Travelling in this day and age was definitely something else than Lucas was used to. If anything, it was slower and more tiring than driving a car around, that was for certain. He could tell he was not used to horse-riding by the cramp in his legs. By morning every muscle would ache. He was sure of it. But pain was something he could ignore, easily ignore. Memories were something else altogether.
For now he was merely glad to sit by the small campfire and have some time to think. He was not going to go back on the offer he had made, the offer to go in and try and turn the most dangerous witch in the history of mankind. But it was dangerous. He was aware of that.
Ros believed he had a plan. And he had. It just didn't reach beyond the point where he arrived at the Isle of the Blessed. And he didn't think a plan for after his arrival could be made anyway. Morgana was too unpredictable. It would be like that first time he met her: going on nothing, improvising as he went along, just the goal firm in his mind. The rest of the plan was non-existent.
But he had learned long ago that this was the thrill of it. It was dangerous and it was mad, yet it made him feel more alive than he had felt in a long time. Maybe spooks were adrenaline junks. Maybe they had to be to function at all. If Ros however were to find out she would send him straight back to Camelot and take on the mission herself. Colleagues were okay, that's what they had agreed on, but Ros, he had come to learn, was fiercely loyal to her team and, at times, fiercely protective of her officers as well. She would not let him go in there when he had no plan whatsoever. She might even believe that he was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome already. This was a chance he had been given and it would be up to him to make the most out of it. He wouldn't get another if he messed this up, that much was sure. Harry and Ros wouldn't think he was truly on Morgana's side, but they would say he was damaged and he needed to rest, talk to a shrink. And that was something he would never do. Lucas didn't think there was a single shrink in existence who would truly be able to understand him, understand what he had gone through. It was not possible for anyone who had not been where he had been to fully understand what it was he had lived through.
And Lucas was not about to quit and admit defeat when it had cost him so much to gain permission for this assignment in the first place. He needed to do this, for reasons he could not entirely fathom himself, not entirely at least. There was an element of revenge worked into it somewhere, that he knew. Morgana had put him through the deepest hell imaginable. And it was only imaginable for him because he had been through it. For anyone else it was impossible to understand what had been done to him and he needed to get back at her for that. He wanted to make her pay for what she had done to him, but he also needed it to show that he had broken away from her influence. It would help him to deal with the aftermath of his captivity, just like bringing down Arkady Kachimov had helped him to bring him some measure of closure after Russia. The memories would not fade and neither would the nightmares, but it did help some.
But this was not just about revenge and he knew it well. This was about proving himself and Lucas hated himself for it. With his head he knew that he had nothing to prove. Harry already knew that the Senior Case Officer's loyalties lay with Section D and not elsewhere, not with the FSB, not with Morgana. He also knew that Lucas could work under high pressure. Yes, he was worrying worse than your average mother hen, a role that did not suit him at all, but that ought to be Harry's problem, not Lucas's.
But things were never that simple and it was because of Harry's bloody fussing that he now felt like he had to prove a point. And prove it he would. He would bring down Morgana or die in the attempt. It was more than the job now. This was personal, intensely so. And that may be unprofessional in the extreme, but he simply could not bring himself to care. And he should not care either, because things were differently in this day and age. People took things personally more and did not consider that a sin. And they were here now. When in Rome…
'Lucas?' It was Merlin's voice that snapped him out of his musings.
'Merlin,' Lucas acknowledged.
The warlock invited himself to sit by the fire. Lucas was not sure what he thought about that, but he let him. Things had been very tense between them since the operation had begun and Merlin had suspected Lucas of swooning at Morgana's feet almost right away. The spook could see how the servant could have reached that conclusion, truly he could. In the end not even Harry had known whether or not to trust him. Could he really blame the sorcerer for not knowing what to do either, especially since he was not a professional spy? Rationally speaking he could not.
But rational thinking did not seem to have played a large part in this operation at all. It had been about feelings, revenge and proving himself worthy. Cold and calculating thinking had not come into it very much. And if he was really honest, then he would have to admit that Merlin's attitude was at least disappointing. During the Al-Qaeda op he had proven to be a capable operative, someone Lucas would like to work with more often. He was resourceful, quick and smart and he seemed to understand the need to make the harsh decisions. Even Ros had reluctantly admitted that he was good.
So when he had not understood what Lucas was doing, that hurt. He'd have believed him to understand. Instead it was the naïve king who had stood up for him, who had realised what was happening. It was the world turned upside down. Arthur had become a friend of sorts, but Merlin had become someone he kept at arm's length. They were allies now, but that was all there was to it. Lucas did not even trust him to have his back. That was something Ros and Arthur would see to.
