There was a silence on the Grid after Lucas had told Morgana that they had been listening to the conversation all along. And then the screen went all hazy and blurry as the cameras were torn off the jacket. For a moment Merlin didn't understand what had happened, but then they got one last good visual of one of Lucas's shoes before it came forcefully down on the devices, effectively cutting them off from any source of information they might have.
Ros swore, violently and definitely not under her breath. She turned to Malcolm. 'Can you do something about this?' she demanded.
'They are gone, Ros,' the technician pointed out. 'I can't fix it from here. That is, if I can fix them at all. But…'
Harry didn't let him finish. 'Then we'll pull him out. I will not have him out on a limb there.' The concern was practically written all over his face, but Merlin didn't understand that worrying at all. He himself had gotten rather alarmed when Lucas had betrayed their watching the entire meeting. So yes, of course Lucas was trying to play the traitor and of course he had to make it convincing, but this had not been necessary. Hogan and Morgana had not been suspecting that MI-5 was listening, not at all. So why tell them something they had not known, why risk this? He knew that he had not finished that question, so he ended it now. Why risk this if Lucas was not a real traitor?
And it was even probable. In the meeting, shortly before Harry had dismissed them all to try and talk to Lucas personally, someone, he thought it had been Ros, had pointed out that Lucas might be the ideal candidate for the job, because he was the only one of the team that really had a reason to defect. So what if Lucas had only convinced Harry to let him do this mission so that he had the opportunity to join the enemy?
'No,' Ros said immediately. 'Then we'll waste any chance of ever getting our hands on Hogan and Morgana. Lucas knows what he's doing.' Something sparked in her eyes. She still wasn't happy about it, might even be furious about it, but she didn't condone Lucas's course of action entirely. It was almost as if she understood.
Malcolm had disappeared behind his computer screens again, muttering a lot of words that sounded completely alien to Merlin.
'In English?' Ros asked in a sarcastic and irritated voice.
The technician's face split into a grin. 'I had been anticipating this.' His voice sounded far too cheerful and excited for the situation. 'I thought that if these bugs were discovered, I had installed spares in two of the other buttons. So the only thing I need to do is to reroute the feed with a code…'
'I say again: English,' Ros told him through clenched teeth.
'There are two other bugs in the jackets,' Malcolm explained. 'I just need to activate them.'
'Then what are you bloody waiting for?' the Section Chief exploded.
Malcolm didn't even answer that question. He just disappeared behind the screen again, fingers flying over the keys. He muttered a few curses when the computer refused to give him what he wanted and for a moment Merlin feared that he failed to do whatever it was that he was trying to achieve, but then the camera flared back to life. First they heard only the crackling and hissing noise that Merlin knew to be caused by protesting bugs, but then both sound and visual returned.
For a moment, though, it wasn't clear what exactly it was that they saw. Merlin found himself looking at something that appeared to be a blue and white striped tie and a bit of the accompanying jacket. But then the tie moved to the side and they could see the room again, or at least that part of the room which the camera was pointed at.
In the background he could see Morgana, still dressed in that same black dress he had last seen her in. The expression on her face was both cold and excited. A shiver went down his spine. Morgana being excited had never before boded well for Camelot or for people in general and he doubted it would now.
'What are you playing at?' the voice of Bob Hogan demanded. They could still see a piece of his jacket, so he must be standing close to Lucas. The tone in his voice betrayed that he actually knew what this was all about, but didn't dare to believe it.
'I think you know.' Lucas's voice, so unlike the American's, sounded calm and composed. Merlin had cursed the fact that he couldn't see the spook's face before, but now it bothered him all the more. If only they could see him, could see, read from his face what he was up to.
'Interesting,' Morgana remarked. She studied Lucas with barely concealed curiosity and she appeared pleased with what she saw. Merlin remembered that look all too well. She had given him the exact same look in her hovel some months back, right before she had enchanted him to kill Arthur. This was the look of a player looking at her pawn. 'You would betray your colleagues, your friends?'
'I don't do friends,' Lucas replied. Merlin could almost hear the dismissive smile. 'In my experience they're either a nuisance or they're boring.'
