Arthur bravely tried to ignore Morgana as she swept into his office and perched herself on the desk beside him, the sharp heels of her Louboutins swinging dangerously close to his person. Unfortunately Morgana was impossible to ignore and Arthur was wise enough not to try.
"Come on, Arthur," she said in a tone that Arthur knew meant business. "I want to hear how it went last night."
"It was hideous if you must know," Arthur replied, pushing his reading glasses up his nose and pretending a great interest in his computer screen even as all the words blurred into one great big blob before his eyes. "Vivian had had some sort of fender bender on the way home with the one of our vans and spent the whole evening snivelling about it as though it was a six way pile up. She's set Olaf on me – he wants heads to roll for anyone daring to scratch his little darling's car, which is just what I need." He'd only been in the job three weeks and he didn't want the first person he had to fire to be because Olaf had his knickers in a twist.
Arthur was the new head of HR at Camelot, the vast company his father had built from scratch that he and Morgana were now thirty percent shareholders of each. His appointment to the role had gone down like a lead balloon with his direct reports who had undoubtedly been grooming themselves for the job when Aredian retired. They hadn't bargained on the boss' son swooping in and snagging the job and Arthur had heard them bitching in the gents. Of course, they made nice to his face because of his surname, and in some ways Arthur couldn’t blame them for being bitter. The thing they didn't seem to appreciate was that Arthur was more than qualified for the job and had cut his teeth working two years in another company's HR department before moving to another company where he'd gone from HR Business Partner to department manager in three years. He had always planned to join Camelot in the end, he’d just wanted to have experience of working elsewhere first.
He was way above disciplining employees, that was the job of the HR Business Partner responsible for the depot in question, but if he didn't report something back to Olaf, he'd be sure to tell Uther and Arthur could do without that hassle in his first month.
"So love is blossoming? Is the lovely Vivian to become Mrs Arthur Pendragon?" Morgana teased, ducking out of the way when Arthur reached out to poke her for her nerve.
"I'd sooner marry Catrina," Arthur shuddered, referencing their much hated ex step-mother. "When I didn't show the required amount of sympathy over the accident Vivian called me an uncaring oaf and ignored me until coffee. Do you know, I actually heard Father and Olaf discussing weddings the other day." He sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. What the hell was he even doing? He didn't even like Vivian, the thought of spending the rest of his days shackled to her…
Morgana elbowed him affectionately. "Thank God for that." She took a deep breath and said, warily, "Maybe you could, you know, find yourself a bloke now – I'm pretty sure you've dated all of the approved eligible daughters and found something wrong with each of them – but, you know Ethan North isn't bad looking-"
"If you like chinless wonders," Arthur said, pulling a face. Ethan North was not his type at all. Then again, Arthur didn't know what his type was. He probably didn't have one. It was embarrassing to admit, but he was a romantic at heart and he wasn't going to settle just for anyone just to please his father even if he was playing the good son and attempting to find 'the one' from among Uther's business associates’ offspring. Morgana exaggerated greatly when she said Arthur had dated all of the daughters; it was just Sophia McPhee – for two months, which had been one week of 'maybe this won't be as bad as I thought' and seven trying to get out of her clutches - and Vivian Masterson. She had managed two dates so far, and a third? The third would be over his dead body. "New rule – if you're going to try to set me up with a man – if you wouldn't, then why do you think I would?"
Morgana tipped her head to one side and pretended to ponder. "Ethan North? Okay…fair point." She hopped down off his desk and said, "Drink?"
Arthur glanced at the clock, surprised to see it was already six-thirty. Aside from himself and Morgana the office was deserted, which for this time on a Friday was perfectly normal.
"A drink sounds like a very sensible plan," he said, removing his glasses and slamming his laptop shut. Lots of drinks would be even better.
"I hoped you'd say that," Morgana replied, heading for the door. "Get changed into those jeans I know you keep in the office, Leon's waiting for us in The Dragoon."
"These are pretty good and they're only the support. It feels wrong to be just sitting," Leon said, standing up and moving his shoulders to the rhythm of the music awkwardly. "Come on, Arthur, loosen up a bit. Even Morgana is dancing."
"I'd hardly call that dancing," Arthur responded, glancing over to where Morgana and Elena were standing watching the band on the makeshift stage a few feet away doing little more than tapping their feet as they conversed over glasses of wine. Arthur had had a horrible day, on top of a horrible week. He was regretting saying he'd come to the pub now because now all he wanted to do was go home, open a bottle of red and watch the telly with his feet up. If he was lucky he might not fall asleep before ten and could put himself to bed.
He attacked his pint with vigour and downed the remains all in one. "I'm going to the bar," he said to Leon. "Want anything?"
"I'm good," Leon said, still jigging in time to the music.
Arthur nodded and pushed his way through the crowd to the bar.
"Hey, watch it," someone said as Arthur was knocked sideways and into the owner of the voice.
Arthur's snide retort died on his tongue when he saw who had just spoken and something instant and hot tugged at his insides. Fuck. He couldn't help it when he let his eyes give the man the once over, dragging his eyes from the
mop of dark curling hair atop a pale – beautiful – face. Blue eyes, lashes anyone woman would kill for, model cheekbones, pink full lips merged into a long pale neck, a sharp collarbone that disappeared into a fitted blue t-shirt that led down to dark denims encasing long, endless, slender legs to feet encased in grey Converse. Oh God. "Um, sorry," he scraped out, his throat gone dry, his attention going back to that face and meeting those eyes and swallowing. This was utterly pathetic. Was he actually lost for words? "I-"
"Are you alright?" said those lips, drawing Arthur's attention right to them. For a moment he imagined what might happen if he leant forwards to kiss them and perhaps if he slid one hand around the waistband of those jeans and tucked his hand inside…
"There you are!" A hand landed on the bloke's shoulder and the blue eyes left his and turned to look instead at the owner of the hand, someone who was far too obviously good looking for Arthur's taste… Arthur took an instant dislike. "Who's this?" Good-looking nodded at Arthur and raised an eyebrow at his friend.
