yet, so they were the only ones present. Well, not the only ones. Mordred had seen them walking across the Grid and joined them just before Malcolm slid the door shut. For a moment Ros looked as if she might send him away, but she merely gave him a stern glare and allowed him to take a seat.
The king didn't know what Ros wanted to do now. He could only hope that she had some sort of plan, because he certainly hadn't. He felt empty, angry. In fact, he didn't really know what he felt. There were so many things he felt that he could not even begin to name them. All he knew was the he didn't know what to do.
Thank goodness for Ros Myers. She didn't seem to be taking any of this personal, not in the slightest. There was just anger with her and none of the feeling of being betrayed again that Arthur himself experienced, not that he could see anyway.
'Merlin, you said Lucas called?' she asked briskly.
The servant nodded. 'He did. But I think he's in trouble. There was shouting and fighting and then the line went dead…' His voice trailed off as he found himself on the receiving end of one of Ros Myers's best death glares.
'You are only telling me this now?' she snapped. 'Why?'
Merlin would have cowered back into his chair if this had happened during Operation Camelot, but those days were now behind them and the acknowledgement of his magic had brought about a huge change, Arthur observed. He was much more confident in his abilities and far less easily frightened by authority figures than he had been. And Ros's accusation had riled him. 'Because I thought passing on the information to you would be more useful!' he countered.
Ros was not impressed. 'What sort of fight?' Her face was as neutral as it always was, but Arthur saw that she had one of her hands clenched into a fist. No matter what people may think, Ros cared about her colleagues – the ones that didn't go around betraying all of them, that was – and she would not let any of them be longer in harm's way than really necessary.
Merlin shook his head helplessly. 'I don't know,' he confessed. 'There were shouts, but not much else to go on. There weren't any guns though, not that I could hear.' Well, that was a relief indeed, even if it did nothing to truly reassure either the king or the Section Chief. There were more ways a person could die than from a wound caused by a bullet, as Arthur knew full well.
'Can you seek him out?' he asked. 'In that bowl of water?' He had enough of this. There was too much misery around here and all in one single day. His chest was aching with something he stubbornly refused to refer to as hurt, but Connie's betrayal had hit him hard, no matter if it had or had not been meant to hurt him personally. Like Harry Pearce would say, had he been here to say it, he needed some good news. Lately he felt he had a lot in common with the Section Head, though hopefully not the treatment he was subjected to. The last thing he needed was for another friend to be in danger. Lucas had been through quite enough already without adding another visit to Russian prison to add to the list.
Merlin nodded. 'I'll get the bowl.'
Arthur waited. He could see Mordred was uneasy, but the soon-to-be knight was not his main priority now. Maybe Merlin had been right and it had been a foolish idea to take him with them to London, if for entirely different reasons. Arthur had assumed that Mordred, being a sorcerer and therefore used to the strange things in the world, might adapt as well as Merlin had done the first time. But it would seem that he was proven wrong in that assumption. The young man seemed quite out of his depth and he should be; there was nothing he could do here and that was bound to make him feel highly uncomfortable.
But he should wait until all of this was over and this world had been set to right. Because that was his duty. He owed these people, Lucas and Ros in particular after all they had done and, in Lucas's case, sacrificed for him and his kingdom.
But the vision Merlin conjured up did nothing to make him feel like all was well or would be well in the foreseeable future. It took him some time to conjure the vision, but what they saw then was bad. Lucas was running, face as white as a sheet, through alleys and backstreets in a city that Arthur did not recognise. Behind him, too close behind him, were men who looked like they were not going to kindly ask him for directions to the nearest inn. Arthur Pendragon may not be the most skilled man to deal with situations in the twenty-first century – he would even admit to that when he was in a good mood – and he found himself at fault most of the time, but even he could see what this looked like. Even he could see that if something was not done soon, then Lucas would be cornered, and taken prisoner again, maybe even killed. After what Lucas had gone through at Morgana's hands, he was loath to allow the spy to be subjected to a repeat performance.
'We have to do something!' he exclaimed. The words had left his mouth before he had allowed himself any time at all to think them through. He didn't regret them though. He meant it. Merlin may think he was a spoiled prat, but he was loyal to his friends and whether or not Lucas realised it, Arthur did regard him as a friend and would act accordingly if only given half a chance.
His cry had however gained him Ros's undivided attention. 'And how pray are you going to do that?' she demanded. 'By the time the bloody plane lands in Moscow it will be too late or do you now suggest you can magically whisk him out of there?'
