Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 35

Chapter 35

‘What the hell do you mean, there are Saxons?’ There was something very unnerving about Harry Pearce when he was faced with news he didn’t like. Arthur knew this, but the squire Gerold was positively shaking in his boots. And Arthur knew that he could be impressive when his anger was woken, but Harry, even though he wore no armour and wielded no weapon save his own tongue, induced a reaction that suggested he had been confronted with the most deadly of magic.

‘Were you seen?’ Arthur asked, diverting the boy’s attention from Harry towards himself. He was still the king and there was no telling if this matter with the Saxons was something that concerned MI-5, but it was a lot of coincidence that the Saxons stirred themselves just as this crisis with Mordred took place. They had not moved against Camelot for decades, knowing it was too well-defended. If they had needed a reminder, they should go and ask King Lot what had become of his brother and his supposedly immortal army when they had tried to take over Camelot. So for them to move now, when the kingdom was stronger than it had been for a very long time, they had to have something on their side that they thought would enable them to be victorious.

He could only pray that the something was not Mordred. He feared that it was.

‘No, my lord, I do not think we were.’ Gerold sounded only marginally more confident than he had been when he had talked to Harry. ‘We observed only. There were too many to take on with just our patrol.’

Thank goodness that Percival had sense. They would have at least a bit of advantage left as long as the Saxons remained blissfully unaware that Camelot knew they were coming. And they had not even crossed the border yet, well, not in great numbers. The people in the outlying villages had seen scouts, which they had reported to the patrol from Camelot when they came along. If he had understood Gerold well, Percival had ordered that they find out if there was any truth to the rumours. It turned out that there indeed was. And when there were scouts, the army itself was usually not far behind.

Could it be? Could Mordred really have something to do with this? It was only too easy, too tempting to link one crisis to the other simply because they occurred at the same time, but it didn’t have to be that simple. Arthur scoffed at his own choice of words a second later. No, linked or not, this was one of the most complicated situations he had the misfortune of encountering. The only reason why it mattered if they were connected or not was if Section D would be involved. Because if Mordred was behind the Saxon invasion, Harry Pearce and Ros Myers would be fighting each other for the chance to do something about it first. If not, then this problem was for Camelot to deal with. It was no business of MI-5, although Arthur liked to think that they were owed some help after his part in the Sugarhorse business and later with Tiresias.

‘Thank you, Gerold. You may go.’ There wasn’t much more that he knew, so there was no point in him staying here. And they had things to discuss. Because there was one thing Arthur was certain of: he was not about to let these Saxons march into his kingdom and let them take what did not belong to them.

Harry sported a long-suffering look and Lucas had gone very pale and very quiet, reminding Arthur of how he had looked after the market bombing when he feared that Merlin and Jo had been blown to pieces along with whoever had been within the blast range. He supposed that at least for now he should count it a blessing that Ros was nowhere near. He had a suspicion that she would have washed her hands off it all and that was it.

There was an exchange of looks between Harry and Lucas. Lucas’s was questioning, as if asking for approval, and Harry, although rather displeased, nodded.

Before he could start wondering about what it meant, Lucas spoke. ‘It’s Mordred.’

For a moment he didn’t know what to say. How could he know? That was the most prominent question on his mind. How could Lucas – and Harry too, by the looks of it – have deduced that from so little information? They were not magical that they could have found it in some mysterious way that involved flashing eyes, the kind of thing that he found rather disturbing about the whole business.

‘How do you know?’ The best way to find out was to ask. And he had at least the good sense not to ask if they were certain. That would have been a foolish question; anyone with eyes could see they were. Harry especially had not been in the joking mood lately. He would not find this a laughing matter either.

By the looks of it, Harry wasn’t going to talk, so he automatically turned to Lucas for the answer.

Lucas didn’t disappoint. ‘We did mention that you were legend where we are from?’

Of course he knew. He had been told after all, but after that he’d hardly spent much time thinking about it. There was always something far more important taking up all his thinking space. And it wasn’t as if he was treated with any kind of special treatment when he was with his London friends. Only Nicholas Blake and Richard Dolby gave any sign of being effected and even then they were only very nervous in his presence. So much for legendary status.

It was only now that he truly began to realise that for them he was history, all done and dusted, a figure who lived and died in centuries long gone. They were never meant to meet, but thanks to Morgana, they had. It made him wonder how Lucas and Harry saw him. On one hand they were dealing with a living and breathing man, but at the same time they must be aware that he wasn’t meant to be alive in their world. Never mind prophecies and fates and all that vague talk. It was history that was so hard to argue with.

