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21 July 2010 @ 11:13 am
IT'S ALL JUST CAFE TALK ANYWAY: Part One  
SUMMARY: Arthur is impressed with new university cafe employee - Merlin.
GENRE: Modern AU
RATING: R



IT’S ALL JUST CAFE TALK ANYWAY

The guy really was an idiot, Arthur thought, as he watched the tall dark-haired young man who served in the cafe exchange barbs and insults with three members of the university football team, chaps Arthur knew well since he was their captain. And, knowing them and their antics well, it was quite moronic for this cafe chap to be antagonizing them further by playing at their own game. Still, Arthur was impressed that he was trying to antagonize them at all.

Arthur sidled up to the counter and motioned with his fingers to Gwen, who was shaking her head at the men in disapproval, to come over. Gwen had been working at the Albion University cafe for almost a year now and Arthur, who frequented the cafe daily, considered her somewhat of a ‘friend’. Besides, Gwen was good friends with Arthur’s step-sister, Morgana.

“Who’s the new guy?” Arthur asked her.

Gwen smiled at Arthur. “His name is Merlin,” she told him, then added, “I hope you’re going to give your friends a tongue-lashing for being such prats to poor Merlin.”

Arthur shrugged, grinning. “I dunno. He looks like he’s doing all right by himself.”

Gwen gave him a very pointed look so Arthur decided he should probably go over and put a stop to the harassment, even if just for the sake of getting both Gwen and Merlin back to work.

“.....before I realized your sister was such a scrubber,” Arthur heard ‘Merlin’ jab at Wendall Williams, who was obviously the primary tormentor of the three, which was really no surprise to Arthur.

“Bugger off,” Arthur told Wendall, Miles and Chas, and Arthur noticed Merlin giving him a look of confused interest. He saw that his three teammates all had cups of steaming beverages in their hands and added, “Maybe the rest of us would like him,” Arthur jerked a thumb at Merlin, “to get back to work so we can get our orders filled.”

Merlin disappeared behind the counter for a moment and then returned with a lidded paper cup, which he handed to Arthur.

“What’s this?” Arthur asked, confused.

“Latte, non-fat milk, extra shot of espresso,” Merlin said with an obnoxiously catching smile. “Just the way you like it, I believe.”

Arthur was dumbfounded. This guy had it right on. “How did you know that?” he asked Merlin.

Merlin smiled smugly. “I’ve been working here for a week. You come in at least two or three times a day. You always order the same thing.”

“Oh, right,” Arthur said, surprised that he hadn’t noticed this Merlin before. But, to be fair, Arthur usually just shuffled along distractedly as he got his latte, generally not exchanging conversation with anybody, except for Gwen, and only on occasion.

Arthur reached in his pocket and pulled out some notes to give to Merlin. “Thanks, mate,” he said and then made his way to a table, giving Wendall and his chums a parting warning look. Apparently, Wendall had had his fill of bullying the new coffee guy for one day, and so he left the cafe with Miles and Chas following him.

Arthur took a seat at one of his favourite tables and spread the daily newspaper out in front of him. It was his habit to drink his latte while reading the political section, preferring the least amount of distraction. He concentrated on reading but found himself glancing up at the new coffee guy, watching as he took and prepared orders.

Watching him, Arthur had to admit that Merlin was service perfection. Not only did he seem to please patrons by getting their orders exactly right, but he did so with that catching smile, which seemed to directly infect others. Arthur noted that most patrons left with a cup and a newly formed smile of their own.

Arthur was impressed. Gwen had been serving him coffee daily for a year and Arthur still had to remind her to put an extra shot of espresso in his latte. Merlin had his order down in one week. And while Gwen always gave him a lovely smile, it was not nearly as infectious as the one Merlin wore. And, Merlin showed he could hold his own against bullies like Wendall Willliams, using wit and a sharp tongue.

Yes, this Merlin intrigued him, Arthur thought. He would have to make a point of asking Gwen what she knew about him.

