Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Ros reminded him of a soldier marching for battle, Lucas observed as they crossed the Grid to Harry's office. The Section Chief was taking long, decisive strides and she had the unyielding facial expression to match. And she would be right to feel this angry. He himself could all too vividly recall the sight of Dean Mitchell's body in the lift. Heaven knew the kid had been cocky, annoying and suffering from an extreme case of almost criminal stupidity, but he had not deserved this. And he had cared about his mother, deeply so. The outcome of this situation was in no way satisfactory.

And Ros took it even harder than he, but that was because she believed herself to be responsible for the kid. Michael Sands had killed someone she believed herself to be responsible for and that, as the Senior Case Officer knew all too well, was something he would strongly advise against. He recalled just how angry she had looked when Morgana had harmed him. She had pulled the trigger with an expression of icy hatred and loathing on her face, watching with a grim satisfaction as the witch fell.

'Lucas, keep up, will you?' Ros's annoyed voice called him back to the here and now and he took some bigger steps to catch up to her. She was still mad, but not just at Michael Sands. A large part was reserved for Harry and his mysterious disappearances that had begun during the Al Qaeda operation that had led eventually to the market bombing. Or, more specifically, these strange meetings had started after Lucas had told him he remembered the Russians had interrogated him about an operation codenamed Sugarhorse. Harry at first had denied it, but had then asked him to remember what had happened at the time that it was mentioned.

His fists clenched of their own volition. Harry had no idea what had been done to him at that time. He had not even asked, so Lucas assumed that he had no interest in knowing. And that, along with his refusal to not tell him what this Sugarhorse even was, had been sufficient to destroy most of the trust that had slowly begun to grow again after the conclusion of Operation Camelot, as Ros had mockingly dubbed it. Something was wrong and Harry was in some kind of trouble, that he was certain of. What he was not so certain of was if he had any faith left in his boss. These days he avoided Harry's office if he could and took his reports to Ros.

He had not dared to discuss Sugarhorse with her, especially not in relation to Harry's many off comms disappearances lately, not even now they were friends, but Ros had not ended up being where she was by being stupid. She was intelligent and would have worked out quite a lot herself. But it was not like her to distrust Harry or question his actions. Unlike Lucas, Ros's faith in Harry was absolute and she would only ever question him when something serious forced her into this, like the death of Dean Mitchell.

She forcefully slid the door open and beckoned Lucas to follow her. 'Where the hell were you?' she demanded, not bothering with a greeting of any kind.

Harry had been studying some file in front of him. 'Are you familiar with the concept of knocking, Rosalind?' he retorted, half-weary, because by now he should know that no one in this section ever bothered with it. It didn't stop him from commenting on it regularly, though.

Ros, as expected, ignored him. 'Where the bloody hell were you today?' she snarled at the boss. She had lost someone she felt had been her responsibility for today and she laid the blame at Harry's doorstep, not quite unjustly, Lucas realised. He himself would have been more at ease if there were at least some security people around, but they had not been able to, so they had intended to make the reunion brief and get mother and son on a train quickly as possible. Just how well that had gone, was obvious.

'Sit down,' Harry said. He still sounded weary and it started to dawn on Lucas that his fatigue might not be the result of Ros's lack of knocking habits.

Ros had no intention of obeying. 'Dean Mitchell is dead,' she reported brusquely. She didn't go as far as to accuse Harry that he might still be alive if she could have gotten her hands on some security people, but she didn't need to. Harry was as skilled in reading between lines as they all were.

'Sit down, Rosalind,' Harry repeated. There was a tone of annoyance underneath the weariness and Lucas thought it better to obey, to give the good example. He did not think Ros would follow it however.

To be honest, he was not sure what he was doing here. On the rare occasion that Ros Myers had a bone to pick with Harry, she did it behind closed, soundproof doors and without witnesses. This was a hell of a change from her usual behaviour and he was not sure he understood it.

And he was not sure either that he even wanted to be here. Harry and Ros seemed to be preparing for the shouting match of the century and he for one was none too anxious to get caught in the fallout. Yes, he wanted to know what was going on and if it was in some way related to the mysterious Sugarhorse, but another part of him just wanted to take himself home to get some much needed rest. Heaven knew he felt like he needed it after the events of hardly two hours ago. Dealing with Harry's strange behaviour was not high on his to-do list right now. He felt at least as tired as his boss sounded and in his current mood he did not think himself able to handle the bitter truth of Harry having lied to him again. Yes, he had admitted that he had not told Lucas the truth about Sugarhorse, but he still had failed to mention what it was and that was something that had not escaped Lucas's notice.

