No, this is not a sequel to Once Bitten. I kind of wish it was, but it isn't. I hope you enjoy it anyway. It's kind of odd, but most AU's are. I don't own Merlin.
And so, without further ado, I give you Sharks in the Water. (Title from VV Brown's Sharks in the Water.)
The man behind the desk puffed on the cigar clamped in his teeth, watching the man across from him with narrow-slitted eyes. "They call him the Dragonlord, and no, I dunno how he got the name. All I know is that he's somewhere in Camelot Corp, and he's very good at sniffing out spies of any kind, as well as disposing of them quickly and efficiently. You run the risk of getting killed on this job."
"I'm not too worried." The other man was confident, and disturbingly calm. "I've been in rough situations before, and I can't see a paper pusher being too dangerous."
The older man, who had instructed the spy to call him The Boss, snorted. "This one is, I assure you. We figure that he's high up in the company, probably close to Arthur Pendragon- He doesn't really have friends, per say, but he's fairly decent with those he works with. Well enough liked, I suppose." Reaching over, he picked up a set of file folders. "Info on all of Arthur's closest forced friends and the people he works with."
The other man picked them up, flipping open the first one to reveal a picture of a slim young man with black hair and stunning blue eyes looking harried as he talked on a phone crossing a street. The name beside it read Merlin Emrys, and the information sheet told him that he was 25, with a Bachelor's in secretarial work and a minor in Humanities. He had a pet cat, drove a very nice 1959 restored Desoto Fireflite Sportsman, and rented an apartment in a decent section of town. No criminal record, next of kin listed as one Hunith Laird, recently remarried.
"That's Arthur's secretary, pet, and servant," The Boss said dryly. "Arthur spoils him rotten. The car was a present. He practically runs Arthur's life, and is in charge of the Pages."
"They're a group of young interns that run important messages all over the building. Uther doesn't trust e-mail, and Arthur's too lazy or busy to run them, so the duty falls to Merlin. They're the very backbone of the Corporation, and everything that they move around goes through Merlin first. If you can, get close to him. Better yet, get in bed with him. He's gay, thank heavens, and from all accounts he's free right now. I want you as close to him as possible. He probably knows who the Dragonlord is, and might even help you take him down if you go about it right."
The man nodded, rising. "Of course. I can expect money and papers when?"
"This time tomorrow. Your hire has already been arranged- we've worked on it for months. You're taking an apartment a little down from Emrys's, the building's named the Columbia. The other two hires will be in there too."
The other man gave him a lazy salute, and sauntered out the door, files held loosely in his hands.
The Boss watched him go with his beady eyes glinting. The man was one of the best agents in the country, a terror on those weaker and stronger than him, and a deadly enemy on the best of days. He wouldn't want him on anything but his side. The man was talented at torture, and very good at stalking his prey.
The Dragonlord wouldn't know what hit him.
The day after the spy left the Bosses office, Merlin Emrys had already been up for hours, was dressed in a suit worth more than his apartment, and was pounding on the door to the hotel suite currently occupied by Arthur Pendragon, his boss and the reason he was about ready to strangle someone. Violently. With an ax. Or maybe a spoon.
The door flew open, revealing an all but nude Arthur, who grinned cheekily at him. "Lovely morning, isn't it, Merlin?"
Merlin snarled, and shoved his way in, storming over to the nearest chair and throwing himself into it as Arthur began to dress (or, at least, began to consider dressing). Pinching the bridge of his nose and thinking longingly of a long soak, he growled, "I have been hunting all over the city for you since 5 this morning, Arthur. Do you have anything to say about that?"
Arthur sighed expressively, picking up and examining a pair of immaculately pressed black slacks that had been lying on the opposite bed and considering them mournfully. "Not really."
"Arthur-" Merlin started furiously, looking up to glare at the man, but stopped short when he saw the look on his bosses face as the man glanced over at him. "Oh no. Not here. For heaven's sake, it's seven in the morning, you're late, we're in a hotel –how sleazy is that- and I've already showered!"
Stalking over to him, Arthur smiled with all the charm of a mountain lion with claws extended. "Take another one. Preferably with me."
Merlin growled, and pulled him down for a kiss that was bruising in its intensity. "You owe me."
Arthur merely chuckled, snaking his hands under Merlin's shirt. "And you know I'll never pay."
Merlin nipped at him, only giving Arthur incentive to pull him upright and shove him onto the bed, divesting him of his jacket in the process.
"This is ridiculous," Merlin grumbled, tying his tie for the second time that day. Arthur grinned, swooping in for another kiss. Merlin glared but complied before storming out the door, Arthur close behind him. "You know, if we keep this up, he's going to find out. Then where will we both be?"
