"Merlin. You know I love you, right?"
Merlin looked up from his laptop to find Gwen sitting across from him and smiling something terribly sweet. When had she even come in? Merlin admitted that he wasn’t the most observant of people but he was sure she hadn’t been there a minute ago.
"Um, okay?" he said uncertainly. “What are you –”
"Because it's true, I do," she said earnestly. Too earnestly. And her sweet smile was bordering on a little creepy and definitely unsettling.
Now, Gwen was the best person Merlin had ever met and her kindness knew no bounds but he also knew her well enough to see that this was something more than just the spreading of good vibes or what have you. Sure she looked like the very picture of innocence in her floral dress and braided hair but Merlin had learned to read between the lines.
He cut to the chase. "Gwen, how did you find me here?"
She huffed out a nervous laugh, tucking a stray curl behind her ear to avoid meeting his eyes. "Who said I came looking for you?"
Merlin raised his eyebrows. "Because you hate the smell of coffee and have refused to step inside a coffee shop for as long as I can remember?"
Gwen’s smile fell and a pout replaced it. "How do you know me so well? It isn’t fair. Alright, fine. I blackmailed Gwaine to tell me which cafe you frequent all the time to check out fit baristas while you’re pretending to work."
Merlin gasped, feeling offended and betrayed. "What! That's -that’s not true at all! I’m a serious writer. Gwaine's lying."
Gwen smirked and gestured to the cute brunette behind the till with the nice smile.
It looked like she knew him just as well as he knew her.
"Fine. Whatever," Merlin grumbled. "You have to tell me what blackmail material you have on Gwaine, though. I might need it soon. Now… what do you want?"
Gwen bit her lip and looked him in the eye. "I need a favour, Merlin."
Oh. Was that it?
Merlin shrugged and turned his gaze back to the open document which regrettably only had 267 words till now. "Sure. Consider it done."
Gwen closed his laptop screen and he yelped in protest. “Gwen!”
"No, Merlin,” she emphasised with a worryingly serious expression. “It's a real favour. You may not like it."
Merlin was slightly concerned now. Because what was a ‘real favour’? Had all other favours he’d ever granted her been fake? What was grave enough for her to track him down with Gwaine’s help and then brave a coffee shop?
“What’s going on, Gwen?” he asked.
Gwen closed her eyes and just blurted it out. “I need you to be my boyfriend.”
Merlin stared at her, momentarily stunned. Had he heard that right? Had she asked him to be her boyfriend? Out of every wild possibility running through his head, this truly hadn’t been one of them.
“Uh, I’m flattered and all,” Merlin started awkwardly. “But I’m gay. And… so are you.”
Gwen rolled her eyes and slapped his arm lightly. “Not for real, Merlin! I need you to pretend to be my boyfriend.”
That was less disturbing but definitely more confusing. “Why on earth would you want that?” he asked her.
Gwen sighed, running a weary hand over her face. “I sort of…got myself into a situation. Look, I’ll tell you about it. You know Mithian?”
Merlin grinned. “The sexy lawyer you’re in love with?”
Gwen blushed furiously but didn’t deny it. “That’s the one. But unfortunately she’s got a boyfriend, right? I’ve seen him. She brought him to the shop once, holding hands and all. I mean, he seemed like a git and I would make her so much happier –”
Merlin raised his eyebrows at her, not being able to help but grin wider.
Gwen faltered. “ –um, not that who she dates is any of my business. Anyway, she must have assumed you were my boyfriend, probably since you hang around the shop so much, because she asked me on a date. I mean, us. The four of us. A double date. And I said yes.”
Merlin gaped at her in disbelief. “Gwen! Why would you say yes?!”
“Oh, Merlin,” Gwen wailed, sniffling softly. “How could I not? You weren’t there, you don’t know the way she was looking at me. All hopeful and gorgeous and my heart melted, okay?”
Merlin sighed, feeling a little sympathetic towards her problem because the poor girl was pining and he knew a thing or two about that. But still…to pretend to be his best friend’s boyfriend…
Gwen was looking at him with wide, brown eyes. “Please? I’ll owe you one.”
And the eyes just made the decision for him, didn’t they? She knew that they were his weakness, that he couldn’t say no to them and apparently she wasn’t the pure angel he’d thought she was because she had no qualms about exploiting his weaknesses.
Merlin groaned, dropping his head on the table. “Fine. Fine, I’ll do it. One evening. You’re buying. And I can’t promise how convincing I’ll be.”
