A/N: This was written forthe Merlin_Muses prompt fest over on Livejournal. Many thanks to Cheryl and Accioscar for the Beta and Brit-pick, respectively.
ETA: DAMN YOU, FF net , FOR TAKING OUT MY SPACERS! :(
Deny Thy Father
"We are gathered here today to witness the union of Arthur Pendragon and Vivian Turner in the bonds of Holy Matrimony."
It took every ounce of Arthur's breeding not to wince at the word 'bonds' as the feeling of panic he'd been fighting for months threatened to overtake him again. Taking a deep breath, he did his best to shove it down as he tuned out the vicar's droning. Arthur's eyes swept surreptitiously over the multitude of guests; the very highest of London society, decked out in their finest jewels and couture, all there to witness the merger of two of England's most wealthy and prestigious families – eighty percent of them Arthur had never met before.
Arthur's gaze fell to his father, sitting at the head of the congregation with a slight smirk on his face. It was the same look Arthur saw any time Uther had closed a lucrative business deal. Which, Arthur supposed, was exactly what his father saw this as; a business deal to secure the future of his global media empire. Uther had been after Turner Industries for years and had finally seen a way in through Olaf Turner's daughter. It was he who had thrown Arthur and Vivian together. He'd spent his time ensuring that Arthur spent plenty of time with Vivian and that they were seen at every last high society function. When the tabloids had started rumours of a pending engagement, Uther had heartily encouraged it, even going so far as to allow one of his own magazines to quote him saying 'Arthur and Miss Turner are very much in love and I couldn't imagine a better choice for a daughter-in-law, even if I'd picked her myself'. A few weeks later, he had crisply informed Arthur that he would propose to Vivian and be married before the summer was out.
Oh, God. Could he do this? The well of panic began to rise again; he felt helpless as a desperate need to escape filled him. Arthur swallowed hard, his eyes darting to take in the sight of his bride. Vivian was breathtaking in her Swarovski-encrusted gown, her cheeks flushed with pleasure as she preened for her audience. The perfect image of a blushing bride. And that's what it was. An image. A delicate illusion for the masses.
"Do you, Arthur, take Vivian..."
The word was out before Arthur even had a chance to think about it. He started, just as surprised as the congregation seemed to be.
"I'm sorry, young man?" the vicar asked, clearly assuming he'd heard wrong.
"Arthur..." His father's voice cut through the rising din of murmuring socialites and Arthur had to shove back a shiver of fear.
"Arthur?" Vivian looked at him, her crystal blue eyes wide with confusion.
"I'm sorry, Vivian. I can't," Arthur said softly.
With a nod to the flabbergasted Vicar, Arthur turned and strode from the ballroom and headed for his chambers, ignoring his father's outraged cry. He loosened his bow tie as he walked, the pressure of it around his neck making him feel as though he were choking. Arthur managed to make it to his private sitting room before his father caught up.
"Arthur, what the devil are you doing? Get back out there!"
"I'm sorry, Father, I can't."
"You can and you will!" Uther insisted, his expression and tone brooking no arguments.
"I don't love her, father."
"And what does that matter? I've been planning this merger for over three years, I will not have you spoil it now because of some fool's notion about marrying for love."
Arthur stared in disbelief at his father's words as anger rose up to mingle with hurt and regret.
"Do you even hear yourself? This is my wedding, what should be the most important and happiest day of my life, and you're referring to it as a 'business merger'. This is the rest of my life we're talking about, Father, and I will not spend it married to a woman I don't love and who doesn't love me."
"Again with this 'love' nonsense. Forget love, Arthur, what about honour? What about your duty to your name? To your family? To the empire I've worked my entire life to build for you? What about your loyalty and duty to me?"
"I've done everything you've ever asked me to!" It was all Arthur could do not to shout the words. "You've always had my loyalty. I've let you make all the major decisions in my life and never once have I fought you on it, but I will not let you make this one. I'm sorry, father."
Uther stared at him for a long moment, the vein in his head throbbing as the muscle in his jaw clenched again and again.
"And so am I," he answered finally, his voice deadly quiet. Arthur had a moment to hope that maybe, just maybe, Uther had accepted his decision before he continued. "If you do not fix your tie and go back out there and marry that woman, then I'll have no choice but to cut you off."
Arthur's eyes widened, his chest tightening at the meaning behind his father's threat.
"You heard me. Marry Vivian or you're through. I will cut you out of my will, my company, my life. You will cease to be a Pendragon." Uther's face was cold and formal, his eyes glittering with barely suppressed rage and it was all Arthur could do not to accede to his wishes.
Once again, he pictured his life with Vivian; coming home after work to a cold, empty house and a cold, empty wife, his schedule filled with endless obligatory parties and social engagements simply to appease the media and the masses. Forever having money, but never having the comfort of a partner to share the things he loved with. Arthur shuddered at the mental image and his resolve strengthened.
"What is to be your answer?" Uther demanded. Arthur straightened his spine and took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry, Father," Arthur repeated, somehow managing to keep the tremor from his voice. "I can't."
Uther's face shut down completely, his posture stiffening as he raised his head imperiously.
"So be it," he practically hissed before turning on his heel and storming from the room.
Arthur slumped the second his father was gone, feeling weary, spent and more than a little bit hollow. He couldn't believe he'd done it. He'd stood up to his father and won. If one could call losing his entire inheritance and life as he knew it a victory. Strangely enough, despite the ache in his chest and the rising fear of not knowing what his future held, Arthur was certain that it was.
