The meeting room was filled with confused officers who did not understand why they had been red-flashed before the crack of dawn. They had all come in, one after the other, all bleary-eyed, all thinking Morgana had struck again. Harry had been the first to enter, with a tie that was pulled down halfway to his chest and a look on his face that predicted storm for the foreseeable future. Jo had taken him to his office to explain what had happened and show him the note. It was a good thing those doors and windows were soundproof, because Merlin was one hundred percent sure that his reaction involved a good deal of shouting.
To him the task had fallen to direct every other officer to the meeting room for the official briefing that was scheduled to start as soon as everyone had arrived. Connie had come in straight after Harry, looking positively indignant because she had been woken before she wanted to, and Ben followed just behind. He had disappeared straight to the kitchen to make coffee for everyone, which was probably just as well, because the team looked still positively asleep. Malcolm was a little more awake and seemed to grasp immediately what really was going on, even though Merlin had not told him. He had given the warlock a solemn nod before walking over to the meeting room.
Malcolm at least seemed to be understanding what was at stake here, seemed to sense something of Merlin's anxiety. The warlock was trying to keep the panic at bay, but it was difficult. Every minute they wasted here lessened the chance of Arthur being still alive. Morgana would not take chances, Merlin knew. She had let slip Arthur through her fingers too many times already. She would not want to take the risk to lose him again. If she wanted the throne of Camelot, and Merlin knew that she did, then Arthur had to go. Once he was gone she would have a legitimate claim. He shook his head. No, she would have the only claim and that idea alone was more than enough to turn Merlin's blood to ice.
And he had been unable to protect him. He had gone and left Thames House with Jo, leaving the king of Camelot vulnerable, without protection. Oh, he had warded the place so heavily that it would be impossible for Morgana to get in here. And he, idiot that he was, had believed that to be enough. He had completely forgotten about the danger from within and Arthur's own blind faith in Lucas's good intentions. And so he had failed. After years of fighting, of doing whatever it took to make sure that Arthur survived, he had now failed because he had let one argument make him forget about his priorities.
His fists clenched and unclenched in frustration. He was still holed up here, unable to do anything even remotely useful while the time dragged on. Arthur could be dead by now. The Once and Future King could have died and Merlin would not even know about it until it was too late to change it.
He was only snapped out of his thoughts by the arrival of the Section Chief. Ros Myers was on the warpath. If the expression on Harry's face predicted storm, Ros's delivered it. The temperature seemed to drop when she came in and favoured Merlin with her most icy stare. 'What have you done?' she demanded.
He had thrown his hands up in the air. 'Nothing, I swear.' Ugh, she even sounded like Arthur.
Her face told him she didn't believe that. 'Where the bloody hell are Lucas and Arthur?'
Harry's orders had to been not to provide any of the team with information before they were all there, but Merlin didn't feel like repeating this particular command to a furious Section Chief. And she was the last to come in anyway, which strictly speaking meant that they were all there. 'Gone,' he reported. 'To Morgana.'
His report needed only those three words. Ros was easily capable of connecting the rest of the dots herself. 'Bloody fool,' she muttered under her breath. To Merlin's surprise she seemed not the least bit mad. True, it would be much too much to ask that she admitted that she had been wrong about Lucas North, but he had at least expected that she would throw herself at the task at hand to try and stop him.
'Harry asked you to go to the meeting room,' Merlin told her.
Those green eyes now turned to him. With one single look she managed to convey all the contempt she felt for him. Merlin foolishly wondered if she held him responsible for what had happened. He knew he himself partly did. If he had managed to talk to Lucas earlier, if he had only left Jo's house right away instead of granting her those ten minutes to change and grab a bite of breakfast, they might have been able to do something about this. By now he was convinced that the car they had seen leaving the car park when they had arrived must have had Lucas and Arthur in it, especially when a quick search of the car park turned up Lucas's own car still standing there. And Merlin could not for the life of him remember the number plate of the car they had passed. He had only gotten a fleeting glance of the vehicle itself and at the time he had not been particularly interested in its number plate and neither had Jo.
'Did he indeed?' Ros asked before stalking off.
