WARNINGS: SLASH! And attempted fluffiness that may or may have not succeeded.

RATING: For teenagers and above!

GENRE: Romance, Friendship, Humor

A/N:YES, finally got to update! Sorry, guys for making you wait. I hope this chapter is worth it!

Thank you for your patience and continued support! Sorry for those who I couldn't fulfill the due dates but I tried! I really did!

Disclaimer: I do not own BBC Merlin. Nope.

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~Chapter Nine: Of Awkwardness and Server Gossips~

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Arthur glared at Gwaine's back as he left the diner. Why was everyone planning against him recently?

"Um . . . "

Arthur's gaze shifted to the (gorgeous) man hesitantly taking the seat Gwaine had previously occupied. His glare disappeared before he was even aware. Good Lord, the other man really does have a face and a figure of an actor, all that dazzle and charm in a package.

Suddenly becoming self-conscious, he tugged at his shirt to remove the nonexistent creases, subtly dusted of his trousers, and quickly combed through his hair with his fingers. He fought down an embarrassed blush as he realized Merlin was curiously watching his every move. Damn, it was one thing to have him on the phone and another to interact with him face-to-face. On the phone, he only has to be conscious of his tone and words. In person, he has to be conscious of everything just so he could look impressive.

What? Why would I need to be impressive? Ah, because that's what teenagers on a first date want to do, you sod. Fuck, Arthur really needed to get Morgana's voice out of his head.

Merlin then glanced quizzically at the shredded napkins on the table. For one brief moment, Arthur's heart stopped at the sheer embarrassment before his senses kicked in. He swiftly swiped them away in a corner of the table and pretended they never existed.

Arthur cleared his throat. "Merlin." He held out his hand in between them. "Nice to finally meet you in person."

Merlin took it in an almost absent-minded manner, scrutinizing his face. Arthur was starting worry he had eaten something and now had ketchup stains on his mouth (which was ridiculous because he hadn't eaten anything yet since he was too nervous to even have breakfast).

Then, Merlin blurted out, "I'm so glad you didn't send me a fake picture."

Arthur blinked, bewildered by the unprecedented outburst. Merlin's blue orbs widened and he slapped both hands over his mouth.

"Oh my god, did I just say that out loud? Shit, I did." Arthur was able to decipher the words being muffled by those slender hands. Merlin removed his hands only for one of them to run through his hair, making it stick up in gravity-defying angles.

Now, he looked like he just rolled out of bed. Arthur couldn't suppress an amused chuckle. "I believe you did. Your foot-in-mouth syndrome is acting up again."

Merlin gave him a half-hearted glare that was more on the pouting side than the threatening one. "Well, do forgive me for expecting the worse."

Sensing an opening, Arthur couldn't help but retort, "Am I really too good to be true?"

Instead of rolling his eyes like Arthur expected him to do, Merlin paused, head inclining forwards towards him. "I never knew your face does sort of a suave look whenever you say something arrogant."

Merlin's eyes widened yet again in what seemed like incomparable horror and he covered his face with both of his hands. Arthur gaped for a moment, not knowing how to respond to that. Wow, it seems Merlin was more forward than he thought in person. Arthur watched in rapt amazement as those endearing ears turned a shade darker than pink.

Merlin then put his hands on his lap, revealing a flushed and embarrassed expression. "Okay, can we start over?" he asked in a small almost high-pitched voice.

Although, Arthur knew it was rhetorical, he answered anyway. "I believe we can." He held out his hand again, humoring him. "Arthur Pendragon, apparently someone with an extremely distracting suave look." Arthur can't be believe he managed to sound more confident than he felt and a lot less hysterical than he expected given his earlier internal panic. He guessed Merlin being all his adorable glory took off his edge.

Merlin took a deep breath before shaking his hand again, giving a smile that showed a perfect row of white teeth. "Merlin Emrys, usually not that awkward."

"Oh, I doubt that."

