It was treason, Lucas knew that. If Harry knew what he was doing, he would have him locked up in a cell and he would never see daylight again. And if things went according to plan, he would find out soon enough.
He calmed his breath and forced it to the back of his mind. This was not the time to worry about such things. It would work out all right. He had lasted all those years in prison. He would not screw up the first operation he was on. He knew what he was doing, even if almost everyone on the team believed otherwise.
'You are sure about this, North?' Hogan's voice hissed. The former CIA officer was getting all touchy-feely with his gun, but Lucas was not impressed. Maybe it was because he had seen far more dangerous men in the hellhole that they called prison, but the sight of Bob Hogan, with or without gun, failed to have any reaction on him. He doubted anyone still could instil such fear in him as he had felt there. Right now, that was working to his advantage.
'Harry trusts me,' he replied calmly. 'He wouldn't lie to me.'
Perhaps he was a bit creative with the truth, because he knew that Harry Pearce most definitely did not trust him, especially not on this operation. But he had been allowed to continue with the operation – although he had to admit that he had most definitely not been authorised to do this – and that had to mean that not all the trust was gone yet. Or that Ros's powers of persuasion were far more impressive than he had believed them to be, he added wryly to himself. In all his career he had never seen anyone change Harry's mind once it was made up, but Ros Myers had done it.
Lucas allowed himself to wonder briefly over that phenomenon. Harry and Ros behaved as a father and his sometimes rebellious daughter, he observed. She was always defending him and his actions, most of the time. If she had any grievances, she kept them private, unlike Tom Quinn, who had more than once fought his battles in the meeting room under the very noses of the rest of the team. And Harry surely had some soft spot for his Section Chief. He had heard snippets about her past and no one else would have employed her even after that. And Lucas was sure he hadn't heard all of it. Most of it was highly classified and there was only so much one could learn over a glass of beer with his colleagues.
He put Ros from his mind as well. She too would not be happy with his actions today, he knew. He could be ruining their fragile friendship forever with this. But maybe, just maybe, she would understand why he did what he was doing now. Lucas wasn't sure how deep she had gone undercover with the Yalta group, but he was pretty sure it was deep enough to at least fool some of her colleagues into believing she had truly turned against them, which would explain Ben's continued dislike of her.
The van was cramped with three people hiding in it. The Senior Case Officer had no idea where the vehicle had come from, but he doubted the owner had given his permission for it. With their faces all over the news Hogan and Morgana could hardly have walked into a garage to buy one legally.
'I am not yet seeing anyone, North,' Hogan pointed out.
Lucas glanced at his watch. Only ten to two. Someone sure was getting jumpy. 'There is still time.' He took the binoculars and checked the area around the bench where the meeting would take place. A casual observer would never see it, but he was not a casual observer. He was sure that gardener over there was doing a bit more than gardening here. He had been hanging around that particular rose bush for at least twenty minutes now and the plant was not in such a bad state as to justify that amount of care. And Lucas could swear that businessman on a bench nearby must know his newspaper inside out if he were indeed to read it. The spook doubted that very much. He could swear the man had been talking to himself, or rather his handler, right now. Doubtlessly there would be more people on alert than just the two he had already spotted.
'There is surveillance,' he reported.
Morgana gave him a pointed look. 'Why?' she demanded. She radiated anger and determination, but there was a slight flicker of fear and uncertainty there as well.
Lucas shrugged. 'Standard protocol,' he reassured her. 'It will probably mostly be the CIA, paranoid lot that they are.' He ignored the death glare that was directed at him from one of the former paranoids. 'They always seem to think we like to abduct their officers at this kind of rendezvous.' He nearly failed to bite back a smirk. He had been informed that the reason for these increased measures was the fact that a little over a year ago Section D had indeed done something like that and Bob Hogan had been a victim.
This seemed to calm Morgana. She gave him a barely visible nod. 'Will they be trouble?' she questioned.
This time Lucas did smirk. 'You are with us, my lady,' he pointed out. 'I hardly think anyone will stand a chance against your powers.' She looked rather pleased with his flattering, but nonetheless he added: 'Their main focus will be on protecting their officer, so as long as we'll be nice and leave that woman alone, they will not hinder us too much. There might be a few of Harry's out there and they might object to our plans, but we can handle them.'
