What a mess. That seemed to be the only description that fit the situation. Arthur was no stranger to crises and disasters, but this one seemed to beat them all. Already people had died because of this. Two people had died in the so-called Al-Qaeda attack and the death count for the station explosion was currently on thirty-three, although there were so many heavily injured people that this number was expected to go up before the week was out.
Arthur turned away from the television in disgust. A reporter was telling them there was still a search on for the culprits and he urged the public that if they should see them they should alert the police immediately. So far, there had been a lot of sightings of both Hogan and Morgana, although, if the reports should be believed, they were capable of being in at least ten places at once. And Morgana may be a powerful witch, but it went beyond even her to be in multiple places at the same time.
He shoved the latest report away from him in frustration. This was never going to work. They would not find Morgana like this. She was too clever and too powerful to be uncovered by conventional means. If that had been the way, his countless patrols would already have tracked her down.
But even if they managed to find her and lock her up, these cells could never hold her. She'd just transport herself out of it in less than a minute and they'd be back to square one. It was like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands. It was never ever going to work.
And that was what they needed Lucas for. He was their way in. Unfortunately Ros and Lucas himself seemed to be the only ones to share that vision. After the shouting match in the meeting room Harry had pulled Lucas off the case, claiming he was unfit to go back in there. They would abort the operation and find another way to catch Morgana. Lucas had slunk back in his seat in shock for a moment and then he had left, shutting the door with as much force as Arthur himself had done earlier that day.
The room had emptied out eventually and Harry and Ros had disappeared into the section head's office while the rest of the team started working on alternative plans. It was probably a good thing no sound could come through those doors, because by the looks of things both Harry and Ros were shouting. Arthur hoped to God the Section Chief could knock some sense into her boss's head. He didn't even know what mess they would find themselves in if they lost their one way of knowing what Morgana was up to.
His eyes scanned the room. Most officers had disappeared behind a computer screen again. Merlin too had tried to learn what he could and was now assisting Jo with whatever it was that she was doing. Arthur grimaced. Merlin of all people should have understood what Lucas was doing. He had been spying for many years himself. He had pretended for years that he was someone he was clearly not. Of all people he should have been able to relate to Lucas and Arthur could not for the life of him figure out why he did not. There was a hostility there that he thought both unfamiliar and scary.
He got up, sighing in frustration again. He needed coffee if he wanted to get something done. A break would have been even better, but the way things were now, that was out of the question. He would have to make do with the next best thing. The kitchen was empty, but he knew how the machines worked now, so he didn't need help anyway.
Arthur looked at the Grid, seeing Lucas sit all on his own. He pretended to read some kind of file, but Arthur recognised the signs of someone who was distracted. He was so himself on occasion, although for other reasons entirely. Arthur had trouble focusing on any kind of report, but the Senior Case Officer wasn't the kind of person to get distracted. He was too devoted to this job.
Arthur tried to imagine what it would be like to be actually one of these people, to have to lie about who you were all the time, to have your friends look at you like you were the enemy. It seemed horrible.
A scaring thought forced itself into his head. What if by treating Lucas like a traitor they would truly drive him right into Morgana's waiting arms? It wouldn't be the first time something like this happened. Had they not forced Morgana towards Morgause by acting as they had?
But he was not in a hurry to let that happen. So he took a second cup and all but marched over to Lucas's desk, placing the thing forcefully down, determined to make this work. Lucas would not need to betray this team, not as long as Arthur Pendragon had a say in the matter. 'Coffee?'
The spook looked up. 'Arthur,' he acknowledged. The king had trouble determining whether it sounded wary or just exhausted. He allowed himself to think it was the last. 'Why did you do that?'
Arthur frowned. 'Do what?' He copied a popular habit on the Grid and perched himself on the edge of the desk, because there didn't seem to be a chair nearby.
'Tell me that you were spying on the meet,' Lucas clarified. The tone was definitely wary now.
Uh oh. Arthur was not good at this kind of thing. Telling people that he actually cared about what happened to them had never been his strong point. It had taken him years before he had been able to really say 'I love you' to Guinevere and his long standing friendship with Merlin still had to be acknowledged in words. Arthur was a man of action, not of words. That was why it had been perfectly natural for him to stand up for his new friend in the meeting room, especially since he was too furious to really care about anything else. Explaining his motivations to said friend was another matter entirely.
