Ros Myers would not go as far as to say that this was a mistake, but there was something very unnerving about this operation, not in the last place because it had to be carried out in a medieval kingdom, that did not have any knowledge of special forces, mobile phones or cars. Their transport were the horses that were now assembled in the courtyard and she did not like it. The Section Chief had never ridden a horse, apart from that one minute in the fair when she was six. This would be vastly different.
But the van was out of the question for the obvious reasons, so they would have to make do with this. And catching Morgana was far more important than her fear of being on a horse, which of course she would not call fear to anyone. It was trouble enough to admit it to herself, never mind anyone else.
'Ready to go?' Lucas's voice spoke up. On turning around Ros saw that he was already fully prepared to leave, leading his horse as if he had never done anything else.
'Shouldn't I be asking you that question?' she countered, deflecting his question. 'You're the one who wants to go and talk to Morgana alone.'
And it was a stupid plan, stupid and insane, possibly even suicidal. This was Lucas trying to prove his worth again. For Ros there was no need for demonstrations. She already knew he was bloody good at his job, quite possibly a whole lot better than her if he really was on top of his game. But he was clearly not on top of his game yet. He had done a brilliant job of infiltrating Morgana's little group, had gathered information about her even whilst being tortured and had successfully interrogated a traitor only the previous day. His record spoke for itself.
The fact however that he was taking huge risks was something that worried Ros and everyone who even remotely knew her could tell that worrying and Ros were not two words to be used in the same sentence. She always said it wasn't her job to mother her officers and she didn't do sentiment or regret. It was a setback in this line of work.
But Lucas's behaviour at least was cause for professional worry, because he was taking a lot more risks than she was comfortable with. It was a strange mixture of trying to prove to Harry that he would still be able to do what it took to do this job, simply doing his job – consequences of that be damned – and wanting Morgana's head for what she had done to him. Both of those motives Ros could understand. Heaven knew she wanted Morgana's head as well and if she could be the one to rip it off, she would be satisfied. The risks too were something she understood. It was just a part of the job, something that for both of them always seemed to be the prime priority. The job always came first and everything else was somewhere far down the list.
Maybe it was because neither of them had much of a life outside their work. Lucas's wife had divorced him while he was in prison and whatever friendships he may have had before Russia had clearly not survived the eight year neglect. Ros's family had disowned her after she had helped MI-5 to prevent her own father from overthrowing the government, landing him in prison for twenty years, and Adam had recently died. And even that relationship had mostly been based on their work. Maybe that isolation from the normal world was why they both had very little reservations about risking everything for this job.
The strange thing was that Ros was okay with taking those risks for herself. She was in charge and she didn't have a problem with that. She would never ask of her officers what she was not prepared to do herself. It was quite another thing to indeed ask her team to take risks. And Lucas was taking a risk, a tremendous risk. It could turn out to be the chance they had been waiting for, but it could also prove to be their biggest mistake to date.
'She won't listen to anyone else,' Lucas pointed out. He seemed very relaxed, hardly worried.
'Yeah, and she might just blow your head off,' Ros commented. 'Harry is right, Lucas. You can't go in there entirely without back-up.' She had to be careful or he'd notice the concern. And after having successfully established the image that Ros Myers didn't do emotions other than anger, annoyance and indifference she was not going to risk said image now. 'You have a sodding death wish?'
She got the charming smile in return. 'Nah, not really.' The look became a little more serious. 'I need to do this, Ros.'
I know. Doesn't mean I have to bloody well like it. The thing was that if she had been in his shoes she'd want to do it herself as well. She wouldn't want anyone else to take her revenge for her. She did understand. She just didn't like it. Because like it or not, Morgana was not their average terrorist with a bomb and if she had a choice, she would choose that kind of explosives over that magical explosion any day. Bombs didn't scare her anymore. She had seen too many of those to be frightened of them any longer. It was one of the risks of the job. Morgana's magic however set her teeth on edge. The very thought of sending a colleague of hers into that witch's lair made her almost jumpy. And Miss Myers didn't do jumpy.
'Yeah,' she said, trying to sound not too dismissive, but not too enthusiastic either.
'You're not going to stop me then?' Lucas asked. He tried to make it sound relaxed and as a conclusion, but Ros had become a spy for a reason. If she had not been able to see through things like that, she would not have been worth her salary.
