Arthur really does have the worst luck. What's even worse is that he's an idiot!
His car. Of all the things in the world his ex-boyfriend could have stolen, it's his bloody car! His favourite car. His only car.
And now he has to take the bus!
Arthur trudges to the bus stop and waits with the ten or so other people on their smartphones, reading the news, checking social media, or simply pretending to look busy. No one looks up at him, to see his misery, and it's all the same to Arthur. He's glad for it.
He has to remember to school his expression and go to work. He pulls out his own mobile and sends a quick text to Lance. His friend's a constable and maybe he can help. Arthur doesn't want to bring formal charges on Helios, but if he has to, he's going to file a report.
Hopefully, Helios will come to his senses and return the car. Unscathed.
The bus finally arrives, and Arthur gets in the queue. There are some people pushing their way in--Arthur doesn't take the bus much but he knows not to jump the queue in such a way. There are some around him glaring at the jumpers, and the lady in front of him is muttering under her breath. Since Arthur's in no hurry, and no, he's not going to trample over the seventy-five-year-old woman just so he can get a seat, he takes his time. He doesn't have to worry, though, because he finds a perfectly good seat next to a kid who has her headphones on and is looking out the window. Her expression is so grave, as if all of life's burdens are on her shoulders—they usually are when you're that age, he thinks.
Still trying not to feel sorry for himself, Arthur looks down at his phone when it vibrates. It's a text message from Lance.
Lance: You should just file the missing report. Get that man's arse in jail. I can't believe he took your car!
Arthur: You know what it'll be like. Father wouldn't want the press. He'd much rather get me a new car.
Lance: But that was YOUR CAR!
Arthur: I know.
Lance: Are you still coming over for dinner tonight?
Arthur: Of course. See you then.
At the next stop, the melancholic teenager gets up and makes her way around Arthur to get off the bus. Arthur's about to slide into her seat when he sees a woman board with two kids in tow. As the woman tries to hold on to the baby in her arms, the other child is already screaming and running into the bus.
"Tyler! Hold on a second," she shouts as the little boy runs up to Arthur and starts tapping on his knees.
"Sorry about that," the woman says as she approaches him. "He's far too friendly for his own good."
"That's all right," Arthur says standing up. "Here, all yours."
"Oh, thank you!" the woman says, looking exhausted and the boy, Tyler, settles himself next to the window, leaning into his mother's embrace.
Well, good deed of the day done! Arthur thinks to himself and the bus jerks to a stop before it pulls away from the curb. Arthur barely manages to hold onto the railing and is glad he didn't topple over onto any of the passengers.
Fortunately, he finds a new seat and plants himself down. Honestly, he should have just called a taxi. The next few minutes are hardly quiet, but the bus is going to arrive at his stop soon. Arthur can't wait to put the memories of his awful morning behind him and get to work!
It's obvious the bus driver is really having a bad day. Either that, or the way the man screeches to a halt and pulls away makes Arthur think he has a death wish.
He looks around the bus trying to gauge the reaction from other riders. He's wondering if this is normal for the driver, as others around him probably take the same route every day, and most likely with the same driver. He's left wondering these things when a skinny bloke with rumpled hair, a chequered button-down, and a messenger bag across his chest, boards the bus.
Before the bloke has a chance to get his bearings, the driver pulls away without any warning and he's nearly toppled over. He walks further into the bus and as he's about to set himself straight, the bus jerks again.
The man—Arthur's starting to think of him as Chequered Shirt—grabs for the closest thing. It, of course, happens to be Arthur's shoulder.
"Ouch," he says, pointedly. Maybe it's a bit more snappish than he needs it to be, but part of it is because Arthur wants to get this man's attention.
His long and lean fingers dig into Arthur's shoulder and Arthur feels warmth tingling all over his body.
"Sorry!" the bloke says, wincing. "Whoops." Although he doesn't seem all that apologetic as he lets go of Arthur's shoulder.
As if on cue, the bus takes a sharp turn and the bloke loses his footing again. Arthur is quick to respond. He wraps his arm around the man's waist and pulls him close. He feels agreeable in Arthur's arms. So… fitting. It's as if he belongs there.
What in the world is wrong with you, Arthur? Get a fucking grip!
