By the time Arthur finished work and returned home, the whole apartment was filled with the faint aroma of fresh, delicious baked goods. The blonde toed off his shoes, leaving his socks on, and hung his coat by the front door. He let his senses do all the work of bringing him towards the kitchen where his ex-manservant was currently moving around with a big wide smile on his face. Said manservant hummed along to a song to which only he was privy to while he washed off bowls, spatulas and other tools Arthur didn’t recognize. With his back to the blonde, the black- haired man was truly engrossed in doing the washing that he didn’t immediately detect Arthur’s presence. Arthur continued watching the other man from the doorway of the kitchen, with a fond smile plastered on his own face, for another few minutes before he cleared his throat and promptly declared himself.
Merlin jumped, a surprised look at Arthur, but thankfully was able to avoid breaking any of the tools he was drying. He recovered, beaming at Arthur. “You’re back! You didn’t tell me you were home.”
“Well, if you spared some of your precious attention to your surroundings, maybe you would have heard me calling for you.”
“Sorry about that, sire.” Merlin replied, giving Arthur a quick peck on the cheek and looping his arms behind Arthur’s neck before continuing. “I baked a chocolate cake.”
Arthur gently held Merlin’s waist while replying with a small hum. “What’s the occasion?”
“Wait and see,” and Merlin pulled away and gathered plates and cutlery from the cupboards.
Arthur wasn’t surprised that Merlin was baking. It was one of his hobbies when he had a day-off or some free time away from work. The first time Merlin surprised him with baked goods he asked him, with a mouthful of apple pie, how he learned to bake so well. The question came out incomprehensible, but Merlin being Merlin, managed to understand what Arthur was asking. Merlin told him it was one of the many skills he picked up over the years then proceeded to tell him all about the people who taught him how to bake and other Great Adventures Into Baking. Arthur gave his full attention to the other man. He rarely talked about the years he spent without Arthur, but when he did, Arthur listened attentively and was glad to note that at least Merlin had company during those years.
After sampling Merlin’s many delightful creations he found out that Merlin may be a godsend when it came to baking, but he was a nothing short of terrible at any form of cooking despite it being one of the many tasks he did as a manservant. Apparently, the man could make a somewhat decent meal out of a rabbit but could absolutely not cook anything other than that. Many times have the neighbors been woken up by the fire alarm first thing in the morning rather than their own personal clock due to Merlin’s sincere and well-meaning attempts at cooking breakfast.
Even after tasting many of Merlin’s goodies, Arthur remained eager to taste whatever the man had baked. This time was no exception. Chocolate cakes may be a common treat everywhere, but it was Merlin’s and that alone made it absolutely one-of-a-kind for Arthur.
Arthur pulled up a stool at the counter, waiting for Merlin to serve dessert. He took the plates and cutlery from Merlin to set it on the counter while Merlin retrieved the cake from the oven’s clutches.
Merlin presented the delicious dessert in front of the king with a flourish and added a “Ta-da!” while his hands pointed at the cake. Arthur laughed while reading the small text on the cake then looked at Merlin.
“‘Congrats on the first time you died?’ Really?”
Merlin looked absolutely pleased with himself,“Yup! I did the writing and everything. Isn’t it great?”
“How is my first time dying something worth celebrating?”
“That’s because it will be your first and last time dying.” There was a hint of finality in Merlin’s voice as he said it. He sliced the cake in equal portions saying, “After all, not everyone gets to experience death then come back alive.”
Arthur stopped laughing, settling instead for a smile. “If you baked me a cake every time I came back from the dead, it just might make dying more bearable.” He aimed for a joke but the look of sadness under Merlin’s strained smile told him that he missed this time. “Hey. Merlin,” the dark haired man continued giving his slice of cake a look, poking it with his fork and refusing to look at Arthur eye-to-eye, “I’m not going anywhere.”
The man across him gave a sigh in response. “You don’t know that, Arthur.”
“I’m serious. Not without you.” The blonde pulled the other man’s hand toward his lips and bestowed a small kiss to his knuckles. The affectionate gesture seemed to mollify Merlin for the time being. Arthur gave his hand a squeeze and moved his thumb in small, soothing circles over skin. He knew all of Merlin’s worries and doubts, he knew the man was sometimes trapped in disbelief that Arthur was back. Arthur knew all the things he couldn’t say with the sun shining high up in the sky, instead said in the cover of night with Arthur’s arms wrapped tight around him, comforting and reassuring Merlin of his presence. He was afraid of the uncertainties the future had. He was afraid that their happiness would not last. Arthur would tell him that they’ll do a better job this time around, that he’ll do everything to make sure their happiness would last for more than a lifetime.
“We still don’t know the reason you’re back you know.” Merlin brought him back to the present. It was true, Merlin had been reunited with Arthur after literally bumping into him on the street, spilling coffee all over his suit in a true Merlin fashion. There was no guide, no instructions, nothing whatsoever about how Arthur returned or the reason Avalon decide to return him to the land of the living.
“You’re a good enough reason for me to come back.” Arthur gave him a small smile. He chuckled when he saw Merlin turn his head away. His blush spread from his neck to the tips of his ears.
It was absolutely adorable.
“You just want another apple pie, don’t you?”
“Why, of course, Merlin. I live for your baking.”
“Flattery will get you no where, prat.”
The pair continued bickering over dessert, not for one second letting go of each other’s hand.
The future could hold on to whatever it was about to bring.
For now, they basked in each other’s presence, completely glowing with happiness.