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The Whole Package

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Gwaine dropped the cardboard box onto the sitting room floor with a pornograpic moan.

“I am never. Ever. Helping you move again. What’s in these boxes, bricks?”

Merlin laughed as he stacked his box neatly on top of Gwaine’s.

“You know they’re books! It's written right on the side of the box.”

“Do you really need so many? Ever heard of an eReader?”

Merlin shook his head as he sliced expertly through the packing tape on the box. He pulled open the flaps and smiled at the books as if they were old friends.

“I have, in fact. Be glad that I don’t have paper copies of all my ebooks, else you’d really have something to whinge about.”

“Who’s whinging? I’m just making an observation,” Gwaine said, rifling aimlessly through the box. “Pride and Prejudice? Really?”

Merlin snatched the well-worn copy out of Gwaine’s hands.

“What’s wrong with Pride and Prejudice? It’s a classic! How am I supposed to be a famous author if I don’t read the classics?”

Gwaine released another moan and collapsed onto the sofa, limbs spread. “I wish you weren’t a famous author, that’s what got us into this mess in the first place.”

Merlin flushed as he began unpacking the books onto the floor, sorting loosely by author’s last name.

“I’m hardly famous.”

“Tell that to your advance,” Gwaine said, craning his head up and raising his eyebrows at his friend. “Got you this place, didn’t it?”

Merlin looked around the sun-drenched living room and couldn’t keep his face from breaking into a grin. He still couldn’t believe it, but Gwaine was right. After years of lackluster reception of his novels, he’d finally struck gold when the first book of a new fantasy series, White Dragon’s Song, had become wildly popular. The result was a contract to finish at least two more novels, along with a generous advance. That combined with the royalties from his earlier novels that he’d been meticulously setting aside were enough for him to quit his day job and move out of his grotty little flatshare into a charming semi-detached in Havering. It was small but lovely, with a brick terrace in the front and a fenced in garden that was so beautiful it made Merlin want to cry. He couldn’t wait to get settled in and resume his writing routine.

After making the downpayment on the house, he’d even had enough money leftover to splash out on a new laptop — which in fact, was due to be delivered today. Merlin crossed to the kitchen’s big window and glanced up and down the road anxiously for the tenth time since he and Gwaine had started unloading the car.

“Still waiting for the laptop?” Gwaine asked from the sitting room.

“Yeah,” Merlin sighed, wandering back into the room when the streets remained stubbornly free of delivery lorries. He flopped onto the faded sofa opposite Gwaine, who made a disgruntled noise as Merlin shoved his legs over to make room. “Why did I choose something so expensive as the first thing to send to my new house? I should have at least sent a postcard or something first to make sure I had the address right.”

Gwaine opened his mouth, probably to make a snarky comment, when there came a sharp knock. Merlin gaped at Gwaine, then broke into a grin as he shot from the sofa and made for the front door.

He flung the door open without bothering to look through the peephole — he lived in the suburbs now, after all — but the excited greeting he had been about to utter died on his lips when he was what was on the other side. Or rather, who was on the other side.

“Are you Merlin Emrys?” the man asked curtly, fumbling around on his belt for the electronic signature pad and completely oblivious to the crisis Merlin was having a meter away from him. His hair was an artfully tousled honey blond, his skin tanned and glowing, and his biceps absolutely bulging out of the horrible brown polo with a UPS logo that he was wearing. Merlin could only gape.

Prompted by the silence, the man looked up and caught Merlin’s eye — his eyes were a perfect icy blue, of course — then raised an eyebrow as he proffered the signature pad.

“Signature? You are Merlin Emrys, right?” the delivery man asked, his eyes darting down to the package balanced on his arm and then back to Merlin.

Merlin swallowed.

“That’s him, Merlin Emrys, the famous author, right in your very own neighborhood!” came a voice from behind him, as Gwaine elbowed his way to the door. “Come on Merlin, what’s one more autograph?”

Merlin finally snapped out of his handsome-delivery-man-induced trance and fumbled to take the signature pad, his heart fluttering when their fingers brushed.

The delivery man had gone from looking irritated to mildly interested. Merlin elbowed Gwaine out of the way and tried not to blush.

“Sorry about that, “ he said, sprawling his name onto the signature pad. “I’m new to the area so I’ve just —”

“Forgotten your name?” he swapped Merlin the signature pad for the package.

“Yes — no! I mean, well what I was trying to say is that —”

“Yes, well — thanks so much, have a good day,” the delivery man said absently. He marked a couple places on the signature pad and then holstered it back on his belt, giving Merlin a tight smile before returning to his lorry. Merlin watched helplessly, clutching at his new laptop, as the man swung himself up in the seat of the lorry before shifting it into gear and driving down the street.

“You’re going to catch flies.”

Merlin realized that his jaw, which had fallen open at the sight of the man’s bare calves, was indeed still hanging open. He snapped it shut and whirled to face Gwaine. His friend’s smirk told him that there wasn’t even a point to him trying to deny what had just happened.

“Fit as fuck that one was,” Gwaine said, as if commenting on the weather. “Think he likes dragons?”

That made Merlin laugh.

“Shut it and help me bring in the rest of these books.”

*

After he and Gwaine had polished off a pizza and a six pack, Merlin sent his friend in a taxi to the train station whilst he tried to settle in for the night. It had always been hard for him to sleep in new places and he knew it would be a while before the house truly felt like home. At least, he hoped it would feel like home eventually, he thought wistfully as his gaze traveled around his new bedroom. He took in the stacks of fantasy books, all the notebooks where he had scribbled the first ideas of his novel, his house plants lovingly arranged in the windowsill.

His gaze lingered on the sleigh bed with its soft sheets and fluffy duvet — another splurge from his advance, and something of a promise to himself. Merlin hadn’t been lying when he told everyone that he was moving because he was sick of city life, but in truth, that was only part of it. He was also sick of the dating scene — of the hookup culture and the closeted business execs, the way you always ran into exes at the popular clubs and the seemingly universal fear of commitment. Merlin was a romantic at heart and just wanted to settle down with someone ordinary, someone who wasn’t trying to prove anything and would be content to live a simple life. He just wanted to have weekend cookouts in the garden and evening strolls on the green belts and nights in watching crap telly.

