"I dare you to move,
I dare you to life yourself up off of the floor,
I dare you to move like today never happened before."
Dare You to Move, Switchfoot
Arthur looked out over the altogether noisy banquet hall, watching the people celebrate Morgana's demise. Of course it wasn't phrased like that. They celebrated that Camelot was free of her, would never have to fear her attacks and schemes again. The very same people who a few years ago had raised their glasses in a toast to Morgana's health, now celebrated her death. Something about that seemed horribly wrong.
Of course things were not quite as simple as that. Far too much had changed since those days. Morgana had not been the king's loving ward for quite some time. She had become someone everyone in their right mind would fear, did fear. Yet Arthur found it hard to get the memory of her dying in his arms out of his heart and mind. And she had not even appreciated the gesture he had made, which hurt all the more.
All in all, Arthur Pendragon was not in the celebrating mood at all, but this was one of those things he owed to his people. And besides, it was not just about Morgana's death. There also was the element of honouring the spooks for their part in the operation, something Arthur was not very keen to forget. The part they had played in all of this was huge and especially Lucas and Ros deserved recognition for what they had done. He had already raised a toast in their honour to which Lucas had reacted with a respectful nod in the king's direction and Ros with a scowl that Arthur allowed himself to think was only because of the fact that he had addressed her by her full name again.
For now things were good. The kingdom was at peace, the biggest threat removed and there was nothing to indicate that this could change anytime soon. This, this peacefulness, was what he had been fighting for, but if the king of Camelot was really honest, not all was well. There was still something that had not been resolved.
He sought out his servant with his eyes. Merlin was on the other side of the hall, joking and laughing with Elyan. He had insisted to be kept out of the whole honouring business, because, in his own words, he was more use behind the scenes and it would not do for him to be in the centre of the attention. Yet he had done as much as the spooks had done and it felt wrong not to acknowledge that in public.
But that was only a part of it, Arthur knew. He had not been protesting Merlin's wishes that much, because he still needed to work out what to do with the warlock's magic. He needed to work out what to make of magic itself even. And that was a difficult issue. He had contemplated discussing it with Guinevere, but had promptly decided that was something he would keep as a last resort. In essence this was something he had to work out on his own.
The main question here was, did he believe that magic could be used for good? He thought he could answer that one with a yes. He had seen that for himself when Merlin rescued a little girl from a bomb explosion almost on instinct, without thinking. Did he believe that magic was used for good, apart from Merlin, that was? And that was where it did get tricky. Because Arthur was not at all certain of that. He had seen too much damage caused by sorcerers, too much lives taken by that force no sword could stand against. All his life he had only seen people use it for their own ends, for their own gains. Good grief, he had even lost both his parents to it.
Merlin really was the exception to the rule. Of course he claimed that was not entirely true and that there were more people like him, but they were in hiding, keeping their powers a secret in order to stay hidden and remain alive. There was logic in those words as well.
And even when this whole magic thing would be resolved, that would leave them with all the personal issues caused by the now concluded operation. They still had not worked that out and they should if they wanted to get back to normal and the king found that was really what he wanted most, have things being normal and predictable again after all the chaos of the last two weeks. They had called a truce before, but a truce was not lasting peace, as Arthur knew all too well.
'Can I get you anything else, sire?' In the time that Arthur had been deep in thought, Merlin had quit talking to Elyan and walked over to his king.
Arthur grimaced. 'Since when do you call me sire, Merlin?' he questioned. If anything, this was a dead giveaway that things had not yet been mended.
Merlin flashed a brilliant smile that nevertheless did not reach his eyes. 'Well, you are the king, right?'
Great, he was in an evasive mood. Arthur knew from experience that it was almost impossible to get anything from him at all when he was being like that and right now that annoyed him to no end. It meant that a conversation was out of the question. Not that this was the perfect time and place for such a conversation, but Arthur had always been the impulsive one. When he got something in his head it needed to happen here and now.
Stop bloody well annoying me. 'Merlin, you can't keep doing this,' he told the warlock.
