Merlin had contemplated transporting them straight into the lobby of Thames House, but eventually decided against it. All that would achieve was to shock the security there, who had no experience whatsoever with magic. They still knew Merlin as Matthew Elliot and to see him do something that was so clearly unnatural, that would result in panic. And so he transported them straight onto the Grid. That would shock a few people too, but a little less hopefully and it was not far from there to the First Aid post. It would have to make do for now. Nothing was ideal right now.
As it happened, he managed to land them right in front of the pods, causing a junior desk officer to shriek when she suddenly found them right in front of her. All of Section D was aware of who he was and what he could do, but that didn't mean that it didn't startle them when they were suddenly confronted with it right in front of them. Nicole Johnson was no exception to that rule.
'Merlin!' she exclaimed in shock. 'Ros?' Her gaze was almost immediately drawn to Ros, who was now leaning heavily on the warlock, but who seemed determined to remain on her own two feet in order to avoid any appearance of weakness. Merlin had a feeling she'd rather die than show any vulnerability at all. But that was a façade she could no longer really keep up now. She may try to cover it up with flippancy and death glares to make everyone back off, but the pain and blood loss were making it ever harder on her to maintain that illusion. The warlock doubted if she could stand without assistance at the moment.
'We need a doctor,' Merlin told her. 'And Harry.' The Section Head needed to know what had happened to them in the tunnels and that Mordred was now likely to be as much of a threat as Tiresias, maybe an even bigger one should they manage to somehow survive the next hour. 'Now, Nicole!'
Miss Johnson was a relatively young desk officer, but she had a brain on her and thank goodness that she was able to think straight in such situations. She called over a male colleague of hers, whose name always seemed to slip Merlin's mind for some reason, to get a medic in here right now while she went to fetch Harry, who could be seen talking to Malcolm in his office. It was good that someone took over some of the responsibility now, that it didn't all depend on him.
But they weren't out of the woods yet, not by a long way. Lucas and Arthur were still in those service tunnels with Connie and the FSB hot on their heels, or that was what he had to assume anyway. The bomb was still there too, and they still didn't know who was carrying it and where it would be detonated. Time was running out.
'Come on, Ros,' he told the Section Chief. He supported her as he escorted her to the nearest available chair he could find, never mind to whom it belonged. He would have carried her if he would have gotten away with it, but even in her weakened state, Ros would have vehemently objected to such a treatment. Anything not to be seen as weak.
Jo met him halfway, worry written all over her face. 'Ros?' she asked, before turning to Merlin. 'What happened? The FSB?'
He almost wished that were true. If it had been the FSB, he could have lived with this. He could have put it down to the risks that went with the job. But this was more. And worse. 'Mordred,' he growled, feeling the full weight of his own failure pressing him down. He had known what Mordred was capable of, what he was prepared to do in order to kill Arthur. He had known all along and yet he had allowed Arthur to welcome him as if he was a long lost brother. He had stood by and watched as Arthur invited him to come to London with the two of them, keeping silent in order not to alienate the Once and Future King any further from him. He should have kept his foot down and refused to take him with him to Moscow and he certainly should never have let him anywhere near this operation. The very least he could have done was telling Ros what he had seen and what he had suspected. His alarm bells had gone off the moment Mordred made a case against transporting straight to London Bridge. He should have protested more, then none of this would ever have happened.
Jo frowned in confusion. 'Mordred?' She sounded incredulous. 'But I thought…'
'You thought wrong. It was him,' Merlin said decisively. 'He took Lucas's gun and shot her when none of us were paying attention to him.' And more fool them. Ros barely seemed conscious anymore and Merlin was glad that he could put her in the swivel chair. If only the doctor came quickly, she would be fine, he told himself. Not for the first time he cursed his own inability to heal gun wounds. If he could do that, they would not be in this situation now.
And it didn't make any sense, it didn't. There was no doubt that Mordred was an enemy, but he was supposed to be an enemy of Arthur's only. How the spooks fit in this was a mystery. First Lucas had been a target and now Ros was. Mordred had targeted them first before he had tried to make an attempt on Merlin's life. And the very person he had feared for most had been completely spared thus far. Why Lucas and Ros?
'Mordred?' Jo's sentiment was echoed by the head of Section D, who had clearly heard the last things Merlin had said.
