Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 27

Chapter 27

It wasn't even light yet when Ros entered the Grid, or what was supposed to pass for one anyway. Malcolm had installed computers last time they were here, but they'd had to make them run on batteries and some of Merlin's magic and quite frankly that was a lot of effort. They'd only put the surveillance equipment on and left it at that. But she missed the reassuring humming of computers when she came in and for her in only emphasised the feeling of not home. The fact that she had to create light by making a fire and lighting some candles didn't exactly help either.

She was the first one in. The others were all still doing the sensible thing: sleeping. It had been a tiring few days and she could use her rest. Ros knew that only too well. Sadly her body and mind had conspired against her and so she had only been able to lie on her back, staring at the ceiling as her mind provided a constant stream of worst case scenarios, effectively preventing her from calming down enough to fall asleep.

It didn't help that she felt like she was wasting precious time. In London she would simply have pulled an all-nighter and hope that by the end of it they would have Jo safely back with them. In Camelot it didn't work like that. Over here the night was meant for sleeping and, in Gwaine's case, visits to the pub. When it was dark they couldn't search all that effectively, not the way she was used to anyway. And it was frustrating. It went against the grain to sit here and just wait while she knew her colleague was in danger. And she would be in danger, with Mordred holding her captive. If that Druid was anything like Morgana – and all the evidence currently indicated that – then she was going through hell right now. And Jo didn't handle these situations well. Ros hadn't exactly been there when Jo had been taken by the Redbacks, but she had been there to see the aftermath. And it wasn't pretty.

Still, she knew Arthur was going in all guns blazing and, truth be told, the knights had been the school example of helpful. She'd briefed them yesterday, detailing the events and what they expected had happened since. They had come up with suggestions and advice, but still she had found herself increasingly annoyed with them for reasons she couldn't quite name at the time. Looking back on it though, she suspected that she just resented them for not having the resources she was used to working with. It was slowing them down and time was precious. They also had wasted a good chunk of it already.

The door opened, but Ros didn't turn to look. She knew who it was anyway. It wasn't as if she was the only insomniac in the castle right now.

'Couldn't sleep either?' the familiar voice asked.

'We're wasting time,' she replied curtly, not deeming that question worthy of an answer. Had he honestly expected her to get some rest with everything that was going on?

'Well, it will be light in about two hours,' Lucas pointed out. Ever since they had arrived here he had felt the need to play the optimist and it grated on Ros's every last nerve. This wasn't the time to start being a little ray of sunshine, especially when he was only trying to be optimistic for her benefit. She rather doubted that he really thought everything was going to be fine; he had sampled Morgana's hospitality for himself after all, and Mordred had been her best friend.

'Another two hours wasted,' she pointed out. Bloody Dark Ages, bloody Camelot and bloody knights. Gwaine had demonstrated the same amount of cheerfulness yesterday and his massive ego had prevented any of her scathing remarks from hitting home.

'Brought you coffee,' Lucas offered, walking over to her and extending a mug, the steaming contents of which smelled a lot like her favourite brew.

I could kiss you right now. 'How did you get coffee in this place?' she demanded.

He smiled that well-known grin of his. 'Well, I didn't exactly get it in this place,' he pointed out. 'I raided Harry's private stash before we left. I know what you're like when you don't get your morning fix.'

Ros snorted. 'You make it sound like I'm an addict.' She accepted the cup all the same. With everything that was going on, coffee was really at the bottom of her list of priorities, but it was a small consolation. And even though she wasn't about to admit it anytime soon, she could have murdered for a good coffee right about now. He must have read her mind.

'I do my part in keeping you annoyed,' he retorted. 'I've heard from a reliable source that's what friends are for.'

He almost made her smile, and this really wasn't the time for any of that. 'Then why do you bring me coffee if you want me annoyed?' she questioned in spite of herself.

'There's a limit to how much of your irritation I can take,' he replied easily, but Ros suspected that wasn't all there was to it. Yesterday she may have gone too far, just lashing out at whoever was closest. The knights had taken the brunt of it, but Lucas had been in the line of fire for a good portion of it as well, and it wouldn't have been pleasant. But apologising wasn't something that came natural to her, and they both knew that. She didn't even think that he was really expecting an apology.

'I'll save the rest of it for Gwaine,' she therefore promised, which would have to do.

'I'm sure he'd love that,' Lucas grinned. Knowing Gwaine, he would only take it as a joke.

Ros didn't answer. Instead she sipped her drink and simply enjoyed the taste of it in her mouth. It didn't do anything to quell the impatience, but there wasn't anything she could do right now, except wait. The search party would leave at first light and not any sooner. And there was sense in that. With the resources they had it would be the height of folly to go into the woods surrounding Camelot, especially since they were home to a lot of unsavoury characters that were best avoided.

