Title: Underneath, Part 2
Characters: Merlin and Arthur
Summary: Asking Arthur out for coffee seemed a no-brainer in life-drawing class, until Merlin realizes he has to talk to him. In words.
Warnings: Mention of past cutting
Word Count: 764
Author's Notes: Continuation from Prompt 1: Skin "Underneath"
Merlin folds himself into the cafe booth, too long and awkward for the smallish thing. He feels like he should be tucking in his elbows and knees like a giant praying mantis.
On the opposite side of the little table, Arthur doesn’t seem to have this problem. He slides gracefully into the booth and owns it. Merlin tries not to ogle his easy grace.
“So,” Arthur begins with a lopsided grin.
Merlin can’t help but return the grin, though his mouth doesn’t feel anywhere near as natural making that shape as Arthur’s looks.
“So,” he replies, looking sideways at the approaching waitress. When she arrives, he’s surprised by Arthur’s order of Earl Grey, slice of lemon.
“Tea. Huh,” he says unnecessarily, looking at his own hands on the table, fingers perpetually stained and rough, thinking Earl Grey. The guy drinks Earl Grey, like it means something profound. Merlin is probably the antithesis of Earl bloody Grey.
Calling in the reinforcements to help him deal with this sad discovery, Merlin gives the waitress a rueful smile. “Coffee, black please, lots of sugar.”
“What’s lots?” she asks, her eyebrow positively Spockesque.
“Just bring the whole bag,” he mutters, earning a giggle.
“Not sweet enough?” Arthur quips, the moment the waitress turns her back.
“Never,” Merlin smiles ruefully. Reflexively, he punctuates his distress by tugging his hair, all rough fistfuls and clawed fingers. When he looks up, Arthur is watching intently. He finds himself looking away, unable to stand the scrutiny. Normally, Merlin is the one doing the studying.
Suddenly, he feels Arthur’s light touch, fleeting across his forearm, and before he can draw back, Arthur asks, “What’s this?”
He lowers his hand, looking at his own skin as though for the first time. His leather cuff has slipped down a little and the sleeve has ridden up, revealing rows of scar tissue, some in lines, some shaped like letters, just above Merlin’s wrist. He can’t believe Arthur’s nerve at going straight there.
“Just a scar,” Merlin explains, covering it gently with the palm of his other hand as though it still hurts. Maybe it does. “Young, stupid, you know. All the things,” he says, awkwardly clicking his tongue out the side of his mouth and nodding as though he said something sage.
Arthur just nods quietly, intense eyes refusing to look contrite.
“What does it say?” he asks quietly.
Merlin frowns, retrieving all the lies he’s told over the years, all the times he’s hidden this. He sifts through them looking for the right one, the half-truth that will suit this situation, suit this person who might be important.
He looks up to Arthur’s confronting gaze. “Lance,” he blurts out the truth, having taken too long to construct a lie. “It used to say Lance, until I cut it up.”
Merlin feels the silence deep in his gut, like the quake of a door slamming. He can almost hear Arthur’s thoughts. He’s a cutter. He’s a cutter. He’s a--
Around them, the cafe continues to bustle, the patrons all minding their own business, and Merlin didn’t know he was holding his breath until his chest caves in a little and he almost chokes on it. The air is thick with dejection, and maybe it’s just as well that they get to this immediately, before Merlin gets really interested and maybe even attached, before--
“And this one?” Arthur’s finger strokes gently along Merlin’s thumb where a still-red scar angers the skin.
Merlin doesn’t need to look down to know which scar Arthur means, but he does, burning the visual of Arthur’s golden touch into his brain alongside other shining pebbles gathered in life.
“Stanley knife. I was trimming board for a frame. It slipped.”
“Looks like a bad cut,” Arthur muses, his finger not in any hurry to move on, just rubbing along the red line like he wants to get to know its texture.
“Bled like a bastard,” Merlin agrees, wondering just what the hell’s going on here. Arthur pays as much attention to the cut along his thumb as he did to the less forgivable ones on his arm. His eyes are just as intense, that blue, that blue, and curious. Interested.
“It’s rather soon to compare scars, isn’t it?” Merlin says, because he can’t stand not to say something, can’t stand the suspense.
Arthur smiles with his whole face, and to Merlin’s mind there is neither a sight nor a sound for miles, only white teeth and red lips moving, and Arthur’s husky voice.
“Well, I figure we need to start somewhere.”