'I don't want to sit down!' Ros snapped. 'I want answers. You've been pulling disappearing acts on us ever since the sodding Al Qaeda operation and I want to know why.' The tone was copied from Harry, Lucas knew. It was his non-negotiable voice. Ros must have been hanging around him for too long.

Harry's eyes sparkled in an anger that drove the exhaustion away so fast that if he'd have blinked, he would have missed out on it. 'Then you'll have to sit down, Rosalind,' he snapped, slamming a fist on the desk for good measure.

For a moment it looked like Ros was just going to ignore that order, as was her way, but she changed her mind and took a chair, still with a face that spelled trouble for whoever it was directed at. Lucas was glad it wasn't him this time. The Section Chief folded her arms over her chest and silently demanded that Harry started to explain himself. Had she not been this mad, she would probably have realised she was crossing more lines than her colleague cared to count.

But Harry did not seem to be overly bothered by it and this was a surprise. Things must be bad if he behaved in such a way. Lucas may not be Harry's biggest fan right now, but there was still that stupid and irrational part of him that craved Harry's trust almost over everything else. Part of him wanted the head of Section D to confide in him, the way he had done before Russia.

Harry leaned slightly forward and folded his hands. 'Years ago,' he began. 'As the Berlin wall was collapsing, Richard Dolby, Hugo Prince and I conceived the most complex network of spies ever to have infiltrated the Russian political system.' Lucas recognised the names. Richard Dolby seemed to have made it his personal responsibility to thwart Section D or, more specifically, Ros at every turn. Hugo Prince was a spy legend, who had died sometime while Lucas had been a special guest of the FSB. From what he had heard, the man had been a highly skilled spy. So had Dolby been in his day. And Harry, Lucas may not trust him, but he knew better than to doubt his spying skills.

Sugarhorse, a voice in the back of his head whispered. He's talking about Sugarhorse. He had to be, because that seemed to be the link for everything.

He meant to ask, hardly capable of holding back the question, but Harry was in full briefing mode now. Lucas doubted he would have heard him even if he had asked. 'We recruited young, pro-western minds in all areas with one aim: to ensure that in twenty years we had moles at the very highest levels of Russian life, moles who could limit or destroy the Russian nuclear threat.'

It sounded like an impossibility to Lucas. A sleeper network of so many spies, capable of doing such damage… It would have to be huge, the biggest operation MI-5 had ever launched. He could not even begin to think how highly classified such an operation would have to be. At any rate it would be way past his clearance level, and even past Ros's as well.

'We have that capability,' Harry announced. 'Operation Sugarhorse, which has remained entirely uncompromised…'

Only that it hadn't. If it had remained uncompromised, then there would have been no way that the FSB would questioned him about the Sugarhorse operation. 'Until I told you that the Russians had interrogated me about it,' he finished.

The true implications only slowly started seeping through his brain. Because if the Russians had known about Sugarhorse, they were unlikely to have found out about it all by themselves. Sugarhorse must have been as highly classified as possibly could. The FSB would not have access to such a thing, not even for all their clever tricks. They could only have found out if someone had told them, someone who was working with MI-5. A traitor.

The bile was rising up in his throat and he was fighting the urge to throw up. Because this could also mean that his capture in Moscow was not such a coincidence as he had believed at the time. And maybe he had just wanted to believe it, because the alternative was too horrible. Now it was something he would have to reckon with. Someone on his own side had sold him out, had made him go through eight solid years of isolation and torture. Someone on his own side had deliberately betrayed him.

On the other hand this was a relief as well. He may not have been willing to contemplate the thought of being sold out, but he had done it anyway and Harry's name had popped up more than once in the category of possible candidates. The feeling had only been enforced by the isolation. It had not helped the case that Harry had not appeared to be taking much trouble to get his officer out. Harry sweated blood to get you back here. Colleagues are okay. It had become something of a personal mantra, even if he had not always been convinced of the truth of it. In a way he was now, because Harry would never have sold him out to the Russians if it endangered such a sensitive operation, not unless he was a traitor himself and that was something he would never believe, not of Harry Pearce.

