Greetings, my fellow FanFictioners!
As promised, I hereby present you what was intended to be a One-Shot but somehow went awry in the writing process. So have a far too long Two-Shot instead!
Many thanks to Vernacular Jargon, who still isn't tired of me and corrected this story. Also a thank you to everybody who encouraged me to write this story.
Warnings for blood, some violence and swearing. If I owned Merlin, we'd have at least three more seasons and a less crappy finale.
But now, enjoy!
"This particular case," Merlin thought as he lay flat on the floor with his hands on the back of his head, "could have turned out better."
It wasn't his fault, of course. He had said – several times – that there was no way to pinpoint the exact date the 'Raiders' (and wasn't that a stupid name for a group of bank-robbers?) would strike again. He had warned Arthur that they had no pattern, that he hadn't been able to determine the next target of their raids with dead certainty. (Of course, he had calculated the probabilities for every bank in London, but the bank they were currently trapped in had only been on rank four of this list.)
So no, it was not Merlin's fault. It had been Arthur who had insisted on paying a visit to the banks that had the highest probability in Merlin's opinion. It had been Arthur who had started a never-ending argument with the manager of this branch because the man hadn't been able to swallow his pride and allow the police to take precautions. And therefore, it was Arthur's fault that they had still been in the bank when the raid had begun.
Speaking of the devil… Merlin cautiously raised his head and peeked over to where Arthur and the manager had stood when the bank robbers had barged into the foyer. Yes, they were both still there and seemed pretty much unharmed. Although Arthur looked kind of grumpy.
Merlin raised his eyebrow at him and gave him the notorious I-Told-You-So-Look. Arthur merely scowled a bit more intense. Behind him, one of the bank robbers held up his gun and yelled: "Alright everybody! We don't want to shoot you, so if you all just do what we say and keep your mouths shut, we won't harm you. If anyone tries to call the police or fight us, we will show no mercy.
"Now, you will all get up slowly with your hands in the air and go over to the information desk over there."
Merlin quickly picked himself up and held his hands over his head. He had never robbed a bank himself, but he got the gist of a bank robbery and knew that staying calm and polite would be the best way to avoid unnecessary risks.
After all those present stood up and walked over to the desk as the bank robber said, the man – who seemed to be the leader of the 'Raiders' – spoke up again.
"Very good. Now sit down in a line, put your hands where we can see them and stay quiet."
Merlin decided not to try and get to Arthur, but instead sat down between an elderly man with long white hair and a young woman who tightly clutched a small boy to her chest. The boy, Merlin guessed, couldn't be older than two years. His lower lip trembled dangerously and he looked like he was going to wail any second.
The leader (Raider 1, as Merlin had dubbed him) made his way briskly towards the main counter, where two men and one woman cowered. He cocked his submachine gun and pointed it at the man closest to him. Then, he threw a couple of bags onto the counter.
"You there. Fill them up. And don't even think about pressing the silent alarm, or I'll blast your brain out of your skull. Understood?"
The man nodded and started to hastily stuff the bags with cash.
In the meantime, one of the other bank robbers (there were six of them as far as Merlin could see) went over to where all the hostages were sitting. He scanned every face and paused in front of Arthur. For a moment, Merlin was sure the man had recognised Arthur from the newspapers, and he held his breath.
But then, the man – Raider 2, Merlin decided – bent down and grabbed… the manager who was sitting beside Arthur. Merlin let out the breath he had been holding.
Raider 2 wrenched the manager up by his collar and dragged him over to the counters. Raider 1 smirked. (Merlin supposed that he smirked, at least. It was hard to tell with the black balaclava on.)
"So you're the person in charge here, right? Listen carefully, I know there is a safe in this bank with very valuable securities. And I want you to open it up for me."
The manager, if possible, turned even paler than before.
"B-but that's im-impossible! I-I don't, I mean, I don't know the co-code! I-I'm only the assistant b-branch manager! The, the real branch m-manager is on vacation for three weeks, and he's the o-only one who c-can open the s-s-safe!"
The manager had turned more and more desperate during his stuttered speech and was practically falling apart with fear by the time he had finished.
Merlin briefly wondered what it said about his character that even in this situation, he felt annoyed with the bank robbers. His life was probably at stake and all he could think about was what blithering idiots these robbers were. Never, never would he have made such a stupid mistake! Obviously, these guys hadn't even bothered to do all the necessary research on the safe they wanted to crack.
A fatal mistake, because now, they just looked very stupid. Arthur seemed to think along similar lines, because his expression was equally smug and disbelieving.