Lucas was uncertain again, more specifically uncertain about whether or not she approved of the plan they had agreed on, whether or not she would still choose Harry's side in this. It was her opinion that had swung the balance in Lucas's favour and it was her opinion that could take this operation away from him. She understood that perfectly.
And she understood the fear for choosing Harry's side as well. It was a realistic fear, she would have to admit. Harry had been almost more of a father figure than her own father had ever been. He certainly was the closest thing she had to a father now, since sir Jocelyn Myers refused to as much as acknowledge his daughter's existence these days. Almost without realising she had grown closer to Harry, closer than she perhaps ought to be. She almost never disagreed with him these days, she knew, even when she should. It was not very professional, but Ros firmly pressed the mental mute button on it. This was hardly the time to review her bond with Harry Pearce.
Harry was very much opposed to this course of action though, even more so because he could not come with them. Their greatest advantage on this mission would be speed and secrecy. Harry of course excelled in the last department. It was the first he was lacking in. He knew it and he hated it. He was now chosen, if such a word may be used, to stay behind in Camelot with Malcolm while the field officers joined Arthur, Merlin and some of the knights, including the useless Gwaine, to Ros's endless annoyance.
'Would you want me to?' Ros countered.
'No.' The word was determined. Lucas was not going to back down.
But it was the expected answer and Ros had not expected any different from him. Job first, everything else later. Except that this was not about the job, not entirely, for neither of them. This was about revenge. Protecting the kingdom in this case was mainly an added bonus. At the heart of it, this was intensely personal. Unprofessional, she knew. She ignored it.
'Good,' she said. 'And you'd better pull it off. Harry's going to have a fit if that bloody witch escapes again.'
'I will.' The confidence with which those words were spoken wasn't entirely genuine, but it would have to do for now. They still had some days ahead of them before they would reach the Isle of the Blessed, time enough to refine the plan a little and get rid of the holes in it. Even then it would not be ideal, though, and everything in the Section Chief protested the idea of sending Lucas in there on his own, especially after his recent ordeal. But she nodded her approval and let him go on his merry way to do whatever he thought needed doing before their departure.
Ros stared after him. If she was really honest with herself, she would admit that Harry's remark about Stockholm Syndrome was not as far off the mark as she would have liked. There was something going on between her colleague and the witch. It wasn't love, it wasn't even affection. But she did not rule out a certain chemistry between them. It had been evident in the way they had interacted when Lucas had been undercover with Morgana. And when he spoke of her during meetings, even now, there was a deep level of understanding of the workings of Morgana's mind. Sometimes it was even laced with a measure of admiration, something that only worried Ros a little further. That understanding of Morgana could be a major advantage and it baffled the Section Chief. But it frightened her too. And she doubted that Lucas was even aware of it. In its own way it was very subtle.
But it wasn't entirely one-sided either. Morgana was vulnerable too. She was alone now, without allies and on the run as well. Anyone could see that she needed help. And there Lucas would come, offering his assistance. Arthur's half-sister could not afford to turn his offer down. She needed him too much. It of course did help that Lucas was not as big an idiot as Agravaine had been and he wasn't exactly unattractive either. And the chemistry was already there. Morgana would be receptive to his charm.
That meant that, had this been a normal operation, she would have decided on a honeytrap. All MI-5 officers hated them, but it was impossible to argue with the results and that was why they still did it. In this case though a honeytrap might not do the trick; Lucas was already emotionally compromised. He may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and Ros didn't want to make it any worse by throwing a fake romance into the mix for fear it might turn into a real one. This was still an operation and while honeytraps usually had the highest success rates, Lucas was still her colleague and, as they had so recently established, they were okay. She could not do that to him.
She was just pondering all this when Harry exited the castle. Like her he had completely disregarded the dress code. He was still in his suit and tie, overcoat draped over his arm since he had not found the time to put it on yet. He attracted a lot of attention like that, but if the Section Chief knew her boss at all, he did not truly care about that, not really. And neither could Ros, as long as no operation depended on what she wore. At the moment it didn't matter what she was wearing, so she stuck to jeans. Only Lucas had adopted the local fashion.
'Ros.' The tone indicated that her boss was worried, something she could not truly fault him for.
'Harry,' she acknowledged. 'What's up?' She could guess. This was about Lucas. If the Senior Case Officer had problems with Harry, the boss's issues with Lucas were roughly the size of the Himalaya. Harry had a guilt complex about Lucas's stay in Russia and Morgana's hovel that was huge. He held himself responsible for it and it didn't help things along that Lucas felt exactly the same about that subject. The result was wariness and resentment combined with a strong urge to prove himself on Lucas's part and continued attempts to make things right on Harry's end of the problem. It was about time they put this thing to bed, in Ros's opinion, but both men were rather sentimental about this, far more than was good for either of them.
