He should have known that things would never be as easy as that. Dolby, who had so far been too preoccupied with whatever report he had been reading, had suddenly looked up and located three extra people on "his" work floor. The result of that was that he had come storming out from the office, looking like a lion about to attack and swallow him whole, demanding just what he thought they were doing here.
Arthur by now had developed something of an allergic reaction to the presence of the man. He was not Ros's biggest fan either – the woman was far too snappy and cold to be considered likeable – but Dolby was unreasonable. It didn't help the case that he was as haughty as Lord Harold and far too pleased with himself, even if it quite eluded Arthur what he was so pleased about; he never seemed to do anything even remotely useful.
'What is going on here?' he demanded.
'We are investigating the death of Alexander Borkhovin,' Arthur replied, staring the other man down. He was grateful for Ros's little lecture. Helping Section D had not been very high on his to-do list, but even if the Section Chief had not spelled it out for him, he was not stupid. They might be heading towards the worst crisis they had faced since Morgana and Hogan had taken to blowing up the station. And with Dolby playing the overbearing idiot, Harry arrested and Lucas missing, turning away would not be the right thing to do. Lucas had risked life and limb for him and now might be the time to repay the favour. 'I am following up a plausible lead, as per your instructions.'
Dolby at least gave the impression of being a little ill at ease – Arthur did not think he had quite forgotten who Arthur was, nor had he forgotten the tongue-lashing he had been on the receiving end of the last time they'd met – but being Section Head had made him a little more immune to it. 'Where did you come from? You are not part of this section.'
He swung his ID in front of Richard Dolby's face, so close the man had to look cross-eyed to see it properly. For a moment he seemed to be choking, but then he nodded stiffly. 'You'll hand in your report the moment you return,' he ordered, trying and failing to pull rank on him.
Will I now? Any reports he had would be taken to Ros, he knew. Things may be different in the twenty-first century, but he had grown up in a land where loyalty was something that was tied to individual persons, like a king or close friends, instead of to a system. Ros had earned Arthur's, Dolby had not.
'Merlin, are you coming?' he called. He had absolutely no intention of walking across London when he had a servant who had – finally – mastered the art of disappearing and appearing in impressive looking whirlwinds in no time at all. And he might have a few tricks up his sleeve that could come in handy in case Lucas's flat was not as safe as Arthur hoped it to be.
Mordred was making to follow, but was called back almost right away by Jo to sort out some paperwork. She tried to make it sound like the natural thing to do, but contrary to popular belief, Arthur was not completely deprived of intelligence or observational skills. There was something forced about her tone of voice. There had been ever since the moment the lad introduced himself to her and he thought there had been a flicker of wariness on Ros's face as well when he had mentioned Mordred's name. Something told him that his plan to have the young Druid accepted was not going quite according to plan and for the life of him he could not understand why.
But that was something that had to wait now. It would keep until this crisis was dealt with, Harry was back in his office, Lucas was on the Grid and Dolby would have crawled back into whatever dark place he had come from. The lad was looking at him pleadingly, visibly ill at ease and not at all willing to spend any more time here, especially if it had to be spent without a familiar face there to guide him.
'My lord, would it not be better if I came with you?' he asked. 'It might be dangerous.'
Arthur shook his head. He would know what to look for and to Mordred it would all be new and bewildering. And sorting papers was something he would know how to do; even a child could do that. 'Stay here, Mordred,' he ordered, but in as gentle a tone of voice as he could muster. 'If there are any dangers, then Merlin will protect me from them.'
Merlin's face brightened even as Mordred's fell. Arthur contained the rage he felt at their childish rivalry for his favour. He had no idea what had gotten into their heads, but he found himself wishing he could just bash their heads together to smash some sense into them, because at the moment he felt like the only one of the three of them who had his priorities sorted.
'No offence, my lord, but Merlin does not master the sword very well,' the future knight protested, not about to let the matter go.
'I master the sword well enough.' Arthur gave his voice a slightly dismissive edge, but could not find it in himself to snap at Mordred. He could not quite fathom why, but he felt responsible for him, not unlike a parent might, he imagined. Maybe it was because he had known Mordred as a young, helpless boy. 'And, as you know, Merlin has a better form of defence if the need should arise. Mordred,' he said as the lad nonetheless tried to object again, 'this is an order.' The sentence was borrowed from Harry, who used it when he wanted to end an argument.