He resumed his study of the park and its inhabitants, trying to discover more of either MI-5 or CIA officers in their little game of Count the Spooks. He found at least three others that were candidates: a young couple on a picnic blanket that was paying a little too much attention to that still empty bench and too little to each other, as one might suspect from love birds, and an elderly woman knitting on the bench opposite the meeting bench. She kept shooting glances at the other people around in a way that was far too wary for a normal old lady.
'I'm counting three,' Hogan reported. He too had binoculars in front of his eyes and a deep frown in his forehead to go with it.
A little rusty, old man? Lucas smirked. 'I'm counting five.' He ignored the older man's hateful stare. Hogan didn't mean anything. He was a pawn and the spook didn't doubt he would be sacrificed at the first sign of trouble. Hogan may think he was the one to run this show, but Lucas knew differently. The man was close to outliving his usefulness. He had helped Morgana in her first few weeks in London, but Lucas was definitely a more valuable ally now. He was younger, better trained and had, most importantly, direct access to the people Morgana hated most. So while Lucas was swiftly gaining Morgana's favour, Hogan was rapidly losing it. The spook wondered briefly what would happen to the American when he did fall from grace entirely, but didn't ponder it long. It wasn't important. This operation was.
He checked his watch again. There were only three minutes left to go. So he directed his attention towards the park again and waited.
By the time Arthur had arrived at the meeting place he was seething, practically boiling over with rage. How could Harry even think about doing this? How dare he change the place of the meeting without telling him, or any other member of the team? Had he so little faith in his own people?
True, Ros had known, but Arthur found that he could not really blame her for the lack of information he had received. She had been bound by orders and it was all too obvious she had hated them with a passion. The Section Chief had explained the situation to him in the car when she drove him here, which was still illegal as far as Harry was concerned, but Ros was under the impression that rules were there to break them. The words had come from between clenched teeth as she told the king of Camelot that Harry did not trust Lucas enough to tell him the real meeting place.
'But why tell him about the meeting at all?' Arthur had asked, rather stupidly in hindsight.
'He is testing him,' Ros had clarified. 'If he leads our dynamic duo to the bloody park today, Harry will know he is on their side, not ours.'
This confused Arthur for only half a second, but then he understood. 'But he's giving him no choice now!' he exclaimed. 'If Lucas wants to pretend to be with them, he'll have to lead them there.'
Ros only nodded, eyes on the road.
'Surely Harry knows that!' he had protested, but it sounded feeble even to his own ears.
'Does he now?' came the hard sarcastic reply.
'But… but when I am not there, Lucas's cover with Hogan and Morgana is blown,' Arthur realised. It was so shocking that he forgot completely that he was in fact using spooks jargon to get his point across. The consequences of Lucas being found out by his archenemy presented themselves to him, one scenario even worse than the one before. Arthur had seen what his half-sister did to people who were in her way and it was not pleasant.
'Yes.' Speaking through clenched teeth seemed to have become Ros's default setting. Arthur could hear the righteous anger he himself experienced, combined with the utter frustration of not being able to do something about this situation. It was topped off by an edge of protectiveness in the snappy woman's voice. For all her seemingly cold and bossy behaviour she did care about her officers.
And that had Arthur thinking. He had come to understand Harry as a man who took care of his officers, trusted them, no matter what. He had been in this job for longer than anyone knew. Ros had explained that when you were a spook you looked out for your colleagues, because the government 'sure as hell was not going to do it.' He had been told that when one entered the Service their life was instantly worth less than a civilian's, which meant that if the spies didn't take care of one another, no one else would do it. And they were protective of each other, that much had become clear to him, Harry more than the others. For him to not only give up faith in one of his best officers, to practically throw him to the wolves felt infinitely wrong, out of character even.
'But Lucas is his officer,' he protested again, but it still didn't sound any more certain than it had just now.
'Officially maybe,' Ros growled. Her hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles turned white. 'Unofficially we're his handlers now.'
Arthur had a feeling that this was not authorised by Harry, but he happened to agree with the Section Chief. They had agreed on being allies on this operation, unlikely allies admittedly, but allies nonetheless. And it would be up to them to make sure that this operation went off without a hitch. And to make sure that Lucas remained on their side.