"No idea," was the reply, and blue eyes turned back to hold his gaze. "We've just met."
"Arthur." Finally finding his voice Arthur held his hand out automatically. He deliberately left off his surname as he was wont to do when first meeting people, he preferred to be judged for his actions and not his name.
"Oh." Long fingers wrapped around his and Arthur nearly groaned. He'd never felt an instant attraction like that before. It was confusing. "I'm Merlin."
If Arthur hadn't been so mesmerised he might have laughed at the name. Arthur and Merlin. They stared into one another's eyes, their hands still joined, for far longer than was polite. "Gwaine," said Good-looking, holding out his hand and nudging Merlin. Merlin pulled his hand out of Arthur's and Gwaine replaced it with his. Instantly the buzz died. "Are you here to see the band?" Gwaine let go of his hand and indicated the stage with a tip of his head and Arthur glanced at the three-piece on the stage for the first time since he'd been here.
He shrugged. "I'm here with my sister; she said they were good, so I suppose I am?" Not that Morgana knew anything about music, or that Arthur had paid any attention to the band on the stage. It was all a background hum at the moment as he struggled to assimilate this attraction he was feeling to Merlin.
"Not that band," Gwaine supplied, looking at Arthur as if he was stupid. "They're just the support." Somewhere in there was an unspoken 'obviously' and Gwaine rolled his eyes and turned to Merlin. "I'm just getting the drinks in. Usual?"
"Please," Merlin replied without glancing at him. His eyes were still on Arthur's face. Gwaine melted away and the crowd around them heaved and pushed but the two of them were in this impenetrable bubble, Gwaine notwithstanding, and it was a strange and awkward and sort of wonderful place to be. "So- where is she?"
"Who – my sister?" Arthur quite liked this talking thing, it meant he could stare at Merlin's mouth and have an excuse for doing so. "She's dancing over there with another friend."
"So she's not on her own?"
Merlin nodded and licked his lips. "So you've got time to, um-" He reached out his hand and threaded his fingers through Arthur's, his eyes searching his nervously. "I don't normally…"
Arthur's heart almost beat out of his chest. God. "Got time," he managed and Merlin's answering smile was all he needed to know he wouldn't regret the decision. Merlin turned and led Arthur, holding fast onto his hand, towards a door that was marked 'Private' that yielded to Merlin's touch immediately.
"Are we allowed up here?" Arthur asked, pretty sure you couldn't just go barging in through private doors.
"My uncle owns this place," Merlin replied as if that made perfect sense. "He's away at the moment." He continued up the stairs and led Arthur down a narrow corridor into a small sitting room where he rounded on Arthur. There was a lamp on in the corner of the room, which cast shadows over Merlin's face making him almost otherworldly.
Arthur felt a moment of pure panic as Merlin placed his palm in the centre of his chest, pushed him down onto the sofa before straddling him. Merlin seemed to know exactly what he was doing, like he brought people up here a lot, and Arthur didn't want to be one of many, but any doubts died on his lips when Merlin kissed him.
"I have to go-" Merlin began, looking flustered. "I mean...we're on a few minutes."
Arthur propped himself up on his elbows. "You're in the band?" He could feel his fringe plastered to his forehead and his breathing was still heavy.
Merlin nodded and swung his legs to the floor, glancing around for his clothes.
Arthur asked, "What do you play?" picturing Merlin with a guitar, legs apart, head thrown back and- Dear Lord.
"I sing and play the violin or the acoustic guitar." He coughed, dragging his jeans over his long legs. "I mean, mostly – there aren't actually many instruments I don't play."
Arthur was impressed, despite his own hatred of piano lessons as a child. He hadn't developed an ingrained hatred of music from that experience.
When they were halfway to the door and Merlin stopped and turned. "Are you going to stay for the show?" he asked. Arthur could see he was holding his breath and his own stomach somersaulted.
"Only if you come home with me afterwards," Arthur replied, picturing himself lying back against the cool cotton of his sheets, his hands on Merlin's hips as Merlin rode him. Please say yes, please…
Merlin grinned, his eyes sparkling and all signs of hesitancy gone. "Only if I can lie in until at least midday." He raised an eyebrow at Arthur.
"That won't be a problem."
Merlin beamed. "Arthur, you've just made a terrible week better."
Arthur reached out and took Merlin's hand and was still holding it when they slipped back into the pub two minutes later.
Gwaine spotted Merlin immediately and made a beeline for them, "Where the fuck have you been?" His gaze landed on Arthur, down to their joined hands and he rolled his eyes. "Never mind – come on, we were due on ten minutes ago!"
Merlin released Arthur's hand, stepped forward and looked over his shoulder at Arthur offering him an apologetic smile.
Arthur's heart pounded erratically in his chest. He'd known Merlin less than an hour and already he couldn't imagine not. It was crazy.
The assembled crowd went wild when Merlin's band took to the stage. Arthur felt an odd sense of pride at the thought that all of that was for Merlin and wondered exactly how he became so smitten so fast. It's not as though he'd never hooked up an a pub or club before, he was twenty-eight years old and he'd seen more than he fair share of the back of toilet cubicle doors. They have only ever been one-offs though; he'd never wanted them to be more.
"Good aren't they?" Morgana said, appearing beside him. "I'm thinking of getting Morgause to come and see them."
