Arthur wants to call bollocks on the whole deal.
In all brutal honesty: he's important. Arthur Penn has an image.
He's the only son of a chief executive to one of the most important companies to run this country. Fresh out of his second year at the university in St Andrews, and should be at the corporate meeting with Father. Someone had to keep the peace with that git Odin clenching his jaw at Uther, as they spoke stiffly about mergers.
Arthur has managed to intimidate many older businessmen of his time. Even with his inexperience in some facets, he could with the storminess of his expression and a couple well-placed, cutting words. His family were known for the pure venom in their intimidation, his half-sister included despite the honeyed sweetness in Morgana's public figure.
Far too important to be alone out here, lips quivering and teeth chittering from the arse-numbing, seasonal cold.
(Arthur loathed the dreary, slow-choking evening meetings, wrinkling his nose at Agravaine's slimy, weedling manner of presenting the new annual reports to the executive board. But he could admit at least there was a heater.)
But he... he needs this.
It's tempting to return to his car. He could go home, raid the alcohol cabinet, flip on the telly, and just call it a godforsaken night. But Arthur's finger has already buzzed his presence.
And someone's already opening the door for him.
The yellow, burnished light spills into his face. His nostrils pick up a waft of cinnamon—not overpowering nor staggering, but enough for him to recognize it instantly.
The someone is a tall, leggy bloke. A bit gangly. Dressed like a right imbecile for the weather in thin, layered clothing, minus the fringed, woven scarf. And he was holding in his hands what appeared to be a... dustpan?
"It's... Arthur, yeah?"
Their eyes hold the silent, intense gaze, and Arthur's not wondering how glistening and red those lips could get mouthing the head of his cock. That's not why he's here.
The tip of Arthur's tongue flashes out seconds-quick before he composes himself, squaring himself bodily.
"Yes—I take it you are Merlin?"
Merlin nods, his figure illuminated softly by the lamps of his flat.
"Didn't have any problem finding the address? You can come in now," he says, motioning. His lips perk up. "Make yourself at home."
The deep croak of his voice, despite how young he appears with the cropped, shaggy hair and lively eyes, means to catch Arthur off-guard. When it does, he refuses to let it show.
Arthur yanks off his winter jacket, gazing at his surroundings. Eggshell-white walls, the floor wooden and partly covered by rug, charcoal-gray sofa with a loveseat, and a metal-black spiraling staircase.
Merlin heads to the nearby kitchen, setting down the empty dustpan and turning on the faucet. He rinses off his hands.
"You're here for the 90 minute session?" he asks, expression neutral when it flickers over to Arthur tensing up. As if he's outright skeptical of Arthur's pressed suit. "If you've got pyjamas to change into, there's a bathroom up the stairs."
A pocket of anxiety seizes inside Arthur's throat.
"I've never..." he mumbles, eyes avoiding him. "..."
The neutral look leaves Merlin, replacing with a brash and cheerful smile.
"Want anything to drink? I've got loads of jasmine. Helps nerves."
"It's best this is over and done with." Arthur clears his throat like he's about to make an announcement. He clutches on tighter to his gym bag. It's not even his. Percival let him borrow it, albeit curious to why Arthur seemed so adamant about keeping it between them. "I don't think I need to ask again about digression—"
Merlin interrupts him, "Everything's confidential by the term of the privacy agreement."
"... right." Arthur sucks in a loud, open-mouthed breath, forcing a brittle smile. "Right, of course. Good."
He's not sure if Merlin can hear his heart madly thudding away, but the other man smacks his hands together. "Well—I'm going to change into my own pyjamas," Merlin tells him, never relenting on the irritatingly cheerful demeanor. "At the risk of sounding compromising, you can leave the money on the table's counter."
Arthur feels a sinking in his gut.
Sleeping usually happened without a shirt. Arthur got too hot in the night.
But the terms asked for fully clothed partners, so he pulls on a vermillion tee-shirt with his night pants. Merlin's already reclining back on the massively sized bed littered with quilt pillows. His own navy blue tee-shirt slipping up, exposing a line of creamy, white skin and dusting of hair underneath his bellybutton.
"C'mon, mate," he says, encouragingly patting the textured covers. "Hop up."
Arthur doesn't let himself falter, hurrying over and climbing on with all his limbs. Barely touching Merlin.
"Is, um, is this...?"
Merlin sits up with a great big sigh of reluctance, lips pressing together in contemplation.