*~*~*~*~*

Arthur had found out from Gwen that Merlin was a graduate student in physics, completing a doctoral degree (The guy must be really smart, he remembered thinking, because Arthur was sure Merlin was under the age of twenty-five) and that he had come from some small town (Gwen couldn’t remember its name) on the outskirts of Albion. As a graduate student, he had needed some extra cash, and so he had taken the position open at the cafe in hopes to stretch his budget.

Continuing his usual two-to-three times daily visit to the university cafe – he should probably cut back on his caffeine consumption – Arthur had developed a friendly rapport with Merlin quite easily. They greeted each other warmly, often cracking jokes or trying to one-up each other by making witty comments that Gwen (who was usually scheduled on shift with Merlin) scoffed and rolled her eyes at.

After a couple of weeks, Merlin had taken to sitting with Arthur during lulls in the cafe business. Arthur would sip his latte and read his newspaper, or he would chat idly with Merlin about this and that, depending on their moods and desire for conversation.

It was during one of these lull periods that Merlin was sitting at a table with Arthur, who was nursing his second Merlin-made latte of the day, newspaper spread out before him, but his attention focused on his table companion. Arthur was staring at the papers Merlin was bent over, watching with rapt interest as Merlin scribbled numbers and symbols furiously, muttering rubbish at the page before him, almost oblivious to Arthur’s presence.

“What are you doing?” Arthur finally asked.

Merlin looked up in surprise, a befuddled expression on his face. “I’m trying to work out some equations,” he told Arthur, taking the opportunity to sip his self-made coffee confection, one that consisted of about one-third coffee, one-third cream, and one-third sugar. Arthur still had trouble believing that cafe patrons were actually starting to order what Gwen had heartily labelled ‘The Merlin’.

“Oh, is that what that is,” Arthur responded, taking a sip of his own far less sweet and fattening brew. “It looks like some kind of hocus pocus, if you ask me.”

“Hocus pocus?”

“Yeah, you know, like magic or spells,” Arthur said, trying to hide his amusement at Merlin’s affronted look behind his latte cup. “Something you’d see that Potter kid writing down in his journal at Hogwarts.”

Merlin gave Arthur a look that said he got the joke but was not entirely amused. He did, however, allow a tilted smile.

“It’s physics, Arthur, not magic,” Merlin stated. “Equations I’m working on for my dissertation research.” He tossed Arthur a teasing smile. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who got into this fine higher education establishment simply because he’s rich and because he can play a mean game of football?”

Arthur couldn’t help but smile back at Merlin. “How do you know I’m rich?”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Uh, let’s see,” he said, ticking off items on his fingers as he spoke, “the designer clothes you wear, the polished way you walk and talk, the expensive cologne you sport, the grossly over-priced sports car you drive, the way you ridiculously over-tip for your lattes and, oh, the fact that Gwen mentioned you are the son of one of the most prominent families in Albion, a family which just so happens to have a whole lot of money.”

“So you’ve noticed the cologne I wear,” Arthur said, his blue eyes sparkling. “You like it?”

Merlin did a double eye roll this time.

Arthur chuckled. “And I’ll have you know, I do more than just play a mean game of football.”

“Oh really?”

Arthur noted Merlin’s teasing grin and smiled with amusement back at him, resisting the urge to playfully call him a name.

“I’m working on my second graduate degree,” he told Merlin. “Sure, it’s not really hard stuff like this--” He waved a hand at the papers with the equations. “—but it should give me a solid fall-back plan if my career as a professional footy player doesn’t pan out.” He was kidding about the athletic career, of course, and Merlin knew it.

Merlin’s eyes sparked with interest. “What’s it in?”

“Political Science and International Studies,” Arthur said.

“What’s your first graduate degree in?”

“History.”

Merlin raised his eyebrows. “Impressive,” he commented and Arthur was surprised to find that he was very pleased at hearing this. “So what’s the back-up plan?” Merlin probed further.