Merlin raised a brow, its height almost rivalling Gaius'. Almost but not quite. Arthur tried to fight down his smile. "I see your prattiness is as evident in person as it is on the phone."

Arthur smirked. "Well, I always aim to impress." Fuck, that was too close to the truth.

Before the conversation could go any further, the bubbly waitress from before approached the table again.

"Well, sirs, ready to order?" She beamed, a pen already poised on her notepad. Two heads turned in her direction.

Then, her hazel eyes dropped down to their hands.

Which were still linked from their earlier handshake.

Both men simultaneously realized this. Their eyes met for a brief momentous second and then they pulled their respective hands back as if they were burned, eyes averted. Arthur can feel quick rushing of blood to his cheeks when he gathered that they'd practically been holding hands.

Arthur cleared his throat and looked up at the waitress. "I'll have your special. The Turkey Stacker and a Four Seasons Shake. Merlin?"

The blonde then noticed that Merlin was a red as a tomato, his head down. "I'll have the same." He mumbled.

The girl was obviously trying to hold down her giggles. "Of course." She jotted it down and started to turn around to leave.

Before completely leaving though, she caught Arthur's eyes and mouthed what suspiciously looked like a 'Good luck' and gave a knowing wink. Gods, was every woman out to intervene with his (love) life?

But then again, there was Gwaine. So, not only women.

He chanced a glance at Merlin and it seemed their timing was quite in synch because he saw that Merlin was also glimpsing at him through his lashes. Again, both heads snapped in another direction, averting their eyes. Damn it, now the previous awkwardness returned with vengeance.

After a beat of painfully uncomfortable silence, in which Arthur tried and failed to find a topic to talk about (Darn it, he closed many deals because of his conversational skills. Where the fuck had that gone?), Merlin cleared his throat. Arthur finally gathered up the courage to look at him. He thanked the gods that he didn't have to endure any second of that silence.

"So . . . that bloke a friend of yours?" Merlin started tentatively.

"What bloke?" Arthur asked.

"You know . . . the" here, Merlin used of his hands to gesture at the general vicinity of his head. Arthur knew who he was talking about before he even continued. "the one that looked like a shampoo commercial model."

"Why do people always use that to describe him?" Really, when had Merlin had enough time to look at Gwaine? (Well, he wouldn't know, would he, because he was staring dazedly at Merlin the whole time to notice)

Merlin blinked, probably surprised at the slight irritation tinting his tone. " . . . Probably because he looked like a shampoo commercial model?" Merlin was staring at him like he was a particularly slow child. Then, some epiphany alighted his eyes. "Ah, you're jealous of his hair." He nodded sagely. "I understand. I really do. I mean, your goldilocks is working for you, yeah, but his are just so—"

"Finish that sentence, Merlin, and I'll throw this pepper shaker at you to bring you bad luck." Arthur raised a brow, twirling the said shaker on the table, but there was upward tilt to the corner of his lips that he can't remove.

Merlin chuckled, the sound coupled with his expression made Arthur paused for a dazed moment. "First of all, it's supposed to be the salt. Second, I'm supposed to spill it. And third, I just have to throw a pinch of salt over my shoulder and the bad luck won't happen, rendering your efforts useless." He explained in a matter-of-fact manner.

"Surely something happens if I throw pepper at you?" Arthur questioned in mock consideration, looking at the shaker in his hand.

"Sure. I sneeze for a while, getting germs on that expensive dress shirt of yours." Merlin said, grinning.

"Oh, I don't know. It was Morgana's gift so, you'll be doing me a favor." Arthur retorted, replying with a grin of his own.

Something like horror passed through Merlin's eyes. "Morgana's gift, you say?" He narrowed his eyes, staring at the shirt with the kind of scrutiny that had Arthur blushing for some reason. "Did you check for bugs? Hidden cameras? Suspicious stains that might have been used for witchcraft?"

Arthur rolled his eyes, dropping the shaker on the table. "Of course, who do you take me for? I x-rayed it, held it up in a UV light, dusted it for suspicious prints, and other investigative stuff."

