Arthur Pendragon has a terrible job.

Well what he means, really, is that he has a wonderful job, because he loves it, and there's nowhere else he could see himself working, and it's the center of his universe. But there are definite downsides. For instance, he's been after this woman at the consulate, Alice, for ages, and she's finally agreed to go out a date with him, and then his Blackberry goes off. It's Merlin, his idiot assistant with a text that he's about not to take until he sees that it's marked urgent and the subject is "PM999!!!!" "G. WAS BIKING, CRASHED INTO TREE, DO NOT KNOW CONDITION" The text reads, and then at the bottom, "IF U R IGNORING ME TO SHAG ALICE WILL NEVER FORGIVE U." "Dreadfully sorry," he says in what Merlin calls his "posh and revolting" voice, "got to go, real emergency at work." "Work?" Alice purrs, leaning forward as he takes out his wallet and good God, she has a fantastic set on her, and Arthur hasn't gotten laid in ages. She swipes his phone. "PM emergency, I assume? A night emergency can wait until the AM, don't you think?" "PM as in Prime Minister," Arthur says shortly, throwing down a wad of cash that should more than cover it. "Oh, I work for him, we hadn't gotten to that part of the conversation." "Prime Minister Gaius?" Alice asks, arching a perfect eyebrow. "Crashed his bike into a tree," Arthur confirms. "You'll hear about it on the morning news. Ring me and we'll do this some other time, yeah?" He flags down a taxi when he leaves the restaurant. She's never going to ring him.

--"This is all a big fuss over nothing," Gaius says, squinting in the mirror as he dabs at his cut cheek with a cotton swab soaked in antiseptic. "I was taking a bit of a bike ride in St. James park and was attacked by a wayward branch. We really ought to do something about the upkeep there." "I'll be sure to add it to your political platform," Gwen says, pushing a curl out of her face. "Now, I have a press conference tomorrow and if I don't have a better

story than this, the press is going to run with it and next thing you know you'll sound like a bumbling old man." "I am a bumbling old man," Gaius snorts, slapping on a bandage. "And they elected me anyway, because I'm the best bumbling old man they've got." "That's a bit of a gross over-simplification of the British political system," Arthur mutters, and then tacks on, "...sir." "Gaius, shouldn't you get a physician to look at that?" Merlin asks from somewhere behind Arthur. He's wearing the same dreadful tie with coffee stains he was wearing earlier, so he clearly hasn't gone home for sleep the way Arthur ordered. He's also known Gaius since he was a little boy (something to do with Merlin's mother working for Gaius before he went into politics? Arthur had tuned him out), and continues to address him with absolutely no propriety. "I have a doctorate in medicine from King's College, Merlin," Gaius says. "And I feel comfortable diagnosing it as a scratch, not the plague. Now please, resume your normal lives. It's hardly a state emergency." "I don't even know what a normal life is anymore," Arthur mutters to Merlin as they dutifully file out of Gaius' office. "I think I had one, once," Gwen says wistfully. "It was nice." --Arthur met Merlin about two years ago when they first took office. He'd been managing fine without an assistant, thank you very much, Gwen, when some kid showed up at his door. "Hello," he'd said, waving nervously. His ears were (and still are) like jug handles, he had (and still has) the body mass of a twelve year old even though he looked to be about Arthur's height, blue eyes like a Kewpie doll, and that day was wearing the most hideous fucking tie Arthur had ever seen. "Gwen says I'm your new assistant." "What the fuck? I'm the Director of the Press Office, she's just the fucking Press Secretary, who the fuck put her in charge?" Arthur had asked, banging out of his office and past the kid (okay, he was probably like five years younger than Arthur? Not the point.) "Guinevere, I told you, I don't want a fucking assistant, take this street urchin and his horrid tie back to whatever Primark's you found him in!" "Hey," Merlin had looked offended. "My mum picked out this tie. It's silk."

"Congratulations on having a blind mum," Arthur said. "Get out of my office." "Wait," Merlin had caught his hand and Arthur remembers feeling suddenly breathless, which was weird. He's still not sure if it was rage, Merlin's sheer audacity, or the fact that he'd just been bellowing at Gwen. "I really need this job, okay? I'm a year out of uni, I can't find fucking any job, I'm behind on my loans so I can't start my graduate classes, and all I've got is an English degree, student loans, and the fact that my mum, who is not blind, thank you very much, used to work for the Prime bloody Minister before he went into politics and he's kind of adopted me, which is how I got here." Arthur gaped. "Those are the worst credentials I've ever heard." "I also took a Political Science course as a requirement?" Merlin said. "And I'm excellent at filing." Arthur had looked at the disaster that was his office and sighed. "If you buy some new ties, I won't fire you," he'd finally said reluctantly, beckoning Merlin inside. Merlin hadn't bought new ties. Over the years, Arthur has learned that Merlin has horrid taste in clothing, a filing system that somehow works so that he can find anything with the flick of a finger, but would bring most Oxford graduates (including and probably exclusively limited to Arthur) weeping and to their knees at the utter illogic of it, and that Merlin has a terrible addiction to really heinous fish and chips that will surely amount in artery-clogging and sudden, violent death. Merlin is also the only person Arthur listens to or laughs with besides Gaius, makes a hell of a cup of coffee, and somehow hasn't managed to get himself fired. Arthur's at a loss to explain it, himself. --Merlin's jobs include organizing Arthur's life, averting crises of national importance, and keeping Arthur properly caffeinated. But his main job (if you ask Merlin, since it's what he spends the most time doing) is to care for Arthur's goldfish, since it's Merlin's fault Arthur even has goldfish. He was the one who was stupid enough to let Morgana into his office. "You're not getting any special scoop just because you're the Director of the Press Office's good-as-sister," Arthur had said flatly, not looking up from his laptop. He hadn't thought he needed to. No one walked as purposefully in stilettos, and she hadn't knocked. Only two people don't knock, and Merlin clearly couldn't pull off heels. "Gwen already briefed you for the day. Leave me alone."

and Fish-Arthur committed suicide by jumping out of his bowl. I thought you'd like them. "because he's got the flowiest tail and is a bit of a git." He'd said pointedly to Morgana. "That's a bit much. kicking her out. clearly already enamored. you can't live without me." Morgana said pityingly." Morgana said pityingly." "Merlin. because I read a book with a character named that once. Arthur. even for you. how's that for symbolism. look. Within 24 hours Kilgharrah had eaten Fish-Merlin. "how symbolic." "You resorted to heavy artillery?" Arthur asked." Merlin was saying to Gwen. but you know that as a reporter I have to verify all claims. and I think he's kind of cool. "The one sitting on your assistant's desk. Arthur. "and lord knows you need to learn how to interact with another living creature." Arthur had grumbled. looking up at Morgana. "He took one look at the tank and turned into a gibbering mess." "I'll make Merlin throw you out." "Oh. oohing and ahhing. see? And this one's Merlin."Hello. Even as a fish. A fish is the most complicated thing I felt I could leave you with. ignoring him as usual. because he's the prettiest." Morgana said airily. I'd heard rumors. was destined to be heartbroken. and Arthur had finally relented. "Aw. taking his first sip of . "I know you always wanted a cat when you were little but were allergic. "what have I told you about naming things about to be flushed down the toilet?" Merlin's head popped up from behind the fish bowl." Merlin had said." "The fish tank. Merlin. please make them the kind I can eat by the handful. "Next time you feel the urge to get me goldfish." Arthur threatened." Arthur barked. "This one's Arthur. however." Arthur snapped. And this one's Kilgharrah." "You got eaten. "So nice to see you're alive. "How do you think I got in?" Morgana scoffed." "What?" Arthur had banged out of his office to find Merlin and Gwen bent over a large fish bowl. but Merlin had pouted and promised to feed them and take care of them and clean their tank. "You can't eat your new pets!" Merlin shouted." Gwen and Merlin exchanged a delighted look and Arthur resolved to have them killed. wrapping Arthur's fishy corpse up in a Kleenex. "I think I can safely say that's the one thing you've never told me anything about.

"This bodes so poorly. mysteriously. never loses a thing. and you have a message from Alice from the consulate." Merlin had said grandly. because whenever Arthur comes out of his office Merlin's merrily chatting away as if the fish can understand him. and don't ever call me back'. picking up a post-it. usually on the subject of what a giant prat he thinks Arthur is. "You do realize that he can't understand you. mind you. it's that he's fucking weird. "Don't listen to him. "Fish are imperfect psychic medium." Arthur had complained to Gwen. though the warning may have lost some of its power. "Oh. He means it. but Merlin. "I'm firing you the second I find someone who can do filing as well as you can. he's a fish. because he makes it every day and Merlin doesn't even blink." "Is that your latest euphemism for being an incurable grump and all-around bastard?" Merlin asks. The queen he of course has nothing but the utmost respect for. It's always heinously messy. She comes by 10 Downing every few months for tea and buscuits with Gaius. "She wouldn't have understood my. where they discuss the books they exchange with each other." Arthur always says when he throws more paperwork on Merlin's desk.morning coffee. and his craziness is causing problems around the office. . not the queen. The worst part of Arthur's job easily is dealing with the queen's people. and headed for the men's room." Arthur warns. Her people. She says 'there was nothing on the news except a little bike crash. --Here is an example of why Merlin should be fired: It's not just that Merlin's an idiot with a terrible sense of humor." Arthur shrugs." Merlin says cheerfully. unique lifestyle. who just laughed. er." "Ah well. Kilgharrah. Merlin apparently holds no grudge against Kilgharrah for eating his fish counterpart. and he seems to think everyone else is just as weird as him. though.

for all that they must have the easiest job ever. the next time she visits Gaius. "You know. are terrible. "I could speak to the queen. not to mention at least weekly visits where they (there are five of them with their panties in various degrees of twistedness. Mr.." "Merlin." Merlin says. putting his feet up on the other visitor's chair even though Arthur had told him repeatedly that it made him look like he was raised in a barn." Merlin just sniffs and glares at Arthur like he's thinking clotpole. "Let's just refrain from name-calling. but it doesn't actually mean anything. "You thought. you could endeavor to clarify yourself before you sent things to us". it sounds terrible. so I thought." "You can't call me a twat either." "Ah." he finally manages. and I call you a twat all the time. "'Clotpole' isn't even a word. "You and I work for her too. and Merlin shrugs. and their various aches and pains. like the whole thing doesn't matter to him in the slightest." he finally suggests. The queen simply has to read the briefs Arthur's department sends her." Arthur mutters. But her publicity people. and damn. but Merlin doesn't break." he suggests." "What if I called you a clotpole?" Arthur blinks meaningfully at him a few times. CLOTPOLE rather viciously. "I made it up just for you. Even though Arthur personally writes the daily briefs that are delivered to Buckingham Palace with the kind of scrupulous attention to detail he usually doesn't even have time to aspire to for Gaius. "See. the boredom of their job makes the queen's people anal beyond belief. there's where our problem started. he still he gets at least two e-mails or calls a day.memories of the war. "They're being twats and you should tell them so. clotpole. in Merlin's head this qualifies as a serious question. since Parliament and the PM technically serve at his behest. "you can't call people who work for the queen twats.. or they get sniffy) and go "Her majesty would appreciate it if you could add that level of detail the first time you send her briefs" or "perhaps next time. and they mix and match from week to week) sit in Arthur's office (which must be spotless. Apparently. now he's got Arthur using it too. continue to have no opinion. How difficult can that be? Apparently." Arthur groans. " Merlin says confidently whenever Arthur complains." . Pendragon. Old people things. and wave at people from time to time. She's been very sweet every time Arthur's met her." "Why not?" Merlin asks. "They're just being twats.

yes. but because it took valuable time away from Merlin being Arthur's assistant." "Fuck. so even though he said Durham was his first choice and rated better than Oxford."Ah. "No way to schedule it later?" "Nope. however. For no reason Arthur could discern." Arthur says acidly. because he was seething with jealousy." "Irrelevant. Arthur heartily disapproved of the entire business not. the fact that he graduated in the top fifteen percent at uni with fabulous marks (which weren't that much better than Arthur's. and I know everyone thinks they're a peaceful . that little thing you've got going on. which was his actual job. Twats..he'd done just as well at uni as Merlin had and his father had simply said "well done" at his graduation. during which she and Gaius would engage Merlin in a brief discussion on whatever book they had just read. and because Merlin now seemed to think that threatening Arthur or anyone who displeased him with the queen was a perfectly acceptable practice. flicking a paperclip at Merlin. meeting with the royal clotpoles. the queen had gown rather enamored with Merlin. "Sorry.." Merlin looks down at the printed-out schedule on his lap. Arthur didn't see why Merlin deserved such lavish praise ." Arthur groans. "She always tells me to pass along to you how much she appreciates your briefs and how much more detailed they are than the last person who had your job! And the people who work for her are clotpoles. In one of his fits of paternal affection for his adoptive son/nephew/grandson/whatever Merlin was to Gaius that week. but Merlin went toDurham. not to mention it means that faith in public transit's gone down so Gaius will have to push off that initiative to encourage people to use it more. Tosspots. naturally throwing in all the proud details on Merlin's great intellect (clearly vastly overstated). Whatever. though. as Gwen and Morgana insisted.. "Where were we. who catches it mid-air. clearly he was a moron) his keen literary mind (yet to prove useful in any way whatsoever). and left it at that." Arthur says. 2:00. and that's going to make the environmentalists mad.." Merlin says. 2:30. "I could!" Merlin insists. Gaius had once mentioned Merlin's degree in English to the Queen. telephone conference with the RMT leaders. tilting his head upwards so he can glare at the ceiling." "It's just pure idiocy that they're telling these unions they deserve a fucking pay raise when the economy's going down the drain and everyone's taking a cut. patted him on the shoulder. That's the phone conference he's been looking forward to all week. who now was in charge of serving her and Gaius their tea and biscuits whenever she visited. know you wanted to chew them out for the transit worker's strike. already checked. "What else is on for today?" "Right.

Mr. the absolute swottiest of all the swots on the queen's public relations staff. by showing them the strength of our monarchy. Arthur's office was flat-out invaded by Camilla Farrington-Smith and Felix Cavendash. "By the way.. skin-crawlingly posh voice." Per usual. she wants to know if you like her and you're supposed to check a box." . Arthur's overhead him mention as he leaves the office how he finds it improper that Arthur refers to his assistant by his first name. "because they both have mustaches. Cavendash says in his nasal." Arthur says politely. like he thinks Arthur should be in an old Jeeves and Wooster episode and call him Emrys." Mr. Farrington-Smith says smoothly. sitting down only after they do. Farrington-Smith was the one who came over to give him an earful. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" "Remembrance Sunday is approaching." "Out of my office. do you want me to make up some sort of excuse?" Merlin sighs. that is an actually useful suggestion.. "See.. "You can tell they're swotty. but. "Take a seat. Can I have my assistant get you anything? Tea?" "No thank you." At two o'clock on the nose..lot.. You'd think that someone as posh as her would be able to afford an upper-lip wax." ". "and what with the current state of the. "My assistant Merlin makes a wonderful cuppa. "Please.look." Mrs. economy" (this is said as if the concerns of people who need to worry about money or the rise and fall of its supply are somehow distasteful) "we thought it would be best if the queen rode through the streets greeting the people in her carriage. fired. Morgana passed me a note in maths this morning. rising and gesturing to the chairs he'd made Merlin vacuum after he'd had his dirty feet all over them. Cavendash's nose wrinkles at Arthur's use of Merlin's first name.. It was another reason Merlin was fired. To raise their spirits." Arthur commands with an imperious hand-wave. you understand." Arthur now had trouble containing his laughter whenever Mrs.. oh so very fired. "If you're quite sure." Arthur said graciously. I do not take defamation of character. Why don't you make those more?" "Because I forgot I was being employed by a fourteen-year-old girl who doesn't want to go to the spring dance with the icky boy?" Merlin asks. "Get you out of it around 2:30?" Arthur tilts his head back downward and points at Merlin." Merlin had once whispered to him during a late night they were stuck waiting for news of the American election with nothing better to do but sit around and get punchy from eating too much takeaway. "Out..

he spends more time staring at it than he does attending to whoever is speaking. because he's found that when he does." "Young man. "that when the British people are struggling in this economic climate." Mr. is . very expensive watch he never leaves home without. or that 2:30 arrives faster than estimated.) "I do believe I understand what we're discussing." Arthur says flatly. Cavendash says. Farrington-Smith would testify that yes. Cavendash snaps. "The one encrusted in gold. "Rhodes Scholar. makes noises of agreement." Arthur drawls. Cavendash would actually have a seizure from rage and Mrs." Mr. Treasurer of the Oxford Union." "As am I. and prays to God that what's being proposed either never happens or that he and Gwen can put their heads together and find a way to make it not reflect poorly upon them. Arthur doesn't have a clock in his office." "Well of course." (His father had been extremely displeased that Arthur had chosen to run for that. Instead."Her carriage. Merlin's pokes in and out of his doorway constantly. it was all his fault. "I simply believe. while amusing. it won't sit well with them to see a display of wealth from their queen. and it could only lead to a lot of messy legal trouble. And waits. Cavendash says as if Arthur's supremely dull-witted. and an assistant. turning beet-red. So Arthur waits. Farrington-Smith's heads. Cavendash's and Mrs. "You don't think she's got another one. He feels a headache coming on. and if perhaps he and Gaius can gently suggest that perhaps she not gad about the streets of London in as ostentatious a manner as physically possible. And he waits some more. but that was neither here nor there. deep breaths before he feels he can speak without stabbing someone in the eye with the pen in his hand. "don't insult my intelligence. Should his assistant fail (as he so often does). making increasingly rude and violent gestures at the back of Mr. irritated but unsurprised that his degrees. not President." "You were in your nappies while I was hobnobbing with the finest minds at the Bullingdon Club!" Mr. nothing makes Arthur's point better than making a real show of pushing back his sleeve and reading his watch with a very concerned expression. That. which. Worst comes to worst. which is when Arthur determines that. He'd try it right now. I'm an Oxford man . he may call upon Merlin to see if he really is as close to the queen as he claims. have gone completely ignored. now do you?" It takes Arthur several long. it's best if he nods. he has a very nice. my boy. if only he weren't positive that Mr. in order to get through this meeting without committing a crime. which take up the place of honor in between the two windows behind him." he said finally.

