Arthur wasn't sure what to think about Lucas's flat. He supposed one could call it modest, impersonal even. On the Grid Arthur had seen desks that had been practically covered in photographs and personal items. There were almost none in this place, no photographs and no personal items. There was a huge bookcase in the living room, filled with books. Most of them he could read, but there were also several titles he could not for the life of him understand. That was as personal as Lucas got apparently.
Dinner was an awkward affair. Lucas ordered something he called takeaway with his phone and when the food was delivered they ate it in silence, after which Lucas announced that he was exhausted. That left Arthur with little choice, so he retired to the spare room.
He spent a restless night, tossing and turning, listening to the sounds in the house. All of those were alien to him. He had no idea if what he heard was normal or a thief trying to break in and murder them both in their sleep. He knew Lucas had told him this was impossible because he had something called a security system, whatever that was supposed to be. All Arthur knew was that there wasn't a single guard in sight. As it was, he seriously doubted that they still existed around here at all.
He frowned as he realised he was the only one who was experiencing such trouble in adapting to this place. When he had last seen Merlin, his servant had been acting like he belonged here, chatting with Jo whilst doing something with the phone he was given. Had he not known any better he would have said Merlin was from here. And that annoyed him. Arthur still hadn't been able to work out how to get his phone to function and he still jumped every time something weird happened, whilst his servant just shrugged it off as if it were normal.
He turned on his back and watched the ceiling, waiting for morning to come. Time passed extremely slowly and a little voice in the back of his head told him he should really try and get some sleep, but he just couldn't bring himself to relax. So he would just lie here and wait, he decided. He could sleep once they were back in Camelot.
Halfway through the night he got an extra reason not to sleep. He had finally managed to relax a little and doze off somewhat when he was snapped back into full consciousness by screaming, Lucas's screaming.
Arthur didn't think. It was instinct. He grabbed his sword, which he had fortunately been allowed to keep close, and made a run for Lucas's bedroom, throwing open the door, not caring about the noise he made. He knew it! There had been a break in and Lucas was in danger. It was his duty as king to help him.
So, when he stood in the room, looking frantically around him searching for the intruder, he suddenly felt rather stupid. The dark-haired spy was lying in his bed, tossing and turning not unlike Arthur had done, and screaming like someone was torturing him. He's having a nightmare.
Other people might have wakened Lucas, but Arthur didn't have that intention. It would be unbelievably awkward for the both of them, not to mention Lucas's reaction at seeing Arthur's sword so close to his person. Besides, he felt rather embarrassed at how he had just stormed in like a headless chicken. Better to leave him be.
But going back to bed was out of the question now. He was wide awake, so instead of going back to bed he opted on putting Lucas's coffee machine to good use and trying to understand the manual of the phone. If he was extremely lucky he might even been able to use those instructions to get his phone to work. He would look less like a fool if he at least knew how to handle one of their machines, beside the coffee machine that was.
Time definitely passed quicker now that he had something to do. He even found that some of the things he read he could also put into action. Although this would probably not impress any of the spooks, Arthur felt rather pleased with himself.
His skills were put to the test sooner than he had believed. Lucas's phone, still lying on the kitchen table, started buzzing and then started playing some kind of tune. For a moment he hesitated, but Lucas was still sleeping. He grabbed the device of the table and read the message on the screen. New message.
He knew how to deal with that. A big smile formed on his face as he pressed the right button. The message immediately popped into the display. Arthur couldn't help but feel proud of himself. He had done it.
The smile disappeared as he read the text: NEED TO MEET URGENTLY. USUAL SPOT, IN AN HOUR. B. B was Ben, he knew. And Arthur knew all too well from his experience in Camelot that urgent meetings never meant well. At all.
Lucas was still bleary-eyed as he drove the car at what felt like top speed over the empty roads down to the place where they were to meet with Ben. Arthur tried to give the impression that he felt perfectly at ease here, but he knew he was failing. Spectacularly. His hands were clenched into fists and his stomach heaved every time Lucas took a sharp turn or jumped rather than eased the car over those annoying things they called speed bumps. Apparently they were intended to make people slow down. If that was the case, his taciturn companion either didn't know that or didn't care about it. Arthur suspected the latter.