'You'll look out for him?' Harry asked.
Ros snorted. 'He's a grown man, Harry,' she pointed out, annoyed. 'I'm his Section Chief, not his babysitter. Heaven knows I'm doing that for Ben and Jo more than enough. Lucas can watch out for himself.' This didn't mean she would not look out for him all the same. She would have done that anyway. Lucas was her colleague. It was in the job description that she took care of those. What she however was not prepared to do was to become a glorified child minder. That was not why she had joined the Service.
'Ros, he's vulnerable.' Harry was very nearly pleading. 'He's already been through hell. We owe him.'
Tell him that to his face and it might solve a few issues. 'Then let him do this. He wants to prove himself. Let him.'
Harry looked at her as if she had grown a second head. 'You would let him walk straight into danger?'
Ros suppressed the urge to snap at him to get his bloody priorities sorted, but there was a limit to what she could get away with. This was that limit. 'Someone has to do it,' she reminded him. 'Lucas has less chance to be blown to kingdom come than any of us. He's the best man for the job.' Harry's face was still less than pleased, so she added: 'I won't let him go in there all on his own, Harry. I wouldn't let anyone do that.' Not after what happened to Zaf. They had more or less abandoned him, even if she had not been the one to leave him in the hands of those mercenaries. She could not bear to do that to yet another colleague. 'We'll figure something out. I will bring him home.'
That was far too sentimental for her taste, but she had been right in thinking that this was what Harry needed to hear. He gave her a quick smile. 'Thanks, Ros.' He patted her on the shoulder, which would have felt condescending if it had come from anyone else, but not from Harry Pearce. He was letting her know he was grateful for her help, for all that it was worth. Ros wasn't even convinced she could make good on this yet, but she would at least try. 'Try to come back into one piece yourself,' he added.
She smiled sardonically. 'You know me,' she said. 'I don't do dead, Harry.'
It was almost noon by the time they finally were able to leave. It might have been better to wait another day and leave at first light the next, because they would attract less attention that way, but both Arthur and Ros had protested the notion. They argued that they had no time to lose and the sooner they were on the road, the better it would be. So now Agravaine's execution was out of the way, they left.
And maybe, Merlin thought as he looked at his king, that was for the better too. Arthur needed the distraction that travelling offered. He had been taciturn and unsociable ever since he had first learned the truth of his uncle's betrayal. It had hurt him deeply, made him wonder who he could trust, if he could even trust anyone. And it was an alarming development. Merlin still was unsure of what Arthur thought about his magic, but he feared that Arthur may not look too kindly on it just yet.
But at least this mission would distract him somewhat. He was riding at the head of the column with Lucas and Gwaine and Merlin thought he could see him smile at a joke the spook had just made when he looked to the side. It was a good thing Arthur and Lucas had become friends, even if the warlock felt it was at the expanse of his own friendship with the king of Camelot. But that was as much his own fault as it was Lucas's merit. He had made a mistake, a mistake that he was none too eager to repeat. The Senior Case Officer had put his life on the line for Arthur and was about to do so again. And Merlin felt that this time it was up to him to ensure that this attempt to catch Morgana would not end in disaster again.
It would be his way of making amends, he decided, as well as to put an end to the danger Morgana posed for once and for all. She could not be allowed to continue, not after the London operation. It needed to be done, loath as he was to do it, even after everything that had happened. It was for the good of the kingdom, even if that sounded like an empty consolation. The kingdom was no living being that could appreciate Merlin's efforts on its behalf and Arthur's way of saying thank you was telling Merlin to shut up.
No, come to think of it, why did he keep on trying so hard when there was never any appreciation for what he did? At first he did it because the dragon told him it was his destiny and because it seemed like the right thing to do. But that had been when there had been very little personal risk. Somewhere along the road something must have changed.
He didn't do it for gratitude or reward. Had he been wanting either of those he would have given up his attempts to keep Arthur, Uther and Camelot – and at times a combination of the aforementioned three – safe. Neither was he doing this to get back into Arthur's good books, although he would be lying if he claimed that was not a part of the reason. It wasn't destiny either, because one can only tolerate so much misery when it is destiny that makes one do something. With something of a shock he realised that the reason he himself had taken such tremendous risks time and again was really only because he was helping out a friend. When it came to Arthur that was not much of a surprise, but it wasn't Arthur's safety he was concerned about now. For some reason it were his new allies he was worrying for this time, even if they were vastly different from him. They were cold and calculating and they were far too focused on getting their revenge on Morgana than Merlin thought acceptable, but in a way they had become friends, although that did not include Ros, quite possibly.
