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A taste of love

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“Today was brutal, wasn’t it?” Merlin comments as he takes off his red apron, then stretches; rolling his shoulders and moving his head from side to side to loosen the muscles in his neck

“Yeah, Christmas is so stressful!” Freya yells from the kitchen where she’s finishing her part of the cleaning. “If it weren’t for the growth in sales, I’d have totally closed a couple of hours ago!” They have an agreement. Merlin always takes care of cleaning and organising the front of shop where he serves the customers, while she deals with the kitchen and loos.

Merlin’s already finished sweeping and mopping the floor, righting the chairs and tables and scrubbing the counter after turning off and cleaning the machines. He’s only waiting for Freya to finish up so they can head home when Merlin hears the bells above the door dingle.

He pokes his head out of the staff room where he’s getting out of his work clothes. “I’m sorry but we’re closed. We closed a while ago, sir,” he loudly informs the bloke. Some people like to overlook the huge ‘we’re closed’ sign stuck to the glass door.

From afar, Merlin sees the guy frown. “I only wanted a cappuccino,” he retorts in a deep voice. He’s wearing a suit, though the top two buttons of his shirt are undone and his tie is loosened too, telling Merlin he’s probably a tired businessman that just finished work. Even though Merlin finds the sight quite appealing, and he understands the feeling of wanting a hot beverage after a long day of work, Merlin isn’t really in the mood to start the coffee machine up again when Freya is likely to come out any second, weary and wanting to close the shop.

“Well, I’m afraid it’s not possible. I’ve already cleaned and switched off the machine. Sorry,” Merlin says as he walks out from the staff room and places his hands on top of the counter, looking straight into the bloke’s eyes.

The guy’s frown deepens as he approaches the counter. He eyes Merlin up and down, so Merlin raises his chin. “Look, I’ve come here sometimes when you were closed and your co-worker has kindly made a coffee for me.”

Now it’s Merlin’s turn to scowl. This isn’t the first time the bloke has been impertinent. All the more reason not to let him get away with it tonight. Freya might have indulged the bloke because she’s nice and polite like that, but Merlin hasn’t got that much patience, let alone at this hour of the night. Because of that, and because sometimes Merlin lacks of a brain-to-mouth filter, he says, “If your intention was to come here to flirt with Freya, then I’m sorry but you’re stuck with me and I’m asking you to leave.”

“I beg your pardon?” The guy seems offended by Merlin’s answer, but Merlin doesn't care. If the guy had an ounce of decency he’d have already left.

“You’re holding us up, mate. My shift is over and I wanna go home.”

“Not your mate,” the guy replies curtly, shifting from one foot to the other as though he’s tired of waiting. “And maybe you’d have already left if you hadn’t spent the last couple of minutes arguing with me instead of taking my order.”

Merlin can't help narrowing his eyes at him. What an arrogant arse.

The bloke has the guts to raise his eyebrows at Merlin as though he has the right to boss him around, and Merlin has to restrain his urge to tell him off more rudely, but it’s not worth it. He’s better than that, really. He turns around and decides to make the damned coffee only so the guy shuts up and Merlin can finally get rid of him. “It’ll take a few minutes, sir,” he says in a dry, dull voice, making his displeasure clear.

“Perfect,” the guy replies in a mock-chirpy tone and Merlin grits his teeth. He pointedly gives the bloke his back as he crosses his arms and waits for the machine to warm up and grind the beans, ignoring the guy’s irksome sighing as if he’s the one having to put up with Merlin. However childlish his behavious might come across as, he knows he's not the only one acting stupidly. Once he finishes making the cappuccino, Merlin grabs the paper cup from the machine and pushes a plastic lid over it forcefully, then rounds on the guy.

Merlins offers him his coffee, planting it firmly on the counter. “And next time you come after closing time, trust me, I won’t make you anything.”

The bloke pulls out his wallet and tosses a couple of coins on the counter before grabbing the cup and tilting it in Merlin’s direction if only to mock him further, before he turns on his heels and heads for the door. Thankfully, he doesn’t look backwards as he exits, but he does glance in Merlin’s direction as he passes by the window, and Merlin swears the bloke has the most pleased smirk.

“Bastard,” Merlin murmurs, shaking his head as he slips the money inside the till.

*

The next morning, which is proving to be slightly quieter than the day before, feels like a blessing.

