The Grid had all but emptied out. Most of the team had gone home. Only Arthur and Merlin were forced to stay in Thames House for their own safety. Well, Arthur was. The Once and Future King had been about to go back to Lucas's place, but Harry had thrown a fit when he heard that. His reasoning was that they were unable to protect him once he left the building, but everyone with a brain could hear that this was not the real point. Harry already suspected Lucas and that was bothering Ros for reasons she could not yet fully understand yet.
Her mind drifted back to the conversation she had with Lucas earlier that day. Colleagues are okay. That was what they had agreed on. He had been a bit hesitant about that at first, his mind still doubtful about Harry, but in the end he had nodded. Colleagues are okay, even the most senior and the ancient ones.
But it was precisely the last bit of that sentence that bothered her. Merlin behaved as if Lucas was some kind of monster, ready to kill Arthur and bring his body back to his new mistress. He had refused to leave Arthur's side, who had now taken up residence in a nearby room with a bed. The warlock's behaviour had become even more suspecting when Lucas had announced he would spend the night on the Grid as well.
Destiny to protect Arthur indeed, Ros thought, glancing at the duo from behind the safety of her computer screen. The worried mother hen keeping an eye on the runaway chick. Now she would not deny that Arthur needed supervision and a lot of it at that, but this was exaggerated.
'Distrust already.' Lucas's wry remark snapped her out of her musings. 'Coffee, boss?' He extended a steaming cup. 'You look like you need it.'
Ros gave him an equally wry look in return. 'Would it make a difference if I said no?'
Lucas smiled his charming grin, but it didn't reach his eyes. 'Then I'd drink it myself of course. Nothing like a cup of coffee to keep you awake.'
That alerted her to the exhausted impression he was giving. 'You should go home and rest,' she told him sternly. Mothering over her officers was not something she liked to do, but Lucas looked positively drained. And it was her responsibility that all her officers were capable of doing their work.
He laughed humourlessly. 'And what do I go home to?' The remark was undeniably bitter. 'I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway, Ros.'
She twitched uneasily. This was getting far more personal than she was comfortable with. Someone had once remarked that Ros was about as compassionate as an ice-cube and that had not been far off the mark. She didn't do people. There was a reason that she didn't have friends.
So she tried to turn it into a joke. 'I can always knock you out with that paperweight.'
The smile widened. 'No, thanks. I don't really fancy a visit to the hospital.' He became serious again. 'Why did you back me up there, Ros?'
She gave him a quizzical look.
'All the others already think I'm swooning at Morgana's feet,' he clarified. 'You don't. I think.' It came out a bit hesitant, as if he wasn't sure he had gotten the right impression.
The question was a logical one, but it was also far too personal. The whole Yalta affair was highly classified information that only Harry and Ros herself had access to. And she intended to keep it that way. So she deflected the question. 'I think you have missed out on your royal fan,' she remarked, pointing at Arthur who was acquainting himself with the miracles of computer equipment, a deep frown in his forehead.
'That's different,' Lucas argued. 'He's a good man, I think, but he has no idea what he is doing here.'
She could not argue with that. Arthur didn't belong in London. But for someone who so obviously didn't belong, he was determined to understand and hold his own, although Ros suspected he just very much wanted to catch Morgana. It was Merlin that had adapted to this place better than she could have expected.
'He's learning.' It wasn't like her to be so mild about someone, but she had not yet forgotten that he had stood up for her back at the Home Office when he thought Dolby was unfair in his treatment of her. That had to count for something.
Lucas nodded. 'You haven't answered my question, Ros.' He tried to meet her eyes, but the Section Chief suddenly started to investigate the contents of the file in front of her with a devotion not often seen. 'Ros? Why did you stand up for me?' His voice had become almost cajoling now.
Because I've been where you are. Because no one else did. Because you're my colleague. Because you're…. No, better not go there. You don't do friends, Myers.
In the end she settled for the second option. 'Because no one else did.' She all but snapped the words to avoid giving the impression that she cared.
He wasn't fooled. 'Only because no one else did? Do you think I'm a traitor too?'
She snorted. 'Careful,' she warned him. 'Someone might start thinking you actually want to be mistaken for a traitor.'
He perched himself up on her desk. 'It's strange, though. You're the most para… wary of the lot of them.'