Most people would back away when Ros Myers snapped at them in such a way, but Arthur was not most people. He was the king of Camelot and consequently, hard though it may be to believe, had seen far worse than the Section Chief of Section D in a foul mood. 'Yes, that is what I am suggesting. If Merlin can find him there, then how difficult can it be for magically go there, get Lucas and bring him home?' The plan had come up as he spoke of it, but what did that matter anyway? All that did matter was that it was a solution and the only one that would allow them to get Lucas out in time. He imagined that Morgana's treatment would seem like a walk in the castle garden on a sunny afternoon compared to what the FSB might do to the spy if they got their hands on him.
Merlin however looked doubtful. 'Arthur, I've never transported myself over such a long distance. I don't even know if anyone has done it before. It may not even work!'
Arthur fixed him with the sternest stare he could manage. 'If you are suggesting that we leave the man who risked his life for me time and again at the mercy of those men…' He stabbed a finger at the bowl with water, even though the vision in it was long gone. He hated this part of Merlin. Sometimes he did not even seem to care that there were others who were worthy of help and protection apart from Arthur. Sometimes he felt suffocated with how protective Merlin was. 'Good grief, isn't he worth it to try, especially after all he has done for us already?' Merlin looked like he was about to contradict his king and it made him angry.
'Maybe if we were to combine our strength, we may succeed.' The one who spoke up was the last one Arthur had expected to speak, since he was so ill at ease here. There was nothing of uncertainty in Mordred's voice now as he spoke. In fact, he seemed thrilled at the idea of being able to do something useful. 'I know my powers are not as great as yours, but it may help.'
Merlin's face looked like a shadow had passed over it. 'No.' The answer was both curt and immediate.
Oh, for the love of… What was the matter with Merlin? Was he not past that old rivalry now? To be honest, it was starting to get ridiculous and Arthur was on the verge of saying so, but Mordred beat him to it. 'Emrys, don't you see?' he pleaded. 'I only want to help. I'm useless here. I don't understand this age or its customs, so let me contribute in a way I know how to. Please.'
'That's been decided then,' Ros said. Arthur had a lingering suspicion she would not even have objected if it was Agravaine who had ordered his help in retrieving Lucas, as long as she was sure that it was done. She may not say it, but her actions spoke for her and she would not leave a colleague and a friend out in the cold as long as she could help it. 'Merlin and Mordred collect Lucas. Malcolm, you keep an eye on the chatter now that Connie is unavailable. Arthur, make sure Richard Dolby is off the Grid as soon as possible…'
'No,' Merlin said again, rudely interrupting Ros's orders.
It seemed that the Section Chief was close to explosion, because she suspected Merlin was not willing to risk his life for Lucas. Arthur, who knew for a fact that this was not what this was about, spoke up before she could. 'That was an order, Merlin. Go to Moscow with Mordred, find Lucas and bring him back. Is there some part of that order which you didn't understand?'
Merlin looked indignant. 'Of course not, but…'
'Then what are you waiting for?' the king of Camelot demanded.
Merlin may have protested again, had the doors not slid open in that moment to allow Jo to enter. She took in the scene, saw the angry faces and seemed to be contemplating doing a runner before she would be torn apart and gobbled up for lunch by the owners of aforementioned faces. 'I'm sorry…'
Ros's patience, very much like Arthur's, was non-existent. 'Out with it, Jo. Or would you rather have me wait until bloody Christmas?'
Jo swallowed. 'Security just called,' she reported. 'The locks to the paper archive have been tampered with.'
Arthur felt a cold chill go down his spine.
She had a bad feeling about this, a very bad feeling. Ros Myers had a good intuition, gained in the years and years that she had worked in this place. There was not always evidence for the things they suspected, but she didn't always need it anyway. And this was one of those occasions that she felt her blood run cold.
It could mean nothing. It was just the lock to the paper archive that was not behaving as it should. Or rather, that was how it could have been, had Ben not been in the paper archive looking for the proof they needed to pinpoint their traitor and if Ros had not sent aforementioned traitor down to fetch him. She wasn't given to cold chills, but she had one now.
'Send security down to open the door,' she ordered Jo. Her voice sounded as if it came from far, not from her mouth at all. But it was strong and decisive and that had to count for something. She could not show how caught off balance she was.
Mistake after mistake. Sugarhorse was still at risk, she had let herself be fooled by Connie, never truly believing that the intelligence analyst could truly be a traitor, and she would have to admit that in believing Harry when he said that he was the mole, her self-esteem had not been boosted either. How could she lead this team if she was this easily fooled? Harry had been taken captive, Lucas was at risk and God only knew what had become of Ben.
Stop wallowing, Myers, she reprimanded herself. She had a job to do, and so had Merlin, who was looking like he had seen a particular frightening kind of ghost. 'Go,' she commanded.