'Do what?' Merlin gave him his most innocent everything-is-completely-all-right-look, but he only looked like that when things were anything but all right. Arthur knew him long enough to know.
'Evade the questions.' Arthur was known for being blunt, was infamous for it even, and although he had been forced to exercise more caution with his words these days – because a king could not just say whatever he wanted – this was not the time to keep beating around the bush. 'Merlin, we need to have a talk.' And how he dreaded it already. 'A proper talk this time. The day after tomorrow, lunch time.' He was starting to copy the spooks' way of communicating, but he could not care less.
Merlin thought about that for a moment, but then his face lit up in that dazzling smile he only showed when he was really happy. 'In short, when your hangover is gone and you won't be kept back by your infamous morning temper.'
That had been his reasoning, true, but it was quite another thing to hear Merlin piece it together so fast, and in company. 'Don't you have things to do, places to be, a girl to chat up?' He added the last one when he caught sight of Jo on the other side of the room. It was hardly a secret Merlin liked her. They had been making eyes at each other all night.
The warlock blushed a bright crimson in response. 'Just be careful with what you eat,' Merlin shot back. 'We don't want any more holes in that belt.' This was banter; easy, familiar and strangely hopeful. Arthur could not quite fathom how this had happened so suddenly, but he knew he like this.
And so he responded. 'Say that again and I'll have you in the stock until an hour before that talk,' he threatened, but it was without any true malice.
'Understood, sire.' But the smile remained as Merlin walked away to join Jo – or rescue her from Lord Harold, more like – and Arthur leaned back, feeling content that he had done the right thing.
The banquet hall of Camelot seemed far too loud for Lucas's liking, or maybe that was just Gwaine's doing. The jovial knight had taken a chair next to the spook and had demanded to get a full account of what had transpired on the Isle of the Blessed. He claimed he had missed out on all the interesting events while he was twiddling his thumbs on the shore.
Lucas liked the knight and his tendency to be friendly to practically everyone, but he did not think he could force himself to talk about everything that had happened there. He still needed to make sense of his own feelings, whatever those were. What was an easily distinguishable one was relief. He was infinitely relieved that it was all over and that tomorrow he could go back to London and he could try to get his life back together.
At least he was assured of his place on the team and the lack of a visit to the shrinks in the near future. Lucas suspected Ros had a hand in this, even when it had been Harry who had delivered the news, but he could not be entirely certain. For now he was just content to be alive, with his limbs all in their proper places, and to be part of Section D still. A large part of him had feared Harry would have him shipped off to Tring the moment he returned to Camelot, but it would seem he had been in luck.
He blocked out Gwaine's endless chatter and glanced across the room. He spotted Arthur at the main table, looking well and truly bored, Ros on the other end of the room in a green dress she had been made to wear, equally bored, and Harry in conversation with a nobleman of Arthur's court. But Lucas knew his boss for quite some time and Harry Pearce was not enjoying the celebrations very much either. As soon as he caught Lucas's glance, he excused himself and all but marched over, taking the seat a young knight had just vacated in order to get himself something to drink.
'You all right, lad?' he inquired. Harry had completely disregarded the dress code and had stuck with his suit and tie. That way he did attract a lot of attention, but he pretended not to notice. In normal situations a spook had to blend into the masses, but that was impossible here. They had made quite the impression when they first arrived in Camelot, or so Lucas had heard. He had of course been unconscious at the time, so he would have to take their word for it. Apparently Ros had raced the surveillance van at high speed through the streets of Camelot. It would have sounded completely insane if anyone but Ros had done that. As it was, Lucas was not too surprised.
'Fine, Harry,' he assured his boss. Harry had been worrying worse than ten mother hens put together after the debriefing, even if he had been keeping his reactions somewhat under control. Lucas suspected Ros was involved in some way, but asking her or Harry himself would not get him any answers. 'I'm just stuck here listening to this idiot,' he added in a softer tone with a jerk of the head in Gwaine's direction. The knight was so busy talking he did not seem to have heard Lucas at all. The considerable amounts of alcohol he had thus far consumed might have something to do with it as well. 'I think I may have made the mistake of promising him to show him London one day.' And he had only done that to get rid of the nagging the other man had directed at him.
