Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 23

Chapter 23

The air was practically crackling with tension as he entered the meeting room, Lucas observed when he came in. It made him feel as if the real crisis was only just beginning, which may or may not be all that wrong. Ros, arm in a sling, which she was clearly planning to shed at the first proper opportunity, was silently seething in her seat. For a woman who was widely believed to be the most unsociable member of the team, she was remarkably ill-tempered when someone tried to attack aforementioned team.

Harry was not that different in his approach to this, with the minor difference that he, unlike his Section Chief, certainly wasn't quiet about it. He had been lecturing Merlin on the need to share information for the past ten minutes. Merlin had not been able to get as much of a word in, but he had no doubt that the moment he would, he'd take the chance to remind Harry that Lucas had known as well, and that it had been their shared decision to not bleat what they suspected to the world just yet. Lucas could hardly blame him for that; he'd want to head his boss off too, especially when he was in a mood like that.

Merlin appeared to be anxious and jumpy, whereas Arthur mostly seemed angry. The anger was mostly directed at himself, it seemed, something Lucas could understand to a certain extent. After all, if Arthur had been more receptive to the possibility that Mordred was not all that he claimed to be, they might not be here, facing this. Still, Lucas found he couldn't be angry with the king of Camelot, not truly. After all, it was that same stubborn refusal to think ill of his friends that had made him keep his faith in Lucas when everyone else had given up on him. That didn't mean he could not be mightily annoyed, though.

His side was still hurting, but the pain was bearable now. The doctors had tried to send him off to the nearest hospital, and had tried that same trick again on Ros while they were at it, but eventually had to settle for cleaning the wound, stitching him up and feeding him more painkillers than he liked when he refused to go, muttering under their breaths how Section D officers were always such a difficult bunch to deal with. Ros had smirked when she heard that.

There was no smirking now, not now they had all been ushered into the conference room while Harry was wrapping up a phone conversation to someone. Lucas didn't know the recipient of the barked commands, but it would be a safe bet to say that his ears were blistered. He was pleased he wasn't the one at the receiving end of that anger. Of course, that was bound to change any second now.

As if to back that idea up, a fist was banged on the table with considerable force, making the cups rattle and Jo almost literally jump. 'What happened?' Harry demanded.

Lucas saw Merlin being distinctly uncomfortable, but then he manned up and started an explanation that was rattled off so fast that Lucas was almost surprised he could keep up. 'Mordred attacked us in the service tunnels. We had stopped to dress Lucas's wound, and he must have gotten hold of the gun somehow, I didn't see. Then he shot Ros and…'

Harry raised a hand to silence him when it started to sound like he was rambling too much, and then looked to Lucas instead. 'Lucas?'

It didn't seem like he was going to be let off easily and so he took his time taking a gulp of coffee to counteract the drowsiness caused by the painkillers – he really couldn't afford being anything less than alert right now – to buy himself a few seconds, before he related the events slightly more eloquently. It was just another debriefing, he told himself. This was something he could actually do. There wasn't much else he was good for at the moment, not with his side being so obnoxiously painful and his head insisting on being dizzy. As it was, he had a lingering suspicion that Harry was plotting a way to send both Ros and him home. Or to hospital. Either one. And Lucas was not going to be accommodating if he could help it.

He took his time in telling what had happened, the smallest details he could recall. He started in Russia, where he had first encountered Mordred and told the story from there, explaining that Merlin had entertained suspicions all along, but also that he had no conclusive evidence for any of them, hence their agreement to keep silent and observe, to obtain information.

'Well, that turned out to be something of a mistake,' Ros commented sarcastically, glancing down at her arm in the sling.

Of course Merlin took offence. 'We didn't know!' he protested. 'If we'd known, then…'

'You would have told me?' Ros arched an eyebrow, but her gaze was on Lucas rather than Merlin, silently asking him why the hell he hadn't seen fit to confide in her. They had agreed that colleagues were okay, so technically speaking he ought to have trusted her, only he clearly hadn't. Now that he was asked about his reasoning – even if that happened without words – Lucas was hard-pressed to recall exactly why excluding Ros Myers had sounded like such a good idea. The best thing he could come up with was that, at the time, it had seemed like the best available option. 'I wish I could believe it.' Something about her tone of voice sounded remarkably like disappointment, even like hurt, making Lucas cringe, something a stabbing pain in his side a second later reminded him he could better not do at the moment.

