Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 18

Chapter 18

If there was one thing Merlin would remember most about the gunshot later, then it was the look of almost surprise with which it was met by Ros Myers, despite the fact that the bullet had embedded itself in her shoulder. He'd never really seen her being surprised; she always was the very picture of calm, always in control of everything. Even if she wasn't, she pretended to be. But there was no control now, not now her left hand grasped her right shoulder that had been pierced through by the bullet that had been fired.

That shook him awake. Someone must have fired that bullet and he swivelled around, only to find himself staring down a barrel himself. The man holding it was Mordred. He didn't seem friendly now, he didn't seem kind and he certainly didn't seem to have their best interests at heart. All kindness had melted away like the mask it was and only an angry Druid remained, a Druid who did not only have magic, but who was currently in possession of all the weapons they had at their disposal as well. The gun was Lucas's; he must have put it down when he was looking at his injury. Merlin had not really paid any attention to that until now, but he supposed that was what happened.

Maybe he should be panicking now that he was the one who found himself faced with the prospect of getting sent to meet his Maker a lot sooner than he had anticipated, but he felt strangely calm. Whichever way this turned out, Arthur would know Mordred for the traitor he was. And Mordred was the last great danger that threatened Arthur's life, his very existence. That would be revealed now.

Still, he was only too aware of his own mortality. He had seen that from a bullet, he would not be able to defend himself in time. He'd seen it with Morgana. When Ros had fired the bullet that had ended her life, she had tried to throw up a magical shield, but she had been too late. And there was no way magic could heal bullet wounds. He'd tried and failed. But given how close that gun was to him, he'd be dead instantly, even if he'd had the power to heal his injuries. Unless some kind of miracle happened, he was a dead man walking. Mordred clearly knew how to use the weapon he was holding. How that was possible was something that was quite beyond Merlin, but he had more immediate problems to worry about right now.

A miracle did not happen, but Arthur spoke. 'Mordred.' It was only one word, but with it he managed to convey all the pain of betrayal, all his disappointment and all his hurt. In any other circumstance it would have broken his heart to see his closest friend – even if Arthur would rather die than admit to that – in such a position. And he'd have given anything not to let things come to this. But that was a luxury position and they were in no such position.

But it worked. For just a split second Mordred looked at Arthur. 'I am sorry, Arthur,' he said. It sounded genuine; he really seemed to mean what he said. But it was undermined by the gun that was still pointed at the warlock. 'But you gave me no choice.' Never had those words sounded more dangerous.

The distraction was enough; the miracle had happened. Lucas recognised an opportunity when he happened upon one. Even though he was injured, he practically launched himself at Mordred and knocked him off balance, wrenching the gun from his hands before Mordred had the chance to respond to the attack. The moment he had recovered enough to respond and blast Lucas away from him magically was not long in following though and Lucas crashed to the ground next to Ros. The gun however was firmly in his hands. It did not make Mordred any less dangerous, but it took away one of his advantages and the immediate threat he posed to Merlin's life.

But guns would not be any use against Mordred, that he knew. Morgana had only been killed with one because she had been distracted and it was for sure that Mordred would not make the same mistake as she had done. Especially since it was still unclear why Mordred even acted as he did, he doubted he would have the appropriate revelation to make the Druid boy forget about the gun that Lucas seemed only too prepared to use. No, this would be up to him.

'Now everyone knows you for who you really are.' It was a more polite way of saying I told them so, but it was also very true and in a way he felt triumphant. Mordred had revealed himself for who the traitor he was. If that didn't serve to make Arthur aware of the danger, then he didn't know what would.

Mordred seemed a bit taken aback by Lucas's attack, but he didn't seem like the kind of person who would be off balance for long. There was genuine hatred in his eyes now, something that rather frightened Merlin. What on earth could make a person like this? How could anyone harbour such anger without dying of it? 'You'll die, Emrys.' When he spoke there was no regret either. 'Whether by my hands or when the bomb goes off. I do not care which it will be, as long as it is done.'

Dread settled in Merlin's stomach. For just a moment the whole issue of the bomb had gone right out of his head. But it was firmly back in his mind now. Every minute they wasted here, was a minute less to find the bomb and defuse it. Mordred may not be working for the Russians, but he was helping their case along perfectly.

It was not even a conscious decision that made him launch the first spell; it was more instinct than defined thought. Ros was injured – he didn't know how serious her injury was – the whole of London was at risk, they could have the FSB after them at any given time – although his magical blocking of the door would ensure that getting in here would be a time-consuming and difficult task – and time was rapidly running out, like sand slipping through his fingers. At the moment Mordred was standing between him and what he needed to do. This time he would not be too weak, this time he would do everything it took to make sure that all of them got out of this with their lives. No one else would do his dirty work for him now.