Gwen shot out of her chair with a squeal and came over to hug him tightly. “Oh, thank you! Thank you so much! You’re the best, Merlin Emerson” she kissed his head and pulled away to look at him with shining eyes. “I promise I’ll find a way to repay you. You’re a gem of a person.”
Merlin found that he couldn’t refute that.
Arthur looked up from his phone and straightened up in his chair when he was greeted with the sight of Mithian in one of her immaculate suits. He was forever bitter about the fact that she pulled them off better than him.
He hastily locked his phone and gingerly kept it on the table in an attempt to look somewhat professional. “What?”
“Seek help for your Candy Crush addiction,” Mithian elaborated. “Or at least get addicted to something better –like cocaine.”
“I wasn’t playing Candy Crush,” he lied, peeking a glance at his phone screen to make sure it really was locked. “I don’t know what you’re on about. Besides, who let you in? I specifically told George I wasn’t entertaining visitors right now.”
Mithian chuckled. “As if he had any choice in the matter, poor boy. What were you doing anyway, aside from trying to beat user kandylover2005’s high score of course?”
Arthur glared at her. “Is there a point to you being here or do I need to call security?”
Mithian pouted. “To kick out your own girlfriend? How rude, Arthur.”
Arthur snorted. “Right. My ‘girlfriend’.”
It was something of an inside joke for them. It wasn’t completely a lie because Arthur and Mithian had dated briefly, maybe even shared a dull kiss or two and as far as anyone else was concerned, they were still casually going out. However, unbeknownst to most people, they had an unsaid understanding that they just didn’t have a spark between them and were much better as friends.
They were only keeping up the farce until their fathers’ companies struck a deal together or they’d never hear the end of it.
"Anyway, don’t think I’m here to play mobile games with you in the middle of a workday. I just wanted to tell you in person that we’re going on a date on Saturday," Mithian announced casually, inspecting her manicured nails with a small frown.
Arthur blinked. “Huh?”
Mithian glanced at him and repeated herself, “We’re going on a date. On Saturday.”
“As friends?” Arthur asked, trying to make some sense of the situation.
Mithian rolled her eyes. “No, not as friends. You’ll be my boyfriend.”
Arthur stared at her, completely nonplussed. They weren’t really a couple. They didn’t go on dates or celebrate two week anniversaries or any of the other sickening things people in love did. They were just temporarily keeping up appearances.
Unless…unless Mithian was actually developing feelings for him? It felt absurd to even entertain that thought because this was Mithian but Arthur had no other explanation at the moment.
Mithian seemed to have gauged the direction of his thoughts because her features twisted into a look of disgust and she exclaimed, “Ew, no! It’s not that. I don’t fancy you or anything, no need to look so constipated.”
“Ew?” Arthur repeated incredulously. “I’ll have you know I’m a catch, Mithian and you used to have the biggest crush on me.”
“When we were eight, you mean?” she replied with a mock-sincere face. “Yes, Arthur, I don’t know how I ever got over that.”
Arthur ignored the barb and leaned forward on his desk, crossing his fingers. “Then what’s the reason for this impromptu date? I can’t imagine it’s to enjoy my company.”
Mithian sighed, and Arthur saw a flash of vulnerability on her face. “It’s about my actual crush –”
“Bookstore Gwen?” Arthur interrupted with a smile. He liked bookstore Gwen. She was gorgeous and probably the sweetest person Arthur had ever met. There was something inexplicably lovely and warm about her and her smile brightened up the whole room. Mithian had been a goner for Gwen from their first meeting and Arthur was sort of rooting for them from a distance.
Mithian smiled back. “Yeah, her. Well, I finally managed to gather my courage and ask her out and she said yes…only to something completely different.”
Arthur’s eyebrows drew together. “What do you mean?”
“She –” Mithian pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. “She thought I was asking her on a double date…with her boyfriend and mine.”
Arthur was taken aback. “She has a boyfriend? I don’t mean to stereotype but she gave me –”
“Distinct lesbian vibes? Yeah, me too. I was convinced that the skinny boy was just her close friend or something but then she basically confirmed that he was her boyfriend and she had already accepted my offer by that point and well long story short, I’m fucked, aren’t I?” Mithian finished, running a hand through her sleek dark hair.
“Wait, wait,” Arthur said. “Back up for a second. Why did she think you were proposing a double date? What did you say?”
