Of course, he likes to think he has other talents, too. It only takes him five seconds to find virtually any file in the disaster area otherwise known as his cubicle at the volunteer center. He has been known to design sugar-packet towers of truly dizzying heights when bored. And he can tie a cherry stem into a double knot with his tongue. (He greatly enjoyed showing off the last one at parties, until Gwen gently informed him it was tantamount to offering blowjobs to complete strangers, and then he couldn't ever do it again in public without suffering a horrible, full-body blush from his feet to his ears. At least, not while sober.) It is, however, his talent at making the perfect cup of coffee that makes him the most proud. Especially because he gets paid for it.
"Single grande half-caf non-fat white mocha!" Merlin called out the order and snapped a lid over the steaming cup. He set it on the counter in front of the half-awake girl wearing a University of London sweater, then moved on to the bleary-eyed businessman. The Smithy (presumably named after the absentee owner, some over-excitable, flighty bloke named John Smith) walked the fine line between over-commercialized chain cafes and scary indie coffee houses that blasted Enya all day and were populated by nothing but hippie lesbians. As such, they had a relatively even mix of clientele, which made for a rather smooth (if slightly boring) workday. Merlin, however, simply liked the fact that they sold only organically grown coffee, and he got to drink it for free.
Merlin handed the tall plain latte to the grateful businessman and wiped his hands on his electric-blue apron. (Really, he suspected the color did more to shock the customers awake than their morning caffeine jolt.) He glanced at the steadily growing line of morning pre-caffeinated zombies, then at the clock above the espresso machine. "Shit!" he cursed, frantically pulling at the knot of his apron. It was stubbornly uncooperative, so Merlin opted to attempt removal over his head. It got caught first on his nametag, which was already tangled with the scarf around his neck, and then on one ear, but that was pretty much inevitable and par for the course. "Gwen! I'm really sorry, but I've got to go!" he called, trying to extricate his gangly limbs from their fight to the death with the blasted apron.
"Already?" Gwen called from the stock room, sounding rather harried. He guessed she still hadn't finished morning inventory. They were short staffed, and Merlin had come in early to help her out, but if he didn't leave right now, he'd be late.
"Yeah, sorry," he called again, but his voice was muffled by the tangle of blue material around his head. He finally managed to wiggle free only to find Gwen standing in front of him, her amused expression telling him that in its battle with the apron, his hair had likely lost spectacularly. He didn't care about that, however, because in each hand Gwen was holding 20 ounces of steamy, frothy goodness.
"I figured you and Lance could use a little pick-me-up before the protest," she smiled.
"Gwen, I could kiss you," he gushed, accepting her offering with the reverence it deserved.
She laughed. "Take my late shift next week, and we'll call it even. And remind that boyfriend of mine that our anniversary is tomorrow. Knowing Lance, he's probably forgotten and has plans that night to launch a personal crusade to save the spotted dolphins, or something."
"Done and done," Merlin replied cheerfully, making his way to the door. He managed five steps before Gwen's voice called out again, and when he turned she was waving a stack of bright orange pamphlets at him and shaking her head in exasperation. He grinned as she tucked them under his left elbow. "Gwen, you're a queen," he said brightly.
"Funny, I thought that was you," Gwen answered with a teasing twist of her mouth. "Now get moving! You're late as it is."
"Right. See you tonight!" He called over his shoulder, and then heroically prevented dropping everything in a colossal mess as he practically fell out the door in his haste.
Working at The Smithy may have paid Merlin's bills, but it wasn't Merlin's passion. That particular honour was reserved for Merlin's time spent volunteering for the United Kingdom Organization for the Restoration of Nature. The organization suffered the unfortunate and acronymicly-challenged nickname of UniKORN, but Merlin rather liked it, as evidenced by the fact that he had chosen to wear his favorite t-shirt to the rally. It was navy blue with the organization's stylized unicorn logo on the chest. The early autumn chill really necessitated that he wear something a bit more substantial, but Merlin was proud of his shirt. He'd won it for having the most signatures on the "Save the Water Vole" petition. Lance had one, too, and Merlin sometimes wondered how someone as glaringly hetero as Lancelot could wear the shirt without even a hint of irony. Merlin suspected it might have something to do with the way Lance regarded it more as a coat of arms, having practically taken an oath of fealty to uphold the code of UniKORN. Namely: to stop big companies like the Pendragon Corporation from stamping out all the wildlife in Britain.