The lad looked crestfallen, but nevertheless bowed and returned to the desk he had been assigned. He kept looking as if he could be attacked any moment, but he obeyed, as Arthur had already expected. Later he would explain why he needed Merlin rather than him for this job. Now was not the time.
Merlin was a little too happy about this turn of events and it showed in that dazzling smile that now spread over his face. Lately he seemed to be only too eager to see Mordred taken down and it set Arthur's very teeth on edge. 'Wipe that smile off your face, Merlin,' he snapped at the warlock. 'This childish feud has to end. We are dealing with a serious matter and Lucas might be in danger.' He resisted the urge to add a snapped 'Get your bloody priorities sorted,' because he had already heard one time too many that he sounded too much like Ros.
The loud silence he received from the other was all the response he got, but at least the triumphant smile had gone. It was a compromise, but it was the best he could hope for under the given circumstances. When they were back in Camelot he would sit Merlin down for a long chat about jealousy and how to deal with that. And while he was at it, he might have a chat about paranoia and prophecies as well. This was getting too ridiculous for words. But that time was not now.
Arthur forced his mind back to the matter at hand, going over what he knew, which admittedly was not very much at all. Lucas could have been abducted by Dolby as well as Harry, and in that case there might be clues in his flat. The same would be true if the FSB had gotten to him. Or else he was in hiding, which was the possibility Arthur was hoping for. There did not seem any other options.
'What do you think we will find there?' Merlin asked, following Arthur's example of focusing on the operation instead of trivial matters as they walked down to an abandoned alley they could use to disappear without the passers-by and CCTV noticing any of their actions.
Arthur shrugged. 'Any clue,' he said, not even sure what he was looking for himself. Lucas's flat was so sparsely furnished that he hoped that any clues there might be, would be easily visible. He would not allow himself to hope too hard though. If spooks excelled at anything, it would be keeping secrets and obscuring the truth from any casual onlookers. 'Just keep an eye out,' he ordered, a little surprised that he even needed to have this discussion with his servant. It was Merlin who had the most experience in spying on others and working out the clues. Arthur was still relatively new to this whole spying business. It should be Merlin who was telling him what to do. On the other hand, Arthur knew Lucas relatively well – as well as anyone could know that man, he supposed – so he might know if anything was amiss.
Merlin didn't say another word, caught up in his own thoughts as they made their way to the alley and then transported onto the landing in front of Lucas's front door. There was a risk of being seen in doing that, but the landing was abandoned and there was no one to notice them.
'Did you bring a key?' Merlin asked.
Arthur threw his servant a withering glance. 'Since when have you needed any keys to enter a building, Merlin?'
The servant blushed in embarrassment. Arthur could not really fault him for it though. They both were still rather new to this whole using-magic-out-in-the-open thing, so it was hardly a surprise that Merlin had not remembered. Some habits were hard to break. Goodness knew that Arthur still had trouble handling it all. He sometimes still felt like calling the guards whenever he caught Merlin in the process of cleaning his boots magically. He had been brought up to be wary of sorcery and almost everything he had seen in his life had only strengthened that view. Magic was dangerous. Consequently, Merlin was dangerous. He was quite possibly the most dangerous man Arthur had ever met or would ever meet. But Merlin was also on his side, which meant that he was not a danger to him. Still, it took some getting used to the changed situation.
And apparently he was not the only one who needed some time to adapt to the changes. Merlin, Arthur had come to learn, had taught himself to do things the normal way and sometimes he would even forget that there was a different way he could use to get a job done. The key issue was a fine example of that.
He didn't bother with an answer though. 'Tospringe,' he whispered, making the door unlock itself. Arthur would have to admit that this was a lot easier than to bother with keys.
He had only been in Lucas's flat twice. The first time had been when he had stayed with the man on his first visit – if it could be called that – and the second time when he had visited a month ago. He had been meant to go back before dark, but a thunderstorm and the enormous traffic jams it caused had made him change his plans. It wasn't much to go on, but he knew the place better than Merlin. More importantly, he knew Lucas.
The flat was neat and tidy, and just as impersonal as Arthur remembered. If he had not seen the bookcase in the living room, he would never have believed that anyone lived here. But Lucas owned a wide range of books in both English and Russian, which reflected his tastes. But books would probably not help them in finding any clues.
Arthur was already regretting this little outing. When he had set out on this mission, he had believed that he would be able to spot the hints he'd been looking for within a few seconds. Well, to tell the truth, he had hoped rather than believed that Lucas would leave something in plain sight for all to see, but he remembered that this was one of the most foolish things he could have done, because in the back of his head he'd known this was not going to be easy.
