Title. Roses By Any Other Name
Word Count. 4,200
Summary. At 6.22 in the morning, Monday through Friday, Arthur walks into the coffee shop where Merlin works. But when Merlin calls Arthur by the wrong name, Arthur keeps quiet and let's him carry on with it.
Author's Note. I was working on my Big Bang and had the urge to write something fluffy instead. So this is my attempt at PWP. Shannon, queenb23more, is always superb at helping me beta my stuff. I love you!
Roses By Any Other Name
At 6.10 in the morning, Monday through Friday, Arthur left his flat, took the lift to the ground floor, and began his walk towards his office building. It might have been more practical to drive, but he liked both the freedom and the restriction of not using his car. No one asked him to run errands, and whenever the assistant assigned to him scheduled lunch meetings with clients, it was always at one of the restaurants close to the office, all of which were Arthur's favorites. Yet he was able to see more, enjoy more, and explore more when he was on foot, which was how he found the little coffee shop located at the corner of one of the busiest cross-streets in town.
At 6.22 in the morning, Monday through Friday, Arthur opened the front door to the coffee shop. He usually wore sleek trousers with a button-down shirt, tucked in, of course, but no tie. He despised suits and ties, because he thought they made him look too much like his father, but he did own a copious amount of soft, cashmere jumpers that he frequently wore. With his pressed shirts tucked in, his leather belts, and shiny shoes, Arthur clashed horribly with the rest of the patrons of the coffee shop, but with one taste of their morning brew, he was completely hooked.
After being a regular for several weeks, Arthur found that his cup was always waiting for him at the counter. He paid with his bank card but always carried cash in his wallet to drop in the tip jar each morning. The barista at the counter always gave a soft wave as he came and went, and soon Arthur began referring to him as his barista in his head. I wonder what color scarf my barista will have on today was usually the thought as his hand curled around the door handle before he walked inside.
His barista looked more normal than the other employees, but he still wasn't as posh as Arthur or any of Arthur's friends. He had black hair that stuck up all over the place – not because it was gelled that way but more likely because he woke up in the morning, fell out of bed, and never bothered to look in a mirror. His hair tried desperately (and failed miserably) to cover his unfortunate ears, and he had tattoos around each wrist like bracelets. Even in the snowy chills of winter, he wore short-sleeved t-shirts, and even in the melting heat of summer, he wore short scarves of varying colors tied around his neck.
At 6.31 in the morning, Monday through Friday, Arthur held his medium-sized black drip in his hand and began his walk down the street towards his large office building. His fingers curled around the cup and he relished the way the coffee warmed his hands, especially in winter, as though they were familiar friends. There was a relationship building between Arthur and his coffee, a morning ritual that he could always depend on to cheer him up. As the cup sat waiting for him next to the register, Arthur could feel his lips twitch, and every morning he repressed the urge to smile. His barista knew his drink, knew what time of day he would be there, and had his drink ready. It was quite possibly the most stable relationship Arthur had ever had.
It was almost May when, at 6.41, Arthur stumbled into the coffee shop. He had his bag slung over his shoulder, overstuffed with his laptop, notebooks, and several printed and bound copies of his latest presentation for the board that afternoon. For the first time since university, Arthur had overslept and was now late for his coffee. No one else got to the office until at least 8.30 so he wasn't late for work, he was just late to see his barista.
"Oh my god," said his barista. Today he had on a blue scarf and a white t-shirt with the word MONDAY written across the front in blue letters. "I thought you were in hospital or dead or something. You're late."
"Overslept," replied Arthur with a sigh and a shake of his head. "I never oversleep. Can I get—"
"Medium drip, yeah." His barista turned around and poured Arthur's coffee. He had a grin on his face when he turned back around and handed the cup to Arthur. "On the house today." When Arthur began to protest, his barista held up his hand and shook his head. "No, seriously. It's to say, I hope your day gets better. I bet oversleeping by twenty minutes will throw off your whole day, won't it?"
Arthur blinked; he had no idea he was so transparent. "Thank you," he replied, his eyes glancing back down at his barista's t-shirt. "Is your shirt supposed to be ironic?" he asked. "Since it's Tuesday?"
"No, I just really thought it was Monday when I woke up this morning."
"Oh. That probably isn't unusual for you, is it?"
His barista looked thoughtful for a moment before shaking his head. "No, not really."
