“Mind if I join you?” Arthur gave a non-committal grunt without looking up and continued shovelling food into his mouth. He knew that he should slow down but he hadn’t had a decent meal in days and on the place before him was a lovely Christmas turkey with cranberries and potatoes and it was just too good.
“Thank you” The person sat down, ignoring Arthur’s lack of enthusiasm and tucked into his own food. It wasn’t until Arthur’s plate was emptied of the last morsel that he looked up and realized that the voice belonged to a raven-haired man, about his own age, with the most gorgeous cheekbones and the most ridiculous ears that Arthur had seen in a very long time.
“Merlin?” he scoffed, reading the name tag on the man’s (very nice, snugly fitting) blue V-neck sweater. “What kind of a name is that?”
“An old family name” the man answered calmly, raising an eyebrow. “And what might your name be, you prat?” Arthur sputtered ginger ale over the table.
“I’m not a prat!”
“Well, what are you then? What do you call a person that insults other’s names, grunts at them and also displays appallingly poor table manners, I might add?” Merlin asked
casually, eyeing the mess on the table and Arthur actually felt a bit ashamed. He mopped it up with a napkin and cleared his throat.
“I’m Arthur” he said quietly and Merlin immediately held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you Arthur” he said and Arthur hesitantly shook it.
Although they hadn’t gotten off to the best of starts they spent mote of the afternoon together and Arthur discovered that Merlin was incredibly easy to talk to (and not to mention easy on the eye but that wasn’t really the most important thing on Arthur’s mind right now, still a little looking never hurt, right?). He learnt that Merlin was indeed as old as himself, that he was studying to become a neonatal nurse and that he had volunteered at the shelter for just over four years now. Then came the question that Arthur dreaded.
“Arthur, what brings you here?” He sat silently for a while before simply answering:
“My father.” Merlin didn’t need to know the whole story about Uther Pendragon falling out with his only because he was gay and how he’d been cut off from the family fortune, blacklisted as an employee and, after he’d been unable to find a place to live, ended up living on the streets.
“You know we also provide counselling here, to help people get back on their feet, right?” Merlin said, cutting through his thoughts, and looking at Arthur with those blue eyes in a way that made Arthur squirm uncomfortably, feeling as if Merlin could see right through him.
“Yeah. But can we, um, could we talk of something else maybe?”
“Of course” Merlin smiled. “Do you play chess?”
“Merlin!” A blonde woman waved in the direction of their table and Merlin started to rise, smiling apologetically.
“I need to go, I’m supposed to help cleaning the kitchen” he said and Arthur tried not to show how disappointed he was. For a few hours he’d actually felt normal and he was reluctant to face his normal life again.
“Yeah, of course” he said. “Merry Christmas, Merlin.”
“Merry Christmas, Arthur.”
A couple of days later Arthur was back at the shelter and he was lucky, there was a room available for him to stay the night. The tension slowly seeped out of his muscles when he realized that tonight he’d get to sleep in a bed, a warm, soft bed, and without having to worry about being robbed.
After a good night’s sleep and some breakfast he readied himself to head back out on the streets, a little disappointed that Merlin had not been working that evening. Just as he picked up his bag a woman he didn’t recognize walked up to him.
“Arthur?” she asked and he looked up.
“Yes” he answered verily, not knowing who she was or what she wanted. Maybe he was being paranoid but his father could easily bribe anyone and he wasn’t about to let his guard down.
“Merlin asked me to give you this” she said and handed him a small envelope with his name written on it, in a large, messy scrawl. Arthur was too surprised to thank her and seeing that all his attention was focused on the envelope she just smiled and left.
He carefully opened it, then stared at the contents in shock. It was a small note and a train ticket.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about the look in your eyes when you told me about the holiday when you and your mother went to France and how much you enjoyed it. Have a nice trip and eat a croissant for me as well =)
Arthur could feel the smile spreading over his face. He was going to France.
Christmas Eve, four years later
Arthur walked into the very same shelter where he’d spent his last Christmas in Britain before leaving for France and looked around uncertainly. The place looked almost exactly the same, yet so much time had passed and he didn’t really know what to do and who to talk to. Then he spotted someone with a blue sweater and dark hair. Grinning he made his way over to the table, picking up a cup of coffee on the way.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Of course” Merlin looked up and smiled and when his eyes fell on Arthur they widened with recognition. “Arthur?” he said, a bit shocked. “You… you look well.”
“I am well” Arthur answered, thinking about the small town where he lived, his job and the apartment that he shared with a friend. “I just wanted to tell you about it. So, how about a game of chess?”
“Absolutely” Merlin answered, beaming.