A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed and a big hello to everyone who is reading! I hope you all like this chapter. I do apologise for taking so long to add more.
Arthur remembered why he liked Ian Bayard almost immediately: the man got right down to business and didn't play games. They had been in their meeting for nearly three hours now and he was impressed with how little bargaining or arguing over the merger had occurred. He supposed that he had been in talks with Mercia Corporation for months now, but he'd still expected something to go wrong or for one last demand to occur during their meeting that would set them back.
"I'm not going to sign it today," Bayard said, leaning back in his chair as he paged through the documents he and Arthur had been discussing. "A few of our board members need to go over it and we'll meet again tomorrow morning to discuss any revisions."
Arthur nodded. "I understand." He waited a few moments before adding, "Are there any additions you'd like me to consider now?"
"Not at the moment, no." He looked at Arthur's face and frowned. "Don't think that I want to go back on our agreement, Arthur. I'm more than happy with the arrangements. Camelot has been very generous with its offer for the new software and processor, it's simply a matter of speaking with legal and ensuring the newest contracts are in line."
"I was assured by our department that everything was in order," Arthur replied and, despite his words, his tone was friendly rather than angry.
Bayard smiled. "We only want to protect ourselves. You know how it goes."
Arthur chuckled. "I do, Ian, I really do."
Bayard put the documents back in their folder and got to his feet, tucking the folder under his arm. "It's always a pleasure doing business with you, Arthur."
Arthur stood up and shook Bayard's hand. "Likewise, Ian. Mercia's always been supportive of our work."
"Let me take you to dinner," Bayard offered, leading Arthur out of his office. "Your father always does the same for my wife and I when we're in Birmingham and I'd like to repay the favour. It's rare for you or Uther to come to London these days."
"I've only been back a few times since leaving LSE," Arthur agreed.
"Lillian's in Devon visiting our daughter or I'd invite you over. I'm a terrible cook myself unless you're partial to omelettes or freezer meals, in which case you're more than welcome," Bayard said amicably, making Arthur laugh. "However, there's a very good Italian place near your hotel and I could easily arrange for a reservation."
"That would be lovely," Arthur replied. "I'll just have to tell my PA he's to fend for himself."
Bayard waved Arthur's comment aside. "Bring him along. I'll meet you at your hotel at seven and we'll go to the restaurant together."
"Great, thanks, Ian." Arthur shook Bayard's hand again and went to collect Merlin from where he was working on his laptop on a lobby couch.
"Merlin," Arthur called, coming to stand in front of Merlin's hunched over frame.
Merlin looked up and offered Arthur a rueful smile. "Did you need something?"
Arthur tried not to roll his eyes. "We're done for now. It's a good thing I didn't need anything while in that meeting. I'd never have gotten it if you were out here playing."
"You had the file you needed," Merlin replied with a small grin. He shoved his laptop back in its bag and threw the strap over his shoulder. "All done?"
"For today," Arthur confirmed, walking over to the lift. "Bayard's invited us to have dinner with him."
Merlin's eyes widened and he stepped into the lift with Arthur. "Ian Bayard?"
"The founder and owner of Mercia Corporation?" Merlin murmured with reverence.
"Yes," Arthur repeated, frowning as he stepped out of the lift and walked towards the building exit. "Why? Do you not want to come?"
"No," Merlin said quickly, following Arthur. "Of course I'd like to come." He shook his head. "I didn't think I'd actually meet him while we were here."
"Who else did you think we were dealing with?" Arthur asked, raising an eyebrow at Merlin as they headed to the Tube station. "Of course, there's the board of directors and a few of the managers who needed to agree with the deal, but Bayard is always directly involved."
"Why's he invited me? Shouldn't this dinner be for business?" Merlin let Arthur lead the way through the station and towards their platform.
"Dinner's just dinner; we only talk about business in the office," Arthur said firmly. At Merlin's curious look, Arthur added, "We'll catch up. His daughter was at school with my sister."
"Posh boarding school?" Merlin asked before he could stop himself.
