Merlin could hear a shift in the jet engine beneath his feet just as he finished washing up his hands in the tiny lavatory sink. He came out and sat back down next to Arthur, just in time for Uther to set his paperwork aside and order them both, “Seatbelts — we’re landing soon.”
Fastening his seatbelt, Merlin smiled while looking out the window at the city approaching them, the urban lights greeting them in the half-dark of the early evening.
"America is a lot prettier than I expected," Merlin murmured — yet the Pendragons still heard him, given they were currently the only ones on this end of the private jet.
"We haven't even landed yet," Arthur huffed when he plugged himself in. "It will probably be ugly on the ground." Arthur leaned over Merlin for a bit to peer out the window. With an unimpressed shrug, he turned back to his book.
"New York City is a much more aesthetic city, even on the ground," Uther said noncommittally.
"What about Washington D.C.?" Merlin asked, pointing out the window.
"I never had the chance to properly tour the city whenever I came here last," Uther said, picking his brief back up.
As he did, the king gave Merlin a pointed look when Arthur looked away, and Merlin nodded. Despite Arthur’s pathetic attempts to hide the diplomatic brief from Merlin, there were a few things he needed to know, and Uther had made sure to tell him before they landed.
Pendragon father and son immersed themselves in their reading, both of them quite accustomed to flying. Merlin, who had only flown in an airplane once before in his life, unabashedly plastered his face to the window to watch their landing.
It was actually somewhat fun. Except the ears-popping bit, that part was annoying. Otherwise, the whooshing in his stomach and the sight of the rapidly approaching ground were delightful, and Merlin wasn’t going to pass up this chance to see it, in spite of all the excitements he knew lay ahead.
They taxied to a stop, and Merlin got up as everyone else did, stretching before crossing the plane and looking out the window. There stood the President, as well as his wife and two daughters, all smiling in picture-perfect greeting as Merlin heard the door opening to the side. He could already hear over a dozen cameras snapping nearby, and in the distance he could see reporters with their microphones talking at the standard fare of news cameras.
"Hey," Arthur said from behind him. "Check my suit for me?"
"Sure." Merlin turned and adjusted Arthur's tie and collar a little, until they were aligned perfectly – or at least as perfect as they could get after sitting in them for hours. "How's mine?" He asked cheekily, waving at his neck and chest.
Arthur glared as Merlin gestured to his imaginary tie. "I hate you."
Merlin laughed, though he did pity Arthur being stuck in the full diplomacy get-up. While Merlin was accompanying Arthur, he wasn't really here to represent anyone, Britain or otherwise. His shirt didn't have the stiff collar, he didn't need to wear a tie, and his current scarf — wine-red and satin — was delightfully comfortable.
Though Merlin still looked forward to the day his neck was scar-less enough that his neckwear didn’t matter, right now he was exploiting his inability to wear a tie for all it was worth.
"Here," Merlin said, taking pity on Arthur's predicament and reaching up to Arthur's neck, focusing on the feeling of the silk against his skin and willing that sensation into the starched collar.
When Arthur sighed in relief, Merlin pulled his fingers away. Just in time, for that was when Uther looked at them.
"Come," he said to Arthur, though gesturing for both of them to follow him. Looking sharply at Arthur, he added, "And behave."
Arthur grinned and nodded, to which Uther rolled his eyes and looked at Merlin — who nodded a little more sedately. He’d make sure to keep Arthur in line…as best as he could, anyway.
Merlin sighed as they descended the steps out of the plan, well-practiced smile on his lips hopefully hiding his nervousness. Ahead of him, the two royals looked confident as ever, waving to the small army of reporters. One day, Merlin might bother to learn the twisty-wrist wave.
But that day was not today.
He waited back for about three minutes for the Extremely Official greetings and bits, and then once Uther and Arthur had said their pieces to the president, and some of the cameras subsided a bit, Merlin sidled forward at the same time as president's family, and started his own little act in the greetings circus.
Merlin made sure not to offer his hand to them – just as the diplomatic briefing had said, and Uther had ordered – and no one offered their hand to him.
They had a big dinner that evening, and Arthur and Merlin stuffed themselves with classical American obesity on a plate. Afterwards, the President bid them all a surprisingly personal and informal goodnight. He patted the boys’ shoulders affectionately and told them to have fun at Disney World tomorrow, before going off to talk about Grown Up Things with Uther.
Some White House aide led them up to where they’d be staying.
"Nice room," Merlin commented as he looked around the room. He spared a moment to hope that it hadn’t caused too much trouble to move two beds into one room. Then he flopped onto the bed by the window and sank into the soft mattress with a happy sigh. He tried not to be too impressed, but the White House had surprisingly good taste in furniture. Or at least mattresses. "Very nice bed."
"Low standards," Arthur shot at him fondly, flopping onto his own bed.
"Prat," Merlin said, curling up on the bed and tugging one of the large pillows over him. "Think we can ask about taking some pillows?"
"We have pillows, Merlin. I have very nice pillows, imported and embroidered and everything."
"But they are all so tiny and stuff," Merlin said, burying his face into the thick coverlet. "These ones, though…"
"Traitor," Arthur deadpanned. Merlin didn't respond, and a moment later he felt one of the large pillows hit his legs. Poking his head out, Merlin looked at the pillow. Feeling too lazy to pick it up himself and throw it back, he levitated all the pillows on Arthur's bed and dropped them on him, and tucked himself back under the gargantuan pillow as Arthur spluttered and flailed about on the bed.
Arthur retaliated, and they quickly descended into a pillow fight which only ended when a chuckling Leon came in and said, "You boys should be getting ready for bed. Long day tomorrow."
"Merlin can go first," Arthur said easily. Merlin rolled his eyes a little but started digging through his suitcase for his pajamas. "Did your security meeting thing go well?"
"Yes, in fact," Leon said as he started doing another, probably unnecessary, sweep of their room for anything untoward. "The Secret Service personnel were quite obliging of our security preferences, actually."
"Obliging, my arse," Will said as he strolled in, handing some papers to Leon. "They're arseholes. They were just retraining themselves on the President's orders."
"Well that's nice of him to order that," Merlin said once he gathered his things. He remembered Will's explanation of how security teams often clashed when multiple VIPs interacted. Uther even brought it up with the President just after dinner, it apparently got that bad sometimes.
("No problem," the President had said easily. "It's understandable. I’d be like that, too, if my daughters were kidnapped.")
"Well in any case," Leon said. "It went smoothly."
Merlin smiled as he headed off to bathe. This trip was going brilliantly so far.
Which begged the question of why Morgana had seemed so apprehensive of Arthur 'doing' something while they were here. She her vision had been one of the cryptic ones, so all she could tell Merlin was to try to keep his head down for the trip.
And that even though she knew he’d try, he wouldn’t succeed.