As soon as the organization had learned that the Pendragon Corporation had plans to buy up a major plot of crucial, undeveloped natural land and was planning on turning it into a bloody shopping centre, of all things, the organization had done all they could to fight the sale. Lancelot had fought with his customary zeal for justice and Merlin had worked his magic behind the scenes (that is to say, fetching and filing and manning the phones, but he liked to think he was crucial to the operation), but still the sale had gone through. Today was the day the sale became final, thus the very public protest being held this morning in front of the Pendragon building.
Merlin readjusted the fliers under his arm, careful not to spill the piping hot coffees, and looked up to see the crosswalk light had changed. He stepped off the curb and caught sight of Lance rallying the crowd, waving over everyone's heads as he caught sight of Merlin. Merlin grinned back, eyes on Lance and, in typical Merlin fashion, forgetting to watch where he was going.
And that's when it all went to hell.
Two Weeks Notice (1/5)
Arthur stepped through the sleek glass door and into the gray London sunshine. Of course, with the day Arthur was having, it figured that the moment he stepped out of the office, his mobile rang. (Excalibur model, very pricey, and not even released to the public yet.) Just when Arthur thought his day couldn't get any worse, he looked at the caller ID and realized he was wrong.
Arthur contemplated not answering, but she'd know. His demonic witch of a step-sister seemed to know everything. It was damned creepy. He pressed the green talk button and before he even had a chance to utter his typical sarcastic greeting, Morgana's voice demanded clearly through the line, "Arthur, where do you think you're going?"
Arthur craned his neck and glared up towards the distant top floors of the high rise, where all of the executive offices of the Pendragon Corporation were located. "Bloody hell. How can you even see me from way up there?"
Morgana's smirk was audible. "I've tapped into my mystical visionary powers."
"So, you've hacked the CCTV feeds again."
"You still haven't answered my question."
"That's because it's still none of your business." Since he doubted Morgana could see his scowl on the security cameras, Arthur instead directed it to the crowd gathered in the courtyard in front of the Pendragon building. Bloody protesters.
"Arthur, is now really the time for another of your trysts?"
"Like you have room to talk. At least I keep my affairs out of the office." Mostly. There had been that one instance with Owain from Marketing. And that other disaster with Sophia.
Arthur frowned at the crosswalk light, willing it to change so he could make his escape. "Was there a point to this phone call, or are you just stalking me for the fun of it?"
"Actually, Uther wanted me to remind you about your 10:00 meeting with the zoning department."
Arthur groaned in the back of his throat. The only thing that kept Arthur from clenching his jaw hard enough to crack his teeth was that the light had finally changed. Quickly, he stepped off the curb and made a hasty escape. "I'm well aware of my duties, Morgana." This was the second time today that Uther had reminded him about the land development being finalized today—the project that Arthur, not his father, was in charge of overseeing. "Tell my father I'll be there," he sighed. Without so much as a goodbye, he clicked his phone shut, and was promptly drenched in two large cups of scalding hot coffee.
Arthur's yowl of pain was followed rapidly by an attempt to peel the soiled, Armani shirt away from his chest before it burned itself into his skin. "You…You idiot!" he roared, frantically checking his Excalibur to make sure it had miraculously survived the moron's bumbling thoughtlessness.
"Oh, my god. I am so sorry!" the idiot stammered. "I didn't mean to—I was just walking, and I wasn't—"
Arthur looked at the moron for the first time since the collision, casting him the most withering glare in his arsenal, the one that made even executive VPs cringe in fear. The idiot just stared back, blue eyes wide and apologetic under an unruly mop of black hair that did nothing to disguise his enormous ears. The boy was wearing some ridiculous unicorn t-shirt over his scrawny frame, and…dear god. Was that actually a neckerchief? Arthur didn't know fashion sense that bad even existed!
"I'll pay for the cleaning bill," the idiot said, still waving his hands in some bizarre manner apparently meant to convey either 'I'm sorry' or 'I'm about to have a seizure.' It was difficult to tell.
"You couldn't possibly afford the cleaning bill!" Arthur scoffed. "This shirt is worth more than your life." Without a moment's thought, he reached out and snatched the hideous scarf from the moron's neck and began using it to scrub futilely at the stain.
