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A Fool for Lesser Things

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“You look familiar.”

“Hmm?” Merlin glanced up from his book. Blond hair, blue eyes. An impatient tilt to an otherwise intriguing mouth.

“Come here often?” the man asked (demanded).

“No,” Merlin smiled. “Just reading.”

“Ah,” the man said, tapping his finger on the empty chair across from Merlin. He nodded, then turned and walked away.

(A bell rings softly)

“You look familiar.”

“Hmm?” Merlin glanced up from his book. Blond hair, blue eyes. An impatient tilt to an otherwise intriguing mouth.

“Come here often?” the man asked (demanded).

“Yes,” Merlin said, turning back to his page.

“Okay,” the man said, tapping his finger on the empty chair across from Merlin. He nodded, as if to himself, then turned and walked away.

(A bell rings softly)

“You look familiar.”

“Do I?” Merlin held his place with a finger and looked up, secretly glad for the interruption.

“Come here often?” The man asked, the edge in his tone mitigated by his tousled blonde hair and bright blue eyes. What? Merlin was an easy sell.

“Who’s asking?” Merlin smiled, furnishing the object of his distraction with a quick once-over. That seemed to give the other man pause.

“Uh. Arthur,” he said, backing up a step.

“Merlin,” Merlin offered. “Do we know each other?” He asked, his tone clearly inviting ’Would you like to?’

“On second thought,” Arthur said, gesturing over his shoulder and half turning, “I think I must’ve mistaken you for someone else—”

“Mm, with an arse like that I’ll be whoever you’d like me to be, sweetie,” Merlin purred, leering.

(Bell)

“You look familiar.”

“Hmm?” Merlin glanced up from his book. A man stood across from him, impatiently tapping one ringed finger on an empty chair. He had striking blue eyes and hair the color of old gold coins, a combination which sent an odd, familiar surge of strong emotion climbing up the back of Merlin’s throat.

“Come here often?” The man asked, and Merlin quickly identified the mystery-feeling as annoyance.

“Every now and then,” he said, trying to be pleasant.

“Uh-huh. And you don’t recognize me?” the man said sardonically, spreading his hands.

“Should I?” Merlin tilted his head. He felt his hackles rising.

“I should think so,” the man flashed his canines, “considering how often you steal my seat.”

A beat. “I’m sorry?”

“That’s my seat,” he repeated, pointing helpfully at the wingback Merlin occupied. “And I have to say, it’s wearing thin to find you here every time I feel like a spot of tea.”

“Oh,” Merlin nodded as if he understood, which he didn’t. “What’s your name?”

“Arthur,” the man said easily, as if it were only natural Merlin would want to know who he was.

“Right, Arthur, I’m really sorry about the misunderstanding,” Merlin said, which Arthur accepted with a gracious smile, “but as your name is neither embroidered on this cushion I’m sitting on, nor nailed over the door of this café, I’m sure you can see how I failed to recognize this was your seat.” And with that, he took a sip of his coffee (cream, one sugar) and turned back to his book.

“I don’t think you understand,” Arthur made a noise that sounded like laughter, only without the mirth.

“I think I do,” Merlin said to page forty six of his truly, very interesting book.

“No, you must not have heard me right,” Arthur plucked the book from Merlin’s fingers, tossing it over his shoulder, then fenced him in with both hands on the armrests of his chair and growled, “Get. Up.”

Merlin’s eyes went gold.

(Bell)

“I don’t think you understand,” Arthur harrumphed, eyes panning the café for their growing audience.

“I think I do,” Merlin hummed, unconcerned.

“You must not have heard me right,” Arthur plucked the book from Merlin’s fingers and tossed it over his shoulder. Merlin folded his hands together and gave Arthur a Look. The ladies at the next table muttered in quiet, disdainful tones.

“Are you going to pick that up?”

“Uh, yeah. Sorry,” Arthur crumbled, returning the book under the banner of his flush.

(Bell)

“I don’t think you understand,” Arthur said, a little put off at this kid’s nerve.

“I think I do,” he said, lightly.

Irritated, Arthur nabbed the book from his hands. “Maybe you weren’t listening,” he snapped, throwing up an arm when the guy leapt at him to grab it back.

“Are you kidding me?” he fumed, voice rising.

“Guys,” one of the baristas trotted over, inserting an arm between them. “You can’t do this here. Take it outside.”

“Yeah, let’s take it outside,” the kid agreed vehemently, his shoulders widening in a stance Arthur knew all too well.

“Now who’s joking,” he snorted, giving the skinny little twat an obvious up and down.

“Oh don’t worry, everybody here has already seen you make a complete arse of yourself, I can’t make it much worse.”

“Okay, let’s go outside,” Arthur said, revising his opinion of beating on those weaker and stupider than him.

It was chill out, the pavement gleaming from a recent downpour and the residual drizzle. Standing up, Arthur estimated the other guy might be a little taller than him, and perhaps not as young as he’d first thought. While he watched, the man shucked his jacket with great bravado and squared off, jaw clenched. And he knew it was mean, but Arthur genuinely couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him. It clearly wasn’t appreciated, because the guy took a swing, and what he didn’t have in bulk he made up for in speed. Not that it really mattered; Arthur was faster, catching him by the wrist, twisting his narrow frame into a hold so he stood half bent over, gritting his teeth at the pull in his shoulder.

