The late afternoon sunlight streamed through the dusty old windows of the coffee shop as Merlin tried to wipe crusted sugar from a wooden tabletop. Leaning back from his work, he stretched, and looked around at the few remaining customers, seated quietly on the other side of the shop near the bookshelves, which overflowed with old volumes. Glancing over at the grandfather clock situated next to a large red armchair, Merlin smiled as he realized that it was already 6:30pm, which meant that in just over an hour, he and Arthur would be having dinner at All The King’s Men, a new restaurant that Merlin had been dying to try.
Walking behind the espresso bar, Merlin threw the rag back into a small bucket of cleaner. As he was washing his hands, he jumped when he felt his phone buzz in his back pocket. Wiping his hands on his apron, Merlin pulled out his phone and his face immediately fell.
I have to say late tonight. Please don’t hate me.
With a disappointed sigh, Merlin typed a quick response.
Of course I don’t hate you. But tonight IS night one…
Then he shoved his phone back into his pocket and went to grab the old straw broom in the corner.
“Everything alright?” Gwaine asked as he returned from the kitchen, where he was prepping food for tomorrow.
“Yeah…” Merlin answered vaguely as he swept together a pile coffee grounds on the stone floor.
Gwaine paused for a moment, watching as Merlin pulled his phone out and began typing a response before setting his phone down on the counter and continuing sweeping without another word.
“Is it Arthur?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah,” Merlin responded nonchalantly. “It’s nothing,” he insisted lightly.
“He’s not able to come to your anniversary dinner,” Gwaine guessed, a hint of disapproval evident in his voice.
“Yeah,” Merlin confessed with a shrug, then stopping once again to check his phone and type a quick response, a faint flush coloring his cheeks.
“I’m sorry, mate,” Gwaine said with a bit of a frown. Merlin looked up at him and shook his head. “It’s alright, there’s still two more nights we can celebrate,” he affirmed.
“Right,” Gwaine agreed stiffly, uncertain as to how exactly Merlin was feeling. He paused, and then added gently, “But still, Merlin. It’s not fair to you. He’s known about this weekend for months.”
“Yeah, but things have been hectic, you know that,” Merlin countered, before hearing the chime of the bell above the door and waving goodbye to a couple of customers who were leaving.
“I know you’re just being a good friend,” Merlin accepted with a small grin. “But Arthur said he’d make it up to me. It’s not a big deal, really,” he assured.
Gwaine held back and nodded at Merlin, offering him a weak smile.
“Well, as long as you’re okay with it,” he conceded. “I just know how much you were looking forward to trying All The King’s Men, and I know that I would be hurt if someone cancelled plans for our anniversary dinner. And it’s your fifth anniversary dinner.”
“How would you know,” Merlin teased with a wry grin, ignoring Gwaine’s last comment, “You’ve never been in a relationship long enough to even have an anniversary dinner.”
“You’re right, you’re right,” he acknowledged, chuckling, and let the subject drop.
Amused with himself, Merlin noticed that the time on the clock now read just after 6:45pm, so he alerted the remaining patrons that the shop closed at 7pm. Then he and Gwaine finished sweeping and wiping down all the counters and tables, discarded food no longer fit for selling, and left the kitchen ready for the morning shift to come in and bake.
About 20 minutes later, Merlin was responding to Arthur’s texts while Gwaine locked the doors behind them before walking over to his bike and unchaining it.
“See you tomorrow Merlin!” he called.
“Thanks Gwaine!” Merlin replied as he pocketed his phone.
“Try and have a good night,” Gwaine recommended as he put on his sunglasses, “And let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks Gwaine,” Merlin said appreciatively, “I will!”
After giving him a wave, Merlin turned and began the short walk home, strolling past sturdy colonial houses made of red brick and guarded by towering maple trees, sharp, black iron gates, and hundreds of years of time.
Soon the smoky, crisp fall air beckoned yellow and light orange leaves to dance in circles around Merlin’s feet. Yet despite the idyllic early autumn evening before him, Merlin reached for his phone to read over his and Arthur’s conversation.
- I have to say late tonight. Please don’t hate me.
- Of course I don’t hate you. But tonight IS night one…
- I know, and I’m really sorry. I’ll make it up to you when I see you, I promise.
- Oh really? And how do you plan on doing that?
- I have a few ideas ;)
- Wow, a winky face? Hm, I wonder what it could be…
- Hint: it involves lots and lots of sex
- Very subtle, dollophead
- Hey, you’re the one talking about head
- WOW haha.
