"Why?" Merlin asked.
"Mordred said he would cover your shift for an hour, this needs you, because I'd like you to agree with me, or tell me I'm wrong if I am."
"Where are we going?"
"Why are we seeing your solicitor?"
"He's yours too."
"Only because I can't have one of my own."
"You make him sound like a lost puppy. Don't make solicitors sound like puppies Merlin, that's just weird."
"Arthur, nice to see you," Bayard suddenly announced. "I've never been called a puppy before."
"You'd be an Alsatian if you were," Merlin said.
Bayard smiled at him, holding out his hand to Merlin. "Mr Emrys nice to see you too."
"And only you would take that as a compliment," Merlin informed him as they shook hands and then sat down. Bayard smiled again reaching for the file on his desk.
"So, Arthur, you said you wanted to alter your will?"
"Merlin," Arthur said to still him down, taking Merlin's hand. "Just to alter it regarding Mordred. We can't formally adopt him, but he probably has as much right as Elena to any part of our estate, surely you agree."
Merlin looked mildly put out but didn't disagree. Arthur took that as a good sign.
"I also want to set up a trust fund for him, so when he turns 21 he can use it as he sees fit but give him access to a certain amount of money now. He is acting as an independent adult and should be treated as such. I thought a working amount of three hundred pounds a month."
"That's a bit much. What does he need to buy?"
"I think that reasonably asking him to pay a hundred pound of that as rent isn't far out."
"While we are also feeding and clothing him?" Merlin said.
"Not the clothing part, he'll have enough to do it himself. I want to make him independent."
"That's also making it a little too easy. Plus he appreciates what we do, giving him money to make him pay for it is silly, and don't doubt for a moment that he likes being treated like the teenager he is. That means we keep him and he follows the house rules."
"So, what do you think?" Arthur asked Merlin. Bayard picked up a pen ready to take notes.
"Eighty pounds a month, he's under our roof and we pay for that and he adheres to our rules and he knows them very well. With that money he can buy clothes, what he needs for school and he can manage the rest, and if he chooses to save some of it, then he can. But that amount will mean he has to think about it carefully."
Arthur looked at Merlin and then glanced at Bayard.
"It could be set up that anything he chooses to save can be put into a separate account, which you have no control of and the money is his to do with as he really chooses. If you wish you can still maintain control of the monthly allowance, but you release whatever he keeps aside for his own use."
Merlin hunched, groaned and glared at Bayard.
"What's wrong with that?" Arthur asked, surprised at the sudden negative reaction to Merlin's own suggestion.
"You know damn well he'll start saving for a motorbike."
"In which case, he can pay for his own lessons. Besides, we can always give him a car for his eighteenth birthday."
"Pointless unless he learns to drive one," Merlin said.
"He will if I let him learn in mine."
Merlin pouted, thinking of Arthur's blue sports car that got more repairs as time went on because Arthur didn't want to part with it, because he knew how much Mordred had always liked it.
"We could give it to him as a birthday present when he's 18?" Arthur made it a question, Merlin frowned, but also nodded.
26th December 2014
Merlin ambled downstairs just before Gwen and Lancelot were due to arrive. He walked into the kitchen scratching his head, sending his hair spiking up and he wore the pyjamas that Gwaine had bought him for Christmas. Gwaine always bought pyjamas for Merlin and Merlin always wore them on Boxing Day. There were so many traditions now that Arthur felt that he had had Christmas with Merlin forever.
The pyjamas had been a panic buy the first time, when Gwaine had been asked to Christmas lunch at the last minute, after Mordred had been dragged away by social services and all their plans had gone up in the air. With his guard down and just Gwaine and Arthur there Merlin had opened the present, stared uncertainly and then looking up innocently said.
"I never wear pyjamas."
"Excellent!" Gwaine roared after a moment. "I can imagine you not wearing them!"
So the next day, Merlin had worn them, modelled them and Arthur had nearly dragged him off to bed, with Gwaine looking amused and rueful as he watched their antics.
And so another tradition was born. Merlin wore a newly bought set of pyjamas on boxing day. And the rest were piling up in a drawer like the beginnings of a pyjama museum. He wore them again occasionally, usually when he felt too lazy to leave the house and could amble around in pyjamas, safe in the knowledge he wasn't going anywhere. Gwaine now, each year, seemed to challenge himself to find the most garish, or silly looking, set of night clothes he could find.
"Merlin, you look ravishing!" Gwaine said loudly to a Merlin dressed in florescent snowmen and Christmas puddings. Merlin paused in the kitchen doorway and looked around his domain. However sleepy he looked no one was fooled, his eyes would not miss a trick.
"Sausages, bacon, beans, mushrooms and soon the tomatoes," Gwaine lifted the small frying pan he currently held, in which a pile of tomatoes were cooking.
"Very good," Merlin praised.