Merlin nodded miserably, but was temporarily distracted when someone who had medical written all over him emerged from the pods. At least that meant that Ros would get the help she clearly needed. She was as white as a sheet and clearly not in any state to protest. The warlock dreaded to think what would have happened to her if she had remained with them in the tunnels. He had a feeling he didn't really want to know. It was strangely unsettling to Ros Myers as anything other than composed and in control. He certainly had difficulty picturing her as weak and vulnerable.
'Get out of my way,' the doctor snapped and Merlin was only too happy to oblige. Besides, he needed to get back to the others as soon as he possibly could. Lucas and Arthur were still out on a limb, with a traitor in tow and a kill squad in pursuit. If Lucas ran out of bullets, they would be defenceless. Now there was a thought he dreaded. He didn't even want to think about what might happen if Mordred returned, something that was not all that unlikely. After all, he had made it perfectly clear that he wanted all of them dead and whether he would be the one to dal the killing blow or he would let the bomb do the job, that didn't matter to him. The best thing they could hope for was that Mordred would at least wait until after three pm, to see if he had caused enough delay for the bomb to do the dirty work for him, which was still a possibility.
It seemed that Harry was not going to let him leave without an explanation though. 'My office,' he commanded.
There was little choice but to follow. And even Merlin had to admit that there was some sense in this course of action. Harry needed to be aware of the danger, of all the danger. It would do no one any favours if Mordred suddenly showed up here and was welcomed back as a friend, especially when he had made it clear that he was the farthest from a friend he could possibly be. He might well be the most dangerous foe Merlin had ever encountered, with Morgana being the only possible exception.
'What happened?' The question was hurled at him the moment the door closed behind them. And he was in a right foul mood as well. That at least was something that Merlin could understand; he himself was none too relaxed now that time was running out.
'Mordred.' He felt the shame wash over him. He of all people should have known, should have kept a closer eye on both the gun and the Druid. But he had been too preoccupied watching the exchange between Arthur and Connie, had been too proud of Arthur in a way. The king finally seemed to see Morgana's demise in the right perspective and Merlin admired him for that, even more so because Merlin knew from bitter experience just how hard it was. It had taken him weeks to stop himself feeling regret over what he had done, even though he had managed it eventually. He had been forced to realise that he had more pressing business when Ros was shot, though. 'I've been suspecting him for a while, but I never had any proof,' he explained. 'Lucas and I were keeping an eye on him, but…' Harry's intense stare told him he was rambling.
'What happened?' Harry repeated.
This time he began at the start, still keeping it as brief as he possibly could. He mentioned his earliest meeting with Mordred, the prophecy that he would be the death of Arthur, his sudden reappearance in the woods a few weeks past, Arthur's faith in him and his own doubts, only strengthened by what had happened in Moscow a few days ago. When he came at that part, Harry's face started to resemble an over-boiled lobster.
'And you didn't think to tell me?' The tell-tale fist collided with the desk, making the two cups on it rattle with the force of it. 'Both of you?'
In hindsight it was a foolish scheme not to tell Harry. As far as Merlin was aware, his faith in Lucas was absolute. They should have taken a leap of faith and trusted him, and Ros for that matter. With all that colleagues are okay talk that was between Lucas and her, she might have believed them. She was the only one who had fully trusted him during Operation Camelot as well. It was foolish and downright irresponsible not to do that. The consequences of that became only now apparent, when all of London might pay the price for their mistake.
'We didn't think you'd believe us when we only had circumstantial evidence.' He found himself defending his actions all the same. Because his reasoning had been good. He just had never believed that things could go so very, very wrong. And he had never believed Ros to be a target. That Lucas was one was hard to understand, but Ros too? Why? 'And because it doesn't make any sense. Lucas and Ros are not supposed to be targets. And he's been careful.' He began to pace the office, which was altogether more something Lucas would do. He found that it worked to sort out his thoughts though. 'What happened in Moscow could be explained differently very easily and he even had a point when he argued against transporting straight away to London Bridge.' He took a deep breath. 'He shot Ros when we weren't paying attention to him.' He let out the circumstances under which this had happened; Harry would only worry more when he found out that Lucas had been injured. 'I fought him off and he's disappeared. I don't know where, but I need to go back before he returns.' And before the bomb goes off.
Harry had been listening with an ever deepening frown. 'The FSB?' he questioned.