She was pretty sure he had been about to call her paranoid, but she let it pass by for now. In a way he was even right and it had saved her life more than once. What she didn't get was what he was getting at. What did he want?
'Your point?' she asked with every appearance of boredom.
He shrugged. 'I just don't understand.'
'Colleagues are okay, remember?' she told him. It wasn't the truth, not the whole truth at least. 'Can't help it if the others have forgotten about it.'
One corner of his mouth curled up as he got up from her desk. 'Thanks,' he told her. No one with a bit of hearing could doubt the sincerity in his voice.
'What on earth should you thank me for?' she demanded.
'For caring,' he told her. 'And for having faith in me.' Even when no one else does. The words were unspoken, but years in the Service had taught her to read between the lines well enough. Lucas North was an expert at masking his feelings, but she could see how alone he was right now, even while being surrounded by people. In a strange way he reminded her of a stray puppy that desperately wanted someone to care for him.
She made a spur of the moment decision. 'I understand,' she told him.
Rage sparked in his eyes and then the shutters came down, so clearly visible that Ros was almost surprised she couldn't hear them. 'You can't!' he snapped. 'You have no idea what this is like, being distrusted by everyone, even by your own side. Have you even seen them look at me, Ros?'
She pulled a leaf out of Arthur's book. 'Don't be ridiculous,' she told him. 'I know exactly what that feels like. I've been there.'
That effectively shut him up, and Merlin and Arthur on the other end of the Grid as well. She had spoken louder than she had intended, but, very much like Lucas, she was fed up with her past that kept creeping up on her, haunting her every step. It was bad enough to have Ben all but accusing her of being a traitor and the CIA rubbing her involvement with Yalta in her face. Lucas telling her she had no idea what she was talking about, even when she knew better how he must feel than anyone else on the Grid, that was just too much.
He was staring at her and she clarified, although in a softer voice: 'You have heard something about Yalta, right?'
He at least understood that she wasn't speaking about the geographical Yalta. 'A complot against the United States, wasn't it?'
Ros nodded stiffly. 'I went undercover with them.'
She could see that he knew she was holding back, but he understood, nodding thoughtfully. And she had to admit that her explanation was greatly lacking in detail. Because she had not been undercover there straight away, not until the final showdown. She had gotten involved with them because she believed in what they were doing and because she was more than mad at the CIA for being involved with Zaf's disappearance.
But Lucas didn't need to know that and he didn't ask for the details. And she would never share them, even if he did ask. But it seemed his faith in her was still standing, stronger even maybe, even when his faith in the other members had all but been destroyed by their immediate suspicion.
But he was still on their side, of this Ros was sure. Maybe it took a traitor to recognise another and was that the reason why she was the only one to see that Lucas wasn't the traitor material. In many ways they were alike, most of all in their devotion to their job. It was more to them than just work. Both their lives revolved around their careers. And it wasn't by choice. It was only because they had nothing and no one else left.
Ros could see Lucas was about to say something, but she cut him off. 'Get some sleep,' she told him briskly. The last thing she wanted was for him to go all emotional on her, or even worse, grateful. 'I'll deal with those surveillance reports.'
He made to protest. 'But…'
'That is an order,' she interrupted, now borrowing one of Harry's favourite phrases.
He gave her a last grateful smile before disappearing.
By the time he got into the car, the nerves had tied his stomach into tight knots again. He had known that at some point even his own colleagues might start to doubt his loyalties. It was only to be expected, he told himself. Not that long ago he had been pretending to be a double agent for the FSB. Combine that with his background and he did indeed make for a very believable traitor.
He just had not believed they would give up on him so soon already. Apart from Arthur, who was far too naïve and trusting for his own good, and Ros they had all believed him to have gone over to Morgana's side. Lucas knew it was only because of Ros he had been allowed back into the field. The Section Chief was still a mystery, even after her explanation, and Lucas was not entirely sure what her motives were.
He had never before felt so alone as he felt now. Even in Russia he had not felt so isolated. At least than he had the comfort of knowing that he had never betrayed his country. It was one of the few things that had kept him from despair in there. That and the thought of Elizabeta. But Elizabeta had left him and here he was, doing exactly that which he had refused to do for eight years.