Still, they weren't the only early birds. Ros didn't think more than ten minutes had passed when the door opened to let in Merlin. The warlock looked like he hadn't slept a wink either, but there was excitement on his face and a bounce to his step that felt wholly inappropriate under the given circumstances.

'Help yourself to coffee,' Lucas invited after they had exchanged the customary good morning greeting. Ros had refrained from doing the same. It wasn't a good morning to her and she doubted that it would be, no matter how many people wished it. 'There's still a bit left. Harry's private stash.'

Merlin nodded appreciatively. 'Thanks.'

'You'll be coming with us then?' Lucas asked. 'Or are you going off on your own?' They'd heard something about the Isle of the Blessed, but that had been kept out of the official briefing yesterday. Some of the knights still remembered their last trip to that destination and weren't all that eager for a trip down memory lane. Not that Ros could really blame them for that; she wasn't champing at the bit either.

'Well, I was rather hoping you two would want to come with me,' Merlin said, avoiding their eyes as he laid his plan on the table. 'I'm going to have a look around the known Druid camps and see what I can find out about Mordred, and then I thought I could have a look at Morgana's old hide-outs and see what comes up.'

Ros narrowed her eyes at him. She wouldn't be as childish as to whine about his preferred method of transport and the effect it had on her stomach, but she hadn't exactly expected that he would want her with him on that trip. It hadn't really been discussed, but the people who needed to know knew that Merlin was likely to go off on his own to search a few likely places without prying eyes looking over his shoulder. He didn't need the knights, what with magic at his disposal, and Ros had just assumed that he would go alone. The last thing she expected was for him to actually ask Lucas and her to join him. Lucas, yes, that would make sense. They had been… well, not as thick as thieves, but they had been close since they had discovered that Mordred was having an agenda of his own. She on the other hand had never gotten along with Arthur's servant very well, and after the scolding she'd given him only yesterday, she'd have thought he would give her a wide berth for a while. Apparently not.

That didn't mean she liked the proposition. There had to be some ulterior motives there. 'Why?' she asked bluntly. 'Aren't you afraid I'll drop down of blood loss?' He had made rather a fuss about her shoulder when she had first been shot after all.

Merlin seemed mildly offended at her tone of voice. 'Should I?' The words in combination with that tone indicated that he had spent way too much time hanging around her, something Ros disliked for multiple reasons.

'Don't be ridiculous,' she snapped. 'Why do you want me to come?' It hadn't escaped her notice that he hadn't actually answered that question.

'You could help,' Merlin said, which didn't count as an answer in Ros's opinion at all.

'Yes, but why?' she questioned again. 'We both know you avoid me if only given the chance, which is fine, because I don't particularly enjoy your company either.' And even less so after his enormous stupidity of letting Jo out of his sight, even when he had strict orders not to do so. This whole situation basically was his fault, intentionally or not.

Well, she had rattled him now. 'You do know how to shoot a gun,' he admitted.

Ah, now she had gotten to the heart of the matter. She knew of Merlin's troubles killing and injuring people, so he brought someone who he was certain could do what he could not. While rather sound reasoning, Ros didn't like the sound of it one bit, because what did that make of her? Was she just the one to shoot people when it was convenient, so that he could remain on his precious moral high ground? While that may very well be the impression she had given off on a fair amount of occasions, that was not who she was. Did he really see her as a gun-happy woman intent on shooting each and every unsavoury character that crossed her path? True, she didn't have much reservations about pulling the trigger, especially not when there were lives on the line that depended on her ability to do what was necessary. But she wasn't some kind of assassin. She was a spy, which was something else entirely. But then, shooting Morgana the way she had may have just given Merlin the wrong impression.

It didn't mean she had to like his view of her.

'So you think I'm just coming along to shoot your bloody enemies for you?' she summarised, daring him to contradict her.

'What? No!' Merlin looked rather horrified at hearing that, and Lucas had done a few steps back to stay well out of this potential minefield. 'I just thought… I meant that I thought that you might want to come along, because you're worried for Jo and I don't think there's much chance that the knights are actually going to find her. They're good, but I don't think Mordred has hidden Jo somewhere near Camelot, so there's much more chance that we'll find her where we're going.' Because she is the bait and we're the intended target went unspoken. It didn't actually need saying.

Ros supposed she should really snap at him for leading all three of them into a supposed trap, but she felt strangely touched by his talk about wanting Jo to be safe as well. And Merlin wasn't one for guile in general, so she may even have to assume that he really meant it.