Well, at least he could reassure him on that account. 'We went down the tube service tunnels and I magically blocked the entrance,' he reported. 'Even if they know where we've gone to, they won't have an easy time getting that door open.' It was possible for non-magical people to accomplish it, but it wouldn't be easy and that was good to know.
The Section Head clearly didn't find it as reassuring as Merlin himself. 'That's it. I'm going to talk to the Russians.'
Merlin's jaw was in immediate danger of dropping. 'Why would you do that?'
'They're here in London with us, Merlin,' he explained. 'Their families live here. Do you think they would be hunting us so fervently if they knew they themselves are about to be obliterated along with the rest of the sorry lot of us?'
That was an angle Merlin had not thought about yet. He hadn't had the time for that; all he could afford to see was the Russians as an immediate threat to their chances of survival. Why they were doing what they were doing had not been spared a moment's thought until now. Now that he did think of it, it seemed a tad bit strange indeed.
'But we'll make it,' he pointed out. 'I'm going back now and the FSB don't know where we are.' He wasn't sure for the full hundred percent, but he was sure enough. They could still do this. 'And the Russians only want you dead.' This he could say with certainty; the bullets fired in Harry's direction outside Ottawa Brava had been a dead giveaway. 'We can do this.' He only wished he was as sure as he sounded. He wasn't, but that was something Harry didn't need to know. Ros had once said that there was precious little her boss wouldn't do to do his job and protect his officer, and the truth of that became apparent now. But this was not necessary, not yet.
He conjured up the most dazzling smile he was capable of. 'I know what I'm doing,' he informed the spy. It always worked on Arthur in his most suspicious mood and he could only hope it worked on Harry; neither Lucas nor Ros would thank him if he had known that Harry was handing himself to the FSB on the silver platter and had done nothing about it. Right now he had a fragile truce with both, but he made himself no illusions. If he let such a thing happen, that truce would explode faster and more devastating that that bomb that was still out there somewhere. 'And besides, this building is magically shielded. It might survive a bomb, so then Britain will still have some kind of leader, right?'
That was the argument that did the trick and he breathed a discreet sigh of relief. It was like trying to play Arthur, only more difficult; Harry was less easy to fool. But Merlin had years of experience with this and he knew Harry well enough to know that, like Ros and Lucas, his job came first. And the best thing about his reasoning was that it was his job to stay alive and find a way out of this crisis.
Harry did indeed give in. Well, that was one thing taken care of. Now he only needed to make sure that this bomb did not go off. He took a deep breath and transported himself back to the tunnels. If he had anything to say about it, neither the FSB nor Russia would have a victory today.
Lucas didn't give the dead man as much as a second thought. He had been a threat to them and that was all that really mattered now. He didn't find killing particularly easy, but it was in this case a pure necessity of life. He had once blamed Merlin for not being able to take a life, because sometimes mercy was more of a threat than committing what in the warlock's eyes was an unforgivable crime.
It didn't mean that he didn't understand what Arthur's shadow was objecting against and he felt a bit uneasy as he levelled his gun on the writhing Russian on the ground and pulled the trigger. The writhing stopped instantly. It had been a good shot; the runner was dead.
He kept his face blank as he turned back to his companions. Arthur was already hauling Connie back to her feet. The analyst was panting and clearly exhausted. 'It's no use,' she said breathlessly, already forced on by Arthur. 'We'll never make it.'
That was the best way to ensure that Arthur Pendragon lost his temper. 'Stop whining like Merlin when he's been told to muck out the stables,' he snapped. 'We're not going any deeper, and you are going to keep moving, unless you want to take your chances with the rest of the kill squad.'
That was not a choice at all and Lucas was sure they all knew that. Connie certainly acted on it, as she began to move in the right direction. It didn't mean an end to her protests though. 'They'll catch up anyway,' she pointed out. 'What use is that?'
'It's more honourable to have tried than to sit back and give up,' Arthur snarled. Since he had returned to London, he had become more like the spooks themselves, but now he was a knight through and through, with all his principles. Ros didn't believe principles had a place in this line of work and she had frequently snapped at people who were caught doing exactly that. Especially Merlin's morals were sometimes difficult to practise in MI-5; one wasn't always at liberty to let enemies live.
