Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 22

Chapter 22

Merlin struggled in vain against Lucas's grasp, but the spy, even though he was injured, was still a lot stronger than the warlock. Apart from using magic there was not much he could do. It was clear that Lucas didn't want him to do anything. He kept Merlin trapped between the wall and his body, effectively preventing him from running after Arthur.

He should have known it. He should have known how Arthur's mind worked by now. It wasn't like him to leave people behind to die, not when he thought that it was within his power to prevent it from happening. He recalled Arthur's reluctance to run, but he had put it down to him not wanting to seem cowardly. He ought to have known better than that by now. He ought to have known better, but he hadn't. All he had been thinking about was getting all three of them as far away from that bomb as he could.

Of course Arthur's noble disposition had interfered with his plans. Initially he had wanted to transport them all away from the scene, back to Thames House, but Lucas had said that they just needed to get out of range to be saved the impacts of the blast. Without the nuclear element, it wasn't all that powerful, and the spy had clearly wanted to stay, for whatever reason that was. Now it turned out that it was not Lucas who should have worried him.

'This is wrong.' Those three words did the job of alarming him, whereas Arthur's earlier reluctance had not registered as much as a blip on his radar. Before he could do anything though, Arthur was already gone, disappeared behind the corner as he demonstrated the fruits of years of training by running as fast as he could, back in the direction from where they had come in the first place.

It was not all that hard to guess what Arthur's game was. He meant to save Connie, probably because he felt she was making some noble sacrifice and she should be rewarded for her efforts on Britain's behalf with her life. Merlin himself rather thought she had decided to die to escape the consequences of her actions. After all, she may have a deal, but that had not saved Bob Hogan either, and she would not have forgotten that.

'Arthur!' he yelled, hoping that the king would see sense, knowing that he wouldn't. Not even a bomb would dissuade Arthur Pendragon once a plan had taken root in his mind. And so he would need to back his verbal plea up with actions. There was every chance that the king would hate him for this later, but someone needed to think about Arthur's survival, even when Arthur himself did not spare it as much as a thought. 'Come back!'

He had done half a step in the right direction when he was forcefully yanked back. 'Stay here!' Lucas snapped.

'He's going to die!' Merlin protested. 'He's your friend as well, isn't he?' Wasn't this the one person he had allied himself with in order to keep Arthur alive? It would now seem that, when it all came down to it, he was not all that reliable at all. The anger boiled up and over in a matter of a second. 'I didn't take you for a coward!'

Lucas's face was carefully wiped blank, but his eyes betrayed him. There was that cold look in them, the one he used to think of as creepy. But it was more furious than creepy now. 'If you go after him now, you'll both die,' he snapped. 'Where is the sense in that?'

He was right. Part of Merlin's brain knew that, even though he didn't want to acknowledge it, not now, not with Arthur's life on the line. If he made a run for it now, would he still be in time? If he used magic, could he still save Arthur's life, even with the delay he had now? 'You….' You don't understand, he'd meant to say, but he found his words were muffled in the spy's jacket as Lucas pushed him between the wall and himself. There was hardly room to breathe and nowhere to go, not unless he used magic and by now he was seriously contemplating doing just that. Desperate times asked for desperate measures and he was getting pretty desperate right now. Panic was settling in comfortably too.

But even if he had wanted to act, there was not a lot to do now. Time was up. The noise was deafening, just as deafening as he remembered it being when he had been caught up in the market bombing with Jo. He found it was every bit as frightening as he remembered it being, even more so now that Arthur was caught up in it.

'Arthur!' The distress was so great that he unintentionally screamed the king's name with both his mouth and his mind, the way he had done when he communicated with Mordred. Arthur could be dead now. He must be far too close to the explosion to make it out alive. There was no chance, no hope. And he only stood here, kept from running after Arthur by the man he had trusted to put Arthur's wellbeing over his own. How wrong he had been.

In hindsight it was impossible to say how long it lasted. It felt like years, like centuries. Common sense had kicked in though. He knew he could not safely leave this place at the moment, even if Lucas would have let him. Even if he did hurry to Arthur's side now, it would not be enough to save him. It was too late. And it was all Lucas's fault.

Eventually it stopped. The noise died down. Merlin could hear debris falling and the smaller pieces of stone, blown to small bits by the sheer force of the bomb, raining down on the ground. The air was heavy and dusted. It made breathing a particular unpleasant experience. He coughed to expel the dust from his lungs and covered his mouth and nose with his neckerchief. It would not help much, but it would help some.

