Arthur had been right to be concerned about Gwaine. He was obviously leading Merlin astray.
Two days after ‘the courier incident’ as Morgana had taken to calling it, Merlin was late for work. Strictly speaking, he wasn’t late as such, but it was almost 8.30 when he arrived so he was late by Merlin’s standards. He’d also left early the previous evening. Well… again perhaps not early, it was 6pm, so it was early for Merlin. And to make matters worse, he’d said that he was going out. Arthur had no doubt who he was going out with, and the large hickey that the latest addition to Merlin’s vast scarf collection couldn’t quite hide did nothing to ease the concerns Arthur had about that particular relationship.
“Good evening?” Arthur asked irritably as Merlin put Arthur’s morning coffee down in front of him. Arthur couldn’t help letting his gaze drift to Merlin’s neck.
Merlin tugged his scarf up self-consciously. “Uh…yeah, thanks.”
“I suppose it was that scruffy courier?” Arthur kicked himself mentally as he said it. He absolutely did not want to know.
“Um…yes. We went for a drink.”
“Ah. Vampire, is he?”
Merlin gave a little laugh, which he immediately tried to turn into a cough when Arthur didn’t laugh back. “He’s a bit wild.”
Arthur harrumphed at that. A bit wild indeed. “You know, in your position I expect you to meet and greet our customers,” Arthur told him, because he just couldn’t help himself. He desperately wanted to be the one who left marks like that all over Merlin. Apparently his mouth had decided that the best way to disguise that particular want was to tell Merlin off. Because that was really going to help. But on he went. “They don’t need to see that.”
“Sorry.” If only it wasn’t so adorable the way Merlin blushed and fidgeted uncomfortably with his scarf. “I did try to stop him but he… well, he doesn’t do rules very well…”
“What?” Arthur was up and out of his chair, instantly protective. “If that low-life’s forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do, I’ll have the police on him!”
“No!” Merlin threw his hands up defensively, forgetting the scarf. It slipped, and Arthur could see that huge mark in all its horrible glory. Bloody Gwaine. “Nothing like that, he’s not like that, not at all! He’s just… he likes to play around and have fun and it was like a challenge when I said that and…”
“Enough!” Arthur put his hand up to stop the flow of unwelcome information. “Please, I don’t need the gory details. I suppose it’s inevitable if you take up with the wrong sort that you’re going to get led astray.”
Merlin looked affronted. “It’s one slip! It won’t happen again. No, what’s inevitable is the fact that you’re going to get annoyed any time I’m not available for extra-long hours with no extra pay! That’s what this is really about!”
No, what it was really about, and what really was inevitable, was that Arthur was horribly, horribly jealous and he didn’t know what to do about it. Merlin was his employee, after all.
“I don’t want standards slipping. At least you went home and changed this morning.” Oh, he shouldn’t have said that. He could see the angry expression descending over Merlin’s face at the implication.
“It was one date, Arthur, a first date.”
Arthur found his gaze flitting to the mark on Merlin’s neck, just momentarily, but Merlin saw.
“Yeah, okay, think what you like, it’s none of your business what I do in my spare time. And talking of spare time, I need to take some leave on the 15th and 18th. Long weekend away.”
A long weekend away in a couple of weeks’ time! With that no-good courier who’d probably get him drunk and high and shag him to within an inch of his life because it wouldn’t be a first date by then. “No, I’m sorry but that’s not possible.”
Merlin stared at him. “But…you’ll be in the States then, there’s all the conferences… I don’t need to be here.”
“No, you don’t, because you’ll be coming with me. Did you not get the email?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t on the list…”
“There was an error. Gwen’s not quite as perfect as Morgana thinks, obviously. I need you there, I can’t manage without you for all that time. Your courier will have to book in a different weekend.”
Merlin stared at him for a moment in that odd way he sometimes did, as if he were weighing Arthur up, then gave a little shrug. “Okay. I’m sure we’ll find something even better. Enjoy your coffee, I’ve got work to do.”
He’d taken it much better than Arthur expected. And he didn’t even slam the door when he went back to his desk.
Merlin sat at his desk looking through the emails on the American trip. There was definitely no mention of his inclusion, in fact he’d spoken to Gwen about it the previous day and she’d been planning what she was going to do with all the free time she’d have over there. Her workload would mostly be making sure Arthur and Morgana had all the right paperwork at the right conferences, and that travel and hotel bookings all went smoothly. As that was all arranged already, her workload was going to be mostly just sitting by the hotel pools or going sightseeing. There was definitely no need for both of them to go along.
He sent a quick email, cancelling his plans for that particular weekend.
Sorry, that prat of a boss of mine won’t let me take the leave so can we rearrange the weekend? Apparently I’m needed on the trip to the States. Probably doesn’t trust anyone else to pick up his coffee for him. High-powered stuff, you know? Anyway, this just means you have to let me treat you like I wanted to anyway, because now I feel guilty. Paris weekend for your birthday sound good instead?
Arthur would, he knew, have capitulated quite fast if he’d known it was a weekend with Merlin’s mum, but the move suited Merlin so he didn’t enlighten him. Leave taken to spend time with family, particularly Merlin’s mother, always seemed to be something Merlin was allowed to have no matter how inconvenient. He always supposed that Arthur was a little envious, having no mother himself, and over-compensated.
He looked over at Arthur’s office, unable to stop a rush of affection for the man. Arthur was working on his laptop, apparently deep in concentration on whatever was on the screen. Probably playing Candy Crush again, Merlin thought fondly.
An instant message pinged in from Gwen, wanting to know how the date went. Gwen had not been happy about him going on it. Gwen had always had odd ideas about Arthur returning Merlin’s affection, but she’d got more insistent in the past day or so. Apparently Morgana had told her something that confirmed all Gwen’s suspicions. Gwen was of course wrong… although Arthur had been a bit strange about the whole Gwaine thing. But no, he’d made his feelings perfectly clear the other day.
“Fun, but I got about 3 hours sleep last night after he’d dragged me round the clubs. I’m knackered. And he flirts with anything that moves. And of course Prince Pendragon’s in a mood about me being here on time instead of early.”
In fact, when Merlin had called it a night Gwaine had stayed in the club and probably pulled. Or possibly just passed out there. He was good company, and a great kisser, but Arthur was right about the hickey. Gwaine had just laughed at him and carried on. Still, if Arthur was going to be a prat about it then Merlin was sure he could persuade Gwaine to greet him with a snog every time he brought in a delivery, regardless of whether there was anything actually going on between them. Which, given Merlin’s hopeless crush on Arthur, there wasn’t going to be.
“Aw, Arthur’s just jealous <3 And why are you suddenly being added to the States trip? I’ve already booked everything. LA’s okay but the hotel in Vegas is already full :-(”
“Arthur thought I was going away with Gwaine that weekend.”
There was a little flurry of annoying hearts and smileys in reply. “Aww! He’s jealous! He lurves you!”
Merlin ignored her, as he felt she deserved it. Sure enough there was another reply.
“Morgana says just go along with it, we’re going to arrange EVERYTHING!”
Of course she was relaying everything to her boss and fellow evil witch. Merlin glanced across at his own gorgeous and unattainable boss once again, and tried very hard to quell the growing feeling of unease at Gwen’s words.
But the only reply was a long, long line of hearts.
Merlin really wasn’t looking forward to the trip.