Title: Standing Room Only
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: badly written stripper!
Summary: Arthur has a thing for Merlin and Merlin has a secret.
Word Count: 13,000
Disclaimers: The characters depicted herein belong to Shine and BBC. I make no profit from this endeavour.
Author's notes: This is an old kink me fill from 2010 and has not been beta read.

Half past six on a Friday evening and Arthur was still at his desk, blearily glaring at his laptop, wondering if he squinted he could make the figures add up. Stupid fucking spreadsheet. When his mobile rings Arthur has never been so keen to answer.

It's Leon. He'd had a bad day and was wondering if Arthur will meet him at The King's Head because he really needs a drink. Arthur found himself agreeing without any real persuasion on Leon's part; maybe after a couple of pints and a good night's sleep he might be able to look at those figures makes some sense of them. Quickly saving the documents to his stick to look at tomorrow at home, Arthur shut down his laptop, grabbed his jacket and slid open the door to the main office to make his escape.

Merlin, Arthur's PA, was still at his desk. "What are you still doing here at this time?" Arthur asked, coming to stand opposite the dark haired man who was busily tapping away at his keyboard, his long fingers making light work of whatever he was working on.

"I'm not in on Monday – remember?" Merlin said without looking up at Arthur. "I'm just finishing the report you wanted for the meeting on Tuesday."

Ah yes, Merlin was taking a rare day off. Arthur always felt as though he'd lost a limb when Merlin wasn't in the office. His PA was strangely inelegant and clumsy – Arthur had had to replace Merlin's computer last month after he'd spilled coffee all over it - yet ruthlessly efficient, and he had eyes you could drown in. Arthur blinked and shook his head.

"No, I remember," Arthur nodded. "Listen, I'm meeting my friend Leon for a drink, do you want to join us?" He watched Merlin closely for his response, his breath held.

Merlin looked up then, his dark blue eyes meeting Arthur's, "Sorry Arthur, I've got plans already. Thanks for the invite."

Arthur's heart sank as he exhaled. Merlin had never once accepted one of Arthur's oh-so-casual invites in the eight months he'd worked for him at Camelot Inc. He wondered why he still kept on asking.

"No problem," Arthur said smoothly. "Enjoy your weekend and I'll see you Tuesday?"

"Mmm, you too," and Merlin's attention was already back on the report. Arthur sighed and left quietly. Stupid fucking crush.

::::

If anyone had asked, Arthur would have laid the blame solely at Leon's door; it was all Leon's idea, he'd say. I only went along as a favour. The fact that Leon had suggested it and Arthur had agreed the instant the words were out of Leon's mouth was irrelevant. Arthur was just being a good friend, you know, keeping Leon company in the wake of his recent break up with Gwaine and subsequent need – in Leon's own words - to see some naked flesh, lots of it, and now.

Who was Arthur to deny his best friend?

Arthur had often wondered why it was that he and Leon didn't fancy each other in the slightest; but there had never been anything there other than mates, practically brothers. Arthur loved Leon, but he didn't love him. Luckily the feeling was mutual.

So Arthur, in his 'my best friend needs cheering up' mode, didn't balk at the ridiculously expensive entrance fee to 'Hengist's', nor the small fortune it cost to buy a couple of beers. He'd always been mildly intrigued by what was hidden behind the doors of such a place, and now he was finally in a position to find out.
It was disappointingly un-seedy, and quite... nice.

Leon directed Arthur towards two vacant seats right by the stage. The stage was black with rope lights marking out the edges and red velvet curtains. Arthur noted small gold placards screwed to the front stage wall; 'Do not cross this line'. Arthur considered himself warned.

Arthur was immediately disgruntled that the rest of the patrons of the club seemed to be normal suited businessman types; out for an after work drink/eyeful there was not one Colombo lookalike in a scruffy old mac to be seen. He had obviously been watching too many movies and had bought into the stereotype. Maybe the men at straight strip clubs wore dirty macs and sunglasses? Gay men and bi-sexuals, such as himself, obviously had more style. Another stereotype? Arthur found he didn't really care.

Arthur was so busy scoping out the calibre of the other patrons that he hadn't even gotten round to looking at the stage yet. "Arthur," Leon stage whispered, leaning right into Arthur, his breath tickling his ear. "Have you seen the cock on that one?"

"What?" Arthur turned his head and did a sweep of the stage. Four men, or rather boys were performing what appeared to be some kind of co-ordinated striptease to an old Backstreet Boys song, skipping around each other, exchanging places, and dancing back again, hips wiggling, arses gyrating, cocks stuffed into skimpy thongs which by this point was all they were left wearing.

The one now nearest to them, a slender blond with a pony tail, winked at Leon who had finally managed to tear his gaze away from his cock, and shimmied over to the side of the stage. Arthur noticed the other boys were doing the same towards other wide eyed patrons; Leon was on his feet and stuffing notes into the boy's thong. Arthur rolled his eyes. It appeared that the warnings about not crossing lines only applied when not waving bank notes in one's hand.

He suspected Leon was going to end the evening considerably poorer than when he started it.

::::

Half an hour later and Arthur was getting bored. None of this did it for him. Thongs just weren't sexy. None of the twinks on display were quite right somehow. They lacked a certain something and although Arthur couldn't say what that something was, he knew he'd know it if he saw it.

Leon, on the other hand, was fucking loving it. He must have stuffed over two hundred quid into twinky thongs by now, and not just those of the boys on stage – the waiter had caught his eye and scored a huge tip, as had an attractive black guy whom Leon had paid to give him a lap dance.

Arthur had felt embarrassed to watch that.

He checked his watch; it was probably too early to make a move, he wanted Leon to have a good evening. He deserved cheering up in the wake of Gwaine's latest attention seeking stunt.

Arthur did not like Gwaine.

The club was really filling up now, less men in suits, more designer jeans and tight t-shirts; more waiters circulating in close fitting skimpy outfits. Arthur checked his phone for messages and sighed, nothing. It looked as though he would have to stay a little longer.

Leon was chatting to the bloke sitting on his other side, an older man who was hand in hand with another guy who seemed barely out of his teens. Turning back to Arthur, Leon said, "Apparently the next act is really good. He's got quite the following according to Jeff." Arthur assumed Jeff was the guy Leon had just been talking with. "He won't give lap dances either. Jeff reckons it just adds to his allure."

Arthur glanced at Jeff. Then at the milling – standing room only – crowd that had started to gather, back up to the bar area. The waiters were run off their feet; there was a decided buzz in the air. He hoped that the hype was worth it, he wanted to be turned on by some random hot guy gyrating on the stage, he needed to get back out there; get the blood flowing again. He needed to have lustful feelings for people who perhaps, say, didn't work for him.

Merlin's blue eyes and goofy grin flashed into his head and Arthur shoved the image back into the file marked 'never going to happen'. In Merlin's case, probably because he thought Arthur was a prat, and because Merlin was totally straight.

Estimating he had time to run to the gents before this super hot next act came on, Arthur made a run for it. He was going to get turned on by this act if fucking killed him. He was only human; something had to stir down there at least once tonight, right?

There was a fucking queue in the gents, which probably shouldn't have surprised Arthur considering the volume of people in the club, but it did. So by the time he'd peed and escaped back into the club, the much awaited act had started. All Arthur could see from the back of the club was other people's heads, so he swiftly made his way back to his seat, not attempting to look at the stage until he was comfortable, and when he did he was rewarded by not one, but five men on stage, the two on either side were dressed all in white – t-shirt and jeans – with bare feet.

Arthur recognised them as the Backstreet Boys dancers from earlier. The man in the middle was dressed all in black, and was skinnier than Arthur had expected – which was good, Arthur liked skinny boys. He had his back to the audience whilst the other four danced around him, making a show of pretending to get him to turn around and face the crowd.