Morgause ran one of the Camelot subsidiaries, Quest Records. She was a prize bitch, in Arthur's opinion, but she was also Morgana's half-sister her mother's side so Arthur had to play nice with her from time to time.
"I like what I see so far," Arthur responded, thinking of Merlin but willing to concede that this folky pop was very catchy. Arthur was no musician. He'd been forced to learn the piano as a child and had lasted all of three months before he'd told Uther in no uncertain terms that he was never going back again. His father had looked at him with an odd kind of respect that day and had never forced Arthur to continue the lessons. He had, however, made Arthur choose something to replace it. That was how Arthur became such an adept footballer.
He spent the rest of the evening mesmerised by Merlin, who played violin and sang, often at the same time, whose stage presence is far bigger than him. He fell a little more into him over that hour and a half and when the show finished; he turned down Morgana's invite to go on elsewhere, saying he was tired and wanted to go home. Which was true. He just didn't mention Merlin was joining him.
Arthur waited by the bar, trying not to look impatient and Merlin appeared after ten minutes and said, "I've got to pack up the gear. Do you want to wait?"
"I do," Arthur said and Merlin grinned and went back to the stage.
It was over half an hour before Merlin appeared again. "I'm ready to go if you want?"
Arthur did want. "It's a thirty minute walk from here. We could hail a taxi?"
Merlin's eyes glinted. "Taxi sounds good."
They were lucky, a taxi was just dropping someone outside the Thai restaurant over the road and Arthur bagged it quickly, firing his address at the driver and taking Merlin's hand to pull in him after him. He didn't let go of his hand and they sat in silence in the back of the cab, fingers entwined.
Arthur mentally scanned the inside of his flat wanting to be sure there was nothing on show that would give him away as Arthur Pendragon, not yet. People tended to know the family name rather than his face, which bode well for new friendships, but he wanted this night with Merlin without his real name soiling the air. There was probably some post on the hall table, but he could hide that easily. It would be fine.
When he opened the front door and beckoned Merlin inside, Merlin whistled and said, "Nice place," and plastered Arthur back against the front door.
After that Arthur forgot his name anyway.
They lay awake half the night, talking about something and nothing, making the start on the getting to know you stuff that was normally Arthur’s cue to leave. Arthur still didn't give up his last name and Merlin didn't ask; he didn't tell Merlin where he worked and what he did, Merlin didn't ask or volunteer the same information about himself, which for now, is how Arthur wanted it to stay. He was sick of being 'Uther Pendragon's son'; he wanted to be Arthur – especially to Merlin. God.
He was smitten and not just because Merlin had fucked him so perfectly earlier.
Arthur preferred to spend his time drawing circles on the flat plain of Merlin's stomach with this thumb, hand moving lower and gathering interest in another go. He wanted to learn every inch of Merlin’s body, first with his fingers, then with his tongue. He wanted to count every eyelash and every freckle.
They fell asleep, wrapped up in one another, completely sated, probably around five, waking up again around eight-thirty and going again. Arthur was ready to ask Merlin to move in with him after that, which was ridiculous, except it felt right. If he could wake up every day with Merlin in his arms he'd live a long and happy life, he knew it.
At around ten the sharp notes of Merlin's ringtone (The Levellers’ What a Beautiful Day) pulled them both out of their post early morning shag stupor, Merlin burrowed into Arthur's side, one arm slung comfortably over Arthur's chest where he'd fallen, fucked out, an hour before.
Merlin groaned and pulled away, leaning over the side of the bed and scrabbling with his jeans to find his phone. "Hello… Oh you're joking right?" He sighed heavily and glanced up at Arthur who didn't try to hide the way he was hungrily watching him wondering if it was too soon to go again. His cock twitched at the thought. God, never too soon, not with Merlin anyway; he was making Arthur feel things he'd never thought possible. "Fine – yes – okay, see you then – yes of course I'll text the address over." He snapped the phone shut and turned to face Arthur. "Um, I have to go," he said, his tone full of regret, poking Arthur in the side with his thumb. "Gwaine's scored a last minute gig in Brighton tonight – one of his old uni mates runs a pub and there's been a cancellation."
Arthur raised himself up on his elbows, itching to run a hand through Merlin's dishevelled hair despite the disappointment that shot through him; he'd planned on keeping Merlin in this bed until they had to go to work on Monday morning. "Well, if you gotta go-"
"I don’t want to," Merlin said ruefully. "But Gwaine's already agreed we'll go and booked a hotel- He's gonna pick me up outside when I text him the address." He scanned Arthur's face, leant in and pressed a kiss to his lips and rolled out of bed, scrabbling into his clothes.
He finished dressing and turned back to Arthur.
"Right then, I guess this is it?" Merlin shrugged on his hoody, avoiding Arthur’s gaze.
"Can I have your number?" Arthur didn't want to think about what he would do if Merlin said no.
Merlin visibly relaxed and said, "I thought you'd never ask. Here, give me your phone and I'll put it in for you."
Arthur swung his legs over the side of the bed and rummaged on the floor in his jeans pocket, pulled out an iPhone and walked over to Merlin and standing toe to toe he handed it to him and watched him closely as Merlin stored his number, trying to commit all the small details to memory – the way his hair curled into his eyes, God – the eyes, so blue with tiny flecks of gold around the pupil – the tiny mole above his right eyebrow...
Merlin handed the phone back and Arthur took it and pressed his lips to Merlin's, sending heat down to his belly, making him wish he could lock the door and keep Merlin here forever.
"See you soon, Merlin," Arthur said, pulling back.
"Definitely," Merlin said, hesitating in the doorway. He turned to go and Arthur's chest tightened, but then Merlin span back around, biting his lip, and said, "Come with me?"
Arthur relaxed. "Give me five minutes to get some things together."
