Hey guys, hope you like this as it's my first long story in a while. I hope I don't leave you hanging too long as though I have some written I havn't finished the story yet. Big thanks to my beta on lj: imnotjkr! Please let me what you think
Their eyes meet for the first time in the Pendragon Industries car park as Merlin fights a losing battle with his fifteen year old Ford. He lifts his head out from under the bonnet as someone laughs behind him and turns to face his audience. Before he can open his mouth to let out a stream of insults his eyes land on the blonde haired Adonis, expensive suit stitched perfectly to fit his body.
Merlin raises an eyebrow. "You think this is funny, do you?"
"Someone doing battle with an old banger when they could just buy a new one that works is pretty funny to me," Blondie returns with a grin, his hands sliding casually into his pockets.
"That what you do, just buy a new one when you have a flat tire? Or a crack in the windshield?"
Before he can answer, a Jaguar pulls up beside the man, sleek and black compared to his car. "No, the trick is to buy more than one."
His laughter shoots down Merlin's spine as he slides into the backseat. The Jaguar peels away, it's tires squealing and it's engine purring like a wild cat. Merlin turns his back and ignores the sound until all he can hear is the hum of the busy city roads.
The second time their eyes meet is at the coffee shop two days later. Merlin's been standing in the queue for what seems like an hour as people pick coffees that take longer to order than to make. Merlin could tell his life history in half the time it takes for some of these suits to ask for a "venti iced skinny Cinnamon Dolce latte with soy milk, half the pumps of the cinnamon Dolce, with foam and whip, one scoop of whey protein, well mixed with cinnamon on top."
Finally it is his turn and he takes that last step towards the counter. His mouth opens to ask for a "coffee, black" when that blond prat steps up to the counter beside him and asks for a "Double Ristretto Venti Non-fat Organic Chocolate Brownie Frappuccino Extra Hot with Foam and Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended".
"What the hell is that?" Merlin asks with a look of disgust.
"It's called a coffee."
"No," Merlin disagrees. "It's called a crime against nature … and coffee"
The man laughs. "A crime against nature and coffee?" he repeats.
"I'm pretty sure it's a thing."
"I'm pretty sure you made that up."
"Also, you jumped the queue. I was here first."
"I am so sorry," he apologies insincerely and drops a twenty pound note onto the counter. "And whatever he's having-" he nods in Merlin's direction, "-On me." He grins once again, showing off perfect pearly whites that Merlin guesses never even needed the help of braces like his did.
Merlin is about to protest (he can pay for his own coffee thank you very much) then remembers there's about seventy six pence in small change in his wallet and he wouldn't have been able to afford a coffee without the man's offer. "Just a plain old ordinary black coffee for me," he orders, and can't help a grin, even if it mirrors the one plastered across the other man's face.
"You get home okay the other day?"
Merlin's surprised by the unexpected question and lets out a small noise of confusion.
"Your car," he continues, "or what could charitably be described as a car anyway."
"Oh yeah, got home in one piece." After calling for a tow truck, walking the three miles to the train station and arriving home sometime after ten only to be greeted by a sullen eight year old who wasn't happy having to spend the evening with Mrs Mathers and her six cats. Not to mention the £200 missing from his bank account for a new thingamabob his mechanic swore the car needed to run. That was his rent money.
"Good." Their coffees arrive and Merlin grabs his quickly, warming his chilled fingers on the cup. "I'm Arthur by the way," He says as they make their way back to the shop exit. "Arthur Pendragon."
"Merlin," he replies faintly and shakes Arthur's hand. This was Arthur Pendragon standing in front of him, the head of Pendragon Industries. How had he not recognised him before?
"Nice to meet you Merlin. Maybe I can buy you coffee again one day."
"Yeah?" Merlin finds himself responding before his brain can catch up, coming out more like a question than an answer.
"Maybe tomorrow? Same time same place?"
Merlin nods dumbly, blood pumping loudly in his ears.
"Great. Well I'll see you tomorrow then."
Arthur turns to go and Merlin finds himself blurting out "Are you asking me out on a date?"
Arthur turns back with a smile. "Yeah, I think I am"
Merlin couldn't believe it. Arthur freaking Pendragon, his boss, the millionaire, was standing in front of him asking him out. "Well okay then," he squeaks, his heart racing in his chest.
It's only when Arthur has disappeared that Merlin starts to panic.
Merlin is a coward, a huge cowardly coward, and it makes him feel horrible. He just can't face Arthur and pretend that they're the same. Arthur owns cars and expensive suits and probably has an office bigger than his flat. Merlin has one car that refuses to start most days, a nephew that needs feeding and a bank account that's spent more time in the red than the black.
