It felt like something that happened in a dream, albeit a very bad dream, when Morgana crashed to the ground. Her body hit the stone floor with something of a thud and for some reason it froze Arthur into place.
He had long since known that Morgana was a threat they could not allow to exist any longer, yet when he saw her fall as a result of the bullet Ros had fired at her, he could only feel sadness and regret. The Section Chief was a good shot, he knew, and she was shooting to kill. If Morgana was not dead already, she would soon be.
The king of Camelot had been mostly silent during the final showdown, watching more than he was participating. He felt like he had not much to contribute to it and while this frustrated him to absolutely no end, he also knew this was not the time to act on that frustration. He did not have a gun like Ros, but even if he'd had one, he was not entirely sure if he would really have been capable of using it. The shooting needed to be done by someone who would not regret it later, who could pull that trigger without a second thought the moment an opportunity presented itself. Arthur knew he could never have done that.
Neither did he have Lucas's courage to grab Morgana and put his own life at risk the way he had done. At first he had not understood why Ros hesitated to shoot when she had Morgana at gunpoint and unable to do anything and by the looks of things, Merlin had not understood it either. The realisation dawned for the both of them at practically the same time. Because a bullet that travelled so fast would not just kill Morgana, it would kill the one who was holding her as well. And the female spy was not about to kill the colleague she had fought so hard to protect in the first place.
Arthur admired Lucas's courage. Arthur would never call himself a coward, but he had more than a few reservations about going anywhere near magic. It frightened him, because it was not the kind of thing one could fight with a sword or defend oneself from with a shield. To Arthur it felt in a strange way like cheating. But it was unpredictable as well and that was what scared him most about it. A blow with a sword one could hear and see coming. That advantage was not there when there was magic involved. Magic just was. It came and killed before the victim could even see it coming.
And he did not have magical powers like Merlin either. That rendered him positively useless in this showdown. For quite possibly the first time in his life, Arthur Pendragon was the most useless man on the ground and it was not a feeling he liked, or would want to get accustomed to. He was a man of action; the first to attack and the last to retreat. To be reduced to a watcher on the side-line conflicted with everything he had ever learned about the knight's code and his own sense of duty to protect his kingdom. Having other people do that for him was not something he liked.
But now he was forced to watch as Morgana flung Lucas away from her person as if he was no more than a ragdoll. It did not even seem to take her much effort. And then she laughed, mocked them as she told them they could not kill her.
'Can't or won't, Morgana?' he heard himself asking sharply. He had not given himself permission to speak, but when he checked, he had.
'Oh, I think you wouldn't, dear brother,' Morgana taunted. She really was rubbing his nose in the fact that his attempt to put an end to her life in the barn had been as unsuccessful as Ros's attempt to shoot her just now. And with him it was not because of Morgana's magic that he had failed, it was his own sentimentality, as the Section Chief would call it, that held him back. 'You're too soft-hearted to do what it takes. But even if you would, you couldn't.'
Morgana had been speaking in riddles, as if she knew something that they did not. But she was bragging now and that had always been a particular weakness of his half-sister's. She was almost incapable of not revealing it. 'Why is that?' he asked, sounding as sceptical as he possibly could to trigger Morgana into a reaction.
She did for once not fail to live up to his expectations. 'Because you are not Emrys,' she informed him. 'It has been foretold that he is my destiny and my doom. You are not him. You can't harm me.'
And indeed Arthur could not. But he knew the man who could and it took him all his willpower not to look in his servant's direction, because that would have given it away. He did remember Merlin telling the spooks plus Arthur in the meeting room that Morgana was very scared of Merlin's old man disguise, which she knew as Emrys. Now it became clear why that was. And if Merlin did not shy away from what needed doing, then they could use this to their advantage.
And he did use it to his advantage, just not quite in the way Arthur had expected him to. Merlin kept her talking, distracting Morgana from the gun Ros still kept pointed in her direction. And Arthur understood what he did. Morgana would be able to react to the situation if she kept Ros within her line of sight at all times, but if she did not, she was vulnerable. Bullets travelled fast and his half-sister could not do anything anymore once it was already airborne. It was too fast for even Morgana's magical reflexes.
And she was distracted, enough to allow Ros to take that shot. And it was Merlin's rather dramatic revelation that allowed her to do so. In that way, Arthur supposed, Merlin was truly Morgana's doom. He had made her forget about the real danger and had thus had a hand in her downfall. Prophecies were truly tricky things and should, the king decided, never be taken too literate.
