As soon as Merlin greets them at the door of the studio Arthur thinks he gets it, that quiet sweetness that comes over Gwen whenever she says his name.
Arthur shakes his hand. "I really am sorry about that last-minute cancellation last month. Work's been… hectic."
"But we're not going to talk about work tonight," says Gwen, cutting in to give Merlin a quick, crushing hug.
Merlin's face is fond and sad and embarrassed and he doesn't seem to know what to do with his large hands until she lets him go. "Glad you could make it," he says, and touches Arthur's shoulder as he leads them inside.
When they moved in together Gwen took all her old homemade dishes to her father's home, all except the blue and gold mug that Merlin made in that ceramics class where the two of them met. She'll go for months without mentioning him – without even thinking of him, she says – but she still drinks from that cup every morning, whether she's rushing out the door on her way to work or lingering in bed on a lazy Sunday. Arthur can picture the sunlight on her brown skin and the cream-colored sheets when he pulls her close and she sets aside the mug and the crossword. He can taste coffee and cream on her tongue.
"Try not to let all that information overwhelm you," Merlin says at the end of his opening demonstration, of which Arthur has understood only that Merlin is a wizard. "These are things you'll come to know with your body the more you practise."
Arthur and Gwen sit facing each other, their legs open with the two wheels and a single bowl of water set between them.
"It's amazing how it all comes back," she says after a few minutes. "Even the smell! I could be right back in school. Or… It's like I can almost remember what my hands are supposed to do, but I can't quite get them to do it."
"It'll come," Merlin says, and helps her reposition one arm, move her elbow further back along her thigh. Aware of Arthur watching, he says, "You see how this lets her use the strength from her whole body? That's what you want, to bring that steadiness up from the ground, and through your arms to the clay."
Arthur nods, and tries, and feels more off balance than before. His lump of clay is lopsided mess, and when Merlin finally comes over, stops it spinning, and shows him how to start over, Arthur could cry with relief. He lets Merlin manipulate his limbs and the pose is still strange, but shaping the clay is easier than before.
Gwen's head is bent in concentration. Her face is shining.
A go-getter (they say at work, approvingly). A natural salesman, a born leader.
Business trips were great for one-night stands. Arthur and his colleagues were efficient communicators, skilled at knowing what they wanted, telling a partner how to give it to them.
It was months from the day he met Gwen, the day he fell, the day they first kissed, until the first time he made her come. It's taken him years to learn her wordless noises, her silences. The tilt of her hips that invites him to cup her arse with his palms, spread her lips with his thumbs, bury his face in her folds. The angle of her brow when there's too much friction or when it's just enough. The press of her mouth when she wants him to drive into her with his cock.
Maybe Merlin would've had an easier time of it. Maybe these things come naturally to some people.
Arthur's glad it wasn't quick.
He doesn't know why the lump needs to become a cone before it can be a bowl, but he's pleased that it's starting to move in that direction. He thinks of the slow opening of Gwen's body, reaches for the bowl of water to bring more moisture back to the clay, and misses the brush of her fingers there.
Once he realises her wheel's stopped spinning, it's no kind of shock at all to look up and see her kissing Merlin's mouth. There's clay on their faces, and in the hair that's slipped out of her kerchief.
Merlin startles at the scrape of Arthur's chair, but in a moment the three of them are together, and smiling, secure. If they're not yet sure just what to do with their hands, they'll learn.