Pairing/s: Arthur/Merlin, one-sided (maybe)
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: None of Arthur's PAs impressed him. And then Merlin came along.
Word Count: 1948 (sorry, it wouldn't end)
Prompt: 153 - Merlin
Author's Notes: Modern office au. This also fills the 'caffeine failure' square of my Trope Bingo round 4 card - that's 15/25 done. Thanks to celeste9 for the beta.
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Now also here on A03
It took quite a lot to impress Arthur Pendragon.
He’d not been impressed with any of his personal assistants in the three years he’d been running Pendragon Inc. and one by one they had left.
George had been the most boring and methodical worker Arthur had ever met, and it had been impossible for him to keep up with Arthur’s creativity. (George had called it moods and whims, but then, George wasn’t creative and didn’t understand).
Elena had been sweet but far too disorganised so he’d moved her to a different post more suited to her abilities.
Vivien had spent all her time flirting with every rich man that visited the office and had found herself a better-paid job and high-profile engagement within a month.
Cedric had been insane; he’d found the man sitting in his office one morning wearing nothing but some strategically-placed feathers. Apparently he’d been abusing various substances due to the stress of the job – or that was what he claimed when he was rational enough to speak.
Admittedly Gwen had been wonderful, but she didn’t count because she was Morgana’s PA and he’d only been allowed to borrow her for a few emergencies. There had been others, but he couldn’t even remember their names because they’d left so quickly.
And then Merlin had arrived.
Arthur had only taken him on as a favour to a family friend. He’d expected Gaius’s clumsy and awkward nephew to be gone within a day but Merlin had stuck at the job for nearly ten months now. It was a record.
Arthur had, it was true, wanted to sack him a couple of times. Mostly during that very first week when Merlin had kept asking far too many questions that Arthur couldn’t possibly be expected to know the answer to. If Gwen hadn’t intervened back then Merlin probably wouldn’t be around now. After all, there were limits on how cheeky Arthur was willing to let his employees be, no matter how highly their uncles were regarded.
But Merlin stayed. So did the cheek.
Apparently sometimes Arthur asked for the impossible, and Merlin had no problem with telling him so. He also had no problem reorganising Arthur’s filing system, Arthur’s calendar and Arthur’s entire office. Arthur’s desk was now strategically placed so that he could see Merlin’s desk through the internal window, and could signal to him when a meeting needed to be interrupted because Arthur had heard enough. It was very useful, made Arthur look busy and important (which of course he was) and freed up a great deal of Arthur’s time without offending clients.
It also meant Arthur could sit and watch Merlin. Which he did not do. At all. Even if Merlin did have that adorable smile that he’d turn on Arthur whenever he caught him absolutely not watching Merlin. And those cheekbones, and that shock of dark hair that Arthur itched to run his hands through, and that pale throat that would probably mark beautifully after a night of passion… But no, shagging your PA was a very bad idea as Arthur had found to his cost with other, far less able PAs. So instead he would answer Merlin’s smile with what he hoped was a sternly disapproving look, and send an instant message telling him to get on with his work.
If the instant messages then tended to get a bit cheeky (and some might say a bit flirty), that was just office banter. It was something Arthur had never indulged in before, and obviously this was just a good opportunity to practice. Nothing else.
No, Arthur wasn’t easily impressed. But if he was honest, Merlin had impressed him in every way.
That particular morning though, Merlin was late.
It wasn’t like Merlin. Usually he’d be in bright and early with a steaming travel mug full of strong coffee from the shop on the corner for Arthur. Always done exactly as Arthur liked it, always hot because Merlin took both Arthur’s and his own mugs home every night to get them filled on the way in. Arthur relied on that coffee more than he realised. A bit like Merlin.
There was no message on his phone, no email on his PC. Merlin wasn’t answering when Arthur tried to call (because good employers checked up if their employees weren’t in by seven-thirty). Gwen had no idea where he was and Arthur, the office hours are eight-thirty till five, you do know that?
Gwen, evidently, was learning to be as cheeky as Merlin. They were far too friendly and obviously Merlin was a very bad influence on her. Morgana would probably start complaining soon.
Arthur was gasping for that coffee. There was some sort of fancy machine out in reception that he had never tried using but everyone else seemed to find easy enough to work, so he went in search of it. They’d had a very late session the previous evening, finalising the designs for a new branch office in Manchester. Arthur had collapsed into bed at about midnight, shattered.
As Arthur left his office to brave the complexities of the coffee machine, he heard a faint sound coming from Merlin’s desk.
Hidden from view by his monitor and a pile of files, Merlin was slumped over his desk, papers everywhere, snoring and… oh God, was he drooling on Lancelot’s latest designs? Merlin had stayed behind last night after Arthur left, just to finish up he’d said. And he’d changed clothes so had obviously gone home. But it wasn’t the first time Arthur had found a personal assistant unconscious at this desk.
What if Merlin had a problem like Cedric? What if it had been hidden from Arthur all this time? Arthur wasn’t prepared for the huge rush of disappointment and concern that he felt at the thought. He couldn’t lose Merlin. Perhaps there were clinics he could go to, specialists who could help him…
“Merlin! Wake up!”