To Arthur’s shock, Mithian blushed and ducked her head. “I was nervous. I was stuttering and probably wasn’t being that coherent and she was convinced for some reason that I was in a relationship with you and one thing led to another…and just, I don’t know. It was a misunderstanding, okay? One I didn’t bother correcting because she was smiling at me and I was focusing all my energy on not kissing her.”
Arthur smirked. “Wow. Scary lawyer who makes criminals cry struck down by a beautiful girl’s smile. Have we found your kryptonite, Mith?”
Mithian glowered at him, folding her arms. “Shut up, this is not funny. Are you helping me or not?”
Arthur considered his options. “Sounds like an awkward evening. Count me out.”
“Arthur!” she hissed. “You can’t do this to me.”
Arthur rolled his eyes, loosening his tie a bit. “I don’t understand what the big deal is. Just call her and clear it up. Better than actually going through with it.”
“I can’t do that,” Mithian insisted desperately. “I’ll look like an idiot! Come on, Arthur, it’s just a few hours. I’ll do anything in return.”
“Anything?” Arthur repeated, leaning back in his chair. This wasn’t an opportunity to pass up lightly. He rarely had Mithian in such a position and they had been arguing about what their break-up story for their fathers was going to be. Up until now, it was Arthur who was going to come out looking bad and Uther would undoubtedly lord it over him for months but now…
“Okay,” he decided finally. “Let’s do it.”
Mithian sat up straighter, her eyes widening in surprise. “Really?”
Arthur shrugged. “Sure, it can’t be worse than the fortnightly lunches with father and Morgana.”
Mithian regarded him suspiciously. “You’ve already thought about what you want me to do in return, haven’t you?”
Arthur just smiled at her innocently.
She understood instantly and groaned loudly, burying her face in her hands. “Oh, the things I do for you, Gwen…” she moaned.
Arthur called for George to escort her out.
They were sitting in some cosy restaurant owned by Gwen's friend Percy and the food was supposed to be ‘out of this world’. Obviously, Mithian had turned into putty over just hearing Gwen's voice on the phone and immediately agreed to whatever she wanted, including the restaurant choice. Arthur had no doubt that Mithian would have gladly given Gwen her share of Nemeth Industries if she'd asked.
All in all, Arthur had fully prepared himself to have a disappointing, awkward evening but so far it was nice. He actually ended up liking the rustic, homey feel of the place, which was in stark contrast to the sophisticated dishes on the menu. It posed a whimsical juxtaposition that made Arthur want to giggle. Or maybe that was just the wine.
"Never knew you were so fond of Sauvignon Blanc," Mithian commented from his left, eyeing him distastefully.
Arthur flashed her a grin. "It's because you're paying for it."
"Aren't you the heir to an inheritance of millions of pounds?" she asked in reply.
"Well, so are you," Arthur shot back.
She rolled her eyes and checked her reflection in the little compact she’d taken out of her clutch. "Fine, drink your heart out."
“You look great, Mith” Arthur reassured her when he saw the worried crease between her eyebrows. “I’m sure Gwen will leave her boyfriend for you in a heartbeat.”
Mithian slapped his arm in retaliation. “That’s not my intention! If she’s happy with the little weasel, then I’m happy for her –”
“You're making me second guess my decision to come here,” Arthur informed her with a concerned glance. “This is going to be a disaster, isn’t it?”
Mithian snorted in a way that would’ve made her father gasp, and took a sip of her own drink. "Right, as if you had anything better to do than falling asleep in front of the telly at ten.”
Arthur gritted his teeth. "That happened once."
"To my knowledge."
"I could've had plans, I'm not as asocial as you think."
"Did you?" Mithian asked him with a disbelieving eyebrow raise.
Arthur averted her gaze and grumbled, "That's hardly the point."
Mithian smirked and then snatched the wine glass out of his hand when he went to refill it. "Oh my god, can you not get drunk before they even get here?"
"I don't get drunk," Arthur declared flatly.
Mithian smirked. "Really? Because I seem to remember one night in Bristol –”
"Can you be quiet for a second?” Arthur interjected, not wanting to revisit that night at all. “Jesus, you're so annoying –”
Mithian suddenly grabbed his arm in a vice grip. “Shut up, they’re here. Oh fuck, would you look at her? How am I expected to pretend I like you when she’s looking like that? Arthur, do you see her? Do you –”
“Yes, I see her,” because he did and Mithian was right, Gwen did look amazing. But Arthur’s eyes were drawn to the person beside her and he felt his pulse quicken involuntarily.