‘This is history to you,’ he said. His mouth felt dry all of a sudden. If this was history to them, it must be big. Why else would they still know after all these centuries?

‘Legend,’ Lucas corrected. ‘And there are so many versions of it that no one can actually tell what really happened.’ Arthur had the distinct feeling he was trying to offer some form of comfort.

And while this was a relief, it didn’t ease his mind altogether. ‘But if stories survived, there must be something true.’

‘It mentions a battle,’ Lucas agreed. ‘And Mordred’s involvement. I seem to remember the Saxons had something to do with it. At least in some versions.’

Harry nodded, but didn’t offer a verbal reply in addition. He gave the impression of not wanting to be here. Arthur felt the same; he didn’t want to be here either. The last time he’d had an invasion on his hands, he hadn’t been there for the actual invading part, traipsing around Cenred’s kingdom in search of the Cup of Life. And the time before that he had only been the prince. Of course, he had done most of the commanding on account of his father being unwell, but it was not the same, not the same at all. Now there was no one to fall back on.

Suddenly, he really missed Merlin.

‘This isn’t your war,’ he forced himself to say.

It was unfortunate enough that it all coincided, but this threat was his to fight off. They owed him nothing. They had their own people to look after. True enough, Arthur and Merlin had offered their help with the Russians, but that been different. They had been visiting anyway. Harry and his team were only here to get Jo back and then they would need to return to London. It was highly unlikely that the Russians would be done fuming about their foiled plot to raze the city to the ground after all.

The frown in Harry’s forehead deepened. The look he unleashed on his surroundings in general and on Arthur in particular suggested he had been gravely offended. It also hinted at a very deep-rooted unhappiness to be in this situation at all. Again, Arthur knew exactly what that felt like.

‘Unfortunately, it is,’ he said eventually.

Now it was Arthur’s turn to frown in an entirely unflattering manner. ‘But the Saxons…’

‘Are probably working for Mordred,’ Harry finished. ‘And we already know that Mordred isn’t above taking his petty vengeance to good old London town.’ He gave the King of Camelot a stern look. ‘I don’t want to explain to the Home Secretary why there is an army of medieval Saxons marching on the city.’

Remembering Nicholas Bake, Arthur could only agree with that. He didn’t like the man, but neither did he wish him into an early grave because of heart failure.

Still, he didn’t think Harry really knew what he was offering. ‘What about the Russians?’

‘They are licking their wounds,’ he said. ‘And they will be delighted to go for another round as soon as we’re back in business, I’m sure.’

Arthur didn’t ask any more questions. It would be stupid to turn down an offer of help when he could use all the help he could get. He had a nagging feeling that this was still about revenge as much as it was about national security. In Harry, they were two priorities warring for dominance. The latter won most of the time, but perhaps not all the time. It was hard to be sure with him anyway. Well, it was hard for Arthur, not so much for Lucas; he looked singularly unsurprised.

‘I’ll brief the council,’ he announced. He had a feeling Harry was best left alone for a while. Arthur didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about other people’s feelings – if he was really honest, that was mostly at the bottom of his list of priorities – and he hadn’t much of an intuition to guide him in that department, but even a fool could have noticed that the past few days could not have been easy on Harry Pearce. Locked up, interrogated, betrayed, hunted down… Most people didn’t experience all of those in one lifetime, never mind it all happened to them in the span of a couple of days.

‘Need some company?’ Lucas asked, smile firmly fixed in place. It was a fake one; it didn’t reach his eyes.

He would never ask for company, but he wouldn’t turn down the offer either. ‘I’m lacking someone to chat my ears off,’ he said.

He really, really missed Merlin. It was fine to admit to that in the privacy of his own mind, where nobody could hear him. He missed that incessant chatter, those wide smiles and that silly banter. On days when he felt like he was drowning in responsibilities too heavy for his shoulders to bear, it was generally his manservant who kept his head above water. And there was wisdom there as well, and an almost blind faith in Arthur’s abilities. And right now, he could do with any or all of the above. Right now, he could really use his best friend here beside him.