Arthur smirked and grinned rather uncontrollably. "Well," he said, "thanks for the coffee, mate. I appreciate it."
"No problem. See you tomorrow. At 6.22, yeah?"
"If not a minute earlier. See you." Arthur turned to leave, but stopped, and turned back around. "What's your name?"
His barista looked surprised and pushed his black fringe away from his forehead. "Merlin," he replied, his tone slightly unsure.
"Merlin. Great. Thanks, Merlin." Arthur was halfway to the door when he heard Merlin say, "Have a good day, Aaron!"
Arthur had always thought his barista – Merlin – was attractive in an artsy sort of way and very friendly, if not a bit odd at times. They weren't friends, so Arthur was surprised to find himself holding a free cup of coffee as he walked towards his office. It was such a small act, yet had already cheered him up and got him back to feeling that his day was going to go to plan, despite oversleeping that morning by nineteen minutes. It wasn't until he was waiting for the lifts on the ground floor of his building that he realized Merlin hadn't called him Arthur; he had called him Aaron.
By the middle of the next week, Merlin had called Arthur "Aaron" four more times, and by the week after that, Arthur had let it gone on for so long he didn't have the heart to tell Merlin that his name wasn't Aaron after all. Soon May sizzled into June, which brought record high temperatures that caused the entire city to get grouchy as they sifted themselves through the stifling heat.
Arthur had finally finished his project at work and was on an official holiday until another project came along. Normally, his projects were large-scale, costing millions, taking a year or two to complete, so when they were done, he relished in some time off, sometimes a month at a time. He usually traveled, saw new countries from inside the most expensive hotels and restaurants. But whenever he stayed in Wales, he always played football with mates from university, impromptu games in the park, where they wore trainers and different colored t-shirts and everyone always forgot what team they were supposed to be on, and after they were sufficiently sweaty, they'd cross the street and go inside the pub there, buying round after round of beer until they were all too pissed to do anything other than stumble home with stupid grins and drunken laughter.
It was the first time Arthur had gone on holiday since he began frequenting the coffee shop. He came in late the first morning, wearing his favorite jeans that were fraying at the heels and a t-shirt from his old university in London. He'd never actually sat inside the shop, so he thought he'd bring a book and sit for a while, gain a better feel for the place.
"I thought you were dead again!" Merlin exclaimed when he saw Arthur. "Christ, you need to warn me when you're not going to show up, all right? I get worried."
"I slept in on purpose this morning. I do contract work with my firm and my project just ended, so I'm on holiday until they have another project for me."
"Oh." Merlin leaned over the counter and looked Arthur up and down. "You own jeans! And a shirt that doesn't have buttons! Holy shit!"
"And trainers, imagine!"
Merlin narrowed his eyes. "Are you mocking me?"
"Perhaps a little."
"So I thought I'd hang out here for a while," said Arthur, holding up his book, "since I've got time. I want to try something new to drink."
"New? Like what? You sure you won't combust? I mean, you're here four hours late and you want something that isn't black coffee? Can you physically survive a change like this?"
"Yes!" laughed Arthur. "Don't make fun of me. I am just very punctual."
"Punctual," Arthur reiterated. "What's a good drink?"
One of the other baristas, a pretty black girl who Arthur was pretty sure was called Gwen came out from the back. "Don't ask Merlin that," she said, setting down a stack of porcelain mugs. "He drinks the most obnoxious things. Mounds of sugar and whip cream."
"They're good," said Merlin. "You just don't understand."
"Well, make me whatever you like," said Arthur, looking at Merlin.
"Oh, no, no, no," said Gwen with a loud, infectious laugh. "Merlin is not allowed near the bar. He'll blow it up otherwise."
"Gwen," groaned Merlin. "Make him a mocha. You like chocolate?"
Merlin raised an eyebrow. "That's a dangerous demand, but all right." He grabbed a cup and began marking on it. He handed it to Gwen. "Will you make that for Aaron?"
Gwen narrowed her eyes in clear confusion. "For who?"
"Aaron?" replied Merlin, although his voice sounded less sure.
Gwen glanced at Arthur. "Uh, does he mean you?"
"Yes," said Arthur.
With an exasperated sigh, Gwen glared at Arthur. "You're an arse," she said. Looking at Merlin she added, "His name is Arthur, not Aaron."
Merlin whipped his head around and stared at Arthur. "Is she serious?"
Arthur shrugged helplessly.