Maybe, just maybe, Arthur perked up a little. He sat up straighter in his seat, eyes fixed on the man in the middle's bottom as it began to wiggle, slowly, almost teasingly. The others continued to gyrate around him, but Arthur paid no attention to them, dismissing them as ten a penny twinks.

In what Arthur then remembered as slow motion, the man turned around. Arthur heard himself gasp, his breath hitching in his throat when he recognised who it was. Merlin.

Merlin his PA. Merlin his oh so tiny little obsession. Merlin who he had so often fantasised about bending over his desk and marking him as his. Merlin whom Arthur had long ago given up as a straight because he never once accepted any of Arthur's invitations.

If anyone had asked Arthur to describe what Merlin did next, he knew he couldn't have. It all descended into the surreal. The crowd were baying for him, calling his name – well, not Merlin but Warlock. As the routine neared its end, after Merlin's clothing had been removed piece by heart-stopping piece, leaving Merlin clad only in tight glittery shorts that left nothing to the imagination – Arthur watched transfixed as Merlin glided to the edge of the stage, where security were already in place to keep wandering hands off the live merchandise.

Merlin must have sensed Arthur then because he looked up, and fixed Arthur directly in his blue eyed gaze. Arthur watched in fascination as he turned pink, his eyes widening a fraction at the sight of his boss and the knowledge that said boss had just watched him take his clothes off in front of a crowd in a gay strip club. Then he smiled; not his usual goofy 'I've broken the printer again' smile, but a sultry, sexy, come hither, come fuck me smile. Arthur gulped; how long he'd waited to see that look on Merlin's face when he looked at him.

Men were literally queuing to stuff money down Merlin's shorts, and Arthur could see from the corner of his eye that it wasn't just folded notes finding their way into the only barrier between Merlin and nakedness, but handwritten phone numbers and business cards. He saw Leon joined the throng, licking his lips as he looked up at Merlin, who broke eye contact with Arthur to wink down at him with a confident smirk. Leon pulled a business card from his wallet and instead of stuff in into Merlin's now bulging shorts, he handed it to him. Merlin took it; his eyes going back to Arthur's as he palmed the card, took a final bow and ran off the stage.

Arthur exhaled. Holy fucking hell. Had that really just happened?

"Wow," exclaimed Leon, throwing himself back into his seat beside Arthur. "No wonder they all rave about that kid; that was fucking hot."

Arthur didn't reply, he was too busy processing what he had just seen and trying to reign in his jealousy fuelled temper that was burning up his insides, and was about to direct itself at Leon, because Leon had given Merlin his card, Leon had touched Merlin.

"It was alright," Arthur lied, through gritted teeth. "I think I need to go home now, are you coming?"

"Nah, I think I might stay here a while, head home later." He grinned at Arthur. "With a bit of luck that kid Warlock kid might be circulating later...I'd rather like to take him home, fuck Gwaine out of my system, you know?"

Arthur did know, which is why he found himself saying, "In that case, I'll stay and keep you company." Which was the last thing he wanted to do, but there was no way he was letting Leon get his hands on Merlin, no way in hell.

::::

Arthur missed Merlin's arrival at the office on Tuesday thanks to his father and his 'emergency' meeting to discuss something that Arthur is sure was very important but is damned if he can remember what.

All he'd thought about since Friday night had been Merlin, Merlin, Merlin; especially when wanking (a lot), and whilst that was nothing new per se, those glittery little shorts meant that Arthur now knew what was under Merlin's business attire. He also knew that Merlin had looked at him like he wanted to eat him.

There was no point whatsoever in Arthur pretending he didn't want to be eaten. By Merlin. Anytime now would be nice.

"Arthur, are you evening listening to me?" Uther queried, and Arthur came to from his Merlin daze and looked dreamily at his father.

"Hmm?" Oh shit, what had he been saying? "Right – sorry Father. Headache."

Uther reached into his briefcase and threw some Ibruprofen at Arthur, and that was then end of that subject. Uther didn't do ill. "Berlin, Arthur," continued Uther, not filling the gaps, assuming Arthur knew what he was talking about. "I need you to get out there and find out what's going on; they're haemorrhaging money and it cannot go on. Get Martin to book the flights and take him with you; he speaks German, you don't, you'll need him."

"Martin?" Probably one of Uther's new wunderkinds; his flavour of the month to wave in front of Arthur to illustrate his failings by highlighting their achievements.

Uther rewarded Arthur with a withering look. "Your PA Arthur."

Merlin could speak German? Arthur really should have paid more interest in his CV when Uther had hired him. "His name's Merlin," he corrected, annoyed.

Uther looked like he couldn't care less if Merlin was called Elvis and came to work in a spangly jumpsuit. "Just get yourself to Berlin and sort it out; I'm relying on you to get to the root of this. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm expected in the New York office." He slammed his briefcase shut and swept regally from the room, leaving Arthur in his father's empty office feeling slightly stunned.

He picked up the papers his father had left for him, hopefully detailing whatever it was that was allegedly going on in Berlin.

Merlin spoke German. Uther wanted Arthur to take Merlin with him to Berlin.

Arthur had never grinned so widely that it hurt before.

::::

Arthur ignored the lift in favour of taking the stairs down the four floors between his division and the Executive Suite his father worked out of. He took the stairs two at a time, resisting the urge to skip out of the stairwell through the open plan office to Merlin's desk, tucked away as it was behind a wall of greenery. A Pendragon most certainly does not skip.

The urge to skip immediately left him when he rounded upon Merlin's desk and found him talking to and laughing with Leon. Leon who turned at Arthur's arrival and threw him an smug look. "Arthur, I was wondering when you would show up. Merlin here was just -" Behind Leon Arthur saw Merlin shift uncomfortably in his seat.

"What can I do for you Leon?" Arthur knew he sounded put out, but fuck it, he was put out. On Friday night Leon had been saying how much he'd like to fuck Merlin...now here he was fucking flirting with him? Arthur did not like this scenario one little bit.

"Can't a bloke pop in and see his best mate?" Leon raised a challenging eyebrow, causing Arthur to seriously regret that last beer on Friday that had loosened his tongue and urged him to reveal that 'Warlock' also doubled as his PA. He should have fucking known Leon would pull something like this; his best friend was a man who always went after what he wanted.

"Come in to my office Leon," offered Arthur then, trying to sound easy and relaxed; feeling like knocking him out. "Merlin – could you sort out some coffee for us please; proper stuff, none of that instant crap – in fact, could you pop down to Starbucks and get us a couple of venti lattes, and one for yourself?"

Merlin, Arthur noted as he finally managed to look at him properly, was studiously not looking at Arthur, even as he said, "No problem," and grabbed his suit jacket off the back of his chair.

Arthur shunted Leon into his office and managed not to slam the door. "Leon – what the fuck?"

"Oh come on Arthur; you couldn't have expected me to pass this up. Your PA is one cute piece of -"

"I'd rather you didn't try to tap my PA, Leon, he's very good at what he does and -"

"Mmm, I'll just bet he is," purred Leon and Arthur gritted his teeth at the interruption. "How come you've never..?"

"I don't mix business with pleasure," lied Arthur, knowing damn well he would if he got the chance with Merlin.

"Then you won't mind if I -"

"I -" Arthur began, and was cut off when the door opened and Morgana floated in, dressed as though she was going to dinner party in a long satin maxi dress, he hair swept up into a complicated chignon.

