Arthur was woken up by the first rays of sunshine coming through the bedroom window. He cursed inwardly at himself for forgetting to close the blinds and reached across the bed to wrap his arm around Merlin and hopefully use him as a shield against the blasted light.
And grabbed at an empty space.
He blinked furiously a few times and rubbed his face with his hand. He hated how bereft he felt every time he woke up alone. Hated the wrongness of an empty space beside him, sheets all cold, lacking the warm and soft body that his hand and fingers could recognize in the dark. A body his lips had mapped out a thousand times, pushing and pulling at him like the tide, irresistible and constant.
He rose himself on an elbow and looked around the room, his whole body heavy and stiff with sleep.
Merlin was sitting by the window at their tiny breakfast table, his long legs curled up and crossed at the ankles under the chair. One of his hand was grabbing messily at his hair while the other was holding a pen, jotting down words unto torn pieces of paper, only to scratch them down angrily a moment later. Merlin was squinting and frowning and biting at his lower lip, while steadily mumbling under his breath.
Arthur sighed. He knew that look.
He didn’t know how long Merlin had been awake, but if the dark circles under his eyes, and the twitching in his leg were any indication, he had probably been up for several hours already. Which meant, given the time at which they had gone to sleep, that he probably hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours. Waking up in the middle of the night, and being suddenly struck with the irrepressible need to write, was not a rare occurrence for him. And while Arthur completely supported Merlin’s weird writer habits, even though they were clearly insane, he still wished that the idiot knew when to give up and let go.
Arthur threw the covers off him and slowly got out of bed. He stretched, sleepily scratching his chest, never looking away from Merlin who clearly had not realized that he was awake.
The room was bathed in golden light by now, almost blinding, but comforting too. It made Merlin’s skin look even paler, almost translucent, sharpening the contrast of his dark hair, his eyelashes casting shadows against his sharp cheekbones. He hadn’t taken the time to put on a shirt and was only wearing his faded flannel pajama pants. Arthur took a moment to admire the wiry muscles moving under Merlin’s arms as he wrote, and the way his chest dipped from his larger shoulders to his small waist in one smooth curve. Arthur itched to touch.
He approached Merlin quietly until he was standing right beside him, curling his toes in the carpet until Merlin cocked his head to the side ever so slightly, a clear sign that he was aware of Arthur’s presence, but never ceasing his writing-and-scratching process.
Arthur, very gently, touched Merlin’s writing hand, and then grabbed his wrist in a loose grip to make him stop.
Merlin didn’t resist. He put down the pen slowly, and turned his face into Arthur’s stomach with a long, and tired sigh, rubbing his cheek against the warmth of Arthur’s bare skin. The twitching in his leg stopped, and his other hand went suddenly limp and dropped into his lap.
Arthur scratched lightly at Merlin’s hair, cradling his head against him, rubbing at his neck and down at his shoulders, trying to extricate all the stress with the sheer force of his fingertips, light but insistent on Merlin’s skin. Merlin kissed Arthur’s stomach lightly, rubbing his nose against the light blond hair, inhaling Arthur’s scent deeply, his breaths ghostly and slightly ticklish around his navel.
Everything was quiet. The bright warm morning light suspending them, it seemed, in time. Like the world had stopped turning, letting them stretch themselves into this moment, to make it last longer. To make it last forever.
Arthur closed his eyes, turning his face toward the sun, reveling in the peaceful feeling, in the silence that didn’t need to be filled, the weight of Merlin’s head in his hands, against him, and the slow beating of the heart he could feel under his fingers, answering the one in his own chest.
There was nowhere else in the world he’d rather be. No one else he’d rather be with.
He opened his eyes after a moment, realizing that Merlin had stopped moving and looked down. Merlin’s chin was resting against one of his hipbone and he was looking up at him with clear, bright blue eyes, and a small content smile on his lips, dimples barely visible. Arthur’s breath caught in his throat. This, he thought, this right here, was happiness. And he smiled back, taking Merlin’s face in his hands and rubbing light circles over his cheekbones.
“Come back to bed” he mouthed more than whispered, not wanting to break the silence too much, and took Merlin by the hand.
They stumbled more than walked to the bed and Arthur sat Merlin on the edge of the mattress, crouching in front of him to help him take off his pants, and kissing him lightly on the nose once he was done. Merlin only smiled sleepily at that, and laid down on the bed, wiggling his hips and legs to get under the covers.
Arthur only snorted and shook his head, took off his own pajamas and climbed under the covers as well.
Automatically, Merlin turned towards Arthur, and Arthur turned toward him, and they met in the middle of the bed in a tangle of limbs. Merlin burrowed his face into Arthur’s neck, his right arm latching around Arthur’s torso and right leg swinging over Arthur’s hip. Arthur just slid one arm under Merlin’s head and the other around his waist and pull him tighter against him, dropping soft kisses into his hair.
As they settled, Merlin made a soft sound, between a sign and a contented moan, leaving opened-mouthed, and very sleepy, kisses at the crook of Arthur’s neck, the top of his shoulder, his hand burrowing in Arthur’s hair. Arthur leaned his head back, giving him more access and Merlin only mouthed lightly at his jaw, his lips wet and soft against his stubble, with the slightest scrap of teeth.
Arthur’s made his fingertips travel lightly along Merlin’s spine, his sides, to settle at the dip of his waist, thumb rubbing at his prominent hipbone. He smiled and kissed Merlin’s forehead, who lifted his head a tired and slightly dopey smile of his own on his face, which, once again, made Arthur’s breath catch and his chest seize up with fondness and love.
Arthur robbed his nose against Merlin’s, lips softly brushing against his, and relished the quiet happy sounds Merlin made. He could feel Merlin’s body relax under his touch. His skin was the warmest, softest and most perfect skin he had ever touched.
He never wanted to touch another.
“You know” Arthur whispered into his ear, and smiled at the shiver that ran down Merlin’s spine, how he could feel it under his hands “you should really learn when to stop”
He knew Merlin understood. That he knew he was talking about the all-nighters, and the weird sleeping hours, and the forgetting-to-eat days and the moments when Merlin pushed himself into a state of frustration and exhaustion, trying against all odds to rip the words out of himself, even when he is clearly past the point where it’s working and well into self-torture territory.
“Why?” mumbled Merlin against his chest, his lips moving over his heart. “I’ve got you”.
And well, how could Arthur argue with that? Because he would always be there to tell Merlin when to stop. To take him back to bed, or plant him in front of the telly with bad takeaway, or to yell at him to take better care of himself because what if, what if one day Arthur wasn’t there? And Merlin would look stricken and sick, as if that was the most horrible thought that could occur to him, as if there was no thinking it. And it was unthinkable. So Arthur knew that this was for him to worry about and only him, because Merlin would never imagine a time where Arthur wasn’t there. Arthur could barely stand to think about not being there for Merlin. Not having him close by to laugh with and tease and fight and make love to.
So Arthur tighten his grip around Merlin, rubbing his back until he felt him fall asleep. And he held on tighter and watched the shifting of the shadows as the sun rose into the sky.