"Do you or do you not know how to read a clock?" "It's one of my many skills listed on my CV." Merlin . URGENT. very long meeting. Farrington-Smith out and looks at his watch. I think I'm going to continue being a giant prat and banging around like a bloody moron. The one time Merlin doesn't seem to be standing in the doorway just to be annoying. he's got this oddly determined look on his face and he's making a gesture Arthur hasn't seen before. It's so long that when Arthur finally manages to escort Mr. "So then you are aware that I told you to take me out of my meeting at 2:30 and yet an hour later. Merlin's eyebrows scream. Stop it or fuck off. It's imperative that I continue to do so. As far as Arthur's concerned. and he's levering his forearms up and down like they're beating down on something. He isn't sure if being in the same room with these people means he's entered a strange space-time continuum. He knows Merlin speaks fluent eyebrow. It's a very. Arthur decides it's best. and he spends more time wondering when Merlin's going to appear in the door than he does making sure he's nodding along properly. Cavendash and Mrs. his eyes fixed steadily on replying to business e-mails.making proper behavior on Arthur's part rather difficult. You are a very strange man Arthur conveys through his eyebrows to Merlin. because time doesn't seem to be moving at all. Merlin is sitting ramrod-straight at his desk and typing away with great purpose in away that suggests that Merlin feels very righteous about himself. and instead of looking cowed that he forgot to get Arthur out of the worst meeting of his life. to ignore Merlin. but instead of heeding him (of course). at this point. Merlin actually doing his job (probably in order to suck up to Arthur) is the surest sign of guilt yet. PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO MY INCREASINGLY SPASTIC MOTIONS." Merlin replies. which earns him a disgusted huff and Merlin stomping away in a tiff. and is still mad at Arthur for ignoring his eyebrows. but instead of keeping them still he's moving them back and forth. He doesn't come back for the entire meeting. conveying through his eyebrows (never as eloquent as Arthur's) No. His fists are out. Stop that immediately. I was still in that meeting?" "It's not my fault you ignored my signals and told me to leave you alone. parallel to the floor." Arthur grits out. Merlin shakes his head violently and repeats the motion. "Merlin. it's 3:30.

" Arthur says after watching the clip. like the Youtube video?" Merlin flags a little at Arthur's blank look. "Have you been living under a rock?" He finally asks. "You know. "I like this one." Arthur sighs. like he thinks Arthur's the one being stupid here. the video with the cat in the blue shirt?" Nothing. we need a new signal." "The queen's . .of course it's not. "The signal. play them off. "And what on earth do you mean. you moron." "Yeah. now that you know what it means." Merlin repeats the signal and hums a tune Arthur doesn't recognize. which he shows to Arthur by tilting the screen at him. And I am supposed to. "I tried my best." Arthur yells. Keyboard Cat. as if it's patently obvious." "Exactly. "Why?" Merlin asks. and furiously types in a search to bring up the video." "Okay. "I'm a cat. because it's ridiculous?" Arthur suggests." Merlin says." "Does it signal that you're trying to get back circulation in your arms?" "It's like. and then repeats the strange forearm-fist-up-down motion. "You know. but the words they're saying don't make actual sense. the video! Play him off." Arthur feels like he's fallen down the rabbit hole to a foreign country where it sounds like people are speaking English. "See! Play them off. Arthur thinks) and turns around in his chair.. and then shuts the door with a disapproving slam. loud enough that Gwen pokes her head out of her office to see what the fuss is. "I thought that was another one of your rude gestures. rolls her eyes at the pair of them. I just figured discussing the queen's carriage was very important to you. Keyboard Cat!" "Let me get this straight. which actually clears up nothing at all." "No. Keyboard Cat!" Arthur shrugs. "See? Play them off.. "I'm pretty sure right now you're just making things up. "How is this a rude gesture? It's a signal." he says. Keyboard Cat. a signal?" Merlin sighs the sigh of the long-suffering (ironic. "Play him off.." "I am not!" Merlin says hotly.says righteously." "Uh.. It works.

grabbing his wrist in that way he does that always makes Arthur feel flustered by the casual. "It isn't my birthday until Tuesday. hoping Merlin didn't hear his voice crack." "Oh. or whatever you do." "That was unexpectedly intelligent of you." Arthur says wonderingly. Now you can play it back and send scathing e-mails." he says. shoving a wrapped package at Arthur. "Merlin." "Yes." Merlin insists. "I put the RMT conference on speaker phone and recorded the whole thing. thank God. to the soothing familiarity of yelling at utterly idiotic people." Merlin rolls his eyes and drops Arthur's wrist. "That 25% has been a real burden on my well-being. especially when 'people' means 'you'. He clears his throat and tries again. but not after Merlin's lulled Arthur into a false sense of security by obeying him for a too-short amount of time. "Good job. Cavendash and Pawley-Stewart. You're only 75% fired now. taking it." Merlin's mouth thins mutinously. I thought I should give you this before your visit tomorrow from Messrs." Merlin bites out before Arthur can turn to go back into his office. but tomorrow you have a visit from the royal contingency." Merlin replies in a voice so laden with impertinent sarcasm Arthur automatically adjusts it to 80% fired."Ridiculously awesome." ." "No. "Wait. almost inappropriate intimacy of the gesture." Arthur says in his best authoritative voice. but he hasn't yet thought up a good way to say I'm uptight and uncomfortable with people touching me. "Make up a new signal or you're fired." He slaps a tape recorder into Arthur's hand. "Take this. "What?" Arthur says." Arthur says awkwardly before fleeing to his office." Merlin says two weeks later before he leaves for the night.. who pushes away his laptop and looks up at him through his reading glasses." --"Here. "Yes. "you know how I like to look out for you. He keeps meaning to tell Merlin to stop it. "Did Morgana leave hers here on record hoping to get something? Because I'm not retuning it if she did. in a way that tells Arthur that he should look forward to more Keyboard Cat impressions in the future. well.

" Merlin says cheerfully. especially when it's people from Buckingham palace and he shouldn't. "Really?" "I think all my visitors are under the impression that you suffer from some sort of grave mental affliction. Pawley-Stewart is one of those people who pauses in between every word so that getting a sentence out takes roughly an hour. "Is this a motif I should know about?" Merlin shrugs. In the frame is a picture of a disgruntled cat. "Or a dagger. then. tomorrow. just to get work done. honestly." It's a framed picture. It's an oddly thoughtful gift." "If you tilt it towards you." "What is it with you and cats?" Arthur asks. Arthur discovers when he tears off the paper. surprised." Merlin nods. everyone will think it's a family photo or something. and Merlin's head pokes back in his doorway. beaming like Arthur's just knighted him.Arthur groans. Thank you. "I may need you to play me out. I mean." He's uncomfortably aware that make Merlin happy and allowing him to do ridiculous things." Arthur shrugs. humming the Keyboard Cat theme loudly as he leaves. right?" Arthur looks up." he says. . "Go on." "Merlin? Arthur calls before Merlin can get out of the office." "Nothing quite so illegal." Merlin says. "See you tomorrow." Merlin explains eagerly." "You're welcome. He should really get around to firing him. setting up the frame as instructed." he says softly. "One day. and Mr. "I do. The things he puts up with for Merlin's sake. "Of course. "Please tell me it's a handgun. "Morgana said you liked them." If he thought Merlin was beaming before. "It can't hurt any. "You can stare at it and it'll motivate you not to commit homicide on a regular basis. Cavendash is probably still enraged over the whole Oxford debacle." Arthur swore the caption read. "Like them. It gets stuck in Arthur's head so badly he has to put the Youtube clip on loop in the background. he had no idea. with Merlin's scribble underneath. Just in case. He hadn't expected Merlin to remember that after so many months. "one day I will kill them all. is thrilling enough to constitute an early birthday present to himself. then.

He'll go out for lunch." Merlin would always snort. Merlin's certainly amusing. Arthur means to fire Merlin. Merlin's wide eyes and heart-melting honesty have gotten Arthur through situations that before would have fucked him over before he even saw them coming.") Also. it was impressive). he really does. he sort of likes all of Merlin's idiosyncrasies. Merlin loves to read. because there's no way that anything can make up for the fact that he spilled food on Arthur three times in one day. or called Arthur a twat again. and then he'll take a look over at Merlin's desk. He'll walk in in the morning sometimes having read the entire walk from the tube station without looking up once (Arthur saw him do it once. or their wives. He loves the written word with the same intensity most men reserve for their favorite sports team. Because whenever he decides he's going to. as loathe as he is to admit it. though. in its own way.dense Russian novels that Arthur bought the Cliffs Notes of for some class at some point in his life on one day. You're really horribly predictable when it comes to your eating habits. Arthur never has fired Merlin. "You do know that being able to recite. And much smarter than he lets on. build up a head of steam. Merlin does something like fix the malfunctioning xerox machine with a well-placed kick and a paper clip just in time to print off 100 copies for the next Very Important Meeting. Sometimes the horrifically twee music he blasts until Arthur yells out of his office for Merlin to put on his headphones isn't so bad. or he covers for Arthur like a champion when his Uni mates get him wasted and he has a terrible hangover the next morning. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the next. and won't even greet Arthur or check the messages until he finishes the chapter. He'll read anything ..--But after a year and half. ("It's not magic. "It's your moods. and be ready to call Merlin into his office and read him the riot act. About twice a week. no matter how much he threatens.. Arthur isn't lying when he says that Merlin really does make the best damn coffee and tea he's had in his entire life. He spent a week before Gaius took a trip to the Middle East reading the Koran and volumes of Islamic poetry. Plus. very useful and politically savvy. you know. or shredded a ream of papers that was actually important. or he always knows what Arthur wants for lunch and if he wants it delivered before Arthur even knows himself." Arthur had waited for Merlin to lift the . And his utter lack of tact and charm is. Even Gwen can tell when it's a kebab sort of day.

Arthur.' That's. not to do anything out of line. Not like mine. slow days like Mondays where nothing happens and Arthur's probably going to go home early. Listen ." Whenever Arthur goes to fire Merlin. "It's neither here nor there. there he is at his desk. "You have what I do not. infatuated with the universe at large. which is hanging open for a bite he has yet to take. the collected works of Rumi is not going to make Islamic extremists decide that you're less of a candidate to bomb. "This man is a genius.the minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you. He could bully his way off the back bench and use his audacity and force of will to bring the damn Labour party to their knees. Instead he'll clear his throat purposefully and glare until Merlin goes back to work.R . enraptured. there is... mouthing along with the parts he thinks are really good. Instead he'll be avidly devouring The Little Prince or The Divine Comedy. Unfortunately for Arthur's father. shifted his weight on his feet. MP Uther Pendragon. for fear it might ruin Daddy's political career. putting his chin in his hand and gazing into nothingness. and threaten him a little more with words both of them know Arthur will never follow through with even though perhaps he should. there'd be no war." Merlin had sighed. Isn't it amazing?" Arthur had coughed." Arthur had just nodded along at the time. not knowing how blind that was." Arthur had said gruffly. Keep Calm and Carry On . he'll quietly tiptoe into his office and let Merlin read. "you have a good heart . but could get no further. "Now is it?" "If people could only really read and understand words like this. and something inside Arthur will just well up with suchfondness he finds that he can't go through with whatever plan for firing Merlin he's thought up that day.. "So put that down and start faxing.your mother's heart.cover of the book so he could read it ". that made his father someone he mostly only saw through the telly giving passionate speeches. But some days. horribly aware of . had always wanted the title for himself. The kind of heart that wins you allies. "Well. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere -they're in each other all along. sitting with his tuna sandwich frozen untouched on the way to his mouth. the same career that caused Arthur to be raised by various nannies. he was born quite without the natural charm or tact it took to be elected by his party to 10 Downing." he said finally.. His father." his father would muse once Arthur was older. From his earliest days Arthur remembers being taught not to make a fuss." Merlin had breathed." "This is magical.Part 2 Arthur Pendragon was born to be the Prime Minister. that's amazing. studying for his A-Levels or in uni.

Arthur has already disappointed his father twice over . he's disappointed that Merlin doesn't. sometimes Arthur examines Merlin. Arthur's so unused to human contact that it always leaves him feeling flushed and short of breath when Merlin does this. this isn't healthy. he is just over thirty and has never made a bid for a seat in Parliament. and it's still not funny now." Arthur quiets. Morgana on the other. that wasn't funny the first time you said it. it's delightful. well. it takes a hell of a lot to make me actually feel thankful my dad died in a car crash." Merlin says finally. smoothing it lovingly. straightening up to fuss with Arthur's cufflinks. "I think you're ready for the firing . letting Merlin fuss over the knot and making the dimple perfect." "Yeah. nor does he have any designs to. He'd rather be behind the scenes." Merlin likes to say whenever he's starching and ironing Arthur out for dinner with his father. and that will inevitably lead to a screamed political match with his father on one end." Arthur says as Merlin makes sure the cuffs on his trousers are perfectly even. He needs to get out more. "You know. he joined the Labour party. "You have more daddy issues than a back-alley hooker. Second. For an even more foolish second. and secretly desperate for it to be any other way. who'd have soft nurse's hands and make bits of pottery on the weekends too." Merlin says. But while Merlin's examining Arthur. sweaty-palmed and so devoid of simple touch that Merlin of all people makes him maudlin and flustered just by adjusting his tie? "Perfect. "You might just have done it.first." Arthur shrugs cold his father's heart could be. not Uther's beloved Conservatives. or if they've developed them just to irritate each other. It's his father's birthday. His long. "I'm serious. though. effecting some actual change instead of just talking loudly about it. which means Morgana will join them for dinner. and for a foolish second Arthur thinks Merlin's going to lean in and kiss him. tapered fingers skate down one of Arthur's lapels. "You know. The strong. Sometimes Arthur wonders if Morgana has Green and Socialist sympathies and his father really does have violent reactions to separatist independence movements in places like Ireland and Scotland and the middle/lower classes. and Arthur uncomfortably swallowing his roast in the middle. He wonders what it would be like if he'd had a mother he remembered." Merlin says absently. moving to focus on Arthur's tie. Would he be standing here in this government office. "You love my sense of humor. quietly understanding kind like Merlin's. trying not to wrinkle his coat.

not that swill from the vending machine." "Enter." "Sir.squad. probably at the imagery of Gaius bending over at all. but at least he starts with a smile. coming through the door and setting the tray with two mugs and a new box of jaffa cakes down before stuffing one in his mouth. look at what the EU did to the Irish. "I have sustenance. "Arthur. "I don't get the problem. saluting him out of his office." and slam the door. "Keep talking. "Gaius won't bloody do anything about it even though he knows we'd never join if it were put up to a proper vote. "Jaffa cakes and lemon tea. and Arthur hears a box shake." Merlin says. "C'mon." Merlin says." Arthur grumbles. Arthur harrumphs loudly." Merlin wheedles. gloomy and foreboding. because he waits until after he's stomped out of Gaius' office and into Press headquarters to shout. resolutely carrying on in spite of what Arthur would bet is a petrifying mental image he's just provided." Merlin says. open up. "BLOODY BUGGERING FUCK." Arthur says crisply." Merlin grins." Arthur barks." Merlin turns pink. It's something. It lasts all of five seconds and melts when father opens the door. Arthur goes to dinner with a smile. wrapping his scarf around his neck. "Everyone in England's all 'oh no." Merlin says. --Arthur considers himself to be very calm and contained." Arthur ignores him. "Rough talk with Gaius?" Merlin asks sympathetically. "You know I hate that bloody song. yes sir. "Fucking Labour party and the fucking EU. "I've got jaffa cakes. "Fresh brewed PG Tips.' but they bloody love the . rapping smartly at the door ten seconds later. he's just going to bend over like the rest of Parliament and fucking take it." "Just promise me that you won't let anyone sing Amazing Grace at my funeral." Arthur grumbles. which proves he clearly has no survival instinct.

EU over there. Poll some of the highest approval ratings, you know. You had me do that report." "But we're English," Arthur splutters. "We... we know tea shouldn't come with flavors and that left is the only proper side to drive on. We ran an empire, we've got a highly valued currency I'll be damned if we're switching from, and, and, and we're fucking England, okay? We're England." "Yeah, that's the part that escaped my understanding, working here," Merlin says, rolling his eyes. "Because I was all turned around, I've been expected to report to the Javanese center of government for ages..." "Sorry," Arthur sighs, and takes a long, steady sip of tea. "It's just... days like this, quitting and taking up with UKIP sounds like a great idea." "You'd hate it," Merlin says cheerfully, beginning to compulsively arrange the paper on Arthur's desk. "Your job would be boring, your office would be terrible, and you'd never have had the luck to end up with me as your assistant." The idea makes Arthur feel queasy, but he blames it on the third jaffa cake. "Besides, it's not so bad. The EU's done a lot of good human rights and environmental work! Plus it's good for trade. And we're in favor of trade nowadays, right?" "Merlin, will you have the decency to at least pretend to be on my side for once?" Arthur whines. "It's terrible. Think of the bureaucracy. Think of having to take it from fucking France and Germany. Think of the pound. I'm already in mourning." "I'm always on your side in the end, Arthur," Merlin says with exasperated patience. "I just happen to additionally be in favor of whatever side is kicking your arse. It's good for you. Builds moral character." "I thought that's what you're for," Arthur says, turning on his laptop. "On a cosmic and existential level." "No, I'm here to keep you from sulking and bring you tea and jaffa cakes," Merlin says, stealing the last one and leaving the office with a pile of papers Arthur's pretty sure he's going to need later but will be irreversibly lost in Merlin's filing chasm of doom. Bugger.

