Arthur waited with the rest of the team in the tech suite until Harry and Lucas had completed their conversation. The king had started pacing up and down the room, something that seemed to irritate the Section Chief to no end. She had already given him a few stern looks, but had, so far, refrained from commenting.
Everyone was visibly on edge after the phone call, but Arthur couldn't help but thinking that he was the worst, as hard as he was trying not to show it. All the discomfort he had experienced in the past few days as a result from being forced to survive in the twenty-first century and assisting in an operation he could barely understand, seemed to have faded away in an instant when Merlin had called him to report Morgana's presence in London.
It felt infinitely wrong that she was here as well. Heaven knew that London wasn't the safest of places, today's operation had made that all too clear to him, but he had been under the impression that there at least were no evil sorcerers here to disturb the peace. And it would seem that there still weren't. Arthur and Merlin had just brought their own with them.
So, in a way he felt guilty. If they had never come here, Morgana might never have been here either. The team he now was part of didn't believe in coincidence and neither did Arthur. He could only think of one reason why Morgana would ever willingly venture into the twenty-first century and that had everything to do with his presence here.
Merlin seemed to have been reading his mind. 'I don't think it is our presence that drew her here,' he told the team in general.
To Arthur's surprise Ros nodded. 'Al-Qaeda was planning something long before we learned of the portal to your time,' she agreed. 'And if they needed to get to Marlin's family in the short time between capturing you and that first meet we had with him, they had to work faster than humanly possible.'
Arthur nodded reluctantly. That made sense. Unfortunately it destroyed just about every other theory he had as to why Morgana was in London and what on earth she wanted with Section D if not to get to Arthur. Hopefully Harry would allow Lucas to make that rendezvous.
Unlike every other member of the team, or so it would seem, Arthur had faith in the Senior Case Officer. In the short time he had known him he had learned that Lucas had spent eight years in prison in a foreign country, being tortured for information he had never given his interrogators. Merlin had learned that from Jo and had passed the information on to Arthur. the king now understood the nightmares and the man's fear of water (apparently Lucas had been subjected to water torture).
But Arthur had gotten to know him mostly as a serious man, completely devoted to his work and who was, as Ros would phrase it, bloody good at it too. Arthur had worked with him on the operation and, as soon as the shock of the events had worn off, he had started to appreciate the way Lucas did his job. He was calm, intelligent and resourceful. To tell the truth, if anyone stood a chance at going to meet Morgana and make it back in one piece, it would be him.
'But what does Morgana want then?' It was the obvious question to ask.
'And why would she ally with Bob Hogan?' Jo chimed in.
'I can answer that last one,' Merlin said wryly. 'She takes any ally she can get.' He shrugged. 'And loses them again once they are no longer useful to her. She thinks of Hogan as disposable. If he can no longer help her achieve her goal, she'll lose him first chance she gets. Or she kills him, if we're lucky.'
It frightened Arthur a little to hear his normally so gentle servant speak in this way. It wasn't like Merlin to be so hateful towards anyone. He had half expected him to stand up for Morgana, as he had done when she was still living in Camelot.
'Same with Hogan,' Ros nodded. 'With the slight variation that he would probably sell her out to the highest bidder.'
Even though he hated Morgana now, Arthur thought that a bit harsh. 'That is sick,' he commented.
Ros threw in a sarcastic grin. 'That sums him up to perfection.'
'Talking about me?' Lucas came walking into the tech suite, smiling widely, but his eyes were alert. His relaxed posture was just a bit too relaxed to be real, Arthur decided. It reminded him of when Merlin was on edge and yet still tried to be perfectly optimistic in order not to worry his boss. And Arthur could simply not imagine Lucas not to be nervous. He was about to meet Morgana and the man that apparently was Section D's archenemy.
'Our sodding charming station-bombing CIA friend,' Ros corrected. 'Did Harry give you permission?'
Lucas nodded. 'Yep.' Ros's face darkened at that reply, but her colleague ignored her. 'Malcolm, Harry asked me to find you for a tracker and some undetectable bugs.'
That seemed to make the technician's day. His face split in a wide grin. 'I've got just the thing,' he told them. He got up and grabbed a jacket of a nearby chair. 'There is one audio bug in the top button and a small camera in the one under it.'
Arthur leaned closer to get a better look, but could not see a sign of the mentioned objects. 'I don't see anything,' he remarked, raising his eyebrows.
Some might take that as an insult, but Malcolm seemed to think he had received a compliment. 'That's the point. I tweaked the software a bit, so that…'
At this point Ros cut him off. 'Fascinating,' she commented in a tone that suggested she thought it was anything but that. 'Can you bloody well hurry up a bit? We're running out of time here. Are you absolutely sure these can't be picked up by any detectors?'
'As good as,' the elderly man told her. 'In theory it should be completely undetectable.'