"Oh my god, you really are an arse!" he cried. "You let me call you the wrong name for months, are you mad? Why wouldn't you tell me? Secretly laughing at me?"
"What? No! I just – my sister always tells me what a bitch I can be and I didn't notice at first and then after it went on a bit, I just let you carry on. I didn't want to correct you and have you feel badly."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "What shit, mate. Now I've made a fool of myself." He shook his head again, looked a bit disbelieving, and walked to the back room.
Arthur stood at the counter, trying to figure out just what was so bad about allowing Merlin to call him Aaron. Gwen handed him his drink and smiled apologetically.
"He's sensitive. He'll tell you it's his stereotypical gay genes, but I tell him it's because he's really a girl."
"Oh," said Arthur, trying to process. "Well. How much?"
Gwen took his bank card and scanned it. "He'll be fine. Just give him ten minutes and he'll have forgotten all about it."
"Thanks," said Arthur.
He sat down in one of the stuffed leather chairs in the corner near the window. His drink was sweet and chocolaty, and to be honest, he wasn't a fan of such sweet things, but if Merlin asked, he wasn't sure he wouldn't lie again and say it was brilliant. His eyes scanned over the words in his book, even though his mind was only half-paying attention to what he was reading. He kept glancing up to see if Merlin had come out of the backroom yet. After an hour, Arthur got up to leave; he was supposed to meet his sister for lunch down the street. He threw his cup away in the rubbish bin near the front registers, but still no sight of Merlin.
He had just passed the front counter when he heard Merlin's voice behind him.
"See you tomorrow, then?"
Arthur turned and felt relieved that Merlin was talking to him again. "Yeah."
"Great. See you later, Lowell."
"Lowell?" repeated Arthur.
"I've been calling you the wrong name for months. Why the hell stop now?"
"Why the hell indeed?"
The next day Merlin greeted Arthur with a, "Hey, it's James! Welcome, James!" and had Gwen make him a drink with inappropriate amounts of cinnamon. As he waited for his drink at the counter, Arthur noticed a textbook next to the register.
"Is that yours?" he asked.
Merlin glanced at the book. "Yeah."
"Are you in university?"
"Yeah. For pharmacy."
"Why d'you look so shocked? I'm not stupid."
"No," said Arthur slowly, "but . . . you sometimes wear Monday t-shirts on Tuesdays and you wore two different shoes once, remember?"
"That was a fashion statement."
"No, it wasn't," said Arthur seriously. "And you called me Aaron for several months. Pharmacy is just shocking. I thought you'd be a painter or something."
"I don't like art," said Merlin. "My uncle is a chemist. I always liked watching him work. Being a pharmacist is more noble than whatever the hell it is you do."
"I'm an architect," replied Arthur.
"Of course you are. You just had to have a pompous job, didn't you?"
"It's not pompous."
"So you draw pretty buildings?"
"Actually, no. I work with a company that buys old buildings and restores them or they find sites and I design replicas of buildings that were once historic. I studied both architecture and historical preservation in university."
"Pompous," repeated Merlin. "Incredibly so."
Arthur sighed. "How much was the drink?"
Merlin took Arthur's bankcard, swiped it, and then grinned. "Have a good day, Baxter."
"No, James is the name of someone nice. Baxter is the name of a pompous arse."
For a moment, Arthur thought about being offended, but the grin on Merlin's face made him roll his eyes, take his drink, and laugh to himself as he found a seat near the windows and settled in to read.
Over the next several weeks, Arthur had been called George, Sergio, Marshall, Mack, Horace, Alexander the Terrible, Alexander the Great, and Bob. He learned more about Merlin as well. Merlin's mother had died when he was fifteen and he moved from Glasgow to London to live with his uncle, the chemist. His uncle was a little weird and let him stay out all night and go to underground concerts, but Merlin thought it was because his uncle had no idea how to raise a teenager and just let him run loose so long as he did all his schoolwork. Arthur also found out that Merlin was only twenty-two, almost eight years younger than he was, which was somewhat surprising and somewhat disconcerting as Arthur was never interested in younger men.
Gwen had once mentioned that Merlin was gay, but Merlin himself confirmed it during a story about his uncle catching him snogging another boy in the grass in their back garden. Arthur wondered if Merlin had any idea that he was gay but didn't mention it. Every so often, Arthur would say something completely offensive, Merlin would get annoyed, and Arthur would be left apologizing aloud while silently cursing his sister for being right about him – he could be a complete bitch without meaning to.
