The first time Merlin makes pizza — actually properly makes it, with homemade dough and everything, because Merlin doesn't believe in doing things by halves — he's concentrating hard enough on the recipe and the ingredients in front of him that he doesn't notice the way Arthur's staring until he's kneading the dough before its second rise. It's hard, physical work, and he's concentrating very hard on not ruining dinner, so he only notices when Arthur makes a small sound like something's caught his interest, and Merlin glances up to see what it is, and their eyes lock.
His hands pause on the dough for one breathless moment while Arthur stares at him like he's never seen him before. Merlin gives him a quizzical look with a lift of his brow, waiting for him to explain. Arthur's always huffing or chuckling over something or other on his phone, and he can never resist sharing when something has amused or incensed him. But this time Arthur just turns pink and says, "What?" like Merlin's the one behaving strangely.
Dough-making is a delicate sort of witchcraft, or so everything he's read online has lead him to believe, and Merlin doesn't have time to spare to figure out what's going on with Arthur, so he leaves it at that and goes back to his kneading. A minute later, Arthur makes another strangled sound, spins on his heel, and walks out of the kitchen without a word.
Five minutes after that, Merlin is pretty sure the dough has been kneaded to within an inch of its life, so he covers it with a towel for its second rise, washes the flour off of his hands, and takes the opportunity to go after Arthur. The pizza won't need attention for another half hour, so now's as good a time as any to go talk to Arthur.
When Merlin doesn't find him in the living or dining rooms, he goes back to check the bedroom, walking carefully in case Arthur's decided to take a nap.
He eases the door open, wary of squeaky hinges, and glances into the darkened room. Arthur is lying on his back in the bed, but he is definitely not sleeping. He's got his pants down around his ankles, an arm thrown over his eyes and a hand flying over his cock as he breathes, "Fuck, fuck, fuck," in a strangled voice that Merlin knows all too well.
Merlin backs out of the bedroom, easing the door shut, and then considers the blank white of the door as Arthur's groans grow to a crescendo on the other side. He isn't the sort Merlin can just ask about this, straightforward and blunt. He'd blush and stammer and deflect, and Merlin would never get a straight answer out of him.
But Merlin is patient. They'll figure it out — and in the meantime, he has a pizza to finish.
Merlin's making pan-fried chicken, concentrating very hard as he dredges the chicken pieces in flour and then egg and then flour again, because nobody wants poorly-done fried chicken, until he hears a sound that draws his focus up and has him lifting his head.
Arthur's leaning against the counter, looking just a little bit gutted as he stares at Merlin.
No, not at Merlin. Merlin's staring back and Arthur's not making eye contact. Arthur's staring at his hands, which is ridiculous because they're a mess of flour and egg right now and he cannot possibly want Merlin to touch him like that.
The evidence speaks for itself, though. Arthur is staring, and breathing faster than normal, and when Merlin calls his name Arthur jumps and looks guilty, like he's been caught doing something he shouldn't.
It makes Merlin grin. He'll be damned if Arthur is going to run off and wank while Merlin's doing all the work, though. "Come over here and help me out," he says, gesturing with a tip of his head at the pan of oil that's been heating on the stove. "I'll dredge, you fry."
Arthur comes into the kitchen like his body's moving automatically, like he's pulled along by a string and maybe not exactly happy about that. But he comes and takes the dredged chicken from Merlin, and his breathing only goes a little ragged when their hands touch as Merlin hands the plate over.
He gets a smear of eggy flour on Arthur's hand and Arthur stares at it for a moment, his shoulders going tense. But he doesn't wash it off, not even once he's set the plate down next to the stove and his hands are free.
Merlin goes back to his dredging. When he brings the next piece of chicken to Arthur, Arthur's twisted around and staring at his back, and the chicken is nearly burnt. "Arthur, honestly," Merlin says, exasperated, and grabs a towel to wipe his hands off so he can rescue their supper.
Arthur draws a ragged breath while Merlin wipes his fingers clean. "Your hands," he says unsteadily, like it's an oath.
"You can ogle them later." Merlin throws the towel at him. "I don't have a backup plan if you ruin our supper and I'd really rather not go hungry tonight."