"I'm doing you a favor, trust me," Arthur said, still trying to manfully rescue his shirt from its inevitable doom.
"Look, you don't have to be such a prat," the idiot said, sounding decidedly less apologetic. "It was an accident, and my shirt's ruined, too!"
"Ha!" Arthur retorted, casting a disparaging glance at the ridiculous unicorn emblem. "You should be grateful that the fashion gods saw fit to—" But then Arthur got a good look at the shirt and paused. He glanced at the throng of protestors. Then he glanced back at the hideous shirt. Then he noticed, for the first time, the neon orange flyers scattered all over the middle of the street and drenched in the remains of the spilled coffee. "Oh my god!" he blurted. "You're one of them!"
"Them!" Arthur gestured emphatically at the swarm of people picketing his company and chanting and handing out more of those blindingly orange fliers. "Those crazy Greenpeace-Peta-whatever-you-call-yourselves reactionaries. That's you!"
The idiot crossed his arms peevishly. "We're called the United Kingdom Organization for the Restoration of Nature, actually."
"You're the ones who've been protesting my company all week!"
"Your company? What do you—" The man's eyes widened comically. "Oh. Oh god. You're Arthur Pendragon."
"Don't try to pretend like you don't know who I am after you just attempted to assault me during a protest! I could have you arrested!"
"Arrested? It was just a bit of coffee!"
"Yes. Boiling hot coffee. You nearly melted my skin off!"
But the moron wasn't even paying attention any more. He was busy staring at something over Arthur's shoulder. "Um, Arthur, I think we should—"
"Don't think. You're clearly not cut out for it," Arthur interrupted acidly. "You know, I've half a mind to call in the riot squad to put a stop to your pathetic protest, but attracting that kind of publicity would just be doing you lot a favor. If you thought for one second that my company would be cowed by some hare-brained assault obviously intended as an ill-conceived publicity stunt, then you are sadly mistaken!"
"Wait until my lawyers get a hold of this. Your pathetic organization won't know what hit you. You won't even see it coming!"
"Arthur!" the idiot shouted. Then he tackled Arthur to the pavement just as a huge red double decker bus rumbled past.
"Speaking of not seeing things coming…" the idiot griped, unnecessarily smug, and obviously unconcerned that he'd just struck Arthur's head against the asphalt. Arthur groaned, one hand coming up to gingerly cup the back of his own head. If there was blood and Arthur had to get the back of his head shaved for stitches, he was going to sue for irreparable psychological damage. He rather liked his hair. He worked hard to keep it this shiny.
He was relieved when he felt no blood oozing between his fingers, only the beginnings of a small lump. "If you're still trying to convince me this isn't an assault, you're doing a terrible job of it."
Arthur opened his eyes to meet an incredulous glare. "You have got to be the biggest prat I have ever met. I just saved you from being hit by a bus!"
"Don't expect that to keep me from pressing charges." And perhaps Arthur had hit his head a little bit harder than he initially thought, because when the idiot rolled his eyes in exasperation, Arthur was suddenly struck by how very bright blue they were. From there it was a natural progression to notice the pink mouth poised inches from his own, and the weight of the body pressing surprisingly comfortably against his chest, and when exactly had his hands settled against the man's hips?
The man seemed to realize their position at the same time as Arthur, but he didn't move away, and Arthur didn't move to shove him off. The moment hung heavy and awkward between them. And also, maybe Arthur was suffering from a bit of shock as well as the concussion, because very belatedly the realization slammed into him like…well, like a very bad pun. "Oh my god. I almost got hit by a bus!"
The idiot rolled off of him with an infuriated groan and Arthur suddenly remembered how to breathe. He prayed for unconsciousness, but he knew it wouldn't save him from his fate. He gave it a good hour or so before Morgana would have copies of the CCTV tapes of his near-death-experience and heroic rescue at the hands of the world's worst-dressed idiot circulating through the office like wildfire.
He'd never live this down.
And that was how, in a freak spat of gratefulness and generosity, Uther Pendragon wound up offering Merlin Emrys a job as Arthur's personal assistant.