Gwaine didn't bat an eye when Merlin turned up with Arthur in tow. They'd taken a rushed shower together, Arthur teasingly pointing out to Merlin that they were both a little ripe after last night. There hadn't been time for more than that, Arthur lending Merlin an old blue t-shirt that had shrunk in the wash and some boxers that hung off him.
"Excellent, Merlin," Gwaine said as Merlin and Arthur scrambled into the back of the van – an eighties VW camper. “You brought extra muscle."
"Ignore him," said a pretty curly haired girl in the front seat, "We don’t have a lot of equipment – the only reason we had a load last night was because we were recording the gig."
"Yeah, Merlin likes to make us all sit around at his place and listen to ourselves play so we can analyse and improve," Gwaine grumbled, starting the engine and pulling away.
"I'm Gwen," the girl said, holding out a hand to Arthur who took it immediately. "This here is Lance." Lance was sitting at the cramped table in the back of the van, leaning against the window, fast asleep. "He's had a long week."
"I can tell," Arthur replied sunnily. He knew how that felt, this last week had
been hell – and now he was on the verge of falling head over heels for someone he had known for just over twelve hours and was on an impromptu trip to Brighton. He'd never been before and just knowing that made him feel like a little boy heading off on holiday knowing that when he arrived he could make sandcastles and explore the rock pools for crabs.
Most of the journey was made in silence out of respect for Lance's slumber. Arthur held Merlin's hand, threading his fingers through his and running a thumb over the delicate bones in his wrist.
The rest of the day passed quickly. They arrived in Brighton, checked in at the Travelodge – Arthur booked a separate room for him and Merlin when it transpired Gwaine had booked him and Merlin a twin – they had a couple of hours spare before they had to leave for the venue and he and Merlin walked down to the beach and down to the end of the pier. It was a blustery day, the sky dark and full of rain, the sea choppy and moody.
"I love the sea," Merlin said, staring out towards the horizon, a hint of a smile on his lips. "Uncle Gaius used to have a boat – a real old tug of a thing – he used to take me and Mum out on it when I was a kid. I plan on being rich enough one day to be able to buy my own."
I'll buy you ten, Arthur thought, watching the emotions chase across Merlin's face as he talked. I'll buy you anything you want.
"Where’s your mum now?" Arthur asked softly.
"Wales," Merlin said and turned to face Arthur. "She got married a few years ago and she and Tauren moved to Gower to run a hotel." His lips twitched.
"It's called 'The King Arthur'," Merlin said breaking out into a dazzlingly smile. His eyes landed on Arthur's lips and the smile faded.
They spent the next hour snogging like teenagers at the end of the pier until it started to rain.
On Sunday the five of them went for breakfast at a local café and after a short discussion it was decided that they would head home via the Cissbury Ring, a five thousand year old hill fort that was nearby.
Arthur loved the wind in his hair and the warmth of Merlin at his side, and being there, walking in the footsteps of history, he felt small and terribly mortal. "What are you thinking?" he asked Merlin as they sat down on a large rock to take in the view over the downs to the sea. The others were nearby, but not so close that Arthur felt overheard.
"That I feel like I've known you forever," Merlin replied. He didn't look at Arthur as he spoke, but his hand found Arthur's thigh, resting there warm and comforting and that was when it all clicked. He was twenty-eight years old and he'd never felt this before, this need to possess someone, to wrap them in his arms and never let go, to protect them no matter what. Maybe it was the location – it felt as though there was no one else around for miles, save for their company – and the connection he felt to the earth, the sky and the past was overwhelming. He was such a small speck in the grand scheme of things; his life didn't mean anything in history – the name Arthur Pendragon wouldn't be remembered in a hundred years' time. He needed to live now.
"I feel the same," was all he said, the crash of emotion too much to articulate. It was an understatement, for that was the tip of the iceberg really, but it was enough for the moment.
Monday morning came too quickly. They arrived back home late Sunday afternoon, Arthur had invited Merlin up to his flat again where they'd made as far as the living room before all of their clothes were gone and Arthur was scrabbling in his abandoned rucksack for condoms and lube, taking Merlin roughly against the wall like they'd been apart for weeks and this was their reunion. Arthur loved the feel of Merlin's legs digging into the small of his back and his hot breath in in his neck as Arthur fucked up into him, holding him in place with one hand on his arse, the other on a hipbone, using the wall as leverage because Merlin wasn't as slight as he looked, and God-
When Arthur's alarm went off at 7am, the other side of the bed was cold. Arthur sat up, fast, panicked – where was Merlin? Until he saw the note on the dresser, and rolled out of bed to read it:
Left for work, didn't want to wake you.
Instantly, all was right with the world again. Arthur stared down at the letter with a stupid grin on his face and finally admitted that this was something, that he was well and truly smitten, probably in love with, Merlin.
He'd found his soulmate and he honestly didn’t care that he’d only known Merlin a few days and that people wouldn’t understand. It was no one else’s business.
Arthur arrived at the office at half-past eight in jovial mood – late for him - and was greeted by Olaf Masterson waiting for him in his office reception, all folded arms and thunderous expression, and Mithian, his secretary was trying to distract him with her cleavage but that wasn't working, which was indicative of Olaf's mood. He liked women, did Olaf, the sheer number of his ex-wives bore testament to that.
Arthur's good mood dissipated at the sight of the man whose daughter he had yet to break things off with. Shit. He'd not given Vivian a single thought this
whole weekend; in his head she was already old news, he felt nothing for her, never had, but – he hadn't told her that and, damn, he really should get onto that.
Arthur went into his office and Olaf followed, as Arthur had known he would. "What can I do for you?" Arthur said through gritted teeth, knowing full well that this was about Vivian's tangle with the delivery van the other day. Olaf would never accept that his precious princess might be to blame.
