Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Appearing in a whirlwind had been something of an experience the first time, Merlin reflected when the winds died away and he found himself standing in the middle of a corridor in Thames House. It had taken him long to master it and it still quite vexed him that Morgana had done it long before him, but then, Morgana wasn't being weighed down by being Arthur's servant and destiny-appointed protector. She had more free time on her hands than Merlin could ever dream of having. He had to snatch moments between sleeping, eating and running around after Arthur.

Still, it felt rather good to be able to do this and over such a long distance as well. He'd never done this before and he didn't think there would ever be any need, but in the end it turned out that he had not even needed Mordred's help. He'd done most of it on his own on the way to Moscow and all on his own on the way back.

Mordred had done well. As much as he hated to admit it, he had done a good job. Three FSB officers were dead because of him and Merlin would have no choice but to admit that without Mordred's aid things may have turned out quite a bit differently. And now he found that doubt was invading his mind. What if Mordred had spoken the truth all along? What if he truly had no other purpose in coming to Camelot than seeing the repeal of the ban on magic for himself? He'd said it himself, he had only been a child when Merlin had last seen him and he'd had no control over his powers and what he was doing when he killed those Camelot guards. He could have spoken the truth for all Merlin knew. It was only because he knew the prophecy that he regarded the soon-to-be knight with such wariness. It was not fair perhaps.

At the same time he hated himself for having doubts. If he was wrong, then Arthur would be in danger the moment Merlin let down his guard. Was that something he could risk? Merlin rather thought it wasn't, but all he had to go on to say that Mordred was not as good as he seemed to be were events from years ago. It seemed harsh almost to judge him on those things, but there was a feeling that kept nagging and it grew only worse now that Merlin had to consider that he may have been wrong all along. And that was not a pleasant thing to feel at all.

But he could at least be nicer to the young sorcerer and entertain his suspicions all the same. It was a spy thing, he supposed. They pretended who they were and what they believed almost for most of their lives. He could put Mordred under surveillance, pretend to like him, but at the same time keep a very close watch on him. And maybe in time he would find that he had been wrong all along about the young man, but he'd rather have that than to let his guard down now and have to discover later that he had been right to suspect him after all. That was not a risk he was prepared to take.

Mordred was smiling. 'We did it.' He sounded pleased with himself and he was entitled to be after his performance in Moscow. Good intentions or not, he had helped out and Merlin didn't think he would ever think that. Life truly had a way of surprising one and he didn't mind that surprise as long as it was a good one.

And he did feel pleased with himself as well. After all, they had gotten Lucas out of Moscow. The spook was leaning against the wall, holding onto it for support, possibly a bit dizzy. Magical transport had that tendency to do that to people. Merlin was no great fan of the sensation either and it had taken some getting used to.

'We did,' he agreed. 'Go on ahead, Mordred, tell Ros the good news.' She would want to hear this as soon as she could. Miss Myers would never wear her heart on her sleeve, but even a blind man could see that she cared about her team, and cared a lot. Ros may not ever become the most sociable person on the Grid, but for whatever reason she did look out for them, even those she did not particularly like, like Ben.

Merlin wondered what had become of him. Hopefully security would have released him from the paper archive by now. It would be even better if Ben had indeed found the proof they were looking for. But that did not even matter anymore, he supposed, not now Lucas had brought the photographic proof back with him.

Mordred looked a bit horrified, looking at Lucas and then at Merlin, as if hoping that one of them would step in and rescue him. Merlin himself knew all too well that Ros could be rather frightening and Mordred had no reason to believe that she would be any nicer too him now than she had been before. He waved him on all the same. Ros would be only more mad if she was kept waiting, especially on a day like today and Merlin had absolutely no ambition of getting on her bad side, not when he only just seemed to have gotten away from it. And Lucas clearly needed a moment. He was as white as a sheet and clearly upset. It did not suit him at all.

'Are you all right?' the warlock heard himself ask as soon as he was convinced that Mordred was out of earshot.

The spook gave a tentative nod, but he looked… well, haunted was the word, making Merlin realise that whatever had happened in Moscow was more frightening to him than the warlock would have believed possible. And there was a fairly good chance that he did not want Merlin to see that.

'I'm fine.' The words only served to underline what Merlin already suspected. Lucas straightened up. 'I should thank you.'

