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Just One of Those Things

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“What’s your name?”

The dark-haired man gives Arthur a reproachful look and pulls off Arthur’s dick, licking his swollen lips. “Could you not have asked that at some point before I got my mouth on your cock? Or maybe during our first inadvisable one-night stand?”

“Unless you want me calling you ‘hey you’ for the rest of the night, you’ll tell me. Can’t promise I’ll think to ask again,” Arthur warns.

“Not expecting you to buy me dinner. Obviously.” The man gives a pointed look around Arthur’s car, but Arthur thinks he at least deserves some points for getting them out of the club loo this time and into his car, especially as it has tinted windows. “Nor respect me in the morning.”

“Swear to God, I will call you ‘Dumbo’ when I come if you don’t give me something to call you.”

“If you are moaning for an elephant when you come there is more wrong with you than I’d assumed.” The man gives him an unreadable look. “Merlin.” Arthur laughs, and Merlin rolls his eyes and licks a wet stripe up his dick, which shuts him up again. “You about ready to stop talking?” Merlin breathes the words right onto him, and Arthur nods. “Glad to hear it, Blondie,” he says, and takes Arthur in to the root.

“Arthur,” he manages to groan a second later, after fighting to control the buck of his hips. Even through the latex of the condom they’d both insisted on it feels amazing.

Merlin pulls off again, the fucker. “Right legend, wrong name. And if you want my mouth you have got to stop talking to me.”

“No, Merlin, that’s my name.”

This time, Merlin just nods, and then his lips wrap around Arthur’s cock and he sucks hard, cheeks hollowing and highlighting the cheekbones that had caught Arthur’s eye on the dance floor in the first place. Arthur buries his hand in Merlin’s hair because it might actually stop him from trying to buck up into that wet heat.

Merlin’s stronger than he looks, apparently, because Arthur realizes a second later when he actually tries to thrust (fuck, fuck, what the hell is Merlin doing with his tongue?) that the grip on his hips is enough to keep him immobile. Which is good, because from there Merlin gets messy, wet and fast and Arthur spares a thought for his leather seats before Merlin (the fucking cocktease) pulls off him again. “Are you gonna be useless after you come?” he inquires, sounding only a bit breathless.

“No, no, fuck, but if my dick explodes I am going to have you sued.” He thinks about reminding Merlin that their first time he was the one who’d cleaned them up in the loo while Merlin had leaned around uselessly. But then again, they were both a little drunker that time.

“Impatient,” Merlin chides. “Just checking.” And then he’s back, and it’s amazing again, and Arthur lets his head fall back too fast and almost cracks his skull on the car door and he doesn’t fucking care because Merlin has just taken him all the way for the first time and swallowed and that’s what does it--he comes with a strangled noise that turns into a whimper when Merlin keeps sucking and licking just a few seconds too long, before pulling the condom off Arthur’s dick and tying it off..

Arthur, mostly to prove that he isn’t completely useless after coming, sits up and hauls Merlin into his lap, enjoying Merlin’s squeak as the tables are turned. He’s rock-hard, dripping a little, and Arthur mouths at his neck, kisses it, sucks a light mark into it while he jerks Merlin off. Merlin, damn him, jerks and elbows Arthur when he comes with a breathy moan, but at least he manages to come on Arthur’s hand and not the leather seats.

For a second, he dimly wonders if twenty-five isn’t a bit too old to be picking up men in clubs and fumbling with them in the backseat of his car, but then Merlin pulls him into a sloppy kiss and he forgets to care.
*
The next time, they make it back to Arthur’s flat, probably because neither of them is actually drunk this time. And maybe it should be weird, that this is the third time he’s gone off with Merlin from Camelot, but that doesn’t really matter when Merlin sways into his space as soon as the door is locked behind them and whispers “Fuck me” hot into his ear.

Arthur pulls him into a kiss, the first they’ve had tonight--they’d seen each other in the club, Arthur had given Merlin a nod, and the next thing he knew he was waving goodbye to his friends and walking back out into the night. Merlin tastes of mint, taste not obscured with that of alcohol for the first time, and he squirms and rubs against Arthur when Arthur bites down on his lip. “Let’s do this in my bedroom, yeah?” he says a few minutes later, after he’s managed to divest Merlin of his jacket and scarf.