'It was only fair,' he replied eventually with a casual shrug of the shoulders. 'You should have been informed of the plans.'
Lucas gave a humourless snort of laughter. 'They don't trust me,' he told the king.
Then they're fools. 'Ros does,' he felt obliged to point out. From where they were sitting they could see the Section Chief slam her fist on Harry's desk in a perfect imitation of its owner's favourite gesture.
Lucas nodded thoughtfully. 'She's the only one.' The wariness had turned to bitterness now, laced with resentment.
Arthur sipped his coffee, using that to hide behind and delay the moment he needed to say something.
As it turned out, he didn't have to. 'Is it true?' Lucas asked again. 'Is it true that you execute people with magic?'
The same question had been thrown at Merlin and Arthur had seen how his servant's refusal to answer that had angered the distressed spook. Arthur might not be the most sensitive person around – and if he was in a good mood he might even admit to that himself – but he was not about to make that same mistake. 'Yes,' he replied. 'But it is a little more complicated than Morgana tried to make it look.' And that was the understatement of the year.
Lucas's demanding stare told him to go on.
'They were my father's laws,' he explained, fully aware of how lame it sounded. Even to his ears it sounded like an excuse. 'My mother died because of magic, so then my father outlawed it. We call it the Great Purge these days. My father tracked down and killed every magic-user he could get his hands on.'
He had tried his hardest not to think about that for as long as he had known about it. Deep down there had always been a voice telling him that there was something very much wrong with that. Facing it made his own role in it all even more disgusting.
He stored it away. Now was not the time to review his policies. 'He made a lot of enemies that way. A lot of sorcerers had grievances that they took out on Camelot, my father or me. I had never seen someone use magic for good until Merlin revealed his powers.' He shook his head. 'And I am not even sure how many good sorcerers are out there. Just look at Morgana and what she uses her powers for.'
It was silent for a while. Lucas stared to a point in the distance. 'Still, why persecute Morgana? You had known her all your life, hadn't you?' Arthur could hear the question that wasn't asked, the one that was really relevant in this particular discussion. Why did you turn on one of your friends?
'We didn't know,' Arthur replied. Something stung in his chest. He thought it might be regret, or maybe just plain old sadness and hurt. 'She kept it from us for fear of what my father might do to her if he were to find out. I guess Merlin knew, but he never said a word. By the time I learned of Morgana's magic she had taken over Camelot with an undead army, claiming the crown for her own.'
Recounting that tale, however brief, still made him sad. It was that particular crisis that had sent his father over the edge, made him lose his mind. Uther Pendragon may have died in body only a few short months ago, but his mind had been gone for a year even then.
He snapped out of it. Now was definitely not the time to wallow in his memories. It was his job now to make Lucas understand what had really happened. 'She might claim freedom for her kind, but she was a more ruthless ruler than even my father in the days of the Great Purge. She executed town's people when the knights refused to pledge their allegiance to her, she had the farmers' crops burned when they refused to accept her as their rightful monarch…' The horrors of those days were beyond count and it had taken the people long to recover from it. Arthur knew, because he had been there to help them to get over it. It had been him and his knights that went to the outlying villages to distribute food, helped to rebuild houses or just were there to hear the people's stories. 'I'm not saying that all my laws are right, but Morgana was even worse for the kingdom. Under my father's rule there was peace and prosperity. For all his faults he really tried to do what was best for the people.'
Arthur didn't think he had ever spoken so long about something that was so intensely personal. It was both relieving and frightening. Nobody really knew what was going on inside his head, except for Guinevere, but in her case it was intuition, so that didn't really count. He had not even voiced these things to Merlin, who he considered his closest, maybe only, friend, although he wasn't even that sure about that now.
Lucas had gone quiet as well. He sipped from his coffee, his eyes on his computer screen, although Lucas doubted he really saw what was on there. There was a pensive look in his eyes. Arthur could not for the life of him figure out what the other man was thinking. Merlin had such a look as well sometimes. It was like a mental piece of armour, impossible to penetrate.
He decided to leave the spy to think it all over. He supposed it was a lot to take in. So he got off the desk and grabbed his coffee.
'Wait,' Lucas's voice said when he was already several steps away.
Arthur turned around. 'Yes?'