Arthur chuckled despite himself. "Something like that."
Merlin almost looked apologetic. "Lance said she's very nice."
"Did he?" Arthur asked with amusement, boarding the train as its brakes hissed and the doors opened. "She'll like that."
"Are you close?" When Arthur arched a confused brow, Merlin clarified, "You and your sister."
Arthur frowned. "Yeah, I suppose so. She's my step-sister really."
"Does that matter?" Merlin glanced at Arthur out of the corner of his eye as he sat down.
"No," Arthur said thoughtfully, looking out the window at the platform as the trained pulled out of the station. "We're good friends, I think. Do you have siblings?"
Merlin smiled openly at Arthur, pleased at having been asked about himself. He hoped it meant Arthur was over whatever had upset him earlier when Merlin had teased him about being single. "No. Just me. My best mate practically lived with us after his dad passed away, but we were well into our teens by then."
"Oh." Arthur seemed unsure of how to react to that comment. "I'm sorry."
Merlin laughed. "Don't be." He shook his head. "I mean, thank you. Will would appreciate…well, no, he wouldn't, actually, but you've nothing to be sorry for. It was great, actually."
Arthur stared at Merlin. "That your best mate's dad died?"
"Well, not that bit," Merlin amended quickly, running his hand through his hair and looking guilty. "That's not what I meant."
"Don't hurt yourself, I know what you meant." Arthur grinned. "It was rather nice when Morgana came to live with us and I liked her mother quite a lot."
"They're not still married?" Merlin inquired. "Her mum and your dad, I mean."
Arthur shook his head and got to his feet, the train rolling to a jerky stop, and turned his back to Merlin in an effort to end the conversation. "This is us."
Merlin nodded and followed Arthur out. "It's nice that you still think of her as your sister."
"Huh?" Arthur looked at Merlin over his shoulder consideringly. "Oh, you mean Morgana. Yes, well, she didn't have anywhere else to go."
Merlin looked confused for a moment before realisation dawned on him and he decided not to say anything else on the subject. "So what are we having for dinner?"
Arthur snorted at Merlin's poor attempt at a conversation shift, but he was grateful that he wasn't going to have to answer questions about Morgana's mother's death.
"Smart lad, your PA," Bayard noted after Merlin excused himself to the restroom.
"He's all right," Arthur agreed, trying not to be too obvious as he watched Merlin walk away from the table. "Not the worst PA out there."
Bayard chuckled. "He can't be stupid. Not if he graduated with a First from Edinburgh and then did a Masters at Birmingham. What have you got him making your tea for?"
"He doesn't make my tea," Arthur protested though he understood where Bayard was coming from. Merlin was intelligent, well-educated, and very good with computers. He'd be an asset to any company and Arthur didn't want to let him go. Though he had more reasons for wanting to keep Merlin around than just thinking Merlin did a decent job.
"Well, I've got a place for him if you're not planning on using him for more than an errand boy," Bayard commented, watching Arthur closely. "If you can spare him, of course."
Arthur frowned. "Are you planning on stealing PA?"
Bayard chuckled. "Arthur, you'd be a fool to think you're going to keep him as a PA for very long. We're about to post an opening for a new software engineer that he'd be perfect for."
Arthur hated to admit that Bayard was right, but he knew it would be a position Merlin would excel at. Arthur had seen Merlin's résumé; he would have hired Merlin on in a heartbeat if there were a position open in the correct department. If he were honest with himself, he knew Merlin had to be looking for a job that would utilise his skill set and pay him well for it.
"Arthur?" Bayard looked at him with mild concern. "I'm not going to offer him the job right away, but you should know, I will tell him to apply if you don't plan on hiring him for Camelot."
"He already works for Camelot," Arthur reminded him.
"You know that's not what I mean. You ought to think about it," Bayard encouraged. "I can tell you like him, that's a good enough recommendation for me. I'll probably hire him if he applies, but I'm not going to steal him from you."