'A grave error of judgement,' Harry said, but one corner of his mouth curled up. 'On your head be it.'
Lucas studied his boss. 'Isn't this the part where you offer to give me a few days off so that I can rest and give Gwaine a full tour of the city?' He could not stop the wariness from slipping into his voice. It would not be a too farfetched idea; the head of Section D had been trying to do the same thing when he had first returned from Russia. Harry had been urging him to go home and rest, while all he wanted was to get back to work as soon as he possibly could. And after an event that his boss would believe equally traumatic, it was not unlikely that he would try to do that again.
'Would you want me to?' That was not the answer that he had expected, but it was an answer that gave him hope.
'No.' Lucas did not even need to think about his answer. There was only one possible. 'But I expected you would want me to.' Honesty was usually not an asset in their line of work, but they were not strictly speaking on an operation anymore and after all, colleagues were okay. And maybe it was time for him to start applying that rule to more people than just his Section Chief.
He knew Harry trusted him to be on his side and he knew Harry also trusted him not to go to pieces, to a certain extent at least. Lucas was sure he would be kept away from the more risky operations for a while and Harry would of course make that look perfectly natural, not like he was keeping his Senior Case Officer out of danger at all, but he would not send him on sick leave and he would not send him to see any shrinks either. He might however bring forward Lucas's annual psych assessment or something like that. But he could live with that.
After all, Harry had not left a stone unturned when Morgana had abducted him and he had heard a few things from Ros about what Harry had done when he had still been in Russia. All these things did not erase the past, did not erase the things that had happened, but maybe they could, in time, start to rebuild that almost father-son like relationship that they'd had before Russia. Colleagues are okay, even the most senior.
Harry looked at the goblet filled with mead – only accepted because whisky was not readily available in Camelot – and watched it swirl as he moved it. 'If you feel like you need it, you can ask. But my Section Chief informed me that she had heard from reliable sources you would much rather return to work.'
So Ros was involved. He was not surprised about that. What he was surprised about was that Harry had admitted it. Rebuilding trust indeed.
He drained his glass and cracked a smile, the one Ros accused him of would make every female in a ten meter radius swoon at his feet. Lucas had retorted that it did not seem to be working on her, for which he had been rewarded with a stern look. 'Well, you know me,' he said. 'I'd do anything to delay that tour of the city.'
Harry seemed to sense the need for a lighter mood. 'I am reliably informed London can be quite beautiful when one is not chasing terrorists.' He too downed the last remnants of his drink.
'Oh, I'm sure it is,' Lucas agreed. 'Just not so sure about that when I've got a knight of the Round Table in tow.'
He glanced around the room again, spotting Ros at the other end of it, pretending to be interested in some nobleman's conversation. If Harry and his own intuition were right, he had her to thank for his continued employment with MI-5. Colleagues were okay and Ros was. Lucas had tried to thank her several times, but every time she had slapped it down for no reason at all. Well, maybe the party and the drinks – with the latter being the most likely option – had mellowed her a little.
'I think it's time to launch a rescue mission for your Section Chief this time,' he announced as he got to his feet.
Harry followed his gaze and chuckled. 'I am sure Ros can handle her own.'
'I'm sure she can.' He never had any doubts about that one. If the nobleman was really bothering her, she would have told him to sod off a long time ago. 'But I owe her a rescue. I'd hate to be in her debt,' he quipped. And it would not be a dramatic rescue to save her from the clutches of terrorists, but he had the idea that this would somehow be much more appreciated.
Merlin felt like he was walking on clouds and had his head somewhere in them as well. He wasn't the kind of person to do a happy dance around the room, but if he had been, he would have done it. He knew that Arthur had not exactly told him that all had been forgiven and forgotten, but it had been a first step and he had not failed to notice that. It was something he had been hoping for ever since he had first realised that the reveal of his magic had not gone as smoothly as he had first thought.