"Have you dealt with the driver of that vehicle that hit my Vivvy?"
Arthur busied himself switching on his computer and unloading a few things out of his briefcase so he didn't have to look at Olaf. "What exactly do you mean by 'dealt with'," he asked, picturing the poor van driver at Olaf's chopping block if this had been another era. "And if you recall, Olaf, I said I would deal with it on Monday morning, and I believe that I've got another three and a half hours to play with before we slip into the afternoon and I'm late in 'dealing with it'."
Olaf's complexion went from red to purple. "This is a delivery van we are talking about here, Pendragon." He circled his neck, sliding a finger under his collar as he glared at Arthur with bulging eyes. "They go out at the crack of dawn." The 'you blithering idiot' went unsaid.
"I have every intention of going over to the depot today," Arthur said, finally meeting Olaf's glare. "I'll be sure to tell you when I have."
"I want the bastard fired," Olaf said. "Vivvy is distraught." He paused and said slowly, "Fire him or I'm suing."
Arthur nodded, knowing it was pointless to argue. "Fine. Now if that's all, I've got a lot to get done today-?" He looked pointedly at his watch.
Olaf backed towards the door, one hand on the handle as he said, "Just get it done."
Arthur waited for the door to close behind him and collapsed into his chair. Fuck. He didn't want to fire some poor delivery driver just because he'd grazed Vivian's car, but on the other hand, he didn't want the grief he was going to get from his father if he didn’t act. He pressed the intercom, "Mithian, can you get me the manager of Distribution on the phone please? And then can I have a vat of coffee please." He was going to need it today.
"Sure thing, boss."
He fished his phone out of his pocket and sent Merlin a text: My place, 7.30pm, we'll order take-away?
He waited until the phone confirmed it was 'sent' and considered texting Vivian – he'd have to talk to her in person. He'd call her later, once this business at the depot was sorted out.
Arthur sat back in the chair opposite the distribution and logistics manager, Aglain Carter, and wished he was anywhere but where he was. "I'm afraid my hands are tied," he said, placating, "We are being threatened with a lawsuit here and the man in question has the money behind him to go all the way with it just to score the point."
Aglain's expression twisted. "And there's no way around this?"
"I'm afraid not."
Aglain sighed. "Would you mind if I dealt with this myself? This is my employee, he reports to me, I'd rather be the one to discuss this with him." Arthur's phone vibrated in his jacket pocket and he sat on his hands so as not to give in to temptation.
"Of course," Arthur had expected little else. It was late afternoon now, and all of the trucks would be returning to the depot any time now. This was the soonest that this could be done. He'd had to call Olaf and let him know that he wouldn't be dealing with this until the afternoon. "Please call me as soon as you have spoken to him?"
Aglain relaxed slightly. "I will, thank you, Mr Pendragon."
"Call me Arthur."
Aglain smiled tightly and didn't reply. Arthur stood and left Aglain's office, closing the door behind him and leaning back against it with a sigh. He pulled his phone out – feeling instantly better when he saw that – finally – the text message was from Merlin. Should I bring my toothbrush?
He quickly sent Merlin a cheeky reply: Kinky :-D. Fuck it, if it was up to Arthur, Merlin could bring his suitcase and move in there and then.
Aglain called him forty-five minutes later, when Arthur was back in his office, doodling spirals on his notepad and wishing it was 7.30pm already.
"It didn't go well, Mr Pendragon," he said sadly. "The driver, um, told me to tell you where you can stick your job and stormed out. I doubt he'll be back, he's a proud one that one."
Arthur rubbed the back of his neck and closed his eyes. "Write to him, would you, Aglain? When he's cooled down I expect he'll regret being so rash. I meant it when I said that I didn't want to fire anyone, but to avoid this lawsuit-" The lawsuit that would do more damage to the relationship between his father and Olaf which could affect the business relationship they had built up together, one that would need Arthur's co-operation on this now that he was definitely about to break it off with Vivian. "Re-deploying this employee elsewhere is the best I can do." If he severed the employee's current contract and gave him another elsewhere, Olaf was unlikely to follow that paper trail.
"Will do," Aglain agreed. "I don't see him agreeing, but I'm pleased to see that you are trying."
Arthur ended the call and checked the time. It wasn't yet half five but he'd had enough; he was going to go home and have nice long soak in the bath before Merlin arrived.
Only when he got out of the bath, warm and pink, there was a message on his phone from Merlin: Something's come up. Raincheck?
Arthur stared at it until the words blurred. Fuck. A hollow emptiness crept through him. Raincheck or brush off?
He replied he couldn't not: Anything I can do?
He didn't get a reply.
When he woke up the next day he was surprised that he had actually slept at all because he'd lain awake most of the night, sleeping eluding him.
He checked his phone and found the text he had been waiting for from about an hour earlier: My best friend needed me… Playing gig tonight out of town. Join us?
So Arthur spent that evening in a pub in Oxford, leaning back against the bar, falling a little more in love with Merlin with every song. They didn't have much chance to talk on the way there as the others were in the van but Merlin did tell him that his best friend, someone named Will, had had some bad news and Merlin hadn’t been able to just leave him alone.
Arthur could understand that, admired it even.
Then Gwaine had piped up, something about sound systems for the gig and Merlin had been sucked into that.
When they got back to Arthur's, well after one, they fell into bed, exhausted, Merlin wrapping himself around Arthur, kissing him slowly, the two of them both languorous even as Merlin straddled Arthur's thighs and rode him – slow, dizzying and so so beautiful as Merlin leaned forwards to catch Arthur's lips in his, threading one hand into Arthur's as they rocked together.