His mind wandered back to his encounter with the handsome delivery man. Although Merlin knew nothing about him, this was the kind of blue-collar man that Merlin pictured himself settling down with. He indulged in a brief fantasy of the man coming home after a long day of delivering packages to a meal that they would share together, and Merlin rubbing his feet on the couch whilst they laughed at some funny story from the day.

Merlin sighed and flopped onto the bed, then after a moment pulled his new laptop off the nightstand. He opened Amazon and began to browse through his wishlist, looking for something cheap but bulky enough that it wouldn’t fit through the mail slot. Eventually he added a set of outdoor LED lights to his cart, selected two day shipping, and finished checking out.

Their first encounter hadn’t exactly been memorable, but he was sure their second meeting would go much smoother.

*

The package didn’t need a signature, but Merlin had been working at the kitchen table where he had a clear view of the street and hurried to the door when he saw the lorry pull up. The delivery man was even more handsome than Merlin remembered — although he looked a little more frenzied this time, compared to the first time when he had just seemed irritated. He hopped off the lorry and rushed up to where Merlin was waiting at the door, thrusting the package into his hands before Merlin could get out a word. He had already turned back to the lorry when he did a double take.

“Hey,” the delivery man said. “You’re the author, right?”

All the witty things Merlin had intended to say flew straight out of his brain when he realized that Arthur remembered him.

“Oh, yeah. Um, that’s me!”

The man looked at him appraisingly.

“What did you write then? Anything I’d have heard of?”

“Oh,” Merlin said, trying not to puff up with pride. “Um — White Dragon’s Song?”

The man’s face remained blank and Merlin groaned internally. He should have known that the man wasn’t a reader.

“Sorry mate, haven’t heard of it,” the man said, backing toward his lorry. “But maybe I’ll look it up.”

“You do that,” Merlin said weakly.

The man and his perfect calves and rippling biceps and gorgeous eyes hopped back into the lorry and drove off.

Merlin looked down at the package in his hands.

“Bugger.”

*

Merlin avoided ordering anything online for a couple of days, hoping that if he gave it long enough the fit delivery man would just forget about him completely. But mid-week brought a cheerful call from his agent, Gwen. She informed him that she had shipped him a box of books that needed signing for some charity event, which was how Merlin found himself face to face with the same delivery man. Strangely, he was looking a bit more eager to see him this time.

“Hey,” he said, dropping the package unceremoniously at Merlin’s feet. “You really are a famous author then?”

Oh god, this was so much worse. Merlin wanted to sink into the ground.

“Er, I don’t know if I’d quite say that, my friend’s just an idiot,” Merlin said, fumbling for the signature pad.

“Well, it’s not normally my thing, but I ordered a copy so I guess I’ll be able to make a determination for myself soon,” the man said, flashing Merlin a smile. Merlin couldn’t tell if he was being made fun of or flirted with, so he assumed the former.

“Oh, you didn’t have to — I mean, if reading’s not your thing don’t feel like —”

“I read,” the man cut him off, sounding extremely offended. The smile had disappeared from his face and he looked as cross as he had the first day. “I just don’t usually read fantasy.”

Merlin bristled immediately at the way he said the word. At this point he really ought to have been used to his genre being dismissed by people who thought they were too good for it, but it still got his hackles up every time.

“Well, don’t read it just on my behalf,” Merlin said shortly, shoving the electronic pad back into the man’s hands and hauling up the box of books. “I’m sure you’ve got more important things to read.”

He turned around and marched back into the house, kicking the door shut with his foot. He got just a glimpse of the man’s face, which was mostly shocked with the slightest tinge of amusement, before it slammed shut. He dropped the box of books on the kitchen table with a huff and fished his mobile out of his pocket.

Got the books, thanks — when do you need them signed by?

Gewn texted back a moment later. When Merlin read it, he groaned out loud.

Actually, do you think you could finish them tonight? I’ve arranged with the same delivery company to stop by to pick them up from you at 2 PM tomorrow :)

*

Merlin thought about going into London for the day — he could deliver the signed books to Gwen in person and maybe get a pint with Gwaine and Will — but the box of signed books really was heavy and he didn’t feel like toting it around the train. So when a knock came at the door, he pulled it open reluctantly, ready for a frosty encounter. What he didn’t expect was for the delivery man to thrust out his hand as soon as he opened the door.

“Arthur,” the man said, hitting Merlin with his blinding smile.

“Huh?” was Merlin’s eloquent response.

“We got off on the wrong foot,” the delivery man — Arthur — said, stepping across the threshold. “And I forgot my manners. So I wanted to properly introduce myself. I’m Arthur.”

“Merlin Emrys,” Merlin said absently. Arthur’s hand felt warm and strong in his. He couldn’t tell which of them lingered a little too long, but one of them definitely did. “But you know that already.”

“Ah, yes, your book should be arriving today, in fact. Can you sign for the delivery?”

“Oh yes, of course! Um … the box is right here,” Merlin thought he maybe liked it better when Arthur was being a prat — at least he had been able to keep his head. This new charming Arthur had him wrong-footed and he could feel himself turning right back into a bumbling mess. “And that’s nice … must be a perk of the job that you can deliver your own packages.”

Arthur gave him a strange look.

“I don’t live around here, so no, not really.”

Merlin couldn’t fight the blush that raised in his cheeks this time. “Oh, right, of course. I guess that makes sense now that I think of it. Where do you live then?”

Merlin tried to sound casual, but he could see Arthur’s smirk as he handed back the electronic signature pad.

“London, actually.”

“Really?” In Merlin’s surprise he forgot to feel self-conscious. “I just moved from London. I’m surprised you make that commute every day.”