Not that he objected to Lucas’s presence at all, but the longer he was in his company, the more he began to feel that there were things the spy was not telling him. That was a thing he recognised. Merlin had been unsurpassed in the art of not telling things and although it had taken Arthur a good long while before he figured it out, by now he knew all the signs.

‘What aren’t you telling me?’ he asked. The frown he felt forming on his forehead must have been absorbed from Harry. Too much time in Thames House to be sure. But then, he’d had a lot of reasons to frown lately.

Lucas had retreated deep into his own thoughts and visibly started when Arthur talked to him. ‘Sorry?’

Arthur repeated the question.

The shutters came down. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ was the curt answer.

The reaction reminded Arthur of Ros when topics got too personal for her taste. She shielded herself and gave answers that consisted of short sentences, as in so far the recipient didn’t have to deal with her one-word replies or her icy silence first. Lucas was usually more open, or he appeared more open. It was only when he really thought about it that Arthur realised he still didn’t know very much about him at all. It was rare that he pulled a Ros Myers, though. And trying to extract information from Ros was an experience similar to pulling teeth: painful, time-consuming and met with the utmost resistance.

Part of him was tempted to leave it there. Finding the right balance with Section D was still an experience akin to walking along the edge of a cliff in a thunderstorm; if you weren’t hit by the lightning, you were sure to fall off the cliff instead. There didn’t seem to be a way to do it right.

Lucas.’ He found that names with just the two syllables were extremely well-suited to that tone he took with Merlin when his servant was doing the exact same thing. Not that it was bound to have the same effect, but one could live in hope.

Judging by that half-smile, Lucas knew exactly what he was trying to do. ‘I’m not Merlin, Arthur.’

‘You’re filling in for him,’ Arthur announced. Probably not in the chores department, but in the role of friend, yes. He needed friends about him for the time to come, people he could trust. And if he couldn’t trust Lucas North, then who could he? ‘Now stop stalling like he does when he’s dropped an expensive vase.’

The smile widened. ‘That happened, did it?’

Oh yes, that had happened. It was a gift for a visiting lord and the only thing Merlin had to do was to carry it the length of one corridor without dropping it. Of course, that hadn’t turned out very well, ending with Merlin tripping over his own feet, dropping the wretched thing in front of at least a dozen witnesses. If no one had seen him, he could at least have mended it magically, but of course they’d had no such luck.

A few years ago Arthur might have been distracted. However, having a few years of Merlin experience under his belt had its advantages. ‘What aren’t you telling me?’ he repeated, nice and slow this time.

He didn’t know if he should be relieved when he, to his surprise, got an answer. Normally, if the spies really wanted to keep a secret, they kept it and nothing and no one could make them part with their knowledge.

‘Something the Dochraid said,’ Lucas answered. He was rubbing the back of his neck as if he was fighting a headache. ‘Said she sensed, no, smelled magic on me. That I was touched by it, carried it with me, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.’

For some reason, it didn’t sound like a positive development to Arthur either.

The Cauldron of whatever the hell its name was – Ros kept forgetting – was situated high up in the mountains. As a consequence it was cold, too cold for either Ros’s jacket or Gwaine’s cloak-less state. If Merlin was bothered at all, he didn’t show it and Jo was still unconscious. Gaius had given her something to keep her that way. Ros didn’t know what it was, but even if she had known, it wouldn’t have meant anything to her. There was a reason she hadn’t so much as considered a career in medicine.

Which was ironic given the fact that she was supposed to be the bloody cure for what ailed Jo. And there was no getting around it now. She had spent all of last night and the best part of the morning trying to think of a way to reach Jo, so that she would step into that pool of her own free will and had failed to come up with anything resembling a solution. And while improvising on an operation was something she did with one hand tied behind her back, improvising on the personal field was a disaster waiting to happen.

‘We’re here,’ Merlin announced unnecessarily, confirming Ros’s longstanding suspicion that he liked to hear the sound of his own voice.

‘Did you ever think to join the Service?’ she asked sarcastically. ‘You’d get top marks for observational skills.’

She pretended not to see Merlin’s would-be glare and instead took in her surroundings. The Cauldron was in the very middle of a desolate area, too high up for trees and any other form of plant life you didn’t need a microscope for to see them. On the bright side, they won’t run out of rocks any time soon. Or water. The pool itself was a very bright blue and looked extremely deep and extremely cold. Ros wouldn’t walk into it when she was in her right mind, so how in the world was she supposed to get Jo in?