I love you. Arthur came with the words on the tip of his tongue, biting them back, too soon, far far too soon.
When he woke the next day Merlin had left for work again, and there was a text on his phone: You look so cute when you sleep.
Arthur laughed and went to work with a smile on his face.
The smile lasted until mid-morning when Vivian called. Arthur could hear her pouting down the line. "I haven't seen you for a week," she complained. "You can take me for dinner tonight."
Arthur's jaw tightened at being told what to do, but he complied – he had something to tell her after all, and it wasn't a marriage proposal that was for sure.
He told Merlin he had some business to attend to and invited him to come over later, but Merlin replied that he really needed to take his friend Will out for a couple of pints and could they get together tomorrow instead.
In the end he took Vivian to the Thai place opposite The Dragoon. It was a decent place and if it wasn't posh enough for Vivian's standards then frankly that was just tough. He then realised his mistake in bringing her for food, as he could hardly tell her that their 'relationship', such that it was, was over before they'd ordered or whilst they were eating, so he had to wait until afterwards, when they'd moved on to coffee.
If there had ever been any doubt, which there most certainly was not, that he was making the right choice regarding her, the hour and a half they spent over that meal would have convinced him. Vivian talked about herself, something about a shoe range Posh Spice was launching, how she and her best friend Lucy were going to spend a week at the spa… Arthur tuned out and did his best to nod where her expression was expectant. Until she said, "When we get married-" and his attention snapped back into the room!
"I don't believe this," Vivian hissed then, interrupting Arthur's protests and glaring at point over Arthur's shoulder. "It's that disgusting little man who wrecked my car last week!"
Arthur couldn't help turning his head to see who she was looking at. Half way across the restaurant floor, looking as though he was returning from a trip to the gents, was a stocky dark haired young man who, upon seeing them both looking at him deviated from his path and headed for their table.
"Hello," he said when he reached the table, flicking a disgusted glance at Vivian before turning to Arthur. "You must be the fiancé. Pendragon, right?"
Arthur nodded, feeling like a rabbit caught in headlights. "Yes, Arthur Pendragon." He held out his hand but the man just looked at it in disgust. "I'm not-" I'm not the fiancé he was about to conclude. He'd dated Vivian, but he'd never been that. Never would be either.
The man snorted. "You're lucky I've got my son with me, Pendragon. I won't cause a scene when he's with me. I would like to thank you though, because
thanks to you and this spoiled bimbo here, my son and I are probably going to lose our home." He stepped to the side and leant around the screen that separated their table from the next. "Come on, Merlin," he said. "I've lost my appetite."
Arthur's heart stopped. He watched in horror as Merlin appeared next to the man he now gathered must be Will, Merlin's best friend, his blue eyes fixed expressionlessly on Arthur. There was a small boy in his arms, dark haired with brown eyes, staring at Arthur with open curiosity.
"Oh God, you're both here," Vivian spat, eyes narrowed as she looked between Will and Merlin. "Arthur, are you going to let them crowd me like this? I can't believe you brought me somewhere that people like this would come!"
"What do you mean, 'people like this'?" Merlin asked, placing a staying hand on Will's arm as his fists clenched.
Vivian's nose wrinkled. "People who…" she waved a hand under her nose, "…drive vans for a living. Ugh."
"Vivian-" Arthur warned, barely able to get the words out through the shock. He fixed his eyes on Merlin, scanning him from head to toe with a frown. "You work for Camelot?" Fuck, fuck, fuck, he hadn't meant for that to come like that! Merlin’s eyes flashed fury. "No- I-" But it was too late. God knew he didn't care what Merlin did for a day job, it wasn't as though Arthur had told him what he did either – both of them were holding back on that conversation and Arthur hadn't pushed it for his own reasons.
Merlin's eyes were back to arctic as they stared back at Arthur. "I do apologise," he said, sarcasm dripping heavily off every word. "My friend and I will be leaving now, so sorry to interrupt you and your fiancé with our foul stench."
He turned to his friend nodded his head at the exit, and with a sneer, Will followed Merlin and his son from the restaurant.
Vivian shuddered. "Thank goodness they've left. That was embarrassing."
Arthur was staring at the door. Merlin. God- he jumped to his feet and darted through the half-full restaurant and burst out onto the street. He couldn't let Merlin go like this- There were a few people about, mostly milling outside The Dragoon, but there was no sign of Merlin and his companions.
"I really don't think you can blame the guy," Morgana said and poked Arthur with a perfectly manicured toe as she sat with her back to the end of the sofa, Arthur folded up in misery at the other end nursing a large whisky.
It was Friday night and exactly one week since Arthur had met Merlin and he
was definitely beginning to wish he hadn't told Morgana about what had happened.
He missed him, which was ridiculous, he hardly knew him and it had only been two days. He'd fucked up so badly! It was like fate was playing a cruel joke on him, making the man he had fallen so hard for be one of the men working that van, making the same man overhear a conversation between him and Vivian that to an outsider would sound very much as though he was engaged to her!
He'd since found out that when the accident had happened Vivian had yelled at them that 'her fiancé owned the company and that she would make sure they paid with their jobs'. He'd pulled Will's file and found no details about his family – application forms weren't allowed to ask that kind of thing these days – and had gone round in person to see him. He'd had the door slammed in his face.
Merlin had ignored all of his attempts to contact him since, and short of turning up at the depot and collaring him there, Arthur was at a loss. He could do that, he knew he could, but he didn't want a scene in front of Merlin's work colleagues. Merlin's file only gave The Dragoon as a care of address, and Merlin had said that it was his uncle's place. It didn't mean he could find Merlin there.
Arthur had well and truly blown it.