--Merlin has the worst dress sense of anyone Arthur's ever met. It's so bad he almost wonders if it's supposed to be some sort of ironic statement, or maybe he's just fucking with Arthur. Merlin has ties that look like the vomit of an

impressionist painting, novelty ties, and ties in colors that should never be on any clothing, ever. Arthur's tried everything he can think of to get those ties to go away, but Merlin's strangely attached to them. "They spruce up an outfit," he'll say, stroking it fondly. "We're English," Arthur says despairingly. "We don't spruce up outfits." "You're English," Merlin corrects. "I'm Welsh." "Merlin, I know for a fact you grew up in London." Merlin looks at Arthur like he's a particular sort of moron. "I've told you a million times my parents are from Wales, Arthur," he says. "You've met my mother." Arthur waves his dismissal. "Wales doesn't count, it's part of England." "Oh really," Merlin smiles in that evil way that makes Arthur's heart speed in up what must be fear, because that smile never bodes well, "I guess I'll just be nipping over to Plaid Cymru headquarters and telling them your stance, then, I'm sure they'll be happy to vote against Labour the next time you want to push something through..." "Shut up and get me some tea," Arthur says quickly, and it's clear from the smug way Merlin exits Arthur's office that he thinks he's won this one. When Merlin isn't sporting ties, he has plenty of heinous other clothing in the wings. He seems to have mastered trousers in the sense that they're all normal colors, but he can't seem to make them fit. Arthur's given him the name of his tailor a million times, but Merlin always rolls his eyes and asks Arthur when Arthur expects he'll have time to go stand in for a fitting, or where he'll come up with the money since Arthur refuses to give him a raise, so Arthur keeps his mouth shut on that subject. He's learned that with Merlin, much like in a marriage, he has to pick his battles, and ties can be removed or swapped out. Arthur has emergency ties that he'll use for just such occasions, like when the American President comes for a state visit. Merlin never seems to understand that Americans are important, always mumbling that they're a country just like everyone else, and getting dressed up for them just puffs up their selfimportance, which Arthur ignores as he makes sure the Oxford knot is perfectly even, fussing and fussing longer than may be strictly necessary, because it amuses him when Merlin rants about someone, especially if it involves taking the Americans down a peg. ("I don't understand their obsession with the letter z! It's the very last letter in the alphabet for a reason, for goodness sakes, and u is a perfectly fine vowel, thank you very much. Would it pain them so terribly to use it? Would it really?") But ties and trousers are not nearly as concerning as argyle sweater vests or

tweed coats with elbow patches, both of which Merlin owns and wears on a frequent basis, sometimes at the same time. "It's like you're a forty year old Oxford professor who's decided he simply doesn't want to have sex anymore," Arthur says. He's made sure to have this argument in front of Gwen so he has backup should he need it. "I have sex," Merlin says indignantly. "Not often, but I have it. I'd have it more if you didn't keep me here nights and weekends." Arthur refuses to feel a vindictive, hot rush of what's somewhere between satisfaction and something darker over whoever's having sex (or not) with Merlin. Really, he pities them. He does. He absolutely, completely does, because he has first-hand experience of Merlin's minimal coordination skills and tendency to accidentally elbow or knee people, and in the bedroom that can't bode well. His keeping Merlin from dating more is actually beneficial to society, and he deserves some sort of medal. Perhaps knighthood. He's always fancied that he'd make an excellent knight of the realm. Sir Arthur has a certain ring to it. "Besides," Merlin goes on, interrupting Arthur's favorite long-held fantasy, "who wears their work clothes when they're going out with someone?" "Arthur does," Gwen pipes up. In retrospect, having someone who he used to sleep with around for this conversation was a terrible idea. "He's starched and ironed permanently." Arthur glares at her. "Except his boxers," she hurries to add diplomatically. "He doesn't iron his boxers." "Does he own t-shirts or is that a myth?" Merlin asks avidly. "Does he have a smoking jacket that he wears instead of pajamas? I've got a Word document full of questions I've been begging to ask for the longest time." He does, is the thing, neatly titled "Questions About Arthur Pendragon" with gems such as "When Arthur has a wank, does he moan his own name?". Arthur had logged into the list and started under it "Questions About Merlin Emrys", the first one being "Was Merlin dropped on his head as a child and thus cannot remember that when he saves a Word document everyone on the Prime Minister's Server can see it?" and "Are Merlin's ears naturally that way, or are they able to be pruned, like shrubbery?" to which Merlin replied by adding to the list "Was Arthur ever hugged as a child?" and "Did Arthur's father surgically remove Arthur's heart on his fifth birthday?" Their war is currently at a mutually declared impasse. "He sleeps in -" Gwen begins, but Arthur makes an executive decision that that's enough of that. "Enough!" Arthur says, cutting Gwen off. She makes eyebrows at Merlin which means she'll talk to him later, and Arthur wonders, not for the first time, if he

" "You're a prat." he says crisply. What about that nice. and that's assuming it's not a big event where newspapers are competing with each other . Gaius may be the Prime Minister. "And you started this conversation!" "Well I changed my mind and need it tomorrow!" Arthur snaps. First of all. one for 10 Downing specifically and at least one for press at all times. and Arthur scowls at her smug Cheshire-cat smile. a girl named Freya he'd met few months into working at 10 Downing that lasted about three months. That was the problem with exes . say. "you should dress for your job with the care you would for a date. we have jobs. and Arthur coughs. there are always at least two photographers. Merlin's had one serious relationship the entire time he's worked for Arthur. a world where he had a great fondness for scarves and thick jumpers. shirts and trousers that fit properly.they always thought they knew you a little too well.actually has any power over these people at all or if his job is entirely ceremonial. It's good for national pride and much better than if Gaius.soft cashmere sweaters. Then. On second though. "Maybe. "If you're quite done with fashion advice. the report on the NHS. be less helpful. Merlin." Gwen says after a few moments of silence. where he laughed more openly and looked more touchable. is what Arthur's suggesting. Well. He wonders if the queen wakes up every morning and feels like this. Arthur could always tell when it was Merlin's date night. "And Gwen. please. Arthur. and so he'll bring MP's from multiple parties. "Merlin. like there was a whole life Merlin led outside of the office that Arthur wasn't allowed to know about. and they always bring at least one aide or handler each. No. I want it on my desk first thing tomorrow." "But you said I had a week!" Merlin cries out." she says cheerfully. had a fixation on which nation in the Middle East he felt like bombing that week." Merlin says. he supposes he understands the sentiment of a Prime Minister showing support for the common working man and appreciates that Gaius takes great delight in exploring and praising the nation's technological and scientific achievements. because he'd change into clothes that looked like they didn't belong to Arthur's grandfather . --Arthur doesn't understand why Prime Ministers must do things like tour car factories. perhaps Arthur preferred Merlin the way he was. but he doesn't like working alone. what Arthur doesn't understand is why so many people have to trail along after him. navy jumper you own? That over a button-down?" "I could.

It makes his ears stick out worse than ever. of course." Arthur chides him. "They have welding tools. Bayard will sneer. Ingenious. and then there's security. and then grabs Arthur's wrist like he's a little boy trying to catch Arthur's attention. Gwen has to go along. because at least Gaius talks facts." Merlin just grins." "Will he?" Merlin asks vaguely. putting his bright yellow hard hat on as instructed. he's more likely to wander off and try and join the assembly lines himself." Gwen says severely. (It happened once. who looks like he'd rather be anywhere else. You'll give them ideas.. for PR reasons. "But the first combustion engine like these are was created by an Englishman named Sir Samuel Moreland using gunpowder. Want to wager five pounds?" Merlin asks. looking bored and antsy to shoot someone (and wouldn't that be fun). Arthur. Then. "We'd be just fine without you.and jostling elbows." Arthur snaps. "ooh. and then they'd make a robot octopus that would take over London?" "Hush. worse than Gaius in the front. not magical doomsday scenarios that Arthur's pretty sure are melded with the last Transformers movie. And that person is Arthur. right there. and if he doesn't have someone like Merlin to discuss combustion engines with. "Did you know that the most rudimentary of motors were created in prehistoric times?" Gaius is saying to MP Bayard. reaching up and adjusting it so it isn't sitting at a rakish angle. and then there's Arthur and Merlin. you have to look out for MP Monmouth for that. and a point of national pride for you...) "You can't even put your hat on properly. "And he doesn't snore. and is rather funny-looking with his favorite elbow-patched tweed coat. look at that massive robot arm! Do you think they have extras. bulbs flashing everywhere. (Though he is wearing his navy date jumper underneath his coat.) And since Merlin and Gaius can't be trusted and Gwen's usually too harried and security is useless and the MPs are just trying to make it through and nod politely. He's the snorer. . who really have no need to come along except that Gaius regards the entire thing as a giant treat or field trip." "Also. "Merlin. you know. someone has to make sure the whole circus gets through with as little damage to whatever place they're visiting. really. Merlin. His silence only lasts as long as it takes for sparks to fly from the welding station (about five seconds) and he's off again. the chances of MP Bayard not causing an incident due to snoring. and lets go of Arthur's wrist to mime zipping his mouth shut. big and dimpled. damn Gwen. I never bet money on my job. and Arthur had a headache dealing with that for a week.." Merlin says.

"I found an article online about postage stamps. "Did you know that there's a newfangled system called e-mail that makes the postage system near obsolete.. and Skills." Merlin says. "You're not going to stop bothering me until I listen to you rabbit on about postage stamps. "That's why I gave you that big red binder on your first day. "And did you know that they've announced the commemorative stamps for next . "Yes. he's had worse factory tours. "so really. should I be bothering Arthur about this?'.. "Did you know that fifteen sets of commemorative stamps are issued a year?" Merlin plows onward with savage determination. and go 'oh. slowly. who has delegated to you the task of press and communications. my problem is with him. I'm just going up the ladder. so you can look up anything. ". --"Arthur." Merlin goes on with the air of someone who has clearly been entrenched in a bureaucracy for far too long to be dissuaded. beaming face. and postage stamps are a form of communication." Merlin says." he says finally. scrubbing at his eyes until they adjust.postage stamps. looking up from the memo he's reading on who has to sit next to whom at the upcoming conference with East Asian nations. he thinks as he watches Merlin's eager. Also." "About postage stamps?" "About postage stamps. they'll have to have another conversation on that) "I would like a word with you about postage stamps.'" "The Secretary works for Gaius.Still. trying to make sure he really heard what he thought he heard. I am distinctly sure that next to postage stamps it does not say 'yes." Arthur says. barging into Arthur's office without knocking (per usual." Merlin nods." Arthur blinks at Merlin a few times." "You do know that postage stamps are under the purview of the Secretary of State for Business. and therefore the purchase rate of stamps declines every year?" Arthur asks. are you?" He asks. I think he'd find that terribly interesting. Arthur sighs and takes off his reading glasses. including 'postage stamps'. Innovation.

it's just a stamp. not intimidating. five minutes on Wikipedia will tell you that he was Irish and a criminal. it's stupid." Merlin goes on.. Ireland was part of England at the time -" "Oh. exhibiting truly saintly patience for not hauling off and punching Merlin on his very puffy. I'm sure that's not a sore spot." Arthur mutters." Arthur drums his fingers. Only when Merlin does it." Arthur sighs. "He had a childhood sweetheart he proposed to but she declined. bring that up. Plus. "the next month they're doing a set of stamps honoring musicals in London! Tell me that's not gay. it's irritating. "Keats. "Two. An homage to childhood literacy is positively subversive. "Plenty of other authors have been on stamps. She went on to marry the author of Dracula. The British Library was then asked to change their proposal because Oscar Wilde was considered too controversial since he was Irish and a criminal." "Merlin.year. the Brontë sisters. and yes." "The West End is extremely prestigious and well known. "Yes. Arthur! Their proposal was rejected on the grounds of homophobia so they went with children's books. for being gay. He feels terribly lost. he was imprisoned in London. "I can see the problem." Arthur interrupts pointedly.. it's that he's bisexual -" "." "Merlin. That's homophobia. "Merlin.I thought he was gay. It's a credit to England. " Merlin raises his finger in the extremely swotty way he has. "among those was Oscar Wilde. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The real problem isn't that he's Irish." "The original proposal was to honor famous British authors. but you don't know what it's like to finally look at a stamp and realize that there's someone like you on it!" . and in June will be issuing a set honoring children's literature?" "Ah." "And Oscar Wilde isn't?" Merlin crosses his arms and raises one eyebrow in a way Arthur is pretty sure he learned from Gaius. very punchable mouth." Arthur nods. and he was Scottish. actually. "One." Arthur interrupts." Merlin goes on. good. "Why on earth do you care so much about Oscar Wilde?" "Because you have no idea what it means to see him on a stamp!" Merlin shouts.

Arthur being that strange man.. taking the notes from Arthur. no." "Yes. "You'd do that?" "Well I don't think it will make a difference. "Arthur." Arthur shrugs. The way Merlin looks at him maybe not being what he thought it was. "I could go get you something. and then . for his part. but I'll do anything to get you not to nag at me like a fishwife. of course not. An inexplicable flash of jealousy. and it's reward enough for Arthur to have the sudden.. Arthur has to work very hard not to close his eyes and swallow when they do. hm?" "Right. "Look. "No. I'll add a personal note and pass it on.. so let's call that that and not discuss it again." Merlin nods. Merlin dancing with a faceless man in a club." Merlin says. you look like you're about to have an stroke. "Now hurry along. He's been very religious about not crossing it with Merlin (consciously.Arthur furrows his brow. Besides. "And by like you. "Arthur?" Merlin interrupts. Merlin waking up next to him in the morning. Merlin's groans. medium hot. if you like. Dating and sexual preferences. right. Merlin looking at him like that in that dark alley." "Oh.not straight. I wasn't kidding . Arthur." Merlin looks down at his feet." Arthur says. is paralyzed. no." Merlin blurts out. reaching for his wallet. Merlin deeply kissing a strange man in a grubby alley. and then promptly turns bright red." Arthur's voice sounds stuffy to his ears and god. I just haven't had lunch yet and I'm feeling a bit peckish. sorry. he knows. like his father. Arthur would bet any amount of money Merlin's already got something truly scathing up his sleeve. crazy desire to perhaps let Merlin get his way more often. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. their fingers brushing... clearing his head.." "It's really nothing. sunlight on bare skin. half-typed on his computer. and Merlin?" Arthur calls while Merlin's shrugging on his coat. "But I don't pay for a pastry for tea with someone I'm uncomfortable with. are A Line That Must Not Be Crossed when it comes to co-workers or employees. "I think I feel like Nando's half chicken. looming over him and tilting his face upwards. but now images are flashing in his head faster than he can squash them." "Really?" Merlin's eyes brighten. with chips and coleslaw." ". at any rate). "If you write a letter to the Secretary." "What?" Arthur blinks. you mean. "Oh. And two Naughty Natas for us to have later with tea. if it's not too much trouble?" "No.

There are plenty of journalists who will be turned away faster for comment than others. how warm Merlin's body would be. Then again. Her white-gold sheath dress hugged every curve and her curls were pulled back softly instead of the usual severe bun. I can't punch him out and cause an international incident over Gwen's . no right at all. flashing through the images of Merlin pressed against him. Arthur didn't exactly blame the Ambassador. the Press Office at Number 10 is a completely neutral entity. and plenty of dignitaries that will be avoided at all costs except. please.admittedly spectacular tonight . do something. he was a bit giddy on white wine. Almost." "Merlin. imploring eyes. dapper if not elegant in the tuxedo Arthur had bullied him into for the last annual opening of the Royal Opera House's season. of course.breasts." . as much as I would like to. She was absolutely breathtaking. who has a bit of a fixation with Gwen's breasts. It almost made a part of him miss dating her. completely untrue. "Arthur. brilliant in his anger. an insidious little voice in the back of his mind says.. This is." Gwen said softly. or disfavor. still sleepy and grumpy looking when he first comes in. "He was just staring at them. --In theory." Merlin had hissed angrily. "His wife was on his arm and he had no right. turning toward Arthur with huge. Arthur had spent a lot of the earlier part of the evening dividing his distracted attention between how nice Merlin looked in a tux and how he'd really have to force him to dress better. devoid of any politicking. bricks rough at his back. favor." But not peckish for a bit of chicken.." Merlin insisted. especially not towards foreign dignitaries. perhaps. "Merlin. there may have been some fisticuffs that night. who was clutching her shawl around herself uncomfortably. Gwen. She was still Gwen. and Arthur has to grind the heels of his hand in his eyes before he can go back to the arrangements for the East Asia conference. if avoiding them would cause an international incident. and Gwen's gold dangling earrings against the long line of her neck. Arthur remembers fleetingly thinking that if Merlin had breasts that an ambassador was ogling. after all. Arthur and Merlin have spent many a lunch break coming up with quite a few ways that they'd like to dispose of the Ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago. the way Merlin smells in the morning.about being peckish. For instance.