"You're not going to take the job, are you?" Gwen said that night, eyeing Merlin hopefully from across the dining room table of the tiny apartment she and Lance shared. "I mean, obviously, you're not. The man's a bully, you've said so yourself. So, I mean, of course you're not taking it. Obviously." She paused, raising one dubious eyebrow. "Right?"
Merlin shrugged, trying not to look guilty and confused and inexplicably excited, but he was a terrible liar. Gwen gasped.
"Look, it's not like I'm going to turn into one of Pendragon's mindless yuppies, or anything. But I'll be working closely with the man in charge of the land development deal we've spent the last four months fighting. Maybe I can work out a way to convince him to call it off, or at least not build a bloody shopping centre in the middle of land that should be a nature reserve."
Gwen looked supremely unconvinced. "So, you'll be working from the inside. Like a spy."
What Merlin refrained from mentioning was the fact that in addition to being the head of the land development deal and the world's most pompous arse, Arthur Pendragon was also bloody gorgeous. Well, at least until he opened his mouth and any number of pratly things came tumbling out. Still, Merlin was not above admitting to himself that getting to see Britain's most eligible bachelor every day, up close, was one hell of a job perk. It might even make up for the fact that Merlin would be forced to put up with the man for longer than five minutes at a time.
But more than that, Merlin felt like this was something he had to do, like there was a reason behind it. He hated to start sounding like his mother and mentioning things like destiny and fate, but it wasn't every day that Merlin ran into potentially helpful and powerful men on the street. Well, okay, Merlin actually did run into people on a fairly regular basis, but none of them had ever been Arthur bloody Pendragon. There was no logical reason for Merlin to think he could change the man's mind , but he felt like he at least had to try.
Merlin's thoughts were interrupted when Gwen asked, "Merlin, are you sure you can manage something like that? Not that I don't think you could do it, or that I think you need to be MI5 material, or anything, because you're clearly not." Gwen's eyes widened and she rushed on, "I mean, um, that's good, that you're not, I mean. Because if you were MI5 material we'd never have met because you'd be doing something much better than working at The Smithy—not that it's not a good job, clearly, but it's better than skiving for a corporate bully. That is, um…" She looked desperate to shut herself up, and Merlin took pity on her.
"Lance, what do you think?" he asked hopefully.
Lancelot placed a hand gravely on Merlin's shoulder and said with only minimal sarcasm, "I think it's brave and admirable to venture into the belly of the beast. You will die a noble death."
Merlin sighed and faceplanted into the table.
On Merlin's first day at the Pendragon Corporation, he was kept waiting in the (giant and ostentatious) lobby for an hour. Apparently, Arthur was in a meeting or something. Merlin didn't mind. He wasn't exactly in a rush to start working for Executive Vice President Pratface. He had spent most of the time staring at the poster on the wall above the receptionist's head, which was apparently meant as a parody of those motivational posters he'd seen in similar office buildings. It showed a picture of the Great Pyramids and read underneath, Achievement: You can do anything you set your mind to when you have vision, determination, and an endless supply of expendable labor. Merlin had a sinking suspicion that the poster was not being used with the sense of irony that was intended.
He was actually starting to nod off when a gorgeous woman with long dark hair and a blazing expression burst into the room, walked up to him and said, "Arthur's an ass."
Merlin just boggled at her. "Er…" If she was expecting any argument from him, she'd certainly come to the wrong place. Besides, even if he'd wanted to object, it seemed all the sections of his brain previously designated for speech had been hijacked in the epic effort not to notice the spectacular cleavage visible in her low-cut blouse.
"He's not in a meeting," she clarified. "In fact, he's not doing anything right now except sulking in his office like a spoiled brat." She graced him with a smile that was both cunning and gleefully evil. "I'll just take you to see him, shall I?"
She turned on her expensive Italian heel and stalked off. Merlin could only assume he was meant to follow her. She led him down long corridors of shining glass and steel filled with bustling people dressed in designer suits. Merlin tugged at the suddenly too-tight collar of his own simple blue shirt and red tie, which he'd gotten off the sale rack at the local Primark. He was so busy trying to take everything in that he stumbled into her back when she stopped in front of a large, rather imposing reception desk. "Erm, sorry," he muttered.
She smiled, apparently finding his clumsiness more endearing than annoying. "This will be your desk," she said kindly. "I trust it suits your needs sufficiently?"