Their shared glee didn't last long, though.
Angry about this turn of events, Raider 1 tossed the manager to the ground and pointed his weapon at the poor man's head.
"You," he hissed furiously, "will open this safe. If you don't do it, I'll scatter your brain all over the floor. Do you understand? I'll count to ten, and if you haven't told me how to open that blasted safe, I'll shoot you down. One."
Merlin felt more than heard the other people gasp around him. His mind was already far away, racking his brain for any kind of solution. Once again, he was grateful for his abnormally fast thinking process and photographic memory. Millions of possibilities and facts whirled around in his head with incredible speed.
He had no weapons, not even his pepper spray. There were six bank robbers, he was alone. (Alright, they were two of them if he counted Arthur, but there was no way to communicate with him. And the other seventeen hostages would be no help at all.) He had memorised the whole floor plan of the bank (as well as the other seven they had visited) and knew exactly where the safe was and what kind of safe it was.
"Three. I'm waiting."
He had memorised every alarm button within the building and knew all the evacuation routes. The TGF was probably worried already, but help would come too late in any case.
Merlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Don't panic, stay calm, think straight and do what you do best. OGACA. Observe, gauge, analyse, conclude, act. No problem at all, you've done it a thousand times before."
There were only three options he could choose:
1. Staying put and doing nothing, hoping that Raider 1 won't go through with his threat. Contra: that would mean risking the man's life.
2. Speaking up and offering to open the safe himself. Contra: for that, some equipment would be needed, equipment he didn't have right now. Also, it would violate his probation and Arthur would throw a fit.
3. Speaking up, offering to open the safe himself and attempting to outwit the bank robbers, using their lack of knowledge against them. Contra: still no equipment and every possibility to bite the dust, should anything go wrong.
Letting a man die or possibly going to jail for saving a man's life by risking his own? "And here I was, thinking my life would be easier with this job. If I believed in god, I would think he hates me now," Merlin thought, sighing inwardly.
"Seven. Come on, time's running out."
After taking another deep breath, Merlin made his decision and opened his eyes.
"Hey. Excuse me, can I say something?"
The reaction was just as Merlin had feared. Raider 1 wheeled around whilst Raider 3, who had watched the hostages along with Raider 4 and 5, whacked Merlin over the head. With his pistol grip. It was quite painful.
"Shut up, bastard," said Raider 5. But at least, Raider 1 lowered his gun and looked at him.
Merlin silently told himself that it was all in good cause and spoke up again.
"I'd like to propose a solution for your, err… predicament." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Arthur staring at him with alarm.
"Predicament!?" Raider 1 spat, "What the fuck are you talking about?"
Knowing that rolling his eyes at this probably choleric man would do him no good, Merlin refrained from letting his annoyance show. Instead, he calmly replied, "I'm talking about the safe. I can try to open it for you."
All twenty-seven heads turned in his direction, twenty-six of them looking disbelieving, one giving him his best Don't-You-Dare-Do-What-I-Think-You-Plan-on-Doing-O r-I'll-Kill-You-Slowly-And-Painfully-Look. (And wasn't it funny how well he could read Arthur's stares by now? Some of their arguments solely consisted of glaring at each other for minutes.)
"You?" Raider 3 asked incredulously. Raider 1 in the meantime put his gun away and walked towards his new target.
"And how exactly are you planning to do that, boy? What are you playing at?"
"Yes, Merlin, what on earth are you playing at?" Arthur hissed from where he was crouched on the floor. Merlin chose to ignore him and addressed Raider 1 instead, "As chance would have it, I happen to have quite some experience with various… safety devices. Including safes. If you want, I could have a look at it. Maybe I can do something." About 20 feet to his right, Arthur discreetly facepalmed.
Raider 1 stared at Merlin with intent, obviously trying to gauge if he actually was serious. But then, he gave him what Merlin assumed was an attempt at a smile and said, "Very well. But you better not try to do something stupid, or I will shoot you, the wimp," he pointed at the manager, who looked as if he would faint any second now, "and your friend over there." He pointed at Arthur, who was now glaring not daggers, but impressive swords at Merlin, "Understood?"
Merlin shot Arthur an apologetic look and nodded.
Raider 1 then bent down and grabbed Merlin by his collar, hauling him up just like he had done with the manager. Merlin fought the outburst of discomfort at the sudden body contact and tried not to trip over his feet as he was shoved in the general direction of the main counter.
Merlin rapidly reconsidered his options. These men were ruthless. They would kill him without a second thought if they knew what he had in mind… should he really dare it? With the unforeseen delays, the chances for the robbers to get away before help from the department arrived were slim to none.