'Thank you,' the spook told him. Only a fool would miss out on the sincerity in his voice and, no matter what Merlin liked to think, Arthur Pendragon was by no means a fool. Lucas was truly grateful, even when Arthur wasn't one hundred percent certain what exactly he was grateful for.
'You're welcome,' he replied, a sense of relief growing within him. This made him believe that not all was lost, that maybe there was still a way they would be able to pull this off. 'I am on your side, Lucas.'
The smallest hint of a smile graced his face. The tension seemed to lift a little.
The reprieve was short-lived, however. 'Lucas! Arthur! In here, NOW!' Harry's best commander voice yelled at them. He didn't even give the pair of them the chance to react, already marching back into his office.
The two men exchanged a glance. Lucas was already on full alert again, the expressionless mask firmly back in place. Only his eyes revealed the smallest hint of panic and fear. All Arthur's newfound optimism abandoned him as quickly as it had grown.
Ros was too restless to sit down. So in the end she settled for leaning against the door of Harry's office. That had the additional bonus that she could oversee the situation perfectly. Although she had to admit that this would probably have worked better if the other occupants of the room sat down. As it was, only one chair in the room was being used, by Harry of course. Lucas was leaning against the other door, directly opposite Ros, and Arthur had positioned himself in front of Harry's office.
No one spoke, but the tension in the room spoke volumes for them. There was ice-cold disapproval from the king, but it was mainly directed at Harry. Nothing new there. Arthur hadn't made it a secret he strongly disagreed with Harry's operational decisions, believing that he was making a big mistake pulling Lucas out. As it happened, Ros agreed with him. She just had the good sense to keep her grievances more or less private. She would never question Harry's judgement in front of his team, something Arthur clearly had no problems with whatsoever. He still stared at her boss as if he could command him by the sheer power of his gaze. Unfortunately, in this case, that only worked on his subjects and not on the head of Section D.
Lucas was tense as well, albeit for completely different reasons. If Ros's assessment of the situation was true and Lucas did view this operation as the way to prove himself to Section D, then this was an absolute nightmare to him. Harry had pulled him off the operation because he was 'clearly incapable to handle the demands of this operation.' That had sounded harsh even to Ros, who after all wasn't known for her social niceties.
Now her colleague stood against the door, rubbing his chin absent-mindedly. Ros had come to learn that he always did that whenever he was nervous or on edge. And he was now. Harry had just robbed him of the chance to prove himself and that had got to hurt. Ros knew better than anyone that that chance was what he needed. She herself had proven herself on a deep cover operation in Moscow after her involvement with Yalta. Had Harry pulled her off that one she too would have been devastated.
Harry had poured himself a glass of whisky to steady his nerves some ten minutes earlier. He now downed the remnants of that glass to give himself another few seconds. They had come to an agreement several minutes ago, but Ros knew that her boss still wasn't exactly thrilled about the idea. But she had kept her foot down and in the end she had won. She even had used emotional blackmail to get him to agree, but she had done it.
'You're back on the op,' Harry said suddenly, looking at the Senior Case Officer.
The smile that now appeared on Lucas's face lit up his entire face. The tension vanished in an instant. He was the very image of a schoolboy who had discovered it was actually his birthday today. 'Thank you, Harry.' Only someone without a brain would miss out on the genuine gratitude that practically radiated off him.
The head of the section raised his hand, forestalling more expressions of gratitude. 'There are conditions.'
Lucas's arms went back over his chest as if he was bracing himself for the worst. The happy twinkle in his eyes made way for an expression that was almost wary right away. This was bad, Ros knew. The relationship between those two had already been on shaky grounds before this operation had even started, but Harry's almost immediate distrust as soon as Lucas had gone in may have just damaged it beyond repair.
'Which are?' The smile was still on his face, but there was wariness in his voice.
'No more surprises,' Harry told him sternly. 'One more diversion from the script and I'm pulling you from the case and not even your fans can change my mind then.' That statement was followed by a pointed look first at Arthur and then at Ros. Neither of them was particularly impressed.
Lucas nodded. 'Understood.'
'You'll be on comms the entire time. I'm not letting you go in there unsupervised again. You were lucky these times, but Morgana is one dangerous witch and don't get me even started on Bob bloody Hogan.'
'I can handle him,' Lucas said dismissively.