It was not easy for Lucas when he endured torture at Morgana's hands, he reminded himself. Life was almost never easy.
'Lucas?' he called, hoping against hope that the spy had just overslept, which admittedly wasn't likely, because he was an insomniac if ever he'd met one. Still, he needed to be sure. 'Lucas, are you home?'
His calls were met by silence. It wasn't unexpected, but it was a disappointment. It would mean that he would have to search the flat and go through the man's personal belongings to see what story they would tell. And a message they might contain, but Arthur was not sure if he would have the skill to read it. This spying world was so different from the world he was used to, and so very much more complicated. A foray into the twenty-first century sometimes made him feel as if he was trying to play a game that he did not fully understand and nevertheless he was trying to pretend to know what he was doing, for fear he would be found out as a liar if he didn't. It was not a pleasant feeling at all. It was as if he was a child all over again, trying and failing to keep up with the grown-ups.
'Check the bedroom and the bathroom,' he told Merlin, trying to sound as if he had a plan. 'I'll check the kitchen and living room.'
The kitchen turned out to be frustratingly free of any evidence on inspection, as Arthur had already feared. His own inability to hunt down clues was starting to both frustrate and annoy him. Give him a normal hunt any day. It was very well possible that Lucas had left a message in the kitchen, spelled out in coffee beans or something, but if that was the case, he was unable to find and read it.
Praying that the living room had more to offer, he turned there. Lucas valued his books, he knew, so maybe that was where he should start. Someone might write a message on the inside of the cover, or scribbled next to the text. Lucas could have done the same, but it was going to be a time-consuming job.
He would save that for last and first see if there were no other clues to be found. And so he knelt down to look underneath the sofa – it was a good thing his nobles didn't know what he was doing or they would all suffer a heart attack from the shock of seeing their king on his knees like an ordinary servant – inspected the coffee table intensively and subjected the carpet to a thorough examination as well. None of them yielded any answers.
'Did you find anything?' Merlin asked as he joined him again.
Arthur left the carpet to itself and turned around. 'Nothing so far,' he replied curtly; the lack of results was doing nothing to improve his mood in any way. 'You?'
The warlock shook his head. 'Nothing. If there is anything there, I can't find it.'
It was as annoying as it was predictable. Arthur got to his feet again and only then realised that he had missed out on something. On a small side table stood a phone and next to the phone lay a notebook. He had seen that the first time he was here as well. Lucas used it to write down messages he got by phone and the rest was reserved for reminders to himself to do the laundry, buy bread or call the repairman.
'See if you can find anything in the books,' he commanded Merlin. 'I'll check the notebook and then I'll come to help you.'
The notebook was filled with notes and most of them did not seem to be very important; the Senior Case Officer didn't write anything related to his work down in here. Nevertheless Arthur took his time to see if one note to buy bread or to phone his father might be just a message to his colleagues in a disguise.
There did not seem to be any and Arthur was increasingly frustrated with it, almost to a point that he wanted to hurl the book across the room. The messages, all written in blue ink, seemed to taunt him with their uselessness. And he was this close to making good on his impulse when the message in black ink almost jumped off the page: Flight to hell, 5.15 am.
Flight to hell. There were only two places Lucas North would refer to as hell: Morgana's hovel and Russia. The first had lost its meaning, because Morgana was dead and could no longer hurt anybody. Besides, one couldn't fly to Camelot, unless it was on a dragon's back and that was not what Lucas would mean here. Russia was really the only option.
But this note ruled out the possibility of abduction. A planned flight, that had to mean he went of his own volition. But why? What on earth could drive Lucas to willingly return to the land of his nightmares? Things just didn't add up.
He speed-read the other notes in the book in search for answers, keeping an eye out for the black ink, which seemed to have been used deliberately for this message. It was a wild guess, but one that paid off when he came across another black-inked note. It were just numbers this time and at first it puzzled the king. A telephone number, his mind then supplied. To anyone living in this day and age that would probably be the obvious conclusion, one they'd reach within half a second of first seeing it. But Arthur had gone most of his life without any of the complicated devices they used around here – and was glad of it – and did not recognise it straight away. But when he did, pieces of the puzzle started falling into place.
Arthur Pendragon dialled the number and hoped to God he had not made a huge mistake in acting as he did.
