It was rather crowded, not to mention cramped, around the bowl of water that had been placed on the table of the meeting room, so Arthur kept his distance. He didn't feel comfortable around these people. He never had and now he doubted he ever would.
Because this was just wrong. There was no other word for it. Harry had agreed that they would not secretly spy on Lucas's next meeting at the Senior Case Officer's insisting. He had argued that Hogan and Morgana would be aware of the possibility and he really needed them to trust him if they were going to make this work. Arthur understood that, as did Ros.
The Section Chief too was standing a little aside, arms folded across her chest and a dismissive scowl on her face, the very image of disapproval. As it was she who was his only real ally in this, the only one who still believed that Lucas was still on their side. He had no idea what her motives were, but he would not question them, not when he wasn't sure of his own.
Oh, who was he fooling? He knew exactly why he was doing this. Lucas was like a friend to him, even when the spook kept insisting he didn't do friends. But Arthur remembered that Lucas had been the only one that first night who had treated Merlin and him as equals, not as if they were too stupid to understand this day and age. Oh well, Jo hadn't been too bad either, but she had been too busy with Merlin to talk to Arthur. Lucas had taken it upon himself to take the king under his wing, helping him to adapt to this place, letting him stay in his home and guiding him through that horrible operation that had so nearly gone fatally wrong. For all intents and purposes they were friends.
And his friend was out there, risking his life while the rest of them went along and broke about every promise they ever made to him. It was as infuriating as it was unfair.
The spell that Merlin had cast upon the water also enabled them to hear what was being said. So Arthur did hear what Morgana told Lucas about him and he heard the spook agreeing to delivering him to the dynamic duo, as Ros mockingly called them, but it was all an act. Surely the others must know that as well? So their shocked hissing and gasping felt completely out of place and unjustified. Could they honestly not see what was so painfully obvious to the king of Camelot?
'What on earth is wrong with you?' he demanded, unable to keep the anger inside any longer. 'Wasn't it the point of this operation that he pretended to be an actual traitor?'
The meeting had as good as ended anyway, so Merlin put an end to the spell. And now about every officer of Section D turned their head in Arthur's direction, most of them giving him incredulous looks, as if asking him if he was even in his right mind.
But as far as Arthur knew, he was and this distrust against Lucas was making him feel positively livid with rage. There was nothing wrong at all with questioning their attitude towards this operation. All of them had agreed to it, so they shouldn't be going back on it now, not when Lucas was doing such an excellent job of it.
It was silent for some time, but in the end it was Merlin who spoke first. 'Arthur, he just agreed to hand you over to them.'
Arthur snorted. Just when Merlin had become so protective of him was not yet clear to him, but he did know it was starting to annoy him, a lot. 'What else did you want him to do, Merlin?' he inquired. 'Tell them to go to hell with all their evil schemes?' At the moment he couldn't care less that he was stealing one of Ros's phrases.
'He betrayed my secret.' The warlock's tone was full of hurt and Arthur guessed that this was the honest reason why he was so wary of Lucas.
'I know that, Merlin.' The irritation started to boil over and he knew he sounded like the arrogant prince he had once been, but right now he could not care less. 'But he already explained he didn't have much of a choice in that anyway, didn't he?'
Merlin's eyes sparked with a rage that didn't seem to suit him at all. 'He could have told us, though, couldn't he?' The air all but crackled with anger and Arthur suddenly wondered if it would be dangerous to enrage a sorcerer.
But it was the very least of his worries. 'You're hardly the one to complain about people keeping secrets,' he threw back. The words surprised him. He had accepted Merlin's magic, hadn't he? He had not made a fuss about it and in all honesty, he didn't want to either. But somewhere deep down there was this nagging feeling of hurt that the servant had not trusted him enough to confide in him. That was the real thing that hurt here and now, with tempers already on an all-time low and both of them still practically running on coffee and adrenaline, it all came bursting out.
Because this was what Arthur's problem really was. It wasn't the fact that Merlin had magic; it was the fact that he had obviously not trusted Arthur with the knowledge of it. He had only learned of it when there had been no other choice and that hurt, more than Arthur was willing to admit even to himself. He had believed that they were friends, that he knew Merlin as well as the servant knew him.
And now it turned out that he didn't know him at all. Not only was there the magic, that was pretty much impossible to overlook now, but there was also a darker side to Merlin that Arthur had never dreamed would be there. Merlin was many things in his opinions: clumsy, good-humoured and sometimes downright rude, but never that, never dark. Yet here that side was, out in the open for everyone to see. He had all but wished for Morgana's death and he was far too quick to believe the worst about Lucas as well. Arthur didn't doubt that Merlin's intentions were good – because it was next to impossible to not see his devotion to the king – but it didn't help that he started seeing enemies practically everywhere.