Merlin stared into the fire. 'I need to apologise,' he said eventually, after a lengthy silence that dragged on so long that Lucas had not even expected him to say anything anymore.
Now his head swivelled in the younger man's direction. 'Why?' he asked brusquely.
Merlin seemed to sense that this was not Lucas asking to explain why he needed to apologise – because that was all too obvious to both of them – but rather him asking why now, and why he had suddenly come to realise that an apology was in order. It did not make sense to the spook. Merlin had tried to keep this off ever since he had realised he had been in the wrong about Lucas. Why did he say this now?
'Because I made a mistake,' the warlock said. 'I was wrong about you.'
Not entirely though, although that was something Lucas would keep to himself. It was not something he shared with anyone. Ros suspected it and Harry must too. He had been close, dangerously close to taking Morgana's side in this, especially after his own colleagues seemed to have lost faith in him. It would have been so easy to just leave, break free of protocol and the seemingly endless distrust he experienced on his own side. He would only be doing what everyone already suspected.
It did not help that Morgana had a point. She had been wronged, enormously so. It was hard not to see her as a victim. Horrible things had happened to her just because of how she was born. Her life had not been easy and Lucas could relate to her, more than was good for his mental health. On top of that Morgana was intelligent and, when she put her mind to it, likeable. He had been in danger of being too sympathetic towards her, but no one ever needed to know that.
The danger was over now anyway. There was no way sympathy could have lingered after the living hell she had put him through. But he could play it like there was something of that sympathy left. He would not be the first to lose his mind after torture. Stockholm Syndrome was in existence for a reason after all. And every spook needed to be an actor as well as a spy. He could pull it off.
'Why now?' Lucas asked. He didn't meet the warlock's eyes. He didn't think he could. Actually he wanted Merlin to leave. His apology meant nothing. Yes, he had been wrong and it was good that he had admitted that, but it did not change anything. What done was done.
'Because we're going into a dangerous situation.' Merlin's jaw was set, one of those signs that he would not back off now. 'And we're allies. You…' Here he hesitated. 'If this goes well, Morgana will be ended. You are taking the risk while you are not even from here.' He seemed to struggle to find the right words. 'I don't even know why you're doing it, but I don't think it's for the good of this kingdom.'
Was this another lecture? Was this him getting a reprimand from the very man who was part of the reason why they were in this situation in the first place? The very notion made his temper flare. 'My reasons are none of your concern.' The words were snappy, dismissive, but he could not care. 'And I hardly think you are the person to talk. It is your fault that the witch is who she is today.' It was harsh and unfeeling, but it was also the truth. Had Merlin been thinking more about his actions, he could have kept Morgana on the straight and narrow. But he hadn't, led by the same blind instinct to protect Arthur first and think about everything else later that had almost cost Lucas his life. He was done with it. And he was not even sure that this apology was genuine. For all he knew this was just Merlin's way to try and get back into Arthur's good books.
He had expected Merlin to get up and walk away. He had expected a contradiction or another accusation about his apparent lack of morals. He had not expected for the warlock to actually look up and nod. 'You're right,' he said. 'And you are getting into danger for a mistake that I have made in the past. I know you're not doing it for this kingdom and it's all about revenge for you, but you're doing it anyway.'
'Your point?' he inquired. Sometimes, when he was nervous, Merlin did tend to start rambling. His words had taken Lucas by surprise, but it did not mean that he was suddenly about to forgive him. The memory of the Nathair was still too fresh in his mind for that. Forgiveness was something that would come with time, if it ever came at all. Maybe he was like Ros in that respect. She didn't do forgiveness. Lucas wasn't sure whether he did.
Merlin did seem annoyed with the tone of voice and he visibly had trouble biting back a reply that would annoy Lucas only further. 'You're doing what I cannot do.' The words sounded strained, as if coming from between clenched teeth. The warlock had difficulty admitting this, Lucas could tell. 'I could never kill Morgana and I don't think Arthur could either. We both remember how she was before she became what she is now and it is just too hard to kill her when we know how nice she was before. I wanted to end her, I really did, in the barn. I just couldn't.'