Arthur woke in his bed still dressed in rumpled wedding finery. He sighed as he sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. For the first time in years he didn't have anywhere specific to be. Had he gone through with the wedding yesterday, he'd be on his way to the tropics with Vivian. Any other day he'd have been up and to the office hours earlier. It was more than a little disconcerting to realise that he wouldn't have to go to that office and that job ever again.
Letting out a heavy sigh, Arthur rose from the bed and padded into the kitchen to make himself some coffee as he tried to sort through his roiling emotions. Part of him felt like he was missing something; as if losing this routine, however droll and expected it had been, had left a hole somehow. Arthur had only ever worked for Camelot Media Corporation and the thought of finding a new job was both utterly terrifying and strangely exciting. He felt a twinge of guilt as he thought of his father. Though Arthur knew he'd done the right thing, he'd been raised to always agree with Uther. It was something that had been ingrained in him since he could remember and Arthur knew it would take a while to get past it.
Despite his guilt and uncertainty, what Arthur felt more deeply than anything was an unbelievably liberating sense of freedom. It was as if a lead weight had been taken from his shoulders. He was his own man for the first time in his life. And for the first time in days, Arthur's lips formed a smile.
The coffee machine gave a beep, pulling him from his thoughts. He poured himself a large mug, laden with milk and sugar, and made his way into the sitting room. The blinking red light of the answering machine caught his eye, drawing him near. After a moment of indecision, Arthur let out a heavy sigh and reluctantly pressed the playback button.
"Hello, this is Edel Peterson from the Daily Mail ringing for Arthur Pendragon. I was wondering if you might be interested in giving us an exlu..."
"Arthur, darling, it's Vivian. How could you do this to me? Please, can't we work this out? Ring me..."
"This is Uther Pendragon's personal assistant. I'm calling to inform you that Mr Pendragon has given you twenty-four hours to gather your personal belongings from your former offices and to vacate the company flat..."
Arthur deleted message after message with increasing agitation. Half of them were from reporters scrambling for a scoop, though how they'd got his number was a mystery. The other half seemed to be from Vivian and various members of her family. Arthur was nearly ready to throw the damned thing out of the window when he heard a voice he'd not heard in nearly a year.
"Arthur, it's Morgana. I heard what happened. Call me."
Arthur stared at the machine as the mechanical voice finally announced that there were no more new messages. Morgana and he hadn't spoken in ages, the last time culminating in a fight where she'd called him a coward and an automaton with a daddy complex before storming out to 'leave him to his pathetically shallow existence in Uther Pendragon's shadow'. She was the last person he had expected to hear from, but now that he had, he was overcome by an overwhelming urge to see her. His step-sister was vicious and brutally honest to a fault and until that moment he hadn't realised just how much he'd missed her.
The phone rang just as he lifted it to dial. Morgana's number flashed in the tiny window and he smiled. He should have known she'd beat him to the punch.
"Hello, Morgana," he greeted without preamble.
"I saw what happened. How are you?"
"All right, all things considered. I'm not surprised the press were so quick to pounce on it, though. How bad are the headlines?"
"You don't want to know. The paps are practically frothing at the mouth."
Arthur could practically hear her rolling her eyes.
"I've never been more proud of you, you know," Morgana said, filling the sudden silence with uncharacteristic approval. Arthur blushed, warmth blooming in his chest at the praise. "It was about damn time you got your head out of his arse."
Arthur rolled his eyes and smiled as the seriousness of the moment passed into more familiar territory.
"Gee, thanks, Morgana," he replied with fond irritation.
"So what are you going to do now?"
Arthur sighed heavily. That was the million pound question he'd been asking himself since the moment he'd said 'no'.
"I don't know yet. I suppose the first thing I need to do is find somewhere to stay. Father has given me twenty-four hours to vacate my flat."
"How gracious of him."
"Isn't it just?" Arthur quipped sarcastically.
"Listen, why don't you come stay with me?"
Arthur blinked at the unexpected offer.
"Really? Are you sure?"
"Sure, why not? I mean, you'll have to stay on the sofa for a few nights until we sort out sleeping arrangements, but we can figure something out. Unless, of course, you want to ask one of your rugby mates if they can spare a room. How is Gawain, anyway?"
Arthur groaned at the thought of staying with Gawain. As much as he liked his friend, Gawain hadn't seemed to be able to get out of his University lifestyle of drinking, parties and indiscriminate sex. Not that Arthur was opposed to such activities, of course, he liked them as much as the next bloke, but he was almost twenty-seven years old and given a choice between the biohazardous, food-barren flat of Gawain's and Morgana's tidy, well-stocked house, he'd choose his sister any day.
"Last I heard he was living in a flat above the Red Lion and shagging two different sets of triplets."
"Charming," Morgana replied with an inelegant snort.
"I know," Arthur answered, amusement tinting his voice. He sobered and thought about her offer. It irked him and he wasn't sure if it was his stubborn pride or that part of him that was taught never to accept charity, but he found himself reluctant to accept her generosity. "You don't have to put me up, you know. I'm sure I could find a nice hotel to..."
"Oh for fuck's sake, don't be an arse. Pack your bits and get over here."
"You really don't mind?"