The warlock may be as thrown off by this as she was, but apparently he could still find it in himself to protest. 'But…' He seemed to struggle to find the right words. 'If he's in danger, then…'
And Ros was not in the mood for it. She was not even sure that her orders were the right ones, the ones that should be given, but this team still relied on her. And Lucas was still in danger. Just for once, to hell with professional distance. This had long since ceased to be just work. This was personal. She might as well indulge in it for just this once. It didn't look like she would be working here for much longer here anyway, not with the failures she had made today. 'No.' She all but growled the word. 'You take your magical friend and get Lucas out of there. And if he's got so much as a hair out of place, I'll know who to blame.' She didn't think she could take any more blows than she had already. There was a limit and right now, she had reached it.
And she feared for Ben. She could only hope that she was not so obvious about it as Merlin was. No, she had never really gotten along with him – Yalta had always been standing between them and a smooth working relationship – but he belonged to her team and she may have unwillingly exposed him to danger by sending Connie to him.
Why had her alarm bells not gone off the very moment Connie offered to go and fetch Ben? Why hadn't they? She knew the answer as well. She had not given it as much as a second thought because she had been preoccupied. Digging through an endless stack of files and getting ever more frustrated with the lack of results had made her almost forget that she ought to be wary of Connie. And the intelligence analyst must have known that, known it and made good use of it.
And it did not sit well with Ros that she had not seen either of them since Connie said she would go down to fetch Ben. Was she aware of the fact that her cover had been blown wide open? She could be God knows where. The only thing she could hope for was that Dolby for once had actually listened to something she had said and had sealed off the building when she told him to. He would not have much choice but to believe her when he had read the file Malcolm had conjured up, but she hoped he had not wasted too much time on being shocked and had done the necessary thing right away.
Even then, the damage was already done and Ros could not suppress the feeling of defeat that overwhelmed her. Ben at risk, Connie possibly on the run and the names of Harry's assets in the hands of a traitor. This could not get any worse even if she tried. Dolby may have said that within twenty minutes they would all be on their way to tell MI-5 what they knew, but the Section Chief thought it to be more likely that within twenty minutes they would all be dead. That would be half the network destroyed in one day, twenty years of intelligence work right down the drain.
'Ros, I left him down there,' Merlin protested.
Well, then you bloody well shouldn't have. But could she truly blame him for leaving Ben behind, even if he had run into Connie on his way to the Grid? Merlin may be a suspicious soul from time to time, especially where Arthur's safety was concerned, but sometimes he was as naïve as a new-born baby. But even then, Connie was an elderly woman; there was a limit to the damage she could do to a healthy, strong man such as Ben Kaplan. 'I won't ask again,' she said icily. 'Get Lucas out. That's an order.' Those were Harry's words, but they suited her just fine too. And she did not think she could bear it if even one more thing went belly-up. She had seen too much gone wrong today.
Hold your horses, Myers. Ben may be perfectly all right, she reminded herself. True, he might be, but Ros did not believe so. Maybe it was the result of having been in the security services for too long, but she had lost faith in happy endings. There were satisfactory outcomes if they were lucky, no happy endings. Those belonged in the world of fairy-tales, cheap novels and movies. They had no place in real life at all.
Merlin still looked hesitating, but the young man known as Mordred seemed to be willing to do as she asked. It was good to know that her laser look at least had effect on someone, even if it had seemed to have lost its effect on the warlock. 'Merlin, we should do as she asks.'
Ros, who saw that Merlin was preparing to protest again, cut in. 'Don't even think about it,' she warned him. Even Adam had known better than to go against her when she was talking in that way. 'You go there and you get him out. I don't care what it takes. You. Get. Him. Out. Now stop wasting time and go!' It was one of those unwritten rules in this job. They looked after their own because no one else was bloody well going to do it for them. But there was more to this. Lucas was more to her than just a colleague. Friends only annoy you, they had agreed, and Lucas did annoy her, an awful lot of the time, but now he was messing with her head as well, as she had claimed only family would do. Lovers leave, friends annoy you and families mess with your head. Lucas annoyed her and messed with her head – she had a lingering suspicion the latter had started the moment Morgana had abducted him – but he sure as hell wouldn't leave while she had a say in it. And she had.
Ros's anger finally seemed to register on his radar or maybe the combined forces of both her own and Arthur's most furious glares was enough to convince him that any further protest might have serious consequences for his health. 'I'll bring him back.'
'You'd better.' The words were coming from Arthur's lips, but it could have been Ros who had spoken them. The king just beat her to it. And there's another one whose head Lucas has messed with. We're emotionally compromised in this, both of us.
Jo had left some time ago to get people down to the paper archive to open the bloody door and as much as Ros dreaded to see for herself what had happened, she knew she had to. She may have failed in every other aspect of her job today, but at least for now she was still the Section Chief. She should bloody well act like one.