Thankfully, Merlin woke with a start, sitting up and blinking at him confusedly but speaking mostly coherently. “What? I just… closed my eyes for a moment…”
There was a deep red line on his face where he’d been lying on a pen. Merlin did, Arthur realised, look rather tired. And there was a heap of envelopes in the post tray that Arthur didn’t think had been there the previous night. Arthur started to feel a little guilty.
“What time did you leave last night?”
Merlin shrugged. “Late.”
“How late?” Merlin obviously needed a raise. Arthur couldn’t have him getting exhausted and wanting to leave. There had to be a good incentive to stay. Money would do it. Probably.
“Um… about two? Those letters had to be ready for the courier this morning,” he waved at the pristine envelopes.
“Merlin…” Lots of good incentives then. Arthur tried hard to remember what Morgana always said about looking after staff. The trouble was, he kept getting other ideas about how he’d like to look after Merlin. It was distracting.
“What? I often stay late, it’s the only way to get everything done. I’m usually fine after a coffee.”
Arthur and Merlin’s mugs were sitting on the edge of the desk, empty. Arthur looked at them, then back at Merlin questioningly.
“Coffee shop’s closed for refurbishment,” Merlin muttered. “I live on that stuff.”
Evidently. Arthur felt a huge pang of guilt.
“Right. Are the letters done?”
“Yes,” Merlin told him a little sulkily. “You needn’t worry about that.”
“Is there anything else that can’t wait until tomorrow?”
“Good. Go home, get some sleep and I’ll see you tomorrow. When we’ll be looking at recruiting an assistant for you.”
Merlin looked up at him in surprise, for once apparently lost for words. It was far too appealing, and Arthur quickly looked away, grabbing his mug.
“Go home,” Arthur repeated over his shoulder, as he headed for reception. There was nobody out there yet. Nobody to see if he struggled with the machine. Excellent. Except Merlin had followed him.
“What are you doing?”
“Making myself coffee.” Arthur set his mug down and looked at the machine. It had a lot of buttons. And many bright shiny capsules. No, it was easy enough. There were even instructions printed out next to it. Simple. He picked out a capsule, inserted it into the machine, put his mug in the place obviously intended for such things, and pressed the green button. He couldn’t help looking triumphantly at Merlin as he did so.
Merlin was smirking. And the wretched machine wasn’t doing anything.
Arthur pressed a few more buttons but still nothing happened. He looked at the instructions again, which looked deceptively simple.
Merlin reached down and switched the machine on at the wall, still smirking, then pressed the green button again for Arthur. Annoyingly, the machine immediately began to work. It was still very early, Arthur supposed. Someone on reception probably turned it on when they arrived.
“Are you sure you can manage without me?”
Arthur wasn’t, but he had no intention of admitting that. Perhaps he might have a day off too. “You were asleep,” he pointed out.
“I’m awake now,” Merlin replied, but he was stifling a yawn, Arthur could tell.
“Go home,” Arthur told him again, heading back to his office. “Go to bed.”
“What about you? You’ll never manage a day without me!”
Arthur had no idea where Merlin had picked up the unattractive arrogant streak from. Morgana, possibly. “No problem, I’m coming with you.”
There was a little squeak from behind him and Arthur belatedly realised what he had said. Feeling his face heat, he turned and quickly added, “Taking the day off with you, I mean. Going to bed.” Merlin’s eyebrows climbed. “To my home to bed. My bed. By myself. Yes.” If only Merlin would stop staring at him like that and faintly blushing. It was probably why Arthur couldn’t stop saying ‘bed’. He was probably being sexually harassed by his assistant’s attractiveness in some way, with magic or something. That would explain it.
“Good night, Merlin,” Arthur fled into his office and quickly closed the door.
Perhaps Merlin wouldn’t mention it the next day. Perhaps Arthur was just over-tired too. Perhaps Morgana was right and he needed a holiday. Perhaps she was also right about him needing a boyfriend. It was a pity that the one he wanted was also his employee.
He sat down at his desk, took a sip of the coffee, and pulled a face. Too bitter, too processed. He missed Merlin’s coffee already, and his PA hadn’t even left the building yet. Hopefully that coffee shop would reopen soon.
Through the window he could see Merlin putting things in his bag one-handed, talking on his phone at the same time. Probably taking work home despite the day off and arranging for Gwen or someone to stand in for him, Arthur supposed, and this was confirmed when Gwen appeared out there a few moments later.
Arthur was hiding, and he knew it. He stayed there, watching as Merlin slung his bag over his shoulder, watching as Merlin moved towards the door. He was still watching when Merlin turned to look at him, raising his hand in a silent farewell though without the smile Arthur normally received. And then he was gone, and all Arthur could do was worry about what he should or shouldn’t have done, and whether he should go after him.
There was always tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after, as long as Merlin worked for him. But somehow, Arthur thought, the outcome was always going to be the same.
Slowly he drank the bitter coffee, and stayed exactly where he was.