“Lead on, then,” says Merlin, something like a challenge in his tone, and Arthur licks a damp trail on his neck and watches him shiver when the air hits it before walking past him towards the bedroom, stopping only to flick a light on.

Merlin stops at the door to the bedroom, like he’s unsure, which is ridiculous when this is their third time together, so Arthur turns around and raises his eyebrows to find Merlin staring around like he’s never seen a bed before. “Just what is so interesting, Merlin?”

“Jesus, you’re posh,” Merlin replies, but he manages to shake off whatever the hell that was and walk up to Arthur, so Arthur decides it’s far more useful to reel him in and kiss him than it is to ask more questions. “Wait, wait,” Merlin says a few minutes later while Arthur is pulling insistently at his shirt. “Do you--do you have stuff?”

“Would have said if I didn’t,” says Arthur, and tugs Merlin’s shirt over his head.

Eventually, and with more bickering than Arthur accepts from anyone but Morgana, they manage to get their clothes off and stagger in a tangle of limbs (at least ten of which seem to be Merlin’s) to the bed. Almost as soon as they get there, a few breathless kisses and experimental hip-thrusts later, Merlin pushes him away. “Where is it, then?” he asks, and it takes Arthur a second to realize he means lube and a condom.

Arthur, since he’s closer to the edge of the bed, rummages in a drawer on his bedside table and pulls out a condom and a few packets of lube. “You sure?” he asks, because it’s only polite, even if he’s following Merlin’s lead.

“Not some blushing virgin, Arthur,” Merlin retorts, and rips open one of the packets of lube to smear its contents all over Arthur’s fingers, which Arthur decides is his cue to take the situation in hand, pushing Merlin over onto his stomach.

It’s refreshing, not having to worry about what Merlin will think about him in the morning. That doesn’t mean he won’t make it amazing, of course, because that’s a matter of pride, but they both know what they’re here for. No need to take more time than Merlin needs to stretch him, no need to remember sensitive spots in case there’s a quiz later (and if he does remember the way Merlin reacts when Arthur mouths along his collarbone, that’s just a bonus), just Merlin panting and opening easily for Arthur’s fingers, bucking when Arthur finds a good spot.

“Yeah, yeah, Arthur, now,” Merlin whines after a while, and Arthur is nothing if not obliging. He manhandles Merlin until he manages to get a pillow under his hips, at which point Merlin apparently remembers that he doesn’t just have to lie back and think of England and props himself up on his elbows and knees for a better angle. “Now,” he insists.

Arthur rolls the condom on and sinks in slowly while Merlin stills, and he’s glad that being a gentleman means not moving right away, because he is suddenly embarrassingly close to coming. “Ready?” he asks when he’s got himself under control and Merlin is starting to make little experimental thrusts with his hips.

In answer, Merlin uses what leverage he has to thrust properly, and Arthur meets him when he comes back with a thrust of his own, and from there he sets a punishing pace, and when he hits Merlin’s prostate he makes a concerted effort to get it every time thereafter. “Just--just--” Merlin gasps at last, and Arthur doesn’t pretend to misunderstand. He reaches forward and wraps his hand around Merlin’s cock to jerk him off, just a little faster than he’s fucking him.

Merlin groans, long and low, when he comes, and his elbows go out from under him, leaving Arthur to finish at an almost-awkward angle while Merlin clenches around him. Arthur manages, through sheer force of will, not to collapse on top of Merlin after, but pulls out of him while they both wince and rolls over to catch his breath. “Give me a minute and I’ll get us cleaned up,” he manages at last.

“Yeah, okay.”

Eventually, Arthur staggers out of bed to get a wet cloth and comes back to clean them off as well as he can, and the sheets as well, since he knows he won’t be changing those before morning. “Stay if you like,” he offers before falling back into the bed, and Merlin just grunts.