Strangely enough it was Arthur who jumped at the barely concealed accusation, which was strange, since he had not even known about Mordred to begin with, and had been just as surprised as Ros herself when Mordred pulled the trigger. 'We couldn't have known, could we?' he demanded of her. Lucas was a bit puzzled why he would suddenly leap to his defence, when he realised that was what Arthur had done for him since Operation Camelot. The king could be a bit of a dollophead at times, as Merlin so eloquently phrased it, but he had to admit that he was a bit moved by this display of loyalty.

'So, how did Merlin know?' Harry snapped. 'You did know before you came here, didn't you?' Harry was not the kind of person to let anyone get away with harming one of his team, and Mordred had done just that. Harry sweated blood to get you back here, Ros had once told him, and slowly Lucas was starting to believe it.

'But I didn't have any evidence,' Merlin reminded him. 'All I had was the prophecy!'

'What prophecy?' Harry asked. If this wasn't a sign that Harry's trade-mark cynicism concerning anything that wasn't measurable in facts had taken a – temporary – backseat, then Lucas didn't know what was. But really, all of them were out of their comfort zones with this. Magic was not a part of their day to day lives, but it was for Merlin and Arthur. It also was for Mordred, which meant they would have to work differently from what they were used to. As for prophecy? Well, if magic was real, who was to see that prophecy wasn't?

'The prophecy that mentions him as the one to kill Arthur,' Merlin replied, not looking pleased at all. Given the circumstances, Lucas could hardly blame him. And it wouldn't be half as disturbing if he hadn't had some basic knowledge of the legends. Mordred was the one to kill Arthur in those, wasn't he?

Arthur had frowned at the mention of the prophecy, which led Lucas to believe that there had been arguments about this subject before. 'But that doesn't make any sense,' he said. 'He's never even threatened me.'

'Oh, then I suppose him trying to get the Russians to succeed in blowing us up with a nuclear suitcase bomb was well-wishing, was it?' Ros enquired sarcastically.

Arthur was unfazed in the face of the biting Myers sarcasm; he must have gained some immunity from it by hanging around her for too long. 'Other than that,' he argued. 'Unlike what Merlin likes to think, I'm not an idiot. Mordred has never really threatened me, not like he threatened you three!' When met with confused looks, he all but threw his hands in the air in frustration. 'He tried to kill Merlin and Lucas in Moscow, right?'

Lucas nodded. 'He did.' There was no doubt about that. Mordred's actions could not be interpreted in any other way, not with the memories of what happened still fresh in his mind.

'And then he tried to shoot Ros in the tunnels,' Arthur said. 'And he pointed the gun at Merlin next. Never at me.'

It started to dawn on Lucas then, too. Arthur was right. The king of Camelot had never been a real target, other than being at risk of being blown to pieces along with the rest of London. While Mordred had made serious attempts on the lives of Merlin, Ros and Lucas, he seemed reluctant to make Arthur a target as well, although his little speech in the tunnel led Lucas to believe that he wasn't exactly fond of Arthur either. Maybe fond enough to not want to kill Arthur himself, but not fond enough to want to keep him alive either.

Not that this gave him a greater understanding of the recent events. If anything, this only complicated matters. He had never even seen Mordred before he had shown up in Moscow, not even during his time in Camelot. There had been an awful lot of knights there, and serving boys, and nobles, but this Mordred had not been among them. Lucas had photographic memory; he would have remembered this face. And Mordred had only come to Camelot after he had left anyway. So, why had he been an immediate target? That was something he couldn't quite figure out and, by the looks of it, neither could his colleagues.

'Then why Ros?' Jo asked softly, forehead in a frown. 'He never met any of us before you brought him here.'

'Disliked me quickly enough,' Ros pointed out. 'The FSB could learn something from that glare.'

'But that doesn't explain events, does it?' Arthur said, obviously very unhappy with how things were proceeding. 'Merlin, are there any clues in that prophecy of yours?'

'It speaks of an alliance between Mordred and Morgana, united in evil,' he replied.

'But Morgana is dead,' Ros stated.

All in all, this didn't help them any further and Lucas silently groaned. All this only seemed to suggest that Mordred would have been a friend of Morgana's had she been alive. But she wasn't alive, because Ros had shot her. Morgana was dead, of that he was absolutely certain. Didn't that mean that without her still there, the prophecy would not come true? Unless…

'It's not about the future.' Without giving it a conscious thought he finished his latest thought out loud. It was not even a well-founded theory, but it was one of the few things that could make sense of all the things that had happened lately. 'The alliance. It's something that has already happened.'