Of course, if she sent Gwaine in there, he could flirt with her until she got so mad she needed to slap him and then Merlin could cast the spell that was supposed to undo Mordred’s work. There’s a thought. That however might count as subterfuge and according to the old crone of the cave Jo had to want to be free of the magic in order for this bizarre John the Baptist ritual to work.

The longer she was around all of that magic, the more illogical she found it. Who cared how Jo got into the pool as long as she got in it? Well, Merlin and something called the Old Religion apparently. And since Ros wasn’t about to take any risks with her officers if she could help it, that plan was dismissed.

‘What now?’ Gwaine asked. He was still carrying Jo in his arms and was starting to give off signs that he was starting to find her rather heavy. Well, he would, having carried her from the point where Merlin had landed them all the way to this place.

‘Put her down by the pool.’ Merlin was shuffling his feet, looking altogether rather nervous suddenly. Ros wholly approved of his reasoning: the closer, the better. ‘Gently.’

Gwaine, as ever, had no sense of propriety to speak of and managed a wide grin in response. ‘I’m always gentle with a lady.’

Merlin grimaced. ‘I don’t want to know.’

Gwaine turned his gaze to Ros instead.

‘Save it,’ she snapped at him. She understood why Arthur wanted him to accompany them here. After all, he was the one knight who knew about Merlin’s magic and they had needed a third member of their little band, but for heaven’s sake, could he be a little less cheerful about it? It was bad enough that she didn’t have a solid plan for this, especially now that she was out of time. And hanging around here for long was not an option.

Merlin looked at her. ‘Do you know what to do?’

Ros snorted. ‘Convince her to walk into the water of her own will,’ she repeated dutifully. ‘No subterfuge, no force.’ The theory of the thing was simple enough to understand.

Merlin nodded. ‘It’s not going to be easy,’ he warned her. For once he did not appear clumsy and uncertain. He, so very unlike Ros, knew what he was dealing with. She’d seen it a couple of times before, usually when magic was the topic of discussion. At least in that field he was the unquestioned authority and she was thoroughly out of het depth. A reversal of roles if she ever saw one.

‘Do you have to keep stating the bloody obvious?’ she demanded. She’d sooner surrender herself to the CIA than admit to nerves, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.

‘The magic that binds her will fight against your every attempt,’ the warlock continued as if she hadn’t spoken at all.

Ros glared at him. ‘Do we have a chance at all or did we just make that hike only to give Gwaine some exercise?’

At last, she’d managed to ruffle some feathers. ‘What I’m trying to say is that you must reach the part of her that has remained untouched by Mordred’s magic.’

‘I thought you said there was nothing left of her?’ That was what she had been told, that Jo herself had been erased, that in her place was Mordred’s puppet, someone who was just an extension of him, wearing Jo’s face to fool them. Not that it had worked. ‘How am I going to reach her?’

‘Reach that part,’ Merlin instructed. ‘You must believe that she is still in there somewhere.’ He thought for a moment. ‘I think she still has her memories, but that she is looking at them with Mordred’s views and beliefs. You need to find something she feels so strongly about that Mordred has been unable to twist it.’

In that case, you should be the one doing this. As violently as they both denied it, Ros had been unable to shake the idea that there was something going on between them. They were forever seeking out each other’s company, laughing and talking. If anyone could get Jo back, it would be Arthur’s servant boy, much as she hated to admit that. But Merlin needed all his concentration to cast the bloody spell. Of course, no spell would be cast if Ros didn’t get her colleague into that pool first.

‘I’ll need to take off the blinders,’ she nodded. There was an idea tugging at the edges of her mind, an angle she might be able to use. It wasn’t her best bet by a long shot, but at the moment it was her only bet. So get a move on, Myers. ‘Can you wake her?’

She got another nod. ‘Are you ready?’

Ros deflected the tentative attempt to help her. ‘Are you sure you are?’ She was as ready as she was ever going to be. And it was either this, or take Jo out of the game entirely. Ros rather preferred the first option.

He looked offended, but did not offer any comment. There was that look in his eyes that Ros did not like, a look that told her he understood more of her than she was comfortable with. So much for thinking she had kept control of her emotions.

‘Gwaine, make sure she doesn’t run,’ she told the knight. She might as well find a use for him while he was here. And she could try to persuade Jo until she dropped, but it would be no use if Jo bolted before then. ‘Merlin, wake her.’