The relief washed over him even as the dread settled comfortably in his stomach, because someone had sold him out, someone he would have trusted to be on his side. He could only just stop himself from vomiting on the spot. Ros would never let him live it down, even if he would live up to her expectations of friends being annoying. Throwing up would certainly annoy her.

His mind was going round, not coming up with anything even remotely useful. He blamed the exhaustion.

Harry however did not seem to have noticed Lucas's inner turmoil. 'Yes,' he nodded. He sounded compassionate and Lucas forced himself back under control. If there was one thing he could not deal with, it was pity. Heaven knew he had already been treated like a porcelain doll after the Camelot operation more than enough. He hardly needed to give Harry a reason to make it ten times worse. 'And I didn't know how the Russians knew about Sugarhorse until now. I am waiting for intel from Moscow, which I should receive in the next couple of days. This will allow me to expose a mole within MI-5.' A traitor, but even Harry seemed loath to use the word. 'When I expose the mole, all hell will break loose, both here and in Russia.' He looked from Lucas to Ros and back again. 'I'll need both your support.' Harry Pearce didn't do begging, but this was as close as he would ever come to it. It was a plea for help. It was spoken in stiff and almost formal words, but it was a plea nonetheless. He must be deeper in trouble because of this than Lucas had realised.

'Anything you need, Harry,' he heard himself say and he found that he meant it. There was a part that still wanted his boss's approval, although that had somewhat lessened after Harry's initial denial about Sugarhorse. But it was still there. It was not the main reason for speaking as he did, though. Because this was personal. Now that he knew almost for sure that someone had betrayed him to the FSB, leading to his eight years in hell, he wanted, needed, to know who it was and when he did know, he wanted to see them punished, preferably by his own hand, if Harry had left anything for him, that was.

'Anything at all,' Ros chimed in softly. She had been silent for the duration of the briefing, which was very unlike her, especially after her verbal explosion of hardly a few minutes ago. Lucas looked to the side only to see that she had gone pale and still, even though her eyes were still on full alert. He would not pretend to fully know his Section Chief – he doubted anyone ever truly could know all of Ros Myers – but he had come to know her better than most on the Grid in the past few months. It would be a safe bet to say that she regretted her harsh words, even though she would never be heard to say such a thing. Ros didn't do apologising, ever.

Harry seemed relieved. 'Thank you.' The words sounded as if they came right from the heart, something that was not standard Pearce practise as far as Lucas was aware. 'Thank you both.'

It was both a thanks and a dismissal and Lucas knew not to push the point. He could not have pushed it even if he wanted to. His mind had descended into chaos and he was too tired and too shocked to bring any form of order back into it. So he just nodded, got up and walked out of the office with every intention of getting a takeaway, going home and hoping to find some sleep if he could.

Ros exited after him, sliding the door shut behind her. 'Next time you tell me,' she ordered. She had not cooled down, not in the slightest, but there was something there that might be bordering on concern.

He managed a nod. God knew it had been hard enough to keep silent about it for two solid months, to have no one to talk to. 'Promise,' he said.

Ros favoured him with a glare. 'You'd better. Now, how about a decent takeaway?'

The Senior Case Officer felt the corners of his mouth curl up. As much as he would like the rest, he liked the prospect of company more, especially after recent events. His own thoughts would not be making for pleasurable company, not tonight. And Ros could be good company if the mood took her. 'Aren't you afraid I will annoy you?'

She snorted. 'I have been reliably informed that's what friends are for.'


'No.'

The result was an indignant sputtering coming from the other end of the room. 'Arthur, will you please listen to me?' Merlin sounded almost desperate, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. 'You do not understand what you are talking about.'

Arthur, who had been picking up his sword before he went off to the training field, now had to suppress the urge, the rather strong urge, to haul the weapon in his servant's direction. He valued his friendship with the clumsy warlock – not a sorcerer, as Merlin had pointed out on several occasions – but that paranoia of his he could have done without. 'Merlin, are you deaf?' he inquired. 'I believe I told you that I do not want to hear these accusations.'