- Tsk tsk
- I’m sorry, how terribly crude of me
- Don’t worry, we’ll settle it when I get home…
- Alright...? Anyway, what will you do for dinner?
- I think I’ll just have you ;)
- Umm, what about besides that ;)
- Wow, now look who’s using the winky face
- Shutup. Now really, what’s your plan for dinner?
- I guess I’ll just order something. Want me to send anything your way?
- Do you think All The King’s Men does carryout??
- Probably, I don’t see why they wouldn’t
- Maybe I can do that!
- Sure, it’s only fair. And I’m sorry again, I really feel like shit.
- It’s fine Arthur, really. You can make up for it by Venmo-ing me so I can try their food—but we still need to go there for the full experience!
- I just sent $100, get whatever you want and whatever you think I might like. But don’t give Gwaine any, he already owes me probably half his next paycheck. And of course we will, I promise.
- Thank youuu I’m so excited to try it! And no worries about Gwaine, if he wants something, he’ll have to buy for himself.
- Haha good. Anything else? I’ve got to finish this work so I can get home to you ;)
- No, nothing I can think of. But all of the winky faces are making me look forward to you demonstrating your sexual prowess later.
- You are not being sarcastic right now…
- No, I wasn’t ;)
- Ohh I see—you’re just getting me all riled up, aren’t you?
- Perhaps. Now hurry up.
- Fuck, you got it.
- Yeah, I’m looking forward to getting it ;)
- Fuck. I’m definitely using the winky face more often.
- Of course you are. Now fucking go, you prat!
- Alright, alright. I should be coming home around 10:30.
- Good, that means I’ll be coming shortly after that.
- Fuck. Merlin…
- That’s the plan ;)
Now at the doorstep to his apartment, Merlin exhaled slowly, fully aware of the bulge he had in his jeans. Luckily he wore his black pair today, so it wasn't nearly as obvious as it could have been. Biting his lip, Merlin willed away thoughts about his messages with Arthur, and took a few deep breaths to relax himself.
After a moment, Merlin gave a wistful smile at the approaching twilight, sad to have missed the beauty of his walk home. But it was alright, because his night was going to be fantastic, even if it wasn’t exactly what he planned.
Dialing Gwaine, he walked up the stairs, and nearly dropped his keys when Gwaine’s voice sounded painfully loudly in his ear while he tried to unlock his door.
“Miss me already, do you?” Gwaine joked.
“Oh, of course,” Merlin said, wincing slightly at the volume coming from his tiny phone speaker. He held his phone away from his ear.
“So I take it you need a knight in shining armor to be your date tonight, since Princess can’t?” Gwaine teased.
“Exactly,” Merlin responded, smiling in spite of himself as he entered his apartment.
“Well, I’d be happy to oblige,” Gwaine answered cheerfully.
Tossing his keys in the basket atop the shelf by the doorway, Merlin shrugged off his denim jacket.
“Great,” he replied, “Arthur Venmo-ed me to order food from All The King’s Men, and I figured you could join me. We can catch up on ‘The Good Place’.”
“Hmm, wait a minute…” Gwaine pretended to muse, “I’m guessing Princess won’t let me mooch, will he?”
“Duh,” Merlin replied, rolling his eyes.
“Eh, why not. I’ll try your fancy food—anything for a friend,” Gwaine said merrily. “I take it you want me to come over?” he added slyly, and Merlin could practically hear his smirk.
“Yeah, that’d be great,” Merlin agreed matter-of-factly, not taking Gwaine’s bait.
“Alrighty then,” Gwaine said simply, “Should I bring anything?”
Walking over to the fridge, Merlin opened it and groaned upon finding it terribly devoid of beer. “We don't have any beer,” he announced tragically.
“Christ, I’m on it,” Gwaine said urgently.
“Awesome, I’ll see you in a few. But hurry up, I’m starving,” Merlin ordered.
“I’m starving too,” Gwaine replied with a groan.
“You’re always starving,” Merlin said with a chuckle.
“And I see nothing wrong with that,” Gwaine defended, feigning indignance.
“Of course not. I’ll see you soon, Gwaine.”
“I’ll be there in 15,” he responded, and Merlin could hear his footsteps blaring over the phone as he thundered down the stairway of his apartment.
“Yep see you then—” Merlin acknowledged hurriedly, ending the ear-ache of a phone call.