He works harder than he's ever done before, pushing Arthur to the back of his mind as he cleans windows, polishes floors and dusts fake plants in office after office. At the end of the day every muscle aches and all he wants to do is climb into bed even though he knows his evening will be spent with Morded: cooking him dinner, helping him with his homework and praying that there isn't another school trip letter waiting for him on the kitchen table asking for more money.
He changes out of his coveralls and back into a pair of ripped jeans and stretched t-shirt. Pulling the strap of his bag onto his shoulder, he turns around, finding himself face to face with the man he least wants to see.
"Arthur" Merlin croaks, unable to meet his hard eyes.
"I waited...at the coffee shop. No one's ever stood me up before"
Merlin believes him. Only a stupid person would stand that man up. "I'm sorry I -" There are a million excuses on the tip of his tongue, but that's all they are. Excuses. "I was scared."
"I haven't been on a date in a while and you're-" Merlin trails off.
Arthur raises an eyebrow. "I'm what?"
Merlin sighs. "Out of my league."
Arthur is unable to hide his surprise, "Why would you think that?"
"Why?" Merlin parrots. "Because you're you! You're Arthur Pendragon and I'm just Merlin. You have a top floor office with a view of the entire city and I have a locker in the basement. I clean your building for minimum wage and you make what I earn in a year in a single day."
"Well I don't care about that," Arthur replies stubbornly. "There's something about you Merlin that I..."Arthur's voice trails off. "Let me take you out to dinner"
Merlin wants to know what a man like Arthur sees in him, wants to ask why Arthur wants him but he finds himself nodding instead. "Okay."
"Tomorrow night, I'll pick you up from your place?"
Merlin quickly shakes head. The sight of Merlin's tiny one bedroom flat in a not so nice neighbourhood would send any interested man running. "Here, why don't we just go from here."
"Okay," Arthur agrees with a smile. "It's a date. And I'm not letting you get out of this one."
"No running, I promise."
Merlin packs a smart suit into his bag the next morning, throws together a packed lunch for Mordred and herds the boy out of the door. He watches his nephew run through the school gates just as the bell rings then makes his way to work.
He tries to focus all day but the thought of the suit in his locker reminds him of his date with Arthur Pendragon and he ends up cleaning the same window three times. Even after that, he spends most of the day in a complete daze and only snaps out of it when the panic sets back in towards the end.
He sucks in a deep breath and tries to fix his tie which refuses to knot properly. The last time Merlin had worn one of these things was Freya's funeral.
"You're not doing it right." Arthur's voice echoes in the small staff bathroom. Merlin's eyes focus on the reflection of Arthur's face in the mirror in front of him. He turns as Arthur bridges the gap. "Here, let me." Merlin's hands hang loosely at his sides as Arthur knots the perfect tie. "Had a little experience with these," he reminds Merlin with a wink. "You ready to go?"
Merlin nods and shivers when Arthur's hand slides down his arm and rests on the small of his back. "I've got a car waiting for us outside."
"Is it the Jag?"
Arthur grins. "I saw you admiring it the other day."
"You thought that was admiration?" Merlin says, forcing himself to relax "That was me wondering what you were compensating for."
Arthur laughs, his head thrown back. "Let me assure you, there's nothing of mine that needs compensating for."
Arthur's deep, suggestive voice makes Merlin's neck flush and he knew his whole face had gone red. They both climb into the back seats of the luxury car and are chauffeured to a restaurant Merlin's never even heard of before. By the looks of it, you need a name like 'Pendragon' to even get through the door. The minute he steps into the building he feels like all eyes are on him. His suit is old and a little creased and certainly not designer or tailored. He wasn't expecting to be taken to a place this extravagant and there's a bitter taste in his mouth that won't go away, even with the first glass of wine.
A waiter hands a menu to them both and Merlin tries not to choke when he sees the prices. The entrees alone cost more than a week's shopping budget for him and Mordred. Merlin swallows the lump in his throat and forces a weak smile in Arthur's direction.
"Decided what you're having?" Arthur asks.
Merlin shakes his head. "Can't decide," he lies.
"I would recommend something but there isn't a bad dish on the menu."
Merlin's vision starts to swim and he quickly folds the menu and puts it down on the table.
"Everything okay?" Arthur asks.
"Yeah, just need the men's room."
"Through that door, first on the left." Arthur nods to a door behind Merlin.
Merlin can't move fast enough and as soon as he's alone he loosens the tie from around his neck. He doesn't know how long he sits on the floor in the toilets, head resting back on the cool white tiles, all he knows is that he needs to get out and get some fresh air, then find his way back home and forget this ever happened. Not that Arthur will let him.
He knows he has little chance of escaping the restaurant without Arthur noticing him, but that doesn't stop him from trying. He ignores Arthur's calls and focuses on the door in front of him, not stopping until he's outside. It's already dark and the temperature's dropped, forcing shivers down Merlin's spine and cooling his flushed cheeks.
