Title: A Wash of Warmth
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur,
Summary: Merlin makes Arthur an offer, and no take-backs are allowed.
Warnings: Vague mention of hinted past child abuse
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: I'm trying to see what I can push with this university AU to turn it into something more. Linked to Whispers of a Thousand Words
Merlin pocketed his change and nodded, grabbing his take-away cup and following Arthur out of the café. They walked in silence, lost in their own thoughts, until they reached the park. Arthur lent his elbows on the railing, nursing his coffee as he stared out over the lake.
Prising the top off, Merlin blew on his hot chocolate for a second before swiping his finger through the cream, sucking it off as he joined Arthur. It was cold but the drinks warmed them through. The park had easily become a spot of inspiration for both of them, although Merlin was starting to wonder if it was the company that inspired him rather than the scenic surroundings.
“Are you going home for the holidays?” Arthur asked.
Merlin nodded. “Yup. Mam’s going to pick me up end of next week, after final deadline. We’ll pick up my uncle on the way home.”
“Ealdor.” He waited for the usual comment of where? but Arthur nodded. Merlin didn’t ask; it wouldn’t surprise him anymore if Arthur had heard of his backwater village: not a lot got past him.
“What about you?” he said, tone cautious. They hadn’t really spoken after the library encounter: Arthur’s walls had come up as soon as they left and their conversation had ended up on neutral territory again.
Arthur shrugged. “Making the most of campus being quiet,” he said. “Final few months of final year coming, after all.”
“Sure.” Merlin knew a dodge when he heard one. He busied himself taking another sip of his drink, only to curse when he burnt his tongue instead. Arthur laughed, glancing over with a softness in his eyes Merlin hadn’t seen before.
“You’ve got cream on your nose,” Arthur chuckled. Merlin grinned, wiping it off, but Arthur reached out.
“Here.” His voice was little more than a murmur, a slight frown on his face as he used his thumb to wipe away a dot of cream from the corner of Merlin’s mouth. He sucked it off, not appearing to notice.
Heat rushed through Merlin’s entire body. He buried his face in his scarf, hoping that Arthur couldn’t tell that even his ears were turning red.
Arthur didn’t seem to notice. He drank some of his own drink, turning his attention back to the view.
“What’re you working on?” Merlin blurted out, needing to distract himself from studying Arthur’s profile and picturing the way he’d recapture it on paper. He shook off the thought: he hated drawing people, preferring going for something more imaginative.
“Final project,” Arthur said. He sighed. “I can’t figure out what I want to do.”
“Muse problems?” Merlin sympathised. Arthur nodded.
“Something like that,” he said. The look he gave Merlin was inscrutable, and he couldn’t hold his gaze. Arthur cleared his throat, glancing away, although Merlin had no idea what had just happened.
“What are you working on?”
“Abstract,” Merlin groaned. “It’s all just colours and shapes, I can’t make anything out of it.” He rested his elbows on the railing, frowning. “I don’t get it.”
“You’re not supposed to get it,” Arthur said, “that’s why it’s abstract.”
“But how am I meant to-,”
“Stop thinking about it.” Arthur shrugged, turning around so he was leaning back on the barrier, finally meeting Merlin’s eye again.
“You’re not supposed to overthink it.”
“How are you so good at all of this?” It was half-grumble, half-compliment and Arthur smirked.
“I hate abstract,” he admitted, “lowest mark I’ve ever got.”
“I don’t believe you ever got a bad mark,” Merlin muttered. Arthur smiled.
“I had something to prove,” he said, voice soft. He pushed away from the railing, heading down the path. Merlin jammed the lid back on his drink and hurried after him.
“To your father?” he murmured. Arthur shook his head.
“To myself. I already knew he wouldn’t care.”
“Come with me.”
“What?” Merlin echoed. They’d both stopped. Arthur was staring at him, eyes wide. Merlin swallowed, wondering where the words were coming from.
“What did you just say?”
There was no going back.
“Home,” Merlin said. “Come home with me.”
“With your mother? And uncle?”
“They don’t bite,” Merlin said. “Gaius built me a studio when I was thirteen. You can use it and work on your project if you’re worried about falling behind.”
“I dunno, Merlin-,” Arthur ran his hand through his hair. He didn’t look horrified by the idea: Merlin wasn’t sure, but there was a glint of something in his eyes; longing, vulnerability…
“Think about it,” he said, starting to walk backwards so he could continue to watch Arthur’s expression. “I don’t go until the end of next week. Mam won’t mind, and there’ll be room in the car. Just let me know.”
He turned, just avoiding falling over both an old lady with a dog, then his own feet, but somehow managed to keep hold of his drink. He heard Arthur laughing behind him before the older boy caught up with him, grabbing his elbow in time to keep him upright.
“Yup,” Merlin agreed cheerfully. “Especially at abstract art, which is why you’re going to help me.”
“That’s what this mentoring malarkey is about, right?”
Arthur had tossed the word out one day when they’d both been in the studio and he’d offered a few pointers. Merlin hadn’t let him forget it since.
“I’ll lend you a playlist,” Arthur said, “but that’s it.”
Merlin pouted, and Arthur chuckled. “You’ve got to learn.”
“You sound like my uncle. I take it back – you can’t come, I can’t deal with two of you.”
“No take-backs,” Arthur warned. Merlin smiled.
“I’ll-,” Arthur swallowed, “I’ll think about it.”
Merlin elbowed him, making a mental note to tell his mother they’d have an extra for the holidays. Arthur might not be admitting his decision, but he’d made it. It was the only explanation for the pink tinge blushing across his cheeks.
He hid his answering grin in his scarf.