Now it was Arthur’s turn to look uncomfortable.

“Well, I’m filling in for someone temporarily, just for the summer.”

“Oh,” Merlin tried not to sound too disappointed. Arthur was the first kind of friend he’d made so far and he was weirdly sad to think that he’d only last the summer. Arthur was back to looking smug. He leaned against the door frame, box propped easily at his hip. He had just opened his mouth to reply when his mobile pinged, then pinged again.

Arthur cursed softly and glanced at his watch.

“I have to go, I’m behind already. I’ll see you around?”

Before Merlin could answer, Arthur had rushed back to the lorry and swung the package of books in like it weighed nothing. Merlin watched as he shifted into gear and took off down the narrow lane.

Merlin returned to his laptop and sat quietly for a moment, his fingers steepled in front of him and his gaze fixed on the far wall. After a moment, he pulled his laptop toward him and opened to Amazon again. It may only be July, but it was never too early to get a start on Christmas shopping.

*

“I hate Sable,” Arthur said as soon as the door opened two days later. “She's the worst. How can you even bear to write a character that annoying?”

Merlin laughed, surprised, and took the packages that Arthur handed him with a smirk. “I like annoying side characters. They’re fun.”

Arthur glared at him.

“I’m not an annoying side-character.”

“Of course not,” Merlin agreed. Arthur was already headed back to the lorry but Merlin called after him, “Tell me when you get to the part where you —”

“No spoilers!” Arthur called before speeding off. Merlin chuckled to himself and checked to see when his next delivery was due.

*

Two days later, Merlin was on a call with Gwen about the promotion strategy for this next book when he heard the sound of the lorry speeding off down the lane. He hurried to the door, annoyed that he'd missed Arthur, and ducked his head outside to find two more packages. As he scooped them up, he noticed a message taped to the box in a messy scrawl.

“I don’t trust that bloody dragon. Why can’t he just say what he means?”

Merlin couldn’t stop smiling all afternoon.

*

The next day he made sure to set himself up at the little garden table on the terrace with his laptop so that he wouldn’t miss Arthur this time. He wasn’t used to writing outside, so he wasn’t sure how much he’d be able to focus, but before long he hit the magical spot where the words started flowing from his brain faster than his fingertips could keep up. What felt like moments later, a shadow passed over him. He blinked up into the late afternoon sun to find Arthur looking down at him, amused.

“Ah, finally, he’s paying attention,” Arthur said, handing off a small stack of packages. “I swear I called you at least — hang on.” Arthur’s eyes suddenly zeroed in on the laptop and Merlin bent the screen down reflexively. “Is that the sequel?”

“No?” Merlin replied, slamming the lid of the laptop down all the way. Arthur sized him up for a moment as if trying to determine whether he could physically overpower him. “Fine, yes. But it’s password protected so don’t bother stealing it.”

“I wasn’t going to steal it!” Arthur protested. “Just thinking that next time I’ll try sneaking up on you.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Have you even finished the first one?”

“Not yet,” Arthur admitted. “I’ve only been able to read a chapter a day. But I’m making progress.”

He glanced at his watch and started backing away to the lorry as usual. Merlin called out to stall him.

“What part are you on?”

“Umm, they’re in the Buttermoss Swamp,” Arthur said over his shoulder, swinging himself up into the driver’s seat. “Sable’s hopefully going to fall into the muck and be swallowed up.”

Merlin bit his lip to hide his smile. “We’ll see. Have a good day!”

Arthur waved absently as he pulled out onto the lane. Once he was out of sight Merlin laughed to himself. Now most of his Christmas shopping was done, he decided that he’d wait a bit before ordering anything else. After counting out the chapters on his fingers, he put in an order for the following week. By then Arthur should be finished with the book, and hopefully he wouldn't be too angry.

*

Arthur was angry.

“How could you kill her off?!” he roared as soon as Merlin opened the door the following week.

“Kill off whom?” Merlin said with a little oof as Arthur shoved the box containing the new blender that he didn’t really need into his chest.

“Sable!”

“I thought you hated Sable?”

“What are you talking about!” Arthur cried. “Sure she was a little outspoken in the beginning but then … she and Amarisa! And the way that she risked her life to flee from the Black Knights! If it wasn’t for her, Aithusa never even would have been able to — you’re laughing at me.”

“No, I’m not,” Merlin said as sincerely as he could while, in fact, laughing at Arthur. “No, Arthur, wait —”

“I’m behind on deliveries,” Arthur growled. He drove the lorry off without looking back. Merlin just shook his head with a laugh.

*

“So you liked it then?” Merlin asked when Arthur delivered the food scale he’d ordered on two-day shipping after their last encounter.

“I think 'liked’ is a strong word, considering you killed off my favorite character,” Arthur said with a mock glare. “But yes, it was brilliant! How many more are you writing?”

“At least two for now,” Merlin said. “Do you want some water?”

“Yes, please,” Arthur said, stepping into his kitchen. It wasn’t the first time Arthur had accepted a drink from Merlin, but it always gave him a little thrill when he came in the house.

“How much longer do you think it’ll be before it’s out?”

Merlin handed him the glass of water, making sure that their fingers touched.

“Hmmm, at least another six months probably. I’ve got most of the draft finished, but there’s a lot of editing that’ll still need to happen, and I don’t have any say on the date in the end. Oh and, um, you can always sign up for emails on my website. You know, for when there’s any updates,” Merlin added distractedly, watching Arthur’s throat work as he gulped down the water.

“Thank you,” Arthur said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand then pushing his sweaty fringe off his face. “I might just do that.”

Arthur flashed him one of the smiles that Merlin definitely put in the flirting category before climbing into the lorry and driving away.

*

“So I googled your book trying to find the website, and did you know that people write stories about your characters?” Arthur asked later that week as he handed Merlin an expanding garden hose.

“Oh, yes,” Merlin said with forced levity. He had a feeling he knew where this was headed. “I mean, I don’t read them of course, but I do have very creative and talented fans.”