'Then why bring up the gun?' she asked sharply. Probably he had done that with the Isle of the Blessed still in his mind, which told her all she really needed to know about what he really thought about her. And that was information she could have done without.

Merlin responded to that question in true Merlin fashion: by avoiding it with as wide a smile as he could manage. 'I figured out a way to heal your shoulder,' he announced. 'Well, I think I found a way. Took me all night poring over old books, but I think I found a spell.' And that would explain the dark rings under his eyes.

Ros wasn't planning on being distracted, but the news that there might actually be a cure for that thrice-cursed slowing-her-down injury of hers was really welcome news. It was hard to blame Arthur for being so easily side-tracked by his servant whenever said servant felt like it, when she herself was apparently just as much of an easy target. 'You think you found a spell?' she echoed sceptically. Merlin's plans weren't all that fool proof as a rule and she wasn't sure how much faith she had in his magical abilities quite yet, but if she was to go magically jumping across the kingdom – and hang on, when had she decided to take Merlin up on that offer? – she would very much like to do it without a shoulder that hurt at the slightest movement.

'Well, there aren't any bullet wounds in Camelot to test it on,' Merlin pointed out. 'But it's safe.' Did he really sound hopeful now?

So how did that spell end up in an old book? Ros wasn't stupid, and she was fairly certain that he had just invented the book to cover up the fact that he had made the spell up. Still, he had stayed up all night just to think of a way to help her. Ros Myers didn't do apologies, so maybe that was how she had come to recognise it when another extended the olive branch without actually apologising in words. Besides, she didn't think she would have accepted a spoken apology if Merlin had given it to her. She'd have brushed it off if he had, she knew herself well enough to know that.

But she wasn't exactly going to turn down a peace offering. She wasn't in the position to. They still had a crisis to contain and she couldn't use squabbling among themselves. 'Go ahead,' she ordered.

For a moment there Merlin looked like he couldn't believe his luck, but then he did as he was told, extending his hand and muttering a couple of words that sounded like nonsense to Ros's ears, but were probably a little bit more than that, given the effect it had. His eyes flashed – and that would really never not be strange – and then there was a tingling sensation where the injury was. Then, nothing. No pain, it just felt like it always did.

'All better?' Merlin asked, smile spreading so wide it almost split his face in half.

Ros resisted the urge to actually roll her eyes at him. 'Make sure you do Lucas's as well before we leave.'

This may not be the best idea he'd ever had, Merlin realised that full well. And there was a number of reasons why that was the case. First on the list was that he let Arthur go on his own. It went against every instinct he had to abandon Arthur to fend for himself when it was obviously that he could hardly make it through one day without Merlin's assistance. The king of Camelot was a magnet for disaster of any kind, and this time it was actually confirmed that there was someone out there to kill him.

Merlin only rather hoped he would come after the bigger game. And if Mordred was watching Camelot, as he thought he was, then he was giving him a very big target by going out there with the two people whose heads Mordred would love to have if only given the chance. The three of them were the intended target. Arthur, for a change, wasn't target number one. It would have made for a very nice change if the rest of the situation hadn't been so precarious. Still, Arthur could get into all sorts of trouble on his own, even if there wasn't anyone out to kill him, something Merlin knew only too well. But he had plenty of knights and a good sword to protect him and that should be sufficient for one day.

He didn't think the purpose of today had passed Lucas and Ros by. They were spies after all; they made a living of lies and deceit, but neither of them had spoken a word. He had taken that as a silent confirmation that it was okay what he was doing, which was as much as he was probably going to get. Ros however didn't like it. Oh, he didn't think she particularly minded putting herself in the line of danger, and he didn't think she was concerned for him either, but he had seen her shooting worried glances at Lucas whenever he wasn't looking. And to be honest, Merlin more or less regretted taking him with them on their search.

The Druid camps hadn't been all that bad. As soon as he mentioned the name Emrys the people were more than prepared to help and Lucas turned up the charm so that people wanted to tell him what he needed to know. Ros hung back a bit, left them to do most of the talking there, while she just had a look around, noticing things.

Mordred had been seen on several occasions, the Druids told them, so their visits to the various Druid camps had not been a waste of time. But the bad news was that it was always so that the last they had seen of him was months in the past. And all they knew about his activities was that he was a good lad, eager to help and eager to please. One old woman had confided in them that she thought Mordred had a sweetheart he sometimes went to meet outside the boundaries of the encampment.