"Ouff!" Chequered Shirt exclaims, his breath nearly coaxing against Arthur's neck. Even though Arthur has managed to get a hold of the bloke, he's still managed to annoy everyone else around him. "Sorry!" Chequered Shirt says to a lady across the aisle, who he had hit with his messenger bag in the process of getting his bearings.
"You really are clumsy, aren't you?" Arthur finds himself asking. Really, he should have kept his mouth shut. He needs to let go of Chequered Shirt and move on with his life.
Chequered Shirt looks at him with utter confusion. It's as if none of this has just happened and he's found himself on this crowded bus, and has no idea how he got there. And, then, there's a spark. Arthur isn't sure if he's reading too much into it. The man's eyes slightly widen and he opens his mouth to obviously retort in some way or another, but thinks better of it.
"Um…" he says, as if they're long lost pals in an embrace on the bus.
When he's sure Chequered Shirt isn't going to fall over on someone else and ruin their day, Arthur finally lets him go.
"That's one way of putting it."
"Thanks. For saving me," Chequered Shirt says. He gives a soft smile that nearly melts Arthur's heart, and his entire body vibrates from it. The feeling in his groin isn't that far behind, either.
Arthur winks at the man, because, really, he's that kind of an arsehole.
"Yep, I'm a regular knight in a shining armour." At that, Chequered Shirt blushes. Blushes! And Arthur wants to pull the man down and have him sit on his lap. He doesn't even care if that's not appropriate behaviour for regular bus riders but he wants this bloke. Wants to feel him against Arthur.
He quickly clears his throat. "I'm getting off at the next stop, so, please, take my seat." Arthur gets up and gestures for Chequered Shirt to sit down. Honestly, he's not sure how much more he can take. All he wants to do is think about how the man's crotch is eye-level with Arthur and Arthur's truly refraining himself from taking a peek at the bulge.
They switch seats seamlessly and now Arthur's' feeling uncomfortable. God, how can he find some random bloke he ran into on the bus so fucking attractive? Chequered Shirt's not even his type. Given his past with Helios and Cenred, Arthur has a thing for men that are about his size and can take him. Chequered Shirt, though he looks taller than Arthur, is all skin and bones and so bloody delicate--Arthur is sure he could break him in two without hesitation.
"Seeing something you like?" Arthur asks when the man's clearly interested. It's good to know, but where is this going to go anyway? They're on a fucking bus.
"Um…" Chequered Shirt says. Again. Excruciatingly articulate, this one. "Um," he repeats a moment later.
At this, Arthur can't help himself. He throws his head back and gives a hearty laugh. There are others that might be staring at him now but yeah, Chequered Shirt is surely an entertaining one. When Chequered Shirt grins up at him, Arthur decides to go for it. "I think I'm going to start interpreting your um's as yes's."
"Um…" Chequered Shirt says and his ears have turned red; Arthur really wants to take pity on the man, but now, this is just entertaining. When they lock eyes again, the bloke's gaze melts something inside Arthur. His mischievous smirk turns into a soft smile.
Arthur bites his lower lip before he replies to that, in a hushed voice so only Chequered Shirt can hear him, "You're pretty special." He's feeling ridiculously self-conscious but he doesn't let it show. He continues to maintain his eye-contact with the man until the bus comes to a screeching halt. It's his fucking stop.
Fuck this morning, and now fuck this day. Arthur has to go.
"So… I'm Arthur, and this is my stop." Arthur doesn't wait for the man to reply. "Bye, then," he says and turns around to leave. His entire body is vibrating and as Arthur tears himself away from Chequered Shirt, he feels like his heart is breaking. This isn't a feeling he's used to. All his break ups in the past didn't amount to this much… pain, longing, suffering?
That's it. Arthur is suffering.
He feels numb as he gets off the bus and it pulls away. He has no sensation in his legs and he knows he's just going to fall over, so he sits down on the bench. He watches the people around him for a while. A young mother pushing her baby in a small carriage goes past him.
The world is still functioning. Nothing has changed.
His entire life has just been changed.
Jesus Christ, Arthur. Could you be more dramatic?
Still, he doesn't care about Helios. He doesn't give a flying fuck about his car. He doesn't care if he's going to be late to work now or if his father is going to be upset about it.
What. In. The. Bloody. Hell. Just. Happened?
He pulls out his mobile and sends a text to his sister. She's his partner in crime at his father's firm, and if anyone can cover for him this morning, it would be her.