After a six-week holiday, Arthur was offered the lead on another project. So he went back to arriving at the coffee shop at 6.22 in the mornings, Monday through Friday, and getting his regular medium drip. Every morning, there was a new name written on his cup with blue marker. Darnell. Peter. Aubrey. Michaelangelo.
The new project was so intense that it didn't leave Arthur much time to chat with Merlin in the mornings, and soon, the months turned cold enough for him to wear his black wool coat as he walked against the cold wind to work. Time zoomed and when Arthur saw his neighbors carrying their Christmas tree up the stairs to their flat, he began to wonder just what one buys his barista for Christmas.
"I am declaring this Noel week," Merlin said two weeks before Christmas. "I'm going to call you Noel from now 'til Friday. Noel for Christmas."
"I understood the first time," said Arthur. "Like Christmas, do you?"
"Best holiday of the year! Love it! I finished my shopping ages ago and I can't wait for everyone to see what I got them. I've got a winter break from school so no classes for a while." Merlin grinned. "Christmas is brilliant. It should be twice a year."
Merlin's excitement made Arthur grin. "Have a good day, Merlin. I've got a meeting right at eight o'clock that I've got to ready myself for."
"Happy Christmas, Noel!"
For the rest of the week, Merlin was in an unbelievably good mood and with each "Happy Christmas, Noel," he made Arthur smile. He wondered if Merlin was this great with all his customers, or just him.
Then, the week before Christmas, Arthur walked into the coffee shop right on time, but Merlin hadn't placed his coffee cup out yet. When he saw Arthur, Merlin just nodded his head in greeting. He scribbled a name on the cup like always and placed it on the counter without energy.
"Are you all right?"
Merlin looked at Arthur, blinked twice, and then ran into the back room. Arthur turned to Gwen, hoping the look on his face would beg her for answers.
"Uh, sorry 'bout that," she said, coming over to the register. "Today is the anniversary of something bad for Merlin. But you know how forgetful he is – he forgot to ask for the day off."
"Oh," said Arthur, feeling wretched. He looked at his cup; Arthur was written in blue marker. "What happened?"
"His boyfriend died two years ago. Cancer." Gwen cleared her throat; she seemed a little choked up, too. "He was a barista here. It was all very tragic. I don't think it helps that it's right near the holiday, and Merlin loves Christmas, so it's a very weird week."
"I had no idea," said Arthur. "Does he . . . I mean, has he not, er, gotten over his boyfriend?"
Gwen sniggered. "Are you really that daft?"
Arthur pressed his lips together, unsure of what to say.
"Merlin has moved on, but still, the death of his boyfriend? It's just a bad day for him."
"Oh, god, you are that daft, aren't you? Do you not read the messages Merlin leaves all over your coffee cups?"
"He just writes silly names."
"Silly?" Gwen rolled her eyes and sighed. "You're so thick. Look, Merlin has the next week off. He's spending Christmas with his uncle in Paris, where his mum and uncle grew up. He'll be back at the New Year. Maybe it's best to just wait 'til then to talk to him?"
"Talk to him?"
"Yes," said Gwen slowly. "About, you know."
"Right," replied Arthur, having no idea what Gwen was on about.
"Happy Christmas, Peter or Bob or whatever your name is this week."
"Right," repeated Arthur. "Happy Christmas, Gwen."
Arthur walked out of the coffee shop, feeling completely confused. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and looked at his cup. He just noticed the Arthur written on it. But then he turned the cup to the other side and stared. Merlin had marked through the warning label on the cup and had created a new message for him. Arthur could not believe he hadn't noticed it before now. All these months of Merlin making up names for him and having Gwen make mad espresso drinks for him to try, of having his coffee ready right at 6.22 in the morning and never failing to grin at him. All these months and Merlin wasn't just offering superior customer service; he was actually attracted to Arthur. Perhaps Gwen was right, perhaps he was just that daft. He dared one more look at his cup before heading back towards his office building.
the beverage you're about to
consume is extremely hot.
Arthur went to his sister's for Christmas. He opened presents that morning with her kids, and as her husband made hot chocolate for everyone, Arthur was struck with how domestic it all felt. His heart ached a little, wishing, for a fleeting moment, that he had someone in his life to bring along with him to visits to his sister's, someone to exchange gifts with, someone to surreptitiously hold hands with during Christmas dinner. Holidays were lonely for Arthur, even when he was surrounded by family.
