The Grid was busier than a bee colony in high summer, even when Dolby had retreated into the office that would always be Harry's in Ros's mind. The very sight of that bastard sitting there made her want to grab him by the collar and forcefully escort him from the premises, but that would be professional suicide and the last thing she should do now was to put her career on the line when both Harry and Lucas were gone.
Harry was the solid rock on which this team was built, she observed, and it was obvious that his officers craved his leadership. He was the one that kept them all together, and while Ros could lead as well, she was not as well liked as the Section Head and she knew it. Her orders were obeyed, but not with quite as much enthusiasm and that stung. And normally she would have Lucas and his easy charm as a second in command whenever Harry pulled one of his disappearing acts again. He usually only had to ask and smile and everyone tripped over themselves to carry out his request. Ros's orders were only obeyed reluctantly; not everyone had quite forgotten the mistake she'd made with Yalta. Sometimes her life would be so much easier if people didn't dwell so much on the bloody past and started to get more concerned with the present and future.
Yeah, and if Dolby wasn't such a dollophead, we'd not have this sodding situation to begin with. Merlin's insult slipped in almost effortlessly; the word seemed to suit Dolby quite perfectly. So get a grip and get back to work. Harry's fate may just depend on it.
She told the team that dealing with the crisis took precedence, but that didn't stop her from doing an investigation of her own while she waited for the first reports to come in. Harry had said that they would have a mole within MI-5 and as much as she didn't want to consider it, there was a possibility that this mole was working in Section D. So she had taken the personnel files and started digging. If the traitor did work here, then he or she could undermine everything they were working on now. She had a duty to find out who it was and put an end to what they were doing.
Now she was staring at Lucas's file, even if she was very loath to do so. She had seen his bordering-on-suicidal-loyalty during Operation Camelot, but he was also the team member who had the most experience with the Russians and the FSB. He had been held captives by them for eight years and his ex-wife was working for the FSB still as far as she was aware. Yes, he had given them Arkady Kachimov, but in the greater scheme of things, he was barely a blip on the radar. What the Russians were doing now, was much bigger and he could still be a plant, a sleeper, used only when the biggest crisis of the past few years came around.
Stop it! Ros snapped at herself. He isn't a traitor. I know he isn't. It was nothing more than intuition and that didn't count for anything with people like Dolby, but it was often the best asset they had in this line of work.
She was stopped from forcing herself to acknowledge just how naïve this train of thought was by the whooshing of the pods. A moment later they spat out Arthur and Merlin. The latter made a beeline for Jo's desk – surprise, surprise – as the former marched over to Ros's. He was excited, judging by the determined spark in his eyes and the way he walked. It appeared to be a good excitement. Ros could not deny her relief, not even to herself this time.
With some amusement she noticed that Arthur did not even look in Dolby's direction, never mind that he was about to take his report there. She had not expected him to do that; Arthur's notion of loyalty was to a person, not to the one who just happened to be sitting in the chair in that office. She'd never been so grateful for that before.
'Found something?' she asked briskly.
Arthur made the mistake of looking over his shoulder to see if no one was listening in, which fortunately they weren't. 'Well…'
Ros interrupted him. 'Don't look around you as if you were a nervous junkie smuggling drugs into the country,' she snapped at him. 'It's the classic giveaway for illegal activity.' Oh, she knew he was on side, but sometimes he was suffering from a case of stupidity that should just be punishable by law. And he needed to work on his spying skills if he was to be any use in this operation.
Arthur visibly only just caught himself before he could make the same mistake again, but he did favour her with the look that told her that he was the king and she could not address him in such a manner. Ros didn't care. In here he was her subordinate. What he did in Camelot was his business, but here he did as he was told or else he was welcome to a visit to the paper archive.
'What did you find?' There was no doubt he had found something; the excited facial expression was indication enough and Arthur could not keep a secret to save his life.
'He's in Russia,' the king reported. 'There was a note in the book next to te phone: Flight to hell, 5.15 am. Everything else was in blue ink, that was in black. And there was a phone number as well.'
Ros was torn between complimenting him for his quick mind – because he had done a good job in working it all out – and moaning out loud for the complication this presented. Lucas may be on a black op, or he could be betraying them this very moment. Then why leave the bloody note and the phone number to go with that? The Section Chief was not ready to believe he had truly turned his back on them, but to leave the country just as all hell was breaking loose and it was obvious that there was a traitor at large? That was not the act of an innocent man. Still, there was the note. Surely that had to mean something?