He’s gone when Arthur wakes up, but he left a scribbled note that just says Thanks on the kitchen counter.
*
A few nights later, Arthur’s phone rings while he’s finishing the washing up from dinner, and he checks the caller I.D. to find that the display says Booty Call. Merlin, he instantly thinks, even though Morgana and Gwaine would be equally likely to program their numbers in like that. He answers it, though, a little curious. “Hello?”

“... This was a stupid idea,” says Merlin.

Arthur can’t help a grin. “Is this a booty call? Because that’s what my phone says. Need a mid-week pick-me-up?”

“You don’t need to be an arse about it. Look, I know it was incredibly presumptuous to put my number in your phone, sorry, I just …”

For a few seconds, Arthur thinks about what a bad idea it would be. He’s twenty-five, he’s supposed to be looking for relationships and not sex--but then again, the last relationship was Gwen and that hadn’t exactly ended well, and the sex was good, and neither he nor Merlin expected anything more. “Come over, if you’re horny,” Arthur says before he can stop himself.

There’s a long pause, and Arthur wonders if Merlin is embarrassed enough to say no. “I’ll be there in half an hour,” the other man says at last, and hangs up.

It’s actually closer to forty minutes, but the dishes are finished and the flat is mostly clean by the time Merlin arrives, looking nervous. He opens his mouth when Arthur opens the door to let him in, and Arthur cuts him off. “Look, if you don’t want to make small talk, you don’t need to. Do you want some water? I might have a beer in the fridge.”

“No, I had a glass of wine over dinner earlier.” Merlin grimaces. “With my ex.” Arthur winces. “And this after a shitty day at work. So I decided to call you up and see if you fancied a shag.”

“Clearly I do,” says Arthur, and takes Merlin’s jacket off for him, since he seems incapable of doing it himself. “So what do you do?” It isn’t precisely odd that he doesn’t know where Merlin works, since they don’t even have each other’s last names yet, but it seems like the sort of thing he should ask.

Merlin makes a face and starts following him to the bedroom. “Tech support at the hospital. So when a doctor files records wrong in the system, of course they think it’s lost and I get blamed …”

Arthur decides that’s quite enough of that, and kisses him before the scowl can spread any further across his face. “What do you want?” he asks when they come up for air, Merlin looking much more pleased with the world. “We’ll do whatever you want.”

“I don’t know,” says Merlin, somehow managing to give him a look that’s coy and sidelong even while facing him dead on. “You fucking me into the mattress seemed to work out pretty well for both of us last time.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” says Arthur, and decides that this will go much better if they both take off their own clothes this time, so he steps back and starts unbuttoning his shirt. Merlin, after a motionless moment, follows suit, toeing off his shoes and getting tangled in his cuffs.

Arthur finishes removing his clothes and makes it to the bed first, and gets out a condom and the bottle of lube he’d bought after realizing that he and Merlin had used the last of his. Merlin snorts when he sees it and hops out of his boxers in an ungraceful movement Arthur would dearly love to mock him for.

Merlin grins when he gets on the bed, but he looks tense, so Arthur kisses him instead of getting right down to business, and sucks his cock while he opens him up until Merlin is making helpless little noises and tugging on Arthur’s hair. It’s Merlin who rolls the condom on this time, fumbling with the packet and almost dropping it off the bed while Arthur laughs. “You are such an arse,” says Merlin, and climbs on top of him.

Normally, Arthur likes being the one in control, but, well, this is Merlin’s booty call, so he guides Merlin down onto his cock and waits until Merlin nods to start thrusting.

In the morning, he wakes to find Merlin sprawled across him in bed. “Wake up,” says Arthur, poking him in the side and squinting at the clock. He’d forgotten to set the alarm after their second round of sex the night before, but miraculously there’s still plenty of time to get to work. Wednesday nights, he reminds himself once again, are not convenient for having unexpected company.

Merlin snorts himself awake and stares at Arthur, then turns around to look at the clock and proceeds to flail his way out of bed. “Shit, shit, I’m going to be late for work and I’ve only got yesterday’s clothes …”

Arthur follows him out of bed. “Calm down, would you? Shower’s through there, use whatever you need, and I’ll find you something that won’t fall off of you to wear.”