Merlin's eyes widened, taking in the massive desk that was bigger than his bed at home, the computer monitor the size of a flat-screen TV, and the rather comfortable looking leather chair. "Are you joking? I'd like to move in!"
Her lips curled wryly, and she gestured to the rather dramatic set of doors behind the desk. "You'll have to take that up with Arthur." Merlin stared at what he now assumed to be the doors to Arthur's office, and his heart sank. On one door was another large poster, this time of a magnificent, regal lion above the blazing word IMPORTANCE. Underneath, in stark white lettering, it read, Vanish from my sight, peons.
Right, so…definitely not ironic, then.
The woman completely ignored the message on the door and pushed them open without bothering to knock. Merlin had just enough time to take in the sight of a desk twice the size of Merlin's and an office the size of a small country before the high-backed chair swiveled around, and Merlin's vision was suddenly filled with only golden hair and vivid blue eyes framed by sleek wire-rimmed glasses. And really, Merlin should not still find the man as beautiful as he had when he'd first met him, now that he knew what an insufferable, infuriating arse he was.
"Morgana!" Arthur snapped. "Do you mind? I'm in the middle of—" He stopped, spotting Merlin in the doorway. "Oh," he said flatly. "It's you."
Arthur tried not to look surprised at the sight of his new assistant standing in his doorway, wearing an even more idiotic expression than the last time he'd seen the man. He would have expected the bloody moron to have stormed out of the reception area in a huff by now.
Morgana radiated smug satisfaction as she said, "I thought I'd take it upon myself to welcome your new protégé, since you couldn't be arsed to do it."
Arthur clenched his jaw. "He's not my protégé, he's my assistant. And don't you have more important things to do than go poking around my business? Though I don't really consider snogging half the staff important."
Morgana turned to his assistant and said genially, "Don't mind him, Merlin. He gets cranky when other people are getting laid more than him."
"What? It's the truth," she replied innocently.
"Just get out of here. I think you've been quite helpful enough for today." Arthur rather insistently walked her out of the office, pausing when they got to the door to eye Morgana's attire. At least that explained his new assistant's current slack-jawed state. "And for god's sake, Morgana, cover those up. He'll be absolutely useless to me if you destroy his brain with your breasts."
Morgana smirked and looked over Arthur's shoulder. "Relax, Arthur. It's not my ass he's staring at right now." Morgana exited with a flourish, and Arthur turned around sharply to catch the line of Merlin's gaze just before it flicked up to Arthur's face.
Merlin's face flushed pink and his eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "…Um," he started, and all it took was that one syllable before Arthur decided he really didn't want to deal with whatever clumsy explanation came tumbling from his new assistant's mouth.
"Right then," he interrupted. "I need these reports copied, collated and filed," he ordered, pointing to a massive stack of papers on his desk. "And try not to get lost on your way to the copy machine."
Merlin decided, later that day, when he was up to his armpits in shredded paper and had paper cuts all over his fingers and had ink stains all over his new tie, that either the copy machine was possessed by a furious army of Saxons or Arthur was an evil, sadistic bastard. Probably both, given that all Arthur had to say for Merlin's hours of hard work was a condescending, "My god, can't you manage anything right? You look like you got molested by a toner cartridge."
Halfway through the day, Arthur wondered why a crowd had assembled in the break room. He received his answer when he walked in to find Merlin tampering with the coffee machine.
In any other office, this probably wouldn't have been a public spectacle. In the Pendragon Corporation, however, they had the Lexus of all coffee machines, a bloody behemoth that cost more than Arthur made in a month and with enough bells and whistles that Arthur suspected the thing could launch satellites and take over the world, in addition to make coffee. It looked like a cross between the Death Star and the TARDIS controls. The thing even had levers. It had been a gift from a very grateful, very wealthy, and very eccentric client.
Right next to the beast sat a very small, very simple Mr. Coffee, because no one in the office had a bloody clue how to work the other damn thing.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Arthur bellowed, wondering if he'd arrived in time to prevent Merlin from inadvertently setting the self destruct and blowing the entire bloody building to kingdom come.