"Ooh, thorough."

Then, both burst out laughing like they had the last time they talked about Morgana's scheming ways. It was even more precious as Arthur could see how Merlin's eyes crinkle with mirth and how his hand came up in a futile effort to stifle his laughter.

"We seriously got off topic." Merlin said. "Who—Wait, was that Gwaine?" Merlin gave a thoughtful frown. "He doesn't look remotely like the drunken pervert you describe him to be."

"'Look' being the keyword, Merlin. Didn't you ever heard that appearances can be deceiving?" Arthur admonished like Merlin was someone naïve.

"Of course. I am currently talking to a good example of that saying. No one would think you're actually a condescending ass."

"And no one would think you're actually an idiot underneath all that . . ." Midway, Arthur realized he didn't have proper ending for that so he just deemed it appropriate to gesture at Merlin's whole being.

The other man crossed his arms, leaned back, and cocked a brow. "I'm waiting for that belated compliment, Arthur."

Arthur rolled his eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "Don't hold your breath."

They were going back to their usual banter, which got rid of all that awkward nonsense that Arthur never wanted to experience again. Ever.

For the first time since he had invited Merlin for a meet-up, Arthur felt like everything was going to be okay.

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"O. M. G., look at that couple on table 12. C'mon, look, look!" Martha, a part-time waitress that was hired just a few weeks ago, squealed like a little girl she was.

"Stop shaking onto my arm, child. I'm dealing with boiling oil here!" Karen almost shouted shrilly in her panic, eyes focused on the fries she was supposed to be cooking.

Martha thankfully desisted her attempts. Checking if the fries were going to be alright for a while, Karen wiped her gloved hands on her apron. She turned to the still beaming young woman who was currently trying to surreptitiously stare through the glassless window where they give out the orders to the waitresses.

"Okay, what's the deal?" she asked, following her gaze with obvious disinterest.

"It's those two over there." Martha pointed to the two men over a booth by a window.

Karen blinked. She squinted her emerald eyes in an attempt to perhaps change the image she was seeing.

"It's that jerk who's always a ray of sunshine." Note her sarcasm at the last part.

Leila, another waitress who always liked a pretty face, unceremoniously dumped the tray of dishes she had been carrying onto the sink. Then, she hurriedly joined the two of them.

"The cool and rich blonde regular?" she exclaimed excitedly. "Let me see, let me see."

Karen rolled his eyes. These girls always got snagged by handsome guys in suits, no matter what entitled asses they were.

"Who?" Martha asked, confusion evident in her tone.

"Oh, you haven't seen him yet?" Leila said in reply. "Yeah, he did stop coming a few days before you worked here. But anyway, he's been a regular here. Oftentimes comes with his brunette friend who we suspect works as a shampoo commercial model." Leila explained in a conspiratorial whisper.

"Oh, that brunette guy was here earlier." Maria, who was in dishwashing duty, decided to pipe in. "Left as soon as the dark-haired one arrived though."

"Really? I didn't get to see him." Leila sighed in disappointment. "He has a great ass."

"Ahh! My ears!" Galahad dropped to his knees, hands on both sides of his head as he imitated a man possessed. "Oh my god, who said hiring a bunch of hormonal teenage girls was a good idea?"

Leila sneered. "I think you're just jealous because all those boys will come to us before even considering you." She ended with a finger poking Galahad on the chest.

"How many times do I need to tell you that I'm not gay, woman!" Galahad protested.

Maria giggled. "Oh, our gaydar works perfectly, Gala."

Galahad stuttered, opening and closing his mouth like the tuna fish he was supposed to be cooking. Karen sighed. She was getting too old for this.

"But no~" Martha said in whinnying voice, getting everyone's attention. "Look!" She pointed at the table again.

The five people squeezed in to take a closer look. Then, they, sans Martha, blinked slowly, as if not believing their eyes.

"He's smiling." Galahad muttered, a hint of awe in his tone.