Probably his colleagues didn't fully understand him, but Lucas's mind was racing ahead. Of course it had already happened. If that was the case, then it would explain how why Arthur had not been the one who had been on the receiving end of Mordred's assassination attempts. He had not been the one to bring down Morgana. He had been there, true enough, but he had not been the one to contribute to her death. Ros, Merlin and Lucas himself were connected by that one thing, the only thing that could explain everything. Lucas had deceived and betrayed Morgana, even though he had never been really on her side, Merlin had distracted her, so that Ros could pull that trigger. The three of them had as good as killed her as a group effort. Arthur had only given them his blessing, but even then he had pleaded for a cure as she was dying.

And Mordred must know that. Lucas didn't think he had actually been there in person, but then, he had seen enough of Merlin's magical spying to know that there were more ways to watch than being there in the flesh.

'He's out for revenge,' he concluded his own train of thought, only to find himself stared at by uncomprehending faces. Maybe he had indeed raced too far ahead in his thinking, and had now left them wondering what on earth he was going on about. He couldn't even really blame them for that.

'What the bloody hell are you on about?' Harry all but snapped.

And so he explained, slowly this time, what he had been thinking of, and how exactly that may influence them. The longer he thought about it, the more logical it all began to sound, and there was something distinctly disturbing about that. A powerful sorcerer out on a hunt for them? Of course they had Merlin, but even Merlin could not be in multiple places all at once. Merlin was not omniscient, and he certainly didn't know what scheme Mordred was up to next. They could only hope he had not yet thought of something; after all he had clearly been hoping to deal with them today, or he would not have blown his cover so spectacularly. There may be no further plans yet. But there would be. If Mordred was anything like Morgana at all, what were the chances that he would just give up when things didn't go his way right away? Slim to none, to be sure.

'If you're right…' Horror was written all over Merlin's face.

'Then we're all compromised,' Harry finished, decisively. And all of a sudden it was just another normal day, just another crisis that needed dealing with. There was some comfort in that. By treating this as just another normal operation instead of a full-blown crisis, it was manageable. 'This takes precedence now. We need to find out if he's still in London, and if he is, where the hell he's gone to.'

'He won't have gone far,' Lucas observed. 'He'll want to know if we're all dead. He wouldn't know if he'd gone back to the portal.' And that idea was only strengthened because Mordred would not know, not really know, what impact a nuclear device might have on the surroundings.

'And he'll come back the minute he realises we're still alive,' Merlin added. 'He won't leave the job unfinished.' After successfully surviving two attempts, Lucas supposed he could hardly argue with that.

'Charming,' Ros muttered. 'So, where will he have gone?'

Ros woke early when she rolled over in her sleep and her shoulder reminded her that it had been shot and it did not appreciate this treatment. The painkillers she had taken – had been forced to take, more like – must have worn off sometime during the night, leaving her to enjoy the delights of being shot in the shoulder by a magical lunatic to the full. Say what you like about lethal injections, but at least they weren't so painful. Or maybe they were. After all, it was not as if she had been conscious for long enough to really make up her mind on the matter.

The bedroom she found herself in was unfamiliar, and for just a few seconds she was confused as to where the hell she even was. This was most certainly not her bedroom or even her flat. Hers was sparsely furnished too, but this was sparse even for her taste. A hospital room would have been better furnished.

She felt slightly guilty over that thought the next moment when she realised it was the guest room in Lucas's flat she was occupying, as per Harry's order that no one should be alone right now, at least not until the threat Mordred posed had been dealt with. On their own they were easy targets, especially with no magic at their disposal. Not that this little fact had dissuaded Ros from taking a gun home with her, and sleeping with it under her pillow. Even sorcerers were not completely immune from guns, as long as she was fast, as Morgana's case had proven. Other than that there wasn't much they could do as long as they had no idea what Mordred was up to. And about that they frankly had no clue.

And not for lack of trying. Ros had blatantly ignored Harry's order to "go home and rest," and Lucas had followed her good example in favour of ploughing through CCTV footage in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the offending sorcerer on one of them, but it was really a needle in a haystack case, even when Jo had coined the idea that Mordred might have come to London with Morgana – which would explain why he had not been so bewildered with twenty-first century technology as he could and should have been – and that he might be using one or some of her old hide-outs. That was not such a ridiculous thought, but they didn't know all of them. Ros had suggested pressuring Bob Hogan into telling them, but he had kept his mouth firmly shut since he had learned that their deal was null and void. She might have done the same thing, but it didn't stop her from exploding when she learned it.

When it eventually turned out that there was nothing any of them could do, Harry had sent them all home. Ros had disliked the notion immediately, but had been forced to admit that her being here was not going to do anyone any good, and her body betrayed her. She actually needed the rest, which had Lucas smiling like a fool. He had quipped that he could try at playing nursemaid, since he was the less injured of the two of them.