Because that was the real mission here, Arthur pondered as he paced around the small kitchen of the safe-house, waiting for his contact to arrive. Lucas was vulnerable, Harry was right about that at least. And if they were pushing him enough he might indeed go over to Morgana's side. It would be up to Arthur and Ros to give him enough reasons to remain with Section D.
He was interrupted when the front door opened and immediately he stored away the question of what to do about the situation with Lucas for later. It wouldn't do him any good now to get distracted. He had met Laurie Werner only one time before this and he had quickly understood that she was a force to be reckoned with. Oh, if he had the chance to fight her with a sword he was sure to be victorious, but that was one of the things Harry had forbidden him. He would have to make her cooperate with his words alone.
That was a slight problem, since words were obviously not his forte. That was more Merlin's area of expertise, but the warlock was keeping an eye on Lucas's meet with Morgana right now and Arthur had already been introduced as the liaison officer. There would be no backing out right now.
'Miss Werner,' he acknowledged when the CIA woman entered the room.
She glanced around and her nose wrinkled in disgust at the sight of the dusty kitchen. 'Mr Parker,' she nodded, the fake smile plastered over her face already.
The king of Camelot remembered all too well how long it had taken Harry to get through that mask and he braced himself. He was not nearly as quick with words as Harry Pearce. But Aidan Parker was. He had spent a huge part of last night on the Grid with Lucas, further creating the persona that was Aidan Samuel Parker. Merlin had been looming over them like the very image of disapproval, but Arthur had ignored him, because he was grateful for the help. The Senior Case Officer had reminded him to keep it close to his real identity, with the subtle differences of his persona. That would be easy to remember and easy to act.
Aidan now had the same temper as Arthur Pendragon, because that was almost impossible to keep in check for the king sometimes, the same sense of justice and loyalty and the same tendency to shout whenever he was angry. Aidan however also had Lucas's relaxed attitude, Harry's disregard for decorum and tendency towards rule-bending whenever it suited him and Ros's sharp tongue. He had practised that last trait till deep in the night until Lucas had declared himself pleased and ready to go. Right now, Arthur felt anything but.
But he forced Arthur to the back of his mind and let the Aidan part of him take over. It was an interesting experience, and somehow exciting at the same time. It was also reassuring, because there was no doubt Aidan could get from Laurie what they so desperately needed.
'I was hoping for a cup of real English tea,' Laurie began. 'But I don't think…' Her voice trailed off as she inspected the kitchen again.
'And I was rather hoping you would be a bit more forthcoming with your information than you have been so far,' Arthur countered. 'But unfortunately we don't always get what we want in life.'
'Too bloody right,' Ros's voice said in his earpiece. The Section Chief was still in the car two blocks away, keeping track of the proceedings inside the building.
Laurie's smile became rather fixed. 'I have no idea what you're talking about.'
Arthur didn't buy it. Even if Ros had not been informing him that the CIA officer was in the habit of denying every accusation thrown her way, he would have been able to tell by her huge smile. It reminded him a bit of Merlin when he was trying to talk his way out of something. And Laurie was about as successful in that mission as the warlock always was.
'Oh, I think you do.' Arthur, although ready to bang the woman with her head against the wall already, casually leaned against the wall in the way he had seen Lucas lean against the door in Harry's office yesterday. He hoped he managed to radiate the right amount of calm and ease. 'You didn't really think we were stupid enough not to notice that certain pieces of Hogan's file had gone mysteriously missing, did you?'
Laurie's face temporarily paled a little, but the smile was back soon enough. 'If you could just give me the tiniest clue as to what you're talking about…'
This playing dumb frustrated Arthur to absolutely no end. 'Stop playing dumb!' he snapped at her. He would have added Ros's 'it really doesn't suit you' were it not that this was wholly untrue. Because dumb was precisely what this woman was. If she thought she could actually get away with this she was even stupider than the king already thought. 'You have deliberately left out those parts of Hogan's files that we need to track him down. Now I want to know why and then you're going to give me the rest of that file.'
She seemed to weigh her options. 'If,' she began, 'and I am saying if, such a part would exist, why would I give it to you?'