Lucas let go of him to do the same. He swayed on his feet and he had to grasp the wall for support. He, like Merlin, was breathing heavily too. But that was all the sound there was left; their breathing and the falling debris. There was no sound that suggested that there were two other people still with them in this tunnel.

That realisation turned his stomach to ice. 'No!' The panic took over his mind and this time he would not be dissuaded. Some may have shied away from the scene that he was sure would meet him if he went back into the tunnel, but Merlin was not one of those. Maybe it was some sort of self-torture, going back to see his failure, but he needed it. And there was nothing else he could do now that made any sense to him anyway.

And so he pushed Lucas aside, ignoring the man's cry of pain as he in turn made physical contact with the wall, and rushed back into the tunnel. The dust was settling, but slowly and at first it was hard to make anything out. The first thing he noticed though was the work bench, or rather, the spot where the work bench had stood only a few minutes previous. Nothing was left of it now. It had been completely destroyed and so had the bomb itself. It had blown up and destroyed itself.

But he could not care less about the bomb. Clearly Connie had spoken the truth when she said it was no longer nuclear, seeing as they were still here and London was still carrying on as it always had done, completely unaware of the disaster that had just played out underground. And neither would they ever know; it was the nature of this work.

Merlin could feel his hands clench into fists, so tight that his nails dug into his flesh. He was vaguely aware that he reopened the wound he had made to leave a blood trail for the FSB. Normally it would have had him groan in pain, but the physical pain was nothing compared to the heartbreak. Because Arthur was nowhere in sight. Neither, for that matter, was Connie, but she was not important. Arthur was, but, so like the work bench, he was just not there anymore. He had failed, failed in his task to keep Arthur alive.

All of a sudden, he found it hard to breathe. His chest was tight; he just couldn't seem to make room for the air he needed to keep on living. The weight of his failure laid too heavily on it. Nevertheless a cry found its way to his lips and he let it out, giving voice to the many emotions he found hard to convey in any other way.

All his work, all his devotion, all his efforts had come to nothing. Just when he thought he was getting closer towards the destiny he had been given, Arthur's life was cut short and everything he had been meaning to achieve became utterly meaningless. What had he done it for? It was not meant to be like this! Arthur was the king who would bring back magic and who would unite Albion. He had done neither. What then had he made all those efforts for if it now came to nothing?

Lucas stumbled into the tunnel after him, still holding on to the wall for support. 'Merlin!' he called. 'Over here!'

Merlin swivelled around to look at what it was that the spy was pointing at. At first there was nothing he could see; the dust was still settling and it was difficult to see anything much anyway. He was still coughing frequently to expel the dust he accidentally breathed in from his lungs.

But it seemed important to focus somehow and that was what he did. It took him a while before he could see what Lucas meant. There were shapes on the floor, shapes he all too quickly recognised. Both Arthur and Connie were lying face down on the ground. Arthur appeared to have thrown himself over the former analyst, shielding her from the blast. It was exactly what Arthur would do. It was his way to protect others and he had gotten it into his head that Connie was someone that was worth saving. It was hardly difficult to work that out. Had she gotten him killed?

The anxiety took over again, forcing him into a run and dragging Arthur off Connie, turning him onto his back, so that he could see what the damage was. Dead, dead, dead. His brain repeated the words like a mantra. And Arthur was pale, deathly pale. It was in a rather sharp contrast to the bleeding wound on his temple, where some flying debris must have hurt him in some way.

Bleeding. It was still bleeding. Arthur's heart was still beating. Merlin didn't know which realisation dawned sooner, but they may have done so simultaneously. The relief washed over him in waves. He hadn't failed. Arthur still lived. Whether or not Connie had made it out alive, that was something he could not care less about. She had endangered Arthur's life in the first place, maybe even deliberately making him go back by choosing her words and actions carefully. She knew Arthur reasonably well and he had always been a predictable prat of a king.

With an instinct born of years of looking after Arthur, he healed the wound and the few other wounds he had detected on the king's back and arms, where he must have been hit as well. It made him feel a little less useless than he had been feeling for most of the day. Incapable of healing both Ros and Lucas, he had been forced to bring Ros back to Thames House, robbing the team of a much-needed and capable officer, and to watch as Lucas struggled on, unable to do anything other than Gaius would have done. At least the damage done to Arthur was something he could do something about.

He was coming round, too, blinking and coughing. 'Merlin?'

Merlin did all he could do: he shot his king a dazzling smile. Now was admittedly not the time to launch into a rant about how irresponsible he had been. Anger at Lucas and Arthur's own recklessness took a backseat. Only now was it slowly starting to dawn on him that they had done it. He was still in this tunnel, which meant that the rest of London must still be there as well. Just this once Connie apparently had not lied. A nuclear bomb would have obliterated London, and them with it. The war wasn't over – the FSB was still out there somewhere and so, heaven help them all, was Mordred – but they had at least won a battle, and for now that had to be enough.