'You froze.' It was an ice-cold conclusion. It was also one of the worst sins a spy could commit in the field. Lives depended on what they did, so if they froze, those lives would be at risk. Merlin might be relatively good at spying, but the spies' values were utterly alien to him. 'You were compromised. You were emotionally involved in the operation.' Sins in this line of work, fatal ones should they occur during an operation. 'And that's why you need us: to clear up the mess you made.' It was hardly subtle, it certainly was political incorrect to say and it was downright blunt. But it was the truth, a very ugly one too. The most powerful warlock of all times had made a mess of everything and now he needed his new allies to deal with it, even if they had to put themselves at risk to do it.
Merlin nodded miserably. 'I don't think I could kill anyone, not in cold blood. In an accident or an emergency maybe, but not just like that.'
'The barn was not an emergency?' He could not help but be sarcastic, cynic even, about this. Merlin had the perfect opportunity there and yet all it took was for Morgana to bat her eyelashes and he had changed in a useless idiot. Lucas had seen it happening, had seen in Merlin's eyes that he was not going to stop her. It was almost as if he resigned himself to it. It had been on his face for all to see, the defeat written all over it. Merlin had been about to admit defeat and let Morgana get away with an act of terrorism and mass murder because he could not bring himself to do what was necessary. Lucas could have no respect for someone like that. It was even harder because he had been the one to pay the price for Merlin's cowardice.
Merlin looked at his boots. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'I really am. I know I should have acted. I… I just can't take a life like that.'
And this was coming from the mouth of Arthur's protector, the man who had been about to let him die in order to save his precious king? 'Then accept the fact that someday somewhere someone will kill your king,' he told him bluntly. 'There won't always be someone to take his place.' Because that was basically what he had done. He needn't be taken. Morgana had gone for Arthur, not Lucas. But he had made a promise to look after the king and Arthur relied on him. It had not been much of a choice. But the thing was that such a choice should never have been made to begin with. If Merlin had done what he should have done, than he need not have suffered as much as he had. And he did not think he could ever forget that. 'Because that is what happens when you choose to stay on that precious moral high ground of yours.' The words became snappish again.
Merlin shook his head, but Lucas sensed it was not because he dismissed what Lucas had said. 'How can you do it?' he asked. 'How can you just take a life like that?' It sounded like an honest question.
Lucas however was still not in the mood for polite conversation. 'Because other lives, innocent lives, depend on it. And Morgana is not an innocent, no matter what you've deluded yourself into thinking.' He got up. He was not in the mood for any conversation now, polite or otherwise.
'I know.' Merlin only spoke when he had already turned his back, voice laced with sadness and regret. 'I just came to tell you that I will have your back this time. I promise.' Again, it sounded like he meant what he said. Merlin might even be genuinely sorry for what had happened to Lucas. It just did not change the past.
'I'll believe it when I see it,' he said. It may be hurtful, but he could not come back on his thought that he did not trust Merlin to cover for him, not even if he should want to, not when Morgana was involved.
The night was silent. Most of their small company had gone to sleep, save for sir Leon, who stood watch on the other end of the camp, and Ros's own small bunch of conspirators and one of them did not even know he was a conspirator yet. It would not last long, though, because Merlin was quite determined to bring his sodding king into the plan.
And that was a notion Ros very much objected against. The king was a good man with a strong sense of right and wrong – even if that could easily been seen as a drawback in her line of work – but he could not keep a secret to save his life, never mind the lives of others. He was a complete and utter failure as a spook and his tendency to shout his real identity at the top of his lungs was only the least of his faults. Ros did not want him anywhere near her operation if she could help it.
She wasn't sure she wanted Merlin anywhere near it either, but for entirely different reasons of course. She could just not be sure if she trusted him on this. His attitude towards Lucas was alarming. At first there had been the clear and obvious hatred when he thought her colleague was on Morgana's side and now there seemed to be a lot of guilt involved. It was as if he was determined to prove that he could do the right thing. Either way, he was too emotionally involved in this.
The thing was that he was ridiculously good at the job for someone who was not even a professional, who had been self-taught by the necessity to keep his king alive and safe from whatever it was that the medieval terrorists set on him. And she needed his knowledge about the Isle of the Blessed as well. And, if she was being completely honest, she needed his powers as well. Without those they would not get anywhere, not against an enemy with strong magical powers herself. This however did not mean that she had to like the current arrangement.
Arthur was another matter entirely. He did not have any skills to add to the mission. The only reason Merlin insisted he was brought in was because he had been on Lucas's side before, because he was the only one, apart from Ros, who had kept faith in Lucas no matter what had happened, and would hate to be excluded now.