Lucas is a very skilled and resourceful operative, Harry had once told her. He could be playing you, knowing how strongly you feel about being loyal to your team. That was when they had all believed that Lucas had taken Arthur to Morgana. Then he had left them the tracking devices and the Colleagues are okay note. A declaration of loyalty, a plea for trust and a cry for help, she had thought then. This, this was just the same.
And that decided her, and not just because it fit in with her own hopes concerning her colleague. This felt almost exactly the same as it had been during Operation Camelot. Whatever the explanation was, it had to be a good one.
'Did you try the phone number?' she demanded, hoping and praying he would say no. Even if Lucas had used a pay as you go phone – most likely since they had not been able to reach him on his normal phone – Arthur's was registered and there was a good chance that he had been compromised.
Of course that was hoping for too much. 'Yes.' He looked altogether pleased with himself.
Ros didn't reciprocate the sentiment. 'Bloody fool,' she hissed at him. 'You are aware that all our conversations are recorded by internal security?' Sometimes even a toddler had more common sense than the king of Camelot. She appreciated his efforts, she really did, but sometimes he was too dim for his own good, or hers.
The result was an indignant look. 'We used code language.' He drew himself up to his full height, even more effective because she was still sitting down. 'Dolby won't have learned anything useful from us.'
Ros sincerely doubted that, but nevertheless gestured for him to carry on talking. After all, the damage was already done. She might as well find out what he had learned. If Dolby would get that information, she saw no reason why she shouldn't have it. And it may hold some answers. They were in desperate need of those right bloody now.
When information was not forthcoming right away, she fixed him with as stern a look as she could manage. 'Well, are you going to spit it out already or will you have me wait till Christmas?'
Arthur took a chair, a frown in his forehead as he tried to remember what had been said. 'He said I should give my regards to you and that he hoped he'd be back soon to annoy you again.'
Despite the risk he'd taken in even mentioning her name to Lucas, Ros could barely stop herself from cracking a relieved smile. Friends only annoy you, they had agreed, which meant Lucas still considered that friendship to be in existence. It could be a ploy still; Harry had warned her that he was skilled and Ros herself had seen him turn people as if it was something he just did between breakfast and lunch, but she didn't think that this was like that. She had been playing this game for a long time as well, so she should bloody well hope she knew when someone was trying to play her. This did not feel like it, not when their own private code came into it.
'You mentioned my name?' She fixed Arthur with as stern a stare as she could manage. Goodness knew she missed a senior presence on the Grid, someone who could give the commands with her. Connie and Malcolm were both senior officers, but they were no leaders. It had been quite obvious that they, so like the junior staff, were all looking to her for guidance. She felt as if she had a bunch of small kids under her wings, all of a particular stupid kind too. I'm starting to know what Atlas felt like here.
Arthur snorted dismissively. 'Of course not. I'm not an idiot.' Allow me to disagree. 'I told you, we used code language.'
And Arthur and code language were just about as compatible as Ros and medieval fashion sense. 'What did you call me?'
'The emperor of Rome,' Arthur retorted. He even conjured up something of a lopsided grin that told her he'd spent too much time hanging around Lucas. 'You remember, right?'
Of course she remembered her own heavily sarcastic reply to Arthur's first introduction of himself. Unlike a king she could mention, she didn't deal in stupidity as a daily job. So she didn't even bother with an answer as she went on. 'What else?' They were running out of time here and Arthur was stalling, even if it was probably not deliberately. It was just his way.
'I needed to tell you that he was fishing and that he'd bring back a big one for you and his dad.' Arthur's tone of voice and facial expression told her he was none too charmed by her manners, but Ros could not care. She was too busy decoding Lucas's message. Fishing would mean that he was looking for information. And he would bring it back for her and for Harry. The fact that he had referred to Harry as his dad could mean that the relationship between them was mending, might even mean that Harry had been the one who had put him up to this. It would not be impossible.
A thought struck her then. What if Lucas had been sent to make contact with a Sugarhorse asset? It would relate to this crisis, Harry being set up and it might offer an explanation for why Lucas had gone to Russia of all places to get this information of a yet unspecified nature. And if that was the case, he could be in tremendous danger, especially with a traitor around who seemed to be far better informed than Ros was comfortable with.
'Shit,' she cursed.
'It gets worse,' Arthur informed her. 'He told me to tell you we have a bad apple in our "very own little fruit bowl."'
