Genre/Rating: AU, crack, dark, romance. Rating for this chapter: G, higher in later chapters
Characters/Pairings: Gwen/Arthur (eventually), Merlin. Mentions of Morgana, Uther... Others later.
Spoilers/Warnings: None! T'is AU!
Words this chapter: ~2170
Summary: When Arthur Pendragon appears in her office, Gwen doesn't know what to make of him. But she does always enjoy a cat's shock that a broad is running the joint.
Author's Note: Written for mancalahour who wanted a Film Noir AU for the Camelot loves Haiti thing-a-thon. N, I hope this is something like what you were looking for, thanks for all your help with it so far, and thank you so much for your generosity ♥!!
This is a strange Merlin/Film Noir hybrid in terms of genre, and I've drawn upon some canon events for the ~~mystery and backstory. I've also attempted to use some Noir slang (*g*) all of which can be found in this list with definitions.
If there was one crime Gwen was positive she could pull off, it was murder.
She wouldn't, not ever. At least, probably not. But if Merlin didn't get back to the office soon, she would be sorely tempted.
It wasn't as though she needed to give the cats that walked through her door any more cause to doubt her capabilities.
She irritably tapped her pen against Merlin's log book, resting her chin on her fist and staring fixedly at the clock ticking the seconds by. He had been gone for thirty-six minutes, leaving her to look like the typical broad behind a desk, just like in every other private dick's office in town.
With a particularly sharp flick, the pen went flying out of her fingers to clatter on the tile beside her.
After a brief debate about leaving it there for Merlin to pick up, Gwen heaved an aggrieved sigh, and shoved her chair back to fetch it. She fell lightly to her knees, bending forward to grab the pen, but only managed to knock it further away from her so it ended up tucked beneath the leg of Merlin's desk.
At some point between her knocking it and her resultant sigh of irritation, the door must have opened to let someone in, because -
"Excuse me," came a man's voice from behind her. A man who was most definitely not Merlin. And to whom she was giving a great view of her keister , as though the pencil skirt wasn't enough when it came to revealing her pins. It would just be her luck that this would happen on the day her trousers were in for cleaning.
Sucking in a deep breath, and cursing her cheeks for the revealing pinkish tinge of embarrassment she felt burning on them, she raised to her knees and twisted to face the man.
"What can I do for you?" Gwen asked, her gaze having to pass up over a lot more double-breasted, steel grey suit than she expected to meet his eye. It was unusual for a gee to catch her attention these days - and she had definitely never had much interest in blonds - but there was an intensity to this one that piqued her curiosity and caused a bit of a jolt in the pit of her belly. She ignored it.
The man's mouth tilted a bit with the beginnings of a smirk, but before Gwen could comment to shut down whatever perversion he was about to say, he merely extended his hand with a business card. "Arthur Pendragon. I'm looking for G Leodegrance. I understand this is the place to find him."
Gwen hardly needed to accept the card to know what company name would be on it. And that knowledge didn't make her feel particularly generous. "Did the stencil on the door give it away?" she asked calmly, accepting the card and getting to her feet.
Arthur's brow raised, and she bit back a smile. "Is Mr Leodegrance in?" he asked sharply, rather than responding to her barb. Gwen could respect that. "I need to speak with him."
She studied Arthur - setting aside the distrust that ran deep at finding any of the Pendragons on her doorstep - and let her instincts do the judging. There was an earnest look about him, beneath the anxiety and arrogance, and she had heard some good things about this Pendragon...
After a moment, she bent, scribbled a note on Merlin's desk asking him to bring in some drinks when he returned, and a warning that he had better have a wise excuse for taking so long, before she straightened and offered Arthur her hand.
"Guinevere Leodegrance." There was a brief pause as he stared at her hand, then his eyes flashed to her face. To his credit, Arthur only hesitated for a moment before taking her hand firmly in his and giving it a respectable shake. She indicated the door to her office, and he preceeded her in.
"She's a good looking broad," Gwen commented, studying the picture of the brunette Arthur had given her. She was the type of woman who looked as though she had walked straight out of the silver screen. "How long has she been missing?"
Arthur was standing at the window of her office, looking out into the street. He turned to face her, looking almost irritated. "My sister has been missing for eight days," he replied.
"Eight days..." Gwen re-evaluated him. To wait for eight days, with no word from a family member - and a female one at that - either painted him a man with loose sensibilities, or the woman prone to disappearing for brief stunts. Gwen took a gamble. "So, she's been gone before."
Rather than responding, Arthur tilted his chin up, watching her down his nose. But Gwen knew this type extremely well; she would not be cowed or bullied into niceties, that wouldn't land her the job. She stayed relaxed, legs crossed, leaning back in her chair with her hands resting lightly on the arms of it. After a moment, Arthur dropped the shtick, and sat down in the chair across from her.
Even footing; she hadn't expected that so early on.
"Morgana is rather... independent." The look he gave her suggested he thought Gwen knew exactly what that meant, and she almost smiled.
Giving herself a mental shake and a scolding, Gwen refocused; she wasn't usually so distracted by a gee's charms. And there was definitely no room for that with a Pendragon.
"And with our family's wealth," Arthur continued, "Morgana is afforded the luxury of taking an unannounced excursion from time to time."
"But never for this long."
Gwen watched him, and then glanced back at the black and white. There were a lot of distractions in the world for a woman with Morgana's looks and money, Gwen thought. But also a lot of plugs with it out for her daddy, even if her looks weren't already reason enough to want to take her.