"I laid the table," Arthur said, glaring at Gwaine.
"That's very good too."
"That's Gwen and Lancelot," Morgana added as the doorbell rang. As he was nearest Merlin turned and wandered to the door, opening it up to find a beaming Gwen and Lancelot on the doorstep. Gwen held a covered dish in her hands.
"I brought waffles, and pancakes," she said in delight. Lancelot held up a jar.
"I've got syrup."
Merlin watched the pair of them as he stepped aside to let them into the house and he smirked in a very knowing way.
Merlin had been forced to kick Arthur several times as he poked at the waffles and pancakes on his plate. Gwen flitted around like she was in heaven, not saying anything but speaking louder than words in every action. Merlin looked around and realised that no one knew what she was about to say.
He had the advantage of knowing that they had had dinner with the required sets of parents the night before, but despite that Merlin realised that no one had still worked it out. He clamped down hard on his tongue and kicked Arthur under the table again.
"I don't like sticky food!" Elena announced stabbing at the pancakes.
"Don't eat them then, have some not sticky sausages," Mordred said. Merlin looked up and Mordred smiled at him, his secret, happy, smile. Mordred mostly spoke to Arthur, that preference had been clear since they met, but Mordred had always looked at Merlin and seen something. Merlin had not always felt sure of that look but Mordred held him no malice and Merlin often thought that simply lay in the fact that he was Arthur's and things of Arthur's, in Mordred's mind, were to be revered. Now Merlin thought that it was not as simple. In this case he smiled back as he realised Mordred had worked out what Gwen was about to say, which she suddenly yelped loudly.
"We're getting married!"
She lifted the silver chain around her neck and displayed the ring to much oohhing and Morgana screaming.
"Oh my God!"
Morgana got up to look at the ring, examining it as if she were an expert.
"White gold, very classy!"
"I like silver," Gwen said, turning to glare at a beaming, proud Lancelot.
"I was not going to give you a silver ring for our engagement. That was a compromise."
"Very nice," Uther said after a simple glance at the ring, his tone of voice telling everyone that 'nice' didn't cover the cost of the item. If Uther approved then it was expensive and well worth it. Far more worth it, as far as Merlin was concerned, was Arthur's expression of shock.
"When's the engagement party?" Gwaine asked.
31st December 2014
Arthur knew he had done everyone proud. The VIP section of the club had been set up perfectly. Years ago it had simply been a haven for his business associates, but over the years it had become more welcome to his, and Merlin's, friends. Gwen always had an invite and Merlin had, his first year, been able to hang out with Lancelot, who was also new to the whole thing. As the years went on Arthur hadn't argued when Will, Freya, and Elena - from Social Services - had been invited. Mrs Bartlett had politely declined but Merlin guessed she appreciated being asked. If nothing else it showed her that the two men she had so staunchly backed as foster parents appreciated her back.
Hunith was present this year because Mordred said he would babysit little Elena, and he was old enough to do that, and earn a wage for it. Mordred had shrugged and smiled as Arthur said that. Mordred didn't do such things for any gain, other than the fact that he became part of a family, a family he wanted, in doing so. He would sit up with Elena, then put her to bed and stay with her, then sit on his own for the rest of the night.
Merlin worried about that. Arthur didn't when it came to Mordred being on his own. He knew how alike he and Mordred were, and Arthur understood the need for that level of calm, keeping your own company. For the moment, Arthur felt calm revelling in the silver balloons and banners that Vivian had put up in the VIP lounge area to celebrate Gwen and Lancelot's engagement. He could order them but he would have been helpless when it came to picking the colours and schemes. Sometimes it baffled him, he looked at a house and knew what to put where, and then little things like this he missed completely.
Thank God, he thought - and thanked a lot - for Merlin, who knew what to do when it came to these things. Arthur smiled as he thought that. He and Merlin did each other proud really, when they worked it out.
It seemed entirely fine until the moment that Uther grabbed Arthur's arm and hissed into his ear.
"What is that man doing here? I would have thought better of you than to invite him!"
"Who?" Arthur asked but his question was answered as Uther turned him at the same time so he saw the dark haired man lingering at the bar. He lounged against it, assessing the room, his gaze pausing on the balloons and banners, looking sarcastically amused by the whole thing. As he caught Arthur's eye his smirk increased and he raised the champagne glass in greeting. Arthur felt like exploding and passing out at the same time.
"I don't know!" Arthur hissed to his father, also turning away to wave a hand at Vivian, who was serving in the VIP area. Arthur could only be thankful that Merlin had drunk enough champagne to lose his shyness and allow Morgana, Gwen, Hunith and Lancelot to drag him down onto the dance floor, so it gave Arthur time to get rid of his unwanted guest.
"Are you all right Arthur?" Vivian asked.
"Viv! How did he get an invite?"