Merlin, however, just turned that idiotically blinding grin on him and said, "Relax, I'm a professional!" Then he pulled a lever and pressed a few buttons and the machine started making a truly terrifying noise. Merlin continued to blithely work the contraption as if channeling David Tennant, and with a great deal more twisting and shimmying of his hips than Arthur thought was strictly necessary. Arthur noticed nearly all of the women and a few of the men in the crowd were watching with avid interest. From the looks on their faces, it was as if Merlin was doing a bloody strip tease, not making a cup of coffee.
Abruptly, the noise shut off and Merlin turned, holding a steaming mug in his hand. He held it out to Arthur with a raised eyebrow and a grin that was entirely too smug for his own good. "Want the first taste?" he offered.
Arthur tentatively accepted the mug as if it contained nitro glycerin. After a moment's hesitation, he took his life into his hands and ventured a small sip. Then he took a larger one. Then he had to restrain himself from downing half the mug in one go.
"Admit it," Merlin said, grin practically splitting his face in two. "I'm brilliant."
Arthur frowned. "You're not completely useless, I suppose," he said, which the crowd apparently took as a ringing endorsement and began applauding Merlin like a conquering hero and clapping him on the shoulder in congratulations. Arthur noticed more than a few people's hands lingered longer than was really proper.
Arthur decided he would leave the Mr. Coffee for the general staff, but the other appliance would have to be moved into Arthur's private conference room, strictly for productivity reasons. It wouldn't do to have his assistant put on an impromptu Chippendale's show for the rest of the staff every time Merlin wanted a coffee for his break.
By the end of the day, Merlin felt like an extra on Shaun of the Dead. All he needed was a cricket bat lodged in his skull to go along with his raging headache. Arthur still looked as fresh and crisp as his designer suit.
"I trust you've already packed everything for the move?" Arthur asked, though it sounded more like a statement.
Merlin's sluggish brain struggled to make sense of that, but all he could come up with was, "Uh…what move?"
Arthur rolled his eyes heavenward, as if praying for divine patience. Merlin had been doing something similar all day. "The move out of your old flat, you twit."
Merlin suddenly felt much less tired. "I get a new flat?"
"Don't go getting too excited, it's just the spare bedroom. You'd be even more useless than you are now if I had to wait for you to drive across town whenever I needed you to do my laundry or clean my flat or cook my meals." He gazed at Merlin in confusion. "Didn't anybody tell you that you'd be moving?"
"No, they didn't," Merlin replied peevishly. "That's the kind of thing I expect you'd have your assistant tell me, except oh, wait, I'm your assistant." Then, belatedly, Merlin's brain came to a startling realization. "Wait, I'm supposed to live with you?"
Arthur looked about as happy about the concept as Merlin felt. "Didn't you bother to ask my father what this job entailed before you accepted? Your duties don't end when we leave the office. You're on call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. You have to do whatever I tell you, whenever I tell you to do it." He smirked, and it looked far too gleeful for Merlin's comfort. Merlin was suddenly reminded of the poster from this morning. The one about slave labor. "For example, we'll start with you clearing out the spare bedroom. After we go collect your things, of course."
Merlin sighed. At least it would be better than living in his mother's guest bedroom.
Arthur was absolutely no help with packing. He spent most of his time giving Merlin orders and making snide remarks. "UniKORN? Really?" he asked, spying the poster on Merlin's wall. "Really?"
Merlin wadded up a few more shirts and tossed them in the box. "I've told you before, that's the environmental organization where I volunteer. The ones who've been trying to stop your land development deal," he reminded irritably. Then he added, with a touch of pride, "The United Kingdom Organization for the Restoration of Nature."
Arthur eyed him skeptically. "And you call yourselves UniKORN."
Merlin sighed and taped the box shut. "Well, otherwise we'd be called UKORN, and that just sounds silly."
Arthur lived in the penthouse suite of the Camelot Hotel, one of his father's more profitable investments. Despite the name, this was no cheesy, themed hotel. There were no indoor jousting matches or Renaissance attired bellhops. Instead, the hotel capitalized on the splendor and grandeur inherent in the name. The stately lobby glittered with gold and crystal, gilt furniture was arranged under the massive chandelier, and ornate frescos decorated the expansive walls and arched ceiling. It was a palace truly worthy of its namesake. Arthur, however, didn't even bother to glance at his surroundings as he led Merlin through the large glass doors towards the lifts. He had to go back for his new assistant twice, since the idiot was too busy gaping in open-mouthed awe to bother walking more than five steps at a time.