It was almost a relief to get out of the car into the pouring rain. Lucas seemed to disagree. Now it were his hands that were balled into fists, his face that looked like he had just seen a ghost. He shoved his hands in his pockets and all but ran for the minimalist cover the car park of the flat was providing. Raindrops were still dripping down on them but at least they were out of the worst. Not that this did anything to ease the tension that was almost radiating off the other man.
Somehow Arthur doubted this was in any way related to the operation they were on. This had started the moment they got out of the car, when they had walked into the rain. If the idea hadn't been so absurd Arthur would have said Lucas was afraid of the rain. He shook his head to get the ridiculous idea out of it, because that was what it was: ridiculously farfetched. Even Merlin would never come up with such a thing and heaven knew his servant was an expert when it came to floating strange ideas. It must be the lack of sleep that made him vulnerable to this kind of delusions.
Fortunately for him there was distraction near at hand. A man who he recognised from a picture Connie had shown him jogged down the length of the car park. He was soaked, but he didn't seem to notice.
Lucas stepped into the light and Arthur followed his example. This man was Ben Kaplan, the man they had to meet, so showing his face should be safe.
'I got your message,' Lucas said.
Ben nodded, stretching his muscles after his run. His eyes wandered to Arthur and his eyebrows shot up. 'Who's this?' There was suspicion in both his eyes and his voice. Arthur strongly suspected it was a spy trait. Not one single one of them seemed to just accept him like that. It would have been annoying had he not believed he might have done the same thing if he were in Ben's place. After all, it had been made clear to him that Ben could very well be killed if Nadif found out he was an MI-5 officer. He just couldn't take the risk of being found out.
Lucas summoned up his charming and reassuring smile. 'The new addition to the team,' he announced. 'His name's Arthur.'
They shook hands. 'Pleasure to meet you.' Although it didn't sound like it was a pleasure. As soon as the issue of Arthur's identity and allegiance were out of the way, all of their minds went back to the present danger and Arthur understood that. He did the same whenever there was a crisis in Camelot. Deal with the danger first and there would be time for niceties later.
'Likewise,' he said.
Lucas wasn't listening. 'What have you got?' he asked.
'The dry run's definitely today,' Ben replied.
'Where?' Lucas urged.
Ben shrugged. 'I don't know. Multiple targets. All I've got is that I'm working with Jawad and they're watching the mobile networks.'
Arthur got a feeling they had done this before. It was short questions and short answers, that were still detailed and told them everything they wanted and needed to know. Not for the first time since he had come here Arthur wondered about the possibilities of having a secret service in Camelot. That might prevent a lot of attacks. After all, MI-5 seemed to do a lot of good work here.
'Well, we'll keep them up and eh…' Lucas glanced at Arthur before turning back to Ben. 'We'll have your back every step of the way,' he promised the younger man with a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
Arthur tried not to show his surprise at that announcement. Yesterday he had gotten the impression Ros was very much opposed to him being out in the field for fear he might mess up. And now Lucas was saying that they would watch Ben? That meant they would follow him as he walked across London with his terrorist friend and the fake bombs, right? As much as he was surprised he also felt great. He could do something other than sit on the Grid or talk to a leader who was just too stupid to realise what was really going on. He always had been more of a man who was in the very middle of the action, not one who was sitting on his backside while others did the dirty work, like his father had done.
Lucas already turned to leave, anxious to get out of this wretched rain, Arthur guessed, but the sound of Ben's voice stopped them both. 'And after?'
Lucas half turned and raised his eyebrows by way of a question. 'After?'
'What happens to them after?' Ben clarified.
'Once we've got the real bombers, your cell will be lifted,' Lucas said. He didn't sound like he actually cared, but Arthur could see Ben's face twisted in something that may well be called compassion. Poor man. He hadn't been in any of this business long. He had yet to learn not to feel sympathy for those that would see his kingdom destroyed. Arthur knew how hard it was. Good grief, he still had trouble forcing himself to really hate Morgana for everything she had done, forcing himself not to feel sorry for everything she had been through. He just couldn't afford to think that way. The day he did, would be a black day for Camelot. And the day these people got sympathy for their suspects, would be a bad day for their kingdom.