“International diplomacy,” Arthur told him, feeling surprisingly comfortable sharing his life plans with his new friend.

“FCO?” Merlin queried.

“Maybe,” Arthur replied. “My dream would be to mediate conflicts and work toward peaceful resolution. My thesis is a case study of the conflicts and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the strategies for peacefully resolving the crises. I’d like to be the youngest international dispute mediator, but I’ve got to finish this degree first.” Arthur felt the blush creep into his cheeks that usually made an appearance when he spoke of his ambitions, goals that most people, including his father, thought were rather lofty.

“Very noble,” Merlin said with deep sincerity.

Arthur snorted, in part to hide the newly rising blush stimulated by Merlin’s compliment. “My father doesn’t think so,” he said, surprising himself at sharing this much with Merlin.

“No? And why is that?”

Arthur shook his head. “My father is a litigator who makes new money to add to his old money based on personal conflicts. He thinks the natural way of the world is for countries to compete and fight for dominance. Peace does not bring profit for anybody.” Arthur smiled tightly. “He thinks both my degrees and my career ambitions are a complete waste of time.”

“If you believe in it, then it’s not a waste of time,” Merlin said, then added, winking at him, “Besides, I can totally see you smooth-talking the biggest and the baddest world leaders into peace.”

Arthur laughed. It was nice to be able to share his life’s ambitions with Merlin, who offered no judgment – something he did not feel comfortable doing with most people. And here was a guy he didn’t even know existed a few weeks ago telling him his ambitions were noble and offering his support.

Merlin returned to his scribbling. “And, yeah, I like it,” he mumbled, eliciting a questioning glance from Arthur. But before Arthur could even ask what Merlin was talking about, Merlin said, without ever looking up from his paper, apparently sensing Arthur’s question, “Your cologne. It smells really awesome by the way.”

Arthur chuckled. Merlin was amazing.

*~*~*~*~*

“Merlin,” Arthur called softly, reaching with a finger to poke him awake.

Merlin raised his head from the table, one eye still shut, a crease across his cheekbone where it had laid for several hours against a sheath of scattered papers. He looked at Arthur, confused and sleepy, then looked around him.

“Oh, geez, I must have fallen asleep.”

“Must have,” Arthur concurred with amusement. “What were you doing here anyway?”

Merlin attempted to shake himself more awake. “Trying to get some work done,” he said, gesturing at the mess of papers and the idling laptop on the cafe table. “The guy in the flat above me has been running a jack-hammer or something for the last two nights. I figured I could get some peace and quiet here after my shift. It worked, except I fell asleep.”

Merlin glanced over at the cafe counter, where Saffie was busy trying to fill orders. “What time is it anyway?”

“Past nine o’clock,” Arthur said. He knew as well as Merlin that this was one of the busiest times of the day. There had been quite a line-up already forming when Arthur had first arrived, before he had noticed Merlin with his head down on one of the back corner tables, dozing.

“That explains why it’s so busy,” Merlin commented. He ran a hand through his sleep-scrunched hair.

“That, and the fact that Saffie seems to be on shift by herself.”

“Where’s Edwin?”

Arthur shrugged. He assumed ‘Edwin’ was the chap who usually worked shift with Saffie. Arthur hadn’t known his name. He only knew Saffie’s name because she had introduced herself to him when she had first started working at the cafe. Arthur was inclined to believe Saffie had a crush on him, but he pretended most of the time not to notice.

Merlin got up from the table and went behind the counter, talking with Saffie as she continued to take and fill orders. A few minutes later and Merlin was back, a steaming cup in his hand.

“Here’s your latte. Would you mind watching my stuff while I get cleaned up some? Edwin called in sick and Saffie needs help.”

“Don’t you work a shift later?” Arthur asked him. Talk about burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.

Merlin nodded. “I’m supposed to work at two with Gwen.”