But this was not the time to think about such things, because seeing Morgana crash to the ground was one of the most horrible things he had seen in a long time. For some reason he could not quite comprehend he was still unable to not see the old Morgana he had known when he looked on the new one, the one that had changed so much he barely recognised her. He could not just forget that once they had been as close as siblings ought to be and he missed that girl, even now she was so twisted and downright evil.
And therefore he did not really stop to think his actions through. When he saw her fall, he rushed to her side. He could hear Merlin and Ros shout warnings, but he ignored them. Merlin maybe could understand what this meant to him, but Ros could not. She had never known Morgana at all. To her she was just a threat to national security and Merlin always was too concerned with Arthur's safety before he thought about anything else, so his reaction made sense as well.
But Arthur had none of those concerns at the present time and so he raced over to the place where Morgana lay. There was far too much blood on both the dress and the ground, but his sister's chest was still rising and falling with her breathing and Arthur exhaled in a relief he was not supposed to be feeling at all.
'Morgana!' He knelt down next to her and saw the woman he had grown up with. The mask of cold hatred had slipped and all he could see was the pleading glance she had also unleashed on him when she had gotten herself into a real tight spot with Uther when she was still a young girl and had spoken out too loud again. Arthur knew he should be fearing her, because dying or not, she could still be dangerous, but he could not bring himself to be weary now.
'Brother.' Morgana's tone of voice was too feeble. She did not even sound like herself anymore, neither like the kind-hearted girl nor like the evil witch she had become. It reminded Arthur of a young girl in desperate need of help, help that he was unable to give to her.
'Merlin!' he yelled over his shoulder. 'Can't you do something?' Why was he even doing this? He should not be willing to rescue Morgana, not when it was by her hand that so many others had died. The kingdom would be safer with her dead, but he found that he could not just sit by and watch her die when he had just seen a glimpse of the woman he had long since believed gone. If there was still a chance, no matter how small, that she could change again, should they not take it?
Ros's stare told him he was an idiot. She didn't even need to say it. In her eyes he should probably thank her for what she had done. Good grief, even his common sense demanded of him that he thanked her. Maybe, one day, he would. He could not do it yet.
Merlin did not understand it either. He too seemed sad, but determined. Had he been like this when he had first been forced to poison Morgana in order to save the kingdom? He had really made that choice to let her die then. But he hadn't, not really, had he? Because in the end he had entrusted her to Morgause to try and find a remedy. He too had backed out of his chosen course at the last possible moment. Could he not do so again?
But Merlin looked alarmingly determined not to do it again. Maybe Ros had given him a lecture on not letting his personal feelings get in the way of an operation. She was in that regard the living example of practising what she preached. No matter what had happened during the operation and how that affected her, it had never held her back from doing what needed doing and it would now seem that this attitude was catching.
Only in Lucas's eyes did he detect understanding. But then, he had come close to Morgana, closer than he should have been. There was another one who would not come out of this unchanged.
'I don't think that's possible,' Merlin said. The words sounded strained. The servant apparently felt more than the stony expression on his face suggested. 'I don't think magic can heal bullet wounds.'
Arthur feared the same thing, but he did not like to hear it. He looked again at Morgana. She was pale and still looking up at him with panic written all over her face. Yes, she was still the same witch Ros had shot, but now the other Morgana, the true Morgana in Arthur's opinion, was shining through again. That was the Morgana who had risked everything to help others, who had stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves, who had not been misled by Morgause for so long until she could no longer see the truth from lie.
'I'm here,' he told her. If there was nothing that could be done, he at least owed it to her to remain with her to the very end. It was a way of repaying her for all the good times they'd had together. And no one should have to be alone in their dying moments. It was for the good of the kingdom that his half-sister had to die, but she would not die alone. 'I've got you.'
Arthur slipped an arm around her and pulled her head and torso into his lap. Morgana winced and whimpered, but he did it all the same. It was the right thing to do. And he could tell Morgana was not going to harm him. He did not even know how he could be so certain. It was just one of those things he knew. And maybe her magic wasn't as strong as it had been now that she was dying.
'Leave me.' Morgana's voice was barely above a whisper, but the two words were clearly audible. She may be dying, but that did not mean she suddenly tolerated Arthur's presence now. Not too long ago she had wanted him dead. There was no reason why she would like him anywhere near her.
But he was still not going to let her die all alone. 'No,' the king told her. 'I am not going anywhere.' Ros would call this sentimentality and be right about it too, but it wasn't a danger to him now. For just this once he could afford to be led by his feelings. 'You won't die alone.'
