Arthur slams the folder shut and tosses it on the table between himself and Leon.
“Is this a joke?” Arthur asks. “Because if it is, it really, really isn’t funny. Did Morgana put you up to this? It’s just the thing that would amuse her to no end. I bet she’s upstairs in that dark office of hers laughing away at my expense.”
Leon quirks an eyebrow at Arthur, but says nothing. He just looks pointedly at the file.
“Oh god,” Arthur moans after a beat. “It’s not a joke, is it?”
“Sorry, no,” Leon confirms. “It seems that he’s rather upset a lot of people.”
“What could he have possibly done to upset anyone?” Arthur asks skeptically. “I mean, besides spill coffee on them or knock them over with his uncontrollable limbs. But if any of that upset people that badly, he would have needed protection constantly and from a young age.”
Leon gives Arthur a calculating look. “You have no idea what he’s been up to,” he says finally.
“Why would I care what he’s been up to?” Arthur asks, busying himself with a cup of coffee, elaborately adding cream and sugar.
Leon wisely does not speculate as to why Arthur would care, instead he flips open the file and begins to read the profile that Arthur abandoned after reading the client’s name.
“Merlin Emrys. Age 24. Occupation: environmental activist and blogger.”
“Blogger?” Arthur interrupts. “Is that an actual occupation?”
“Yes,” Leon says shortly.
“Fine, fine, go on.”
“Recently, Merlin has launched a large scale campaign protesting the development of the Essetir shopping and housing community, detailing the detrimental impact it will have on the native flora and fauna.”
“Christ,” Arthur mutters.
“That’s not even the worst of it,” Leon continues. “Merlin posted a story two days ago claiming he has documents that shows the previously protected land was obtained through, shall we say, non-standard agreements. And they all point to Cenred Essetir himself. Merlin has started to receive threats from Cenred’s supporters.”
Arthur sighs and twists the ring on his index finger. “OK, so he’s gotten in over his head. Put Gwaine on it. Or, better yet, Percy. He’s the perfect person for this. Intimidate the hell out of that slimeball, Cenred.”
Leon nods, “Percy would intimate Cenred, I’m sure of that, but that isn’t the angle we’re going for here.”
Arthur narrows his eyes. “Oh?”
“We thought it might be best to take a more subtle approach.”
“And who, may I ask, is we?”
Leon looks a big cagey as he answers, “Myself and Morgana, and um, Mrs. Emrys.”
Arthur nearly chokes on his coffee. “You talked to Hunith?”
“You don’t think Merlin approached us himself, do you?”
“Well, as you pointed out, I have no idea what he’s been up to, so he very well could have done,” Arthur snaps. He takes in the unamused expression on Leon’s face and sighs again. “Fine. What’s this plan of yours, then?”
And finally Leon smiles at Arthur.
“Out of the question,” Merlin says, crossing his arms over his chest.
“That’s what I said,” Arthur replies, crossing his arms as well.
Morgana looks between Arthur and Merlin. “Stop pouting. You’re both acting like children.”
As if to prove her point both men scowl at the table.
“Look,” Morgana begins. “We don’t want to draw attention to Merlin’s situation. Essetir Corp has a lot of partners on this development deal and we don’t know how many of them may be implicated when the story breaks. You’ve done a bloody good job of pissing off some powerful people, Merlin, dear.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Merlin mumbles.
“Due to some rebuttal from Essetir, the most compromising picture anyone could find of you, Merlin, is of you two idiots at some University function, drunk and draped all over each other. Essetir is no doubt trying to sway some of the more conservative groups by highlighting your, how did they phrase it? Oh, yes, life style choices.”
“There are pictures of us together on the internet,” Arthur grits out.
“They were from the formal back when we––“
“Yes, I know when they’re from,” Arthur interrupts. “I just didn’t know you kept any.”
“Boys!” Morgana interjects before they can continue. “Regardless of how the pictures were leaked, Cenred believes they are current and that you two are a couple. He’ll have no clue that you’re really here to protect Merlin. Now, go put on the suits, enter the charity ball as planned, and for Christ sake, act like you like each other.”
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Merlin whispers into his cocktail as he leans against Arthur in a more than friendly gesture.
Arthur slides his hand down to rest possessively on the small of Merlin’s back. “Tell me about it.”
“I mean, we’re horrible at this,” Merlin elaborates. “It’s why we broke up in the first place. Well, that and the fact that you were, sorry, still are, a prat.”
Merlin says all of this out of the corner of his mouth as smiles and waves at someone across the room.
“Oh, I’m the prat?” Arthur scoffs as he leads Merlin into a corridor. “We’ll see about that.”
“Great,” Merlin mutters, but kisses Arthur back all the same, letting himself be pressed against the wall.
“Arthur, do you copy? Arthur? We have movement!” Leon’s voice floats through Arthur’s earpiece and he rips it out, shoving it in his pocket as he concentrates on Merlin’s mouth.
Back in the conference room, Leon pulls his ear set away at the amplified rustle of fabric. He looks over to Morgana to find her smirking and checking her watch.
“Less than 20 minutes,” she observes.
Leon sighs before opening his wallet and handing her a crisp £20 note.
“We still have to deal with Cenred’s man,” Leon reminds her as she tucks the note away.
“Of course,” she says smoothly. “Send in Percy. He’ll intimidate the hell out of that slimeball, Cenred.”