Arthur didn't understand a lot of twenty-first century machinery, but he did know the word theory. That didn't bode well in general.
Lucas seemed to have had the same thought. 'In theory?'
Malcolm grimaced. 'I must admit I have never actually seen it tested.'
'Great!' Ros exclaimed.
Lucas reacted with a lopsided grin. 'Great,' he said too, although it came out more sarcastic with him. 'And how about the tracker?' he put on the jacket while Malcolm searched his collection of small devices for the requested tracker. 'Nice jacket. Do I get to keep it?'
'Unfortunately not,' Malcolm replied with a wink. 'Here, the tracker. You'll need to swallow it if you don't want it discovered.'
Now it was Lucas's turn to grimace in disgust. 'Delicious,' he said. 'Will it still be operational once it's in my stomach?'
Malcolm nodded. 'Oh, the joys of technical development.'
Lucas swallowed the tracker and shuddered. 'They do need to improve on taste, though. Anything else I need to take with me?'
'No, you're good to go.' The technician grabbed Lucas's hand reassuringly. 'Good luck.'
The other spy responded with another grin. 'You know me. I'll survive.' But the smile came across as a bit forced and Arthur couldn't help but worry as Lucas made his way to the pods and disappeared out of sight.
Lucas's hands clenched around the steering wheel as he drove the car down to the meeting place, a now abandoned warehouse just outside the city centre that had until a few months ago functioned as a CIA surveillance post. He would rather die than admit it, but the nerves were killing him. He had seen Hogan's file, only briefly, but more than enough to know that the former CIA man was absolutely ruthless. About Morgana he knew less, but Arthur and Merlin had outlined the problems they had with her pretty well. It wasn't ideal, but it would have to do for now.
He tried not to think about the fact that the last time he had gone to meet with a high level asset on his own he had landed himself in prison. Somehow the FSB had learned of the meeting, even when it should have been impossible. And this meeting was just as dangerous. If Hogan as much as suspected that he was carrying a bug the operation would be dead in the water and it was not unlikely he himself might end up just as dead.
The very thought of it made him almost throw up, but that was one thing that he could not do. Not right now, while Morgana may be watching him. As soon as he had left Thames House he would have been visible in her bowl of water. Ros had ordered Merlin to extend the protective wards over all of the building, but outside they were vulnerable, so he'd have to behave as a potential traitor from now on, just in case she was watching him. So that meant that he'd have to be calm and relaxed.
So he forced himself to take deep breaths and focus on the road. It wouldn't do now to get caught up in an accident. He did this to ensure the safety of Britain, as he had always done and he was not going to ruin this opportunity. To him it felt as the only way to gain back Harry's trust in him. Only then would he be really back home. He needed this to work for personal reasons as well as for the good of the country.
It was a dreary place Hogan had chosen for a meeting. The warehouse had every appearance of having been in disuse for years. Lucas thought it highly likely to be leaking and draughty, even though the CIA had been using it not that long ago. It looked like one of the hide-outs criminals always seemed to use in the movies he still remembered from before his capture and imprisonment.
'Charming,' he muttered under his breath, parking the car at the equally abandoned parking lot in front of the building.
He decided to just go in through the front door. There was bound to be a back door, multiple ones probably if the CIA had been using this place for almost three years. They were paranoid enough to want them. Not that Hogan and Morgana would need them. If Merlin was to be believed that witch could just spirit them out of this place in some kind of magical whirlwind if she needed an escape.
He was capable of opening the door without any trouble, as he had more or less expected. This was after all an arranged meet, even if it wasn't without risks. He was expected.
Lucas was met by the sight of a long and narrow corridor with doors on both sides, but all of them were closed. Only the door at the very end was slightly ajar. This entire building radiated the atmosphere of a very bad horror movie. All that was missing was the absence of electricity, rain and thunder outside and dramatic music in the background.
As if someone had heard him the light in the corridor went out. The only light now came from the small windows of the door behind him and the room behind the opened door. Someone, probably Morgana, had a love of theatrics, but Lucas couldn't help but feel the panic tugging at him at the thought of having to cross such a narrow corridor. With very little fantasy this could be the corridor they forced him through to the interrogation room in Russia.
That thought was almost his undoing. The smallest things could trigger flashbacks that left him screaming, begging for mercy, and effectively reduced him to a snivelling wreck, incapable of doing anything. And this was by no means a small thing. He staggered back until his back hit the front door, breathing too fast, heart pounding in his ears.
You can't, the more rational part of his brain told him. If you break down now they'll know. They'll know you are no longer capable of handling the demands of this job. They'll have you suspended, shipped off to the shrinks.
Maybe that was exactly what he needed, because there was only one thing he feared more than the horrors of Russian prison: losing his place in Section D. It was the one thing in his life left to him after he had come back to Britain. He had lost his house, his wife and most of his self-esteem, but not his job. So now he clung to it with all his might. He would not break, not when they had failed to do so in that hellhole.