Morgana's smirk became a bit more distinct. 'Indeed,' she agreed.
What does she know? That question kept going round and round in Merlin's head. He had seen a flash of recognition in her eyes, which would mean that she had at least witnessed that first meeting with Marlin.
'I don't believe it,' Hogan stated dismissively. 'I know his boss, Harry Pearce. That sad bastard would try to send someone in under the pretence of being a traitor. And when he knew everything he wanted to know, he would pull out his officer and blow our operation right before we were ready to deal the final blow.'
Harry's face told them all that Hogan's assessment of the situation was spot on. The head of Section D looked like he had spent way too much time in the burning summer sun. Ros didn't seem much more composed, but in her case it wasn't anger. It looked like anxiety to Merlin. And if Lucas was indeed still on their side, of which the warlock was now no longer convinced, then he might indeed be in danger.
Lucas deflected the accusation with ease. 'That is why he sent me in here,' he admitted. 'He just didn't realise that my loyalty is not with Section D.'
'Last time we checked you were awfully close with Harry Pearce,' Hogan insisted.
The Senior Case Officer snorted. 'I used to be. Before he left me to rot in Russian prison for eight years.' He tried to sound hateful, but no one was fooled. Everyone could hear the underlying tone of hurt and betrayal.
Merlin could feel a shiver go down his spine. Nobody could act this well. Nobody could pretend to feel like this without actually feeling it. And the worst thing was that this would make sense, and an awful lot of sense at that. Lucas had spent eight years of being tortured and abused in a prison in a foreign country and he held Harry responsible for that. According to Jo Harry had done everything in his power to get his hands on the spook, but locked up in Russia Lucas would have had no way of knowing.
'That's a nice story,' Hogan commented in a sarcastic voice.
'You have no idea what it is like there!' Lucas snapped at him. 'Being tortured, isolated from every human contact, being abandoned by your own country, your own colleagues? Do you know what it is like to be constantly watched with distrust by your colleagues because they're afraid you've been turned by the FSB?' The spook's voice was harsh and full of unspoken resentment that turned Merlin's stomach to ice. He had already known never to underestimate this man. He usually seemed friendly enough, but he had seen the cold in him before.
Morgana raised her hand. She had gradually come closer, her face a mix of hope and interest. If, and if was being the operative word, Lucas was still on their side, playing Morgana, then he was doing an amazing job of it. Lucas's rant might hold true for Bob Hogan, who as far as Merlin knew had never been in such a situation, but Morgana might be able to relate to Lucas's ordeal. She knew what it was like to be shunned because of things she did not have any control over. She knew what it was like to be all alone, misunderstood, having no one to talk to. It were those very things that had pushed her over the edge. It were those things that had turned her against everyone she had liked and loved before then.
Maybe that was the reason that it was so easy for him to believe that Lucas was going down that very same road. Like Morgana he had a darker side. He might once have used that part of him for the good of his kingdom, like Morgana had once done, but after his imprisonment that might have changed, like Morgana had changed after having been brainwashed by Morgause for a year. The similarities between these two were striking and it frightened him more than he dared to admit.
'If you are telling the truth,' Morgana began. She was still standing in front of Malcolm's well hidden cameras, giving the whole of Section D a clear visual of her face. 'If you are telling the truth, then why do you come to us?'
'You hate Harry Pearce.' Merlin imagined this was directed at Bob Hogan, because Morgana would have no reason to hate the elderly spy. 'Well, so do I. You want your revenge on him as much as I do. And you need me. You no longer have access to information from Thames House. I can provide that for you.'
The expression on Morgana's face had turned wary again and Merlin could imagine Hogan wouldn't be too pleased either. Because if Lucas told them he was aware of the fact that they had until quite recently free magical access to everything that happened in this very building, then he must also be aware that someone, someone with magic, must have shielded the place. The feeling of dread returned in tenfold. Lucas had all but blown Merlin's cover with this confession.