In all honesty, he did not expect Arthur to go on as they had before. He would not want that himself. So many things had changed and it was only natural that their friendship changed with it. But it had changed in a way that he had not wanted it to change. Somehow he had always had this idea that their friendship would only grow stronger when all was finally revealed, but it had turned out that this way of thinking had been a grave mistake. The revelation had nearly destroyed it and what had not been damaged by that, had been ruined by Merlin's immediate distrust of Lucas. If he was really honest, then that had probably been the greatest problem of all and everything else had flown from that. It was ironic in a way.
It had even come to the point that he had believed things had been damaged beyond repair. Had the spooks not practically forced them to make a temporary truce because they had to work together to succeed, then he did not know where they would have ended. They might have refused to ever talk again for all he knew. He had expected that he had to work the rest of his life to win back even a small measure of respect Arthur had once held for him.
That was why this change of heart had now practically make him dance for joy. They had even bantered as they did before and the fact that Arthur had chosen a time when he was least prone to lose his temper was the clearest signal that he was taking this seriously Merlin could have asked for.
And then there had been the banter that Merlin remembered so well, loved so well. Arthur had even as good as urged him to spend some time with Jo. While this made him blush in a way he did not believe very dignified for a powerful warlock, he had to admit the prospect didn't sound very bad.
And it would seem that Jo was in desperate need of saving. Somehow she had ended up in a very one-sided – by the look of things – conversation with Lord Harold. Said lord was the most obnoxious nobleman of the court. As far as Merlin was aware, there was nothing he actually approved of and he was certainly not going to approve of someone who was so obviously not from Camelot and who had the nerve to wear her hair in such a fashion. It was much too short for Camelot customs and Harold would make sure Jo was well aware of that.
As a servant he was not supposed to talk to nobles without being asked to do so, but this counted as an emergency and Arthur had more or less given it his seal of approval. Besides, Merlin did not think he could have brought himself to care either way. After that conversation he just had with Arthur he felt positively invincible.
'Lady Joanna, can I talk to you for a moment?' he interrupted Lord Harold who, very predictably, had just launched into the next stage of his rant about Jo's hair. 'Lord Harold,' he acknowledged. 'Could you excuse us for a moment?' He didn't wait for an answer, just took Jo's hand and dragged her away with him, leaving the nobleman looking at them with a jaw that seemed in immediate danger of dropping. No doubt there would be consequences later, but the warlock could not truly care.
'What was that about?' Jo asked when they had safely arrived on the other side of the hall. 'I thought servants weren't supposed to talk to nobles?'
Merlin shrugged. He might regret this tomorrow morning when the offended lord would voice his complaint to the king, but at the moment he could not bring himself to spare the man as much as a second thought. He had not drunk one drop of alcohol, but it was very well possible that he was drunk on happiness. Normally he hated parties such as this one, because it increased his workload so much and he never got any of the fun or food himself, but there were enough other servants in the hall and surely they could stop the place from falling to pieces for just this once.
There was still some of the regret over Morgana's demise present as well. He was unable not to feel that since he could well be called responsible for it. He had been the one to distract her to such an extent that she forgot about the real danger and for that mistake she had paid with her life. And he was responsible for that, at least partly, because Ros had been the one to pull the trigger and not Merlin. It didn't change what he felt though.
And he felt a strange sense of loss. He would not miss Morgana's many attacks, but he did miss the chance of the old Morgana resurfacing. No matter how low she had sunk, he had always kept hoping that she would realise what she had done and that she would repent her ways. Her death put an end to these possibilities and Merlin could not help but feel sad about that.
But tonight, a week since that fateful event, that was not on the forefront of his mind. Arthur's promise of a decent talk had done that. Now he was smiling like a lunatic, as Arthur would call it.
'Launching a rescue mission,' he told Jo. 'You don't want to get stuck talking to Lord Harold.'
Jo cracked a smile. 'I could handle him.'