But of course it was her help he needed. She was the one in charge. Much as the warlock would have liked to talk to Jo, that was not yet an option. She would tell him he needed to square his plans with the Section Chief first and rightly so.
The point was that Ros had not made it a secret she thoroughly disliked Merlin and she might not welcome the idea of double-crossing Lucas either. In this case though, Merlin thought she would be receptive to his plan, because if Ros Myers had one redeeming quality, it was her absolute and unwavering loyalty to her team. She would not willingly let any of them walk into danger, not when there was still another option. And Lucas would be in danger if he truly decided to go through with this hare-brained scheme. No matter how much warlock and spy disliked one another, in this case they were on the same side. That should be enough to build some kind of alliance on.
He let himself fall back and let his horse fall into step with Ros's mount. She wasn't a very good rider, but she had a good horse and at least she knew how to pretend that she knew what she was doing. And he thought better of it than to comment. He had no desire to get on her bad side again before he even launched his idea.
'Ros, can I talk to you for a minute?' he asked.
The quick glare in his direction almost made him regret coming to her in the first place, but right now it would probably be best to adopt her attitude towards her work: job first, everything else later. Backing down now would put Lucas at risk.
'If you have to,' she said ungraciously, which was really a dismissal in a very flimsy disguise. It was hardly a state secret that Ros disliked him. She may even have good reason to do so. It would however made any possible future cooperation rather difficult.
'You don't like me,' Merlin stated, hoping that he didn't sound too much like an idiot. But this needed to get out of the way first before they could get anywhere. 'I don't like you either. But can we at least be allies?' It was hard to find the right balance here. Merlin both tried to convey the message that he still did not approve of her manners and methods and the notion that they, despite their differences, needed to work together to make this operation a success. He tried to make it sound like he wasn't begging, which was hard as well. But the fact remained that he did need her help and Ros, observant woman that she was, knew that. Well, strictly speaking he didn't need her help, but he had known her for quite long enough that there would be hell to pay if – no, when – she found out he had been going behind her back.
'We are,' Ros said, not meeting his eyes. Merlin allowed himself to think this was only because the woman wanted to keep her eyes on the horse. 'That doesn't mean I have to like you, though. So, why are you here?'
He should have known he would not get the chance for introductions. That wasn't like Ros. She wasn't the kind of person to beat around the bush. She had known all along that he was here for another purpose, because it was for sure that he was not here because he appreciated her company. And he would not have come either to establish that they were each other's least favourite persons, a thing that was old news to both of them.
'It's about Lucas,' he said.
That had been the wrong thing to say. The icy woman took it as a potential verbal assault on her colleague. 'What about him?' Those words alone would have sufficed to make anyone run for the hills without a second thought and that was leaving the tone of voice out of consideration. And that was Ros's intention as well. She wanted to scare him away.
But this was not the time to be frightened into silence. There was something big at stake here and that had to come before any personal issues, as Ros clearly thought this was. She thought he was only here to voice his doubts about this operation. In a way he was of course, but not in the way she assumed.
'He'll be in a lot of danger,' Merlin pointed out.
That had not been the right choice of words either. Ros's eyes narrowed and this time she did direct that stare at Merlin instead of the horse, leaving no room for doubt for which person this was meant. 'Are you done stating the obvious?' It was ice-cold dismissal again. He half wondered why he had not yet run for it.
'I mean…' The mighty Emrys now found himself in a sudden danger of stammering, something he had not done in quite some time. 'You can't plan to let him go in alone, can you? You've seen what Morgana is capable of! She'll kill him, Ros. She doesn't like traitors and she thinks Lucas is one. If she has him within her reach, she'll not let him go. And he'll be on that Isle on his own.' He now was in danger of rambling, which did not count as progress at all in his mind. At least he wasn't tongue-tied anymore and with a bit of luck he may even have succeeded in telling Ros what he was trying to say.
Judging by the look on her face he had managed to convey the message and for just this once he had the pleasure to see Ros struck dumb. Her face hardly betrayed anything, but there was a hint of surprise in her eyes. It was only a few seconds and then it was gone, but it had been there.