"You know me better than that, Arthur. Do you really think I'd have offered if I didn't want you here?"
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. No. If Morgana didn't want him around, she'd be more than happy to tell him; likely with various colourful expletives woven throughout an emasculating speech. It was good to know some things never changed.
"I'll see you tonight."
"It's a date."
When all was said and done, Arthur was really quite surprised at how little he actually owned. Between everything from his flat and the few personal belongings from his office, he found himself standing at Morgana's front door with a few suitcases filled mostly with clothes and a tiny box of office supplies. It really was quite pitiful, Arthur thought as he raised a fist to knock on Morgana's door.
Instead of Morgana, a lovely girl with skin the colour of mocha and chocolate-brown eyes answered the door.
"Hello," she greeted with a smile, her brows arching in expectation.
"Er, hi. I was looking for Morgana LeFey?"
"Oh, you must be Arthur. I'm Gwen. Come on in," she said, opening the door wide in invitation. "Here, let me help you with that."
"It's all right, I've got it," Arthur replied as he dragged his meagre belongings into the sitting room. Just as he set down the last suitcase, Morgana swept into the room.
"Arthur, you made it. I see you've met Gwen."
"Yes, only just," he answered, shooting a small smile at Gwen as he let his rucksack slip from his shoulders.
Arthur moved to set his bag on the sofa, only to hear a vicious yowling hiss. Lifting the bag, he nearly jumped out of his skin as he saw what could only be described as the most hideous, evil-looking creature he'd ever had the misfortune to encounter.
"Morgana, what the hell is that?"
Morgana looked over and smiled fondly as she walked to the sofa and lifted the glaring monstrosity. "This is Mordred."
"Yes, but what is it?" Arthur asked warily, edging away from the truly malevolent look the animal was sending him.
"He's a cat."
"I'm sorry, but that is not a cat."
"He's a show-quality Sphynx cat and the height of good breeding," Morgana replied with a sniff.
"That is a wrinkled demon that looks like it's about to suck out my soul."
Morgana narrowed her eyes and held the 'cat' closer to her chest. "Don't listen to him, Mordred, he's just a sad little man with no discernable taste."
Before Arthur could reply, the door opened and a ridiculously attractive man entered the room. The guy gave a whole new meaning to the term "tall, dark and handsome" and were Arthur a man with confidence issues, he might have felt intimidated.
"Let me guess, you live here too?" Arthur asked by way of greeting.
The newcomer looked up and gave a friendly smile.
"Not officially, but I certainly spend enough time here. I'm Lance," he replied, offering his hand. Arthur shook it and gave him a firm nod. Before he could take his hand back, Lance was leaning forward with a slight frown. "Oh, my."
"What?" Arthur asked warily.
"Your aura is really murky. You should let me cleanse it for you."
"Lance is a brilliant spiritual healer," Gwen added, looking at Lance as if he were the only man on Earth.
Arthur backed away as Lance lifted his hands and started tracing the air in front of Arthur's face. "A-a-ll right, then," he drawled slowly, as if he were talking to a mentally unstable person (and for all he knew, he was). "I'll think about it. Thanks."
Arthur shot a dubious look to Morgana, who merely smiled with faux sweetness and batted her lashes. Rolling his eyes, he finished pushing the last of his bags into the corner beside the sofa and sat with a sigh.
"So, are there any other housemates I should know about?"
"Just one. His name's Merlin. He's at work now. You'll meet him later."
"Can't wait," Arthur said with false enthusiasm.
Morgana simply rolled her eyes and turned to the others.
"Well, since we're all here, do you guys fancy a takeaway?"
They ordered Indian from a little place around the corner and Arthur spent the evening laughing, chatting and getting to know Gwen and Lance. Gwen was a primary school teacher full of amusing stories about her students' antics and Arthur took an instant liking to her sweet nature. Surprisingly, despite his rather unconventional introduction, Lance was pretty normal. He ran a holistic health food shop not far from the house and was very passionate about all things spiritual. All in all, they got on well and for the first time in weeks, Arthur felt himself relax. Sleeping on the sofa was a bit of a step down from the luxury of his old flat, but the company was infinitely better.
As Arthur slid beneath the duvet and settled himself for sleep, a sense of contentment fell over him. He'd done the right thing in finally breaking free of his father. Until that moment, he hadn't been completely sure, but it seemed things were finally starting to look up. Things were tight, but he had a roof over his head, food in his stomach, his sister back and a couple of new – if somewhat eccentric – friends. He still had yet to meet the last of the housemates, but if this Merlin was as agreeable as the other two, Arthur would be satisfied. With that thought, he drifted off to sleep.
Arthur woke to the unmistakable sound of two people snogging. He frowned into the dim light of the room, trying to make out who was responsible for it – no pun intended. A deep chuckle met his ear, followed by a series of suggestive whispers. Arthur opened his mouth to make his presence known only to have the wind knocked out of him by a very heavy, if gangly, body.
There were a few moments of wrestling with tangled limbs and a deadly duvet, but finally, Arthur managed to kick the intruder off him, sit up and catch his breath. Reaching over, he flipped on the standing lamp beside the sofa and his eyes locked with a pair of wide brilliant blue. His heart stuttered in his chest – surely a residual product of lingering shock – before he finally found his voice.
"What the very fuck?"