“Yes, and apparently they all think Kellar and Lac will end up together.”

And there it was.

“Who says they won’t?” Merlin snapped. He knew that he probably looked crazy to Arthur, but internet accusations of queerbaiting had always been a sore point — especially considering that he fully intended to get Kellar and Lac together by the end of the series.

Instead of recoiling, Arthur just looked interested at his reaction.

“Will they then?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Not even if I sign an NDA?”

Merlin snorted.

“If you want to pay to have one drafted.” Arthur looked as if he was considering it and Merlin added, “But I am a gay man, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility.”

He glared at Arthur with his chin raised, but Arthur just laughed, raising his hands in surrender as he made his way toward the waiting lorry. “Okay, okay, I’ll wait until the next book. For what it’s worth, I hope they do.”

Merlin had no idea what to say to that, so he watched Arthur drive away, only realizing after he was out of sight that he’d never reacted to Merlin outing himself.

*

Now that he was completely finished Christmas shopping and had bought everything he needed for his new home, Merlin had moved on to buying random items from the Deal of the Day section, usually trying to stick to things he could buy for under £15 that were bulky enough to require delivery.

When Gwaine came bearing beer to watch the football match on Saturday, he’d taken one look at Merlin’s sitting room and let out a low whistle.

“Mate, are you trying to open your own Amazon warehouse? Because I’m pretty sure Bezos could sue you for that.”

“Shut up,” Merlin said, looking at the stack of packages with fresh eyes and feeling heat rise to his cheeks. “It’s mostly Christmas gifts. I decided to start early this year. Oh, actually, do you need a heated steering wheel cover? I bought one but really I don’t need it.”

“Considering that I don’t own a car, I think I’ll pass,” he said.

“Slippers? Aromatherapy diffuser? Uhhh, I don’t even remember what was in this one.”

Gwaine laughed, poking at the boxes. “What, are you so lonely that you’re just ordering random stuff so that —” he whirled around, eyes wide and a wicked grin spreading across his face. “Oh my god! You’re having it off with that delivery bloke! The fit one from the day you moved in!”

“I’m not having it off with anybody!” Merlin protested, grabbing the mandolin slicer from his hands and placing it back on the stack.

“But you want to be,” Gwaine smirked. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Merlin pointedly.

“Fine, you’re right — I do. Happy now?”

“Very,” Gwaine said, turning back to the teetering stack of boxes. “You’d better hide all this though, just in case he does manage to deliver that final package. If you know what I mean.”

“Ugh, Gwaine,” Merlin wrinkled his nose at the terrible pun, but his friend did have a point.

The next day, Merlin relocated his shameful stash of impulse purchases to the front closet in the kitchen, sorting them into piles of actual Christmas gifts, things he might use eventually, and things he really ought to try to return at some point.

*

The growing tower of gifts in the closet did nothing to deter Merlin from continuing to send things to himself two or three times per week as a way to see Arthur. He wondered at first whether Arthur would say anything, but if he thought the volume of packages Merlin received was unusual, he didn’t mention it.

As the summer passed, Merlin found that the dynamic of their interactions changed as well. Whereas at first Merlin had spent a great deal of time ogling Arthur’s exquisite physical features, as time went by he began to genuinely enjoy chatting with him as well. It was only ever for a minute or two, as Arthur seemed perpetually behind on his deliveries, but it was enough for a friendship to grow. Their discussion moved effortlessly, whether they were talking about the weather, childhood vacation spots, or favourite ice cream flavours. Arthur asked Merlin how the book was coming and listened to him rant on days where he was stuck on a scene.

Merlin didn’t think he was imagining Arthur’s interest, but as the summer dwindled, neither of them seemed inclined to make a move. Merlin remembered Arthur telling him that he was only filling in on the job until the end of summer and vowed to make himself at least give Arthur his number before he disappeared forever.

*

One afternoon, Arthur had been a bit on the later side delivering Merlin's skid-proof dog food dish. After an extended debate on favourite breakfast foods — during which Merlin was certain that Arthur had been flirting with him — it was already time to start thinking about dinner. Merlin sighed, the last bit of pleasure from his encounter with Arthur melting away. Merlin loved to cook, but cooking for one was just depressing. A downside to living outside the city that he hadn't considered was that he couldn’t just ring some friends when he felt like making something fancy.

He thought wistfully about his fantasy of having a boyfriend to cook for. Someone who would praise his cooking ridiculously and then help him do the dishes before they retired to the sofa for some cuddling and telly before bed. He knew that compared to the fantasy worlds he created for a living that it was a fairly simple thing, but it was just as well-worn as any of his other imaginings. And he couldn’t deny any longer that the mystery man in his fantasy had taken on a decidedly Arthur shape.

Merlin shook himself before he could get much further down that path — sometimes overactive imaginations were a curse.

Although he’d been trying to avoid takeaway now that all his spare funds were going to Amazon purchases, Merlin decided to splurge for tonight. He vowed to run to the shops early in the morning and get the ingredients to cook something special for himself tomorrow.

*

He decided on a bolognese sauce that could at least be used a couple of different ways before he got sick of it. He spent the late morning happily processing tomatoes, chopping herbs and onions, and browning meat. When everything was simmering, he pulled out his laptop and settled down to write. He'd been stuck on a plot point for several days, but as often happened when he kept his hands busy, he'd been able to untangle the plot points in his mind and see a way forward.

It was a gloomy day and rain drummed steadily against the windows as Merlin tapped at his laptop, lost to a world of dark forests and bright dragons. The smell of the sauce slowly curled through the house as he worked and by the time he stood up to give the sauce a stir, his stomach was rumbling.

Just as he was skimming over what he had just written in preparation of diving back in, there was a knock at the door.

Merlin looked at the clock and frowned. He wasn’t expecting anyone and it was too late for Gwaine to be making a surprise visit. He checked his mobile quickly for notifications before pulling the door open to find Arthur on the terrace in the rain.