Ben stretched his muscles again. 'This kid I'm working with… he's… he's barely able…' The young man was clearly looking for the right words.
Lucas cut him off. 'This kid you're with wouldn't think twice about blowing you, me and as many other people as possible to bits, right?' he all but snapped. No false sympathy there.
'Yeah, I know,' Ben said, but from the way he was saying those words and not meeting the senior officer's eyes Arthur could tell he didn't feel it. It was just words.
'Okay,' Lucas nodded. 'So, he'll get what's coming then.'
'Right,' Ben said.
'Come on, you better get back.' Lucas beckoned towards the exit where Ben had come from in the first place.
The junior officer nodded and glanced again at Arthur. There was no suspicion in his eyes now. There was sadness, and grief and confusion. Arthur really felt for him. He reminded him of a young knight he had trained once upon a time. The boy had been so naïve, but he had been a good fighter. He had also been very much like this twenty-first century man, feeling sympathy for those he was supposed to hate. It had been the death of him.
Arthur forced himself not to get caught up in that particularly painful memory. Regret didn't change the past. So he nodded at Ben. 'Don't worry,' he heard himself say. 'We'll make sure you get out of this alive.' Make sure Merlin never hears that, he told himself. He might think I'm going soft.
In any case it reassured Ben. He turned and jogged away, pulling the hood over his face as he did so. Lucas and Arthur also turned to leave, the former shivering and looking up at the rain as if it had seriously offended him.
The strangest thing happened. For a moment, as the water fell straight onto his face, Lucas's expression turned to one of pure panic and then he collapsed against the wall, holding his head in his hands.
What was going on here? Was he sick, suffering a heart attack? Arthur had changed the habit of a lifetime before he had even thought about it. He knelt down. 'Are you all right?' Yes, definitely going soft.
There was a flicker of something, pure fear in Lucas's eyes as he looked up. Arthur had never seen anyone that scared before. What's going on here? But it disappeared as soon as the spook realised what had happened. He jumped to his feet, gave a curt nod and marched away, indicating this was a subject he didn't want to discuss any further. To make that even more clear he pulled out his phone, announced that he needed to call Harry and Ros and then made the calls, mostly ignoring Arthur.
You're hiding something. There had been something wrong with the man and it had somehow something to do with the rain falling on his face. No matter what Merlin said, Arthur wasn't stupid. And he knew just the person to talk to about this. Unfortunately she also happened to be his least favourite person: Ros Myers.
By the time Ros arrived at Thames House, Lucas and Arthur were already there. The latter was helping himself to coffee while the first was in Harry's office, talking to the head of section D. No sign yet of Merlin and Jo, but then, she didn't expect to. She only called them ten minutes ago. She shook her head. Those two had wasted no time at all in getting together, but somehow they she felt they would do well together. Not that she knew anything about that. Adam and she hadn't been exactly a dream couple after all.
Connie came in through the pods and Ros snapped herself out of Merlin and Jo's unexpected relationship. Like she had said: it wasn't any of her business. She'd better keep herself occupied with things that were. So she got up and started giving orders to Connie and the other members of the team already there. After that she took her chair again and studied the files about their wannabe bombers, baptised Fox One, Two and Three, and Hawk, who was Ben. Honestly, someone needed to invest some money in the development of better codenames.
She only looked up when Arthur said her name.
She glanced up. 'Arthur,' she acknowledged.
'I need to talk to you,' he announced. If he ever sounded like a king, he did now.
'Then go ahead,' she said, trying to sound as not interested as she could. He might be good with the politicians, but that didn't mean she suddenly tolerated his presence on the Grid. And now she had learned that he was going out in the field today, even though she had specifically told Harry he didn't get anywhere near this operation. She had no idea how he'd done it, but it made it difficult for her to put up with him. 'Or were you waiting for my bloody permission to speak?'
