Arthur never thought he would attend an opera, never mind regularly. He had a full season's ticket and a private box for which he sometimes sent invitations to some of his most valued business associates and staff members to borrow it, and sometimes, sometimes, Arthur brought a select few to join him when he attended one of Merlin's performances. Most of the time, he preferred to sit in the private loge in the mezzanine alone, out of sight of anyone who could see him. He couldn't -- wouldn't -- run the risk of someone finding out just how Merlin's performances affected him. It wasn't just seeing Merlin on the stage as Oberon. It was being able to hear again, even if the only thing he would ever hear was Merlin's voice.
The silence that Arthur lived in had become uneasy without Merlin. He hadn't known true peace until Merlin.
Tonight, he had a guest. He hadn't minded that his newest acquaintance had witnessed Arthur tearing up because he'd been tearing up himself.
Arthur checked his watch. Right about now, Merlin was removing the thick layer of makeup (he would no doubt miss a few spots that Arthur would clean off for him later), and changing into something less ostentatious than a fairy King's costume (there was one in particular that Arthur insisted Merlin bring home one night, but Merlin had not given in to Arthur's demands). He'd be out to join the after-party soon.
His guest had disappeared -- something about needing to collect himself after listening to Merlin. Arthur could understand the sentiment; there were nights when Arthur positively suffocated under the strength of Merlin's voice and magic.
Arthur already spotted some of the cast milling about and socializing; he smiled to himself, knowing that it wouldn't be much longer before Merlin emerged.
There weren't many after-parties -- and even then, more often than not, Merlin would emerge from his dressing room with a tired, but satisfied look on his face that was all that Arthur needed to know that he'd had enough and that he wanted to go home. It was on those quiet nights with Merlin that Arthur was graced with seeing Merlin truly, completely calm. But at this after-party, Merlin's presence as the star was mandatory. This special presentation of Gwaine Sullivan's Midsummer's Night was associated with the fundraising gala for the Blood Diamond Relief Fund -- the one that Gwaine had promised to hold if only Arthur could secure Merlin as Oberon.
Little did Gwaine know that Merlin had made the decision on his own. Arthur had never once mentioned Oberon to Merlin, but, then again, Arthur had no scruples when it came to raising money for his charities. He was already planning on squeezing out many more similar shows from Gwaine, starting with hints that perhaps Merlin wasn't interested in the opera that Gwaine was composing now -- an opera that Gwaine was writing specifically to make use of Merlin's rare vocal range.
Having the opportunity to make Gwaine Sullivan squirm always made Arthur happy, if only as payback for the number of times that Merlin came home from practice in an angry huff.
The Toronto Opera House was full to bursting with the city's elite -- there were a fair number of celebrities from around the world as well, which only helped heighten awareness of the charity's purpose and sell even more tickets. Arthur looked around with a small smile on his lips, absurdly proud that all these people had come to listen to Merlin' sing but knowing full well that it wasn't the only reason that they were there.
If people wondered why Arthur Pendragon was attending the opera, they tactfully never asked. Tonight, however, there was a purpose -- the Pendragon fundraiser. The crowd took full advantage of his presence to engage in a little bit of business. The enterprising few weren't limited to stockbrokers or investors or even the odd celebrity, but included the media.
Ever since the news had broken with headlines for Agravaine's multiple indictments, the media had been chasing Arthur for a statement. Arthur had refrained from making any direct comments about Agravaine, instead promoting the company as being proactive in its cooperation with the investigation and dedicated to regaining the public's trust, but now that the jury had returned with multiple multi-year to life-sentences for industrial espionage, counterfeiting, attempted murder, and his hand in the deaths of Uther and Ygraine (Agravaine's associate, Helios, had been most damning in his testimony in exchange for a lesser sentencing), the media was becoming more aggressive in wanting to hear Arthur's side of the story.
And no less aggressive than a hungry vulture picking at a carcass was Morgause Gorlois, the reporter who had been chasing after Arthur and Merlin ever since she'd spotted them together at that gala fundraiser months ago.
Arthur spotted Morgause's approach and excused himself from the Romãos with a kiss on Isolde's cheek and a firm handshake with Tristan, taking a steeling breath when Morgause stood in front of him with a smug smirk on her lips.