His mobile phone started buzzing. He took a look at the screen and then answered it with a curt 'North.'
'You are on your way?' The annoying voice of Bob Hogan, speaking with that awful American accent of his, came through the mobile.
As if you wouldn't know that already. 'Where do I go?' he replied as he waited for the traffic light. The distrust was still there as well. They had refused to give him a location for the second meeting, instead opting on calling him when he was already on the road. Were they afraid that he was still one of Harry's officers even after the information that he had given them?
'We're sending the coordinates now.' Without a greeting the other end went dead.
The traffic light turned green and he hit the gas, as his mobile gave another bleep. The message contained the coordinates. His GPS system told him it was a place outside London, practically in the middle of nowhere. Lucas wondered whose idea that had been. Both Hogan and Morgana had a streak of paranoia, so it wasn't entirely unexpected that they wanted to meet in as abandoned a spot as they could find.
The drive down there took three quarters of an hour, giving him far too much time to think. He could still picture Harry's furious expression as he confronted him about the information he had given Morgana. He had been angry, as he most likely would have been with any member of the team if they pulled a stunt like that. But he was not fooled. He could see and hear the wariness, the distrust that was barely concealed underneath the anger. Maybe his boss did not yet fully believe that he was a traitor – after all he had allowed Ros to continue with the operation – but he was at least on the road to become one.
The other members of the team were less careful with their views, even Malcolm, who he had known since the day he joined MI-5. Worst of all were Ben and Merlin. To be quite honest Lucas did not care much about Ben's opinion. He hardly knew him at all and anyway, the young man was just that, young. He had not yet a very good idea of what this job sometimes demanded of its officers. It was Merlin that was the big disappointment. Lucas could have said the warlock trusted him, before all this had begun. They were colleagues, on a level that may almost be called friendship. For him to radiate such hostility was painful. It was almost as if he had expected Lucas to turn to Morgana all along.
He hit the steering wheel in frustration, causing a passing driver to give him a queer look. Lucas ignored him. Normally he would have been shocked by losing control of himself like that in public, but right now he had more important things on his mind. He hated this. Good heavens, he hated this. His own side treated him with more distrust than his supposed enemies. It was like the whole Kachimov episode all over again. How many times would he need to prove himself before they would see that he had not betrayed them?
He forced himself not to dwell on that thought. All it would do was undermine his confidence in his own skills. And he knew he still had them. Yesterday he had played a paranoid former CIA man and powerful witch with ease. They had been wary at first, as expected, but in the end they had taken the bait, as he knew they would.
It helped that he arrived at his destination then. It was a farmhouse that had probably been scheduled for demolishing. At any rate it had probably been empty for years. The roof had huge holes in it, some of the windows had been smashed or just broken and the door looked like the gentlest breeze could blow it off its hinges. If it had been dark this too would have been the perfect stage for a horror movie.
But fortunately for him the sun was shining now and the ruined house looked less cramped than that bloody hallway he had been forced to cross yesterday. That did a lot to calm his nerves and keep the horrors of Russia at bay.
But there might be horrors lurking in this house anyway. Morgana and Hogan had both been making demands and apart from a new passport for Hogan, they had all been rejected. Not that Lucas believed that either of them had been expecting Harry to give in, but nonetheless, they were bound not to be pleased.
He parked the car right in front of the house and went in by the front door. That had worked well enough the day before and he didn't doubt it would work again. They wanted him here, so they would show themselves to him soon enough.
And indeed they did. He crossed the hallway – a wide one this time – into the living room where his hosts were already waiting for him.
'You're late,' Morgana drawled. Arthur's half-sister was sitting, no lounging was the better word, on the couch in the middle of the room. The piece of furniture was as ruined as its surroundings, but somehow it seemed to fit her.
Lucas produced an apologetic smile. 'The natural results of a phenomenon called traffic jam, my lady.' He searched for a mix between respect and nonchalance. It wouldn't do to be viewed as completely dependent on them. He kept his distance a bit for now. If they thought it was okay for them to be suspicious of him, then in his eyes that gave him the right to treat them the same.
'Did you bring what I asked for?' she demanded, even when she could see that he obviously didn't.
He produced the passport for Bob Hogan. 'Just the passport, I'm afraid.'