" Merlin sounds flustered. "No offense meant to you. He's extremely taken with Merlin. He beamed at Arthur rather like the sun and moon revolved around him.." "Oh." she said sincerely. "I cannot mention this. leaning over to brush a kiss against his cheek. which Arthur has to forcefully remind himself every time Alexander. Merlin. Position." he'd chirped happily. shall we say. your talents are wasted terribly here." The change in Merlin's face was remarkable. "I could definitely find you a better. Communications Director at the Swedish Embassy. skipping off to engage one of his many little friends Arthur no longer kept track of in a strategically located gossip session. Arthur had blushed. I couldn't do much to stop them. and apparently with good reason. casually. like he might be blushing. though she is notoriously terribly jealous. as if he were a knight in shining armor upon a pure white steed who had vanquished a dragon and run through several ogres. well.Merlin had made a face like a wounded bear that made it perfectly clear what he thought of that situation. "As much as I would like to" he went on patiently." he all but purrs as Arthur resolutely does not spy on them through the gap in his door. he gave Arthur a near-blinding grin and a wink before stuffing his face with even more shrimp cocktails.than if Arthur really had ridden in on a steed and slain ogres. all blond and Viking-like. It's beneath my position. Arthur sighed." Arthur shrugged. and had Arthur any delusions that Merlin had some sort of honor to protect. and it was as good . he caught Merlin's eye from where he was standing by a server. Gwen had smiled after Merlin rolling her shoulders and loosening her shawl. even better . perched on Merlin's desk and leering at him. But if someone with. comes over to drop anything off. of course. within the general vicinity of the ambassador's wife. but later when he glanced around the room and saw the ambassador being uncomfortably and loudly trapped in a corner to receive a very public dressing-down from his wife. What really baffles Arthur is that Merlin seems to have no problem with the increasing lengths Alexander will go to to see and shamelessly proposition him. Arthur snorted into his wine. "I didn't do anything. and yet here he is." He glanced at Gwen. he'd have thrown down the gauntlet years ago. especially if they can be linked back to you. say large ears and a large mouth were to do so. it never does to start fights with ambassadors. Still and all. "I think I'll go get a drink. "Thank you Arthur. It's not really necessary that he come over with print-outs of the finer points of the new Baltic Sea drilling contract just for the edification of the Press department. "That's really not . confident again. "You know..

" "Of course you can't. doesn't he? He's spent many years studying all of Merlin's quirks and habits and being indulgent of them. that one's probably the least suggestive. Alexander. anyway. Flexibility. "You're quite flexible. and it's clear from Merlin's eyebrows he's figured it out. and he spares Arthur standing behind Alexander and half-hidden by the door a nervous glance." "Arthur. I don't find a tall. like he's biting back an idiot." Alexander purrs. Arthur gets up to go tell Alexander off when he catches sight of Merlin's face." "Because I can see you in several positions." Arthur says crisply. makes untoward advances towards you. but it's the one that irritates Arthur the most. I can't quite name what it is. "Is there ." "You know. and Arthur instinctively stiffens behind the door. "I don't know about that one. well. Alexander especially. And really. "Talents. Just because he doesn't say please and simper over him doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate him." "His smile is crooked. "Ah." Arthur says darkly. "Positions. am I right?" "Oh. opening the door completely. sad. Not according to Arthur.necessary." Merlin laughs. far more than anyone else. you can always come to me. could you go make copies so Gaius and Gwen both have one? Please?" He adds the 'please' for Alexander's sake." Arthur says automatically... "Are those the latest drafts of the Baltic Sea drilling bill? Excellent. "He doesn't he appreciate you like you deserve." Alexander scoffs. that's just taking it too far." Merlin snorts softly. does he?" Of all the comments Alexander's made. "And his forehead's too big. That'll teach both of them to think Arthur doesn't appreciate Merlin. but instead of the hint of fondness Arthur usually hears." he says later that night while Merlin's filing something-orother. Merlin sounds almost. Would Alexander ever make sure that Merlin's favorite brand of ballpoints are on the order form for office supplies even though they're a pound more expensive than the generic kind everyone else gets? And for the first time Arthur sees genuine upset in Merlin's eyes. Merlin. I suppose. "You know... protect you. handsome. I'd take care of them and. "If anyone ever. "Are you still mad about Alexander?" He asks. He doesn't exactly look displeased." Merlin says. "as difficult as this may be for you to understand. Of course he appreciates Merlin! He thanks Merlin for bringing him things. There's something about him I don't like." Merlin says. ever would. Swedish man coming on to me a terrible hardship. Merlin.

It also became clear very quickly that Arthur was terribly allergic to Morgause. Arthur initially has no idea what Merlin's up to when he waltzes into Arthur's office at the end of the day and plops two little white pills and a paper cup of water on his desk with a brisk "take those". glancing in between the pills and Merlin." she'd told Arthur imperiously while she poured him and her dolls tea and Arthur had wondered if maybe they could play another game. for someone who just got off work. Arthur wonders what would have happened had Morgause not run away a year before Morgana's father had a heart attack and Uther adopted her. sir?" Arthur winces.." "Of course you are. Uther would have inevitably forced Morgana to give Morgause up. so I suppose I'm done with you too. "If you're attempting to drug and kidnap me. but usually you'd grind those up and dissolve them in my tea. I'd be far more stealthy. she had decided that all she wanted for Christmas was a little sister. "If I were doing that. and I drove to work today. and . Merlin hasn't called him 'sir' in years. He sounds awfully bitter. Non-drowsy." Arthur says dryly.anything else you need me for." Morgana's mother had left to "find herself" around the same time Arthur's mother had died." Merlin rolls his eyes and shows Arthur the box. and no doubt their relationship would be even more contentious as a result to this day. "You might as well be my little brother. like being Jedi knights. no. I have to say you're doing a terribly poor job of it. "Only you would drive to work.. "Not that I want to give you ideas. or something. and whenever they visited he could only watch longingly as Morgana picked her up and let her outside for the rest of the night. Instead. I want a little sister I can dress up in pretty clothes. and neither Morgana nor Arthur had been old enough to understand that that made a little sister highly unlikely." "All antihistamines make me drowsy." "Please. "The filing's all done. Arthur and Morgana were immediately smitten with her velvety paws and rumbling purr when she was scratched under the chin. They're antihistamines. "And you're no fun at all. --When Morgana was six and Arthur was four." he says reluctantly. Arthur thinks. Sometimes. Morgana had gotten a flamepoint Siamese kitten with huge blue eyes named Morgause for Christmas. "I." Merlin lets out an extremely put-upon sigh. leaving Arthur's office." Merlin mutters.

"Pills set in?" He asks cheerfully. Merlin sighs and crosses his arms." "But the tube takes longer. "Good. only to use it once again to hold on a pole to stay upright. her fur the perfect cream. Arthur's too tired to do anything but nod. deconstructing him down to his core elements.. He felt that they were staring at him and analyzing every little detail of him. the tips of her ears and her nose inky instead of a foggy gray. which is germs. "now you wait for those to kick in and I'll go fetch your visitor." Merlin says with satisfaction." Arthur points out. "Will you just take them? I promise not to compromise your virtue. something. They're a problem. which is just weird. He isn't a terrible driver . . "Who's this?" He finally manages evenly as the cat sniffs around his bookshelves. "Right." Merlin's gone just long enough for Arthur to work himself into a woozy state of minor panic. what if it's someone important? What if it's a foreign dignitary? What if a member of the press sees him like this? What if Gaius sees him like this? He's just about to demand Merlin drives him home at once when Merlin pokes his head back in the office. usually so Arthur won't waste a moment he could possibly be using to yell at someone over the phone." Arthur considers the offer. germs.then for work sit at a desk for two hours making me take notes on Gaius' new initiative to promote public transportation to reduce carbon emissions and traffic." The image of Merlin leering over his prone form flashes quickly in Arthur's mind. and he looks like he's kicking something in the background." Merlin says impatiently. he swallows down the pills.. Who would Merlin drug him to meet? Oh god.a bit too conservative around yellow lights and yields too easily for other drivers. Her eyes (Arthur's sure it's a she. and instead of letting himself dwell on that. Arthur's palms ache with the need to stroke her. He doesn't tell Merlin the real reason. he's always felt terribly uncomfortable squashed next to other people. I'll drive you home.. Arthur. but whenever he's taken the tube he's always seen at least two people cough or wipe their nose or sneeze into a hand. "Seriously. "Fine. Merlin's driven him around before.. But really." Merlin won't open the door enough to actually come in. Merlin would mock him forever and call him posh and sneeze on top of Arthur just to tick him off. and inevitably they'd find him lacking in. He's just about to ask Merlin who exactly he's kicking when Merlin opens the door and the most beautiful specimen of a Siamese cat Arthur has ever seen saunters into his office like she owns it. she's far too sleek and beautiful to be anything but) are painfully blue. Also. even if they were healthy. but he'll get Arthur home safely.

It makes her eyes look very blue. "You're going to have to dry-clean this suit if you don't want it to send you into anaphylactic shock the next time you wear it. "I see I'm the third wheel here . Gwen and Lance and I have had a terrible time trying to keep her out ever since. It's strange that he thought of Merlin. "Arthur. Sophia. "She normally sticks around accounting where they spoil her terribly. Merlin isn't a cat.Merlin's probably never felt the affection of such a fine creature. she jumps right up into his lap and rubs her cheek against his tie. yes. Merlin makes a highly disparaging noise and shuts the door loudly on what Arthur feels is gearing up to be a highly successful cuddling session." Arthur mutters. too busy being fascinated by the fact that Sophia's so pleased she's practically vibrating. Almost immediately after she's gone. are quite the nicest cats. Cats are even more delightful than he'd ever imagined.. Arthur would protest the cat hair.I should give you two your privacy. if Arthur kissed behind those absolutely ridiculous ears of his." "Aren't you a beautiful girl." Merlin says from what feels like a great distance." Merlin says. right. then. and he's pretty sure he hears Merlin change a snort of laughter into a cough. "Oh. After a few figure eights. purring. The most beautiful. he thinks. "But she's been hanging around here ever since you left out the crust to your tuna sandwich the other week. certainly. Not that Arthur needs anything. He's always loved the contrast of the black against white." Arthur coos. he thinks. "That was like being in a hotel room next to newlyweds. His thoughts of Merlin keep getting strangely tangled up in his thoughts about Sophia. fond headbutt before leaping off his lap and slinking out of the door. though it was very nice for him to arrange all of this. go on. how warm and affectionate she is against him." Merlin says. Merlin has nothing to do with Sophia's sleekness. No." he says sardonically."Oh. brushing most of the white fur off of him. Merlin sticks his head in. it makes the blue of Merl. They know when to fuck off and when you're really in need of a good cuddle. Siamese cats." "Hello." Arthur says gravely as she comes to twine around his legs. but he can't find the heart.. Not even from Merlin. Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. It's his loss .Merlin was so grumpysometimes. Would Merlin purr against him? It would be nice if Merlin purred and nuzzled him . This is the nice thing about cats." . The drugs must be stronger than he thought. taking one look at Arthur and whipping the lint brush out of Arthur's desk. He must doze a little because it seems like it's only five minutes before Sophia gives him one last. may I introduce Sophia. like when he scratches behind her ears and wonders if Merlin would like that Sophia's. though.

boneless. Arthur swears the bed dips." Merlin mutters." Arthur grumbles. "'M having you dry-clean these. "You're so impossible. "I'm never doing anything nice for you again." Merlin bitches. but sometimes in the dream . Merlin's skin is pale and his hair is dark and his eyes are blue. sitting in Arthur's lap and purring. okay. Instead he watches Merlin heave a massive sigh before. He's really very tired. "'M not..." "Yeah you will." He isn't sure if it's his imagination or if Merlin blushes. only Merlin's obviously smaller and can fit." Arthur says sleepily." "I want a raise." "I'll bet you are. Arthur's sitting in his office chair. tiptoes into his room. ." "You're welcome. "You love me. but he can't quite manage it in his dream. thank you very much."Yeah. very tentatively. "Thanks. and grabs a garment bag to stuff Arthur's cat-clothes into. Merlin. like his nannies used to do when he was sick. brushing a soft kiss against Arthur's forehead. "I do the stupidest things for you." Arthur yawns. sitting down next to Arthur. the dream changes without much explanation but in a way that makes complete sense somehow." Arthur wants to tell Merlin that nothing he does because Arthur tells him to is stupid." Merlin's voice sounds tight. you're so heavy. I know. "I'm tired.. shucking off his jacket and starting on his shirt. He thinks for a few minutes." "Nice try. and Arthur in the dream feels warm all over. swears that he feels a phantom hand start to brush away his fringe from his head. "God. content. shuffling to his bedroom. picking up Arthur's briefcase and practically dragging him to the car. but Arthur falls instantly asleep. Merlin's manhandling him out of the elevator and unlocking his door. because the next thing he knows." Merlin says faintly from the other room. like he's very heavy and watching from outside of his body as Merlin sighs. Don't fight it. and instead of Sophia it's Merlin who slinks in with feline grace. "That doesn't excuse you putting on a strip show for me.. You can see yourself out. He might say something more." Dream-Merlin mutters grumpily. He dreams vividly at first. not that tired. It's very vivid. throwing his shirt at and tie Merlin before starting on his trousers. as dreams are wont to do." Arthur says. Arthur must fall asleep on the ride home as well.

"His name is Ceiling Cat. He's working from home. with all the touching and the kissing. Merlin/Cat/Sophia/Something is much more affectionate. please consider a new invention I've heard about called electronic mail that I can check during a commercial break. he does know.. he doesn't know to forward important interdepartmental memos. --The thing about Merlin is he's just really. Though.. but it isn't. Not when he could stay here forever.they look gold. "There is a cat in the ceiling. That is. even though the alarm isn't set until eight and Arthur fell asleep ungodly early because Merlin drugged him. but he's got to draft some potential answers for Question Time that correspond with the late responses various cabinet members sent in so Gaius can look it over tomorrow and be prepared Sunday." "Yes.")." . like they're catching and reflecting back a bit of sunlight. It should be a sexual dream. Getting out of bed the next morning is a chore. hands somehow returning the favor of stroking down Arthur's side even though sometimes the hands are paws and sometimes they're hands and sometimes they're both at once. It's just warm. but he is perfectly aware of how to e-mail Arthur when he sees one of his new weird cat images that he thinks Arthur will find funny. and all he wants to do is fall back into the weird cat dream. but for the first time since he was a teenager." Arthur says slowly. "And you find him. kissing with gentle human lips along Arthur's jawline. He never wants to wake up. he thinks when he pulls himself out of bed and makes a truly terrible instant cup of coffee before settling down with his papers. Despite the fact that Arthur teases him constantly about not knowing what e-mail is ("Merlin... especially when the kisses move from Arthur's jaw to his lips. selectively.. Arthur does not find these very strange cat pictures funny. It's like his body and eyes are heavy and his bed's a center of gravity." Merlin nods enthusiastically. they might not be worth the after-effects of the drugs. funny. he's got to do laundry and buy some toilet paper and toothpaste. weird. getting out of bed is a painfully physical exercise.. Cats are really nice. the next time you think about ringing when Arsenal is about to score a goal... attempting to understand the latest one. Sweet. Comfortable.

"If you ask me if you 'can has' this year's immigration numbers. Oscar Wilde." he says before he hands over the folder. and dials up his counterpart at the Conservative party to yell at him about human decency. his battered iPod. a few of Merlin smiling awkwardly with famous people who toured 10 Downing." Merlin says. three action figures of Merlin's literary heroes (Shakespeare... until his e-mail pings with a message from Merlin with the subject "!!!URGENT RE: YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR!!!" The entire body is You're welcome. Merlin takes it with a roll of his eyes. "Merlin. The cubicle walls around his desk that block Merlin from the other mindless department drones are full of tacked-on crooked pictures of him and Will mugging the camera. stomping to his assistant's desk. b) Merlin is not utilizing his time properly. and the various inhuman acts he plans on performing on his mother." "But cats don't speak English. don't you have a degree in this garbage? I'm offended on behalf of the years and years of schooling you are apparently flushing down the toilet. "Develop a sense of humor!" He shouts as he leaves the office.. "Do your job!" Arthur suggests." "And the fact that he is watching me. Merlin's desk contains a few day's worth of food wrappers. and. Including the goldfish bowl. this is." ". thus appropriate for the office as they display his national pride).. piles of folders and books Merlin finished but forgot to take home. for Christ's sake. that this nonsense the cat's supposed to be saying is the Queen's bloody English." Merlin opens his mouth and Arthur raises his hand up to stop him." he says. a framed photograph of Merlin standing with his arm around his mother. and the .. which is a testament to Merlin's extreme disorganization and oddity. "That's why I sent it to you. and a cup full of the weird kind of pens that only Merlin likes to use because he's fond of the texturized grip."He's symbolic. the latest book Merlin's been reading furtively when he thinks Arthur isn't looking. mind you. "Not. which Merlin has pointed out to Arthur are also all British. Merlin. Because you like cats. yes. you see. what you don't fucking say to the press." Arthur says. For God. -M and a link to a comic with a graph showing that comments said in close proximinty to a cat become increasingly supposed to be funny. and Jane Austen. It's a wholly satisfying conversation that puts Arthur in a good mood right through lunchtime and into the early afternoon. Arthur puzzles over it for a very long time before being forced to conclude: a) the comic itself is inane. you're fired.

." he snarls. It's one of the many reasons Arthur counts as evidence that it's good they broke up when they did before they made a truly terrible decision like getting married to each other. "Oh. and damn her." Merlin points out." "I think the nature of our job suggests otherwise. "I'm innocent! He plied me with antihistamines and gave me a cat!" "Oh. what have I told you about sending me frivolous e-mails?" Merlin looks up from his lukewarm cup of tea he's still nursing from that morning with eyes that would melt butter. no matter what Merlin thinks. "Well. "what have I told you about slipping each other sedatives?" "He did it!" Arthur says. "Boys. "Also." Arthur says emphatically. he never wore spats there. pointing at Merlin.weird web comics Merlin likes so much with the ugly scribbled famous authors like the Yeats or Kierkegaard saying pretentious things Arthur doesn't understand. "who's a perfect kitty girl? You are! Yes you are just the prettiest kitty kitty kitty cat!" "I did not say that!" Arthur yelps." He puts on his imitation-Arthur voice. Gwen never understood Arthur's deep and meaningful bond with cats . which means she knows that Merlin's probably not lying. like Arthur should be adjusting his spats at Eton. punctuating the statement with his hand slammed down on Merlin's desk for good measure. "I was drugged! You drugged me!" Arthur shouts this loud enough that Gwen's head pokes out of her office. which is very nasal and swotty sounding. just so he can hit the reply button and send one to send back to Merlin. Sophia.she's always been a dog person. But he does spends a good hour that afternoon going through the stupid comic out of perverse curiosity." Gwen soothes. you drugged me and then sent me a mocking comic!" "Remember. "Merlin. "sticks and stones may break your bones. Arthur." he says as Arthur. you're welcome for that!" Merlin scoffs. "You certainly didn't sound like you minded." Merlin mutters. she knows how he feels about cats. and stomps back into his office. but words can never hurt you. Never mind that Arthur went to Eton. "They're delightful and brighten your day?" "No." she says severely. Gwen's mouth is twitching frantically. you were cooing inanely at Sophia. "Everyone in this department is fired. and Arthur shoots both him and Gwen venomous looks.