Later, when the chicken is done and eaten and the dishes left to soak in the sink, Merlin guides Arthur to the bedroom and pushes him down onto the bed and runs his hands over every inch of him. Arthur gasps and shudders beneath his touch, and comes quicker than Merlin thinks he ever has before.
Merlin gets home from work before Arthur does and the weather's way too hot to even think about turning on the stove, so he makes them a fruit salad for dinner.
When Arthur gets home, he stops halfway through the door and stares. Merlin stares back at him, his brows knitting. He's not even doing anything, he's just finishing up by tossing the salad.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asks, choked.
Merlin lifts a brow at him. "Making dinner? I was thinking fruit salad. Thoughts?"
Arthur looks like he doesn't even know where to begin. He runs a hand over his forehead and then asks, strangled, "Is there a reason you had to do that in your boxers?"
That explains a lot. "Oh, well." Merlin gestures at the bowl of fruit. "Have you ever tried to get pomegranate juice out of clothes? It stains like nobody's business, and I was wearing my good shirt." He shows him his hands, fingers stained red-purple as proof.
Arthur looks him over again. This time, he goes slower, and his gaze is appreciative. Merlin warms beneath it, and holds his ground when Arthur comes forward enough to look into the bowl. "You put pomegranate seeds into the fruit salad?"
Merlin nods. Arthur is very close and Merlin's pulse quickens, a rapid triple beat that sends his blood singing through his veins.
Arthur looks at him again. He puts his hands on Merlin's waist, thumbs rubbing against his stomach just above the elastic waistband of his boxers. "I suppose, for the sake of your clothing, you'd better eat it like this, too, then."
Merlin hadn't thought that far ahead, but he clears his throat and nods sagely and says, "Yes, I thought so, too." He runs his hands up Arthur's chest, over the crisp, neat lines of his suit and shirt and tie. "In fact, I think you'd better, too. This looks like a very expensive suit."
Arthur hums low in his throat. "It is."
"I wouldn't want it to get ruined."
Arthur grins. "Come help me take it off."
Merlin stops just long enough to put the fruit salad into the fridge, and then he and Arthur are dragging each other to the bedroom, stripping off clothes as they go.
It's much, much later before either of them manage to get back out to the kitchen for dinner, and by that time, neither of them are wearing a stitch of clothing.
The heatwave continues to make cooking an unbearable thought, so Merlin continues to stretch the limits of his cooking repertoire to find new ways to feed them both without turning the house into a sauna. He's chopping green onions, and in theory Arthur is in the kitchen helping, but mostly he's just leaning up against the counter staring at Merlin with a look that Merlin has grown all too familiar with.
Merlin sets the knife down with a sharp sigh. "For heaven's sake, it's salad, Arthur, it's not even sexy."
Arthur has long since given up on trying to pretend that watching Merlin cook doesn't get him unbearably turned on. You get so intense and rough, and Merlin can get that. There's a certain physicality to kneading bread dough that he can see the appeal of, but this isn't the same thing at all, it's just chopping.
"You're very good with your hands," Arthur says, a little dreamy, like he's already thinking about other ways he'd like Merlin to use them. He comes in behind Merlin, his chin tucked over Merlin's shoulder, and runs his hands down Merlin's arms until he can twine their fingers together. "I don't know how you can use a knife like that and not chop off a finger." He may not know, but his voice is warm and full with appreciation for the skill. "It always takes me five times as long to chop things, because I have to be careful at it."
Merlin takes a deep breath and slides the cutting board and knife away so they won't have any mishaps. He turns around in Arthur's arms and stares up at him, almost close enough to kiss. "You like my hands," he says, not really a question.
Arthur hums and nods all the same. His gaze drops from Merlin's eyes to his mouth and he looks like he's thinking very hard about closing that last, scant distance between them and kissing him. "They're strong. Sure."
"Capable," Merlin says, finishing the thought. He runs his hands over Arthur's chest, keeping the pressure light enough that Arthur should barely be able to feel it. "You want my hands on you?" Arthur hums happily and leans in against his touch. "You want them in you?"
Arthur whimpers, and Merlin grins.
"You don't want me to be careful," he guesses.
"No." The word explodes out of Arthur. "Don't be."