Arthur nodded, smiling slightly. He appreciated Bayard's honesty and consideration. Not many businessmen were half as loyal, and Arthur knew that despite the number of projects they'd partnered on, Mercia also worked with Camelot's competitors. "When are you posting the position?"
"Next week," Bayard answered.
"I'll think about it," Arthur promised. "I'd like to keep him at Camelot as more than just my," he grinned, "'glorified tea maker'."
Bayard laughed. "I won't say anything to him until after the business papers are signed. Wouldn't want you to think I'm trying to coerce you into a better deal." He held up a hand as Arthur started to protest that he would never have thought such a thing. "Arthur, don't worry, I know."
Arthur nodded, frowning. "I'll think about it."
"Good," Bayard agreed. "But you'd better decide quickly, I'd like to have him."
"What's wrong?" Merlin asked after they'd parted ways with Bayard after dinner. The set of Arthur's shoulders and thin line of his mouth alerted Merlin that something was amiss.
Arthur glanced over at Merlin and had to smile; he looked so concerned. "It's nothing."
"Is it about the deal? Is something going to fall through?" Merlin fidgeted with his jacket sleeve, clearly trying to hide his worry and doing a very poor job.
"No, that's all sorted. I'll meet with Bayard in the morning and then again on Friday with the board, Saturday we'll sign the papers, and then everything should be finished." Arthur shrugged and pulled out his mobile, comforted by the familiar motion of scrolling through his email, even if there was nothing new in his inbox. "If everything goes smoothly, we'll be able to leave London a day early."
"Then what is it?" Merlin pressed curiously, trying not to take offense at the fact that Arthur had his mobile out rather than look him in the eye. "It isn't about what I said earlier, is it? I was only teasing you. You're really not that bad and there's nothing wrong…" He turned pink and Arthur was startled into laughing.
"Thanks, so much. Are you always this good with compliments?" Arthur raised an eyebrow.
"You bring out the worst in me," Merlin retorted though the smile he offered was sheepish. He bumped Arthur's shoulder companionably, asking gently, "Really, what's wrong?"
"Don't worry about it." Arthur stopped outside of their hotel and looked up at it, sighing. "Long day, yeah?"
Merlin shrugged, thinking about how he'd mostly sat in Mercia's lobby while Arthur met with Bayard. "Not so much for me."
"You slept in," Arthur teased, laughing at the look on Merlin's face. He studied Merlin for a moment, wondering if he shouldn't tell him about Bayard's offer and before he could think about it he blurted, "Fancy a drink?"
Merlin looked surprised, but before Arthur could take it back he said, with more warmth than Arthur had expected, "Yeah, I'd like that."
Arthur wasn't sure what had changed, but when they chose a table in the hotel bar he found himself having thoughts about Merlin that he'd barely even entertained before. Leon had teased him about liking Merlin and, while he did enjoy Merlin's company and had checked him out more than once, he'd never seriously considered doing more than trying to find him a more permanent place at Camelot. Now, however, he felt as though he'd inadvertently invited Merlin on a date and found he wasn't as angry with himself as he'd expected. It was an unwritten rule that he shouldn't date an employee who answered directly to him. Human Resources would be all over him if they thought he was behaving inappropriately or had made unwanted advances, but Merlin had agreed and Arthur had no intention of seducing his PA into sleeping with him.
Of course, he reminded himself, Merlin could also view this as just drinks, in which case Arthur didn't need to worry about HR or being accused of some sort of favouritism. It wasn't very late after all and getting drinks with his boss was probably preferable to an empty hotel room and crap television.
Arthur jumped when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and he stared at Merlin's smiling face, thinking that he liked Merlin's smile more than he ought to.
"All right?" Merlin asked, clearly amused. "I'll get yours. What would you like?"
"Whiskey," Arthur answered, "but I've got it."
"This isn't exactly a business expense," Merlin teased and walked over to the bar before Arthur could protest.
Arthur watched Merlin place their orders, frowning slightly. He wasn't sure what to make of Merlin's comment, but he had to agree: after-dinner drinks with his PA was not going to make it on the company credit card.