"Oh shit!" she snapped. "I just sent the list! I've put people on it but... fuck!"
It was a clear sign of the stress she suddenly felt that her language deteriorated so dramatically.
"I don't think I've ever needed to erase anyone! I think he's still on it. He left the country, he was hardly going to come back just for a new year's eve party. I'm so sorry Arthur, I just forgot."
"Don't worry about it," Arthur said with a sigh. "It's not your fault. It's my invite list, I should probably check it. Most people that I don't want coming are probably tactful enough to stay away. I'll deal with it."
He gave Vivian a comforting pat on the shoulder and eased himself away from her and Uther, crossing the room he assessed the unwanted guest, who could, it appeared, easily claim that he had been invited. Not that Arthur wanted him here, he certainly didn't want him anywhere near Merlin. As much as Merlin could read between the lines to understand something of Arthur's darker nature, this man could make that ten times worse.
"Hello Cenred." Arthur spoke with what he thought was an amazing amount of calm, all things considered. Cenred continued to lounge against the bar and he sipped at the champagne in a carefully controlled way, that gesture told Arthur Cenred had no intention of getting drunk and relaxing, he was here to stir up whatever trouble he could.
"You look... well."
Cenred smirked and Arthur ground his teeth. This was not a conversation he wanted to have and he had started it all wrong, and he most certainly did not want to say that Cenred looked good. He did, Arthur couldn't deny that. It was one reason that he had gone into business with him, and also taken Cenred to his bed. It had been mutually convenient, and the sex good. Arthur couldn't argue with that, although he might try to.
"I thought you were still abroad."
Cenred grinned. "As you can see I'm not, and as I got your invitation I thought I'd come and see you. Why not?"
Arthur's eyes narrowed. "Because if I had known you were on the list I would have removed you."
"I'm sure our split was not that acrimonious. And there is still the matter of our contract."
Clenching his jaw Arthur spoke through gritted teeth. "I think we can consider that null and void."
"I'm afraid it's not, and considering some of the clauses, it might be rather costly to extract yourself from it."
"I'll have Bayard check it over as soon as possible."
"I wouldn't bother, my lawyer has already done so, and by the look of it you made it very watertight. Although at that time you really didn't want me getting away."
Arthur fumed, but said nothing. Cenred looked around again, smirking as he looked at the balloons and banners.
"So, who's getting married? It's not you is it?"
"Gwen, Morgana's friend," Arthur said having no intention of explaining his current relationship to Cenred, who probably already knew some of the story. They had mutual contacts and acquaintances, it wouldn't take much for Cenred to find out about Arthur's five year relationship with Merlin. To Arthur's satisfaction Cenred looked quite irritated at Arthur's refusal to rise. If Arthur was honest that probably had something to do with Merlin and his rather calming influence.
"I have heard that you have been somewhat domesticated."
Arthur frowned, glowering at Cenred, but he felt no inclination to rise to that comment. Despite the attempt to make it sound insulting Arthur didn't think it was too far off the mark. He had wanted Merlin, and on getting Merlin had wanted to keep him, wanting to be with him and enjoying the life he had made with him, that they had made together. Arthur didn't want to tell Cenred about that, for one thing, he didn't think his former boyfriend would understand it.
"You've been asking around before you came here."
Cenred shrugged, glancing around the room. "I didn't really need to, quite a few people have told me about your new little toy."
"Merlin is not a toy!" Arthur snarled, fists clenching. He couldn't help reacting when it involved Merlin. The entire time they had known each other it had been that way. Arthur overreacted, protectively, obsessively and irrationally. Merlin certainly didn't need it, he could talk for himself, and defend himself in his own way. That didn't stop Arthur and although the rational part of his mind told him that he was giving Cenred what he wanted Arthur didn't care, he would protect Merlin.
"Sorry," Cenred didn't sound it. His eyes glittered as he watched Arthur rile.
"You've been away for nearly seven years, a lot has changed."
"Even you by the sound of it."
Arthur stayed calm, exhaling gently as he saw Leon discreetly enter the VIP lounge. He didn't move over to the pair of them, but he made sure that he shifted in Arthur's eye line, to let him know that he could be called on if required. Arthur didn't need him, he could handle Cenred, but quite possibly those that knew Arthur, and how he had been round Cenred, didn't want Merlin seeing anything, or having Arthur react in a way that might upset him.
"You could say that," Arthur said deliberately relaxing. "So, have you come back to England on business?"
Cenred looked chagrined at the sudden change of subject, but he went with it anyway.
"I think I have achieved what I can where I am now, and thought that revisiting some old contacts might be profitable if I returned here."
"And you thought you would drag out our old contract. I'm sure it had a time limit on it."
"I know that it doesn't."