Merlin followed her at a safe distance. He had no intention of being on the receiving end of her sharp tongue and something told him that despite all the evidence to the contrary she still did not believe in Lucas's betrayal. He did not know why and he could not even begin to understand her motives, but he was fairly certain he did not really want to know them either.
Harry and Jo were exiting the office and now marched towards the meeting room as well. Or rather, Harry was marching while Jo was all but running along in his wake to keep up. Merlin thought it wiser to just get in the room as fast as he could and slide into his seat pretending not to notice all the questioning glances he received from the various team members. Jo took the seat next to him while Harry remained standing at the head of the table.
Everyone stared at him, but no one dared to ask Harry a question once he was in a full-blown fury, so they all waited until he spoke. The head of Section D took a deep breath. 'I regret to have to inform you that, as of this moment, our former Senior Case Officer Lucas North is to be regarded as a rogue officer.'
The silence that followed this statement was deafening. Everyone stared at Harry. Malcolm appeared to be in a state of shock, Ben wasn't much better and Ros was perfectly livid by the looks of it. Connie merely nodded, accepting the facts. Merlin didn't know if he should admire or loathe her for it. On one hand it was a testimony to how good she was at her job to set all personal feelings aside and just do what needed to be done, on the other hand it was slightly frightening how indifferent she was about it all.
'That's bloody ridiculous.' Ros of course was the first to speak up.
Harry ignored her. 'He took Arthur Pendragon and has taken him to Morgana for his own ends. We believe him to be working for her.'
'We?' Ros echoed. 'Damn it, Harry, have you lost your bloody mind?'
The shocked looks around the room told Merlin that this was something she didn't do every day. It wasn't unlike Ros to be so outspoken about things, he had soon learned. But it was unlike her to be so outspoken to Harry. If she had a bone to pick with her boss she usually did that in the privacy of his office, where no one could hear them. This, outright questioning Harry's judgement while the rest of the team was watching, that was new and there was something very unnerving about it too.
There was a barely concealed warning in Harry's eyes, telling her to stop this here and now, but Ros either didn't see it or ignored it. 'Arthur probably proposed this himself. He wants Morgana as badly as we want her.'
'And Lucas all too happily obliged,' Harry finished. 'Ros, I know you don't want to believe this of him even less than I, but…'
'What I want has nothing to do with it,' Ros interjected dismissively. 'Can't you see what he is doing, Harry? He's bloody well trying to prove to you that he's still got what it takes to do this job and you just refuse to acknowledge that!'
'He took Arthur Pendragon to his worst enemy,' Harry pointed out. 'I hardly call that the actions of a sane man.'
Ros ignored that. 'Do you remember what happened to Adam after his wife died?' she questioned.
Harry Pearce looked as if his Section Chief had just punched him in the face. Even though Merlin did not know what Ros was even talking about, he strongly suspected that this question had been below the belt.
'This is no different.' Ros's voice was almost cajoling now. 'Give him a chance to prove himself.'
But Harry had himself firmly under control again. 'And when I let Adam go to the Thames Barrier back then both of you almost drowned. Even if what you say is true, Ros, he's still alone and he's desperate. Our main priority has to be to find him, and Arthur, and to bring him in, whatever the cost.'
Merlin decided to jump in. 'We're wasting time here,' he exclaimed. 'Arthur could already be dead. Maybe you are right, Ros.' He forced himself to say it, even as he almost choked on the words, but he had to stop her from delaying this any further. 'But can't we just find out after we've found them? Please?' Now he was the one begging for understanding. He could not just sit back and do nothing while the man he had sworn to protect was in mortal danger. Whether Lucas was or was not a traitor, although Merlin still firmly believed in the first, that wasn't really the matter now. All that did matter was that they found Arthur before Morgana got the chance to kill him off. Everything else could wait.
The Section Chief studied his face and then nodded. It was clear that she had a whole lot more to say, but thankfully she let it rest for now. Merlin and Jo used the opportunity to show the note Arthur had left for them and report the leaving of a black car from the car park at approximately a quarter past five. Jo recalled that she had only seen one person inside the car and stressed that it could not have been them, but she also told them that the coffee in the pot was still hot when they had arrived, leading her to believe that Lucas indeed had been the one in the car, which would lead automatically to the conclusion that Arthur most likely had been tied up in the boot of the car.