You're getting sentimental, Myers, she told herself. And sentiment did not have a place anywhere near this job. All of them, she as well as the others, were already more or less emotionally compromised now. The last thing they could use was to complicate things further by bringing in Arthur Pendragon. Merlin and the Section Chief at least could shut off their personal feelings about the matter if it was required by the situation. Arthur however was incapable of doing so and they could do without a king who rushed out into the danger the moment he suspected Lucas's life was at risk, consequences and the operation be damned.
But Ros firmly pressed the mental mute button on her common sense and everything she had ever learned in training. This was different, this era was different. People didn't do things the way they did them at home. And who was she fooling anyway? She was too involved in this emotionally anyway. Lucas was her colleague and therefore not only okay, but also her responsibility and he was about to meet the most dangerous witch known to mankind, who had already tortured him within an inch of his life. He may even suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, even if she could not detect any signs of it on him. But that meant nothing. He was a spook; hiding things was second nature to their lot. So she did worry.
They did need all the help they could get if they were to see this through and going behind Arthur's back would doubtlessly make him nothing short of furious, Ros knew. She had become familiar with his rather fiery temper in the short time she had known him. He would want to be involved and in Camelot he was not an officer she could command. Here he was a king and he always got his way. That was one of the advantages of being king in this day and age; no parliament or boring politicians to bother oneself with, just order it as you wish and it is done.
And if Arthur wanted to be part of this little scheme, then she doubted she could keep him from doing so. Well, now she did have a good reason to justify her actions, because she wasn't quite ready to admit that she herself was being influenced by reasons that were not related to the operation at all. It was unprofessional, not done.
Speaking of the devil, she thought as the sound of an elephant storming through the woods called her attention to the arrival of king and warlock. Merlin of course was the source of the noise, tripping over what seemed to be his own feet in his haste to get to the agreed meeting spot just out of earshot of the camp and its – in some cases – snoring occupants. Arthur followed suit, just a little quieter, every inch the hunter who liked to sneak up on animals for his own fun. It was with more dignity than his noisy manservant at the very least.
He was rather displeased. It was obvious from the frown in his forehead. 'What am I doing here?' he demanded. 'We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow and I am not in the mood to listen to one of Merlin's favourite bedtime stories.' He had been on edge ever since he had realised Agravaine was not the trusted advisor he had taken him for. He took it out on his companions and Ros was this close to losing her temper and telling him to grow up instead of sulking like your average four year old who had their favourite toy taken away from them.
'Lucas,' she replied instead, reminding herself that bickering amongst themselves would only be of use to Morgana and not to the colleague whose name she had just mentioned. She did however fold her arms over her chest, the very image of disapproval. It had been known to make suspects and colleagues back off faster than one could say Camelot.
It was wasted on Arthur Pendragon though. Apparently her opinion meant nothing in comparison to the subject she had just broached. 'I don't like it,' he said immediately.
'Surprise, surprise,' Ros muttered. The king had hardly made it a secret that he disliked the fact that Lucas was going to that bloody Isle all on his own without any proper back-up. He had even gotten into a shouting match with Harry over it the previous night. Ros had been working late and the door to Harry's office had done nothing to muffle the sounds of Arthur's displeasure and, as time progressed, Harry's as well.
'We don't like it either,' Merlin told Arthur quickly, probably trying to drown out Ros's sarcastic remark. 'So we're here… ehm, to plan…'
That was all Arthur needed to hear and since he was already doing such a splendid job of working himself up over this, he interpreted this the wrong way, although Merlin's stuttering was not helping either. 'You're trying to stop it!' he exploded. If Ros was the very image of disapproval, then Arthur was the very image of righteous indignity. 'Have you learned nothing from the first operation, Merlin? You know he can be relied upon. I really though you knew better!' To the Section Chief's surprise, he then rounded on her. 'You know he can do this, especially you, Ros. What are you even thinking you are doing?'
Someone changed his tune, Ros observed. Or maybe he didn't. Arthur was just rushing to the aid of a friend. He may disapprove of their course of action, but by now it must be clear to him that the operation would go through anyway. And he felt like the two of them were undermining the friend he had supported all along. Of course he would come to the rescue, personal opinion on the matter notwithstanding. It was the kind of person that he was.
'Can you just shut up and listen for once in your life?' Merlin too was irritable, not surprising if one took into account that he had been talking with Lucas earlier that evening. Ros had not heard the actual conversation, but she could read faces. Theirs had not been hard to read. 'We're not trying to stop Lucas.'