"Hello, Morgause," Arthur said. He glanced down at her outfit -- a navy blue sequinned evening gown that showed off both curves and cleavage -- and added, "You're looking beautiful this evening. Is that a loaner from Dior?"
"Ever the evasive flatterer, Arthur," Morgause said. She paused to glance around. "May I offer my congratulations?"
"You can," Arthur said with a slight nod of his head. "But only if they don't come with questions. Tonight is not the night."
"But there will be a night?" Morgause asked, raising an interested brow. "Are you reconsidering that exclusive I've been asking for?"
Arthur heaved a sigh. "Morgause --"
"Before you decide," Morgause said, "You should know that I'm not necessarily congratulating you for the success of this show. And maybe, just maybe, this will change your mind about that exclusive. I'm not the enemy, Arthur."
She handed him a large white envelope and walked away.
Arthur frowned at her -- he would never understand reporters, particularly not ones as enigmatic as Morgause. He took out and unfolded the sheets of paper from the envelope.
It was a full-colour mock-up -- the sort right before the print run went to press -- with a post-it note in Morgause's spidery handwriting: The New Year's edition of People. I trust you have no objections.
Arthur rolled his eyes. If he did have objections, well, it was too late now. No one, not even the editor-in-chief at the magazine would call for a stop if Arthur was in a snit over an article in --
Arthur checked front page again.
-- the World's 100 Most Beautiful People.
Arthur scoffed. He removed the blue post-it note.
The headline, in big, bold script, was A New Dynasty. There were several brightly-coloured photos catching the eye -- a small photograph of Arthur at the Diamond Show that previous March; an old photograph of Merlin in concert in Edinburg; a square of what must have been a telephoto shot cropped to show Arthur and Merlin walking out of a restaurant.
Larger than life was a grainy low-light backlit photograph -- from a cell phone, maybe -- of Arthur and Merlin on the stage at the Four Seasons that must have been taken on the first night that Arthur had ever heard Merlin sing. They were holding each other, their lips touching in a kiss.
Arthur stared at the image for a long time. He hadn't known that it even existed -- and he would have known if it had. He regularly ran vanity-searches on Merlin's name, filling his obsession of knowing everything that people said about Merlin and his talent, and while photographs of Arthur with Merlin were not uncommon, this photo...
It was perfect. He didn't know if it was the lighting. The way they were facing each other. The desperation they had felt that night. But in the grainy black-and-white, faintly coloured image, Arthur was distinctly struck with the thought of seeing two parts of the same whole.
He glanced up, and predictably, spotted Morgause looking in his direction. He scowled at her and turned the page to read whatever damning article that Morgause had written now.
Uther and Ygraine Pendragon's fairy tale romance, their generous, philanthropic deeds, and their conquest of both Wall Street business and High Society fashions came to an abrupt end in a tragic plane crash over one year ago. They passed on their legacy to their only son, and it is a legacy that promises to be as scintillating as the one that came before. If not more so.
Very recently, it came to light that Agravaine DuBois, formerly of Nexen, BRINKS, and Pendragon Industries, was involved in an international smuggling ring supplying faked authenticity certificates to diamonds emerging out of war-torn countries. An indictment of charges handed down by the judicial court includes not only shady business practices, forgery and money laundering, but also manslaughter and attempted murder. This blight on the diamond industry has been sentenced to what is, at last count, two cumulative life sentences.
Despite this scandal, Pendragon Industries, one of the principal producers and suppliers of precious gems and metals, is riding the crest of the international popularity as Arthur Pendragon spearheads a worldwide drive in accepting the latest advancement in tracking and curtailing the influx of Conflict Diamonds on the market, but in securing peace of mind with the laser-engraving of serial numbers in the inner facets of every diamond emerging from a Pendragon mine. At last report, twenty-eight countries have signed the Diamond Mandate issued by the International Diamond Commission, promising compliance with worldwide regulations in an effort to restrict the money fuelling the wars in South Africa.
On top of this incomparable success, the young sovereign of the diamond world has designed a secret new collection that has the fashion world's heart all a-flutter. Although the buzz is high, and Pendragon Industries has thus far refused to release photographs of the new designs, the plans to unveil the collection, entitled "Albion" in the company's tradition of naming their designs after British mythology, have not changed. Rumour has it that the diamonds are the ultra-rare black carbonado diamonds from South America -- diamonds that come from property that was acquired in a risky but profitable agreement with the reclusive and volatile Romão family.