'Bloody Morgana,' Ros muttered under her breath when she heard that. Merlin agreed. He didn't think Mordred had been seeing a sweetheart either. There wasn't any proof that it really had been Morgana, but Lucas wryly remarked that in this line of work there often wasn't all that much evidence to work with, more like a collection of dots that they had to arrange and connect correctly.

Other than that there wasn't much to be learned from the Druids. There were three camps within Camelot's boundaries and by lunchtime they'd visited them all.

'There are more in Cenred's kingdom,' Merlin said hesitantly.

'He won't have gone there,' Lucas pointed out. 'Not if he wants to trap us. Didn't you say once that Druids are a peaceful people? I doubt they'd condone violence in their communities.'

He made a very good point. And really, Merlin didn't think visiting more Druids was going to help them any further. No one had seen Mordred since the time that he had come to the castle of Camelot and no one seemed to suspect that "such a nice boy" could even dream of doing evil. Even with things being as they were, Merlin couldn't have forced himself to bust their bubble. He'd only told them that Mordred had gone missing. It wasn't entirely a lie, but it was not the entire truth either. It sounded far too much like something his friends from London would say. Maybe he had spent too much time with them lately.

Ros folded her arms across her chest. 'Have you been leading us on a wild goose chase?' she demanded. Patience had never been her strong suit, but he suspected that she was in immediate danger of running out of it altogether.

'No!' Merlin exclaimed hastily. He had a lot of experience with that tone of voice; Arthur had perfected it to an art after all the times he suspected that Merlin was having him on and the warlock had to come up with a quick explanation to satisfy him as to avoid ending up in the stocks, again. He had a feeling though that Ros Myers was less likely to buy his explanation.

But he meant what he said; he wasn't leading them on a wild goose chase. What he'd really been doing was something far nastier: he was hoping that word would get out that he was visiting Druids and Mordred would come to get them while they were gallivanting around the encampments. When they had set out this morning, he had good hope that somewhere among the Druid people there would be some friend of Mordred's who'd inform him; there were rotten apples on almost every tree. And then Mordred would come to them and he'd be able to… deal with him.

For whatever reason this had not worked out. Maybe Mordred didn't have allies or maybe he didn't want to meet his intended victims on their terms. Merlin didn't know and it didn't actually matter.

'I really thought that he might have told some people where he'd go, because he's been a Druid for so long and he would have had friends among them.' Not all that strange an assumption, because Mordred had friends here. They just didn't have a clue where he'd disappeared off to. Most of them hadn't even known he'd gone to Camelot in the first place.

'You mentioned some of Morgana's old hide-outs?' Lucas interjected before Ros got the chance to give her best Harry in a foul mood imitation.

Merlin grimaced. 'Well, there's only really just the two.' Lucas had been to both and neither would provoke any pleasant memories. But that went without saying. 'We could try her hovel first?'

'Take us there.' To his surprise it was Lucas who gave the order. He'd even seen Ros not-quite-flinching at the mention of it, and she wasn't the one who had nightmares about that place. Not that he strictly speaking knew for certain that Lucas did, but if he had been in his place, well, he wouldn't have slept well for months.

He did as he was told, landing them a little distance away from Morgana's old home. The forest was silent around them, way too silent really. It was the kind of silence that felt like everyone was just collectively holding their breath before the storm hit. There weren't any animals, any birds. There wasn't even any wind to rustle the leaves in the trees. Nothing was moving.

'Has a bit of a horror movie feel to it, doesn't it?' Ros remarked casually. Merlin wasn't fooled though; her hand was hovering close to her gun.

Merlin quickly looked ahead before she caught him looking at the weapon. His mentioning that she didn't have any reservations about using it had clearly rubbed her up the wrong way. Yet he had meant it as a compliment. He didn't really think it a weakness of himself that he hated to injure and kill people, even when a situation required it, but it could be an inconvenience. More so, it could be a liability when innocent lives depended on it, and Ros wasn't the kind of person to make such a lapse of judgement. That was the message he had been trying to convey, but clearly that was not the message she had heard, although it remained a mystery what it was that she thought he'd been trying to say. Maybe he should just lay off trying to compliment Ros Myers in the future.

'If Mordred is here, then he does have a feel of theatrics,' Lucas agreed, flashing a wicked grin at his colleague. 'Do you think Morgana ever took him to the cinema while they were in London?'

Ros joined in the banter. 'Well, she did seem like an action movie kind of girl. Who knows, maybe Hogan took her on a date.'

Merlin tried to banish that image from his mind.

'If she went with Mordred, though, shouldn't she have taken him to some Disney movie? Kid friendly and all that nonsense?' Ros went on.