Mordred side-stepped Merlin's attack at the last possible moment, but his attacker wasn't given a lot of time to rejoice in this very minor victory. He'd underestimated Mordred's magic and the strength of his attacks. Soon enough he needed all his own powers and all his concentration to do battle with the young man he knew to be Arthur's bane. Not while I live and breathe.

He was stronger. It was a relief to know that. He gave it his all and even though he could feel the sweat trickling down his brow, he was winning. And Mordred knew this too; Merlin could see it in his eyes, the realisation that he in turn had underestimated his foe as well. Merlin drove him back against the wall. He was not frightened anymore and this time he had every intention of doing what he should have done long ago: kill Mordred and eliminate the threat.

Mordred himself was panting as he looked the warlock in the eyes. 'I shall never forgive this, Emrys, and I shall never forget.' The words were both spoken in his head and out loud.

He knew what would happen before it could, but he was too late to prevent it. Mordred shouted the spell even as Merlin threw another one at him. It would have been fatal, but by the time it hit the spot where Mordred had stood, the Druid was no longer there; he had transported away in the nick of time.

'No!' The cry of frustration and disappointment crossed his lips before he could stop himself. It wasn't that he wanted to kill Mordred, but he most empathetically had not wanted for him to escape. Killing Mordred was a necessity, something that he should have done now that he had convinced himself that he could actually do it. Taking lives, or rather his inability to, was his weakness, if one could ever call such a thing a weakness. Sometimes it was just a necessary evil and something he very much regretted the need for. But given the history he had, he was not sure if he could bring himself to do it when he next came face to face with the Druid. If I live long enough for there to be a second time…

That brought him back to slightly more important matters, like Ros, who had collapsed against the wall of the tunnel, and the bomb that was still merrily ticking away till three pm. If he was right, they had less than an hour left to find the dreaded thing and defuse it. Cold sweat broke out at the very thought.

Lucas seemed unfazed after his short and involuntary flight. He only briefly winced as he got to his feet – and even that was so briefly that he might have missed it if only he had blinked – and ran over to Ros's side. The Section Chief was grimacing as she pushed her left hand against the wound. Even in the very dim light in the tunnel he could see that it was bleeding and that Ros herself was paler than she should be. Not a groan of pain, some declaration of pain or discomfort, crossed her lips though. If anything, that growl that emerged from her throat was more one of anger and frustration than of pain. He was wondering if he should admire her for that. It was more than obvious that she was strong though, even if that was one of the few good qualities she possessed.

'You all right, Ros?' Lucas, like Merlin and Arthur, was not fooled by the show she put on. Worry was clearly audible in his voice.

Ros brushed it off. 'I am your colleague,' she reminded him. 'They're okay, remember?' She didn't want to talk about this for some reason and she seemed determined to ignore her own injury. Merlin would not put it beyond her to try and get up and go on until she bled out.

'I am also your friend,' Lucas pointed out. When it came to doing battle with words against the fearsome Ros Myers, he could boast some experience.

'And you're annoying me.' She tried to get to her feet, using Lucas as a way to pull herself up. He let her, but he wasn't happy about it. She looked at her hand, stained red with her own blood, and at the jacket, that was suffering from the same affliction. 'Jackets are overrated anyway.'

Lucas's facial expression told everyone with eyes that he did not think this an appropriate response. 'You need medical attention.'

Ros glared, but it was less intense than usual, which spoke volumes about her condition. 'Lucas…'

'I am your friend,' Lucas repeated. 'That means I'm allowed to annoy you. That's what friends are for, you said.' Before Ros got the chance to reply or protest to that, he turned to Merlin. 'Can you transport her to a hospital? Magically?'

He could and he said so. 'But what about you?' he added. If he was modelling his own conduct on Ros's, that meant that the job came first. There were still millions of people in this city and all of them could die if they failed to deal with this crisis. If he were to leave, then he would rob their already small group of two officers. And, without boasting his own abilities, he knew they could very ill afford to lose him. He had magic, they had not. The FSB was still hunting them and there was no telling if Mordred came back. And Lucas was rapidly running out of bullets. Soon magic would be the only defence they had left. 'The FSB, Mordred…' He trailed off, not comfortable with voicing his reservations, lest he made it look like he didn't care about Ros. True, he didn't, not very much anyway, but she was not all bad. In fact, she was stronger than he'd ever given her credit for and he had been one of the few she had trusted yesterday. To repay that faith by not doing everything he could for her felt wrong. But then, would she herself not insist that the operation always took precedence?