Arthur could practically hear Ros's teeth gritting in anger. 'Threaten her,' the Section Chief ordered.
The king happily obliged. 'Because we have credible intelligence that your officer is planning another attack here in London and we need your information to stop him.' He had practised this lie so many times it came out without stammering. He even managed to look the woman in the eyes as he said it, almost daring her to protest.
And protest she did. 'He is not our officer.'
'He was,' Arthur countered easily. 'And that means your country has a file on him, and more than the four inches you've given us. We want the rest and we want it now.' The advantage of studying Harry in a full-blown temper often enough was that it became easier to copy. 'Because when the next bomb goes off and you have not given it to us, we will be only too glad to tell the public who is really responsible for all those casualties.'
Laurie's smile became rather fixed all of a sudden. 'You're bluffing.'
'Am I now?' Arthur conjured up the smile he normally saved for when he had a really long list of chores for Merlin to do. 'We wouldn't feel too burdened about informing the public either that the first bombing could have been prevented as well had the CIA kept their man on a tighter leash.'
The indignation now replaced the smile. He had finally broken through the mask. 'You wouldn't dare!'
Arthur returned the angry stare without effort. 'Do you know what will happen if another bomb goes off?' he demanded. 'Apart from innocent people dying of course? London will go into free fall, City and all. The people are already scared out of their depths after the station bomb. Your country is deliberately obstructive and we will not hesitate to hold it responsible if another British civilian dies as a result of that.' If he had been in Camelot he would have thrown her in the dungeons ages ago, but he didn't have that luxury here, as much as he disliked that fact. So he settled for the next best thing. 'I'm giving you one more choice before I really pick up that phone and ring Reuters.'
Her eyes became wide, but as long as there was not yet a phone in sight she refused to budge. 'We deny everything.'
But two could play this game. 'Then I might feel obliged to suspect that the CIA has ulterior motives for not giving us the information we want, other than holding a grudge against our best officer and trying to save your own images, of course.' This was quickly turning into a staring match, but he had experience with those. And he was not going to be the first to look away. 'After all, it wouldn't be too strange if the CIA was really behind the bombing, that they were running Hogan.' The idea, that had started out as a mere way to put pressure on Laurie, began to feel more and more like a realistic option to the king of Camelot.
Laurie scoffed, summoning up an altogether fake and strained smile. 'That's absurd.'
'Is it?' Arthur shot back. 'Hogan was your officer and you left him off after he had committed a serious crime. We can only assume you did that because you still believed he could be useful to you.' An idea hit him then. 'And while you're at it, you can go on and give us the file you have on his accomplice as well.'
The look of unease was enough to alarm both Ros and Arthur. 'She knows something.' It wasn't a question, it was a conclusion. The Section Chief had to make do with the small cameras that had been hidden away in the house, but it was enough. Arthur would have nodded if that hadn't given away that he was still having contact with one of his colleagues.
'What do you know about his accomplice?' Laurie demanded. The smile was gone now for real.
'They're running an investigation of their own,' Ros breathed. 'They're trying to get to him before we can and then we'll never see him again.'
That was about the same conclusion Arthur had already reached. And he would be damned if he gave as much as a snippet of their information to this scheming woman. If information was what won wars these days, he'd be as stupid as Merlin often made him out to be if he gave her anything now. 'Only that he has one,' he lied. Denying that would be stupid since Morgana's face was all over the news right now. 'Female, fairly young, green eyes, black hair. One of yours as well?'
The implication that Hogan was still a CIA operative made the woman bristle with rage. 'Are you accusing us of sponsoring terrorism on British soil?' she demanded sharply.
Arthur conjured up some more of Lucas's relaxed attitude. 'I don't know,' he replied calmly. 'Are you?' This bold question wasn't followed by a warning from Ros and Arthur took that as a sign that this was permitted. Maybe this was what the spooks called rattling cages. Laurie surely did look rattled now. He could only just stifle his smirk.
'This just gets better and better!' Laurie threw her hands in the air in exasperation. 'Do you want to go on and accuse us of sponsoring Al Qaeda as well?'
'I might if you don't give me those files,' Arthur said immediately.
She began to laugh.
'Do you think this is a joke?' Arthur questioned, his tone perfectly icy.