A traitor on the Grid. Ros insides turned to ice in a matter of seconds. She had feared that would be the case, but she did not have any confirmed information until now. MI-5 was a big organisation and the mole could have been anywhere, until Arthur told her otherwise. And she was in no position to doubt Lucas's words. Better safe than sorry in this case. And that meant that she didn't know who to trust anymore. Anyone could be a Russian mole.
She shook her head as she corrected herself. No, not anyone. The ancient additions to the team were out of the question for the obvious reason – although she sure as hell was going to demand answers out of Arthur as to why he had thought it a good idea to take on a young man by the name of Mordred. Had he no knowledge of legends at all? – and so were Ben and Jo. They had not been in the Service for long enough to be involved in anything. She thought she could rule out anyone not on the core team as well. They simply would have no way to get access to the relevant information.
That only left five people: Dolby, Malcolm, Connie, Harry and Lucas. She crossed the last two off the list immediately. Lucas would not be a traitor, she would bet a year's salary on that, and the same was true for Harry. The problem was that it would not be anything easier to believe of either Malcolm or Connie. Ros may want to pin the blame on Dolby, because she so disliked him, but that would be both unprofessional and unfair. Nevertheless, suspect until proven innocent. She would have to tread with care around him. And she had no evidence whatsoever to base her assessments of Harry and Lucas on either. As she had been taught during training: officers didn't make their decisions based on personal feelings and intuition. She could not, would not fall into that trap. The rest of the team was already this close to acting like a bunch of headless chickens, so if she lost it, the end would be lost too. And Sugarhorse as well. Get a grip, Myers.
'Right,' she said, knowing it was anything but. 'Keep this to yourself as long as you can. No idle chatter over a cup of coffee to your magical friend over there, or your new adoring puppy dog,' she added as an afterthought when she caught sight of Mordred again. 'Get on to Laurie Werner and arrange a meet. Get everything you can from her on the Russian plans. They're bound to have assets as well. I don't care how you get it, just make sure you get it as soon as you can. Threaten her if you have to, but try to minimalize the diplomatic fall-out this time. I've got enough of that on my hands as it is already.'
Arthur nodded. 'They're not getting anything?'
Ros shot him a wry look. 'We don't have anything. But whatever you do, if you as much as mention the words Sugarhorse, Harry or betrayal you won't be seeing Camelot again. Is that clear?' Last thing she needed was the cousins all over this.
The king gave a curt nod of the head. 'I'll get right onto it.'
He was gone before Ros could comment, so she directed her glare at his back. 'You'd better.'
Merlin had certainly had better days than this one and he knew it. Part of him already regretted coming to London today. Why could Lord Harold not have launched into one of his trademark rants about the new laws on magic? Or maybe a foreign monarch could have stopped by for a discussion about something important as trade. That would have prevented them from coming here just as well.
But that was a selfish thing to be thinking and he knew it well. He owed these people a favour. After Lucas had been rescued, Harry Pearce could have decided to go home and leave the Morgana matter to them. The traitor had been discovered and unmasked, as was the bargain he had struck with them, so their obligation to Camelot had been fulfilled. Morgana was no longer a risk to British security, which was what they normally concerned themselves with. There had been no reason for them to stay, yet they had stayed and they had admittedly played a huge part in killing Morgana. Yes, they had done it out of vengeance, hate and retribution, but they had done it all the same. Harry could very easily have decided that national security in Britain was more important.
And that meant Merlin owed it to him to try and fight for him now that he was falsely accused of treason, because Merlin did not for one second believe that the allegations against him were genuine. He did not know the Section Head well, but that was clear as daylight. Moreover, Ros didn't believe it either. The warlock was loath to question her judgement after she had gotten the right of it several times in a row during the events that led to Morgana's death.
He heard a muttered curse from Jo, who had occupied the desk opposite him, as she put the phone back, presumably after the umpteenth official had hung up on her. She had been chasing down phone and email records from the deceased Mr Borkhovin since they arrived and during his brief time away with Arthur that had apparently not changed one bit.
'Nothing yet?' he inquired from over a stack of paperwork that detailed Alexander Borkhovin's personal life.
'Nothing suspicious from the few people that didn't hang up on me right away.' The junior officer sounded frustrated. 'I need to talk to Connie, see if she's heard anything useful I might follow up on.' She shoved her chair back with more force than strictly necessary and stalked off to the intelligence analyst.
Merlin at least could understand that feeling, but not for the same reason. He was being kept out of the loop deliberately by his king and Miss Death-Glare Myers and he didn't know why. What he did know was that it was frustrating. He knew Arthur didn't trust him around Mordred, but this was not about Mordred now, was it? Ros's motivations were a little clearer, but not much.