Telling a dying person that they were dying might not have been the best thing to do, but Arthur had never been the most tactful person around and the Morgana he had known would not have appreciated him beating around the bush. She would have wanted him to be honest with her, even if it was a hard truth.
'Leave me.' The command was unmistakable.
'Why, Morgana?' Arthur heard himself ask, knowing that he was not asking her why she had wanted him to leave. Where did we go wrong? How did we ever become enemies? Could it not have gone in any different way, a way that would not have led to us ending here?
Morgana was struggling to breathe, but the fight had not left her eyes just yet. His sister had not resigned herself to dying. She simply was too stubborn for that. But it was a fight that she was doomed to lose and they both knew it.
And Arthur found that all he could feel was regret. He could not have felt hatred if he had tried, not when Morgana was who he remembered her to be. The memories were going round and round in his head. Why could we not have remained like that? Carefree, happy, arguing like siblings should. It was a shame they only seemed to be able to achieve that now that Morgana was dying.
But it was not the old Morgana that answered his question with her dying breath. It was the new, misled Morgana that spoke. 'I only wanted what was rightfully mine,' she whispered. It sounded feeble and cajoling, but it contained all the belief she had ever had in her cause, the one she believed to be a rightful one.
And those were her last words. Her eyes closed, her breathing stopped and her heart ceased to beat. Morgana Pendragon, whose attacks had plagued Camelot for so long, was no more, but she left her half-brother with only a confirmation that she truly had become who she had been shown herself to be in these past few years.
Arthur Pendragon wept.
Arthur was remarkably subdued when the company of four made their way to the place where the boat and ferryman were still waiting for them, according to Lucas. It was one of the few things to be grateful for today. The other thing was Morgana's demise, although Arthur clearly did not seem to feel the same. In this particular regard both king and warlock were riddles wrapped up in mysteries. That woman had been trying to kill them, would have done so if she was given the chance, and yet Arthur still rushed out to hold her as she died, even as she clearly still felt the same as she had always done.
But Ros Myers could not be really bothered with it now. Her work here was done. Now all that remained for her to do was to go back to London and get back to her normal work. The sooner this venture into the past had been forgotten, the better it would be for all of them. She would never admit this to anyone but herself, but this operation had been far outside her comfort zone. She yearned to get back to Thames House and get involved in a mission that did not threaten to get her so emotionally involved as this one.
'Penny for your thoughts, boss?' Lucas asked. There was a small smile on his face and he was clearly trying to make small talk, but his heart wasn't in it. He had been too emotionally involved in this operation as well, more than she had been. He may deny the Stockholm Syndrome all he wished, but he had been too close to Morgana and Ros for one did not think he could look on her passing without mixed feelings. But fortunately those feelings were no longer a real issue now. Morgana was dead and that was the end of it.
She snorted. 'What makes you think I'm sharing them with you?'
He shrugged. 'Pure optimism.'
Ros did appreciate the attempt at humour. It reminded her of the colleague she had come to know before the legendary king and warlock had stumbled into their lives and the whole thing had gone horribly wrong. Although, if she was really honest, this could all still have happened if they had never met, because Morgana had already created that bloody portal of hers. She would have created carnage either way and without Arthur and Merlin's help, things might have gone a whole lot worse than they would if they were there. Now there was an unwelcome thought.
'I'd kill for a cup of coffee,' she replied. It was not the answer to his question, but he might see it as that.
Lucas grinned that lopsided grin of his. A hint of it even reached his eyes, which meant that she was on the right track. Hang on, Myers, since when do you provide humour therapy for your officers? She really must be getting soft if it was coming to that and that was not a thought Ros Myers particularly liked at all.
'Is that why you've been scowling at everyone since we've arrived in Camelot?' he inquired playfully. 'I swear Gwaine cowers away whenever you come anywhere near him. What did you do to make him think I needed back-up when I went to meet you anyway?'
Ros could feel the corners of her mouth curling up of their own volition. 'I told him to sod off after he stared at anything but my face when we first met.'
There was a short silence, but then she was rewarded for her efforts – hang on, she was making a bloody effort for this? – by a bark of genuine laughter, something she hadn't heard from him in quite some time. 'I'm sure he loved it. The way I heard it, he's not often rejected.'
'There's a first for everything,' Ros said briskly. 'Now, where the hell is that boat of yours?' She felt as if she had been walking around this place for ages and for all she knew they could be walking in circles. All those ruined buildings looked the same after a while.
'Close by,' her colleague reassured her. 'Half a minute at most.'