“Merlin,” Arthur said. “That will be over ten hours of working and you didn’t exactly get a good night’s sleep.”

Now Merlin shrugged. “I know. But I could use the money.”

“I thought you had a scholarship.”

“I do. But after tuition, rent, and some equipment I need to do my research, there isn’t a whole lot left over.” He flicked a look at the harried girl behind the counter. “Besides, Saffie needs the help.”

Merlin really was a saint, Arthur decided, as he watched Merlin scoot to the back room to ‘clean himself up some’. He took a seat at the table and was unsurprised to see Merlin return in less than three minutes, his hair slightly damp and his face looking somewhat refreshed. Merlin’s clean up must have consisted of him splashing cold water on his face and through his hair.

Arthur presided over Merlin’s “stuff” as he sipped his latte and read his newspaper, ever so often glancing at Merlin working behind the counter. He looked tired as hell but his smile never wavered. And, it seemed Merlin’s efficiency was on par for having spent the night in the cafe – Arthur heard only the sounds of satisfied customers.

He found himself feeling somewhat sorry for Merlin. Here was a guy who was above average smart, who was completing a doctoral degree at such a young age, had a scholarship to a prestigious university, but who worked himself to the bone because he had to and because he was the type to help others when they needed him.

“So Pendragon, you slumming it with the coffee guy now?” Wendall jeered, interrupting Arthur’s thoughts.

Arthur looked up from his newspaper. “I’m not slumming it,” he returned evenly. Where did Wendall Williams get off suggesting hanging out with Merlin was ‘slumming’?

“Whatever,” Wendall said. He smirked then joined the short line-up.

Arthur stared after him for a couple of minutes. Sometimes he wanted to slap that smirk right off of Wendall Williams’ face.

*~*~*~*~*

Merlin was sitting in a corner of the cafe when Arthur popped in for his daily latte. He was dressed for work but he was obviously not working. Elbows on the table, chin resting dejectedly in his palms, Merlin looked a pitiful sight. Arthur ordered his latte from Gwen, who had to be reminded to put the extra shot of expresso in, jerking his head toward Merlin, who had not even noticed that Arthur had come in.

“What’s up with Merlin?” he asked.

Gwen frowned. “I’m not sure. He said something about his scholarship being taken away?”

Arthur carried his cup over to the table where Merlin sat, his head now resting on folded arms. He sank into a chair opposite him.

“Hey, mate, what’s going on?”

Merlin looked up, his eyes flickering briefly with surprise before returning to a gloomy blue. “Oh, hey,” he returned quietly, “I didn’t see you come in.” He glanced at the cup curled within Arthur’s hand. “I’m sorry. I should’ve had your latte ready.”

Arthur laughed softly. Merlin was obviously having a bad day and he was concerned that he had not had Arthur’s latte ready? He really had too good of a heart. Arthur considered asking Merlin outright about the scholarship but decided to let Merlin tell him in his own time. That time came quickly.

“The Dean of Physics has informed me that my scholarship funding is being discontinued.”

“What? Why?” Arthur asked.

“I’m not sure,” Merlin said. “Lack of funding support, I think. I sure hope it’s not because I’m not advancing far enough in my dissertation research.”

“Merlin, you’re brilliant,” Arthur assured him. “It would most certainly have nothing to do with your progress.”

Merlin nodded, though he still looked uncertain. Arthur had to ask. “So, what does this mean? For you, that is.”

Merlin blew out a sigh, jabbing his fingers through his hair at his forehead. “It means I can’t finish my doctoral program. It means I can’t pay the tuition, I can’t afford to pay rent, I would barely be able to afford three meals a day and that would be based on the money I earn from this job. And I wouldn’t keep working here anyway if I couldn’t finish my degree because I would have to move back home because I couldn’t afford to live here. In a nutshell, Arthur, it means I am totally fucked.”

“Okay,” Arthur acknowledged. “So what can I do to help?”