"Sunning ourselves in the Caribbean, sipping pina colada's and living the high life," Arthur retorted, tipping the busboy generously as they passed. The boy gave them a very knowing grin and continued down the hall. "I've got enough put away in my private accounts to get us far, far away. Relax, Merlin. Everyone in offices screws the secretary. Father and that troll, Catherine, you and me, what's-his-face and Mary… It's like a rite of passage, you know."
"No, I don't know, and that's just plain ridiculous. Lancelot doesn't sleep with Marcella," he pointed out dryly, jabbing the elevator's down button with more force than was strictly necessary. They'd have a bit of a ride- the 21st floor was a long ways up, and the elevators were slow. Lancelot, real name Lance Allet, was the head of Internal Affairs, and the least likely person to ever have one.
"Lancelot also happens to believe that he's a medieval knight, Merlin."
Merlin snorted. "Doesn't matter, does it? He doesn't sleep with her, ergo, you're wrong, I'm right, end of story, and don't even think about trying anything in the elevator, they have cameras."
Arthur sulked the rest of the way down.
Uther Pendragon, Master and Commander of Camelot Corporations, looked down his nose at the three men sitting across from him. They were newly hired; one in a high position, two in lower, and all of them were not what he would have chosen. In this oak paneled, practically shellacked office, with its almost mirror-like surfaces and plethora of bookshelves, he ruled and reigned on a throne of real leather, but he knew he no longer had total control over the company. These men were evidence of that, hired by Arthur to do Arthur's bidding.
He didn't have to like them.
Gwaine Noble was on the end, tall, rakishly, devastatingly handsome, smiling slightly as though he knew all Uther's secrets and exactly how to exploit them, was the new head of Public Relations. Elyan Nevere sat beside him, dark and soberly attentive, his clothes matte black and his eyes focused but uneasy, was to be a minor irritant, simply another accountant in Arthur's circle of offices. Percival Schloss, a broad, strapping mans man, sat quiet and apparently complacent, but his aura told of total control, a good thing for an analyst.
It was a good thing he didn't have to like them, because he really didn't like them.
"Mr. Pendragon- Arthur, that is- should be back in a few minutes. His secretary, Mr. Emrys, called from a hotel. He said they were on their way and that Arthur had some sort of fight with Uther. He apparently left earlier this morning, and he's just barely managed to coax him back here."
Gwaine's sigh was expressive on about 20 levels, starting with "My life is pathetic" and ending at "I'm going to kill the next person who doesn't show up on time". Gwen nodded sympathetically, and gestured at the set of cubicles behind her. "At least everyone else is here, Mr. Noble. Welcome to your new realm." She smiled at him. "I'll just be next door if you need anything."
Nodding his acquiescence, he slid into his office and eyed the bare surface. It was almost totally empty, and that included a lack of a desk. Sighing, he rubbed his hands together. "Right," he told the room briskly. "Let's get cracking."
An hour later, Gwaine Noble, the new head of PR for Camelot Corporations, was settled into his office. A set of dramatically impressive books lined the walls, his desk had been brought in piece by piece, his chair had been situated, a set of beautiful red dragon statues had been placed facing each other at either end of the desk. The name plate was rather boringly sat next to a pencil holder that looked like a miniature white castle, complete with small red flags waving from the four towers, and a tiny drawbridge where a tiny knight was rearing on a horse. It was his favorite item in the office, and was now holding most of his pens and pencils. His in and outboxes were also set up, the internet set up, and a set of chairs had been brought in and set across from his desk.
Thoroughly pleased, he set his laptop down on the desk and sat in the chair. Surveying the office, he felt ridiculously proud of it. He'd worked quite a while for this job, and now he looked the image of the proper businessman.
Leaning back, he put his feet on the desk with a heavy, satisfying thunk.
At three o'clock sharp, Gwaine found himself stepping into the small antechamber that came right in front of Arthur's office, only to be stopped by a slim young man who was on the phone. Looking up and surveying him quickly with brilliant blue eyes, he held up a finger. The man's desk was situated directly in front of Arthur's door, as if to barricade him from any encroaching forces. It was an impressive desk, all sharp edges and dark brown wood, dwarfing the delicate boned man behind it.
"Yes, Gwen, he's here," he said into the phone, grinning at the man. "Yes, I'll remind Arthur not to eat him. Yes, yes. Bye."
Hanging up the phone, he opened his mouth to speak when a miniscule woman darted in. Despite the fact that she was wearing slacks and a dress shirt, she was also wearing a pair of tennis shoes and carrying a briefcase. Skidding to a halt, the girl saluted, panting.
