Title: Underneath, Part 3
Character/s: Merlin and Arthur
Summary: Merlin loves life drawing, especially when a particular model poses for the class. Asking Arthur out for coffee seems a no-brainer, until Merlin realizes he has to talk to him. In words.
Word Count: 998
Author's Notes: Continuation from Prompt 3: Scars, Underneath, Part 2
... 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.”
Merlin huffs a confused, “Ah,” checking Arthur’s face for facetiousness. All he finds are frank, unwaveringly sharp eyes.
He has no idea what to say, feeling as though he just plopped his heart on the table and it’s quivering there in a pool of its own juices, waiting to be put out of its misery. Or something.
Arthur seems oblivious to his distress. “What’s in there, then?”
Merlin blinks stupidly, Arthur’s mouth making a sentence he doesn’t understand. He would be happy just watching it pucker over the ‘w’ and seeing a hint of pink tongue in the depths of ‘th’, but for some reason, it feels socially unacceptable to just stare at a person’s mouth, damn polite society and all its stupid rules.
Although he has seen Arthur starkers so maybe—
Lost in the quagmire of his mind, Merlin is unprepared when Arthur reaches toward him. He straightens so abruptly that his vinyl seat squeaks like a tiny fart.
OH MY GOD, his brain screams from somewhere between mortification and hilarity. Arthur snorts.
This can’t be happening. Merlin closes then opens his eyes very slowly, wondering what kind of unholy bastard he must have been in a past life to deserve this humiliation.
He looks down at Arthur’s hand paused in mid-air, and follows its intended trajectory to Merlin’s iPod, lying on top of his messenger bag.
Relentless, Arthur continues to reach for it. “That bad? What’s in there, Nana Mouskouri?” He looks up at Merlin’s shocked face and snaps his mouth audibly closed. “Oh God. It is, isn’t it? It’s Nana Mouskouri and Tubular Bells and—wait,” he continues excitedly, snapping his fingers like he’s onto a breakthrough. “Waitwaitwaitwait. It’s Theremin music, isn’t it? It is, isn’t it? You’re some kind of Theremin genius. You probably build them for a living, from blocks of cheap cheese, and snot and old toothpaste tubes, in your underground lair which backs onto a scenic family crypt.”
Merlin’s laughter is surprised out of him with such brutality that a tiny drop of spit flies out and splats on Arthur’s cheek. He stares at the shiny little blight for a second, hoping against hope that Arthur didn’t notice this latest horror. Which of course he did, because this is an episode of Fuck Merlin’s Life.
And then, Merlin can’t help it, he’s laughing so much that he feels like he can’t ever stop, maybe stuck in throes of guffawing like a madman forever. He convulses so hard that the muscles of his stomach ache and tremble, howls with it so compulsively that Arthur can’t help but laugh, too, wiping at his wet eyes. They ease down to untethered giggles and then helplessly start up again, only to do it again until Merlin’s face feels permanently damaged, though strangely, he feels no pain as he submits.
No pain at all.
Ripe afternoon sun stings Merlin’s neck as they walk out of the cafe hours later, Arthur’s magnetic presence beside him with his corona of hair refracting light like a shield. Merlin feels as though he might fall right out of his own orbit, like gravity suddenly pulls Arthurward instead of downward.
Measuring his steps carefully, Merlin’s never been this ludicrously nervous in his entire life. It’s stupid, but he feels like a conspicuously uncoordinated mess, all feet and elbows. What the hell does one do with one's elbows, anyway? Merlin’s never had to think about this before. It’s completely insane to feel so self-conscious. He tucks his arms in a little more, just in case one spasms and takes Arthur’s eye out.
“How’s the rest of your week?” Arthur glances over, apparently oblivious to Merlin’s ridiculousness.
“I’m working for the next three days, then some studio time, I guess. You?”
“Studio time meaning your art?” It doesn’t escape Merlin’s notice that Arthur hasn’t volunteered his own plans.
“Yeah. I rent a space. I’ll probably... yeah. I’m just gonna hang there.”
“Give me your phone,” Arthur commands, and Merlin finds himself reaching for it, before squinting his eyes and thinking to ask, “Why?”
Arthur just tuts and holds out his hand, fingers snapping at Merlin to hurry up, which he does, somewhat suspiciously.
When it’s returned to him, he has Aaarthur as a new contact. He smiles, about to touch Edit, when Arthur slaps his hand away.
“—on purpose, so you won’t have to look far.”
Merlin feels the creep of pink over his skin as it burns to the very tips of his ears. He wonders how exactly spontaneous combustion works, and if this is the early onset of one.
When they arrive at the racks where Merlin has locked up his bike, he expects an awkward goodbye and maybe a weird handshake where one of them wishes he’d squeezed harder because it’s always good to have a firm handshake. What he doesn’t expect is for Arthur to grasp him surely by the bicep, and pull up close for a light breath of a kiss on Merlin’s hot cheek.
“I’ll call you, alright?” he murmurs against Merlin’s ear, the breath which carries the words warmer than the afternoon sun. Merlin’s eyes flutter helplessly as the scent of Arthur’s skin carrying faint remains of aftershave unfurls in his nostrils, and then, he’s gone.
“Hang on—“ Merlin starts, but Arthur’s already crossing the street, sunlight following him like a lovesick groupie. You didn’t get my number, he wants to shout, but already the distance is too great.
Later at his studio when he picks up his phone and taps Messages, there is a text, sent to Aaarthur, still open on the screen.
Oh yes, I did.
Merlin stares at it for several long moments, smiling like a loony and tasting his own surrender.