Merlin's reaction to Arthur's penthouse was much the same, though the style of Arthur's décor was decidedly different from the old world splendor of the rest of the hotel. The flat occupied most of the top floor, its open floor plan interrupted only by Arthur's sleek, expensive furniture and the spiral staircase leading up to the roof. The only closed off portion was the two bedrooms on one side, leaving the other three walls open, their unbroken line of windows giving a panoramic view of the London horizon. It was the kind of set up that Arthur liked to think reflected his status and accomplishments; not so much a reward, as his rightful due for faithfully performing his duty to the company.
Upon entering, Merlin immediately dropped his belongings where he stood and rushed to one of the windows, pressing his nose to the glass as he took in the red and gold of the September sunset. Arthur frowned. He'd make sure Merlin cleaned off his nose and handprint smudges later.
"This is bloody brilliant!" Merlin exclaimed, his enthusiasm almost visibly seeping out his pores. He dashed around the flat, running an almost reverent hand over the leather of Arthur's sofa and poking shamelessly through the cupboards in his kitchen. Arthur bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from snapping about the invasion of privacy. Merlin may have no compunction about rifling through Arthur's flat as if it were his own, but it would take Arthur a while to get used to the fact that he was essentially being forced to share his private domain with a total stranger.
Arthur's musings were interrupted when Merlin called from the foot of the spiral stair, "What's up here?"
"That's the roof." Arthur had barely formed the words before Merlin was already shooting up the stairs as fast as his spindly legs could carry him, and Arthur was forced to follow. He emerged into the not-quite-fresh air characteristic of the heart of London and stopped to see Merlin looking like he'd just found the Holy Grail itself.
"This…this is amazing," he breathed, spinning in slow circles as if trying to take it all in at once. Arthur didn't see what was so fascinating about a giant, flat slab of concrete. "What are you planning to do with it?"
"Do with it?" Arthur asked, bemused.
Now it was Merlin's turn to look confused. "You have all this space! Surely you plan on using it for something!" He perused the area again, muttering mostly to himself, "Maybe a garden?"
Arthur was momentarily struck by the thought of himself with flowery gardening gloves and a trowel, hunched over azaleas like somebody's grandmother. "I hardly think I can find time in my busy schedule for gardening, Merlin. The only time I even come up here is when I need to take my helicopter."
Merlin's eyes got comically wide. "You have a helicopter?"
Arthur smirked, but didn't elaborate. "Would you like to see your new room?"
As it turned out, Arthur didn't have to worry about Merlin cleaning out the spare bedroom after all. Arthur wasn't sure he'd ever met anybody with so few possessions as his new assistant. His meager collection of clothes, mostly ratty t-shirts, barely took up an eighth of the closet space. It made Arthur inexplicably want to run out and buy the man at least five new suits. Arthur couldn't fathom how anyone could survive without the daily sensation of Armani against their skin.
The room was large and sparsely furnished, since Arthur rarely had overnight guests (well, at least not the kind who would be using the spare bedroom, in any case). He imagined the room would still look Spartan even after Merlin had managed to unpack all of his earthly belongings.
Then Merlin slapped his UniKORN poster up on the wall next to a specially commissioned Picasso replica, and Arthur thought that Spartan might be an improvement.
On Merlin's second day on the job, there was a ceramic unicorn figurine on his desk. He glared darkly at the doors to Arthur's office, but just as he was about to drop the figurine into his empty bottom drawer (or possibly the trash bin), he reconsidered. The last thing Merlin wanted to see was Arthur's smug, malicious grin when he spotted the unicorn on top of the rubbish pile. When Arthur came out to give Merlin his instructions for the day, he spared an incredulous glance for the figurine's prominent display next to his monitor, but he didn't comment.
Merlin ran all of the errands on Arthur's list, polished his shoes, picked up his dry cleaning, and battled the demonic copy machine for the better part of an hour. Whatever spare moments Merlin had were normally spent trying to bring up the land development deal, but Arthur either ignored him or made inane comments like asking if UniKORN only hired virgins. Merlin responded by not-quite-accidentally spilling coffee all over Arthur's finance reports.
The next day, Merlin sighed when he spotted three more unicorn figurines on his desk.