'I'm not the one who stumbled into the lobby,' she had snapped at him.

'No, but you have to admit that my bedside manner is better than yours.' He'd chuckled then. 'Good God, can you imagine you being a doctor? All your patients would be in tears by the end of the examination.'

It stung a little to know that this was only too true. Moreover, Lucas would probably have every patient love him by the end of an examination, whereas the observation that she would have them in tears was probably wholly justified. She didn't do social, and they both knew it too. 'I don't need a nursemaid, Lucas!' she barked.

'Good thing I'm no nursemaid then,' he remarked. 'I'm just helping out. Friends are allowed to do that, aren't they, as well as annoy you.'

Ros had merely rolled her eyes at him, and stalked away from him. Neither of them had been in a fit state to drive and so they had hailed a cab to get them home. The driver had looked at them, wondering what on earth would have had them looking as if they had come straight out of a war zone. In a way they had, but he didn't need to know.

They had gone to Lucas's flat, too tired to do more than heat some soup and then roll into bed. Ros supposed that she should have been more aware, since Mordred was still out there somewhere, but she had been asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. She blamed the painkillers for the drowsiness that had caused her to drop off so soon and with so little effort.

Well, it wasn't as if she had been sleeping all that long, she observed when she pulled out her mobile to look at the time. It was only six in the morning. But she was awake now anyway, and her shoulder hurt too much to go back to sleep. Anyway, she was done resting. Her head was clear again, and she could actually think about other things than how tired and sore she was. Not that she wasn't sore as hell, but she could think around it now. She immediately made the decision to forego the painkillers today. They affected her too much.

Lucas was already in the kitchen, clutching a cup of coffee as if it was a lifeline, head bowed over a newspaper. Yesterday's paper, she'd wager; it was too early still for today's.

'You're up early,' she commented, grabbing a cup of coffee for herself.

Lucas snorted. 'There's a murderous sorcerer out there, waiting for an opportunity to kill us,' he reminded her. 'For some reason I found sleep a stranger.'

Yesterday I gave Iran the power to destroy the planet, so for some reason I found sleep a stranger. For just a second there she could have sworn that Adam was there with them, the phrase was that familiar. And the circumstances under which he had spoken that words were very much the same, too. Early morning and coffee.

Lucas noticed. 'Ros, are you all right?' He sounded worried. 'You look like you've seen a ghost.'

'Heard one,' she muttered, furious with herself for letting this creep up on her. Adam was dead, for heaven's sake, and unless she could pull herself together, she might be exactly that very soon. So remember that, Myers. 'Any news from the Grid?'

'None whatsoever,' Lucas reported. He still frowned at her, wondering what he might have done to make her act like that. 'Did you expect it?'

'Arthur was staying on the Grid,' she reminded him. It was the safest place for him too, what with all the magical protection Merlin had put on the building. Mordred could not get in, that was for sure, and as long as Arthur did not wander out, he would be as safe as could be.

'He was staying on the Grid last night, too, wasn't he?' Lucas grinned. 'He's probably fallen asleep in the nearest available chair.'

'Not unlikely,' she allowed. 'Anything interesting in that newspaper?'

'Apparently it's going to rain today,' he reported with a smirk. 'It says so here.'

Given the fact that it was pouring outside, that was hardly world news, and Ros fixed him with as stern a stare as she could manage. 'You wouldn't say. Anything else?'

'Nothing of interest.' The reply was a bit more serious this time. 'Do you need a shower, or shall we be off?'

She was glad he had the same idea she had. Sitting here at the flat was terribly boring, even more so because she had a whole list of other things to do. And now that she was actually conscious enough to give Mordred her full attention, she had to admit that she didn't feel very comfortable in this flat. Ros Myers wasn't running scared, but she wasn't going to hang around here any longer than she had to either. It would be a very stupid thing to court danger when there was no real need.

'You might want to get dressed first,' she remarked. 'Although I would like to see Harry's face when you come to work in your pyjamas.'

He repaid her in her own coin. 'You might want to brush your hair first,' he countered. 'Or else Harry might think there are birds nesting in it.'

'That's not even original,' she complained.

They were off fifteen minutes later. That wasn't exactly what the doctor had prescribed, but Ros could not care less about his medical advice. It wasn't as if Mordred was going to be as obliging as to postpone his vengeance until she was fully recovered, and therefore she was not going to take a break. Harry however had tried to back up the doctor's opinion, to which she had retorted that it might actually be more dangerous to sit at home twiddling her thumbs than it was to be on the Grid and to actually do something about their Mordred-shaped problem.