Arthur's lips pressed together in irritation. If he ever found out who had leaked this information to Morgause, he would strangle them. He glanced up again to see Morgana and Leon speaking to Morgause, and his eyes narrowed. Arthur trusted Leon, and the Romãos had no idea what Arthur was doing with the black diamonds, but Morgana...
If this was her revenge for having kept Merlin's background as an opera singer -- never mind their relationship -- a secret from her, well, Arthur was going to have to stop telling her anything from now on. That might not stop her, but maybe cutting off her access to the Pendragon vault would teach her a lesson.
Arthur sighed inwardly. He could dream.
He continued to read.
Arthur Pendragon's early reign was tumultuous. A lesser man would not have overcome the obstacles in his path with the same sense of justice, of honour, and of fairness -- not to mention the flair and panache that the Pendragons are known for. One would think that Arthur could rest on his laurels now that his greatest battles have been fought, but Arthur, ever the conqueror, has laid claim on the most elusive diamond of all.
Two years ago, the opera lost one of its brightest rising stars when Merlin Emrys inexplicably disappeared from the stage. Gifted with the rare upper register of a countertenor and with a flexible voice that can fall to a surprisingly deep baritone, Merlin enraptured live audiences worldwide in a multitude of theatrical roles and operatic performances with some of the most famous names in music. His unannounced departure from the profession caused a void in the theatre world that was made all the more devastating by rumours that it had been fuelled by a plague of tragedies that eclipse even Shakespeare's greatest plays.
Merlin's return to the stage was made all the more surprising by his last-minute addition to the St Michael's Boy's Choir charity fundraiser in Toronto where he delivered an impeccable, heart-wrenching solo performance of Purcell's Ode to St Cecilia. How and why he was lured out of the shadows and onto the stage where he belongs as Oberon in Gwaine Sullivan's Midsummer Night can be answered with one name: Arthur Pendragon.
While it remains a mystery how Arthur Pendragon and Merlin Emrys met, the two men have been inseparable for the better part of a year. Merlin Emrys is as much a fixture at Pendragon Industries at Arthur's side as Arthur Pendragon is at the Toronto Opera House where Merlin practices and performs. However improbable the relationship between a deaf diamond magnate and an opera singer of modest origins, the two have become the darlings of the media, not only for their numerous public appearances, but for their charitable work, their down-to-earth charm, and a love of epic, fairy-tale proportions.
With their recent engagement and plans to wed within the year --
Arthur groaned inwardly. If this was going to hit the stands soon, he was going to have to accelerate his timeframe for the proposal. Goddamn Morgana. Arthur wasn't only going to revoke her access to the vaults -- she wasn't even going to get an invitation to the wedding.
-- we see the rise of a new dynasty.
Arthur glanced through the papers again, shaking his head. As much as he was disgusted by some of the details -- was he really going to have to make his cousin sign a non-disclosure agreement? -- the article was well-written, tactful, and thoughtful, casting Pendragon Industries in a good light despite the scandal, and giving just enough detail about Arthur and Merlin without infringing on their privacy.
He looked up to see Morgause through the crowd. She was by herself now; Morgana and Leon had drifted off, but Morgause had stayed where she was, waiting with far more patience than Arthur expected her to have. She raised her eyebrows at him in question.
He nodded. He made a telephone with his hand, then pointed his finger first at himself, then at Morgause. I'll call you.
Satisfied, Morgause smiled and drifted away.
Arthur folded up the papers, replaced them in the envelope, and tucked them deep in his tuxedo jacket. He had better find a way to propose to Merlin before the magazine hit the stands -- or, failing that, before Merlin found the article if Arthur couldn’t destroy it first. He spotted movement through the crowd -- Merlin's audience was applauding his entrance, but he ducked his head shyly and waved, shaking hands and smiling and trading a few words with people. However much that he was slowed down, Merlin didn't deviate from his target. Merlin was in front of Arthur within minutes, cupping Arthur's cheek with one hand, placing a sweet kiss on his lips.
Arthur reached up to wipe a smudge of white at the corner of Merlin's jaw.
"Gorgeous," he said. The singing, the performance, Merlin.
Merlin blushed like he always did.