With Mithian having exclusively referred to Gwen's boyfriend as the ‘skinny boy’ or ‘that little weasel’, Arthur really hadn't expected him to look like... that. With dark hair and high cheekbones and blue eyes and lips that could only be described as kissable and …wow. Maybe Arthur needed to slow down on the wine before he started drooling.
He managed to shake himself out of it as Gwen and her boyfriend reached the table. They all made introductions and Arthur finally had a name to attach to that face. Merlin. It was just as pretty as its owner, and Arthur was royally fucked.
Gwen was lovely as usual and Merlin was even lovelier, at least to Arthur. He had a deep-ish voice that sent Arthur’s mind to places and he was quick to smile –which had dimples for god’s sake –and he was witty and a little clumsy and a lot charming and now Mithian wasn’t the only one who was secretly manifesting their breakup.
Arthur didn’t know if he was merely projecting but Gwen and Merlin weren’t really acting like a couple and seemed to be uncannily mirroring Arthur and Mithian’s body language, which was decidedly platonic. Maybe they were just not into PDA, who knew? But whatever it was, thankfully they kept their hands to themselves and didn’t appear to have any cheesy nicknames, which was a little strange because Arthur had an unfathomable impression that Merlin was the type to come up with cheesy nicknames for his partner.
At least Arthur hadn't been wrong about the awkward part even if it did unfold in the most unexpected way possible. They made small talk, ordered their food and then twenty minutes into the evening, Gwen and Mithian basically abandoned them for all intents and purposes. It was amazing how quickly they forgot that two other people were at the table with them, not that Arthur had any desire to intrude on their little love bubble.
Arthur’s heart sank a little for Merlin because the two women weren’t exactly being subtle. He was pretty sure they were doing some unholy things with their feet beneath the table and he blanched.
Merlin seemed to have the same realisation and he turned to Arthur with a hasty, "So what's your favourite font?"
Arthur blinked. "Did you just ask me what my favourite font is?"
Merlin blushed. He blushed, all pink cheeks and reddening ears and it was such a good look on him that Arthur couldn’t help but stare.
"Sorry, that’s weird, isn’t it? Forget that I ever said that," Merlin said with a grimace.
Arthur bit back a fond smile and answered, "It's Times New Roman."
Merlin made a disgruntled face. "Really? Times New Roman? You're one of those people? Sticking to rigid professional formats then? Do you keep the font size a practical twelve as well?”
Arthur regarded him with no small amount of amusement. "I didn't know you had such strong feelings about this. If I had to guess, I'd say you use Comic Sans or something equally ridiculous."
Merlin flushed even harder, though he was glaring at Arthur. "For your information, Comic Sans is excellent for writing. It stimulates creativity and I know it may look funny, but it's helped me out of too many writer's blocks for you to just dismiss it like that."
Arthur’s interest was piqued. "So, you're a writer then?"
Merlin had managed to get his flaming cheeks under control. "Yeah," he confirmed and smiled at him so brilliantly that it was now Arthur's turn to blush.
"Will I have read your work anywhere?" asked Arthur a little breathlessly.
Merlin shrugged, taking a bite of his lamb. "Dunno. Do you happen to read Albion Magazine?"
Arthur nodded. "Yeah, sometimes. Some of their articles are a little out there but I really enjoy their weekly columns about medieval history, written by someone called –”
“Emrys?” Merlin had a twinkle in his eyes.
“Yeah, Emrys,” Arthur stilled and stared at him. “Are you implying –no –wait, hold on a minute. That can’t be. You aren't –you’re not Emrys, are you?"
Merlin grinned cheekily. "That's me."
"But you're not sixty years old!" Arthur accused, his mind still reeling.
Merlin frowned but he was still smiling. "Uhh, sorry? I'll try to be older next time."
Arthur shook his head. “No, no. It’s just that Morgana, I mean my sister, told me that she knows Emrys and that he's sixty years old when she thought I had a crush -anyway, turns out she’s a nasty liar.”
Merlin laughed and leaned so close to Arthur over the little table that he could see just how long Merlin’s fingers were, lying inches away from his own. “She sounds like a riot, I’d like to meet her.”
Arthur tore his eyes away from Merlin’s hands and replied, “Oh yeah, that’s never going to happen, if I have any say in it.”