“I really can’t--”

“I have plenty of clothes, Merlin, stop quibbling.” Merlin gives him a half-hearted glare before staggering to the bathroom, and Arthur goes to his closet and manages to find a pair of his tighter slacks and a shirt that hopefully won’t completely overwhelm Merlin. That done, he wanders out to the kitchen and makes them both toast and tea for breakfast, and finishes consuming his just as Merlin comes out of the bathroom. “Clothes are on the bed. I’m going to take a quick shower.”

When he gets out of the shower, Merlin has left again, but the few dishes he dirtied making their breakfast are clean and he’s left a note: Would have stayed, but am already running late. Call me if you ever want a repeat.
*
Arthur finds himself looking up Merlin in his phone almost without thinking about it a week and a half later, after his monthly dinner with his father and Morgana. It’s a Saturday night, he reminds himself, likely Merlin will be out, so it’s a pleasant surprise when he actually picks up after only two rings. “Arthur?” Arthur can’t decide if the shock in Merlin’s voice is flattering or not. “Sorry, I just. Sort of wasn’t expecting you to call.”

“If you’re busy or would rather not, by all means,” starts Arthur, feeling his voice go stiff but unwilling to do anything about it.

“Jesus, you sound like hell,” says Merlin, interrupting his frosty attempt to end the conversation before it gets awkward. “What’s up?”

Arthur sighs. “Dinner with my father and my …” He struggles to find a word for Morgana. “My foster sister,” he settles on at last. “I seem unable to get along with both of them at once.” Which is an understatement. Of course, they’re perfectly cordial with each other, for all they despise each other’s business practices, but the second he agrees with one or the other of them it’s the third bloody World War.

Merlin makes a sympathetic noise. “Sounds like you could use some cheering up. Want me to bring wine and a flavored condom?”

“I have wine.” Arthur pauses. “And bring the condom, though I don’t know how sucking you off will make me feel better.”

“Oh no,” says Merlin, and Arthur can almost hear the grin. “The flavor is just to make things more interesting for me.”

He hangs up before Arthur can answer, and Arthur feels the grin spread across his face before realizing that he called Merlin before he was home, so he gets moving, in case Merlin is closer this time than he was the last.

He needn’t have worried. Arthur waits in his flat for twenty minutes before Merlin knocks, and lets him in to find a bag shoved into his hands. It contains, he discovers a second later, chocolate ice cream, and he raises his eyebrows at Merlin, who just shrugs at him. “Thought you might want it later, or something, and since you didn’t want wine, it was all I could think of.”

“Thanks. Hold on, let me put it away.” Arthur gives the bag one last dubious look and shoves it in his freezer before turning around to discover that Merlin has managed to shuck his coat on his own, for once. “And thank you for coming.”

“You had me over last week when I was feeling like shit. Least I could do.” Merlin’s grin is sudden and blinding. “Plus, who says no to regular sex?”

“Fair point. Though I should warn you that I don’t know if I have the energy to fuck you properly tonight,” says Arthur.

Merlin’s grin doesn’t falter. “We’ll figure out what you can do for me later, yeah? Now how about you get into the bed and let me make you forget about what’s bothering you?”

“That is a terrible line,” Arthur informs him, but he heads for the bedroom nonetheless, shedding his clothes on the way, and Merlin is right behind him, chuckling and getting his own kit off. When they’re both naked, Merlin shoves Arthur down onto the bed and lands half on top of him before producing a condom from seemingly nowhere and starting to kiss his way down Arthur’s chest. Arthur catches his shoulder. “Hold on,” he says, and then feels foolish when Merlin looks expectantly up at him. He isn’t complaining, this is just sex, they’re really only using each other, but … “Could we start with kissing or something?”

Merlin blinks, like he’s only just realized that they skipped anything resembling foreplay. “Right, yeah, okay.” He clambers back up the bed, more awkward than ever, and presses his mouth to Arthur’s.