He glanced around the group to get a fix on their reactions. Ben, Jo and Connie seemed uneasy as well, Harry and Malcolm were tense, but concentrated. The last two didn't really look like they were distrusting Lucas, like the first group was, but they were uncomfortable with the entire situation. It were Arthur and Ros that were the surprises. The Once and Future King was perched on a nearby desk, following the operation with interest. There was no judgement in the king's face. The Section Chief was standing next to him, arms folded across her chest, nodding as if she wholeheartedly approved of what her colleague was doing. A little mean voice in the back of his head wondered if she only did this because she had a history of betrayal herself.
'What the hell does he think he's doing?' Harry Pearce fumed.
'Playing them,' Ros replied, her eyes never leaving the screen. There was something, understanding maybe, sparking in them.
'This is no act,' Ben remarked quietly, disbelieving. And Merlin tended to agree with him. He had seen this happening before, when it was Morgana turning against Camelot. He had experience with this, recognised it when he saw it. This was one man turning against all those he had previously been loyal to, too damaged by what happened to him to see the truth that was right in front of him.
'Yes, it is,' Ros disagreed in a decisive voice.
Ben knew better than to ignore such an obvious order, but the look he sent the Section Chief's way told them all that he didn't hold Ros in a very high esteem.
'What do you know of the shields?' Morgana hissed. She came so close to Lucas that she almost touched the camera in the button.
Merlin could feel his heart pounding in his ears. The panic tugged at the edges of his mind, threatening to take over as soon as he learned that Lucas would spill the beans about him. It almost seemed inevitable now. If Lucas was indeed betraying MI-5 – and he could very well be doing that; after all he thought he was no longer being bugged – then he would certainly have no problems with telling Morgana everything he had learned about Merlin and his secret.
'Everything,' Lucas replied. 'I know who cast them.'
'No.' It was more of a plea than an actual denial. He felt like he had swallowed a large amount of ice all at once, freezing him from the inside out.
And he wasn't the only one to react with shock to this latest development. The Grid had gone completely quiet, making the low hum of computer equipment all that much louder. The room was filled with living statues, everyone frozen into place.
'Careful, Lucas,' Ros muttered, even though he would not be able to hear her; the communication was one way only.
'Who is it?' Morgana demanded. From the anxious tone it became clear that she didn't know yet, which they could have used to their advantage in about every scenario, except this one.
Morgana was still effectively blocking their visual. They had to rely on the sound of the voices alone, which was frustrating for more than one reason. If only they could see Lucas's face, then surely they would be able to determine whether he really meant what he was saying.
'Please don't,' Merlin begged softly. He knew it was of next to no use, but the very thought of Morgana knowing about his magic, his greatest secret, made him visibly tremble with fear. He would lose every bit of advantage he had had so far. He would not be able to fight her from behind the scenes, completely unbeknownst to her. She had called him a thorn in her side, but never once had she dared to dream that he was also her worst fear and her greatest enemy. That ignorance had helped him enormously, but he also knew that he was about to lose it.
'Oh, I think you know him,' Lucas replied in a voice that was almost nonchalant. 'It would seem that that clumsy sidekick of your brother's is an actual sorcerer, and a rather powerful one at that.'
In the disbelieving silence on the Grid Merlin could feel the last remnants of hope go right down the drain.
The atmosphere on the Grid had become nothing short of poisonous after Lucas had given away Merlin's secret. Merlin himself had all but collapsed against the nearest desk while the rest of the team had either turned a deathly pale or a very unhealthy shade of red.
Ros knew what they must be thinking. Ben had even gone as far as to voice his doubts, even if he hadn't dared using the word betrayal itself. They all thought it, and had Ros been anyone but who she was, she might have done the same. But she had once been in the same position as Lucas. She understood what he was doing, even if no one else did.
The meeting had ended a quarter of an hour ago, resulting in Lucas being welcomed into the little explosives-loving group. Even Bob Hogan had been unable to argue with Lucas's clear betrayal of his team. No loyal officer would ever have given away his team's biggest secret with such nonchalance on the first meet. And Ros had to admit it was an unorthodox move, but it could have been something she'd have done herself. That was what this job sometimes entailed.