Arthur had only told him the bare minimum and had even gone as far as to send him to check the guest bedroom extensively for clues while he made the phone call to the person Merlin strongly suspected to be Lucas. He had listened in, but they had been using code speech and Merlin had not been able to learn anything from Arthur's end of the conversation, nothing he didn't already know.
Merlin is here, but he doesn't count. That was something Arthur had said. It was a flippant comment, probably nothing more than just a joke, but it hurt all the same. Lately he was feeling like he was being pushed to the side-lines, his place stolen by Mordred and Lucas. Good grief, even Ros seemed to be more important than Merlin these days, given the fact that Arthur had practically run over to the Section Chief's desk the moment they had emerged from the pods. They had been having their tête-à-tête ever since.
When they first came here, Arthur had been the useless one and Merlin had been the quickest to adapt. Now it seemed their roles had been reversed. The king moved around here as if he had been working with Section D for years and his servant was the one who felt lost now. He still didn't entirely get what the crisis was all about – that explanation too had been for Arthur's ears only – and now he was investigating a man's death without knowing how it even related to this crisis. There was more to it and it had to do with Harry's arrest and Lucas's mysterious disappearance, but what exactly it was, was still not clear.
'You've been avoiding me, Emrys.'
The remark came rather suddenly, startling Merlin out of his musings which had long since lost any relation to the file he had been looking at. Nevertheless he thought he concealed his reaction well, giving off the impression that he had not heard Mordred's words. If anything, talking to the soon-to-be knight was not very high on his to-do list.
'Emrys.' The name was in his mind as well as in the air this time.
Merlin swivelled his head in Mordred's direction. 'Don't. Do. That.' The low hiss came from between clenched teeth. He had hated that from the start. It felt as if Mordred was actually in his head, not a thing he'd like in any other situation, never mind in the one they were in right now. Mordred was an enemy of Arthur's and therefore one of his, even if the king was still in denial. 'You can't do that in here,' he added, looking up just long enough to favour the boy with as stern a look as he could manage. With any luck it had the Ros Myers quality he'd been aiming for. 'If Dolby catches wind of this, we'll both be in more trouble than we'd like.'
Mordred's head turned in the direction of the office, where Dolby could be seen rapping orders into a phone while he studied the contents of a file in front of him at the same time, rendering Merlin's warning rather unnecessary.
And Mordred knew that too. 'Emrys, why are you avoiding me?' He at least heeded the warning to not use the mind-talk again, for which he should be grateful.
But he was not planning on answering that question and at least he had a good excuse to ignore the lad for now. He had a file to study and Ros would not be pleased if she were to find out he'd spent the day chatting with his archenemy. He reached out for a few papers he needed, only to find that they had gone from the desk and were now held by Mordred, who looked unwilling to part with them.
Reluctantly he had to admit that the lad was clever. Too clever maybe. 'I have not been avoiding you,' he replied, knowing full well that he had. The honest answer however would have been 'Because I don't trust you' and that was something he felt he could not say, not yet at least.
Mordred didn't buy it. 'Yes, you have,' he said forcefully. 'Don't lie to me. You've been hostile to me since I saved your life.' He threw up his hands, papers still in them, in the air in what appeared to be exasperation. 'And I don't understand it. You and I are on the same side. We both mean to help Arthur.' The expression on his face softened somewhat. 'We both have magic.'
That doesn't change anything. It might even make matters worse. 'I shall never forgive this, Emrys, and I shall never forget,' he quoted. Unlike Mordred, he was not even trying to play the sympathy card. Softening up would not help him here.
It might, though. The memory of Lucas, driven to go to the extremes partly because of Merlin's harsh and unforgiving attitude was still fresh in his mind. How much of this would be a self-fulfilling prophecy if he wasn't careful? He could do the same again: drive Mordred to hate him, hate Camelot, hate Arthur and all just because Merlin found himself incapable to ignore a prophecy that, if Arthur was right about this, had already been prevented. Could he take that risk?
The answer presented itself immediately. Yes, he could. He could, because the alternative was exposing Arthur to danger and that he could never stand for. Lucas had once accused him of not being able to do whatever it took, and he was determined to prove the man wrong.
'You can't be telling me that has all changed now,' he said sharply.
Mordred looked like he was a little out of his depth, desperate maybe even in a way. 'You cannot be holding that against me now, surely?' he asked incredulously.
Merlin's stern look at him answered that he did.