Bloody magic, bloody Mordred. This was just one of those days she wished Morgana had never created that portal in the first place.

Merlin knelt down, muttered some gibberish and did that thing with his eyes before he rose to his feet again. For a moment it looked like nothing had happened at all, but then Jo’s eyelids fluttered.

Ros exchanged a look with Gwaine, silently threatening him with dire consequences if he messed this up. So far the knights of Camelot had not impressed her much. What she wouldn’t give to have some proper backup.

True to expectations, Jo got to her feet and glanced around for the nearest exit, which Gwaine was conveniently blocking.

‘Where am I?’ Her voice was shrill. ‘What have you done to me? Ros?’ Pleading blue eyes were directed at her and Ros was taken back to the roof of Thames House, where she had shown Jo the photographs of her dead tormentor.

‘Calm down, Jo,’ she said, trying to keep her voice as non-threatening as possible.

‘What are we doing here? What is this place?’ Jo had made some steps in the direction of the path that had brought them here, but fortunately Gwaine had taken hold of her arm, so she couldn’t get any further away. ‘Let me go! Ros!’

‘Not before you’ve taken a bath, my lady,’ the knight said.

Jo eyed the pool and obviously found it as uninviting as her boss. ‘I’m not going in there! Why have you brought me here?’

‘To heal you,’ Ros said. To bring back the real Jo. Not that they were friends. Being colleagues is enough.

Jo struggled against Gwaine’s grip on her arms, but was not very successful. ‘I don’t want healing! I don’t need healing!’

‘So you turned against your own colleagues of your own free will then, did you?’ Ros asked sarcastically. There was a conviction in Jo’s eyes that made her blood boil. She should have repeatedly bashed Mordred’s head against a rock instead of tying him to one. Maybe his death could have broken his hold over Jo at the same time. Well, too late for that now.

‘Yes, I did.’ It was telling that she did not even bother to deny it. ‘After what you did to Morgana, how could I not?’

Ros could compile a list of reasons several pages long with reasons why not, but listing them would do her no good. Jo wouldn’t see it. Everything she did and said was Mordred’s doing. Bloody magic. The more she saw of it, the more she became convinced that the bad sides outweighed the good. Uther may well have been on to something when he outlawed it.

‘That would be the same Morgana who tortured Lucas?’ she asked. Another colleague she had failed and an image she still couldn’t get out of her head. Although she hadn’t told anyone, she would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, seeing him the way he had been then.

‘He had betrayed her,’ Jo said. ‘But you’d know all about that, don’t you, Ros? That’s what you’re good at, aren’t you?’

For all that her mind had been twisted, some sentiments were clearly hard to get rid of. Jo had always resented her for it, but she had never been so vocal about it. As if she needed any more proof by now that this was not really her colleague.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I am good at betrayal. You’re not.’

Jo clearly had not suspected that Ros would admit that. She was generally quite prickly whenever someone brought the subject up. It wasn’t that she denied what she had done, but she could do without her team rubbing her nose in it. If she wanted reminding, Richard Dolby never failed to do that job quite admirably.

Merlin clearly thought this was not going quite according to plan. ‘Ros, what are you doing?’ He was giving off the first signs of an impending panic attack.

‘Agreeing with her,’ she replied.

‘But…’ he began.

‘No, really, it’s no problem,’ Ros insisted, willing him to just shut up before he ruined it all. ‘I’ve betrayed my country twice. I’m not ashamed of that. I did what I had to do.’ She turned back to Jo. ‘But you’re no traitor, are you? That’s why you hate me, because I did what you never could.’ And Mordred had somehow twisted her very essence. In payment Ros would gladly twist his head round, a couple of times, just for good measure.

Jo was still silent. Her struggling seemed to have ceased for the moment, but Gwaine was still holding her arms. Good thing, too.

‘You were never a traitor, were you, Jo?’ she asked, trying to sound gentle, with the emphasis on trying. She really wasn’t good at social interaction, not with people who really knew her, who knew who she was and what she had done. ‘That’s where you and I differ. You never pretended your dislike. That was all you.’

‘You were fooled, Ros,’ Jo snapped. ‘You’re not as observant as you’d like to think.’

Ros’s eyes narrowed. ‘No, I am exactly as observant as I think. I know you, Jo. You’d never betray your friends. You hate traitors. You loathe me, you despise Connie. So now you want me to believe Mordred only had to smile at you before you decided to join our ranks?’