“Oh, Arthur,” Melin said, nonplussed. “I wasn’t expecting a package.”

“Yeah, well people do occasionally get packages that they don’t send to themsel—” Arthur stopped. “What is that?”

“What is what?” Merlin said, distracted by the way that an errant raindrop was making its way down Arthur’s earlobe.

Arthur inhaled deeply. “That smell. Are you cooking?”

“Oh, that! Yeah, I decided to make bolognese — good day for it, right? Do you er … need me to sign for anything?”

“Uhh, no actually, but here,” Arthur handed him a small package. “I didn’t want to leave it out in the rain.” Arthur was still looking longingly past him to the pot simmering on the hob.

“What time do you get off?” Merlin blurted, then mentally kicked himself. “Of work I mean? Maybe you could join me? I made plenty.”

Arthur looked surprised for a moment, then laughed. “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly intrude when you have guests. Thank you so much for the offer though, it really does smell delicious.”

Merlin spent a moment wrestling internally with whether or not to expose himself as a sad lonely sod who didn’t have any local friends to invite to dinner, but common sense prevailed.

“Of course … maybe another time?" Merlin hoped he didn't sound too awkward.

“Maybe.”

Repeated exposure to Arthur’s smile had done nothing to prevent Merlin's knees from getting honest-to-god wobbly when it was applied to him. Arthur bounded back to the lorry through the rain. After Merlin closed the door, something compelled him to keep watching out the window. Arthur cruised down the road a bit, then hopped out a couple houses down. It was still pissing down as Arthur sprinted up to the front door, dropped a package on the stoop without so much as a knock, then leapt back into his lorry and took off.

Despite his embarrassment over the whole exchange, Merlin couldn’t keep the smile off his face. He opened Amazon in his browser, clicked on the first item under £15.

*

The sun was shining again two days later when Arthur was due back. It beat hot on Merlin’s neck — which he’d been sure to slather with suncream, but which would probably still burn — as he typed away on the terrace, trying not to second guess himself. When he heard the lorry approaching, he ran inside for the plastic container of leftover bolognese he'd saved for Arthur. As he grabbed it, he double-checked the note with his phone number that he'd taped to the bottom of the container.

Merlin made it back outside with a grin just in time to see a bulky man with a goatee dropping a package on his front steps.

“Oh,” Merlin said, nearly running the man over. “You’re not Arthur.”

“Erm — no?” the man said, brow wrinkled.

“The normal delivery bloke,” Merlin clarified. He shifted the leftovers behind his back. “Did he change routes?”

A flash of recognition crossed the man’s face.

“You mean Arthur Pendragon? Had some kind of family emergency, won’t be in this week.”

“Right … okay, ta,” Merlin replied as the man walked back to the lorry. He scooped up the package and carried it back into the house, absent-mindedly storing it in the front closet with the others He felt stupid for the wave of disappointment that came crashing over him. When had he started letting his life revolve so much around his bloody delivery man? Was this what Gwen had meant when she told him that he kept picking unavailable men? Merlin sighed. What he really needed was a proper boyfriend, but when he made himself scroll through Grindr it just made him even more depressed.

Instead, on a whim he pulled up Google and typed “Arthur Pendragon” into the search window. He let himself feel a little giddy at the last name — maybe it was the writer in him, but he loved the thought of having a partner with the last name Pendragon. But a moment later the search page loaded and reality came crashing down.

Merlin didn’t know what he had expected to find — a LinkedIn page, maybe. Or an Instagram. Instead, the page flooded with images of Arthur, but not the Arthur that Merlin knew. Instead of the ugly UPS uniform, or even the pair of worn denims and rugby T-shirt that Merlin had imagined he’d wear on his days off, this Arthur was wearing tailored suits, fashionable casual wear, designer sunglasses. Merlin blinked at the page for a moment before clicking on a news article at random.

Arthur Pendragon, Junior CEO of Pendragon Enterprises, was spotted at Sunday’s polo match wearing a blazer from the new fall collection by designer Morgana LeFay. LeFay, Pendragon’s half sister, accompanied him to the match.

Merlin turned off his mobile and set it down carefully on the coffee table. He propped his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands, groaning into the empty room. God, he was such an idiot.

This whole time he had been playing at happy families in his head, assuming that Arthur was a humble blue collar worker, when in reality he’d been exactly like every other suited prat that Merlin had tried and failed to date whilst living in London. He could not believe that he’d come all the way to the suburbs just to get sucked back in by another pretty socialite who would never want to settle down with someone like Merlin.

His queen sized bed felt extra empty that night.

*

As the week wore on, Merlin wrestled with what to do next. He was fully aware that it was irrational for him to be angry that Arthur had lied to him — he hadn’t even lied, exactly — but the subterfuge still stung. Knowing the summer was nearly over, he was inclined to simply avoid ordering anything online until Arthur had gone back to his life in London. But the why of the situation still niggled at his writer’s brain. What had made Arthur decide to work for UPS for the summer if he was apparently a hot shot businessman? Was anything about their friendship real, or was everything he knew about Arthur a fabrication?

In the end, Merlin knew himself well enough to know that if he didn’t get answers it would bother him for the rest of his life.

When he heard the by now familiar sound of the lorry pulling up in front of the house, he took a deep breath and went to the door. Arthur bounded toward him with one of his toothy smiles.

“Hey, so Saturday is my last day and I was wondering if …”

Something must have shown on Merlin’s face because Arthur slowed then stopped a few steps from the doorway, the smile slipping from his face.

“This is for you,” Arthur said, holding out the package uncertainly. “Is something the matter?”

All the casual, leading questions that Merlin had planned out to steer the conversation naturally toward the subject of Arthur’s real job flew out of his head.