"You get 90 minutes of snuggling with me, no more than you paid. You can leave at any time but the session is non-refundable. Touching is absolutely allowed. You can drape your arms round me, but nothing below the waist with your hands," he mock-warns, but gives a full-bodied laugh. It echoes Arthur's bones. "Feet getting tangled up naturally happens."
And that's it. There's no ceremony, no lingering anticipation as Arthur lies on his side.
He nudges up against the warm, skinny length of Merlin's back and throws his head down on a pillow. After possibly five minutes, he discovers how much the tension coils still in his muscles, and he feels restless. Is it the wrong position?
Merlin's prying voice isn't comforting either. "Arthur, you're not relaxing."
"This is ridiculous...!" Arthur yells, getting up. His cheeks burn. He's embarrassed. Vulnerable. That's not... not right. But it's supposed to be.
Arthur rubs his hands over his face.
"I'm... I'm not used to this," he admits.
Merlin rolls over, dark hair mussed, facing him. To Arthur's relief, he's not frowning.
"We can talk if that's what you need."
"I don't need to talk."
"You know why I created my business?" Merlin's head adjusts on his quilted, fluffed pillow. "To make the world a gentler place, and to help de-stress you." He bumps the ankle within reach, Merlin's feet kicking lightly. His sudden and honest grin lightens Arthur's gut. "It's a bit pointless if I can't do that, isn't it?"
It's difficult to not tease.
"And here I thought you were doing it for the wages."
"Neonatal nursing degrees aren't cheap," Merlin says, gravely. He touches a hand on Arthur's bicep, his fingers wrapping with little pressure. "Try turning over a moment."
Granted it's not as though time is on Arthur's side. It's getting close to a half an hour passing, but he goes slowly. Arthur lays back down on the mattress, feeling Merlin's body press heavily into him, spooning him from behind.
And it's like everything clicks. It's... it could be perfect.
The heat of Merlin's breath hits his nape, almost tickling. "Want to tell me about you?"
Slowslow, so slow, Arthur's muscles begin to uncoil.
"My inheritance is my father's legacy," he murmurs. "I need to be everything he asks."
"...Does that make you happy?" A hand sneaks over Arthur's clothed side.
Arthur's heart thump-thump-thumps.
"No," he replies, his features tightening. "But that doesn't matter. It's how it needs to be."
Merlin's nose brushes gently against his hairline.
"Sounds a might daft to me. It's your life, Arthur." The hand on Arthur's side remains unmoving, but Merlin's opposite hand holds against his spine. "You deserve to be happy."
It's a phrase Arthur has heard countless times he's sure, from counselors and friends alike, but the way Merlin keeps him steady with those hands, the way he says what he believes with such conviction... the lump rising in Arthur's throat is all-too surprising.
"No one has... ever put me first before."
Merlin makes a disapproving, nearly whining, noise, hugging Arthur fiercely. "Well, it's about time someone did," he says.
There's a freezing drizzle when Merlin leads him out, one of the wool blankets shrugged onto his thin shoulders.
The flat's lighted entrance chases away nighttime shadows. Arthur stares dreamily at Merlin's face. He shouldn't, but he does anyway, already on the sidewalk and feeling like a clumsy fool for trying. Merlin doesn't kiss back, doesn't accept, but his lips are glisten-damp and beautiful, and that's just what Arthur imagined.
His heart can't thump any quickly in his ears or chest.
"I know," he insists, already dreading what was coming next. "I needed to do it once. I'm sorry, Merlin. I'm—"
For once, Arthur feels intimidate by someone else, and he needs to leave. Now.
"—That wasn't right, forgive me."
"Just say you'll forgive me."
"Arthur, for christ's sake..." Merlin tosses him his winter jacket, grinning. "Don't forget this, blighter."
He catches it easily, staring back wide-eyed.
"You, hold on..."
"Trust me, you aren't the first person who has done something inappropriate." Merlin points out serious, head cocked, "If I wanted to punch your sorry arse out, I would have."
Arthur grins in return, muscles loose. "It's not very professional of you to refer to your customers in that tone."
"I doubt you'll be coming back on business."
An eyebrow wag—laughably done on Merlin's part, mainly because it was terrible—he has to take it as an excellent sign of a blossoming relationship.
"What are you doing Saturday night?" Arthur asks, finally.
Merlin's lower lip sucks in, bitten pink.
"Suppose... could be you if you leave the money out of it."
As soon as I saw an online article about "professional cuddling"...I had to do it. Any questions/comments are always welcome! And happy b-day to my Leah!