"The proper term for the present situation would be, I believe, 'a clusterfuck,'" intones Harry into the mic, crouching to reload his gun behind an overturned fruit stall smack in the middle of Jemaa el-Fnaa. A huge watermelon bursts into bright pink splatters at a direct hit, just inches away from his head. In a grainy video feed, for a second Merlin cannot tell if he's staring at fruit pulp or blood, but Galahad is obviously unperturbed, so he finally lets out a breath and keeps scanning the crowd. This is his first job as a field handler, and it's going tits-up fast.
"By the hotel entrance, a group of three..."
Harry quickly leans out from behind the stall and picks off one of them.
"A group of two," amends Merlin. "Good job."
"I'm here to please."
"Sniper on the hotel rooftop, left corner," barks Merlin as the metal frame of the stall shudders at the bullet hit. "Okay, he's reloading. One one thousand- two one thousand-"
Harry makes for the hotel entrance. There's little he can do about the sniper, but he manages to shoot one of the remaining two guards by the door before Merlin commands him to duck again.
"Did you see it?" he hoots into the mic. "James Bond has nothing on me."
"James Bond did not have me," smirks Merlin. There's a swirl in the sand not two inches from Harry's Oxford-clad foot where the bullet hit the ground. "Go!"
"Don't worry," says Harry before taking another run. "None of this is your fault."
Merlin swears under his breath. He hoped he had his voice under control, but the punk somehow realized just how on edge he was. He'll have to edit this bit out of the footage he'll submit to Arthur after Galahad is safely back home. He fidgets with the controls, switching to the feeds from the cameras inside the hotel.
"All clear, other than a snake charmer with an AK and a rather impressive cobra on the stairs right below the third floor."
"Is there an elevator?" asks Harry, and he sounds much less cocky than he did under sniper fire.
"I'm afraid of snakes. Too phallic. Maybe I'm too busy repressing my homosexual leanings to deal with snakes?"
Merlin takes a quick look at the floor plans.
"No elevator, and there's a group of twelve nice chaps with AKs approaching the hotel from the north. Go."
Galahad must be standing under the hotel awning, because he's off Merlin's feeds for now.
"They'll be here in about ninety seconds. Go."
A pause. Merlin wonders if the feed froze, because there's still no movement in the hallway.
"I cannot." Galahad's voice sounds clipped and suddenly all too young. Merlin swears under his breath, covering the mic with his palm for good measure. Then, taking a deep breath, he puts on his professional tone.
"One step at a time, Galahad. Breathe. Check your gun. Open the door."
There's another pause. Merlin squints at the feeds from side streets. The attackers are moving faster than he thought, but he's reluctant to push Galahad too hard just yet. Finally, Galahad steps through the door into the hotel hallway. His shoulders are sagging pathetically.
"Breathe in, Galahad. Well, are you?" Merlin asks, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Am I what?" Galahad asks distractedly, but that's still much better than the raw panic in his voice from earlier. He is taking cautious steps towards the stairs.
"Too busy repressing your homosexual leanings."
"Oh-" Galahad chuckles. "Never."
He's almost at the bottom of the stairs now. The attackers are flooding into the square in front of the hotel.
"Run," says Merlin. "Run run run-"
Much to his surprise, Galahad obeys. Readiness to obey takes him past the first flight of stairs, but that's when he must hear the hissing of the snake.
"You can do it. I saw your marksmanship scores, you can shoot it," pleads Merlin, his voice dropping to little more than a whisper.
Galahad reaches into the inner pocket and grabs a lighter. "I'm sorry."
"No!" shouts Merlin, but his voice is drowned out by the explosion. The screen blinks and goes to static.
He slams his fist into the table, desperately listening in to the sounds transmitted from Galahad's mic. There's crumbling concrete and distant shooting in the background, but the only noise that he desperately wants to hear - the breathing, the scrabbling of familiar footsteps - is not there. To drown out the rising panic, he says coldly:
"You knocked out my cameras. You are on your own now."
He is rewarded with an already familiar chuckle.
"I knew you valued your precious electronics over my peace of mind."
"Well, I pay for them, and I don't pay your therapist. Are you alright?" Merlin barely stops himself from laughing out loud with relief.
"The suit's a mess. Other than that- fuck, you could have told me that the damn thing was six feet long! I could have been reaching the airport by now!"
Galahad laughs nervously and unpersuasively.
"Nevermind, it's dead now. Breathe in. Walk on."
For a while, there are no sounds, but finally the footsteps pick up again. There's the scraping of the door, and then a triumphant shout. Galahad got the files he was sent for.
It takes him a while to navigate his way past the incoming reinforcements of the mafia ring now desperately requiring renovations at its HQ, but he finally gets out. He promised to pick up Merlin's cameras on the way out, and it's another two minutes before he reaches the first safe one in the side street. Instead of just picking it up quickly, Galahad pauses and tilts his face at the camera, as if he can see the man behind it.
"Are you new here?" he asks. "I'm Galahad. I mean, that you already know. You can call me Harry. I owe you one."
"I'm Merlin," says Merlin, and pinches the bridge of his nose. He cannot help smiling back at that crooked grin.
A clusterfuck indeed.