"You're single-handedly keeping every florist in town in business," Merlin signed. "I keep telling you not to --"
Ever since Merlin had made a throwaway comment of never being able to stay at a performance long enough to collect whatever few flowers he had received from his fans -- never mind to stick around long enough to see them wilt -- Arthur had made it his personal mission that Merlin would receive flowers at each and every performance. "Since when do I listen to you?"
"You must listen sometimes, or you'd never manage to get any work done," Merlin signed, pausing to lean in to kiss Arthur again. "But really, stop it. Or at least make sure the rest of the cast gets flowers, too. I think they're getting jealous."
"Of the flowers, or of your handsome boyfriend?" Arthur smirked.
"Now you're just fishing for compliments," Merlin signed.
Arthur saw his guest for the opera appear behind Merlin and held Merlin steady. "I have a surprise for you."
Before Merlin could protest that he shouldn't have, Arthur turned him around.
It had taken some doing to convince Will to come to Toronto, even more to make him consider a position at Pendragon Incorporated as a graphics designer. When Leon had finally tracked down Merlin's childhood friend, Arthur had learned that not only was Will incredibly talented, he had been out of work for the better part of a month. The timing, for Arthur, had been perfect. Arthur needed a new head of the marketing department after firing the last one -- Arthur had been so happy to see Edwin go.
But the hardest part wasn't convincing Will to move, to join the company, or even to come to the opera to hear Merlin sing.
It had been to get him to do something about his wavy, out-of-control hair (though, honestly, Gwaine's hair was a million times worse, and Arthur had given up on Gwaine as a lost cause) and to put on a tuxedo.
But it was all worth it to see the stunned expression on Merlin's face, the slack of his fallen jaw, the wide-round of his eyes filling with tears, the way he clasped both hands over his mouth to cover his shock.
Will pressed two fingers against his brow and saluted. "Hello."
It was meant to be casual and nonchalant, except his eyes were just as watery as Merlin's. The silence stretched and neither of them moved until Will broke the silence with a brief glance in Arthur's direction and quick, flighty gestures.
"So this asshole comes knocking on my door. Packs my bags for me. Drags me to Toronto. Finds me a an apartment in this dingy little building next to the nicest guy on the planet, a guy you probably already know named Lance. The last tenant was a slob, I'm still finding trashy romance novels tucked in the back of the closet, and the old-ass answering machine that's still hooked up keeps lighting up with messages. Lance tells me that they're from a lady named Gail telling me to get my ass back behind the cash at the store, or I'm fired."
Merlin gestured weakly. Arthur had no idea what Merlin had signed; he was too stunned for words.
"Then just as I'm settled in, this asshole tells me that if I want to keep my new job, I've got to come to this opera thing with him. I was expecting large women with Viking horns and cone tits, except, instead..." Will trailed off, dropping his hands. He took a steadying breath and signed, "It's my skinny-ass best friend, and fuck if I didn't realize how much I'd missed him."
A tear streamed down Merlin's face. He raised his hands and signed shakily, "You have no idea how sorry --"
"Fuck that noise. Just tell me you won't do it again." Will gestured toward Arthur. "He says it won't, that he won't let it, but I want to hear it from you."
Merlin's hands moved in a firm, definite, never-never-never. Will took three quick steps and enfolded Merlin in a crushing hug.
Arthur smiled to himself. He walked away, letting the two catch up. He spoke to a few people, acted as a buffer to distract Gwaine from interrupting Merlin and Will, caught a glimpse of Gwen with Lance talking with her brother, Elyan. Elyan caught Arthur's eye, gestured to his watch and tilted toward the raised floor at the top of the stairs.
As much as Arthur was loathe to interrupt Merlin, he found that he didn't have to. Merlin was walking up to him, Will following behind.
"I love you like mad, you know that?" Merlin signed.
Before Arthur could say anything, Merlin silenced him with a kiss.
When they broke for air it was to more than a few onlookers smiling in their direction; Arthur thought he saw Gwaine pulling his fingers out of his mouth in what must have been a loud whistle. Merlin ignored it all -- now, like always, all his attention belonged to Arthur.
"Time for your speech?" Merlin signed.
Arthur smiled and shook his head. He took Merlin's hand, squeezed, and led the way up the stairs to the platform.
"Time for our speech."