It’s not one of those days when there’s so many people coming and going that Merlin feels like they are going to lose control of the shop at any moment. Although it is almost packed, the crowd has built up slowly, which makes it seem calmer. That is, until just before midday, when certain someone appears through the door. A first, Merlin thinks it must be an illusion, because surely after last night the guy can’t possibly have the cheek to come back. But apparently he does because there’s no mistaking him. It’s the same blond and perfectly combed hair, the same elegant suit-cut, and the same mischievous smirk the bloke had thrown at Merlin through the window as he’d walked away the previous night.

Truth be told, it feels like a slap in the face to see him again, but this time Merlin tells himself that he won’t allow the bloke to act as haughtily as yesterday. For starters, he receives him with a hard stare and a closed expression. “Welcome to Camelot, sir,” he says, greeting him like he would any other customer, but drawing the last word out in a contemptuous manner. “Ask whatever you want nicely and I’ll give it to you. Otherwise, you can see yourself out.”

The bloke seems wrong-footed for a second before he recovers and his lips quirk up in a small smile. For a moment Merlin thinks the guy is laughing at him, but it stays as only the tilt of lips and Merlin considers it’s just an amused smile. “Whatever I want?” the guy questions, raising one blond eyebrow in askance.

Merlin stares at him, narrowing his eyes slightly, not sure where this conversation is heading. “Are you going to order something?” he asks, already irritated even though he’s only spent about five seconds in the guy’s presence.

The bloke whirls his head around before glancing back at Merlin, again looking him over from head to toe in the same fashion he had done yesterday. Not for the first time, Merlin tries to avoid thinking about how ridiculous the red apron looks on him. “Why such a hurry? I’m the only customer in the queue. In fact, there’s no queue; only me.”

Merlin clicks his tongue, despairing. “Look, do you want something to drink or not? Because if you’ve come here to take the piss and waste my time again, I’m really not up for it, thanks. I’ve got work to do.”

The bloke smirks in full force and Merlin has to look away because, admittedly, the guy has a really nice smile. If he wasn't so exasperating maybe Merlin could appreciate it more. “If you’d be so kind, I’d like a double cappuccino and a croissant, please,” the bloke says, attempting a serious face, but his eyes are full of amusement. “Since I’m on my break, I’d like a table as well.”

Merlin stares for a beat, pondering his options, before he responds with a nod and turns to press the right buttons on the machine. The coffee starts trickling down into the mug and Merlin turns back to face him again. “You can have any small table you like,” Merlin tells him. The bloke nods at him and, after a quick surveillance of the shop, decides to get settled at the table by the window, which also happens to be the closest to the counter. Merlin fetches a croissant from the food cabinet and places it neatly onto a plate. By then, his curiosity bests him, and Merlin glances stealthily at the guy from under his lashes, intrigued as to why out of all the empty tables he's chosen the one beside the counter, only to catch him staring.

Merlin drags his gaze away, grabs the coffee and croissant then approaches him. “Here you go, sir. Enjoy.”

“I was thinking—” the bloke starts, surprising Merlin but capturing his attention. “—that, albeit our rocky start, you could have a seat and we could get to know each other some.” He signals to the chair in front of him.

Merlin glances at the chair, then back to the guy, gobsmacked. He pauses, analysing the expression on the bloke’s face, and once Merlin’s got past the initial shock, he schools his features to ask, “What?”

“Let's have a chat. Over coffee,” the guy clarifies unnecessarily, pointing to his cup.

“Coffee?” Merlin’s surprised at the bloke’s insistence. He isn’t sure if the guy’s trying to poke fun at him or if he’s trying to be nice for once, but if it’s the latter then Merlin’s not going to make it so easy for him. “Can’t you see I’m working?”

“You don’t like coffee?” the bloke asks, though it comes out more like a surprised statement.

“I don’t like you,” Merlin scowls, crossing his arms over his chest defensively.

The guy raises his eyebrows, then smirks. “You don’t know me,” he tells Merlin, making an effort to pull a serious face.

Merlin snorts. “I know a little,” he replies. “You’re a prat.”

The bloke smirks again, glancing down at his coffee before looking up to meet Merlin’s eyes. “Maybe next time, then.”

“Maybe,” Merlin replies quickly, feeling more humoured than irked now as the bloke smirks.

After Merlin has turned to go, he hears the bloke speak again. “Oh, and I’m no sir, by the way. I’m Arthur,” he says, making Merlin pause and glance back. “So do call me by my name, please.”

Merlin doesn’t know if it’s the guy’s amused tone, his posh accent or his intention to poke fun at him, but he has a gift for making Merlin’s skin prickle with irritation.