Arthur was fully prepared to rant on again, but those words fortunately hit home before he could wake the whole sodding forest with his indignant shouting. 'Then what am I doing here?' The tone was gruff and not very forgiving, but it was a start.
'We're trying to help him,' Merlin explained. Ros leaned against a tree and decided to let him do the talking. Things may be tense between them at the moment, but Merlin did have years of experience in handling Arthur. 'We won't stop him from going to the Isle of the Blessed alone, but we thought we might be able to find a way to go there ourselves and help him once he's there, to make sure he's got a better chance.' Merlin seemed to stumble over his own words in his haste to get them out and to pacify his still very explosive looking king. 'We are going to do that anyway, but we thought…' He hesitated as he saw Ros's face and then corrected himself. 'I thought that you would want to be part of it, since you're good friends with Lucas.'
That seemed to do the trick. The anger left Arthur's face and thank goodness for that. Ros wasn't sure if she could have kept quiet if the king of Camelot had embarked on his crusade to protect his friend's reputation. He meant well, only a fool would doubt it, but he was far too loud-mouthed and too impulsive to be of any real help, no matter what Merlin thought.
'You mean to help him.' It was a conclusion, but the words were laced with relief. 'You're not going to let him go alone.'
Ros was tempted to roll her eyes. That Arthur could even believe that she was capable of sending her officer into danger alone was beyond her, but then, he was not particularly blessed with common sense. It only favoured him with its presence every once in a while, something she deeply regretted. He would be a better king if he used that brain of his more often. She knew it was there, it was just not used very much.
'Of course,' Merlin said. 'There's just a few things you might need to know.'
Like the fact that he can command bloody dragons and wyverns, Ros thought sarcastically, wondering how Arthur would take that news. So far he had demonstrated an attitude of not really wanting to know. To a certain extent she could understand that, even if it sounded a lot like escapism to her. At any rate the king of Camelot did not like the whole magic business very much. Given the fact that Morgana had a tendency to magically fling people across the room or blow them to smithereens, she could not fault him for that. In her opinion magic should be approached the way one would approach a starved lion: with the utmost care and a loaded gun in hand. And you should never turn your back on either the lion or the sorcerer for fear of what might happen if you did that. She trusted Merlin to not blast her to kingdom come as long as she was no danger to his precious king, but there would always be some wariness.
'What kind of things?' Arthur seemed to sense that there was something Merlin should have told him, but hadn't done. He frowned. 'Merlin, what are you not telling me?'
Merlin didn't meet Arthur's eyes. 'There is a way to get onto the Isle without having to use the boat,' he told the king. 'I have an old friend who might be able to help out. It's just…'
'This friend of yours has magic,' Arthur concluded. He now seemed to copy Ros's most disapproving attitude and spoke the word magic as if it was the most disgusting thing he had ever come across.
Merlin nodded hesitantly. 'Something like that,' he admitted.
'Merlin, you know the law on magic.' Suddenly it was the king talking and not the man she had come to know in London. 'I'm already breaking it myself by allowing you to do as you want because you're my fr… manservant.' He corrected himself only just in time, but neither Ros nor Merlin had missed out on his slip up. 'I can't allow every sorcerer in the land to use it! I'm not even sure yet what to do with the whole issue and now you're asking me to turn to magic for help? Who are you talking about anyway? One of your sorcerer friends?'
'In a way,' Merlin said.
Ros snorted. She grew tired of this whole beating around the bloody bush thing. Merlin's delay was not only getting on her nerves, but it was also obstructing the progress of the operation. If these two wanted to have a nice little discussion about magic, they could do so when they were alone. 'His pet dragon,' she cut in. 'He's a Dragonlord, whatever the hell that is supposed to be, so he can command dragons. That means he can just summon his reptile and have him fly us to the Isle.'
Arthur was flabbergasted. That was possibly the right word to use for his current state. He was just staring at his manservant. 'But Balinor was the last Dragonlord.'
Ros had no idea who on earth Balinor was, or had been, given the use of the past tense, but she was quite sure that this was not the time for any big reveals. At least they could do so without her. She was here to… She suddenly realised that she had no idea what she was doing here. 'Right, you're up to date now,' she told the king. 'Take it or leave it. This is the plan and you can either go with us or keep wringing your hands in fear about magic. It's up to you.' If she had been a politer person, she might have wished him goodnight, but Ros Myers was not a very polite person. She just turned on her heels and walked away, leaving warlock and king to sort out their problems by themselves.