“Why did you lie to me?” he blurted out before he could stop himself. “Sorry, I’m sorry,” he rushed on. “I know it’s not actually any of my business and it’s not like you lied to me but … the delivery man last week mentioned your last name so I googled you and …” Merlin trailed off, looking up to meet Arthur’s eyes. “You’re ‘Arthur Pendragon, Junior CEO of Pendragon Enterprises’.”

“I am,” Arthur confirmed. Merlin searched his face, but found it unreadable.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you weren’t actually a delivery man?”

“Does it matter?” Arthur definitely looked more cross now.

“Yes,” Merlin practically shouted. “I mean you let me assume that you were just some delivery bloke having a chat when really you’re —”

“I am just a delivery bloke having a chat!” Arthur shouted. “And what do you mean by ‘just a delivery bloke’? Did you think you were better than me and now you’re upset to find out that I actually have some status?”

“No,” Merlin cried, frustrated. “I thought you were normal, not some posh prat pretending to be a delivery man. I just thought we were — that you —” he cut himself off, some self-preservation instinct finally kicking in as rage played across Arthur’s face..

HIs words hung in the air between them for a moment, then Arthur turned on his heel and marched back to the lorry.

“Well, you thought wrong,” he spit over his shoulder, before swinging into the driver’s seat and speeding away.

*

Merlin sulked for the rest of the evening, replaying their brief exchange over and over in his mind. He felt bad for the way he had shouted at Arthur, but the most shameful thing was that Arthur had been right, in a way. Not that Merlin thought he was better than Arthur, but that Merlin had assumed things about Arthur because of his line of work. Hadn't he changed his opinion of Arthur once he found out what he actually did for a living — and hadn't that been exactly what men had done to Merlin back in London? Judging Arthur for having a high profile job was no worse than Merlin being judged for his lower middle class background.

To make matters worse, he realized that Arthur had been about to ask him something before his outburst and now he’d probably never know what it was. He sure as hell wasn’t going to order anything this week, even going as far as to text Gwen to make sure that she wasn’t going to surprise him with another box of books to be signed. After Saturday, Arthur would go back to London and Merlin would stay in Havering and he would never have to think about this again.

Except he did think about it. Well, about Arthur at least. The way his eyes always lit up when he saw Merlin waiting in the doorway, how interested he’d been in Merlin’s book, the way that his fingers had always brushed against Merlin’s when he handed off a package. By Wednesday Merlin was resigned to the fact that he at least owed Arthur an apology. He put in what was hopefully his last frivolous order and set the delivery to Saturday.

*

Saturday morning dawned rainy and Merlin was secretly pleased. Arthur almost always stepped into the kitchen when it was raining, and hopefully once he was inside Merlin could convince him to listen to his apology. He’d kept his expectations carefully low, but he was hoping that Arthur would at least hear him out.

By noon Merlin had taken up his normal spot at the kitchen table with a view of the street, but wasn’t really working. His brain was too jittery to focus on writing, so he scrolled aimlessly through his social media. When he stopped to retweet a beautiful piece of Sable fanart, he told himself that it didn’t mean anything.

He mobile buzzed with an incoming text and he reached for it, wondering whether it was Gwen telling him off for not being done with the draft or maybe Gwaine saying he was coming up for the evening. He read the message from an unfamiliar number with a furrowed brow. It was an alert informing him that his delivery had been delayed and was now scheduled to be delivered Sunday by 9 PM.

“No!” Merlin said out loud to the room, “Oh no no no no no shit buggering fuck.”

He opened Amazon and clicked about frantically to see if there was anything for same day delivery, knowing it was futile. After a moment he slumped back in his seat. All the ordering cut offs were past. It was over. He’d never see Arthur again.

Even in his despair, Merlin couldn’t help but let out a gruff chuckle at the dramatic irony. Maybe in a month or two he’d try to write a short story out of the whole incident so at least he could say he’d gotten something out of it. For the time being, he closed his laptop, pulled the curtains shut and retreated to the sofa. Once there, he decided to give himself permission to wallow for the evening, so on the sofa he remained, binge watching episodes of Great British Bake Off until night had fallen, getting up only to reheat some leftovers for dinner before returning to his nest of blankets.

By evening it was still raining steadily, which only served to punctuate Merlin’s gloomy mood. He was just about to queue up a new episode when he was startled by a knock at the door.

For a moment he just stared in the direction of the kitchen, wondering if he was hearing things. But when the knock came again he scrambled to his feet. There was hardly time to hope before he was flinging the door open.

He was wearing dark jeans and a rain coat instead of his ugly uniform, and Merlin was pretty sure that was a BMW parked in front of the house instead of the boxy lorry, but the man in front of him was unmistakably Arthur. His face was a mix of uncertainty and determination but a tiny smile still tugged at the corner of his lips when he saw Merlin.

“Can I come in?” he asked after a moment, and Merlin realized he was still gaping at him in the doorway.

“Oh, yes! Of course!” He stepped back and gestured to him to come inside.

“Look, I’m sorry for barging in on you like this but I had to apologize,” Arthur said as Merlin closed the door behind him.

“What? No!” Merlin protested.

“No?” Arthur repeated with a frown.

“I mean,” Merlin shook his head then took a breath and forced himself to meet Arthur’s eyes. “You’ve nothing to apologize for — I behaved very badly and I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”

“I do want to apologize though,” Arthur said, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I meant to tell you actually, but it just never came up. But I was never trying to deceive you, I swear. I’m sorry you felt that way.”

“Well, I’m sorry that I shouted at you without giving you a chance to explain,” Merlin said sheepishly.

Arthur smiled at him. “Call it even then? I was sort of hoping that we could go on being friends. Well, that is ... if you want to be friends with a posh prat like me?”

Merlin crossed his arms and gave a put-up sigh. “Well, as you’re here I suppose I’ll consider it.”

Arthur’s smile got even wider and Merlin bit his lip to keep from grinning back like an idiot.

