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muscle memory

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It’s a lovely Saturday afternoon when Merlin comes across a rusty sword at the flea market.

People are moving past him, busy going from one stall to another, and there’s those who are calling out, inviting people to take a look at the various knick-knacks they have for sale. Some are already hauling a large bag full of items, flying from one stall to the next while there are some clearly overwhelmed by the different bargains around. Despite the fact that these people are bumping into him, grumbling and telling him to move, he’s stuck frozen on the spot.

The flea market is really no place for a sword, he thinks. He imagines it toppling over (and it’s not that impossible, given how crowded the place is, someone’s bound to knock it over.) and accidentally stabbing some poor innocent bystander.

Merlin chuckles a bit at the image and finally moves closer to see more of their items for sale. It’s part of his early morning Saturday routine to go visit the flea market, but it’s the first time he has seen this stall. Most of them are claimed to be valuable antiques coming from the Middle Ages. There’s a short description for each one of them: there’s an ancient spell book belonging to an unknown wizard that contains spells said to work even ‘till now, a very fragile-looking urn which used to contain the ashes of fallen kings, and even a long piece of red silk containing the image of a dragon.

The card under the sword claims it to be King Arthur’s legendary Excalibur, retrieved from an expedition a few years back. The chances of it being a fake, but very believable replica, is certainly high, considering it’s condition.

(Honestly, who would let a legendary sword from medieval times rust?)

Even so, he approaches the one in charge of the stall and buys it.

He forks over a ridiculous amount of money for a possible fake relic while another clerk wraps it carefully in paper (paper. He’s going to end up decapitating someone in the train) and hands it over to him.

“Thanks.” Merlin says, then heads away from the market.

Fake or not, he believes his purchase is worth it because Arthur’s going to be bloody ecstatic over having an actual sword in the house.

(He’s not buying him a throne. He’s firmly drawing the line there.)

*

The sun retires the next day and instead, dark clouds bringing rain take over the sky. Merlin is sipping coffee while sitting next to the window in the coffee shop nearest to the park. Currently, he looks outside at everyone running towards a roof. Thank God, he managed to bring an umbrella today. The sun was barely visible by the time he went out and decided not to take his chances.

He checks his phone again and sets it down on the table. He looks outside again, then waits.

Merlin’s phone doesn’t buzz.

It takes an hour and a half plus three cups of coffee before one of the baristas approaches him and asks if he’s alright.

Merlin well knows that he looks like he’s been stood up by a date (and technically, he feels like he has been) but he smiles at the barista’s concern and tells them he’s feeling very much alright.

“You can have your coffee on us, if you like.”

“Thank you, but it’s really alright. Can’t expect anyone to be on time in this dreary weather.”

A small laugh escapes the barista’s lips and they tell Merlin to call if ever he needs anything before leaving for the counter.

Another half-hour later, Merlin sets out back towards their apartment.

(The table by the window is filled with six cups of coffee and a very generous tip.)

*

On Wednesday, Gwen calls during his lunch break.

“Hello?”

“Merlin! It’s Gwen, how are you?”

“I’m holding up pretty well, actually.” Merlin grins. “So, what’s up?”

Lunch break lasts only for a full hour and he’s supposed to be going out to eat, but instead he asks an intern to get him something from the office canteen. They come back fairly quick bringing the canteen’s lunch special. He thanks them, then settles in at his desk to talk to Gwen while eating his lunch.

They talk, talk even more, share laughs, get a tad bit angry at whatever drama’s come up at Gwen’s office again, and before they know it, Merlin’s break is ending in five minutes.

There’s a brief pause in their conversation which is filled in by the buzz coming from Gwen’s side of the phone and the chatter of co-workers on Merlin’s.

Gwen clears her throat, then says: “I know it’s almost the day and all, but if you’re ever feeling lonely, Morgana and I are happy to have you over.”

Merlin smiles at his friend’s invitation. They’ve been friends for as long as he can remember and as always, Gwen just knows the right things to say to cheer him up.

“It’s really alright Gwen. I have lots of ice cream willing to keep me company.”

Gwen chuckles, “Don’t go eating them in one sitting.”

“Yes, mom.”

They bid each other goodbye with promises to have dinner together soon.

(Later that night, Merlin doesn’t finish the ice cream in one sitting. In fact, he doesn’t even touch any of them. He turns on the television, plops himself on the sofa, them promptly falls asleep.)

*

After work the next day, he carries himself to the flower shop by the corner. The staff are utterly charmed by him and make small talk once he enters. Flowers are blooming in every corner of the room, adding life and color to the already warm shop. There’s the faint hum from one of the staff watering and arranging the flowers they have on display.

He asks them for the usual bouquet of dandelions and lilies. The beautiful flowers are wrapped carefully in paper and ribbons before the girl at the counter hands it over to him. Merlin admires the arrangement for a bit before she asks,

“It’s going to be that day again, huh.”

Merlin continues to look over the bouquet in his arms before looking up and nodding at her.

*

It’s close to three in the morning and Merlin is in the state between wakefulness and sleep when he hears the footsteps in the hallway and something being dragged towards the bedroom. The door opens and he manages to pry open his eyes for a bit to recognize the luggage being parked at the side of the bed and a handsome man in a suit kissing his cheek.

“Hi love.”

“Arthur,” Merlin has his eyes shut again but continues to mumble to the dark, “You’re back.”

“Couldn’t wait to get back home.” He takes off his shoes and tie before lying on the bed, settling in comfortably. “You’re lying on my side y’know.”

“Hmmmm. Missed you.” Merlin moves closer to Arthur and places his arms around his waist. “Was gonna surprise you...at the airport...with flowers.”

“How nice of you, dear.”

“And a sword.” Arthur’s eyes grow wide when he says this, not that Merlin notices, already halfway back to dreamland. “Must not forget the sword.”

“Tell me in the morning.” Arthur lands a kiss on the top of Merlin’s head. “But for now, go back to sleep, love.”

And so, Merlin does, happy to be finally back in Arthur’s arms.