The laughter stopped abruptly. 'You're not joking,' she realised.
'We would have very little trouble to make it look like that,' the king pointed out. He knew he was treading on very thin ice here, but it was a risk well worth taking if they could get the files they wanted in return. 'You are of course aware that Hogan was behind the market bombings, working together with Al Qaeda operatives. How much difficulty do you think would we have finding a link with the CIA?' He really was bluffing here. This had most definitely not been in the script.
'You're bluffing.' It was more of a wish than an actual denial and they both knew it.
Arthur dug up his mobile. 'I thought we had gone over this already,' he sighed. His heart was beating too fast. If he was really forced to make that phone call it would turn out soon enough that he didn't have one piece of evidence to back his story up. It was all about making that woman believe that he had that evidence. It was strangely exciting to do. Arthur was of course familiar with the thrill of a real fight and he hadn't been able to believe that such verbal sparring could have the same effect. He now understood that thing that Lucas had called the thrill of a dangerous operation.
'You don't have the evidence?' the CIA woman told him, but again she betrayed her nervousness by making it sound like a question rather than a solid belief.
He smirked. 'Don't I?' He started pushing the right numbers, hoping and praying that Miss Werner would give in before she would make him look like a complete fool here. In my experience you don't need any help looking like a fool, Morgana had once told him, back in the day. If this woman didn't give him what he needed he was close to finding out the truth of that statement.
It took her still three rings of the phone before the nervous 'okay, okay' finally came. It took all the self-restraint Arthur possessed not to let out a sigh of relief. Instead he smiled pleasantly, as he did when he told Merlin to muck out his horses. 'Very well,' he told her. 'Do I get these files?'
'Tell her to get the hell away from our investigation as well,' Ros growled in his right ear.
Laurie nodded. 'I'll arrange for someone to bring them down now.' The smile and the self-assured attitude seemed to have abandoned her both. They both knew who had won this particular battle.
'I think that would be best,' Arthur advised her. 'And perhaps you could inform your superiors as well that if we ever catch you anywhere near this operation again, we will not hesitate to release our information to the press after all.' He managed to make it sound like polite conversation and not like the threat that it was, another thing he had copied from the Section Chief. All in all he felt rather pleased with his own performance.
Laurie nodded and he felt even more smug. This had gone even better than he had dared to hope. They had won a round. For the first time since the start of the operation Arthur allowed himself to believe that everything could still work out all right.
But then he remembered that Lucas's cover with Hogan and Morgana could be blown this very minute and a cold shiver went down his spine.
Half past two. Lucas knew what time his watch would give him before he had even looked. After all it was hardly half a minute ago since he had last watched.
The atmosphere in the small van had grown more poisonous by the minute ever since two o' clock. He had his eyes practically glued to the binoculars, searching for a sign of either Arthur or Laurie Werner, but neither had shown their faces. Half an hour had passed and no one had shown, not even other operatives from the same security services. And gradually the surveillance of the place had lessened as well. The old lady had been the first to leave, followed almost immediately by the business man. The gardener had finally wandered off to other bushes and had then vanished entirely, only to be seen driving away in a car that looked too expensive to be owned by someone with his job. Now only the young couple remained and even they were folding the picnic blanket now, a clear sign that they too were about to leave. Whatever was supposed to happen here this afternoon at two o' clock, it had either not happened or it had happened and they had somehow completely missed out on it. The latter seemed highly unlikely and therefore Lucas could only conclude it had to be the first.
His heart and hopes sank as he finally realised that Harry had been lying to him. In hindsight it should have been obvious maybe. Harry's distrust of him had been unmistakable and yet he had told him the location and time of the meeting Arthur was having with the CIA people, even as Harry well knew that Lucas had promised Morgana to bring Arthur to her. And the head of the section had also known that this meeting was the only time the king of Camelot would leave Thames House. It had been a trap and he, the gullible fool, had walked right into it.
He could feel a cold shiver go down his spine. By now Harry would have figured out he was not where he was supposed to be and Morgana would start to suspect him too because he had led her on a wild goose chase. If he didn't act he would be left with nothing. He would lose all value he had gained here and Harry would kick him out of the Service in disgrace because of his betrayal.