It frightened Arthur, that protectiveness. It gave him the feeling of being suffocated, being kept in some kind of cage while other people did the dirty work. And that was not the kind of man Arthur Pendragon wished to be.
'I was just trying to keep you safe, you dollophead!' Merlin too spoke in a harsher voice than usual, undoubtedly the result of the demanding operation and a serious lack of sleep.
'I can look after myself,' Arthur snapped back. He realised they were getting off topic and quickly returned to his main point. 'And you're wrong about Lucas. Good grief, Merlin, you've worked with him, didn't you? Shouldn't you know better?' Taken into consideration that Merlin himself had on one more than one occasion been very creative with the truth, he of all people should know that telling lies was a necessary part of the job he did. Admittedly it all was a bit different in this century, but surely the basics were the same?
'Then you should have seen his darker side as well,' the warlock countered, earning him several confirming nods, although some were reluctant, from the team. Only Ros was still on Arthur's side, it would seem.
'Is that the pot calling the kettle black?' he inquired mockingly. He could hardly even believe they were having this discussion. 'You haven't heard me accusing you of being on Morgana's side, despite the fact that you have magic, have you?' He supposed that could be seen as a below the belt remark, but he could not care less. The unfairness of the situation was getting to him badly.
Merlin's eyes sparked in rage and for a moment Arthur thought he saw a flash of gold in them. But it was only a moment and then it was gone again. 'You're not exactly an expert at detecting traitors,' he sneered, all politeness long since forgotten. 'You only admitted Morgana's treason when she took Camelot, didn't you?'
Merlin might as well have physically hit him. Arthur staggered back, staring at his servant in shock. And by the looks of it Merlin had shocked himself with his bold words as well.
Something had changed between them in that moment. Arthur was not good with subtleties at all, but this was hardly subtle. Somehow this moment marked the end of the relationship as they had known it so far. It had been threatening to come to this ever since Arthur had found out about the servant's magic and now the moment was here. Before now they had been master and servant. But ever since Arthur had accepted the younger man's magical powers they had been equals, even if they didn't act like it. They both were powerful in their own right, albeit in another way. It would be unrealistic for them to continue as they had before. But that didn't mean Arthur liked it or accepted it, at all. And now a line had just been crossed.
But he was lost for words, Merlin's poisonous remark having robbed him of the ability to speak. And so he left, the only thing he could come up with. He all but ran out of the meeting room. It was hard to slam these doors, but he slid them shut with as much force as he could manage to land the message home.
He had no idea where he should even go, so in the end he settled for his own desk. He could hear the others following him out hardly a minute later, but he had no desire for company just yet, so he grabbed the nearest file and lost himself in its contents.
Dealing with reports was something he could actually do. Being the king of Camelot required that he sometimes spent entire days reading the blasted things. And it would be a welcome change to do something useful. Since he was not permitted to leave Thames House, his usefulness had been drastically reduced and Arthur wasn't used to doing nothing. It just didn't suit him.
He was already halfway through the first paragraph when he realised it was Lucas's file he was reading. The king had no idea how it had ended up on his desk. He hadn't put it there himself anyway. But whoever it was that had put it there, he was grateful to them, because it meant he was provided with the opportunity to get to know a little more about Lucas. He had a feeling he would be needing that kind of information before this was all over.
'Interesting read?' Arthur was only startled when someone placed a cup of coffee in front of him. His gaze shot up and he found himself staring into the seemingly emotionless eyes of Ros Myers.
He nodded. 'Did you put it there?'
He was rewarded with the smallest of nods. 'I thought you had a right to know,' she told him brusquely. He heard what she didn't say. He had a right to know because he was one of the few that still supported him and they would need all the information he could get to keep doing that. Because that was how conflicts were decided here: whoever knew most, was most likely to come out victorious. He supposed that the same was also true for Camelot, although to a lesser extent.
'You don't believe he is a traitor either, do you?' He knew he was treading on thin ice here – because this question was probably far more personal than she was comfortable with – but he needed to know for sure.
Again she replied with a nod. 'Why do you?' she demanded.
He snorted. 'I am not a naïve idiot,' he defended himself, knowing the Section Chief took him for one.
'I never said you were, did I?' One eyebrow went up in a quizzical manner, reminding the king strongly of a physician he knew well. Her stare made him feel quite uncomfortable. His father had been capable of as icy a stare as she.
He glanced back at the report. 'He is just not a traitor,' he managed in the end. Realising just how naïve that sounded, he added: 'It says here that he was tortured for eight years without breaking. It just wouldn't make sense for him to betray his country within hardly an hour's time after that.'
The smallest hint of a smile graced Ros's features, as if he was a student that had answered a question correctly.