"Arthur, have you – Leon!" The two embraced, and Morgana immediately began asking Leon what he was up to, how Gwaine was...which started off the conversation on 'how you never can tell with some people'; Merlin slid quietly into the office and dished out the coffees and back out again with only Arthur noticing he'd even been present.

Arthur could sense Merlin's presence even when he couldn't see him. That was probably why he'd reacted the way he on Friday. Arthur jumped to his feet and stuck his head out the door, "Merlin, I need you to book us both on a flight to Berlin, arriving lunchtime tomorrow, and get us a decent hotel – I anticipate we'll be staying a few days so pack enough clothes alright?"

Merlin had to look at him then, his eyes wide, his face flushed, "Staying over? But Arthur I ca-"

"Merlin, may I remind you that part of this job is accompanying me on such trips if required. I need your language skills." Arthur tried to sound stern, but the forlorn look on Merlin's face was tugging at his heartstrings. "You have something else you would rather be doing?" He heart might be melting, but he wasn't going to let Merlin see this.

"No – no, it's fine, I'll get onto it right away," he straightened and smiled. The smile didn't reach his eyes.

Of course, of course, Merlin didn't want to spend a few days stuck with his boss on a business trip. Arthur should have known that the sex eyes and the 'come and get me' smile were just part of the stage show. Merlin had made it clear before now that he didn't want to spend time with Arthur outside of work; his continued refusal to even as much as join him for a drink should have been all the clue he needed.

Arthur retreated back into his office and didn't even pretend to be listening to Leon and Morgana's reminiscing about their teenage years, when Leon had been in denial and Morgana had been into rugby players. Opening Outlook Arthur tapped out a quick email to Cen – his occasional fuck buddy - to see if he was free that night.

If he was going to be spending a few days in Berlin with only Merlin for company; he was going to need to take the edge off this constant state of semi arousal he'd been in since Friday.

::::

Arthur had always loved Berlin; he liked the weird TV thing that could be seen from anywhere in the city, kind of like a hovering Death Star, and the abundance of beer gardens, or trendy little bars and clubs, and the fact that the city had been through hell and bounced back, a little more concrete than the original, but alive and so vibrant.

Merlin had booked them into the Hilton on Mohrenstrasse, which was just around the corner from the office. Arthur decided they had time to stop there and check in before descending on his German colleagues who, unless there was a spy in their midst, had no idea he was coming. Far easier to catch a thief, if that was what was going on, when said thief wasn't expecting you.

"Have you been to Berlin before Merlin?" Arthur was determined to get something out of Merlin on the taxi journey from Tegel Airport; he was so withdrawn, he had hardly said anything on the flight over, and Arthur was worried that it was because he knew that Arthur knew what he did as a second job. Or maybe he was regretting giving Arthur the sexy eyes as it was quite obvious Arthur had quite liked it, and Merlin didn't think of Arthur that way. Heck, Merlin could still even be straight – he didn't do lap dances, he did his routine and didn't circulate afterwards – he might just be a good dancer who didn't mind showing the gay world what he had to offer, because the pink pound was worth way more than, say, the money of the bored housewife type who might go to a straight club to watch men take their clothes off.

Arthur wished he didn't lose his own personality when around Merlin – anyone else and Arthur would be asking all these questions directly to them. With Merlin – he just couldn't. There was also that slight niggle in the back of his head that told him that if he did ask then it could be construed as some kind of sexual harassment and Arthur didn't want that.

"No, not Berlin," Merlin replied. "Köln – I lived there for over a year until my... I lived in Köln."

Arthur had to bite his lip not to ask Merlin to finish his sentence – until what? "Köln is Cologne right?"

"Yeah. I've never understood why they change the name into English; surely a name is a name?"

"I'm with you there," Arthur agreed, and he was, he was also pleased Merlin was actually talking. "Like Deutschland, yet we call it Germany."

"Bizarre," said Merlin.

"Merlin," Arthur chose to look out of the window and not directly at Merlin when he asked this. "Is everything OK, you seem quiet..?"

He heard Merlin sigh heavily before replying, "I'm fine Arthur, absolutely fine."

::::

Their impromptu visit to the Berlin office had gone well – so far. Arthur had obviously not mentioned why he had come, wanting to see if people gave themselves away naturally.

They all spoke to him in perfect English, really he would have been OK without Merlin, but he was glad Merlin was here – apart from the fact that Arthur would quite like to spend as much time as he could in the younger man's company, preferably naked time – he was, on a different level – glad to have the company. Business trips alone were what it said on the tin – lonely.

"We're going out for dinner tonight," Arthur told Merlin when they were in the lift out of the office. "Nice meal, few drinks; it'll be relaxing. Alright?"

For a moment Arthur thought Merlin was about to protest; and his heart sank right down into his expensive leather shoes. "Yeah, sounds like fun," Merlin said and Arthur's stomach did a little dance. "It's not like there's anything else to do." And just like that, Arthur was back down there, relegated to the option only slightly above staying in one's hotel room all alone.

Merlin really didn't want a lot to do with Arthur socially. Arthur just wished his stupid heart would stop hoping, and he wished now that he could un-see Merlin's act at the club the other night, because if he'd wanted Merlin before that, that desire had multiplied tenfold since; and Merlin really wasn't interested was he? This wasn't some 'hard to get' ploy, he just didn't see Arthur.

"Great," said Arthur, trying not to sound too forced. They had completed the short walk from the office to the hotel. "Meet you in the lobby at half seven and we'll head out to find something to eat; I'm just going to check the swimming pool opening hours." More like he couldn't face being so close to Merlin in another lift.

"No problem," Merlin offered a little wave and wandered off to hover in front of the lift. Arthur went around the corner to hide and checked his Blackberry whilst there. Typical, there was an email from Cen, 'Sorry I missed you yesterday, internet down. I'm free tonight?" Like that was any good to Arthur now. He'd needed the distraction yesterday, and now he was here, in Berlin, with someone who made his cock weep by his mere proximity, and the edge most definitely had not been taken off his desire; in fact after today it seemed to be getting worse.

He clicked on delete and on a whim rang Leon, hoping Leon might tell him he'd made it up with Gwaine, which would mean he'd lost interest in Merlin. Apparently not. Leon happily informed him that he had rung Merlin at the office yesterday afternoon and asked him if he'd like to meet him for a drink when he got back from Berlin and Merlin had said yes.

Merlin had said yes to another guy. Merlin had said yes to Leon. Well, there went that excuse Arthur had been clinging to, the one where Merlin was actually straight and only dancing for other blokes for the money.

Arthur wanted to scream and cry. He wanted to smash something. He wanted a large whisky, and he wanted it now.

::::

When Merlin came down to meet Arthur at half 7 he was nowhere to be seen. Merlin checked his watch with a frown; Arthur was usually meticulously punctual. He scanned the lobby, nothing. Maybe Arthur had meant the bar? He crossed the marble floor and peered inside the bar, not expecting to find him and surprised when he did.

Arthur was seated a stool with his back to Merlin, still wearing his suit, chatting animatedly to a tall red headed woman in a tight green dress; a woman who had her hand on Arthur's arm and was leaning in too close for Merlin's comfort.

Merlin shook his head and made his approach. "Arthur, are you ready to go?" he ventured, coming to stand beside Arthur, resisting the sudden urge to slap the woman's hand off his arm.

"Aaaah, Merlin," Arthur almost slurred at Merlin's interruption. "Come and meet Sophie; she's here on business ashwell. Sophie, thish ish Merlin, he workss for me. Hesh a stripper."

Oh God, Merlin had hoped that was something that would never be spoken between himself and Arthur, although he knew full well it had been hanging in the air since last week, since he'd finished his act and looked up to find the blue eyes of his boss staring at him with a mixture of shock and arousal. God, that had been hot.

