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Prologue

“Morgana.” 

Morgana didn’t turn from whatever she was observing outside the window. 

Morgana.”

Several other people in the café turned to look at them because of Arthur’s voice, raised a few decibels above the usual Sunday afternoon murmur.  But Morgana’s gaze remained steadfastly fixed to the groups of tables in the sunny outside.

Arthur snapped his fingers.  He hissed, “Morgana!”

Now people were starting to look annoyed.

For a second, Arthur considered seeing just how long it would take for him to get her attention.  If he’d thought her attention was the problem.  And it would be funny, how distracted she seemed, if he thought she was doing it on purpose.

Finally, he reached across their little corner table and tapped her shoulder.  She jumped a little, looking over to him, finally.

“What?” She asked, and she didn’t seem at all spacey.  She brushed back an escaped lock of dark hair.  She was a very glamorous person, except on weekends.  She sat before Arthur in a flannel and jeans, single long braid down her back.

Suddenly, the good-natured whinging Arthur had been going to engage in seemed less important than it had a few seconds ago. 

So he just shook his head.  “Nothing.  Dad and I just keep saying you need to go to a doctor.”

 

Chapter One

It felt colder inside his flat than it was outside, even though that shouldn’t have been possible.  Merlin dropped his bag by the door.

He’d gotten his email back from Pendragon Educational Resources earlier that day, letting him know he’d gotten the job, and he wanted to be excited—he really did—but all he could feel was a tired sense of relief.  In a couple of weeks, after that first cheque, he’d be able to put the space heater back in the cupboard, which was great, seeing as it was mid-October, and it would just be getting colder from there on out.

He had to call Will and let him know. 

He turned on all the lights in the main room, hoping that it might also make it a little warmer, and FaceTimed Will, who picked up almost immediately.

“So, you got it, right?”

At least, that’s what Merlin thought he said, based on his expression and the movement of his lips.  As soon as Will spoke, Merlin realized he couldn’t really hear him.

“One second,” he said.  He reached up to his hearing aid, examining it.  It blinked at him expectantly, and he felt betrayed.  Damn thing was out of battery.

A message from Will popped up at the bottom of the screen: You got it?

“Yeah,” Merlin said.  “Duh.”  He tacked on in sign, ‘They’d be stupid not to.’

Will took the shift in conversation in stride.  ‘Yeah, because you’re such a great employee.’

‘Shut up!’  Merlin suppressed the urge to flip Will off; Will had obviously been referring to Merlin’s previous position as a student aide at a school for the Deaf in Essetir.

Will laughed.  He signed, ‘I’m proud of you.  Obviously.  But I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t get it, and you’d get evicted, and have to move back home.’

‘I like Camelot.’

Will waved a hand dismissively.  ‘Yeah, yeah, they have Deaf gay guys and we don’t.’

‘No, that’s not it.  I haven’t been on a date since before I got here.’

Will looked very surprised, considering Merlin had moved to Camelot over four months ago.

‘Really?’ Will asked, signing sharply, like he didn’t quite believe Merlin.  He got an alarming sort of grin on his face.  ‘I thought they might just not be going appropriately enough to talk about over dinner.’

‘Oh my God.’  Merlin stared down at his hands in his lap.  For all he knew, his mother was in the same room, and could probably see the conversation. 

“Hey,” Will said loudly, making Merlin look back up.  He proceeded to sign: ‘But the merge though, yeah?  With the SAADI?  You could meet people there, definitely.’

It was true, sort of.  Merlin had only been hired by PenEd Resources because of their recent company merger with the SAADI—the Southern Association for the Accommodation of Deaf Individuals—and its resulting influx of Deaf employees.  Really, if Merlin was going to be forced to socialize anywhere, it was at his new job.

Merlin shrugged.  ‘I’d be more excited about it if I was doing normal translating.’

‘Wait, what?  What are you doing, then?’

‘The VP,’ Merlin signed.  ‘I’m his interpreter.  Like, full-time.  I’ll be doing his speeches and be in on his meetings and stuff.  I’m also doing some sensitivity reading, if the interviewer was right.’

‘Gross.’

‘Not any more boring than some of the stuff I’ve done.  And at least I’ll have time to do other stuff.’

‘Fair.’ There was a lull in conversation before Will made a sort of excited sound.  ‘I looked up Pendragon on FaceBook, you know who works there now too?  You’ll never guess.’

Merlin took a few seconds to go over the facts of that statement.  He guessed, ‘Freya.’

‘God damn it, how’d you know?’

Merlin grinned.  ‘Because she’s Deaf and going to Camelot U for education.’