*

Two days later, just when Merlin thought Arthur had tired of playing his game and decided not to reappear at the shop after Merlin had been so disobliging, he shows up just as they are about to close. Merlin rolls his eyes, clicking his tongue at the bad habit.

“We’re just closing,” Merlin announces, approaching the door to turn the ‘open/closed’ sign.

“Ah,” Arthur gazes down at the floor as if to feign that he is apologetic for his bad timing.

Merlin doesn’t say anything; only shakes his head, slightly amused. As he moves around the door, his shoulders brush against Arthur’s who’s standing just inside, as though he’s unsure if he is allowed to move further in. Merlin throws a look over his shoulder at Arthur as he walks back to the counter to finish wiping at it, and then listens to the sound of Arthur’s footsteps following him.

“I hope you haven't forgotten what I told you that first night,” Merlin says, glancing at him sideways.

Arthur snorts. “Oh, I’m not here for a coffee.” Merlin's eyebrows lift of their own accord. Arthur slowly puts his hands atop the counter, pausing Merlin’s work, never mind he's getting his hands wet. “I’m here for your name.”

Snapping his gaze up to meet Arthur’s eyes, Merlin asks, “My name?”

“You haven’t told me yet,” Arthur replies.

Merlin realises then that, in spite of Arthur’s irritating smirks and his exasperating way of dealing with him, he really seems interested in getting to know him.

“It’s Merlin,” he says, holding Arthur’s gaze.

“Merlin,” Arthur rolls it over his tongue in a way that even it sounds irking. But it also sounds nice, really nice.

*

After that last encounter, Arthur seems to take a fancy to coming to the shop for his daily cappuccino and his daily dose of ‘I need to annoy Merlin to no end to make my day complete’. At first, Merlin doesn’t let him off the hook easily, giving back as good as he gets, but Arthur seems to like that. After a few weeks, they quickly develop some sort of mutual understanding between them.

Arthur starts visiting more often, sometimes twice a day if he finishes early, and even after closing. But the times he does that is to apologise for not having been in that day for a snack because he was too busy working. And since they have slowly become somewhat friends, Merlin doesn’t mind Arthur interrupting his cleaning routine. In fact, he learns to like it. It’s quite pleasant when, after an arduous day, Arthur stops by and cheers Merlin up with his brilliant smile and his ‘have a good night, Merlin’ in that posh voice of his. Arthur doesn’t know it, but those little things contribute a great deal to Merlin’s happiness.

After a month, Freya begins to say they are obviously flirting with each other and that even some of the other clients are beginning to enjoy the spectacle of watching them trade insults back and forth. But Merlin insists he's more professional than that and that it's not flirting; that’s just the way their relationship works.

It’s a routine: Arthur appears through the door and throws a smirk Merlin’s way before joining the queue. He always orders his cappuccino and, if he’s planning to stay for a while, he sits at the table near the bar with the window where he can chat to Merlin occasionally as he checks his phone and sometimes does small amounts of work. Other times, when the shop is quiet, Merlin even allows himself a few minutes break with Arthur; sitting opposite him and talking about this and that.

Merlin learns that Arthur is an accountant working for his father in their family company and that the shop is closer to Arthur’s home than it is his work building. He learns other random facts about Arthur and Merlin even shares some of his own. When Arthur asks him for his mobile number, Merlin initially plays hard to get but eventually decides to indulge Arthur.

Arthur now randomly sends him text messages at all hours of the day and night. He asks Merlin via text to deliver his coffee all the way to his office because his PA can’t seem to get his order right, says how Merlin’s prattling is boring but not as much as the conference he’s in, or, like Arthur noted yesterday, that it’s amusing how the new plant his sister has brought for his office reminds him of Merlin’s awful haircut.

In return, Merlin locks Arthur out of the coffee shop when he drops by late and has Arthur knocking on the glass door for as long as he pleases. He puts salt in his coffee instead of sugar or takes simply takes his time to answer Arthur’s texts about being bored in a meeting because he know that annoys Arthur more than Arthur cares to admit. Not that Arthur will admit it, though.

It’s silly, but Merlin hasn’t had this much fun with someone in ages.

The following Friday, Arthur sneaks into the staff room with Merlin, insisting on telling him about his assistant’s last fuck up as Merlin begins to change. Arthur seems really worked up about it, and Merlin can’t can’t help but find it amusing to watch. As he listens, he takes off his apron and polo shirt and abruptly there is a halt to Arthur’s voice.

Confused, Merlin turns to see what has made Arthur pause, only to see Arthur’s eyes glued on him. It’s only then that Merlin notices he’s just striped half-naked before Arthur. He was feeling so comfortable, that he hasn’t given getting changed in front of him a second thought.