“Nothing,” Merlin said. “It’s not your problem.”

“Merlin...”

Merlin’s look went from morose to defensive. “Just – there’s nothing you can do about it, Arthur. I know things come easily to you, but this is something even you can’t fix.”

Arthur could understand Merlin’s defensiveness. It came from being fiercely proud. “Okay,” he said finally. “But I’m sure it’ll all work out, Merlin.”

Merlin gave him a look that said he very much doubted that things would ‘all work out.’

*~*~*~*~*

Arthur was sitting in a comfortable chair in the office of the Dean of the School of Physics.

“Mr. Emrys is off the chart brilliant in the physics field,” Dean Edwards said. “I have never encountered anyone like him.”

“Then why the hell is his funding being withdrawn?” Arthur wanted to know. This didn’t make any sense.

The Dean shrugged in understanding. “There is just not enough money to go around, I’m afraid. All Schools and Departments are suffering from insufficient funding.”

“How much?” Arthur asked boldly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“How much,” Arthur clarified, “to cover a year’s scholarship funding?”

The Dean named an amount somewhere in the vicinity of twenty thousand pounds, expecting the man seated across from him to at least raise an eyebrow.

But Arthur Pendragon was unfazed. He said simply, “Will you take a personal check or does it have to be a certified bank draft?”

This caused Dean Edwards to raise his eyebrows. Then he said with stunned incredulity, “I suppose a personal check would suffice coming from you, Mr. Pendragon.” The Dean was well aware of the Pendragon family’s considerable wealth and that Arthur had a sizeable trust fund as well as access to much of the family’s resources.

Arthur wrote out and signed a check in the amount of twenty thousand pounds, aware that he was rounding to the nearest ten thousand. He handed it to the still flabbergasted Dean. “I’ll give you another check for the same amount to cover the last year after this one clears,” he said. “But there are conditions.”

Dean Edwards nodded his head. What else could he do but agree when he was holding a check for twenty thousand pounds?

“First,” Arthur said, “this money is for Merlin only. It can’t be divided and redistributed to others in the program.”

The Dean nodded again.

“And, second, he can’t know it came from me. Tell him whatever story you want to, but you must never reveal the source of that scholarship money. That has to remain between you and me.” It was important to Arthur that Merlin be able to retain his pride and he didn’t think handing over the money directly to Merlin would allow for that.

“Of course,” Dean Edwards replied.

As Arthur got up to leave, the Dean extended his hand for a thanking handshake. He said warmly, “Thank you, Mr. Pendragon. Mr. Emrys truly has a great friend in you.”

*~*~*~*~*

Arthur was so happy to see Merlin smiling again.

“Your latte’s on me,” Merlin said jubilantly, handing Arthur a steaming cup of his favourite brew. Arthur raised an eyebrow. “I just found out my scholarship is being restored. In fact, I’m getting funding for the next two years to finish my dissertation research.” Merlin’s eyes twinkled. “You were right, Arthur. Things did work out.”

Arthur smiled at Merlin. “We should celebrate, then.”

“Why not?” Merlin said with a shrug of his shoulder. “What did you have in mind?”

“How about drinks at The Big Blue Barrel? My treat.”

“Sounds good,” Merlin agreed, still smiling. “I’ll meet you there at nine.”

PART TWO
PART THREE

 
 
( 3 cheeky retorts — Leave a cheeky retort )
Mark!piccolo136 on July 22nd, 2010 06:53 am (UTC)
This is so cute! The barista in me cringed though...it is actually eSpresso, no eXspresso. Just an FYI.
cheekythecheekydragon on July 22nd, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
omg - of course it is *embarrassed*

*runs away to change in story*

thanks for the comments and the heads up!
Who you set out to be. Isn't always who you become: Merlindrarryxlover on April 3rd, 2011 02:53 am (UTC)
How kind of Arthur! He's so sweet!
( 3 cheeky retorts — Leave a cheeky retort )