‘You’re only smart when you know it’ll annoy me.’

‘You have no proof of that.’

‘When do you start?’

‘Monday—shit, and that’s tomorrow!’

‘Go to sleep,’ Will commands.  ‘And eat something.’

‘You’re being like Mom.’

Merlin watched Will purposefully affect his signing so it was more similar to Hunith’s style, then sign, ‘Then goodnight my sweet darling Merlin’, before reaching to turn off his phone.

Merlin sent Will a single: Night.

He plugged in his phone and his hearing aid, and spent (probably) too much time sketching out, deleting, and re-sketching an appropriate way to ask Freya what the hell are the vibes at PenEd? before deciding he’d find out soon enough, so he might as well go to sleep.

Sure, Merlin was late.  But that didn’t give the guy an excuse to act like an arsehole.

When he walked into the antechamber off of Arthur Pendragon’s personal office, the prat in question was already waiting for him. 

The first question out of his mouth wasn’t, “Hello, what’s your name?”

It wasn’t, “Are you the new interpreter?”

It wasn’t even, “How’d you manage to be late on your first day?”

Instead, Arthur Pendragon gave Merlin a once-over before saying, “What the Hell are you wearing?”

Merlin also looked over his own clothes, making sure that what he was wearing was still, in fact, what he had put on that morning.  He wasn’t thinking enough to not be cheeky, so he responded, “Clothes.”

Pendragon snorted.  “Barely.”  He pushed himself from where he had been leaning against the—Merlin’s—desk, a great old wooden thing that looked like it should be in a cathedral, not this shabby, ’70s-looking antechamber office.

“We do have an actual dress code, you know,” Arthur Pendragon continued, managing to sound even more disgusted with Merlin’s appearance than he had a moment before.

“Well, yes, I did know that,” Merlin started.  He wanted to absolutely ream Pendragon out, but on some level he understood that he also really, really didn’t want to get fired.

“So why are you dressed like a transient?”

Merlin couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes at that one.  His clothes weren’t actually that bad—they couldn’t be!  He’d worn this exact outfit to interpret a God damn wedding two weeks ago, and no one had said a thing.

“Sorry, yeah,” Merlin said, voice dripping with sarcasm.  “The fingerless gloves aren’t great for signing, so I left them at home.”

Pendragon was looking at Merlin like he honestly couldn’t figure out if he was kidding or not.

“Anyway,” Merlin said.  “Do you have anything you’d actually like me to do?”  Before Arthur Pendragon could say anything else, Merlin added, “Besides changing my clothes.”

When he just kept staring at Merlin, Merlin prompted, “For my job…?  Because you’re my employer…?”

Pendragon finally collected himself.  “Right,” he said.  “Just set up, I suppose.  I’m making an address Friday afternoon, so I want the first draft back by tomorrow morning.  Your lunch break is at twelve thirty, and I’d recommend using it to go get a better shirt and a damn tie.  You should also have an email about the time table, which you need to send me every day between five and six.  Also, you’re supposed to visit HR at some point, I don’t know why, and I need you to look over the daily announcements transcripts because, obviously, you do those every day.”

Merlin blinked.  “That’s it?”

“Do you want more to do?”

“No!  No, sounds good.  Great.  Okay.”  Merlin went to go open the door of his antechamber office.  “I’ll see you!  I’m Merlin, by the way—you knew that.  You're Arthur Pendragon.  Okay, better get started.  Goodbye.”

Arthur Pendragon was staring at Merlin like he was a madman.  Eventually, he left the room, looking like this whole full-time interpreter business was kind of ridiculous.  Merlin shut the door behind him and heaved a magnificent sigh.

Chapter Text

The morning announcements were easy.  There was some technical business jargon that Merlin had had to Google, just to avoid an obscene amount of fingerspelling and looking like an idiot, but it was mostly just the times of events and talking about the merger—tight-lipped thank you’s and all that.  Simple stuff.

Arthur Pendragon’s Friday address was a bitch to get through, mostly because the man didn’t seem like he’d know a comradely tone if it bit him in the arse, so Merlin spent the entire time trying to salvage the speech to a point where it didn’t make the new Deaf employees seem like aliens.

He’d finished all of that by two o’clock, and he put it down in his timetable.  (Honestly, the prat’s office was right there—if he was so concerned with what Merlin was doing at all hours of the day, couldn’t he just come over and check?)  He did not, decidedly, spend his lunch break buying a shirt or a tie.  The black sweater he had on was his favorite for interpreting, damn it, and the PenEd offices were cold.  He was going to dress like this every single day, if only to piss off Pendragon. 