'It's about Lucas,' Arthur continued, ignoring her tone. Anyone else would have run for cover by now, but not him apparently.
Ros's eyes narrowed in suspicion. She knew that tone and she knew that look. He was about to report something, tell on Lucas. If there was one thing she hated it was that, even more so because once she had been doing the exact same thing which ended up driving a member of the team into exile. That had made her learn her lesson, made her hate it.
'What about him?' she all but snapped, hoping that would discourage him to go on.
He didn't take the hint. 'He's had a nightmare last night,' the king told her. He didn't even blink not even when she directed her most icy stare at him.
'As do a lot of other people,' she pointed out, but in the back of her head a few dots connected. That must have been why Lucas had been so tired yesterday. He could handle one night without sleep, but if he had been having nightmares, probably about Russia, that explained a few things. But still, it wasn't any of Arthur's business. 'And I hardly think it's any of your business, your highness.' The last two words were spoken with as much loathing as she could manage.
He still failed to be impressed. Bloody king. 'There's more,' he told her and before she could even start to repeat her earlier statement that this didn't concern him, he went on: 'He is afraid of the rain. He looked up at it and he had a panic attack.'
Shit. From the debriefing reports she knew Lucas had been subjected to water torture. She just didn't know it was affecting his skills in the field. Part of her really wanted to feel sorry for him, but that was an emotion a spook could better not listen to. So instead she gave Arthur the full benefits of her anger. He had ignored an order after all. 'You are very lucky I won't tell this to anyone,' she hissed, her voice low. 'But next time you try to undermine one of my officers you get a one-way ticker back to that interrogation room. Did I make myself clear?'
'I was only concerned,' he protested.
That was about as likely as her ever being a people's person and she scowled. 'Then next time you keep your "concern" to yourself. It is not your place to question your superior officer, officer Pendragon.' She had the intense satisfaction of seeing him colour bright red. Whether the cause was shame or anger, she couldn't care. At least it shut him up nicely. 'Now, I believe Lucas is ready to go,' she continued with a sweet smile. 'Be a good boy and do as he says or I will have your ass back in that basement cell before you can say Camelot.'
Bloody king, she thought again as Arthur retreated with all the dignity he could muster after her tongue-lashing. He obviously had never learned to do as he was told. Heaven knew what they were in for now that Harry had him unleashed in the field, ordered to follow Ben and his Al-Qaeda friend. Fortunately Lucas would be keeping an eye on him.
The next half hour passed soon as she issued orders to the team and made sure everything was in position. She dispatched Merlin and Jo as soon as they had entered the Grid to follow one of their foxes and rapped orders through the phone at the team that would take care of the remaining fox.
But she was also pleased with herself. By the time their wannabe bombers were ready to go, so was her team and most of that was thanks to her.
'Okay everyone,' she said briskly. 'All units in place. Do we have visuals on foxes one to three?' This was her day. She felt it. Harry hadn't left his office since she arrived and she was okay with that. She knew where he was when she would need him, but she didn't think that would be the case. It was only a dry run, after all.
As Connie voiced her confirmation of the visuals, she was distracted by Harry's sudden appearance. He had his coat on and gave every impression of going outside. What on earth?
'Ros?' he asked.
'Harry,' she nodded, the question written probably all over her face.
'You can handle a dry run,' he told her, as he put on his gloves. 'Red-flash me if anything untoward occurs.' After that he walked over to the pods.
Before she had the chance to say anything he was gone and she found herself staring at the pods, wondering what the hell happened here? Was he going to walk out in the middle of an operation? Without the head of the section here to fall back on, her certainty was almost completely smashed to pieces. Suddenly it didn't sound that likely anymore that everything would be all right.
But she would rather die than let her subordinates find that out. So she straightened her back and addressed them again. 'Okay people, let's keep this clean and by the numbers. We have three Foxes and Ben is our Hawk. Connie, can you get me an update?'
If anyone noticed her uncertainty, they didn't let her know. The intelligence analyst just replied as if this was just another normal day and the operation nothing special at all. 'They're on the move, Ros.'
She nodded and mentally braced herself. It had begun.