Moscow was unchanged, Lucas observed as he left the airport and made his way towards a taxi. It felt and looked exactly the same as it did eight years ago, with the minor difference that there seemed to be more people around. He had a strange feeling of déjà vu as he crossed the street. This was the way he had also gone about things when he had last come here and there was no way he would be able to banish the memories of that operation from his mind anytime soon.
Stop wallowing, North. His mental voice sounded remarkably like Ros these days, especially when he needed the mental kick in the behind to get going. This is not going to get you any nearer to your asset.
Fortunately Harry had provided him with an address, written on a piece of paper he had found in the envelope, because it was only after his boss had hung up that he realised he had absolutely no clue as to where he could find this Maria Korachevsky. But he could not go there by taxi. If Harry had been set up, as he had claimed, then the traitor must be aware that they were onto him – or her. Once again a small voice in the back of his head was quick to remind him that Ros had been aware of Sugarhorse and Harry searching for intelligence.
He slapped it down immediately. He liked to think that if Ros was up to something, he would have noticed it by now. Besides, Harry was like a father to her and she was utterly loyal to her team. She would not betray any member of said team. And there were more ways of finding out information than to hear it from the horse's mouth. He should have known that.
It did not change the fact that at home everything could have gone to hell for all he knew, which meant that he had to go by Moscow Rules, a name that seemed rather appropriate in this city. For all intents and purposes he was on enemy territory now and it was as dangerous for him here as it had been for officers during the Cold War, when the protocol had been invented. If the traitor became aware of his absence, the chances were high that he would soon have the FSB on his trail. And since he had no ambition to repeat eight years in his own personal form of hell, that meant he would have to avoid CCTV covered areas and take back streets as much as he possibly could. If he truly did get the Russians after him, he would make it more difficult for them than the last time.
Of course he was not at all planning on making it easy on them and fortunately his rather intimate knowledge of the Russian language and the Russian ways would make it so much easier to blend in. His marriage to Elizabeta had been good for something then, he observed wryly, before pushing the memory of her to the back of his mind. She was gone from his life, would never be part of it again, and he would have to let her go. Clinging to the past would not do him any good, nor would it be any help to Harry.
His thoughts drifted to the head of Section D then. I'm being set up, he had said. Lucas had no idea in what way he was being set up, but he had a lingering and growing suspicion that the traitor was setting Harry up to look like the traitor. If that was the case, he may even be arrested now. Now there was an unwelcome thought.
He really would have to slip under the radar, not only to avoid any unfortunate run-ins with his former captors, but also to make sure the traitor in Section D would not become aware of where he was. Malcolm, Connie or Ros? He still didn't know and he still didn't want to even consider any of them at all. He knew all of them, liked all of them. The very thought that one of those three had sold him out was unbearable and he found himself hoping that blame could just be pinned on Richard Dolby, whom nobody even seemed to like.
He got out of the taxi and bought a breakfast at the nearest shop, small talking the shop personnel while he was at it. None of them seemed to suspect that he was not a native Russian and when the girl behind the counter asked in which part of the city he lived, he felt his confidence grow. He could still do this. He gave her a false address and then left the shop, hoping that things would go as smoothly as they had gone just now.
He ate as he walked, giving the impression of some businessman late for work. People did not give him a second glance as he passed them, too absorbed in their own little world to notice the British spy amongst them. Lucas knew better than to let that soothe him, though. It had gone as easily as this the last time too at first. The real trial was still ahead of him.
His phone began to vibrate in his pocket as he crossed one of the bigger streets and his first impulse was to freeze into place. He had not given this number to anyone, so no one could have reasonably called him. A second later common sense kicked in and he remembered writing the number down in the notebook in his living room. Someone would have found it and realised what it meant or he would not have been called.
Knowing he'd have to exercise caution – passing for a native Russian would be somewhat undermined if he was heard to be speaking English fluently – and being mindful of the fact that it may be the wrong person who called him, he answered his temporary mobile with just a curt 'Hello?'
'Lucas,' the voice on the other end of the line acknowledged. Lucas could have exhaled in relief when he realised it was Arthur Pendragon. If there was anyone who would not be the traitor they were looking for, it was the king of Camelot. 'How are you?' The only thing wrong with Arthur was that he seemed to treat him like he was made out of porcelain ever since Morgana had abducted him. Lucas knew he meant well, but fussing didn't suit Arthur and the spy had more than enough of Harry's worry already.
'I'll be fine,' he replied briskly. As soon as I am out of here. 'You're in the flat? Are you alone?' He needed to know if he could talk freely.