They would either barricade themselves in the bank or take a hostage as a life insurance with them. Either way, things were bound to get ugly. Merlin inwardly sighed as he made up his mind. No backing out now. He just hoped that the whining manager would play along. Speaking of which…
"Excuse me, but perhaps it would be a good idea if Mr. Cromwell would accompany us. He might be able to tell me crucial information about the safe I need to know."
The manager actually did pass out at his words. Merlin was rather sure that he should be panicking right now. There was no way on earth this man would be of any kind of assistance in his plan.
"A thank you to whomever it was that gave me the emotional range of a brick. Panic would be most inconvenient right now. Alright, backpedal. This man will only screw everything up. And maybe I can even use his unconsciousness to my advantage."
Before Raider 2 had a chance to break the mana- Mr. Cromwell's skull in an attempt to rouse him, Merlin decided to intervene, his own safety be damned.
"On second thought, leave him be. He would probably be of no help anyway. I'll just do my best."
Raider 1 glared at him from behind his black mask and for a moment it seemed as if he was going to shoot Merlin down where he stood, but then he merely growled and grabbed the younger man by his wrist, twisting it and making him gasp with pain.
"Alright, boy. But if I were you, I would be really careful right now. Give me the slightest reason to doubt you, and I'll kill you in the most painful way imaginable. And just so you don't get any ideas, we'll take your friend over there with us. If you act up in the slightest, I'll shoot him. First, I'll shoot at his left knee, then his right, and then I'll bloody castrate him. Am I making myself clear?"
Merlin nodded and then let out a hiss as the bank robber gave his wrist a painful squeeze. "Crystal clear, sir."
Raider 1 finally released his grip on Merlin's wrist and gave one of his accomplices a nod. Raider 4 (or was it 5?) yanked Arthur up and pressed his gun to the other man's temple. Arthur looked positively murderous by now, but he was wise enough to stay silent.
Raider 1 pressed the barrel of his gun between Merlin's shoulder blades and gave him a light shove with the weapon. Merlin took that as his clue to get moving.
Arthur and he were being led towards the area of the bank that was for employees only. It seemed that the 'Raiders' had been smart enough to at least research the location of the safe.
After two minutes and forty-seven seconds of walking through white, empty corridors, they stopped in front of a door. It looked normal enough, but experience told Merlin that it was armoured. There was a small numeric keypad on the left side of the door.
Merlin briefly wondered if the bank robbers knew how to deal with that obstacle or if he would have to crack this door as well, but Raider 1 wordlessly stepped forward and punched a ten-digit code in.
"How comes you know the code for the door, but not the password for the safe?" Merlin couldn't help asking. He knew he shouldn't show such blatant interest for their strategy, but oh well. Once a thief, always a thief.
But instead of hitting him, kicking him or shooting him, Raider 1 simply yanked the door open and shoved him inside, followed by Arthur and Raider 4.
"We bribed one of the employees. But the safe password changes every Monday and only the branch manager knows it. All we were able to find out is that it is a randomly chosen combination of figures and letters, fifteen digits."
The room was illuminated by several white florescent lights. The safe was positioned on the other side of the room. It was a vault door, heavily armoured and almost impossible to crack with violence only. Merlin wasn't impressed. He had seen better.
With a couple of steps, he crossed the room and inspected the safe closely. Not that he needed to, he had already encountered this kind of strongroom before and knew everything there was to know about them, but he had to buy some time. Time to figure out his next steps.
The lock was – of course – electronic. The keypad next to the vault door resembled a normal computer keyboard. Merlin quickly glanced around and sure enough found what he was looking for. Perfect. All he had to do now was to act as convincingly as he could manage. One slip-up and he would be dead, as would Arthur.
Despite himself, Merlin felt excited. This was it, this was what he was good at. Tricking people, playing his character, manipulate his surroundings and fellow men to his advantages. God, how he had missed the thrill of a nice, interesting coup!
But no. There was no time to revel in old memories. This was different. People'slives were at stake. Merlin neither had the time, nor the right to think like this. He had to focus and concentrate on helping all these people back in the bank foyer.
Merlin took a deep breath and put his plan in motion.
Without facing the raiders, he let his hand hover over the keypad and asked, "This password. Does the branch manager pick it himself or does he get the codes from the central office? And if he picks them himself, does he use a computer program to randomise the digits or does he make them up in his mind?"