'I don't apologise,' she told him brusquely. 'Ever.'
It was an apology all the same. Merlin read it as that she would have given one had she not been bound by her own rule. He thought it strange, but said nothing of it. They had some kind of alliance, one that would probably fall apart the moment the mission was done, but he didn't need it to last longer. He didn't want it to last longer. He didn't think he would mind it much if he never saw this woman again when this was all over. Her colleagues were another matter entirely of course.
'What did you have in mind?' The question followed the apology-that-wasn't-an-apology almost immediately. 'You did have something in mind, didn't you?'
Merlin nodded. 'Half a plan,' he admitted. 'Mainly how to get onto the Isle without the boat.'
Ros slipped right into work mode. It was what she did. She really practised what she preached. Work came before personal matters with her. No matter how much he disliked the woman personally, he had to admire her for that, that and her willingness to ride to the mouth of hell for any member of her team.
'There is only the one?' she inquired.
Merlin nodded. 'We were there a few months ago and then there was only one small boat, manned by some ferryman who doesn't really talk. And there are wyverns on the Isle itself. And then there's Morgana of course.'
Ros gave a curt nod. 'And you know what to do about those problems?'
'Two out of three,' Merlin admitted. Naturally it would be the last problem on the list to be the most trouble. He may be determined to stop Morgana, but if he was really honest, he had no idea what to do about her. Deep down he knew very well he was incapable of killing her in cold blood. The only scenarios where he could see himself do that was if she directly threatened the life of someone he cared about or if they ended up in a duel that had gone badly wrong. It was a problem, but fortunately for him it was the final one. There were two before that.
'I am a Dragonlord,' he said. 'Which means I can control dragons,' he added when the first revelation earned him a blank look.
'Dragons?' Ros sounded a bit sceptical.
Merlin bit his lip. 'They don't exist in Britain?'
'I should bloody well hope not,' the Section Chief growled. 'How is your dragon taming skill going to be of use?'
Merlin could not help but feel a little sad at that. He had already known that magic no longer existed in the twenty-first century, but he had hoped that some things had survived the ages, even if there were no sorcerers anymore. And dragons could live to a very high age. If not Kilgharrah would be alive still, then he had hoped Aithusa would be. He had been meaning to try and call for them in Britain once the operation was over, but now he didn't think he would. He wasn't sure he could handle the results.
But this was not the time for that. Now they had an operation to concern themselves with. 'I can call Kilgharrah, the Great Dragon, to fly us to the Isle,' he explained. 'That would solve the problem with the boat and if Morgana is kept busy, she might not see us coming.'
'Hardly inconspicuous,' Ros commented, apparently not too pleased.
And Merlin had just about enough of it. 'If you've got a better idea, I'm all ears,' he hissed at her.
Ros did not seem to think this was worth an answer. 'And those bloody wyverns?' she demanded. 'What did you plan to do about them?' If she was trying to drive the point home that she still had very little faith in Merlin's abilities, then she was succeeding. And from what she had seen of it, maybe she did not have much of a choice.
But that was in the past now. That had been before he had seen what Morgana was capable of doing to another human being. This time he could not afford to hesitate. And he wouldn't. The success of this operation depended on it and consequently the safety of the kingdom as well.
'Wyverns are more or less related to dragons,' Merlin informed her. 'I can command them to do my bidding, but the effects won't last as long as they would on an actual dragon. But I can stop them from attacking us, or Lucas.' If he was really going to do this, he might need to inform Arthur of these abilities as well, something he wasn't particularly looking forward to. But job first, everything else later. Maybe he should make it his personal motto.
It spoke for the Section Chief that she didn't faint or in any way seemed even remotely flabbergasted. She just took the news with a curt nod. 'I take it Morgana is the problem you haven't thought about.' The tone of voice was slightly displeased, which meant that it was safe to say that she probably was displeased. Even though Merlin had solved most of her problems, she still managed to make him feel like an idiot for not finding a solution for all of them.
'It's a start,' he shot back. 'And we have three days to work out the rest.' There's just no pleasing you sometimes. Those words had been dying to come out, but there were limits, boundaries he should not cross. He could say such things to Arthur, but no matter how similar Ros sometimes was to the king of Camelot, he could not say them to her.
But they were allies now. The fact that Ros had yet to snap insult at him was proof enough of that. And he should be happy with that for now. Allies was all they ever needed to be. Thank goodness for that.