He forced himself not to think about it and walked through the corridor with long decisive steps. And if he was doing so at a faster pace than he usually did, that was completely coincidental and had nothing to do whatsoever with unresolved trauma or the feeling that he was walking at something that was as least as bad as his interrogation sessions.
The room behind the door was spacious and light. Lucas guessed that this would have been the cafeteria back in the day. He could still see the last ruins of the counter and kitchen at the far left end of the room. The right end was just a wall, with another door, again closed, in it. The wall he was staring at was made of glass, letting in the late afternoon light. That calmed him somewhat at least. He had an escape route if the need should arise.
At the same time this also worried him. That wall was one big window. Everyone who wanted could look in. And that could only mean one of two things. The first was that his hosts were incredibly stupid that they would willingly take the risk to rendezvous in such a place, but Lucas dismissed that thought almost immediately. From all that he had heard about both Hogan and Morgana, neither were stupid. They calculated the risks, didn't act on impulse and most certainly wouldn't take any chances of getting caught. So that only left the second option: they were confident that they would not be disturbed. And that was bothering him for completely different reasons.
'You made it then?' a female voice asked from somewhere behind him.
Lucas forced himself not to turn on his heels. That would tell her how startled he was and that was no good way to begin this conversation, so instead he remained in place, forcing himself to take on as relaxed a posture as he could manage. 'Did you ever doubt that I would, my lady?' That was the correct title, right?
'I'd have expected Harry to send someone more familiar,' a familiar voice with an American accent drawled.
This time Lucas did turn, a relaxed smile on his face. 'Oh, I think you're far too clever to expect that,' he told the fat man that was standing only a few meters away from him. 'After all, Harry doesn't like the idea of any more of his officers doing a disappearing act on a visit with you. I'm sure you'd understand.'
Bob Hogan looked even less impressive in the flesh than he did in a photograph. Lucas wanted to bet he hadn't worked out for quite some time, which would automatically mean that he spent most of his time behind a desk. None of the officers that needed to go out in the field would take the risk of neglecting their body like that. In a fight that would give him the advantage.
Hogan wasn't alone, of course. Half behind him, leaning against the wall in what looked like perfect boredom was a young woman with long black hair and green eyes. Her hair was messy and looked like it hadn't seen a comb for at least a year. She wore a black dress that was dirty at the hems. At any rate that was not a piece of clothing she could have purchased in London. Her face was pale, but her eyes were highlighted with the heavy makeup she used. All in all it made her come across like some kind of gothic type.
'Yet he sent you,' Hogan remarked. 'Is he not afraid you will do a disappearing act?'
Lucas smiled at him pleasantly. 'He did have your wellbeing in mind as well,' he informed the former CIA man. 'He seemed under the impression Ros Myers would love to kill you and since he wants you to talk, that might prove to be a bit counterproductive.'
Hogan grimaced at the mention of Ros's name, proving to Lucas that it had been a wise decision not to send her in. 'Why did he send you, Lucas North?'
So he knew who he was. But then, with Morgana's magical spying that was only to be expected. He therefore tried not to show how much Hogan had surprised him. 'He had to send someone,' he replied with a casual shrug of the shoulders. 'But it would appear I came here for nothing. If all you wanted to do was gloat, then you are clearly not the man I took you for.'
There, he'd done it. The first hint that he thought Hogan wasn't just any ordinary terrorist. He was quite sure this would not have escaped the other man's notice. He had spent the entirety of his career in the CIA. He wasn't stupid, and Lucas knew it.
The quick rise of the eyebrows confirmed that the hint had indeed been picked up, even if it was still laced with wariness and uncertainty. And he would be right to do that. In this stage of the talks it could still mean anything. It would take a few more subtle remarks to make him receptive to the bait.
'So I suggest you make your demands,' Lucas went on. 'My boss is quite… shall we say anxious to learn what you are up to.' Again he took care not to make this personal, to give the impression that he himself couldn't care less about the demands, or the result of the negotiations anyway.
Heavens, he had missed this, he realised. Finally, after eight long years of suffering, he was back in the field properly. Before Russia he had sometimes hated the long days, running on coffee and adrenaline for sometimes weeks on end, never knowing if their next move would prove effective or their biggest mistake ever. Before Russia he had sometimes despised the fear that accompanied a dangerous undercover operation, or the need to lie to people you unwillingly came to care about. In Russia he had come to crave it. And now he was doing what he did best. And while this probably placed him into the category of deranged lunatics he had to admit that he had not felt so alive for years.
This time it was Morgana that replied, as her accomplice took the time to study Lucas carefully, analysing his every word. 'You have my brother,' she told him accusingly.