The words sounded wooden and awkward and Merlin himself hardly knew what to do with them. To be honest, both of them usually avoided conversation without Arthur there as a buffer. What did you say to one another when there was so much history? Merlin knew he had been wrong in his assessment of the spy and that mistake had very nearly cost Lucas his life. And Lucas blamed him for that, blamed him for not being able to do what it took to protect Arthur himself, blamed him for not having any trust in him. And because Merlin blamed himself even worse than Lucas and Arthur combined and had no idea how he could even begin to make amends, he stayed away from Lucas. Lucas in turn seemed to be perfectly happy staying away from Merlin. Neither of them seemed to want to change the current situation, which made this all the more awkward.

In the end he managed a smile. 'You're welcome.' It was nothing original or well-chosen, but it was the truth. He did not regret doing what he did. In fact, he was rather proud of it and he did owe Lucas. Maybe today he had begun to make up for the mistakes he had made.

Lucas looked in the direction in which Mordred had disappeared. 'Who is he, Merlin?'

Merlin found he didn't get the question and told him so. Lucas knew who he was, didn't he? Mordred had introduced himself to him and that should have been enough to be getting on with.

Lucas misinterpreted his silence. 'You don't like me,' he said brusquely. 'I don't like you very much either. But we're on the same side now. Merlin, what does he want?'

He felt chastised and maybe he deserved it. Just now he'd almost sounded to even himself as if he was defending Mordred from a crime as of yet unspecified, just because he was someone he knew, someone from his own land, someone with magic. But he remembered that Ros had not been cheering about his arrival either and Jo, his closest friend here, had stopped smiling the moment she heard his name. And Lucas was suspicious to the extremes and, after his ordeal in Russia and his suffering at Morgana's hands, with good reason. 'I don't mean it like that,' he hastened to say. 'I'm just not really sure what you're trying to say. We are. On the same side, I mean.' He'd better stop talking before it truly turned to rambling. But Lucas had that effect and Merlin knew that the history they had was mostly to blame for that. And it did not help matters that he did not know what Lucas was trying to ask him.

'Do you trust him?' The question sounded like an accusation.

And it almost made Merlin want to defend the Druid. He did not trust Mordred, but he had been so careful about keeping his suspicions to himself that he was reluctant about speaking out, especially to a man with whom he was almost permanently on the verge of an argument. But they were on the same side and Lucas would not have asked this question unless he had a very good reason.

'Arthur does,' he replied. The king's opinion carried more weight with Lucas than Merlin's. 'I am not sure yet.' He didn't like that he didn't know what it was that Lucas was asking and where he intended to go with this. 'Why do you ask?' This whole conversation was rapidly turning ever more awkward, but maybe that was just caused by his own desperate wish never having to have a conversation with Lucas North. He felt too ashamed of himself for not being capable of sparing him captivity and torture in Morgana's hovel.

'Is it possible that he tried to kill us in Moscow?'

The question came completely out of the blue and it took Merlin by surprise. 'Yes,' he heard himself reply. The surprise seemed to have taken away all control he had over his mouth and he answered before he could stop himself, which may tell him everything he needed to know about what he really thought about Mordred. 'Do you mean that he tried to kill you?' Lucas had said us, which indicated that he had been an intended victim as well as Merlin – he wryly noted that he did not even seemed to doubt for one moment that there had been an attempt on their lives – and that did not make sense. Merlin could come up with a number of reasons why Mordred would want him out of the way and had chosen to do so in Moscow, safely away from Arthur's sight and in such a situation that it could have been an accident. But why try and kill Lucas? He had nothing to do with what was going on in Camelot. Mordred had never even met him before they came to the spy's rescue hardly half an hour ago.

'The first knife he threw,' Lucas replied. 'And a spell that only missed you because you stepped out of the way.' He did not seem to be too anxious to have this conversation either, because he was brief and almost snappy, but they were having it and if Lucas was willing to overlook past events – and he had said as much – then Merlin perhaps should do the same.

And this did make sense. Mordred had thrown a knife and the aim had been off. Merlin remembered that Lucas had stepped out of the way and he had dragged Merlin with him to avoid him ending up with a knife in the throat, which would have meant his death. And the spell that had knocked the FSB officers off their feet had been cast hardly half a second after he had stepped out of the way. At first he had thought that the first knife had simply been wrongly thrown and the spell had been very neatly planned.

But the spell had flown past him when he had not even stopped moving, too hot on the heels of his change of position to be cast after he had done so. It must already have been cast when he did and that did lend credibility to Lucas's words, even if it still didn't explain why Lucas had been a target.

'I believe you,' he said, remembering all too well what had happened last time he had not believed him. Even though things did not quite add up, it sounded plausible, a confirmation of what he had long been expecting himself. 'But why you?' The question escaped him before he could stop himself. 'I thought he was a danger only to Arthur. Why did he try to kill you?' Lucas had been first in line to get hit by the Druid's knife, which would mean that he truly had been a target and not just someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Was it just because Mordred did not want to leave behind any witnesses to what he had done? It did make some sense, but not much.

