Title: Words Matter
Summary: Modern AU. Merlin is fascinated by Gwaine's quiet new friend.
Word Count: 1278 (one of these days, I'll manage not to go over)
Prompt: #184, "infinite"
Author's note: It's not the most obvious connection, but I love the quote too much not to use it.
Being friends with Gwaine meant accepting always being part of a crowd. No matter where he was, Gwaine surrounded himself with people, whether it was at work or at the pub or even at Tesco’s for a midnight snack run. It wasn’t like it was a hardship. Gwaine had relatively high standards for those he chose to encourage sticking around. He might talk a big game, but if someone wasn’t loyal or honest or courageous, he inevitably turned his back until that person drifted away. This tactic usually applied to his (frequent) one-night stands, when he was too drunk to realize who exactly he’d pulled until the deed was done.
So when someone got sucked in? Merlin noticed.
Of course, he probably would’ve noticed Percival anyway, but having him show up with Gwaine on their usual Friday night pub crawl made it a lot easier.
“Everyone!” Gwaine announced as he sauntered toward the pub entrance. He threw his arm out to gesture toward the large man hanging back behind him. “This is Percival! Percival…” He swept the same arm toward the gang. “This is everyone.”
The chorus of greetings came with more than a few appreciative glances, and though Merlin would’ve loved to ogle the fit newcomer as flagrantly as Morgana, he settled for a small smile and a tip of his head before turning to get the door for everyone.
Percival ended up sitting next to Gwaine, laughing at all the right moments, offering quiet comments when his opinion was needed. The beer he ordered at the start of the night was still two-thirds full when Gwaine announced it was time to move on. By the time everyone was kissing and hugging good night three hours later, he’d consumed less than a pint, though when he took Gwaine’s keys to drive him home, Merlin assumed that had to be why.
That was the pattern they set. Percival always arrived with Gwaine. He always smiled and looked like he was having a good time. At the end of the night, he drove Gwaine home. He never spoke more than a couple dozen words throughout the evening.
The less he said, the more Merlin wanted to hear.
“How’d you meet Percival?” he asked Gwaine. He was fairly certain they weren’t sleeping together. Gwaine was touchy-feely to a fault, especially with bed partners, but he treated Percival like a big brother more than anything else.
“Ran into him at Foyles one day. Why?”
Merlin frowned. “What were you doing at Foyles?”
“What, I can’t buy a book when it fancies me?” He grinned when Merlin turned red in embarrassment. “I was meeting someone, and he was there for some bird’s reading, so we chatted while we were waiting.” He cocked his head. “Why do you ask?”
Merlin shrugged, but he already felt so uncomfortable about bringing it up, he knew it looked awkward. “Just curious.”
Before Merlin could stop him, Gwaine snatched up Merlin’s phone and typed something in. “Here,” he said, sliding it back. A phone number was on the display. “Call him some time. Just remember to thank me later.”
He tried. A couple times. But every time Merlin pulled out his phone, he chickened out.
On Friday, Gwaine surprised him by leaving the seat next to Percival free. Being the last one in, Merlin had no choice but to take it. Everybody was crammed in too tight around the table. Percival’s thigh pressed against his, no matter how Merlin angled his chair.
“Sorry,” Percival said. “I take up a lot of space.”
When Merlin met his earnest gaze, every muscle in his body went still. He was a fool for not acting earlier. He had to know one way or another if there was something here. “It’s all right,” he heard himself say. “I’ve been hoping for the chance to talk to you.”
Percival’s slow smile dispelled the apologetic mood hanging between them. “Me, too.”
Over the next two hours, Merlin’s wish came true. He forgot they were surrounded by others as he and Percival swapped stories, laughed about bad first dates, and commiserated over lousy bosses. When Percival excused himself to use the loo, Merlin watched him walk away with more than a little hope about where the rest of the night might go.
“Told you,” Gwaine murmured into his ear.
A startled Merlin whirled to find Gwaine standing behind him with fresh pints in each hand. “We’re just talking.” In his heart, though, it was already so much more.
“Of course. Except you realize, he doesn’t just talk, right?” He winked. “Ask him about C.S. Lewis the next time you two aren’t mooning after each other. You’ll see.”
Gwaine sauntered back to his seat before Merlin could ask for clarification, and then Percival was back, giving Merlin that shy smile that made his heart trip, and Merlin forgot all about C.S. Lewis until everybody else announced they were heading to the next pub.
“I think I’m going to call it an early night,” Percival surprised him by saying to the others. “Can someone see that Gwaine gets home in one piece, please?”
All eyes turned to Merlin. Really, he was the next logical choice—
“Taxi, it is,” Gwaine announced.
“What about Merlin?” Morgana asked.
Gwaine waved her off. “He already told me he had to call it early, too. Right, Merlin?”
Gratitude washed through him. “Right.”
Hugs and kisses were passed around until only Percival and Merlin were left in the car park. Merlin’s breath caught when Percival edged closer.
“Subtlety is not Gwaine’s strong suit,” Percival commented.
Merlin laughed. “No.” He tried not to fidget, but the best he could manage was stuffing his hands into his pockets so he didn’t do anything inappropriate with them. “He said the oddest thing before, though.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“He told me to ask you about C.S. Lewis.”
Percival’s gaze grew thoughtful. “Did you tell him it was hard to talk to me?”
“God, no, just the opposite.”
“Most people think I’m too quiet.”
“Gwaine used to.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Everybody’s too quiet compared to Gwaine. But you don’t have to tell me what he meant by that. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable by pressing.”
“You don’t. He’s talking about a Lewis quote. It’s probably one of my favorite quotes ever.” He grimaced. “Which makes me sound right pathetic, doesn’t it? You don’t want to hear about that.”
“I don’t want to hear that you’re smart as well as gorgeous? If that’s the case, then I’d be the one who’s pathetic, not you.”
Though the lighting was dim, he thought he saw a flush creep along Percival’s neck. “I was nine the first time I saw it. I was mad for the Narnia books, and I went to the library to find everything I could about the author.”
“What’s the quote?”
“‘Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise, you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.’”
Merlin understood more about Percival in that moment than he had learned in all the time previous. “Words matter.”
Percival’s smile was pure relief. “Exactly.”
“Then I should probably phrase this just right.”
“And what’s that?”
Pulling his hands free, Merlin reached to hook one of Percival’s fingers with his own. His thumb caressed along the length, absorbing the heat that was pouring off Percival in waves. “I don’t want tonight to end here in the car park.”
Percival curled his hand closer to Merlin’s, locking their fingers together. And when he answered, Merlin knew he meant it. “Neither do I.”