(rewriting a scene of canon dialogue as a modern au)
Arthur woke on the couch to the sound of the key turning in the door.
Merlin pushed it open without a sound, wincing as his first step into the apartment landed on the creaking floorboard. The sound echoed through the room. A mouthed curse and Merlin let the door snick shut behind him, bending down to unlace his boots and set them by the door. He padded into the living room, tiptoeing towards the bedroom they shared before stopping midstep as he heard Arthur shift on the couch. Even through his lidded eyes Arthur could see Merlin’s expression softened, a stark contrast to the mask of hurt and resignation Arthur had last seen when Merlin stepped out with a whispered, “I need some air,” before Arthur could swallow his next biting remark, bitter on his tongue. His throat hurt. It was hard to get a good breath without Merlin in the room, he’d realized. He wasn’t sure when that had happened.
But Merlin was soft now, and Arthur could taste forgiveness on his lips even though he hadn’t kissed him yet. He stood over Arthur, fiddling with his fingers, unsure whether to wake him or to let him sleep. In answer, Arthur let his eyes open and watched relief cross Merlin’s face. “You’re awake.”“You came back.” He means for it to sound like a neutral observation, but through the last tendrils of sleep his voice quavers. He doesn’t mean to sound unsure. He didn’t mean to feel unsure. He knew Merlin would come back, otherwise he wouldn’t have slept on the couch waiting for him. Merlin understands, because he doesn’t call Arthur out on it. Merely leans in closer, shedding his jacket. He comes to kneel by Arthur’s side, head cocked, watching him for a moment.
“You must be sore. That couch isn’t fit for sleeping.”
Arthur bit his lip. “I wasn’t really doing much sleeping. Just waiting for you, I guess.” He put his hand on Merlin’s shoulder and in response Merlin turned around, leaning back against Arthur’s thigh. Arthur reached out a hand to stroke Merlin’s hair, hesitant. It felt nice, that simple act. He walked his fingers downward, across Merlin’s temple. Traced the shell of his ear. Then he tugged Merlin’s earlobe.
“Ouch! You are such a prat!” Merlin snapped, but leaned in to the touch when Arthur’s hand returned to stroking his hair. They were silent for a moment before Merlin spoke again.
“I mean it, though.”
“You’re a prat. And a royal one.” Merlin played with the hem of his jeans, a half smile flickering on his face as Arthur rubbed behing his ears.
“Are you ever going to change, Merlin?” Arthur played with the hair at the nape of Merlin’s neck, noting without much interest how the other boy suppressed a shiver.
He laughed without sound, stretching his legs. “No, you’d get bored.” He trailed off for a moment. “Promise me this, if we don’t work out… don’t date a bootlicker.”
Arthur’s stomach sank, but Merlin still seemed relaxed. Arthur joked, hesitant, “If this is you trying to leave me—”
“No. I’m happy to be yours, until the day I die.” Merlin caught Arthur’s wandering hand in his own, tangling their fingers. It felt like a promise. It spread through Arthur, too-heavy and warm.
“You know, sometimes I think I know you, Merlin. Other times…” He let out a helpless laugh, motioning to the heavens with his free hand.
“Well, I know you.” Merlin pressed his nose to Arthur’s thigh, speaking the words through his trouser leg, into Arthur’s skin. “You’re a great man, Arthur. One day— one day you could rule the world. You have so much passion.”
Arthur laughed. “That’s very kind of you.” But Merlin stopped him, taking Arthur’s face in his hands, stroking Arthur’s cheek, the bridge of his nose. Arthur felt precious and small under Merlin’s hands. He felt terrified. He felt as if there were no other place he’d rather be.
“But you must learn to listen as well as you fight.” Their eyes locked and Arthur felt he couldn’t look away. Before Arthur could say anything, Merlin brought their lips together. They kissed for a long moment before Merlin broke away, smiling.
“A-anymore pointers?” Arthur breathed.
Merlin shook his head. “No, that’s it. Just—” he pressed a kiss to Arthur’s jawline. “Don’t be a prat.”
Arthur closed his eyes for a moment. “Let’s go to bed.”