Lucas turned to her. 'And who would that be, my lady?' he inquired politely. He thought he had a fairly good idea of who she was talking about, but he wasn't a hundred percent sure yet. If he had learned one thing from having two, now three, legendary figures walking about London, it was that the legend as they had always known it, to phrase it like Ros, was "one hell of a bloody load of nonsense."
She offered him a death glare that might even put Ros to shame. 'Arthur Pendragon.' The name was spoken as if it was some kind of contagious disease. It didn't take an expert to establish that she loathed the king with every fibre of her being.
Lucas conjured up his most charming smile. 'Ah, that troublesome bugger,' he nodded. 'Loud-mouthed idiot by all accounts. Has trouble doing as he is told, likes to shout a lot.'
That had indeed been his first impression of Arthur Pendragon. Merlin had come across as far more intelligent and observant. But Lucas had worked with the king. Arthur was far more observant than he had given him credit for at first. The Once and Future King had a sense of loyalty and justice the likes of which Lucas had almost never seen before. For some reason he cared about what happened here. That had become clear when he refused to leave when they found out Morgana was actually here.
But this was all need-to-know information and Morgana didn't need to know. If he was going to convince her that he was a traitor to his own team, it wouldn't do to be caught liking her archenemy.
'His servant isn't much better,' he went on. 'Clumsy pain in the backside, that one.'
At the mention of Merlin Morgana's face actually darkened. 'You can tell your boss that I want them,' she snapped at Lucas. 'I want nothing else from him.'
Lucas noted that she didn't use the plural form, which might mean that Hogan had demands of his own. 'Can't imagine you being interested in some legendary king, Bob,' he therefore said, imitating Harry's tone, guessing that would vex the other man. After all, it had been Harry that had uncovered his clandestine activities, effectively ruining Hogan's chances of a comfortable retirement.
His guess had been spot on. 'You're one of Harry's, aren't you?' he asked, an intense look on his face. Lucas had problems determining whether Hogan was just trying to read him or wanted him for lunch for those words.
He went for the relaxed move. 'Oh, you just hang around long enough and you'll copy his tone automatically. Doesn't mean we agree on everything.' And you can take that hint and run with it.
And Hogan seemed to do just that, narrowing his eyes and sizing Lucas up. It took him all he had not to smile triumphantly. He was taking the bait. Oh, he was still debating with himself whether he could trust him or not, whether Lucas was even saying what he thought he was, but he was at least considering the option.
Morgana too seemed to sense something was going on. She left the wall, walking over to him, measuring him. Her gaze was much colder than Hogan's and for some reason far more suspicious. But that was only natural, Lucas supposed. This time and place were still strange to her. They had been to Merlin and Arthur as well and both of them had spent much of their first day acting particularly jumpy. And Morgana, being on the wrong side of the law, would have even more reason to be wary of everyone she encountered, especially if those people belonged to MI-5 and were busy trying to work to convince them that they really were on their side. And she wasn't stupid. She knew what he was playing at.
She came to a stop in front of him. He was taller than she was and she had to look up to him, yet for some reason it felt like it was the other way around. 'I don't trust you,' she told him, her eyes holding his own gaze.
Lucas didn't dare look away now. Instead he conjured up the mask of the confident, slightly arrogant spook that hid his fears from view. He had had interrogators that had talked to him in that exact same voice, right before they unleashed their latest torment on him. But there was something different about Morgana Pendragon. Most of his interrogators had been thugs; uneducated, good for nothing except beating the crap out of other people for their own pleasure. Their serving the country was nothing more than the excuse they used for doing what they did best.
The Lady Morgana was different. She was intelligent, cunning definitely, but she also went about it with something that might be called style. In a way she reminded him of Arkady Kachimov. They were both players and both were prepared to use him as a pawn in their game.
But they did it for entirely different reasons. Kachimov had been doing it for his country as much as for his own pleasure. He loved to play people for the fun of the game only, the thrill of it. Morgana had more specified needs. He wouldn't call it desire. This was something she for some reason desperately needed. Less skilled people might not have seen it, but then, most people were not trained spooks with years and years of experience. He could see beyond the ice-cold hatred and indifference and see a vulnerable woman, alone in the world.
'I would imagine you don't,' he replied, ignoring Hogan for now. The American was still stewing over his last words and it became increasingly clear to him that Morgana really was the one in charge here, even though Bob probably tried to convince himself otherwise. 'Would you appreciate a token?' he asked her. 'To convince you that I am trustworthy enough to talk to?'
The look in her eyes told him she needed that. There was wariness there, but at the same time there was sadness there as well. Lucas couldn't help but feel for her.
He made a spur of the moment decision. 'Then I think you need to know that MI-5 has been listening to every word we said.' He tore the top two buttons from his jacket and threw them onto the ground. The devices made a satisfactory sound as they were crunched beneath the heels of his shoes.