But she seemed to be the only one to look at things like that. It had only been the first meeting and already the sickening air of distrust had infected the Grid like the plague. More than half of the team already harboured serious doubts about Lucas's loyalty and the other half was at least receptive to the possibility.
Her fists clenched and unclenched in frustration. It was true that she herself had been guilty of suspecting him. But that had been before he had given them Arkady Kachimov on the proverbial silver platter. That had cured any doubt Ros might still have entertained. And his work since then had been flawless. She couldn't have found fault in it even if she tried. Harry had let it slip once that Lucas had been his best field officer before Russia and today only proved that to her.
Everyone had returned to their desks, doing some work before Lucas's return and the meeting that had been scheduled. The evening had already fallen, but no one had even uttered the idea of going home to rest. It was out of the question.
Merlin had taken the girl he rescued away from the Grid, taking her to a friendly looking interrogation room to get some sleep. And to keep her away from Harry's line of sight, Ros added wryly to herself. The head of the section had not made it a secret that this was not a place for children. And normally Ros would agree with that. But now, with Merlin's secret out in the open it was a plausible idea that Morgana would go after anyone the sorcerer was close to. It would be safest for the child to remain here for a little while longer.
Merlin was a riddle. Ros could imagine that he wasn't about to thank Lucas for blurting out his secret, but the warlock's reaction was more than angry. It was laced with a distrust so strong that it practically radiated off him. Arthur was the relaxed one in this. His trust in her colleague seemed unshaken, even stronger than before. This seemed strange to Ros. Merlin had worked with Lucas and he had seemed to trust him. They had operated like colleagues, friends on some level. Arthur too had worked together with him, had stayed at his flat last night, but, unlike Merlin, he had been wary of everything and everyone. Right now their roles seemed to have been reversed.
The whooshing of the pods snapped her out of her analysis. Lucas entered the Grid, looking slightly out of sorts, but otherwise all right. But it was the out of sorts bit that worried her. The cameras had been unable to give them a visual of his face, but she had at least suspected that something in that warehouse had badly shaken him. Now she could see it for herself. The Senior Case Officer looked like he had seen a ghost.
'Meeting room!' Harry's voice bellowed over the Grid. 'NOW!'
Ros thought it wiser not to argue, so she obediently followed the rest of the team to the meeting room and, being the last to enter, slid the doors shut behind them. Lucas had taken the far seat on the left side of the table, but no one went to sit next to him. Ros's fists clenched again. The isolation had already begun. But she had been in that position herself, so she walked over to the empty chair and slid into it, giving Lucas an encouraging smile, something she wasn't known to have done ever before.
There was some relief in Lucas's eyes as he answered it with a hesitant smile of his own. 'Thanks.' The whisper was so soft that for half a second she thought she might have imagined it, but then she saw his lips moving.
Harry was not so considerate. He slammed his fist on the table. 'What the bloody hell did you think you were doing?' he demanded in a loud voice.
'My job,' Lucas replied curtly. The tone in which he said that was defensive, but that was understandable. After all, it was only too obvious that Harry was on the warpath.
'You were not authorised to give that kind of sensitive information!' The head of Section D was definitely not yet pacified and Ros was glad that she was not the person his fury was directed against.
Lucas's eyebrows shot up. 'You heard that?' His tone, too, was now laced with wariness.
'Spare camera.' Harry had gotten up from his chair, too restless to remain seated. 'Which is beside the point. We were bloody lucky Malcolm had them installed. Did you even plan on telling us what you have told them?' The suspicion and distrust were unmistakable. Even a fool would hear it.
And Lucas was no fool. His face darkened. It was only a second and then it made way for indignation. 'Yes, Harry. That is what this meeting was all for, isn't it? You don't trust me at all, do you?' That last sentence was more bitter than anything else.
'Not the point.' Harry was quick, too quick perhaps, to stop the argument to go down that particular road. 'You were supposed to keep that information to yourself, Lucas. You do know what classified means?'
'No idea,' the Senior Case Officer shot back in a hard sarcastic voice. 'Listen, Harry, they weren't trusting me. I needed to give them something.'