Once the New Year hit, Arthur went back to the coffee shop. He missed his medium drip – and Merlin. The first Monday back, he got to the shop an extra ten minutes early. Merlin seemed surprised to see him, but happy as well, if the grin on his face was any indicator of his feelings.
"Did you have a nice Christmas?"
Merlin shrugged. "Not bad. A little weird, perhaps. You?"
"Same. I'm actually going to buy two drinks today. My usual coffee and then that chocolate, whipped cream thing you fancy so much."
"You want to buy my favorite drink?" asked Merlin.
"Well, it's not for me. I just know someone who I think will like it."
Merlin turned to Gwen, to ask her to make the drink, but she held up a cup with one hand as she steamed milk with the other. "Got it started already," she said.
Arthur paid Merlin as Gwen placed the drink in front of him on the counter, next to his medium coffee.
"Can I see that marker?" asked Arthur.
Merlin took the marker out of his jeans pocket and handed it to Arthur. Arthur took it and picked up the latte Gwen just made and scribbled on it. He set it back down on the counter and took his own coffee in his hand.
"That's for you," he said to Merlin. "You're always giving me coffee and leaving me secret messages, but I never return the favor. Have a good day."
Arthur smiled and left quickly, leaving Merlin slack-jawed behind him. He made it all the way to his building and upstairs to his office before his mobile went off.
You bought me a coffee.
The smile on his lips refused to go away as Arthur read and reread Merlin's text.
Yes, I did.
And you crossed out the warning label on the cup.
Yes, I did that, too.
And left me your mobile number.
Yes, and that.
I get off at two.
Arthur turned on his computer and immediately opened up iCal to look at his schedule. He had morning meetings so everyone could catch up after having been away from the office for two weeks during the holiday, but then he was free all afternoon.
He knew that two o'clock just would not come quickly enough.
For someone so punctual, Arthur was two minutes late. He waited outside the coffee shop for Merlin to come out. The air was cold but still and smelled like it might just snow. When Merlin opened the front door, Arthur turned and his heart dropped into his stomach; he couldn't believe he was actually feeling nervous.
"Hi," he said.
Arthur frowned. "Why'd you stop with the names and start calling me Arthur?"
Merlin shrugged. "I don't know. I suppose I thought it was time to move on from it . . . I think I often do random things like that, making up names for you. But . . ." Merlin's voice trailed off.
"I liked the names. It was funny, like a game."
"You never played back, though."
"Oh," said Arthur, "did you want me to?"
"I dunno," answered Merlin with another shrug.
"I could make one up now."
"What would you call me? I bet you'd be terrible at that game."
Merlin pulled a face. "Are you mad?"
"You called me Sergio once!"
"Percival is awful. Try again."
Merlin shook his head.
"Bruce? Butch? Woody?"
"Christ, Arthur, you are bad at this."
"What about Mine?"
Merlin paused. "What?"
"I said, 'what about Mine?' What if I just called you Mine?"
"If you want."
Merlin's breath seemed to quicken, but his nod was slow. "Yes."
"I'd ask you out for coffee, but we've done that a hundred times already."
Merlin laughed. "I haven't eaten lunch and there's this quiet sandwich shop about a mile down the way."
"All right. I skipped lunch myself, so I could eat."
"I feel like this is silly. We've already been on a first date – and third, fourth, and fifth. I don't need to get to know you."
"I agree," said Arthur. "So, do you want to skip the get-to-know-you questions and go straight for the kissing?"
"Jesus, shit, yes please."
Arthur laughed and took hold of either end of Merlin's scarf – green today – and pulled, bringing Merlin to him. He lowered his head, pressing his lips to Merlin's, slowly, but then he opened his mouth and his tongue brushed Merlin's tentatively for a moment. Merlin's hands pushed themselves in the back pockets of Arthur's trousers and their bodies were pressed against one another as Merlin licked into Arthur's mouth.
"Oh my shit," breathed Merlin.
"Skip the sandwich shop?" suggested Arthur.
Merlin nodded. "Please."
"Brilliant, let's go."
Merlin took his hands out of Arthur's pockets but didn't step away. He reached for Arthur; his hand grabbed the back of Arthur's neck and he pulled him close, kissing him hard again.
"Okay, I'm ready." He grinned. "Lead the way, Aaron."
the beverage you're about to
consume is extremely hot.