“While you’re here, would you like some tea? I’m just watching Bake Off if you want to stay for a — oh!” Merlin realized for the first time that Arthur was carrying a copy of White Dragon’s Song under his arm. “Were you planning on returning this to me? I can’t do refunds here, but I’m sure my agent Gwen could —”

“No, idiot,” Arthur said with a laugh, holding out the book. “I was actually hoping I could get you to sign it?”

“Oh!” Merlin could feel the blood rushing to his face as he took the book from Arthur’s hand, their fingers brushing. “Of course! I think I have a sharpie here somewhere …”

Merlin turned to the worktop, grabbed a black sharpie from the top drawer, and bent to scribble his standard “To Arthur — Best Wishes — Merlin Emrys." He turned back around just in time to realize what was about to happen.

“No! Wait!” he cried, but it was too late. Arthur had wrestled out of his soaking raincoat whilst Merlin was distracted with the book and had pulled open the front closet door. Merlin rushed toward the closet and for a moment he held his breath, thinking that maybe, just maybe, it would be okay. But the precariously balanced stack of packages wobbled dramatically then collapsed, spilling out of the closet and scattering across the kitchen floor.

The expression on Arthur’s face would have been comical if Merlin wasn’t so completely mortified. His jaw hung open as he stood in a sea of unopened packages, wet jacket still in hand and confusion painted clearly across his face. Merlin knew that the penny would drop any moment and, having already learned that the earth never just swallowed you whole when you wanted it to, did the next best thing and covered his face with his hands.

“You — but I — did you —” Arthur sputtered, then fell silent again. Just as Merlin was contemplating whether or not he could scale the privacy fence in the garden and run away forever, Arthur threw back his head and started laughing. After a moment, Merlin managed to groan from behind his hands.

“God, I’m so sorry.”

Arthur’s laughter moved closer and Merlin felt gentle hands prising at his own. When his burning face was fully uncovered, Arthur smiled at him with bright eyes.

“Did you send all these packages to yourself then?” Merlin grimaced but nodded. “But why?”

Arthur looked as if he already knew the answer, but wanted Merlin to say it. He thought that the situation couldn’t possibly get any worse, so he looked into Arthur’s eyes and blurted, “So I could keep seeing you.”

Arthur started laughing anew, but the laughter sounded friendly rather than cruel. He squeezed Merin’s hands, which he only just realized Arthur was still holding.

“God you absolute berker. Why didn’t you just give me your number like a normal person? I’ve been thinking for weeks that you didn’t really like me and were only chatting to be polite!”

“What?! No! I mean …” Merlin trailed off and looked at Arthur helplessly.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” Arthur announced, tugging Merlin closer and crowding into his space.

Arthur’s mouth was hot and slow and insistent as it moved against Merlin’s. They broke apart for a moment to stare at each other before Merlin lunged in again. He could feel Arthur’s lips curve into a smile beneath his as Merlin untangled their hands so that he could plunge his fingers into Arthur’s hair. Arthur’s arms twined around his waist and Merlin could only think perfect, perfect, perfect, as Arthur held him in place, kissing him like he was something precious.

When they broke apart again, Merlin started to take a step back, but Arthur tightened his grip around his waist and kissed his cheek sweetly.

“God, I’ve been wanting to do that for such a long time,” he breathed into Merlin’s ear, then pressed another kiss to his lips for good measure.

“Really?” Merlin asked, still feeling a bit dazed from all the kissing.

“Really,” Arthur replied, relaxing his hold. Merlin took a step back and promptly tripped over a package. His arms windmilled a moment before Arthur caught him.

“Why don’t we clean up all these boxes and then you can make me that cup of tea?” Arthur said. Merlin, who was not quite standing on his own, could feel the flex of Arthur’s biceps hard beneath his shoulders. Having already decided that making bad decisions around Arthur was probably going to become an incurable condition, he decided to make one more.

“Or …” he said, drawing the word out a little breathlessly as Arthur watched him with interest. “We could go upstairs?”

This time when Arthur’s lips crashed into his, he felt raw desire burning between them. Merlin attempted to move them to the staircase, but after the second time he tripped over a box Arthur chuckled against his lips and released him to lead the way.

They stumbled into Merlin’s room and he barely had time to turn on the dim bedside lamp before Arthur’s hands were on him again, pushing up underneath his worn T-shirt with intent and smoothing over his back. Merlin shivered and kissed Arthur again, gripping his hands tightly against Arthur’s biceps and smiling when he flexed.

“Like those do you?” Arthur teased, pulling back to strip off his shirt then tug Merlin’s off for good measure. In the golden wash of the lamp, Arthur’s skin glowed enticingly. Merlin felt all the blood in his body rush south when he pressed his palm’s to Arthur’s chest, the skin warm and smooth beneath his hands. Arthur walked him backward toward the bed until Merlin sat down and scooted backward toward the headboard, Arthur crawling over him and dipping down to capture his lips again.

Merlin leaned back against the mountain of pillows, letting his legs fall open as Arthur settled his body over him. Merlin trailed his hands along the rippled muscles of Arthur’s back and arms as they kissed. Merlin felt as if he would melt into the soft sheets when Arthur opened his mouth against his. It was as though Arthur wanted to devour him — and Merlin was more than willing to be devoured. It had been so long since someone had been interested in him beyond a quick shag. It felt nice. He closed his eyes and let the arousal wash over him as Arthur moved to his neck.

Though they were both still in their trousers, Arthur had begun rolling his hips slowly against Merlin’s until Merlin was whimpering with each drag of their cocks together. Merlin’s hands flew to Arthur’s flies and after a few moments of fumbling he shoved Arthur away and started on his own instead. Arthur got the picture and rolled to the side where he shimmied out of his remaining clothes in record time then pressed back to Merlin’s side.

Merlin could feel Arthur’s cock, hard and hot, pressed against his bare hip, and gave a little gasp when Arthur took one of his hands and pressed it firmly against the length. The considerable length.