She took his word for it. After all, he had walked here before, so he ought to know where he was going, especially with that photographic memory of his. And true to his word they went through a small gateway with no actual gate in it and they found themselves on a small quay where a boat was waiting, with the same ferryman in it that Ros had seen on the other side of the lake.
'Let me do the talking,' Lucas muttered in her ear. The two of them were walking in front of king and very taciturn warlock, but Ros didn't think either of those would have taken the lead in this even if they had been walking in front of the spooks. They had retreated to their own minds, wallowing in their feelings so much that Ros was starting to feel the urge to snap them out of it. Their guilt and grief practically radiated off them and in the Section Chief's opinion, those were wasted on such a waste of space as Morgana had been.
They had burned the witch – with Merlin's magic, since wood was not readily available on this Isle – by way of a funeral, because Ros had instantly vetoed the notion of taking that woman's body back with them to give her a proper funeral. Arthur had been protesting until Ros told him she was in charge of the operation and they were going to do this her way. Of course Arthur was the king and technically there was no rank she could pull on him. But he had been too distressed to realise – doubtlessly he would remember later – and she had gotten her way.
The man in the boat looked up at them from under his hood when they were less than a meter away from him. He was one of those people that were completely unreadable. Not a thing could be learned from that face and that was not something Ros liked. She was used to reading people, taking the measure of them so that she knew who and what she was dealing with. With this man, that was quite impossible.
'Can you take us back now?' Lucas sounded rather respectful when he asked that question, a lot more respectful than Ros was used to from him.
The man's eyes glanced over their small group and then held out a hand in a wordless and timeless demand for money. He didn't say a single word.
'You were paid already,' Lucas pointed out.
'All must be paid for,' was the curt reply.
Greedy bastard. Ros had to forcefully prevent herself from gritting her teeth in anger and frustration, because as far as she was aware none of them were carrying any money on their person. All such things had been left with the knights on the main land. And what this blasted man was trying to convey was that they would not be allowed to cross unless they paid him, which, as she had just realised, was an impossibility. Oh, Lucas of course would be allowed to cross, so he could get back, get the money and then come back for them, but Ros found she did not have the patience for that. She just wanted to get away from here and she wanted away from here this instant.
And there were more ways to skin a cat, or a ferryman for that matter. 'Yeah, well, it's either you take us back without proper payment or I'll put a bullet in your brain and we'll take ourselves back.' She had already shot a woman today and although she did not particularly feel like shooting a man simply because he annoyed her, she had no doubt that this man had also been one of Morgana's employees.
The Section Chief pulled out the gun and directed it at the man's head to apply some extra pressure. She only realised that this man had no idea what a gun even was, never mind that he knew to what effect it could be used, when he stared at it blankly. Now that did seem to be his default setting, but he genuinely did not seem to know what she was doing. 'All must be paid for,' he repeated.
All must be transported back to the main land more like. Ros actually was this close to snapping at Merlin to get his dragon back here, but said dragon did not seem to be too willing to be used as a horse and if Ros was quite honest, she didn't fancy making another flight like that very much. Once had been more than enough for her. She was not particularly afraid of heights, but the risk of falling off was bigger when experiencing those heights from atop a dragon's back.
To demonstrate her point she fired a warning shot over his head. The bullet embedded itself in a nearby ruin. 'This is where we stand,' Ros informed the boatman. 'I have a weapon, you don't. I have already used this one to kill your late employer and I do not have any reservations about killing you as well if you don't comply with my wishes this instant. The choice is all yours.'
And it was a choice that was swiftly made. For the first time that stony face showed a flicker of unease and then its owner made what could be interpreted as an inviting gesture. Ros beckoned for Merlin and Arthur to get in, which they did, albeit Merlin threw her a disapproving stare in passing. The Section Chief did not feel particularly impressed; if he disapproved that much, he would have spoken up. It was telling that he had done no such thing.
She used the dynamic duo as a buffer zone as Lucas and she took the back seats of the boat, keeping king and warlock between her and the by now chagrined looking ferryman. Ros was not sure if that man had any magic of his own, but in this case it was better to be safe than to be sorry.
The moment everyone was seated the boat started to move of its own volition. As far as Ros could tell, no one had done anything to make that happen. She would never admit to thinking that creepy and unnerving out loud, but that was what it was.
'Charming,' Lucas commented when he sat down next to her.
'I didn't have time for any of that bloody nonsense.' Her word were snappier than she had intended them to be, but she was undeniably tired. She had not gotten a lot of rest while they were on the op and now the adrenaline was starting to leave her system, she felt exhausted. A good night's sleep would be just what she needed.
