Title: We Need to Talk About Arthur [Part 2]
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Merlin/Edwin
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Edwin
Summary: Arthur is acting weirder than usual. Morgana refuses to get involved. Meanwhile, Merlin wants his best friend back (and maybe more besides), but that's easier said than done.
[ Prequel | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | AO3 | Sequel ]
Warnings: Brief mentions of infidelity, stalking.
Word Count: 1200 words.
Prompt: #257: Work (Artist Appreciation Month #1) and #255: It's Quiet Uptown.
Author's Notes: Such gorgeous artwork! <33
In the end, Merlin is so anxious not to be late that he winds up leaving his desk early, well before the allotted thirty minutes are up. He hasn’t seen Arthur enter his office yet, so it’s not really a surprise to find him already in the break room, laptop on the counter, speaking urgently into his phone in short, clipped sentences. He looks up when Merlin arrives, however, and waves him inside with an absent gesture.
“Yes. No, I understand. No, that would not be a good idea. No. Look, just…don’t sign anything, don’t say anything, and I’ll be there as soon as I can, all right?”
He hangs up without saying goodbye, and closes his eyes for a moment, drawing a long breath in.
“Apparently you don’t understand the concept of a break room,” Merlin observes, taking a seat at the counter next to him. “This is a sacred space, where employees are supposed to sit and chat, not actually do any work. You know, a place where they can have a break?”
“Yes, well.” Arthur raises an eyebrow at him. “Apparently you don’t know how to tell the time, something which I have long suspected but never been able to prove.”
“Har de har ha.” Merlin resists the urge to stick his tongue out at him, but only just. He knocks against Arthur’s shoulder with his own. “I was hungry. And…maybe a little nervous.” He looks down at the counter, picking up some wayward crumbs with his forefinger and crushing them against his thumb. “I thought you might be planning on ignoring me forever. Or at least having me reassigned to another continent.”
“Ah.” Arthur scrubs a hand through his hair. “Right. About that. Merlin, I— ”
“No, hear me out,” Merlin says, interrupting him. “I was the one who started it, after all. I kind of feel like I owe you an explanation.”
Arthur shrugs. “All right.” He slides off his chair and starts assembling the tea things, shoving a box of stale biscuits in Merlin’s direction. It’s too early for anyone to have thought about morning tea yet, and Merlin’s stomach is rumbling. He wipes his palms on his trousers and then takes several.
“It’s just,” he starts, then backtracks. “Look, you were right. I was pissed off about Edwin and I wasn’t really thinking straight. I should never have kissed you like that.” He bites his lip, looking apologetically over at Arthur. “I think I was just…angry and hurt and it felt good to know that someone cared about me. I may have gotten a bit carried away.”
“Okay,” Arthur says slowly. “I can understand that. But — Merlin, it wasn’t exactly a one-sided thing.”
“I know.” Merlin thinks back to precisely how one-sided it wasn’t, and hopes he isn’t blushing. “But you were drunk, and, well, drunken sex with the ex is a cliché for a reason, isn’t it?”
“I don't think it was — “
“Besides, it’s not like either of us were making the best decisions that night,” Merlin rushes on, interrupting him. “You would never have come after me in the first place if I hadn’t caught my boyfriend having sex with a soul-sucking fiend from the depths of Azkaban— ”
“Don’t ask.” Merlin shakes his head. “I’m just saying, do you think maybe we can chalk the whole thing up to circumstance and move on? I really don’t want this to make things awkward between us.”
Arthur is silent for a long time, leaning his elbows on the counter as he waits for the kettle to boil. Up close, he looks like he’s had even less sleep than Merlin has: several buttons of his shirt are undone, the shadows under his eyes much deeper than usual. He’s studying Merlin’s face with that same intensity that he’d shown in the elevator, like he’s trying to determine what Merlin is thinking by peering directly into his brain. Since Arthur has frequently told him that he doesn’t have a brain, let alone thoughts interesting enough to wonder about, Merlin is pretty sure he’d deny doing any such thing, but the scrutiny is enough to set loose a small cloud of butterflies in his stomach.
“Arthur?” He prompts finally, wondering whether he’s about to be sacked after all. “If you need time to think about it, just tell me.”
“No, it’s fine.” Arthur coughs into his fist. “Am I to take it this means you don’t think we should try the dating thing again?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Merlin says, laughing a little. “I mean, can you imagine? I’m pretty sure we’d kill one another within a week.” He glances at Arthur, who is now fiddling with one of the empty cups, a frown on his face, and tries to lighten the moment. “Why, were you thinking about asking me out?”
Arthur puts down the cup abruptly and reaches for the tea bags, dropping one into each mug with a level of concentration disproportionate to the difficulty of the task. When he begins pouring the water in and adding the milk and sugar, still without saying anything, Merlin’s heart starts to beat a little faster in his chest. Of course, Arthur can’t actually be considering it. The two of them had been together for only a few months, years and years ago, but that had been more than enough for both of them. They were definitely better off as friends. Weren’t they?
“No, I suppose you’re right.” Arthur says at last. He catches Merlin’s eye and smiles as he hands him his cup, although the expression on his face looks somewhat forced. “You already drive me crazy as it is.”
“Exactly,” Merlin agrees. The butterflies in his stomach have turned into something heavy and he takes a hurried sip of his tea to get rid of them. There’s really no need for him to feel so flustered. “So we’re good? You’re not secretly planning to ship me off to Cambodia or something in revenge?”
“We’re good,” Arthur confirms, lips quirking upwards.
There’s an awkward moment where they’re both just staring at each other, smiling, and Merlin ducks behind his teacup to hide an unexpected flush. Arthur looks away, clearing his throat.
“I should go,” he says, tipping his untouched cup of tea into the sink. “Vivian Alined just got engaged again, and I promised I’d keep her father from killing the groom.”
“Right,” Merlin says, wincing. Vivian Alined is a long-term client with a chronically overprotective father and more broken engagements than a Hollywood celeb — dealing with the latest father/daughter grudge match could take hours. “I’ll clear your schedule.”
“Thanks, Merlin.” Arthur washes the cup, then sets it on the draining board without looking up. “See you later, yeah?”
“Later,” Merlin echoes automatically. He watches Arthur leave, still feeling oddly unsettled, then jumps as a text pops up on his phone.
Edwin [09:43am]: This isn’t over, Merlin.
Merlin scowls, deleting the message with a vicious beep, and rubs his forehead. He still has one more biscuit left, but pushes it away. Somehow he doesn't feel all that hungry anymore.
He doesn’t get any work done for the rest of the day.