Merlin rolled his eyes and Arthur lightly tapped his foot under the table and then…and then with a crushing force, Arthur was struck with the realisation that he wasn’t actually on a date with Merlin and that they had come there with separate partners.
Partners who were trying to say something to them.
They both turned towards Mithian and Gwen, who were standing by this point and observing them far too smugly.
“Um, did you say something?” Merlin asked sheepishly.
Gwen chuckled and ruffled Merlin’s hair. “Yes, Merlin. We said we’re going to the ladies room.”
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Together?”
Mithian shot him a murderous glare from behind Gwen and gestured for him to cut it out. Arthur nodded. “Of course, going to the loo is a two-person job. Go on, we’ll be right here.”
Gwen ducked her head with a blush and Arthur didn’t fail to notice the way Mithian hooked her pinky finger in Gwen’s and dragged her away in suspicious haste. Merlin seemed to be noting the same with a pleased quirk to his lips.
Arthur thought maybe he was imagining it.
Ten minutes passed with no sign of Mithian and Gwen and Arthur was starting to get a very good idea of what was actually going on in the loo.
“They've been in there a long time, haven't they?" Merlin said casually, flicking through the menu.
Arthur sighed. He was in a conflict of emotions because he was happy for Mithian but he felt bad for Merlin at the same time, since it was obvious that he clearly wasn't the one Gwen seemed to be after.
Arthur tipped the menu down from Merlin’s fingers so he could level him with a serious look. "Listen, Merlin. You seem like a nice bloke so I'm just going to be blunt with you. I don't think Gwen is into you anymore."
Arthur waited for the devastated expression, maybe a tear or two. Gwen was a catch and losing her would surely hurt a lot. Arthur was even ready in case Merlin wanted a hug.
But Merlin didn't seem heartbroken at all.
"Oh, no,” he responded distractedly, eyes still on the dessert section of the menu. “It's Mithian's pants she'd rather get into than mine.”
Arthur gaped at him as the words registered in his mind. "What did you just say?"
Merlin's eyes widened as he realised what he'd let slip and he put down the menu at last. "No, no. I'm so sorry,” he stammered. “Arthur, I didn't mean to –I know Mithian's your girlfriend and –”
"No, she's not," Arthur blurted out, because suddenly…suddenly it was very important that Merlin knew in no uncertain terms that Arthur was available. It was absolutely imperative that Merlin had all the information at hand, like the fact that Arthur was totally free for the taking, preferably by charming, dark-haired men.
"Mithian and I, the whole thing is pretence,” Arthur continued hurriedly. “We’re not actually dating; Gwen’s the one Mithian wants.”
Merlin gasped. “Gwen and I aren’t dating either! She’s besotted with Mithian. She asked me to be her fake boyfriend because she thought Mithian had one –you –”
“Why would she think that?” Arthur exclaimed wildly.
“Because apparently you two were holding hands when you visited Gwen’s shop together,” Merlin explained with a frown, as though he were debating if Arthur was lying. “And why did Mithian ask Gwen out on a double date then?”
“Holding hands? No, that’s called Mithian trying to break my bones for offending her,” Arthur glowered, wincing as his poor fingers relived the pain. “As for the double date, Mithian was trying to ask Gwen out. Only Gwen. But seems like Gwen misunderstood…and here are.”
Merlin had an unreadable expression on his face and Arthur was just about to ask him what their next course of action should be when Gwen and Mithian reappeared, looking rumpled, flushed and entirely too happy with themselves.
They all stared at each other for a moment before Mithian broke the silence. “Right. So we’re taking off.”
“Excuse me?” Arthur exclaimed at the same time as Merlin said, “Mithian was only trying to ask you out, Gwen. Arthur and I weren’t anywhere in the equation.”
Gwen grinned. “Oh yeah, we cleared all that up…along with a few other things.”
Arthur huffed in disbelief. “And what? So you’re just leaving us here now?”
“Yeah!” Mithian confirmed. “You can finish your dinner, no need to cut your evening short on our behalf. Gwen and I are full anyway.”
“I’m sure,” Arthur mumbled.
Mithian turned to Merlin with a smile. “It was so nice to meet you, Merlin and I’m sorry for all the trouble. Arthur can drop you home, can’t you, Arthur?”
Before Arthur could say yes –or no –they both hurried off in a fit of giggles, clutching each other’s hands like lifelines.