'I don't know,' Lucas confessed. 'I had never seen him before today.' He subjected Merlin to a positively scrutinising glance. 'We should tell Arthur.'

If only that were possible. 'He won't believe it,' Merlin remarked bitterly. 'He thinks Mordred's a hero. I've tried to tell him, but he won't listen. Not without hard evidence.'

He didn't need to mention Agravaine's case, when Arthur had stubbornly believed that his uncle was innocent until he had the proof to the contrary. They both remembered. No matter how much faith the king of Camelot had in Lucas, he had an equal amount of trust in the Druid. And Arthur thought it an unforgivable crime to not trust his friends. Admirable though that might be, it was his biggest flaw as well. And while Merlin did not doubt for even a second that Lucas had spoken the truth, they had nothing but circumstantial evidence, which could just as easily mean something else. They both knew that it didn't, but not even Ros, the most paranoid officer in this building, would not want to act on so little. Clumsiness, no matter how unforgivable, was no punishable crime and Mordred's actions could too easily be put down to that.

'But we can watch him.' It was more a statement than a question.

Merlin nodded. 'We can.' It was awkward to talk about we, as if they were friends, which they weren't, as far as Merlin was aware. He didn't even know where they stood. Mostly they tolerated each other for Arthur's sake. To be allies, the only two privy to a piece of important information, that was new and something he did not quite know what to do with.

But he supposed he should be glad that someone believed him and had seen the things to back him up. Unfortunately it was not something that could be seen as conclusive evidence. But they were on the same side now, truly this time and not just in name.

'Allies?' he asked hesitantly.

'Allies,' Lucas agreed. He seemed not too happy at the prospect, but he was professional enough not to let any personal matters stand in the way of an operation. It was about time Merlin followed his example and did the same.

Night on the Grid was silent. Well, it was more quiet than during daytime, but it was never truly silent. There was always someone or something working late, following up on some clue or other and the sound of humming computer machinery provided the background music for Ros's own late night activities.

She was too awake to even contemplate going home and get some rest, plagued by the feeling that this was not yet over. They had achieved some minor victories today: Harry had been released, Lucas was safely back and Connie had been detained, but it made no changes in the American plans for the missile defence shield in Poland and the Russians were still extremely pissed off, and would be even more so when they found out they had been tricked and had killed their own loyal people instead of the Sugarhorse assets they had thought they were eliminating. That was not very likely to make them do a happy dance around the Kremlin and it meant that they remained on high alert, even though the Sugarhorse crisis had been dealt with.

Knowing that sleep would elude her tonight, she had elected to stay on the Grid and get to the tedious task of report writing and reading. The task was mundane and utterly boring, but after the day she'd had, she found she craved the mundane. Soon enough things would go belly-up again. One of Harry's assets had sent some intelligence back, a warning. It was something about Tiresias waking, but Ros had no idea what Tiresias even was. Well, she knew of the mythical Tiresias, but she doubted that was being referred to here, although she should probably not be surprised if it really was the case. Arthur and Merlin were all the proof she needed that legends apparently could come alive.

Speaking of legends, the Camelot inhabitants were staying on the Grid. Arthur was writing a report – that was what it looked like anyway – and Merlin was getting himself a cup of coffee, unwilling to leave the Grid when Arthur lingered. He had been absolutely devastated when he learned of Ben's death, probably feeling that he could have prevented it from happening if he had stayed with the junior officer. He had not spoken more than five words since then. The warlock may be a bit of a clumsy idiot every now and then, but he cared. Ros had the feeling that he sometimes cared too much.

Mordred was nowhere in sight, but Ros did not particularly care about him, as long as he stayed out of her way. She had no idea what to make of him, even if it was quite obvious that Arthur thought very highly of him. Why that was the case was not entirely sure though. So far he hadn't seemed to be doing anything, useful or otherwise.

The Grid was crowded tonight anyway. Jo had gone home, or so Ros hoped, after she had notified Ben's family of his death, and so had Malcolm, and Connie had been taken away, but the rest of the core team was present. Harry had locked himself in his office with a much-needed Scotch and Lucas was stuck behind his desk. He looked like he should be in bed; he looked positively exhausted. Ros knew better than to order him to rest though. Lucas was a very poor sleeper and had more nightmares than Ros could ever imagine having, and she had a fair few of her own. After Moscow he was unlikely to get any rest. He had come in looking like a ghost himself, never mind that he looked like having seen one. Furiously she wondered what the hell Harry had been thinking when he sent the Senior Case Officer back to hell. True to his word, Lucas gave every impression of having been to hell and back again.

