Summary: Arthur and Merlin meet on a train while both are travelling to spend Christmas with their families.
Word Count: 2400
Author's Notes: Happy holidays, aku_rin! Although this was written very last-minute as a pinch-hit, it has been betaed.
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Read below or here on Ao3.
Arthur noticed the dark-haired stranger the instant he entered Arthur's train carriage and looked around. He was pale and thin with handsome features, and his face brightened when he spotted the free seat next to Arthur and began moving towards it.
"May I sit here?" he asked Arthur.
At Arthur's nod, he took off his oversized rucksack, placed it in front of the empty seat, and sat down with a sigh, resting his head against the headrest and stretching out his long legs so they were right on top of his luggage.
"I'm Merlin," he said, turning his head enough to direct a quick, charming grin at Arthur.
"Arthur," he replied. "Arthur Pendragon. Pleased to meet you."
Merlin turned his whole body towards Arthur's, keeping his feet on top of his luggage, and smirked at him. The movement put Arthur in mind of a lover turning to him in bed in the morning. It was certainly overly familiar behaviour for someone he'd just met; however, Merlin's eyes were sparkling with humour and cheer, and Arthur found he didn't mind anything about Merlin at all.
"Is Plymouth your final destination, Arthur Pendragon?" Merlin asked. He had very long eyelashes, Arthur noticed.
"Yes," Arthur said. He wished he could relax as easily as Merlin seemed to be able to; his coat was still buttoned, and his hands were locked tightly together in his lap. He cleared his throat. "I'm spending Christmas with my sister."
"How nice. Is that what you usually do for the holidays?"
"No, this is the first time," Arthur said. "She and her husband Leon moved there last spring, and now they have a baby. Our father had to work over the holiday, so I'm going on my own. This will be my first time meeting my niece."
"What's the baby's name?"
"Amelia," Arthur said. He smiled as he thought of the photos Morgana had sent him of the newborn.
"That's very pretty," Merlin said. "What did you bring her as a gift? You look very rich, so I'm sure you could afford something nice."
Arthur wasn't sure how he was exuding wealth in a black winter peacoat and jeans, both of which Merlin was also wearing. Arthur raised his eyebrows at him.
"Your shoes. Armani," Merlin said, with a nod in the direction of Arthur's feet.
"Indeed," Arthur said, chuckling. "I'm bringing her a blanket. I had it made for her."
The blanket was patterned with castles, knights, wizards, and dragons, which had been some of Arthur's favourite things as a boy. If his father's research into the Pendragon lineage was correct, it was part of Amelia's heritage to love those echoes of a distant age as much as Arthur had.
"That's sweet," Merlin said, his smile turning soft.
"So how do you know so much about shoes, Merlin?" Arthur asked. He was pretty sure they were flirting, and he hoped he managed to say at least some of the right things.
"I, er, sort of know a lot about fashion. I'm doing some post-graduate work in the field of fashion history," he said, lifting his free shoulder in a half-shrug. "I went to uni with the goal of becoming a fashion designer, but I soon found that I had more talent for the scholarly side of things than the practical. So."
That didn't sound very useful to Arthur, but he wasn't going to mention it. The truth was, while Arthur had secured a good position in his father's publishing company after uni, he didn't really enjoy the work. He often daydreamed of doing something like Morgana had, marrying for love and running off to live and work somewhere less busy than London.
"Do you study in London, then?" Arthur asked.
Merlin nodded. "And you work there, probably for some stuffy old business that's been around forever," he said.
"I do, but how did you guess that?" Arthur said.
"Goes back to the shoes," Merlin said, tapping his own feet, which Arthur noticed were clad in worn trainers.
"Okay, Sherlock Holmes," Arthur teased.
Merlin grinned at him.
"Are you visiting family in Plymouth, too?" Arthur asked.
"Yeah. My mum and my great-uncle Gaius," he answered. "Going to do all the family traditions, decorating the tree, singing carols, everything like that. It'll be fun but exhausting, I expect. They're both getting on in years, so they love it when I'm around and they don't have to ask the neighbours' kids to help with the heavy lifting."
Arthur made the snap decision to use Merlin's statement as another opportunity to flirt. After all, if this conversation went badly, he never had to see Merlin again. But if it went well....