They stared after the girls for a moment before turning towards each other again, a hushed silence falling over the table.
Merlin coughed awkwardly, flashing Arthur a tentative smile. “Sooo,” he said. “Dessert?”
Arthur claimed he didn't eat sweet food –which was frankly disturbing –but Merlin had been eyeing the dessert section for a long time so he ordered a slice of rich chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream and waited patiently. Mithian was right, there was no reason they still couldn't enjoy themselves. Especially since everything was out in the open and Arthur was conveniently single and heart-stoppingly gorgeous with all blond hair and blue eyes and strong jaw and definitely –definitely –not straight.
The night was going much better than he'd originally anticipated.
"So you know I'm a writer. What do you do?" Merlin asked, looking over Arthur's shoulder to catch a glimpse of his cake.
Arthur sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Boring business stuff. You wouldn't be interested."
"Mmm," Merlin hummed. "You're right. I'm not interested."
Arthur huffed out a surprised laugh. "Well, not all of us can make money off our scarily vast knowledge of medieval history, Merlin," he said and Merlin hoped he wasn’t imagining the flirtatious lilt to the way Arthur pronounced his name.
Merlin grinned. "I know, not everyone is as lucky as me. But at least you're rich."
Arthur grimaced. "It's overrated."
Merlin’s eyebrows climbed high. "Being rich is overrated? Guess we know who'll be the one paying for this meal."
"Good,” Merlin said, hiding a smile. “Now tell me what else you do besides boring business and playing Candy Crush?"
"I also play footie –” Arthur paused, his eyes narrowing. “Sorry, did you say Candy Crush?"
Merlin smirked wickedly. "Women talk, Arthur.”
“Mithian,” Arthur muttered under his breath, sporting the most adorably displeased pout.
“But don't worry,” Merlin continued. “I'm sympathetic to your plight. I fell victim to that monstrosity of a game myself."
“How did you get out of it?”
"I have my ways,” Merlin answered and then added with a flush. “I could help you, if you like.”
Arthur's lips quirked up and his eyes moved over Merlin’s face slowly. "Yeah?"
"Of course,” Merlin agreed, pretending like his heart wasn’t racing out of his chest. “And in return you could take me to one of your footie matches you pretend to like."
"Hey! I don’t pretend, I do like footie,” Arthur asserted.
Merlin scoffed. "Please, you probably only like it because the players are sexy."
"No, of course not,” Arthur argued heatedly. “That's why I like you."
Merlin stopped breathing. "What?"
Arthur faltered, blinking rapidly as he turned an attractive shade of red. "I said um, that's not why I like it,” he stuttered. “The players aren't my type anyway."
Merlin allowed him to deflect and smiled wide, something warm unfurling in his chest. "Good to know you have a type," he whispered.
The waiter arrived with the cake then and Merlin’s mouth watered at the sight of it.
Arthur’s gaze was amused and a bit fond as he watched Merlin. “Should I leave the two of you alone, Merlin? I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
Merlin wildly motioned to the chocolate beauty in front of him. “Just look at it. I wouldn’t even notice if you disappeared right now, no offence,” he glanced up, “You sure you don't want anything?"
"No, the coq au vin was enough," Arthur replied nonchalantly, as if throwing around French words in that posh accent wasn't the most sinful thing Merlin had ever heard. Merlin's toes curled involuntarily and he willed himself to focus on his dessert instead.
The ice-cream was divine and the cake was somehow even better. Merlin would have to offer Percy his compliments later.
He ate and they kept up their conversation which was an odd mix of banter and flirting –Merlin could feel himself getting drunk on it.
Having Arthur’s undivided attention on him was making him feel hot under the collar and Merlin didn't want to get ahead of himself but Arthur’s eyes seemed to be flitting to his mouth at regular intervals. Rather fixatedly. Making Merlin increasingly flustered and self-conscious.
"Do you want a bite?" he asked finally.
Arthur startled. "Huh?"
Merlin flushed and swallowed. "I asked if you wanted a bite since you're staring...at the um, cake."
Arthur shook his head to himself. "No, no. It's just that there's a bit on your –” he gestured in the general direction of Merlin’s face. He exhaled. “Oh, fuck it. Let me get it for you.”
Merlin froze and held his breath as Arthur's hand reached into his personal space. His thumb dragged along Merlin’s bottom lip and Merlin’s blood roared in his ears, making him dizzy.