He tries to play it cool, although he's freaking out a little inside. “What? You’ve never seen a bloke shirtless before?”

Arthur’s widened eyes narrow to little slits, and his parted lip curl into a smile “Yes, I’ve just never seen a back so bony,” he retorts in a strange voice. “Seriously, Merlin, I can almost see your skeleton.”

Merlin snorts, glancing down at his chest. The awkwardness around them is quickly replaced by their usual back and forth bickering. “Well, I’m not surprised it’s a shock. With all the sweets you eat you will never be able to see your own,” Merlin tells him, eyeing Arthur funnily.

Arthur’s head tips to the side as he shifts his weight from foot to foot. “Are you calling me fat?”

Merlin snorts, then turns around to grab a thin jumper from his locker.

Before he can put it on, though, Arthur is closing in his personal space and planting his hand on the locker beside Merlin’s, cornering him. Merlin pauses and rounds on Arthur. With a smug look on his face, Arthur just stares at Merlin as he smirks. Arthur is so close, Merlin can smell his cologne, can see all the shades of blue in his pupils, can see feel the radiating warmth from Arthur’s body. Merlin finds it quite intoxicating, to say the least. Having Arthur so close, there’s probably not a single clever come-back he can think of because his brain has short circuited.

“You’re obviously not able to distinguish between fat and fit,” Arthur murmurs. His voice has gone lower because what's the point of talking loudly when he is right up in Merlin’s face.

“Am so,” is the best thing Merlin can come up with. Arthur’s closeness really is the most annoying thing Merlin has had to endure from Arthur so far.

Counting Merlin’s inability to continue their bickering match as a victory, Arthur steps away, leaving the staff room and now just deciding to give Merlin his privacy. Merlin trips backwards against the locker before the cold melt on his back reminds him to get dressed.

When he locks up the shop, he's still thinking about a way to settle the score between them and his chance presents itself when Arthur worriedly asks him if he’s made him uncomfortable in the staff room.

Merlin makes a face, forces himself to sound aggravated. “Maybe, yeah? I mean, you’ve crossed the line a bit there, don't you think?”

Arthur’s face falls and he seems so thrown that Merlin almost stops joking.

When Arthur speaks, he sounds lost, and for the first time Merlin watches him fiddling with his hand insecurely and avoiding his gaze. “I— I apologise, then. It really wasn’t my intention to make you uncomfortable, Merlin. I don’t know what’s got into me. I thought you—”

Merlin loses his composure then, bursting out laughing. Arthur looks hurt for a beat before he realises Merlin was having him on. He looks away, pressing his lips together before he snorts a laugh, looking ridiculous with his red scarf wrapped around his neck and his nose as red with cold. Ridiculous but quite lovely, too.

“That was totally unnecessary, Merlin,” Arthur says, rolling his eyes

Merlin finishes laughing and snakes his hands inside the pockets of his hoodie to warm them up. “It was too good an opportunity to let pass, though.”

Arthur shakes his head. “You’re going to have to make it up to me now, you know.”

Merlin raises an eyebrow, eyeing the fog dancing around Arthur’s face as he speaks. “Am I?”

“Definitely,” Arthur states, mirroring Merlin’s position and placing his hands inside his jacket pockets. “Maybe you could invite me over for dinner,” Arthur proposes.

Merlin doesn’t know if Arthur’s being serious or not, but he likes the idea. Any excuse is good to spend more time in Arthur’s company. “Deal,” he answers.

Obviously thrown by Merlin’s reply, Arthur’s eyebrows shoot up. Merlin just grabs Arthur’s jacket and pulls him forward with a smile. “Come on, this way.”

*

The pizza they order is incredible, but not as incredible as Arthur’s laughter ringing close to Merlin’s ear.

When Merlin finishes his second beer he realises that he’s embarrassingly rather tipsy. He tends to do stupid things when he is tipsy and doing stupid things in front of Arthur is not something he wants, because he knows for sure Arthur will never let him live it down. Thinking of ways he can sober up without Arthur noticing he’s drunk, Merlin suggests they watch a movie.

Maybe he is laughing too much in the wrong places, because Arthur keeps reminding him they aren’t watching a comedy as he throws him amused looks every two minutes. But it's not his fault the FX are so terrible, really. That, and the fact that he's particularly comfy with Arthur’s body pressed against his and the fluffy blanket wrapped over them, really make it easy to smile, to say the least.