He knew the answer. Of course there was no way the central office would let a branch manager pick the code himself, that wasn't how the financial system worked. But if the raiders didn't know that…
"How the hell should I know?" Raider 1 barked, "We didn't get that information. We thought we didn't need to!" Merlin could practically feel the anger and discomfort radiating from the bank robbers. How embarrassing to admit such a mistake.
Merlin hid his satisfied smile.
"Alright, then I'll just assume he picks the code himself. In this case, it would be simplest if I hacked into their intranet and search for the information from the branch manager's computer. He must have saved the code somewhere."
Merlin had barely finished his sentence before he was roughly shoved into the vault door and a gun was firmly pressed to his head. Raider 1 twisted his right arm behind his back and pulled it up high enough to bring tears to Merlin's eyes.
"How stupid do you think I am, huh? I'm not letting you use a computer in here. How can I know that you won't, I don't know, send off a distress signal or contact the cops?"
Merlin, who found it harder with the second to fight back the panic that still always flared up at body contact and was on the verge of hyperventilating, was too busy fighting for air and composure to reply.
He was saved by Arthur, though, who had immediately sensed his friend's inner struggle and decided to take matters into his hands.
"He said intranet, not internet. That means that he'll only be able to use the network of all computers within this bank, but nothing further. There's no way to communicate with other computers that aren't part of the intranet. Calling for help isn't possible."
Raider 1 slowly let go of Merlin's arm and glared at Arthur instead, who glared back just as intense. Merlin shot Arthur a deeply grateful look. Arthur, still staring at the bank robber somewhat provocatively, acknowledged it with the tiniest nod.
After what felt like an eternity (but really was just eighteen seconds), Raider 1 turned his gaze away from Arthur and fixed it on Merlin instead. The latter held his breath in anticipation.
"Alright, I'll let you use the computers. But if you try something, anything to deceive me, you will regret it."
He motioned Merlin towards one of the computers. After Merlin had sat down, Raider 1 positioned himself behind him and levelled his weapon at the young man's head. Raider 4 tightened his grip on Arthur's arm and readjusted his grip on the gun he held against his captive's head.
Merlin booted the computer. His mind was buzzing with possibilities.
Hacking into the computer's hard drive was nothing but child's play to him. And infiltrating the intranet of the bank wasn't a challenge, either. The real challenge was to do what he wanted to do without letting the raiders know what it was that he did.
Merlin suddenly saw his chance and took it.
Typing in a few well-rehearsed computer commands, Merlin prayed to whatever god was willing to listen that his self-developed virus would do its work. He had only ever tested it once, and only with one computer, not a whole network of computers.
After a few tense seconds, all files and programmes he had opened on the screen vanished and were replaced by programming language. Merlin was careful not to let his satisfaction show. Behind him, Raider 1 stiffened.
"What is the meaning of this?" he all but screamed.
Merlin began typing furiously. Without looking up from the screen, he replied, "It means that I've managed to break through the firewalls. This is the basic structure of the bank's intranet. The very core, so to speak. All I need to do is search it for the right information, and ta-dah! You will get the password. But it may take some time."
For the next few minutes, Merlin furiously tapped away at the keys.
The monotonous lines of programming script were starting to hurt his eyes and he felt a headache building in the back of his head, but he refused to slow down. He was so close, only a few more lines. If he messed up now, everything would be in vain.
Gathering his concentration for the proverbial final spurt, he let his fingers fly over the keyboard, not stopping once. And then…
Merlin hit the 'Enter'-key and barely managed to hold back a relieved sigh. He had done it. Now he only needed to find a way to open that blasted safe.
Deciding to go for the most believable excuse, Merlin braced himself for the disaster that was yet to come. He leant back and gave a frustrated grunt.
"It isn't working. I don't know why, but I can't find anything concerning this safe at all. The branch manager must have found a way to separate this information from the rest of the –"
He didn't get a chance to finish his sentence, because Raider 1 finally lost it. With an outcry, he knocked over the chair on which Merlin was sitting and pushed him to the floor. Unable to get out of the way in time, all Merlin could do was grasp at the boot that came down on his throat and threatened to crush his windpipe.
"What!?" Raider 1 roared, "It. Isn't. WORKING!? Well then you better make it fucking work, because if I don't see that safe open in less than a minute, I'll make you wish that you were never born!"
On the other side of the room, Arthur was desperately trying to get away from the other bank robber. But a heavy blow to the head with the pistol grip sent a wave of dizziness through his skull and his knees gave in. Raider 4 used the opportunity to kick Arthur into the back and sent him sprawling over the floor.
