Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin thinks back to the day he met Arthur.
Word Count: 1006
Author's Notes: Part 5 of Part of the Family: Cause for Concern, Just Right Together, At Arthur's Side, The Donkey and the Mouse
They bid Uther farewell and started the short walk to Arthur's flat. Merlin noticed that Arthur seemed far more relaxed than he'd been during breakfast. To most people, Arthur always seemed calm and in control, with his good looks and regal bearing, but Merlin knew that sometimes Arthur's polished exterior concealed a great deal of anxiety.
The lines of worry on Arthur's forehead had smoothed out. Arthur wasn't frowning now, either, but smiling fondly at Merlin. Merlin clasped their hands together, glad that Arthur didn't have to worry about Uther anymore.
He thought back to the first time he'd met Arthur, two years ago. Arthur had been very brave, but Merlin hadn't known that at first.
It was Merlin's habit to visit Camelot Coffee after his weekday lectures. He liked to look over his notes and write down anything that was unclear to him, so that he could research the topics on his own or talk to his advisor about them. On Mondays, he only had one lecture in the mornings, and he often spent the entire afternoon in the coffeeshop.
He was sipping coffee and scribbling thoughts in the margins when he sensed someone entering his personal space. He looked up; a man was standing there. He was handsome, with shiny blond hair, blue eyes, and a strong jaw. He was wearing a red hoodie and jeans, which led Merlin to think he was another uni student, but his posture was stiff. Merlin had never seen him before.
"May I join you?" the man said.
"Erm, okay," said Merlin, bewildered. He looked around the coffeeshop; almost all of the other tables were empty. What did this man want?
He sat down across from Merlin. "I'm Arthur," he said. His eyes flickered between Merlin's face and the tabletop. Merlin thought he seemed nervous, and he couldn't fathom why.
Merlin didn't want to be rude, but he was overwhelmed with curiosity. "I'm Merlin. What brings you to my table?" he asked.
Arthur raised his chin and met Merlin's eyes with a look of determination. The expression reminded Merlin of a warrior before battle. "I wanted to ask if I could take you out on a date sometime," Arthur said.
Merlin's eyebrows shot up and his mouth fell open. He hadn't been expecting that at all. He'd been approached for sex in nightclubs before, the few times he'd gone, and he'd approached a few men himself. Those conversations were always clear and brief.
However, this wasn't a nightclub, and Arthur didn't seem to be propositioning him. He said he wanted a date. It was certainly unusual, but Merlin was intrigued.
He smiled at Arthur, who still hadn't looked away. "Yes. I'd like that," Merlin said.
They exchanged numbers, and that Friday night, Arthur took Merlin to dinner at a romantic but inexpensive Italian restaurant. When Merlin mentioned Arthur's unusual directness, Arthur blushed and shook his head.
"I've seen you many times, and I wanted to get to know you," Arthur said. "I've...I've never dated anyone, though. I decided to steel myself for rejection and just ask you. I didn't expect you to say yes."
Merlin furrowed his brow. "That was your first time asking someone out? But you seemed so self-assured," he said. He'd had an idea that Arthur was the sort of person who was used to getting his way; apparently, that wasn't true.
Arthur shrugged. "An illusion, I'm afraid. I'm not very self-assured at all, but I know it can be important to appear that way sometimes," he said. "Is any of that a problem?"
Merlin reached for Arthur's hand and stroked the back of it with his fingertips. "Not at all," he said. "I'm glad you asked. I'm just sorry I never noticed you myself. It's hard to imagine how I missed you."
Arthur didn't pull his hand away. "Why's that?" he asked.
"Are you serious? You're gorgeous, Arthur. You must know that," Merlin said.
Arthur smiled. "I'm glad you think so. Perhaps we can do this again sometime," he said.
Merlin nodded. "Yes, but next time, I'll take you out. How does that sound?"
"That would be acceptable," Arthur said.
Most of the time, Arthur sounded far older than university age. Merlin wondered why, but he felt it would be too insulting to mention.
"So what was it about me that made you want to talk to me?" Merlin asked instead.
Arthur didn't answer for a moment. He was blushing again. Then, he cleared his throat.
"I think you're gorgeous also," Arthur said. "And it's not that I've stalked you, certainly not."
"Of course not," Merlin said softly. "I didn't think that."
"No. But every time I've seen you, even early in the mornings on campus, you always looked so happy. You smiled at everyone you talked to, and you often smiled privately to yourself," Arthur said. "I wanted to know why."
"You wanted me to smile at you, is that it?" Merlin said.
"Yes," Arthur breathed out, his voice just above a whisper.
Merlin beamed at him. "That may be the nicest compliment I've ever received."
Arthur smiled back, and Merlin squeezed his hand.
That night, Arthur walked Merlin back to his room, and they chastely kissed goodnight. Merlin didn't invite him in. Arthur had trusted him with his admission of inexperience; Merlin sensed that it would be easy to frighten or intimidate him.
Instead, they spent many evenings and afternoons together. It took a few months before they began spending some nights together, too. Arthur was always respectful of Merlin's busy schedule and appreciative of Merlin's time and affection. He was also extremely insecure, but very good at hiding it from everyone but Merlin.
And Uther, Merlin now knew. It was obvious that Uther was at least somewhat responsible for Arthur's doubts about himself, and it made Merlin angry on Arthur's behalf. Merlin had never seen anything in Arthur that wasn't worth loving.
When they made it back to Arthur's flat, Merlin decided, they would have a long talk about the future.