It feels better this way, like he didn’t just call someone over here to suck him into a better mood, like Merlin isn’t just indulging him but actually wants it as well. Arthur wraps his arms around Merlin to ensure that he isn’t going anywhere and proceeds to explore every inch of that mouth with his tongue before breaking away to map Merlin’s jaw and neck with kisses and bites, allowing his hands to move, enjoying the sensation of all that pale skin under his touch. Merlin gives as good as he gets, making distracted little noises that get lost between their mouths and fingers sliding over Arthur’s skin, stopping to explore whenever he finds something interesting.

Eventually, Arthur realizes that he and Merlin are grinding their hips together and that if he doesn’t remove his mouth from Merlin’s neck he’s never actually going to get a blowjob. It still takes Merlin shoving him away and smiling down at him with something oddly close to affection in his eyes to stop him, though. “I always seem to end up with blokes with vampire tendencies. Tell me, do I have really tasty blood or something?”

“No, just a very distracting neck, and I don’t have vampire tendencies.”

Merlin just keeps smiling. “I think I’ve had enough foreplay, if it’s all the same to you.” He squirms a bit and bends to press a kiss to Arthur’s sternum. “I seem to recall promising you something, after all.”

Arthur digs the condom out of the sheets where Merlin had let it fall. Grape, apparently. He fights down a snicker and lets Merlin snatch it out of his hand. “By all means, don’t let me prevent you.”

In answer, Merlin kisses a wet trail down his chest and over his stomach while he fumbles the packet open, and then proceeds to pop the condom into his mouth and roll it onto Arthur’s cock. Arthur starts counting back from a hundred and makes it all the way to seventy-seven before Merlin stops the tortuously slow slide. “I need a better flavor next time,” he breathes, and then both of them quit talking.
*
The next time Arthur sees Merlin, he doesn’t recognize him right away, because he actually hasn’t seen him in broad daylight before. They’re both at the pharmacy and Arthur, awkwardly enough, is picking up condoms, having realized that there are only two left in his stash. Merlin has the far more innocuous purchase of cough syrup, damn him. When they both clue into exactly who is standing next to them, they freeze. “We’d run through most of mine,” Arthur blurts when Merlin’s gaze becomes riveted on the box he’s holding with ten-foot letters over his head proclaiming Oh God, I’m the other woman or something equally ridiculous.

“You left a love-bite,” says Merlin, who is apparently having a completely different conversation. “I had to go to Sunday dinner with my mother and you left a love-bite.”

Arthur winces. The pharmacist, who has been running this shop since before Arthur can remember, raises his eyebrows. “You weren’t complaining at the time,” mutters Arthur, unwilling to apologize when they have an eavesdropper.

“I definitely recall mentioning vampires.” The pharmacist clears his throat, looking pained. Merlin looks, if possible, even more pained. “Sorry, Uncle Gaius.” He looks back at Arthur. “I’ve got to go, I’m afraid. But, um, I’ll see you around?”

“Of course.” Arthur stares down at the pack of condoms in his hand and then at the pharmacist, who is apparently Merlin’s uncle, and decides that he refuses to be embarrassed into not buying them. “I’ll see you around, then.”

He walks to the register and pays, but not before he hears Merlin whisper “Apparently” from behind him.

A few days later, Morgana calls him. “I told a colleague about you and he’d like to meet you. Personally, of course, not business. His name is Cenred, and he’s quite good-looking. I think you’ll like him.”

Arthur, without any conscious decision on his part, starts speaking. “Actually, I’m seeing someone.” And while that isn’t quite the right word for his and Merlin’s relationship, he reasons, it’s still something, enough that it feels wrong dating someone else without at least giving Merlin fair warning.

Morgana pauses. “You are?”

Somehow, “In a manner of speaking” turns into “yes” on its way out, and by the time he’s managed to hang up without promising a date to Morgana’s friend he’s still confused.

The night after that, even though he’s promised himself a few days to think about whatever the hell that was, Arthur’s bored and finds himself calling Merlin. “I’m exhausted and feel like shit, I’m sorry,” says Merlin by way of greeting.

“Text me your address and I’ll bring takeaway,” Arthur replies with surprisingly little regret. “We don’t have to do anything, but I’m bored out of my mind.”

“Don’t you have friends to entertain you?”