And the fact remained that she had just killed a person. That did play into it as well. She had thought before that there was nothing in her line of work the occasional vodka could not sort and she would stand by that. Don't make a decision you can't live with. That was what she had been taught in training years ago. She could live with this and she certainly would not lose any sleep over it. It wasn't worth her time. Morgana had been a waste of space, although admittedly a dangerous waste of space. The world would be well rid of her. But killing someone did make an impact, no matter how evil and deranged they had been. It did not help the case either that two people in the current company were in mourning for that witch. The third could be, but it was hard to tell for sure. It always was with him.
'I know.' Lucas at least did not seem to be judging her, for which Ros was secretly grateful. Then, to her great surprise, he took her hand and squeezed it. 'Thank you, Ros. You saved my life there.' Only a fool would miss out on the genuine gratefulness in his voice.
And you would have me take it, you bloody fool. If there was one event burned on her mind's eye, then it was that one: Lucas offering his life so that they could take Morgana's. And he had been ready to really do it. He had been prepared to die so that they could conclude the operation. It had been her who had not been willing to pay that price. She would have blamed any other who would have let such a chance slip through their fingers, but Ros did not regret her actions, not when it turned out there were still other options.
She settled for a snort. 'Then you had better make sure it doesn't need saving the next time.' Flippancy worked. It stopped her from showing the things she felt and she was not planning on sharing those. Colleagues were okay, all of them, but it started dawning on the Section Chief that some were more okay than others, that some in fact were starting to become more like friends. Stop it, Myers. Friends only annoy you.
Lucas seemed to sense the need for an absolute lack of deep emotions on Ros's part and fortunately complied with the unspoken request. He cracked a smile. 'I'll keep that in mind next time, boss.'
'You'd better.' She tried and absolutely failed to make it sound like a threat. She blamed the sudden weariness caused by the equally sudden lack of adrenaline in her blood for it. If anything, she was not exactly on top of her game right now. 'You got emotionally involved, Lucas.' The words had left her mouth before she had given them permission to do so. So much for avoiding the deep emotions and the sensitive subjects.
Because in this case the words pot, kettle and black sprang to mind. She too would have to plead guilty here. That sentimentality had stayed her hand when she had Morgana at gunpoint. It could have cost them the entire operation and, had things not gone the way they had, she would have been to blame for that. It did however not mean she regretted her actions. Lucas was alive because of them.
Her colleague did look a bit guilty. 'I know. I'm sorry, Ros.'
She huffed. 'You better remember that. The next time I might have to send you to Tring.'
A brilliant smile, akin to Merlin's most dazzling smile, lit up his entire face. He reminded Ros of a school boy who has just learned he received top marks in all his classes. 'You mean you're not sending me this time?'
That reaction told her she had made the right call. 'Bloody waste of time and resources,' she said dismissively, and truthfully. In Ros's opinion there was no worse punishment for a spook than to be sent to the shrinks. That had not stopped Harry from trying to get her to see one after her own near-death experience and Adam's death. It was bad enough she had to endure those annual psych assessments, so she avoided any other attempt of strangers to get into her head. As a spy she had little enough privacy as it was, so she liked to keep what little she had. And it was not as if those learned bookworms actually understood what spooks faced on a daily basis.
'Thanks, Ros.' And that was twice now that he had thanked her.
She dismissed it, not knowing what to do with so much emotion directed at her person. 'Yeah, well, I need you on the Grid, Lucas,' she said brusquely. 'Not cooped up on some shrink's sofa.' Realising that might have been a bit too blunt, she added: 'And you did a good job there. I could not have done what you did.' It was far too soppy for her liking, but Lucas was the kind of man who occasionally needed the soppy element in his life. And heaven knew it was true what she had just said. She could never have gotten Morgana to trust her the way she had done Lucas.
She had expected Lucas to react with more gratefulness she wouldn't know how to deal with, but instead he grinned widely. 'That would have been an accomplishment indeed,' he agreed.
For just this once she did not have a clue as to what he was talking about. She herself knew why she could not have done it, but she had not expected him to know. So what did he mean? She arched an eyebrow in an unspoken request to elaborate.
He did, widening that grin so much Ros was almost surprised his face didn't split in half. 'It's just that I never took you for the type who could pretend to fall in love with a woman,' he clarified with that stupid cheeky smile that could annoy her to absolutely no end.
Yet today she could not have stopped herself from cracking a similar one even if she had been threatened to spend the next week on a shrink's sofa.