'And here I was thinking things had gone unusually smooth,' the king commented.

It was a weakened form of their banter, and maybe even an insult in disguise, but the only thing it did was to make Merlin smile even wider. If Arthur was well enough to fire insults at him, then nothing much could be really wrong with him. It didn't make him like his actions any better, but it made him rethink his opinion about Lucas. Wasn't it so that the spy had just more confidence in Arthur than he'd had? The thing was that he could no longer be certain. Lucas was leaning against the wall, hand once again firmly pressed against the wound, still pale, but he managed something that with a little imagination could have been intended as a smile.

'If that's the case, I wonder what needs to happen before you judge it to be bad,' Merlin retorted.

He was realising that he was currently the only one not wounded in some way. True, he'd healed Arthur, but the king was still looking a bit cross-eyed. Lucas needed medical attention as well and Connie was still out cold, which was the way Merlin currently liked her best. For once he was glad it wasn't up to him to decide what would happen to her now. He'd leave that to Harry. Chances even were that the Section Head would be the one to give Arthur a tongue-lashing for reckless behaviour. It would save Merlin the trouble, and Arthur was more likely to listen to Harry anyway.

'We should go back to Thames House,' he said. 'Get some medical attention for everyone.' He could probably heal Connie himself, but that would take time, and Lucas looked dead on his feet as it was. 'And then we can get someone to look at this mess.' He had a lingering suspicion that someone needed to do that, and preferably before the FSB worked out where they had gone to.

Lucas nodded, having wrapped up a conversation on the phone while Merlin was checking Arthur over, presumably to either Harry or Ros. 'Bomb disposal is on their way. Let's get out of here.'

'What about Connie?' Arthur demanded, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Merlin knew that look. It was the particular look unique to Arthur when he had gotten it into his head to be the knight in shining armour, in short, the version of him that could be most annoying. Merlin didn't think himself a harsh or unfeeling person – anything but in fact – but he was not as soft as he used to be either. It was what came from trying to keep Arthur alive for so long, he supposed. And right now Lucas needed the help more than Connie.

He gave a pointed look in the spy's direction. 'I… I can't heal him,' he admitted, feeling frustrated and powerless all over again. What use was it to have magic in this day and age if he could hardly fight the weapons of this age with it? What use was any of it now? Maybe there was some spell that would get the job done, but if there was, there was no doubt that he would have to be the one to invent it, because guns didn't exist in his time, and magic didn't exist anymore in this one.

Arthur and him being here was probably something that had never been meant to be. They only had Morgana to thank – or blame, depending on one's perspective – for the fact that they had been able to cross over in the first place. And now he knew that there was a very good reason why he had been warned not to want to look into the future, because this society made him sad, interesting though it was. Why was he even fighting so hard to return magic to the land if it was destined to fade away in its entirety? Or was this simply because he would fail in his quest in his age and magic would never return? Was what he saw in London merely the conclusion of the work Uther had begun?

Realising that his thoughts were taking a direction he could not afford now, he turned to the matter at hand. 'And Connie will hold out until we get to Thames House. I can heal her there, once Lucas has been dispatched to the medical unit.' The thought of having to heal Connie repulsed him, but it was not for her sake that he was offering. It was a peace offering to Arthur.

He was rewarded with a curt nod for his troubles, possibly helped along by his glance at Lucas, who, having concluded his duties, had given up on the pretence and was now holding on to the wall for support, lest he fell to the floor. 'Let's get out of here,' he agreed.

Ros ignored the doctor's sputtered and altogether incoherent protests as she discharged herself from the medical unit. Doctor Clemens was prattling on about the possibility of blood poisoning, but she didn't have the patience for that. If she was bound to get blood poisoning, she would get that even when he wasn't hovering over her like a mother hen and in the meantime she had work to do.

Truth was, her shoulder hurt like hell, but she could ignore the pain and move on, especially since there were very many other things that needed her urgent attention, like the nuclear suitcase bomb. She had kept checking her wrist – each time being reminded that she had given her watch to the homeless beggar in the abandoned Tube train – and her phone for the time, feeling her stomach clench as it drew ever nearer to three o'clock. Merlin had said there were magical shields around the building, but Ros could tell he had doubts about either his own magical strength or the force of the bomb itself. And that would be something the magnitude of which she had never seen before.