'A hospital won't make any bloody difference when the bomb goes off,' Ros snapped. She was holding on to the wall for support and was breathing heavily. 'And you need his help.' The last sentence came out with the utmost reluctance, but she made a valid point.

'But there are medics in Thames House, aren't there?' Merlin suddenly felt foolish for not realising.

Ros glared. 'That makes no difference. And we don't have the time for this. Move on.'

She would have done if Lucas had not stopped. 'You're not the only one who's allowed to be concerned about colleagues,' he reminded her. 'What's different about Thames House, Merlin?'

Merlin supposed he had their new alliance to thank for his newfound tolerance and he used it. 'I put shields on it before Harry and I left. Some of those are designed against physical damage.' He shot the spook an apologetic look. 'I'm not sure if they can hold out against that much force, but it's a risk worth taking, isn't it? I'd bring Ros to Thames House and then come straight back to you?' He phrased it as a question to make it clear that he was asking for approval. He had no illusions about his status here; he was not allowed to make the decisions. Ultimate authority rested with Ros and there was every chance she would counteract it.

But for all her operation-first-and-to-hell-with-common-sense-attitude, she was not a stupid woman. She knew that she could not continue and in Thames House she could at least try to make herself useful. And if he stuck to the plan, then he would be back soon enough. It wasn't much of a plan, but it might well be the best option they had. Now there was a frightening thought if ever he had heard one.

'Don't die,' Ros told Lucas brusquely. 'I find dealing with all the paperwork really boring.'

Lucas merely shot her a lopsided grin. 'Nice to know you care, boss. Same to you.'

She shot him a mocking glance. 'I don't do dead,' she informed him.

Merlin had the feeling that he was missing a few things here and there – banter between Ros and Lucas always seemed to be in some coded language he didn't understand – but the genuinely seemed to like one another.

'I'll look after her,' he promised Lucas. The spy had looked after Arthur when he could not, and now it was time to return the favour. He took Ros Myers's hand and transported her away with him.

For the second time in just as many days, Arthur's head was reeling with the shock of being betrayed by someone he had least expected it of. He still found himself staring at the point where Mordred had stood before he had disappeared. It had all gone so quick and now he found himself rooted to spot, as if he were in some kind of trance, unable to accept the knowledge his brain now tried to impart on him: Mordred was a traitor.

It was utterly absurd. It didn't make sense, not to him. He would not pretend that all had gone well, but Mordred had seemed to understand this day and age a bit better. He had even been some use in Lucas's rescue and just a few hours ago in snatching Connie from MI-5's counter-intelligence. He had finally started to believe that taking Mordred with him had not been a bad idea after all.

And maybe that was the very reason he didn't understand what was happening when Ros was shot and he turned around to find the Druid pointing Lucas's gun at Merlin's head. This could not be happening. It didn't make any sense for this to happen, not with Mordred. He'd always been loyal, always been kind.

Merlin was right. Strangely enough that was the first defined thought that filled his head. Merlin had guessed or known from the start that something about Mordred was not right, was a danger to others. Arthur of course had dismissed it, having seen no evil in Mordred himself. Instead he had put Merlin's behaviour down to jealous bullying – something he now doubted Merlin was even capable of – and had allowed Mordred to become his friend.

He really should have known better than to trust his own judgement in these cases. When had it ever made him take a wise decision, especially in the personal department? He had been deceived by Connie, Morgana, Agravaine, Mordred… Even his own father had kept secrets from him. Who could he trust?

'Mordred.' It was all he could say; other words failed him entirely. Why? He meant to ask that, but the question got stuck in his throat. What had he ever done to make Mordred hate him so much? His brain failed to produce an answer to that.

'I am sorry, Arthur,' the Druid said. He sounded so genuine. 'But you gave me no choice.'

Why? How did I not give you any choice but to resort to this? He wanted to ask, but again, his voice failed him. And so he stood, frozen in place as Merlin did what he no doubt had wanted to do since Mordred had stepped foot inside Camelot. There was a fierce determination etched on his face. The magic he conjured up was impressive and powerful. Even Arthur could tell this. Mordred could not do anything that came close to matching it, even though he tried his hardest to do so, and he was driven back against the wall.

'I shall never forgive this, Emrys.' The words were practically growled at Merlin. 'And I shall never forget.' There was something that was chilling about these words, and a sense of foreboding too. To Arthur it sounded like a vow to take revenge for what was being done to him now. But he had no right to take revenge; he was the one who instigated this in the first place and for a reason that Arthur could not even begin to fathom.