Ros, all her anger stored away behind the icy mask Merlin had almost become used to over the last couple of days, gave a curt, tentative nod and then took control. 'All right. Malcolm, you get down to tracking that car. I don't care what systems you think you need to hack into to find that vehicle, just do it. We'll deal with the paperwork later. Ben, you assist him best you can. Get down to security and get them to hand over all security footage within half an hour frame of them leaving. Anything relevant you find, I want it on my desk asap. Connie and Jo, get back to Hogan's file. Find me every possible hideout he might have. Think about property he owns, places with some emotional value, anything that he could be using as hiding place. Merlin, you and I are going to talk.'
He was not sure he liked the sound of this, but he nodded obediently. Protesting would only mean wasting even more time and that they could not have. So he followed the Section Chief as she strode from the meeting room back to her own desk. The rest of the team was already at their desks. Jo took the file on Hogan from Arthur's desk and took it with her to where she was working with Connie. The absence of paper made the piece of furniture look almost organised. Harry had disappeared to his office, phone in hand.
'What did you want to talk about?' he asked.
'Morgana,' Ros replied curtly. 'Tell me everything I need to know in order to get in her sodding head, everything that you know, even if you do not think it could possibly be relevant. We need to know how she thinks, how she acts and reacts.'
Merlin nodded thoughtfully. 'I think I can do that.'
'I should bloody well hope so,' Ros grumbled. She reached for a notebook and a pen. 'Merlin?'
He looked up, right into her eyes. 'Yes?'
'We may not agree on what has happened, but we do need to trust one another on this operation,' she told him sternly. 'I am not your enemy and I am not trying to endanger your sodding king on purpose. We are allies now and you should start acting like it.'
The warlock very much felt like pointing out that it took two people to get such an alliance going, but he decided against it. This was definitely not the time to start bickering amongst themselves. That would only make Morgana's work easier. And so he nodded. 'Understood.'
'Very well,' Ros agreed. 'Tell me what you know.'
She reached for something on her desk. Merlin saw her freeze in mid-motion. All the blood drained from her face.
'Are you all right?' Merlin asked hesitantly. He feared she might just bite his head off for asking about something as personal as her wellbeing, but the Section Chief didn't even seem to hear him. Her eyes were fixed on something on her desk. What exactly that was Merlin could not see – the desk was filled with papers and, although stacked far more neatly than the ones on Arthur's desk – but it was obvious that Ros had been shaken to the core. 'Ros?'
The calling of her name seemed to snap her out of her reverie. 'Stay here,' she commanded him. She got up, grabbed something that looked like two small plastic containers off her desk and marched over to Malcolm. Merlin could see her hand the objects to the technician and talk to him, but it was too far away to be able to make out what it was all about. What he had seen in that brief moment before she had gone was that determined look in her eyes. Something had somehow made her think of something and whatever that something was, it would help them find Arthur.
Ros was back before he knew it. 'You, with me,' she snapped. She grabbed something else off her desk and marched off without even watching if Merlin was following.
But this was hardly the time to start questioning her commands and so he obeyed. 'Where are we going?' he asked.
A grim smile lit up her face. 'Harry's office.'
It was only then that Merlin caught sight of the note she had picked up just now. There were only three words on it, written in a handwriting that seemed vaguely familiar to Merlin: Colleagues are okay.
Ros had known something was wrong the moment she had been red-flashed. Her first thought had been that Morgana had gone and blown up another number of people. That thought had made her keep up a sotto voce stream of curses as she dressed and drove down to Thames House at neck-break speed. She should have known that evil witch was up to something after having been thwarted just the afternoon before. Morgana struck her as the type to take her revenge immediately and from what Arthur and Merlin had already told her, she knew the daughter of Uther Pendragon didn't shy away from murder or even mass murder to get her way.