"All yours." Merlin placed Arthur's drink on the table and sipped his own cocktail. "We'll sleep well tonight after that dinner and these drinks." He raised his eyebrows at his glass. "I don't think they water their liquor down."
Arthur chuckled. "We're in a nice hotel, not a seedy nightclub."
"I don't spend my time in seedy nightclubs," Merlin protested.
"Someone's defensive," Arthur replied dryly.
"Shut up." Merlin laughed. "You're such a prat."
"Your insults are nearly as bad as your compliments," Arthur commented, pleased when Merlin smiled at him again. He could feel himself relaxing. He liked Merlin's company and when he was honest with himself, he knew it was for more reasons than just finding Merlin amusing.
They stayed at the hotel bar for over an hour and it wasn't until Arthur's mobile buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to start tapping out an email that Merlin remembered it wasn't a date but drinks with his boss.
"I'm off to bed, I think," Merlin said quietly, not wanting to disturb Arthur but also feeling irked that even at ten o'clock at night Arthur felt his mobile was more important than human interaction.
Arthur looked up from his mobile, a frown on his face. "If you give me one minute, I'll go up with you."
"I don't need you to walk me to my room," Merlin teased, trying to remind himself more than Arthur that this has just been a friendly drink. "I'll see you at breakfast."
"Merlin, wait a moment," Arthur said, reaching out and grabbing Merlin's wrist.
Merlin stopped and looked down at where Arthur was holding his wrist. Arthur seemed to realise what he'd done and he let go as if he'd been burned, looking embarrassed. Merlin half-smiled, feeling as though he'd lost something he hadn't even been looking for and murmured, "Good night, Arthur," before deciding to take the stairs up to the third floor.
Merlin let himself into his hotel room and leaned against the closed door with a sigh. He briefly considered ringing Will or Lance but dismissed the thought almost as quickly as it had come. Will would tease him for kidding himself into thinking he should ever go on a date with his boss and then lecture him for developing a crush on such a wealthy prat. Lance would make sympathetic sounds and tell Merlin he should take the risk while promising to give Arthur a thorough talking- to if he ever really hurt Merlin.
This was bad, he decided, he really did have a crush on his boss and he'd thought, up until Arthur started working on his mobile, that Arthur might feel the same way.
"You know that's part of why his last relationship ended," he chided himself. "You don't want someone who loves his work more than you."
He straightened up at that last thought, wondering when on earth having an interest in Arthur might somehow turn into love one day. It was too uncomfortable to think about and he forced himself to strip off his suit, hang it up, and get ready for bed.
After helping Arthur sort out the paperwork he would need for the meeting, Merlin retreated back to the nook he'd crammed himself into the previous day and started to work. He'd brought enough with him on his external hard drive that he didn't mind being left behind or told that he was expected to work while Arthur was in meetings.
"You're welcome to share my desk," offered a young woman with bright green eyes and short blonde hair who was working the reception area. "Jen's out sick and I won't bother you."
Merlin smiled at her and quickly accepted, thinking that anything was preferable to balancing his laptop and file folder on his lap. "Thank you."
"Of course," the woman replied, smiling at him. "I'm Anna." She indicated a chair he could take. "You'll have to use your own computer, I'm afraid, but no one will bother you, especially not me."
Merlin thought she seemed like a chatterbox, but he held his tongue and thanked her.
It turned out Anna was true to her word and didn't speak to him again past the first introduction and to invite him to lunch, which he declined.
"I don't want to run out if Arthur needs me," Merlin informed her when she frowned and told him he needed to eat. He wondered when he'd started caring about whether or not Arthur needed him around and hastily reminded himself that this job was only temporary.
"Mr Pendragon left a little while ago to have lunch with Mr Bayard and a few of the board members," Anna replied. She looked at him for a moment and then said decisively, "I'll get you something from the lunch cart."
"No, you don't—," he began but she'd already left, swinging her purse over her shoulder with a flourish.
Merlin sighed and leaned back in his chair, thinking that it was time he started to seriously look for a new job.