‘His cause is justified.’ There was something in her eyes, but it was only a second and then it was gone again.

‘Enough for you to betray your colleagues and friends?’ Ros asked. She wasn’t religious, but she’d almost wished she was, if only because she would have someone to direct her desperate pleas for this to work at. It was the best she could do, but her best didn’t mean it was sufficient. There was a reason she didn’t do people.

Jo’s eyes sparked. ‘I am not a traitor.’

‘Looks like that to me. You tried to kill Merlin, Jo.’ It felt like she was finally getting somewhere.

‘I did what I had to,’ Jo objected.

‘You turned on your friends,’ Ros insisted. ‘That’s what treason is.’

‘I am not a traitor!’ She spoke with more force now.

Ros did a step back. Too far as it turned out. The shoreline had been only just behind her and the lake was every bit as cold and unappealing as it had looked. The water that drenched her socks and her jeans was icy.

‘Then prove it,’ she challenged her colleague. ‘Let yourself be healed.’

‘I am not a traitor.’ The words were hardly more than a whisper now. Ros wasn’t one for entertaining idle hopes, but this hope didn’t feel like it was based on nothing more than her own wishes.

Maybe Gwaine had more sense than Ros had given him credit for, because he too seemed to have noticed the shift in Jo’s attitude. He let her arms go and did a step back. Jo herself did not even seem to notice. Her eyes were both looking and not looking at Ros. She looked like someone who’d been whacked over the head and had her whole world turned upside down.

‘I am not a traitor,’ she repeated, only a little louder now.

‘Then prove it, Jo.’ Ros did another step back in order to maintain eye contact. The chill of the water made her shiver and sent cramps through her feet and legs, but this contact was fragile. As soon as her concentration wavered, she’d lose her. The magic that binds her will fight against your every attempt, Merlin had said. And Ros Myers was not a quitter. She didn’t lose.

‘I am not a traitor.’ Jo was at the shoreline now, walking like she was drunk, as if every step was a fight in and out of itself. It might be; it was not as if Ros knew anything about magic or the strength of it, although she could testify to the enormous amount of power behind Mordred’s blowing-people-off-their-feet spells.

She held Jo’s gaze, but refrained from repeating her challenge. For every step Jo did forward, she did one backward. She didn’t think that was quite necessary, but the last thing she wanted was to disturb this thing – whatever the hell that was – that had Jo walking on and on until she was waist deep in the lake. By that time the water reached Ros’s chest. It got deep here pretty quickly and by now the cold was doing strange things to her breathing. But she didn’t dare move. She’d get Merlin to magically dry her up as soon as it was done.

On shore Merlin had begun to chant. Ros didn’t understand a single word of it, but there was something in the tone that made his every word ring with power and authority. And that made her uncomfortable, if only because it was so far removed from what she was used to from him.

Light appeared around Jo, bright enough that Ros had to shield her eyes until it faded again. There was something in the air, a tingling that caused goose bumps all over her body. She could almost taste it. Even though she still didn’t like magic, it felt significantly friendlier than Mordred’s.

When she lowered her arm again, nothing appeared to have changed. She was still standing in the ice-cold pool, Jo just a few metres away from her. For a moment she didn’t think it had worked at all, that her way of convincing her colleague had counted as trickery in the book of whoever it was that decided over these things and that her efforts had been for nothing after all.

But then Jo smiled and it was a real smile this time. ‘Thank you, Ros.’ That must be a first as well.

There were only so many firsts Ros could take on one day and her aversion to being thanked when she had only done her job had not magically been cured along with Jo’s enchanted state. ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘You should go and thank your bouncing puppy dog before he jumps in and gets pneumonia.’ Merlin was indeed all but bouncing, smile so wide it could have easily have split his face in half.

While Ros was relieved as well, she wasn’t as relieved as she thought she would have been. Normally she did a good job of not thinking of her own past. She certainly didn’t voluntarily talk about it. There was something that felt remarkably like shame that soured any joy she might have felt.

Jo did as she was told, probably because she realised that her efforts would be utterly wasted on the Section Chief. And indeed Merlin crushed her in a hug the moment she was out of the water. Even Gwaine was on his best behaviour. He bowed, took her hand and placed a kiss on it, causing her blush as crimson as Gwaine’s now-absent cloak.

Ros Myers watched them, their joy. She hadn’t felt this lonely in years.

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