Chapter 12: Merging
"Where have you two been?" Arthur asked suspiciously as the couple made their way back towards the main ballroom.
"Just talking," Morgana replied. Next to her brother, Gwen tried unsuccessfully to muffle a giggle.
"Really?" said Arthur sceptically. "So, if you were 'just talking' then why is Merlin wearing such a fetching shade of lipstick?" Merlin turned bright pink and hastily rubbed at his lips with the back of his hand, glaring at Arthur whilst the blond smirked back.
"Not that it's any of your business," Morgana stated haughtily.
"If you say so, but I thought I'd better let you know that Father's looking for you and that he was talking to Aredian a few minutes ago who honestly looked like the proverbial cat that had got the cream."
The two couples walked into the main hall and passed a well-known magazine and television social reporter. The woman's eyes suddenly widened as she recognised … well, who exactly? Given everything she'd learnt tonight it could be any one of them. She turned to Merlin who simply raised his eyes to the ceiling. No doubt he'd been all through this as a child and was probably far more used to the attention that she or Arthur were.
"They can't possible recognise us, can they?" Arthur asked. Uther had been quite determined to keep reporters away from his children for much of their life so they'd rarely been pestered by the press.
"Ah, that might be me," Merlin admitted.
"Oh, really and why on earth would she be interested in you?" Arthur asked.
"Despite what Uther says, the whole world does not revolve around you, your highness," Merlin countered. Gwen grinned at Morgana and she smirked back, quite aware that the pair's banter was very half hearted.
"I never said it did but, just because you were once a famous child-star, does not mean that the whole world revolves around you either. 'Merlin the Saucerer' indeed. What sort of title is that?"
"Not my idea, I can assure you," Merlin muttered in response.
"And what is it with your company suddenly saying they could trust me, but not my father? What am I supposed to say when he quizzes me about that?"
"There's no point fighting destiny, Arthur, I thought we'd already established that."
"What? What are you talking about, Merlin?"
"After Gwen and I made up with you two, we all decided that it would be better to have your family as our allies rather than our enemies. It makes sound business sense too and … well, it was always inevitable – surely you must have sensed it too."
"Sensed what? Fate? Destiny? Honestly, I get enough of that sort of talk from Father. What would you know about such things? Or are you really a sorcerer and can see the future or something?" Arthur raised his eyes to the ceiling, but Morgana was looking straight at Merlin at this point and saw him grin knowingly in reply. She shook her head, suddenly suspecting that perhaps not all the secrets were out in the open yet, after all.
"So, that whole thing yesterday was as much about me and Guinevere as it was about … business?" Merlin shrugged and Arthur suddenly turned his attention to Gwen. "You talked to him about … Wednesday?" he asked her, sounding a little nervous at the prospect.
"Of course I did, he's my best friend, we tell each other everything," she replied with a shrug.
"Hang on a minute. Everything?" asked Morgana then, her voice sounding unnaturally high. She glared at Merlin who ducked his head.
"Well, perhaps not … everything but … well, most things. Well not absolutely everything … I mean … ah ..." Gwen winced as she noticed Morgana's glare turn on her, "... sorry."
"And the board of Kilgharrah's just accepted that? From you?" Arthur was making much the same point as she had, if perhaps a little less diplomatically. Both she and Gwen turned from looking at Arthur to Merlin, as if watching a tennis match.
"Considering my … abilities … I have a certain reputation within the restaurant ..." Merlin said carefully, "and … well, they trust my judgement because …"
"Because …?" The girls turned their head back to Arthur, then to Merlin. Morgana giggled despite herself.
"Ah, it seems your father's trying to get our attention," said Merlin with a rather false grin. Arthur gave a small, frustrated growl and strode over to Uther, the others quickly following.
"You're going to have to tell him," Morgana whispered to Merlin and he shrugged.
"I suppose. Actually, I was rather hoping he might work it out for himself."
"Don't hold your breath," she replied as they reached Uther.
"Morgana," said her father in his 'talking to a ten year old,' tone. "Aredian's just found out the name of this mysterious photographer."
"Oh?" she replied, attempting an innocent tone.
"Morgan Le Fey. What do you think about that?"