Sophie turned and looked Merlin up and down with surprised wide eyes. He knew she was thinking Arthur must be joking, and he couldn't blame her. If he'd met himself in a bar he'd never have believed the average looking skinny bloke with the big ears could be a stripper. Her expression turned to a sneer.

"I'm Arthur's PA," Merlin corrected, Arthur having made it sound as though Merlin worked for Arthur as a stripper. "How much is this continued association with you going to cost him?"

Sophie preened and said, "Five hundred euros." Merlin forced his smug grin not to materialise. She had 'hooker' written all over her.

Merlin picked her hand off Arthur's arm and curled his own arm around Arthur's shoulders. "He won't be needing you, thank for keeping him company while he waited for me."

Arthur was watching him intently and didn't even seem to have registered that Sophie was flouncing off to find her next victim. He reached out his hand and ran his thumb over Merlin's lower lip and said, "Pretty."

Merlin rolled his eyes and removed his arm from around Arthur, "How much have you had to drink?"

"Noh mussh," Arthur replied, swaying on his stool. "Jush a cupple of whishkies." He leant forward and patted the stool next to him and looked pointedly at Merlin.

"No, I think we need to get you to bed," Merlin suggested hopefully. "Have you had anything to eat?"

Arthur shook his head and held up his glass of whisky.

"Come on," Merlin held out his arm. "Let's get you upstairs and we'll get some room service."

It was surprisingly easy, Arthur seemed to have reverted to a small child, meekly following Merlin into the lift and letting him take his key from him and opening the door to his room. Merlin sat Arthur on the sofa and went in search of the room service menu. Arthur clearly needed to eat, as did Merlin who'd been looking forward to going out.

He never got to go out anymore, and being able to go out and have Uther Pendragon footing the bill, well, let's say it felt like justice.

"What would you like to eat Arthur?" he said to the blond, who was still watching him with what Merlin could only describe as fascination. Something curled in Merlin's tummy, the same thing that always twisted in Arthur's presence, the thing that couldn't let Merlin hate him even though he'd quite happily see Arthur's father in hell.

No, it wasn't just the attraction that stopped him from hating Arthur; it was the fact that Arthur was a kind, generous, loyal man with a big heart and a conscience and knew nothing whatsoever of what Uther got up when he wasn't around.

When Merlin had taken the job with Arthur, he hadn't expected to even like him, instead it felt as though someone had shown him everything he'd ever wanted, the calmly picked it up and placed it on the other side of impenetrable glass; you can look but you can never touch. It was torture.

He wondered what Arthur would do if he knew the truth behind why Uther had employed Merlin; if Arthur knew that Uther owned Hengist's. He didn't think he did.

Uther didn't just own Hengist's though did he? He owned Merlin as well.

Merlin forced that thought to the back of his mind and turned his attention back to Arthur, "The menu Arthur – what can I -"

"Will you doish dansh for me Merlinnn?"

Merlin froze. Arthur was looking expectantly at him, albeit whilst swaying slightly, eyes not totally focussed. He snatched the menu off of him and said, "Right, pizza it is then," and he turned away, picking up the phone and making the call.

It hurt; Arthur knowing what he was. He'd never wanted Arthur to think badly of him even if he probably deserved it. He did strip for money; he was Uther Pendragon's puppet. He couldn't be Arthur's friend, much less anything else.

He knew Arthur liked him, wanted him and it broke his heart that he had to pretend not to notice, be the professional disinterested PA when his heart was screaming the opposite. Last week at the club, just in that moment, he'd let his feelings for his boss reflect in his eyes, but that had been a mistake – it had given Arthur hope where there could be none.

How long could he go one like this without cracking?

::::

Arthur was aware that he was drunk, and that inappropriate words were flying off his tongue in the direction of Merlin, but being aware of it and being able to stop it were two entirely separate things. To add the cherry to the cake, he was feeling pretty damned sorry for himself. The idea of hiding his feelings under a bottle of whisky were all very well if he was alone, but the catalyst was right there in front of him, eating pizza and licking his fingers.

Copious amounts of whisky did nothing to dampen his libido, and Arthur watched eagerly as Merlin treated his fingers in a way that Arthur would much rather he treated his cock. Fuck it all, he really was on a one way trip to hell. He tried, he honestly did, really hard not to let the words explode out of his mouth then, but a combination of drink and arousal and...Merlin, well... "Why Leon and not me?" he thought he said. To an outsider watching the proceedings, it was a more jumble of slurred words, which caused Merlin's head to jerk up, his fingers to be released from that inviting pink mouth and a matching pink blush to dust the tops of his cheekbones as he deciphered the sentence.

"Arthur – I don't think -"

"Whass wrong wit mee?" he whined and flapped his hand about a bit trying to illustrate his gym toned physique and his natural hunky good looks.

"There's nothing wrong with you," Merlin sighed, removing himself from the sofa and edging towards the door as if he thought Arthur might make a lunge for him any moment. "You're just not my type."

Not Merlin's type. Right. "Leon's yore type iss he Merrrlin? Leon? Him bush nah me?" Fucking traitorous bastard of a best friend. Arthur was never going to talk to the wanker again. He'd asked him to stay away from Merlin and he'd fucking well asked him out. "Wanker," he huffed and closed his eyes. He was so tired. So tired. All work and no play that was him. He tried to play, but Merlin didn't want to. He liked Merlin. Merlin was so pretty.

"Look, I think it's best if I go now and see you in the morning OK?" Merlin's hand was on the door handle, and Arthur wanted to protest that no, he wanted Merlin to stay, but minute amount of common sense he still held onto in the back of his head spoke up and urged him not to say anything, that doing anything else right now would be a very bad idea.

"'Kay," he mumbled morosely. "Tomorroh then."

Merlin looked uncertain for a moment then seemed to gather himself and opened the door. "Goodnight Arthur," he said with a small smile.

"'Nigh Merlllin."

::::

Arthur woke up the next morning with Dave Grohl playing the drums inside his skull. He rolled out of bed, realised he was still half dressed in his suit from the day before, stumbled into the en-suite for a shower and half-way through rinsing his hair, he remembered.

"Fuck." He'd made a complete and utter tit of himself to Merlin the night before. Not just a little bit of a tit, oh no, a bumbling, drunk, ever so slightly smitten with Merlin and making it obvious kind of tit. Bollocks.

Merlin was down at breakfast when Arthur gave in to his rumbling stomach and decided to brave it. Of course, Arthur couldn't pretend he hadn't seen him and run back upstairs, because Merlin saw everything and was waving him over.

Arthur sat gingerly the seat opposite Merlin and rubbed his head. He'd taken some headache pills but they wouldn't kick in yet.

"Hungover, Arthur?" Merlin asked pleasantly, pouring Arthur some coffee and sliding it over the table towards him.

"Yes, and embarrassed about last night – so let's agree never to mention it again?" Arthur would have tried the puppy-dog eyes but he had a feeling they wouldn't work on Merlin.

"Suits me," Merlin shrugged and pushed the laden toast rack over to Arthur. "As long as you promise we can go out tonight for that meal? I was looking forward to getting out."

Arthur scanned Merlin's face for any hint that this was more than a colleague to colleague conversation, that going out together in the evening meant more to Merlin than a way to pass the time whilst on a business trip with his boss.

He saw nothing. "Yes, of course we can go out," he said with a nod a nod and a professional smile. He told himself he needed to rein himself in, that last night he had totally overstepped the mark with Merlin. He was his boss, nothing more. If he acquired the label of 'Merlin's boyfriend's best friend' as well, if Merlin got together with Leon, then he'd just have to lump it and stop being such a sore loser.