The report in front of her was utterly boring and told her nothing she didn't already knew. Despite the crisis, they still maintained routine surveillance on several other people on the terrorist watch list and reading about what they'd had for lunch – what did she care that this suspect had a big love of fish and chips? – was mind-numbing to say the least. But it needed to be done and after today she was loath to load too much onto Harry already. He'd probably be working hard to work out just what the hell this Tiresias was, even when he shouldn't so soon after his interrogation. Maybe her own attitude towards work was catching.

Oh, sod it all. She shoved the file away from her in frustration and took a huge gulp of coffee, only to find that it had turned cold in the time she had been studying files. A muffled curse was the result as she got up and marched over to the kitchen to make herself another coffee. If she was going to spend here all night, she would need it. Her body was giving off signs that it wanted rest, but her mind was just too awake to even consider sleeping. The thoughts about today would inevitably keep her awake, so she might as well make use of it.

When she entered the small kitchen, it was only to find that she was not alone there. Lucas had apparently been thinking along the same lines and was making a pot of the stuff. 'Want some, boss?' he inquired when he saw her enter, holding out the pot invitingly.

Ros threw away the remnants of her stone-cold coffee and favoured him with a sarcastic look. 'No, I think I'd prefer Scotch.'

Lucas grinned. It was nothing like his usual mischievous grin, but it was a start. At least it reached his eyes. 'Wrong place, Ros. I think Harry's whisky stash is the other way,' he informed her quite unnecessarily. 'I'm not sure Harry's going to give it up without a fight though, so you might want to take Arthur with you. Or Merlin.'

She rolled her eyes at him. 'Very funny,' she commented. 'Are you going to give me that pot or are you planning to make a career out of pretending to be a signboard for a second-rate café?'

'Who knows,' Lucas said. 'You're certainly threatening me enough with letting me serve tea to the entire section to take the idea into consideration.' After one of her exasperated looks he handed her the coffee pot though. 'Are you okay, Ros?'

They may be friends, but that did not mean that she was suddenly okay with fussing and so she deliberately misinterpreted. 'I'm your colleague,' she pointed out. 'I should bloody well hope so.'

Lucas stared at his coffee intently. 'Not all of them are, though, are they?'

It was the very thing Ros herself found herself struggling with. Not all colleagues were okay. Connie had betrayed them, and what's more, she had done it for similar reasons as Ros herself had done. She had said as much and as much as she hated it, Ros knew it to be the truth. She liked to think that she had never really sunk that low, that in that respect she was better than Connie, but treason was treason and she had done it.

No, she had never killed a colleague and she didn't think she could ever have done that, not when it was a colleague's disappearance that had driven her to get involved with Yalta in the first place. But she had betrayed her colleagues and that was just as bad. Maybe the worst thing was that this very fact enabled her to understand Connie's reasons for doing what she had done. With both of them loathing of the United States and its actions had persuaded them to undertake action against the Americans. Ros had gotten involved with Yalta, while Connie had taken up with the Russians during the Cold War. And the very fact that she understood Connie's reasons for doing what she had done – to a certain extent of course – deepened her loathing of the former intelligence analyst. Ros had learned her lesson, but Connie hadn't and that was why Ros was currently Section Chief of Section D and Connie was in custody.

'She is not a colleague anymore,' she replied curtly, slamming her mug on the counter, making half of the newly poured contents splash out of it. She didn't care.

'She isn't now,' Lucas agreed. 'But she was.' He stared at his own mug again. 'Arthur told me that she was the one to sell me out.' He added another spoonful of sugar to his own mug, but Ros suspected it was just because he wanted to have a valid reason not to look at her. 'It still seems so surreal. She always was so kind.' He looked up. 'When I first arrived though she told me that she was the stuff of nightmares. I thought it was a joke.'

'More fool you,' Ros remarked wryly. More fool all of us. None of them had ever truly believed in the possibility, not even Ros herself, who had known she was a candidate for it. She had sooner believed it of Malcolm, and that was saying something.

'More fool me,' Lucas nodded. 'I just don't get it, Ros. Not of Connie.'

This was trespassing on the personal again, even if he didn't know he was doing it. The similarities between Connie's case and Ros's own were too striking for the Section Chief not to feel implicated. 'You are aware that I am not actually one of those bloody shrinks, aren't you? If you want tea and sympathy, you should go and talk to them.'