'No one is coming, North,' Hogan pointed out, rather unnecessarily. His voice would have sent the shivers down anyone's spine. It might have had that effect on Lucas as well had he not feared the witch more.
But he kept his nerve. Falling apart would not gain him anything now. 'Harry lied to me.' It didn't take much effort to make his voice tremble with rage and hurt.
How could his old friend have done this to him? Lucas felt the cold stabbing pain of betrayal. Harry had left him out in the cold. He had given him the information he would have known Lucas would have to act on if he wanted to see this through and he had been fool enough to believe that Harry trusted him with the king's life, even after all that had happened. But instead the agreed meeting had not taken place, robbing him of every chance he ever had with either of the two groups.
Morgana caught on immediately. 'He doesn't trust you anymore, Lucas.' The tone was sickening sweet and yet threatening at the same time. It made Lucas want to throw up in fear. The images of Russia assaulted his mind and it took him every bit of self-control to keep them at bay. He had no doubt that Morgana's magic was capable of inflicting even worse things on a human body. And as far as he knew she considered him an enemy now, a traitor. 'You appear to have outlived your usefulness.'
'No!' He was unable to ban the panic out of his voice. 'I can still deliver Arthur Pendragon to you.'
Hogan scoffed, making clear how much he believed of that speech. Morgana just measured him up, disbelief also evident in her eyes. 'How will you do that when you can no longer get to him?' she demanded.
Lucas's brain worked at top speed. The quick denial had come almost automatically. It was some kind of mechanism to protect himself, like he had had in Russia, where an answer like that could sometimes buy him some precious seconds to take a deep breath before the torture began anew. He had to come up with something or he would be a dead man. And he had not survived that hellhole to die now.
'Your brother trusts me.' The words came spilling out of his mouth almost without thinking. 'He won't believe that I was trying to sell him out to you.' He even managed a smirk as the idea started to take shape in his head. Arthur's naivety could yet prove his salvation. The king had some kind of blind faith in him, naïve admittedly, but it was there all the same.
Hogan and Morgana both scoffed at this. 'My dear brother is not that thick.'
Lucas maintained the smirk. 'Isn't he?' he countered. 'It did take him quite some time to realise that your true allegiances were no longer with Camelot, didn't it? According to Merlin he only faced the facts the moment the crown was already on your head, my lady. I hardly think that evidence of his world-shocking intelligence. He won't realise how things really are before it is too late. Arthur Pendragon will take my side in this, or what he believes is my side of course.' These were not lies as far as he knew. He was scraping together what he had heard so far, combining the stories the two men had told him and the things he had observed himself. He knew he was treading on thin ice here. One wrong step and he would still be dead, but the adrenaline had kicked in now and the fear disappeared. He was still in control and if he could he would turn this situation around. It wasn't like him to go down without a fight.
He could see the doubt in her eyes, mingled with that desperate need that she had to get her hands on the brother she hated so much, the brother who kept evading her. She was closer now to getting her hands on him than she had been in a long time and Lucas hoped rather than knew that she would not be able to let this chance, no matter how small, slip through her fingers. She needed to sit on the throne of Camelot and to sit on that throne she needed Arthur dead. And Lucas North was the best way to get at him, even with his cover blown.
'Your guarantees are meaningless,' the witch pointed out. 'You are no longer in the position to get even close to him.'
Lucas's heart almost stopped, but he forced the words out nonetheless. 'You are underestimating Harry's weak points,' he reminded her. 'He believes in second chances.'
'Harry Pearce believes in second chances?' Hogan laughed out loud.
'Why else do you think Ros Myers is still in Section D?' Lucas shot back, his face an expressionless mask, not betraying any of the inner turmoil.
That at least wiped that stupid grin off Hogan's face. The CIA man nodded reluctantly. 'One of his more foolish decisions,' he muttered.
Lucas ignored him. The recent events hadn't changed the American's position in Morgana's little organisation. He was becoming more of a burden than an asset with each passing minute and unlike Lucas he had no chances of getting her anything she didn't already have. He was as good as useless already.
He addressed Morgana again. 'Give me twenty-four hours,' he said. 'Give me twenty-four hours and you will have Arthur Pendragon.'