"God, I'm so sorry. You must be Arthur. I completely forgot you were...I'm Merlin," said the man who'd landed on him, offering his hand. Arthur ignored it, glaring petulantly as he took in Merlin's appearance. Black hair, pale skin and full lips pulled into an apologetic smile all framed with the most ungainly pair of ears Arthur had ever seen. Merlin withdrew his hand after a few seconds and awkwardly gestured to the man beside him. "Um...this is Will."
"Great. Now that we've dispensed with the introductions, would you mind taking your little boyfriend and leaving me in peace? I was trying to sleep, after all," Arthur said with a sneer. He hated to be awakened, especially when the cause of his waking was a pair of horny men landing on his chest.
Merlin jerked back in apparent surprise before his expression melted into an irritated frown.
"There's no need to be such a prat about it," he insisted, his tone belligerent, "I said I was sorry."
"You're sorry. Well, fat lot of good that does me when I've been awakened so rudely and probably won't be able to get back to sleep. Really, your pathetic little apology helps ever so much," Arthur replied, sneering so hard, his face almost hurt with the effort.
"Wow. Morgana said you were spoilt, but I had no idea you'd be such an arrogant prick."
Arthur's eyes narrowed and he barely resisted the urge to throw something at the cheeky fucker. "Just take your loverboy over there and get out of my sight. God knows the last thing I want to see before I go to sleep is the two of you sucking the faces off one another. I'll have nightmares for weeks."
"Oi, who the fuck do you think you are, you fucking tosser?" Will growled, stepping forward with clenched fists. Merlin stopped him with a hand on his wrist and a minute shake of his head.
"Terribly sorry, your majesty, we'll make sure to keep our deviant practices well away from you. We wouldn't want to offend your delicate sensibilities," he quipped with a glower as he pulled Will out of the sitting room and up the stairs.
Arthur stared at the stairs for a few moments longer before flopping back down onto the sofa with an irritable grumble. What kind of person stumbled in at – Arthur checked his watch – half two in the bloody morning and got off with their gay lover on top of an unsuspecting man? It was indecent is what it was. And then he had the nerve to get cheeky with him? All flashing eyes and flushed cheeks and those ridiculous ears. Arthur scoffed to himself. Some people were just unbelievable.
The next morning, Arthur awoke to a gentle pressure on his chest. Slowly, he blinked awake to find the demon, Mordred, levelling a death glare at him – he didn't care what Morgana said, he could see murder in those eyes – and let out a rather unmanly squeak and fell from the sofa, dislodging the 'cat' in the process. He watched it slink away as he fought to catch his breath, a shudder running through him as the creature threw one last glance his way.
Muttering to himself about evil minions of the devil, Arthur untangled himself from the duvet and padded into the kitchen in search of some tea. He stood blinking at the cupboards for a few moments before opening one after the other. Just as he was beginning to despair of ever finding the teabags, a tin container was thrust under his nose.
"We keep the tea in here."
Arthur turned his head to find Merlin standing beside him.
"You know, in the one marked 'tea'," he continued, his lips quirked in a hesitant smile.
"Right. I knew that," Arthur said, taking the tin from him and lifting the lid to find much needed teabags. He put one in his mug and set the kettle to boil. There was an awkward silence as he leaned against the counter and waited impatiently for the water to heat.
"Listen, Arthur, I wanted to apologise for last night," Merlin said suddenly. "I honestly forgot you were coming or we'd have been more quiet."
Arthur looked over, taking in Merlin's earnest expression. He looked a bit like a puppy with the way his eyes widened almost comically and Arthur found himself nodding his acceptance before he'd even realised that was his intent.
"Thanks," he muttered before graciously adding, "I suppose I shouldn't have yelled at you."
"You suppose?" Merlin asked with a raise of his brow and a small smirk.
"Yeah, all right, I shouldn't have. I'm sorry," Arthur said with a tiny huff. "I can be a bit cranky when I wake up."
"So I noticed."
The words were said easily, with a hint of amusement rather than ire and Arthur found himself relaxing. It seemed Merlin wasn't too bad when he wasn't being a stubborn arse. He even found himself reaching up and fetching another mug from the cupboard for Merlin. He figured he may as well since he was making tea anyway.
"Anyway, I managed to get a decent bit of sleep afterward, so it wasn't really that big of a deal," he admitted as he dropped a tea bag into the second cup. "Now I just have to figure out how to keep that thing Morgana calls a cat away from me. As bad as it was being sat on, it was far worse to wake up to the face of evil."
"That's what had you out here shrieking like a little girl this morning? Mordred?" Merlin said with a delighted giggle.
"Hey, I did not shriek like a girl," Arthur retorted with a frown. "I was very manly. Besides, I'd like to see you be calm and collected when the devil's minion is staring at you from inches away."
"He's a cat, Arthur. There's nothing evil about him."
Arthur affected a pitying look and shook his head at Merlin, tsking softly. "It looks like I'm too late. Morgana has already brainwashed you. It's so sad."
Merlin rolled his eyes so hard, his head turned with it and Arthur found his eyes drawn to the long, pale line of his neck. He swallowed, trying to banish the sudden urge to see if the skin was as soft as it looked.
"..ridiculous, you know that?"
Merlin's voice finally registered, bringing Arthur out of his momentary reverie. Arthur shook his head and let out a rather forced scoff.