“You’re a lightweight, you know that?” Arthur whispers at him as explosions light up the screen, the room.

Merlin snorts. Even though he knows he is, he isn’t about to admit that to Arthur. “Easy for you to say when you’ve only drunk half a pint, prat.” Merlin pokes Arthur in the stomach, making him squirm a bit.

With a smile Arthur tells him, “I don’t want to be drunk when I’m with you.”

Merlin doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just stares blankly at the screen. He’s got the impression Arthur’s words hold some deep meaning and they are important for some reason. “I’m not drunk,” he finally manages to say, rearranging himself on the sofa so he can look at Arthur. He leans sideways against the backrest once he’s found a comfortable position.

Arthur’s eyes are shiny and soft, and his smile is sweet. He moves the blanket higher over Merlin’s chest since Merlin’s managed to pool it on his lap, and then shifts it up to Merlin’s shoulder to cover him better. Merlin feels Arthur’s hand brush against the side of his neck and, after a moment of hesitation, stay there.

Merlin’s insides tingle with something he can’t name. He takes a breath, staring at Arthur’s eyes. All of a sudden, he feels more aware of himself and his surroundings; of Arthur. He is pretty certain Arthur’s touch is intentional, considering Arthur’s hand has yet to descended from his neck.

“I feel much less drunk now,” Merlin tells Arthur.

Arthur’s lips turn up into a roguish grin. “Do you?” he asks.

Merlin nods softly, not wanting Arthur to move his hand away. “Yeah. Though I am feeling much hotter.” Maybe he is not entirely sober yet, because if he were he wouldn’t have blurted that.

Arthur’s gentle smile is replaced by surprise.

“Um, well, shit,” Merlin mumbles, pulling away from Arthur. He feels the loss of Arthur’s touch straight away, but he knows he needs it gone to be able to think properly. “Sorry. I don't know what I'm saying.”

Arthur clears his throat as he sits forward on the sofa, mirroring Merlin’s position. “I’m just—I’m flattered, really,” he says.

Merlin smiles, looking at Arthur with a sideways glance. “Good, as if we needed your ego getting any bigger.” Arthur snorts, pushes at Merlin’s shoulder softly. Then, after a beat, because Merlin can't wrap his head around it still, he ask in all seriousness, “Why don’t you wanna get drunk with me?”

Arthur too takes his time before answering, “I want to be sober when I kiss you.”

“Oh,” Merlin says stupidly. His heart begins beating a lot faster, and his gaze drops unconsciously to Arthur's mouth.

Encouraged by that or Merlin's non-refusal, Arthur dips his head closer. Softly, he presses their lips together at the same time his hand returns to the side of Merlin's neck, and Merlin is drunk again; but this time on Arthur. On the sweet fashion in which Arthur is kissing him, his hesitant touch on Merlin's skin and the glint in his eyes once he pulls away.

“Um,” Merlin says, still unable to utter more than monosyllables. “You know, I can actually do better than that,” he adds after a moment and quickly kisses Arthur’s irresistible smile.

They continue to kiss; long, soft, slow and sensual kisses. Before he knows it, Merlin’s being gently pushed down to lay on the sofa as their kissing continues, but Arthur’s hands never stray lower than Merlin’s ribs. When Arthur pulls away to breathe, Merlin blurts, “Stay?”

Arthur seems shocked at the proposition before he flashes Merlin a smile.

When they realise the closing credits of the movie are rolling they move to Merlin’s bedroom. They lay together in Merlin’s bed, comfortably wrapped in the duvet and each other’s arms. They face each other in the dark, talking quietly until sleep pulls at Merlin and he contently dozes off.

*

The next morning Merlin wakes to Arthur’s head on his shoulder and his arm strewn over his stomach, pulling a smile out of him. It’s been so long since he has felt such pull of attraction and affection towards anyone that it feels practically new. If someone had told him he would fall for Arthur when they met, Merlin would have laughed. But now, staring at Arthur’s sleepy face, he doesn’t think it’s such a folly.

He lazes on the bed for a while more until, gently shifting out from beneath Arthur, he stands and paddles into the kitchen to prepare breakfast. He remembers the previous night, those moments of passion on the sofa, and then the moments of quietness in the bed. He’s not used to spending a night with someone without indulging in sex, but he accomplished it with Arthur and it's oddly heartwarming.

Merlin prepares coffee for the two of them, a cappuccino for Arthur the way he likes it, using the old machine from the coffee shop he brought home after they acquired a newer one. He cooks toast for himself and a couple croissants for Arthur, humming contently all the while. He pulls a tray from the cupboard, thinking he’ll take the breakfast to the bed, when he hears footsteps. He turns around just as Arthur enters the kitchen.