Merlin knew what this was. Arthur and he could banter on and on in order to avoid discussing the more unpleasant topics. That was why they were always insulting one another when things got dangerous, to alleviate the tension in the air. Not that it ever really worked – the crisis was still there when they finally decided to address the matter – but it sometimes made it that tiny bit easier to bear. And they needed that. Well, more correctly, Lucas needed that. He was laughing and exchanging witticisms with Ros, but the mirth didn't reach his eyes and his hands were shoved down the pockets of his jacket, no doubt clenched into fists.

'Shall we?' he invited. They needed to do this and waiting here would not help them.

He didn't really think that Jo was somewhere in there – although he certainly was hoping – but Mordred may be. The longer they were on this search, the more he started to doubt their chances of success. Back in the meeting room in Thames House, it had all sounded so logical, Mordred trying to bait them by taking Jo. All they had to do was find the right place, and that shouldn't be so hard, since they reckoned that he wanted to be found. But Mordred had turned out to be quite evasive. What if his plan was something far more elaborate than any of them had this far anticipated?

Still, that hovel was an important place. Morgana had lived here, and Mordred might have visited her here. It wasn't all that far from the last Druid camp they'd gone to. And it was one of the places where Morgana had been sort of defeated. It was a significant place, in the way the barn had been, and that was where Mordred left the phone. So he did have some love of theatrics.

Nothing happened as they walked over to the door. 'After you,' Ros offered, gesturing at the closed door. Merlin couldn't remember if that was how they had left it when they left after they had freed Lucas, but then, the events of that day were all a bit of a blur now and he had more important things on his mind then.

'Tospringe,' he muttered, and true to expectations the door opened. It was a good thing that it opened inwards, he reflected as he softly kicked it open. It meant that he could stay here and watch before he stepped foot over the threshold. Or not. Apparently that gentle push was too much abuse on the old battered thing already, because it came crashing down in a cloud of dust and cobwebs. All he could do was to step back and sneeze as if his life depended on it, and his temporary colleagues weren't any better off.

It was only when the dust began to settle that he got a chance to really look inside. He hadn't heard a sound coming from in there apart from the door when it fell, and it certainly looked abandoned. In fact, it looked as if the whole place was only seconds away from following the front door's example. This place had fallen into disrepair after Morgana had left, and it hadn't been in a good state even before that.

'I'll go first?' he proposed. 'And then Ros can take the left side of the room and I'll take the right. Lucas, could you be look-out?'

Matching murderous glances from both spooks informed him that they knew exactly what he was doing and neither of them approved of it.

'Don't you dare mollycoddle me, Merlin,' Lucas snapped, steel in his eyes. He pushed past the warlock and all but marched into the hovel, Ros following right behind, consequently leaving Merlin to enter last, which was definitely not how he had intended to do this. Whatever he did with them, it sometimes felt like it was impossible to get it right.

Either way, they left him little choice but to follow them inside. It was as he remembered it, a constant twilight and now not even a fire to chase the shadows and the chill away. A cold shiver went down his spine. To the right he could see the chains hanging from the ceiling. Lucas wasn't the only one who had sampled the "delights" of those things; Merlin himself wasn't in any danger of forgetting that he himself had been held prisoner here once. It was good to see that the chains were still broken from when he had used his magic to free Lucas.

All in all it didn't look like anyone had been here after they had left the last time. Morgana had not been back here and apparently nobody else had been here either. Dust had accumulated. They were leaving footprints in it. Even the cupboard he had thrown over when he had magically flung Morgana against it was still lying on its side, contents either rolled to the far ends of the room or broken on the floor.

'It's empty,' he said, not quite sure whether he should be relieved or disappointed. They still hadn't found Jo, and time was ticking. On the other hand he would be glad to see the back of this place. He wouldn't be the only one either; Lucas's posture was so rigid that he might well have turned into a statue and Ros was glaring so fiercely at every piece of furniture she saw that it was almost a miracle this old house hadn't fallen apart from the sheer force of it. It occurred to him that even though she had condemned him for trying to be kind to Lucas, she was doing the same thing, sending him off to inspect a completely useless cupboard near the door while she took care of the area where he had been kept prisoner.

'Do you have to state the obvious?' she snapped at him, not all that unexpectedly. 'Let's get out of here.'

Lucas didn't need to be told twice. He hadn't really gone inside any further than he had to. It took him only three big strides to get back outside. Merlin was only too happy to follow his example, although he wasn't very keen on leaving for their next destination. He had put it off deliberately, but with all the other places covered, he couldn't exactly run away from this any longer.

He took a deep breath, mentally bracing himself. 'There's just one place we haven't looked at.'

The Isle of the Blessed.

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