Title: We Need to Talk About Morgana (2)
Rating: G (this part)
Pairing/s: None (this part)
Character/s: Arthur, Gwaine, Elyan, Gwen
Summary: Morgana can't resist the chance to interfere. Merlin would rather be left alone. And Arthur – well, Arthur doesn't know if he's making things better or worse, but it's not for lack of trying.
[ Prequel | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | AO3 ]
Word Count: 1200w.
Prompt: Gamer (alilypea)
Author's Notes: *casually leaves this here and runs away*
Arthur doesn’t hear from Gwaine again for a few days, which is long enough for him to start second-guessing the wisdom of his plan. Whatever had possessed him to go to Gwaine for help? Quite apart from being Merlin’s latest fling, and therefore Arthur’s least favourite person by default, Gwaine is—there’s no help for it—a bit of an ass. Chances are he’s forgotten all about his promise to help and is even now swanning around, flipping his stupid hair and looking dashing as he closes another multi-million dollar lawsuit with ease.
On Friday morning, however, Arthur wakes up to a text on his phone from an unknown number.
MEET ME @BARNEY’S 2NITE. 8PM. DON’T DRESS LIKE A DICK. — G
Arthur isn’t sure he remembers giving Gwaine his number, and he certainly doesn’t recall asking for his opinion on his sartorial choices—and what exactly is wrong with the way he’s dressed, he’d like to know?—but he can’t help the surge of ridiculous excitement the message stirs up in his gut. From the sounds of it, Gwaine has been able to get in touch with the guy he mentioned, which means that tonight could be their first step on the road to clearing Merlin’s name. And the sooner they can do that, the sooner Merlin will be back in the office with Arthur where he belongs.
That evening, Arthur dutifully forgoes his usual train home and takes the tube into the middle of the city. Barney’s, it turns out, is the name of the cafe with the offensive teacups, which apparently stays open late on a Friday night. Because God forbid those who work on week-days should miss out on the horrific spectacle that is their novelty mugs.
“I thought you said we wouldn’t have to deal with these things again,” Arthur said, eyeing the shop window with distaste.
“I said nothing of the sort,” Gwaine replies, grinning. “Anyway, we’re not going inside. My mate’s flat is only a few blocks away from here, so it makes a good meeting spot. Hard to forget these beauties, don’t you think?”
“Unfortunately,” Arthur mutters under his breath. Gwaine ignores him and sets off down the street, obviously familiar with the route. Arthur has no choice but to follow.
Whoever Gwaine’s friends are, they don’t exactly live in the best part of town, and Arthur hovers a little nervously by the other man’s shoulder as he waits for Gwaine to unlock the door to the flat. Apparently, he has a spare key, and Arthur can’t help wondering if he’s being led into a trap. Just how does Gwaine know these people, anyway?
“Welcome to Minas Tirith,” Gwaine says finally, pushing the door open with a flourish. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
Arthur raises his eyebrows a little—he’s not sure that particular literary reference really bodes well—but steps inside after him, aware of what sounds like an intense gun battle going on somewhere down the hall. Raising his voice to be heard over the simulated artillery fire, Gwaine calls out loudly, “Hey, Ellie! We’re here!”
There’s an explosion and a lot of swearing, then a few moments later a tall, dark-haired man with wireless headphones pushed up onto his head steps into the hall, wiping his hands on his jeans.
“I told you not to call me that,” he tells Gwaine, but his eyes are on Arthur. “Hi. I’m Elyan,” he says, flashing white teeth in a friendly smile. “You must be the bloke who was looking for Gwen. She’s in the kitchen.”
“Gwen?” Arthur mouths, as he and Gwaine follow Elyan down the corridor. “I thought you said you knew the right guy for the job.”
“Figure of speech,” Gwaine says airily, hooking an arm around Arthur’s shoulders. “Don’t be sexist, Princess. I promise you, Gwen is the best there is. The hottest, too.”
“Really not sure I’m the one being sexist here,” Arthur mutters, but he allows himself to be towed further into the dingy apartment, wondering just what he has gotten himself into.
The girl in the kitchen—Gwen—looks inoffensive enough at least, her short, curly hair pulled back from her face in a low ponytail, glasses perched almost primly on the edge of her nose. There are papers strewn on the kitchen table around her, and she looks kind of—well. Bookish. Pretty. Not the sort of person Arthur would have expected to be a secret criminal mastermind.
“Hello, darling,” Gwaine says, swooping down to give her a smacking kiss on the cheek. “You got my text, yes? I have someone here who would like to pick that magnificent brain of yours. He can pay, I promise.”
“As long as you can do what I need you to do,” Arthur adds, with a quelling look at Gwaine. He holds out a hand to Gwen. “Hi. I’m Arthur.”
“Gwen.” She doesn’t shake it, giving Arthur a quick once-over before raising her eyebrows and glancing over at Gwaine instead. “If he can pay, then I suppose I can provide. What do you need?”
Annoyed by this dismissal, Arthur lets Gwaine explain the problem, tuning them both out when it devolves into a heated discussion about exactly how much labour will be involved and what that ought to cost. He hasn’t exactly told Gwaine as much, but money is really no object; it’s his father’s company on the line, after all, not to mention his friendship with Merlin, and he puts rather a higher value on the latter than the former. Still, the back and forth haggling and occasional fond insult is reassuring; he had been worried for a moment that Gwaine was involved with the girl, but from the sounds of it they are merely old friends.
“…and that’s my final offer,” Gwen says firmly, pushing her glasses back up her nose with one finger. “And it’s only because it’s you that I’m willing to do it for so little.”
“Aw, Gwennie, I’m touched.” Gwaine puts a hand over his heart. “You’re a peach. A ripe, succulent—”
“Gwaine,” Gwen warns, although she’s laughing. Arthur decides that he likes her, prickliness notwithstanding. “Stop flirting with me in front of your boyfriend. It’s rude.”
“Him?” Gwaine yelps, just as Arthur exclaims, “Us!?”
“We’re not together,” Arthur says, narrowing his eyes at Gwaine. “Nor will we ever be, God willing. It’s—a favour for a friend.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” For the first time, Gwen looks a little flustered. “I open my mouth, words come out, sometimes this isn’t a good thing.”
“It’s fine,” Gwaine says magnanimously. “I’m sure Arthur’s flattered.”
Gwen rolls her eyes, and in spite of himself, Arthur grins at her. She smiles tentatively back. “Anyway, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do what you’re asking. I can take care of the technical part, but I’m not sure about convincing your coworkers.”
“I had some thoughts on that,” Arthur says, grateful to be included in the planning at last. He sits down opposite her and takes a deep breath, lacing his hands on the table like he does when negotiating with a difficult client. “Let me tell you what I need you to do.”