But it was hard. Ros knew herself well enough to know that she usually didn't bother with emotions in this job. At least she tried not to bother with them as they only made her take questionable decisions, but she had also long since known that her team was her weak spot. It had been when she had joined Yalta out of pure spite when the Americans had taken Zaf and it was only worse now that she was truly in charge, responsible for them. Ben was her responsibility as well, even when she did not like him much.
Ros prided herself in being realistic, so she would not bother with thinking that this was all a coincidence. Coincidences did not exist in this line of work. The best she could hope for in this case was Ben being knocked out and Connie making off with the evidence, but it did not seem likely. The intelligence analyst was not a strong woman physically, but it didn't need a strong person to pull the trigger of a gun.
She walked as fast as she could without actually breaking into a run. Arthur was next to her, but thank God that for once he didn't feel the need to fill the air with words like he tended to do. In fact, he looked rather pale and worried. Arthur was no friend of Ben's either, but neither were they unfriendly with one another. Arthur probably looked at him as a colleague. Colleagues are okay.
If only she could still believe that after today.
It seemed to take ages for the door to be opened. Jo was on the phone, trying to get Ben to answer his, but it was not answered, even if they could hear it ring on the other side of the door. The Section Chief pointedly avoided looking at her. Jo was a good woman, but entirely too naïve for this job, but today she didn't want to sink her hopes by telling her that there were none for Ben. She would have to face that reality soon enough.
The door finally opened and Ros, impatient now, pulled it open, all but shoving the security man out of the way. If she had to face this, then she had best do it right away. It was bad. Ros had known that it would be from the moment Jo had come in to tell her that the locks had been tampered with and her suspicions were only confirmed when Ben did not answer his phone and when calling his name did not have any effect either.
It was even worse than she had anticipated. When the door finally did open and she looked at the scene in front of her, she felt her blood run cold, which according to some must be quite a feat, since she had ice water in her veins to begin with. But this shocked her to the core. She had expected Ben to be shot, knocked out, maybe even strangled, but not this. She had not expected him to be lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, his throat cut like an animal to be slaughtered.
And then she did something Ros Myers had never been known to do before: she fled. She turned on her heels and stumbled more than walked back into the corridor. I failed. It were the only two words in her mind and she knew them to be true. The proof of that was lying in the paper archive in his own blood, dead.
Her hands were trembling and she felt like she could faint any second now. If she had only thought about Connie's request before she sent her down, if she had only been a bit more suspicious, Ben might still be alive. But she had not been. She had as much blood on her hands as Connie for sending Ben's executioner down to him.
Her mind's eye was only too keen on replaying what she had seen over and over again. It made Ros nauseous, made her want to throw up where she stood. It made her want to scream in frustration and it made her want to kick the walls and slam the doors. But she could not. What good would it do? It would not make time turn back on itself and it could certainly not bring Ben back to life. It was too late for any of that.
She heard Malcolm come out behind her and Jo after him. The technician was shocked into silence, but Jo was weeping openly. Ros almost wished she could do the same and just for once to hell with self-restraint and her reputation of being a cold-hearted bitch, but she was beyond tears. A lifetime of suppressing them had almost made her forget how to cry. The guilt she felt throttled them at birth, guilt for not realising sooner, guilt for letting Sugarhorse be lost at the last possible second even though Harry had warned her, guilt for not recognising the warning and then there even was some sort of guilt about not liking Ben a little better than she had. Would she have been more alert to the possibility of danger if she had liked him?
She would never know the answer now. It was far too late. Death was final. There was no coming back from it.
Ros could have shot Arthur for even talking to her, but that would be unprofessional. She still had a job to do and she would do well not to forget it. 'What?' she snapped, not feeling up to any polite conversation at the moment.
'You need to see this.' He sounded like a king, commanding. But there was anger there as well, a boiling rage just below the surface.
Maybe that was what prompted her to do as he asked and look at the blood-stained piece of paper he held in front of her. It must have been in front of Ben when his throat was cut; the paper was bloodied and difficult to read. But there was enough still readable to recognise the authorisation slip to access the file of Alexander Borkhovin, requested by Hugo Prince on September the twenty-third 2003.
Burning hatred mixed with ice-cold shock when she realised that Ben had found the proof they would have needed to back up Lucas's phone call, had they not found out about Operation Renaissance. He had found the evidence and had been killed for it. And the fact that Connie had not taken this with her suggested that she had no intention of staying here any longer. She just needed the time to run.
But she would not get away with this, Ros vowed. Ben had been a member of her team and she had been responsible for him. It may be too late to save his life, but it was not too late for revenge. And that might be the best way to deal with this anyway. Ros Myers was not the weepy type. She was commonly known as a cold-hearted bitch. If it was up to her, Connie James would soon find out just how cold-hearted exactly.