Merlin could only stare in a daze as Arthur sucked the chocolate off the top of his thumb and made an appreciative sound.
Merlin needed a very, very cold shower.
"Actually, this is pretty good,” Arthur commented, as if he hadn’t just tipped Merlin’s whole world upside down. “Does your offer for a bite still stand?"
Merlin nodded mutely, not trusting himself to speak.
Arthur smiled his thanks and took a bite, eliciting an obscene moan that should not be allowed out of the bedroom. Or maybe it was just Merlin’s overactive imagination, since nobody else seemed affected.
Arthur helped himself to one more bite, then another and between them, the cake vanished pretty quickly. They split the bill, and picked up their coats to step out into the cold night.
“Where do you live?” Arthur asked, his eyes shining uncommonly bright in the dark.
Merlin choked on air, his mind rapidly conjuring images of his flat and Arthur in it. “What?”
Arthur gave him a strange look. “So I know where to drop you off,” he explained slowly.
“Oh,” Merlin said with a short laugh. "No, you don't have to. It's just a short walk from here."
Arthur smiled crookedly and Merlin wanted to steal that smile away for himself. "Then I guess we'll walk. Mithian did give me your responsibility."
Merlin frowned but did start walking. "’M not a child, you know,” he muttered. “I can go home by myself.”
Arthur chuckled and fell into step with Merlin.
The walk to Merlin’s flat was mostly silent but comfortable. Arthur’s hand kept brushing against his and Merlin felt a current go up his arm whenever their skin touched.
The wind tousled Arthur’s hair and the moonlight made it look silver. Merlin couldn’t help but sneak glances at him, his body humming pleasantly from the proximity.
Merlin was almost disappointed when they reached his building.
They faced each other as they stood in front of the door. “This is me,” he said with a half-smile.
“I see that,” Arthur replied, watching him intensely.
Merlin shifted from one foot to another, feeling his heartbeat quicken for some reason.
"Well, you walked me to the door,” Merlin said jokingly, meeting his eyes. “Are you also going to kiss me goodnight?"
He expected Arthur to laugh it off or roll his eyes and then go on his way.
What he didn’t expect was for Arthur’s gaze to drift to his mouth and for him to say, "If you want."
Merlin's breath left his lungs in a rush and he stared at Arthur. "Oh,” he found himself whispering. “Okay."
Heart wildly pounding inside his chest, Merlin swayed forward and Arthur met him halfway, their lips pressing together. Merlin swore he meant to keep the kiss chaste, just some innocent fun after a bit of wine. But then Arthur dove back in for another one, wetter and more open-mouthed this time and Merlin almost whimpered, his hands finding purchase on Arthur's waist to keep his knees from giving out. Arthur’s breath hitched a little at Merlin's nails sharply digging into his skin but he didn't pull away, instead pushing a hand through Merlin's hair and kissing him even deeper.
"Wow," Merlin said a little breathlessly after they’d pulled away. "That was...err something."
Merlin could see Arthur’s smile from where he was pressed up against him. “Yeah, that was something. You all right?”
Merlin nodded, returning his smile. " Mithian and Gwen are probably off somewhere doing much worse so I think it's okay if we kiss a little, right?
“Absolutely,” Arthur agreed. “I mean they did ditch us halfway into something they orchestrated, we're completely justified in this."
That was very sound reasoning. Very sound indeed. Sound enough that Merlin's mind fixated on "Gwen and Mithian doing much worse" and he wondered if they ought to be doing it too.
Merlin stepped back and glanced at Arthur through his lashes. "Do you want to come up?"
Arthur raised his eyebrows in surprise and flashed him a wicked grin. "Not tonight. I don't put out on the first date."
Merlin laughed, something warm and ecstatic bubbling in his chest. "So, this was a date?"
"That's what the evening was supposed to be, wasn't it?” said Arthur. “There was just a mismatch in the partners."
“I guess you’re right,” Merlin answered, and bit his lip nervously. “Call me?”
“Count on it,” Arthur said in a low voice, his eyes impossibly tender before leaning forward and pressing his lips to Merlin’s cheek in a soft kiss.
Merlin's stomach erupted in flutters and he closed his eyes for a second to soak it all in.
Arthur bid him goodnight and Merlin watched him go with a silly grin on his face. He pulled out his phone and texted Gwen thanks.
It turned out she was the one who'd done him a favour in the end.