"Merlin, I need to speak with you," Arthur said instead of a greeting when Merlin answered his mobile.
"Er, yeah? What is it?" Merlin asked with some trepidation. He'd left Mercia Corporation around three when Arthur told him to take copies of the deal back to the hotel and then take the rest of the afternoon off. Now he was in the hotel room wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and looking longingly at his jeans, wondering if he could get away with wearing them at dinner.
"Where are you?"
"I'm in my room but I…Oh, hang on, there's someone at the door." Merlin opened the door a crack to tell whomever it was to please come back later, but Arthur pushed the door open before Merlin could say anything.
"You're hopeless you…" Arthur raised his eyebrows. "Maybe put some clothes on, yeah?"
Merlin glared and shoved Arthur so that he turned around. "I tried telling you I'd just gotten out of the shower." He snatched his jeans, underwear, and a long-sleeved button down from his case and retreated into the bathroom.
"Don't open the door next time if you're not trying to give me a show," Arthur called and Merlin could hear the laughter in his voice.
"You're disgusting," Merlin said reproachfully as he came out of the bathroom in the clean clothes, though his mouth twitched in amusement. "What did you need?"
Arthur looked Merlin over once and Merlin tried to suppress a shiver. Arthur seemed to realise what he was doing and snapped his eyes up to Merlin's face. "I wanted to see about dinner. There's something we should discuss."
Merlin felt his stomach flip over uncomfortably. "You're not sacking me, are you?"
"No," Arthur said though his brows knit together in a way Merlin had come to learn meant he'd touched a nerve. "It's something else."
Merlin nodded and grabbed his coat, wallet, and mobile. "All right. You're choosing, though, right? I haven't found much more than a coffee shop and I doubt they do dinner."
Arthur hated that he had to tell Merlin about the job at Mercia. Bayard had brought it up again during lunch and Arthur knew he wouldn't feel right keeping it from Merlin. While Morgana and Leon were both right, Arthur would have loved to recruit Merlin for Camelot; there simply weren't any open positions. He'd even phoned his father after that drink with Merlin to see if there were any upcoming openings in the software production department but it had been to no avail. The only position that Arthur could offer was the one Merlin currently held. If he had it his way, he would sack Edwin and replace him with Merlin. Leon was right: Edwin was a tit.
"You've got that look on your face again," Merlin said, looking at Arthur curiously over the salad he'd ordered. "Is this to do with Mercia?"
Arthur shook his head. "No, that's all going extremely smoothly. If it were anyone other than Bayard I'd be wondering what they're after. It's a good thing we came to that deal a few years ago or we'd never have progressed."
Merlin grinned and started to eat. "Well, Camelot has done well for itself."
Arthur smiled wryly. "Indeed." He sighed and watched Merlin for a moment before deciding there was no tactful way to put this and just asked, "How long are you planning on working for me?"
"What?" Merlin asked, a guilty expression on his face that let Arthur know the answer before Merlin could say anything.
"It's just, you're well-qualified," Arthur began, spitting the words out as though they tasted badly. He hated that he was going to lose Merlin when he knew he could put him to good use, if only there were an open position!
"Thank you." Merlin chuckled and watched Arthur expectantly.
"There's a position opening at Mercia for a software engineer," Arthur began slowly, watching Merlin for any signs that he was about to jump up from the table and prostrate himself in front of Bayard and beg for the job. "I think you should apply."
Merlin looked surprised. "Really? You'd give me a recommendation?" He beamed when Arthur nodded. "Oh, that's really wonderful. Thank you, Arthur."
Arthur shrugged. "It's no guarantee you'll get it, but the job will post on Monday and they'll start the interview process in a few weeks."
"Thank you," Merlin repeated gratefully. "I really appreciate it."
"Yeah, sure," Arthur replied and tried not to sound bitter when he told Merlin he could have Friday to himself while Arthur was in the meetings. It was petty to exclude Merlin from Mercia, but he couldn't help but think he'd be able to hold onto him a little longer if he kept Merlin out of Bayard's sight.