"I really liked him," he whined. "I fucked it up."
"So fix it," Morgana said. "You like the guy – do something about it!"
"He's ignoring me; I don't know where he lives-"
"You know what band he's in though, don't you?" Morgana's tone was like that of a teacher talking to a young child. "Morgause and I are seeing 'The Dragon's Call' tomorrow night at The Dragoon. In case you're interested."
"Who- Morgana, I'm not in the mood for a night out with Morgause!"
Morgana rolled her eyes. "You numbskull – that's Merlin's band."
"Oh – well, why didn't you say so?" Arthur felt a ray of hope through the misery that had been his week. How had he not even realised what the band were called when he'd been to two gigs with them this past week. "Count me in."
"That's the spirit," Morgana said cheerfully. "Maybe you should work on that apology-cum-explanation before you see him, hmm?"
Arthur scowled at her, but she was right. He hated that. It was true that he was terrible at apologising. That was why he rarely bothered. Merlin was a van driver’s mate – so what – Arthur honestly didn't care about what Merlin did for a living. He was also a fantastic singer, a violinist, funny, sexy and he made Arthur's heart beat faster and his palms ache. Arthur couldn't remember the last time anyone had made him feel like that.
No one ever had.
He'd spent last couple of days wanting to rewind the clock and change that reaction, the way he'd looked Merlin up and down, how the shock had been clear on his face – and the distaste, God, that.
Arthur was such an idiot.
"You think Morgause will like them?" he asked, trying to think back to the times he'd seen them play, but he'd only really been aware of Merlin, how he'd looked on that stage, the movement of his lips, his fingers on the strings of the violin. He'd been mesmerised. The music itself had just been background noise – not unpleasant, but secondary to watching Merlin. He had no idea if they were decent or not in the grand scheme of things.
Morgana nodded. "I've already played her their CD. She's excited to see them live. If you do get him to talk to you though, Arthur – don't tell him she's there – people get nervous when they know they're been scouted."
Arthur took a long swig of his drink. Tomorrow was his second chance. He couldn't blow it.
"They're good," Morgause observed coolly as she watched Merlin's band over the rim of a glass of iced water, her expression neutral, giving nothing away. "I'm definitely interested."
Arthur stood on her left, half-listening, watching Merlin. Merlin had seen him when he'd come on stage – Arthur had been held up waiting for Morgana and Morgause to be ready – had stopped what he was doing and moved to whisper something in Gwaine's ear. Gwaine had immediately turned to glare at Arthur. God, Arthur wondered if Merlin was ever going to let him near enough to talk to him, let alone forgive him. He just needed a chance to explain.
Tonight was Arthur's only chance. He'd thought, no – he knew - they could have something good together, still did.
"Good enough to sign?" he asked, not taking his eyes from the stage.
"I'd be interested in meeting them, yes," Morgause replied and Arthur felt a warm sense of hope flutter inside him, feeling ridiculously proud of Merlin.
They stood and watched the rest of the set, and when they'd played the encore
and the crowd are going wild, baying for more, Morgause glided forward and approached the side of the stage, whispering in the ear of the seven foot tall bouncer who guarded there. Whatever she said to him worked and the bouncer moved aside to let her pass.
"At least Merlin ought to be in a good mood once Morgause has said her piece," Morgana said, filling the gap Morgause had left beside him and nudging Arthur affectionately.
Arthur certainly hoped so. He might not like Morgause much, but she knew her music, and had had rather a lot of recent success with the bands she had signed. He just hoped that she would hurry up and have the conversation so that the band would come back out and start packing up their kit so that Arthur could finally talk to Merlin.
When Morgause finally re-emerged a good half an hour later, she was smiling, which was such a rare occurrence Arthur nearly had to double take. "I can see what you see in Merlin, Arthur," she said as she joined them. "Did you know he writes most of the material himself? He's a very talented young man."
"It went well then?" Morgana asked, shooting Arthur a warning look as he processed the information that Morgause knew about him and Merlin. It seemed there were few secrets between sisters.
"This is just the first stage," Morgause said. "I've arranged for them to come in next week to meet Alvarr and we'll take it from there. I'm optimistic."
Arthur's attention was caught by the band appearing back on stage to pack up. "Excuse me," he said, not waiting for a reply as he gravitated towards the stage. When he reached the stage Merlin wasn't there. "Where's Merlin?" he asked Gwaine.
Gwaine looked him up and down slowly. "I didn't recognise you in the suit there, Arthur," he replied. "But then this is the real you, isn't it?"
Arthur's fists clenched. "I'm not looking for an argument, Gwaine, I'm looking for Merlin."
Their eyes met and Gwaine sighed. Arthur assumed he looked desperate enough because Gwaine said, "He's upstairs."
Arthur didn't need to ask where that referred to. "Thank you," he said and turned, heading for the door marked 'Private' and letting himself in. He had to knock when he got to the top, impatient, feeling sick with nerves.
When the door opened Merlin didn't look surprised, he simply stood to one side and let Arthur pass. Arthur hovered then, unsure, waiting for Merlin to lead. They ended up in the living room from that first night. Could it really only be a week ago?
Merlin, arms folded in front of his chest, leant back against the bookcase and
regarded Arthur. Arthur's words died in his throat. God, he just wanted to take Merlin in his arms, tell him – tell him – but Merlin's expression like stone, his eyes glacial.
"What do you want, Arthur?" Merlin finally asked, when the silence began to crackle with discomfort. He rubbed his eyes wearily and that was Arthur's undoing.
"This is a huge fuck up," Arthur started. "I'm not engaged to be married, I never fired your friend and I don't care what you do for a living!"
"Is that so?"
"Why didn't you tell me you're Arthur Pendragon?"