“Of course I do, idiot.” And he probably should have called one of them, come to think of it, but Arthur has never been one to back off after he’s started something. “If you don’t want company, of course, that’s perfectly fine,” he adds.

Merlin pauses. “Nah, come over. My flatmate is working late tonight and I’m bored too.”

“Right, then. Send me the address and I’ll be over in a while.” A few seconds later, he gets the text, and Arthur puts on his jacket and goes to hail a cab to take him across town.
*
Merlin’s flat, as he should have expected, is tiny and dodgy and messy, and Merlin looks vaguely embarrassed when he lets Arthur in. “Would have cleaned up a bit, but I wasn’t lying when I said I’m exhausted.”

“You live like a uni student,” Arthur informs him, and holds up the bag he picked up on his way. “I brought curry, since I don’t think anybody actually dislikes it.”

“You’d be right.” Merlin yawns, and that draws Arthur’s attention to his rumpled clothes and messy hair. “Sorry, let me get us some utensils and drinks, go sit on the couch.”

Arthur pauses, feeling a bit guilty. “If you just want me to leave the food and head out, that’s fine.”

Merlin rolls his eyes. “You’re already here, Arthur. And like I said, I’m bored. Nothing good on the telly tonight.” Arthur takes him at his word and goes to sit down, and a few seconds later, Merlin sets down a few glasses of water on the coffee table and sprawls on the parts of the couch that Arthur isn’t taking up. “Besides, you look tired too,” he adds a minute later, after he’s taken the veggie curry and stuck his fork in it. “So what do you do?”

Arthur talks about being a junior executive at one of his father’s company’s subsidiaries, which makes Merlin make faces, and then they end up talking about their families, and Merlin’s flatmate, and arguing over the remote, and by the time Merlin’s flatmate comes through the door at ten Merlin is dozing with his head on Arthur’s lap and Arthur is rubbing his scalp like he used to do for Gwen after a long day. The flatmate, whose name is Will, doesn’t seem to care that Merlin is sleeping, because he greets them with a rather loud “Who the fuck are you?”

Merlin flails his way into sitting up, blinking and almost hitting his head on Arthur’s chin. “Will! Thought you were on shift till midnight?”

“Didn’t need me after all.” He gives Arthur a narrow-eyed look. “Who’s this, then?”

Arthur is for once at a loss, because he’s getting a few angry-boyfriend vibes and doesn’t want to make things worse if that is the case. Merlin just rolls his eyes. “Don’t be an arse, Will. This is Arthur. He came to keep me company because I was bored.”

Will stares at Arthur. “Is this the club bloke?”

Arthur decides that he really doesn’t need to be present for the rest of the conversation, even if he was hoping that Merlin might wake up a bit later and show him the bedroom. There’s always time for that some other time. “Well, I’d best be going. Merlin, lovely to see you, call me when you’d like to hang out. It’s your turn.”

“Traitor,” says Merlin without heat. “Thanks for coming, Arthur.”

Arthur grabs his coat and flees before Will can turn his glare into shouting. Merlin calls while he’s still in his cab heading across town. “Couldn’t keep away, could you?” says Arthur when he answers the phone.

“Just wanted to check that Will hadn’t scared you off. He can be a bit …protective.”

“I only figured that my presence was not going to help matters.”

Merlin snorts. “You can say that again. Anyway, I also wanted to thank you again for tonight. I’m feeling much better than I was earlier.”

“Not a problem at all.” The cab pulls up at his building and Arthur shoves a few bills at the cabbie before getting out. “Anyway, I’ve got work in the morning, so I should get some rest. You should too, for that matter, you were exhausted earlier.”

“Thanks, Arthur. I’ll call soon.”
*
Merlin does call, and Arthur calls in return, and after a few weeks Arthur realizes that he’s spending at least one night a week, and often more than that, with Merlin for company. More often than not, they have sex, but there are nights where they sit on Arthur’s couch and eat pizza, or on Merlin’s and attempt to fend off the glares of his flatmate. Morgana keeps asking suspiciously about this person he’s seeing, but Arthur puts her off.