"Alright. and she's old enough to be his mother and then some. Five minutes after he presses send. he notices that Merlin's printed the comic out and tacked it up. Arthur's in charge of scheduling the journalism students that will occasionally tour through his department like a descending plague of locusts." Arthur claps his hands and attempts to smile brightly at the students instead of answering. bright and unexpected through the door. what've you got to ask us?" A lot of them have boring questions . . And that's really his name." Arthur mutters out of the corner of his mouth to Merlin. The woman in charge of these things is named Kay. Bite me. but he doesn't really have a say. Normally. and it never fails to amaze Arthur that when they do. Merlin's actually quite charming. this strategy is what leads to him and Merlin sitting awkwardly on his desk facing about twenty dewy-eyed journalism students. he hears Merlin's laughter. but when Merlin really gets into philosophizing about the nature and importance of a free press with his eyes alight and his hands making fantastical shapes in the air (all while. He writes in the body. he thinks of Merlin as a bit of a bumbling idiot. and this is my assistant Merlin do you deal with the long hours. "So what. By "in charge" he means "he signs off on the slips of paper". did Arthur and Merlin always want to do this when they were kids? They've answered these questions more or less on the fly so many times that Arthur and Merlin have developed a seamless running dialogue they can start up at a moment's notice about their job. So.I'll have you know my sense of humor is excellent. and is one of those people who is terrifyingly kind yet always seems to give off the distinct impression that if they ever snapped. Well. fuck. And when he leaves for the night. Unfortunately. and then after a few moments of thought he adds Hah hah. I run this joint. "I'm Arthur Pendragon. "I really need to start listening when you brief me about my day. Arthur thereby signs off on everything she sends his way and makes sure he doesn't know the particulars. they would kill you in cold blood without a second thought. what are the worst mistakes journalists can make. --Technically. to answer your first question. you can run away and leave me to deal with this on my own?" Merlin mutters back. and then outlined in bright green so it stands out from all the rest. has a bit of an older-woman mustache.

you. uh. "you had a question?" "Hi. "You and Mr. But you can call me Jenn." Next to him. clearly you're a great boss.. Being close is a bit inevitable. they just had to see Merlin drunk once. "I." Arthur clears his throat. "I think that even if we didn't work together. managing to be obliquely insulting to Arthur). somehow worse than if Merlin had actually covered Arthur's hand with his own. but he has a sick. That's with two n's. it's true. . Emrys is with you. he's perhaps a little magnificent. it would be a different story. She certainly didn't mean to make it sound like he and his assistant." The question and answer session wraps up soon after that and Arthur has a full day's work ahead of him after it. Merlin makes a choking noise and Arthur's forced to kick his shin. "Very well.. since you and he are so close. I was just wondering if that's normal. "What was your question?" "Well." Arthur says vaguely." "Um. so he puts his head down and just does it. like he's trying to offer comfort. a bit breathless." Merlin says smoothly. though. but Merlin recoils and places his hand next to Arthur's instead under Arthur's glance. "I'm Jennifer. "Yes.. he understands and doesn't feel the need to check if they're concussed." "Yeah well.. "That was a good answer.. "Someone had to. if we're going to be as close with our bosses as Mr. Good quick thinking. I mean. and Mr." Arthur says to Merlin when he comes in to give Arthur the last papers of the day before he heads back to his flat." Arthur calls on one of the girls who at least had the decency and good sense to be ogling him." Jenn simpers a little. "It's both luck and circumstance.... At least when Arthur catches some of the girls (and there are always a few) gazing adoringly at Merlin." the girl says.somehow. Emrys gets to do so much hands-on work with you. Jenn. "With the student earlier today I mean. hard... "Arthur's a great boss and we get on well. they didn't even have to really know him.. understanding with you. It wasn't even worth thinking about. Hell. he knows. betraying no emotion. Well. His pinky brushing against the side of Arthur's hand is an itch.The girl was trying to flatter him and perhaps butter him up enough to ask for her number.." he says politely. If they knew Merlin like Arthur knew Merlin. churning feeling in his gut all day. The question is semi-innocent. and all future attraction would be killed immediately." He feels the brush of Merlin's fingers against where his hand is resting on the desk. well. Emrys." "But." Merlin avoids his eyes. that is. but anyone you work with for as many hours as Arthur and I work together is bound to come to a sort of.

" Arthur snaps. not a child.. "I'm going to China for that story I've been talking about for ages on carbon emissions." Morgana says." Morgana laughs.." Arthur looks up sharply.. like Merlin just told him something he should know. --- Keep Calm and Carry On . "I should have said.that is. He feels like something important just happened..." He gives Arthur a small smile. okay?" Arthur nods.Part 3a "No comment. "I'll see you tomorrow. "I think at the ripe old age of 32 you can lower yourself. We're mates. but before Merlin can leave. unreadable looks that Arthur never understands. if only he knew what the hell it was." "Good night. Is he coming down with a cold? "Yeah.. like he's done something terribly wrong. "what I should have said is that you do so much work with me because without you." Merlin gives Arthur one of his sad. I mean. "I just dropped by to give Merlin the key to my flat. right? After a fashion?" Merlin snorts." Morgana snorts. for that matter? He can picture it horribly vividly. right?" Merlin sounds a little odd." "He's fucking 28. I know you won't work for me forever and I'd." Arthur says. of course. all pale skin and dark hair and Merlin's hands going down. I couldn't do what I do." Arthur says." "You're defensive.. for all that his job is in communications." "Like.R .." . Without you. "Good night. "Merlin's far too young for me." Arthur goes on doggedly. Merlin's looking after my cats.. down. Arthur. when she asked that question. when Merlin sends him these coded messages. so I thought I'd say hello." Merlin turns around and looks at him. he can never quite understand what's just out of his reach." Arthur says flatly when Morgana knocks on his door. no. "That's one word for it. "I'm not here for that. "What else would I mean?" "Nothing. typing a bit more vehemently than he needs to for a brief on Gaius' stance on strengthening the British electricity grid. "Why would Merlin need the keys to your flat?" Are Merlin and Morgana having some sort of affair he's missed out on? How does Merlin have time to have an affair? Or Morgana. not that. at work. But. he twists up all his courage and says.. "God. but never fails to make him feel deeply ashamed. "I mean.

" "That was a good speech. You should get on that. he'd tried a new medicine and everything. This may be because he's stepped on their tails while nearly blind one too many times. but he'd had a meeting with the Queen's Press Director earlier that morning and hadn't had a chance to fill it up with his crap yet. He just knows there was yowling. Lance?" Arthur asks. Co-wrote Alvarr's speech in favor of nuclear non-proliferation and drone attacks on Pakistan.. "While you're there. just like the time before. actually closing his laptop for such a serious accusation. glancing up at her." "The sky's not blue if they're cloud seeding." Morgana tosses a sheet of shiny black hair over her shoulder. he isn't really sure. and Arthur pouted. She would find him attractive." Morgana says thoughtfully. It wasn't like Merlin minded. "Yeah. "No idea. I hear the sky is blue and the earth revolves around the sun. did." Arthur complains. he's just been working his way through the Labour Party writing speeches. Made Alvarr sound like less of a bloodthirsty bastard. since you're allergic anyway. just like every time Morgana went away. it seemed."One. China having high carbon emissions is the farthest thing from news I can think of. The non-proliferation parts. Arthur's eyes watered so thoroughly the second he stepped into Morgana's flat that he couldn't even see where to scoop the litter. Everyone with a pulse who wasn't Arthur. "Thought I'd eliminate the middleman." "They scratch me to hell." "Where did you find him. recognizing the beginning of an environmental rant when he hears one. "I rest my case. a modeling agency?" Arthur shrugs. "why is Merlin watching your cats? I thought I usually did that. looking out the perpetual gap in Arthur's door to where Gwen is perched on Lance's desk." "." Morgana sits down in the visitor's chair that Arthur usually purposefully keeps filled with file folders so no one stays to chat. . He'd really wanted to take care of the cats.. you know." "I know who really fed them when I was in Chernobyl." "What?" Arthur says. Gaius really liked his work and asked me to get him to sign on. anyway. But. even though he's in love with Gwen." "Who.. he's really good at the inspirational stuff. "You didn't tell me you had a hot new speechwriter. They're good judges of character." Arthur says. "You should keep him around. anyway..and two." Arthur plows over her neatly.

" he says. quiet. Gwen just narrows her eyes at him. and there's always an unspoken open invitation to join her. like he was back in uni watching her and a much darker version of himself dance around each other all over again. visits her office constantly to talk or joke or sometimes even pretend he needs to work alongside her. better than even Gwen and Arthur had at times (another thing that should have been a warning sign). but Arthur usually tries to avoid human interaction on the rare chance he gets the luxury to just be alone for once. however. she's always fucking right. Arthur. "I hope your plane crashes in China and goes up in flames and you die." . "Look. anyway". It would be pathetic if Gwen didn't seem to enjoy it so much. Morgana." Arthur snorts. or flirt back in her own. Gwen blushes into her wine. Morgana chuckles and leans over to brush a kiss against his cheek." Arthur says bitterly. this exactly. Arthur can't believe he missed how Lance looks at Gwen. Gwen-ish way that Arthur recognized with a sudden clang of deja vu. I've got quite enough to do this week. This... "This nosing into my romantic life business." Arthur says awkwardly to her one day after work when they're getting drinks at the pub around the corner. "What about him?" "You seem interested. Gwen goes out every Friday for a bit of a wind-down.. He highly doubts stupidity has anything to do with it. He brings her tea and coffee every day. she was too good for you. "You don't get to do this." "See. tunes into every press briefing with his chin in his hands and hearts practically leaping out of his eyes. "So." "I think as your ex I do. and Morgana had taken their breakup with a philosophical shrug and a "well. "You're too stupid to be allowed anywhere near them. is a matter that takes precedence." Arthur shrugs and takes a sip of his scotch. "I'd appreciate if you didn't come in and just start shit to mess with me.. "And I think both your boss and his." Of course Morgana's right. Lance. Nimueh and Mordred are as evil as their namesakes and have performed black magic upon Morgana." she waves her hand vaguely. "I'll miss you too.Morgana and Gwen had always seemed to get on almost eerily well. and ever since has bemoaned Arthur's inability to date someone she likes even remotely as much. More likely. getting up." Arthur shrugs. which is only unnoticeable because she was so evil to begin with. this. this is why I don't trust you with my cats." Morgana says.

. no one gives a damn. and I'm not saying I'm going to marry Lance. I come to this bar a block away from 10 Downing every Friday." "There's nothing inappropriate about having feelings for Merlin. Ah!" She points at him and gives a slightly tipsy giggle." ". and it looks. the world would be a better place." Arthur finishes." "I do not have a stick up my arse!" Arthur protests." Gwen smiles.. "have romantic or inappropriate feelings for Merlin. no one cares... "Come off it." Arthur forgot he doesn't like Gwen when she's got a little wine in her. "But if you were with Merlin.. "I just wish you'd let yourself be happy for a change. " People don't pay that close attention to their government. and now you're trying to make everyone else miserable. Unless you're performing sexual acts with Merlin on The X Factor." Arthur insists. I'm the Press Secretary. "I never planned on it. and Arthur's reminded of what ten years ago he'd found so entrancing about her." Gwen says.. You're clearly besotted with him. you and Merlin would be at it like bunnies already. Gwen." "I am happy.ah." "Again." Gwen scoffs. you can't go.. There are husband-wife teams in Parliament. slowly and carefully." "But you're in it now." he says. "You're the press secretary to the prime minister." "It's a valid reason!" Arthur says hotly. philandering with a co-worker when you're in politics!" "Maybe I won't be in politics forever. but if maybe you could unclench around that massive stick your father's shoved up your arse. see how that goes. the edge of steel under all that comfort and softness. rolling her eyes. and no one pays a jot of attention to me. "This isn't America." Gwen says sharply. "If that were true.". what do you think this is. it's England. you know. I only got this job because of your recommendation to Gaius. you're uptight and miserable." Gwen sighs.." "Arthur. She becomes irritatingly direct and almost Morgana-like. "It's damning enough to date inter-departmentally. "You're . and unless I'm mucking about with a duck house and a moat on expenses.. America?" Gwen laughs. let's add gay on top of political career would be over. Instead.. "The real reason. and Arthur just hopes she never goes to get drinks with curious journalists. but sure. "I do not.

thoughts. maybe a year and a half ago. "Was that out of line? I'm sorry." He says finally." "Gwen. maybe the reason was because he'd never really let that thought go.. I've had.. I see him every day... For a week." "Arthur... "Please. "Arthur?" Gwen repeats. maybe if he could just make a move.. I'm going to head home." Gwen says. selfish. "hate that Alexander fellow... you two have those deep. covering his hand.. "I'm just tired. "have only had one scotch. or anyone who pays attention to him." Gwen goes on mercilessly.. But they're nothing." Gwen says as he pulls on his coat.blushing.. You do love him... "It isn't.. and therefore I have that sense of propriety you lost two glasses of wine ago. I mean of course I would." Arthur lies. And starting Monday." --- . of course. he'd watched Merlin go on dates with Freya and let himself think that maybe it could change. smiling at her. "I mean." Arthur swallows the rest of his scotch and is silent for a long time. the one he couldn't quite forget that's coming back to him under Gwen's not-so-gentle prodding. There was that one time. If Gwen thought he wasn't happy. innuendoladen silences where you speak only with your eyes and it's like something out of a Mills and Boon novel. blue eyes and dimpled smile and not be so soft on every one of Merlin's whims." Arthur sniffs.." "You stare at him all the time." "And what if he was worth it?" Gwen asks softly. "No. "Just imagine if he was. eyes intent on Arthur's face." "Arthur.. "will you do me a favor and think about it?" "Sure. childish thought that had ran away with itself." "I. It's not worth. but that was a stupid week. he isn't terrible looking." Arthur closes his eyes and turns his head away. I'm tipsy and it was terribly.. that one dream." Arthur shakes his head. spoken or unspoken. maybe it was worth it. A stupid." "No. he would. Come Monday he'd walk in and steel himself completely against Merlin's big.

and if Merlin wants to tap hats and make things disappear. it will serve me really well when I achieve my life calling to be Arthur Pendragon's lackey. and it's what I really want. "She wanted to name me something sensible like Tom. "While my mum and I scrimped and saved for me to get to uni. Arthur." Arthur insists vaguely. looking over Gaius' charitable holiday schedule. because she already gives me her tin of Christmas fudge.For Christmas." Arthur says absently. trailing him like a puppy no matter how Arthur tries to lose him. Merlin. he wants one. "And I look forward all year to that Christmas fudge. . and he's gotten it in his head that one day. I was thinking to myself. Merlin should get what he wants . or Colin. that won't do. 'thank god I'm getting this education. Fuck. as always. Never mind that it's not an appropriate sort of gift for a boss to give his assistant (Arthur's father always gave his secretaries bouquets or potted poinsetta or something). stuffing envelopes as he chatters. bald children." "I make your life a delight.. or Dave." Merlin tells Arthur. This could go on for a while. and Gaius is too busy to get presents for anyone. "I don't want Gwen to. "You're right. standing in various stores and weighing things in his hands. "Mum only named me Merlin because that's what my dad wanted before he died. Arthur will give in and get him one." Arthur interrupts. after all. please. "I want my tea early today. or. and it better have the numbers on annual job losses with it!" Thanks to Merlin's needling. forgot to make sure Gaius visits impoverished. or James. "The point is. she didn't want me becoming a magician and getting teased that much more." "So ask your mother for one." "The point. and now she won't get me a magic kit because she says I'm too old.. Merlin wants a magic is Christmas. And I think Lance thought I was kidding. and he's wanted one the first two Christmases he worked for Arthur. Arthur does spend an uncomfortable amount of time considering his Christmas present instead of going with another very sensible fountain pen for the third year in a row. On one hand." Merlin says. I think you owe me some joy. and pretty much since he was eight before he even knew Arthur. ill. trying to make sure he's appearing everywhere he's supposed to. while I was working my arse off studying motifs in Russian literature. it's what would bring me Christmas joy." Merlin says. Since you make my life miserable all year round. which is a bit difficult with Merlin hovering about.'" "And don't you forget it!" Arthur calls after Merlin's righteous flounce out of his office. of course.

" he says crossly to Merlin. cooing over him as if £25 is the greatest gift they could ever receive. Arthur wasn't so stupid he didn't catch Lance in Gwen's office earlier. I can't give you your present. and Arthur is patently against encouraging Merlin to be even more ridiculous than he already is. "It's a fairly famous grimoire ." Arthur wheedles. "I found it while I was looking for a gift for my father. holding up the package and shaking it enticingly. But then again. The owner told me it was a Renaissance text. but this is from the turn of the century edition. who seems fixated on how the crimson lays against the navy of Arthur's coat. when there was an interest in magic because of the romantic movement. shivery spot there. and Lance hands out Amazon.that's a spell-book. after the pub he also hadn't be stupid enough to stick his nose in Gwen's personal life ever again. it's a fairly ridiculous wish of Merlin's. "If it's another fountain pen." Merlin says giftcards with a shrug." Arthur says awkwardly. trying to come up with all the Christmas speeches. His voice sounds strange. "Please stop ruining my Christmas joy." he says. and then looks at his present thoughtfully. Greedily. and Gwen and Merlin both hurry to assure him that's quite alright. Original binding. and fusses over Arthur's particularly horribly. Then again. I'm enjoying how nice my gift is. voice carefully polite. Merlin glares at it narrowly. trying to get it to lay just right." Arthur says." "Just open it. shyly handing her a package of that expensive French-milled lavender soap Arthur knows she's so fond of but never can quite justify spending money on. Merlin gets them all cashmere scarves." "If you don't stop. "Didn't have time for something personal. . you know. tugging it looser around Arthur's neck a little so his fingers brush the sensitive. Merlin rips open the paper. by the way. When December 23rd comes around. "I am capable of putting on a scarf myself. "Arthur. called The Key of Solomon." he says sheepishly.." "Wouldn't want it to be un-original binding. shoving it in Merlin's hands. Gwen hands out her annual Christmas chocolate that is just as divine as Arthur remembered. "It's an old book.who's Arthur to stand in his way? On the other hand." Merlin says.