"I won't," Merlin promises, those fingers Arthur appreciates so well already working at unbuttoning his shirt.
He isn't. He pulls Arthur down to the kitchen floor and pins him to his back there, strips him bare and drives him wild with his hands, and brings him to a fierce, frantic orgasm. Arthur comes with three of Merlin's fingers inside him and Merlin's throat tight around him, and collapses back onto the floor, gasping and looking at Merlin like he's the most amazing thing he's ever seen.
Merlin grins and presses in close against his side, and starts contemplating what he should make for dinner tomorrow.
If there's one thing Merlin's learned from cooking for Arthur — aside from the way it turns him on, which is the most obvious secret Arthur has ever tried to keep from him — it's that Arthur has a sweet tooth. So the morning of Arthur's birthday, Merlin slips out of bed early, carefully disentangling himself from Arthur's octopus grip, and makes him cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
Birthday breakfasts are neither the time nor the place to skimp, Merlin believes, so goes full bore, making the yeast dough from scratch and everything. As he dusts the counter with flour and starts kneading the dough, he smiles to himself and thinks how Arthur will regret not getting to watch him do this part of it. But sometimes sacrifices must be made in the name of preserving a birthday surprise.
Arthur doesn't seem to mind terribly when he does wake up, and comes out to find Merlin with his hands a mess of butter and sugar and cinnamon as he spreads the filling out on the dough. Arthur's gaze is heated and he's got that intense look about him, like he's making plans.
When he sidles in close to Merlin and presses against his back, nuzzling in against his neck, Merlin knows where it's going to lead. He fights Arthur back with a breathless laugh and an elbow to the ribs. "No, Arthur, give me five minutes to get this rolled up and then you can distract me, but I won't have you ruining breakfast over this."
Arthur does not go far. He stays there at Merlin's back, breathing against his skin and dropping occasional kisses onto his shoulder as though he thinks Merlin might need reminding of his presence.
It's so ridiculous an idea, Merlin nearly laughs. Every nerve cell in him is alight at his proximity. He could sooner forget his own name than he could forget that Arthur is there and wanting him.
Arthur waits until Merlin has rolled up the dough with its filling inside, pinched off the seam, sliced the log into individual cinnamon rolls, and left a damp towel over the rolls to keep them from drying out during their final rise. And then he spins Merlin around and presses him back against the counter. He crowds in close, pushing between Merlin's legs and nosing at his neck again as he groans. "God, you smell good."
Merlin laughs breathlessly. "Like yeast and sweat? It's a wonder you've managed to keep your hands off me this long."
Arthur hums agreement, despite the fact that Merlin is obviously being facetious. "If I didn't like your cooking so much, I'd have said damn the rolls and dragged you right off."
"And then you'd have had no breakfast, and that would have been a shame." Arthur is pulling the hem of Merlin's shirt up, sliding warm hands across the skin of his stomach. Merlin reaches to return the favor, then stops himself, making a face. "Arthur, at least let me wash my hands first, or this is going to get very messy."
Arthur just hums again and catches Merlin's wrists in his hands. His fingers pressing to Merlin's pulse points, strong and gentle. Merlin's heart trips and picks up speed.
Without any preamble at all, Arthur wraps his lips around the tip of one of Merlin's fingers and sucks it deep, his tongue laving over it, slick and obscene. Merlin gapes, and has one second to think wildly that it's just butter and cinnamon and sugar on his hands and it's perfectly safe to eat like this, before his brain short-circuits.
Arthur licks and sucks his finger clean with dedication, his eyes shut and his face blissful. He makes the same happy, greedy noises around Merlin's fingers that he makes when he's got his mouth around Merlin's cock, and Merlin is going to die of this, he really is.
Merlin lasts until the third finger, shaking hard but trying to hold still in the face of Arthur's attentions. But when Arthur takes all three into his mouth and sucks, his cheeks hollowing, fellating Merlin's fingers, it's too much. Merlin snarls, "Fuck it," slides his other hand into Arthur's hair heedless of the mess he's making in it, and uses his grip there to drag them both down to the floor.
"Tease," he pants, covering Arthur's mouth with his own and slipping his fingers out so Merlin can kiss him thoroughly.
When they part, Arthur grins up at him, looking like he's having the time of his life. "It's not teasing. It's practice."
