Title: We Need to Talk About Arthur [Part 5]
Rating: PG-13 (this part)
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Merlin/Gwaine, Merlin/Edwin
Character/s: Merlin, Gwaine, Arthur
Summary: Arthur is acting weirder than usual. Morgana refuses to get involved. Meanwhile, Merlin wants his best friend back (and maybe more besides), but that's easier said than done.
[ Prequel | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | AO3 | Sequel ]
Warnings: Brief mentions of infidelity, stalking, criminal behaviour.
Word Count: 1200 words.
Prompt: 296 Revelation.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to kitty_fic, without whose encouragement and assistance I would still be staring at a blank doc at 3am.
“Jesus Christ, Arthur, you scared me half to death,” Merlin bursts out, catching himself at the last second with a hand on the wooden doorframe. Arthur stares back at him from the entranceway, for a moment looking as nonplussed as Merlin feels. Then his eyes flick past Merlin to Gwaine, and the startled expression vanishes, replaced with something carefully blank as he steps aside to let them pass.
“Sorry,” he says, holding up a USB stick and avoiding Merlin’s gaze. “Had to pick up some files for tomorrow. I wasn’t expecting you to be back so early.”
There’s no judgment in his tone that Merlin can discern, but the implication that he had timed his visit specifically to avoid Merlin’s presence makes him flush. “I didn’t offer you that spare key so you could give me a heart attack, you know,” Merlin says, a little more snippily than he’d intended. He can see Gwaine’s eyebrows rise from the corner of his eye, but for some reason Arthur’s mouth twitches.
“It really was an emergency, I promise,” he says. “I needed a copy of an old file for an urgent meeting, but it's been deleted from the server. I knew you’d have kept a back up, so…” He trails off with a shrug, and his gaze lingers on Gwaine, who hasn’t moved from his spot behind Merlin, one hand still resting on Merlin's lower back. “Anyway, don’t let me keep you. I’ve got what I came for, so I’ll just—”
“Wait,” Merlin blurts, then stops, realising he has no idea what to say. “Who—who are you meeting with? I didn’t think you had anything scheduled for tomorrow.” He's acutely aware of how awkward the situation is, but there is also the nagging feeling that he can’t just let Arthur leave, not when he clearly has the wrong idea. “Tell me what you were looking for, and I'll go through my laptop in case there are any other files you might need.”
“No, it’s fine.” Arthur waves the USB again. “My father needs to see me about something, that's all, and I really want to make sure that I’m prepared.”
“Oh.” Merlin deflates a little. “Okay, then. I’ll see you on Monday, I guess.”
“See you Monday,” Arthur agrees, and with a nod to Gwaine, he steps out the door. Merlin watches him half-jog down the front steps of the building, a sense of unease churning in his gut that is only partly to do with Arthur’s stand-offishness. It’s not entirely unusual for Uther Pendragon to drag his son in to work on the weekend, certainly, but it is unusual for Arthur to misplace important files, and even more so for him to travel half-way across town to retrieve them.
“Charming fellow, isn’t he?” Gwaine drawls over Merlin’s shoulder, sounding amused. “Positively scintillating.”
“He’s not usually like that,” Merlin defends him, still frowning in the direction in which Arthur had disappeared. “Not to me, anyway. It’s just…like I told you, he’s been really stressed about work, and things have been weird between us since Valentine’s Day.”
“Hmm. I wonder why that could be.”
“What do you mean?” Merlin asks, turning to him with narrowed eyes.
“Nothing.” Gwaine shakes his head. “The two of you deserve each other, that’s all.”
He grins and tweaks Merlin’s nose when Merlin glowers at him.
“I should get going,” he says regretfully, and the reluctance in his voice might have been flattering if Merlin weren’t still so preoccupied by Arthur’s behaviour. “Much as I would love to pick up where we left off, I make a point not to get involved with people who are taken.”
“Mate.” Gwaine stops him with a look. “Whatever you call it, you and Pendragon clearly have the kind of convoluted history that would take several decades and a couple of psychiatrists to sort through. And I’m really not looking for something that complicated.”
“Fair enough.” Merlin musters a weak smile. He should probably be happy that Gwaine isn’t mad at him, under the circumstances, and it’s not as if he were intending this to be a serious fling, but after Arthur’s cold reaction, getting the brush-off from Gwaine kind of stings.
“We can still be friends, though, right?” Gwaine offers, after a moment. “I haven’t finished explaining to you how very screwed up your priorities are, choosing a pooch over Hugh Jackman.”
“Sure,” Merlin says, and this time his smile is more genuine. “I’d like that.”
“Great.” Gwaine waves at him as he steps back out the door, turning around after a few steps to yell over his shoulder, “And you will tell me when you realise you’re far too good for Pendragon and want to give me a second chance, yeah?”
Merlin can’t help snorting out a laugh. “Fuck off, Gwaine,” he calls back. “I could never date a man who would justify leaving an innocent puppy to die.”
Merlin doesn’t hear from Arthur again all weekend, although he and Gwaine strike up a running conversation via text which helps to sustain him over the two Arthur-less days that follow. It’s thanks to Gwaine’s prodding and poking that Merlin eventually gives in and goes to the pub with him and his mates, and to his surprise they end up having a fabulous time.
It isn’t exactly what he’d had in mind when he’d asked Gwaine out on that date, but maybe it’s a step in the right direction. Maybe he is still all tangled up over Edwin, and maybe it’s a good idea to get some space from Arthur for a bit, until he can put things into perspective. Either way, when he walks into the Pendragon building on Monday morning, Merlin feels like his luck might finally be changing after all.
“Have a good weekend?” he asks Morgana cheerfully, when she enters the lift on the eighth floor. “Did you and Morgause manage to catch that film you were talking about?”
“No, we didn’t.” Morgana’s mouth thins, her fingers tightening on the stack of folders in her arms. “My father called us in on Saturday and kept us here all bloody weekend.”
“Oh right, yeah, I heard about that.” Merlin glances at her sidelong, wondering if he dares press for more information. Arthur will probably tell him everything once he gets upstairs, but Morgana sounds like she needs to vent, and there are only the two of them in the lift. “What was it about, anyway? Arthur would only say that it was urgent.”
Morgana sets her jaw, a gesture that reminds him uncannily of her brother. “I can’t tell you,” she says, voice tight. “And before you ask, those are Arthur’s orders, not mine. He’ll want to see you in his office as soon as you get upstairs.”
“Okay,” Merlin says slowly, his earlier optimism fizzling out with a pathetic pffut. “Morgana, is something wrong? With the company? Or—” God forbid. “—with Arthur?”
“Arthur’s fine,” Morgana says, her face softening infinitesimally. “But, well. The company might not be.” She hesitates, then makes an oh, screw it gesture with her free hand. “We think someone at Pendragon’s might be working for Essetir.”