“I swear if you make a package joke,” Arthur whispered, and Merlin couldn’t stop the laughter from bubbling out of him. He wriggled onto his side to face Arthur and brought their lips together with a sigh. He wrapped his hand around Arthur’s cock and stroked slowly. Arthur broke off to moan into his ear.

Fuck yeah, that feels so good … mmm, yeah, just like that,” Arthur gasped before plunging his tongue into Merlin’s mouth again. He rocked into the touch with twitchy jerks of his hips, kissing Merlin with abandon. The tip of Merlin’s cock was slick with precome and he quickly abandoned his stroking in favor of grabbing Arthur’s hip and rutting against him shamelessly. With each flex of his hips their cocks slid roughly against each other and it felt so good that Merlin bit against the top of Arthur’s shoulder to keep from crying out.

Arthur made a strangled sound and pushed back into Merlin’s space again, this time licking his hand wetly before reaching between them to press their cocks together in one strong hand. Merlin closed his eyes and panted as Arthur set them up in a rhythm, pausing to smear frenzied kisses across Merlin's sweaty temple. Their lips met again and for long moments everything between them was wet sliding heat and delicious friction. Merlin was helpless to do much more than kiss back and tug on Arthur’s thick hair as he felt his pleasure building.

When he was close he reached down to cover Arthur’s hand with his own. He wrapped his legs around one of Arthur’s for more leverage and sped up their pace, grasping Arthur’s shoulder again as he cried out and came wetly between them. It seemed as if the orgasm would never end, but when every last drop of pleasure had been wrung from him, he flopped back onto the pillows. From there he watched, sated, as Arthur’s eyes swept over him greedily. His flushed face contorted and he gasped as he came, painting Merlin’s spent cock with thick ropes of come.

Arthur was still shaking when he collapsed next to Merlin, but he immediately shifted to kiss Merlin’s lips again.

“God that was good,” Arthur said, finally breaking off to press his face against Merlin’s bare shoulder. “Even better than I imagined.”

“Did you imagine it a lot?” Merlin teased.

“Yes,” Arthur said, kissing Merlin’s cheek for emphasis. “Are you kidding? I was always behind on my route because I was stopping to chat with you. I kept hoping you’d give me your number or something; I didn’t want to just show up and scare you.”

“And yet you did,” Merlin pointed out. “Show up, that is. You didn’t scare me.”

“Well, I was desperate, what can I say,” Arthur said. He gestured at the mess between them. “Seems to have worked out well.”

“Hmmm,” I’m not sure about that,” Merlin said, pretending to ponder it. “I think we’ll have to try it again to be sure.”

*

Merlin and Arthur had ventured downstairs for a quick snack — laughing as they stumbled over the packages still scattered across the kitchen — then returned to the bedroom for a second round, which did in fact work out just as well as the first one. Now it was much later, and silence had fallen over the little house. Arthur flicked off the ensuite's light after his turn cleaning up, but hesitated at the edge of the bed. Merlin reached for his hand in the dark.

“Stay?” he whispered, and Arthur answered by crawling onto the bed and kissing him with an aching sweetness.

“You never told me what you were doing playing at delivery man,” Merlin said after they had curled up together. His head was pillowed on the bicep that he’d admired for so long and Arthur had one leg flung over his proprietarily.

“Ah, yes,” Merlin could hear the hesitation in Arthur's voice. “Well … you know I’m a Junior CEO, and my father is the CEO. And well …”

Merlin waited patiently as Arthur took a reluctant breath.

“I had a bad day. And my father caught me, er. Telling off one of the couriers. In a fairly descriptive manner.”

“Oh, Arthur.”

“I know! It was really terrible of me honestly. I knew it then and I know it even more now. I really don’t have any excuse. I hope you won’t think less of me, because it was a mistake that certainly won’t be happening again.”

“I hope not,” Merlin said, trying to shove aside thoughts of other men he’d dated that had turned out to be cruel.

“I swear,” Arthur said, shifting closer to Merlin and squeezing him with his leg. “Anyway, my father — who was apparently a bit of a bastard himself before he met my mum — sat me down for a long lecture about the importance of every person in the chain, from top to bottom, and toxic work culture, and employee loyalty. He finished it off by telling me that he’d arranged for me to work making deliveries myself over the summer.”

“I sort of like your father already.”

Arthur chuckled.

“Well, he’s going to love this, I can tell you. He and my mum met when his father made him work on a sheep farm for a summer, so I guess it’s a family tradition.” Merlin felt Arthur stiffen beside him. “Not that we — I mean, I don’t —”

Merlin rested his hand on Arthur’s chest. “It’s fine,” he said. “We don’t have to get married tomorrow.”

Arthur captured Merlin’s hand and brought it to his lips.

“I actually came over here intending to ask you for a date,” he murmured. Merlin could feel the smile on the back of his hand. “I’m assuming you’d still be interested?”

“Of course,” Merlin said, wiggling up to kiss Arthur properly. They kissed and caressed bare skin leisurely until Arthur couldn’t repress a yawn. As they settled down to sleep, Merlin twined himself around Arthur’s body and felt satisfied to his bones. There would have to be some more conversations about what it meant that Arthur had a high-profile job in London and Merlin was happy in his new neighborhood, of course. But here in this moment of utter contentment, he had no doubts that they’d be able to make things work.

He was just about to drift off into sleep when Arthur spoke.

“Now that we’re officially dating,” Arthur said, voice sleepy. “You’ll tell me all about what happens in the next book, right?”

Merlin grinned and pressed his face into Arthur’s hair. “Oh, so that’s the only reason you’re here, eh?”

“No!” Arthur protested. “Just … a perk.”

Merlin hummed and after a moment of silence, whispered into Arthur’s ear, “Sable’s coming back to life next book.”

Arthur shot up as if he’d been stung.

“WHAT?! No!”

Merlin laughed and rolled onto his back as Arthur squirmed around and grabbed his wrists, pinning them over his head. He kissed Merlin, then hovered over him.

“Tell me everything!” he demanded.

Merlin kissed him again, and did.