Doctor Clemens told her to keep breathing normally, for which Ros rewarded him with the foulest look she could conjure up as she waited for three pm to happen, eyes fixed on the screen of her mobile phone. This was why she was rather out there in the field, doing everything herself; then she didn't have to wait while others got their hands dirty. The waiting was more torture to her than running through abandoned service tunnels with the FSB hot on her heels would have been.

Three pm came and it went. Ros strained her ears to make out anything that would suggest that outside a bomb had obliterated London, but the only sounds she heard were the sounds of London on a normal day. There was traffic, and that would not be if the bomb had exploded. For a few minutes she waited – after all the bomb could be a minute late or something like that – but when that didn't bring any change, she got up from the examination table, thanked the doctor for his efforts, and marched out, leaving him sputtering protests behind her that she had no time for.

She was halfway back to the Grid when her mobile phone rang. She didn't think she had ever been so grateful to see the words 'Lucas calling' on her display. Oh, he was messing with her head to be sure.

'Myers,' she said curtly as she answered it.

'Ros,' Lucas acknowledged, before he was overcome with coughing that forced him to postpone the rest of his report for another few seconds. She didn't like the sound of that. 'It's done.'

What's done? I'm not a bloody psychic, you lunatic! 'And what exactly is done?' she demanded. 'Is the bomb neutralised?'

'No, exploded.' She could not actually see his face, but she had the slight suspicion that he was grinning that annoyingly charming grin of his. 'Connie disarmed it in such a way that it wasn't nuclear any longer, which is why we haven't been reduced to radioactive bits, in case you were wondering.'

As a matter of fact she was wondering, but not about the thing he had assumed. 'Connie disarmed the bomb?' As far as she was aware, the intelligence analyst had been moaning about looking for cover and going deeper. True, she had more knowledge about bomb disposal than Ros and Lucas could boast of, but far less willingness than either of them in wanting to go near it. 'What happened? Did Merlin magically brainwash her?'

He laughed, a hoarse laugh interrupted with more coughing. 'Sorry, boss. Bloody dust. We'll probably need bomb disposal and someone to arrest Walter Crane.'

'Walter who?' Ros asked.

'The intended bomber. We nicked the blasted thing from in Grosvenor Square, but we didn't have the time to get him as well.'

Ros was trying to determine whether this answered questions, or just made her wonder about some more. She silently cursed Mordred for having taken her out of the game before its conclusion. Once, some months ago, she had told Lucas that she was a perfectionist and people getting one over her was something that really annoyed her. And Mordred had for all intents and purposes done just that. She had missed out on all the important bits it would seem, and there was very little that annoyed her more than that.

It was also one of the reasons why she was probably never going to spend her days behind a desk; it frustrated her too much if she could not be in the thick of it. Moreover, she hated to ask other people to take risks she was not prepared to take. Of course, some would argue that she had taken a bit more risks than was healthy given her current condition, but then, that had nothing to do with taking risks, but more with Mordred and his pulling the trigger, something no one could have expected.

'I'm on it,' she simply told him. The rest would need to wait until they were in the meeting room doing the debriefing. 'The Tiresias intel?' Part of her was also dying to ask about him, and how he was holding up, but that would have to wait. He wouldn't thank her for it. The job always came first. It was one of the most important rules Ros Myers lived by and she was damned if she was going to break them for Lucas North.

'On my person,' he replied curtly. 'It's all of it, Ros. Every last name, code. I don't know how she did it, but it's there.'

Oh, I know how she did it, Ros thought. The same way I did when I worked for Yalta.

It's not because I'm a spy, but because you're looking in a mirror. She squashed that thought. She had nothing in common with that woman. 'Connie?' she demanded.

'Unconscious. Don't know how serious,' Lucas reported. 'Merlin could check her over once he's done fussing over Arthur.'

'Fussing over Arthur?' Ros asked sharply. Maybe she was doomed to parrot his words back to him today. Looking on the bright side, though, it could have been much, much worse.

'Bloody fool tried to drag Connie out of the blast-range,' Lucas said, weariness obvious in his voice. 'Got caught in it himself. Merlin's checking him over, but I wouldn't worry if I were you; he's already insulting Merlin again, so it can't be so bad.'

'I wasn't worrying,' Ros snapped at the phone, ignoring that little voice in the back of her head that argued that she most certainly was, even if only a little. Arthur was something of a colleague now; she was allowed to care for those. Not that she would tell that to him anytime soon, though.

Lucas's dismissive snort down the line told her how much he believed of that. 'The FSB?' he asked, getting back on track. Fortunately he knew better than to try and force her to talk about things she didn't want to talk about.