"Only, unless your grandfather somehow managed to jump out of his grave and take pictures of these two boys recently, the only thing I can think of is that you've reverted to your childish bad habits and have been going behind my back, yet again."
"Childish? Uther, how can you say that when you've seen how much people are talking about my photographs this evening?"
"So, it is true?"
"Yes," she replied lifting her chin as high as she could.
"Well, I can't allow it to continue, obviously."
"No daughter of mine is going to be dabbling in the arts – you have a reputation to maintain." Merlin snorted in response and Uther quickly rounded on him. "And I suppose you've been encouraging her? Your work in catering as a child was obviously a bad influence on you too."
"I still work in catering," he replied confidently, "and happen to be very good at what I do." Uther seemed a little surprised by his confidence, whilst Arthur look impressed ... and then rather suspicious.
"Well yes, you were educated in Cambridge – the less said about that, the better," Uther continued. "Morgana, however, is Dark Blue and I will not have a member of my family or my company involved in such practises."
"Not a problem. I resign," she hissed, "and, believe me, if it were possible to quit as your daughter I'd do that too."
"There is no need to over-react," Uther said calmly, "Once you think this through I'm sure you'll realise how difficult it would be for you to pursue such a 'hobby' without my financial support." Morgana turned to look at Merlin who simply smiled gently back and nodded, taking a small step forward.
"That won't be a problem, Mr. Pendragon," he said. "I've already agreed to be Morgana's investor in her new photography business and can guarantee that she will have all the financial support she needs." Gwen smiled broadly, whilst Morgana tried hard not to laugh at the sceptical looks that both Arthur and Uther were giving Merlin.
"You?" said her brother.
"Exactly what financial support to you think you could give her?" Uther continued.
"Do you have any idea how much money I made whilst competing on that show? How much of a reputation I built?" he replied and Uther's jaw dropped open as he suddenly remembered just how famous Merlin had been as a child.
"But ..." stuttered Arthur. "Why would you work as maître d' if you have all that money?"
"Because I enjoy the work," said Merlin with a casual shrug. "Anyway, I don't always do that job. As I said to Morgana during that shoot, most of the people who work at Kilgharrah's do a number of different jobs. As it happens, I only host on Saturday nights – the rest of the week I … have other work to do."
"Such as?" Merlin gave Arthur an amused grin and her brother frowned suspiciously, perhaps starting to put all the pieces of the puzzle together after all. Uther, however, was too cross to be thinking straight.
"Well, I obviously couldn't comment earlier when we there were others around," Uther continued, "but I shall say now that I assumed your reason for bringing these two as dates was business, but I can see that they have been a bad influence on both of you and I really cannot sanction these relationships any more – not considering all the bad blood there is between Leodegrance and I, and not to mention all the underhanded schemes employed by Kilgharrah's recently."
"Surely that's irrelevant now," said Arthur. "You've passed the shares onto me and I'm the one who will be in talks with the company regarding a future merger. As such I now consider Guinevere, her father and Merlin's family as allies and so any relationship we have with them can only improve relations – business and personal."
"The ink is hardly dry on that contract," said Uther, employing a rather old fashioned example, Morgana thought. "What interests me is just how long these relationships have been going on for, especially considering Mr. Lothian's rather crude comment during Monday's meeting." He then suddenly turned on Morgana. "Was this who you were trying to hide from me that morning?" he asked, waving a hand at Merlin and she winced, despite her best efforts not to react. "Talk about 'sleeping with the enemy', exactly what were you trying to prove?"
"Merlin is not the enemy," she said and then winced again as her father raised his eyebrows – obviously taking note that she had not denied the other part of that statement.
"Father, you might not sanction that relationship but I do," said Arthur firmly. He suddenly looked at Merlin and froze, a small frown appearing. "It appears that I will be working closely with Merlin from now on and so I'm quite happy for him to be dating my sister." Merlin turned a surprised, but grateful look on her brother as the pair exchanging some sort of silent understanding in that glance. "As for Guinevere," Arthur continued. "I understand that Mrs. Ambrosius and Mr. Leodegrance are happy about her relationship with me and believe it helps to secure our future merger."