Arthur: So sorry. I've got an emergency. Be in a bit later.
Morgana: What's his name?
Arthur smiles at his mobile and bites his lower lip. Chequered Shirt, he thinks.
Arthur: I don't even fucking know.
He puts his mobile away because he really doesn't have the energy to deal with Morgana and her twenty questions. If he did, then he'd be going to work. Instead, he's just going to sit at this bus stop and relive all the moments in his life where he'd gone wrong. Or just give himself a few seconds of feeling sorry for himself. For losing Chequered Shirt.
Was it even possible to miss someone you never even had?
Arthur has no idea how long he's been sitting there. It could have been five minutes or five hours, but when he looks up, his heart nearly sinks to his stomach. Unless his eyes deceive him, Chequered Shirt is walking up to him. Arthur has half a mind to pinch himself to check if he's not actually dreaming.
When the man approaching him smiles, Arthur returns it. He feels the connection between them, and it's obvious Chequered Shirt—blue eyes, dark hair, sexy grin… Arthur has a million nicknames for him now--feels it too.
The man casually sits down next to Arthur, their knees almost touching. Arthur wants to reach over and wrap his arms around the man and never let him go. He knows he's completely insane.
This is absolute lunacy.
"I'm Merlin," the man says. He's breathless, and that flush hasn't left his cheeks. He's absolutely adorable.
When Arthur gives him a quizzical look, the man smiles once more before adding, "I think this was my stop, too."
It's love at first sight. It's absolutely fucking ridiculous. But it is what it is. Arthur's fallen head over heels for this man—Merlin—from the bus. And it's all because Helios stole his car.
He breaks out laughing because he is in awe of what's happened to him.
At his reaction, Merlin starts laughing, as well.
They look at each other for a while, knees touching, and Arthur can feel the heat between them mingling. He reaches over, puts his hand on Merlin's shoulder, and Merlin stills. And then, his hand travels up to Merlin's neck, grabs him by the back of his neck, and pulls him closer. Merlin easily leans into the touch—towards Arthur's body. It isn't long until Arthur kisses him.
Merlin's lips are soft and he tilts his body forward so they can be close together as their thighs press against each other's. Merlin's hands reach up to cup Arthur's face while his other hand is raking through Arthur's hair.
It isn't until there is someone standing close to them, clearing their throat, that Arthur and Merlin break apart. Arthur looks to his side to find an older woman standing with her arms crossed, glaring down at them.
"Oh, right!" Arthur says standing up and offering his seat to the lady. Merlin follows his moves and quickly stands up.
"Sorry!" he says and then chuckles slightly. "I've been saying that a lot today."
Arthur smiles at him, grabs his arm, and they start to walk away.
When they are both quite a safe distance away from the old lady, and the bus stop, they both break into a fit of giggles. Arthur's not felt this good in a very long time, and he has no idea who Merlin is, where he's come from, but he makes Arthur feel free.
"So…" Arthur says after they go around the corner, holding hands, and stopped in front of a café.
"So," says Merlin.
"I actually do have to go to work in a few."
Merlin gives him a sheepish smile and rubs the back of his head. "Yeah, me too."
"What do you do?" Arthur asks immediately. He wants to know everything about him.
"I'm an art teacher at the rehabilitation centre on Main and Abbey. Just started. It's for adults with neurological disord—conditions."
"Oh!" Arthur says, impressed, humbled, and slightly worried. "And you just got off the bus. For me?"
Merlin shrugs. "I'm usually there hours early setting up for my shift—I mean, that's not why. I just started there so I like to make a good impression. I wanted to— You have to know—"
"I know," Arthur says, squeezing Merlin's hand. "I'm glad you got off the bus."
Merlin smiles at him, and looks behind him at the café. "So, can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
Arthur shrugs. "Sure. Sounds great."
They sit across from each other after receiving their cappuccinos. The café isn't full and Arthur’s glad for it, the last thing he wants is to be in a busy place with eyes on him and Merlin holding hands.
Arthur's literally just met this stranger and now he's on a coffee date with him. Holding his bloody hand. "Can I see you later tonight?" he asks, and Merlin raises an eyebrow, making Arthur realise what he sounds like. "What I mean is, invite you to dinner. I have a thing to go to, but I'd like you to accompany me. If you can."