That just left his trip to Human Resources, which he was sort of dreading.  Merlin wasn’t the best at meeting new people, and Pendragon hadn’t even told him what he was supposed to be doing down there.

But with the threat of the timetable looming over his head, Merlin packed up his laptop and notebook at two fifteen and headed down to HR on the first floor.

The office itself—the whole of PenEd—was kind of strangely designed.  The bare bones of the building looked like they had travelled directly from 1973, but the décor (the furniture, the paintings, etcetera) were overdone and expensive.  Elaborate wooden picture frames contrasted uncomfortably with the sallow walls behind them.  Sultry leather couches looked out of place on cat-food colored carpet.  The greenish fluorescent lights put everything in an apocalyptic sort of cast that gave Merlin a bit of a headache.  Not to mention, soft music was playing everywhere.  It was too low for Merlin to hear, really, but his aid managed to pick it up and reproduce it as an undecipherable, quiet warbling in his right ear.  It did nothing to help his growing dizziness. 

The lift lurched to a stop, revealing the dim first floor of the PenEd offices.  Merlin power walked straight out of the lift into another person, causing binders and folders to be dropped to the floor and someone to call out “Shit!”

“Sorry!  Sorry.”  Merlin had already reflexively kneeled down to help the person to pick up their things, splayed across the carpeted hallway. 

He looked up to meet the eyes of someone grinning.  He hadn’t expected that; he’d been ready for anger, or at least some annoyance.  But the man didn’t seem annoyed at all.  He stood after having quickly gathered his things, offering a hand to help Merlin up, and graciously accepting the rest of his materials that Merlin offered to him.

“So, that’s how you introduce yourself, ah?”

The man’s Irish accent was slight but still noticeable, the voice of someone who’d been living in England a little too long. 

Merlin didn’t know what to say, so he kept looking awkwardly at the man until said man gave a sort of amused smile.  “I’m only kidding you.”  He shifted his things to one arm, seemingly assured of their security where Merlin couldn’t reach them, and extended his newly free hand. 

“Gwaine,” he said. 

Merlin shook his hand; it was warmer than his own.  He answered, “Merlin.”

Gwaine had obviously originally been heading the opposite direction as Merlin before, but he didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry at all anymore. 

“You’re going to HR?” Gwaine guessed, and Merlin nodded.  “I can walk you.”

“No,” Merlin said automatically.  “Obviously I’ve given you enough—”

—Gwaine waved a dismissive hand.  “It’s nothing, really.  I’ve gotta drop some of these off with Junior, and it’s funny how mad he gets when I’m late.  Let me walk you.”

“Junior?”

“Pendragon.  The wee one.  Arthur.”

Merlin had to laugh. 

Gwaine cocked a mischievous eyebrow.  “You don’t know him?”

“Just met him today.  I’m his interpreter.”

“Ooh.”  Gwaine gave him a pitying look, and they began to move together toward HR.  “I’m sorry.”

“He can’t be the worst boss I’ve ever had.”

Gwaine shrugged.  “Well, I admire your optimism.”

“You don’t like him.”

Gwaine laughed, a loud, dispersing thing that didn’t seem like it should be able to fit in the halls.  “What gave it away?”

Merlin just caught his grin and shrugged. 

“I’ve lots of names for him,” Gwaine went on.

“I’m sure you do.”

“Junior, as you witnessed.  Prince—all the titles, really, you know: sire, my lord, that shit—and Princess—he doesn’t like that one as much, obviously—the Second, Number Two—get it, like, yeah, you get it—and Rich Richard.”

“ ‘Richard’?”

“Like ‘Dick’.”

Merlin laughed. 

“I don’t actually dislike him.  We’re kind of friends,” Gwaine went on to say, as they reached the Human Resources department.  “But he does get on my nerves.”

“What do you do,” Merlin asked, “that you’re friends with him?”

“I’m on his team,” Gwaine said, like that explained everything.  “He does the outreach stuff, you know”—Merlin hadn’t known—“and he’s got a consult board.  It’s myself and some others.”

“Oh,” Merlin said.  Then, when he didn’t know what else to add, “Nifty.”

For some reason, that made Gwaine crack another dashing smile.  He gestured with mock-chivalry to the door of HR.  “Well,” he said.  “Now, I leave you, good sir.”

This man was ridiculous.  “Thanks,” Merlin said.  “I’ll see you?”

“In your dreams and in your waking life,” Gwaine answered, before giving Merlin a sort of playful salute and spinning on his heel, ready to retrace all the steps they’d just taken.