“Hey,” Arthur says with a small smile. There’s an edge of hesitation in it, like Arthur thinks now Merlin isn’t drunk he might not want him here, or he regrets what happened last night.

Merlin reassures him quickly with a smile, enjoying the sight of Arthur in one of his biggest pair of pyjamas and sporting bed hair. He looks so different, but just as fetching as when he’s wearing his tailored suits. “Morning, I made you breakfast,” Merlin offers.

Arthur sits at the small white table by the wall and watches him as he moves about the kitchen. They eat in relative silence, with stupid smiles on their faces after Arthur comments on how good the coffee is and Merlin hooks his ankle around Arthur’s, letting their feet stay entwined underneath the table. When they finish, Arthur stares at Merlin quietly and asks, “Is this— is this going to become awkward?”

“Do you want to be here?” Merlin asks in response. Arthur just nods. “Well, so do I.” Finishing the last bite of his toast, Merlin stands, says, “Come to the shower with me?”

Arthur regains his usual confident smirk, following Merlin into the bathroom, undressing and coming into the shower after him. Merlin gets under the spray, pulling Arthur with him and kissing him.

Arthur responds quickly, wrapping his arms around Merlin’s back; pressing their bodies together, making Merlin sigh. They kiss lazily, letting the hot water pour over their heads. Their hips roll against each other as the urge from last night comes crashing back. He breaks the kiss to look into Arthur’s eyes.

Seeing the same want reflected in Arthur's gaze, Merlin grabs Arthur’s hands from where they rest the small of Merlin's back and slides them lower onto his arse, making his intention clear when he guides Arthur’s right hand lower, letting Arthur’s fingers slip inside his crack and brush tentatively against his hole. Arthur’s breath hitches and his eyes widen in surprise. Slowly, his lips edge into a smile which quickly becomes a smirk and just like that Arthur’s doubts seem to dissipate completely as he quickly takes Merlin’s mouth into his, giving him a hard filthy snog, while pressing their bodies together from head to toe. “You’re an idiot,” he mumbles, licking at the water from Merlin’s lips.

Merlin snorts and raises his eyebrows, “Takes one to know one.” Arthur rolls his eyes and grins. “Come on, I took you for someone with more initiative. Do I have to do all the work myself?” Merlin pushes his arse back against Arthur’s hand, widening his stance.

Arthur throws him a challenging stare before he quickly soaps his hands and resumes his previous position; hands grabbing at Merlin’s arse, index finger playing around Merlin’s rim then sliding the tip slowly inside with the help of the soap. Merlin's breath hitches but he keeps his eyes fixed on Arthur’s.

Arthur gently pulls his finger out and glides it back in; too leisurely, too maddening. Arthur smirks even more and begins nosing at Merlin’s cheek before moving to the inside of his jaw and quickening the jabbing motions of his finger, adding another one when Merlin starts panting against Arthur’s neck and gripping at his bicep for leverage.

“You like that, don’t you?” Arthur asks against Merlin’s temple.

Merlin snorts. “Shut up,” he pants, smiling, before he wedges his hand between their bodies and takes hold of Arthur’s dick, squeezing it in his fist and pulling a choked groan out of Arthur.

Arthur bites at the lobe of Merlin’s ear when Merlin starts a rhythm that matches with the slide of Arthur’s fingers inside him, shallow and fast. Like usual, it feels like a competition between them, to see which one of them can get the other more worked up. Arthur fits in a third finger alongside the other two, pumping them as rapid as he can while he trails kisses across Merlin’s neck, and uses his other hand to hold Merlin’s body snugly against him. Merlin continues to jerk Arthur’s cock with rapid and slow motions of his hand, pressing his thumb against the underside of Arthur’s dick and relishing in Arthur’s ragged puffs of breath as he rubs his fingers over Arthur’s right nipple.

When Arthur seems unable to keep up anymore he removes his hand and turns Merlin around, driving him against the wall and slotting his front against Merlin’s back. Merlin tosses a victorious grin over his shoulder, hearing Arthur snort a quick chuckle before he pulls Merlin’s legs apart, placing one hand on the wall, while the other guides himself inside Merlin’s body.

Merlin hangs his head at the slow burn, closes his eyes at the feeling of Arthur’s cock inching its way inside him, at the hot thills running up and down his spine. He grabs at his dick, holds it at the base to stop himself from coming too soon, taking large gulps of air and letting them out as he twists his head to the side to try and see Arthur’s face.