"Leave him alone, bastard!" Arthur shouted. In this moment he didn't care that everything spun and his vision was blurred. He didn't even care about the gun Raider 4 all but bored into his head. All he could see was Merlin, laying on the floor and gasping for air.
His mind was going haywire. This wasn't supposed to happen. Merlin always, always found a way to make things work! It simply wasn't possible for him not to break into any kind of system. He had hacked the MoD, for crying out loud! If given the time, Merlin could coax every last bit of information out of this blasted computer. So why hadn't he –
And suddenly, everything fell into place. Arthur cursed.
This had been Merlin's plan all along. He hadn't intended to open that vault door for one second. All he had wanted to do was lay his hands on a computer so he could call for help. Somehow, he must have found a way to smuggle a message out of the intranet, probably even to Elyan, who would have no problem deciphering the gibberish Merlin had written in programming language.
Arthur closed his eyes, unsure whether to feel proud or exasperated. That would be such a Merlin thing to do, it was ridiculous. Why hadn't he seen that coming?
A sudden gurgling sound brought Arthur back to the situation at hand. Merlin was trying to say something, but the foot on his throat wouldn't let him. Arthur studiously ignored the gun pressed to his head and called out, "For heaven's sake, stop it! He'll suffocate!"
Raider 1 gave him a murderous look, but at least he removed his foot from Merlin's throat. After forcefully kicking him into the stomach, Raider 1 took a step back and glared down at his victim.
Merlin rolled onto his side and held his aching abdomen, wheezing heavily.
"I'll try some… something different," he panted. Arthur really wanted to punch him. What on earth was he playing at?
"I could… try to open the safe by breaking the… the electronic lock. Maybe if I have a try at the electronics in there, it'll open."
Raider 1 narrowed his eyes. He leant down next to Merlin and grabbed his hair to yank his head back.
"I'm giving you one last chance, boy. My friends back in the foyer are probably already finished collecting our reward. If you don't get me some kind of result during the next three minutes, I'll just shoot every single person in here down and leave without the safe's content. But if I were you, I'd pray to god that this won't happen, because I'll make you feel such agony that this little incident just now will seem like massage to you. And now, get the fuck up."
The next few moments were tense and quiet. Raider 1 was seriously pissed off by now and Raider 4's grip on Arthur's arm was so tight he already felt his fingers numbing. The bruise that was already forming would be spectacular, that much was certain.
Merlin got up and walked over to the vault door. After assessing the lock for the second time, he turned around and asked, "Do you have any kind of equipment, by any chance? I can't break it without some kind of tool. A screwdriver and a wire cutter are vital, but some other tools would be of much help, too."
Raider 1 gave a sound that sounded like a snarl, but he gave his accomplice a nod nonetheless. The man released his vice-like grip on Arthur's arm and turned around to get the needed items. Arthur fought the urge to rub the sore point. It would probably do him no good.
Merlin, in the meantime, continued to poke the keypad and feel up the wall around the vault door. His face didn't give away any emotion. That never boded well. Merlin normally only used his professional poker face for poker, other card games, and bad news. Arthur wished he could talk to him.
Far too soon for Arthur's liking, the other bank robber returned with a small toolbox. Raider 1 took it and threw it down before Merlin, only narrowly missing his left foot.
"There. Tools. Now open it, and do it fast. I have this itching in my forefinger and you surely wouldn't want me to accidentally shoot your friend, right?"
Merlin gave a curt nod and mumbled something under his breath. Arthur was pretty sure that it was a good thing it hadn't been understandable. He wouldn't put it past Merlin to mock a bank robber who had a gun pointed to his head.
After grabbing some items from the toolbox, Merlin set to work. For a few moments, everything was silent except for the occasional scratching or knocking noises Merlin produced whilst pestering the door. The tension hanging in the air was almost tangible, and Raider 1 seemed to get more impatient by the second. Arthur had this uneasy sense of foreboding twisting in his guts that only always showed up to announce a veritable disaster.
And of course, it turned out to be right. Arthur could pinpoint the exact moment Raider 1 finally lost every last bit of his patience, and probably sanity as well. It was the moment the screwdriver Merlin had used to take apart the safe snapped in half with a loud crink! and hit him in the forehead.
This contretemps, it seemed, caused Raider 1 to throw all rationality out of the window. Because Merlin barely had time to look surprised (and slightly disgruntled that a screwdriver just gave him a bump to the head) before Raider 1 cocked his weapon and shot.
I love cliffhangers. Please send the hate mails and threats via PM so other readers won't get scared off. Have a nice weekend!