As is often the case with Monday mornings, the Monday after Valentine’s Day dawns earlier than it has any right to. Merlin, who had slept all of five hours the night before and consequently nearly missed his alarm, showers with the practiced speed of the chronically overdue and abandons his breakfast in favour of making it to the tube on time. As the doors close behind him, he wedges himself between an old man and a dishevelled young woman apparently on her way home after a night on the town, and finally allows himself to check his messages.
Edwin [12:44am]: I know you’re upset, but I told you I’m sorry. I’ll love you till my dying days. What more do you want?
Edwin [12:53am]: Come on, Merlin, don’t throw away this thing we had.
Edwin [12:54am]: Merlin.
Edwin [12:55am]: Merlin.
Edwin [12:57am]: Merlin. Answer me.
Edwin [01:02am]: Now you’re making me mad.
Edwin [02:22am]: Fine. You’ll be back. You belong to me, Merlin. Remember that.
Jesus, did the man ever sleep? With a roll of his eyes, Merlin deletes all seven — seven— messages and checks his voicemail. Another half a dozen missed calls, some of them even from people he wants to talk to. But none from the number he’s been waiting for.
He still hasn’t heard from Arthur.
Merlin had spent the entire weekend — or what remained of it— alternately wallowing in his heartbreak over Edwin (something that had become less and less painful with every ridiculous text he received) and reliving the unexpected tryst he and Arthur had shared in the conference room. At the time, it had seemed like the only logical course of action: Merlin was hurt, Edwin was a douche, and Arthur had been right there, being all sweet and noble and entirely Arthur-like, and Merlin’s poor trampled ego hadn’t been able to resist. In the cold light of day, however…
“I fucked up,” Merlin mutters, slumping in his seat. The old man pats his knee.
“Don’t worry, son,” he says. “I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”
Merlin smiles wanly, and puts his phone back in his pocket. No doubt the two of them will be able to move past it, eventually. They’ve been too close for too long for something like this to come between them — break-ups, bar brawls, blind dates; they’ve seen each other through it all. It’s mostly just getting through the next nine hours that will be the real challenge.
The train pulls up to his stop, and Merlin gets off ahead of most of the other passengers, half running, half walking up the steps and out onto the street. He’s not late, exactly, but he’s definitely running behind, a fact which is made abundantly clear to him by the hands of the humungous clock hanging in the Pendragons’ foyer.
“Hold the lift!” Merlin calls, dashing across the lobby. He skids into the elevator to discover — of course — Arthur is the one holding the door for him, a familiar amused smile on his face.
“You’re late,” he says, pressing the button for their floor. “One of these days, you know, you’re going to have to buy yourself an alarm clock that actually works.”
“You’re late too,” Merlin retorts, immediately on the defensive. He folds his arms over his chest, wishing he’d let the lift go and taken the next one. He’d really been hoping to put off this awkward encounter until he’d at least gotten his hands on some coffee. “It’s almost nine, why aren’t you in the office already?”
“I’ve been here since seven am,” Arthur says calmly. “I had an early meeting. Which you’d have known if you ever bothered to read the emails I send you. What’s with you this morning?”
Merlin presses his lips together. “I didn’t sleep well, that’s all.”
Arthur’s gaze flickers over him, one eyebrow raised. “You do look more like a zombie than usual,” he says, still in the same infuriatingly casual tone. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I was just, uh…thinking.” Merlin runs a hand through his hair and glances at the changing numbers over the door. Surely it doesn’t usually take this long to reach the 12th floor?
“About anything in particular?”
“Just…things.” He clears his throat. “Everything that happened with Edwin, you know.”
It’s only a single syllable, but Merlin is already blushing like a fire engine, biting down on his lower lip to keep back a tidal wave of embarrassment. This is why he never does one night stands, and why he never sleeps with his friends if he can help it. He has never been good at negotiating the aftermath, especially not with someone who’s as important to him as Arthur is.
“I, um. Had a good time at the party on Saturday,” Arthur surprises him by saying, glancing at him sidelong. Merlin’s stomach contracts at his expression, the blush still threatening to ignite his entire face, but at least now he isn’t the only one who seems nervous. “Well, aside from the whole Edwin thing, anyway.”
“Yeah?” Is he saying what Merlin thinks he’s saying? “Me too. Apart from the whole Edwin thing.”
They share a tentative smile, and Arthur is taking a breath as though he’s about to say more when the lift bell dings, and the doors slide open onto the twelfth floor. God damn elevators and their timing, anyway.
“Merlin.” Before Merlin can step out into the reception area, Arthur’s hand is on his arm, his gaze unnervingly intense for nine o’clock in the morning. “Give me half an hour, then meet me in the break room? I’m willing to bet you skipped breakfast this morning, and I — well. We should probably talk.”
Merlin swallows hard. Shit, shit, shit. “Right,” he says. “I mean, yeah, sure. Break room, thirty minutes. I’ll be there.”
“Excellent.” Arthur’s face relaxes into what looks like a genuine grin. “Don’t be late!”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Merlin mumbles, watching him go.