He’s quite content with the way things are, having Merlin as something indefinable but growing constant in his life, until he does his Christmas shopping. It’s relatively easy to find gifts for his father and Morgana, as well as his friends, and he finds himself putting a cashmere scarf and a box of flavored condoms in his basket before remembering that Merlin isn’t actually his boyfriend, and he doesn’t know if they’re exchanging gifts.

In the end, he buys them, just in case, and has them wrapped with the rest of his gifts despite the raised eyebrow that the sales clerk gives him.

Merlin calls a few days before Christmas. “I’m going to my mum’s day after tomorrow,” he explains, “so I thought we might hang out tonight? And besides, It’s a Wonderful Life is playing and Will refuses to watch it, so I thought--”

“You thought you would come watch it on my nicer television,” Arthur supplies, and delights in Merlin’s awkward silence. “Yes, by all means, come over. I’ve got leftover egg nog from Morgana’s party the other night.”

When Merlin arrives, he immediately shoves a package into Arthur’s hands. “I don’t know if we’re doing this, but I saw it and thought, well …”

“I got something for you, too,” says Arthur with more than a bit of relief, and goes to his bedroom to fetch it. When he comes back out and passes it to Merlin, they both stare at each other for a few seconds before Arthur decides the smartest thing to do would just be to open the package. It contains, he discovers seconds later, a copy of a book that he’s been meaning to reread since uni and had only mentioned to Merlin in passing. “Thanks, this is excellent,” he says at about the same time Merlin starts cracking up.

“Flavored condoms?” he manages at last. “Isn’t that going to end up being a gift for you?”

“Yes, Merlin. Blowjobs are the gift I am giving myself.” He takes a few steps forward and presses his palm to Merlin’s crotch. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving, after all.”

Merlin pauses. “Perhaps I don’t need to watch It’s a Wonderful Life after all.”

Arthur laughs and drags him over to the couch, because he’s already made popcorn and poured the egg nog. It would be a shame to let it go to waste.
*
“If you don’t bring this Merlin of yours to my party, I will be forced to conclude that he doesn’t exist,” Morgana says a few days before New Year’s Eve.

“He’s probably already got plans,” says Arthur, for at least the third time. “I’ll ask him, but we’re really not … like that.”

“You’ve been together for almost two months that I’ve known about, Arthur, and probably before that as well. Unless you’re ashamed of him or something--”

“I certainly am not.”

“Then he’s coming.” Morgana hangs up before he can argue further.

After a few minutes of wondering exactly how terrible an idea it is, Arthur calls Merlin, who picks up after just a few rings. “Hello, Arthur, just got back to town from Ealdor, you’ve got good timing. Want to use more of those flavored condoms? I want to try the chocolate this time.”

“Amazing as that sounds, I’ve actually called to invite you to Morgana’s New Year’s party. I may have mentioned you to her at some point, and she’d like to meet you, so if you don’t have plans, I’d love to have you there.”

The pause after that is long enough to make Arthur uncomfortable. “Are you--like a date?”

“I suppose so, yes.” Arthur tells himself firmly that Merlin’s surprise should not be making him feel so guilty. Still, he finds himself saying “Besides, there’s no one else--no one I’d rather” in his stiffest tone.

“Oh,” says Merlin, small and soft, which manages to make Arthur feel even more awkward about the whole thing. “Well, me either,” he adds a few seconds later, sounding a little less shell-shocked. “And going to your party is far more interesting than going to Camelot with Will and getting pissed, so yeah, I’d love to come.”

“You can stay over after. We’ll both be too drunk to get you back to the dodgy end of town.”

“Oi!” says Merlin, but he’s laughing. “Okay then, I’ll bring some clothes.”

“Never mind that, there’s some of yours here,” says Arthur, and gives Merlin the rest of the information about the party before Merlin has to go and they hang up.

Arthur thinks of the half a drawer full of Merlin’s clothes in his bedroom, the tube of his favorite toothpaste, the fact that Arthur has switched condom brands because of what Merlin prefers, and suddenly feels even worse about Merlin being so unsure of his invitation to the party. He isn’t just a convenient shag, hasn’t been for ages, and if he’s too much of an idiot to figure it out Arthur will just have to tell him so. Somehow.
*
“He’s absolutely charming,” says Morgana a few minutes after midnight at her New Year’s party, while everyone is still making an obnoxious amount of noise and Merlin has excused himself for the loo. “Far too good for you, but you’re quite sweet together.”