'Harry's dealing with then, threatening to reveal their part in the would-be bombing unless they call off the bloodhounds.' Harry had been contemplating bloody murder by the looks of it. Ros had still been a bit delirious and only half conscious when he went off like a bull after a red flag, barking at his phone. She didn't know how successful he would be, but it would be a fair bet to assume that no one in Moscow wanted this particular cat let out of its bag. It'd be diplomatic meltdown with Russia looking like the villain. Ros rather liked having leverage over them for a change. 'Best not to risk it yet, though. Merlin can do his nice little magic trick and take you back here.' She hesitated a moment, before adding her next words. 'Should I have a stretcher sent to the lobby to pick you up?'

Another snort reached her ears, followed by a grunt of pain, which really was all the answer she needed anyway. 'Either that or a wheelchair.' The tone was flippant, but Ros wasn't fooled for a second. 'We can be invalids together.'

'I'm not a bloody invalid, Lucas!' she hissed. She would have shouted, but that would have made people look at her and she could currently do without the attention. 'I can actually walk without stumbling.' The moment she said it, she regretted it. That was too harsh, too cruel, and not something she had really meant to say to him. 'Get back here, quick as you can,' she said quickly, before he had the chance to say something. 'I'll make sure bomb disposal is on their way. Where are you?' she added, realising she had actually no idea from where he was calling.

'Tunnels under London Bridge.' His response was equally curt. 'All they need to do is follow the carnage.' It was a very feeble attempt at a joke; even through the phone Ros could tell his heart wasn't in it. Well done, Myers. 'We'll be back before you know it.'

With Merlin's magic taken into the equation that was probably not an exaggeration, and she was about to say so, when she realised that he had hung up on her, without as much of a greeting. Oh yes, did it again, Myers. There's a reason you usually don't do friends.

She pressed the mental mute button on her thoughts and instead called Harry's phone to tell him that she had been discharged – which wasn't entirely a lie; she had just not been discharged by any doctor – that he had to send bomb disposal round to London Bridge – after all, with the bomb already detonated, there was not much Tiresias could do with it anymore – and that she was going downstairs to make sure the intel would get back to the Grid, while she would dispatch the rest of the group – with the possible exception of Merlin – to the doctors. She only listened long enough for him to tell her to take it easy after she had been shot, and for his report that at least for now, the hunt was off. Ros quickly hang up on him when it started to sound like he was going to ask her if she was all right. No, she bloody well was not, but not in the way he meant, and she was not going to tell him that.

She arrived just in time to see Merlin appear in a whirlwind in the lobby, startling the security guards, who were clearly too shocked by this magical appearance of people they knew to be working in this building, but who ought to have walked in rather than transported in, to do anything. One or two of them were getting a little touchy-feely with their guns, but something Lucas snapped – she was too far off to catch his words – made them put their weapons away again. Ros wasn't fooled, though. He was leaning heavily on Arthur, who was also balancing Connie's unconscious body in his arms. For one who had recently been caught in a bomb explosion he was holding up remarkably well. But then, that was hardly a miracle after Merlin's magical treatment.

'Don't you look dashing,' she quipped to Lucas when she came within hearing distance. He didn't look dashing, though. His face was covered in dust, but even through that she could see how pale he looked. It didn't help that his hands were blood-stained, and no doubt about the question whether or not that was his own.

He cracked a hesitant smile. 'You don't look so bad yourself,' he countered. 'Didn't you bring that stretcher with you, Ros?'

'Oh, bugger, left it next to my wheelchair,' she retorted. 'You'll have to walk then.'

She didn't miss the grimace of pain and anticipation when she told him that, alerting her to the fact that this could be quite a bit worse than she had believed. If he didn't think he could walk such a short distance…

'Well, you can always lean on Merlin,' she added. 'I'd offer my assistance, but…' She trailed off.

Lucas was more than willing to finish himself. 'As it is, we're a pair of bloody cripples both.' He threw in something that with a little imagination could have passed for that lopsided grin of his. 'I'll be fine though. How about you?'

'Doctor says I might get blood poisoning,' she reported.

'Didn't he want to send you to the nearest hospital then?' Lucas asked.

'I don't have time for that,' she informed him. 'Harry's dealt with the Russians for now, but…'

He finished for her again. 'Mordred.' It was more of a statement than a question.

'Mordred,' she agreed. And it was about time they found out what he was up to, before he had the chance to turn this into a crisis of Morgana-like proportions. And Ros Myers reacted very badly to getting shot at. She took the targeting of her team even less well. And with the Tiresias crisis abated, Mordred had assured himself of her undivided attention.

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