But once arrived at the Grid she had learned that it was in fact Arthur's stupidity coming into play. She respected the king, especially since he was with her when it came to Lucas, but he had not been particularly blessed with common sense. And from Lucas she had expected better too. Ros knew he was desperate, completely devastated after Harry had once again pulled him off the case. Lucas felt he needed to prove himself, but found himself hindered by the very man he was trying to prove himself too. He had accused Harry of double-crossing him, had come close to accuse Harry of betraying him. And Ros understood. Good grief, she probably understood this better than anyone. It did however not mean that she condoned his actions.
With the entire team believing Lucas was a traitor, a rogue officer even, her protests had fallen on deaf ears and now she was about to track down her best officer to bring him in for interrogation. Understanding Lucas as she did she knew that the thought of being locked up again after spending so many years in prison would frighten him more than anything. And she hated what she had to do now, but in this respect Merlin was right: every minute they wasted here would lessen the chance of Arthur still being alive.
And the king of Camelot was, in a way, one of their own now and Section D looked after their own, not to mention that Morgana and Hogan would certainly try and wreak more havoc on Britain. This was not just about saving one of their own people, it was a question of national security as well. And Ros didn't even want to imagine the reactions of Richard Dolby and the Home Secretary when they learned they had accidentally lost the Once and Future King to the most dangerous witch mankind had ever known. She had a feeling both men would need an ambulance after such news.
'We may not agree on what has happened, but we do need to trust one another on this operation,' she therefore told Merlin when they reached her desk and she had ordered him to tell her everything he knew about the woman they were hunting. 'I am not your enemy and I am not trying to endanger your sodding king on purpose. We are allies now and you should start acting like it.' She still didn't like Merlin, but right now they shared a common goal: finding Arthur and stopping Morgana. It wouldn't do to alienate the warlock now.
Merlin seemed to realise this. 'Understood,' he nodded.
'Very well,' Ros said, reaching for another pen when she found the one she had taken had run out of ink. 'Tell me what you know.'
Merlin had already opened his mouth to comply with that command when she froze. Her hand was still hovering over her desk to pick up the pen she knew was lying there, but her eyes had caught sight of something else entirely. On the keyboard of her computer lay a note. Ros could hardly believe that she had not seen it before now. It was placed so that it should be the first thing you saw when you passed this desk.
The handwriting was Lucas's beyond the shadow of a doubt. It had been scribbled down, possibly because he was in a hurry, and there were only three words on it: Colleagues are okay.
Everyone who knew her would immediately agree that Ros Myers was the last person to ever freeze into place when she had been shocked. Good heavens, she didn't exactly shock easily either.
He had left a message, a clue for them, telling them he was still on their side, but he had phrased it so that only Ros would be able to understand the full meaning. Lovers leave, friends annoy you and families mess with your head, but colleagues are okay. Lucas, so like Ros herself, had no one else in the world but his colleagues. This one simple note made her realise that he would not give up on the last people he had in the world. It was something Ros could understand only too well.
She could hear Merlin's voice ask about her wellbeing and in normal situations she would have snapped at him for asking about things that were none of his business, but today she had other and more important things on her mind. There, next to the first note, lay a second, positioned on two of those small plastic boxes that usually contained Malcolm's precious tracking devices. One look taught her that both of them were empty. Find us, the note said.
It almost made her smile. Lucas had only given himself a head start. He had left them a way to track them down and come to their aid. The last remnants of doubt about her colleague's loyalties that had assaulted Ros's mind ever since hearing what had happened went right down the drain. This, this was a declaration of loyalty, a plea for trust and a cry for help all at the same time and she'd be damned if she let that go unanswered.
'Ros?' Merlin's voice, hesitantly though it may be, interrupted her thoughts.
It brought her back to the here and now. She fixed Merlin with as angry a stare as she could manage for asking if she was fine – it was an unspoken rule that no one ever did that – and then told him to stay put.
His confused look told her he had no idea what was going on, but Rod did not care about that. She got to her feet, grabbed the boxes and walked as fast as she could without breaking into a run to Malcolm's desk.
'Malcolm,' she greeted, more to get his attention than out of the urge to be polite. That wasn't in her job description after all and she had better things to do than waste her time on social niceties.