"Is that your way of letting me know how strong you are?" Arthur asked, cocking his head at Merlin.
Merlin winked at him. "Maybe," he said. "I know I look skinny, but I'm pretty fit. I've always done some dance, as well as yoga. Lately, I've been doing parkour."
"Parkour? I'm not surprised," Arthur said, nodding at Merlin's shoes now. "Two can play at the deductions game, you know."
Merlin's answering grin made Arthur sure that flirting back had been the right choice.
They continued to chat for the next few hours, learning a lot about each other's lives. They even exchanged contact info; when Merlin pulled up his own Facebook page on his mobile to show Arthur a photo of the family he was on the way to visit, he immediately sent Arthur a friend request. Merlin asked for permission to add Arthur's mobile number, which was listed on his page, to his contacts, and Arthur granted it and did the same.
So wrapped up had Arthur been in their conversation, as well as in his thoughts of how best to ask Merlin out on an official first date, that he didn't notice night falling or the weather changing. When the train pulled into Plymouth station, they stood up and gathered their things and Arthur got ready to say goodbye to Merlin.
But then, both their mobiles vibrated. Arthur checked the display; it was Morgana.
"Arthur," she said. "There's been a sudden temperature drop and a small storm. The roads are covered with snow, and there's no way we can make it to the station until the weather clears."
"Of course, Morgana. I understand," Arthur said, sighing. He didn't relish the thought of spending hours in the train station, but he disliked the idea of Morgana and Leon risking a dangerous drive even more. "Don't come until it's definitely safe, alright?"
"We won't," Morgana said. "But we'll see you soon, Arthur."
A temperature drop? That was bad news for Arthur, who had no hat, gloves, or scarf, and certainly no winter boots. It had been cold in London, yes, but not cold enough for snow. He winced as he realised that he'd no doubt be cold and wet for the entirety of his long wait. Oh, well.
Merlin's phone call had wrapped up, too. "That was my mum," he said. "Bad weather. She won't be here until the sun comes up tomorrow to melt away some of the snow."
"My sister called to say the same," Arthur said.
Merlin had set his rucksack back on the seat and began rummaging through it, although most of the passengers were in the process of shuffling off the train.
"Hold up, I can lend you these," Merlin said. He produced one brown leather glove and a red scarf and held them out to Arthur. "Here. I'm sorry I only have the one glove. I lost the other one. Parkour, you know." He laughed, and Arthur watched him pull a hand-knitted blue beanie onto his head.
"I'll take the scarf, but you can keep the glove. You're so pale; you seem like the type to get colds easily. I have a good constitution," Arthur said.
"Oho, tough bloke, aren't you?" Merlin said, laughing at Arthur now.
"Not really," Arthur said, grinning back.
"Give that back, then," Merlin said, snatching the glove away from Arthur.
Arthur carefully wound the scarf around his mouth and neck. It was soft and slightly scratchy, and had probably been hand-knit from wool.
He motioned Merlin to leave the train first and followed him off, carrying his own suitcase. When the cold air of the platform hit him, he was very grateful for the scarf.
He looked back at Merlin and noticed that he was wearing the single brown glove, but had his other hand balled into a fist. Arthur wrapped his free hand around the fist, and he felt the fingers relax and wind with his own. The contact warmed him, even though Merlin's skin was already icy-cold.
"Come on," said Arthur. "Let's be quick about it. It's not far."
He pulled on Merlin's hand gently, and they half-ran towards the station building, following the crowd of other stranded passengers. The air was much warmer inside, but Arthur didn't give Merlin a chance to separate their hands. Instead, he tightened his grip and was heartened when Merlin squeezed back.
Arthur spotted a few free seats. "Over here," he said. He helped Merlin remove his rucksack this time and put it down in front of one of seats, just as Merlin had done on the train. He placed his own small suitcase next to it and finally removed his hand from Merlin's in order to sit.
He smiled up at Merlin and was pleased to see the happy, amazed look on Merlin's face.
"How did I end up stranded with someone so handsome and thoughtful?" Merlin asked, then plopped himself down next to Arthur in the same posture as before, his feet on his own rucksack and his entire body curled towards Arthur's.