Arthur, he observed, was becoming an interesting mix of a spy and a knight, two things that were seemingly so very much at odds with one another, but that seemed to be going together almost without effort for Arthur Pendragon. He wasn't afraid of what needed to be done, despite his own objections against some of the methods that were so very necessary in this line of work. He might be too naïve sometimes, certainly too naïve for his own good, but Lucas wouldn't object to working with him more often.
It was better than Merlin, whom he was incapable of liking, even though they were allies now. He didn't think that alliance would last beyond this operation, after which they could go back to doing what both of them wanted to do most: avoiding one another.
'He's right,' Lucas said. 'Let's move.' He pointedly avoided watching at his watch; even without it he knew they were rapidly running out of time. And he was slowing them down, he knew that too. Arthur was too chivalrous to say it and Connie was too busy gasping for air to comment on much else than the hopelessness of their task. Lucas was inclined to agree with that at least, although he would do it in the privacy of his own mind and not say so aloud. And the tunnels were making him uneasy. It didn't exactly help that he still had vivid memories of what had happened when he had last ventured into a tunnel.
'They'll catch up,' Connie pointed out breathlessly; Arthur was forcing her on again with a speed that he could maintain easily, but that was torture to the former intelligence analyst. Lucas was not even sure he could keep this up for any longer. He was losing blood and his side ached with every step he took. He was a bit lightheaded too, but he'd rather die than give up. If given the choice, he would rather be blown to kingdom come when the bomb went off than that he renewed his acquaintance with the FSB. Of course he'd rather not have to choose at all.
'Keep wailing and stalling like this and they will,' Arthur retorted. 'Get a move on. Now.' In the absence of Ros, the king of Camelot did a very good job of imitating her. He must have spent too much time around her yesterday.
With any luck Harry and Ros at least would be safe when catastrophe hit. Merlin had mentioned shields around Thames House and although he could not guarantee its effectiveness, they would stand a better chance that he did. It was a small consolation, but it was something.
Stop it, North! He stopped himself from sliding into sentimentality the next second. The battle was not yet lost and he shouldn't be acting as if it were. They were still alive and still one step ahead of the FSB. As long as they weren't caught and that bomb hadn't gone off, they still had a chance, no matter how small. They could still do this. This was the pain talking, the pain and the memories from Russia. If he gave into them, he was as good as dead already. And he had gone through much worse.
His hand gripped the gun a bit tighter. He was running out of bullets fast, he knew. There weren't that many left. But they were closer to their goal now. Maybe he wouldn't need them for much longer. There was some relief in knowing that.
Still, even with his newfound determination he could not deny that his body was hindering him. He could not disregard the effect of the wound on his condition entirely, not even by sheer force of will. He was slowing them down.
'Faster,' he told Arthur.
The king of Camelot looked at him in shock. 'You can't,' he hissed.
Lucas shook his head. 'It doesn't matter. Move.'
Arthur increased his pace a bit, but wouldn't get too far ahead. It was who he was, loyal to a fault. He'd not give up the people he considered friends, especially when there was every chance that aforementioned friends could fall into the hands of the people that were hunting them. Most of the times Arthur's loyalty was a good thing, but now it compromised the operation.
He was prevented from snapping that at the king in true Ros Myers style by a noise in the tunnel behind them. A reflex born of too many years in prison made him swivel around, gun pointed at the source of the noise. If he was to go down, he'd go down fighting. And he'd take at least one or two FSB officers with him in his fall. Maybe that gave Arthur a chance to get to London Bridge in time after all.
'Don't shoot!' someone shouted, half in panic.
'Step into the light,' Lucas commanded. It could be FSB, it could be Mordred who came back and he was not about to take chances. He could not afford to.
The other did as he was told, hands spread to show that he was unarmed and presumably to keep Lucas from putting a bullet in his brain. 'It's only me.' Merlin looked a bit like a startled deer and just about as dangerous, although Lucas knew better by now than to underestimate him. He'd been an enormous help in Moscow and today as well, blasting the kill squad literally off their feet.
'Merlin!' Arthur exclaimed, relief colouring his voice.
'I said I'd come back, didn't I?' Merlin sounded rather disappointed that his king clearly had not believed him.
'You did,' Lucas agreed. 'Let's move. They won't be far behind.' It was close to a miracle that they had not caught up yet, but it wouldn't be long.