The American's face darkened, but he could not really be expecting Harry to give him the money as well, could he? These men had worked together in the past. Surely he would know Harry better than that by now. 'Where's the money?'
'Ah, you know what it's like,' Lucas replied, leaning against the wall with his hands shoved in his pockets to radiate maximum nonchalance. 'The whole we-do-not-negotiate-with-terrorists-speech all over again. I might have been pointing out that they actually were doing that at the moment, but…' He let his voice trail off, ending the speech with a smirk he knew Merlin thought of as creepy.
'You can tell Harry there will be consequences.' Hogan was practically fuming, but he did snatch the passport from Lucas's hands anyway.
'Oh, you're clever enough to know that Harry already knows that,' the Senior Case Officer pointed out. 'And you also know that he's intending to use me to get to you.'
Lucas couldn't help but feel contempt for this man. He was, as Ros had so accurately described, a selfish self-serving bloody bastard. And if Lucas had to add one more quality to that list than it would be that Bob Hogan was also absolutely ruthless and lacked something that even looked like a conscience. If he thought he was helped with it, he would sell out both Lucas and Morgana to the highest bidder without as much as a moment's hesitation.
But his partner in crime was different. Hogan did what he did for the money and for revenge, but Morgana's motives were of a different nature altogether. Where Hogan only wanted revenge for things he had all but inflicted upon himself, Morgana craved the revenge for things that had been done to her without her deserving it. Everything he knew about her told him she had been persecuted purely for possessing magic, something she had no control over whatsoever. Her friends had turned on her, leaving her all alone in the world. And Lucas knew what that felt like. He could relate to her on a personal level and while this frightened him somewhat, he also knew that this would make his job a lot easier.
Because they had so many similarities in their past, they could relate to one another. Morgana might even be persuaded to trust him because of this. But this great advantage was also his greatest weakness. He already was an ideal candidate for betrayal and if he wasn't careful, this witch might pull him through Traitor's Gate. He would neither be the first nor the last to go down that road because of personal reasons like this.
'But he won't be able to use you,' Morgana said. 'Will he?' She too spoke with an ease that Lucas nonetheless thought of as forced. She still wasn't entirely sure about him, or his motives.
'You know the answer to that, my lady,' he replied diplomatically, mentally snorting at himself. Keep this up and you might pass for a bloody politician.
'You didn't bring me what I asked,' she continued.
He gave another apologetic smile, although it came closer to a grin. 'Yeah, Harry didn't seem to think that handing over foreign royalty to terrorists was a wise move.' This point had not even been taken into consideration for a second, as Morgana might have guessed anyway. 'Told him it was a bad idea, though. We could have gotten rid of two of the biggest trouble-makers in one go.' He managed to make it sound as if he was genuinely sorry he still had to put up with them.
Or maybe he didn't succeed all that well. Morgana got up and moved in front of him, studying his face intently. 'You don't really hate them, do you, Lucas?' Her eyes were cold and calculating, but there was a loneliness underneath the ice that he understood all too well.
And so he opted on answering truthfully. 'Well, they are a bunch of troublemakers,' he repeated. 'But I can't honestly see what the fuss is all about. The pair of them look rather insignificant.' And they did, on first sight.
Morgana shook her head. 'How wrong you are.' A sad smile graced her features. 'You do not yet know enough about them to hate them as you should.'
Something in that speech made him feel that she did have those reasons. Arthur and Merlin had done something to her that had caused her to despise them as she did. And Lucas knew better than to think that the guests in Thames House were saints. Arthur was a warrior. If he needed proof of that he only had to remember the way the king of Camelot had attacked that bomber. That had not been the work of an amateur. He was bound to have done some things in his life that would have the human rights groups voice their disapproval if they were ever to find out.
As for Merlin, Lucas didn't think he could handle a weapon to save his life. If anything, he was the king's right-hand man, the brains behind the throne. Clumsy and good-natured at first sight he may be, and undoubtedly a loyal friend when you were on the same side, but Lucas had made a point of never underestimating the warlock, right the very minute he had found out about the man's magic. His most remarkable characteristic was that he was so very protective of Arthur. As soon as he feared something or someone may be threatening the king, he went into full bodyguard mode and then nothing and no one mattered except Arthur. Lucas had the strong feeling that he would sacrifice all his new allies in a heartbeat if he believed he could save his king in that way.