That made him wonder, though. 'Why do you believe him?' he questioned.
But that was a bridge too far. For some reason this question had been a little too personal. The shutters came down immediately and the smile disappeared. 'None of your bloody business,' she all but snapped. 'I just do.'
There had to be more to it than that, but Arthur did value his life and he kept his silence. The last few days had taught him more wisdom and tact than his entire life in Camelot. Or maybe that was just the natural result of being thrown in all this mess. He didn't really know and he couldn't really care either. All he knew was that if he survived this he would come out stronger and wiser, although that seemed a small consolation if he took the recent events into account.
'So,' he began, a little hesitantly. 'We are allies?'
Ros seemed to be about to slap that down, but then changed her mind. 'Allies,' she agreed, even though she spoke the word as if it was some kind of disease, something she would have had avoided if given the chance.
'I'll try to keep that idiot in check,' he replied by way of a peace offering.
The Section Chief's face had gone back to its unreadable expression. 'You'd better,' she threatened.
She had left before Arthur had gotten the chance to react, leaving him with the file and the coffee.
Section D seemed to have split into two camps, Merlin observed when they had all been gathered in the meeting room again. One of the camps was on Lucas's side and this was the smallest camp, made up by Ros, Arthur and Lucas himself. The other camp consisted of the rest of the team and was obviously not as charmed by Lucas's actions.
They were seated on opposite ends of the table. Ros and Arthur had made it their job to take a seat on either side of the Senior Case Officer, trying and failing to make that look perfectly coincidental. Connie, Jo and Ben were occupying the other side of the table, leaving Harry and Merlin to sit at the heads of the table. The only one absent of the core team here was Malcolm, who had gotten all touchy-feely with his computer again, doing something with the CCTV. Or at least that was what the warlock thought he had been saying. There had been so many complicated words thrown in with the explanation that Merlin had soon lost track of what he was saying. The fact that no one else seemed to understand him either had made Merlin feel slightly better about himself.
But right now Malcolm was the very least of his worries. He had far more pressing matters to concern himself with, like a traitor on the Grid and his recent fight with Arthur. Lucas did not worry him too much. He knew that he could easily deal with the man if the situation asked for it. It was Arthur that had him really stressed right now. Merlin knew it was his job to keep the king safe. It was his destiny and nothing could ever make him doubt that, not anymore. But Arthur was far too naïve, trusting and stubborn for his own good. Would it really kill him to at least admit the danger he was in? And Lucas was only making it even worse. Arthur should be suspicious of him, even if he could obviously not bring himself to hate the man.
But Merlin couldn't blame him for the lack of hate. He was as of yet incapable of feeling that himself. The situation was far too much like the situation with Morgana for that. He remembered all too well what that had been like. Like Lucas, factors that she had no control over had made her betray everyone she had previously loved. In a way both Morgana and Lucas were victims of a horribly unfair situation. It did, however, not change the fact that they both presented a real danger to both Camelot and Britain. Being held back by his feelings was not going to help them. No matter how it pained him, he had to be firm in this.
He realised only that he had missed a part of the conversation, when the calm and composed voice of Lucas pulled him out of his musings. The Senior Case Officer was apparently answering a question either Harry or Ros had just asked him.
'There is not much news.' Lucas rubbed his chin. He was pale and had dark circles under his eyes, giving every impression of exhaustion. 'Hogan took the passport, threatened with dire consequences if we didn't deliver the money to him as well. Morgana isn't too pleased either. She apparently expects us to deliver visiting royalty to her without as much as a second thought.'
Arthur huffed. 'That's Morgana for you.'
The hint of a smile was visible on Lucas's face. 'She is rather demanding,' he admitted. 'And she has her sights set on the pair of you.'
So far he had been remarkably truthful, something that in all honesty surprised Merlin. But then, this man had years of experience in this game. He might be planning to give them only the bare minimum and keep the really important information to himself. This did not mean that he was on their side and Merlin would rather die than let his guard down.
'And what did you say?' he questioned.
Lucas laughed and leaned back in his chair. 'I told them I'd give you to her, of course.'
There was nothing of course in that and Merlin was about to tell him that, but Arthur was quicker. The king of Camelot had been in a very bad mood ever since they had spied on the meeting and it had gradually gotten worse, its climax in the shouting match about an hour ago. Merlin had gone over to Arthur's temporary desk after Ros had finished her conversation with Arthur, but the Once and Future King had pretended that he didn't see his servant. He had kept his eyes on the file he was reading and didn't even acknowledge the other's presence. And when Merlin had tried to get his attention by calling his name, the only reaction had consisted of a snapped and very irritable 'Can't you see I'm busy, Merlin?'