Merlin did not really doubt that. Jo was a capable spy, even if she seemed sweet and innocent most of the time. She was quick and clever and had a nice sense of humour. Merlin enjoyed working with her. It was just a shame he had not had the opportunity to work much with her. Most of the time he had been running here, there and everywhere with Arthur, Ros and Lucas.
'I know,' Merlin said. 'I was just coming to help.'
An eyebrow was arched. 'Knight in shining armour?'
The servant shook his head. 'No, you'd want Gwaine for that.'
They both had a good laugh over that. It was nice to do that again, Merlin found. It was so long ago that he had any cause to do that. Even before this operation had started he had been too busy running after Arthur to sit back and relax.
'You should come to London again,' Jo told him. 'You know, I'm quite sure you have not seen every movie in my collection.'
Merlin did not have not a lot of experience with women, but he was quite sure that this counted as some kind of invitation. And with Morgana and Agravaine out of the way, he might just be able to afford it, provided Arthur didn't get himself into some tight spot before then and he could get George to take over his duties for a few days.
But that was a concern for later. 'I'd love that,' he said.
Ros Myers was bored. She had never been a party animal, and this party was not even for an operation. She could tolerate them as long as she had a mission to complete, a goal. She could pretend to be the world's greatest partygoer if work required it. But this, this dressing up for a party she had been reliably informed was hosted in her and her colleagues' honour, that was a different matter altogether and one that she surely was not very pleased with at all.
Arthur had gone as far as to toast to her health and Ros had rewarded him for his troubles with a glare that was known to send most of her subordinates running for the hills without a second thought. But Arthur was not her subordinate and so he had pretended he had not noticed her venomous looks at all. He had done the same thing when she had told him there was no way she would dress in the local fashion. She was afraid that he had learned far too much in Thames House, because he had simply brought the matter to Harry's attention and he had made it one of those non-negotiable issues of his, and she had come to hate those with a passion.
Harry had informed her that she needed to behave at the celebration. Her boss did sometimes feel more like a father to her than her boss. And when he had lectured her about what to do and what not, she truly did feel like a daughter being lectured by her father. Well, at the very least she could return home tomorrow, to her own flat with central heating, electricity and a warm shower. Those were comforts she had sorely missed since she had come to this place.
That prospect enabled her to put up with this nobleman's inane babbling. From what he had said so far the Section Chief had been able to piece together that he had a position on Arthur's council. Exactly why he occupied that position was not entirely clear to Ros, because so far he had not given any sign of being in the possession of something as necessary and important as a brain.
She looked out over the room as the nobleman turned to get himself another drink and was glad to see that Lucas was walking over to her, that idiotic lopsided grin plastered all over his face. It seemed to be genuine this time. It was a good thing that this operation was finally concluded, because it had been taking a toll on all of them, but on no one so heavy as on Lucas.
'Excuse me, Lord Owen,' Ros told the babbling noble. 'I need to talk with my colleague.' She did not know what he was here for, but it provided her with a good excuse to leave him. And it was also a chance at more intelligent conversation than she'd had so far.
Lord Owen muttered an unintelligible reply, but Ros was not really listening anymore. She had already walked away, cracking something of a smile at her colleague as he passed her a drink.
'You looked like you needed it,' he explained.
'It can't be that bad,' Ros countered. 'What are you doing here?'
The grin widened, if that was even possible. 'I was authorised to launch a rescue mission,' he replied, jerking his head in the direction of Harry, who had gotten himself into a conversation with Arthur now. He too didn't seem to be enjoying himself much. Like Ros, he endured it. Maybe that was the best thing to be done with this situation.
'I thought that was my job,' she pointed out.
She was rewarded with a bark of laughter. 'I thought I'd return the favour. It isn't a dangerous terrorist cell and all that, but…' He shrugged.