Trust Merlin, Arthur thinks wryly, to charm everyone at the party when he’s met none of them before, including his witch of a foster sister. His father will want to meet him next. “Glad you approve,” he says with as much sarcasm as he can muster. “Don’t buy your hat for the wedding just yet, though.”

Morgana pins him with a look. “You’re being an arse, aren’t you?

“You always assume it’s my fault,” he complains.

“That’s because everything is your fault,” says Merlin as he comes up behind them. Arthur throws an arm across his shoulders and gets an alarmed look from Merlin in return, just as he has every time he’s touched Merlin tonight. “This is a lovely party, Morgana, thank you so much for inviting me.”

“My pleasure,” she assures him. “Arthur hasn’t dated much since Gwen, so you’re a pleasant surprise.”

“Morgana,” Arthur growls, but Merlin’s already gone tense, so he decides that’s quite enough for their first outing. “What would you say to heading out, Merlin? We can finish celebrating back at my flat.”

Merlin smiles at him with undisguised relief, and Arthur can’t help smiling back, which makes Morgana roll her eyes. “That sounds great.”

By some sort of miracle, it only takes them fifteen minutes to get out of the party, and they walk back to Arthur’s flat, since it’s close to Morgana’s. Arthur takes Merlin’s hand, since he always forgets to wear gloves, and Merlin, after a long second, squeezes his hand and smiles at him.

When they get up to his flat and get their coats off, Arthur isn’t quite certain what to do. On one hand, it would be simple to go to his room and forget all about this night and continue on as they have done for months. On the other, Merlin has looked uneasy all night and they’re in a relationship, for all neither of them acknowledges it, and they should do at some point. After a moment’s debate, Arthur drags Merlin over to the couch. “I’m sorry if Morgana made you uncomfortable,” he offers when Merlin doesn’t seem prone to say anything. “But for the record, I’m not sorry she asked you to come.”

“I don’t really know what to say to that,” Merlin replies. “Is this the part where we start defining things?”

Merlin sounds unenthusiastic enough that Arthur thinks about changing the subject entirely, but it will hang over their heads until they do something about it, so he forces himself to continue. “If you would prefer that this remain casual, that’s fine, but … you’re the only one, and it would be nice to take you for dinner and introduce you to my friends, not just have you on the couch.”

Merlin just blinks at him, and Arthur wonders what the hell he’s thinking. If he’s been waiting for this, if he doesn’t want it, or if, like Arthur, he’s only just realized how long it’s been since there was anyone else, or anyone else he even wanted. “Will will be pleased,” says Merlin after an excruciating silence. “He’s been muttering things about my virtue for months now.”

“And will you be pleased?” Arthur asks as carefully as he can.

Merlin cocks his head and gives him the same sidelong look he remembers from the first night they met at Camelot. “Well, you know. As long as you don’t suddenly decide that dating me means we have to back off on the sex.”

Arthur decides that he’s finished conversing for the evening and grins at Merlin. “Believe me, I have no intention of doing that.”
*
“I think,” Arthur pants later, once he’s remembered how to speak and got his heartrate down to something nearing normal, “that I’ll take you out for breakfast in the morning.”

Merlin raises his head from the pillow just far enough to give Arthur a suspicious look. “You are going to be insufferable about this dating thing, aren’t you? You’ll insist on paying--don’t think I haven’t noticed you getting all the takeout and everything--and open doors for me and be a complete arse … never mind. We can just keep having sex till we’re old and grey, forget about this dating nonsense.”

“Can’t back out on me now,” says Arthur with unabashed glee, and pulls Merlin a bit closer in bed.

“This is going to be a nightmare,” Merlin announces into Arthur’s shoulder as he shifts.

“We’re going to be fantastic,” Arthur corrects him, and kisses the top of his head before drifting off to sleep.