'I am sure Adam thought the same thing right before Hogan handed him over to the Redbacks on a sodding silver platter,' Harry countered. 'This is non-negotiable, Lucas.' There was paternal concern in his voice, but all the occupants of the room knew that that wasn't all there was to it. Harry might want to trust him, but that wasn't the same thing as actual trusting him and they all knew it.
Lucas's face darkened for a moment, but then he nodded reluctantly. 'Okay.' The smile had disappeared during this encounter as well. 'Anything else?'
Harry shook his head. 'Arthur?'
The king looked at him. 'Yes?' If that tone was anything to go by the Pendragon wasn't exactly happy with the way things were going. He had this look that told the one it was directed against that he absolutely disapproved of what that person was doing. Ros didn't doubt that it would have most of his subjects – and possibly the junior officers as well – running for the hills without second thought. Unfortunately for him Harry had faced far more dangerous individuals than Arthur Pendragon in a full-blown fury.
'I want you to make a little rendezvous with our great friends from the CIA,' Harry ordered.
Arthur's face wrinkled in disgust. He hadn't exactly made it a secret he greatly disliked the American counterpart of the British security service. And while Ros had to admit that Laurie Werner was indeed a bloody pain in the backside with her fake smile and her lies, sometimes liaising with her was really the lesser of two evils. And they did really need the information the CIA could give them on this operation, no matter how much they hated the need for it.
'I'm not doing a happy dance around this office myself,' Ros smiled wryly at her ally.
Arthur snorted, but made no protests, which was bound to be better for everyone's nerves. 'Where do I meet her?'
'Hyde Park,' Harry told him. 'Two o'clock tomorrow afternoon. You get her to give us all of Hogan's file this time.'
The king frowned. 'We didn't get it all the first time?'
Ros huffed. 'Not bloody likely.' Not that this had been much of a surprise. It was however a little insulting that the CIA thought MI-5 wouldn't notice that sizable chunks of text seemed to have gone missing. They had tried and failed to make it look as if this really was all of it. It had Connie not even taken the quarter of an hour to discover that there were no records of the trickier periods in Hogan's career. This was deliberate obstruction and it made Ros want to march over to that supposedly secret station of theirs to bang some heads against the walls. That would however be a little counterproductive. Sending in Arthur would be a better alternative, she had to agree.
Lucas's face told everyone with eyes in their heads exactly what he thought about that behaviour. 'They really think we're stupid, don't they?'
'Welcome to the American way of life,' Ros quipped, gaining her one of his charming smiles. They were few and far in between these days, so she decided to take it as a good omen. That annoyingly charming, easy-going man was still in there.
He gave her a lopsided grin. 'What on earth happened to the special relationship?'
'It seems our special relationship is experiencing a minor blip,' Ros countered easily, referring to Hogan's first phone call.
That got a real laugh from him. 'Yeah, I bet.'
'You meet her and get the file,' Harry repeated, ignoring their exchange. 'I don't care how you do it. Blackmail her, threaten her, hold her at the point of your sword, just don't return to this building until you get it.'
Don't start putting ideas in his head, Ros thought. Arthur Pendragon was just the type to take this literally. The Section Chief wouldn't put it past him to really use his sword to get Laurie to cooperate. And that would no doubt attract attention in a way that the protocols most definitely would not approve of.
Arthur was not in the mood to argue about the fact that Harry strictly speaking was in no position to order him about apparently, because he nodded. 'Anything else I need to get from her?'
'Ask her what they have on Hogan's whereabouts, possible accomplices, hide-outs, you know the drill.' Harry nodded at the king, appreciating his willingness to think for himself. Ros hadn't believed it possible at first, but the king did have some intelligence. He just used it economically, is all.
Arthur nodded. 'Should I drop some hints about Morgana?' he asked. 'Without mentioning her name of course,' he added hastily when Harry's face started to resemble a tomato again. 'How do you say it again? Shake the tree, rattle the cage? Just see if she knows more than she lets on?'
Lucas snorted. 'Isn't that always the bloody case?'
Ros chuckled. Lucas was right on that one. As far as she knew the Americans were as forthcoming with their information as a stubborn oyster was with its pearl. But it was actually not a bad idea and she told the king as much. The past few days had taught her he wasn't actually too bad at getting the information they needed. His means may be a little unconventional, but sometimes so were Ros's, and it was the result that counted. It did however remind her of something. 'But if you reveal your true identity again, I'll have you locked in the basement cells for the next decade,' she added quickly. She wasn't exactly in a hurry to repeat the Whitehall disaster.