Merlin bites his lower lip and Arthur's eyes are fixed on his mouth. Bloody hell, they’d just been kissing a few minutes before and Arthur still remembers the feel of Merlin's lips on his, the taste of this stranger so sweet and so him.
"I wish…" Merlin says. "But, I told my friends I'd be there for dinner and I can't—I can't skip it."
"Of course, I understand," and Arthur does. Because he's just met Merlin who has a life, and friends, just like Arthur. He can't just expect Merlin to drop everything and date Arthur.
"Maybe after dinner?" Merlin says, tentatively.
"Oh?" Arthur says, so eloquently.
"I mean, my thing, it's just dinner, yeah? I could stop by, have a quick meal, and say I need to run off for whatever reason. Maybe I can meet you after? For a drink. If you drink that is. I don't want to assume—not that I'm much of a drinker myself or anything. I dabble on occasion— Fuck, I'm rambling on, aren't I?"
"I was right, you know," Arthur says, taking a sip of his cappuccino and then reaching over to grab Merlin's hand again. "You are pretty special."
"If that's your way of saying a complete mess, a rambling idiot, who is unable to do anything but fluster all over himself—"
"Hey, Merlin…" Arthur quips and Merlin immediately shuts up and straightens up. "I like that about you."
"But you just met me."
"And I'd love to get to know you better. Drinks later on sound perfect." The smile Merlin gives him then makes Arthur's heart flutter. Merlin is perfect.
Arthur reaches into his pocket and gives his mobile to Merlin. "Put your number in," he says. It's hard for Merlin to manoeuvre it with Arthur’s still holding onto his right hand, but he doesn't complain. He puts in his number, texts himself, and hands the mobile back to Arthur.
"Now you can message me when you're done with your dinner and we can make plans to meet up later."
They stay at the café for another half an hour. Arthur tells Merlin about his job working with his father and his sister. In turn, Merlin talks about his own work, how he got into art and now combines music therapy and painting to help his patients.
"It doesn't pay much, but I'm living rent-free right now so it's working out so far," Merlin says and Arthur raises an eyebrow. "It's an interesting arrangement. Perhaps I can tell you more about it tonight at drinks?"
Arthur gives him a nod. "I can't wait."
He walks Merlin back to the bus stop so he can catch the next one and go to work. They hold hands on the way there and while they wait. As Arthur sees the bus approaching, he turns to face Merlin. Without any hesitation, he pulls Merlin in for a long, deep kiss before letting him go.
He loves the way Merlin kisses him back.
It's absolutely mental, yes, he's aware, but it's also exhilarating.
"Now, I certainly can't say I've ever pulled anyone on a bus before," Merlin jokes, biting the inside of his cheek.
"First time for everything," Arthur replies and he lets go of Merlin.
As the bus pulls away, taking Merlin with him, Arthur wonders if his luck has just changed.
As he walks in, Arthur can hear a roar of laughter coming from the common room. He's obviously the last one to arrive. Instead of heading towards where the guests are gathered, Arthur makes his way to the kitchen. No doubt Lance is there, getting the starters ready.
"Hey," he says just so he doesn't startle the man, and Lance turns around grins at him.
"So glad you're here!" Lance says, when Arthur offers him the bottle of wine he's brought and pulls Arthur in for a hug. "Late, though."
"I know. You wouldn't believe the day I've had."
Arthur almost freezes in his spot, half hugging Lance as Lance takes a step back and looks at Arthur's face. His own expression is quizzical, as if he has no idea what made Arthur tense up the way he did. Well, Lance wouldn't know why.
He turns around slowly, and can hardly believe it, but Merlin is standing by the kitchen entrance, holding two empty glasses of wine and a beer bottle.
"Hi," Arthur says, dumbfounded.
"Arthur, you know Merlin?" Lance asks and Arthur turns to look at his friend. He had nearly forgotten Lance is standing right there, his hand resting on Arthur's shoulder.
"I… yeah…" Arthur chuckles nervously. "We met this morning. On the bus."
"On the bus?" Lance says, almost shrieking. "Wait, you're the man that's stolen Merlin's heart at love at first sight?"
"Lance!" Merlin pushes Lance and his hand slips off Arthur's shoulder. "What the fuck?"