"He's laughing. My word, I'd never thought I'll be alive to see the day he got that stick up his arse removed." Maria remarked.

"And he looks even more handsome with those pearly white teeth out!" Leila exclaimed, clasping her hands in a manner fitted for a maiden in a fairytale.

"And I think," Karen started, lifting a finger to gesture to the companion everyone else neglected. "that you are barking up the wrong tree."

Immediately, all heads turned as one to the dark-haired man inanimately talking to the blonde. His hands gestured widely, eyes lighting up to whatever story he was sharing. The blonde was avidly watching and listening, something like fondness evident in his eyes. And if looks at the whole picture, they can see that the atmosphere near table 12 seemed a bit flowery and dreamy.

Their jaws dropped to the floor in incomparable shock.

"Fuck." Leila cursed, eyes wide.

"That's what I've been trying to point out to you lot!" Martha cried out, frustration in her tone. Then, she turned her eyes to the couple again, beaming. "They look so cute. And if what you're telling me about the blonde one is true, it's even more adorable! Imagine, he," Martha gestured to the dark-haired man. "is the only one who's able to make him smile. It's like a romance novel." Martha sighed wistfully.

"What's this about your gaydar working perfectly?" Galahad smirked. Maria proceeded to punch him in the shoulder. Hard.

"But what if it's not actually a date?" Leila tried to reason. "I mean—they could have been friends o-or something!"

Karen snorted. "Yeah, you could see that they're totally friends. If you're blind." Actually, even if you are, you'll be able to smell the flowers and hear the wedding bells even from a mile away.

"Fuck!" Leila cursed again. "There was no sign—no inclination at all!" She gave a resigned sigh. "It's always the handsome ones."

Maria nodded in assent. "Yeah, that dark-haired bloke is also quite dashing." She turned to Galahad. "If this goes on, your kind will get all the good ones and leave nothing for us good women."

"I'm not gay!" Galahad moaned again, but knowing it will always fall on deaf ears.

Karen rolled her eyes so hard, she was surprised not to find it on the floor. These younglings are going to drive her to an early grave.

"Okay, you lot, we're being paid here." Karen chastised, pointedly ignoring the fact she was included in the group. The rest started to go about their duties.

"Wait!" Leila called out. "Let's give them the special Slurp-Prize" She smirked, still a bit bitter from having her dream guy taken from her. Nah, Karen thought, she'll got over it soon enough just like she got over that last boy.

"That could get us into trouble, you know. It's only given to those who request it because, you know." Martha admonished, uncertain eyes wishing for support from the others.

"But the blonde's a regular of ours, right? And as you say, he doesn't smile much." Leila started with a mischievous expression. "But I now he can't see to stop doing so since that other bloke appeared. It's like a congratulatory gift from all of us." No one was convinced that she was doing this out of the kindness of her heart.

"Or we can get killed after." Galahad retorted. "You haven't seen his glare when I put down his order and it just rattled a bit too loudly." He shuddered at the memory.

"I'm in." Maria said with a giggle. "I don't know about you guys but I would love to see their expressions, especially the blonde's."

By the girl's statement, an image formed in the heads of the three other people. It was an image of spluttering uptight blonde as the Slurp-Prize was put onto their table. After all, he can hardly get mad with his date just right in front of him.

Everyone exchanged meaningful glances and grinned. Martha wisely edged away but Leila held her by the shoulders before she could get away.

"No, no, Martha. You're their server. You get to deliver it." Leila said with a smile that had Martha freezing in place with fear.

"Revenge is a dish best served cold." Galahad grinned, already turning to work on the Slurp-Prize.

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Hope you enjoyed that!

Sorry for the bit of cliffhanger again. I guess, with Arthur being an ass before, some of those people would want to get revenge, don't you think? XD

Don't worry, I'm working on the next chapter and it would hopefully be uploaded sometime next week.

Constructive criticisms are awesome and welcomed! Flames are alright as long as you don't hurt anyone else!

Have an awesome day, everyone!

~Vividpast