Arthur nodded, an uneasy look crossing his face. Thanks to Harry's quick tongue Dolby and Blake were now under the impression that all that Once and Future King nonsense was actually true, even when they weren't one hundred percent sure yet. At least the Official Secrets Act would stop them from blabbing this valuable piece of information to the press. Ros wouldn't put it past the Home Secretary to announce Arthur's work with the current government in order to get a bounce in the polls, but at least that crisis was temporarily contained, leaving them to deal with the much bigger one. And it could have been worse, but fortunately the existence of the portal had gone unmentioned.
'Right,' Harry said in is best army commander voice. 'So off you go. Lucas, arrange a meet with our dynamic duo and start cracking on a good script with Malcolm and Merlin. Arthur, you go and get yourself acquainted with Hogan's file. Ask Connie for assistance if you have to and tell them the op's still live.'
Both men nodded and left the office. Ros made to follow them out, but the sharp 'Rosalind!' stopped her dead in her tracks. 'Harry?' She gave him a quizzical look.
'Close the door,' Harry ordered, refilling his glass with more whiskey. It was one of those tell-tale signs that he was on edge, as was his harsh voice. The boss was not one hundred percent convinced that this was even a good idea and he had meant what he said: at the slightest hint of trouble he'd pull Lucas out, even if that meant blowing all their chances of ever learning what the hell their enemy was up to.
Reluctantly she did as he asked, leaning against it in a way not unlike Lucas had done. 'What's up?' she asked briskly.
'I want you to arrange that meet with our esteemed Miss Werner for tomorrow afternoon,' Harry told her. 'Two o' clock, safe-house Ottawa Bravo.'
It was almost a reflex to glance out of the window at Lucas's retreating back. He really didn't make it hard for her to put two and two together. Her fists clenched in anger. 'That was not what we agreed on and you bloody well know it!' She was bristling with rage.
Harry's stern glare would have put Dolby to shame. 'This is non-negotiable, Ros.'
'I thought you said you trusted him.' She couldn't keep the hurt out of her voice. This was far closer to home than she was comfortable with.
'I do, I really want to, Ros.' The tone became more cajoling now, begging for her understanding. But she'd be damned if she ever showed that to him. Now he had really gone too far. 'But we cannot be sure, not yet. He's too vulnerable, too damaged. We must anticipate that he might be persuaded to see Morgana's point.'
That would be because Morgana actually has a point, Ros thought, but she knew better than to voice that opinion. But she too had been shocked by the revelation that Merlin was not as innocent as he tried to come across. Add to that his immediate hostility towards Lucas and Ros had quite established that she wasn't too fond of the clumsy warlock anymore. She respected him as a fellow spook – after all his work was good so far – but he was not the kind of colleague she would spend much time around.
'It's not what we agreed on,' she repeated harshly. 'You give him far too little credit.' It wasn't like her to question Harry's decisions, but it was nothing like Harry to doubt his officers either. 'And that wouldn't be the first time either,' she continued, the memory of how Harry had kept the knowledge of her father's prison sentence from her until the end of an operation for fear it might affect her skills in the field. He really should know by now that both Ros and Lucas were made of sterner stuff than that and it certainly was not Harry's job to make any assumptions on his officers' personal lives. She was so pissed off that she didn't even think before she threw the same hurtful words in his expressionless face. 'The fact that your own existence is a walking disaster zone does not give you the right to make judgements on other people's!'
She grabbed her files from the desk and stormed out of the office with every intent of slamming those bloody doors hard enough to startle every officer on the Grid. Only Harry's commanding 'Rosalind!' stopped her from making good on that.
'Yes?' she snarled. She knew it was unprofessional behaviour. She shouldn't shout at her boss like this and she sure as hell shouldn't let her personal life get anywhere near this building, but it did all the same. She was sensitive to trust issues, she knew that, and no one should ever so much as think about touching her officers. Colleagues are okay.
'You will not repeat as much as a word of this conversation to them, either of them.' The head of Section D had somehow ended up on his feet, fixing her with his sternest stare. 'That is an order, Rosalind.'
She gave him the curtest of nods and stormed out. The door made a satisfactory bang as it forcefully slid shut behind her.