"Why did you tell me your last name?"
"What do you mean, 'hmm'?" Arthur wanted to tear his hair out with frustration.
Merlin pushed away from the bookcase and sat on the end of the sofa, motioning for Arthur to do the same. Arthur perched at the other end, hoping against hope that this was some kind of progress.
"Well?" Arthur demanded when Merlin made no move to speak.
"You might have a point," Merlin said. He swept a hand around the room. "This is where I live. Uncle Gaius hasn't lived up here for a long time, Percy manages the place but he doesn't live in."
Arthur couldn't help but look at the room properly for the first time, last time he'd been too preoccupied with Merlin's lips and- "It's nice." It was wall to ceiling books on one side and CDs on the other, decorated in a light green with several black and white landscape photographs adorning the walls.
"Most of my salary goes on this place," Merlin continued, sounding sad, "Uncle Gaius missed a few payments and the debt built up and by the time I found out about it I only just managed to stop the repossession – they don't care that Gaius has started to forget things and has the start of dementia, they just care about getting their money – well, I wasn't going to let them take this place off Gaius after all the hard work he's put in! So I work for Camelot, it's good money, the job was open when I needed one and it means I can have evenings and weekends free for the band. It's a temporary thing for me, always has been but it's Will's livelihood. He's a single father; he's got no qualifications because he left school when Freya got pregnant to find work to support them."
"I didn't fire him," Arthur repeated. "I was expected to, but I'm not a monster,
Merlin. I've offered him work elsewhere in the company – somewhere with better career development too."
Merlin looked sceptical.
"It's all been sent in writing - this was before I knew he was your friend - and if he hadn't stormed out the other day then he'd have heard this straight from Aglain."
"And the fiancé?"
"I'd been dating her, and I promise I'd never more than kissed her – I've dated a few my women that my father has thrown at me – it's always been expected that I'll marry well, but there was no engagement and I was trying to break it off with her that night-" He held up a hand as Merlin opened his mouth to say something. "I'd been meaning to do it for ages but the thing with the truck and her attitude and her father settled it – but then I met you, and I didn't want to be wasting time on her when I could have been with you. So yes, maybe I was cheating on her with you, but not in my head – never that, Merlin. I met you and I couldn't see straight."
That was cards on the table really, as good as declaring his undying love there and then.
Merlin flushed red and Arthur's hands itched to touch the skin on his neck and trace the pattern of the blush as it spread upwards.
"And your name?"
"I wanted you to like me for me. That name – people react to it and I never know if they like me or the baggage." Arthur licked his lips. "You never asked me, and you never offered up your name either. What are you hiding?"
Merlin twisted his hands in his lap, staring down at them. "My father was Balinor Emrys. I never tell anyone that because of the band. I want to make it without people thinking I did it on the back of my father's name."
Arthur gaped. Balinor Emrys was sort of infamous. Lead singer of the hugely popular rock band Blocks he'd lived that life, the drink, the drugs, the women – and the early death, though not as early as some of his contemporaries – and had been found dead in his hotel room by hotel staff in the mid nineties. There had been a huge scandal after his death, because Merlin had been the result of a brief fling, Balinor was technically still married, and all of his estate had gone to the wife leaving nothing for his son. Merlin had been three.
"It seems as though we have both been avoiding certain truths," Arthur said, unsure whether to be buoyed or deflated by this.
"I know you know about Morgause Gorlois because I saw you with her tonight. Did you bring her?"
Arthur briefly considered taking the credit. "No, Morgana did – she told me
the other day she was planning to. She asked me not to tell you; apparently it adds pressure."
"D'you think?" Merlin rolled his eyes and just that small gesture set Arthur's heart racing – Merlin wasn't yelling and screaming and telling him to leave, he was teasing him. That could only be good.
"She told me to give you another chance, said you weren't engaged, told me you've been a wreck." Merlin raised an eyebrow.
Arthur's eyes widened in surprise. He and Morgause tolerated each other for the most part. That she'd told Merlin that – maybe she wasn't quite the hard faced cow he'd always pegged her for. "She's right."
Merlin was in Arthur's lap before he had chance to register that he'd even moved. "I missed you," he said and just like that they were kissing. Arthur's hands cupped Merlin's arse and pulled him closer.
“God, Arthur,” Merlin hissed when Arthur slid his hand beneath his waistband and trailed a finger down the seam of his arse. “You’ll be the end of me.”
"Move in with me," Arthur said later, lying in Merlin's bed, threading his fingers through Merlin's hair at the nape of his neck. "I don't care it's only been a week. If you're going to be signed and going on tour, I want it to be me you come home to."
"God yes," Merlin said and it was decided.
Arthur took a swig of his beer and sat back to watch the screen. He felt sick with nerves, his heart pounding like it was him in that huge theatre full of celebrities waiting for his moment.
The Dragon's Call were up for the Mercury Prize. After they'd signed with Morgause last year things had really taken off and their debut album had gone straight to the top of the charts and stayed there.
They’d already won two Grammy awards. Arthur had had been even more nervous then, as he'd watched the live feed back in the hotel room. When they'd won their awards Arthur had been ridiculously proud, trying not to let Morgause see the tears that sprang to his eyes. The man standing on the stage giving a 'thank you' speech was his boyfriend. His.
Merlin had even won Uther over, though it might’ve been the Grammy awards that had swung that.
Arthur had no sooner found him that he'd had to share him with the world, and Merlin had been away more than he'd been at home these last few months. Arthur joined him when he could, but he couldn't just drop work to follow Merlin around the country, the world, as much as he would have loved to. Merlin's absence stung, but Arthur could live with it, because when Merlin came home, he came home to Arthur and as long as that never changed Arthur then that was enough for Arthur.