Summary: This is how it begins. Prequel to "Drugstore Flowers," found here.
A/N: I couldn't resist. Call it an early Christmas present, if you will. Shameless fluff! (Like any fic I write isn't.)
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin.
The first time Arthur sees Merlin Emrys, it’s on the Camelot University website, about five minutes after he got a text from Leon informing him that a picture of him playing footie has appeared on the Student Life page.
(The only reason for the five-minute interlude is because first he had to scoff and say he didn’t much care, of course his picture was going to show up at some point, his father’s the Dean. Then he opened his laptop.)
Next to his picture is one of a dark-haired boy huddled in a thin jacket, huge headphones clamped over his ears, and he’s gorgeous in a fey, odd sort of way, and Arthur wonders how the hell he’s missed him walking across campus. He doesn’t get a name, or a sighting of the actual person, for weeks, and he’s unlucky enough to be walking with Morgana when it does happen. One second, they’re arguing fiercely over which one of them has to have tea with Uther that week, and the next Arthur has caught sight of the boy, whose headphones are dangling around his neck while he talks animatedly with a girl who smiles and waves when she sees Morgana. Morgana gives her a nod and the boy a glare. The boy blushes right to the tips of his (ridiculous) ears (and if Arthur’s both relieved that the ears mean he isn’t perfect and endeared by them at the same time, that’s nobody’s business).
“Who was that?” Arthur asks as casually as he can when they’ve moved on.
“You must remember Gwen. She was my flatmate last year, before I met Morgause.” Ah yes. The one his father had actually approved of, which of course made Morgana drop the poor sweet girl like a hot potato. “And as for Merlin …” She glowers. “Everyone thinks he’s just lovely, but he’s the one who gave me that shot earlier this semester--”
Arthur blinks at her. “He’s the Pina Colada guy?” In retrospect, he finds the story somewhat hilarious, though he would never dare say it to Morgana’s face.
Something in his tone makes her look at him sharply, and then she rolls her eyes so hard it has to hurt. “Arthur, you can’t be serious.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he lies, and that’s the start of it.
He doesn’t stalk Merlin, per se. Not even in the Facebook sense, though the temptation is overwhelming. But he does manage to discover that Merlin is in his first year, doing History (like Arthur, which increases their likelihood of running into one another exponentially), that he is never seen without his huge headphones and ancient music player, and that he is somehow friends with all the same people that Morgana is, which leads to Arthur hanging about Morgana more than is strictly healthy for either of them.
Merlin, damn him, doesn’t seem to notice Arthur’s presence at all, and when he does, he seems more annoyed than enamored. He just wanders around and charms everyone quite easily and hums snatches of songs Arthur doesn’t recognize (except the week where he apparently has “Stairway to Heaven” stuck in his head and hums it all the time, which leads to Arthur feeling like an idiot because he is around Merlin too much if he thinks about how long songs are stuck in his head for), and every time Arthur tries to get his attention, or even treat him like he might Leon or Owain or any of his other friends, he glues himself to Gwen’s side and refuses to be swayed.
It isn’t a constant thing, or Arthur would start to feel a bit obsessed. Some weeks he barely thinks of Merlin at all, while he does his coursework and spends time with his friends and avoids his father. But other times, he finds himself wondering what Merlin is listening to as he saunters across campus--obscure bands nobody has heard of? More things like “Stairway to Heaven”? When he runs into Merlin at a chamber concert he’s only at because his second cousin Helen is in it, he expands his wonderings to include Mozart and Bach and whatever else Helen and her sort play.
“You’re pathetic,” Morgana informs him after one party where Merlin, drunk off his arse, had filched Arthur’s drink and choked on the pill that someone had apparently put in since apparently he had a disappointingly alert gag reflex.
“Merlin saved me from what was sure to be something unpleasant,” Arthur reminds her. “The least I could do was haul him to Gwen’s couch after he passed out.”
He goes to check on Merlin at the bookshop where he works a few days later and they manage to have a ridiculous argument because Arthur apparently can’t keep his foot after his mouth. He avoids Merlin a bit more after that.
After the summer holidays, Arthur decides that he’s quite finished with this ridiculous infatuation with Merlin. He can surely find someone much more suitable to date.
This is why his reaction to walking into his Medieaval History lecture on the second day of term and finding Merlin and Gwen sitting in the second row is a rousing “Oh, fuck, not you.”
“Good to see you too,” says Merlin, and puts his headphones on. And proceeds to keep them on whenever the lecturer or Gwen is not actually talking so Arthur can’t say anything else to him.
That first day, Arthur thinks about apologizing, even starts scribbling a note to that effect to pass forward to Merlin from the seat he chose just behind him, but ends up tearing the paper into bits because it sounds ridiculous. And then, just because he’s feeling petty, he tosses a few of the bits at Merlin’s head.
Despite Gwen’s long-suffering looks and Merlin’s increasing annoyance (not to mention the fact that he looks like hell this semester and Arthur just wants to drag him back to his flat and make him sleep for a week, because Merlin has no business walking around looking like he’s about to pitch forward and take a nap on the pavement, except apparently he does because Gwen is always scolding him for working too much), Arthur starts tearing up bits of paper every time he has an urge to pass a note to Merlin and throws the bits instead.
Merlin walks out of lecture with at least six little dots of paper stuck in his hair most days.
Three weeks into the term, Arthur walks into history lecture to find Merlin without the ever-present headphones around his neck looking miserable, and Gwen patting him on the arm. He greets them, manages to hit Merlin in the head with his bag when he sits down (of course), and tunes back into their conversation in time to hear Gwen suggesting that Merlin do extra work and Merlin complaining that there isn’t time.
Professor Killian walks in, then, to rant some more about learning from the past because it repeats itself, but Arthur is distracted by Merlin’s neck bare in front of him while he bends to start taking notes, and he realizes that Merlin’s music player must have broken and that Merlin apparently can’t afford to replace it just yet. The only note he ends up tearing up that period reads I’m so sorry. Maybe I could get you a new one?
And maybe, he realizes that afternoon when he is still thinking about it, he could. Merlin doesn’t have to know it was him, since of course he would say “no” if he thought it was Arthur giving him the present (because Arthur isn’t stupid, and he knows what Merlin calls him when he isn’t around). If one were to just arrive on his doorstep …
Arthur goes to an electronics store that afternoon and finds the best music player there. It doesn’t feel like quite enough of a gesture, though, just some impersonal charity, so in a truly embarrassing move (and with some advice from Leon, once he stops laughing, the arse), Arthur has it engraved with a quote from Shakespeare.
He gets Merlin’s address from Morgana (who just sighs at him and goes back to plotting taking over the world with Morgause, or possibly just getting their father fired from being the Dean for attempting to cut funding to their department) and waits until he knows Merlin will be out to put a few songs that remind him of Merlin on it, stick it in a bag, and go over to his place.
There’s a stall selling flowers on his way, and on a whim he gets one to stick in the bag, since Merlin seems the sort to like flowers. And yellow, Arthur knows he likes yellow, though he doesn’t know how he knows.
The girl at the stall gives him a funny look, but there’s not much to be done about that.