The incredulity increased in tenfold. 'I only was a child then!' he exclaimed. 'This happened years ago. I didn't know what I was saying. Or doing.' The last two words were spoken in a way that suggested he was ashamed of what had happened then.
And that was something Merlin found altogether difficult to believe. 'You had just killed three Camelot guards in cold blood,' he retorted icily. He may have interpreted Lucas's actions in the wrong way, but there was no chance he could make that mistake here. Murder was murder and he had seen it. Lucas at least had never sunk that low. This was not the same situation, no matter what Arthur liked to think. Mordred had already proven to be one very dangerous enemy. 'Tell me how that was not a conscious decision.' He was fully aware that he was sounding like the Section Chief more and more by the minute. Normally that would have vexed him, today not so much.
This time he received a wry look for his troubles. 'Are you telling me that you've always been in complete control of your powers?'
He hadn't. Goodness knew he'd driven his mother to madness by levitating objects he hadn't been meaning to levitate, accidentally changing the colour of old man Simmons's coat and setting fire to the neighbours' laundry. But that was still a long way from killing anyone.
Mordred interpreted his silence in the wrong way. 'I was scared, Emrys, and angry. I panicked. Yes, I wanted to get away from the guards and the knights, but I swear to you that I never intended for those men to die. My powers, they got away from me.' He shook his head. 'I did not know how to control and use my gift then and the panic didn't help. All I wanted was to get away. I had no reason to trust them after all.'
Merlin eyed him warily. 'And you do now?' he asked disbelievingly. 'Suddenly you just happen to appear, out of the blue, saving our lives at the most opportune moment imaginable.' He'd found that suspicious right from the start, even if Arthur did not seem bothered with it in any way. 'Is all suddenly forgiven and forgotten now?'
It was clearly visible that Mordred was getting annoyed. And when he spoke, it was audible too. 'I am a Druid, Merlin.' The warlock wondered if he had gone down in said Druid's opinion now that he was no longer addressed by his official Druid name. 'I was allowed by the law to return to Camelot without having to fear for my life. Change truly is coming at last. Merlin, even you cannot deny that. And you know the prophecies. You know what Arthur is destined to do.' The enthusiasm was unmistakable now.
And I know what you are destined to do, even if you've conveniently forgotten about it. 'I do know them,' he replied coolly.
The very non-enthusiastic reply clearly didn't register on Mordred's radar. 'Everything we've been hoping for is finally happening and I want to be there to see it. Don't you understand?' He almost pleaded his case.
As it was, the warlock understood that better than anyone; it had been his life's work. Of course he wanted to see it come true. Which is why Mordred needs to disappear. 'I am just looking out for him,' he pointed out, making it look like this had nothing to do with Mordred at all, even when it was obvious that it had.
Mordred fixed him with a sad look as he finally gave Merlin his papers back. 'I am not an enemy.'
Merlin could not in all truth agree with that and so he looked frantically for a distraction, finding one in the returning figure of Jo, with Connie, looking like a very dissatisfied duck the way she walked, hot on her heels. It was like an answer to his prayers.
'Anything?' he asked as the junior officer took her seat again.
She pulled a face. 'So far the Russians have shut down every avenue we could explore.' She threw in a snort. 'And to think that I thought those MI-6 leads sounded quite strong… Nothing. There's just nothing.'
Connie caught up then. 'Are you surprised?'
Jo shook her head. 'No. It's almost…' Here she hesitated. 'It's almost as if they know we're digging and are trying to stop us from poking our noses in.' She turned to Connie. 'And I still can't quite believe what they're accusing Harry of, can you?' To Merlin it sounded like a plea for reassurance.
'Don't be absurd,' the elderly woman said. 'I'm just surprised they're taking so long to realise their own stupidity.'
Merlin didn't really know the intelligence analyst, not well enough to like her anyway, but they were in agreement over this. He might even start to like her for it.
This newfound liking was short-lived though when Connie turned to him. 'Anything interesting in that file, Merlin?' she inquired as she looked at it, which would mean that she knew full well he hadn't read a letter since Jo had left. Fortunately she saved him at least from having to give an honest answer to that by pre-empting it herself. 'We're dealing with a crisis here, young man, not a tea party. Do get back to work and save the chatter for the lunch break. You as well,' she added with a stern look at Mordred. 'No dawdling on this floor. Ros!' She marched on without sparing either of them as much as a second glance, leaving the two of them as if they were chastised school boys, equal in that regard. It was only when he was about to return to the file that he realised that Arthur was nowhere in sight.