"Whatever you say, Merlin," he said, turning as the kettle finished boiling, grateful to have something to do with his hands. Filling the mugs, he paused as he remembered Merlin's 'guest' from last night. For some reason, the thought of Will made his hackles rise. "Should I make a cup for your jerk of a boyfriend or is he gone already?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Merlin's smile slip into a frown and the line of his body go tense.
"How exactly is Will a jerk?"
"He was a complete twat last night."
"Oh, because you were so polite? He was only reacting to your shitty attitude," Merlin snapped. "Are you some sort of homophobe or something?"
Arthur's gaze snapped up at that, meeting Merlin's with indignation flowing through him. "I am not a homophobe. I just don't like him."
"Yeah, well, considering I've known you for less than twenty-four fun-filled hours, your opinion doesn't really matter. Next time, keep it to yourself. Thanks for the tea," he said with a slight sneer, taking both mugs and stalking from the kitchen.
Arthur stared dumbly at the spot where Merlin had been before shaking his head and turning to grab another mug, muttering under his breath about skinny prats and their arsehole boyfriends. He slammed the cupboard door just as Morgana breezed into the kitchen.
"Oooh, someone's in a mood this morning," she drawled. "Do you have anything to do with why Merlin had a face like a slapped arse when I passed him in the hall just now?"
Arthur just frowned harder and poured hot water into his new mug, pushing the tea bag around with his teaspoon as he waited for the tea to steep. He let out an indignant noise as Morgana promptly swiped the newly prepared mug from him.
"Thanks so much for the tea, brother dearest," she said, amusement colouring her voice.
Biting back a growl of frustration, Arthur retrieved yet another mug and poured the very last of the boiled water over his teabag, his fingers curled protectively around the handle lest someone try to steal that one as well. He added milk and stirred, depositing his spoon in the sink before he moved to sit across from Morgana at the table with a petulant frown on his face.
"So, are you going to tell me what happened or am I going to have to beat it out of you?" Morgana asked, her tone the very essence of boredom.
Arthur rolled his eyes, but capitulated, knowing it would only be worse if he made her wait. He explained about being rudely awakened at after two in the morning, Merlin sitting on him, his arsehole boyfriend and the fight they'd had. He chose to ignore her laugh when he told her of Mordred's wake up call that morning and the subsequent chat-turned-argument that had Merlin storming from the kitchen only moments before she'd made her appearance.
"And then that tosser accused me of being a homophobe! Me! I've never been homophobic. For fuck's sake, Gawain is my best friend and we all know he shags at least as many blokes as he does birds and tells you twice as many details about them!"
"I can't really blame him for thinking that though. You did act like an antagonistic wanker when you brought it up this morning."
"I most certainly did not!"
"'Should I make your jerk of a boyfriend a cup, too' oh no, you're right that's the epitome of friendly," Morgana replied sarcastically. "Why do you hate Will so much, anyway? You don't even know him."
"I don't hate him, I just don't like him," Arthur stated defiantly glaring into his tea. He looked up to see Morgana arching a thoughtful brow at him.
"I see. Well, on that note of flawless logic, I'm off to work," she said as she rose from the table and rinsed out her cup.
Arthur watched her sweep from the room, his thoughts still swirling about in his head. It wasn't that he didn't want to get along with Merlin; they'd really seemed to be hitting it off until he'd opened his mouth and insulted Merlin's boyfriend. Once he calmed down, he could admit, at least to himself, that he really had been unnecessarily abrasive. Arthur didn't know what it was about Will that wound him up, but he was Merlin's boyfriend and he knew if he wanted any chance of living in peace - or being Merlin's friend - he'd have to force himself to try and tolerate the belligerent arse. But he refused to make him tea.
Nodding his resolve to himself, Arthur rose and rinsed his mug out, feeling just a bit better as he headed into the sitting room to begin his search for employment.
Over the next few weeks, Arthur settled into a routine. He would wake up – usually to the villainous stare of Mordred - make his tea and engage in a verbal sparring match with Merlin before pounding the pavement in search of a job. Unfortunately, he was having a horrible time trying to find anyone that would hire him. It was really starting to get to him. He had nearly ten years of experience working in corporate media and a brilliant record that he'd earned on his own and not (as some of his former co-workers had speculated) because of who his father was, but he was continuously turned away.
After the first few companies refused to even meet with him, Arthur had called his last ally in Camelot Media, Leon, and found out that his father had not only barred him from Camelot and all of its affiliates, but that he was also making the rounds to other big name corporations to ensure that Arthur remained on the outs. Hurt and rage had suffused him when he'd found out, but in the end there was nothing he could do. He had no proof.
So Arthur had begun looking for other jobs. Every morning he searched the paper and the internet for possible employment and every single time he was told that he was "over qualified" or "just not what they're looking for". Each rejection was harder than the one before it and Arthur was slowly, but surely starting to lose faith that he'd ever get his feet under him.
At least he had some money saved up and could afford to pay his share of the rent. Morgana and he had argued about it, but Arthur refused to stay in a house and not pay his equal share. It wasn't right and there was no way he could accept such blatant charity. His funds would hold out for a while, but sooner or later, they would be gone and Arthur was determined he would have an income before they disappeared altogether.
Which was why Arthur was currently digging through the hall cupboard, looking for a clean shirt to wear. He had an interview the next day and he was absolutely determined to charm the pants off them and finally land a job. A small pout formed on his face as he shifted through what was left of his clothing. It seemed he only had two clean shirts left. The rest of his clothes were piled in the corner of the small cupboard, waiting to be washed.