“There, are we settled now?” Arthur grinned at the back of the guy’s neck, enjoying the resistance in his stiff back and jerking arms.

“Hey,” the barista from the café interrupted again, having come outside for a smoke break. “Come on, man. Quit picking on him.”

“He started it!” Arthur said indignantly the same moment his conquered opponent tossed his head, biting out “I can take care of myself, thanks!”

“Yeah-huh,” the barista said, unimpressed. Arthur let go; the moment was ruined, anyway, and the skinny guy shook himself like an angry cat and turned on his would-be rescuer.

“I could take you both if I wanted to,” he claimed, absurdly, and by the shifting expression on the friendly barista’s face Arthur thought it’d probably be a little cruel to let his seat-stealing, delusional new acquaintance get his ego deflated twice in the same night, so he held out a placating hand and collared the twit with a heavy arm.

“Nevermind, it’s fine. We’ll take our quarrel elsewhere.”

“What!” the kid yelped, muffled by Arthur’s wrist. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”

“Yeah, what’s your name? Merlin?” Arthur interpreted through Merlin’s mouthful of wool coat. “Shut up Merlin. Thanks,” he said to the barista, who puffed on his cigarette and rolled his eyes.

“What the hell,” Merlin spat when Arthur let him wriggle free a block away. “You can’t just manhandle people like that.”

Arthur twitched an eyebrow. “Why didn’t you stop me, then?”

“It’d be a little conspicuous to kill you in the middle of the street,” Merlin grumbled, straightening his coat.

“Right, obviously.” Arthur turned the corner, leading Merlin away with a hand to his back until receiving a pointed glare and he lifted both his arms, relenting.

“Give me my book back,” Merlin demanded, stopping dead in the middle of the intersection.

“Look. There’s a pretty decent pub just down the street. How about a peace offering: I’ll buy you a drink for all the manhandling,” Arthur offered, feeling generous. Merlin looked at him like he’d just declared his intention to sail to the moon. “Okay, and for beating you in about three seconds flat,” Arthur added.

“You don’t listen to yourself that often, do you?” Merlin asked, squinting at him.

“Only as often as I can,” Arthur grinned. Merlin put a palm to his forehead, turning in place.

“I just want my book,” he said.

“Come on. One drink,” Arthur pressed, not entirely sure why he was trying so hard. Merlin eyed him for a long moment before shrugging elaborately and motioning for Arthur to lead on.

They took seats at the bar. Merlin immediately began to fiddle with the beer mat while Arthur flagged the bartender.

“What’ll you have?” he asked.

“An appletini,” Merlin said.

(Bell)

“Six shots. Line ‘em up,” Merlin said.

(Bell)

“A lager,” Merlin said.

“Same,” Arthur popped a peanut into his mouth. The glasses had barely clunked onto the bar before Merlin lifted his in a brief salute and promptly shotgunned the whole pint. Arthur was a little distracted (not to say utterly disturbed) by the way Merlin’s throat worked in long, dragging pulls, so he only noticed the glass was empty when it touched wood again. Merlin held out his hand, eyes watering.

“Book,” he said around a tiny burp. Arthur motioned for a refill, eyes wide.

“Do you have somewhere to be?” he asked in what he hoped was an offhand manner.

“No,” Merlin said. His hand was still outstretched.

“You know, peace offerings generally last more than thirty seconds.” Arthur’s brow beetled. How could one person be so consistently annoying?

“Offer peace to everyone you bully, then?” Merlin said, sly. “You could just drink faster,” he added, before Arthur could give the first comment the response it soundly deserved.

“Not everything’s a competition, mate,” Arthur pointed out, the beginnings of a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“I’m sure you believe that,” Merlin said, very sincerely.

…Eight (well, sixteen total) beers later…

“You know,” Arthur mused, peering into all six of Merlin’s eyes. “You seem. I don’t know. Somethin’ about you, Merrrlinn.”

“Mmm, gold,” Merlin whispered, tugging at a lock of Arthur’s hair.

“Hey,” Arthur said, shaking his head. Merlin slumped half into his lap. “Hey!” he pushed Merlin’s limp noodle body back onto its stool. “Listen. Listen, Merlin, I have an idea.”

“So blue,” Merlin moaned, his head falling off his hands to thunk onto the bar.

“What?” Arthur looked around, distracted. “Merlin! Listen. You should. Hey. My place, it’s just down the street. You wanna, you know. Come to my place?” Arthur pushed at Merlin’s unresponsive shoulder.

“This is a nice place,” Merlin said, mostly to the bar.

“Yeah. But Merlin, my place,” Arthur said, breathless. He swayed in towards Merlin’s ear. “You should come to my place.”

Merlin shot back into his seat, the back of his skull cracking Arthur soundly in the nose. “Oi! I’m not gay!” he blurted, remarkably cogent for one so deep in his cups.