It was one of those days that he should really have stayed in bed. Things were only going from bad to worse and this argument with his servant-slash-glorified-self-appointed-magical- bodyguard was just the last straw. It was bad enough that Guinevere had business out of town, business that for some reason took two entire weeks to conclude. Of course it was not her aunt's fault that she had been taken ill and it was perfectly logical for Guinevere to go and tend to her, but that did mean he would have to make do without her for two solid weeks, not a prospect he liked much. Then this day had begun with disaster. Merlin had tripped over his own feet, effectively assuring that the juice he had been about to serve did not end up in Arthur's mouth, but rather all over his face. Next he had forgotten to heat the bath water and then Lord Harold had come charging in with a long and altogether boring complaint about the noise the repairs of the roof above his head were making. Arthur had sent him away with a snapped remark of which Ros and Harry would have approved, reminding the man that if he wanted a roof over his head at all, he should let those men do their job or else he was welcome to get soaked in the first rain. It may even be that the word bloody had slipped into the speech.

In the midst of it all he had almost missed out on his servant's gloomy mood, almost. And since they were friends, he supposed he could ask what was the matter. He now started to wish – passionately – that he had not done so.

'For once in your life, could you just listen to me?' the warlock cried in exasperation.

But Arthur had no intention whatsoever of listening. 'No, Merlin, I will not,' he said forcefully as he rounded on him. 'How many times are we going to have this discussion? I told you that you can't just accuse people of treason. You have been wrong before.'

'As have you,' Merlin countered. It was a clear sign that he was angry, because normally he would not have used such a tone of voice with Arthur. But this was rapidly descending into a full-blown argument, the likes of which they'd not had since they had disagreed about Lucas's loyalties. Strangely enough they were now torn over the exact same subject, albeit it concerned a different person this time.

'Mordred has not done one single thing to deserve your low opinion.' Arthur knew his voice was dangerously low and had he been talking to anyone else, they would have run from this room already. Unfortunately Merlin was not anyone else. He was the clumsy servant who remained wholly unimpressed in the face of Arthur's foulest moods. Normally the king admired him for that, but not today.

'He is dangerous, Arthur.' Merlin was close to pleading.

And that was something that the king of Camelot did not understand. Yes, Merlin was as paranoid as they came apparently, but in Lucas's case he'd actually had some ground for his accusations, wrong though they had been. He had not been the only one to suspect that the spook had joined Morgana's side then and Lucas's behaviour had been dubious, even though Arthur was still of the opinion that if they had paid more attention, anyone could have realised that Lucas was as likely to betray his colleagues as Arthur was to ever dress up in skirts.

This, this was something else entirely and Arthur could not lay his finger on it. Merlin had reacted with hostility the moment he had recognised Mordred as their rescuer. Arthur on the other hand had reacted with surprise, but with joy as well. He remembered the small boy he had once rescued from his father's dungeons straight away. The boy had grown up and was now a young lad, who had saved his life.

He had urged Mordred to come with him to Camelot, seeing as the Druid did not have a real place to live. The Druids he had stayed with previously had been killed in a bandit attack some weeks ago and he had been the sole survivor. The lad had been wandering around ever since. So Arthur had taken him in. It was the right thing to do and the king felt somewhat responsible for him, especially after he had been the one to help him escape all those years ago. Besides, Mordred was a skilled swordsman and well on his way to become a good knight of Camelot.

Of course, if he were to be really honest, it was the lad's magic that really intrigued him. Apart from Merlin Arthur had never met anyone who used his magical powers for good and Mordred had used his to save them from what at the time appeared to be certain death. He liked to know more about the way magic worked and if it could truly be used for more than just evil and by other people than just Merlin.

Mordred was only happy to oblige and had answered Arthur's every question patiently. He seemed to enjoy life in Camelot and he was very popular with both knights and servants, with one alarming exception: Merlin. His servant had been taciturn and unsociable to the young man and Arthur could not figure out why that was for the life of him. It simply did not make sense. Merlin liked everyone as long as they did not give him a reason to dislike them. This kind of behaviour was out of character. Good grief, it had been Merlin who had first saved Mordred, before Arthur had even become involved. This simply refused to make sense and he had just about enough of it.