If he hoped that was going to do the trick, he was sorely mistaken. 'Something, yes. Not the biggest sodding secret we've ever had!' That statement was accompanied by yet another bang on the table. Keep this up and one of these days the poor thing was going to give out, Ros thought.
'Sooner rather than later she would have worked it out for herself,' Lucas argued. 'Merlin said already that his shields might attract attention and Morgana is no fool. She would realise I had been holding out on her and then my cover would have been blown wide open. We would be left with nothing.'
He was right, Ros realised. Morgana would have suspected that there was magic involved anyway and Lucas, as an insider, must know who cast these shields. And besides, chances were Morgana already knew about Merlin's magic. The sorcerer had performed magic on the streets twice already and if she had been keeping an eye on them, as they suspected, then she would have known that as well. For Lucas not to tell her about Merlin might have been more suspicious than telling her before she asked.
'He's right, Harry,' she told her boss.
'Now don't you start as well!' he complained. He was still too much on edge to listen to reason.
But she was not going to give up that easily. Lucas was her officer and it was part of her job description to stand up for him. He was her colleague and, as they had not that long ago established, they were okay. 'I might have done the same thing in his place,' she insisted.
And it was the truth. What's more, she had already done it. In the showdown with Yalta she had almost convinced both Yalta and Section D that she was on Yalta's side, only to betray them at the last possible moment. The fact that that particular operation had resulted in a near-death experience, a six month exile in Moscow and the lifelong hostility from the CIA and Richard Dolby, although she could not care less about that last one, she banished conveniently to the back of her mind.
But doing what she had done, what Lucas was doing now, they walked a thin line. The path Lucas had chosen was not an easy one. At some moments it would be difficult to determine which side he was really on. He might even lose sight of that himself.
So why did he do it? That was the only thing that remained a mystery to her. When she had done it, she no longer had a choice. She had to do it in order to survive. Lucas, on the other hand, had volunteered for the job, had even insisted on doing it. And, knowing what it was like, Ros couldn't help but wonder why. Why would anyone ever willingly place himself in such a situation? Of course they could handle undercover operations, but this was so much more than that.
And then a memory found its way to the forefront of her mind. Adam Carter, trying to deal with his own personal demons several years ago, had done the exact same thing, she now recalled. He had pushed his limits, gone farther than anyone in his senses would ever go. He had almost been daring himself to break. Or he had been trying to prove to everyone, including himself, that he still had what it took to do this job, despite everything that had happened to him.
And then the penny dropped. That was precisely what Lucas North was doing as well: proving that he could still handle the demands of the job, no matter what the personal cost. He was a fool for doing it, but still Ros couldn't find it in herself to try and stop him. Because she understood. She had been there herself, she had done it as well, six long months in deep cover in Moscow, taking far more risks than Harry would have found acceptable, all to prove her loyalty to him.
'It is the right course of action,' she went on. 'It is the only thing that will convince Hogan and Morgana that he really is on their side.'
'Well, you would know all about that,' came the muttered, almost inaudible reply from Ben. She didn't think she had been meant to hear that. But it wasn't like this was unexpected. The youngest addition to the team had never quite forgiven her for her part in the Yalta operation. Ros couldn't care less about his forgiveness – she hadn't asked for it – but it did make working with him difficult, especially since she was the Section Chief and he had to do as she told him.
She ignored him for now. Later she would find a moment to subtly remind him who exactly was in charge here and that making comments like these was an undermining of her authority. She didn't think Ben really cared about that, but he sure as hell would think twice when he landed himself in the paper archive for it.
She turned to Lucas. 'You arranged another meet for tomorrow afternoon, right?'
He nodded. 'To bring them back Harry's reply,' he confirmed.
Ros could hear what he didn't say. Because there was so much more to this than just bringing back a reply. Tomorrow he would also wriggle his way further in and she did not envy him that position. 'Then you make that rendezvous,' she decided, ignoring Harry's incoherent protest. He had given her this operation and she was not going to give it back.
No one seemed particularly pleased with the outcome of this meeting, all for different reasons. But this had to be done. If this was the only way they could stop Hogan and Morgana from blowing more people to smithereens, then she would do it, no matter what the cost.