Title: Depth of Field
Summary: Modern AU. Merlin is nervous about his first date with Percival.
Word Count: 1080
Prompt: #227, "beautiful"
Merlin hated first dates.
Well, maybe hated was too strong of a word. Disliked felt too wimpy, though, and he most definitely didn’t look forward to them. They were always awkward hours spent in the company of somebody he fancied but didn’t particularly know well, which meant he invariably ended up babbling on too long to try and fill the gaps with a stranger who refused to talk or learned something he really didn’t want to know or ended without ever really discovering anything about the other person at all because they’d both been on their best behaviors and never truly let their guard down enough to let the other in.
Second dates were better. Unfortunately, they were unattainable without the first. Hence, he had to suffer occasionally in hopes that he could race straight through the awkwardness to get to the good stuff.
Still…he didn’t date much.
Tonight marked nearly six months since he’d ventured out with someone new. In all fairness, he was fairly certain he would’ve easily hit that particular milestone if Gwen hadn’t been sitting with him and Percival in the break room when Percival had asked him out. She’d given him no room to wiggle out of it gracefully—even though the notion of a more intimate relationship with Percival beyond the friendship they’d cultivated at hospital had kept Merlin up more than one long night—so here he was, about to knock on the door of Percival’s flat, with his palms sweating, his stomach in knots, and every flight instinct he possessed trying to beat down his better sense.
He rapped lightly and edged back so he wasn’t crowding the entrance. He could literally feel his ears turning red from the rising heat in his body.
His wait was nearly nonexistent. Within seconds, the door opened, and Percival greeted him with the warm smile Merlin had come to expect from him at work.
“Come on in,” Percival said, stepping out of the way. “I just need a minute, and then we can head out to dinner.”
Merlin hesitated on the threshold. “If you’re only going to be a sec—”
Percival’s warm hand curled around his forearm and gently tugged. “Don’t be ridiculous. Get in here.”
He left Merlin standing in the foyer, shooting a lopsided grin over his shoulder as he disappeared deeper into his flat. Merlin intended to follow. He really did. Percival had made a show of ensuring he was welcome, and it would be rude to ignore that.
But his feet refused to move. He was too fascinated by the framed photographs that decorated the walls.
Where most people had pictures of family, Percival had mounted nature shots. Not just any nature shots, however. These were close-ups that were both breathtaking in their beauty and exhilarating in their detail.
A ladybird in flight, its translucent lower wings practically vibrating off the page.
Raindrops clinging to the glistening filaments of a dandelion gone to seed.
A furrow carved from sand with the back end of a snail about to crawl off the edge of the paper.
Merlin was peering at a picture of brilliant green, with black oblong shapes radiating from its darker green center when Percival returned. “What on earth is that?” he asked without looking away.
“The center of a kiwi,” Percival replied.
He saw it was soon as Percival put a name to it and laughed in delight. “That’s brilliant. I can’t get over how absolutely gorgeous these are. How do they get such close detail? These have got to be manipulated somehow.”
He meant it to be rhetorical, but Percival answered him without pause. “No, it’s called macrophotography. Nowadays, most cameras have the capability to get so close, though these had a special lens.”
“Oh?” Merlin tilted his gaze up at Percival, at first curious about how he knew, then even more so by the fact that Percival couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “How do you know that?”
Twin spots of color shone high in Percival’s cheeks. “Because I took them.”
Merlin’s jaw dropped. “You did not.” He’d thought he’d known quite a fair bit about the hospital’s newest physio from their shared breaks, but apparently not. “These look professional. Do you have a secret life none of us know about?”
Percival shrugged. Edging back, he folded his arms over his chest as he continued to gaze at the pictures rather than Merlin. “Nah, I just dabble.”
“Seriously?” He gestured toward the wall. “This is more than dabbling. You could sell these in a heartbeat. Hell, I’d buy the whole lot if you did.”
The eyes that finally swung his way had turned shy. “You really think they’re that good?”
“No doubt about it.” Percival’s insecurity puzzled him. At work, he was the epitome of confidence without being obnoxious about it. It was one of the traits Merlin liked best in him. “The better question is, why don’t you?”
Another shrug. “The last couple guys I dated thought it was a waste of time.”
Merlin waited for a punchline that never came. “Were they blind? These are stunning.”
“It takes patience to get just the right shot,” Percival said. “Which translates to more time for me to focus. I don’t think they ever thought it was a fair trade.”
It sounded to Merlin that Percival’s exes were jealous of a few bugs, but he didn’t say that out loud. “Do you love it?” he asked instead.
A sudden fire lit Percival’s eyes, stealing Merlin’s breath with its intensity. “More than anything. It’s too easy for people to get swept away by grand, over-the-top displays. I feel like finding the beauty in the tiny things is more worthwhile in the end.” His blush deepened. “I know I sound ridiculous. You wouldn’t be the first person to say so.”
“You don’t,” Merlin said honestly. “And if your exes ever tried selling your passion short, then they’re selfish gits who didn’t deserve you in the first place.” He surprised both of them by catching Percival’s hand in his and pulling him toward the door. “Come on. I don’t want to be late for our dinner reservation.”
His butterflies about this being a first date had vanished. He had too much to look forward to discovering about Percival to waste on nerves.
In the hallway, Percival squeezed Merlin’s hand, but it was the smile he offered with it that wound its way around Merlin’s heart.
Hopefully, Percival felt the same way.