"Is that so?" Merlin presses a thumb to Arthur's lip. He shudders when Arthur opens his mouth and laps his tongue out over it. "Ready for the real thing?"
Arthur's gaze burns, hungry and happy. "Only one way to find out."
He's pulling open Merlin's fly before he's even finished speaking.
As the heat of summer begins to wane toward the cooler temperatures of autumn, Arthur declares they're going to have a barbecue while the weather's still good enough for it.
Merlin cooks and bakes and fries, and he'll bravely tackle any recipe laid in front of him, but he doesn't barbecue. His involvement ends at seasoning the steaks, and then he leaves the rest in Arthur's capable hands.
Merlin goes out to watch Arthur mostly because he has a very admirable backside, and Arthur standing at the grill with his back to the house gives Merlin ample opportunity to ogle it. He'll just sit on the steps and objectify Arthur shamelessly until it's time to eat, he thinks.
It's a good plan, but Merlin gets distracted from it pretty much immediately. He's supposed to be staring at Arthur's arse and instead he finds himself moving around the yard to the other side of the barbecue so he can stare at Arthur's hands, the way his fingers wrap around the handle of his spatula, the sure way he keeps an eye on everything on the grill.
Grease drips down off the meat and the flames flare up, casting light on Arthur's face and highlighting the sweat that clings there, the way he's looking a little flushed and a little breathless, and Merlin suddenly can't breathe for wanting him.
It's strange to watch him work, oblivious, and feel his stomach twist up with need. He's watched Arthur cook any number of times before and never been so affected. But now he has the memory of Arthur's gaze on him when the situations were reversed, of Arthur's appreciation for messy hands and strong, sure work, and he can't help but appreciate it in turn.
They have steaks on the barbecue, very nice steaks, and Merlin has to remind himself of that to keep from just grabbing onto Arthur and dragging him off. The things he has in mind, they wouldn't get back to dinner until the steaks were burned into little blackened bricks, and that would be a shame.
He's this close to just sitting on his hands to keep from reaching out and latching onto Arthur when he pushes at one, hums a little sound in the back of his throat that means he's pleased, and starts taking them off the grill and putting them onto a serving plate.
Merlin waits, practically dancing in place, while Arthur turns off the gas to the barbecue and cleans the grill off and closes everything up, then follows behind him as he carries the steaks back into the house. "You're supposed to let meat rest after you've taken it off the barbecue, right?" he asks, practically hovering over Arthur's shoulder. The steaks smell amazing, and that's not really helping anything at all.
Arthur gives him a bemused glance as he sets the serving plate on the counter and digs around for their box of tin foil to cover them with. "Yes, for a few minutes. What's with you tonight?"
"Nothing." Arthur is strong and sure as he unrolls a length of foil, tears it off, and starts crimping it into place over the plate. Merlin pushes down the urge to grab him by those hands and drag him down to the floor to have his way with him right here. "I have a confession to make."
Arthur raises one brow, giving him a patient look that clearly says, Well? Let's hear it.
"You know that thing you have for me cooking?"
Arthur nods slowly, still waiting. There aren't any lightbulbs going off yet, so Merlin supposes he's just going to have to be obvious about it. "I think maybe that's a kink that we both share."
It takes a moment but there it is, light dawning behind Arthur's eyes, a slow, delighted grin stretching across his face. "Is it, now," he says, his voice a low, smooth rumble as he leans back against the counter, and what's left of Merlin's restraint vanishes like smoke on the air.
"Oh, you bastard, you're loving this, aren't you?" Merlin breathes as he reaches out for him, crosses the distance that remains between them and wraps his hands around Arthur's biceps, where the muscle is strong and solid and Merlin's mouth goes dry at the thought.
Arthur hums quietly in agreement. "I think I like being on the other side of this particular kink, for once."
"I really think I do, too," Merlin breathes, and then there's nothing for it but to pull Arthur in by his grip on his arms and kiss him until they're both plastered together, hands gripping hard at one another and too desperate to do anything but stumble together to the couch, shedding clothes like breadcrumbs along the way.
By the time either of them spare another thought for dinner, the steaks have long gone cold, but Merlin doesn't regret a thing.