Merlin can feel a pulse start in his neck, and for a moment the warm water hitting on his sensitive skin feels like too much. But then Arthur is finally all the way in, deep inside him, and shielding Merlin from the water with his body, not leaving any gap between them.

Arthur mouths at Merlin’s shoulder, licking at the water and leaving small affectionate pecks across the nape of his neck. For a few moments Arthur doesn’t move, but Merlin can feel his dick twitching inside him and he wonders if Arthur’s grounding himself or if he is giving Merlin a moment. Whichever it is, it makes him smile.

With his free hand, Arthur circles his arm around Merlin’s torso and his fingers start to gently stroke Merlin’s stomach and chest; an enticing movement that has Merlin’s knees shaking with want, need for more.

“C’mon,” he asks, reaching out with his hand to touch Arthur’s thigh and urge him on before the his craving for Arthur consumes him, knowing that he’s already too far gone.

“What?” Arthur asks, a mere whisper against his ear. The puff of air against his wet skin, the intimacy of their posture and the low pitch to Arthur’s voice is too much. Arthur starts teasing him again and Merlin doesn’t know if he can’t handle any more games.

“C’mon, fuck me,” he tells him bluntly, moving his hips and sighing when Arthur’s dick slips out and in just so.

Arthur buries his face in the juncture of Merlin’s neck and shoulder, grunts and takes a firm hold of Merlin’s hip so as to keep him pinned against his body, stopping Merlin from moving. Merlin knows what Arthur’s doing but he doesn’t think either of them are going to be able to take it for much longer. Arthur’s hips falter and Merlin feels Arthur fighting for control as he shifts his weight from one foot to another, panting heavily against Merlin’s skin.

Merlin places his hand atop Arthur’s, caressing them slowly, and when Arthur’s hips buck, he drags Arthur’s hand down his body and tells Arthur to touch him.

As Arthur wraps his hand around Merlin’s dick he seems to lose the little control he had left, because he lets out a muffled groan against Merlin’s neck and pulls his hips back before slamming right back in, with a slapping sound, quickly setting a pace as Merlin pushes back into the steady jut and thrust of Arthur’s wanton rutting. Arthur’s hips slap into Merlin with abandon, fucking in a smooth, perfect rhythm just for a few moments before it turns messy and uncoordinated and Arthur’s need for release becomes evident.

Merlin puts his hand over Arthur’s, stroking his cock faster to match Arthur’s movements as Arthur mumbles encouraging words against his ear between pants. All of Merlin's focus is on the warm heaviness of Arthur's body and the nearly unbearable slide of his cock. Arthur’s rhythm falters and Merlin’s whole body clenches tightly as something uncoils deep inside him, dragging him over the edge, making him shake in Arthur’s reassuring embrace. Arthur reaches his own climax with Merlin's name on his lips as he gives himself over to ecstasy. It is the sweetest sound Merlin has ever heard.

Their shoulders slump from exertion; their bodies propped upright against each other against the shower tiles. Their chests rise and fall in unison, their breaths mingle with one another, a swift paced melody that attunes itself with the rushing water. Merlin’s arsehole is still pulsing with the last echoes of his orgasm and his body buzzes with the pleasant feeling.

Merlin realises he hasn’t felt this content in a while.

Arthur laughs softly beside Merlin’s ear, tiredly but full of joy. Merlin detaches himself from the perfect fit of Arthur’s body and turns in his embrace, flashing a flirtatious grin. Arthur looks positively wrecked, but his smile is broad and impish and makes something bigger than affection bloom inside Merlin’s heart.

*

Afterwards, Merlin finds his routine changes and becomes tangled with Arthur’s.

Merlin introduces Arthur to Freya properly, as well as to Gwaine and Elena when Arthur to joins them at the pub for a couple of drinks one Friday night. Gwaine keeps throwing Merlin knowing looks as Elena chats with Arthur. When Arthur heads to the bar to buy the next round Gwaine doesn’t waste a moment telling Merlin he is already head over heels for Arthur, so, naturally, Merlin admonishes him and Gwaine snickers as he tells him to wait and see.

Arthur invites Merlin to his work office, and that leads to Merlin accidentally meeting Arthur’s sister, Morgana, who happens to remind Merlin a lot of Gwaine. She manages to convince them to have lunch with her, and it's then where Merlin actually finds they have some things in common and, although she’s a bit eccentric, Merlin guesses they could get along quite fine. Afterwards, an irritated Arthur takes Merlin into his office and snogs the hell out of him, saying that he needs a break from work and his sister, and Merlin indulges him.