" --When Merlin seems down at the beginning of January. dealing with you in the morning is punishment enough. something that makes him feel a little warm inside and treasured." Gwen says pityingly. "Yeah. Please. Almost Christmas-y. claustrophobic affairs. no demons." "See you do things like this. Arthur. I just. stuffing his hands in his pockets. wouldn't it?" Merlin mutters into one of Arthur's shoulders. All my best. "Oh. Arthur's never been a fan of hugs. "you were working him to the bone and now he's too sick to come in today. Arthur) "Arthur. (Merlin. assumes that it's post-holiday depression like everyone else. "It would have killed you to get a magic kit. overwhelmed. and that the best way to deal with this is to keep busy. Arthur. "It's really. Enough to make him take his hands out of his pockets and hug Merlin back." Arthur says gruffly."There's a note. they're uncomfortable. it really would have. "every so often there's something like this. Arthur. in his experience." Merlin sounds suspiciously choked up and his eyes are a little glassy when he looks up." He trails off. naturally." Arthur says. But there's something nice about Merlin hugging him..." Merlin opens the cover and mouths to himself the words Arthur had spent hours agonizing over and has probably memorized by now. proud of his gift and his note and comforted by Merlin's smell of sweat and tea and Gwen's fudge and old paper. but I think you can do some real damage with this." Merlin interrupts. "He has the one can brew a pot like you. Merlin doesn't seem to agree. Already magical to me . pulling him in for a long hug. when he doesn't come into work at all.. and then launches himself at Arthur. even.." "There's no need to get emotional.. I know it's not the kit you wanted. "Yeah... getting mopier and mopier until that Friday.. and then it's hard to remember you're you and I just." "I thought he was depressed after the holidays like a normal person!" Arthur .

Arthur thinks Will is clearly a bad influence on Merlin. There's no surprise that Merlin lives what's a long tube ride away in a serviceable and quiet but completely unfashionable neighborhood. He sounds hoarse. this is such a disaster. "He didn't say anything! How was I supposed to know he wasn't coming in today?" "You could check your voicemail?" Gwen suggests. he can't find any of the files or information he needs. "Also. I'll go check up on him. "It's just what he does. looks like a hurricane hit. "Will's still at home for the holidays visiting his family.says. "Look at this fish. alright?" He gets lost three times trying to find Merlin's flat. He's met Will a few times. "You know I can't work the voicemail system without Merlin. You up for drinks? I was going to maybe take some food from the pub to Merlin after." Arthur says. the kind that seems like it would go to bed at eight sharp." Arthur moans. "What are you doing here?" "Coming to make sure you don't die. Kilgharrah seems particularly depressed. "Arthur?" Merlin says." Arthur says to Gwen. when Arthur opens it. flailing a little desperately." "Doesn't Merlin have a roommate?" Arthur asks. "Look." Arthur hears the buzz and heads up gratefully." Arthur hedges. let me up. who's wrapping herself up in the cashmere scarf she got from Merlin. "He's depressed. squinting at the paper Gwen jotted down his address on. which Merlin claims is just because Will has a problem with authority figures. I'm freezing. Arthur gets a few choice words when he buzzes the wrong flat. do you listen at all when Merlin speaks?" "Usually. burying his face in his hands. but they'd never gotten on. Merlin's flat. pulling on her gloves." "Fine. fine. "Fuck. but finally Merlin answers with a muzzy "Hullo?" "Merlin. There are discarded books and . refusing to come out from under his little plastic castle except to mouth morosely when Arthur feeds him before leaving for the night." "He never comes out from under his castle. Arthur wastes a half an hour and then scalds himself trying to make his own tea and coffee. and it's heinously silent without Merlin chattering away to Kilgharrah or playing his awful twee music or taking calls." The entire day is a wash. Let me up." Arthur says briskly." Gwen says.

"Tell me you have soup." Merlin mumbles. going into Merlin's postage-stamp sized kitchen and banging around until he finally manages to find a can of soup and dusts out a pot to heat it up. make yourself at home. embarrassed. "This is nice. "When do you think you'll be better? I scalded my hand today trying to make coffee." "I dunno. sinking back into the couch." he says. "but go ahead. so Arthur cleans that out too. picking up an empty Ritz box from the couch next to him and shaking it. pale except for a hectic flush across his cheeks. His eyes are glassy and he looks miserable. There's a weird smell coming from the refrigerator." Arthur says awkwardly. "I've got the flu. very politely. but he manages to bite his tongue and instead ask. I'm working on it." Arthur says shortly. I need you back. albeit a slightly wilted one . but he didn't expect that Merlin's entire apartment would be like a greenhouse.Merlin's probably been too sick or scatterbrained to water the near jungle of plants." Merlin smiles weakly." Arthur says. "My nanny used to always say it was the best thing when you're sick." "I can see that. Arthur knew that Will was a landscaper and gardener. "Would you mind terribly bringing me some?" ." "That isn't food." Arthur does just that." Merlin whispers. He even manages to water half the plants before Merlin blinks himself awake and smiles in a way that makes Arthur's stomach try a strange escape out of his mouth. "What. "I'm keeping things down now. being sick?" "Having you wait on me for a change. don't wait for my invite." Merlin says. and collects all the dishes around the living room and washes those while Merlin snores on the couch." "Yeah." "Don't get used to it. and then hacks out a cough. "Had this and orange juice. And Kilgharrah's sulking." Arthur crisply takes off his jacket. "Hi. "Do I smell chicken noodle soup?" "Yeah." Merlin says miserably. "I know I've got about a billion voicemails to get to and I can't access any of them. Merlin is curled up under a bright blue wool blanket that Arthur would bet money his mother knit.sweatshirts and stacks of dirty dishes everywhere." Merlin looks bemused. like he's got a smart retort.

but the touch makes Merlin stir under his hand." "Don't you think you can try to pull a fast one on me. There's a fine sheen of sweat on Merlin's forehead." Merlin says suspiciously. setting aside his mostlyfinished bowl." "Yeah. He waits until Merlin's fallen back asleep to take his bowl back. he feels guilty leaving. "You going to be able to take care of yourself this weekend?" He asks gently. "I'm not in love with you." "You're sick. dry now but still furrowed in thoughtful sleep. and tucks it under his chin." . healthy or not. getting comfortable under his blankets. brows drawn together as he murmurs to himself. He's pretty sure this counts under law as abandonment. making his bangs stick down." Merlin doesn't say anything. and refills his watering can while he's in there so he can finish the plants. restless. and put the leftover in the refrigerator. Still. it pops back up again. "I just miss you. but he dutifully brings Merlin a bowl and spoon. or at least criminal neglect. in your own way."Needy. "Too nice. needy. needy. You're useful." Merlin's voice is already fading fast. "You're difficult. but he's shivering. leaving Merlin alone for the night. right?" "Of course. There isn't anything Arthur can do but put the phone next to Merlin's hand. "I need you on Monday. so Arthur pulls up another blanket." Arthur says softly." Arthur sighs. is all. wash out the remains of the soup. "There's nothing wrong with that." Arthur sweeps his thumb across Merlin's brow. "Will's due back tomorrow afternoon. and when Arthur gently wipes it off. "Just to clarify. lax in sleep. though. "And quite probably not worth all this effort. muttering shut up shut up shut up." he tells Merlin when he finally calms." Merlin snores a little. He feels wrong." Merlin sighs. this one a fleece in Manchester United colors." Arthur shrugs. You can let yourself out. Arthur tries to brush Merlin's bangs up so they won't bother him. "And maybe I'm a nice guy. He doesn't still until Arthur keeps petting him like a dog. but Merlin's all but dismissed him." Arthur says stubbornly. when he bends down to place the note. but as soothingly as possible. and then scrawl out a note -CALL IF YOU NEED SOMETHING! OR ELSE! ARTHUR. I don't know what Gwen's been telling you. Merlin's eyes on him the entire time. "You're being very nice to me.

probably catching his flu germs. shrill. and it suddenly strikes Arthur that he's crouching there like an idiot fondling his assistant's fevered face.that would be beneath him. It's easier to do that and then find some flaw or reason than to outright refuse him. large-eyed and nearly unblinking. after all. why three months later he's still dating her. to be able to answer a few quick questions about continuing to see Vivian and family dinners and then have the luxury of ignoring whatever new full-scale assault Uther and Morgana are engaged in. He hasn't done anything his father's approved of for so long he's forgotten how good it feels to just get a pass for once. I agree with father" . It felt nice.Merlin's still silent. he'd advocate to drop them on the poorer parts of London. MP Alined. and very rich. Arthur's pretty sure if nuclear bombs could be better contained. She doesn't give a toss for politics except to bat her eyes and say "well. though never because they have worked a day in their life. and generally offensive to anyone who hasn't been ostentatiously wealthy for at least three generations. No. tugging her green wool coat tightly to her against the chill winter air. There was no shame in taking refuge in that. then.meaning. very conservative. Harriet wanted to know why he only drove a Toyota if he was such a supposedly influential man. materialistic. It's not like Uther ever chooses someone unattractive . Jemma had been told that Arthur used to date Gwen. Lettie just stared at him." Arthur says bracingly. except that it's easy. The latest girl that's been foisted on Arthur is Vivian Alined. and spent the entire dinner dissecting her middle-class accent. too. and carrying on a one-sided conversation with him. Charlotte didn't believe in tipping waiters or waitresses because "they chose to have a bad job" and she didn't understand why their salary wasn't enough. Dessert was spent crowing over Arthur's unfortunate slip-up in mentioning that while he and Gwen had met at Oxford. . She's self-involved. Arthur isn't sure. longed for a heavy hand of approval on his shoulder while carefully avoiding Morgana's glares. "You're a coward. He shamefully sought his father's approving eyes when he mentioned taking Vivian to the theatre or a new fancy restaurant. and then closing the door softly behind him. of course. --Arthur makes it a rule to agree to every date his father sets up for him. buck up then. and had no opinion on anything except what colors she wanted to paint the nurseries of her future children. she'd spent all her schooling before that in public schools." Morgana scoffs when they get outside. retracting his hand as if it's been burned. "Well. who petitions to drop nuclear weapons on various countries on a near weekly basis. the women his father sets Arthur up with are all very good looking.

No." Morgana says. "But it is interesting that you thought of Merlin when we were discussing something completely unrelated to him." Arthur says bitterly. "No." Morgana says airily." "We've only been on a few dates. "Only go out with bints you could never possibly have any sort of feelings for." Morgana rolls her eyes. seeing things that aren't there. all the while acting like it's not your fault you'll be single and alone forever." Morgana says serenely. "What do any of you know?" Morgana raises one terrifyingly perfect eyebrow. and then awkwardly stuffs his hands back in his pockets." Arthur says slowly." ." Arthur crosses his arms before realizing how defensive that looks. I'm not doing this with you too. "Any of us?" "You and Gwen are worse than any mother in the world. "What were they.. Morgana.. often-present urge to kick her shins or yank her hair." Arthur gripes."For what?" Arthur asks. thank you. "You're a bunch of matchmaking harpies. "Please." "I didn't say anything." Morgana goes on airily." "Christ." "And isn't that a convenient system to keep it that way. don't you agree?" "I only did because Gwen's got this ridiculous notion in her head." "What the fuck do you know about my happiness?" Arthur snaps. it's a few dates. "I imagine you spend lots of time talking about your common interests. "I meant about Vivian." "But you're seeing her again. "Hounding me about my love life. is what you are. and Arthur is re-visited by the childish. No one's in love. "The only crime I see here is you buying into your father's ridiculous bit about love being some sort of political liability. "I see no reason not to. again?" "You're acting like it's a crime to date someone long enough to get my father off my back. about Mer-" he cuts himself off at Morgana's too-interested reporter expression. It's nothing to get in a twist over." It's not a question. you giant arse. "Choosing not to get involved in another political fight? Because I do that at work. and I've no desire to get into another one when just listening already gives me a headache. when really all you'd ever have to do to make yourself happy.

Merlin's also taken to shooting him utterly betrayed looks." Morgana agrees sarcastically. He would yell." Merlin says." "This has nothing to do with my happiness!" Arthur hisses. "Trying to see to your happiness. you'd realize Merlin has nothing to do with it and leave me alone!" "Oh. but keep it to yourself. But really. "And this goes for all of you. he doesn't get why Gwen and Lance get to be the only ones having sex in this department. and bratty. and stalks off before Morgana can utter another word."We are terrible people. mostly." Gwen says disparagingly. and I don't think you're the only one who should be getting regular sex. really. her lips tight. but she's attractive enough to keep all his vital parts interested. the child of the man who wants to declare war with every country that so much as looks at us wrong and is so conservative he's nearly American?" "She's his daughter. "if you don't like Vivian. and he isn't with Vivian. "As in. "You're dating MP Alined's daughter. "Get back to work!" Arthur barks. but his father would probably send someone out to see to the noise. and -" ". Arthur. Arthur dates Vivian for another two and a half months after that. He rather suspected an answer like that wouldn't." There's a deadly silence." Arthur says acidly to Merlin as he glares daggers after Vivian. and she understands that he doesn't have buckets of time to spend on her.and my girlfriend. Unforgivable. "You can't really believe that. "She's spoiled. There's a severe lack of discipline and respect in this office. and slams his door shut on Gwen's despairing face. it's somehow far worse an accusation." Arthur shrugs. It does nothing to dissipate Gwen's silent rage. who came to visit Arthur for lunch. --The general feeling around Arthur's department is one of incredulous despair when it becomes clear that Vivian is not a one-off deal. Arthur thinks she actually rathers that. not him. "I just don't like her. He knows everything Merlin's saying is true. fine." Morgana sighs in her most pitying tone. Sure. he . "If you really cared about my happiness." Arthur says tightly. "I had no idea you had such party loyalty. since it gives her more time to be in love with herself. but coming from Merlin's mouth." Arthur snarls." "Watch me. they're in love or whatever." he raises his voice.

. "I would." "I could fire you. It wasn't very nice. struggling to find sense in his terribly broken world. Arthur. I was thinking a year from now. "I do not pay you to care about . re-arranging Arthur's files behind him. of course." Arthur reminds him. "So." "But. "I would never. Merlin. And then you yelled at me. of course." Arthur grinds out through his teeth.all terribly influential and rich sorts. to make a point." Vivian shrugs.. about our wedding." "Merlin. then. tapping his pen violently on his desk. I'm afraid that my personal life has taken too much priority over work.. so we'll probably be working very late. round blue eyes (one of the things Arthur truly likes about her. it's clear he's not doing a very good job. Now.." They have to break up. "Right. and that's just who I'm inviting." Vivian says." "Our what?" Arthur asks. "Don't you dare say 'I told you so. leaning back and looking up at Merlin with what he hopes is foreboding. A lot." Gwen says serenely. "I haven't proposed." "Details. He doesn't realize his mistake until Vivian turns to him with bright.'" Arthur grumbles. but from the way Merlin smiles down at him. "We've been dating for almost six months.admits to himself. Perhaps it's because his palms feel suddenly sweaty and his chest feels tight." Merlin looks bewildered around Arthur's office which is immaculate. well. as usual." he says. undaunted. "I told you so. "Of course we're getting married. waving Gwen out of his office. He doesn't have any particular feelings for her. Arthur." Merlin pipes up. and we have a terrible load to go through. so I'll have plenty of time to plan. Gwen so far has been the only true exception to his weakness for a pair of blue eyes) and goes. "Are you trying to drown your feelings in work? Because I tried to do that when I stopped dating Freya and it really isn't healthy. sunny and soft. as far as he's concerned. and of course Gwen is insufferably smug about the entire thing. because I was thinking at least two hundred ." he says briskly. but he might as well milk this for all it's worth and get some semi-regular sex. "I hope you're alright with a big wedding. staring at her over his chicken Parmesan." Arthur blinks. "I really don't think that's the case. "Cancel your plans tonight. waving a dismissive hand at him.

which is stupid because you could just look them up online like any normal person. 09 for the year." Arthur says. red like the Red Cross." Merlin says cheerfully. But not actual yellow. It turns out Arthur was right. Merlin had taken the months Arthur was too busy with Vivian to breathe down his neck as an opportunity to completely slack on his filing. "Will you put sardines on it like you usually do?" "No. how a slice of pizza can cheer Merlin up so thoroughly. "Like a feelings. Merlin can't be trusted to file things on his own.. And by cute." Arthur says." "You do too!" Merlin insists. practically skipping out of Arthur's office at the prospect of melty cheese. And then write in black write PR for preschool report. of course. Arthur means useful in a professional. "Red and pink is foreign affairs. Arthur internally winces as Merlin's greasy fingers get all over the latest report on the status of preschool education. and everything useful got scrambled up. right? "Are you filing the NHS under red?" Merlin yelps. Arthur! And each shade means a different continent!" "Well. And not Marigold. now it's the NHS. so use Dandelion for that folder. scandalized." "You most certainly were dropped on your head as a child." Merlin says. access the 2001 census numbers? How is he supposed to know that Merlin files things by color (which must be why he spent an inordinate amount of the department's money on that 30-something set of sharpies) instead of alphabetically by subject like a normal person. Naturally. see." Arthur sighs. "No sardines. getting up to stick it wherever he damn . It's almost cute. that's education budget. will you shut up and agree to work late tonight?" Arthur interrupts. muffled around the crust he's gnawing at like he's homeless. "If you're mad you need a fresh cup of tea and if you're happy I should bring you the latest Arsenal scores. or that each color has a strange call number that's a gibberish mish-mash of numbers and letters." "If I get you pizza. What if his immune system fucks off again and Arthur has to. god forbid.. all written on the top tab instead of the actual subject? "You file education in yellow." "I'll go order it right now. because that doesn't show well. workplace sort of way. It makes sense. because it's uglier and budgets are always ugly. he thinks. putting last month's NHS numbers in a folder and drawing a dot on it with red sharpie. and he's been hiding the folders under his desks so Arthur wouldn't figure out how many are out of place. and then a number rating on usefulness from one to a hundred.