Arthur sighed, closed the door and went looking for the phone book. He was just starting to get frustrated when Merlin walked through the front door. As usual, Merlin was alone and something like relief coursed through Arthur, though he did his best to ignore it. Arthur had noticed a rather pleasant lack of Will lately – in fact he'd not seen the git since the night he'd had the misfortune to meet him - and a small part of him wanted to know if Merlin had broken up with him. Except, it was really none of his business and he didn't care what Merlin's relationship status was. Really, he didn't. Shaking his head to clear it, Arthur called out to Merlin before he could disappear to his room.
"Oh, Merlin, good. Listen, is there a dry cleaner nearby that you usually go to, because I can't find the stupid phone book and I'm starting to run out of clean shirts?"
Merlin let out small scoff of laughter, his brows climbing up his face in obvious incredulity.
"Are you serious? A dry cleaners? For a few shirts?" He smiled wryly, "I'm afraid not. Us poor plebeians usually do our own washing. You know, in the washing machine?"
"We have one of those?"
Merlin rolled his eyes, walked purposefully to the utility room and waved his arm in an overdramatic sweeping gesture, presenting the washing machine and tumble dryer within.
"Oh, right. I knew that."
"Of course you did," Merlin replied with a roll of his eyes. "Have you ever even used a washing machine before?"
Arthur scoffed and sneered at him. "Honestly, any idiot could figure it out, Merlin. I mean, if a prat like you can do it, I'll hardly have any problems."
"I'm sure," Merlin deadpanned. "Well, since you obviously don't need my help, I'll leave you to it."
With a cheeky smirk and a wink, Merlin sauntered up the stairs to his room. Arthur took a moment to glare after him before he turned back to the machine and gave it an assessing stare.
"I'll show that little tosspot," he muttered to himself as he stepped forward to look at the knobs. "It can't be that difficult."
After a few moments of tinkering, Arthur was fairly certain he'd worked out the functions of each knob. Hurrying over to his cupboard, he gathered an armful of washing and made his way back to the utility. He opened the door and shoved the clothes in, struggling as a pair of trousers did their best to escape. When he'd finally managed to close the little glass door of the machine, Arthur straightened and stared at it for a moment, considering his next step.
"Washing powder! Right, I need washing powder."
A quick search of the cupboard next to the machine provided him with detergent and a bottle of some sort of softener. He debated over the softener for a moment before deciding he quite liked his clothes to be soft and it wasn't at all unmanly. Plus, he liked the flower scent.
Another quick investigation of the washing machine produced a small compartment with three chambers. Arthur blinked at the little drawer, momentarily baffled. Why the bloody hell were there three chambers? He looked from the detergent in his left hand to the softener in his right to the machine and back. After a moment, Arthur shrugged. He could just fill the extra chamber with softener so his clothes were extra soft.
Arthur smiled to himself, pleased with his deduction, and proceeded to fill the little drawer. Once he'd pushed the compartment back into its slot, Arthur studied the dials. Deciding that heat equated cleanliness, he turned the temperature dial to ninety degrees and wrenched the second dial about until he heard the machine come to life. He watched for a few moments as water poured into the main chamber, a proud grin spreading over his face.
Giving a firm nod to the machine as if to say 'so there', Arthur headed back into the sitting room to continue his search through the Times for possible jobs.
A half hour later, Merlin emerged from his room. Arthur watched from the corner of his eye, noting the look of mild surprise he gave the washing machine before he padded into the sitting room.
"I see you actually managed to get it started. I'm mildly impressed."
"Of course I did, Merlin," Arthur boasted, "As I said before, any idiot can do the washing."
The buzzer sounded just as Merlin was opening his mouth to reply, signifying the end of Arthur's wash.
"Ah! That's my first batch done," he said, rising from the sofa with a smug grin and heading for the utility with Merlin close behind.
"Now," Arthur began as he swung open the tiny glass portal and revealed... "What the bloody hell?"
Merlin let out a rather girlish giggle behind him as Arthur pulled out his favourite white Gucci shirt. Or what used to be his favourite white Gucci shirt. The once-pristine white linen was now mottled with varying hues of pink. It looked like the machine and his clothes had gone to war and the clothes had lost a bitter and bloody battle.
"It's...pink!" Arthur exclaimed in shocked horror as Merlin's giggles increased.
"Looks like you aren't just any idiot," Merlin answered.
Arthur turned and fixed him with his deadliest glare, humiliation and frustration welling up within him.
"Shut up, Merlin," he shot back, turning to frown at the machine. "I don't understand what happened. I was sure I did it right."
Finally, Merlin's giggles died down and he seemed to take pity on Arthur. Arthur let him pass, watching closely as he bent down to gather the rest of Arthur's ruined clothing. If his eyes lingered a little too long, it was only because he was so worried about the condition of his designer labels. Speaking of labels, there was one on Merlin's jeans, just above his arse...
Arthur's eyes snapped to Merlin's face as he finally tuned in, only catching the last few words. Bloody hell, he had just checked out Merlin's arse! Doing his best not to let on, he blinked innocently and said, "Sorry, what?"
Merlin gave him an odd look, but seemed to let it go in the next moment.