Merlin is soon making space in his wardrobe for a couple of Arthur’s shirts, boxers and pyjamas. There is no plan for them to move in together —not yet—, but it is a small step forward.

They go shopping for Christmas presents and Arthur demands he helps find a present for Morgana, but spends the evening inquiring Merlin about his tastes. Before they leave, Merlin pretends not to notice Arthur buying him something when he thinks Merlin isn’t looking.

During the Christmas holidays, Merlin also learns that he loves wrapping himself around Arthur’s arms and a blanket as they stretch out on the sofa together watching more horrible sci-fi films with terrible FX. He loves the smell of Arthur’s skin right after a shower, which is nothing like Merlin’s even though they use the same soap. He learns he quite enjoys watching Arthur work on Sunday mornings when he settles on the living room table with his red pyjamas and a cup of cappuccino, forehead slightly furrowed and lips in a pout, before he notices Merlin across the room and his face transforms to gentle lines and a soft smile.

And Merlin also loves when Arthur teases him about his cooking, remarking how his coffee might be delicious but that’s all he can do well in the kitchen, or when he pokes fun at him for losing his keys all the time or falling asleep at odd hours and places, telling him how much of a mess he is, and how glad Merlin should be to have Arthur in his life now. There are plenty of occasions when Merlin is the one making fun of Arthur as well.

On Christmas Eve, Merlin introduces Arthur to his mum after Arthur agrees to spending the night at her house. At this point, Merlin isn’t sure he is able to deny Gwaine’s assumption any longer and he believes his feelings are reciprocated. That's why, after dinner, Merlin finally makes up his mind about giving his Christmas present to Arthur.

His mum is in the kitchen with Oliver —not Merlin’s father but he’s a good, kind man. He has been with her since Merlin moved out of home to go to university and has kept her company and safe— so they finally get a moment alone.

Merlin plops down on the sofa beside Arthur, nudging their shoulders together and tossing him a smile. “I want to give you something.”

Arthur doesn’t seem surprised, but he does look excited. Merlin knows the present itself isn’t big, but its meaning is important for him, for them. He retrieves a small box from the pocket of his jacket and offers it to Arthur. With a pointed look and a smile, Arthur opens the box to find a key ring in the shape of a dragon. His raises his eyebrows but he doesn’t quite manage to hide the disappointment on his face. Merlin smiles and waits for Arthur to meet his gaze.

“Uh, a dragon—key ring,” Arthur says with forced delight, taking the key ring between his fingers and giving Merlin an odd look.

Merlin chuckles before rolling his eyes. “You’re a prat,” he says, before pulling something else from his pocket. “That’s only the first part. Here’s the second.”

Grabbing Arthur’s hand, he places a key into his palm. “I know we agreed not to move in together and this is not what this means.” Arthur looks at the key in his hand before snapping his gaze up to meet Merlin’s eyes, this time with real amazement. “But you come and go all the time and, though you probably do it on purpose, you always come at the worst times. Like when I’m in the shower or sleeping or cooking, so this is just more for convenience, really.” Arthur’s lips slowly form a smirk, a fond smirk. “I just— I want you to have it.”

Taking him by surprise, Arthur drops the key on the box and grabs Merlin’s face with both hands, pulling him into a kiss that breaks too soon because of their inability to stop smiling widely. “You’re an idiot,” Arthur whispers against his lips. “But I—” he stops himself mid-sentence.

Merlin pulls away to look at Arthur in shock; Arthur seems as bemused as he is.

Hunith and Oliver wander into the room and they quickly draw away. Merlin stands to help his mum carry plates of pastries to the table as Arthur places his new key and key ring neatly into the box and tucks it inside his jacket pocket.

When they are all sitting around the table together, Merlin notices Arthur seems a bit flustered. He can understand why Arthur has stopped himself from saying anything further; it’s the same reason Merlin isn’t going to ask what Arthur meant to say or why he wouldn’t say the words himself. It’s feels too soon, too frightening.

Merlin reaches beneath the table and finds Arthur’s hand, squeezing his fingers softly and giving him a reassuring smile. Arthur offers a tentative smile back. They won’t say it yet, but as Arthur compliments Hunith’s cooking and converses amicably with Oliver, while still holding tightly onto Merlin’s hand, Merlin doesn’t have a doubt that Arthur feels for him as much as he feels for Arthur. And for now, that’s more than enough.

 

fin.