"Hey!" A hand grabs his arm and spins him around. "You promised you wouldn't run!"
"That was before I saw the prices in that place!I can't afford any of that! You of all people know how much money I make, and what doesn't go towards rent and bills and food and Mordred and my car, well, that I spend on a cup of coffee."
"I was going to pay. What's the big deal?"
Merlin sighs. "The big deal is that people were staring at me in there like I was your charity case. Do you know what that's like? When I'm with you I feel an inch tall. We are from two separate worlds Arthur, and I don't belong in yours." Arthur's grip loosens and Merlin takes a step back. "I'm sorry Arthur."
He tries to ignore the eyes burning into his back as he walks away.
He picks a relieved Mordred up from Mrs Mather's flat and returns home, replacing his suit with pair of pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt. With Mordred happy in his bedroom, Merlin sinks down into the sofa with a sigh and switches on the TV.
He is halfway through an episode of the Apprentice when the doorbell rings. Merlin groans at the interruption but mutes the telly and crosses the room to open the door. His whole body tenses as it swings open to reveal Arthur. A nervous expression flits across his face and he holds a pizza box out towards Merlin.
"Hi," Merlin returns. "How'd you know where I live?"
"Head of the company, remember?"
"Right." Merlin had really been hoping Arthur would never see the inside of his modest flat so stays standing in the middle of the doorway.
"I'm sorry, about tonight, I wasn't thinking. I just wanted to treat you."
"Treat me or show me what I'm missing by being so poor?" Merlin asks. "Was I just charity? Felt sorry for me?"
"No!" Arthur shakes his head, "God no, Merlin. I like you!"
Mrs Mathers chooses that moment to be nosy and pop her head around her door. She raises an eyebrow at the drama unfolding in the hallway, leaving Merlin with no choice but to drag Arthur into the flat and away from their audience.
As soon as the door is closed behind them, Merlin spins to face Arthur. "Why?"
"Why me? You could have anyone you wanted Arthur."
"Why can't you accept that someone like me would be interested in you?" Arthur counters.
"Because we're not in a Disney movie!"
"Merlin?" Looking over Arthur's shoulder he spots Mordred standing in the living room, rubbing at his tired eyes.
"You should be in bed," he says firmly, pushing past Arthur and his large pizza box.
"You were shouting."
"I'm sorry, no more shouting, I promise." With a hand on each shoulder, Merlin directs Mordred back to his bedroom, waiting until he is back under the covers before turning off the light and closing the door.
"Pizza's getting cold," Arthur says as Merlin re-joins him. "And if you're half as hungry as I am..."
Merlin rolls his eyes and feels himself giving in. "Okay, come on. Somebody's about to be fired"
Arthur frowns. "I'm not planning on firing you"
Merlin laughs and nods towards the TV screen where Alan Sugar was glaring down the lense/at the camera. "Idiot." He takes the pizza box out of Arthur's hands and opens it up onto the coffee table before un-muting the TV.
Arthur sits as close as he dares and reaches for a slice. "So Mordred, he yours?"
Merlin shakes his head and swallows his mouthful. "My nephew, but it's just him and me, has been since he was three."
"His mum, my sister...it was – it was a hit and run. Barely made it to the hospital before she died."
"I'm sorry," Arthur says softly.
"I'm all he's got, so I dropped out of uni, got a job, and I've been doing this ever since." Merlin looks up at Arthur. "Don't know why I'm telling you all this."
"Not a lot of people would have given everything up like that."
"Yeah, well." Merlin shrugs. "Only another ten years to go until he moves out for uni."
"You'll be what, thirty four then?"
Merlin's eyes return to the greasy pizza slice in his hand. "Guess I will be," he replies before shoving another bite in his mouth, effectively ending the conversation.
The rest of the evening is spent picking at the leftover scraps of melted cheese and crumbs from inside the pizza box and talking at the TV. When Merlin starts yawning, Arthur takes that as a signal and gets up to leave.
"I had a nice time tonight," Arthur tells him as they stand by the front door.
"I tried to ditch you at a restaurant, then shouted at you after you turned up on my doorstep with food. Which part of that was nice?"
Arthur says nothing, just smiles softly. He moves in slowly and Merlin, pressed up against the hallway wall, has nowhere to go. He sucks in a deep breath and his eyes fall shut as Arthur presses his lips against Merlin's. It's short, but soft and sweet and Merlin's almost disappointed when Arthur pulls back.
"Now tell me that wasn't worth it," Arthur grins.
"And give you an even bigger ego? No thanks."
Arthur's smile only widens. "And that Merlin, is why I like you," he says softly before disappearing down the corridor, leaving a questioning Merlin behind, bags under his eyes and lips still tingling.