It appropriate to see Merlin in those little shorts every time he closed his eyes. God how he wished he'd never gone out that night.

"Good," Merlin replied. "Now, what's the plan for the office today?"

::::

That night it was Merlin's turn to get slightly drunk, starting with the wine over dinner, followed by a garish green cocktail in the club he lured Arthur into afterwards. Arthur had barely touched his glass of wine, determined to keep a clear head for his own sanity.

It became immediately clear that Merlin loved to dance. Arthur had half thought that his show at the strip place had been a one off, that perhaps Merlin had debts and needed to work there to pay off a loan shark or whatever, and maybe that was still the case – but there was no denying the young man could move.

Arthur was too sober to join Merlin on the dance floor. He watched uncomfortably from the side lines, trying to will away the tightness in his trousers and the green eyed monster in his chest when a tall, blond and extremely fit man sauntered up behind Merlin and wrapped his arms around his waist. Merlin laughed and leant back into the man, closing his hands over the other's around his waist.

The room span as Arthur felt sick at the sight. He didn't like it, at all. He wanted to storm over there and knock the blond into next week. His chest hurt – this was worse than Leon. Anything that might happen with Leon and Merlin was still in the category of 'still preventable', but this – this was happening now, in front of Arthur's nose.

He turned on his heel and left the club. Merlin was a grown man, he could find his way home. Or to the blond's place. His stomach lurched. No, he would not go back inside. He had to stop, this Merlin thing, it had been going on for way too long. The stripping had only made it worse, made the fantasies come to life. He had to stop wasting his time on someone who so clearly didn't feel the same about him. He was pathetic.

When he got back to the hotel, which was only around the corner from the club, he stripped and headed for the shower, taking his time, trying to scrub away the ache in his palms. He exited the en suite with a towel slung low around his waist and nearly fell over his own feet when he realised Merlin was sitting on the sofa, waiting for him.

"You left me," he accused with a pout. Oh yes, Merlin was definitely a little drunk. He never flirted or pouted, or did anything that might remotely encourage Arthur's obsession with him. Arthur's heart sank. He couldn't deal with flirty drunk Merlin, because that would be his undoing.

"I didn't want to be a gooseberry between you and your new boyfriend," he said coldly, sidling around the edge of the room towards his robe.

Merlin snorted. "You're just jealous. I asked you to dance but you're too uptight for that."

"I am not uptight!" Arthur felt quite offended. Uptight indeed.

"Yes you are," Merlin continued. "Uptight and totally jealous."

Arthur reached his robe and tried to subtly reach out to unhook it so he could put it on. It was as if time stopped – one moment he had his hand out to clasp the fabric to cover his half naked torso – the next Merlin was there, right in his personal space, leaning into him, pressing himself against him whispering, "You're so hot when you're jealous."

Arthur had brief moment where he thought that he must be hot all the time then because he was always in a state of jealousy around Merlin, be it of the pen he was nibbling or the chair he sat in, all of them as close to Merlin as he wanted to be.

"I -" he managed before Merlin cupped his jaw with a slightly shaky hand and kissed him.

Merlin's tongue traced the seam of his lips before Arthur's groan of surprise and need granted an opening to allow Merlin to slide his tongue inside and then Arthur was lost, his own hand weaving its way into Merlin's dark hair, the other curving around the small of his back and pulling him in closer.

This was what he had been waiting for, what he had been dreaming of all this time. This was where he belonged…

Merlin pulled back and whispered, "What happens in Berlin, stays in Berlin, right?"

"Yes," Arthur heard himself lie. "Yes."

::::

Merlin liked this feeling, this slightly blurred around the edges wooziness that allowed him to step out of his usual confines and take what he wanted. Just this once. He wanted Arthur Pendragon. Screw Uther Pendragon and his manipulations, he might have a hold over most of Merlin's life, but he wasn't here now and he couldn't stop Merlin from having Arthur.

He leant into his blond, cupping his cheek, tasting his mouth, kissing him like he only had a day to live. Arthur was trembling when Merlin ran his own unsteady hand underneath the edges of his towel, loosening it enough to ensure it fell to the ground, pooling around Arthur's feet and revealing his hardening cock.

Merlin stifled a gasp. The man was perfect. He always knew he would be, but seeing him in his full naked glory interfered with his breathing. Strong, broad shoulders, muscular arms, a chest made for pillowing Merlin's head on… He shook his head slightly, letting his eyes skim along Arthur's abdomen, briefly ignoring his erection in favour of this thighs and feet – yes perfect.

Arthur was breathing hard under Merlin's scrutiny, and drawing his attention back to Arthur's cock was the icing on his cake. Merlin licked his lips, and looking into Arthur's eyes, gripped him by his wrist, pulled him to the bed and pushed him back onto it.

Stopping to yank off his own shirt and to shimmy out of his trousers, forgetting every stripper-tease in the book such was his haste to feel Arthur's naked flesh against his own. Arthur watched him intently, seemingly frozen to the bed as his eyes tracked the path of the clothes as they fell to the floor in an unwanted heap.

"Lean back against the headboard," he said to Arthur, and wordlessly he obeyed, scooting back up the bed into a half sitting position, watching with dilated blue eyes as Merlin remembered his training and crawled across the bed, locking his gaze on Arthur's, and settled on his knees between Arthur's parted knees. He wanted to wax lyrical about Arthur's beauty, how much he wanted him, how long he'd wanted him for, but even with the alcohol coursing through his veins he knew that he couldn't admit any of that, not if they were to go back to a platonic working relationship when they left Berlin. This had to be just sex.

He broke eye contact to bend his head and engulf the head of Arthur's cock. "Guuung!" Arthur bucked his hips. "Merlin -"

Merlin concentrated on giving the best blow job of his life, paying attention to Arthur's reactions when he swirled his tongue over the head, licked a stripe down the underside, or swallowed him down whole.

He finally had his fifteen minutes with Arthur, he wanted to make it worthwhile before reality returned.

::::

Arthur twisted his fingers in the dark hair of the man in front of him, wanting to stop him, wanting to tell him that if he didn't stop what he was doing Arthur was going to come and it was way too soon for that. He wanted to come inside Merlin, wanted Merlin's legs wrapped around his waist as he lost themselves in each other.

Merlin took Arthur's length deeply again, bobbing his head back and forth in his own rhythm and it was too late, Arthur was screaming his pleasure as he released into Merlin's greedy mouth, his pleasure increasing as Merlin drank down the very last drop, finally releasing Arthur's cock from his mouth and licking his lips.

He crawled over Arthur's body and kissed him, pulling back to whisper, "Have you got anything?" Arthur nodded and pointed to the nightstand. Merlin leant over and yanked open the drawer, placing his cargo on the bed beside them, and crawled higher so that the tip of his cock was just in front of Arthur's lips. "You're going to fuck me soon, so why don't you open me up?"

Arthur's recently spent cock was already twitching back to life at Merlin's brazen words. He smiled and snaked his tongue out to swipe at the treasure Merlin was offering him. Coiling a hand around the base and pumping gently, he grabbed the lube with his other hand and somehow managed to coat his fingers before slipping a finger around the edge of his target between Merlin's arse cheeks.

Time seemed to speed up as Arthur asked Merlin to turn around, which he did, presenting his pale backside to Arthur, who used his fingers and his tongue, stabbing into Merlin's hole, loving the groans he elicited as his did so, feeling his own cock surging back to life as Merlin began to beg for Arthur to fuck him, and fuck him now.

Arthur rolled them over, fumbling around for the condom and taking back the control, arranging Merlin so that Arthur could kneel between his thighs and slowly push himself inside of him, watching the expressions chase over Merlin's face as he did so – the brief flash of pain followed by the wide-eyed amazement when Arthur was fully ensconced within him. Merlin's legs closed around Arthur, his on his chest, the heels of his palms tickling his nipples. He canted his hips and Arthur took that as he cue.