Uther blanched as he said this and Morgana also looked closely at her brother trying to work out if his words had a double meaning.
"You don't know what you are saying, Arthur," said their father. "You don't know what you're getting yourself into. That company …" He paused, shaking his head. "You were right when you said we should have left well alone but now … now they've got you snared in more ways than one and …"
"No, Father, in this matter, the business is irrelevant. This is all about my feelings for Guinevere." Arthur blinked hard, suddenly realising that he was, at long last, standing up to Uther. "In fact, I shall prove just how serious I am," and, with that, he athletically jumped up onto a nearby table, picked up a glass and spoon, and tapped the two gently together until the whole hall fell silent, whilst Uther folded his arms and glared.
"Good evening, everyone - sorry to interrupt. For those of you that don't know, my name is Arthur Pendragon of the Camelot corporation and I have a couple of announcements to make." He paused for a moment and Morgana saw her brother's eyes flick over to the reporter they passed early, making quite certain that he had her full attention. Arthur clearly wasn't planning to be half-hearted.
"Firstly I would like to announce that I am shortly to join the board of Kilgharrah's with the full approval of the whole of their company. I believe that Mr. Emrys and I will shortly be in talks as to how to take this wonderful restaurant into the twenty-second century." He flashed a meaningful look at Merlin who grinned and gave him a firm nod of agreement, confirming her brother's recent guess. "I wish to state here and now that this is not a take-over by Camelot. The restaurant will continue to be run by it's current owner and I shall simply be advising and assisting in my own small way." He paused for a moment, allowing the mutters and whispers to continue for a while.
"I also have another, less serious announcement to make … Guinevere?" He bent down and held out a hand, encouraging Gwen to step up onto a chair and from there to join him on the table. "I wish to introduce my fiancée, Guinevere Leodegrance. Yesterday I asked her to marry me and she was generous enough to accept which, considering everything that's been happening recently, proves that she really is far too good for me."
Morgana gaped at her brother, whilst the whole of the hall erupted into loud applause as Arthur pulled Gwen close and kissed her passionately in front of everyone. Uther muttered something about 'ingratitude' under his breath and moved out to the bar; probably to get a strong drink, Morgana thought, whilst Merlin moved a little closer to her then, and bent down slightly, so he could talk over the continuing applause and whistles, his warm breath tickling her ear and making her shiver delightedly.
"That's why I now trust him," he said and she turned to see his usual broad grin and no surprise evident on his face at all. Obviously Gwen had told her best friend the news as soon as she'd accepted yesterday. Morgana couldn't help but feel a little offended that her brother hadn't chosen to do the same.
"And do you trust me yet?" she asked him as Arthur and Gwen dismounted the table to receive their congratulations from a rapidly gathering crowd.
"I'm getting there," Merlin replied. "Perhaps I stand a better chance of guaranteeing your loyalty if I start merger talks with you too." There was that small, apparently shy, smile again and Morgana stared at him, open mouthed, as she contemplated the possible double meaning in that sentence.
"Exactly what sort of merger are we talking about here?" she asked carefully.
"Oh, much the same sort as Arthur and Gwen's I imagine," he replied.
"And you reckon you can offer good enough incentives for me to accept such a proposal?" she replied, playing along with his game, despite her racing heart.
"I believe I could close such a deal with a single item," said Merlin confidently.
"Oh really?" Morgana challenged.
"And that would be?"
"My chocolate desert, once a week ... for life," he answered, grinning as Morgana gasped at the prospect. "Well, do we have a deal?"
"Deal," Morgana replied, pulling Merlin into a passionate, public embrace of her own.
A/N Thank you so much for your wonderful support and reviews for this story. I've had a blast writing it - despite all my recent family issues - and am so glad that you've been enjoying it to. To quote J.K. Rowling at the HP8 premier. "No story lives unless someone want to listen."
*edit December 2011
If you enjoyed that, you may now like to read my M rated extension/sequel to this fic called Merlin The 'Saucerer' which also includes a couple of flash-backs. Three for the price of one!
This time we follow Merlin during his whirlwind romance with Morgana whilst neither of them are being entirely honest with the other, and Uther is being very ... Uther!