Arthur feels himself let go of the folder in shock as Merlin's hand moves up to clutch at Arthur's hair.. as if Arthur's a particularly good croissant. like he's afraid Arthur's going to pull away. If he does it will be just like that dream Arthur's been trying so hard to forget and not keep having again and again. it. me." Merlin grunts.. Merlin's really quite warm. like a plea. his hand coming to cling onto Merlin's hideous sweatervest for some reason he can't name. to." Merlin whispers back. I'm taking over for you now.well pleases. "Merlin. but Merlin swallows his last mouthful of crust and flails after him. Merlin's going to pull Arthur against him so Arthur can feel if Merlin's real body is as welcoming as it is in those dreams." Arthur laughs. "I win. or maybe it's warm in the office. holding the folder just out of Merlin's reach. and Arthur lets out a surprise whoosh of air when Merlin backs him into his bookshelf. Merlin's lips are soft and he kisses with so much fear and yearning Arthur's chest hurts." Arthur agrees quietly. and he's been in such a sour mood for the last few months that any attempts had resulted in baleful glares.. you can't be trusted. Arthur." "Ah.. He hadn't realized he'd missed teasing Merlin.. "Hah. It should be to push Merlin away. and then I won't be able to find them. or even to keep himself upright from the shock that his assistant is kissing him very inappropriately and Arthur can't find it in himself to stop this. because neither of them are wearing jackets and both have their sleeves rolled up. trying to grab for the file. For all his slightness. If he doesn't keep his hands in between himself and Merlin.. generating a frankly disproportionate amount of heat. happy. not in the aggravated way he does when Arthur decides at the last minute to change his lunch order. the one where Merlin presses Arthur down onto some surface and starts groaning Arthur. but Merlin's really." he says softly. Maybe it's Arthur who's yearning.. grinning down at Arthur. "Just give. "No!" He says. then you'll yell at me. because he's sure Merlin can feel Arthur's pulse through his wrist and therefore can tell his heart is about to explode. too nervous to move. really terribly easy to tease... and Merlin's forearm is pressing into Arthur's and his hand is around Arthur's wrist. "You're going to ask for those. "Arthur. he thinks." "You got me. He hadn't been looking behind him and then it's easy for Merlin to use his (extremely slight) height advantage to grab hold of Arthur's wrist. Merlin's already kissing him .. but it's really to keep Merlin press closer like Arthur can feel him straining to. and then I'll have to make you tea and you'll still be angry. Automatically. whose heart starts beating strangely fast." he says quietly. but like he's humming into Arthur's mouth now. and then he kisses him. Merlin's eyes flick over Arthur's face like a physical caress and Arthur wonders when Merlin is going to move and give him some air.

" "Arthur. even though it's the most chaste kiss Arthur's had since playing spin the bottle in Secondary school. and it breaks Arthur's heart. however. Good. and then feels even more ill for how bitter that thought sounds." "You're completely out of line." Merlin sighs." "I said don't touch me. control myself. It doesn't have to be like this. you're dating women you don't even like." Arthur snaps. Merlin. still edging closer. almost begs. "You seemed really torn up about that. and it's too much. "I can't control them." Arthur says hoarsely when Merlin makes like he's trying to step forward into Arthur's space again. no. "We don't have to be unhappy." "It was exceedingly inappropriate.. who holds up the folder between them as a barrier." Arthur tries to reign in his patience.." "Arthur.. you kissed me. but only enough to brush his fingers against Arthur's sleeve. "I can. It isn't easy when Merlin's eyes are huge and his pupils are blown. no." Arthur says. Arthur thinks vindictively.sweeter than Arthur had ever imagined.. stung." Merlin says. please. or Arthur can see the bunching from where his fists were clenched against Merlin's chest. somewhere in his gut he feels ill." Merlin says sarcastically. feels the pizza churning in his stomach and a tiny voice in his brain screaming no. you get angry and jealous every time I look at someone. "No. or his lips are so red and puffy and spit-slick.. "Arthur. "Did I do something wrong?" Merlin sounds so genuinely bewildered that Arthur huffs out a humorless laugh. He wants to stop." "Yeah." "This is exactly how it has to be. He hands Merlin the . He feels drunk.. picking up the folder for distraction. "Arthur.. please. tone final. "Did you do." "And how's that going for you?" Merlin advances on Arthur. you're miserable." Arthur says. enough shock for Arthur to push Merlin away and try to regain his breath and composure. "Workplace relationships are forbidden. and Merlin jumps back.. But his body's frozen into kissing back until Merlin parts his lips and gently runs his tongue along Arthur's lower lip. hand out as if he's placating a wild animal." "Want to tell that to Gwen and Lance?" Merlin suggests. "Don't touch me.

" Arthur says. actually.. and you will do me the courtesy of pretending this never happened. one eyebrow raised as he perches on his desk. . "Please. She doesn't even work for him." Merlin looks somewhere between enraged and bewildered." Gwen says. --Ever since Arthur broke up with Vivian and he and Merlin had that. expectant way like he's trying to prompt Arthur into doing something. Merlin snaps his mouth closed and crosses his arm.. "Please just leave. and stares moodily at his computer screen when he thinks Arthur isn't looking. something's been off about Merlin and the way he acts. He's always asking "is that all. I'll see you on Monday. He looks positively miserable and Arthur hates himself more than he ever has in his entire life." With a sigh. "I need you to tell me what's going on in this department!" Arthur rages at her in his office. which makes it clear that as usual.?" "And take the pizza out to the bin when you go.folder. please don't argue with me. tucking a curl behind her ear. now sober and hellishly in love with Lance. "Do you the courtesy. but he stops in the doorway and turns around. "It's taking away from my productivity!" "Arthur. Gwen. and asking Morgana for advice is like stepping into a nest of poisonous vipers. He asks for time off at odd times. Merlin snatches the folder and the pizza box.. He comes close to asking Gaius for advice. refuses to speak with him on the subject of Merlin at all. Lance hasn't been around long enough to know anything. "For once. talk. "Put this away. Merlin. Merlin shuts the door without another word." he says. Arthur?" in this hopeful.. "Arthur. I have a press briefing on that oil tanker spill. Please go away. I -" Arthur shuts his eyes and turns away. too. no matter what she seems to think or how often she hangs around." Arthur sighs. he finds himself standing in Gaius' office clutching a file folder with his mouth working uselessly while Gaius peers at him over his half-moon glasses." He doesn't even bother asking Lance or Morgana. Merlin has ignored orders and has not forgotten anything ever happened. "You're making me less productive.

"they have this new invention I've heard . It's a beautiful June. what was he feeling now? Despite all of Arthur's mulling. at any rate. "Here. I think he wants something from me and I hope I'm wrong about what it is because I'll never be brave enough to give it to him. even though I wish I could more than I think I've wanted anything in my life. See to it.." Arthur says. and he's already tried that several times to no effect. "This must be a real catastrophe. I told my father I felt too ill to listen to the queen's speech but really I was having a wank. "Of course. stopping him at the door. I seem to have developed an unnaturally strong affection for that assistant of mine. please. ripping it open."Arthur. sir." "Arthur. "Sorry." he says gently. instead turning the thought of Merlin over and over in his brain restlessly. "I." Arthur nods." "Merlin. like poking at a new bruise. "Your department seems to be in a decidedly strange mood as of late. I wish my father had died instead of my mother." He doesn't say that the extent of his influence over those people is whapping Merlin over the head with a manila folder and telling him to look alive. "You're knocking. It was inevitable that in working closely together the two of them had developed a certain fondness for each other. actually." "I have something to give you. the same one you seem to feel is your long-lost nephew." Gaius calls. He thinks. to indulge one night that would inevitably end in regret? And if Arthur had made the non-regretful decision. The Christmas I was fifteen. putting a plain envelope on Arthur's desk. it doesn't become clear what's secretly going on until late Friday afternoon when Merlin knocks nervously on the doorframe to Arthur's office." he finally says." Arthur says. but did Merlin really imagine Arthur would throw away his career for to take that fondness farther. looking up from the charts on unemployment rates he'd been brooding over but failing to understand for the last hour. I'm terrified of small children and every time I'm near one I'm sure I'll break them. "is there something you wished to ask me?" Abruptly. I don't know how to want things. He doesn't know what Merlin's so mopey about. Especially when the other people are Merlin." "Right.. Surely he must have known the consequences. Especially when they're other people. every inappropriate confession Arthur has ever wanted to tell someone but simply couldn't comes unbidden to his head. must have realized that Arthur never could or would return whatever delusions of affection Merlin had built between them. and you and Merlin especially seem to be struck with winter malaise. no." Merlin says.

Why Merlin never bothered to be this useful another human being will be able to find whatever they're looking for. I never really planned on being a career politician. "Well." "Okay.." Merlin manages to make closing a door sound disappointed." Arthur says flatly." "It's not because of what happened. Merlin's staring at him like a dare. eyes fixed on the ground. right. please don't. but with a steely edge that leaves Arthur with no doubt that she could bully even the hardest of men into line with a single look.. well.about called e-mail. "Yeah. Then." Arthur manages. "You know Jas. it's not just. Indian. Jas also starts spending half-days with Merlin. like he was expecting something to come out of Arthur's mouth. He allows himself to feel a pang of irritation that Merlin's got him so well pegged. all professional efficiency. "No. reads it again. Merlin re-does his entire filing system . she seemed excited." "No." Merlin refuses to respond. given the fact that he feels distinctly like he can't breathe. Arthur. and Merlin even starts a database so Arthur can type into his computer whatever he's searching for and know that emissions standards are filed under E for Environmental Issues. and not T for Technology. taking notes in a Moleskine on all . --On Arthur's insistence. his eyes darting enough to let Arthur know that's at least half a lie. Arthur reads the letter. the intern who works for Gaius?" "Tiny girl. If she weren't engaged and nearly a decade his junior." Merlin says.." Merlin says quickly. But the British library had an opening and they're offering to help pay for my graduate school if I go there. A third time." "Well. Arthur is sure he would harbor a slight infatuation with her. which Arthur thinks is extremely unlikely. "I knew that. you really should look into it. His throat feels like it's closing up. Arthur isn't quite sure how he does that. "Have a good weekend. glasses?" Arthur asks. and. If it's who he's thinking of. With a sigh. then." he says. she's extremely soft-spoken and gives the impression of subservience. you have to have known that. Merlin.." "I already got a replacement. Arthur has no idea.correctly . The colored dots are replaced with neat labels printed out on the computer. awkwardly. "No.

For one thing." she always says breezily. "He canceled his speaking appearance at the London School of Economics. which is probably why Uther hired him. preferences. a bit timidly. Morgana's off again. and furthermore why pictures of Gaius reading to a cancer ward with a young boy sitting on his lap in any way constitutes proof." he orders when he pops into her office to hand her a few notes on Gaius' stance on locally-grown food and the recent scandal over the tell-all book some MP's mistress wrote that alleged the reason Gaius never re-married after his wife died so young was that he preferred the company of pre-pubescent boys. "He never cancels a speaking appearance.. your father seems a bit. for that matter. Arthur refuses to let Merlin dress him for his next dinner with his father. They're irritatingly elegant when he flicks through papers. Uther's townhouse is always extremely sobering and soul-crushing.. and Arthur still isn't sure how he feels about Leon. Arthur at first keeps his door open a crack to make sure Merlin isn't maligning him. Arthur had only heard him say variations of "dinner is ready. mostly because Leon still has yet to demonstrate a personality.) "I didn't say anything. "If you'll forgive me for saying so." Arthur blinks at him. and sometimes Arthur finds himself staring at Merlin's long. Leon. That was five years ago. but twenty seconds later she's staring at him like he's been diagnosed with a fatal disease. The sight of Jas' neat black ponytail is starting to make him feel ill. Arthur would appreciate if someone could give him some insight on how people come up with these things. he says.of Arthur's idiosyncrasies. "Stop it. sir" and "your coat. and she's the one who snipes if his suit jacket is slightly wrinkled or his cuffs are uneven and cites it as a sure sign of his inevitable downward spiral . certainly no place where Arthur can harbor thoughts on his assistant's hands." . who alternates between shooting him pointed and heinously sympathetic looks. Sir. Another advantage to the closed door is that it deters Gwen. but once he determines that Merlin's being more than generous. He's greeted at the door by his father's butler/valet/handyman/paid wife.his father just assumes he's been working hard. who Uther hired the second he was forced into retirement when he wasn't re-elected and no longer had a personal assistant running his life from his office. Merlin's hands have been distracting him lately. or any other attributes his assistant has. unable to swallow around a strange lump of something in his throat. he shuts the door tighter than ever. Also. but when Leon takes Arthur's coat. (One day. off. sir?". sir." Leon nods. Before that night. "Off?" He repeats. this time to Johannesburg. tapered fingers as he types. and how to deal with every single person who may or may not walk through the office. And he's been looking at old photo albums of your mother.

"He has. which is another reason Arthur supposes he and Morgana are at loggerheads so often. alternating between blame and stifling pity." "Of course he is. Ever since. more passionate arguments as of late. Uther has had a near-legendary phobia of driving in cars that are not his own obsessivelychecked fleet and vehement hatred for the press. "but I believe he's been. The roast is drier and the conversation more stilted than usual that night. In all the years that he's been coming to visit his father for dinner. Took me completely by surprise. "Has he been going to the Carlton Club? Showing up at the House of Lords?" Leon inclines his head in a nod. If Leon's bringing this up. and I hear of. Only someone like Leon would notice an increase in passion or frequency. This is more information than every tidbit that's been .she ran part of the literacy program. All he's ever known about his mother. you know. He's always supposed he must be. you know. not even when Gaius was elected." he says reluctantly. In regards to certain political stances. so yes. yes it is almost thirty years to the day.and that the press had run roughshod over his father." his father says out of the blue. Soft-hearted. which is why Arthur's surprised when his father invites him for a nightcap before he leaves.. "It's nearly been 30 years since your mother died. clashing lately with some of the other members there. though he supposes that had more to do with his father's party pride than Arthur's relative accomplishment. He often seems angry when he comes home. "I met her on a charitable visit to Oxfam . "She was quite liberal. Dressed a bit like a hippie. Arthur would bet that he's grossly understating these "clashes" and that the only reason they haven't shown up in the paper is that no one gives a toss about the House of Lords. and Uther Pendragon ranting and arguing isn't news so much as a matter of course. "In some ways.. Arthur does the quick math in his head . apart from her face from a few pictures. His father looking at pictures of his mother is never a good sign. you're like her.Arthur sighs.. since parts of him are so little like his father." Arthur rubs his forehead and grits his teeth against the budding headache he feels.he just turned 31. he hasn't been invited for a nightcap since he graduated. isn't he?" "I just think he's lonely and perhaps a bit peeved about it. but shuts his mouth and refuses to say more at the sound of Uther's approaching footsteps." Leon says. I mean." "Really?" Arthur says politely. reminiscent. sir." Uther chuckles. "He's charming like that. was that she died when her brakes malfunctioned a malfunction that could have been prevented had Uther voted on stricter government oversight for automobiles ." Arthur remains silent..