Arthur's recent orgasm had taken the edge off, and he took his time, moving in and out of Merlin slowly, teasing him, ignoring his requests for 'faster' and 'more' until he could hold off no longer, kicking up the speed as he thrust. Merlin moaned beneath him, Arthur's name spilling off his tongue. Arthur reached between them and took Merlin's cock into his hand, stroking in time with his increasing pace, eyes locked on Merlin. Oh God, Merlin. Merlin licked his lips and clenched his inner muscles with a smile, coming all over Arthur's hand, his own stomach, shouting Arthur's name as he did so.

The sight and the feel were too much for Arthur and his climax exploded within him, feeling like it was going to last forever as he spasmed inside Merlin. After riding it out, he withdrew and removed the condom before collapsing face down on the bed, one arm slung possessively over Merlin's chest.

There was no way this was staying Berlin. No way in hell.

::::

Merlin went to see Uther Pendragon when he got back from Berlin. He made sure Arthur was safely on his way to a meeting on the other side of the city and barged up to his suite of offices with decided purpose.

He couldn't do this anymore. He felt as though he was about to break down from the weight of his life.

One night – he was sure that once he and Arthur fucked it would be out of their systems. For his part, he'd wanted Arthur for a long time, and he'd known Arthur wanted him, which is why he'd played it 'straight' for as long as he could, turning down the invitations to go for a drink, keeping his sexuality out of the office.

He hadn't banked on Arthur seeing him dance. That had opened the floodgates for both of them. For Arthur, it was the realisation that Merlin wasn't all he seemed and was, perhaps, attainable after all. For Merlin, it was the look on Arthur's face after he'd seen him on that stage, the connection that was forged in that moment meant that their eventual getting together was inevitable. No matter how much he tried to fight it, or deny it, it seemed it that night was destined – throw in a few too many glasses of wine on his part and boom.

Uther's PA was away from her desk, so Merlin simply barged into the man's office.

Uther didn't even look surprised, like he'd been expecting this visit from him for some time. "Martin, what can I do for you?" he said, sitting back in his chair and placing his hands behind his head.

"Please, you know damn well my name is Merlin."

"What do you want?"

"I want out. You've had three years of my life. I can't give you any more. Surely now the debt is paid?" He began to pace the room nervously.

Uther laughed coldly, "You think three year of your pathetic talents are enough to repay what is owed? You're a fool."

"No, you're the fool," Merlin didn't care who he was talking to, he was at the end of the line here, he wasn't going to be used any more. "I've worked for your son in a position that should pay four times what you pay me, for a year and a half years, even a five year old could work out that that covers almost all of the debt! Not to forget my little side-line in the club where you don't even pay me!" He folded his arms across his chest. "I want my life back."

"Your life is mine, until I say so."

"How about I tell Arthur you have me report back on his every move because you're so paranoid he'll find out what really goes on in your little business empire? Because I will. I'll tell him everything."

Merlin saw Uther pale slightly. "You wouldn't dare."

"Wouldn't I? I've already written everything down and if anything happens to me the letter will go straight to the police with another copy to your son. I've got nothing to lose."

"You've been watching too many movies, my boy," said Uther. "I'm not 'The Godfather'."

"Maybe not, but you'd like to be," Merlin sighed heavily and sank down in the chair opposite the older man. "Look, my father screwed you over and I'm sorry about that. I'm not him and I had nothing to do with it. Threatening to ruin my mother like you did when she's an innocent party too – what would Arthur say about that?"

For a moment there was conflict on Uther's face before it morphed back into his usual sneer. "I doubt very much that he would believe you," he replied. "Now, by my calculations, you have paid off just about three-quarters of the original debt with the shortfall in your salary and the time you put in at the club – given the name you have made for yourself there you make me a lot of money, but that is before the interest. I'd be willing to let you go if you had another way of paying me back the money your father took from me."

Merlin's shoulders sagged. Of course he had no way of paying back that kind of money. If it wasn't for his mother, blissfully ignorant of her ex-husband's embezzlement and how her son was keeping the wolf from her door, he'd tell Uther to shove it and simply disappear.

"So it's at least another two years of this?" he wanted to cry, drop his head to his knees and sob. If his father ever showed his sorry face again, Merlin would probably wind up doing time for murder.

"You're lucky you have that business degree and the skills to work in an office like you do – anyone else would be mopping floors for the rest of their lives to pay back that amount of money."

Well, that was alright then. "I can't work for your son anymore," he said sadly, knowing he was trapped in this situation, Uther still holding the reins. "He remains blissfully ignorant of the real goings on in the underbelly of your organisation and I don't see that changing anytime soon. You don't need me to spy. Will you at least move me to work for someone else?"

Uther looked as though he was considering Merlin's words.

"Arthur's happy with your work, I don't see why -"

"Your son is in love with me. Will you move me now?"

::::

Merlin was packing his desk when Arthur came back from his meeting. Unsurprisingly it turned out that Uther was suddenly only too willing to relocate Merlin rather than consider the possibility that he might taint his only son with his stench. Unfortunately that relocation meant more dancing and less typing. Uther had more than one club, and claimed that the debt could be paid off quicker if he managed to garner a similar following at the other clubs as he had at Hengist's.

Merlin hadn't had a choice. He couldn't stay working for Arthur. It wasn't fair on either of them. Merlin couldn't be ever be himself, not really, not with so many secrets to keep.

"Merlin, what's going on?" Arthur stood in the doorway, shock printed on his paling handsome face. "Where are you going?"

Merlin didn't look at Arthur. Couldn't look at him. He yanked open a drawer and began to throw things into the bin liner he had sourced for this purpose. How was it he had acquired so much junk?

"I'm being relocated to the Birmingham office," he lied, matter-of-factly. "It's nearer my Mum's – and I, er – need to be nearer home." When had it become so easy to lie? How had he become this person?

"What about us?" Arthur whispered, clicking the door shut and leaning back against it as if that could prevent Merlin from leaving.

Merlin forced a shrug. He should never have let Berlin happen, and he certainly should not have let it go on every night for the remainder of their stay. Three nights of making love with Arthur would have to last him a lifetime. He had been utterly selfish. He ignored how his chest clenched already with the loss of Arthur and for the hurt this was inflicting on the other man.

"There is no 'us'," Merlin replied, still avoiding Arthur's eye. "You agreed that what happened was just Berlin."

"I lied. I want more than Berlin, I want to see where this goes. I think we might have something good here, Merlin."

"It was good," Merlin heard himself say. It was mind-blowing. "But it's over."

He shot Arthur a glance that he hoped said, 'don't push this,' and picked the black sack.

"Don't do this, Merlin, this isn't you," Arthur said.

"How the hell would you know that?" Merlin exploded, surprising himself. "You barely know me! If you think a couple of nights of fucking suddenly add up to a relationship, then you're more of a prat than you look!"

"Oh," Arthur said, the hurt shining from his eyes. "I see. Fucking. Right."

Guilt crawled under the surface of Merlin's skin as Arthur tried school his face into a mask of indifference and failed miserably.

Merlin tried not to follow Arthur's path as he pushed back from the door and crossed the office, disappearing through his own door and closing it behind him with a soft click. Merlin would probably never see Arthur again after today. It was for the best. For both of them.

::::

Arthur waited, breath held, listening for the telling sounds that would indicate Merlin had gone. His pride wouldn't let him go back out there, because if he did, he knew he would probably end up begging Merlin to stay. Those few days together in Berlin had sealed the deal for him, he'd gone from strong attraction to head-over-heels.