And then it was over. Mordred disappeared. A small and very irrational part of him was glad; he hated killing, especially the killing of someone whom he had trusted with his life until the quarter of an hour ago. His brain still refused to believe that this was all it seemed, but he was the king of Camelot; he could not afford to not go with the evidence he was presented with. He'd have to go with the evidence. Doing anything else would be foolish.

And he could not overlook Ros's injury. The Section Chief tried to belittle it, but no one was fooled for even a second. They all knew her approach to work.

Arthur was in danger of overlooking that there was a bomb out there, and in order not to forget it, he focussed on it with every fibre of his being. If only he could be enraged enough about Connie's betrayal and its immediate consequences, then he might temporarily forget about the wrongs Mordred had done to him. If he didn't do that, he was in immediate danger of becoming so absorbed in his own mind and own thoughts, that he would forget all about the far more imminent danger of the nuclear suitcase bomb that, without interference, would detonate within the hour. According to Lucas, London Bridge was not all that far anymore, but they needed to make it there first.

He felt uncomfortable about Merlin leaving, but he would admit that it was the best thing to be done. Ros could not go on and it would be cruel to leave her, especially when one took into consideration that the FSB could not be far behind anymore.

He hauled Connie to her feet. 'Rest's over,' he announced. 'Keep moving.'

The former intelligence analyst snorted. 'I am not Mordred, Arthur,' she reminded him. Somehow she had sensed that Arthur was indeed transferring his anger about Mordred onto her.

And it got right under his skin. Possibly that was what she had done to Ros as well, when she had accused Ros of being not so very unlike her at all. That was still the most ridiculous thing Arthur had heard in a long time, but knowing that she had a point, it set his teeth on edge. 'No, but you and he are not so different. Both of you are traitors. Why should I treat you any differently?' Maybe he was becoming a bitter man, Arthur didn't know. Neither did he particularly care. Once he had sworn to himself never to allow bitterness access to his mind and soul, because he had seen what it had done to his father. Uther had died full of regrets and sorrow. Arthur had no intention of letting that happen to him. That however was before he knew what life could throw at him. Sometimes, he found, it was just too much.

'Because I did not attack Ros and Merlin,' Connie retorted.

'No, you just sold Lucas out to the FSB and murdered Ben in cold blood,' Arthur threw back. His anger was only simmering just beneath the surface and it was threatening to boil over at even the slightest provocation. A voice in the back of his head, that sounded remarkably like Ros, reminded him that this was neither the time nor the place, but he ignored it. 'You may well be even worse.'

Now Connie was riled too. 'Do you think I wanted to kill Ben?' she demanded. It did not escape Arthur's notice that she refused to use the word murder in relation to Ben's death.

'If you didn't, you would have found another way to silence him,' Arthur growled. Good grief, betrayal hurt, like a cancer eating away at his soul. 'You only meant to escape, or you wouldn't have made it this easy for us to find him. You could have knocked him out. Instead you cut his throat like he was a pig meant for slaughter.' Yes, the world these spooks lived in was a harsh one, and to a certain extent Arthur understood the need for it, but there were limits.

Connie had already opened her mouth to speak, but then the shot rang out somewhere in the tunnel behind them. It stopped them all dead in their tracks. There was no friendly presence in here with them and so that left only one option: FSB.

He turned to Lucas, who had paled until he looked like a corpse with bad colouring. For some reason Arthur didn't think his wound had anything to do with it. Arthur found that his stomach was churning at the very thought of getting caught here by the Russians and he assumed it would be even worse for Lucas, who had endured eight solid years of torture at their hands.

'Kill squad?' he asked, even though Lucas clearly was not a sorcerer and could not tell for sure.

Lucas shook his head. 'They must have sent in a runner,' he replied, voice and muscles tense. 'I would have done.'

'One man?' Arthur checked. 'A scout?' That they could deal with, even now that they were rapidly running out of bullets. Not for the first time he found himself desperately wishing for his own sword, which he knew how to use. They did still stand a chance.

He didn't dare to think at whom that FSB had been shooting. It could not have been Merlin. It could well be that his servant had transported himself back to the tunnels, but he would have known better than to go back that far to save himself from any unfortunate run-ins with representatives of the Russian secret service. That only left one horrible possibility: the homeless woman that had been seeking her refuge in the abandoned train. She would hardly pose a threat to anyone, especially not to such men, so there would not have been a need to kill her. The fact that they had done exactly that told Arthur everything he needed to know about the kind of men they were dealing with.

'We can handle one man,' he forced himself to say, in the hopes that he could will it to be true if he only spoke the words with as much conviction as he could muster.