And things hadn't exactly improved since then. Arthur now sat in his chair, a scowl on his face that seemed an exact copy of Harry's most disapproving stare. 'We know,' he said loudly.
A deathly quiet settled over the team as every head swivelled in his direction. Arthur, don't do this, Merlin begged with his eyes. The situation was bad enough as it was.
Arthur either didn't see or didn't care. 'We spied on the meeting,' the king clarified in reply to Lucas's quizzical look. 'With Merlin's bowl of water. Because some people here don't seem to think you can manage without constant supervision.' The disapproval of this course of action was clear as daylight. It was in his posture, his eyes and in his voice. Only a fool would have missed it.
And Lucas, although not a fool, did not react to it. Not to Arthur at least. In a matter of seconds at least a dozen emotions flashed in his eyes, even as his face remained calm. In the end it stuck with an angry distrust that sent cold shivers down Merlin's spine. When he looked like this no doubts could remain. This man was dangerous, very much so and the warlock had been wise not to underestimate him.
'Distrust!' he spat the word out as if it was the single most disgusting thing in the world. 'I suppose this tells me all I need to know about whether or not you trust me, Harry.'
The head of the section looked like his officer had physically hit him, but he met his glare with ease. 'I did what I had to,' he replied. 'You were out on a limb there, Lucas. We needed to keep an eye on you in case they decided to harm you.' Harry's tone was filled with an almost fatherly concern.
And that was part of the reason why they had acted as they had, even if it wasn't the entire truth. And Lucas knew that. 'Don't,' he warned. 'Don't you dare lie to me, Harry.'
'Lucas…' Harry tried again.
This time it was the other man that slammed his fist on the table. 'No, don't you dare. You don't trust me. You can at least be honest to me about it.' The tone was both angry and cajoling now, an unspoken plea for trust. 'You didn't think I'd tell you everything about that meeting.' The anger had completely taken over now. 'Is that why you weren't exactly in a hurry to get me out of Russia either?'
A collective gasp was the result of those snarled words. Harry was looked like he had seen a ghost and Merlin understood at least part of the reason for that. He had already learned that Lucas's time in prison was a difficult subject. There was a lot of hurt there, at least enough to make Lucas a credible candidate for defection, a bit too credible even. It had however never been spoken like that.
And Merlin didn't know why he did it, but he stepped in. Harry was after all not too bad. Merlin respected him and his motives, even if he wasn't too fond of the man and his manners. 'He means it,' he said quickly.
Lucas now turned his attention to him. 'Is it true?' he demanded.
Something told him this had nothing to do whatsoever with the current subject. 'Is what true?'
'You poisoned her.' It was more of an accusation than a question.
And Lucas was not the only one looking at him anymore. The entire team now stared at him. And Merlin was really not sure he was comfortable with that. This was a subject that he hoped would never come up, not only because of the horror of it, but because he could hardly face himself. Poisoning Morgana was the worst thing he had ever done in his life, and that was saying a lot. She had trusted him and he had tricked her into drinking that poison. By now he was convinced she hadn't had a clue at the time; she had not known she was the one that was causing the entire population to fall asleep, although she may have come to suspect it at some point. She had been alone and scared out of her wits, but instead of trying to explain the situation to her, he had poisoned her.
The worst thing about that was maybe that he did not regret his actions, not really. It had been a choice between Morgana and all of Camelot. It had not been much of a choice. He knew which one should come first, no matter how it broke his heart. But he had hoped that at least these people would understand. It would seem he had been wrong.
'That's beside the point,' he replied stiffly in the end. He couldn't talk about it, he just couldn't.
'Good grief.' The shocked words came from Arthur. 'You did, didn't you?' Shock was evident on his face, along with that look of betrayal that Merlin had so long been dreading.
Lucas, next to him, was as disgusted. 'You sanctimonious bastard,' he hissed. The words felt like a physical attack, forcing Merlin deeper into his chair. 'You dare accuse me when your own actions caused her to become what she is now? How dare you?' The man's fists clenched and unclenched.
The realisation that this was exactly what he had already feared made his chest hurt. There was so much anger, so much hurt and resentment. Merlin had seen it all before. He had seen it and he had made all the wrong choices back then. But not this time. This time he would make sure the danger was stopped before it was allowed to grow. Arthur would be safe, even if it meant the king would hate him for it. It was the only way.
'You are on her side,' he threw back. Somewhere in the back of his mind he registered the shocked reactions from the rest of the team, but they didn't seem to matter. 'You never planned to just pretend to work with her. You already are.'
'Merlin…' The warning voice could have belonged to anyone. He didn't pay them any attention.
'But you won't get him,' he went on, his gaze fixed on the traitor, who met his eyes with as icy a look Merlin had ever seen. 'Whatever it takes, I will stop you.'