It hadn't just been sex. They had talked a lot, and yes, Merlin had been guarded about some aspects of his life, but Arthur had been confident he would learn to trust him in time.

He snorted, painfully aware that tears were close behind. He had to buck up. Merlin had made it plain he didn't want Arthur. Before Berlin he'd shown no indication of any kind of attraction towards him, and then Merlin had seen Arthur watching him dance that night and something had shifted. Merlin had let him in, but really he'd only removed a tiny chink of his armour. Merlin didn't love him back. He didn't even seem to like him very much.

When he was sure the outer office was empty, Arthur passed through, unable to look at Merlin's empty desk, and strode purposefully up the few flights of stairs to his father's office and barged straight in without waiting for permission.

"Why have you moved Merlin?" he demanded, going straight to his father's desk and leaning into him, palms flat against the wooden surface.

Uther didn't bat an eyelid, and had clearly been expecting Arthur to react like this. He shrugged, only affording Arthur a brief glance before replying, "He asked. He's a bright boy, this is almost a promotion for him, more money."

Arthur couldn't find his voice as embarrassingly, his throat clogged with the tears that had threatened him earlier. He simply stared at his father, marvelling at his ever present coldness, wondering how he himself had been brought up by this man yet was the polar opposite of him in every way.

"Gwen Jones from Cedric's division will stand in as your PA until a replacement can be found." Uther's attention was already on his laptop, effectively dismissing Arthur.

Arthur turned quietly and left the room, yanking out his phone and ringing Leon. "I need a drink," he said the moment Leon picked up.

Leon must have heard the desperation in his voice, "O'Neills, fifteen minutes."

::::

"Mr Pendragon -?" Gwen hovered nervously in his office doorway, an envelope clutched in her hand, biting her lip.

"I've told you, call me Arthur," Arthur replied, pleasantly, raising a curious eyebrow. "What can I do for you?"

Merlin had been gone for two weeks and Arthur was miserable. He couldn't really blame Gwen for walking on tip-toeing around him, he knew he was like the incredible hulk on a bad day head most of the time.

"Um, this came in the post today," she waved the envelope. "It's – er – addressed to Merlin. Do you know where he moved to so I can send it on?"

Arthur's heart skipped a beat just at the mention of Merlin's name, stupid fool that he was. He hadn't heard from him, not that he had expected to, but there was always that tiny ray of hope that maybe when Merlin had got to Birmingham he had missed Arthur just a little bit.

"No, it's alright Gwen, leave it with me and I'll see he gets it," he tapped his desk to indicate that Gwen should leave the letter there. He waited for her to close the door behind herself before snatching the envelope off the desk and holding it to his chest. "You idiot," he muttered under his breath.

Upon closer inspection the letter seemed to be an internal mail from payroll. None of his business, probably just Merlin's payslip. Arthur didn't get these, his went straight to his accountant. His hand hovered over the phone for over a minute as he internally debated with himself, before his heart won over his head and he dialled the switchboard, "Merlin Emrys, please." He only wanted to know if Merlin wanted the payslip forwarded to his at the Birmingham office or his new home address. It wasn't that he was desperate to hear his voice.

"I'm sorry, Sir, there doesn't seem to be a Merlin Emrys working for Camelot Inc," said an apologetic voice on the other end of the phone.

"Check again please," Arthur said.

After a few moments the voice returned, "We have no Merlin Emrys currently employed here. His leaving date is down as two weeks ago."

Arthur hung up. What the fuck?

::::

Merlin sat in the plastic chair in the brightly lit room, the regular beeping of the heart monitor soothing him. If it was still beeping then his Mum was still breathing. He closed his hand over hers and ran the back of his other hand over her pale cheek.

They'd said it was a heart attack brought on by stress. Merlin felt the guilt claw inside his chest. When was the last time he'd been home to see her? He'd been so busy selling his soul to Uther Pendragon that he'd forgotten the reason he was doing it. Now it seemed he would have been wiser to let Uther wreak his havoc, because then Hunith would have lost the pub and wouldn't be working 100 hour weeks and running herself in to the ground.

Ewan, Hunith's head barman, had told him that since the recession hit she hadn't been able to afford to take on as many part-time staff as she'd used to and had been doing all the hours herself. Merlin would have known this if he'd bothered to visit. Of course she was going to tell him everything was fine when he called her. At least he'd managed to keep up that part of his family duty.

Had it all really been for nothing? Hunith's pub had been her life since Merlin was a teenager, something she had buried herself in when Merlin's father left her for the fourth time and she had finally refused to take him back when he'd returned a few months later with a petrol station bunch of flowers and a false smile. Should Merlin have told her about Balinor, and Uther's threats?

If she died now… Merlin didn't even want to consider the possibility, but what he did know was that when she recovered, he was going to tell her the truth. She didn't need that pub, it was slowly killing her. He was going to look after her now.

To hell with Uther Pendragon.

::::

Arthur's father claimed Merlin had changed his mind about the relocation and had resigned, but when Arthur asked for Merlin's file there had been no letter. Merlin's pay however, did raise an eyebrow. PA to someone of Arthur's level was a decent wage, yet Merlin had been taking home minimum wage. Arthur smelt a rat, a big huge stinking rat.

Leon hadn't been amused when Arthur told him about Merlin, hurt that his best friend hadn't told him how he felt about him, saying he would never have made any moves if he'd known. Of course, it was pretty much a moot point now that Merlin had vanished into thin air and Leon was back on with Gwaine. Again.

They went to Hengist's and when Arthur asked around he found out that Merlin had left there too. Without notice. No one knew where he had gone; apparently he had come in, done his bit and left again and even the other boys he did his routine with barely knew him.

Arthur knew he would never rest until he knew what had happened to Merlin. Even if Merlin never wanted anything to do with him again, he had to solve this mystery, it was eating away at him.

Merlin had been right, Arthur didn't really know him, not really. He felt something though, a connection, and he hadn't had to know him well to know that there was something about Merlin that he wanted – and it wasn't just his body and his rare smile.

Arthur missed his presence in the office, and when he was at home at night, his heart ached for what might have been – what should have been. He needed to know.

Which was how, three weeks after Merlin's vanishing act, Arthur found himself meeting Gwaine's friend Jonas, Private Investigator. This time he was unsurprised that there were no dirty rain macs and newspapers with holes in them. Life wasn't a movie, much as Arthur wished it was. If life was a movie he'd be on the back of a yacht, sailing into the sunset with Merlin.

Right now, all he could hope for was news that Merlin was alright.

::::

One week later and Arthur's whole world had been turned upside down. What an utter fool he had been. So blind. So naïve. Twenty-seven years old and his whole life based on a lie.

His own father – God, this was like a bad Guy Ritchie movie. Uther was the ruthless crime lord who fed his enemies to the pigs or something. Well, no, Arthur didn't know if he was quite that dodgy – but he did own a large chain of strip clubs all over Europe, and 'Avalon Enterprises' were the proud owners of several hotels, nightclubs, casinos of the less salubrious persuasion. In essence, Uther was making a small fortune from the type of business he would never actually confess to owning.

That wasn't the problem though, not really. There was no evidence to suggest that these businesses were anything other than legitimate – no – what concerned Arthur was the rumour that one of Arthur's business partners had embezzled some money – one Balinor Emrys.

He doubted that was a coincidence. Emrys was not exactly a common name.

Uther had something over Merlin.

As for Merlin, it seemed he was staying at his mother's Uncle's in Bridgnorth.

Once Jonas imparted that final gem, Arthur had grabbed his car keys and headed for the door, but not before stopping by his father's office and telling him, unceremoniously, where to stick his job and storming out.