Lucas, who had seemed to be in a state of shock before, now nodded. He looked around and then beckoned for Arthur and Connie to move again, until they had passed a certain point. Then he took the rucksack and took out something that looked like plastic rope. It was a thin rope and, in this light, barely visible at all.

'We set a trap,' Lucas explained. 'Arthur, I need you to tie that to the wall.' He handed one end of the rope to the king and pointed out at what height he wanted him to tie it up. Connie, a small woman, would be able to run under it if she ducked a little. For a full-grown man like Arthur and Lucas, it would be level with their throat.

Instinctively he recoiled from the plan, because he knew very well what it was that Lucas was planning. This rope was hardly visible when the light did not fall directly upon it; the Russian would run right into it and consequently have his throat cut. The way Ben's throat was cut, he thought, trying not to linger on that dismal thought. It was either him or them and Arthur planned on surviving. It may be harsh, but he was in a harsh world, going up against ruthless men. In order to survive, he needed to become a bit like the people from this world, even though he regretted the need to let go of his principles in order to survive.

But this was not the time to dwell on this and so he did as Lucas asked of him, forcing his conscience to be quiet. Didn't he do what was needed in Camelot whenever the need arose? Had he not killed Agravaine when it was needed? Had he not killed in battle? Really, was this any different from a battle anyway? There was a war on, even if the people aboveground were not aware of this war at all.

Lucas tied the other end of the rope up tight and then ushered Connie and Arthur to hide in a small tunnel nearby. It was not lit at all, like the main tunnel was. Arthur dragged Connie with him and forced her to sit down out of sight, hoping that she would keep her mouth shut. She might say that she was no friend of the Russians, but Arthur was loath to take her word for it. Her actions so far belied her claims. She was an unpredictable woman and she might still want to take her chances with the FSB.

'If you make as much as a whisper, I'll cut your throat the way you cut Ben's,' he hissed in her ear. It frightened him a little that he meant what he said. He never thought he would talk to anyone in such a way; even to Agravaine he had been civil after he had discovered his betrayal. He had never resorted to such threats. This was not like him at all. But the worst thing was that he did not care about it. It felt like a part of him, an essential part of who he was, had died and he could not even mourn it, not yet.

Lucas hid next to him, between Arthur and Connie, which left Arthur closest to the main tunnel. He was as white as a sheet and had his hand pressed against his injured side, panting heavily. It was clear as daylight that he needed the medical attention as much as he claimed that Ros had needed it.

'How are you holding up?' he asked softly, shooting a worried glance at Lucas's hand that was still shielding the injury from sight.

'I'll manage until three o'clock,' he replied. Arthur didn't hear what he didn't say though. After that it doesn't matter anymore. They would either be dead by then or they would have accomplished their mission and then Lucas could get some much-needed medical attention himself.

He gave a nod to acknowledge that fact and then focused on the things in the main tunnel. It didn't take long before he heard footsteps. They were heavy footsteps, he observed, and they were fast approaching. It also was only a single pair, which meant that Lucas's guess about it being only one runner, sent in ahead of the rest of the kill squad, was right. Lucas knew how these people thought and he knew how to survive. Not all that long ago he had survived a trip into his own personal hell in Russia. That made him the best person to be with right now.

The footsteps were cut short abruptly when the runner ran into the thin piece of rope. Arthur didn't see what actually happened, because he had flattened himself against the tunnel wall. He'd rather not be seen and he was prepared to take drastic measures in order to ensure that he indeed stayed out of sight, lest he alarmed their suspect.

But he didn't truly need to see what was happening. He heard all the more. It was the sound of someone choking, gasping for breath they didn't get. Lucas's plan had worked and Arthur was grateful for that. It meant one thing less to worry about.

Lucas didn't waste time. He sprung up, groaning in pain as he did so, and ran into the tunnel. Arthur followed his example, dragging Connie with him again. Whatever happened, he would not take the risk that she would do a runner. That was something they could not afford right now. Enough had gone wrong today. One more disaster and it was for sure that they would be blown to smithereens along with the rest of London's population.

What he saw however made his blood run cold instantly. Lucas was standing over the body of the Russian. In the dim light he couldn't see if the FSB officer was bleeding or that he had just trouble breathing and he didn't waste any time making sure; he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

What he did see however was Lucas aiming his gun at the Russian and pulling the trigger. He didn't even blink as he ended the man's life, didn't twitch as much as a muscle. All Arthur could see in the little light available was ice-cold determination. For the first time he saw why Merlin used to think of Lucas as creepy. But it frightened him even more that he himself understood perfectly why he acted as he did. He even, heaven forbid, approved.

A cold shiver went down his spine.

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