. convincing himself that his (utterly pointless." Uther says quietly. before he turns into the bitter shadow of a man in front of him.R . Then. friendless. Perhaps they could also have a de-briefing (and Gwen says he has no sense of humor). After that. when he thinks about Merlin at all.which is ridiculous. Next go his pens because Jas hates them. If it weren't for Merlin. Or. and Arthur freezes.he's heading there at a frightening pace. and the now-defunct sharpies. or is staring into space . followed by Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare. Merlin's already cleared out his food debris and straightened all the files in the desk drawers. tipsy on Scotch and looking at his father's unfocused. --- Keep Calm and Carry On . And it's your work that makes you remembered. It was horrifyingly easy to picture himself in his father's place . slowly. Merlin's the one who chose to leave. really. "I've come to realize that perhaps her death was a blessing in disguise. reluctantly. or gotten up to say goodbye to the millionth person who's stopped in to wish him well. Every time Arthur thinks that this mini-break will be the one that he calls Merlin into his office and somehow conveys the exact extent to which he's desperately in love with Merlin. almost calling Merlin into his office every time he stops work to put another thing in his box of personal items . who would bring him his lunch and his tea and his files. has been Merlin. You're dedicated to your work. This is never who he wants to be..dropped accidentally in front of him in his life. The only thing that's kept him from going there. who would make him laugh? And how long will it take. really. that Arthur decides. and how very necessary it is that they take the rest of the day off of work for in order to properly deal with the state of emergency that's going on in Arthur's pants whenever he thinks too long about how lovely Merlin's eyes or wrists or neck is. scotch halfway to his mouth. as if he's dreading leaving Arthur as much as Arthur is . A reason to dedicate myself to my work. the comics come down. Alone.Part 3b Jane Austen is the first to get lovingly packed up in the cardboard box on Merlin's desk. but when he goes to implement them. slightly miserable eyes. Arthur. "It's given me. nothing to look forward to every day. if Arthur loses Merlin. drive.his mugs for tea. fuck it all. Arthur's the one who's forced to stare avidly through the crack in his door. can't live without him. You understand. mourning something he let slip between his fingers? It's then. in that order. whose face would be enough to bring him into work every day? Who would fix him coffee and goad him into being kind. the photographs. Arthur keeps thinking up plan after plan. if he's honest with himself) work truly is worthwhile to the course of human history in order to justify his existence. Merlin's gone back to work. Merlin smiling sadly at each one before either putting it in a pile he packs up slowly." Arthur coughs and sips his scotch so his father can't see his face. his extra headphones.

this can't be it. It wasn't to date Alice or Vivian or even Gwen. both of which are jobs he doesn't even fucking want to do.looking so utterly lovely Arthur loses his nerve altogether." Merlin gives an odd little snort." Merlin stuffs his hands in his pockets. well. The walls feel like they're closing in on him.. so he could stand in his office with the setting sun on Merlin's face and finally have the courage to say I will never allow myself to be my father and I am allowed to be happy.. If Merlin notices. like it's trying to leap out of Merlin's narrow chest and into Arthur's palm. Merlin takes one hand out of his pocket and sticks it out for Arthur to shake. This is why he's been miserable for so many years. as perfect and lovely as she was. and everyone else has left for the night except Merlin and Arthur. "Please just. "I guess this is goodbye then." Arthur says. It isn't running for parliament or being the Prime Minister. But when Arthur brings his hand to stop over Merlin's heart." Merlin repeats." Uncomfortable silence descends on them again. this isn't it. exactly.. ducking his head. so he steps forward into Merlin's space." Arthur lets go of Merlin's hand to run his fingers up Merlin's arm." "Right. "Well. swallowing." "Right. the same one that's been between them ever since. it's been. and as Arthur takes it and pumps their hands up and down he keeps thinking no. and for a terrible moment Arthur's sure Merlin is going to lift his hand and say sorry.. who are staring at each other through Arthur's doorway over the box on Merlin's desk. this is why Merlin kissed him. It goes on like this all day until it's seven. sighing. Because this is the moment his entire life's been working towards. "Well. getting up with a sigh and entering Arthur's office. just is quizzically examining Arthur as if waiting for some reason as to why they're still clasping hands but not shaking anymore. utterly steady." "Arthur. anyways. daring each other to make this happen first. he doesn't give any indication. "Arthur?" Merlin asks. but he bravely adjusts his coat and comes to stand in front of his desk formally. It's Merlin who breaks. frozen.. their hands trapped between them.. Arthur stretches out his fingers and brushes them along the inside of Merlin's wrist where the skin is impossibly soft and delicate. but a strange sort of privilege. .. But Arthur can't offer an explanation for the first time in his life.. His other hand comes up to cover Arthur's. Swallowing. he can feel the frantic pounding. shutting the door behind him even though there's no one this late on a Friday who could possibly infringe on their privacy. not an honor. "I don't know how. "It's one way to put it. The gesture makes Merlin's eyelashes flutter shut and eyebrows draw together in what could be emotion or anger.

" "You're shaking. "I want. kissing Arthur's forehead before moving away." Merlin breathes." Arthur whispers. but he needn't. Merlin's mouth quirks upwards just slightly and his head seems to unconsciously dip closer and that's enough permission for Arthur to fist his hands in Merlin's jumper (his navy blue date jumper Arthur realizes a little giddily) and press their mouths together. taste the mocha chips and soured taste of cream." he says.this train has left the station. "God. He feels dimly like the rest of the world has fuzzed out. when he puts his hand . he could die from joy when Merlin moans softly and wraps one arm around his neck and the other around his waist in a vice-like grip. Merlin's silent for a few moments before letting out a little choked laugh." "Prat. "I had to. "What makes you think I'm that kind of girl?" "I've already bought you dinner a few hundred times. like everything is so good his throat feels thick and his eyes feel prickly and he could just die here." Arthur says dryly. which is weird. Warm. but instead he leaves it there." Merlin makes a soft noise. Not moving away from Arthur even though they're so close that Arthur can smell that Merlin had gotten himself one of those girly Starbucks drinks he likes so much with the whipped cream halfway through the afternoon. leaning his head down against Merlin's shoulder and closing his eyes so he can't see Merlin's reaction. Comforting. "It's my car. "Come home with me?" He asks. like his brain is on mute and not running through disaster scenarios. I thought. "Okay. Merlin's eyes are soft in that expression Arthur's seen so many times and never dared to hope before was some sort of affection.. and when Arthur pulls back enough to look at him. I couldn't live with myself. If I didn't. pressing their foreheads together. I'd just." Arthur crosses his arms and glares. I'm driving us. kissing and kissing and kissing because it's the only thing they can possibly do. "Call it a hunch. and Arthur realizes. Not if I didn't. give me your keys though." Merlin laughs. still afraid to voice it in case he gets slapped away. "Arthur.. almost like regret." he says. "You're pretty sure of yourself. "I had to once." Arthur nods and swallows. He's pressing them so close that there's nothing in the universe but the two of them and their ragged breathing before they nudge back into each other. I thought you wouldn't." Merlin says gently. His hands keep running down Arthur's face like he's a blind man trying to make sure Arthur's really there.

And. but it's one Merlin would feel because they were just very close and .. then?" "I think that's for the best." Arthur agrees. uh." Merlin pants when he pulls away. "Arthur.. very glad he's gripping onto the desk.oh god. it's gone." Merlin says. and I've wanted for. Christ. hard kiss that makes Arthur very. "I've wanted . gather my stuff.. if this is ruining his career. it's never felt so good." "Right then!" Merlin exclaims cheerfully after a few moments of awkward silence where neither of them can speak from the tension in the air between them. Shit. when Arthur full-body shudders and his knees have trouble supporting him. "And that's why I refuse to die in a car crash before I have sex with you. and made himself miserable with for three years. burning hot enough that the room temperature goes up a few degrees. I've never with another.. um. and flee. "Right." "If you're not." Arthur grits out. if it's too much for you -" "If you finish that sentence. "Arthur?" Merlin's voice abruptly loses all edge of mockery.. --- . "Let me just. "I'll just. fishing around for his keys in his pocket before tossing them over. "I. It's a fine tremor. so much thicker now that they both acknowledge it. and as easy as that." He coughs. you know.down against his desk to steady himself. I'll be out in a few. raw regret in there that makes it hard for Arthur to breathe. grab his cardboard box. but there's a note of real.that is. This is what was going to ruin his career. I was kidding. and after a moment of indecision grabs Arthur's face and swoops in for a brief." Arthur says." Merlin's voice is still gentle. hurry." "Me too. very regrettable." "Right then. watching Merlin back out of his office. "Just. This was what he agonized over. I will hire you back just long enough to fire you. damn it all. When Merlin's gone. violently suppressed. He's a bright. he can't even pretend not to notice. it's true. if you talk about that in here again I'm going to do something very. "So you should. better go get the car running. right now. bright pink and Arthur thinks dimly that something regrettable might happen right here.." This time. he allows himself to collapse against the desk and laugh slightly manically for a few moments. well. I'm stealing your car. This was it.

but it feels nice. not a dream that Arthur's going to wake up from and then spend the next day watching Merlin's elbows at his desk and pretending he's not doing that at all. He has to know that." he grumbles. mourning the loss of Merlin's hand as he retracts it with one last. He wonders if Merlin really enjoys that. he reaches out and places his hand against Merlin's cheek.stale. Tickly.. his hand stilling. but leaving. eyes huge." Arthur says. suddenly. kissing Arthur's nose. not really leaving him. just for being so wonderful. "Don't go.. this has been going on for years." Merlin whispers. But Merlin will never be at that desk anymore. apparently satisfied.. panting. but nice. nudging into the fingers. but it's good. He does. and Merlin's leaving him. fond brush along Arthur's jawline. he still can't. "Or very early. because this way Arthur knows it's real. It's good to know that the last couple of hours weren't some sort of holographic sex fantasy. really?" Merlin squeaks. he thinks. Merlin knows that. he thinks vaguely. Jas will.. breath too hot." Arthur whispers when he pulls away for air. Arthur doesn't know how to live without Merlin almost every day. Arthur stares back. and then he remembers he can. he knows as soon as Merlin pulls away. I thought you just. And he can't. Well. "I didn't think you. you needed to. fascinated.. It's not the feeling of Merlin's thin cheek that's so nice as the way that Merlin's face moves under his hand. properly? It's how he feels.Arthur wakes up to someone tracing his face. "You.. "Mmmmmmrmph." Arthur says. that Merlin's elbows he's struggling to free so he can wrap his arms around Arthur are his. the high point of his cheekbone. And it hasn't been six hours.. his forehead. really. feeling Arthur's face after he's looked at it for so many years. the way he smiles slightly and his eyelashes flutter. six hours since he first let himself kiss Merlin back. He hears Merlin huff out a laugh. Curiously. He has no idea who it is. It's too soon to say. Merlin tastes bad . like. just. Good. Once. refusing to back down from the challenge. So what if it's only been. Arthur wants to kiss him." "Hm. eyes wide and staring at Arthur like he's never seen him before. smiling and making terrible jokes and with his hair sticking up just so.. "I love you." Merlin agrees. soothing." . building layer after layer until it's become too big between them to ever just be a one-off release. "Time's it?" "Very late. strangely defiant. "Not going.

" "Mmm. like any sane person." "Arthur. "I need." Merlin says. not quite willing to part with his lower lip. if the way he's clutching Arthur closer is any indication. sounding half asleep as he strokes through Arthur's hair. "I mean. "Love me too. boneless and content for the first time he can remember..a better way. like he doesn't really mean the 'idiot' part. "Yeah. Arthur finds he doesn't much mind. yeah. I. since he's got Merlin in a new way now . tucking Arthur under his chin and stroking his hair as if Arthur were child. "You took a long time to come around. would have quit two months into my job. you idiot.. is she? 'Cause I don't want to have to go looking for a new assistant all over again. "Sorry. pressing himself against Merlin for re-assurance. --- .."No. he won't fake being sick on Monday just to avoid Jas. and Arthur darts in for one last taste before going." Arthur sighs. okay." Merlin laughs. "I'm not that bad a boss. "You too?" Arthur mumbles against Merlin's mouth. Maybe he'll actually go in and face her and the fact that she's not Merlin. Surprisingly. he falls asleep. "Here now. "I can say with complete honesty that if I wasn't madly in love with you. but Arthur knows he does. thinking that maybe.. and then surges up to kiss him again." Merlin says. am I?" he mumbles. Very much." "Not the time to be discussing your treatment of employees." Arthur says hoarsely. Merlin seems to have understood what he meant." They're quiet for a long time. just maybe." "That long?" Arthur asks. Arthur's just glad that out of that inarticulate jumble that fell out of his mouth. Of course." "Of course I do. I need a lot." he says into Merlin's chest. Jas isn't going to be gone in six weeks. but he presses a kiss to Arthur's temple. long enough that Arthur starts dozing again. and between one pass of Merlin's hand and the next. choked sounding. he might not have any assistant at all if he's really as terrible as Merlin says he is. "What?" Merlin pulls away. From you. Often." Merlin says.

because the element of surprise was usually enough to make whatever Merlin was about to say grind to an abrupt halt. but it was very hard to stick to logic when coming home actually seemed like a positive prospect for the first time in his entire life. Sometimes. hot under Arthur's stroking fingers in a thoroughly delightful manner. which always made Merlin much more amenable. "No." Merlin had said.. lazy sex. kissing the tip of Merlin's nose which he found an extremely useful trick in his ongoing quest to make Merlin shut up and listen to him. waving him off with a flush of satisfaction creeping its way up the back of his neck. smiling faintly as his eyes flutter open." So Merlin still makes Arthur his coffee." Arthur said solemnly. Jas' is strong enough to form an angry mob and declare independence. Merlin had somehow managed to move into Arthur's flat within a week. Arthur logically knew their relationship was in its fledgling stages and that perhaps it wasn't the best idea to let Merlin gleefully re-arrange bookshelves and get rid of double kitchen appliances. Merlin's nose looked just so and he had to kiss it for no reason other than it was there and he could. "You must. mouth parted. is at an alltime low. your life is like a Dickens novel without me. but his rate of productivity. especially in the mornings. "But I am sure that I'm no longer capable of functioning without you bothering me for at least half of my day. ." Arthur had said frankly. hushed. cheeks a little pink. which before Merlin Arthur had never had or understood the desire for." "Yes.. and then Merlin will murmur and roll back into Arthur. and Arthur could lean in and kiss him properly next. "Don't mock my pain. make me a pot of coffee. though. and then how is Arthur supposed to leave bed without kissing Merlin everywhere? Merlin never has his graduate courses until 9:30 at the earliest. yes.It's surprisingly un-weird to have Merlin not in the office. He sleeps so nicely. which is plenty of time for sleepy. On some level. and I'm beyond positive that I'd move you in even if you weren't sleeping with me in order to have you make me coffee every morning. But now. The quality of Arthur's work in the office may be at an all-time high. hair askew. for queen and country. It's simply impossible not to lean over and run his lips along one of Merlin's poky shoulders. "And you're sure this isn't too fast?" Merlin had asked him solemnly after Arthur had caught him moving his scarf drawer in. It was best deployed in the middle of a stupid argument over something like how they planned on having their eggs that morning. and it only made sense that way. mouth gaping. is the problem. at least on the mornings Arthur allows him out of bed to do so. Proving once again that he was like nothing more than a particularly lovable fungus. claiming quite rightly that Arthur's flat was closer to work and school.

he'll have a bit of a lie-in if he wants.sir. Merlin! "I do think this new schedule is agreeing with you. you are. There is a tiny bit of his pride that balks at this ridiculous creature he's become. the expert on all things British. or viceversa. of course." he smiles when Arthur shuffles in sheepishly at 11 in the morning on one of Merlin's days off. yes. but I absolutely told you so. You never used to have one when you insisted on starting work at seven." "Um. "I. lots of sex." Arthur sniffs. I'm assuming." Arthur coughs.. ". and then adds. at any rate. "See? You even have a sense of humor now. Arthur wonders if Merlin learned that trick from Gaius. Goddamit. "Er. Arthur. "I do forget how terribly British you are." Gaius nods. Now tell me how Gwen plans to spin the continued rise in unemployment. "I won't say I told you so. "I am looking into bestowing knighthood upon you." "And as the Prime Minister." Arthur says awkwardly. Gaius manages to make that statement sound mortifying and filthy. I apologize. is similarly well? You're keeping him happy?" For an old man with Dumbledore glasses who may as well be Merlin's kin. I order you not to come into work until you damn well please. "First of all. sometimes." Arthur flops down in her visitor's chair. I mean." Gwen looks Merlin's in his bed and he's his own boss and to hell with it.." "I'll have you know I'm a constant delight at all hours." she says when Arthur goes into her office to discuss the changes in hours with her. and his hair is still wet from the shower he'd only managed to have when he'd finally appeased Merlin (and mostly himself) with a good ten minutes of farewell kissing. I think. Merlin. sex with Merlin. "And Merlin." Gaius' face looks utterly solemn but his eyes are twinkling wickedly. I should hope so. That's a lovely new development. right. the new schedule is suiting her as well.. but it's mostly soothed by the promise of Merlin." "Yes. . Gaius!" "Right. "You look positively radiant." If Gwen's constant smile and increasingly excellent performance during press conferences is any indication. "And as such." "That I am. right.." Arthur shoots back. Gaius seems to approve. collar just covering a mark Merlin made in a hastily-planned moment of passion.

" "I was. and the way his shampoo smells. well. which was five hours ago. The only thing that leaves Arthur with a bad taste in his mouth about the whole matter is that it turns out Merlin does have a strong work ethic. he was prepared at four thirty. hm?" It's nice to know he can still fluster Gwen enough to reduce her to blushing and indignant spluttering. "I don't like this new professionalism of yours. Merlin. "It's nice to see you're alive. "And Gaius is fully prepared for Question Time on Monday." "Well that's what's professional. and his poky elbows. but you silence your ringer at work." Gwen soothes." Merlin grumbles." . where he's curled up on his squashy couch taking notes on what looks like a book about the history of salt. "Oh. Actually." Arthur says." "Well." he mumbles. "He's enjoying his extra sleep as well. but he lets himself be pulled practically into Arthur's lap. "You don't like my new professionalism. "Hello. really?" Merlin fishes his phone out of his pocket. leaning on Merlin's office door (Arthur uses the term "office" lightly." "Yeah. It's Saturday. for goodness sakes. but he takes care to bookmark where Merlin was with a post-it in order to stave off indignant squawking. he just never bothered to use it when he was working for Arthur. He's been missing Merlin the entire stupid day."Of course you are. "What are you doing here? I thought you were working until five." Arthur says innocently." "What?" Merlin blinks over the edge of the book. and you tried calling me." Arthur coughs uncomfortably. Kilgharrah swimming happily in his tank in the corner). and all he wanted when he came home was Merlin waiting for him. Honestly. which he doesn't think is so much to ask." "What. "You?" Merlin looks incredulous. rubbing his hand up and down Merlin's arm in a nervous gesture. Slightly more important than work." Arthur agrees. sitting down and plucking the book out of Merlin's hands. those are some lovely flowers Lance sent you on your desk there. "I've recently come to realize that there are some things that may be. it's really like a large-ish broom closet filled floor-to-ceiling with books and a few pieces of furniture. a lot." "Speaking of which. who buries his face in Merlin's dark hair and sighs. "But it's also nice for the rest of us to get a lie-in occasionally.

"Not too many." "Really. . now?" "A few. but some." Arthur mutters." He doesn't even have to open his eyes to know how widely Merlin smiles." Merlin smiles. pray tell?" Arthur turns his nose into one of Merlin's ears and whispers "You. "Like what. mind you.Merlin smiles gently. yes. "Are there.

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