::::

When Merlin found out that his mother was going to be OK he'd cried from the almost overwhelming sense of relief and then he'd called Uncle Gaius.

Uncle Gaius had been in and out to see Hunith whilst she had been ill, and Merlin had confided in him after much coaxing from the older man. Now he wished he'd done so sooner. Uncle Gaius knew Uther Pendragon from years back, had apparently been involved in Uther's wife's fertility treatment that had produced Arthur. What a horribly small world.

He also knew things about Uther that the elder Pendragon would not want made public. The question was – did Merlin want to go down that road? He'd persuaded his Mum that she should give up the pub, it had been surprisingly easy. She was coming to live with Gaius for a while, he was getting on in years and wanted help in running his small chain of New Age shops.

For once, things were going well. Without the pub and his Mum's attachment to it, what else did Uther have over him? God, he felt so ashamed that he hadn't fought back sooner, and harder. Why hadn't he confided in his Mum, or at least Gaius? Why had he let someone reduce him down to a thing to be manipulated and used for their own ends. Strip at my club, Merlin. Spy on my son, Merlin. Work for a pittance, Merlin. How had Uther even known Merlin could dance like he could?

Fall in love with my son, Merlin.

Merlin missed Arthur. It was all he could do not to pick up the phone and savour the sound of his voice one more time. He had hurt him; reduced what had happened between them down to the lowest common denominator; let him believe it had just been sex. It had been so much more than that.

When he went to bed at night, and it was just him alone with the sound of his own breathing, his own heart beating, Arthur was all he could think about. Blond hair and deep blue eyes haunted his dreams.

Of course, it had been like that before, when Merlin was Arthur's PA. When he had been spying on him. Not that he had exactly done a very good job of that. He could have accepted Arthur's numerous invites to go for drinks, got closer to him sooner. His refusals had been part self-preservation and part determination not to do anything other than the bare minimum when 'spying' for Uther. It was bad enough that he had to report back to Uther, but at least that had only been about what he saw at work. If he'd gone for that drink, gotten to know Arthur…then then lines would have blurred sooner than they had.

He'd done all of that, and fallen for Arthur anyway. Fallen for him, and then hurt him terribly.

Arthur Pendragon was better off without Merlin Emrys in his life.

::::

Arthur had absolutely no idea what he was going to say to Merlin now that he had found him. Almost found him. He'd chickened out of knocking on the door for fear of the reception he might receive.

How could he say that he was sorry about his father blackmailing him – because he was pretty sure that it must have been something like that – and please could Merlin give him a second chance, because he was all he had been able to think about since he first met him, and now that Merlin had given him a taste of what could be – he wanted it. He wanted to grab hold of Merlin and never let him go.

How could he say that? What if Merlin really didn't care about him? What if it had been only fucking after all? Merlin had rejected him once. For all Arthur knew, giving in to Arthur might have been part of his final 'fuck you' to Uther.

So he sat on an old wooden bench in the grounds of the castle ruins and stared blindly at the passers-by, frozen in misery and annoyance at himself at his inability to just knock on that door and grab his man.

"Arthur?"

Of course, fate would find him first. Arthur snapped out of his reverie and looked up into surprised blue eyes, set in the middle of that face, with those cheekbones and that mop of soft dark hair that Arthur immediately wanted to run his hands through.

"Hello, Merlin," he managed to say, pleased that his voice didn't crack. "Fancy seeing you here."

"Yes, fancy," Merlin smiled sadly. "You found me then?"

"Did you think I wouldn't try?"

Merlin sighed and looked down at his battered converse. "Arthur -"

"I know about your father," Arthur burst out. "I know what my father had over you – at least I can hazard a guess."

Merlin's head shot up with a gasp, his face burning red. "You knew all along?"

"No! No, Merlin. I hired a guy to find you and he found out that as well." He reached out his hand and took Merlin's in his, pulling him closer so he was looking directly up at him from his position on the bench. "I'm sorry."

Merlin pulled his hand out of Arthur's grip, sitting down beside him instead – as far down the bench as he could get without falling off the edge. "So you know why I danced? That I spied on you? That he fucking owned me like I was some commodity he could trade?"

If Uther had appeared now, Arthur would cheerfully strangle him. He shook his head and said, "I feel like a fool. I've been utterly clueless this whole time. You've been going through hell and all I cared about was trying to get you to go out with me. God, you must hate me."

Merlin bent his head. "Yes," he said.

Arthur's hope crumpled.

::::

It would be better for them both if Arthur got over this infatuation with him and moved on. Better for Arthur. Merlin knew this. Had thought of nothing else since he'd last seen Arthur. So he said, yes, he did hate him. Arthur had given him the door and Merlin walked right through it.

Never mind that all he really wanted to do was kiss Arthur stupid, and run his hands through his hair, and find out if there was some way they could be together despite Uther – this was one affair that should never have begun.

But – Arthur's face at Merlin's affirmation – the pallor, the hurt, the sheer pain.

"No," he said. "I don't hate you. Maybe I did for a while, before I met you, when you were Uther's son and the enemy, but – as soon as I knew anything of you, I could never hate you." He reached out a hand and covered Arthur's. "In the end, I was hand and covered Arthur's. "In the end, I was very fond of you."

Arthur laughing bitterly. "I was rather hoping for something stronger than 'fond'."

"I know."

"So is that it? You're fond of me, you like me, but after today, if I leave, we won't see each other again?"

Merlin nodded.

"I don't want that. I -" Arthur stopped suddenly. "Never mind." He pulled his hand away from Merlin's. "What's the point?" he mumbled.

Good, well this was what Merlin wanted. Only why did the loss of contact leave him feeling cold. "How do you feel about me, Arthur?" he said, holding his breath for the answer.

"I'm crazy about you," Arthur said immediately. "I want to be with you. My father can go to hell; you're what matters to me."

Elation filtered through Merlin, along with a bright beam of hope. He'd known Arthur liked him a lot, and Berlin had only proved how much, but – to put Merlin above his father like this… "Uther won't understand," Merlin protested.

"I don't care. I quit working for him. I don't need him or his job," Arthur's hand traced Merlin's cheek and lifted his chin, their eyes connecting. "I need you."

Merlin kissed him. Falling into the kiss; starved of this for so long. When he pulled back he said, "I need you too," his hand carded through Arthur's hair and Merlin couldn't hold back a grin. "Now, tell me exactly what you said to Uther when you quit, I want it word for word."

::::

Much later, after Merlin had taken Arthur back to meet his Mum and Uncle Gaius, and Hunith had fed them both enough food to feed a family of fifty, Arthur and Merlin sat on the old sofa in Gaius's sitting room, alone again at last, Merlin's head in Arthur's lap.

"I want to take a year off, see some of the world and have some fun." Arthur said, looking down at Merlin's dreamy expression. "What do you say?"

"I say, 'what kind of man do you think I am?'," Merlin raised a challenging eyebrow. "I also say, 'you're paying'. And that…I can't think of a better way for us to get to know each other better."

Arthur laughed. "Fond of me, my arse."

"I am fond of your arse!"

Arthur lifted Merlin's t-shirt and tickled him, loving Merlin's attempts to catch his breath through his laughter. Happiness settled over him.

He didn't know if he would ever make it right with Merlin regarding Uther's treatment of him, but he intended to do the best he could. He wanted Merlin in his life, permanently, and if he had to spend the rest of his life atoning for Uther's mess then he would, for Merlin.

For Arthur, this was love. He hadn't gone as far as saying that to Merlin yet, but he would.

There was so much they still had to lean about one another, and maybe this had started out all wrong, but the point was – it had started.

::::