The technician looked up from whatever it was that he had been doing. 'Ros?'
She put the boxes in front of him. 'Can you track the devices that were in here?' she demanded.
Malcolm picked them up and studied them carefully. 'If I can find…' he began.
But Ros didn't have time for that today. 'Malcolm, I'm sure it's fascinating, but I am not bloody interested in hearing how you do it. Can you do it?'
To her relief he nodded. 'Give me ten minutes.'
'Then do it,' Ros ordered. She knew she was snappy, but she could not care less. Merlin was at least right about one thing: Arthur was in danger. But he had missed out on another thing: Lucas could be in just as much danger as his precious king. 'And do it now.'
Malcolm frowned at her. 'What about tracking the car?'
'Forget the car,' Ros told him. 'These things will lead us straight to them.'
Malcolm's eyes widened. 'Ros, are you sure?'
She nodded and then decided to do something she wasn't often known to be doing: she laid a hand on his shoulder reassuringly. 'Lucas is not a rogue officer, Malcolm. He left these for us.'
The Section Chief was aware that Lucas and Malcolm had been friends before the former's imprisonment even. They were close and it must have hurt the technician enormously to see his friend go through Traitor's Gate. The realisation that he had not brought back a hesitant smile to his face. 'I'll find them,' he promised Ros.
'You'd better,' she told them. 'I'll still have to tell Harry.' And if she sent them all on a wild goose chase he was bound to get from one burst of temper to the next. 'Come and find me as soon as you've got something.'
She left him with that, walked back to her desk, beckoned Merlin to come with her and made directly for Harry's office. Her boss was having a conversation with someone on the phone and by the looks of things, it didn't go exactly according to plan. The door was shut, but Ros had never let her stop that from entering before.
'Shouldn't we knock?' Merlin asked doubtfully.
'Waste of time,' Ros said dismissively, before opening and ushering the warlock inside. She shut the door behind them.
Harry had just wrapped up his argument over the phone and sent her a stern look from over his desk. 'The fact that we are in the middle of a crisis does not mean you don't have to knock anymore, Rosalind.'
Ros ignored that. 'Anything on your end?' she asked, certainly not that sure about how to broach this delicate subject. She'd rather have results to back her story up. All she had were two notes and her own intuition and last she checked, the Service didn't make its decisions based on the Section Chief's intuition, no matter how reliable that intuition was.
Harry snorted. 'Ruffled feathers over at Grosvenor Square. Someone should have told Arthur that threatening the bloody Americans into cooperating doesn't always work.'
Ros shrugged. 'It got us the file.' In her opinion one didn't need more reasons to threaten the cousins. 'Anything else?'
Harry leaned back into his chair, suddenly looking exhausted. He shook his head. 'This is my I-need-some-good-news-face, Ros. Please tell me you've found something.'
She could see that Lucas's supposed betrayal had hurt him deeply, even if he hadn't shown it in front of the rest of the team. They had been close, Lucas and Harry, and to find that Lucas had betrayed them all must have been very bitter for the head of Section D indeed. He would want to hear her news and so she nodded. 'I think we might have a lead on their whereabouts. Malcolm is following up on it now.'
Harry's sigh of relief was clearly audible.
Ros agreed with him completely. Now for the hardest part. 'Lucas is not a rogue officer, Harry.'
The irritation returned to Harry's face in the blink of an eye. 'Ros, we have been over this before. This is not the time…'
But Ros interrupted him. She shoved the first note under his nose. 'He left this on my desk before he left.'
The unexpected move stopped Harry dead in his tracks. 'Colleagues are okay?'
'Something we discussed a few days ago,' Ros explained. It felt a little too private to talk about it this with anyone really, but if sharing it would convince Harry to accept the facts, then that was what she must do. 'Lovers leave, friends annoy you and families mess with your head, but colleagues are okay, all of them,' she summarised.
'Ros, Lucas is a very skilled and resourceful operative,' Harry reminded her. 'He could be playing you, knowing how strongly you feel about being loyal to your team.'