"Page Remington, reporting. My apologies, there was a crash downtown I got caught in."
The secretary was already pulling files off of a pile stacked haphazardly on the enormous desk. "These go to Level Fourteen, this one to Level Eight, and the pink memo goes to his Lordship," said with a roll of the eyes, "And I need all of the memos that need to be delivered back here ASAP. If you see Mordred, send him up here, I want a word."
The woman grabbed the files, shoved them in her briefcase, and flew back out the door at a run. The secretary sighed.
"Pages," he muttered, then turned an extremely disarming smile on Gwaine. Dazzled, the man grinned back. "Alright, you're our new PR head right?"
"Yep," Gwaine grinned at him. "Gwaine Noble."
"Merlin Emrys, and let me tell you," he said as he stood to shake Gwaine's hand, "It's a relief to meet you. Our last PR head was terrible- no sense of humor, never smiled."
Gwaine found himself liking the skinny young man more than ever. "I can assure you, I have quite the sense of humor."
Merlin sighed in relief, grinning widely, his eyes crinkling at the edges. "Good." Gwaine immediately liked the man.
The clock ticked to three, and Merlin led him back. Opening the door, he announced, "Mr. Gwaine Noble, Mr. Arthur Pendragon. Mr. Pendragon, behave yourself."
And with that, Gwaine was pushed gently into Arthur's office. The door shut firmly behind him.
Arthur Pendragon's office was at the corner of the building, meaning that it had two walls totally composed of floor-to-ceiling glass. The view was amazing, looking over the sweeping, majestic skyline of the city and the ocean beyond. Another wall was filled with a set of bookshelves bearing boringly official looking books, as well as trinkets from around the world. These including a large jade Fu Dog, the Volto, Bauta, Scaramouche, and Dotore Peste masks of Venice, what looked like a Roman sword, and a beautiful tribal mask from Australia. A series of other, smaller, trinkets were settled there as well, but the attention of anyone in the office was instantly and insistently drawn to the man sitting behind an enormous mahogany desk, the only other feature to the office besides two chairs in front of the desk, also mahogany.
Arthur Pendragon radiated the kind of controlled, intense confidence that belonged to every great leader, and his eyes bored into Gwaine with all the judgment and cold curiosity as a cat about to pounce on a supremely unsuspecting mouse. Gwaine had the sneaking suspicion that Arthur was decidedly less than happy at the moment.
After a moment, he stood and walked around the desk. "Arthur Pendragon," he said brusquely, offering a hand.
Gwaine turned on every charm that he could think of, smiled broadly, and took the hand. "Gwaine Noble. It's nice to meet you."
"Pleasure's all mine, I assure you," Arthur said, releasing him and returning to his seat. He walked with the kind of animalistic grace seen in the bare knuckle boxers at the gym, always prowling as if about to attack. This, Gwaine thought with certainty, was not a man who had been built to work in an office. He'd been built to put on armor and kill things, to ride horses wearing curtains into battle, to swing swords and maces and other sharp, pointy objects made to destroy in fights. No wonder he'd been late- Gwaine had no doubt that it must half kill him to come and sit in what must be a cage to him. He knew the feeling well; he felt it every day.
"Have a seat please."
Gwaine sat, letting his body relax into the rather uncomfortable chair. Arthur steepled his fingers, staring over them at him for a long minute, surveying him carefully with blue eyes that looked like chips of ice.
"My father doesn't like you."
Ah. He knew that tone. Slightly guilty, slightly accusing, very wishful. Arthur liked him, but felt guilty for it, accused him and himself of not being good enough, and wished his father liked him. Interesting.
Gwaine shrugged. "I don't much like your father, so we're on the same page." He kept the curiosity out of his eyes, wondering just how strong willed the man was, and how far he would push.
Arthur sighed. "It's widely known and accepted that I'll take over the company one day," he said softly. "My father fears this. He surrounds me with people of his choosing that he thinks that I'll want for my advisors. I don't want them. I want people I pick, people I can respect who can and will be on my side."
Gwaine heard the carefully worded not-question and smiled. "I don't know you yet, Arthur Pendragon," he said simply. "I can't say that I like you, or have any particular loyalty to you yet, but I'm willing to see whether or not you'll be worth it."
Arthur stared at him for a moment, eyes wide, and then grinned. "Good. Thank you for being blunt."
"It's what I do."
Outside, behind the glass, storm clouds began to gather over the city.
Arthur had two other interviews that day, Percival and Elyan. He asked the same question. He received the same cautious answer:
Later that night, the spy phoned the Boss on a disposable phone outside an internet café in the rain. Cars splashed through puddles, and the neon lights lit up the water with streams of color.