'No fieldwork,' Harry had told her. 'And no heroics.'


And that had been all that had to be said about the matter really.

Lucas drove. He had left his car at home when he went off to Russia, and had not exactly used conventional means when he had come back to Thames House, so he didn't have the problem Ros had of having his car still at work. It was calming in a way to do something so normal as driving to work, especially after the madness of the past few days. And it was not as if Mordred would kidnap them in the middle of the road from their own car. He may be bold, but she didn't think he was that bold.

Still, she caught herself keeping an eye on the pavements for his face, and she checked the rear-view mirror a little too often. She could see that Lucas had noticed, but any opinions he may have about her behaviour he thankfully kept to himself. And it was not as if he was in any position to lecture her about her conduct, since he kept doing the exact same thing. Not that Ros could blame him for that. He had come too close for comfort to another run-in with the FSB yesterday already. Mordred would just be another threat, but perhaps not the biggest threat. And no matter what he had said in the kitchen, she didn't think it was Mordred who had kept him up last night either.

She let it slide, though. Ros wasn't one for sharing her personal demons – as she had proven just now by not wanting to talk about Adam – and she didn't do sentimentality, certainly not about other people, not even when they were her friends. And Lucas was already far too sentimental for his own good, so she wasn't about to let him wallow in it.

It was a relief to enter the garage. None of Merlin's magical shields were visible, and he claimed that they shouldn't be able to see them either, but she certainly felt safer. Not that she would ever admit to that out loud.

As it turned out, they weren't the first to turn up for the day. Arthur and Malcolm seemed to be trawling CCTV, Harry was on the phone in his office, looking distinctly displeased and Merlin could be seen disappearing into the kitchen, possibly to make himself a cup of coffee. The only one missing here was Jo. Ros knew that she had taken Merlin home with her last night, as per the original plan for the visit, but Merlin was already here. Jo, it seemed, was not.

She followed Merlin into the kitchen and left Lucas to himself. 'Where's Jo?' she demanded, taking the coffee he thought he had been pouring for himself for her own. She could really do with another cup before facing a day that might in all likelihood be wasted on trying to find a sorcerer who literally had dozens of magic tricks up his sleeve to disappear whenever he felt like it.

'She's coming in the car,' Merlin reported. 'She… ehm… she said she needed some time alone. I think Ben's death hit her really hard, and there hasn't been any time for her to mourn, so…'

'We had other things to do,' Ros reminded him. It didn't mean that she didn't feel guilty about Ben's demise, because she did. Maybe that was why she was trying her hardest not thinking about it. At any rate she could do without Merlin reminding her and without Jo going to pieces over it, although she might have anticipated the latter, given how she had reacted to her kidnapping by the Redbacks. In her defence, though, she'd had other things on her mind yesterday, and Jo should have other concerns now too, like the fact that Mordred was still out there with a grudge against Section D and no one ought to be alone right now. 'Did Harry speak Russian or something when he told us that no one should go out on their own right now?' she asked.

'She was in the car when I left,' Merlin said, backing away almost on instinct when confronted with her angry glare. 'Mordred wouldn't abduct her in the middle of the road, would he?'

'How long ago since you left her?' Ros asked, ignoring the warlock. For someone who could be so suspicious, he could also be remarkably thick from time to time. Despite having thought the same sentiment which Merlin had just expressed, Ros didn't like the sound of this. Better safe than sorry in this line of work. Sorry usually meant that people had died.

'Thirty minutes?' Merlin guessed, apologetic smile on his face.

'Are you telling me or asking me?' She didn't wait for a reply, already well on her way back to the Grid, digging up her mobile as she went. Jo usually needed no longer than twenty minutes to get to work, unless the traffic was bad. It was still early; it wasn't as bad as it was going to be in an hour. This lateness could be a coincidence, but coincidence didn't exist in this job, and she knew it. 'Harry! Have you heard from Jo?'

The boss had left his office, blood pressure clearly no longer in the critic zone, but it seemed that her question made it come dangerously close again. Of course they didn't have to panic, not yet – and Ros Myers wasn't in the habit of panicking anyway – but nerves were frayed and suspicion running high. The best, and only, thing to be done was to phone Jo and find out what the hell was taking her so long, and hoping that it was nothing more sinister than heavy London traffic delaying her.

No such luck. Soon enough they all stood huddled around the phone on Ros's desk, waiting as Jo's phone rang once, twice, and was then picked up just before the third time. 'I am very sorry, but Jo Portman is not available at the moment. Good day.' The connection was severed.

For a moment silence ruled supreme. Then, Merlin broke it. 'That was Mordred,' he said.

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