'Do I need to know?' he asked, still using that relaxed tone, even if he by now was very much on edge. And he was close to the edge as well. Merlin's immediate hostility and the others' suspicion had already pushed him dangerously close. Some part of him even screamed to do what they already feared he had done and it terrified him. Did he even know who he was and who he was supposed to be anymore?
Morgana walked around him at a slow pace. If he hadn't known better he'd have said she watched some modern day movies for inspiration. 'I think you do.' She sighed. 'You're wary of me, are you not?'
'I am wary of everyone,' he replied, almost automatically. 'I'm a spook. It's in my nature. It might even be a part of my job description.'
This answer both pleased and displeased her. 'Yet you do not think Arthur and Merlin are a danger to you.'
He snorted. 'An arrogant king with more mouth than brains and a sorcerer who stumbles over his own feet every five minutes?' He let out some humourless laughter. 'Those are hardly the types to be afraid of.' And he meant it. They didn't even rank in the top ten of most dangerous people he had ever met. That was reserved for his FSB interrogators. 'They're a nuisance.'
Now it was Morgana's turn to laugh bitterly. 'I don't suppose that clumsy nuisance ever told you the truth, did he?' Her voice, although still cold and full of hatred, was now laced with hurt as well.
She lost him there. 'About what?' he questioned.
She studied his face closely. 'He hasn't told you,' she realised. 'Didn't he tell you that we used to be friends?'
That came as a surprise. No, he had not known about that. Merlin had said several things about Morgana, but never once had he made mention of that. He was sure he would have remembered something that significant.
'He didn't,' Morgana concluded. His silence was all the answer that she needed. 'Of course he didn't. Because if he had, he might have needed to explain why he poisoned me. We were friends, he said. He even pretended to care about me, promised to keep my magic a secret from everyone, only to betray me later.'
She had begun to walk around him again, so he turned on his heels to see if she meant what she said. And he didn't like what he saw, not at all. He knew how to spot a liar and Morgana Pendragon was definitely telling the truth.
'This surprises you?' The tone was still as bitter as it had been before, even more so maybe.
If he was really honest, no, it did not really surprise him. Not really. He of course didn't know of the circumstances that surrounded the event in question, but he thought it would be safe to assume that Arthur's life had been in some kind of danger and that Merlin somehow believed that poisoning Morgana was the best way to deal with the crisis.
'No,' he said. There was some darkness in the sorcerer. He had sensed it ever since he had come back from the first meet. In a way it was even scaring him. 'Although it doesn't explain why you hate Arthur so much, my lady. Isn't he your brother?'
That resulted in a wry smile. 'My so-called brother thinks it is okay to slaughter my kind just because they possess magic. Tell me, Lucas, has he told you about that?'
His stomach turned to ice. Arthur had made mention of magic being outlawed. Never once had he told his new allies what he did with those that were caught practising it. And it didn't seem to fit in with his personality at all. Unless he saw it as his duty. Now that was something that would make sense.
It didn't make it any less sick though. Before now he had thought of the dynamic duo as good. They might have their bad sides, as they all had, but nothing out of the ordinary. He had been about to think of them as colleagues. If anything, Morgana's revelation destroyed every possibility of that.
He could feel himself getting closer to the edge, balancing on it. If he fell he didn't know if there was a way back for him. So far he had refrained from doing what some part of him felt to be only right, eight long years of it. But somehow it had been easier to decide then. This was entirely different.
But the decision needed to be made, so he took a deep breath and then made up his mind. 'What do you want me to do for you?' he asked, face perfectly blank.
Morgana eyed him with surprise. 'You offer me your services?' The surprise was audible in her voice as well.
'You know I do, Morgana.' It was the first time he really used her name, but it felt rather natural to do so.
'I'm still not sure that we can trust him.' Bob Hogan, who had watched the scene intently from the side, finally spoke up. He was definitely not yet convinced of Lucas's loyalty, if his penetrating stare was anything to go by.
Lucas met it with perfect calm. 'Then test me,' he challenged without as much as a moment's hesitation.
Hogan and Morgana exchanged looks and then both nodded. 'Very well,' Morgana agreed. 'Then I want you to bring me what your boss refused to give to me. I want you to bring me Arthur Pendragon.'