Title: Like a Fine Wine (3)
Pairing/s: eventual Merlin/Arthur
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: No doubt in the morning all of this would resolve itself into just another random encounter at the pub, but he couldn’t help feeling like he’d just missed the opportunity for an adventure—like Alice if she had never followed the White Rabbit, or if Lucy Pevensie had hidden in the wrong wardrobe.
[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | AO3 ]
Word Count: 1000w
Prompt: 376 Head Over Heels
Author's Notes: I realise that technically I've already written a Part 3 for this story, but when I was rereading it in order to continue the fic, I found that I didn't quite like the transition between Part 2 and Part 3. So I decided to fill in some of the gaps.
He was still standing in the rain, weighing up the potential embarrassment of going back inside versus the possibility of never getting to figure out the mystery, when a voice spoke behind him.
“You know, if you’re going to storm dramatically away from someone, it helps if you can bring yourself to actually leave.”
Arthur knew who it was before he turned, but it still came as something of a shock to see Merlin standing in the doorway he had just vacated, his lanky frame backlit by the glow from the pub. He turned up his collar and stepped out onto the street, letting the door fall shut behind him, and then suddenly he was in Arthur’s space, his pale face gleaming spectre-white through the deepening darkness.
“Look, I’m sorry if I scared you.”
“You didn’t scare me,” Arthur replied automatically, but he had taken half a step back, one hand already gripping his phone. If worst came to worst, he could probably throw it at Merlin’s head while he made a quick getaway. “I’m used to being hit on by strangers in pubs. It’s just—you have to admit, you’re stranger than most.”
That made Merlin laugh, an unexpectedly deep sound that made his eyes crinkle. “I suppose that’s true,” he acknowledged, shaking his head. “And I swear, I’m not stalking you or anything. I know this must all seem pretty weird.”
“Understatement of the year,” Arthur muttered, causing Merlin to laugh again. “But if you’re not stalking me, why did you follow me out here? I thought I made it pretty clear I don't want to talk to you.”
“Well, to be fair, I didn’t actually think you’d still be here,” Merlin said, shrugging one shoulder. “But since you are…can I give you my number?”
Merlin winced. “I know how it sounds. I just thought…Look. This whole situation is insane, and I don’t blame you if you’d rather not get involved, but I figured at least if you have my number, you can get in touch if you ever—if you’re curious.”
Arthur studied him for a long moment. Merlin’s hair was soaking wet, curling damply around his face and making his ears stick out more than ever. From what little Arthur could see of him, his cheeks were flushed and he was biting his lower lip, as though he were genuinely worried Arthur might just walk away. Had he been anyone else, Arthur would have assumed that the coyness was deliberate, but on Merlin the effect seemed entirely unintentional. Once more, Arthur felt a rush of fondness for the man that was entirely out of place.
“There’s something about you, Merlin,” he said finally, holding out his phone. “I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
Merlin grinned, and Arthur shivered as their hands brushed. The phrase he had used to describe his feelings back in the bar resurfaced: head over heels. He never just handed over his phone to anyone he didn’t know—quite apart from being criminally expensive, it also contained a lot of personal information, including the only photographs he had left of Sophia, and Arthur hated to let it out of his sight. Yet for some reason, he had just given it to a perfect stranger without a qualm, despite the fact that he had good reason to suspect the man might be up to something. He must be going mad.
Merlin flicked through to the contacts app and added his details, then handed the phone back to Arthur.
“There you go,” he said, and Arthur took it, peering at the name blinking on the screen. MERLIN EMRYS, it read, followed by a mobile number. “Text me if you ever want to get that drink or something, yeah?”
He smiled one last time, with a slightly uncertain quirk of the lips that made Arthur’s breath catch in response, and then he was walking away into the rain before Arthur had even realised that the conversation was over. Arthur gripped his phone tighter, his head still swimming, and despite it being against his better judgment, he had to bite down on the sudden urge to call Merlin back. He was cold and miserable, and he’d had a fair amount to drink; no doubt in the morning all of this would resolve itself into just another random encounter at the pub, but he couldn’t help feeling like he’d just missed the opportunity for an adventure—like Alice if she had never followed the White Rabbit, or if Lucy Pevensie had hidden in the wrong wardrobe.
Annoyed with himself, he shook his head and set off in the direction of the nearest tube station—which, coincidentally, lay in the opposite direction to the one Merlin had taken. He texted Gwaine to let him know he was on his way home, ignoring the other man when he responded with a lewd comment about Arthur's imaginary conquest, followed by several winking emojis. Worst. Wingman. Ever.
Then, before he could think the better of it, he pulled up Merlin’s contact details and sent him a quick text as well.
Why don’t we start with lunch at The Dragoon tomorrow, and you can tell me more about that photograph?
He dropped the phone back into his pocket before he could think the better of it, and hurried down the steps into the station, only just managing to catch the next train headed in the right direction. All throughout the trip, he kept pulling out his phone and turning it over in his hands, pressing his fingers to the places Merlin’s had touched before telling himself not to be stupid and putting it away again. There was no signal while he was underground, so it wasn’t until he had left the train and returned to surface level that the phone buzzed, indicating that he had received an answering text from Merlin.
Your wish is my command, sire, it read, and Arthur smiled. I’m looking forward to it.