Arthur snarled, but caught sight of the group returning and he backed up. Even as he reacted he knew it was irrational and stupid and he had done nothing wrong, or at least what he had done was history, years ago and Merlin wouldn't see it as anything else, but as Gwaine had once commented, 'when is Arthur ever rational when it comes to Merlin'.
"Well, that is something for a more appropriate time. Feel free to enjoy some more free champagne, if you will excuse me, I do have a party and business to run."
Arthur made his escape around the bar, collaring Vivian on a ridiculous pretext of checking the stock levels. Leon watched in confusion and drifted over to the group just entering the area. Morgana jerked to a halt, staring in shock.
"Bloody, fucking hell! Who let him in?"
Merlin looked at her and then to the dark-haired, dark-eyed, man who was attractive if you liked that sort of thing, which Merlin didn't. However, he got the feeling, as he watched Arthur move off, looking busy, but not really being so, that Arthur had at some point.
"Come on Merlin," Morgana said protectively, moving to flank him. Merlin couldn't be that easily deterred. He kept his eyes on the man, and also an overly busy Arthur.
"Who is that?"
1 Hour Later
It took Merlin a little while to shake the protective ring of people but not a single one of them could argue when he went to the bathroom. Lancelot had gone five minutes before, Gwaine was distracted by a sequined Elena from Social Services, as her name and title now ran; and Percival didn't dare move as Merlin glowered.
As he left the cubicle he found Cenred washing his hands. Merlin went to do the same and looked up to find Cenred staring at him via the mirror. Cenred smirked and Merlin straightened up, shaking droplets of water from his hands. Merlin turned his head to stare Cenred in the eye.
"I hope you are enjoying your evening," Merlin said calmly opening the conversation.
"Very much so now."
"Really," Merlin drawled, he turned to go over to the hand dryer, deliberately turning his back, taking his time, feeling more confident as the seconds ticked by. When he turned round Cenred had turned to the other dryer, and he looked annoyed because Merlin could make his escape, should he choose to.
Cenred then looked confused as Merlin decided not to. He waited until Cenred had finished.
"And why would that be, because you want to tell me some dark secret of Arthur's?"
"You think that's the case?"
"I know Arthur, I can observe him from a mile away and know exactly what is going on in his head. He didn't want to talk to you, the last thing on this Earth he wanted was for me to see him with you. And I guess you are just here to cause some kind of trouble."
"That's a little unfair."
Merlin smirked. "Since I am not wrong in that assessment, I fail to see how it can be unfair. Now if you will excuse me."
He did try to leave. Merlin didn't really care, Arthur would explain himself eventually and that would be all Merlin needed. Arthur wouldn't lie, he might hedge a few truths but Merlin could work around that. He made it as far as the corridor before he heard Cenred coming after him, quickly enough to move around him, putting his arm out and pressing his hand to the wall to block Merlin's escape. Merlin paused, a cold spot formed in the pit of his stomach, and it took two calm breaths to settle the rise of his old fears, of Cain, and of what that type of person was capable of.
"It's not as simple as that."
Merlin raised his eyebrows, assessing Cenred carefully. He might try and intimidate but he wouldn't lay a hand on him. If he did that he'd have to face Arthur's wrath, and ruin whatever connection he wanted, plus, Merlin thought angrily, he was not about to be bothered by this. He exhaled heavily and braced himself, he didn't move back he eased into Cenred's personal space and assessed the braced arm locating the place he would need to hit to cause maximum pain. Cenred seemed to realise what Merlin was doing, his arm retracted and he stepped back slightly. Merlin would still have to brush past him to get away but the way was no longer blocked. However, Merlin stayed still.
"Why not?" he eventually asked Cenred.
"You might have to ask your boyfriend that."
Merlin tilted his head while smirking. "I won't need to ask. Arthur will tell me."
"And you'll just take that?"
Merlin huffed a short, breathless laugh.
"How about we have this conversation after I've spoken to Arthur?"
It was a question that appeared to conjure Arthur up, he came through the door from the VIP area at speed, clearly knowing that Merlin had come this way, on his own. He paused as he saw the pair of them, his shoulders hunching in a way that revealed his nervous tension. It was something that Merlin exclusively caused, and by now Arthur should have known better. But it had become an accepted fact around all of them and Merlin smiled at the thought, of how ridiculous Arthur always was over him.
"If you will excuse me, we are celebrating with friends."
Arthur blinked at Merlin's tone, which seemed to hint that Cenred understood none of those concepts. Merlin brushed past Cenred and walked to Arthur. As he looked at him Arthur's stomach burst with that warm feeling that Merlin had always caused in him. It had started as something protective, and had grown from that. Arthur always felt amazed to look at Merlin and could think, Merlin was his, Merlin loved him.
Warts, angst and ridiculousness included, Merlin, without doubt, loved Arthur. He probably had, Merlin decided, from the first moment he had laid eyes on him.
That sudden revelation wiped out anything that Cenred could come up with.