'Who said that man isn't worse than any terrorist?' Ros quipped. 'At least with Al-Qaeda I never have to be afraid that they'll bore me to death.' Flippancy in this case worked again, because she was very sure that she could not handle any more of Lucas's declarations of gratitude. In the past week he had, on several occasions, tried to offer his thanks and Ros had tried to deflect it every time. She didn't know why, but she just wasn't comfortable with it. She wasn't used to being thanked. It wasn't part of the job description. Rescuing her officers out of the clutches of the bad guys was. She had really only done her duty. Thanks were not in order. It was just the nature of the job. It was one of those unspoken rules in this line of work that you protected your colleagues, because no one else was bloody well going to do it.
But Lucas had gotten his job for a reason. He knew she was trying to deflect the subject again. 'Why won't you just let me thank you?' he wondered, quickly grabbing her wrist before she could make an escape. 'You backed me up since this operation first begun, took enormous risks and you won't even allow me to thank you?' He sounded almost cajoling now, although what for was not quite clear to the Section Chief.
And Lucas was really far too sentimental for his own good, something that could be an asset in this job – because it allowed him to understand their suspects better and it made it easier for people to trust him – but it could also be an enormous setback, like now. 'That's what colleagues do,' she reminded him. 'They're okay, remember?' She said it as forcefully as she could without sounding blunt. Or at least she hoped it wasn't too blunt. She wasn't known for being subtle when not on an operation.
For now at least it seemed to work, because Lucas's smile was firmly back in place. 'Ah, I think we're closer to friends, don't you think?'
That was dangerous territory. You don't do friends, Myers. 'I thought you said friendship was overrated?' she countered. 'Didn't they only annoy you?'
He arched an eyebrow at her. 'And I don't annoy you?' he shot back.
Well, one thing was for sure: he had not lost his wits during his captivity and she had to smile almost in spite of herself, although it was a sarcastic one. 'All the time.'
'Friends it is then?' he insisted.
Why not? 'As long as you keep annoying me,' she replied. Ros could not even remember when she last had a friend, but something about this did not seem too bad. She might just learn to live with it.
'I'll make sure of that,' Lucas promised. 'So, wanting to get out of this place?'
Ros grimaced. 'Can't, I'm afraid. I'm supposed to be on my best behaviour tonight.' Now it was her turn to jerk her head in Harry's direction.
'I told you I was authorised to launch a rescue mission, didn't I?' he asked, quirking an eyebrow.
That would be Harry's way of thanking them for a job well done. It was his habit to dismiss them early when an operation was completed, telling them to get a long soak in a bath, a good meal, a good night's sleep or whatever it was that they thought they needed at a certain time. And this may not be London, but it was still the end of an operation and they were being sent home early, as if this was just another normal day and this just another normal operation. And maybe, in essence, it was.
So she walked with Lucas out of the room, glad to leave the whole sodding celebration behind. And at least now she was no longer in noble company she could left her skirt to prevent any more unfortunate almost-tripped-over-the-bloody-hem-experiences from happening.
'Well,' Lucas said with that mischievous twinkle in his eyes. 'At least I get to tell everyone that Ros Myers took part in a dress-up party about thirty years after she was six years old.' He looked like the cat who ate the canary when he said that.
Ros remembered they had that conversation when they had first met Merlin, Arthur and their merry knights of the sodding Round Table, even if said table did not even exist yet. She glared at her colleague. 'You can't prove it.'
That had been the wrong thing to say, because he produced his mobile phone from his pocket. 'Doesn't have a signal here, but the camera's still working,' he informed her. 'And now I've got photographic proof.' He quickly put the device away before Ros could even start to think about taking it from him. 'This would make for a nice one at the Christmas party.'
'Do that and I'll personally make sure you acquire a very intimate knowledge of the paper archive,' the Section Chief threatened.
Lucas looked at her in mock surprise. 'I thought I was supposed to annoy you, since we're friends?'
Cheeky bastard. 'In that case you're doing an amazing job of it.' The remark was snappy, but there was no malice behind it. Colleagues – and maybe even friends – really were okay.
TO BE CONTINUED IN "JUST ANOTHER NORMAL OPERATION"
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