The irritation very nearly started to boil over. 'This has nothing to do with playing games,' she snarled. She handed him the second note. 'This was attached to two small plastic containers, the ones Malcolm keeps his tracking devices in. He's tracing them now.'
Harry just stared at her, mouth slightly open, temporarily lost for words. Unfortunately Merlin wasn't. The warlock had been listening silently so far, but now he spoke up. 'You mean to say that Lucas is not a traitor?'
'He's not,' Ros said decisively.
Merlin obviously disagreed. 'He has taken Arthur to Morgana,' he pointed out.
'At Arthur's own request,' Ros countered. 'And Lucas was desperate to prove himself. He wasn't going to say no. Maybe you should have done a better job of instilling some better sense of bloody self-preservation into your king before you start blaming the people that are trying to help you. Speaking of which, you haven't exactly been too useful the last couple of days.' She had been dying to say that ever since the warlock first started uttering his distrust all over the Grid.
Merlin might have lost his temper too, had not Malcolm come in and saved her from him and quite possibly from herself as well. 'Ros, I've found it,' he announced.
'Knock, Malcolm,' Harry reminded the technician wearily.
As was custom on the Grid, this was ignored. 'May I?' Malcolm glanced at Harry's computer.
The head of Section D got up. 'Take my chair as well, why don't you?' he muttered.
Malcolm took both the chair and the computer and let his fingers fly over the keys. Ros doubted he had even heard Harry's sarcastic comment at all. As soon as it involved technology, Malcolm was in heaven and he neither saw nor heard anything that was not in some way related to his job until he was done.
'Where are they, Malcolm?' Ros asked, leaning over the desk to get a better view.
'Close to where you said that portal was,' he replied, eyes never once leaving the screen that was now zooming in on the area of the village. 'Now, assuming that they each have one tracker on them, they're still together.'
'Alive?' Merlin's voice was more anxious than anything else.
Malcolm shrugged. 'We can't be sure. But they are both still moving. It might indicate that they're still alive.'
It might also mean that someone dragged their dead bodies around, but Ros thought it wiser not to point out that possibility. Merlin was already on edge.
The screen zoomed in till they got a relatively clear visual of the roof of what seemed a great barn in the middle of the fields that surrounded the small village. In the far left corner Ros could see the beginning of the patch of forest. 'I know where that is,' she told them. 'We practically walked past it when we went to investigate.' Relief washed over her now that she had something to go on. The anxiety wasn't all gone. It would not be gone until this operation had been concluded, she knew that.
Merlin nodded thoughtfully. 'Large wooden barn on the left side of the path? Looked like it was about to fall apart in the first storm?'
He at least didn't seem to feel the need to argue Lucas's loyalties anymore and for that Ros was grateful. She didn't really mean what she had said about him being useless. When Arthur was not involved he was clever, resourceful and as sharp as a razor. Had he been anyone else than who he was – and had he not been so quick to distrust his new colleagues, Ros added to herself – she would have loved to have him on the team.
She nodded. 'That's the one. Harry…'
Her intended request for the cavalry was interrupted by Jo's arrival. The junior officer came running into the office, clutching a stack of papers to her chest. 'Ros, I think we've found something.'
'What would that be, if I may ask? A gold mine under Whitehall?' Harry demanded. 'Out with it!' Ros gave a curt nod, signalling Jo to continue.
'Eight months ago Hogan bought a piece of land,' she reported. 'We initially missed out on it, because the CIA edited it out of the first version of the file we got. Apparently he tried to keep it under wraps, because he bought it under a false name, but the CIA found it when they did their own little digging into his activities after the bombing.'
Harry's patience was starting to run out rapidly. 'Jo, where is this piece of land?'
The junior officer bit her lip, clearly nervous. 'Very near the portal. In fact, the portal is technically on his land.'
'As is the barn,' Ros muttered. 'And if the Americans have found out about it, they may very well be crawling all over the place already.'
Harry's face was positively murderous. 'They won't after I'm through with them,' he promised. This was his I've-made-a-decision-and-I'm-sticking-with-it-so-i t- is-non-negotiable-face. 'Ros, scramble CO19 and tell them to hurry. We're going to bring them home.'