Title: Tomato Bisque
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, others mentioned
Summary: Co-workers Arthur and Merlin often have lunch together, but Arthur obviously doesn't enjoy it. Why else would he seem so distracted?
Word Count: 1296 (sorry! I kept going back to this to trim it down, and it kept getting longer instead.)
Author's Notes: Modern office AU.
As Arthur gazed out the window of the crowded restaurant, Merlin studied his profile. He imagined tracing a fingertip down Arthur's distinctive nose, burying his hands in that shiny blond hair, and pressing a kiss to his lovely pink lips. What would it be like to know his affection would be returned?
It wasn't the first time Merlin's fantasies had gotten away from him while spending time with the head of his department. Arthur wasn't his direct boss, but he was definitely more important to the company than Merlin was.
He's more important in general, not to mention far wealthier, Merlin thought glumly, trailing his eyes to Arthur's designer tie, immaculate suit, and the most expensive watch Merlin had ever even seen in person. Arthur was a powerful executive, very far out of the league of a children's book illustrator who was only working in an office to pay the bills.
Arthur turned to him and smiled blandly.
"How's everything going with the art for the, erm," Arthur began. He furrowed his brows and Merlin noticed a bright red blush colouring his winter-pale skin. "I'm sorry. I can't remember what project your team is working on right now."
For the past three months, ever since Merlin had started working at Pendragon Advertising, Arthur had asked him to lunch at least once a week. It seemed that Arthur's only goal was to ask polite questions about how Merlin was getting on in the company. Merlin suspected that Arthur's sister Morgana, who was the head of human resources, had somehow blackmailed Arthur into these friendly lunches, because Arthur wasn't much of a people person, to put it mildly. They rarely even saw each other in the office, and although Arthur was never rude to Merlin, he often seemed distracted.
"Do you mean the bread company? It's going well, although their requests for a flashy label redesign were a bit over-the-top, in my opinion. It's only bread, after all," he said, gesturing with the roll that had been served with his lunch. "Everyone's working very hard on the project, of course. But really, there's no need for bread to have some sort of cutting-edge image."
Arthur grinned at him playfully for a few seconds, then quickly schooled his expression back to mild interest. "I'm glad you haven't run into any difficulties," he said.
Merlin nodded and returned to his soup, which was delicious. He wondered how horrified Arthur would be if he tipped the bowl and drank from it to get the last few mouthfuls, and he couldn't hold back the small chuckle that escaped at the thought.
Merlin's instinct was to lie, but he couldn't come up with anything. Well, if Arthur decided he wasn't fit to do corporate graphic design, he'd find something else, just as he had before. He didn't want to lose the opportunity to daydream about Arthur, but he only needed a little extra money until the last book he'd illustrated was published.
"I was just wondering what you'd do if I ignored all the rules of propriety and slurped my soup like a little kid," he said, shrugging. "It's very good, but not really good enough to warrant making you angry. Now, if it were tomato bisque, we might have a problem."
He winked at Arthur, who looked puzzled, but not at all annoyed.
"Why on Earth would that make me angry?" Arthur asked.
"Well, you're very posh, you know. I doubt you'd appreciate childish behaviour," Merlin replied. His mouth was working without the approval of his brain. He wondered how long it would take Arthur to fire him, and if he'd let him clean out his desk first. He really didn't want to lose the dalek action figures that were the only decorations in his cube.
Arthur's brow was furrowed again. It was an attractive look on him, but then, Merlin had yet to see him looking unattractive. Yes, he would certainly miss Arthur's handsome face.
Arthur cleared his throat. "Do you have plans for dinner tomorrow? I know a place that does a fantastic tomato bisque," he said. Then, he continued in a much lower tone, "And I don't mind if you lick the bowl, actually."
"Are you asking me on a date?" Merlin squeaked. His voice had gone very high-pitched in surprise.
Arthur pursed his lips. "If you'd prefer to go as friends, that would be fine," he said, sounding stiff and awkward in a way that Merlin didn't like at all.
"Yes, I'll go on a date with you," Merlin said. "I wanted to ask you out myself, but I never thought you'd be interested in someone like me."
The grateful grin Arthur gave him was the most attractive expression Merlin had ever seen on his face. And it had some fierce competition.
Arthur shook his head, still smiling. "Oh yes. You're talented, gorgeous, smart, and funny, and you know how to enjoy food. What could I possibly see in someone like that?"
"Gorgeous? Me?" Merlin squeaked out. He was shocked. He'd never thought of himself as good-looking, just gangly and odd, but Arthur clearly disagreed.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Come on, you have to have realised it by now, you're what, 25 years old? This can't be news to you," he teased, but there was no bite to it. He sounded very relieved.
"I'm 28," Merlin said automatically. He felt overwhelmed. All this time he'd been thinking Arthur didn't even enjoy their lunches. Had he been making Arthur nervous? It was difficult to fathom.
Arthur met his eyes. "In case you were wondering, I did speak to Morgana about you. It's fine for us to date, she said, because you technically answer to Morgause, not me. Actually, they've both been nagging me to ask you out since your first week. And they're both family, so there's been no respite for me, not even at the weekends," he said, sighing. "But I....well, I had no idea how you'd react."
"Oh," said Merlin. He swallowed. "What changed your mind today, then?"
"It was the soup, and what you said," Arthur said. "I saw that I'd given you the wrong impression of me. I feared I might miss my chance that you'd say yes if I waited any longer to ask. And I..." He trailed off.
"What is it?" Merlin prompted.
Arthur bit his lip. "I'd really like to find out how much you enjoy other things, too."
Merlin smiled slowly. "We can find out together," he said. "I'd like that a lot."
When Merlin met his gaze this time, he could see the heat of desire in his eyes. He desperately wished they didn't have to go back to work after lunch.
"But wait," Merlin said. "You don't do these lunches for all the newer employees? Sorry, but I thought Morgana was blackmailing you into it."
"No, I just wanted to get to know you a little better. It's funny you should say that, though. She did threaten to print out photos of my unfortunate primary school haircut and hang them in all the elevators if I didn't ask you out soon. She, erm, she said she was tired of hearing about it. Morgause's threats were even worse."
Arthur was blushing again and wouldn't meet Merlin's eyes. It was adorable, especially since Arthur was ordinarily so serious, but Merlin didn't want him to be uncomfortable.
"I'm really glad I made that joke about the soup, then, and you won't have to suffer their complaining any longer," Merlin said. "In fact, if I had my way, you'd always be happy."
Arthur smiled widely at Merlin again. Yes, that was more like it. Merlin resolved to do everything he could in order to see that smile as often as possible.