"I said, I found the problem," he repeated, holding up a miniature version of what used to be Arthur's three hundred pound red Burberry cashmere jumper. Arthur made a small sound of grief for the loss of such a beloved piece of his wardrobe.
"What did you do, just throw the whole lot in without bothering to check the clothes?"
"Maybe," Arthur answered, sulking as Merlin rolled his eyes at him. "What bloody difference does it make?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Merlin asked, pointedly waving the tiny jumper at Arthur. "You have to separate your clothes into colours and whites as well as sort out the delicates and things that absolutely should never be washed."
Once again, he gesticulated with the shrunken material and Arthur snatched it from him with an indignant noise.
"Well, that's just ridiculous," he declared petulantly.
"Oh yes, sorting your washing so's not to ruin it is a silly idea," Merlin mocked lightly as he began sorting through the ruined clothing. "Look, I'm sure there are a few salvageable bits in this lot and isn't pink supposed to be 'in' this season, or something?"
"I hardly think they're going for the 'recently involved in a grisly murder' look, Merlin" Arthur countered, waving his splotchy shirt for emphasis.
Merlin visibly tried to fight back a smile and failed miserably.
"Well, at least they smell nice."
Arthur levelled him with another glare that only served to make Merlin smile wider.
"All right, look, let me see what I can with this lot and I'll help you with the next, okay?" he offered, his blue eyes still dancing with amusement.
Arthur debated shoving the offer back in his face, but in the end decided that he really could use the help, even if he'd never say so in so many words.
"I suppose you could. If you want to," he answered casually.
Merlin just rolled his eyes at him and went to the cupboard, beckoning Arthur to follow. He showed Arthur how to sort the colours and whites as well as check any and all pockets for any loose debris. Next, he sorted the piles into delicates and explained about the different temperature settings, snapping at Arthur when his attention wavered from Merlin's lecture to the precise way his delicate hands handled Arthur's clothes as he worked.
"Then you add the washing powder and softener and set it for the appropriate amount of time," Merlin said as he demonstrated. The washing machine started up again and he turned to give Arthur a pleasant smile.
"You're quite good at that, Merlin," Arthur said, returning the smile. "It's nice to know you've a talent for something."
"And of course you had to ruin it by being a prat."
"No, honestly, you're so good at it, I think you should just do the rest of it for me," Arthur insisted, waving his arm imperiously at the barely dented mountain of clothing still sitting at the bottom of the cupboard.
"Not a chance in hell, clotpole," Merlin said with a snort of laughter.
Arthur took a second to feign irritation before he cracked a smile and let out a chuckle of his own. They shared a moment of easy companionship before Arthur sobered and cleared his throat.
"Listen, I, uh," he began hesitantly. "I wanted to apologise if I scared your boyfriend off or something. I know I said I don't like him, and I don't, but I didn't mean to make him feel like he couldn't come here or anything."
Merlin's brow furrowed, his nose wrinkling adorably in confusion. "Sorry?"
"Will? I haven't seen him around much since we first met and I was worried I'd made him feel unwelcome," Arthur shifted uncomfortably beneath Merlin's stare.
"I wonder what could possibly have given him that impression?" he mused, raising a brow. Arthur's lips pursed into a small pout, but he said nothing. "Anyway, it has nothing to do with you. We only see each other occasionally. Will's just a friend."
Arthur's eyebrows rose in surprise. "A friend? But I thought...aren't you two shagging?"
Merlin smiled and shrugged. "We do sometimes. When neither of us is attached and we feel like having casual sex, but it's just that. Casual."
Arthur simply stared, completely taken aback. It had never occurred to him that Merlin would be the kind of bloke to have a casual shagging relationship, though God only knew what had put that thought into his head. It wasn't as if Arthur had actively spent time contemplating Merlin's relationship status or shaggability. Certainly not. Nor did he have any idea why he had the sudden urge to grin like a loon.
"Haven't you ever heard the term 'fuck buddies'?"
"Of course I have," Arthur replied, "I just didn't think...it doesn't matter. So long as he's not staying away because of me. I'd hate to cut into your shag time."
"Since when are you worried about my shag time?" Merlin asked with an impish smirk.
Arthur scoffed. "I'm not; I was just trying to be considerate."
"A nice change of pace for you," he teased.
"Oh, ha bloody ha," Arthur drawled with an unimpressed look. He smiled a moment later, showing Merlin that he wasn't really bothered by his comment and another pleasant silence fell. Arthur could almost feel something shift between them in that moment and his heart felt a bit lighter.
Merlin shifted a bit and bit his lip, looking down at the pile of ruined washing still sitting on the counter. If Arthur didn't know any better, he might have said Merlin was blushing.
"Right, so, I'll just see what I can do with these, shall I?" Merlin said, as he gathered the clothes. "Let me know when that wash is over and I'll show you how to hang them properly."
With one last quick glance, Merlin turned and headed up the stairs to his room. Arthur watched with bemusement as the door shut behind him. He wasn't sure what was going on between them, but at least they seemed to be getting on now. The thought made Arthur smile wider as he headed back into the sitting room to wait for his washing to finish.
"Fuck!" Arthur growled as he stormed into the house. He shut the door rather than slamming it like he wanted to. To make up for the lack of violence inflicted on the door, he vented his frustration by stripping off the jacket of his suit, balling it up with his fists and throwing it at the sofa. Then he lifted it and did it a few more times before giving up and finally collapsing onto the seat next to it. Arthur put his head in his hands and sank his fingers into his hair, tugging lightly. "Goddamn it."