(Bell)

“Yeah, but Merlin, my place,” Arthur said, breathless. He swayed in towards Merlin’s ear. “You should come to my place.”

“Yeah?” Merlin said, turning his head on the bar so he could look up at Arthur through the pretzel crumbs stuck in his lashes.

“Yeah, man. I got this…these, flatmates. One’s my half, step sister, thingy. You can have her, but Gwen, she’s there too, and Merlin, mate, they’re. Really top notch. Morgana has really nice hair, and Gwen, Gwen has really nice—” he grinned, grabbing at his own chest in demonstration.

(Bell)

“Yeah, but Merlin, my place,” Arthur said, breathless. He swayed in towards Merlin’s ear. “You should come to my place.”

“Yeah?” Merlin said, turning his head on the bar so he could look up at Arthur through the pretzel crumbs stuck in his lashes.

“Yeah, man. I got this sword. It’s real, and it has like…letters, carved near the handle. Hilt. The hilt.”

“Cool,” Merlin breathed, sliding from his seat to the floor.

It took a solid twenty minutes for them to sober up enough to stand, mostly by leaning on each other, and another ten minutes of walking (and halfway to Arthur’s) before he realized he’d left his keys at the pub. By the time they finally reached Arthur’s stoop, the chill and the walking had done a lot to take the edge off their silliness, leaving them both feeling mostly numb and sleepy-slow, like walking in taffy.

Arthur’s flat was a small space, meticulously well-planned out so that it seemed cozy more than cramped. The fireplace was one of those nifty gas dos that came on with the flick of a switch, and mounted on the wall over the mantelpiece was a very impressive looking sword. The sheer sweet boyishness of such a decoration went right over Merlin’s head in his state, and he could only accept the weapon’s weight with a certain sense of awe when Arthur took it off the wall and gingerly placed it in his hands.

True to Arthur’s word, there were indeed letters near the hilt – runes, in fact – and they swam before Merlin’s eyes until he realized he wasn’t that trashed anymore and he had tears in his eyes. He handed the sword back hurriedly, gasping that it was just so, so lovely and rubbing at his temples with the heels of his palms, overcome and oddly bewildered. Arthur put the sword away, remorseful and concerned in a manner Merlin knew he couldn’t be if he weren’t three sheets to the bloody wind, so by some obscure mental calculus (that he couldn’t really account for) it only made sense to cup Arthur’s face in his hands and kiss him.

Arthur’s reaction was swift and shocking: he made a soft noise, then parted his lips and kissed Merlin back. Merlin didn’t even realize they were moving until his head rang and the breath left his body in one instant, his back pinned to the wall, Arthur’s hands under his shirt. They stumbled into Arthur’s bedroom with all the grace of a peg-legged dance troupe, kissing and stripping and making small exclamations of pain when they trod on each others’ toes.

“Do you have any…?” Merlin tipped his head back, flushing. “Um. Protection?”

Arthur looked up from his strategic attack on Merlin’s neck, eyes glazed. “No, why?”

(Bell)

“Do you have any…?” Merlin tipped his head back, flushing. “Um. Protection?”

“Oh, yeah,” Arthur said, peeling himself off Merlin’s body and tripping over to the waste bin in the corner of his room. “I like to recycle, I hope you don’t mind—”

(Many bells ring)

“Do you have any…?” Merlin tipped his head back, flushing. “Um. Protection?”

“Yeah,” Arthur swallowed. “Uh, yes. Just here,” he backed up toward the end table by the bed, pulling Merlin along with him by the belt loops. After a moment of fumbling behind himself without looking, he pressed a foil packet into Merlin’s palm, glancing up at him from beneath his fringe. “You want to?” he said, quiet.

Merlin, aware of the tenuous current of electricity bridging them, looked directly into Arthur’s eyes. The moment only lasted for a second, but the snap of something —an otherworldly cold, a lake at dawn in a forest in an untouched, soundless memory— was enough to have him tracing his yes on the roof of Arthur’s mouth with his tongue.

***

Arthur woke to a muffled ‘shit’ and the sound of someone tripping over the hope chest at the foot of his bed. He sat up, startled, before tugging a pile of bedclothes into his lap and wondering why, exactly, he was stark-arse naked.

“Oh,” a tousled, dark head popped up at the end of his bed, cheeks flaming. “Sorry. I, uh, was just leaving. Sorry,” the guy –Merlin– apologized again.

Arthur nodded, rubbing at his head, something hard and sharp taking shape just beneath his ribcage and a strange bitterness flooding his mouth.

(Bell)

They woke to a slice of sunlight falling across the bed, a cruel blade of light that had them curling in together against the morning. Arthur tugged a sheet over their heads, grumbling.

The space beneath the covers was a tent of warmth. Morning filtered through the cotton in shades of gold, limning the planes of Arthur’s face and picking out the gleam in Merlin’s eyes.

They stared at each other for an endless moment. Arthur released a long, shuddering breath.

And Merlin said “Oh,” wonderingly, his hand splayed wide across Arthur’s bare chest. “There you are.”


End.