'So are you!' he shot back. 'So is Gwaine and Elyan and Leon. So is every knight in Camelot. It doesn't mean they are a danger to each other or to me!' He was getting impatient with it all. 'Merlin, really, he's a sorcerer just like you. I'd have expected you to get along with him, not to treat him like he has some kind of contagious disease!' He was severely tempted to throw his hands into the air in exasperation. 'What is the matter with you? He's using his magic for good! Wasn't that what you had been hoping for all along?' He shook his head, not giving the warlock a chance to react, which the other man had visibly been planning on. 'Tread very carefully here, Merlin,' he warned. 'You have been known to be wrong before.' And it had almost cost Lucas his life. He was loath to be in such a position again.

Merlin's eyes sparked with rage. 'So have you been!' he shot back.

The last thing Arthur wanted now was to be reminded of Agravaine's treason, so in true Arthurian tradition he ignored it. 'Why are you like this with Mordred?' he demanded, forcefully closing the door on memories of his uncle.

The shutters came down. 'I just know he's not good for you.'

There had to be more. Arthur was on the verge of losing his temper entirely, but he could hold himself back only just in time. Because there was something Merlin was not telling him; he knew that expression on his face. I just know was not nearly good enough as an explanation. 'Merlin…' he said in his most warning voice.

'You're not going to like this,' Merlin warned him, still clearly hoping he would be able to escape this with all his limbs in their proper places. He was acting as if he was about to say something that would make Arthur explode. And that did not do very much to calm the king's nerves or temper.

'Out with it!' he ordered.

He was slowly rebuilding the friendship they'd once had, but it was a long and slow process. Arthur's faith in Merlin had been all but destroyed during the events that eventually had led to Morgana's death and there had been some moments that he seriously doubted that their friendship would ever recover from the blow that it had been dealt. In the worst moments he had even come to doubt if he even wanted their friendship to recover from this.

But they were rebuilding it and that was what really counted now, Arthur believed. But he still didn't agree with everything Merlin said and did and that was sometimes putting at risk all the progress they'd made in weeks. This was one such occasion.

'It's prophecy.' The words came out too fast and too soft.

Arthur caught them nonetheless and it sent his blood to boiling point. 'Prophecy?' he exclaimed. 'Would that be the same kind of prophecy that predicted you would be the one to kill Morgana?' He had learned to be extremely cautious where things like prophecies were concerned. Thy were self-fulfilling more often than not and even if they were coming true without everyone helping them come true, then it could turn out very different from what everyone had expected. Because when Arthur had first heard that Merlin was supposed to be Morgana's doom, he had expected that this meant that Merlin would be the one to kill her. Instead Merlin had distracted Morgana to such an extent that Ros Myers got the chance to fire the bullet that had ended his half-sister's life. That was the very nature of a prophecy. And that Merlin seemed to have forgotten this, that did not only hurt, but it also made him effectively lose whatever was left of his patience.

'Don't you dare.' He all but snarled the words. 'How can you possibly think to know how prophecy will work out when it didn't exactly go according to plan last time we dealt with it?'

Merlin looked lost for words, but unfortunately that did not last longer than a second. 'Well, I think there's not much not to understand about this, Arthur. The dragon said that there would be an alliance between Mordred and Morgana, united in evil.'

Arthur frowned. 'The dragon said? Would that be the same dragon who burned half the city perhaps? And Morgana is gone, Merlin. There's no chance that they can be in an alliance. Don't you see?' He almost had thrown in a bloody again to emphasise his point, but that was something better saved for London. As it was, the local nobility was more likely to get a heart attack and he should teach himself not to use it as much as Ros Myers, although, he pondered, it would be quite hard to use the word more than she did.

For another moment Merlin was speechless and Arthur took the opportunity this presented. 'You will not say another word against him.' Mordred had been the most loyal soul in Camelot since the day he stepped foot in it. He simply refused to believe that he was plotting treason and murder, just because of some prophecy that had been thwarted before it could even begin to unfold. Innocent until proven guilty. Mordred was a very long way of being proven guilty of anything, treason least of all. 'Merlin, that is an order,' he added sharply to pre-empt the protest he knew would be coming from his servant if he did not stop it. 'We will not discuss this again.' He hated this conversation, hated the need for it. When had Merlin become so paranoid and how come he had never noticed it before?

He shook his head as Merlin gathered up the clothes that needed washing and exited the room without another word. What he needed, what they both needed, was some time away from Camelot. Arthur thought he knew the perfect destination. It had been quite some time since he spent time in London.


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