'Merlin's here, but he doesn't count.' Arthur's answer was flippant, but sincere. 'And the emperor of Rome is quite worried for you, but she's stuck at work.' Lucas only just caught himself from chuckling out loud when he remembered that Ros had indeed introduced herself like that when they had first accidentally run in on one another, but the mirth quickly came to an end when he realised Arthur was using code language. And here the king hesitated, as if he was wondering how to convey information without giving too much away to people who may be listening in, which meant there was a distinct opportunity of people listening in. Arthur wasn't one for caution; he was more the reckless type. Something must have brought this change about.
And he had to be careful how he phrased his questions as well. For all he knew the FSB was lurking about around here somewhere. Speaking English might be suspicious, but he wouldn't be the only Englishman around, not in a city as big as this one. 'Can you give her my regards when you see her next?' he asked. It was a risk, but one he was willing to take. Ros could not be the traitor. He simply refused to believe that of the one person who'd always backed him up. Friends were more okay than colleagues, something he'd always more or less known. 'And tell her I'll soon be back to annoy her.' Ros would know what it meant, he hoped. 'And while you're at it, say hello to my dad as well, will you?'
There was a short silence in which it was all too likely that Arthur decoded his speech. 'That might be difficult,' he answered eventually. 'He's rather stuck downstairs, courtesy of the big boss.'
Another silence followed as Arthur again sought for the right words. The king was not a spy, would never be one, but Lucas appreciated the effort he made to move in a world he barely understood. He was slow to adapt, but he made an effort when the situation asked for it, as he was doing now.
'Ah, the one colleague who is not okay,' Lucas understood, while at the same time wondering what the hell Dolby thought he was doing, before realising that thinking and Richard Dolby usually didn't occupy the same room.
He tried and failed to suppress the shiver that was going down his spine at the mention of Harry being stuck downstairs. There was only one sort of place he knew to be there and that was not a place he wanted to see his boss in, especially not if he was "stuck" there. It should not have come as a surprise, but he felt slightly nauseous all the same. He knew what it was like to be caught in a cell, being interrogated like that. True, MI-5 didn't go as far as the FSB in their interrogation techniques, but there were more ways to make a man's life a hell. And Harry was not as young as he had once been.
'He's more than a bit not okay,' Arthur growled. 'He's brought in the in-laws as well. Oh, and I'm afraid he stole your father's chair too. The emperor is none too pleased about it either.'
Internal Security on the Grid and Dolby in Harry's office. Things were even worse than he had expected. Small wonder that Ros was less than pleased. If Lucas knew her at all, she must be about ready to tear Dolby to pieces with her bare hands by now, even more so because Dolby never ceased his picking at her. Well, at least she had one knight in shining armour to protect her from the most rude comments Dolby threw her way; he had been walking on eggshells around the king of Camelot since he learned of his identity.
Lucas glanced around him, but no one seemed to take any notice of him and so far he hadn't spotted any faces he recognised either. If the FSB had a surveillance team on his trail, it should be quite extensive. It would seem he was clear for now, but it would be best to get moving as soon as possible. 'Tell her I'm fishing and I hope I can bring in a big one for my dad.'
'I will.' Arthur's promises always sounded like he was making a solemn vow, but right now it was the reassurance he needed. 'Oh, and don't call unless you have to.' Meaning: anyone could listen in. 'I think we're okay now, but I'll be going back to the emperor now, so…'
'I get it,' Lucas said. He'd known he would be on his own on this op, but it did not mean he had to like it and being in contact with a friend, someone who was on his side, had temporarily subsided the tension he'd felt before. Now the adrenaline kicked back in again, and not necessarily in a good way. 'Take care, Arthur. We may have a bad apple in our very own little fruit bowl.'
'I know,' the king replied. Lucas could almost hear the nod. 'The emperor told me.'
That was an interesting development. Ros had apparently briefed him about Sugarhorse, which was not like her. Lucas doubted the rest of the team was even aware of it. But maybe it wasn't that strange after all. Arthur and Ros had been allies during Operation Camelot as well. She would know Arthur could be trusted. And she would need him on side if Dolby truly was trying to take control of Section D.
And there's only one way to put an end to that: get the intelligence and find out who the mole really is. And he had wasted enough time on this call. Every minute he lingered here, was another minute in which he could be discovered. 'Good. I'll be back soon.' He hung up before the king had the chance to respond.
The streets still looked normal and there was no sign that there was any surveillance on him, but he still turned quickly and disappeared into the crowds. Time to get that intel.