"What do you know about where she last was?" Gwen asked without looking up at him. The woman had a dark edge to her, that much was also clear in the photograph. The soft light in it couldn't gentle a certain wildness in her bearing.
"As far as I can trace it, she was with a blond woman at a diner on the east side of town." Gwen looked up at him. There was something beneath his tone that she couldn't read. "They left together, and that's all I know."
"Do you know who the blond was?"
"No." He cleared his throat. For someone whose daddy was the big pillow in town, Arthur wasn't the best at keeping things hidden. Unless seeming soft was how he played it. "I want to get my sister back before my father returns to town." Gwen narrowed her eyes; she had certainly been on the receiving end of topic changes performed with far more finesse. "Can you do that or not?"
Merlin chose that moment to enter the office, small tray with coffee balanced precariously on his left hand. She had asked him so many times to carry the damn thing with both...
"Arthur!" Merlin said in shock, and Gwen watched in horror as the tray started to tip -
Merlin caught it just before it fell, the black liquid of his over-brewed coffee slicking over the edge of the mugs.
"Merlin," Arthur responded, with far more composure. Then he turned back to Gwen, and, as though anticipating her next question, said, "Merlin was the one who told me about your services. Though he didn't..." Tell you I was a woman, she finished silently as Arthur cleared his throat awkwardly, letting the sentence die. The omission had been very deliberate.
"Merlin wants to be partners," Gwen said, doing some explaining of her own. "But he's new in town, and I told him he had to bring in some cases, get to know the locals, if he wanted to be any good as a PI."
"I see..." Arthur said, and fidgeted in his seat as Merlin thumped the tray down on Gwen's desk.
"We met in a bar," Merlin supplied helpfully, attempting to wipe up the spilled coffee, but only managing to spread it around more on the tray. If Arthur wasn't around, Gwen would have been smiling affectionately by now; Merlin epitomised all the reasons she had got into this business in the first place. "And Arthur said he had a problem, so I told him about you."
She glanced at Arthur who was scowling into his lap, and let herself soften just a bit when she said, "Good work, Merlin." His lips spread in a bright smile and Gwen grinned.
Arthur shifted restlessly in his seat and huffed out an impatient breath. "Look -
"If I take this job, Mr Pendragon," Gwen interrupted, quickly clearing her expression. "There are three things you should know." Gwen waited for him to nod, and did not miss the tick in his jaw. "First, and this one is more out of professional courtesy than anything: when I ask you something, answer honestly. I'll find out if you lie, so save us both the trouble."
Arthur cocked an eyebrow and smirked at her. "Why is that a professional courtesy?"
"They say chivalry is dead." Gwen shrugged. "Most people who come in here are liars."
He opened his mouth as though to contradict her, but evidently thought better of it as he merely nodded his compliance.
"Two, you have to be prepared to face some uncomfortable truths."
Gwen had worked a lot of dud cases, a lot of cases where the extent of brain power she had to use was totalling up her gas mileage used for following a cheating spouse from home to the point of liaison, but she never knew which cases would surface some nasty secrets; she could guess that the Pendragon household had plenty.
Once again she gave him credit; Arthur took a moment to consider before he nodded. "All right," he said slowly.
"Three, we take a daily rate -
"Money isn't a problem."
"I'm aware of that, Mr Pendragon," Gwen said sweetly, enjoying as his eyes widened at this new tone of hers. "But you've got to know what you're entering into. We take a daily rate of 300, until the case is solved. Then you match whatever the total is with a cheque to this agency."
Gwen gestured to Merlin who had retreated to the back of the room. "Merlin will draw up the contract. Then leave the name of the diner where Morgana was last seen with him before you leave."
Arthur nodded and stood slowly, obviously thinking something over. When he met her gaze again, he looked a little vulnerable, a little determined. Gwen didn't have a clue what to make of that mix. "I'd like to be kept up to date," he said evenly, staring at her steadily. "I want Morgana back safely."
She tried her best not to let her face give her away in these situations, but Gwen was finding it difficult to get a read on Arthur Pendragon. She felt the frown tugging her brows down and forcing her lips tight. If he noticed, or thought anything of it, Arthur didn't react at all.
So Gwen nodded. "We'll do what we can."
"I trust you will," he said with a nod, then turned to Merlin, who guided him out of her office.
"So," Merlin said eagerly, nearly bounding back in the instant the front door shut behind Arthur. "What do you think?"
Gwen smiled slightly at Merlin's enthusiasm. He reminded her of her early days on the beat. Back when she still thought people were good, needing of help and protection. She kind of hoped he held on to that notion. At least, longer than she did.
"I don't know, yet," she told him honestly, and Merlin walked around the desk to lean on it next to her. She also very much appreciated his total lack of regard for propriety. It made her feel a little less alone in this business.
"You don't trust him," he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Shrugging a little, Gwen leaned forward to study Arthur's card. "I'm surprised you do," she said, glancing up at him curiously. "It's because of the Pendragons that you have to be careful."
To that, Merlin shrugged, and took a deep breath before leaning back. He gazed at the ceiling for a moment.
"There's something different about Arthur," Merlin said thoughtfully. Gwen couldn't exactly argue with that. She'd felt the same thing. "But, even if he turns out to be a wrong number, he has the money to get us through."
"That's part of the reason I don't trust him, Merlin," Gwen said gently. They had been through all this before, but he glanced at her with a raised brow and she sighed. He was still a little too trusting. "Those with more cush can pay for more caskets."