"Hey, Arthur I was just..." Merlin's voice stopped and Arthur felt the cushion beside him depress. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"What's wrong is I'm going to live in a cardboard box!" Arthur replied dramatically, tugging at his hair again.
"O-o-kay," Merlin replied, his voice laden with confusion. "Were you planning on doing this anytime soon, because I know a bloke who can get you a deal on some nice ones? Deep. Plenty of space."
Arthur wrenched his head out of his hands, making his hair stand every which way, and levelled a glare at him. "You're not funny, Merlin."
"Now that's just mean. Plenty of people think I'm funny," he joked. "And anyway, I doubt Morgana would let you live in a box."
"She'll have to if I can't do something about my lack of income! The company turned me down. Another one! At this rate I'll never get a job. I'm either too bloody qualified – how the fuck can someone be too qualified, anyway, that makes no fucking sense – or they turn me away because of my father!"
Arthur ran his fingers through his hair, dishevelling it even further. Not that he cared at that point. He'd been so frustrated lately it was lucky he had any left to pull at all. "I hate this," he breathed, his voice melancholic and full of self-loathing. "I hate not having something to get up for every morning. I miss being a productive member of society."
A moment later, Arthur felt a tentative hand on his back. He started a bit, but didn't move away. The touch was comforting and he actually found himself leaning into it a bit.
"I know it's hard, but it will get better," Merlin said gently. "You've got a brilliant employment record and despite being a prat, you're a good guy. Something will turn up."
"Thanks," Arthur muttered, completely unconvinced, but glad for the sentiment anyway.
They sat in silence for a few moments before Merlin straightened suddenly.
"Hey, what about Albion?"
Arthur's brow furrowed. "The coffee shop?"
"Yeah. One of our full-timers, Bors, just left to backpack on the Continent for a year and we'll be looking for a replacement anyway."
"I don't know," Arthur said hesitantly.
"Well, it's a job, right? Gaius is a brilliant owner and I'm sure that you'll get on famously with the manager."
"Merlin, you're the manager," Arthur said with an arched brow.
"Exactly," he replied with a smirk. "We get on and I know I can deal with you if you start acting like a spoilt arse."
Arthur pouted a frown at him, but didn't contradict him. He knew he could be difficult at times. Pursing his lips, he thought about Merlin's offer. It was a huge step down from being the future Managing Director of a major media corporation, but then, so was just about every job he'd applied for since he'd left his father's side. At least it would be money in his pocket and he'd have the added benefit of already knowing someone there. For reasons Arthur refused to analyse too closely, the thought of working with Merlin was what had him agreeing.
"Do you really think that would be all right?"
Merlin smiled and nodded encouragingly. "Sure. I mean, you'll have to meet with Gaius before you can officially be hired, but otherwise I don't see any problem with it."
Arthur felt a wave of gratitude and for the first time that day, he smiled. "All right. I'll give it a go."
Before he could say anything more, Mordred slunk into the room wearing a familiar-looking red bodysuit. Arthur stared, his jaw dropping in surprise.
"Oi! Is that my bloody jumper?" he asked incredulously.
Merlin shifted away, removing the hand that Arthur hadn't realised was still on his back until then. It left a cold spot in the shape of Merlin's palm that Arthur did his best to ignore. "I don't know what you mean."
"My Burberry designer sweater is on Satan's pussycat and you don't know what I mean?" he cried, flailing a hand at Mordred who sat a few feet away levelling him with his usual death glare.
"Stop calling him that," Merlin chided with a tsk, beckoning to the thing. Mordred sauntered over and jumped up to curl into Merlin's lap, never taking his eyes off of Arthur. "Besides, it's not as if you were ever going to wear it again anyway."
"That's hardly the point, Merlin. It's a matter of principle. You do not give my things to a minion of the underworld," he pouted, glaring at the cat. He could swear the little fucker was smirking at him.
"You really should learn to get along with him. Ah, see, he's purring, he likes you."
What Merlin called a 'purr' sounded more like a death rattle, but Arthur kept that opinion to himself, opting to mutter under his breath instead. After a moment of sulking (and a staring contest with the cat – which he, of course, lost), Arthur spoke again.
"So when do you think I can meet with Gaius?"
"I'll give him a ring now," Merlin answered, retrieving his phone and dislodging the cat in the process. "He's usually about in the afternoons."
Arthur listened while Merlin chatted animatedly with the owner of the coffee shop and less than an hour later, they were on their way to meet with the man who would – hopefully – become Arthur's new boss.
The meeting went off without a hitch. Gaius was an elderly gentleman with a stern countenance and a kind heart. There was no doubt that should Arthur screw up, he'd hear about it, but it was clear that Gaius was the type to give praise where praise was due and he seemed to inspire loyalty from the start. Or maybe that was Arthur simply projecting his own gratitude onto the situation. Gaius had asked a few questions about Arthur's work history and experience before informing him that, while the job wasn't nearly as glamorous as what he'd been accustomed to, he was more than welcome to the position. Arthur had taken it without hesitation and with enough enthusiasm that it had made Gaius' eyebrow climb up his forehead and a smile tug at his lips.
Arthur hadn't even cared when Merlin had teased him for it on the way home. He had a job, he had his friends and he was no longer under his father's thumb. Things were definitely looking up.