"He didn't tell us your name! But, Merlin's not been able to stop talking about you. God, since the second he got here… he was all but ready to leave because he wanted to go on this date with a hot blond tonight." And then Lance gives a laugh that sounds a bit ironic and he shouts for Gwen. "Or was it Man with the body of a god. Gwen, Listen to this—"
"You need to stop!" Merlin pushes Lance against the counter and nearly climbs on top of him. It would be entertaining but if anything, Arthur's a bit jealous at how easily Merlin is touching Lance--there's no hesitation there. As if they're long lost friends and how is that even possible? Arthur has known Lance since forever but he's never even heard of Merlin.
"What is going on?" Gwen asks, sounding exasperated as she starts to separate the two men.
"For goodness' sake! It's been like this non-stop. If I had known Lance was going to be like this the moment Merlin got here, I would have told Hunith to keep him in Ealdor."
"What's this about?" Gwaine asks, entering the room and Percy isn't too far behind him.
The kitchen only gets crowded as Leon is there with Sophia, Elena, and Vivian. They're all entertained by the show but Arthur only feels completely lost.
"Arthur is Merlin's knight in shining armour!" Lance says, looking thoroughly entertained.
"Ah!" Leon, Gwaine, and Percy say at the same time, and the women respond with, "Wow, that's so sweet!"
"What are the odds?" Gwen says, sounding amused. She's obviously no longer annoyed at Merlin and Lance.
Arthur started to talk, "I don't—what exactly—I mean—"
Lance and Gwen give each other a look and burst out laughing.
Arthur is a mix of irritated, confused, jealous, and weary. He had thought about cancelling tonight and simply waiting for Merlin to call him for drinks later, but now he's not so sure if this was all some sort of a cruel joke.
"Arthur, Merlin is my cousin. He just moved here from Ealdor and works at Albion Rehab Centre doing art therapy. The whole point of this dinner tonight was for Merlin to meet our friends since he'll be living here for a while. We were also hoping…"
Lance pauses, looking a bit embarrassed when Gwen starts to speak.
"We were hoping to introduce the two of you. But it seems like that wasn't really necessary on our part as you two met this morning and, well—"
"We know the story," Gwaine says. "Merlin's not been able to shut up about it."
"Hey…" Merlin says in protest.
It's interesting to note that Merlin and Gwaine have already hit it off and they are becoming fast friends. A pang of jealousy rushes through Arthur, and he has to push it down.
"It's my fault really," Elena chimes in. "I asked Merlin what his first few days in Camelot were like and… he's told us the story."
Arthur blinks for a while. He looks from Lance to Merlin and then to his friends, and then back to Lance. "Wait, you're cousins?"
Lance and Merlin shrug at the same time. And then, they look at each other, grin, before looking back at Arthur. They look nothing alike, but their actions almost entirely mirror each other.
"Our mothers are sisters," Merlin says, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Lance nods, and Arthur thinks he's recognised the confusion on Arthur's face. "And you know I'm adopted so—"
"Why didn't you tell me your cousin was living with you?" Arthur asks.
Lance laughs softly and Gwen leans into him. "Well, the party was the introduction and—Gwen thought if I told you I had a gay cousin and he was single and you are single—you might catch on that it was going to be a set up."
"I didn't know I was going to be set up," Merlin says, his cheeks flushing, as he glares at Lance.
"Can you imagine that?" Gwaine says, with a teasing tone. "If Helios hadn't stolen your car, then the two of you wouldn't have met this morning. But… would've actually met here."
"You'd have fallen in in love regardless," Vivian says with a dreamy look in her eyes.
Arthur's eyes are on Merlin and it's as if he's pulling Merlin towards him that Merlin walks up to him willingly. They're amongst friends, and needless to say, Merlin's already feeling at home with them. He leans into Arthur's embrace as Arthur wraps his arm around Merlin.
They look at each other, finally Arthur knows what it means when people say they were the only two people in the room.
"It's destiny," someone yes.
Yes, it is, thinks Arthur.
They stay there the entire night.
In the morning, Arthur gets a call that his car's been found, abandoned, and nearly stripped down. He sends a message to his secretary to file the insurance paperwork. He doesn't bother filing any criminal charges on Helios, but does start the leg work on getting a restraining order.
He may be happy with Merlin, and in a forgiving mood, but he isn't a complete idiot.