Merlin nodded. 'What happened?' Apparently Lucas didn't have the monopoly on imitating Ros Myers. Merlin did a remarkably good job of it too.
He brought him up to speed as they ran. His side was throbbing and he had the uncomfortable feeling that he was still bleeding, but he didn't look down to check. No need to confirm what he already knew. And he wasn't the only one who knew. Merlin looked at him as if he was already on his deathbed, which was a shameless exaggeration.
'We'll make it,' the warlock said. He didn't look as confident as his words sounded, but Lucas appreciated the effort. Being allies with Merlin was not as bad as he had expected it to be, but neither was he entirely at ease with it yet. Too much history.
The shouted Russian curse somewhere behind them belied his words.
'They have found the body,' Arthur said.
In these tunnels it was impossible to say where certain sounds came from with exact accuracy, but Lucas agreed. It was either that or one of them had run into his makeshift trap. Part of him it was hoping it was the latter; the less people there were chasing them, the easier it would be to deal with them.
'They're catching up.' It was his own voice that said it, but the words seemed to come from afar and didn't sound like him at all. Nevertheless it was the truth.
'I can draw them off.' To his surprise it was Merlin who spoke up. He looked serious, but he also clearly had a light bulb moment.
Fortunately it was Arthur who spoke the word. 'You?' The incredulity was obvious in his voice.
Merlin threw him an exasperated look. 'I've experience in dodging guards,' he said. 'Of course you wouldn't know; you never caught me.' The answer was just this side of cheeky and Lucas imagined that it was more bravado than anything else, but it was the solution they needed.
'Follow this tunnel, always straight ahead,' he instructed. 'Eventually you will come at an abandoned station. With any luck you will be able to get out there.'
'How long ago since you last were there?' Merlin asked warily.
They had agreed on honesty and that was what Lucas gave him. 'Ten years.'
He couldn't guarantee Merlin's safety and part of him felt guilty about that. They were on the same side now. But if anyone could make it out, then it was the warlock. He would have the best chance. Stop wallowing, North, and get a bloody move on. The voice in his head sounded remarkably like Ros. Even though she was physically absent, she was still present in a way.
'I'll see you at London Bridge,' Merlin said. For some reason it sounded like a promise.
Arthur seemed to have been struck dumb. 'Don't get yourself killed,' he said brusquely. Even in situations like this, Arthur Pendragon and emotions did not go well together.
Merlin grinned that dazzling grin of his, that Lucas strongly suspected was just a mask, a way to reassure his king. 'Why, would you cry?' Would you miss me?
Arthur snorted. 'Don't be ridiculous, Merlin. I never cry.' It might sound harsh, but to Lucas it sounded like Yes, of course I would.
Apparently Merlin read the same thing into it, because the smile widened. For some reason Lucas himself was reassured by it. It helped to have this banter, no matter how dire the circumstances.
But the lighter moment couldn't last forever. The FSB were unlikely to slow down and even if they did, that bomb would still go off at three pm. They had less than an hour left, possibly less than half of that. And they had not even reached Connie's information, never mind that they got their hands on the bloody bomb itself.
'Let's go,' he said. 'Good luck. I'll look after him.' It was more a thing a knight would do, he supposed, looking after one's friend because they protected him. But that was the way Merlin and Arthur worked and they were as much a part of Section D now as he was. Had someone told him this a year ago, he'd declared them mad. But then, a year ago he had more pressing business on his mind. He might have thought that the Russians had finally managed to drive him insane.
Merlin only nodded and then he was off. Lucas dragged Arthur and Connie with him into another tunnel he remembered – he'd never been so grateful for his photographic memory before – and beckoned them to be quiet and to hide behind a pile of unidentified metal. If they made a run for it now, they would be visible if one FSB officer glanced to their left and then all this was for nothing. As much as he hated to delay as much as a second longer, he had no choice.
He was cold and his side hurt like hell, but he forced himself into stillness. Somewhere close he heard footsteps and some words. Most of those were inaudible, but the few words he did recognise were Russian. His heart beat faster in panic and fear – how Ros would scold him if she could see him now – and every instinct he had screamed at him to run. He ignored it, instead forcing himself to listen.
Only when he could not hear a sound anymore, did he nod at Arthur. 'Let's go.' After all, no matter how small the chance, it was still a chance all the same.