'I thought you had condemned those as a waste of time and money?' he asked. The comment sounded light enough, but Ros had not come as far as she had by being unobservant. There was hurt twinkling in his eyes and she realised that she may have been too dismissive. Again.

'They are.' Now it was her who took to stirring her coffee with a devotion mostly reserved for tracking down terrorists with dirty bombs in order to avoid eye contact. That was the thing with friends, she supposed. When you let them close, you started caring too much and before you knew it, you were emotionally compromised.

Lucas was not put off. 'Well, we're friends. I thought I'd annoy you after you had to make do without it all day.'

Ros snorted. 'Oh, I think Arthur was trying to do a great job of filling in for you,' she informed him. 'I think he even went as far as to compare me with Merlin after a night in the tavern.'

Lucas tried and failed to hide his snort of laugher by hiding his face behind his mug. Given the fact that his face was bigger than the mug, that attempt was doomed to fail. 'You care though,' he said when he had his voice back under control. 'Or you wouldn't have sent Merlin after me.'

This was starting to look too much like gratitude to Ros and despite their friendship, she still didn't know what to do with it. So she did what she did best with things like that: she side-stepped them. 'I'd have done the same for anyone on the team.' She would have, given the chance. Maybe that was why she felt she had failed Ben. 'Besides, I needed that information you found.' There, now she had made it sound like something that was merely professional. That at least she did know how to handle. Personal things she didn't know. There was a reason she usually didn't do friends. Lucas so far was the only one persistent enough to even try and sometimes Ros really didn't know why he even put up with her. Goodness knew she wasn't the easiest woman to be around.

'You care though,' he insisted. He studied her as Ros studied the coffee machine. 'I don't know why you won't just let me thank you.'

He had expressed a similar sentiment after Operation Camelot and she had been in no hurry to let him go all emotional on her then either. 'I would have done the same for anyone,' she repeated, forcing the memory of Ben from her mind. She could do without that. It was rather too painful to think about her failure to protect him now and she certainly was not going to show Lucas just how much she was affected by it. 'It's in the job description. Didn't you have the microdot document to look at anyway?'

She pretended not to see the hurt in his eyes as he looked at her. 'Yeah, I do.' He sent her that lopsided grin when something else clearly crossed his mind. 'Thanks for the talk, Ros.'

He made to walk out of the kitchen, but she called him back. 'We didn't really talk,' she pointed out. 'I didn't even say I bloody well cared.'

The smile on his face told her in advance that he would get the last word on the matter. 'You didn't deny it either.'

Lucas had disappeared back onto the Grid before Ros could even begin to think of a reply to that. It would be wasted time anyway; both of them knew he was right. Any attempts at fooling herself had gone right down the drain when she cried about Harry, fussed about Lucas and felt her blood both boil and freeze when she found out about Ben's murder. She did care and Lucas, annoying as he was, knew it. Well, they were friends after all. She supposed she was allowed to. Still, it felt as if she was being compromised by caring and that was unacceptable, mostly because it had the very annoying and potentially dangerous tendency to interfere with her job-first-everything-else-later-attitude. She could not afford her priorities to get skewed. She only had to look at exactly how well that had worked out when she set out on her righteous crusade to find Zaf to know that that was not a path she could afford to walk again.

She was pondering this as she steadily worked her way through even more reports. The contents were so boring that she didn't need to think very much, which was giving her mind a bit too much free time.

Stop wallowing, Myers, she told herself firmly. She had a job to do. This Tiresias was going live at three pm that afternoon and they still didn't know what it was. But whatever it was, it was something nasty. Ros hardly expected any less after having thwarted the Russians successfully – Sugarhorse still mostly intact, the FSB mole caught and detained, Lucas in and out of Moscow safely with the information and the Russians having killed their own people and therefore created certain chaos in their own ranks counted as a success in Ros's book – but there were bound to be reprisals and nastiness was an FSB speciality.

As if to back that idea up, Lucas appeared at her desk, holding out a sheaf of photocopies of what she assumed to be the microdot document. It was not that which caught her attention first though. Lucas looked like he had seen something particular gruesome and was about to throw up.

'What the bloody hell is wrong with you?' she demanded. 'Seen Morgana's ghost?'

The brief reproachful look she got for that told her this was not funny, but he didn't waste any words on it. 'Look at it,' he ordered.

The tone of voice rang with urgency and so Ros suppressed a snappy remark about who exactly was in charge here and took a look at the blown-up copies of the document. It was Russian, but a six months exile in Moscow had done wonders for her knowledge of the language. It didn't take her long before she the meaning of the words started to sink in and then she cursed.


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