Title: We Need to Talk About Arthur [Part 6]
Rating: G (this part)
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Merlin/Edwin, Merlin/Gwaine
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Morgana
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 and manipulation; some criminal behaviour.
Word Count: 1000 words.
Prompt: 297 Longing.
Author's Notes: The thick plottens!
Arthur is already waiting for them when Merlin and Morgana reach his office, pacing the carpeted floor with his head bent. He jumps a little when Morgana pushes the door open, his eyes flying immediately to Merlin’s face. Merlin has no idea how to interpret his expression.
“I told him,” Morgana announces, flouncing over to Arthur’s chair and dropping into it. Merlin sits down across from her, almost smiling when he sees Arthur’s wince—he hates it when Morgana steals his chair—but the situation is too dire for it to last long. “Well, I told him some of it. I thought I’d leave the details to you.”
Arthur folds his arms and scowls at her. “You shouldn’t have told him anything,” he says, sounding cross. “If word of this gets out—”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Arthur,” Morgana cuts in. “You don’t believe it was Merlin any more than I do, and it’s not as if he’s had the chance to run off and blab about it; I’ve been right beside him the whole way here.”
“Wait a minute.” Merlin glances from one sibling to the other, his mouth dropping open. “You thought I’d—”
“Of course not,” Morgana says, glaring at her brother. “We know you’d never do something like that. Don’t we, Arthur.”
Arthur can’t seem to look at him, which to Merlin’s mind is as good as a denial. He swallows hard, blinking past the sting of hurt at the back of his eyelids.
“Right,” he says, his voice wobbling. “I see.”
“Merlin, no.” Arthur turns to him in a moment, taking a swift step forward before he catches himself. “Of course we don’t think it was you. Just.” He’s biting his lower lip, hard, something Merlin has only seen him do a handful of times. “Well. Did you ever talk about your work with Edwin? Maybe give him access to your computer, even just to check his email?”
“Of course not!” Merlin glares at him, indignant. “I signed the non-disclosure agreement, just like everybody else! I’m not about to hand over confidential files!”
“It’s only,” Arthur continues doggedly, showing no sign of having heard, “that the leaks began shortly after you broke up with him, and we all know that Edwin is—close to Sophia, who used to work for Cenred King. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that he might be working with her to pass along anything he found out.”
Which would imply that it had all been a set-up from the start: his meeting with Edwin, their relationship, all of it. The thought makes Merlin feel sick.
“Edwin never touched my laptop,” he says, his voice flat. "He didn't."
“Not even when he stayed the night at yours?” Arthur presses. He is definitely avoiding Merlin’s gaze now, a muscle in his jaw jumping, but Merlin can tell he’s waiting for an answer. “He couldn’t have opened it while you went to the bathroom, or into the kitchen, or—”
“I don’t know, okay!?” Merlin explodes, surging up out of his chair to pace the office in two quick strides. He turns around to face the two of them, not bothering to keep his voice down. “I don’t fucking know! You haven’t even told me what information has been leaked!”
Arthur and Morgana exchange a glance.
“Merlin, we can’t,” Morgana says, surprisingly gently. “What matters is that only a few people had access to the details. You, me, Arthur, and maybe a handful of others.”
“Then maybe one of them did it!”
“My father has checked into most of them already,” Arthur says, looking uncomfortable. “He found nothing to connect anyone, however tenuously, to Cenred or to Essetir. Except for you.”
Merlin stares at him with incredulity, still waiting for some kind of punchline. However rocky things have been between them lately, he can’t believe Arthur would simply assume Merlin had sold them out. Or perhaps Arthur merely thinks that he’s an idiot—that much, unfortunately, Merlin can easily accept. He’s not sure he can even be angry about it, since it’s beginning to look like he’s more of a hopeless fool than even Arthur had supposed. His shoulders slump in defeat. At least now he understands the reason for Arthur's late nights at the office, but he finds he can’t be pleased about it.
“We’ll speak to Uther,” Morgana says, after a long silence. “He can’t sack you for something Edwin did, if it even was Edwin in the first place. At worst, all you did was trust someone you shouldn’t have, and it’s hardly the first time that’s happened to someone at this company.”
She seems determined to defend him, which Merlin appreciates, but it’s Arthur that he can’t seem to look away from. For once, Arthur doesn’t flinch at his sister’s dig about Sophia, ignoring her angry ranting to step closer to Merlin.
“Go home, Merlin,” he says softly, and for a moment they are the only two people in the room. “Take the day. We’ll figure out who did this, I promise.”
His hand lingers for a moment on Merlin’s shoulder as he passes, his thumb sliding briefly against the bare skin of Merlin’s neck and beneath the collar of his shirt before letting go. It’s a perfunctory touch, too fleeting to properly qualify as sensual, but it’s the first between them in god only knows how long, and perhaps for that reason the wave of longing that envelops him takes Merlin completely by surprise. He sucks in a sudden breath, grateful when Arthur seems not to notice, and doesn’t let it out again until the other man has left, swinging the office door shut behind him. Then Merlin exhales loudly and slumps back into his chair, one hand covering his eyes.
Had it been only a few minutes ago that he had felt like his luck was taking a turn for the better? Because from where he stands now, he’s pretty sure his life is royally fucked.