Arthur wondered how he'd ever doubted that Merlin was flirting with him. "You're just that lucky," Arthur said. His eyes dropped to Merlin's full, soft-looking lips. "Do you want...."
Merlin nodded. Arthur kissed him, closing his eyes and letting sensation take over. The kiss was filled with the same sweetness that had characterised their whole acquaintance so far; it had none of the urgency or the awkwardness that Arthur usually associated with kissing strangers.
Merlin tasted like peppermint, and it amused Arthur. He pulled back with a smile. "Is that why you offered me a peppermint candy on the train? Were you planning to kiss me?" Arthur teased.
"No, what sort of man do you think I am?" Merlin said, feigning shock by rounding his mouth into an "o" shape and raising both eyebrows at Arthur.
"A flirtatious one, who's very strong and also very flexible, who loves his family. A man who enjoys academic pursuits for their own sake, and has the independence of spirit that's required to study something non-traditional," Arthur began, and he couldn't resist continuing at the sight of the adorable blush spreading on Merlin's cheeks. "Someone whom I like very much, although we've only just met."
Merlin grinned. "Well, you're gorgeous," he said, dropping a light peck on Arthur's lips. "And you're a hard worker, who loves his family too. Not to mention very generous with your compliments, and a great kisser."
"You can't say you figured out that last bit from my shoes, now," Arthur said. "How did you know that?"
"I gambled," Merlin said. "Doesn't matter. I was right."
They kissed again and again until they fell asleep, with Merlin's head cradled on Arthur's chest.
"Arthur," Morgana said. "Wake up, sleepyhead."
Arthur blinked awake, disorientated. His muscles were stiff, and he had no idea where he was. He looked down at the dark head still resting against him, and it all came back. He smiled.
"Good morning to you too, Morgana," Arthur said.
Merlin stirred and stretched before opening his eyes. "Oh, um. Hi," he said, with a quick glance at Morgana. It was the first time Arthur had seen him hesitant or unsure at all.
"You didn't tell me you were bringing someone home for us to meet, Arthur," she scolded. "Now, why would you keep him a secret? He's lovely."
"I wasn't...." Arthur replied, shaking his head in an attempt to free himself from the haze of sleep. "Morgana, this is Merlin. We met on the train."
"On the train, is it? Well, Arthur, I am surprised," Morgana said. "The roads are completely clear now, but I'll just wait over there while you sort yourselves out, shall I?"
Morgana stepped far enough away to be out of earshot, and Arthur turned to Merlin.
There was a distressing amount of space between their bodies, and Arthur worried that the magical, dreamlike moments they'd shared together the previous night could never be recaptured.
"So, the weather seems to have sorted itself out," Arthur said, at a loss for how to approach Merlin now.
"Yeah," Merlin said, but he didn't seem to have anything to add.
Somehow, Arthur had to make things comfortable between them again. He fumbled for one of Merlin's hands with both of his, frustrated at the difficulty of it, so different from the ease they'd shared the previous night. When he found Merlin's hand, he clutched it tightly.
"Are you in Plymouth for a few days? I have your mobile number. Perhaps we could get some coffee or...."
A happy grin overtook Merlin's face, and Arthur was filled with relief. "Yes. I'll text you."
"And after that, we can see each other in London," Arthur said. "If you want to."
"Yes," Merlin said. He pressed a light kiss to Arthur's cheek. "Mmm, you were clean-shaven last night. I liked that, but I like your stubble, too."
"I like you," Arthur said, briefly kissing Merlin on the lips. "So you'll text me, and we'll go out. Have a happy Christmas. I'm...."
"Yes, Arthur?" Merlin asked, gently.
"I'm so glad I met you," Arthur said.
"Me too," Merlin replied, beaming at Arthur. "See you soon."
"Wait, check your phone. I don't want to leave you alone with no ride when Morgana's right here," Arthur said.
"Thanks, Arthur," Merlin said. He fished out his phone and showed Arthur the text his Mum had sent a moment ago, probably while they'd been distracted with each other.
Arthur stood and gathered his things, then bent to kiss Merlin one more time.
"Goodbye," Arthur said, reluctantly. "Text me."
"I will. Bye for now," Merlin replied.
Arthur followed Morgana out of the station, turning once to wave at Merlin. Merlin waved back.